Tag Archives: Writing memoir

Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Adrienne at Middlemay Books allowed me the opportunity to guest post about family history, a subject close to my heart and that of Kin Types! Thank you so much, Adrienne.

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This weekLuanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and…

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Fresh Air for Cats and Writers

Did you watch that Bowl game yesterday? I sure did. The important one–the Kitten Bowl. (Yes, I saw the other crazy game, too!)

After I bought a cat stroller last summer (see here) it was too hot (for them) for walks or just to get some air, then it was too rainy and cool (for me). This weekend it was just right.

Because I don’t have a catio (a screened-in porch for cats) I don’t like to frustrate the cats that would take most quickly to outdoor life. We are a strictly indoor cat household–for the safety of our cats, the safety of the neighborhood birds, and for my mental health. So I don’t want anybody to get any big ideas.

But Tiger has a very constricted life. She finds Kana and Sloopy Anne very annoying. They like to chase her, and Tiger likes to flee. So she needs little events that make her feel special. Therefore, she was the one who was chosen to go out in the stroller in this beautiful weather.  I put down a wee-wee pad (Chux underpad), just in case she got too excited. But she didn’t have an accident. She felt the breeze on her face and smelled the odors on that breeze. She watched for tiny movements I couldn’t even see. And she listened for her dad’s voice since he was close by.

When she came back in the house, she was thorough about checking out the stroller for the smells it brought back into the house. And she stood her ground afterward, giving Sloopy Anne a nice long smirk.

A writer friend asked me what writing project I’m working on now. I had to admit I feel a little at odds. I have a draft of my memoir completed, but am doing some thinking about it. I have a publisher interested in my poetry/prose chapbook that is based on the lives of women in my family history. I’m not jumping back into poetry or into creative nonfiction right now. Partly, I would like to focus on wrapping up these two projects. But maybe it’s also that I feel a little singed by these genres.  I’ve been working in them for a long time, and they take a lot of emotional strength.

My friend asked me if I was going to work on fiction now. It was her idea, not mine. She might do it herself. I think it’s an idea well worth thinkin’ on pondering. Maybe I could use some “fresh air.”

 

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A January Overview (Happy It’s Almost February)

So far 2017 has been extremely hectic, chaotic, distressing, you get the drift. My aunt passed away without too much suffering (thanks to hospice), and my mother went home. On Mom’s flight home, she was again required to spend the night in the layover city–this time because of weather in Kalamazoo. After that, she wasn’t sure she wanted to fly again–and my son’s wedding is this spring on the beach in California. But now she feels a little better and is going to look for a dress for the wedding this week (so, yay!).

Kitties are better, although today Pear is getting an ultrasound because something is wrong with her bladder–and we need to know what. The ultrasound has been an option for months, but I’ve put it off because of the cost. I spent so much (on my credit card) in January on veterinary care that the ultrasound no longer looks as expensive because it’s a “drop in the bucket.” Ugh. I think those of us who can and will pay for good veterinary care for our animals are subsidizing the salaries of veterinarians (and clinic costs). I just wish that money went to treat more animals, but I know that not all vets are good about pro bono work.

Speaking of cats, did you see this article? They needed a study to prove that cats are as smart as dogs? I thought that the decision was made a long time ago (cats are smarter ;)).

On another note, we’re still using Home Chef. Don’t turn up your nose at that idea. I don’t know a soul who really has the time or inclination to plan and deliver on 21 meals every single week–and to have 2-3 of them taken off the list makes the other meal planning more rewarding and less onerous.

Steelhead Trout Niçoise

Mojito Lime Chicken

The trout was fabulous–and there was enough salad left for lunch the next day. I also made Mojito Lime Chicken.

And I made Chicken with Basil-Pecorino Cream Sauce. I haven’t made a single Home Chef meal that wasn’t delicious. I served the gardener the basil chicken that looked like the recipe card.

