Resolutely Positively Real

Woman crossing stepping stones on a riverEvery time I turn on a news program or wade through my social media feeds, I’m bombarded by contradictory messages.  The world is falling apart from politics, military threats, horrendous wild fires, and hate crimes.  But woo-hoo, it’s a new year and a new decade, time to eat better, exercise more, get healthier, volunteer more, and be your best self (thanks Oprah).

It’s kind of schizophrenic and exhausting. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel. Horrified and scared? Strong and brave? Nervous and Exhausted? Hopeful and Determined?  Eeesh… Oh, and while I’m at it, I should be setting my New Year resolutions?

I’ve never been a big resolution setter. Primarily because I’m a classic one for stating my intentions, then promptly forgetting them. Just like I can’t tell you if any birthday cake candle wishes have ever come true, because I don’t remember what I wished for by the time I’m done with my ice cream.

The other reason I’m not a huge fan of setting resolutions is that by doing so, we seem to be stating that we aren’t good enough, and need to make some sort of fairly substantial self-improvements. As if we haven’t just spent the past year busting our butts to stay healthy, pay the bills, take care of family, do our jobs, and overall be good people. Nope. That’s not enough. We must resolve to be better in some way. You know, like by losing 20 pounds, run a marathon, solve global warming, and save all of the Koalas. So even if we do remember our solemn promises, we can then be depressed when we can’t complete our grandiose goals.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have goals, and we shouldn’t do our best to make the world a better place – because Lord knows there’s a lot of improvement needed.  Some of us WILL make massive changes for ourselves and for the world. But for the rest of us, instead of promising to become the next Joanna Gaines, Greta Thunberg, or Christina Koch, we Real Women would be much better off first acknowledging how amazing we are (I mean, come on, we just finished up the year by pulling off Christmas again), then set much more realistic, achievable daily goals. Aren’t there smaller attainable steps we can take to actually feel good about ourselves and our lives, and give us moments of saying “yay me” instead of “oh, crap, I gained three pounds instead of losing ten” ?

Here are a few RR’s (Realistic Resolutions) I’m pondering for this year:

  • Get through winter. Some of you out there adore winter. Good for you. I tolerate it. Sure, some days of fluffy white snow are pretty. But overall winter is cold and dark and I spend most of it waiting for Spring. I vow to fight winter gloominess and grumpiness.
  • Stop sucking in my stomach every morning when looking in the mirror, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. It does. And it wants to be my forever friend.
  • Find new recipes for dinners that take less than 30 minutes to prepare, use five ingredients or less, and beat back food prep boredom.  (Oh, ok, I suppose I’ll make sure at least a couple of them are fairly healthy.)
  • Be supportive and excited for my college freshman son and not dwell on the fact he is turning 20 and my little boy is gone. Stop sobbing.
  • Crank my tunes in my car and sing. Out loud. More than I already do. Preferably when alone.
  • Try harder to accept my aging body.  Notice I didn’t say love, I’m not that far yet. I still wish my body was 25. But I’m getting there. Instead of being cranky that my arthritic knees hurt, I’ll be thankful I can still walk, bike and garden.  Instead of counting my age spots, I’ll think of my mom every time I see my hands which now look like hers did.  Instead of moaning about new wrinkles, I will try to greet them as signs of a life well-lived and maybe even name them. The one at the top of my nose between my eyes I shall call Gladys.
  • Start picking up trash while on my walks with my dog. I remember doing this as a kid in the 70’s. Sadly, some things like filthy littering pig people don’t change.
  • Don’t let scary sad news prevent me from being positive.  Our world doesn’t need another cranky mean grump-ass.  And it feels so much better to consistently believe that good will win over bad.

Will any of these make me a remarkably changed woman? No. Will any of these solve serious world issues? Nope. But all of the above are attainable. They are realistically positive. And they just might make me, and folks around me, feel a bit better every day.

Ok, your turn. Do tell some of your goals. Sky-diving?  Or just cleaning out your basement.  Becoming a super model?  Or just finding an easy hair style you like.  Let’s head into 2020 cheering each other on with simple positivity.

Not that any of us need improving. We are perfectly real just the way we are.

