6 Practices to help you screen less Tech Sabbath Part 2

I’m working on my relationship with technology. Here are some starter thoughts.

The Three Thirty Project

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret eschewed phones, computers, and televisions, observing a technology sabbath. This week Maggie shares her insights on her 24-hour screen break. Be sure to check out Mary Margaret’s thoughts and read about our preparation for Screen Free Day!

I approached screen free day as a day long meditation practice. I expected that I would experience a certain amount of tech withdrawal – a strong urge to sit down at my computer or reach for my phone, and I didn’t want to spend the day judging myself. In mindfulness practice, they say that when you come back to your breath (or the object of your practice) from being distracted, your return to the present moment and that feeling of “waking up” is the practice. Screen Free Day felt like many moments of waking up.

Normally, in moments of downtime, I mindlessly start scrolling…

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When in doubt…love.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recently, I had a conversations with an acquaintance who was going through a difficult break up. She said to me that what she wanted was to stop loving this person, so she wouldn’t feel anymore pain.

I have been mulling over this conversation for a month.

On the one hand, I respect her desire for self-preservation. On the other, I wanted to say to her – “it’s not about ending the love, it’s about moving forward and making room in your heart for a new love.” I felt like she should do something to give herself love – a pedicure, an art class, a puppy, a subscription box. Something that would heal the wounds with love, not bitterness.

To me, love is not something that can stop or end. Love is a spiritual force that we should always nurture in our lives. If I’m heartbroken – maybe it’s over a relationship, a failure, a loss in my life – it doesn’t do anyone any good for me to hate the thing or person that broke my heart. Hate is not a force that heals. Anger does not plant seeds of growth, renewal or any of the things you need to move forward in your life. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Only love can do that.”

What I want out of my life is more love.

Before I had my second child I was so worried. What if I don’t love my second baby as much as my first? What if my first child feels resentful, ignored, unloved, replaced? Did I want to have another baby and risk losing the loving relationship I had with my first daughter?

I read parenting books, mommy blogs, advice columns – the prevailing wisdom was: there’s always more love.

I was skeptical. I knew there was not going to be more time with two kids. There was not going to be more money. There was not going to be more space. So…while there might be more love…would it make up for the other stuff?

When I did have my second child, I found myself second guessing myself. Should I throw myself enthusiastically into loving this new baby or would that make my older daughter jealous or feel less special? I loved my new baby, but I didn’t want to hurt the one I already had.

When my new baby was about 6 weeks old, my grandfather was rushed to the hospital. A stint in his femoral artery had burst. He lost a lot of blood. He was in a tremendous amount of pain. They sedated him while they repaired it, but when tried to bring him out of sedation he was confused and unable to speak. They sedated him again. There was an infection. If he’d been younger or in better health – maybe he could have recovered, but he just didn’t have the strength to come back from this.

IMG_4656I got on a plane with my new baby and flew up to see him and be with my family before they took him off life support. He’d been getting weaker for months. We all knew, but never said, we were losing him. Still, I was not ready to say goodbye.

As he left this life, he gave me two exquisite gifts. Gifts that I will always feel grateful for. The first was a moment in the presence of God. Together, in the ICU at Gwinnett Medical Center, we gathered – my grandmother, my mother, my uncle, my father, my aunt, my great uncle, my great aunt, my sisters, my cousins, my brothers-in-law, my child. We joined hands around his bed and prayed, cried, sang, shared stories, cried, and when it was time, said goodbye. It was one of the few times in my life that I have felt held in the loving presence of God. There was nothing we could do to extend my grandfather’s life, but we could love him and let him leave this life surrounded with that love.


The second gift my grandfather gave me was for the first time in her short life, I spent a few days with just me and my new baby. And I loved her. I had not realized until we were alone how much I had checked my enthusiasm for this small person who had just come into my life, thinking that I was protecting my older daughter. But…I wasn’t really protecting anyone. I was letting myself be guided by fear instead trusting in love. So, in those days of sadness and grief, I let myself love my baby as much as I could. I counted her toes; I listened to her breathe; I played peek-a-boo with wild abandon.