I set his chicken on a tiny bit of the cream sauce because of his lactose intolerance. But for myself I didn’t hold back, and so my plate didn’t look as “well-plated” as his did. Or as the recipe card.

Oh man, was it ever good! Tonight we’ll have a non Home Chef meal of mushroom and cheese omelet. I am an expert omelet maker. I learned from watching  The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith, on TV decades ago. Anybody remember him? Great personality, good teaching skills, and an unfortunate (and terrifying) end to his public career (look him up!). By the way, I also learned about the “chef’s assistant” from Jeff–only he chose sherry and I choose chardonnay (or sake).

I have been revising the memoir because I want to send it to someone for a thorough read-through now that I have rethought and reorganized the structure.  I think I have reached the point that it’s ready. I don’t want to go too crazy with line-editing if it still needs a lot more “big” work.

Also, I have an offer from a publisher for my poetry/prose chapbook about family history. Stay tuned on that one.

Now that things are finally starting to settle down over here, it’s TAX SEASON for me and the business. Ick ick and ick.

Have a good one this week, friends!

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Stories Horses Have Told My Cousin

Although I have been working on and off for years on a family history and photograph project, I don’t bring it up too terribly often over here. I have collected antique and vintage family photos from many branches of my family–once I showed an interest to my grandparents years ago, the whole family has been directing heirlooms my way. It’s very time-consuming, and I’ve had to do a lot of genealogical research to put information in order.

Through my family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo, and Ancestry.com I’ve met (online mainly) soooo many people who have helped me. It’s astonishing. I now have friends in Europe, as well as the United States who are relatives, distant cousins, or related by “someone-somewhere’s” marriage. These are all such special people. And they all have fabulous stories.

I was introduced to my cousin Jeane by a genealogist friend who I met through The Family Kalamazoo. Her father and my father were first cousins, but they never met, to my knowledge. Her father was older than mine and the families had become more distant as years went on. I hope I can meet Jeane in person. She lives in the east, on a lovely horse farm (a post-retirement project), and loves–get this–animals and writing. She is also involved in animal rescue. 🙂

When Jeane was a girl she dreamed, as so many girls, of having her own horse. She imagined riding the horse and the bond they would have. But after she retired, and after years of dog rescue, she fell in love with a horse named Virgil that had been abused. Jeane had to board him as she had no place to keep him. Eventually, she and her husband got their own farm because of Virgil and other horses. Through him, Jeane began to learn how difficult the lives of horses can be. She also learned to place a high value on communication with horses.

Jeane has written a collection of short stories called Stories My Horses Have Told Me. The background of each horse that Jeane adopted is detailed in these stories. After adopting four rescues, Jeane tells us:

 

After five years of dreaming and searching, we arrived at our farm in the middle of June 2004 with four horses.  As each horse stepped off the trailer they were led to a stall and allowed to rest.  Each had hay and fresh water.  All were anticipating their first turn-out into their new fields.

Although the four horses all came from different families, they bonded immediately.  They were now a family.

What we didn’t realize is that our herd was not complete yet.  Star was waiting for us . . . .

We swore we would never buy a horse.  There are horses needing adoption or rescue and that was our focus – until Star.

Jeane has had a couple of wonderful horse whisperers helping her to communicate with her horses. One of them was able to communicate with Star.

Star talked about being cold.  She said she never wanted to be cold again.  We didn’t understand then that she was talking about her sale in January, being shaved, with no shelter or blanket in her new home.  That information came in a conversation with her previous owner.  I asked what time of year he bought her and under what circumstances.  Then I asked if she had been shaved.  When he said “yes,” I asked had he blanketed her.  “Lord no! She’s a horse.”

To sum up Star’s previous life:

What we know about Star’s previous life is that there had been seven owners in her short five years.  Her owners had not been kind, treating and riding her roughly. Her winter coat had been shaved off in January 2004 so she would present as sleek and shiny for a horse sale.  Her new owner didn’t have shelter and did not offer her a blanket to protect her from the sub-freezing temperatures, and she was cold.  She also endured being stabbed with a pitchfork, a broom handle broken over her head, and her halter used as a weapon to make her obey.  She had little patience, and no trust in humans.