 

Posted in achievements, celebrations, communication, family, future, Health, Holidays, Kids, love, moods, preparation, real style, real women, Relationships, routines, Seasons, self care, simplifying, social media, Traditions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy New Year

strong woman

To all of the amazing real women in my life, and to those I have yet to meet:

Thank you for traveling the ups and downs of this past year with me.  In 2020 may we all experience more laughter than tears, more adventures than boredom, more peace than stress, and more love than hate.

I look forward to stopping to smell the roses with each of you.

Happy New Year!

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Daily Constitutional

walk stepsEarlier this week the morning windchill was -10◦ so my puppy and I missed our morning walk. She was all out of sorts, pacing and whining.  I felt a bit off too.  I’m fortunate that my work days start late enough that every morning I can fit in a 30-minute outing with her after sunrise.  Since she became a part of our family seven months ago, we have missed very few mornings –only due to a change in my schedule (an early morning meeting or travel) or for extreme weather conditions – torrential rain, massive snow storm, or like that morning, dangerously cold temps.   Otherwise we are out there every day, checking out the neighborhood, doing one of three available routes from our house.

My father used to call walks like this “the daily constitutional.”  Sure, there are some mornings when I don’t really feel like going out there, especially in less than stellar weather.  I could do other things with that half hour, like a bit more sleep, or more writing time.  But once I get out there, I’m glad we went.

I enjoy seeing the world coming awake, the sun having just come up, the quietness fading as people head out to work or school.  Everything seems prettier just after sunrise. And according to my pup, it is apparently a great time for sniffing and catching up on all of the nocturnal animal activity she missed.  There is also a comfort in the routine of it all.

When I was a young girl, we knew all of our neighbors within a 2-mile or more radius.  Now not so much.  Life is a bit different with less personal contact.  We know our immediate neighbors – as a matter of fact we are BFFs with our next door neighbs.  But once you get further down the road, or around the corner, the familiarity ends.  Thanks to these walks, where knowledge ends, my imagination begins.  My pup and I recognize certain routines for each house we stroll past, and I like to play the game of putting together clues, or just making up my own stories for those who live there.

First we got to know houses by the dogs that inhabit each home.  There’s The Senior Boxer’s Raised Ranch, The Twin Pugs’ Abode, The My-Bark-is-Worse-Than-My-Bite Retriever’s Turf, and Mr. McBarky the Tiny Tough Terrier’s Terrain.  Then over time, I’ve started to fill in the blanks a bit about the humans.

In one direction, we’ve got the gentleman who spent his summer working very hard on creating expansive gardens in his front yard, only to run out of time before actually adding more plants or mulch. Then there’s the retired couple who travel a lot, the young woman who has been doing a massive renovation of her home while trying to live in it at the same time (my kudos to her, been there done that, and it ain’t easy), the woman who has a small daycare in her home, and the slightly frazzled mom who wrangles her kids every morning to get their stuff in the car in time to drive them to school.

In another direction, there’s the cop with the beautiful big shepherd dog, the rather wacky family with a veritable zoo or farm in their backyard, the mysterious potential hoarding-case house, and the ever-expanding solar farm.

The third loop is the most interesting because it includes a more traditional neighborhood.  Let’s see… we’ve got the young dad who works third shift, the nurse who’s large tree fell over in a bad storm, the home of the smokers who have a tarp on their roof and a flooded driveway,  the busy family with multiple dogs and kids who have not noticed the broken folding lawn chair that lies crumpled in their front yard, and the home of the very sweet retired Italian couple with a cute cat and extensive garden. There are the two sisters who walk that same loop in pleasant weather.  And there’s the home with the misguided water sprinkler that makes a funny sound as it sprays their mailbox.

Sometimes the puzzles take longer to put together. There is one older man who I would expect to be retired, yet I saw him head off to work every day.  Until one morning when we happened to be walking about an hour later than usual, and I saw that same man pull back into his driveway and into his garage. Given the fact his recycling bin each week is full of neatly folded newspapers, I have now surmised (ie: created his story in my head) that every day he goes out to get a cup of coffee and the paper.  My neighborhood stories must always be cute and friendly, unlike the reality that probably lurks behind most doors.