And when my husband drove up with my older daughter for my grandfather’s funeral, I loved her, too.

Because, I realized that the blogs, the forums, the parenting books were all right. There was more than enough love and delight to go around. Sure, my older daughter is jealous of her little sister. And my baby is now old enough to be jealous of her big sister. They fight, cry, and whine. But sometimes, they hug. And they both know that they’re loved: deeply and without restraint. Because there simply cannot be too much love in your life or the lives of you children.


I believe that love is never wasted. It may not be returned. And you may find that a love in your life is complete – either because the person you loved is gone, like my grandfather, or because they choose to be gone, like the woman I met during her painful breakup.

When we are afraid and try to hold back to protect ourselves from loss, from pain, from hurt – we make our lives smaller. Life will certainly give us pain, heartbreak, and failure. There will be plenty of things that don’t work out. But I don’t think that we fail, hurt or even suffer from broken hearts because we chose love. Those things will happen anyway. The question is whether or not we will have fully loved, fully poured ourselves in to the relationships we had while we had them.

I often think of the last line of the Thornton Wilder’s book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It is a beautiful story of love and brokenness. Wilder writes:

But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

So, I leave you, and my acquaintance, with this advice: when in doubt, the answer is love.

The Penton Family Regulations: A Family Manifesto

Last week, I promised to share strategies that I’m using to help me stay sane and find balance between my deeply intertwined work and family life. This week, I wanted to share an evolving project: My family manifesto.


My DS9 Lapel Crew Pin set I received as a perk from the crowd-funded Indigogo campaign for the upcoming DS9 Documentary What we left behind #truefan

I am a huge fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (know by many fans as DS9) a spin off series of Star Trek: The Next Generation (known as TNG among fans) . In DS9, we see a more complicated world – a world where Federation officers must work together and co-exist with a society rebuilding after a devastating occupation. A world where we see how the “enlightened” values of the Federation hold up in the face of inter-galactic conflict. A world where all the problems can’t be solved in 45 minutes.

One of the characters we get to know through the series is a Ferengi named Quark. He’s definitely an anti-hero. Ferengi society is an ultra-capitalistic alien race, and Quark is a caricature – constantly scheming, exploiting the workers in his bar, pushing the limits of legality in a quest for profit, and slowly discovering that he can be happier and more profitable by valuing assets like kindness, freedom, and fair play.

Ferengi Society is ordered by a set of rules known as The Rules of Acquisition.

Over the years, my husband and I have developed what we called The Penton Family Regulations. It all started when my older daughter went through a phase where she didn’t want to wear clothes.

We live in Florida. It’s hot 355 days a year. I sympathize.

But, when we go out in public, it’s important to wear clothes, and she had definitely passed the age where she could get away with sporting a diaper in public. Thus, the first Penton Family Regulation: All little girls must wear clothes. Notice, this is not the #1 Rule. Our #1 Rule is Don’t Die. And…I realize that death is an inevitability that we must all face, but I really want my children to survive their childhood. And “Don’t Die” encompasses a lot of things:

Q: Can I climb up on your dresses?
A: Would you die?
A2: Maybe.
A3: Probably shouldn’t climb on the dresser.

Q: Do I have to sit in my car seat?
A: Would you die if you didn’t?
A2: It’s highly likely
A3: Gonna have to sit in that car seat for a few more years.

So, this rule acknowledges that I want my children to be aware of their safety and not do brazenly dangerous things…and they really flirt with that line the way Quark flirts with the lines of legality and acceptability in Deep Space 9 – hence the rule. Don’t die.

For some reason, making important ideas like this a “family regulation” made more sense to my toddlers legalistic little mind, and we had fewer tantrums and arguments, and more time being clothed in public.