There was more, much more, to Star then met the eye.  She was not a happy horse.  She was a loner, not wanting to interact with any of the herd.  Something about her made you feel so sad.  There was someone special she was searching for.

That someone special was not to be Jeane, but it’s a tribute to Jeane’s love for animals that she recognizes that every horse is different and with different needs. Star was determined to be a highly intelligent horse.

What an extraordinary horse.  But her trust in humans remained unchanged regardless of our efforts.  She would leave the barn as we entered, wanting as little contact as possible, but that didn’t happen the day a friend arrived for a visit.  Their eyes locked, Star walked up to her and life suddenly had purpose.  Michele is a professor at a university in Washington, DC.  Star sensed the intelligence – an equal.  The connection couldn’t be denied and Star soon went to live with Michele.

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We don’t always have control over the destinies of our horses.  We always hope we are making the right decisions.  Often there are difficult choices, but if we learn to listen to them it will make their lives, and ours, better.  They are always talking – take the time to listen.

Michele is a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.  From England, she now calls the US home.  An accomplished equestrian, along with many other talents, she continues to ride and train in dressage.  Michele and Star make an incredible team!

Heroes for the animals come in so many styles. Jeane’s has been to make her home a refuge for all manner of needy animals (including cats :)!). Obviously, I’m thrilled to find this cousin of mine and hope we get to meet before too long.

 

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From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Have you visited Paula Kuitenbrouwer’s art blog? She creates delicate drawings; many of the subjects are birds and flowers. Her most recent work is of “still lifes with Killiney Beach stones, succulents, and blue ceramics.” I’ve been a fan for several years now. The other day I picked up my mail only to discover a special gift from Paula, sent from Ireland: a packet of her beautiful note cards. I was so excited I even showed my cats!

 If you visit Paula’s art shop you will see that she has quite a variety of artwork available, including from Buddhist to Pagan to Christian and Jewish holidays.  She even has a lesbian bird couple.

Thanks so much, Paula!

I’m moving forward on the memoir–I’m up to page 130 of 162 (or SO) in streamlining the change in structure. It feels strange to be enmeshed in the story again . . . .

I went to the doctor this week to get my toenails cut (you can stop reading if this “grosses you out”). I had a toe injured a few years ago when my son was dating the wrong person (he’s now engaged to the right person), and I was so discombobulated and clumsy that I banged my toe really really hard and permanently disfigured the toenail.  You should have heard me yell, by the way. Anyway, with my primary lymphedema (which makes me very susceptible to infections), my antibiotic allergies, and my post-tumor foot reconstruction, I figure that I really need the medical help with the old toe nails. Well, they kicked me out of Mayo. I can no longer get my toenails clipped there. And why? They have no room for me. I am considered “moderate risk,” and they only want “high risk.” Notice my tag of #patientabadonment. Well, darn them.

At least they had pretty flowers–a bit on the going out side, but still cheerful. I can probably take them as a metaphor.

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Lazybones Blog Post

After a difficult week, I offer some of the more positive views I experienced (outside of my post-election distress, complicated migraine, screwed-up-and-painful leg, and ridiculously hectic travel). Today my father has been gone exactly 18 months.

My peace pole (built and erected by my father) as seen through the palms as a sort of liminal space. Here it is in Korean and English. The other sides are Spanish and Hebrew. Dad chose the languages.

We were in California again this past week. The Virginia Dare winery crusher building in Rancho Cucamonga. The Virginia Dare wine company is close to 200 years old and is now owned by the Coppola family.

The gate of the medical office complex that is part of the Virginia Dare center now. The metal grape leaves are a nice touch. Sorry it is so crooked. I thought I had that problem solved, but apparently not.

A mug with my life’s motto (the mug itself belongs to someone else, but the wine is mine): I just want to drink wine & pet my cat. Or cats. Which I can’t do when I am in California.

