A Woman that Inspires Me

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“As  a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and  again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of  thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Henry David Thoreau

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This blog entry is dedicated to my cousin Jennifer. We grew up together, seeing each other at birthdays, Christmas and other family events and then she went away. I did not understand much about why she no longer came to our family gatherings, but I missed her very much. What I did know was that she was in some kind of trouble. Jennifer recently spoke out publicly about how she was stolen as a young girl from all of us, and herself, into the world of human sex trafficking. She has been on my mind a great deal lately, after connecting with her on Facebook. I see her pictures and the words she writes, and all I feel is grateful that she is alive and taking back her life.

I sat looking at our freshly tilled garden this past week and realized it was like an empty canvas. There it waits, ready to be transformed.

Last year was our first year growing a garden in Illinois. We were horribly unprepared, and behind in our growing schedule. The garden was full of weeds because we did not own a tiller. We rented one for a couple of days, which was not near enough time to finish the job properly. The tomatoes were up front, along with the herbs, and peppers. The sides of the garden were lined with giant sunflowers and zucchini while the back-end held the gourds, potatoes, beans and cucumbers. The weeds bothered me at first, but I made the decision early on to focus on the garden’s beauty and abundance.

The longer I sat near the barn, thinking about last year’s efforts and staring off at the garden, I began to see something else. The garden quite resembled the human spirit, and its amazing ability to bounce back and inspire. Just like each of us, the earth remembers the challenges, mistakes, abuses, and sorrow, but it can be re-claimed and nourished back to health. Each year, the garden only grows stronger through change and learning from the previous year’s joys and mistakes.

Our newly tilled garden made me think of my cousin Jennifer. I wish that I would have asked more questions and reached out to her years ago. This year my garden is in honor of her and her beautiful and resilient spirit. Jenny…you are so very loved.

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Curiosity Watered the Goat

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Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
e. e. cummings

I slowly opened the gate and I watched them pause in the doorway, as they always do. It is as if they are asking, “Is this really ok?” and then once again step out to experience the splendor of a world with no walls or electric fences. This is our family’s first walk of spring with our goats, Luna the Saanen and Areida the Alpine.

Shortly after that peaceful pause, it is complete pandemonium. These goats are like two freight trains carrying a special shipment of curiosity and tenacity. It does make you laugh, right before you want to cry, watching all of the chickens scatter as the goats attempt to demolish everything in their path in search of anything that they are not supposed to have. Luna is no angel but she sometimes acts like a giant marshmallow in comparison to her devilish sister. She just lacks Areida’s consistent “pulverize everything in your path to get what you want, all the time” attitude. On top of all of that, goats seem to have the gift of mind reading. Whatever it is that you want your goat to avoid, that will be the first thing that they seek out and destroy (and/or eat). I suppose it is a bit like toddlers, yet these toddlers are 130 pounds.Cleaning the barn day 2013 003

We finally made our way out of the barn and all six of us were walking on the trail next to Coon Creek, which runs through the property. Areida began looking curiously at the rushing water next to us and decided to climb down the embankment and check out the creek herself. Her ears were pointed forward in curiosity, as she explored the weeds and moved closer to the water. Luna watched from the safety of the path as Areida finally made her way to the water’s edge, and took her first drink that did not include a bucket!

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The Art of Poop

“Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
Oscar Wilde

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In 2007, my husband and I sold our house near Minneapolis, Minnesota, purchased 11 acres of land right outside of River Falls, Wisconsin, and had a 27 foot Palomino Puma travel trailer dropped into the woods that we decided to call home. 

One of the first things that confounded me about travel trailer living was how we were going to dispose of the “black water”, which is travel trailer lingo for human sewage. We had organized and read about so many things but had not gotten to that incidental. We did have a little time to investigate the best practices of sewage removal, being that the travel trailer tank could take a couple of weeks to “fill”.

