Category Archives: Inspiration

Favorite Outfits Never Really Leave You

I didn’t get much accomplished this week since I had to go to California for business and got caught in the floods there, delaying my return by one day. On the way to California, I saw an odd blimp out in the middle of the desert, just off the 10.

At the time, I found it confusing. Then I saw an article about Carnival Cruise Line starting a blimp campaign last year.  But the gardener saw a different article. That one said that the DEA is using blimps for border surveillance. Hmm. I guess it could be both. Truth is strange, as you know.

I’ve been working on my own version of Swedish Death Cleaning by trying to go through file drawers a little bit every day that I am home. I’m also finding objects and papery reminders which make me want to write more posts about the life of objects.

I found a couple of old photographs of one of my favorite outfits ever which led to a week-long meditation on “favorite outfits,” and the beginning of a possible poem. How many favorite outfits have you had in your life? I can count mine on both hands–maybe one hand.

I bought this one with my store discount from the fancy store in Kalamazoo where I worked when I first started college. It was called Jacobson’s, and they had an apparel store and a “store for the home,” but the prototype was probably Saks. This 3-piece jersey outfit was comfortable, and I loved the cream/vivid blue combination (although I’m not actually a blue person, probably half my favorite outfits have been blue or had blue in them). In these two photos you can see both the tank top and the jacket, but not the almost-palazzo pants. The beads were from work, too. I don’t know what ever happened to the outfit, but I suspect I literally wore it out. I never would have gotten rid of it otherwise. That’s how much I loved it. Best memory wearing it was in Jamaica, at our months-after-the-wedding honeymoon.

The man on the right is one of my uncles, and the other man was his FIL. I was serving punch at a family party. Isn’t it funny that seeing that outfit in the photos makes me as happy as wearing it used to? And why did I love that outfit so much more than anything else? I have always loved birds, and pheasants run loose on the fabric, but that’s only one aspect.

I can’t imagine feeling this way about what I wear today since I have it down to a uniform involving either yoga pants or Duluth Trading Company stretch pants along with a tunic, athletic shoes, and a ballcap.

Anybody else have those thoughts about favorite outfits of the past? Tell me about your favorites, please!

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerslife, Creative Nonfiction, Inspiration, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

Just Sayin’

When the ice maker repair person was leaving my house the other day, he said something that forced me to think about a writing problem I have. I didn’t bring that to his attention. Instead, I just laughed and responded with “You got that right!”

After discussing the repair to be made with this repair person, the gardener had waltzed off to the treadmill. Since I was pan frying dinner (ahead of time–my favorite time to cook), I was left overseeing the repair. My overseeing consisted of complaining to said repair person that the food was falling apart because it didn’t have any gluten in it. Anyway, when he was done, he shook my hand and said THIS.  Watch for my italics.

“Say goodbye to your husband for me. Tell him it was really fun talking to him. You probably hear that a lot. He’s quite a character!”

THAT. He’s quite a character. You probably don’t know he’s a character because I don’t make him much of a character in this blog. Or in my memoir-in-progress. I present him sort of flat and static–not multi-dimensional or dynamic.

Why is that?

Well, I’ll tell you why! It’s because he would overshadow the other characters (including me, of course).

I first realized this when I was around 150,000 words into my memoir (don’t panic–while I have about 400,000 by now, only 80,000 are currently in play). Because my father was quite a character, and my story is about my father and me, the gardener has to be a very two-dimensional confidant. According to yourdictionary.com, a confidant is described this way:

confidant

noun

  1. One to whom secrets or private matters are disclosed.
  2. A character in a drama or fiction, such as a trusted friend or servant, who serves as a device for revealing the inner thoughts or intentions of a main character.

And, truly, that is who the gardener actually is in my life, along with a whole lot of other things, such as best friend, lover, and most worthy antagonist. But he’s also a pain in the you-know-what to write about–unless, of course, I were to write about him. Putting him front and center. I am not prepared to do that. The thought of that project is beyond daunting.

In case you’re wondering if I am a wilted violet in the face of all that personality, never fear. The kids are waiting for our family reality TV show because they know it’s coming.

The following song is dedicated to the gardener.

 

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Rocks and Light: Natural Art

After last week’s Phoenix excursion and the second hummingbird baby flying off into the big world, we took a drive up to the Lower Antelope Canyon to see the stone sculptures. They are on Navajo land outside Page, Arizona, right near Lake Powell.

