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Bee Watching

Dare I admit this to the world− meaning the three or four people who follow my blog, my deepest gratitude to you−that I spend hours every day watching the bees harvest the pollen from the hollyhocks and hostas lining the patio? I do not count these busy little creatures, despite the concern that bee populations are declining.  I do not attempt to identify the various species of bees, nor will I look up the scientific term for the study of bees so I sound more intelligent than I actually am. Nope, I’m just watching them from a safe distance from the flowers and their fly zone.  And, while I am in confession mode, the rest of the afternoons are dedicated to reading and sleeping.  There are books I am rereading with great relish. I mowed through stacks of them while Don was sick but if tested on names of characters or plot minutes after, I would have failed. Today, I met up with Detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty from Ausma Zehanat Khan’s The Language of Secrets.  The characters were so real I want to discover more about their lives. I feel the same curiosity about the characters in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.

If one is sick or injured, or on holidays, it is easy to justify this relaxation; defending one’s lack of productivity is difficult there is no physical or mental reason in our culture.  It is all about do, do, do.  If I said, I am really healthy, not mentally ill (diagnoses pending) and I like nothing more than watching bees just for the hell of it, can you imagine the reaction?

What? You aren’t productive? You aren’t doing even one of the five hundred thousand nine hundred and ninety nine point nine things necessary to make life easier for the whole world? Remember the story of the grasshopper that fiddled away the whole summer and expected the ants to feed him. Remember how sorry he was when he was hungry. . . and so on, ad nauseum and most of this an internal dialogue.

I ask you: did any of those ants ever pay for the music that poor bug provided to make them happy while they worked? The ants probably whistled, though that might be a stretch seeing how driven they are every single second; touch the hill and they have a collective nervous breakdown and they blur to the naked eye as they rush around – yes, I am a little mean at times.

This work ethic is driven into us early in life and those with this condition often only look up to sneer at others who don’t work as hard or at all and feel hard done by about their tax money funding unfortunates – not going any farther here.  And, work is great. But, not overwork which changes the mind into believing that a job can’t go on without a person.  People can be replaced, as I’ve heard so often lately and yes, that is true but the heart of the matter is this.  While our positions can be filled with other people who will make it their own, I can never be replaced.

Happily, more and more people are deciding to put their creative energy into arts and music.  Let’s just say writing, or the violin, or fiddle.  What would have happened to the little grasshopper if he had lived next to     Yo Yo Ma instead of those smug ants? If Doug Underhill was my grade 11 teacher and wanted me to join his writing group?

Bees don’t seem driven.  They hop or leap-frog over each other, no collisions, and they don’t appear competitive. The queen bee doesn’t have rewards for the best in bee ing and isn’t surrounded by a gang of wanabees, a bunch of buzzing beeches mocking the efforts of the lowly worker.  They do what they do without drama.

So my bee watching will continue even after my back heals.  And now, off to the garden where I will soon be in a trance from the buzzing.  Oh, no, silly me, that isn’t a trance, it is the sound of a calm mind without a to do list and the nasty boss inner voice ordering me to get to it.

 

 

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Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. It’s a hard one.  My father is dead 5 years and yet, I feel that I am still carrying the burden of his failed dreams, dreams of being a famous musician, of finding love.  He never knew it was always in place with us.  He loved me, I believe that now, but his search for that missing something, took him away from me countless times.

This morning, or mourning, I see his legacy to me was the feeling of being unloved, of not being enough, of being a failure because he never stayed.  Being unloved was something I learned to feel – not sure I am saying this correctly – I guess I believed that I was unlovable because he left me, over and over again. Even the day he died, I told him not to leave without saying goodbye, but he did, the second I left the room. Is it possible that he couldn’t bear to say goodbye, because even in the last moments, he knew he couldn’t face my loss and my grief because he was and had always been helpless to do so? This occurs this minute and changes everything.

As a child, I had no problem expressing my feelings but I learned over the next years, that expressing feelings and thoughts was dangerous: it upset the balance of what my family was trying to achieve, which was to maintain silence and deny all that was happening.  And if we were quiet, so very quiet, the situation would pass.  Children intuit these issues, act out, withdraw, cry constantly, however they express it. Adults caught up in their own dramas, don’t see this and wonder what is wrong with the child. I would shake sense into them if I could.