I’ve noticed that I come back to other rules and guidelines for myself and my parenting, which I’ve come to refer to as The Penton Family Regulations. Here they are:

The Penton Family Regulations

  1. Don’t die.
  2. All little girls must wear underpants (Note: if there were any little boys in my house, we would use a more egalitarian phrase like “every one” and we’ve had discussions about how little boys must wear underpants also, but it just doesn’t have the same I mean you! feel when you say Every one)
  3. When we leave the house, we wear clothes
  4. All feelings are okay, but not all behavior is okay
  5. We don’t pee or poop on people (we try to take this literally and figuratively)
  6. No phones at the table
  7. Saturday is family movie night
  8. We do not work on Sunday.
  9. We wash our hands after we go to the bathroom
  10. We wash our hands before we eat
  11. If you don’t want your child to say it, don’t say it. Ever.
  12. If you don’t want your child to do it, don’t do it. Ever.
  13. Thursday is Ice Cream Day
  14. Naomi gets to play ABC Mouse only when she finishes her Tiger Class
  15. We do our chores before we watch tv
  16. We hug goodbye every time.
  17. When we make food for the family, we share with everyone.
  18. Books are for sharing.
  19. We always take a bath after we swim in a pool or in the ocean.
  20. You don’t have to share. But it’s not fair to play with a toy you aren’t going to share in front of someone else.
  21. We don’t get things by yelling / When we want something, we use nice words
  22. Say Yes whenever possible.

This list covers a lot of ground: when we use screens, how we treat each other, when we do things. I can imagine that The Rules of Acquisition or any other guide for living could have developed organically, as The Penton Family Regulations have – as a way to keep track of things that are important, but intangible. A way to turn your values into action. A way to steer you towards your better self.

I’m curious – do you have family rules?

I used to be very opposed to “family rules” – they’re rigid, and I like to be flexible, but I find myself saying these things, over and over again, and using these rules daily. So, like it or not, these are my rules. But I do like that they have a name: The Penton Family Regulations. Somehow that gives them an air of fun and authority at the same time.

Are there rules I’m missing? Suggestions? Things that come up in your family? I’m especially curious what your rules are if your kids are in school. My daughter’s starting VPK in a few weeks, and I’m sure I’ll have lots of new opportunities to add to The Penton Family Regulations. There are 285 Rules of Acquisition, so if The Penton Family Regulations are going to keep up, I have a ways to go!

p.s. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the complete Rules of Acquisition

p.p.s. If you’re interested in the DS9 Documentary What We Left Behind, here’s their pitch, which was 423% funded less than 30 days after they put it out. So, I’m guessing I’m not the only DS9 fan out there!

Wish your alternate self well

Most Monday’s, I post a Motivation Monday post on my collaborative blog, The 3:30 Project. I wanted to share this week’s post here, too! Happy Monday!

One of the things that I’ve found follows me through life is the wondering questions, “what if…”

What if I had majored in x?

What if that relationship had worked out?

What if I had made that move after all?

What if I had turned left instead of right?

I think this idea is most beautifully expressed in Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken:

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I love these two lines of the poem:
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back…”
It’s true. There are many decisions we never get to come back to.
In Science fiction, there’s a popular trope of the “alternate universe.” A parallel world where at one time, one decision was changed and everything that followed was different.
My favorite example of this is the alternate universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I’ll be honest, I prefer the DS9 universe where people are kind, ethical, work hard, solve problems, etc. But it’s fun, about once a season, to imagine that this utopian world could have been different. darker. That things weren’t destined to turn out that way.
What does this have to do with motivation?
Sometimes, I find myself falling into the trap of regretting the roads not taken in my life: the opportunities turned down, the choices made or not made.
Then, I remember that there could be an alternate universe out there. A place where I did make that decision. There could be millions upon millions of alternate Maggie’s in the parallel universes out there living out all the dreams, hopes, and desires that I can’t fit into this one life that I am living. She’s living with the positive and negative side effects of that decision, just as I am living with the positive and negative side effects of the decisions I’ve made in my life.
Then, for whatever decision I’m feeling wistful about today, I wish that alternate universe Maggie well.
I hope that whatever decision she made – whether it was to choose a different job, travel the world, spend a year in silent meditation in a cave in Bangladesh, become a vegan – worked out well for her and that she’s happy. Then, I choose to wish myself well, too. Because unless we discover an anomaly in the space-time continuum, this is the only universe I get to experience. And I get to experience less of it when I’m dreaming and imaging I’m living some other version of my life.
So, I hope you enjoy our wonderful universe this week, and wish all of the alternate realities out there a great week, too!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: small business edition

