We’ve Got Mail

holiday cardsMost days the thrill of going to the mailbox has been replaced with a sense of tedium. For the majority of the year, opening that little door reveals junk mail and bills. Half of it goes in the recycling bin, the other half goes in the ugh-gotta-pay-this pile. Gone are the days when we used to write letters to each other, or send nice notes just because. Let’s face it, the outside of the box may be decorated with a seasonal wrap — or if you are in Florida, the whole box may be in the shape of a manatee – but inside is a dark and boring pile of blah. Until December. Now I’m like an excited kid eager to open that door (or more accurately, send my husband out in the cold to fetch the contents). Sure, the junk mail and bills keep coming, but mixed in, like some sort of old-school traditional treasure hunt, are holiday cards.

Even in our crazy immediate-gratification digital world filled with Instagram, Snapchat and Text messages, many of us still cling to the art of sending a printed greeting, in an envelope, with an actual stamp on it, to brighten a loved one’s day.

I love this tradition for a couple of reasons. First, I know that behind every card is a Real Woman who added holiday cards to her To Do list. Ok, ok, guys, I know there are a handful of you out there who may send them out on your own (and trust us, we are touched and appreciative), or who step in to help the women in your life with the addressing, stuffing and sealing (my BFF calls this porn for women). But for the most part, the women in the world are planning in advance to make it all happen. It is an arduous task, yet we continue to take it on, telling our family to dress in similar colors and pose casually for a photo shoot…. or staying up late to sort through all the images on our computers from the past year to find the best ones… making the decision to pick a card that says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, and whether to go with lighthearted sentiment or go all-in on faith and seriousness…Deciding whether or not to include an update letter, a simple quick note, or to just go with the imprinted salutation. Of course there is the list updating, the changing of addresses, the printing of labels or handwriting the envelopes. Then the trip to the Post Office to get stamps where again we face a decision of the right design and message. All a multi-step process, and I am impressed by everyone of us who pull it off every year.

I’m also impressed by the R.W.’s out there who decide to not send cards. To take that one thing off their list. I did that once, a few years back. And as we learn from the Grinch, it didn’t keep Christmas from coming. Deciding against that one “must do” might make the difference between stress and calm.

The other big reason why I love receiving the cards, and why I too spend some late nights sending out our own, is for the sheer variety we get. Each one in its own way mirrors something about the sender. If it is a photo card, it is fun to see how the family members have changed, or be impressed by the perfectly adorable and magically posed children or pets. A collage of photos is like a short tour through their past year. If it is a more traditional card, I enjoy the art, the style, and how it matches the person. Very few include handwritten notes anymore, and those that do seem extra special. My favorite card received this year was the very first one to arrive. It was from my 98-year old Aunt, who hand-wrote her message inside. Amazing and magical.

As for update letters, these are a source of amusement for me. I am highly entertained by the novelettes I receive that extol a seemingly perfect life. We all have people in our lives who have climbed Mount Everest, had a child graduate summa cum laude from Harvard, or who is starring in a tv role…. Or at least their letters lead us to believe life is that amazing. A few years back, in contrast, I penned a “real story” letter to a select few friends and family that covered our year’s worth of reality and dysfunction. That tell-it-like-it-is letter is now one of our traditions.

As I look at the row of cards hanging in the doorway to our living room, I appreciate that each one is unique and different…just like the people who sent them. Can you imagine how boring it would be if they were all the same, and if we were all the same as well? That row of festive greetings represents the tapestry of people who make up our lives.

I can’t wait to check the mailbox tomorrow.



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Filling Our Sacks

santas sackAs children, we are filled with wonder at how Santa could possibly fit toys and gifts for all good girls and boys into just one sack. Surely that bag must be magic and bottomless. And for him to be strong enough to sling it over his shoulder? We kids start to believe that the cookies he eats must be filled with super strong-man protein.

Then we become grown real women, and we totally understand how to fit so much into one sack. Any woman who has had to travel by air (in a crowded plane, not a roomy red sleigh) and wants to bring 4 pairs of shoes with her, has learned how to fit everything in and still meet size and weight restrictions. She also has Santa’s super strength to vault her way through the airport to make a poorly scheduled connecting flight and heave her heavy carry-on up over her head and wedge it into the last remaining 6” of space.   Yes, Virginia, it is a form of magic.