What was happening during my early childhood was a fishing disaster in which my grandfather barely survived and 35 of his friends and family died; my father leaving the air force which, I see now, provided a discipline for him. When he resigned and went to work at Air Canada in Dorval, Que., he couldn’t cope with this responsibility.  He drank a lot. His family consisted of five children, and his wife living in a shitty basement, spider-infested apartment in Lachine, Quebec. My mother became sick, TB of the kidney, after numerous other health issues, a hysterectomy while my father was in a mental hospital – I wonder if it was the infamous Allen Institute – he talked about being a CIA operative for years after and it was the story he used when he was absent and screwing around with every woman who gave him a glance.  We went to foster care, no fun at all and as always, my grandparents arrived to save us and took us home to Black River.  Their home was our/my sanctuary and though destroyed, I can visit it in my mind.

My father remained in Quebec, and while my mother was sent to a Sanatorium for Tuberculosis in St. Agatha, Quebec, my father hit bottom, discovered Alcoholics Anonymous, got a sponsor, a man I couldn’t abide, and was saved.  AA became our new religion and he talked to me all the time about it when he was present.

My other father, the stable man in my life was my grandfather Sterling.  He was true sterling. All his actions showed us love. When he drove my grandmother on her business, all five of us were sprawled in the car, hanging out the windows and singing thousands of choruses of Jesus Loves Me, Henry the 8th, Jingle Bells, anything to stop the fighting. There was always ice cream at the turning point to the road home. He suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the disaster and had no help for it, or compassion from Gram and my great grandmother, Gauma.  For Christian women, they were very unkind to him.  I have a novel almost completed about him and while it took directions I couldn’t imagine, the story made him into another character altogether, but the core, the heart of this story is his unresolved pain.  Yes, I guess that’s mine too. The novel is my release and his. He died in a mental hospital when I was 18. I was banned from the funeral because I was pregnant.

When my mother recovered enough to come home, my father came with her. We lived at my grandmother’s house and I was very happy.  My bed was the couch in the living room and I liked being on my own downstairs.  As I write this, I realized how much I like being alone to do as I wish. The books I read as a child were about little creatures that lived on their own and had to make new friends. I am sure this would be significant to a therapist.  Blah, blah, blah, but, I don’t care.

For a short time the marriage seemed to work.  My parents bought a farm we christened Green Acres after the TV show in which a rich couple moves to a farm from New York. The house was really that bad but my Mom could make anything look good and soon we were living there. Secretly I wanted to be with Gram and my parents were upset with me for wanting to visit so often.

When my mother discovered my father was having an affair – not his first− she left. He moved his girlfriend and baby into Mom’s house, the girlfriend posing as a housekeeper.   That woman met us at the bus, making sure the whole countryside knew she was in residence.  She was a singer.  What do you think the first song she sang was?  D-I-V-O-R-C-E by Tammy Wynette.   V. was a woman done wrong, had married a gay minister- he did manage to produce a daughter. She stalked my father and wouldn’t leave him alone.  Mom was used to him and could handle it if he was home but V., the Other Woman              ( another song she sang and supposedly wrote ) never gave up.  And to be fair to her, my father never thought with his mind.  Soon my grandfather kicked them out and then the cycle of travel, break-ups, and reconciliations began.

Drama. Drama. Drama.  No one believes some of the stories.  They may show up in other parts of my memoir if this is what this is.  I can’t believe them sometimes and this is just my father’s day musings. I do see a therapist once in a while and she tells me to breathe and that I am not insane, my life was.

Long story short, my father destroyed my mother’s confidence and left her open to a predator.  Dad lived the musicians dream. He played his music, got divorced from his 2nd wife after countless, tearing the house apart breakups; her, not him.  He wasn’t a violent man except for one incident with me as a child.  He married again to another weird woman who walked away from her children.  She had a son to my father.  I don’t know where he is.