As a parent and small business owner, I sometimes feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in my own life.

dr_jekyll_and_mr_hyde_poster_edit2If you’re not familiar (and to be honest, my familiarity with this story mostly comes from the Broadway musical inspired by the story) in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson imagines a doctor, Dr. Jekyll, who believe’s he’s discovered how to turn criminals away from their lives of evil. He decides to test his medicine on himself; only, being a good man, he releases his evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde, on London to wreak havoc.

I don’t have a criminal alter ego, but I do feel like I have two very different perspectives on my work and non-working life, and it’s hard for me to reconcile them.


Me, at work, with my three week old baby

I have given birth to two babies. My employer gave me a total of zero days of paid time off. For both pregnancies, I was able to work half time for a few weeks before and after my babies were born. Still, I only took about 10 days total off – for both pregnancies. My husband had no paternity leave.

Is this because my boss is an evil Mr. Hyde? I hope not…because I am my boss.

My employer provides me with mediocre health insurance. Is that because my employer is trying to screw me over? No. I have it on good authority that my employer (me) wants her employees (also me) to have access to great health care, but that it’s a struggle to find a plan with a low deductible, an affordable premium and great coverage.

I’ve read a few articles, wistfully, about other country’s health care systems and imagine an alternate universe new mother’s have their prenatal care, delivery and postpartum health care paid for by their universal health insurance. I’ve read about the generous paid family leave policies and the requirements that companies save a job for a working mom for up to a year before she comes back to work. I fantasize about how nice it would have been to have a whole month off of work after I had my baby to stay home, coo at my newborn, and give my body time to really recover from delivering my babies.

Breastfeeding at work

At least my employer was understanding when I needed to breast feed….

Instead…I was a hot mess. For the few days I was home, I felt lonely, tired, overwhelmed and inadequate. And, I know I had a longer recovery, a less complete recovery, more postpartum depression and a host of other discomforts because I didn’t take more time off after my babies were born.

Mr. Hyde, who owns my business, is here in my mind thinking – there was NO WAY that I could have paid myself my regular salary while I was at home taking care of my babies and also paid someone to do my job. It’s not because of taxes, insurance, or anything…I own a tiny little company without those kind of resources. Well, you could have waited to have babies until you had more money. Yeah, but I really like my babies. And I really wanted my babies. And I would rather struggle financially through their childhood than risk never having them because I was waiting to feel totally secure financially.

I can also imagine if the Mr. Hyde in me owned a larger company with more employees and more potential babies, he probably isn’t wildly enthusiastic about paying people to not work. How could that make my company more profitable? It’s counter intuitive.

As it turns out, other counter-intuitive things have turned out to be great ideas in business. In the United States, when people demanded a 10 then 8 hour workday, output increased and accidents decreased – making companies MORE profitable. Crazy, but true. It was true in the 19th century, and it’s true today. Working more, doesn’t make you more productive. It just burns you out and makes you sick in the long run. If you don’t believe me, believe the Harvard Business Review. Also, in California paid family leave is funded separately, so that employers didn’t have to bear the full cost.

Basically, I’m starting to realize that I don’t want to burn myself out, because I want to still be in business in 15 years. I’ll be honest: I’m a great employee. I’ve done great work for my company, and I would be very disappointed to lose an enthusiastic, positive, creative, and hard-working employee like me.

Still, Mr. Hyde whispers in my ear: we won’t be here in 15 years if you don’t burn the candles at both ends now. 