The view of Phoenix when I drove back in from California.

And when I got to the house I discovered that Pear and Tiger had decided to share the window seat.

Memoir Writing: Structure

I am doing some writing–just enough to feel as if I am writing. Rewriting my memoir into chronological order is really not difficult. The material is almost completely written–and it seems to more effortlessly fall into place this way. I remember now when I first started putting the  story in a different order. I was in a workshop where the students insisted that because the main secret that is revealed in my book is not HUGE, as in not huge for the public and only huge for me and for my family, that I had to reveal just enough of it up front so that nobody would get the wrong idea. I think this started me on the wrong path that has gone on now for years. I hope my new revelation that they were wrong is correct, otherwise I don’t know how to tell the story. So I am following some hopefully wise advice from Lewis Carroll:

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

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What Does Your Memory Smell?

I’m slowly putting my memoir in chronological order (from age eleven) and deciding which scenes to leave out and which to put back in (that I had already taken out). The story has to be told differently in the order it happened in, as opposed to a present day telling that dips back and forth. Stories connected in a more thematic way before, but now the reader has to be able to follow threads where they may stray farther afield for a while.

There was a scene I’d first written several years ago where my mother tried to persuade me to go to medical school. It has connections to two major threads, so I was thinking of putting it back in. I couldn’t find it anywhere and now wonder how much of my story I’ve inadvertently deleted or lost. But I did find some old writing exercises that were kind of fun.

Here is one from a class with Faith Adiele:

In trying to work on the muscle memory assignment I became very frustrated by all the memories which are not available to me.  I wanted to smell the dirt in Kalamazoo.  When we dug on the playground at McKinley school, which was next door to the celery fields, we pulled out spoonfuls of rich black muck.  Muck holds a lot of water in it, maybe because of the clay base to the soil.

When we planted petunias in the dirt behind the filling station, Grandpa told me that the muck was like Dutch soil and that we knew how to work with it, that it was in our blood.  When we moved to Portage, which is a suburb of Kalamazoo, the soil was brown.  Mom said it was sandy soil from all the lakes in Portage, but I’m not sure it wasn’t just plain brown dirt and that she thought it was sandy in comparison with what she grew up with on Burdick Street.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time digging in the dirt, building forts and hiding treasures.  I’d like to put my hands into these soils now, squishing the muck between my fingers and spilling the Portage soil from my cupped hand.  I’d like to smell them and see what I can remember.

Instead, I’ve got the Arizona dirt now.  On dry days, it’s tough, light-colored and packed too tightly.  When it rains just a bit, like it did today, and I step outside, it smells like wet sand in the air.   Looking down I see that the dirt has packed even tighter, its matte finish more dense.  It takes me farther from home and my memories.

So I wasn’t able to do my muscle memory exercise, but if I could find a Be-Mo potato chip, I might be able to do it.  Or maybe those little wax pop bottles.

Reading this is like reading my own writing in some ways, but in others, it is like reading something by someone else. After all, I have changed in recent years–and so has my writing and my thoughts about my past. I wasn’t sure what a muscle memory assignment was meant to do, so I had to search for Faith’s assignment. I found it here:

Muscle Memory: Begin to collect sensory souvenirs that you can incorporate into your standard investigations. Avoid the visual, as we tend to over-rely on sight; instead, eat a childhood candy, listen to what was popular on the radio the month your brother left home, lay your cheek against the hammock you brought back from Guatemala. The sense of smell is particularly evocative; spend several minutes with your eyes closed experiencing a jar of your grandmother’s favorite spice or a bottle of your father’s cologne. Now freewrite whatever memories come to mind.

So the idea was to use sense memories as triggers for writing.  I desperately wanted to remember what Kalamazoo muck smells like and was unable to do so. If I recall, I asked someone–probably my father–to mail me some soil.

It’s funny that I was asking for a Be-Mo potato chip or those wax pop bottles of my childhood. I can remember very well what the chips smelled and tasted like and how it felt when the tiny amount of “pop” slid into my mouth from the wax bottle, then the taste and texture of chewing up the wax.