The last part of that loop brings us by the Farm Stand and Nursery which of course changes and evolves throughout the year, starting with early spring flowers and ending with Christmas trees – after which the hard-working folks can finally take a vacation.  The familiarity of watching the seasons through that farm is comforting.

During afternoon weekend walks we will from time to time stop by the farm stand to bring home some veggies or plants, and my pup relishes the attention she receives there. During one of these stops, another woman customer said to me “You walk her every morning, don’t you.”   It had never dawned on me that my morning observations could go both ways.  Perhaps I’ve been a character in one of the home owner’s stories.  Perhaps I should put more thought into what I’m wearing or put on some makeup.  Nah. That would make my character far less interesting.

And so our daily strolls will continue, God willing, rain or shine for years to come. We will see families move away, and new ones come in. We will see renovations, landscaping changes, and children and puppies grow. I will continue to make up stories, and my pup will still chase squirrels up trees and stop to sniff the deer highway that runs over an old stone wall.

Next week, on Christmas morning, while our home-from-college son slumbers and my husband starts making coffee and cocoa, perhaps we will slip out for a holiday edition of our Daily Constitutional.  The morning will be even more peaceful.  The farm stand will be closed for the season.  Inside those homes, excited children will be waking parents, or couples will be exchanging gifts over breakfast, or families will be preparing to drive to visit relatives. Outside, however, there will be quiet, just our footsteps crunching through snow and ice along the roadside, and the sound of my doggo sniffing and snorting as she investigates.  Instead of making up stories, I’ll think about the one story that means the most.  That so many years ago, in the quiet and stillness of an early morning, a newborn baby changed the world.

Thank you, dear readers, for being there for my shared stories.  May you each find your own slice of peace, stillness and love this Christmas.

christmas farm

 

 

 

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Old, New, Just Because

advent calI opened today’s door on my Advent Calendar, because I’ve had a December count-down calendar all my life. I asked my husband to hang the mistletoe ball in the doorway because that’s where it goes. Tomorrow I’ll bake peanut butter blossoms and raspberry ribbon cookies because they are a family requirement.  I’ve hidden the pickle ornament on the tree and will get the extra surprise gift ready, because we always do the pickle present. I added an antique angel to my creche because it was my mom’s.  I’ll polish and wear my silver angel necklace for Christmas Eve Service because she always goes to that mass with me.  Because, because, because – they are traditions.

There’s no other event or time of year that is as dedicated to a multitude of “because that’s how we do it’s” as the December Holiday Season.  Sure, we have our customs and rituals throughout the year for other holidays, birthdays and life events.  But as soon as we near the end of the year, we become ferociously devoted to doing things a certain way. Like putting on our favorite, perfectly fitting, soft, warm sweater that we’ve had for 20+ years, our traditions make us feel good. They are comforting, they are fun, and they connect us to the past.

I’ve seen people get almost aggressively protective of their traditions. As funny as some of them may seem, it makes sense.  Traditions provide a sense of comfort and belonging.  In our ever-changing, frequently frightening big world, being able to rely on something NOT changing is like a big hug.

Once in a while, though, as uncomfortable as it may feel, we have to – gasp – change things up.  Starting new traditions can be for joyful and fun reasons like a new member of the family, a move to a new home or part of the country, or starting a new relationship – which can also lead to creativity. I’ve had some fascinating discussions with folks who blend Hanukkah and Christmas (one called it Hanumas) or take part in seemingly contradictory customs depending on which branch of the family they are visiting.

The most bittersweet shift in traditions of course comes about with the loss of a loved one, and just the progression of time. Within our world of Real Women, it feels like 2019 has been a year of loss.  Many RW’s I know have lost a loved one, or are dealing with the decline – both physically or mentally – of parents and other relatives.  Which means how they celebrate the holidays has shifted and changed and will never be quite what they were before.  Having to let go of some of the “that’s how we always do it’s” can hurt, and make us surprisingly sad or agitated.  Facing a changed tradition can hit us emotionally and suddenly like being run over by a pack of reindeer.  The key lies in how we get back up and brush the snow off our faces, shake the hoof prints off our backs, and find the right elves to support us in going a different direction without giving up completely to go hang out on a beach in Aruba.  (Remember how well that plan worked in Grisham’s Skipping Christmas.)

