How to catch a squirrel (in your dreams)

I suffer from crippling bouts of early morning insomnia. People offer suggestions such as “limit screen time before bed” or “stop being so crazy” but still my eyes fly open regularly at 3am. I have a patented move I call Pillow Cloud™ whereby I fold mine in half and wrap it around my head, leaving a small hole for breathing, and sometimes this buys me a weird dream or two. The cat usually recognizes it as a kind of shield and will not step on me to initiate Food-Time Wakeup™, though sometimes the sensors get clogged with feathers or the two devices otherwise do not communicate. 

The bonus of early morning insomnia are the dreams when I do manage to fall back to sleep. The other night I dreamt there was a squirrel in my basement and I had a dickens of a time catching it with my bare hands. When I finally grabbed hold long enough to open the door and fling it into the backyard, I noticed a woman catching another squirrel in a much more effective, professional manner. The trick was, it seems, grabbing a squirrel by its ears, at which point it becomes docile and compliant. It was certainly my subconscious’ knockoff of the way a cat carries kittens. (translation: please don’t try it at home but if you do, comment in great detail about the experience.)

clever squirrel wins your money and evades capture

The dream, lazy as my subconscious is, was born of an incident the night before involving a cricket in our basement. In the time I went upstairs to get something to catch it in, the cat was all over it in wild chase. I did manage to wrestle the cricket away and release it outside, saving its life and our indoor sanity, but no doubt depriving the cat of a little fun. This might explain all the early morning stepping-on. 

This morning in my facebook feed, I saw the following update: “I found a squirrel in my car!”

Another update from a different person read: “I’m getting a pet monkey!”

In both cases, I believe the exclamation points are warranted and not just braggadocious. (not recognized by spellcheck. FYI.) Both updates were from people I went to high school with and just saw at our 25 year reunion. I’m not sure what it all means except it’s hard to feel accomplished when others are literally living your dreams.

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A trio of treats before two

It wasn’t even 11am when we witnessed a grandfatherly type make a pass at a female clown. He asked what her name was and when she told him Sweet Heart he said “That’s a pretty name. Can you share some of that sweetness with me?”

“Right now I’m working,” she said, more resigned than annoyed, like it happens all the time, men hitting on her when she’s in mustard yellow ringlets, full clown makeup and shoes the size of Texas. Her words forced our attention to the agile flicks and twists of her hands as she pumped and threaded balloons into a skeleton before our eyes. We were well down the street of the festival before we noticed the skeleton only had one eye so we’ll never know why. Maybe he’s winking, I suggested.

The haircut place had its own fun.  I was buried in a garish children’s book about mummies and only put it back (sheepishly) once I realized my kid had been called minutes ago and I had no excuse to still be reading. Mummies are fascinating but eavesdropping is safer because you can pretend to be thinking about grown up things.

A guy in his 30s was in the chair closest to me with a young pink-haired stylist on one side and another woman, his girlfriend or wife, giving orders from behind. “Take a little more off the top, but not too flat” she instructed, while the man sat looking dim but content. I wondered if he was mute or foreign, but after the woman wandered off to talk to another stylist, he yelled across the room “Hon, how do I want my sideburns?”

I studied his haircut as surreptitiously as possible once the cape came off and he stood and fairly beamed. The cut suited him, if only because I’d  never seen anyone look as happy as I feel when I get a good haircut. He swaggered over to his lady and took a bite of the apple she’d been eating and they traded it back and forth for awhile. Once I saw a small child share an apple with a dog but that was kind of cute.

On the way home, we parked by a trail we hadn’t been to in ages and weren’t the only ones to neglect. Already narrow paths were eroding into the creek. I had to warn the kids not to fall in but they were busy jabbing each other with sticks. Several large trees had fallen across the trail at various points. I banged my shin hard climbing across one, not because the walk was cursed but because I was in jeans with a belly full of cheese curd from the festival.

We took the high trail by mistake and came out above the mysterious amphitheater and had to go the long way around a meadow of goldenrod and bees. We’ve always wondered about this amphitheater in the middle of the woods. Who dragged the lumber a mile from the trail head or maybe across a raging creek to build it? And why? Has it ever been used aside from mock pulpit lectures by power-hungry children on family hikes?

