Category Archives: #AmWriting

Here is the Sequel to Yesterday’s Blog Post

If you follow the link you can read the story I mentioned yesterday.

The Story of What Happened in Chicago

In Arkansas, America, and Art, I wrote that something occurred that made my uncle end up moving his family from Chicago to rural Illinois to rural Arkansas.

Check it out. You might be surprised at what happened way back when as it will sound familiar.

Uncle Frank and Dad

colorizing by Val at Colouring the Past

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Arkansas, America, and Art

Last week I told you about the great restaurant we found in the Ozarks, along the White River bank. But we did more than go to that restaurant. We kept my uncle going every day! It had been decades since we had been to northern Arkansas. When we last visited, there were so many ancient Ozark-style log cabins tucked into the woods on the side of the road that the flavor of the land was everywhere you looked. If you don’t know what those are, they are small slightly rectangular box cabins with a peaked roof and a front porch with roof (imagine a wooden rocking chair and Pa with a corncob pipe just about now). Typically, the cover to the porch is a different pitch than the main roof–and best yet, the roof is generally tin. There aren’t very many left, but the remains of the ones being slowly claimed by the forest can be seen. Also, some have been refurbished with aluminum siding. Some new houses are built in the same style, to reflect the traditional architecture.

The reason I don’t have photos for you is that most of my Arkansas photos are crap, having been taken through a car window. It was too hot and humid to keep rolling the window down–and the so-called highways (NO freeways at all) are winding and long. It’s way out in the country, y’all. Anyway, the gardener drove, and it exhausted him so I didn’t want to distract him by rolling the window up and down–or asking to stop where we could have been run over IF someone else had driven there just then (that’s a big IF).

This part of Arkansas must be well within the Bible Belt. In Mountain Home (population 12,448), the Wednesday newspaper had a listing of churches in the immediate area.

I counted FORTY-ONE Baptist churches. There are also a lot of other denominations, including LDS, Jehovah’s Witness, and even Bahai! There is no synagogue, and I don’t think there is a mosque. Also, there are only two Catholic churches–one in town and one in a nearby town. The one in town is my uncle’s church. You might wonder then how my uncle ended up in Arkansas. He was born and lived in Chicago. After a horrible crime touched his life (story coming tomorrow in thefamilykalamazoo.com) he moved his family to rural Illinois–and eventually to Arkansas. He wasn’t alone–there is a whole “expat” group of Chicagoans who live there. They like being away from the hubbub–and a lot of them like to fish. That–and some Californians who have escaped the west coast–probably makes up the majority of people who attend the Catholic churches.

Let me mention that my favorite church names are the cowboy churches. Notice that this listing shows Bar None Cowboy Church. We flew into Tulsa, OK, and drove to Mountain Home. On the way, we saw other cowboy churches, like the Cowboy Gatherin’ Church in Inola, OK, and Crooked Creek Cowboy Church in Harrison. Apparently “cowboy churches” are a thing and are scattered across the country. Who knew? Well, I sure didn’t.

Speaking of Harrison. It’s only 48.4 miles from Mountain Home, but there’s a big difference. Mountain Home, as I said, has attracted people from Chicago and California and is close to reknowned trout fishing near the Bull Shoals dam which links Bull Shoals Lake with the White River. People think of pretty Ozark country when Mountain Home is mentioned. Harrison’s reputation comes from being known as the most racist city in the country. I got that from Wikipedia. So who knows the accuracy. Apparently, between 1905 and 1909 white citizens threw out all the African-Americans who lived there and established their city as a “sundown town.” That means just what it sounds like: no non-white people in town after dark. You think things have changed?

The city has been dubbed “the most racist city in America” because of its high presence of white supremacist organizations. Kingdom Identity Ministries, a white supremacist organization, was founded in 1982 in Harrison. Thomas Robb, national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, maintains his office near Harrison in the outlying town of Zinc and uses a Harrison mailing address for the organization. Combined with the history of the 1905 and 1909 banishment of unemployed railroad workers and all other African-American residents, this incidental connection to the KKK has given the town a negative image.