This area is actually out in the middle of “nowhere,” from the point of view of someone with celiac, an auto-immune disease. In this case, you know I am talking about the gardener.

No offense to anything else about the town, but you don’t want to get stuck in Page if you have celiac. While we were there I found an old blog post someone had written about just that issue. There is supposed to be an Italian restaurant that serves actual gluten-free food, but it seems pretty apocryphal to me. It was closed for the season when that blogger visited (three years ago), and it was closed on the day we tried to go (Monday). Using my gluten-free app, we drove from place to place–and each restaurant was closed. And to tell you the truth: they didn’t look like the sort of places that would be genuinely gluten free. So we went to the only grocery store we could find. Since we had no microwave, I figured I would find some tuna salad for the gardener. Even the tuna salad had wheat flour in it!!! I bought some tough-as-leather chicken pieces and a tub of potato salad that I thought was just awful (tasting as it did of sweet pickle relish), but the gardener was satisfied. We tried two restaurants at the Lake Powell Resort and Marina while we were there. Both times he was glutened, probably by cross-contamination.

To see the stone sculptures you have to take a “hiking tour” through a Navajo company. I was worrying that my foot would develop a sudden, intense pain, as it occasionally does, and that I would hold up the group or at least the gardener. I needn’t have worried about too much walking. It’s not much walking. Instead, if I had known what it was I probably wouldn’t have gone. You go down into the canyon via stairs, ladders, and walking very narrow, very rocky trails. I am afraid of heights and am claustrophobic, but those problems were nothing compared with walking on narrow rocky surfaces.

My reconstructed foot is very fragile. I need a flat enough surface to put my foot down in order to put my weight on it. Otherwise, the rebuilt navicular bone could crack. My tone would be different in this post if that, in fact, had happened. But the only reason it didn’t is because the gardener, with his bad shoulder, had to hoist me through these narrow tunnels so that my weight would be on him instead of my foot. I was super careful how I placed my foot each time. Now that I have come through on the other side completely whole, I can say that I am so glad I did it. I wish everyone could see these beautiful natural artistic canvases of rock and light.

Because this is what you experience:

And this:

And this:

This one gives you the perspective of how far down we were.

That afternoon we were exhausted and went on a cruise of Lake Powell.

The way to do Lake Powell is to rent a big houseboat with a large family and/or friend group. Get one with a slide and grill! And explore all the northern canyons. When the kids were in high school, we rented a boat just like that in Lake Mead (closer to Las Vegas and near the Hoover Dam) and took their friends with us. It was such a fun family experience. Though these lakes are sort of “sister lakes,” they are quite different. Many people prefer Lake Powell, but it is more solitary and Lake Mead has more of a sporting lake feel to it.

No, zero writing went on this past week. Lots of Perry hugs, though, when we got home. In fact, all the cats were so happy to see us walk in the door!

 

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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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A Desert Spring

Ever since I finished National Poetry Month, I’ve been slammed with too much to do. It’s not all been work. A lot of it has been cat related. And even a genealogy rabbit hole (not even my family haha!) that I fell down.

But I’m devouring Natasha Trethewey’s poetry collection Thrall, and I’m so engaged. You won’t be sorry if you pick up a copy and start reading.

Here’s a little photo show of the prettier parts of the week.

This bobcat was stalking prey in the wash next to my house. He goes along nicely with a poem I think (#NaPoWriMo is a blur) I started last month.

Here is the coolest part of seeing him. He stopped totally still with his left hind leg (you can see the leg here just before) raised in the air. He had visually locked onto his prey. And then what do you think happened?

I’ll be darned if a little songbird didn’t land on a branch of a tree to the left of the photo and sing out a warning. IT GIVES ME CHILLS RIGHT NOW JUST TELLING YOU ABOUT IT.

I can’t even imagine how to put that into a poem without it sounding sappy!

There were some more saguaros in blossom at Mayo. Yup, I had another issue.

See the little hole up near the top? It looks like a mouse hole. It’s actually the entrance to a bird’s home. What I would love to show you are the older saguaros in vacant lots around here. They have lots of branches unlike these ones that were planted by somebody–in this case, Mayo. They also blossom at the ends of every branch. And some of them are absolutely riddled with holes from birds–completely battle-scarred. But there isn’t any place to safely park to take a pic.

(That reminds me, right outside my kitchen window was the most glorious male cardinal ever–smaller than Michigan ones and the red more orangey and vibrant–but my camera/phone was too far away to get a pic in time).

