Onward to the weekend…

The pandemic that will never end rolls on day by day while the world’s people argue themselves and their children into early graves over it. Since I have no words left and it’s not my job to save people from themselves, my focus has turned more and more to the ones who want to stay alive and be in harmony with other humans.

It isn’t easy to keep showing up for a world that’s crumbling beneath your feet, with people who despise everything you stand for. But keep your head up and keep on walking through the muck and ugliness – and LOOK!… fall is here just in time to help with that.

Things happen every day that make us question our very existence and how long it can be maintained, so thank you to the smilers, the laughers, the lovers who don’t let us forget where the good stuff is.

There’s nothing there for you… move on.
Vitally important…

*****

*****

Leaving this here because it makes me inordinately happy…

Thank the universe for people with loving hearts and a lack of harmful ego. For those whose sense of humor heals us. For the ones who hold us together when we’re coming apart. For the people who look us in the eye and tell us the truth… and love us thereby. The world’s a mess and ever shall be, but facing it together makes it doable.

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Good hearts are safe homes…

I have brazenly committed a crime this morning and I have no shame, because I stole a piece of writing (and life) that’s too exquisite to keep to myself…

Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well — one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — from her bag — and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands — had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an Old Country tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate — once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

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A fractured fairytale…

Once upon a time, long long ago, on a farm far away, there lived a little girl. The girl’s early childhood held much of what today’s world calls “going through some things,” silently shaping her psyche and setting her future in motion.

From the outside, we observe that the “wild and free, who cares??” mindset of farm children earned the girl her share of dings and cuts, but it’s in hindsight that we see her defining moment… a water-skiing accident at age seventeen that rearranged the molecules in her body in ways that would make themselves known over the ensuing years. Hotdogging for friends, she skied too far onto the sand and when her skis stopped she flipped out of them, impacting earth with the side of her neck and right shoulder, and flipping again onto her back on the beach. We know it couldn’t have been pretty, but any landing you walk away from is a good one.

The girl blithely greeted life as if she weren’t a ticking time bomb, and her naturally sunny nature saw her through much. She married a good man with PTSD, just home from Viet Nam, and they had a blond, blue-eyed little boy and continued the farming life, with everybody pulling together to make it work. When the girl was 29 years old one of the concealed bombs from the accident exploded in the form of a ruptured aneurysm under her skull, and following cranial surgery she found herself walking away from another one. Thin, bald, but under her own strength, she started to entertain questions about what else fate might bring?

One weighty answer came years later when the farmer perished in a harvest accident. The girl then left the farm and her world spooled out in entirely new directions. Life had been totally rearranged, and after a year and a month alone she met and married a California surfer-dude, natural caregiver, friend for life, and best boyfriend ever… that’s what she said.

Meanwhile, areas of damage continued to make themselves known. A once-nagging back pain was now a constant source of torment, and a couple of small back surgeries aimed at relieving pain changed nothing. Her right shoulder became unbearable, so more than thirty bone spurs were removed and a few tears mended. Countless lumbar injections and epidurals on her left side have had negligible effect.

The little blonde farm girl turns out to have a fatal flaw… she’s something of a klutz. This only became more pronounced after the accident, which put her gyro out of whack, so throughout her lifetime she’s had many interesting falls… one a memorable escapade on ice that shattered her other shoulder, cracked two ribs, and smashed her face into a large potted plant. Now both shoulders get regular steroid injections to deal with Arthur, who makes himself at home everywhere, uninvited.

The little girl from long ago is old or on her way, and now another bill has come due. Our story tells us that the scar tissue from the cranial bleeds and surgery has a life of its own and is generating something called focal seizures… oh joy for the girl. She realizes by the symptoms that these seizures have been building in intensity for five years or longer… and that the accompanying aura is the same as when the aneurysm first ruptured out there in the stillness of the prairie. She says it feels like waiting calmly in the presence of death… and there is no fear in the room. The good news is “there’s an app for that,” and better living through chemistry is panning out so far.

