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Family Secrets

Every family has secrets. They may not admit it but they do.

My family just happens to have more than most. That happens when you have a large family. A family that is “blended” from different parents and adoption can have some stories. Add in-laws and the secrets can get way out of control.

My birth was one of the bigger ones. Yes, I was an illegitimate child. According to “legend” my grandmother tried to pass me off as a neighbour’s kid that my Mom was babysitting. Let me just say my Mother was a great baby sitter. Don’t ask me about my grandmother.

Perhaps the longest kept secret (at least for me) was who my biological father was. I found out when I was in my early 20s and actually met him just before my 27th birthday.

Of course we have had our share of drug users and abusers. I believe every family does.

Unfortunately, we’ve also had family members  behind bars.

Pat in jail

No this one is not real. In this case we were exploring an old jail in Cobourg, ON that has been turned into a restaurant.

Yes, all of these were some of the worse kept secrets in history. There is one secret, though, that has been kept secret until just recently. It’s absolutely, hands down the best kept secret in all of my family.

Ralph’s Plum Jam. As a matter of fact when I started this post in 2014 I turned to He-Who and said, “I need that recipe for your brother’s jam to finish this post.” He looked at me with a blank stare.

He-Who: “What recipe? I don’t have the recipe. He doesn’t give it to anyone.”

Me: “You told me last week he finally gave in and gave it to Keri-Lynn (He-Who’s daughter)”.

He-Who: “That did not happen.”

I will not burden you with the rest of that conversation. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.  Four years later I still do not have the recipe, Ralph has moved away from his plum trees and we are always on the search for plum jam.

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We all have one of “those” relatives that are hard to explain. For me, it’s this guy. Captain America.

Even though Bruce is referred to as “My Brother-In-Law From Hell”, full disclosure, I love this man. Frequently, however, our opinions are galaxies apart. Infinite galaxies. But over the years we have found ways to work around our differences without involving any death stars. Sparring, tucking, rolling…you get the idea. That all changed over the past year. You see, my Brother-In-Law…bare with me…this is so hard…*weeping*…supports #45. In a BIG way!

OK. There. I said it. Just yesterday I was talking to Barrie Doyle , a former professor (now friend), at one of his book signings. We were talking about how this particular difference of opinion has divided long-time friends and even family members. It has brought out the worst in everyone. I was determined not to to let this happen between Bruce and I. Soooo…this is how our conversations go whenever politics rears its ugly head:

Him: He’s great!

Me: I love you Bruce.

Him: Did you see whatever very, very amazing thing he did that day?

Me: I love you Bruce.

Him: He’s making everything better!

Me: I love you Bruce.

This will go on until he either gives up and leaves the room, or I leave the room, or my sister comes into the room, gives us both “the eye” and asks what’s going on, at which point we both leave the room. My latest visit  south of the border put me in a very awkward spot. Bruce was doing something to my vehicle (no, he wasn’t cutting the brake lines) as he keeps the thing going for me. Then he took it for a spin, but within the length of two houses, turned around and put it back in the driveway. He immediately told me “there is no way you can drive that car.” It was unsafe. The back wheel was about to fall off. This resulted in me driving with Bruce in his truck to get parts for my car. I was trapped in the front seat for the duration.

Later, when I started to tell He-Who about my being a captive audience, He-Who started to laugh uncontrollably. He didn’t stop all night. Every time he looked at me he started to laugh again. He knew exactly what had happened — Bruce started singing #45’s praises as soon as my seatbelt clicked. I was like a deer caught in headlights. Now, this man was taking me to get parts for my car. Then he would take those parts and fix my car (no matter how long it took) so I could drive back home, safely. There was no way I was going to berate his hero. So I bit my tongue. I bit the inside of my mouth. I recited to myself, “I love you Bruce. I love you Bruce”…the whole way. When we got back he had a big grin on his face and I looked like Munch’s The Scream. My sister took one look at me and did a double facepalm. 

Here’s the thing. This man who makes me crazy with his politics is also kind, big hearted, generous, brave, hard working and… my family. That’s not to say that he’s a saint. He’s made his share of blunders. He’s also the first person to offer a helping hand. He would give you the shirt off his back and offer to have it cleaned first. As I said, over the years, he’s kept more than one of my vehicles on the road. He works hard at whatever he takes on. Some of his construction jobs have had him working in sweltering heat or frigid ice. He’s worked at heights that he admits terrify him. Not too long ago he had to conquer both his fear of heights and “big ass” spiders while working on the Grand Island Bridge.

Off the job he’s the first to volunteer when someone needs a nail hammered, a screw turned, or a shower plumbed. He’s a good husband to my baby sister

and a good father to her children. Raising them as his own and putting up with a lot that only a father could understand. He has kept his family safe and sound. When someone needs him, he’s there, usually before he is asked. And one of the things he does better than anyone, is making this little one feel like a real life Princess.