After a couple of internet searches, we decided to purchase a black water tote, which quickly became known as the poopy tank (within the confines of our home). Here is a picture of what it looked like:

Poopy tank

We purchased the travel tote at a camping store near Rogers, Minnesota. The wheels were supposed to make getting from here to there easier. I was not quite sure where “there” was yet, but we would find out soon enough. It held approximately 18 gallons of liquid and was on sale for around $125 US dollars.

We came across a dumping station that was conveniently located about 10 minutes from our property, where one could dump black and grey water for the bargain price of $2.50. Now that I was clear on the destination of our tote’s future contents, we were ready to take the plunge and say, “Let it be filled”.

The following are directions by Mark Robinson, ehow.com. on how to empty the travel trailer’s black water tank: (Please skip the bold print unless you are hoping to take a nap sooner than later).

Instructions

  1. Find the black water tank drain port on the travel trailer. This port is normally located underneath the trailer on the same side as the toilet and near the black water tank.
  2. Remove the cap from the drain port. Attach one end of the RV sewer hose to the drain port, making sure that the hooks on the end lock onto the tabs on the drain port.

   3. Feed the RV sewer hose to the dump hole.

   4. Attach the drain fitting onto the other end of the hose and place it into the dump hole. Locate the drain release lever near the black water tank drain port and open it. The tank will proceed to dump its contents. Close the drain after you stop hearing the black water draining from the tank.

   5. Detach the RV sewer hose from the drain port. Use a garden hose to flush out any remaining black water residue from inside the hose. When finished, disconnect the drain fitting and remove the hose from the dump hole.

I am not sure if having those directions could have changed the unfortunate course of events that were about to unfold, but the first couple of fills and dumps were very challenging. The substandard hoses and connections that were included with the tote were not giving us the secure seal you would look for in something that transports “this” type of liquid. We had leakage issues in the car on the way to the dump station and some embarrassing spillage while dumping.

Now we progress to a cold day in mid-November. I do not know the exact date, but time was being noted by how many days we had left to return the poopy tank. It had a 60-day return policy, and we all agreed that the tote needed to go back. We had grown tired of its cheap parts and seeping crevices, but we needed its services one last time.

My husband was once again trying to attach the annoying sewer hose to the drain port while the girls and I watched from the back travel trailer window. The process was proceeding in the usual way; my husband’s tremendous frustration and curse words silenced with the closed windows, while he wielded clamps, hoses, and the tote simultaneously.  And then it happened.. the small cracks and weak seals in the sewer hose finally gave way with an appalling force, spraying everything in its path. The trees,  the windows, the nearby shed, the chicken coop, and my husband were all showered with sewage.  Oh, so very uncivilized.

 

The Mouse and a Kind Stranger

“For too long in this society, we have celebrated unrestrained individualism over common community.”
Joe Biden

Deer Mouse

This is a story of a very lucky mouse, a grateful family and a very kind man…

Several years ago, when my family and I lived on our 11 acres of land, right outside River Falls, Wisconsin, we began to have a mouse problem in our travel trailer. If you have ever listened to a mouse move about in a travel trailer, it is quite different from the sounds in a house. The walls and ceilings are so thin that every little footstep taken, crumb eaten, or squeak squeaked is heard with crisp clarity.

One night, lying in bed, I heard the sound of mouse feet above me in the ceiling. The mouse was very busy bringing food from my kitchen cupboard back into the far end of my bedroom ceiling. It went like this: pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter…clunk-tap, scritch-scratch…clunk-tap…pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter… nibble-nibble. Walk across the ceiling, enter the kitchen cabinet, step on a plate that teeters and taps the plate below it, grab some chow, head back over the plate…tap, and back into the bedroom to eat dinner. It happened at least 20 times before I finally got up and decided to delicately place a live trap in the kitchen cabinet. I could see the crumbs where the little bugger had found our cereal. I went back to bed, and waited. It took about 5 minutes and 2 or 3 cycles of pitter, tap, scritch, nibble, and I heard the glorious sound of a trap door shutting.