The article goes on to say that there are people who are trying to combat that image by speaking up against racism. Of course, all this just made me want to visit. The writer in me, you know. But that’s an easy call as a white woman. As the white mother of Asians, I would not have suggested we visit if they were with us.

When we got to town, I saw the pretty historic theatre where events are still held.

Love the neon sign!

Harrison is quite a pretty small town, and there wasn’t much to hint at a dangerous undercurrent of racism. Then we stopped at an antique shop for the gardener.

My eye was drawn to certain things. I started to feel uncomfortable.

I realize people collect Mammy this and that. Raised in Kalamazoo by my northern relatives, I will never feel comfortable with this stuff. In fact, in Arkansas, I had to keep reminding myself it used to be a slave state. I’ve never lived in a state where slave-holding was legal.

And then there was this little section.

Don’t you love the juxtaposition of items? The Rise and Fall swastika, desperation, a book called Rifles and Shotguns, Rhett Butler, and the fragility of that ruffled porcelain atop the stack. I figured we’d been in town long enough. Time to go!

Next day we visited my cousin’s home in the mountains. He is an orchid farmer by trade, and they live way out in the middle of nowhere (yup, it’s probably even called that). He always loved cacti and orchids, and it’s kind of cool that he’s made a living all these years doing what he loves.

He’s got such cute grandchildren, too. So much fun playing with them!

One day we visited Mystic Caverns. I guess northern Arkansas has a lot of underground caves. Many have probably not even been discovered yet.

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Close to Mountain Home is a tiny town called Norfork. There you can find the Jacob Wolf House Historic Site.

The site includes the main house, which was the territorial courthouse, built 1825, as well as some outbuildings. Seeing how the men “roughed” it even inside the courthouse really made me think of what the settlers went through. During the day, court was in session, and at night, the men spread out their bedrolls where they had been sitting in court earlier.

As we left Arkansas, the gardener and I stopped at the Osage Clayworks because the area has been known for pottery for quite some time. They had some good buys on “seconds,” and I bought my daughter a garlic thingie to use for her rings on her dresser.

 

The Photography of Justin Hamm

If you like seeing small towns and the fading past of America, you need to check out the photography of poet and photographer Justin Hamm. He’s also the editor of the museum of americana. I love Justin’s photos. Rustic images of old cars, barns, that kind of thing. Gorgeous. Click here for his Instagram. Here are the photos on his website. Look at this photograph of an old Ozark barn, care of Justin. He’s been in the Ozarks recently so I am watching for all those shots I imagined but couldn’t pull off.

 

The Art of Len Cowgill

On the subject of beautiful American art, I want to tell you a little update on the work of Len Cowgill.

Many, many years ago, when Len, the gardener, and I were all very young, Len gave us a series of three pieces as a gift. This was before he knew about archival materials, and over the years in the hot sun of California, the drawings faded. Here is one of them–see HOW faded.

Upon hearing about the fading, Len kindly offered to repair all these drawings. Look out great they turned out! In the first one, he changed the static brick wall to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” and then followed the theme for the rest of them.

I’m so blessed to have such thought-provoking and breathtaking art in my life. Thanks to Len and thanks to Justin both for sticking with your passions and making the world more beautiful.

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Multicolored ~ nonfiction by Luanne Castle


A big thank you to The Disappointed Housewife for publishing my piece, “Multicolored.”

The Disappointed Housewife

GREEN surrounds me as I enter the butterfly pavilion. The leaves of the trees and flowers create an oasis in the Sonoran desert. All seems still inside, protected from the dry winds, until I notice the undulant motion of butterflies winging above me, swooping down to sip at the nectar of the blossoms. The guide warns visitors to watch where we step, what we touch. Fragile life whirls around us. After all these years, I think I understand how they feel. One has to go through so many changes to get to full flower. Now is not yet the time to die.

BROWN fur nestles under the leaf. I’m here anew, peeling the caterpillar off the green veins and stem which define the underside. I curl up my fingers, cupping the bug in my palm. It tickles me and then plays dead inside the tent of my hand, as I…

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Saguaro Fruit Season

This was the first year that I’ve lived in Phoenix that all  the saguaros blossomed with white crowns. So this is the first year I’ve seen so many white blossoms all turn into juicy red fruit. An animal must have eaten some of this one!