Not the one on the left. The little one on the right is his Princess.

He is her Prince Charming, her hero, her Papa. He calls her his Best Buddy.

All of his grandchildren know that he will never let them down. He will listen to them and embrace them with a hug that you know is genuine. I can vouch for that hug. He greets me with one of those hugs and says good bye with one of those hugs. Every time!  It makes you feel loved and cared for. One of his favourite things is to be the first person to wish me a Happy Birthday. On that day every year, long before the sun is up, the phone will ring and I am treated to his rendition of “Happy Birthday”. He is a man of many talents and quite the mystery, I might add. Perhaps a little more like James Bond than Captain America.

Although I refuse to agree with his politics, I can’t bring myself to hold them against him. Unless, of course, I get trapped in a car alone with him again.

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There are a lot of things that come to mind when you talk “Canadian”. I mean truly Canadian.  The beer, Hudson’s Bay Company, peameal bacon, butter tarts and one of my personal favourites…this little ditty.

The list is endless. Of course there are some things we’d rather not take credit for. Justin Bieber comes to mind. But one thing that most Canadians (not me) love to brag about, is their “Timmies”. Yes, we even have a pet name for it.

Image from Facebook captioned “You can’t get any more Canadian than this”.

Tim Horton’s, named for the now deceased, original owner and long time defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. Ahh. Hockey. Another Canadian point of pride.

Image from Pinterest under Canadian images.

Tim Horton’s is the company that coined the phrase, “double-double”.  In my humble opinion, the reason double-double became so popular is because two sugars and two creams is the only way you can drink what they call coffee. (I can actually feel the hate mail being directed at me right now.) Every time I see a lineup at a Timmies kiosk or drive-through, I shake my head. For the record, I am not one of those fancy, shmancy $10 coffee drinkers either. I drink my coffee like my Scotch—straight up. No milk. No sugar. Just coffee! Quite frankly, one of the best cups of coffee also happens to be one of the least expensive. At McDonald’s. I have spent my share of time in a Tim Horton’s but you won’t catch me lining up for it.

Lately, Timmies has been in the news for their reaction to a recent Ontario minimum wage hike. It wasn’t pretty. Some franchise owners cut hours and benefits of their employees, which led to boycotts and protests. All in all, it has been a pretty messy couple of weeks for Tim Horton’s. It’s a mess that reminded me of a post I started and never finished and this seems as good a time as any.

First of all, I’m not even sure how “Canadian” Tim Horton’s is anymore. I’m not a business expert, but Tim Horton’s is owned by a Canadian company, Restaurant Brands International, a company created to merge with an American company, Burger King. However, Restaurant Brands International is majority-owned by a Brazilian investment company, 3G Capital.  Doesn’t that make it Brazilian? (You’d think they would have better coffee.)

So what’s my problem with Tim Horton’s anyway, other than bad coffee and not really being Canadian? This mess is my problem right here.

There’s a Tim Horton’s at the top of the road that leads to Lake Ontario, the boardwalk, trails and Frenchman’s Bay where I used to walk every day. There is a trail all the way down that road and in each of those areas…of Tim Horton’s debris.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the real culprits in this mess are the lazy humans that can’t walk a few steps to the garbage receptacle they probably just passed. I mean that literally. The city takes very good care of this area. There are garbage containers everywhere and they are emptied out constantly throughout the day by conscientious workers who actually take pride in the area. When I say a few steps away this is what I’m talking about…

just a few steps away.

Oddly, there is no McDonald’s, Wendy’s, corner store or any other kind of debris displayed along the same journey.

My big idea at the time, was for Tim Horton’s to hire students to just walk around all day and pick up Tim Horton’s debris. Each Timmies should be responsible for a certain radius around their shop. It would show community support, a concern for the planet and provide kids with jobs. How could they go wrong? All it would take is minimum wage…oh, yeah. That’s a problem.

Somehow, I don’t think this was the legacy Tim Horton thought he would be leaving behind.