Some of the landscaping at Mayo is now mature enough to produce some shade. Since it’s turned hot again, that’s a good thing.

It’s flower time, so the gardener has been obsessed with planting flowers in the yard. He buys flats and flats of them and plants them all over–in beds and pots. Actually drives me nuts because the flowers come ahead of everything else. (He thinks I act that way about the cats, but of course, that is DIFFERENT).

Do you know how many times I’ve been to the nursery lately?

Perry continues to be the cutest most adorable softest squishiest handsome boy ever who really sets the household on end. Hah. See here. Kana was sleeping peacefully on top of the tree. Tiger was lying in the sun on the bottom. Perry had to take the middle part as he tried to “engage Tiger in play.” I put that in quotes because that is not how Tiger sees it.

When nobody will play with Perry or he gets yelled at by me, he sometimes retreats for a little pout.

I did a couple of submissions this week, so at least something happened in the writing sphere.

My new job at the shelter is contacting people who have adopted cats during the month. I LOVE hearing from them. Some of them send me photos of the kitties all comfy and happy in their new homes. Makes it all worthwhile!

Make it the best week for you and those around you!

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Medical Art + Writing + Cats

On Friday I had some medical tests. I’ve been having some shortness of breath problems. I went to the doctor months after I should have, but I doubt it matters. I now suspect it is more of that acid reflux problem! Probably getting into my lungs. But my doctor thought he heard a new heart murmur so I had to take some tests. I’m sure it’s because my mother had a TAVR last summer. She was so lucky to do so well because she had more wrong with her heart than people usually do who get TAVR procedures. This is less invasive than open-heart surgery as they “go up through the groin.” My mother is now the darling of Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids and is featured on billboards throughout the city. She’s so darn cute. Tell me if she’s not adorable.

I’m not worried about my tests because I have seen how bad this acid reflux situation is. I have a splint thingie that I am supposed to wear at night for my TMJ problem, but the acid has eaten through the acrylic!!!

I kid you not.

I go to Mayo Clinic in Arizona because, why not? One-stop shopping for medical. They take my insurance for which I worked my TUSH off by teaching for a pittance for all those years. (If you think I am exaggerating, you would be wrong. Lecturers or adjuncts or freeway flyers, which is what I was, do over half the teaching work in most universities and get paid a tiny share of what professors make. People who clean houses–and do not need high school diplomas–get paid more per hour than I did with my P. H. and D. No kidding again. But I will say I did it with love).

What I noticed at Mayo this time was a preponderance of beautiful art. I hope that somebody loans or donates it to them because I would hate to think that my insurance and my deductible and all is paying for that art. Beautiful Chinese jade pieces, well-made Native American pottery, you name it. They are in glass cases, so I couldn’t really photograph them because of the reflections.

But I will admit that I feel better getting poked and prodded in an artistic and serene environment. Art calms my soul. Kind of like cats do.

A quintessential Phoenix Soleri bell

Another quintessential Phoenician art form

Flowers floating on the wall

The best part of the day, though, were the therapy dogs. I saw three! And they were all beautiful dogs. One a big blondie, another a golden of sorts, and the third? Here he/she is!

What is that noise I’m hearing? Is Kana in a kitchen cupboard again? [Leaves to go check.] OK, I let her out.

Here is my writing update. If I don’t write one day, I try to make up for it the next. This weekend I worked on a piece for a book that someone else is writing. The book is about the beautiful old lakeside park and dance pavilion that my great-great-grandmother’s niece owned and that my father bought from her on a land contract . . . for a time.  Since those years of my childhood stimulated my imagination, it’s a story I’ve been writing and rewriting as poetry and prose for years.

I had a nonfiction story taken by a magazine I was hoping would take it (woot!).

The ole memoir is completely restructured now. (Aren’t you sick of hearing about that dang thing?) And I organized my send-out pieces. Three months ago I thought I had nothing left, but I’ve rewritten poems and prose pieces and feel I have some offerings to the world.

I hope you enjoyed Carol Bachofner’s pieces. Years ago, Carol was my student, not for creative writing, but for literature. She was a fabulous student, the kind of student all teachers wish for: passionate and smart and logical and creative. And hard-working.

Are you wondering how Perry is doing? hahaha He’s driving everyone crazy, but he’s so darn sweet. Kana and Felix figured out if they lie on the cat trees by the glass doors, I can put the drapes around them, and Perry can’t get to them. He knows they are there, but it makes it too difficult for him to climb on them.