It is the same magic we use to fit a remarkable amount of necessary items into our purses – not just for us, but for the other family members who randomly have desperate need for pens, tissues, notepaper, paper clips, measuring tapes or Tylenol. Pack it in, and throw it over our shoulder. Sound familiar, Santa?

I remember as a little girl I was also amazed at the thought that Santa was able to visit every house in just one night. Then I became a big girl and learned how to tackle my daily To Do lists and prioritize everything that had to get done in twelve hours, and realized that maybe Santa’s achievement wasn’t so incredible. Heck, especially if you factor in time zones. Piece of cake.

Sure, once a year Santa impresses us all with his successful Christmas Eve mission. But what truly impresses me now is the ability of the R.W.’s I know to continue to stuff more and more into their giant bags of life every day. Just in the past few days, I’ve talked with women who, beyond their regular routines, are caring for ailing & aging parents, performing in concerts, worrying about their kids college struggles, coping with loved ones in rehab, taking care of young children, running their own businesses, traveling, volunteering with charities, and reacting to emergencies like broken home furnaces or hospital visits. On top of regular responsibilities, that’s a whole lot to stuff into our sacks. But wait, there’s more. Because it is the holidays. Santa has elves, but we don’t even have minions. So the decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, hosting and traveling all for the most part lands on us. Yup, stuff that all in as well.

And you know how Santa is revered for not shaving, and for having a belly like a “bowl full of jelly”? Yeah…. we R.W.’s don’t have the luxury of letting ourselves go during this busy time of year. We are expected to look cute and festive while we hustle, schlep and drag that sack around. Don’t forget to smile and spread cheer like fairy dust along the way.

We don’t have elves, or Rudolph, or magic powers to make it all happen, but we have each other. When it all starts to feel like too much, there’s always another R.W. who understands, who gets it, and who’s running just as ragged – but still has the time for a quick text, email or call to help put everything into perspective. We help each other remember that we do all we do for very important reasons, that this really is a wonderful time of year, and that most of all sometimes we need to park that sleigh, put down our bags, and just look at the twinkling lights and breathe.

If Santa can do it, we can too.

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When Does It Become Our Age?

retro ladyAs women, when we enter various life stages and age ranges, we do so with flair and celebration. Becoming a teenager is exciting yet hormone and drama ridden, and the world is ours to conquer. Going into our 20’s is a major rite of passage, ushering in our young adult years. Moving into the third (and in my humble opinion, best) decade is a fun combination of being young enough to have fun yet learning how to “adult”.   The 40’s are for some reason a major milestone, requiring surprise parties and festivity as we pretend-groan about being “old.” After that, however, the transitions get a bit more muddy.

And somewhere, somehow, when we aren’t paying attention, we start to all get lumped into that mysterious group of “women our age.”   What does that mean? What is “our age”?  Is it something that happens when we walk across some invisible line, like some sort of Star Trek portal? I feel like it could go either way – good or bad. Perhaps we have become part of a secret society, like a wink-wink-nudge-nudge that’s only for us special women of “our age”…. OR there’s the bad connotation that all goes to hell when we hit “our age”.   The other day I had a great conversation with a woman at my workout class – she was telling me about her amazing journey back to health after serious open heart surgery a couple of years ago. She asked if I had been doing these workouts for a while, and when I said yes, she said “oh, that’s good. These strength training sessions are really good for women our age.” What did she mean, that these workouts are our only hope of continuing to be able to walk upright or bend to tie our shoes? I had overheard her talking to someone else earlier, and after doing the math I knew she was 10 years older than me. More muddying of the borders. Mature women get lumped into “our age.”  What gives us away to others in our sisterhood? Our wrinkles? Our muffin tops? The fact that our knees make noise when we get up off the floor?   Is that why she assumed I’m part of the O.A. group?

This of course is closely related to the similar phrase we start to hear from medical professionals…. they are sneaky too, making sure we don’t notice when they start saying “at your age.”   The difference of course is that when they make that reference, it is never followed by something positive. Failing eye sight, looking forward to a colonoscopy, the need for calcium supplements, the joys of menopause – those are all apparently some of the secret passwords needed to be part of the club.