Not having a loved one with us for the holidays, for any reason (death, military service, school, distance) feels like a big chunk of our heart has left without taking along the rest of our body.  As many of you know, I’m a big believer in signs that come to us from our missing loved ones. During this magical time of year, they are easier to see if we just keep our eyes open.  One of my brother’s favorite traditions was to recite “Twas the Night Before Christmas” every New Year’s Eve. It was a carry over from our childhood, when we would each take turns reading that story.  A couple of months ago, I randomly selected my Advent Calendar at a Christmas gift shop because it was pretty.  Well, guess what. Each door I open is a verse from that poem.  Not a coincidence.

Finding ways to honor and remember those who are not with us helps ease the pain and discomfort.  I love seeing how RW’s choose to do this. One BFF’s husband adapted certain parts of their Christmas Village to be in memory of her father who passed this year.  Another RW friend is carrying on the tradition of making a cookie tree because her mother is no longer able.  Another is hanging inherited holiday décor, even though it doesn’t match anything else in her home.  All of these things bring a piece of that person back into our daily traditions.

We have to also be ok with doing new things, and feeling the freedom to make changes and enjoy them.  One RW and I were discussing that with the loss of our loved ones this year, our caretaking chores were relieved and we’ve had more time to enjoy our holiday preparations. Without having to go back and forth to transport or visit our ailing loved ones, we can relax and be home more. Maybe the loss of someone in your life has allowed for starting new traditions like changing the menu for Christmas dinner, or changing which church Service you attend, or having the time to go help out at a Soup Kitchen, or listen to different holiday music, or go on a trip for the New Year… whatever it is, we RW’s are struck with the dichotomy of guilt, grief and joy, and it really can twist us up inside.  Hence that lovely cry-laugh that emanates from us at any moment, scaring the men in our lives more than if they saw one of Scrooge’s ghosts.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter WHAT the tradition is.  Whether you’ve been carrying on for 50 years, or starting something new this year, what matters is the peace and comfort it brings, and the memories it builds.  Webster’s gives a definition of tradition as “the handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word or mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction.”   There’s no way really of knowing what will “stick” for our future generations.  We just know, that like us, our kids will do certain things “because that’s how we do it”, and will have some form of story, accurate or not, likely embellished through time, to tell for each one.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get out my mom’s cookie recipe (old) and go set up a small lit tree on my son’s desk for when he gets home from college next week (new).  Then I’ll tune into my playlist to sing some of my loved one’s favorite carols and hear them in my head singing right along with me.  Just because.

antique angel

 

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To Moms, Aunts, and Grandmas…

grateful heartsIt’s a funny thing, this mom stuff. That connection you make with your child the first time you look into your baby’s eyes never changes. Yes, there are highs and lows, laughter and tears, frustrations.  But that child is a physical and emotional piece of you.  It seems trite to say that time goes so fast, and they grow so fast, we need to cling to each day with them.  I think sometimes we are focusing too much on the speed of them growing that we start worrying too much, hang on too much, and become sad as each phase passes. I remember when my son was growing out of being an adorable baby boy and becoming a bigger boy, I made some comment about being sad about it to my sister.  Her response still sticks with me:  Every stage, every phase, is fun and amazing in its own way.

For most of us, the hardest phase is when it is time for them to start to spread their wings and leave home for school, or work, or whatever comes after high school and beyond. But we work hard on being excited for them, we look forward to what their adult life will hold for them, where they will go and what they will experience, and we pray about a thousand times a day that they will be safe, and that everything we’ve worked so hard to teach them thus far has prepared them to be good, happy, and healthy people, and successful in their own ways.  We try even harder to be cool about being Empty Nesters, in finding our own new grooves, and being ok with texts and calls from afar.  Then at some point, be it a holiday, a life change, whatever reason, they come back to visit. They are once again there to see, to hug, to experience in person, and to say goodnight to before bed.  They are safe, they are home. You can once again look into those same baby’s eyes and see that part of yourself that has been away, and for however brief it may be, the day seems brighter, your breathing is easier, your happiness and peace returns, and all is right with the world.

May you all have grateful moments together as we head into the holiday season.  Enjoy!