My father came home to me when he was postop from a spinal cord tumour operation years out of contact.  My brother rescued him, or prevented him from going to a nursing home.  A month into his stay at my brother’s house, my brother dropped Dad off for a visit and never came back for him.  By then, he was estranged from wifey 3. Anyway, he lived with me and I helped him rehabilitate.  He did it all.  I didn’t baby him and soon, he was walking and managing well.  When he pissed off his ex-wife and she dropped his son off at our house, I knew he had to go.  He rented an apartment close to a mall and his son took the bus to school – I think.  My father’s second wife showed up and stayed with Dad and looked after the boy. We moved east, thinking to leave them behind.

I don’t know where the child went but dad arrived in NB to live.  Anyway, he managed for several years on his own but his health deteriorated to the point he was admitted to the nursing home I worked at.  Ten years later, he died.

Grief is like a slithering green snake, always nudging memories. Conscious or not, they send me down to the bottom of a deep well.  Today, by writing this narrative, I acknowledge my absent father. When I spoke about him, or write about him before this, I believe that snake was slithering around inside, reminding me of what I came to believe, that I was unloved.  That, I see, is total bullshit.  I howled and cried all morning for my fathers, both of them, and I followed the snake down to a round stone loneliness. There was nothing in that well, the shade of a scared child. But there were rungs to climb out of it. And I did.

I wasn’t unloved.  I am not unloved. I’ve crawled out of that well and though I may fall into it again, and again, I see the rungs are there for me.

This morning I asked in my journal: “What is the point of forgiveness? Whom does it serve? And what exactly is it? And don’t give me any high toned bullshit from the self-help books. Reality woman, that’s what you need.”

By writing all this down I see another reality,  and is an act of forgiveness and by publishing it on my blog, I am making a public statement, and not keeping silent as I have done for so long about so much.  This is finding a deeper meaning for myself.  Life around my father with or without him wasn’t all bad and it wasn’t all trauma.

My father was fucked up royally ( a term he used often)  long before he married my mother. His mother was murdered, he believed, and he never got over her absence or his sense of injustice.  I get that since murder runs in our family.  Add two creepy uncles to the mix, a father in WW2, he struggled.  Handsome, cruel handsome, he used his looks and charm with everyone and he had IT.

In the last year of his life, he shrunk to bone. His comfort was visiting with the dietary staff who fed him and tormented him (teased and he loved it) like one of their own. When he could no longer manage his wheelchair, they came to get him. During the last few days of this life,  I leaned on the burning bone of his right arm. It was as close to a hug as he could give. He would look at me and smile and mouth some words. He didn’t have the breath to speak but know he was saying, “You’re awful good to me, Jude.” Awful on the Miramichi, often means very.  He had said them often and I didn’t know what to say to him.  I am not a bloody saint, I hated having to care for him. I resented him at times.  But,  I was good to him, very good to him and I am glad and ever so grateful I was.

Do I want this in public on the blog?  Yes. Talking about it is hard, no one gets it, and I don’t need the advice on how to heal.  I am doing that with each word I type. And I am tired of holding this and tired of silence and I am telling the world.  Someone might read it. Good.  Don’t need a comment.

Truth is, I love my father, I miss him every day.  But, he is present in my sister’s voice and my own when showing skepticism, we both sneer, “yah, right. As if!”   He is present in my brother’s and my sister’s grandchild’s  banty- rooster, cock –of- the-walk strut.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

 

 

Grounded

Sometimes events in our lives have a way of taking over the search for connection within or with the world at large, and the seemingly little things get lost by the wayside, my blog for example. But not writing is not a little thing, not exploring what is important is a big issue.

Two years. Two years I’ve been running myself ragged, on call for everyone and everything, my health, my blog and most important, ignoring my body’s messages to slow the fuck down. Yes, that shocking.

I could blame my husband’s trial with cancer, the trips to Moncton, the endless hours in exam rooms, waiting rooms, all the bad news,  and, me, wondering at times, where my needs and wants and dreams fit in and if they ever would. Add feeling guilty for feeling that way.  But blame isn’t the correct word.  Overwhelmed, terrified, not having a damn clue about how to act, what to say, what to do, was more the case. My imagination took me to planning his funeral, wondering if I should I even bring it up to him.  Should I let his sisters come?  What would he want? My MO is to avoid by being busy, busy, busy so I don’t have to think or deal with anything on more than a superficial level.