Check out the bird sitting on the top. Birds seem to love saguaros.

Here’s a good article about the harvesting of the saguaro fruit.

A couple of the cacti in our yard, thanks to the gardener.

One of the most inspiring people in my life has been a gorilla–namely, Koko, lover of cats and poet of sign language. Sadly, she died last week at age 46.

This image by a fan of Koko was shared on Koko’s Facebook page with a request to share it, so here it is. RIP dear Koko. I just don’t understand how little her death has been on the news. The people whose lives we celebrate on national television when they die have not done as much for our future and our planet as Koko has done.

#amwriting #writerlife #writerslife I had two beautiful acceptances this week. One publication coming out in a day or so . . . .

HAPPY NEW WEEK!

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Nothing Says Grandma Like Club Aluminum

My maternal grandmother was a good baker and a good cook of meats (usually beef) and vegetables. Her use of Grandpa’s garden vegetables in stews and ratatouilles came from being raised on a farm by a mother who was a good cook. She loved her Club Aluminum pans, and the one I most remember was the Dutch Oven. Since my grandmother’s father and my grandfather (her husband) were Dutch, as a kid, I thought it was a pot that was original to the Netherlands, not realizing that is its official name. Her pots were “silver,” the color of aluminum. My mom had Club Aluminum, too, and as I got a little older I realized that she had probably gotten the pans from her mother. She also thought they were the best type to cook in, but her pans didn’t seem to work as well as Grandma’s ;). Or, at least, more anxiety made its way into those dishes.

When I became engaged at nineteen, I had never thought about a wedding or wedding gifts. The only thing I ever imagined was a white velvet dress with a red hooded coat like Mary wore for her wedding in Babes in Toyland. Instead, to save my parents money, I wore my mother’s wedding dress that my other grandmother had made, but that’s another story. I know it sounds blasphemous to American wedding tradition, but I didn’t even register for gifts.

My bridal shower was a family affair, to which I wore my favorite outfit, a teal corduroy pantsuit. Everyone had a very similar pantsuit, but mine was special because of the color. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, I discovered that the person I most wanted at the shower, Grandma, was home sick. The whole event paled after that news, but I do remember that her gift was the biggest and splashiest–an entire set of Club Aluminum pans in yellow. Instead of a metal handle like my mother and grandmother’s Dutch Ovens had, mine had a plastic knob.

I still have my Dutch Oven and a couple of the other pans with lids.

You can see the yellow exterior is pretty banged up after all these years, but the inside is still pristine. My pot has seen some really yummy dishes, but it also was what I used to make Kraft mac and cheese in (for the kids), too, I’m sorry to admit.

This link has a little history of Club Alumimum. It explains that it is cast, not spun. So it is cast aluminum, kind of like cast iron.

Eventually, a report came out that aluminum is dangerous for cooking. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to cause some sort of brain trouble. I guess that has been mainly proven wrong at this point. But it was asserted so strongly that the gardener bought me a set of Calphalon pans. Gosh, I hate those things. Everything sticks to them. Grandma knew what was a good pot! I’ve since added some All-Clads to the mix, and those are ok. But nothing is as good as Club Aluminum.

Or a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Funny how much less expensive ($14.88 at Walmart) those are than all the fancy frying pan brands sold today!

By my current kitchen standards, Grandma’s kitchen was a little too small, with not enough counter space, a small persnickety stove/oven, and a ridiculously crammed smallish fridge. She didn’t have granite counters, hardwood cabinets, or stainless appliances. But to me it was a wonderland of magic commanded by my gentle, smart, warm, and loving grandmother.

More about Grandma in “Grandma and the Purple People Eaters.”

 

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From Japan to Lebanon to the Hummingbird’s Nest All in One Day

Recently the gardener discovered the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix: RO HO EN. We visited the other day for the first time. I was so taken with the size of the pond, and this spot of beauty nestled under the tall condo buildings near the Central Arts District (theatres, museums, opera, and arts schools). If you haven’t been to that area, it’s a must see–so active and vital.

