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My seventh day in Northern Manitoba with my farm family was to be spent with Chris and the children. What a lovely day it was. On this particular day I was pulled into service in the kitchen, a job not unfamiliar to me. That evening there was to be a party in my honor which was such a lovely gesture on their part. Chris, as usual, would be doing the catering.  In her typical efficient way, she had printed menus for her guests. One was handed to me before we began dicing and chopping to provide a glimpse of what we were to be preparing. Breakfast that morning was self serve. Cold and hot cereal with a large bowl of fresh fruit and a plate with a variety of Chris’s homemade breads were set up on the dining room table for anyone to help themselves. Three golden crusted pies were lined up on the sideboard by the open dining room window to cool with strict instructions from the cook not to be touched.

Reading the menu I could see it would be a busy day. The cocktail hour was to begin at 5:00 out by the patio. Icy margaritas, wine and beer would be served for the adults enjoying a cocktail, and lemonade and sweet tea for those too young to imbibe or not inclined towards adult beverages. The appetizers, mostly comprised of ingredients from Chris’s impressive garden, were to include pastry wrapped asparagus with mustard sauce, sausage stuffed mushrooms, and deviled eggs as well as whatever contributions the guests provided. For someone who had spent little time in the city Chris had a very sophisticated palette. I noticed her reading material included magazines such such as Bon Appetit and Food and Wine, magazines I also enjoyed.

Eva and I were dispatched to Chris’s garden to gather some of the necessary ingredients. What an amazing touch the woman had with growing things.  Some of the vegetables in the massive garden area I had never actually seen on the vine before. I was fascinated to peer inside one enormous leaf only to find a cauliflower tucked under the wing of one fold. Up until then I had only seen cauliflowers in the vegetable section at the market. Carrying the baskets provided by our hostess for our harvest, Eva and I filled each to the brim with huge beefsteak tomatoes, green onions, sweet peppers, bouquets of basil, springs of mint, summer squash, cucumbers, and whatever else was on our list.

The main course was to be lamb. I was pleased no lambs were included in the cast of barnyard characters on the farm so it was not to be a family member served to the guests. Chris explained they got their lamb locally which didn’t surprise me. During my stay I had seen several large flocks grazing in the area. Though I had not mentioned it, coincidentally lamb happens to be one of my favorite meats. Growing up it was often the main course at my grandmother’s table alongside a bowl of mint jelly or creamy mint sauce. I assumed, since mint had been included on our shopping list, one or the other might be showing up that night as well. This was not to be lamb as I had ever prepared it before, however. Several whole lambs were going to cooked outdoors on a spit. Sounded wonderful. When I was living in Alabama I attended a huge backyard party where a whole cow was cooked on a spit. Watching that spit revolve all afternoon was too much for my delicate nature bringing out in me the urge to rescue the poor thing and run away with it. Brings to mind a quote from Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,”He took the Who’s feast, he took the Who pudding, he took the roast beast.” I vowed to avoid the spit area later in this day and simply enjoy my dinner.

Back in the kitchen the aromas were beginning to titillate my nostrils. The lamb was to be served alongside a cheesy, creamy zucchini gratin, crispy Greek lemon potatoes, several salad selections including a fully loaded garden salad and Chris’s simply amazing yeast rolls. Oh yummy for my tummy. I was put in charge of the Caprese Salad, creating several eye catching plates of ripe ruby red tomatoes alternated with slices of mozzarella cheese. This was finished off with fresh basil, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If an organ could do a happy dance my stomach would have been in the middle of the macarena.

After a quick lunch, the girls were relieved of their aprons and left to play outside allowing Chris and I to to concentrate of the tasks at hand. There is something immensely satisfying to me in the preparation of food. Perhaps it’s the colors, or the aromas, or just the immense gratification you get when someone puts a bite of a dish you’ve prepared in their mouths and says “yum”.  A meal, to my mind, should be party for our senses. We eat with our eyes, our noses, our mouths and even our ears. There’s nothing as tantalizing as the sound of a good piece of meat when it hits a hot grill. Good food arranged artfully on a pretty plate is just appealing. No matter how mouth watering your food may be, if you just throw it on the plate and hand it to someone to eat, the full enjoyment of eating the meal is somehow diminished. As good as the meat and potatoes on the left might taste, a person might not feel as enthusiastic about taking a bite of it as they might what is displayed on the plate to the right.

The Caprese salad plated and wrapped, I asked where to store it. The kitchen had one large side by side refrigerator and every inch of storage space was already accounted for. Chris directed me to the sunroom. The sunroom was at the back of the house. It was a large shotgun style room with a bank of windows running along both ends and the yard side. During the warmer months Bob P. said the screens kept the air flowing in and the bugs out making it a lovely place to sit and let your bones dry out after a long day of work. On the inside wall there was a side by side refrigerator and though I had not seen it Ray had mentioned a large walk-in freezer in the barn where they stored butchered meats.

Setting the Caprese dishes on a shelf in the refrigerator I remembered Chris asking me to grab several jars of pickled green beans which she said I would find in the cupboard next to the fridge. Having been told the Mason jars were in alphabetical order (of course) I easily located the appropriate jars under the sign marked “G”. Like many farmer’s wives, Chris said she canned and preserved several times a year for off season months. Looking at the amount of jars, it seemed an excessive amount of food for five people but at harvest time it was my understanding there were plenty of mouths to feed, and if not I believe most preserved items enjoy a fairly long shelf life.

Mid afternoon with everything done and tucked away we separated to catch a shower and clean up for the evening ahead. I had not thought to pack a dress for a week on a farm, so Chris, about the same size as myself, offered me a choice of several light summer dresses from her closet.