Don is a brave, kind, man. After weeks of tests, he had surgery to remove a massive tumour, one that was growing through his previous bout with prostate cancer. Post-op, we/he dealt with an ileostomy, and severe complications. Being a nurse was helpful.  I knew the techniques and I pitched in and could manage a blank expression most of the times.   There were kind, very kind nurses and doctors and his roommates were exceptional, looking out for each other.  I wonder how they are, if they are still battling cancer, if they are alive, if the wives are still sitting watching their ill, defenseless men suffer.  I was able to rent a room close to the hospital, for a reasonable price, and stay in the city with my husband.

At night, I listened to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes audio book, Seeing in the Dark. Dr. E has been my greatest teacher since I discovered her book Women Who Run With the Wolves in 1992. My copy is ragged, swollen from being accidentally dunked in the tub, embellished with sparkles, and it is always within reach at my bedside. And just before Don’s surgery, one of my dreams was realized. I spent a week in Loveland, Colorado at a Dr. E Workshop, Seeing in the Dark, the Death and Resurrection of the Phoenix.  Dr. E’s unique voice and message nourished me, supported me and guided me when my husband’s and my life were still burning to ashes.

Don and I sat in ashes for a time and then slowly crawled through them over the next seven months. Many kind people showed up in our lives; the staff of the Extra Mural Hospital which is an outpatient service.  One therapist saw my distress and recognized that I was running from it all, but I was not willing to work with her. I believed Don needed her more, but he had the same thought about me. I was just going to motor through it all and avoid dealing with all the emotions, and issues that came up with cancer and all the other dramas in my life.  A year later, another surgery for a successful ileostomy reversal and it seemed we were free to make travel plans that didn’t involve a drive to an oncologist or surgeon.

My job is Activity Coordinator at a nursing home. Though I do run programs, the main task of my job is set up and take down of chairs and tables, and pushing wheelchairs. We have limited space and use the auditorium for devotions, exercise, dining, and more.  The residents are wonderful, vital people but more and more it is the set up that governs my day and less and less contact with the residents.  Hey, I could be a stagehand; the work is the same.   Also, I have been struggling with the idea of retiring for the last year. My friends are too polite to say they are tired of my teeter tottering on the issue. So now, the decision has been made for me.  A few weeks ago, thinking I was really doing well to manage all I wanted to do, my body, my poor little body had had enough. It grounded me once and maybe for all. Ironic, that ground is the word I chose for my hip, leg and back issues are all about my energy in the first chakra (yes, and Anodea Judith is another of my teacher on the chakras.) With the nerve impingement in my back, I can’t walk, sit or lay down without pain.  Right now, as I write this, pain is a 2 but the minute I walk, it goes to 10.  And that is progress. Last week, I was throwing up when the spasms hit and rolling on the floor crying. At least it was some emotional release, right? Now I have a drug that helps nerve pain and it is beginning to work.

This week, after one strobe-light, taser-like attack on my right groin and leg, I bawled and cried yet again. God, I was sick of it!  But this time, when I had some relief, I got the message: yes, I am mentally, physically and emotionally burned out.

No kidding Jude! About time, you faced this and all the other stuff packed into that poor hip and back. So, it is time for me to find resources to nourish and care for my heart and body; writing is one such thing. Unless I am in therapy, which doesn’t appeal at all, the only place I can’t lie to myself is when I write.  If I am whining and crying and doing a poor baby on myself and read it back, I always see the bullshit I am spewing.  Though it would be habit to blame others for my condition, I alone, ignored the first pain signals, and put myself in this position.

Why would I put this on my blog?  Not sure really.  I am private to the point of ridiculous about my life.  Some of it necessary at times, a defense grid to hide behind, but what the heck, this is what is going on and it is real to me and now it is out there.

So this is the beginning of writing about what I’ve missed. My attention to the river, to my garden, to just being in a space of not doing anything.  Last week, I happened to pick up Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. And I thought, “yeah, right, like you are doing that.” What a bitch I was to myself.  So yes, I might not be as careful with my language or what I say, but writing and having it in a forum to be read, is part of this.  And I am caring for my soul.

 

 

I wrote this years ago for the on-line magazine BreadnMolasses. They are going to run it again, and I thought, why not blog it. So here it is.