That is Felix on our left, looking out. You can see his little face in the door. Kana is the black shape on the right side. From the inside of the house, Perry and I can only see the drapes.

If we don’t do this with the drapes, this is what happens. Perry climbs right up with Felix and within a few seconds he starts to annoy!

Perry got to stay up after 10PM for several nights last week because he is so good! The only trouble is that he has to have his bedroom door shut at night because no matter how I wrap the sheet over the gate, he can figure out how to get out. The little smartypants.

What’s up with you this week?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida in Fours

The trip to Florida was another test of our gluten free sleuthing. It’s so exhausting that sometimes I wonder why we bother traveling. But our hotel room was more like a time-share, so we had a kitchen. That helped a lot as we ate breakfast and occasionally lunch (when we ate lunch) in our room. There was one big surprise in Sarasota.

 

Look at the sign on that restaurant: GREAT GLUTEN FREE MENU. What was nice is that Beckham’s on the Trail has a dedicated fryer and makes fish and chips gluten free. Please tell me why a huge city like Phoenix (far bigger than Tampa/St. Petersburg) doesn’t have more dedicated fryers!!! If you’re not familiar with that type of fryer it simply means one which only fries gluten free food. It’s not contaminated by gluten.

Although I didn’t see a lot of art while we were in Florida, we were greeted in the Tampa airport by this beauty. I love this gigantic multi-colored net that hangs on the wall over the escalator. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time or free hands to stop and take a good shot.

When I went through my photos from the trip, I discovered a fascination with four items. Four is challenging. Anybody who “decorates” knows that it’s easier to work with groups of three than with four. But four has its own special meanings. It’s the four seasons and four functions in math (add, subtract, multiply, divide). Once you start to think about it, I bet you can think of more fours than I can.

 

These chairs were so pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Someone had left these shells lying here for others to enjoy. The gardener kept bringing me little shells he found, but the ones left on the wall were larger and nobody had taken them, which was amazing in itself.

These guys fascinated me. One of them had been trying to pull a plastic bag of (presumably) abandoned food out of a trash can, and I shooed him away because I couldn’t bear the thought of him eating the plastic and styrofoam. But he didn’t fly far–just to the ledge of the walkway at our hotel to join his friends. These guys are trying to pull a poem out of me.

I keep wondering why I saw fours in Florida.

Try writing about fours. I’d love to see what you come up with. Fours in a poem, a blog post, a story. What comes in four? How does four make us feel? Is there anything intrinsic or essential about four?

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The Inimitable Style of Len Cowgill

When the gardener and I lived in Michigan we were good friends with artist Len Cowgill. He specialized in a type of pointillism which was well-suited to the detailed nature of his subjects. We have a series of three pieces that showcase different stages of a man’s life. They are just stunning. Unfortunately, they are under glass, so I can’t really take photos of them.

Recently, I found his work online–in galleries and on Flickr. While his art has grown and changed, it is still recognizably his inimitable style. Using acid-free paper, he works mainly in  ink, graphite, white charcoal, and sometimes colored pencil. Len’s work isn’t merely decorative. He doesn’t turn away from difficult subjects, but focuses his eye on the human condition.

We haven’t seen Len in years, but hope to see him before too long now that we’ve reconnected.

When I really love a work of art, I get all revved up (jumping up and down in my chair, if you must know) and want to share with everyone. This is how I feel about Len’s art. He let me use these images from his Flickr account, but please do not copy them for public or internet use.

 

103 Secret Saints

 

 

Strangers Battling Through Eternity

 

 

Mermaids

 

 

Beatrice

 

 

We Are All In This Together

 

 

The Burden of Personal History

 

You can find Len’s work for purchase at the following galleries:

To contact Len, he can be reached through the contact page at Tamarack Art Gallery.
Just writing this blog post is giving me an idea for poetry: to write an ekphrastic poem based on one of Len’s pieces. An ekphrastic poem about a piece of visual art. Traditionally, the poet expands upon the meaning of the art within the poem, but it really can be any response to specific art. Use the artwork as muse or inspiration. Hmm, gotta get to writing. If you write a poem in response to one of the images in this post, please post a link or the poem itself in the comments!