Dr. Jekyll says, but if I burn the candle at both ends now, I’ll be bitter and resentful in 15 years and I’ll hate my job and wish I’d been a garbage collector.

One of the things that stood out to me from the HBR article above is that people sometimes overwork not because they’re being managed by Mr. Hyde, but rather because work is easier than home life. It’s easier to hide at your desk where you know what you’re supposed to do, you can delegate certain responsibilities, and you have a team working together to reach a shared goal. Whereas at home, you might have to negotiate between to small people over who gets to wear the rainbow dress today or adjudicate who had the broken toy phone first. When you’re home you might have to make time to contact your family members who live far away; you might have to send birthday cards on time; you might have to plan birthday parties and get togethers; you might have to wash dishes, manage your finances, monitor your child’s screen time, respond to teachers, help with homework. It’s complex, never-ending, and exhausting.

Thinking about this and looking back, I wonder if I didn’t take more maternity leave because work gave me a break from parenting. It was an anchor to the confidence to the person I was before I had babies. Maybe Mr. Hyde was the parent in me trying to get a break from the overwhelming new responsibilities I had. Maybe it was good for me to use my work as a way to stay grounded during that difficult time.

I can’t change how I handled my postpartum leave or lack thereof.. My “baby” is almost two years old, and I’m starting to feel like I can focus on a task for more than three minutes again. I’m starting to feel like the whirlwind of babyhood is winding down, and while my sweet baby will become more opinionated over the next few years, I can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel where I won’t have to change her diapers or monitor her bathroom use constantly.

So…now, I feel like it’s up to me to regain some balance and play at life like I’m in it for the long haul. It’s time to silence Mr. Hyde – wherever he resides in my psyche – and have a schedule and balance in my life that I can maintain.

I hope you’ll visit me again later this week for some more specific strategies on how I plan to do that.

Parenting – a treasure trove of fear

This summer, I have become keenly aware of the amount of fear, anxiety and paranoia I experience as a parent.

These are just a few of the things that have been weighing on my mind.

  1. Car Seats – I realized a few weeks ago, that my children’s car seats are not properly installed. On some level, this is completely inconceivable to me given the amount of time and effort I’ve spent trying to figure out how my children’s car seats AND the extra money I spent on car seats that were “easier” to install, but it would be better if they were tethered.
  2. Water – drowning and car accidents are the most common causes of death in children under the age of 18. And in Florida, there is water everywhere. My home does not have a pool. I don’t want a home that has a pool for two reasons. First, I am not good at maintenance and the idea of maintaining a pool is completely daunting to me. Second, I just don’t think I could handle the fear of my children drowning. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m not free of fear – there’s a retention pond in my front yard, a canal behind my house (both of which could have alligators in them), a giant ocean 20 minutes from my house and a whole bunch of waterways that lead into them. What if my kids fall in???? oh yeah, and a bathtub, which both of my children are smart enough to turn on anytime they want to have a bath.
  3. Food. Am I feeding my children enough? Too much? Are they getting all their vitamins? If I give them packaged food will they have childhood diabetes? Will they be part of the childhood obesity epidemic? What if they’re too small? Why won’t they eat breakfast????
  4. Screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommends that you limit screen time for your children. I can tell it makes a big difference, especially at the end of the day. But on the other hand, sometimes, I just want to be able to plop them in front of an educational program for 30 minutes to an hour and take a shower by myself.
  5. Teeth. My daughter had her first dentist appointment last month. It is something I’ve been putting off for two years. For reasons that are completely inexplicable to me, I was terrified that she was going to have a mouth full of cavities, need a root canal, and braces all on her first visit. So, when the dentist delicately informed me that there was a small cavity in between her front two teeth, but her teeth were otherwise in great shape I was ecstatic. Nevertheless, I am struggling with the balance between letting her take responsibility for her own oral hygiene (have you ever tried to convince a headstrong toddler that “no really, you should let me brush your teeth”) and wanting to micromanage her flossing – despite her protests – to be sure it’s done correctly.