 

The garden resembles a lovely park more than it does a Japanese garden of the sort I am used to (Portland, the Huntington, etc.). They offer tea ceremonies to the public on the third Saturday of every month. The fee is $30 ($25 seniors). Imagine living in one of those condos with a view of the garden all year round.

 

 

The pine cones were fun because they aren’t a common sight in Phoenix.

 

The park did not have flowers or too many bells and whistles, so the gardener was not impressed with that aspect. For me, the park-like environment was fabulous. But it did come with a $7 price tag ($6 for seniors, $5 for students, and free for little kids).

 

The pond is loaded with giant carp, and when you check in they ask if you want to buy a little bag of food for the fish. The way they all gather to eat a few crumbs was a little terrifying for me. I thought it might be stressful for the fish. The upside for them is that the pond is so big that their environment is better than that of many pond-living carp.

 

This big guy in the middle was truly enormous.

Ducks live at the pond, too, and the mothers all were watching over their ducklings. One duckling imprinted on us and tried to follow us until we discouraged her. This is a short video of a baby duck, just in case you want to see cute right now.

After the garden, we went to one of our favorites, Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli. The owner Isam is so nice, the gluten-free options are diverse (pita, tabouli, and more), and the Lebanese lemonade to die for.

 

This time a tray of turnovers sat on the counter. They looked intriguing. Isam told me that he makes them for Ramadan every year. He is Christian, and though he makes them on behalf of his Muslim customers, he admits to loving them ;). He explained that on Ramadan, because of the fasting, people need the quick energy this sweet treat provides. He said he starts with a pancake and fills it with a cheese or walnut filling, turns it over, and deep fries it. It’s then covered with a rosewater syrup. I cannot tell you how much I LOVE rose flavored food and drink. I keep two bottles of rosewater in my fridge! I brought home two kataif–a cheese and a walnut. The gardener told me I was consuming 1,000 calories each. Hahaha, I just grinned as he was saying it because these are obviously not a gluten-free treat!

 

Click on the link to find out more: Atayef (Kataif)

Now for an update on the hummingbird mom and her babies.

They are growing up so fast. The gardener watched one fly away already. I wonder if their mother is the child or grandchild of one of the hummers who hatched in our backyard a few years ago.

Since I restructured my memoir, making it more of a hybrid genre in structure and style, I have debated adding a few poems to the book. This week I revised a couple of poems I am contemplating for the book.

Happy week, everyone!

 

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My Practical Father (Not Always) Repost for Memorial Day Memories

Since my father was a Korean War veteran, I thought I would repost an old blog post I wrote about him five years ago. When you get to the part about him being in the hospital, remember that this first went up in March 2013. He passed away in May 2015.

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My father was born in 1928, and the memory of the Depression is imprinted on his decision-making.

When he has a color choice, he goes with “brindle brown” because it’s practical and doesn’t call attention to itself.  Until I actually looked up this color, I thought it was a term unique to Dad.  And I figured it meant something like “shit brown.”  Now I see that it really means spotted or streaked like an animal’s coat or like the word piebald.  I suspect that my father’s meaning is closer to what I had originally thought, rather than a dog’s sleek brown fur.

I’ll go a step further and assume Dad probably picked up that term in the Army.  Since he was raised by a single mother, Dad’s true “finishing” came from his fellow soldiers in the Korean War.

Dad’s always hated the color black.  It’s impractical–shows dust and lint.  He doesn’t like lavender either.  His mother wore the widow’s weeds of black and lavender, so maybe there is an emotional terrain underneath the practicality.

When I was younger, men owned small leather grooming kits for travel.  They were sometimes called Dopp kits, although Dopp was a name like Kleenex, an actual brand name.  My father’s was brown, and if somebody gave him a black one as a gift, he wouldn’t use it.

His brief case was brown, not black.  So was his squeeze-type coin purse, back in the days when men carried those.