Always I have gotten butterflies when having to integrate with a large group of strangers. It’s not that I’m an introvert, I actually love interacting with other human beings, but too many of them at once I find a little overpowering. Once dressed I wandered out in the garden to find Bob J. already dressed and seated in the shade in a lawn chair. After surveying me with his gaze as if checking for weapons he commented that I cleaned up very well. In the world of Bob J. I believe this was a compliment, so I took it as such. In turn I thought he “cleaned up well”. Face free of stubble, hair combed, a freshly pressed shirt tucked into a well fitting pair of clean jeans, most attractive. We sat next to each other for a while enjoying the lull before the storm. He shared he was glad I’d come and that his family had been pleased with how I’d rolled up my sleeves and got dirty along with the rest of them. I thanked him knowing it was high praise from someone who did not relieve himself of praise easily. The moment hanging between us was broken by a truck driving through the gate allowing the energy to dissipate. Excusing myself, I went inside to let Chris know our first guest had arrived and to see what I could do to help.

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About forty people ended up filling the chairs out back, some filtering inside after the sun set and the bugs made their nightly appearance. The margaritas were as promised icy cold and tart and if possible each course served was better than the one preceding it. The lamb, well I don’t have words. Ray had cooked it to perfection. It was tender and juicy and, yes, served with mint jelly and sprigs of fresh mint. The tables were set up eight to a table with a smaller table for the children of which there were exactly ten. Twinkling lanterns were strung from tree to tree to provide illumination. Each table was beautifully decorated with long trails of wildflowers. A young man I recognized from church the day before sat on a bale of hay entertaining us with country music and playing his guitar. Desserts were served with a lovely after dinner wine. Chris’s triple berry pie, a recipe I use to this day, was the star sitting alongside a glass bowl of trifle, an assortment of cakes and plate after plate of cookies and bars. About nine, people starting peeling off and heading towards their vehicles as the next day was a work day.

What a wonderful night that was. Everyone pitched in. Once the last guest’s taillights had disappeared down the road we all carried something into the kitchen. Eva and Dawn, running on a sugar high, had to be carried sniffling into bed. Chris and I stayed up late and washed dishes putting leftovers in containers to be stored in the fridge. When finally I walked down the hall towards my room I realized I would really miss this new family of mine. It was a night I shall always keep with me, and of course the blueberry pie recipe.

Chris’s Triple Berry Pie

Double Crust Pie Shell

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
4-5 Tbsp. milk

Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle with vinegar. Gradually add milk tossing with a fork until a ball forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.

Divide pastry in half leaving one ball slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger of the two to fit 9″-10″ pie plate. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim to rim. Brush bottom of shell with 1 Tbsp. water whisked with 1 egg white. Reserve the rest.

Roll out second shell to fit over top of the first. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sorted and any stems removed
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cups blackberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. water

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over berries. Using your hands gently turn until well coated. Pour into prepared shell.

Lay top pastry over berry mix. Press and seal edges with bottom shell. Trim as needed. Cut four slits in center to vent. Brush top with remaining egg white/water mixture.

Bake for 50 mins. or until browned and bubbly.

Cook on wire rack.

 

 

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By day six on the farm I had fallen into the rythm, sort of the heartbeat, of life there. It isn’t like working in the city, where you are hired for a specific skill and for the most part and you get up every morning and go apply that skill on your job.  On the farm there are jobs to be done by each participant in addition to providing help wherever else you are needed on any given day. If you have nothing to do, someone will find you something to fill your time. Nobody is standing around waiting for the world to hand them an agenda. All hands are needed to keep the process moving forward. It was nice to be a part of that, if only for a short time. I can see where being born into a farm family you take this strenuous schedule in stride accepting it as routine. You work until the work is done. The only exception was Sunday. Sunday, thankfully, was for the most part a day of rest and I was looking forward to getting in on some of that on my sixth day there which happened to fall on a Sunday.

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I attended church services with them in the morning. The little girls reminded me of myself at their age. Both were fidgeting in their seats dressed in their glossy Mary Jane’s with their little bodies confined by frilly dresses they would happily exchange for bare feet, shorts, and an old tee shirt. Other than our two little princesses, the dress was generally casual. Church really isn’t a place to show off your new duds anymore. As a child I remember going into church with my grandmother. Never did I see her without a hat, gloves, nylons, heels, and a suit or a dress at Sunday services.  In the cooler months I can remember the addition of her much prized fox stole, flung over one shoulder the poor fox still attached. These days people show up in whatever they grab out of the closet. Jeans are acceptable attire as are shorts in the summer and ski jackets in the colder months. The last time I went to church in California the kid in front of me was wearing his pajama bottoms. For me it’s all fine. I’m pretty sure, though I’ve never actually gotten the final directive from up above, the Lord doesn’t put much stake in what our clothes look like. I believe he focuses more in the direction of what we are thinking or what we are doing, rather than what shoes we are wearing.

The church structure was so charming with white siding and a tall steeple. A bell showed through a tower window. Though the siding was clean and well cared for the building appeared to be quite old. I was told later it had been around many years and held some historic significance in the area, marked by a gold plaque hanging in the vestibule. The sermon was invigorating enough to keep me from lowering my chin to my chest which is always a blessing in itself. A group of young singers took the stage after the minister had spoken and soon had everyone clapping and stomping their feet. Following the service the “flock” met in the great room for a mouth watering smorgasbord of homemade cakes, pies and other goodies washed down with freshly brewed coffee and lemonade. I found the people for the most part extremely friendly and welcoming. Several times I was drawn into conversations with local ladies about how I came to find myself in their midst. They seemed fascinated anyone would sign up for such a trip without knowing who they were going to see or what might befall them once they reached their destination. I couldn’t argue with their logic. Ninety percent of my family and friends were on the same train going down the same track. Sometimes I’m fascinated by it myself when I reflect on my time there. At the time it seemed to have worked out well so I was simply enjoying doing exactly what I was doing.

At the end of the food line there was a small craft sale of sorts comprised of what looked to be mostly homemade items set up on a folding table . I admired a tea cozy someone had crocheted mentioning I could knit but had never mastered crocheting. The two women standing next to me seemed perplexed I could even knit. Apparently their image of women from California was of ladies oozing glamour and money looking ready to step out of the pages of Elle or Cosmopolitan. Pampered females with maids to maintain their fabulous homes and “people” who cleaned their pools and manicured their impressive yards. I hadn’t applied so much as a hint of blush since my arrival. At the time I traveled there I was renting a room in a condominium, doing my laundry at the nearby laundromat, and my “yard” consisted of a small patio with a table top fountain and a well faded patio umbrella. I probably dashed their illusions to pieces by not showing up in a haute couture gown wearing a tiara perched on my head with my lashes heavily laden with mascara. Had I know I was representing I would have at least used a curling iron on my hair. Interesting about preconceived notions. They often hit so far off the mark.