I slowly removed the trap from the cabinet and could feel the weight of the mouse inside. I held the trap tightly, worried that it might escape if I was careless. We have had our share of mice in places they shouldn’t be; sticking my hand in a chicken feed bag and one running up my arm, watching one run across the top of the couch while I am laying on it, or opening a bin and one jumping out onto my foot. My all time favorite was when I was driving down the highway towards Hudson, Wisconsin, and found myself staring into the eyes of a little mouse clinging to the windshield wiper. It had peeked out from under the hood of the car while we were driving 60 miles an hour. He was looking straight at me as his fur whipped wildly and it hung on for dear life.

I was told once that if you let a mouse go close to your home, they will come right back in.  They can find their way back across a football field or something like that. The last mouse intruder was walked to the top of the hill and far down the driveway before being released. It was now 2:00 in the morning, and I was not hip on the idea of walking anywhere, so I decided to set the trap outside the door until morning.

The next morning, as we were getting ready for the day, I remembered our captured mouse friend. I decided to drive it to the end of the driveway, as we were on our way to town.

Halfway into town, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I saw it again. It did not register for about a minute but I then realized I forgot to let the mouse out of the trap. I had set the trap on the passenger side floor, and somehow it found its way out while we were driving. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road, which was towards the middle median. My daughters were in the back seat, and the mouse had just found its way back to them. Each time the mouse moved, a shriek would escape my lips.

I don’t know if I am stereotyping, but the Deer Mice in our neck of the woods seem very laid back and slow-moving. This particular mouse stopped several times to pick up a crumb, and nibble a bit between escapes from my gloved hands. It never really ran, rather sauntered from here to there. It left me ample time to grab it but was distracted by the screaming, plotting and laughing.

After about 15 minutes, a truck pulled in behind us. A man hopped out of the truck and asked if we needed any help. I explained our predicament to him, he got right in there and had that mouse caught within a minute. I half expected a snicker about our catch and release mouse policy, but not a patronizing peep out of this rugged looking man.

The heart-warming part of the story was that instead of throwing the mouse out into the grassy median of the highway, where we happened to be standing, he crossed the 2-lane highway and released the mouse into an open field. He joked about it finding a new home in the development adjacent to the road.

He said farewell, and off he drove with a nod and a wave. I have wished for all of these years that I could have sent him a thank you note. I am a firm believer in spontaneous acts of kindness and recognizing the kind acts of others. They really do make a difference.

The Shadow in the Dark

“This  suspense is terrible. I hope it will last”   Oscar  Wilde 1-8-08 004

Today I am transporting all of us back in time. We are going back to my families’ 11 acres of land in River Falls, Wisconsin during the year 2008.

It is dusk, and my family and I have just come back from a summer campfire in the woods. We all settle in for the night, in our 27 foot Palomino Puma travel trailer. The outside world does not seem very far away in our plastic home, with the night sounds pressing in through our thin walls, open windows and the woods wrapped around us on all four sides. Mother Nature gently invites herself inside our dwelling with a variety of animal sounds, including hoo- hoohoo’s, and yip-yips, long into the night.

On this peaceful night in the woods, we are all busying ourselves with something, when our daughter Caroline asks, “Is Jemie outside? Jemie is our 80-pound Black Lab. No, Jemie was not outside. Caroline then proceeds to tell us that there is definitely SOMETHING outside. She is peering out the front of the travel trailer into the pitch black. We have no outside light, so whatever she is seeing is just a shadow. We all race over to the window, most likely envisioning a wide range of creatures. Could one of the goats gotten lose? Is there a coyote lurking around? Are the deer looking for a place to lie down for the night? All possibilities, I suppose. Caroline goes on to tell us that this shadow was REALLY big. We all have our noses plastered to the window, looking intently into the dark. Then, we all see it. An outline in the dark, about 40 feet from the travel trailer, moving up and down…stop…up and down…stop. Oh my God,what is that? It is huge! The first thing that I think of is a moose. A moose? What the hell am I thinking? A bear…too small. It moves again, away from the travel trailer. Goosebumps on my arms begin jumping up and screaming, “Run…hide!”