Moving our tale along, the girl who is now an Old got to see her own spine last week in stark relief, which answered all but a couple of questions because there’s nothing like black and white for instilling reality… and now the Girl and the Dude have a few things to talk about.

So, boys and girls… life is long, day by day, but a brief candle when viewed from the other end of the telescope. Early on, we think everything will get right when we’re finally adults, which is one of the saddest, funniest misconceptions of childhood ever. Only gradually and often at a late date do we start to grasp that life is about the moments and each one is steadily making us who we are. Sometimes the way we handle life makes us prickly and insufferable… sometimes life comes at us so hard and fast we struggle to sort things out in time to deal with them the right way. And sometimes we’re just jerks. At least that’s what the little farm girl said…

THE END

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Seasons of change…

***

Three Songs at the End of Summer
by Jane Kenyon

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority
.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils
.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.
Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket…
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.
I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

**

Jane Kenyon, “Three Songs at the End of Summer” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by The Estate of Jane Kenyon. 

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The Gift of Letting Go

to live in this world

you must be able

to do three things

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go…

©Mary Oliver

*****

The inimitable Ms. Oliver’s punctuation choices make us slow down… read that again… count the ways… just as she intended. She subtly reminds us that poetry and prose are different animals, meanwhile enchanting us with her grasp of the world.

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Choose kindness and laugh often…

An interesting discovery: Once you own what you’ve always known – that approximately half your world finds you insufferable – the next step is to laugh! And here’s where I’m grateful to people in my life who’ve shown me how to laugh at myself, sometimes at painful expense as the butt of the joke. I grew up among people whose approach to living included plenty of laughter, a grace when all else fails… so here I am, left laughing at the asshole who turns out to be me, and it’s ridiculously freeing.

There, that was a freebie this morning while I absorb the fact that it’s Friday again. I will feel no surprise one day when it’s revealed that we were part of a colossal Truman Show – won’t shock me at all, in fact by now I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what’s going on. It’s okay, Friday means weekend, and the weekend means favorite foods, so keep the cameras rolling, Mr. Director.

Sudden thought: We can be overwhelmed and underwhelmed, but what’s the temperature of the room if we’re simply whelmed, anybody know?

A sweet thing for end-of-the-week from a Twitter contact:

Bless the rescuers, the caretakers… the lovers.

*****

Since it’s clearly bits & pieces day, here’s a quote I’ve always loved. I stumbled across this well-worn copy yesterday…

Which brings me to an online conversation that happened yesterday, resulting in the following conclusion:

And my goal is to go out laughing.

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Not my job, man…

Liberating thought of the week: It is not my job to save you from yourself.

Thank you, universe, the answers always come if we can be patient enough.

So here’s the thing: when you’re the firstborn, it’s all on you in ways you don’t get until much later… but it’s a fact that when you’ve been an only child ’til close to five, you decide you know everything and are large and in charge. The role fit my justice-driven little mindset and I owned all the bossy responsibility, except for the hard work – that was Rita’s job. And now in my dotage, I’m still trying to order my personal world the way I like it. Is that misguided or what? Who does that?? The things we absorb in childhood soak into our DNA and take up residence as part of us… so sorting it all out isn’t an assignment for sissies. But if what you really want is for life not to continue along the same deepening rut, you have to change something… the only thing I can change is me, and I’m old, boys and girls, so wish me luck. Except for the obvious negatives, I don’t mind being an Old, I just don’t want to exemplify the stereotype, so I’m patiently sifting through the wreckage for the answers to life. It’s okay, I wasn’t really doing anything anyway…

It’s a beautiful September morning here and Kim’s enjoying it on the PickleBall courts while I perform that trick called waking up, even though I crawled out mere minutes after 7am. Despite, or possibly due to, a lifetime as a farmgirl, I’m this person:

*****

The following thought from Charles Blow has stuck with me all week, because how often do we do this to each other? Let’s be honest, it happens daily. We’re full of our own thoughts, plans, and woes, putting one foot in front of the other, and we miss the fact that somebody felt unappreciated because of our lack of attention to their own essential thoughts, plans, and woes. Full disclosure, I made Rita feel that way last week and did not have a clue that I’d done it. Every one of us is miserably human and centered on where we are, you know why? Because much of the time, WE’RE ALL WE’VE GOT. Man, if not for our inconvenient emotions we’d be… well, animals. So…

*****

What I know is that I will call fire & brimstone down on my head ’til I die, for one simple reason:

*****

Remind yourself today: I HAVE POWERS

Go out there today, September 16, 2021, and use your powers. Do yourself right.

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Thrill of the unknown…

Someone always has the words… and isn’t that a gift when we do not. Thank you to my beautiful friend Mark Zimmerman for sharing.

********************

FORGETFULNESS

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins – 1941

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Tell me…

In the middle of ongoing disquiet, another guest author has appeared on my doorstep this morning, precisely on time. Mary Oliver left us in 2019, but her words are filled with life, and I love her…

It’s the birthday of American poet Mary Oliver (1935), born and raised in Maple Heights, Ohio, a semi-rural suburb of Cleveland. Her father was a social studies teacher and athletic coach in Cleveland public schools. Of her childhood, Oliver said, “It was a very dark and broken house that I came from. And I escaped it, barely. With years of trouble.”

She skipped school and read voraciously to escape her home life, mostly the work of John Keats and Emily Dickinson. She also began taking long walks in the woods by her house and writing poems. She says, “I got saved by poetry. And by the beauty of the world.” She calls her early poems “rotten.”

After Oliver graduated from high school she took a trip to Steepletop, the home of the famous poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, in Austerlitz, New York. She became good friends with Millay’s sister Norma and ended up staying for seven years, helping Norma organize Millay’s papers and writing her own poems. She attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College but never earned degrees.

Oliver’s first collection of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems (1963), was published to wide acclaim when she was 28. She writes short, poignant poems, most often about her observations of the natural world, particularly the world of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she spent more than 50 years with her partner, Molly Malone Cook, who was one of the first staff photographers for The Village Voice.

She finds most of her inspiration on her walks and hikes. She takes along a hand-sewn notebook so she can stop and write. Once, she lost her pencil, and now she hides pencils in the trees along the trails so she always has spares. She says, “It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer.”

Oliver’s books consistently hit the best-seller lists. Her collections include Dream Work (1986), Why I Wake Early (2007), Blue Horses (2014), and Felicity (2015). She was outside replacing the shingles on her house when she got the phone call that she’d won the Pulitzer Prize (1984) for American Primitive (1983). Her books about the writing of poetry, A Poetry Handbook (1994) and Rules for the Dance (1998), are routinely used in high school and college creative writing courses.

Mary Oliver died in 2019 of lymphoma.

On writing poetry Mary Oliver said, “One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear. It mustn’t be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary shouldn’t be in a poem.”

One of her most famous poems, “The Summer Day,” ends with the line, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” When an interviewer asked her what she’d done with her own wild and precious life Oliver answered, “Used a lot of pencils.” -Copied from Facebook, author not known

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A reflection…

Photo Credit Kim Smith 09/05/2021

Today’s guest post, while I celebrate my 74th birthday, is a gift from Suzanne Reynolds…

She Was Told She Was Beautiful

When she was a little girl

they told her she was beautiful

but it had no meaning

in her world of bicycles

and pigtails

and adventures in make-believe.

Later, she hoped she was beautiful

as boys started taking notice

of her friends

and phones rang for

Saturday night dates.

She felt beautiful on her wedding day,

hopeful with her

new life partner by her side

but, later,

when her children called

her beautiful,

she was often exhausted,

her hair messily tied back,

no make up,

wide in the waist

where it used to be narrow;

she just couldn’t take it in.