After church, it was decided we would go into town and enjoy breakfast at the diner. I had not seen the town as yet so was excited for a chance to explore. One parcel of acreage seemed to blend into the next as we drove along. Horses grazed in white fenced pastures here and there and tractors chugged along barely visible in clouds of dust in open fields. Chris sat in the front seat with a sleeping Dawn on her lap. Bob P. had elected to stay at the church to play cards with a group of friends. That left Ray at the wheel and Bob J., Eva, and I to take up the back seat. Eva was chattering at warp speed as we drove along switching subjects so quickly it was impossible for me to keep up.  Bob J., being his usual introspective self, gazed out the window so frequently you’d have thought the answers to the major unanswered questions plaguing mankind hung there on a suspended flash card for him to review. One thing I had learned about the man is he didn’t speak often, but when he did at least he had something interesting to say. I liked that. There is an old saying about many an important thing can be said in silence. Can’t remember the exact quote but you get where I’m going here. At times in my life I’d dated men who had said a lot, but not much of it had substance. This was a refreshing change of pace.

Alerting me we were approaching the town, Ray made a joke about it being so small the town council could have saved money by having the “Welcome to” and “You Are Now Leaving” notifications printed on the front and the back of the same sign. We pulled into the bustling parking lot of The Country Cottage Diner and found a spot far in the back. Chairs had been lined up under the eaves and people were seated chatting among themselves. A sign on a podium outside the front door said sign in and be seated. Adding his name to the waiting list Bob J. suggested he and I take a brief tour of the downtown area while waiting for a table to open up. The General Store was directly across the street, yup the sign really read General Store. Bob J. said the large brick building also housed the post office and a small branch of the Ministry of Transportation which I understand is the DMV’s Canadian cousin.  Further down the block was a gas station, and across from that was a hardware store and bait shop, a video rental place, and several specialty shops. The commercial area of the town was followed by a bank of beautiful old homes with inviting porches lining both sides of the main drag (I had a feeling it might be the only drag). All and all the tour took about five minutes. Walking back we saw Ray signalling our table was ready.

Inside the diner to the left was a long line of stools and a counter. The stools were mostly occupied by older gentlemen either reading an open paper or feeding their faces. Behind the counter the cooks could be seen through a hole in the wall busily filling orders. My stomach was happy to know breakfast was in the offing. To the right of the counter was a mishmash of tables followed by a long series of booths next to the windows. We sat at the larger circular booth in the corner with one child in between each parent for management. I ordered Eggs Benedict, my favorite. It was absolutely delicious served with crispy homestyle potatoes, spicy sausage links, and a heaping bowl of fresh fruit. Each table started out with a basket of assorted muffins which were served with local honey. People stopped by our booth often to say hello to the family exchanging bits of local gossip or information pertaining to farm business.  I was, I’m sure, a bit of a curiosity. Chris told me they usually didn’t entertain that much traffic when eating there by themselves.

Back at the ranch, so to speak. Chris and Ray went off with the girls to tend to the animals who after all didn’t know the difference between Sunday or Monday when it came to their stomachs. Bob J. and I sat on the fence and watched the horses in the coral. Hopping down he asked if I’d be interested in a ride. I accepted the invitation with the assurance he would put me on the horse with the mildest disposition. It had been years since I’d ridden and didn’t want to end up on the ground or worse making (pardon) a horse’s ass of myself. Hoisted up on the saddle I was pleased I remembered how to hold the reins and that I hadn’t fallen off before we reached the path that led out of the compound. We rode about an hour and a half sometimes just walking along slowly and other times loping along next to each other. It was starting to cool off for the day and the bugs had begun searching for new meat so reluctantly we turned our horses heads back in the direction we had come. We rode in complete silence for a while, neither of us feeling the need to fill the void with words. It was lovely.

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Writing this reminds me again how I do love horses and have great respect for them. Majestic animals who allow us to slap leather contraptions on them and hop on their backs with mostly quiet acceptance.  The most wonderful experience I ever had on the back of a horse was while vacationing in Rosarita Beach, Mexico. Rosarita Beach is a lovely little tourist mecca on the Baja Peninsula. In my early twenties my first husband and I often camped on the beach there with the children. On this trip we had come with a rather large group of his family members. Our tents were lined up in a row along the tree line right on the beach.  A group of locals approached us one afternoon with five or six horses in tow asking us if we wanted to ride. There were no saddles, only colorful blankets thrown across their backs. It was necessary to stand on a rock to get on board. Without a saddle there were no stirrups available to help you on hop up. The beach stretched out before us and my horse seemed eager to run. Holding tight to the reins I clinched the sides of the horse with my knees. My legs felt every contraction of the animal’s muscles as he galloped along through the glistening surf. Truly that was such a lovely sensation I have difficulty finding the words to describe it. Freedom I suppose is would cover it nicely. A complete communion with another species might also say it well.

So I close the page on Day Six of my farm adventure. The end is now closer than the beginning and I remember feeling melancholy at the thought of leaving my adopted family and their lovely farm behind.

 

 

 

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iStock_Farmer_field_farm-RGBFarm life, I was to learn, was comprised of work, work, and more work. When you have all variety of animals you are responsible for, there is no day that gives you license to fall out of bed at noon, stretch your arms over your head, and seat yourself at the kitchen table until your coffee gets cold. Each day you wake up early, get dressed, put some fuel in your belly and get after it. Hungry animals cannot wait for you to check how many likes you got on Instagram, or balance your chi with your yoga guru, or watch the news. It’s an entirely different way of life.

Observing my newly acquainted farm family coming together as a team was inspiring to me, still is. Each member worked selflessly for the common good of the whole. I have never thought of it as so before now, but I would suppose a farm, if managed well, may be the perfect socialist environment.