Using your muscle memory, what can you remember?

CAT OF THE WEEK

This is Maverick. I posted earlier about his brother Moe. They need to be adopted together.

Just as I finished this post, I was notified that the shelter is having a lowered fee week for cats and dogs that have been at the shelter longer than 6 months. That includes Moe and Maverick!

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Memoir Writing Lesson #12: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: 

Write about something you have found ugly. 10 minutes.

The other day, I saw a woman for the first time. My first impression of her face caused me to physically recoil for a second. I’d never seen a face like hers before–not in person or through the media or even in antique photographs–and it startled me because it didn’t fit the fairly liberal parameters I must have in my mind regarding human faces. Scientists or pseudo-scientists have done studies on what makes people think a particular human face is attractive, but I have never read or even seen a headline about a study on what makes us think someone is ugly. My guess is that we have a range in mind and someone has to fit inside of that range or we think they are ugly. Her face had a shape I’d never seen before–more width at the bottom than at the top, combined with a peculiar flatness that also angled outward at the bottom–angled, not sloped. Her eyes were overly large, as if the skin had been unnaturally pulled away from the socket area, and the cheeks below were not only without any definition, but were part of a large droop of skin on each side of her face. She was probably elderly, if I believed the wrinkles, but her straight and fine reddish hair looked young, almost juvenile.  What happened, though, the longer I looked at her–and I was just an observer, so I wasn’t interacting with her personality–was that I grew more and more fascinated with her looks. Soon I didn’t think she was ugly at all. Instead, I thought her looks were charming and held a strange, unique beauty.

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And that, my friends, is pretty much what happens to me with anything I first think is ugly. That’s why I am fascinated with scrap art and photos of old structures rotting into the group, gritty city scenes and reading about what people found in the garbage.  It’s all so fascinating. Don’t get me wrong; I love beauty, maybe a little too much. But so much is beautiful. And when you get right down to it, not much is ugly if ugly means something that will permanently make me cringe.
(Except for vile human behavior toward animals or other humans. THAT is ugly).

Go ahead and try it. What have you found ugly?

Not ugly at all is Jackie O! Such a sweet girl, she’s been at the shelter way too long. Maybe it’s her tipped ear? That is supposed to indicate an altered feral cat. Jackie O is the furthest thing from a feral cat. Very friendly and loving, in fact. She can be found at Home Fur Good in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Memoir Writing Lesson #11: Check

Today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away:

“Tell me about a breakfast you were once privileged to have.”

I wish I had a story about sharing my tiny breakfast with someone in need or a morning when I had not been able to eat after days of illness and the first bite into dry toast sent me into paroxysms (always wanted to use that word) of delight. Alas, I can’t think of anything in that vein. All I’ve got is that one event of pure and utter gluttony.

The gardener and I were young, not married that long, and were friends with another couple with ties to Chicago. They were a fun couple, and both Michelle and I were thin and fit and vain.

After two nights and a day going to museums, restaurants, and clubs, we went to a Jewish deli for Sunday brunch. Chicago friends had told us this place had the best brunch in town. Being from Michigan, we had no idea what awaited us. Michelle and I both wore culottes in the cream-colored wrinkly Indian cotton that was so in style.

When we got into the crowded restaurant, I noticed that one large room was ringed in a U-shape of very long banquet tables literally groaning from the weight of the dishes. More than one type of lox, pickled fish, smoked fish, several flavors of cream cheese, big stainless containers overflowing with real New York style bagels. All the fixings: tomatoes, onions, capers, and more than I could even “process.” There must have been a dozen salads: tuna, whitefish, pasta, cucumber and salads I’d never heard of before. Hot containers held tomato sauce-smothered stuffed cabbage and sweet ‘n sour stuffed peppers. I’d never seen so many latkes (potato pancakes) in my life. Since they are one of my favorite foods (with sour cream, not apple sauce), I seriously considered moving to Chicago, somewhere near the restaurant. They had sliced deli meats (including a pastrami they could barely keep stocked it was so melt-in-your-mouth), cheeses, and hot meats as well. One long table held every flavor of rugelach, cake, coffee cake, kugel, and cookie you could ever imagine encountering in your entire life.