What also becomes apparent as we morph our way into this life stage (which apparently spans at least three decades of women) is that the previous age range clubs have dismissed us with nary a “buh-bye”.   It is obvious to the youngers that we are no longer one of them, even if we feel like we are. After all, we still see ourselves in our minds as being young enough to pass ourselves off as one of them. Nope. Sorry.   Not long ago I was chatting with a co-worker, and I mentioned something about hot flashes. She giggled and compared me to her mother. Her mother. This is a co-worker. Not a friend of my son’s, or a local college student.   Wait a minute. When did THAT happen? When did I get to be “that age” at work?!

Teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, all big and bold and obvious. After that?  The shift is subtle and almost secretive as we become part of a pack. As startling and disconcerting as it can be to become aware of the change that’s been happening while we weren’t looking, I’m starting to believe there are benefits. In the O.A. Club, numbers don’t matter. Neither does our economic status, perceived beauty, grey hair, or weight.  We welcome new members with virtual open arms, sharing inside jokes, commiserations and a level of understanding that seems to be missing in our younger, or shall we say less experienced, years. The key benefit of the club is camaraderie. We laugh, we cry, we just get each other.

We are just women our age. No secret handshake needed.


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Welcome to Our World

y pantsThe other day my husband joined me to run a few errands and do a bit of shopping.  This is a fairly rare occurrence. Like many men, my husband’s version of shopping entails taking a quick ride to a hardware or auto parts store to pick up one or two specific items and get the heck out.  There is no browsing. There’s no list in hand with flyers and discount offers attached.  In his world, if the item is not easily found in less than 15 minutes, or is above the expected price, there ensues some brief cursing and a hasty departure.  There is no joy or thrill in the hunt.

So on those occasions when he ventures out with me, I have determined it is not very different than shopping with a young child.  A few ground rules must be set before leaving.  First, has he had something to eat?  The line between hungry and hangry can be crossed quickly and without warning and the results can be very ugly.  Next, it is important to detail the expected number of stops, the locations, and the approximate duration.  After this quick overview, it is important to pause and allow him to consider an out.  If he is still interested in going, the next vital step is to warn him of any potential browsing that will be required. I have found this is most effective if followed by a reward.  For example:  “I would like to take a look through what they have available for shower curtains.  But then we can go to the electronics area and look at TV mounts.”

Again not unlike a child, he follows me with a sense of bewilderment and wonder on his face. After all, the décor, product offerings, and clientele in Home Goods is different than Home Depot.  The one big difference from shopping with a child is it is fairly safe to let him out of my eyesight. Which is lucky, as often I will be six aisles away before I realize he’s been distracted by something like an end cap display of kitchen gadgets.  I will then receive a text on my phone.  “I’ve lost you again. Where are you this time?”

With a sense of humor, these outings can be enjoyable and even educational.  His observations often make me see the Real Woman world through his eyes. There’s the befuddlement over 500 different types and brands of cosmetics.  There’s the shock that a half-full cart of miscellaneous items from Target rings up to $120. (Clearly he doesn’t know the RW rule that you can’t leave the store without spending at least $100 on “essentials.”).  There’s the chaos of check out lines, or the adventure of self-check out.  There’s the general confusion over comparison shopping. And sometimes, there are his observations about the other shoppers.  Because they aren’t all like the dudes at the automotive store who look like they just climbed out from under a ’57 Chevy.

During this particular outing, I was making a beeline for the bulk tissue packs in the back of the store, when Distracto-Man said “Wow, honey. Every woman wears those…what do you call them, yoga pants?”

That particular day I happened to be wearing jeans. But he has certainly seen me in a variety of what I will loosely call pull-on comfortable relaxed-fit pants, like he apparently was seeing on most of the other female shoppers that day.  And he’s right. Virtually all of us have at least a couple of pairs.  The reason is simple:  Comfort.  For some reason, we have the ability to transport humans into outer space, and put technological power literally into the palm of our hands, but we can’t manage to make truly comfortable fitted pants for women.  Sure, we may have a pair or two of our favorite jeans that aren’t bad…. But how often do we have to resign ourselves to dealing with pants that are either too tight to breathe comfortably, or so loose they stretch and fall down all day?  Nothing beats pulling on the mix of soft-cotton-poly-spandex with no fitted waist…. Ahh.