For the past thirty years he’s carried a brown leather magnetic money clip.

images (2)His belts are brown and not black.  And certainly not khaki canvas or burgundy leather and they don’t have a big turquoise-studded buckle.

My father looks practical and shops with a practicality born out of that Depression upbringing.

But don’t be fooled by how he looks.  When a friend or an acquaintance would show up with something to sell, Dad would buy it, no matter how impractical.  He bought things like:

  • An old non-working violin he was told was a Stradivarius (it was not)
  • A silk Oriental rug (beautiful, but impractical)
  • An old motorboat much too heavy for the motor that fit the boat (it never worked right, but I was still light enough that I could water-ski slowly off the back of the boat)
  • An abacus when I started 4th grade (so I could do division on it)

You get the idea.

Do any of your characters (or real life relatives) contain contradictions?

My dad is sick in the hospital right now, and the doctor isn’t quite sure what’s wrong.

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It’s been three years and 14 days now since my father died. I can hardly believe it. He’s buried at a veterans’ cemetery in Michigan, so I can’t be there today. But I’m still thinking about him.

 

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I Love “May” in Blog Titles (with a Publication in Longridge Review)

Desert Rose, Arizona

I give up. OK, I don’t really give up. But I’m cutting myself a little slack. I had all these great plans for May, but we’re already over 2/3 done with May, and I haven’t accomplished the writing I had planned. It just wasn’t possible. I let slip so much other stuff in April to work on #NaPoWriMo, that I had to catch up–or at least try. I’m so excited that Kin Types is a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. I didn’t dream it would do so well in a prestigious national award like that. But it did take up more time as I had to take it to social media. That’s the way of today.

And then I watched the price of the book slide back up on Amazon to its original price. Funny how that happens.

BUT I haven’t been doing nutten. Today Longridge Review published a short memoir piece, “The Secret Kotex Club.” Their focus is on memoir about the childhood experience–with adult reflection to give it some heft. I hope you enjoy it!

May. I have used it in many blog titles, but I’ve also used it in several poem titles. It’s such a beautiful month to write about. Spring is here. I don’t want to miss it entirely. The gardener noticed that the hummingbird eggs have hatched because he saw the mother feeding them. She has tucked the nest into the leaves of the oleander so well that we can’t really see the nest, but he saw her hovering above and dipping her beak down as if she were feeding. I just watched her defending her nest against three wren-type birds. She chased them away. Pretty amazing to see that tiny fierce mama take on a whole gang to protect her babies.

Every saguaro in the valley is still in bloom. I caught this one in front of someone’s house. I thought they might call the cops on me . . . .

 

We have flowers blooming on the ground, the outdoor tables, the bushes, and the trees.  Perry watched a roadrunner behind our house, content to be inside, safe and well fed.

This one is not at my house, but I liked it!

And it’s not too hot out yet. Hot, but not too hot.

Pretty darn beautiful.

To go with the new season, the gardener has allowed me to throw away his old gardening shoes, and he will wear the new Rainbows that the kids gave him.

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Exciting News about Kin Types

After Monday’s post was published, I learned that Kin Types was a finalist for the prestigious Eric Hoffer Award. It’s in stellar company. This recognition validates the work I did on the book and on my family history blog, too. Best of all, the book gets a gold foil sticker for the cover ;).

It will kind of look like this when the sticker is put on the book (only not such a large sticker).

If you click through the link to the Amazon page, the book can be ordered for a real deal right now; check it out. To order through Barnes & Noble, try this link.

If you want a sticker for your copy, send me a selfie of yourself with Kin Types that I can use on this blog or social media (in case I decide to do that) with your address, and I’ll mail you a sticker when they arrive.

My father passed away three years ago this past Monday. My first book, Doll God, had just been published so he was able to read it (and be very proud) before he died. He never got to see Kin Types, although his mother and grandmother are featured in the book.

I’m closing comments because I don’t want you to feel you need to send me congratulations; I just wanted to let you know about the exciting news!

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My Past in Costume Jewelry

Remember when I wrote about feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and wanted to write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear? I wrote about “Magical Bowls” and later about my grandmother’s mailbox sign.