When no seasonal labor was present, three men made their homes on the property. Bob P., was the ring leader of the “boys”, as Chris referred to them, and the elder statesman at seventy five. He kept his clothes in the bunk house located on the far end of the property, a space he shared with additional labor when they were hired on. Bob J., his only son, (a daughter lived in Vancouver), occupied the main ranch house, and Chris, Bob J’s daughter and her husband Ray lived in a large ranch style house about a half a mile down the road. All three men in spite of the age disparity shouldered equal responsibility when it came to labor. I have to say, for a man showing a bit of wear, Bob P. seemed in amazingly good shape. Very little extra overlap showed above his belt line and his arms were still well muscled where visible below his shirt sleeve.

The only woman in attendance, or woman “fully grown” as they say in the south, was Chris. Chris was twenty-six. I knew this only because women of her age feel free to toss their age about like a puck at a hockey match. We older ladies tend to hold that number a little closer to the vest, answering when asked, “40ish”, when fifty is really knocking on the door.  Not to be excluded by any means, were the two youngest members of the clan, Chris and Ray’s daughters, Eva and Dawn, four and two and a half respectively.  All six of them managed an appropriate portion of the work according to age but not really gender.  It became quickly apparent when I came on board my being female didn’t exclude me from getting my hands dirty right along with the males in the group.

In rare moments of quiet, I grabbed the opportunity to take in the gorgeous countryside around me. Manitoba is a prairie province by definition, the land marked with long flat expanses, plateaus, lush soil, and an abundance of rivers and lakes. The front porch swing, often where I found myself after hanging up my hat for the day, allowed me an uninterrupted view of the front yard which stretched to the road and on forward to the horizon. I remember the quiet sitting there. No city noises to break the silence only the soft hum of insects hovering above the magnolia bush and the occasional whir of a farm machine firing up somewhere in the distance. There was something extremely satisfying about working that land.  Would I want to do it 24/7? Not I. Would I do it again for ten days? Tomorrow.

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Bob J. and I knew enough about each other from the numerous phone conversations and email correspondence we had shared to consider ourselves virtual “friends” before I arrived. This rubbed some of the newness off generally associated with meeting someone for the first time.  As we had gotten into our stories over the previous year, he had shared with me the loss of his wife, Anna after a three month bout with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She had been forty-seven. They were high school sweethearts, married right after graduation. Chris, as I mentioned, was their only child. Anna, Bob told me, had wanted a large family but an emergency hysterectomy after Chris was born made that impossible. Accepting she was to have only one chick, she doted on her only daughter and the two had become very close. The loss of her mother when Chris was expecting her first grandchild had been devastating. Talking to him then, I had no idea I would find myself in a similar situation some twenty-five years later when I lost Rick, but life never reveals many hints of how your story is to unfold.

The first time Bob J. and I found ourselves alone was on my third day on the farm. After a busy morning at the feed and grain, then back to the main farmhouse for a quick lunch, I accompanied him to check on the cattle in the fields. Before Dawn would let me go, I had to promise a visit to her puppies as soon as we returned. For a while we drove quietly. No air conditioning in the truck cab, we rolled the windows down to get some air circulation. It was warm, but not hot outside and a lovely breeze played with the back of my neck. I asked about the cows, questions a person with little knowledge of cattle might need answered. “What do they eat”, “how do you bring them in from the pasture”, oh, and “do they bite”? He laughed when I asked if cows bite, telling me it would be unlikely a cow would bite a human but he wouldn’t suggest sticking my fingers in one’s mouth to test his theory. As we talked I found him very knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. Sometimes I think we tend to lump people under the heading of what they do, before finding out who they actually are. In his spare time, which I’m sure was little, he said he was an avid reader. This would account for the impressive library I’d noticed in the living room. I had also noticed there wasn’t a television. When asked if he had a TV he simply said, “never watch it”. I think that was the first time in years I spent ten days without picking up a remote, and I can’t think of a time I missed it.

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Bob got out and opened the gate leading into the nearest pasture. In the distance a loosely structured herd could be seen grazing near the fence line. I was fascinated by all the calves. I do love babies of all makes and models, and these were no exception. When we got close the cows gathered around the truck checking us out before we opened the doors. Reaching behind the seat Bob pulled out several heads of iceberg lettuce. Handing them to me he said, “give them this they will love you for it”. After several days around the herds they would follow the truck when I whistled out the window. He called me the “cow whistler”. I’m pretty sure it was the lettuce that sealed the deal but he was tell me later the cows appeared to still look for me for some time after I left. Who knew I had cow pheromones?

Checking on the new little ones and filling feeding troughs turned out to be an all afternoon affair getting us back at the main house around supper time. Walking into the now familiar kitchen I was surprised to find no pots on the stove and no tempting aromas to alert my stomach something delicious was on it’s way. Asking where everyone was (and the food??), Bob J. said he’d forgotten to tell me tonight was the night they were to spray the crops. This meant a late night and a barbecue at the campsite afterwards. If I was hungry it was suggested I make myself a sandwich to tide me over. Make? Myself? Funny how quickly one can adapt to being spoiled.  I have always been the one in the kitchen so it had been near bliss for me to have someone else take over the responsibility of meals for a few days. Don’t misunderstand me I love to cook, but even when you’re doing something you love it’s nice to take a break and do something else for a while. Fine. I really got a clear understanding of why men got married at that moment.

Around ten with the little ones tucked in with their grandfather along with another promise from me to see the puppies, Bob J., Claire, Ray and I once again headed out towards the fields. This time we weren’t there to tend to the cattle but rather to the crops planted along the fields farther out. These fields, Ray told me, were mostly geared towards hay and grain for the livestock but they did have several fields of corn and other cash crops as well. I inquired as to whether I should be worried about what they are spraying and got a vague answer in return. Uh-huh. Fortunately I sat high up in the enclosed cab of the tractor with Bob J. What an experience that was. At one point he needed me to drive the tractor while he directed me. Seriously? Are you insane? It took me three shots to get my learners permit. Good Lord. Somehow, either his excellent guidance or once again the business of God taking care of drunks and fools, I managed to edge the huge machine where I was directed without running over Bob J. or doing damage to anything in the immediate vicinity. The full moon shone brightly across the crops giving the spring evening a more fallish feel to it. After several hours ,with Chris and Ray working the other fields, we stopped for the day and made our way in a small caravan to what they referred to as the “campsite”. The campsite turned out to be a very large travel trailer, well equipped I have to say, in a clearing in the middle of the woods. A massive faded striped awning jutted out from the roof with four or five lawn chairs arranged beneath it. A fire pit occupied the center of the open space with rocks forming an irregular circular border. The first order of business was to spray ourselves with insect spray. Oh good, if I hadn’t picked up enough chemicals earlier in the night I surely would have risen to full capacity on this spraying. I could hear the insects buzzing around my ears so figured the spray was perhaps the lesser of the two evils.