For many years the Grinch stole my Christmas right out from under my nose. The theft was insidious, so quiet and sneaky, that only recently with episodes of flashes of silver joy and moments of deep blue peace, did I realize the theft.

Had I called the police to report the theft, I would have to admit that nothing material had been taken: The tree was there in all its glory, hauled up from the cellar, bedecked with silver and banked with presents. The cards still formed chains across the arches in my living room, and the wreaths tossed around on their ribbons on the front door.

No, the theft I experienced was more ominous than missing stuff. My spirit of joy in this season had been stolen and left me uncaring about the peace promised so long ago; worse, thinking it was an illusion.
But, clever as the Grinch was on his getaway, he didn’t realize that bits and pieces of Christmas fell out of his loot bag in a trail behind him. I found Christmas by looking for clues in each present moment and in the past.

As a child, to me, winter was one big Christmas. We started counting down the days right after Halloween. Since the days were so short, time traveled faster, at least that was what I was told. In November, I skated on the ice in the ditches, not easy to avoid the long grass sticking through but that was preferable to skating on the yellow ponds outside the cow barn. My friends and I watched the shell of ice form on the river and waited for adults to test the safety.

In just two days this year, the river froze. The ice grows thicker daily. The sound of blades scraping across the ice and bumping over frozen ripples echoes in my mind.

I can’t wait for snow; the more, the better. This time of year daylight is rationed. Each moment of light is to be treasured. At sunrise, the sun manages to rise to tree top level where it rolls around to sunset. For just minutes, its rays gild the fields and the tall pines on the Shore Road. Imagine this gold light on snow fields; the hard, dark ground softened and lit underfoot. The light we humans so desperately need comes from the brightness of snow.

I have had to ask myself why, if my joy of spirit was missing, why did the absolute stillness of our river, on so many days this December, bring me to quiet gratitude and reverence for such beauty. To see a silver-gray dawn or dusk, the lines of the Centennial Bridge, reflecting as straight and even below as above, could stop my breath. Each starry, starry, night, with the Christmas lights of my community shining like beacons of hope onto the mirror of river and sky brought me to the delight of my childhood when the lit runways of the air base made me believe they were anticipating Santa all year long.

The Grinch doesn’t steal presents, he steals hope and light. And when people suffer tragedy and loss this time of year, it leaves the door open for continual theft. Just now I think of the first Christmas: a woman nine months pregnant, recently married to an honourable man, both on the road, homeless, penniless, and then a lonely labour in a barn. From all appearances not much hope, yet the story of this small family model hope in dark times. No Grinch or darkness can stand against the promise of that light.

For the love of home

Last month a friend of mine asked me to be a guest on her blog: The Blog of Cindy Rule. The phrase she gave me was For the love of… and I thought, “for the love of God what will I write?” Anyway, I wrote about home and how the concept has evolved and is still evolving for me but the foundations will always remain. Here it is.