Sadly it’s in bad shape, and my shin too, though I managed a series of selfies.

 

The top photo is me not understanding how to work the timer. (My oldest daughter’s expression is my favorite part.) The middle picture is me not understanding mirror images and which side to sit on. Third time’s the charm!

 

Boo (and my baby)

In early summer, my youngest daughter, Audrey, and I sat down one afternoon and jotted down ideas for our first comic book story together. The subject was Boo, the World’s Cutest Dog, though if you have a dog you probably don’t say the second part in front of him/her. We don’t have a dog even though Audrey has long wanted one almost as bad as her older sister used to want a baby brother or sister. And that became the seed to our storyline, which was then beautifully drawn to life by artist Tony Fleecs.

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A few months later, we have the finished comic book in hand. Audrey is even on the cover! There are three stories – by three different writer/artist teams – featured in Boo Issue #1 and it’s a great read for kids and Boo fans of all ages. You can find it in fine comic shops or buy it digitally HERE.

I grew up reading Richie Rich and Archie and later moved on to MAD. I have some sweet summertime memories involving stacks of comics and sun-warmed chocolate chip cookies. Sigh. Both of my girls have also grown up reading comic books since their dad works in comics, which is how this opportunity came about for Audrey and me. I’ve long harbored desires to write children’s stories, so I can safely say I had a dream come true this summer.

And Audrey, well, she has her face on the cover of a comic book. How cool is that? She shared a couple copies with close friends but has otherwise been playing it cool. We already have another story idea in the works, so fingers crossed.

While we’re talking books, Kary May Hickey of God Walks Into This Bar has her first book available on Amazon (I believe it’s even free today only). It’s a guidebook to recovery through the help of a bustling online community. She is a fantastically smart and funny writer, so I can’t wait to check it out.

 

 

 

How I spent vacation saving but also drowning (more) spiders

Welcome to anyone reading after a post I wrote about accidentally drowning a spider got picked for Wordpress Discover. What a surprise that was, but no more surprising than when I accidentally on purpose drowned another spider this week though saved another just minutes before and am now wondering if it was somehow the same spider. There was also that spider I saved in the shower last week, but he was paler and clearly not related. I should probably craft a tiny life preserver with eight arm holes and keep it on me at all times, even in the shower.

The latest spider rescue and subsequent drowning started 12 years ago at a small inn in the Adirondacks which alluded to a view of the lake in its name though you had to crane your neck just so to imagine it. Cars rumbled by on a busy road separating the cottage from the lake and on the interstate just behind a thin layer of woods. It was not as peaceful as we’d imagined but the charming couple that had only recently bought and fixed up the place left baked goods in the room and lured us out each night with a campfire and s’mores. It was just me and my husband and our one daughter then. I took this picture of them at the far away lake.

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This year we went back and the first thing we noticed was the For Sale sign out front. A different woman checked us into the same cottage, which felt smaller than we’d remembered and the bathroom smelled like body odor or ass depending on which one of us you asked, so we just kept the door closed. After settling in and wondering why the hell we’d come back, we headed down to the lake and attempted to recreate the beloved photo.

 

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We can’t help it that the pier and ‘no trespassing’ sign were long gone. My husband could have stooped down but it would have seemed forced. We let our other kid stand in and no one is in a diaper or cowboy hat because we suck at re-creating old photographs from memory.

The spiders, though, well I’m getting to that. The cottage stay came with unlimited use of a kayak and canoe, which by the looks of both hadn’t been used in some time. We did our best to clean them both out of wolf spiders, but we missed one. I think it hid behind my youngest daughter’s seat cushion because I first noticed it climbing up the back of her rain jacket. It paused a bit on the top of her head like one would on the top of a mountain to take in the view and then kept going until it disappeared from view and onto what I assumed was her face.