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Poetry Ancestry

Last week I went to see three grande dames of literature at Arizona State University: Joy Harjo, Rita Dove, and Sandra Cisneros, hosted by Natalie Diaz. These are writers whose works I taught to college students for years, but this was the first opportunity I had to hear them talk in person. They were seated on stage in a conversation area–a couch and armchairs. What I hadn’t realized was that they are all graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which has long been considered to be the top place to earn an MFA in writing. These women all know each other–and Harjo and Cisneros were friends in grad school. I felt I was eavesdropping on their conversation with each other.

Since these women are all poets, but have published prose as well, I was fascinated to hear what they had to say. Their voices come from disenfranchised groups–Harjo is Native (Muskogee Creek), Cisneros Chicana, and Dove African American–so it’s important to listen carefully and sympathetically in order to hear things from a variety of perspectives. They were also talking about timing, and how timing was very helpful to them in achieving the level of success they have had. You can look them up if you want the deets. In fact, Dove mentioned that when she was a grad student she didn’t know the work of a lot of poets who were mentioned in her classes. She would surreptitiously write down the names so she could find them in the library and read their work. In that way, she was partially self-taught.

I’m leading up to something here.

Of all the wonderful ancedotes and tips I heard that Saturday afternoon, the one that stood out the most to me is one from Harjo. She said she teaches a course about poetry ancestry. It’s studying the genealogy of your poetry writing. You look at the poets who most influenced your own writing. Then you see who influenced them. And go back as far as you can, studying the work that turns up in your research!

I wanted to see where I could go with this, but it will take time. I’ll just start by mentioning some of my poetic influences. Keep in mind this is NOT an exhaustive list by any means.

  • Sylvia Plath: there is no doubt that I found her big mouth and aggressive imagery very liberating
  • Emily Dickinson: her spare and sometimes wry writing appeals to me, but the downside is she keeps herself out of most of her poems, and that is too convenient for me
  • A. R. Ammons: I so admire his oneness with nature and spirit and his very smart use of language
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins: his spirituality and fresh imagery speak to my heart
  • Linda Hogan: like Ammons, her oneness with nature and spirit inspires me
  • Adrienne Rich: she broke the ice at the top of the ocean she dove into in Diving into the Wreck
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay: maybe the first poem not written for children that captivated me was Millay’s “Renascence.” When I was a kid, I took an LP record out of the library and listened to her read it over and over and over and over and over again.
  • classic children’s poetry of the 20th century, as well as nursery rhymes: these are what first instilled a love for poetry

Do you notice anything about my little list? Lots of women, not too much diversity (except Hogan who is Native and Rich, a Jewish lesbian). But what else? The poems I read that first inspired my writing were written mainly before 1980 all the way back to Dickinson who was writing before and during the Civil War! Of course, I’ve read a lot of contemporary poetry over the years, but poets who first influenced me were not my contemporaries or even those just a little ahead of me. They were considered masters when I read them, except for maybe Hogan.

I’m thinking I need another list of poets whose works next influenced me–people writing after the poets listed above. That might then offer more of a platform for the “family research.”

Do you know who your first influences were for your own writing? Have the type of influences changed over time? For instance, if blogging is your main writing format, who were your first influences?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Silly Happy

Blogger Theresa Barker has been posting about what she sees when she looks up (and down a bit, too). We were chatting about not noticing some things that we pass regularly and how we tend to miss seeing the same things over and over. I commented that I want to pay more attention to what is up and down and in the gaps.

That made me think of those things that I actually do see over and over and continue to appreciate. These are the things we miss when they go away.

For years I’ve been passing a house with a big cactus out in the big front lawn. It might be an organ pipe cactus. In the Sonoran Desert where we live, it can sometimes freeze at night in the winter. We usually get warnings, and then we have to cover all our flowers, flowering bushes, and cacti with sheets or other covers. Because this cactus is so large and has so many stems, there are many tips that can freeze. When I first saw this cactus it was in the winter, and each tip was covered with a styrofoam cup, which is the usual remedy.

Then the owners decided to put Santa hats on the tips, and my life was enriched. I love driving past the cactus that has been transformed into many little Santas. My face opens into a big grin.

Last year the house was vacant and being remodeled. I was worried that with a new owner, the Santa hats would be gone. It’s funny how empty I felt when I would drive past the house, thinking it was the end of an era.

But then last week the hats were back. Actually, these are new hats, not the same ones by the previous owner, and I like them even better.

I wonder if the owner realizes how happy people have been made with this simple and whimsical twist on a necessity.

Is there something that you have no control over that you see every week or every day that makes you happy? Something very small that seems to make life a little better.

 

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