Chris began removing covered bowls from the fridge, handing me a plate of hot dogs and one piled with pre-made hamburger patties to take out to “the boys”. Lanterns hung from several tree branches and a fire was crackling in the pit. The additional light illuminated Bob J. at a large barbecue behind a wooden picnic table. Chris and I laid a plastic cloth over the table. Between the two of us we carried out bowls of potato salad, macaroni salad, and tossed green salad as well as buns for the burgers and dogs and all the condiments. Yum. An uncut watermelon rested in a cooler filled with ice alongside several bottles of local wine which we took care of emptying before loading our plates.

What a wonderful way to end another great day. Driving back it was amazing how many stars decorated the night sky without the disruption of all the lights typical in more populated areas. My head hit the pillow around three am. Thankfully, we were allowed to sleep until nine due to the late night and I intended to do as I was told.

Day four would be a break in the action. I understood fishing was on the calendar, and of course those sweet puppies. Yay.

 

 

 

 

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My groceries were delivered Friday. This is an event I’m beginning to dread. From now on I’m not checking the substitutions box. Got four packages of frozen broccoli, four different boxes of ice cream, and a carton of White Castle burgers in lieu of the meat I ordered. Are White Castles even a member of any of the four food groups? My guess is no.  Hmmmm. Trying to understand the logic of this but it still escapes me. By the time I washed everything, threw away all the bags and gloves, put the rest in the shed, and decontaminated and sanitized the house, I found I had lost interest in food entirely but liquor was beginning to sound pretty good. Sigh.

I did make masks last week, and the good times just keep on coming. They turned out really cute actually. The only fabric I had that was flannel had frogs on it so I’ll be somewhat of a trend setter. Ribbet. Can’t believe I’m now seeing ads for designer masks. Really? People will hop on board for anything in the midst of disaster I swear. According to an article I read yesterday Americans have been ripped off in the millions on virus scams. That particular aspect of humanity always makes my heart sad. The “hit em while they’re down” mentality. Wonder what makes people able to live with themselves after taking advantage of someone already suffering. Never get that.

Have to say I am getting so much done. I didn’t want to do most of it which is why it hadn’t been done up until now, but since my calendar is looking a bit bleak at moment doing something certainly trumps doing nothing at all, at least for me. I’m not a good sitter. Even while watching a movie, unless it is totally riveting, I usually have something else on my lap I’m working on like knitting or I succumb to the annoying habit of hopping up and down to fetch something from the kitchen, or if all else fails I simply doze off in place.

Easter Sunday has come and gone. I put out a few of my favorite bunnies around the house to make me feel a bit festive. Yesterday was spent talking to friends. The aroma of the pot roast and root vegetables we had for dinner still lingers in the air and in spite of all that seems wrong in the world something feels kind of right if only for the moment.

Missed seeing our littlest clan member gathering eggs and enjoying his chocolates but life is what it is. Acceptance has been a big part of my world for the past few years particularly with Rick passing. This pandemic is no exception. Along with accepting the reality of the virus, I can also accept I am cozy and safe for the moment. I can accept that the sun is shining brightly outside my window, and I’m about to go for a long walk in my beautiful neighborhood. I will be thankful for that. I got on Zoom yesterday for a family hello. Not my favorite way to communicate. Why is it everyone looks so odd on the screen, or maybe it’s just that I do?  At one point my cheeks looked like I was storing nuts for winter and a little while later I noticed my chin had begun to look like it extended beyond my navel. Maybe I’m doing it wrong? I need one of those APPS that has twenty-seven filters and adds bunny ears and a fake nose for effect.

These days when I drift off of late into daydreamland I keep picturing myself on a white sandy beach somewhere decidedly tropical. Closing my eyes I can luxuriate in the glorious feel of warm sand sifting through my toes mixed with the intoxicating smell of salt sea air. Calgon? Oh, I’m back. Being confined has reminded  me of how much I truly do miss the ocean. Definitely when freedom is again possible I am pointing my car west and finding a beach. Growing up on the eastern seaboard my soul calls to the the sea when I’m away from it too long like a lost child seeking it’s mother.  My grandmother’s house in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I spent my formative years, sat atop a hill overlooking the entrance to Halifax harbor. As a child I would sit on the ridge watching for hours as massive ships entered and left.  Cargo ships riding low in the water heavy with loads were my favorites. They would make their way slowly to the docks expertly guided by the tugs hugging their sides.  Living close to the sea you find it wears many faces. Some days the water dances with joy as nympths of light hop from wave to wave across the surface. Then on foggy nights when visibility was limited the sad song of the fog horns would lull me to sleep tucked snugly away in my bed on the second floor towards the back of the house. Looking back I can’t remember feeling anything but safe living in that house on the hill. Perhaps the security of those early years helped to make me strong for a life to be filled with twists and turns such I had yet to imagine?

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When around five years old my mother, a widow four years prior, began dating a rear admiral stationed aboard an aircraft carrier. One Sunday we were invited to tea on board ship. As usual I was imprisoned in shiny Mary Jane’s, a freshly pressed smocked dress, topped off with a little straw hat. Sigh. A tomboy from the tip of my grass stained toes to the top of my unruly curls, this, as you can imagine, was a fate worse than death. However, stepping on the deck of this massive conveyance is a memory well etched in mind. The surface seemed to extend to forever and infinity from my diminutive point of view. The rear admiral, “a tall drink of water” as my grandmother referred to him, guided us below deck to his quarters. What an experience. Tea was served by an officer assigned to see to such things and included the tea amenities as well as an assortment of finger sandwiches and a lovely variety of sweet tea cakes guaranteed to make a little girl’s heart smile. After that visit he had my vote to be my new daddy. Unfortunately I didn’t carry the majority in the house so mother moved on and I ended up with my first stepfather some three years later. We shan’t go there for now. Those stories are why I pay a therapist to listen to me.