You can’t just stand up in a tandem kayak. You can, as calmly as possible, urge your daughter, who is sometimes afraid of gnats, to “just bat it off with your hand”. You will still only be able to see the back of her head, which is further obscured by a hood, so you may feel like you’re instructing someone you can’t see where to wipe away a pesky glob of ketchup if ketchup were hairy and horrifying. You will be able to see that her hands are maddeningly still by her side and you will hear her terrified whimpers, so naturally you will shout the same instructions only louder. JUST BAT IT OFF. YOU HAVE TO BAT IT OFF.

The good news is this spider came round to her shoulder to see what all the yelling was about and I used the paddle to fling him into the water. I didn’t feel great about it, but I had no choice. The kayak mood was killed after that. We paddled back to shore and my older daughter said she noticed right away that something was wrong by her sister’s posture and face and how her hair covered her face. She hadn’t heard the yelling, oddly. After I explained about the spider, my younger daughter asked “There was a spider on me?” She had no idea what I was freaking out about, though assumed a bug or horrible monster.Those were her words, by the way. Freaking out. I need to work on my calm voice.

Can wolf spiders swim? I think they might be able to because I rescued one with the same paddle moments before we launched the kayak and it kind of seemed like it was already heading to shore. My husband claims he accidentally flung that one into the lake and I got pissy with him, though now wonder if I didn’t somehow rescue it right back into the kayak. Anyway, I drowned the other (or possibly same) spider. Nature can be surprisingly quick with the whole balance thing.

We stayed a few nights at the cottage and settled into the sound of trucks rumbling by and even the body odor/ass smell in the bathroom. No one coaxed us out for campfires and s’mores so my husband built a roaring one and we bought supplies at a store down the road. We only ever saw one of the owners. The other, it seemed, was no longer in the picture. I thought for longer than seemed sane about buying the inn and running it ourselves, but those days of infinite possibility and hope are over. I’m fine watching Fawlty Towers once a year (usually around Thanksgiving) and being reminded why running an inn is a terrible idea.

You can’t always go back. You can’t save a spider without drowning another one. You can’t fix things that are broken because sometimes they’re meant to be that way. It’s sad if you look at something broken in the usual way, but over time the picture might change into something different, surprising even.

 

 

On Deal Island

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Pop-Pop
Deal Island is a three mile finger of land and tide about 15 miles off the beaten path in eastern shore Maryland. It’s where my great-grandfather, who we called Pop-Pop, lived until the (and his) mid 80s, which is also the last time I’d visited. Even though he’s long gone and the first word that always comes to mind when I think of Deal Island is mosquitoes, I had to get back. It should have been a tough sell to my girls, but they’re always up for adventure or maybe the challenge of seeing ordinary stuff that way.

We picked a sunny day with low humidity for our trip. If we’d gone the day before, I’m convinced westerly winds would have carried in biting flies like those from a particularly vivid childhood memory. Sure, I remember that time my great-grandfather’s cat scratched a perfect circle of blood around my wrist or the way the massive vinyl swing on his front porch creaked and groaned though never in a way that made me feel uneasy. But I’ll never ever forget the 2 mile walk that felt like 200. My brother and I were nearly eaten alive by greenheads and mosquitoes as we took a fun family hike along the bay. Our parents tossed back helpful tips like “walk faster so they won’t bite you” and other things I’ve surely never said to my own children, who are now more delicious than I. Deal Island was originally called Devil’s Island, though I’m not sure there’s truth to the rumors it was once a hotbed of pirate activity. If so, those were some tough pirates.

Driving in that clear day with its delightfully low dew point, the first thing we noticed was a perfect stranger waving to us. In fact, he didn’t even look up so wouldn’t have known we were strangers, though I don’t guess it would have mattered. I’d remembered it as a kind of Mayberry on the water, and not much had changed.

The old bank building was still there. My great-grandfather worked there until the stock market collapse of 1929. When there was a run on the bank, a customer who was also a neighbor waved a gun at him. It was panic, nothing personal then or when the bank closed like many small town banks had to. It sat empty for years and then someone converted the inside to a machine shop. It sits empty again and for $24,900, anyone can buy it.