For the love of…
There are so many ways to finish that phrase and it is difficult for me to pick just one. So, when I mapped all of them out on a page, I discovered that my family, friends, the stars, the trees, the river in all seasons, sunrise and sunset, and my gardens and rocks are all elements of Home, that each plays a part in my sense of home or sanctuary.
Family and friends. My children are grown, and grandchildren fast growing through childhood. They consider my house home even though they’ve never lived here. Even Nick Ma who stayed with us for four months last year tells me he is coming home for Christmas while he studies in Canada. When my friend Cindy comes out for tea and a rave, she is family. I feel the house lean in, listen and laugh. It is probably our Mrs. Loggie, dead but not departed, eavesdropping and wondering, “what in the world are they talking about?” as Nick did when he was learning English. “Do you understand anything we say?” We’d ask. He shook his head, spread his arms and said,” Drama! Lots of Drama!”
The other element that contributes to my sense of home is the unique construction of this old story and a half. George Loggie built this house over 100 years ago. He must have been a short man. Perhaps men of different heights helped him. Judging by the varying height of the doors, I estimate these carpenters to be less than six feet tall and surely toddled around on tiny feet. My son has to duck through the doors and half his foot hangs over each step. He’s always tripping on the short, thirteen-step stairway. There isn’t a right angle or level floor. Depending on the room, the slant slides north, south, east and west. Rule is: don’t leave anything that can roll on a table. If you do and it goes missing, look in the far corner. Or, ask Mrs. Loggie to find it, as we do on a regular basis. She is reliable.
Until I moved into this home, the longest I had lived anywhere was six years. My husband and I owned three homes during the course of our marriage but all in the same area of Waterloo so my children could stay in one school and keep the same friends. This was very important to me. My parents were gypsies, not Rom, but transient. Sometimes we moved several times a year. At final count, I changed schools 22 times. My siblings and I were blessed that we could count on my grandparents to fetch us when health issues and other troubles caught up with my parents. And they did without fail. In foster care in Lachine Quebec, I used to dream of just crossing the street and I would be at my grandmother’s house. That image sustained me when I was on the road with my parents heading to the next Promised Land. My grandmother’s house is still very much part of me. I can smell the wood, the cellar, the air in June and see the moon path on the river. Because of those memories of home, I’ve tried to create a haven for grandchildren.
The legacy of my transient lifestyle is to be restless several times a year. Since I wasn’t changing homes as often, I moved the furniture several times a year. I still do. My house and belongings are in an uproar of a mess but I actually feel comforted by this and as I sort and organize, I feel better. Right now I am in the process of changing rooms and furniture and complaining about the mess, but as I am writing this, I see that this is a way of restructuring and renewing. I should be good until September.
When my husband and I moved here over twenty years ago, I had a difficult time settling in as I always did. The culture, though Canadian, is very different. I mentally had my bags packed for at least 12 of those years because this was not my idea of home.
A wise woman said to me that home is a place we carry inside, not a place on a map. I would say that is partially true, because where and how we live helps grow the sense of home within. I credit my garden, and my circle of rocks and friends to helping me grow a sense of home. Every part matters.
It is in writing about the love of home that I realize that I am in that place. I love driving up the lane after work. Every morning I run down to get my coffee and go back to bed and drink it as daylight comes. It is a sacred time for me. Now, in winter, I see the sunrise at the horizon. In summer I wait until it tops the leafy trees.
In the summer, I plant a garden and hover like a new mother over the seedlings. Just watching carrots grow is a lesson in patience because it takes months. Being in the garden reminds me of a larger sense of belonging, that I have a small place on this earth and here for a long while yet, I hope. But who knows? The main thing is I’m home now.

New Year resolution

I resolve for the coming year, to record my trip to Paris, and my travels down the Rhone River, the discovery of Roman ruins and of course, the wine.

Welcome Hope

Today, as I often do, I marvel at just how quickly 2014 is passing. I repeat this frequently: in past posts, in emails, on Facebook. I am always trying to catch up with myself, reflect on this time as it whizzes by. Again, it’s winter. The solstice has passed and I am watching the sky in the morning to mark the increase in light.

Sullen skies, rain, or snow filled the calendar this month.  School children had five snow days or weather days- snow was not always falling but one day 100 ml. of rain on top of a lot of snow.  Sigh… winter is just beginning, a very strange winter.  The ice formed on the river and broke up three times and ran in the tides.  Not one floe is visible this afternoon.  It could be early spring if I didn’t check the calendar. Usually this time of year, the river is frozen, the smaller rivers in the region safe to skate on.

As for light, I recall only three brief episodes of real sunshine, those occurring only because the clouds hovering on the horizon left a crack for light to shine through. But what light! I captured the pearl glow of dawn one day.  The promise faded with the hours.

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This sunset was quite spectacular when I faced east toward the bay.  I’ve never, ever witnessed colour like this.

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And on Christmas Day, I rushed to the window because the tin roof on the barn in the property next door began to shine and I ran to see the sun. What I also discovered above the roof was the gift of a perfect rainbow and another, rainbow above. When I ran outside to capture it on film, I saw neighbours out as I was in the rain in their slippers, splashing through slush to capture it on their cameras. After months of tragedy filling the news, the insane pace of Christmas preparations, the darkest, gloomiest month so far this year, nature provided an instant healing balm. Say what you will about the science light and refraction, a rainbow always inspires mystery and awe in me, and hope.

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Hope arrives in many ways, often in humble locations; shining in my kitchen window, glowing on the beautiful river. It is always a most welcome visitor.

 

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