My husband Chris bravely opens the door and heads outside. The gigantic shadow is now on the move up the driveway. We waited to hear screams, growls, flesh ripping (maybe not flesh ripping), but we heard nothing but the rustling of many feet on the gravel driveway. My husband finally yells to come outside and we see the creature in its true form. It was an enormous…cow. Yes, a cow was in our “front yard”. We live in the country, so a cow isn’t that surprising and probably should have been the first thing I thought of. I am not quite used to country living yet, so a cow in the yard is far from a first thought.

It is now halfway up the steep driveway. We all jump in the car and follow it up the hill. By the time we are up to the driveway, we see that the cow is now heading back down the other side of the hill. It is heading into the woods, and towards the road below our property. We wind the car down the driveway and around our property, exhilarated by the possibility of meeting it on the road below ( yes, I know it’s a cow). We arrive just in time to see the beast entering the woods on the other side of the road. Tree branches are breaking and crashing to the ground, and we see the back-end of the cow disappearing into the dense forest. There are no roads into those woods, so the adventure has come to an end, leaving such possibilities for the next. We wish the creature well in finding its way back home safely, as my family and I find our way too.

Birthday Party in the Barn

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Luna; our soon to be champion milk producer

We know we are there…we pass the stone sign that says Poplar Hill Farm and head down the long driveway towards the many red barns in the distance. My anticipation is killing me. There are two baby goats, born just days ago, ready for us to be their new family. Of course, they know nothing of this new family. They are single-mindedly waiting for the warmed bottles of milk to show up again and fill their hungry bellies.

As we pull up near the main house, we see two barns. I notice right away the adult goats peek their heads out of the barn door. They are curious. Despite the frigid temperatures, we roll down the windows and take in the eclectic mawwwww, mawwwww, mawwwww coming from everywhere. There is another barn that is full of younger looking goats and I wonder if our kids are tucked away in there somewhere.

The owner of Poplar Hill Farm meets us by one of the barns and asks us if we want to take a tour. As we wander from barn to barn, room to room, I am listening for our baby goats. He has still not told us where they are. As we enter the last building, where the goat’s milk is pasteurized, I finally hear the first maw that is like nothing I have ever heard. The farmer just keeps talking over the calls, but I am barely able to contain my joy. They are in that room, right there, behind that very door.

He finally grabs two bottles that have been warming in the sink, and we walk through the door into an office and a makeshift nursery. The choir of baby goats begins the second we walk in, each having a distinct and heart-wrenching call. There are 3 kids, two of which will be ours, Luna the Saanen and Areida the Alpine.

He hands Caroline and Sabrina the bottles, and gives them some basic instructions, and off they go. They are feeding their Luna and Areida, a moment I will never forget. It was over in a matter of minutes. We sign the papers, hand over the cash and we are heading to the car. The farmer asks, “What are you putting the goats in?” “Ahhh, we have some towels,” we answer. He tells us that should be “interesting”. We get a clue on the way home and buy a plastic laundry basket that they both fit into with room to spare. They quickly curl up and fall asleep.

One year later…a birthday party in the barn. Carrots, pine tree branches and vitamin C tablets for all! We sit in the straw, scratch their chests, and let them pull our jacket zippers up and down, up and down, up and down…

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Katniss the Rooster

iphone fencev 029“A sense of calm came over me.  More and more often I found myself thinking, “This is where I belong.  This is what I came into this world to do.”
―    Jane Goodall

This story begins on a cold morning in December, but not too cold, and shortly after what I consider to be early. I am standing before the sliding glass door, peering out at some of the telltale signs of winter. I am ready to brave the elements. As I walk to the barn, one thought is flooding my mind… ROOSTER; our little Katniss, the bantam cockerel with the ever-growing ego. He is not unlike the “surprise” baby that results from a moment of spontaneous passion. This rooster resulted from a moment of spontaneous shopping at Tractor Supply, without thought of the repercussions of the unsexed chicken. We lucked out and only ended up with 2 roosters out of the 10 chicks purchased, one being a peaceful and somewhat androgynous little guy.