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Magic 8

Magic8ballI was doing some baking this weekend and it dawned on me that virtually every drop cookie recipe suggests an 8 minute bake time.  Less than that, say 6 minutes, and the cookies are too gooey or fall apart.  More than that, say 12 minutes, and you could end up with burned hockey pucks.  But in 8 minutes, that soft lump of dough turns into a perfect lightly browned soft delicious cookie. It’s kind of magical, really.

This morning I hit my snooze alarm, and rolled back over intending to take advantage of that full standard 9 minutes of more sleep. However my puppy had other plans and woke me again one minute before the alarm went off another time. I had managed 8 more minutes of shut-eye.  Later I got into my car to head to work. I’m spoiled that I work in the same town as my job, very close by.  Eerily knowing my routine, my phone popped up a notice that it would take me 8 minutes to get to the office.  Huh.

There’s something about this time frame. Many believe 8 minutes is the perfect amount of time to hard boil eggs. (I’m aware this is up for debate, there are some hardcore 10-minuters out there).  The average length of time for a person to take a shower is 8 minutes.  The “average” runner can complete a mile in 8 minutes. (I leave this one up to you runners to verify). And, I learned today, it takes 8 minutes for light to reach the Earth from the surface of sun.

Those are all pretty impressive things that can happen in that short an amount of time. What fascinates me is that its not 5 minutes – which is really too short a time period to accomplish much of anything – and it’s not 10, which apparently is too lengthy.  Nope, it’s 8.   There’s a lot of opportunity that lies in 8 minutes.  Just think – we all have approximately 112  8-minute segments in an average waking hours day.

What else could be done in that amount of time?  Would chores feel less overwhelming if we broke them down?  So for example, instead of deciding we need to clean the whole house in two hours, what if we took bite-size chunks – take 8 minutes to clean a couple toilets, or vacuum the floors.  It seems like a more friendly, approachable number.  Need to connect with a colleague about a few topics?  How about asking “Can I have 8 minutes of your time?”   Need to peel a child away from a screen?   Maybe we’d get fewer eye-rolls by saying “hey, come help me for 8 minutes.”   In 8 minutes, we could read a story with a child, sort through and put away the mail, clean out a spice rack, flip through a magazine, call and make an appointment we’ve been putting off, or – how’s this for a wild idea – just sit and look out the window.  I’ll bet having 8 minutes to just sit and breathe will seem a whole lot longer and do wonders for our sanity and blood pressure.

Obviously I’m not advocating that we start breaking our entire days down to 8-minute increments, that would drive us insane. But maybe we’ll start to feel more productive and put less pressure on ourselves if we can appreciate what we can accomplish in small bits. Like we may not have the time and energy for a full-on workout session, but we could squeeze in some sit-ups and squats in 8 minutes.  Hey, if a cookie can look that good in 8 minutes, it should work for us too, right?

Today at lunchtime I did quick trips to get gas and go to the bank (both probably took, you guessed it, 8 minutes).  The bank associate and I were chatting about Thanksgiving, and he said he was at first panicked because he was hosting the meal this year, and initially had 14 people due to arrive to his apartment where he wouldn’t have room for them all. Then he told me due to some cancellations and changes, the group number dropped to 8.  Which would be the exact right fit for his dining table.  I smiled and said “Yes, 8 will be perfect.”

That brings me to one of the many times when an 8 minute accomplishment is not appropriate.  After all of the planning and work that goes into the holiday meal, and family and friends have gathered, please do NOT finish your meal in 8 minutes.  Slow down. Savor the food, saver the company, take time to talk, to be together.  The people who prepared the meal will appreciate your slower pace, as will your stomach.  This is when time fragments don’t matter.  Each moment matters. So let’s all try a bit of slow-mo on Thursday.

You can save the 8 minutes for your next Chinese take-out meal.

 

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Market Fluctuations

self checkout
Well, I did it. I got up my courage, and I made a change. It’s going to take some getting used to, but the die is cast:  I have made the move to a different supermarket.