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Probably the most anticlimactic stop was in front of my great-grandfather’s old house. It’s been so lovingly renovated that I couldn’t recognize enough to tap into nostalgia. Instead we kept walking down the street, past an old gothic revival farmhouse that could only be suitable to vampires. Only on the walk back did we notice an identical gothic revival farmhouse right next door. I did not take pictures of either and deeply regret this, but you probably wouldn’t have either.

Our next stop was the final resting place of both great-grandparents and also Joshua Thomas, Parson of the Islands. He predicted the British fleet’s defeat in Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key and our national anthem. Also, he was born in a place called Potato Neck and his dad died from a dog bite and his stepfather was a drunken lout who forever turned young Joshua off alcohol. I now remember why book reports were such a challenge. It’s tough telling which facts are weeds because they all seem important.

I can tell you that cemetery was the biggest challenge of the day. My dad had provided a quaint hand drawn map to find the family plot but failed to warn us half the people buried on that island share the same last name.

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The eldest at least a half hour in
Three passes after I’d first given up, I found the plot and yelled so loud I probably woke Joshua Thomas of Potato Neck. We piled back in the car and drove until the road dead ended by crab shedding facilities at Wenona harbor. On the way back, I snapped this picture of a crumbling beauty an 1877 atlas designated the “Colored Church and School”.

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I almost drove past another (mystery) beauty, but if you only get to a place once in 30 years, you find yourself doing asinine road maneuvers so you can go back and take pictures while your kid swats at bugs only kids can feel because adults are old and taste terrible

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The next to last stop was at the public beach, where someone else had already written Pop-Pop in the sand and we collected a generous handful of tumbled sea glass. The funny thing about that is I’d had in mind to treat myself to something at the 5 year sober mark, but nothing seemed right and then I found it.

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The final stop of the day was a bait and sundry shop where I purchased candy bars for the drive back. I picked a Whatchamacallit, which I also hadn’t experienced in about 30 years and my kids thought I’d forgotten the name and was just calling it that. Some days you look back and find yourself feeling lost and disappointed. This wasn’t one of those days.

 

 

The sweetest 5 years

Summer tumbled in a little bit like how I literally tumbled out of bed this morning. Our bed had an extra guest (no more ghost hunting shows before bedtime) along with her patented sideways-sleeping method, and in my effort to not disturb anyone, I woke everyone with a clamor and made the cat flee in a panic of terror, which was easily the best part. On my way down to the floor, I had enough time to wonder how I might explain this in an ER room. No, I wasn’t drinking, I’d say. I haven’t had a drink in over five years, though I’m still hitting the cupcakes pretty hard. 

Write about what you know, they say. Recently I had two pieces featured elsewhere. The first is about my love-hate relationship with sugar in sobriety on Ruby Pipes. Ruby is a very talented writer and I hope to see more from her in the year ahead.

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Side note: I wrote it back in January, and the “very bad day” I referred to was this one.

I also celebrated 5 years sober this week and wrote about it for AfterPartyMagazine. I’m not saying the last 1,825 days has been a cake walk – unless that means there was cake every day because clearly there was – but time flew by. I am reporting from the other side to anyone new to sobriety and saying life just keeps getting better or feeling better (who am I to question it?) the longer I’m sober. I know this won’t keep happening to the same degree, but life is good and I’m grateful. I’m going to disable comments here and hope you’ll go read. Thank you so very much for being here.

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Radiant (or how not to give a spider a bath)

  It’s Wednesday night, just me and my 7 year-old daughter, and I’m having a hard time settling into the play time I promised earlier when I wasn’t thinking about dinner or checking and signing off on homework, which will probably require a Notary by the time she is a parent. The thought of Candyland exhausts even her, so we browse an extensive movie library of mostly crap and stream Charlotte’s Web, which my daughter tells me they’re reading in class.

This is the live-action remake, not the funky 70s cartoon, which I think we can all agree had a jazzier take on Templeton’s fair binge, but it’s very hard to get kids to watch old stuff without being reminded how boring it is to new people. About an hour in, I realize my daughter has no idea how it ends. We’re heading to heartbreak at breakneck speed.