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When left to my own thoughts my mind often goes off on journeys of it’s own. In search of a project I organized my drawers and shelves over the past week. Putting pictures in order and storing them to put in albums at another time brought up so many memories. Looking at my children’s fresh young faces standing before buildings now part of our history was a reminder, along with so many reminders lately, of how quickly life can change and how flexible we humans must be to keep up with the pace.

For some of us this pandemic has been a heavier hit than others. Certainly it has been an inconvenience for all of us and a financial burden for so many there is no denying that. I’m just saying some of us have carried more of the weight I believe. Doctors and nurses, for example, unable to return home to see their offspring for fear there might be a deadly hitchhiker riding on their skin or hidden in their clothing. People who have had to remain at a distance as their loved ones slipped away in a hospital they weren’t allowed to visit, then forced to mourn their passing alone or with a few family members at their sides. I’m finding myself feeling very thankful. It is not over yet.  Our planet has flexed it’s muscles and we who share it have felt the power of nature.  A wake up call? I am sure it is. I do hope we hear the message far beyond the time the immediate danger of becoming sick has passed. The L.A. basin is enjoying glorious blue skies for a change with the freeways not clogged with vehicles spewing toxins into the atmosphere. Though we humans may be suffering Mother Nature may, for the moment, be breathing a sweet sigh of relief for this brief reprieve.

I hope this finds you looking at the screen at familiar faces, or enjoying the smells emanating from your kitchens as well. Sending a virtual hug to all of you who are kind enough to stop by and read what I have written from time to time. Have a great day!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Never thought I’d find myself in a position where not being able to go to the grocery store felt like I was being sent to my room. Sigh. It feels a bit like everything in our world is tainted. Before I pick something up I question if I should pick it up at all. If my answer is yes, I break out the gloves and disinfectant, and handle it as though it was a wrapped pack of dynamite sticks with a timer ticking down from ten seconds. Whew. Very stressful. The Tai Chi was helping with my stress until my back went out. At that point my back began playing for the other team. Timing is everything. Not being able to reach down can be limiting if one is living with just a cat for companionship. Miss Boo sat at her bowl yesterday expectantly waiting for me to fill it, looking down at the bowl and then up at me as if to say, “well”? The bowl was in it’s usual spot, but since I couldn’t pick it up, I filled another dish with kibble and set on the counter. I explained, slowly of course so the cat could understand me, “I can’t bend down right now”. Pointing to the dish on the counter I went on to say, “you will have to come up to my level if you wish to nourish yourself”. I don’t know if cats can actually put up one claw without extending the others but I believe her middle claw was straight up in the air before she made her way back down the hall.  Later I did find her seated on the counter next to her bowl licking the butter. I believe this was by way of a statement on her part.

Sometimes it seems to me when you are already dealing with a challenging situation it attracts other annoying situations to it like an industrial magnet. First my back falls out of line, literally, and next the sink in the front bathroom decides to go south. The stopper, usually a simple matter of pushing a lever up or down to operate is now stuck in the down position with a bowl of dirty water swirling around on top of it. Great. What to do? Can’t call my landlord or a plumber so I guess I just shut the door and pretend it isn’t there. Ignore-ance. This is a behavior my daughter suggested I employ when she was seven.  We were driving down the road when I poured a cup of hot coffee in my lap I was holding in my right hand while while making a left turn. Duh, I know. I never said I was the sharpest pencil in the box. Not wanting to pull up my usual selection of words kept handy for use on such occasions in front of her, I just said, “darn”. Sensing the burning coffee had not made my morning, my little girl said, “Mommy, just use ignore-ance”. Got it! I have used that premise since that day, of course later on in concurrence with my stash of words saved for such occasions.

Don’t know where I picked up my rich repertoire of colorful language. Perhaps my mother passed on one or two words. Certainly wasn’t my grandmother. My grandmother never swore in her lifetime as far as I know. The strongest declaration of anger I ever heard come out of her mouth was “mercy”. Not exactly a word that leaves strong men trembling in their boots. In spite of her lack of verbal armor she was a tough old woman. I recall a story about her when she was in her eighties. At the time she lived alone in her apartment.  One morning preparing to get ready to start her day while coming towards the kitchen she caught the image of a young man hiding by her front door reflected in her hall mirror. Grabbing my grandfather’s solid wood cane she rounded the corner and whacked him about the body until he opened the door and fled down the hall howling in pain. You go girl.

Now let me preface, I’m not implying here I have a prolific potty mouth. I do not. I do, however, from time to time feel the need to express myself in a potty mouth kinda way. Some who do not dabble in swearing at all, may say it shows a lack of intelligence to insert vulgar language into one’s speech. I can accept that. Nonetheless, if I have dropped an anvil on my foot, shouting “oh my goodness”, will absolutely not get the job done lowering my IQ or not. Most of us if prone to swearing might have one or two “favorites” we lean on from the familiar “bad word list”. The words available to us when stronger language is called for than “gosh” or “my, my”. Some people may even combine several choice selections from the bad words list when using them to add impact to a particularly passionate statement.

So, as I said my week got off to a rocky start. A friend who I trust to be totally honest about observing no contact came to my rescue since I seemed to be unable to help myself. He began his visit by locking his truck, a good idea generally unless you have left both your keys and your dog inside. Welcome to my world. After choosing a lovely word, one of my personal favs, from the bad word list he dialed Triple A who sent someone out here spit spot (if you will) after learning there was an animal in the vehicle. Observing all the correct social distancing the vehicle was disinfected, the dog rescued, and life, as they say returned  to normal. (Well, whatever normal might be these days because the definition of normal has become definitely blurred over the past month or so.)

Interesting side fact, the “s” word s_ _ _, often found in the middle of “up _ _ _ _ creek” or “_ _ _ _ faced” is the oldest record curse word, dating back about 1,000 years.