Shocking, right?  Come on, admit it, all real women understand that making a change like this is perhaps not quite as dramatic as changing hair stylists or doctors or moving to a new state, but it ruffles our feathers and means a fairly substantial change to our routines.  Sure, those of you who perhaps only buy a few items occasionally at several different markets may not appreciate the magnitude of this type of change.  But any of you who consistently shop weekly for a family at your go-to destination can certainly appreciate the repercussions of this decision which can not be made lightly.

I had been shopping at my usual grocery store for nearly 20 years. In a long-term grocery relationship like that, we RW’s get to know the layout of the store like the back of our hands. We know exactly where products are located – not just aisle number, but shelf level and depth. I would write out my shopping list in the order of the store to save time and back-tracking.  We regulars can direct any wayward newbie or man as to where to find an elusive item.  We recognize sale pricing and special deals, and know the best way to download coupons and wrack up rewards points.  We know best days and times to go for inventory and crowds. We even get to know staff members by name.

So making a move away from that comfortable familiarity takes thoughtful consideration, or at least a high enough frustration level with problems and issues to compel us to go through a G.B.  (Grocery Breakup).  For me it was a combination of irritations, poor management choices of “improvements”, a decline of quality, and quite literally an annoying robot that pushed me over the edge.

Like all divorces and relationship breaks, I tried to adapt and be open minded. I worked hard to accept the narrower aisles, the lack of baggers, the long lines at check out, the decline of quality in the produce department.  I even tried to find the humor in Marty, the beeping robot that follows shoppers around looking for spills and the resulting incessant announcements over the PA that Clean Ups were needed in Aisle 14, or Hazards were Detected in the Produce Area. I had conversations with other shoppers who felt freaked out that Marty was following them.  I attempted to drown out the never ending beeping the machine emitted.  I tried to not be angry that I had to routinely bag my own purchases, scurrying back and forth from the end of the check out lane where I was putting my purchases away, to the front of the lane to keep loading goods onto the conveyor belt.  I was greeted with uncomfortable chuckles from the cashiers when I asked for a discount for doing my own work.

The final straw that broke this RW’s back was when a renovation was completed to install far more Self Check-Out pods than regular, human check out lanes. This also coincided with the reduction of regular parking spaces to make room for call-ahead order pick ups. For a Grocery Store.  Neither “improvement in service” is useful at ALL to a woman shopping for a cart’s worth of groceries for her family.

One day, out of interest and for comparison sake, I went across the street to a different store to which I’d only previously stopped in for quick short purchases.  It felt a bit like putting a shirt on backwards because I had no idea where to find things, and the layout was nothing like what I was used to.  But like any new relationship, it felt exciting and appealing.  Brighter, cleaner, wider aisles, better quality produce and deli, no robots, and – get this – friendly and available baggers.  Real humans. Being helpful.

My decision was made, and it was time for my G.B.  Determined to be a thoughtful soon-to-be-ex, I wrote a letter to the corporate office to let them know of my discontent and my departure.  As expected, I received not a word from the headquarters, and instead received a call from the local manager.  I was asked to reconsider and was given a $20 gift card.  Too bad not all breakups in life could be that painless.

So I’m in the honeymoon phase of my new grocery relationship. Pleasant enough, but it’s also a bit awkward and costly as we get to know each other.  Awkward because I’m still finding my way around and searching for my favorite products and brands and trying to understand their philosophy of why, for example, greeting cards are the next aisle over from To Go foods. Perhaps so a shopper can buy a Thinking of You card with a slice of pizza?   It is costly because my new Grocery Partner is more expensive than my Ex.  Simply an example of “get what you pay for.”  And lastly, it is definitely more time consuming – at least for now – as I serpentine my way around the store, muttering things like “iced tea used to be half-way down aisle 6” and “where the hell do they put spices?”  But the pain of transition is eased every time I have a clear path down a wide aisle, have friendly humans assist me at check out, and each time my husband says “their deli ham is so much better!”

I know that my visits will not always be rosy, and the shine will wear off. After all, I still kind of hate grocery shopping, and I’m already realizing they don’t carry certain products I’m accustomed to purchasing from the old place. But these are clearly First World Problems, and I will courageously adapt to my new surroundings.  And once in a while I may pop back in to see if anything has improved in my old stomping grounds and for reassurance that I did the right thing.

Besides, I’m sure Marty misses me.

marty

 

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