His simple comment led me to the realization that over the past few years, the evolution of the “yoga pant” has morphed into varieties to meet our every need.  In most R.W.’s collections, we now have the following:

  • The Only at Home’s. These are the baggiest, rattiest, most comfortable warm lounge pants.  Formerly known as sweatpants in the 80’s, these are far improved and feel almost as good to put on as it feels to take off a bra.  Too embarrassing to wear outside the house, and not in the least bit sexy…but we know they are reliably waiting for us in the bottom of our closet when we get home at the end of the day.
  • The workout pants. These are the few that are actually used for what they were designed: exercise. As a mature woman, it gets more and more challenging to find the kind that don’t show every nook and cranny, hide some fat, are comfortable to move and sweat in, yet won’t embarrass us at the gym.  Once found, buy three.
  • The favorite pair. The one go-to pair of yoga-style pants that are super comfortable, fit well, and are decent enough to wear out to the grocery store.  This is the pair that you wish you had enough of to wear every day, and the ones your husband has grown weary of seeing on you but is too smart or afraid to comment.
  • Leggings. The fashion world’s gift to looking trendy and cute while maintaining comfort.  Add tall boots and a long sweater, and you are good to go. Pretty nifty.
  • Pretend real pants. Like the Darius Rucker of women’s clothing, these are the perfect crossover.  Very rare and hard to find, these are yoga pants that work with a pretty tunic and heels.  And no one but you knows that you are sinfully comfortable while at work or out to dinner.  Even hubby doesn’t notice.

I’m not sure if my husband understands that there is a method to our madness in everything we do, but there is. Even when it comes to stretchy comfy pants.  He does know, however, that if he ventures into Real Women world once in a while, he will meet his husbandly obligation for bonding time, and can then relax for a few weeks and retreat back into his guy world of workshop and home time.

That is, until something horrible happens like I drag him out for Christmas shopping.

Perhaps if he’s a good boy, I’ll get out my dressy yoga pants for the excursion.


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Therapy Fail

bored shopper
We women have a variety of coping mechanisms and stress-reduction tactics. Some healthy, some maybe not so much. And some are just plain stereotypical. Like consuming chocolate. Like talking for hours to a BFF. Like Retail Therapy. Don’t you get all eye-roll on me, you ladies know there’s some truth to these clichéd references. Sure, there are better things we could do for ourselves, like go for a run and eat kale. But you just gotta admit that sometimes nothing beats an Oreo to sooth the beast within, a gab-fest with a soul sista, or finding the best deal ever on a clearance rack. Especially now, when the rest of the world seems so scary and crazy and out of control, these simple pleasures can go a long way to easing our stress.

But I’m a bit worried, my sisters in stress…. It seems that one of our remedies seems to be slowly eroding before our very eyes. Kind of like losing a favorite therapist, the joy and appeal of Retail seems to be fading.

For quite some time now, we’ve been aware that online shopping has become the #1 way to purchase whatever it is we are looking for. Amazon continues to grow and expand rapidly like the Demogorgon on Stranger Things (except not so slimy and spooky). Can’t beat the convenience of finding just about anything you need while sitting on the sofa in jammies and having it arrive to the door in two days. Virtually every retailer has an online presence. So why go out and about at all, when we are all getting to the point where leaving the house seems frightening? Because tapping on the keyboard is not like browsing the aisles, picking things up to actually feel and see the quality and material, and – dare I say it – having in-person human contact. And getting together with the girls is a whole lot more fun going store to store instead of crowding around a laptop.

Lately I’ve curtailed my shopping due to some necessary budget belt-tightening at home. I haven’t purchased more than the necessities in a while. However the holidays are coming, and the grocery store just isn’t effective therapy (quite the opposite, but that’s a post for another day). So this past weekend I ventured out to pick up a few things. First stop was a Hallmark store, because I had received on of their booklets in the mail with coupons for new holiday items. I drove to the small mall near us and discovered the Hallmark store is no longer there. As a matter of fact, over half of the mall is empty, because no one wants to shop in malls anymore. Checked my phone and determined the next closest Hallmark store is 30 – 40 minutes away. Ok, make a note, hop online later and order the items from home. Next stop, Target. Not really because I wanted to browse for gifts, but because I needed boring things like a mattress pad and shoe inserts for my son. However, once again, I had received a nifty little booklet from them in the mail, promoting the new “Hearth & Hand” home décor items and was interested in a couple of the cute pieces in the catalog. Headed to that department, and nope. Those items were not there. Make a note, hop online later and order the items from home. See a pattern here?