Words, bad or good, fascinate me. Personally I believe your intent might be malicious when using a specific word but the word itself is innocent of any wrong doing. Using words to form a story that can be slanted in so many directions depending on how you arrange them is tantalizing to my imagination. Because I have always been such an avid reader and grew up in a household where words of all sizes and shapes were tossed about willy nilly, I have accumulated a fairly extensive vocabulary.  A dear friend and I share a “word of day” on the phone each morning. I try to come up with a word he has not yet conquered and he borrows it and makes it his own. Another thing I do which stimulates word knowledge is do crosswords and play a lot of Scrabble. My mother is an excellent Scrabble player. For many years this was something we shared. Even now with the dementia manning the wheel from time to time she can still come up with impressive words to place on the board. It may take her longer, of course. Sometimes I cook dinner or knit an afghan before it’s my turn, but I don’t mind. The fun after all is in the game not the winning. Can’t believe I said that. Such a lie. Our family is very competitive. The fun is in the winning.

Have a great day. I hope it won’t be long before we can close the book on this dark chapter and go forward with our lives. I wish all of you a safe and virus free week.

 

 

 

 

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Lordy, I am tired of me.  Thank God my therapist does phone sessions. Self reflection, so they say, is good for the soul, but too much introspection is, well fattening. Last weekend I baked delicious banana muffins with cream cheese frosting so as to use up the bananas before they ended up in the trash bin. As an aside, is it just me or does it seem like the bananas start getting brown spots somewhere between the store and home the day you buy them? Can’t understand that. Don’t remember it used to be that way but then I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. What’s weird about making twenty-four muffins is I don’t have a sweet tooth, never have. Well, when I was a little pudgy girl I did have a bent for pastries and chocolate but that desire dissolved with the extra fifteen pounds I was carrying when I reached my twenties and has never really returned since then…..until now. Sigh. My Achilles heel would be salt. I would sell world secrets for a basket of great curly fries. Pringle’s are my closet addiction. When all this started I only had five cans on hand and nearly had a breakdown.

For the most part I am a very healthy eater. There is really not a vegetable I don’t like, well other than okra and I’m not a huge fan of kale. Sorry to all you southerners who are going to tell me I just haven’t had okra cooked the right way. I’ve had them fried, boiled, in gumbo, in stew, baked and skewered and they never got any tastier. Slime in the end, is still slime even if you bread it. So far I haven’t found any fruit I simply cannot abide. I have a dear friend who would rather be shot in the foot than eat fruit. Blueberries, sweet little morsels of deliciousness I eat almost daily, she finds completely without taste. Her parents lived in the far northern regions of British Columbia when she was growing up without easy access to fresh fruit. This formed her taste palette which she’s carried through until today. On the other hand I called her last week and she said she’d call me back she was making a tongue sandwich. Ok, ewwww. I too had tongue growing up. As I remember likely having blocked it out, it wasn’t totally disgusting but I have seen the whole tongues sitting in the meat section at the market and kept right on walking by.  Nova Scotia cuisine is highly influenced by the British Isles so another menu item I no longer enjoy that showed up on the table was beefsteak and kidney pie. Sorry, anything you have to soak urine out of in order to eat is not going to be a part of my dinner plans. Sweetbreads were a favorite of my second husband. Sweetbreads are thymus glands or pancreas I believe. Please don’t quote me, organ meats are not my strong suit. Satisfying his desire for these was usually a going out to dinner situation as I had no clue how to prepare them nor any desire to learn.  Rick enjoyed both liver and hearts. When we were in Paris visiting his mother who made her home there, we went to a beautiful restaurant for dinner. Rick and his mother ordered Foie Gras as an appetizer. Foie gras, it was explained to me, is goose or duck liver which has been enlarged through a special feeding technique. Check please. No emails, not one tiny tidbit of that poor bird’s liver made it’s way on my fork.

We all have family favorites. Our food tastes are usually formed by what our parents put on the table when we were children. So many people have told me over the years they prefer their mother’s potato salad to any other, or believe their grandma’s turkey stuffing to be the tastiest they’ve ever eaten. Since I have too much time on my hands at the moment and this causes me to think, I can’t help wonder if using this premise if your mother was a terrible cook you grow up disliking good food. Something to ponder when you’re studying the pattern on your bathroom tile.

I think children should be allowed to have food preferences. Just like adults not all children are going to like blue cheese dressing or want a second helping of Brussels sprouts. I do think they need to explore a new taste before deciding they don’t like it, but if after trying it several times they still choose not to partake perhaps that is all right. If liver had showed up on my plate every night when I was a kid I guarantee you we’d have had a very fat dog. On the other hand a child can’t just decide to eat nothing but Dorito’s and bean dip either. There is a happy medium to be found. When my two were young my daughter disliked onions and my son pickles. I didn’t stop using onions when I cooked, however if my daughter choose not to eat them I didn’t insist she had to, nor did I put pickles on my son’s hamburger knowing he didn’t like them. Maybe as parents we don’t always have to have our way. I’m just sayin’.

Growing up in the maritimes, fish was a staple at our house. Lobster was a constant because it was plentiful. Far less of a delicacy, other than flavor, than it is on restaurant menus in the U.S. My grandfather would get the lobsters right out of the traps.  A huge pot of boiling water was prepared and into the pot they went. Being a lover of animals and creatures of all types, this was not a process I participated in until much later in life. In my twenties I bought four live lobsters for a Valentine’s dinner I was hosting for myself and my date and another couple. The meat department wrapped the four condemned inmates in butcher paper and handed them to me to be paid for on my way out. Watching the paper pulse and move in the cart as I pushed it along made me a bit squeamish as I made my way to the front of the store. Placing the package on the conveyor belt with my other items the checker made her way to the lobsters, wrapped her hand around the package, screamed and propelled them in the air where it landed on top of a pile of Presto logs. “It moved”, she was yelling at me. “Well yes, they are live lobsters, hello?” I told her for the price I’d paid for them rather than cavalierly throwing them in the air, she could be calling a limo to give them a ride home. I retrieved the package myself, placed it in the bag and paid for my items. I was told by the butcher to put them in the refrigerator overnight and cook them no later than the next day. K.