On this particular day, I made my way into the barn without any trouble. I began my chores with the sprinkling of the scratch grain for the chickens. The grain hides in a grey plastic bin that I need to bend over to open, leaving me particularly vulnerable to rooster attacks. I have to admit, each time I lift my head triumphantly with the full container of grain, the bin’s lid securely shut, and the possible attack averted, I am lulled into a false sense of rooster confidence. This is when I begin telling myself the story that our unspoken agreement of civility and friendship, due to my watering, sheltering, and feeding him, has finally settled in and attacks are something of the past. Denial is a powerful thing.

As I began my usual struggle with the God-forsaken lock on the goat gate, the foot-tall monster overpowered me. Katniss fully seized this moment of distracted frustration with a stealthy jump onto a haystack, giving him the running start for nothing other than my head. I have to admit, I have had a head attack before, but nothing like this one. It was as if I had a saddle on my head and he was riding the mechanical bull. He hung on tightly as I shook vigorously and screamed profanities. I was wearing a knitted hat, which gave him a sturdy place to dig into.  The climax came when I noticed the goats staring at me with a look of terror. Looking into their eyes, I knew this had to end. I gave him a very powerful wallop as I swung my head towards the ground and off he flew.

You know how “they” say never discipline your children when you are angry. Well, “they” are right. I had my newly sharpened pitchfork in my hand before he had time to mutter cockle-doodly-sorry. I imagined myself doing the 1, 2, 3-pull slaughter technique, with his head on the ground, under my foot and his feet tightly gripped in my furious hands. Deep breath…

Amazingly, Katniss is still living happily in our barn today and probably will for the rest of his days. You know… he could change.

Joy and Sorrow

“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Khalil Gibran

Yesterday, I was getting ready for a walk that would take me on a 25-minute loop that winds me between the creek and the field of corn, parallel to the woods and then out into the open grass of a makeshift runway. I expected to be walking by myself, but to my delight, my eldest daughter Caroline said she would like to join me.

As we stepped outside, we found Sabrina, Caroline’s younger sister, out by the barn. A flock of chickens was zig- zagging in her wake, as she threw pieces of corn from the cob over her shoulder. We shouted for her to join us. Caroline and I started walking, looking back to see if she was trailing us, but she was hidden by the barn. Then, out of nowhere, she darted past us gaining a head start.

We started to climb the small hill that would soon break way to our familiar view from the south, of the bubbling creek winding its way to a place out of view. Somewhere in time with those steps, my 13-year-old daughter Caroline reached over and placed her hand in mine. I immediately felt the warmth of joy and gratitude wash through me, yet there in my heart, I felt the hollow voice of sadness. In that moment, I found myself thinking about how joy is so closely related to sorrow;  twisted in a relentless embrace.  It is the duality of the beauty of the present moment and the grief that quietly waits for each moment to end, like waiting for my hand to fall to my side and Caroline’s to hers.

Author Kahlil Gibran reminds me that our human experiences are not so unique. He was writing about joy and sorrow’s entangled  love affair back in the 1920’s. What is unique though, are our hearts and the unique stories that are written on them each time we let someone, something, or some purpose fill us with love.

 

Wait… there’s another one!

Take time to smell the roses

First sighting in the yard

Last night the girls and I notices 4 baby skunks waddling across the grass, heading towards our goat and chicken barn. We had seen them a day or so before without a mom guiding them, so we assumed that they had been orphaned. After watching the 4 kits for about 20 minutes, one of the babies headed towards the barn and entered  through the back gate. He or she had to cross paths with the goats, Luna and Areida.

I retrieved a plastic  bin from the house, the girls got the water dispensors and Chris found his heavy-duty gloves in the garage. He picked up the baby in the barn and placed it in the bin without any smells or problems. The second, third and fourth went smoothly also. They had been hiding under some sticks next to the fire pit.

In the distance I noticed movement by the far airplane hangar, which is about 100 yards away.  Sure enough, there were two more skunks skulking along the edge of the weeds. As we approached them, three more came out from around the corner of the hangar. These seemed a bit older, and a little more feisty. By the time we had placed them all in the bin, 5 more came out from the weeds and then we spotted another one coming out of a den about 100 feet away. Yep, that is about 15 baby skunks.