She innocently asks what radiant means and I offer a rushed definition that does not clarify how radiant could possibly apply to a pig because I’m not sure, and then I casually warn her the movie has a sad ending. Then I wind up spoiling the whole thing because I don’t want her to think the pig dies, which I think would be sadder. When the (spoiler alert!) deathbed scene happens and Wilbur pulls away in the back of a truck while Charlotte takes her last spider breaths, I realize I’m wrong.

In real life, a spider is a terrifying thing you might see in your washing machine after you already added water and the costume clothes you bought at Goodwill and left in a bag in the garage to quarantine for several days (because the only insect scarier than spiders are bedbugs) and you scream a scream even you don’t recognize as coming from yourself and slam down the lid, and later you will make your husband switch out the laundry but will not ask about the limp, spindly carcass the size of a small rodent he must have pulled out and had to bury in the backyard. You do not inform the children their hobo costumes are now haunted by a spider. This is all hypothetical, of course.

The movie version of a spider has fur that looks soft and inviting and pretty eyelashes and a voice like Julia Roberts’, and she has just died poignantly, heartbreakingly.

My daughter crumbles and tells me she needs a hug and I hold her while trying to hide my own tears. She says “I don’t want you to die” and breaks into fresh sobs and I tell her I don’t plan to anytime soon and make a weak joke about being compared to a spider but she forces me to stay with her grief. She says “At least we’ll get to see each other again in heaven” and I wonder when she came up with that because we only recently discussed heaven as one possibility. I like that she thought about it more and made it her own.

This makes me think of my own mother, who is presumably up in heaven waiting for her mother to join her and later, if all goes well, my brother and I. The mother I barely know is a collage of outfits and happy poses from photographs I’ve seen and stories my grandmother told over the years, and yet I’ve felt her love my whole life, especially in the last year, which is interesting but not surprising because I wasn’t looking as hard before.

I start to think about how it might work in heaven, like at what age are we preserved and how do family members find us, presumably not all at the same time since who wants tense family dinners in the afterlife. And what about the cats I’d love to see again, plus my aunt’s golden retriever that used to let us lie on her like a pillow. I don’t care how peaceful heaven is, my old cats won’t put up with other cats, much less a dog. Plus there are possibly spiders in heaven. 

I say to my daughter that when someone dies, their spirit lives on in our hearts and memories and they never leave us. I think to myself that her and I are making a memory right now because we are both 100% in the moment together and crying on the couch (me silently). It reminds me of how I used to hold her in this same spot and stare at her tiny perfect face in the weeks after she was born in an effort to make maternity leave feel as long as possible. Heartbreak is everywhere, but instead of waiting to possibly see someone in heaven again, we get to love the ones we have right now and create and savor new memories, each more delicious than the last.

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I shake the principal’s hand but clam up and don’t introduce myself, starstruck I guess, and then file in behind others to the auditorium and a seat comfortably in the back. A couple comes in at the very end and takes the two seats in front of me. He is waiting for her to sit down and she is waiting for him to read her mind and take the water bottle and papers from her hand so she can remove her jacket. My jacket is still on, buttoned up and everything. The first speaker has a gravelly, high pitched voice and the second speaker is smooth baritone, but peppered with uhs and ums. The third speaker is just right, but implies our children should be taking Advanced Placement Calculus and Physics. He must be talking to the raven-haired mom two rows ahead, who nods vigorously. I drift off and count gray heads in the crowd. Two gray ladies, just like me, one stylishly cut with cute glasses and the other with long straight hair and ruddy cheeks of a young girl that somehow makes me think ‘older woman’. I spot a man I remember from AA meetings a million years ago. His hair isn’t really gray and he wouldn’t remember me. I imagine plucking these three from their seats so we could meet afterwards and I would say what was all that nonsense about AP Calculus, hm?