Opening the refrigerator I deposited the package on the lower shelf, draped a damp cloth over them and shut the door. The thought that I’d just closed livings things in my fridge did not escape me. The process did not go unnoticed by the cat either, blessed with a feline’s keen sense of smell. If I opened a can of tuna no matter where that animal was in the house she would be appear next to my feet before I could say albacore.  Thinking she had at last hit the mother lode, she laid next to the refrigerator until the following day when I took the four crustaceans out and set them on the counter. One of them raised a claw and pointed at me. I swear. In my mind I heard “murderer”. Sigh. My friends arrived. The men were in the living room eagerly anticipating a fabulous meal. My girlfriend and I stood over the boiling water looking at the lobsters and then at one another. Head first was what I was told. Hmmmm. Being dropped in a pot of boiling water does it really matter which way you go in? They say it’s most likely not painful, but who are they exactly and has someone actually conversed with the lobster on this?  Nonetheless, I lifted one by the tail, closed my eyes and let it go. The screaming began immediately. I later learned this was caused by air escaping around the shell, but to this day…….? At any rate the men were called in to dispatch the other three. My friend and I ate tuna sandwiches while both men devoured a two lobster Valentine dinner. I have had lobster and cooked it many times since then, but never cooked it live myself.

My maternal grandmother grew up on a farm. She told me you get used to sacrificing animals raised on the farm to feed the family. Once she told me the farm would sometimes get overrun by kittens in the spring. Feral cats were plentiful and needed to keep the rodent population manageable. When too many kittens became a problem, my great grandmother would take a burlap bag and put them in it with a rock and head down to the stream. I shall not go into further detail but you get the gist. Guess I’m just not farm material.

Signing off for now. Make the best of the day. Stay well.

 

 

 

 

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Last night my brain went into hyper drive. Hate when it does that. Up until now I’ve been a little nervous and had that “unsettled” feeling in the pit of my stomach about what’s going on but the seriousness of the situation sort of settled over me. If we actually had to huddle in place for eighteen months what would that look like? Small insignificant inconveniences began to occur to me. Not being able to get my hair cut or colored or have my teeth cleaned, for example. Both seem insignificant now but what will my pixie cut look like if this drags on as long as predicted? Am I going to be a long haired senior with outrageous roots and no teeth? What about vet visits for Miss Boo or the alarming lack of toilet paper or anything else for that matter in the stores?  Will whoever is hoarding the paper goods or is sitting on a pallet of hand sanitizer be in danger as the need for these items becomes more critical? Apparently gun sales are also up. Something to ponder when you’re staring at the ceiling at the middle of the night. So many questions floating around in the air with no answers in sight, or so it seems.

People who have their savings tied up in stocks are looking at a bleak market, as well as small businesses forced to either go to delivery or lay off their employees and shut their doors completely. Usually I am a consummate optimist but even my fairy dust spreader seems to be on the fritz the past few days.

On a slightly positive note, lest we all fall prey to despair here, we seem to be coming together as  a nation. Suddenly the division we’ve been experiencing over the last three years seems far less important than the situation we currently find ourselves immersed in. Countries normally at odds are being forced to work together to fight a common enemy and democrats and republicans have to lay down their swords and work toward a united goal. One thing I learned out of the pain of losing Rick a year and a half ago, there is always a gift hidden in suffering. Even though you often can’t see it while going through it, it will reveal itself.

Yesterday a dear friend came over. We meditated, which was extremely relaxing, and watched something funny on TV taking our minds off the world for a bit. I ordered books on line to fill the empty spots and took out a sewing project I have put off in lieu of other more pressing things I had penciled in on my schedule.  As the weather improves I’m going to begin to take a daily walk again. The only downside to owning a feline rather than a canine is they are resistant to joining you in an activity requiring actual exersion. Boo’s idea of a rigorous workout is walking from her bed to the feeding dish and back.

In the middle of all this uncertainty I try to find things to be grateful for. Thankfully, it isn’t summer yet. Not that I have anything against summer. As a kid I looked forward to the dog days more than any time of the year other than the holidays. That last day of school when you are released for three months to swim, stay up late and generally drive your parents to the liquor counter. It was a glorious freeing right of passage before having to face the pitfalls and responsibilities that come with achieving adulthood. However, these days summer in California signals fire season is on the move and PG&E hosted blackouts have become the standard of the day. This year I have a generator. I am most thankful for that. A friend is coming to help me understand how to use it. Times like this I do so miss having Rick to lean on but again I am thankful I am blessed wonderful friends who allow me to lean in their direction from time to time. For now there is food in my cupboard but the plan is to begin planting the large bed towards the back of the property so fresh vegetables are handy should there be a need. A plus of doing a project like this is that along with helping yourself keep fresh food on hand it occupies a busy mind for a while giving you a break from the stress swirling all around us.

Rain is returning to the area over the weekend. The dry soil is lapping it up like a thirsty dog after a long hike. Though not filling our cup it certainly has added to it so I am most thankful for this. With the weather seesawing from warm enough for short sleeves and shorts to chilly enough for sweaters and scarves it is hard to know what to take out of the closet. Today I will be thankful I have a closet with clothes hanging in it to choose from.

Each day I try to check in on my friends, in particular the ones who live by themselves and are more isolated than I am. If it weren’t for my asthma I would answer some of the calls for volunteers to deliver food to shut ins or help with distributing food at the food pantries. I have signed up for working away from direct contact so have been busy on my computer doing what I can when I can.

The doctors and nurses working on the front lines of this crisis are amazing. How difficult it must be for their families who are left to fend for themselves and worry about their loved ones. So, I include them in my prayers before closing my eyes at night.

This will pass as all bad things do but for now we are left to tune in the news in hopes of hearing a viable cure for this virus has been developed or stay inside and protect ourselves from a suddenly dangerous world. Keep the faith, or if that is not your bag at least try to keep positive. Anxiety is also a dangerous road so try to do things that relieve your mind for a bit to keep you from traveling down it 24 hours of the day.

Stay safe, be vigilant. Talk soon.

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