We  thought we could possibly managed to help the four skunks we originally found, but we had added far to many to the bin, without a real plan in place. The bin began to smell like rotten eggs and onions mixed and so did my husband; skunk wrangler Chris.

We ended up taking them out of the bin and setting them all near the den and with some water outside of it. As we walked back to the house, we became acutely aware that the air was thick with stinky skunk smell, mostly near the place we had originally set down the bin. We could hardly take in a breath.

We did a bit of research and found out that there is not much you can do for orphaned skunk kits. I contacted the Minnesota Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which is the largest wildlife rehab center in the US, and they told me that if the kits were brought into a center, they would be euthanized. They are the number one carriers of rabies in the state of Minnesota. On a more positive note for the skunks,  I  read about the impact skunks have on keeping balance in our environment. They eat the critters, including the Black Widow Spider, that we don’t really want lurking in our yards.

It is a bit sad to think that they will most likely die from starvation, but we all learned something and we did try to help them. If it wasn’t for the awful smell, they probably would have been living in a bin in our porch, drinking reconstituted puppy milk replacer.  That is not to be their fate, so as  a wise auntie said today … now I need to let Mother Nature take over.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

Action is the antidote to despair. – Joan Baez

Photography by Caroline Rosenquist

I am beginning to understand that I am not the only one in the world who enjoys reading quotes. They are everywhere. Once I start reading them, I can’t stop. Then, how do I choose who to include in my writing? It is like I have all of these amazing and inspiring folks sitting in front of me and I can only choose one to come with me. To all of those wonderful souls that made the choice to say what was in their hearts… thank you.

Yesterday I spent about 20 minutes in the garden and became thoroughly overwhelmed. All I could see was what we had not yet accomplished. I was seeing the weeds, the seeds that have not yet been planted, and the many other obstacles to having the garden that I desire. I dropped my shovel and went inside.

There are two concepts that both brought me back out into the garden and then kept me there last night. The first is a permaculture principle by David Holmgren: Use small and slow solutions. The small solution is that we are  growing our own food;  the slow is utilizing organic practices. Then, remind myself we are engaging in a powerful practice, with many others, towards self-reliance and heading in a direction of energy decent.  Instead of thinking about what is not right, get out there and look at the promise of our hard work and being apart of something greater than ourselves. The weeds will be in the dark and dying as soon as the bale of straw arrives, yet much is to be learned in the meantime; the trellis will soon be complete , but the construction of it, by my husband and daughter, is where most of the beauty will stay; the rest of the seeds will get planted, but why the rush? Why would I rush through the quiet dusk hours with my husband, children and animals, digging, admiring, planting and planning? To speed up those hours so I can quickly have my prized garden is such nonsense.

This brings me to the second concept that keeps me working in the garden and also in every other part of my life. When I dropped my shovel and stomped off into the house, with visions of other people’s beautiful gardens in my mind, I was being selfish. When I want my way rather than what is, that is selfish. To expect that our garden is going to be anything other than what it is at this very moment, is selfish. To be relieved of that selfishness, all that I need to do is see the garden’s beauty as it is today and to not look beyond the weeds, but see each and every one of them as an opportunity for change and acceptance within myself and for the world.

Here is a list of what those weeds have already taught me:

1) If I persist, change does happen.

2) I can make a choice to look at a whole in small parts. Instead of seeing the entirety of the garden, I see the small areas that will be or are already transformed into the herb garden, Sunberry corner, or Sunflower path.

3) Process is more powerful and meaningful than product itself.

4) Each time I dig, and turn over the ground, I am investing in my beliefs.

5) To find joy in nature, without taking from it, is a triumph.

6) Each and every one of those weeds reminds me to accept, but to also act. To find the sweet balance between- this is the way it is and taking action to stand up for what I believe in.

7) Those weeds that have bathed in sunshine and not chemicals, have connected me with others in the world who care about the same things I do.

8) Find humor in all things painful.

Working together….not really.

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