One more stop at Francesca’s gift shop. Ahhh, here’s my therapy, looking at cute girlie gifty things, picking things up, putting them down, getting ideas for the holidays. I eventually make my selection of three small inexpensive items and head to the register. Exchanged pleasantries with the two women behind the counter. How nice. Checked my watch because by now I need to get back to reality, this particular therapy session needed to come to a close. Then BAM. We interrupt this pleasant experience with the store computer locking up. One woman explained to the other, and to me, that it is a new system and they were told to “expect it to lock up occasionally.” What?? The three of us awkwardly then stood around doing nothing while they re-booted. I did another loop around the store, although I had no intention of buying anything else. I considered not buying anything, and just leaving. But no, I had come this far, I was determined to leave with my souvenirs. Here’s the kicker. I was spending a grand total of about $20, and was paying in cash. Yet they could do nothing about getting me out of there until the system came back to life. One of the women said “gee, I hope this doesn’t happen on Black Friday.” I made a mental note not to return on Black Friday.

When I finally left, I texted a BFF about what had happened. She responded saying that she too had been out and about over the weekend, and had felt like everything was complicated and delayed, and that it was becoming less appealing to retail shop. Oh, no, say it isn’t so!   Could one of the activities that is supposed to bring us joy and relax us, actually be shifting to a point where it could cause more stress and anxiety? I walked away also sadly considering that it is no wonder more of us are turning to the digital world for our “shopping”. I refuse to call our online purchases Retail Therapy. It is just yet more screen time, spending money devoid of emotion, getting what we need the easiest way possible.

Well, at least it is supposed to be easy. Remember the item I couldn’t find at Target? I got home, logged on, looked it up, and there next to the product was the statement: Available In-Store Only.

Whoo boy. It’s gonna be a long holiday season. Guess I’m better off staying home and making baked goods as gifts this year. Which will require a trip back to the grocery store. I may need a real therapist.




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Grin and Bear It

bearThe onset of November tends to make me cranky. Here in New England, I am forced to admit that not only is summer truly over, but we are moving swiftly through Fall. It is getting increasingly colder and it is just so… dark.  Trees have changes from brilliant reds, yellows and golds to brown naked sticks. The only daylight happens while I’m at work. And as much as I enjoy the holidays, many of you out there start dancing around like Will Ferrell in his Elf suit, posting your cheerful countdowns on social media, filling the rest of us with stress and anxiety.

As much as I’d like to curl up in bed surrounded with books and chocolate like a bear hibernating in a cozy den, and emerge sometime in April when the days are once again getting longer and my garden starts sprouting, I can’t.  I know, because I’ve tried.  But someone always finds me and needs something, and if I want to keep my bed and my house, having an income is pretty important to my life.

Besides, as much as I may dread the cold months, I do love New England and don’t plan to move. So I need to stop complaining, use my coping skills, and look for silver linings – you know, be more like my obnoxiously happy summer self.

This morning I was removing the nail polish off my toes and doing a quick at-home pedi. And I thought: Helloooo, naked toes. Welcome back. Guess what? No need to replace the polish because it is socks and boots season. My fellow R.W’s in warm climates don’t get a time out. Year ‘round sandals means year ‘round cute toes. Hmmm…. a simple bonus, but the first bright spot on my mission to not hate November.

I moved on to my closet…I was sad to pack away my light and colorful summer wear, but there’s a lot to be said about clothing that tends to be a bit thicker, looser, and covers more skin. It’s a whole lot easier to hide menopausal pudge, plus as our complexion fades to pale, we can draw attention away from our bodies and to our cool tall boots or funky sweater. Sure, everything in the closet now is dark: grey, black and brown…but accessorizing just got easier too because it is the season for scarves.  Ta da. Color and Comfort. Bonus.