This past week I went through a drawer of old jewelry to photograph it. I like to photograph things that I have packed away and haven’t seen in a long time. That way I can decide what to keep, as well as what to get rid of and just keep the photo. Jewelry was always something that appealed to me. When I was in college, I first worked for a department store in the jewelry department. I even briefly considered becoming a “jeweler.”

I use quotation marks because the definition of jeweler versus jeweller is one of the many things that has shown me how fast our world is changing. When I was in my twenties, there was a difference in the United States between these two professions. Today, the first is American and the second British, but in those days there were American jewelers and jewellers. And one was a more sophisticated job than the other. One actually made jewelry and the other sold it in a store. I’ll be darned if I can remember for sure which was which.

The other happy memory I have about jewelry is that the gardener was even more fond of buying me jewelry for gifts than I was at receiving it. This is what he gave me for high school graduation. It is sterling and onyx and was purchased at a shop on the Kalamazoo mall that specialized in gifts and decorative objects from India.

While I worked in the jewelry department, I managed to purchase a couple of pieces of jewelry with my discount. I thought they were a little better than costume jewelry, almost semi-precious. Today, they have no value as the gold is “gold-filled” and the styles are no longer fashionable. They really are costume jewelry.

But I didn’t stop hanging around jewelry after I quit that job. After I graduated from college, the gardener and I opened a store that sold “accessories.” That included handbags (purses, pocketbooks), billfolds (wallets), jewelry, belts, and gloves. I was always more interested in accessories than in actual articles of clothing, so it was a good fit for me. (Actually, I am not very interested in clothes at all). The gardener worked for Dictaphone as a sales rep, while I ran the store.

Over time, I collected a handful of pieces of “semi-precious” costume jewelry for myself. This is my carnelian Les Bernard necklace. Vintage Les Bernard jewelry is available online at about the same price it sold for originally ;).  Carnelian represents passive female energies (whatever that means).  Check out its meanings here.

Although I enjoyed the freedom from a corporate job running my own store, I was a little bored. Luckily, there were a few aspects of the job I enjoyed. One of my favorite parts of running the store was “doing” the window displays. I never had a class, a mentor, a single comment from anyone teaching me how to decorate a window, but maybe the proudest part of running the store is feedback I got from others about my windows. (I wish I had photos–maybe one day I will run across a photo!) There was a professor at Western Michigan University who loved my windows and one of her assignments was to send her students to check them out and do a write up about them. I would say that the most engaging part of my style was my use of color. For instance, my favorite window was all in bright red and natural wicker/bone. I didn’t bring in any other colors, and the contrast of those two colors was unique and really drew the eye.

Today my enjoyment of interior design is probably tied to my window design background, but I would never want to design someone else’s home interior (although friends have asked me to do so). I have confidence when it comes to doing what I like for myself, but I don’t want to have to take someone else’s “likes” into it ;).

What I noticed as I went through pieces of costume jewelry from one grandmother, then my other grandmother, then the gardener’s aunt, and a piece from an elderly relative who was cousin to my grandfather was that each piece, even if it is absolute junk from the viewpoint of the world at large, means something to me. Each piece makes me remember something about my past. The clay cross from La Purisima mission brought home by one of my children from a school trip, the kukui nut necklace from my parents’ trip to Hawaii, the hand-beaded bracelet a high school friend made. They all mean something to me. When I die, nobody else will have any connection to this jewelry. It will look like garbage to anyone who goes through my stuff.

Sometimes when I go to an antique mall I look at the vintage jewelry displays and try to imagine the stories behind the jewelry. But, honestly, it looks like shopworn seen-better-days stuff to me. That is a crushing blow, probably related to feelings of mortality. So of course I didn’t get rid of anything. Now I have the stuff in a drawer AND the photographs.

While I’m not a hoarder because (to the gardener’s everlasting annoyance) I like to throw things away (he is a hoarder!), I sure have managed to accumulate a lot of stuff for a thrower-awayer. I surprise myself at how sentimental I am. But then you’re probably not surprised!

On that note, have a great week! (hah)

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