This is something I wrote in the spirit of Homework for Life, which I mentioned late last year. It has failed to freeze time like it does in movies so that I can run around and tweak the noses of people I do not care for, but I am enjoying the practice. Every morning when I journal, I take something from the day before and turn it into a mini story or byte. We literally have stories all over the place and it helps me to stay present by looking for the details there. Like, in the above sequence, I not only remember the woman who couldn’t sit down because she was holding a water bottle and wearing a jacket, but I also remember how sheepish her husband looked when he finally did read her mind. I remember he was wearing a belt holster for his phone like it was 1999. He had a fuzzy haircut like a baby chick. I remember another woman three rows up who was chewing gum so distractingly I decided maybe I shouldn’t chew gum at all.

Right now my homework for life tends to be snarky, and this worries me a little. Snarkiness is fear-based, and maybe I should have chosen Fear as my word-of-the-year because I am able to poke at it with a stick through exercises like this. Time and Fear wait for no man, and so they are hard to slow down to get a really good look. I like being able to go back and get a closer look in these tiny, frozen snapshots.

 

 

Homework, for life

Homework for Life | Matthew Dicks | TEDxBerkshires

Someone shared this recently and I decided I would try to do it every day, though first thing in the morning because that works better, and in full paragraphs rather than just a few sentences.

The idea is to choose one thing from your day that you could turn into a 5-minute story. I already journal, so it’s a natural fit, and I’m finding the practice feels more focused and generates less whine.

The speaker compares the practice to meditation and promises it will change our lives and I’m a little excited because it may already be working.

Yesterday I forced myself out for a walk during lunch break, even though it had been over a week and my fitness level is so low I don’t even want to exercise. I forgot that could happen, but it can. Sad.

Speaking of sad, I was walking along a razed cornfield and saw all the trash that blew in and got trapped, ugly like scars. The path followed between trees no longer a bustling canopy but naked and silent. The birds will come back, as will the leaves and corn, but it isn’t the same without them. I wondered why I’d want to keep coming in winter with nothing to look at or listen to.

This will sound nutty, but sometimes I feel myself pulled in a certain direction. It’s not exactly physical, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Yesterday something pulled me down a grassy path I’d never noticed before. That’s when I saw a pond I’d never noticed before. 

On the way to the pond, I passed a cluster of trees and a smaller pond and saw out of the corner of my eye a charming wooden statue that I first mistook for Smokey the Bear or a murderer. Relieved it was not the latter, I stopped to take pictures and never made it to the big pond, but thought to myself no rush. I have all winter.

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Truth is, I didn’t think there were any more suprises in this park. I thought I’d seen just about every nook and cranny, and then I felt that pull again and followed the new path around and found fun new graffiti I never would have seen otherwise.

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This Homework for Life might really work. Knowing that I get to pick one thing from each day to write about – a mini story – might sharpen my ability to see.  It might propel me to take new paths. I’m not sure, but by yesterday afternoon I already knew what I would write about. I already have my story for today too.

One of the things the homework for life guy promises is if you do it consistently, time will slow down. This is the part I want the most and don’t believe will happen. 

Fall flew by and the holiday season is almost over and I still feel like I’m hovering somewhere off screen. It’s not entirely unpleasant and memories tell me we lived a full Fall and will be able to say the same at Christmas. But still, if I could just slow it all down, even just by a noticeable increment, I think I would like to do that.

A coworker shared an interesting theory about why time seems to fly more by the year. She said think back to a summer when you were a little kid and how that one season was such a big chunk of your overall short life. Then jump ahead 40 years, and one summer is just a blip. The older you get, the faster it goes until one season seems a blur.

Maybe this building momentum of the passage of time is inevitable, like getting older in general. We can’t fight gravity, but a minute always lasts the same amount of time. So the blur must be perception and there’s got to be a way to feel more present inside it.

I feel like when I wake up soon, the kids will be grown and we’ll have new cats and will have forgotten the names of the ones we have now. Rip Van Winkle meets Homework for Life. This is what I’m playing with at the moment and it beats stressing out over Christmas, which I am also doing, so maybe it’s more of a break.

If you have tips for slowing down the passage of time that doesn’t involve plastic surgery or meditation (none for me, but thanks anyway!), I’m all ears.

 

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