Over the years, as she tried,

in fits and starts,

to look beautiful,

she found other things

to take priority,

like bills

and meals,

as she and her life partner

worked hard

to make a family,

to make ends meet,

to make children into adults,

to make a life.

Now,

she sat.

Alone.

Her children grown,

her partner flown,

and she couldn’t remember

the last time

she was called beautiful.

But she was.

It was in every line on her face,

in the strength of her arthritic hands,

the ampleness that had

a million hugs imprinted

on its very skin,

and in the jiggly thighs and

thickened ankles

that had run her race for her.

She had lived her life with a loving

and generous heart,

had wrapped her arms

around so many to

to give them comfort and peace.

Her ears had

heard both terrible news

and lovely songs,

and her eyes

had brimmed with,

oh, so many tears,

they were now bright

even as they dimmed.

She had lived and she was.

And because she was,

she was made beautiful.

Suzanne Reynolds ©2019

Photo Credit: Nina Djerff

Model: Marit Rannveig Haslestad

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A Sunday in the time of ‘rona…

As the fog of the past eighteen months continues to dissipate, it’s impossible not to register the hurt of humanity around us. Everyone we know, everyone we see, has absorbed pain and uncertainty since the outbreak of the pandemic, and it shows. In the human race we want somebody else or a whole lot of somebody elses to understand, to just please get it, okay? And when it feels like nobody does, it’s a lonely place, so maybe someone needs to hear this on the first day of August 2021:

Much of the world is still in dire straits, and here’s a fact: It always has been. But the trajectory as we start another new month is onward and upward, which hey, happens to be our state motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera – To The Stars Through Difficulty. Feels better, hm? And in case nobody’s mentioned it since Christmas of 2019: If you’re reading this, you’re worthy of everything the world has to offer, so getcha’ some.

So here’s a simple rule of thumb…

And this, despite its typos, says good things:

*****

This presents as an oxymoron, but it’s possible to take our time while moving forward…

We’re really not here very long…

*****

Best thing to know in the midst of chaos, sadness, happiness, all the time…

Happy Sunday, August 1, 2021, to all of us, with a hug for everyone who still stops by this blog. 💙💋

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Addendum…

There’s still such a rumble out there about Simone Biles’ supposed “dereliction of duty,” I’m posting another story that deserves to be remembered. Simone Biles stands as the Greatest Of All Time in gymnastics, and owes the world precisely nothing. That she’s being dissed for declining to risk life and limb for people she’ll never know and who will never attempt to rise to the greatest heights of anything whatsoever, is sublimely ridiculous, end of story.

🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

The woman on the left is Elena Mukhina, the 1978 women’s gymnastics World Champion. She broke her leg and was not permitted the appropriate time to heal. Soviet gymnastics coaches pressured doctors to remove her cast early so she could start training for the 1980 Olympics. She protested heavily, as she knew her leg was not properly healed and would not withstand the grueling training regimen typical of her sport. Trainers and coaches dismissed her concerns and forced her to continue her training.

While practicing the Thomas Salto (since banned for being so dangerous), she under-rotated due to her newly weakened leg, and she landed on her chin. She broke her neck, which rendered her quadriplegic for the rest of her life. She was 20 years old at the time and died at 46.

Reports from Tokyo are that Simone Biles does not trust her own mind and body right now. Given the high level of difficulty (and danger) of the skills she performs, it is asking A LOT to expect her to continue to perform before that self-trust is restored. By pulling out of the team finals, she is listening to her body and her mind and giving herself enough time to heal so she can continue being the badass Queen she was meant to be.

Simone is doing what Elena was not permitted to do – be a voice for her own body and mental health. Anybody who would malign Simone for pulling out of the team final (and daring them to settle for the silver medal) should consider how they’d feel if, instead of reading the headline “Simone Biles pulls out of team final,” they were greeted with “Simone Biles paralyzed during dismount.”

And if you asked the rest of Team USA if they’d rather have a healthy Simone Biles or a gold medal, you know damn well what they’d answer, and they wouldn’t have to think for a second.