At this point I should probably mention that we had “put away” a lot of alcohol that weekend. Michelle and I were more hungover than the guys–probably because we weren’t used to drinking as much as our husbands although we were all just out of college. So, speaking for myself, I was hungry. Very hungry. I filled up a plate and gulped it all down. So did Michelle. Then I filled another and ate it. So did Michelle. At that point, I realized we were in a competition to see who could eat the most. And we both continued to eat and eat and eat and eat. We unbuttoned and partially unzipped our culottes. But we kept eating. Finally, the guys got worried that we wouldn’t stop eating and tried to pressure us into leaving. By the time the brunch was over and dishes were cleared away, we both lay partially prone as we couldn’t sit upright. My stomach bulged, and my pants were completely unzipped at that point.  Michelle and I waddled out to the car and tried to slide in the backseat in a reclining position.  I began to hate my culottes just from looking at the strain on the fabric from my huge body. The two hour ride back home Michelle and I lay there groaning from the pain of all that food in our stomachs and from the laughter caused by all the jokes we were making at our own expense. I sure didn’t feel thin any more.  Or fit. I felt as if I had a different body just from one meal. To me, Michelle still looked as thin as ever, but I looked like a snake that had swallowed a cow.

Our pants looked like the blue ones in the pattern above, except for the color and the fabric type. That wrinkly cotton was soft and had more give to it than denim.

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Go ahead and try it. Tell me about a breakfast . . . .

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Memoir Writing Lesson #10: Check

In today’s memoir writing lesson from Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away, Goldberg asks us to write for ten minutes each in response to two questions. Although I didn’t write a lot in response, I realized that it’s always been easier for me to write about fear than about happiness. Seems strange to me.

“When was the first time you were afraid?”

I have already written about some of my terrifying early experiences. The kidnapper who was after me (I thought so).  And the horse ride. Now the horse one I wrote up for this blog four (!?@#%!!!!) years ago, and that is truly the first time I can remember being that afraid. If I keep searching I might find even earlier memories of fear, but this one was so scary and I was so young, that it doesn’t make sense to try to rewrite it. Sometimes after I write out a memory, I don’t want to write it all over again. Do you ever feel that way?  Anyway, you can find this scary story on A Ride with Memory, which is also where I question how memory works.

“When was the last time you were happy, really happy?”

I guess there are two kinds of happiness. The very last time I was really happy was when I looked around at all five cats and felt so blessed and comfortable and content to have them in my life. love for each one of them welled up in me. This emotional event was a simple blessing happiness that I can experience over and over again, as long as I allow the blessings to come into my life. Then there is a happiness that is full of excitement and fulfillment of dreams. The very last time I was really happy in that way was this summer when the gardener and I went on vacation. We visited our daughter in New York City and saw her amazing performance in a new musical and spent some quality time with her. I felt her happiness when she was mentioned in the New York Times and nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor along with other actors who have been in multiple Broadway shows (and one a Tony nominee). After all the years of watching her work so hard on her craft and knowing how passionate she is about performing, I felt great happiness for her. And then spending time hiking with her and going out to eat and drinking wine together–and really talking. All so blissful. The last time before that that I was really happy was when my son asked his girlfriend to marry him and they sent me photos that night of their exciting evening overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Seeing him on bended knee–so full of hope and nervousness–and her beautiful face lit up with happiness was thrilling.

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This exercise was another hard one for me, but for different reasons. Again, the fear one I’ve done several times and couldn’t go there again. The happiness one was hard because so many ways to go.

Go ahead and try it. When was the first time you were afraid? . . .

 A little worse for wear after several brutal summers, but still a bright sight.

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