Now about that dark topic. This is the hardest one for me… I have a sign in my kitchen window that reads “I was made for sunny days.” But I’m realizing now that expectations of evening activities are lower when it feels and looks like midnight by 7pm. No one thinks twice if we are in our jammies and “in for the night” within 30 minutes of getting home from work. Curling up with a good book or getting in to lounge mode for a good movie or trash tv is not only acceptable, it is assumed and recommended. The other night I had planned to tackle laundry or the ironing, or any number of various chores that I usually would jump into since it was too dark and chilly to do any yard work. Instead I spent two hours looking through catalogs, magazines, and watching TV.   Highly unusual behavior on my part, but no one else saw any problem with it. So from time to time we can feel welcome to channel our inner sloths. Huh… another bonus.

Similar to our squirrel friends hoarding acorns, or the mama bear who eats her way into a stupor, it is also assumed that we will embrace this “comfort food” season. Over the weekend, I quickly threw together a lunch of a couple of cans of Campbell soup and simple grilled ham & cheese sandwiches, and my son was so happy you’d think it was a gourmet meal. I mean, he raved over the sandwiches. Funny how we crave the yummy, warm, fattening stuff as soon as the seasons change. It’s like my need to make bread and soups and baked goods kicks in and, well, I have to give in to the calling.

So I guess there are a few good things to make November, and the months ahead, more bearable. I realize, of course, that giving in to a couple of these on a regular basis could make me look like a bear. But hey, if I gain a few pounds, I’ve got my winter clothes to hide it, and if it gets harder to bend over to reach my feet, no big deal – I won’t need to paint them until spring. And hibernating bears always emerge eventually a few pounds lighter, right?





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What If I Get Abducted by Aliens?

scissorsOne of the best scenes in The King of Queens sitcom series is when Carrie has had enough of her husband Doug asking where things are in the kitchen, and she begs him to “Just learn. LEARN!”  and tests him by encouraging him to find a pair of scissors. As part of her diatribe, she releases those words we’ve all wondered at some point “What if I wasn’t here?” Or, “What if I get abducted by aliens? How will my family carry on without me?”

Now of course we know that their true survival does not rely totally on us, and our spouses and children are capable human beings. But some days we wonder… if we weren’t there, how would they cope? It’s not about the big stuff. They would know how to keep themselves safe, eat, and keep a roof over their heads. But the day to day stuff is where we worry… Would they know where the extra jar of peanut butter is stored? Would they know when to pay the bills? Do they have the phone number and name of the various doctors? Do they know where the Christmas decorations are stored? Do they remember where the spare set of keys are hidden? Do they know that the winter boots are stored in the closet in the basement?  In a Real Woman’s worrying brain, these are the vitally important need-to-know facts of existence, and without the answers, life would become chaotic.

Just in the past day or two, I’ve been asked the following questions from the men in my house: “Where are my W-2’s filed?” “Which freezer is the burger meat in?” “Do we have any onions?” “I’m out of soap, do we have any more?” “Where are my shoes?” “What time do I have to be at church?” “What do we watch on tv tonight?” “Where are the trash bags?”

I sometimes wonder if we all live in the same house. Or, perhaps without knowing it, I’ve been some how secretive and ninja-like about where I put things, or what I tell them. How could they not know where the extra toilet paper rolls are kept? Or where the trash bags are?

I suppose they have their own things that escape The Great Omniscient R.W. mom and wife. Lord knows I have no clue how my son plays his video games nor do I understand half of what he’s saying when he’s talking to his buddies. And I’d be totally lost if I had to go find something in my husband’s workshop… not that I’d ever need anything out there in man’s world, but still – it’s like a mystery lair of guy stuff, “organized” in only a way that makes sense to him. I don’t go in there much. But as for the house? Yeah, there’s not much that gets by me there. The guys may think it is a bit freaky that I know that their favorite pair of gloves are in the third bureau drawer, that I have back up bottles of ketchup on the second shelf in the pantry, or that in five minutes I could put my hands on our tax files from 2003; but knowing these things brings me comfort.

Let’s face it. We R.W.’s are the Home & Family Maintenance Supervisors in our domains. We operate as the lead directors in the Traffic Control Center of our family units. Could the others who reside in our homes survive without us? Of course. Would their days run like clockwork without our guidance? Probably not. For one thing, it would take them far longer to find things. I imagine them drifting about wondering where to go. But we can’t blame them. After all, we are the ones who put the scissors away in the first place, and they can’t read our minds.

Heck, even the aliens that abduct us probably wouldn’t know where to look for stuff we put away. That’s why they’d send us back eventually.


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