I’m a big believer that when we shine a light on our fears they become less powerful. We can see them for what they really are and deal with them rather than the big, scary shadows of fear that we project when we let them run wild. In fact, just writing all this down has calmed the anxiety I feel.

I also believe that the antidote to fear is information, so here are some resources I’ve found useful.

Car Seats:

Video that showed me my car seats needed to be installed better

Car Seat Safety Tips

Have a Professional Check Your Car Seat


Water Safety Tips

Swim Lessons Won’t Keep Your Toddler From Drowning

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

Survival Swim Lessons


Mouth Healthy Kids

The Story in Our Smiles – On Point Radio, June 15, 2017


Speaking of screen time, this episode of Sesame Street, Abby’s First Sleep Over – solved a lot of problems for me with my daughter going to bed and brushing her teeth.

For some reason, Elmo telling her to brush her teeth was more persuasive than me. Also, the kids on Sesame Street showing her how to fall asleep was better than anything I ever tried. So…sometimes a little bit of television can save you a huge amount of pain and suffering.

The “F” Word

The Three Thirty Project

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. This week we’re each responding to the following quote by Meghan Trainor: 

“I’d been told: ‘Don’t say you’re something if you don’t know what it is.’ So I was like: ‘Well, I’m not a feminist,’ because I didn’t really understand it and then I was like ‘Oh, sh*t.’ Obviously, I am a feminist.”
It’s not a deep quote obviously, but it’s a fun springboard into the general topic of the feminist label, how much we identify with it, how/when we came to understand feminism.

Mary Margaret

I will be the first to admit I had a very uncomplicated understanding of the F-word, growing up. Feminism. I mean, feminism. That F-word. But the possible confusion may not be so far from the mark, because when I was younger, I definitely thought it was sort…

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Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing

The Three Thirty Project

Fun Fact: When you get to Florida, about halfway down the peninsula, you move from the temperate climate with the four seasons “spring, summer, fall and winter” and instead have a more tropical climate that follows the “wet season, rainy season” pattern. I live right at the edge between the tropical and temperate zones, so we have “seasons” but it’s mostly a wet and dry season.

That’s all to say, we’ve officially entered the wet season, and it has been wet for the last two weeks.

This is a blessing for thirsty yards and has slowed the spread of wildfires we’ve been experiencing frequently this Spring. But, it also means that the air is full of allergens and we’ve experienced a huge increase in our local mosquito population.


Mercifully, the Zika fear has largely passed, and we in Florida don’t usually have to worry about mosquitoes passing along diseases, but…

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Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!

Lately, we’ve started a tradition in my house of watching the 90s PBS Hit, The Magic School Bus with my daughters while we eat lunch.

It is a compromise. I don’t like letting my daughters watch a lot of television, but if I say, “No you can’t watch television ever.” The older one asks to watch tv ALL the time. So, we schedule it. At lunch time, 2 episodes.

Also, I love The Magic School Bus. In every episode, you know it’s time for a field trip when Ms. Frizzle (voiced by the amazing Lily Tomlin), says, “I think it’s time to take chances, make mistakes, and GET MESSY!”


Isn’t that a great mantra?

How often do we avoid doing something because we’re afraid of taking chances…because it might not turn out well. How often do we stick to what’s safe because we’re afraid to make mistakes. And how often do you avoid getting messy?

One of the things I love about the show is that the kids in Ms. Frizzle’s class do make mistakes, they make bad assumptions, they get messy. But, they always figure it out and learn a valuable lesson along the way.

So often we give other people permission to take chances, make mistakes and get messy – but we don’t give it to ourselves (I know I don’t!). So…even if it’s just a little step…I hope you look for opportunities to follow Ms. Frizzle’s advice this week and step outside your comfort zone to see what happens!

Have a great week!

If you’d like to relive your childhood and enjoy The Magic School Bus too, check it out!!