Angie Woodson – 7/27/2021

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Anxious joys…

Parts of life are categorically easier to understand from the backside, after we’ve slogged our way through and survived. Even at that, it requires a practiced and fairly jaundiced eye to look back and spot the things that have attached themselves to us like barnacles since before we were even cognizant. Once we see them, we can start flicking them into oblivion where they’ll finally shrivel and die… so the hard look back isn’t optional if we’re after freedom and good health.

Anxiety is one sneaky little barnacle that latches on, multiplies, and wreaks havoc under the surface, very often evading detection for decades while creating an intricate network of damage. Anxiety attaches to us in any number of ways, encouraging the negative things that happen to us to sink into the tiny cracks in our psyches… and we’re off and running on our human adventure of wanting everything, questioning everything, making mistakes, winning, losing, feeling inadequate, hoping against hope for it all to turn out right. And all the while, we just KNOW we’re the only one who feels this lonely, this ‘out there,’ this crazy and lost. We’re the only neurotic in our own world and anxiety has a field day with us. So exhausting, amirite? Anxiety is a hard taskmaster, and also a liar.

ANXIETY…

  • tells us that if we have a commitment on a given day, everything has to be ordered around that commitment, with all available hours given to preparing for it, mentally and physically
  • tells us we have to pee ALL THE TIME, even if we JUST DID. SO much peeing, so much energy expended
  • anxiety says to always be early, never late
  • says to always try to be nice, never disagreeable
  • says to us that nothing is ever enough, no perfect result is ever really that, no effort on our part in any direction suffices
  • tells us on a loop that our awkwardness is ample reason not to inflict ourselves on an undeserving public
  • tells us it’s a blessing to be seen but not heard, and an even greater blessing to remain unseen
  • says there are things we don’t know, will never know, wouldn’t grasp if someone tried to show us

*****

After thinking about all that… a lot… I’m having this made into a button:

Genius by Birth, Slacker by Choice

because I’m flat out of energy for barnacles… and there’s this:

I just want me to like me.

Anxiety isn’t a welcome presence, and the way it skews perceptions is criminal, so if this link proves helpful to someone I’ll be glad I left it here…

https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/6-powerful-brain-hacks-to-cope-with-anxiety-every-.html

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Sunshine and rain…

It’s good that spring and summer were here to greet us as we emerged from our caves after the long COVID winter because doing it the other way around would have been infinitely more challenging. The sunshine and rain, trees and flowers, warm days and kind breezes are just what the doctor ordered and we’re using it all to full advantage whenever possible. There’s apparently more rain coming in the next couple of days, and then back to sunny temps. Life is good, the world is sometimes a hospitable place, and I’m grateful to be here still, in a community that generally embraces the broad spectrum of humanity and the incredibly endless variety offered by this planet.

Yesterday I got to see a friend from the past and it was everything. John came to Kansas just in time to help me jump-start things again after the effects of the virus and the long containment… my friend Lyn showed up and affirmed that I’m not done yet, and she was excellent medicine – it’s healing when someone’s on the same page with us, no explanations needed. Lyn and her husband Rob came to see us here in Lawrence a few years ago, and when I laid eyes on her yesterday it was as if no time had passed since then – we were instantly laughing and hugging and sitting down to remember together, all the good stuff, the crazy stuff, the awful, the unbelievable, the indelible. And to catch each other up on The Intervening Years, the Synopsis. It’s an amazing feeling to be loved by someone who doesn’t HAVE to love us for any reason – thanks, Lyn, you were right on time.

*****

You know how people are, the minute we feel better we’re full of advice for everyone around us. To wit:

*****

Lunch is being discussed at the moment…

I hear it’s actually gonna be tuna sammies, fresh-cut watermelon, baked beans, and tater chips. I’m in.

It’s Friday! Again! Wow! Have a super good weekend…

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Are you old enough?

A lovely guest post…

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