 

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Ten years ago I made myself a promise. It was a “milestone” year for me and it was going to be my year. For several years, for various reasons, I had spent most of my non-working time taking care of other people. Then came what I refer to as the “Year of Dying”. Seven people in my life died that year, starting the first week in January and ending with a bang (literally) with two perishing in a car crash. Then, 10 years ago I woke up and realized I didn’t have to run anywhere or do anything for anyone else. So I declared it to be MY Year. You know what? It was! I celebrated my milestone birthday in Maui. It was an amazing trip planned perfectly, by He-Who. He really out did himself…and come on…Maui! I also spent time in Florida, Las Vegas and New York doing things I wanted to do. Career-wise there were two promotions with pay raises and some extra perks. I started taking care of myself and by the end of the year I was half the size I started out and as fit as a fiddle. Seriously, it was my favourite year.

s-l225

Another milestone birthday is looming in front of me and somehow I feel the stars are lining up for this to once again be MY Year. It was hard not to believe it was going to be a great year when I woke up to a beautiful sunny day January 1st and was able to walk down to the lake without four layers of clothing and no snow or ice to navigate.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2017 is the year of the Fire Rooster and I was born in a Rooster year. The Fire Rooster is “a sign of rising, of awakening to life and of triumph. This promises to be a year of great achievements.” Yep, my year!

year-of-the-rooster

The Pantone Color Institute has announced “Greenery” as the colour of the year. Everyone knows my favourite colour is green. “A refreshing and revitalizing shade, Greenery is symbolic of new beginnings. It’s a fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore and renew. Illustrative of flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors, the fortifying attributes of Greenery signals consumers to take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate.” Oh, yeah, my year!

pantone-color-of-the-year-2017-greenery-15-0343-leaves-2732x2048-1200x900

Somehow I managed to get through Christmas and end up with a zero balance on my credit card for the New Year! How’s that for starting out right?

My hair is about a foot and a half shorter than last year and I got a crazy new hair do that I absolutely love!

14369895_1249564465102374_1311844355530986787_n-1

Like this but with bangs and my purple only really shows well in sunlight. Oh, and with a much older face.

A lot of that weight I lost 10 years ago has managed to find its way back home so I have even provided myself with  new project for the year…free of charge.

My New Year’s lottery ticket won me $25!

lottery-ticket

My missing earring showed up like magic and that stubborn stain finally disappeared off the carpet. And then, this showed up on my Facebook feed…

women-destined-to-kick-ass

See my name? Right there. I circled it for you. In greenery.

I’m telling you, this year is looking pretty good!

 

 

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Banjo Boy

A year has passed. Maybe a little more. I think I can talk about it now…in a calm and reasonable manner. Last year, just before my birthday, HeWho asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Being a woman of a certain age and us being a couple with limited funds, my response was that I really didn’t need anything and that I didn’t think it was necessary that we exchange gifts anymore. My response was accepted valiantly with no argument and he returned his focus to his computer. Our desks are in extremely close proximity to each other. I work from home so I am pretty much on my computer what seems like 24-7 (at least my clients think so). I knew that he was spending an inordinate amount of time on his computer — something, I have to say, I am not comfortable with. I find it disconcerting when he is right there all the time. In fairness, he was doing nothing to disturb me from working. He wears headphones or earbuds to keep the sound to a minimum but occasionally it bleeds out into my ear space. What I heard was banjo music! That should have been my first clue.

1475772_471779199593050_267287835_n

It really didn’t concern me. He had just shipped his banjo out to Kelowna, BC for his grandson Tristan.

Tristan

Tristan

Silly me. You see, HeWho is a lover of music and musical instruments. We have quite a collection of exotic musical instruments on display ranging from a Tamböa to a Djembé. There is even a Didgeridoo. None of them get played, although occasionally they get played with. Stringed instruments, however, seem to be his first love. Several years ago I gave him a Liberty Resonator guitar for Christmas. It was a thing of beauty. He gave it to his grandson, Eric, in Niagara Falls last year.

12948419_1707247022873382_95124298_o

Eric

Shortly after shipping the banjo out west to  Tristan in, he started hanging out at the local music store. I didn’t pay much attention as it was my busy time of year, work-wise. As long as he was amusing himself, I didn’t have to. I’m not sure when he actually brought the new guitar into the house. It was snuck in and discovered by me later. Once it was out in the open and he could discuss it there came the little hints. “It really isn’t what I wanted.” “It’s not a very good one.” “I don’t really like it.” Within a week the guitar was returned and replaced with a more expensive model. Fine. (Yes, that is the “fine” that only we women can issue and know that really, it is not fine.)  Now, did I mention how much time was being spent on the computer/internet? It got extremely intense for a while. I was getting really annoyed. Supper would go cold before he would come to the table. It would take him forever to get to something I asked him to do. I confess my patience was wearing thin. Then one day he played a video he wanted me to see.

At the time, it was one of those “That’s nice, dear”, moments and I went back to work. Every day, mention was made of the banjo in the video and stories were told. Every day he would have to remind me, “You know, I showed you the video”. The penny finally dropped…about an hour before the UPS guy showed up at the door.

NEW GUITAR

Oh, yeah. He bought it. The rest of the day went kind of like this…

“Just because I said I didn’t want anything for my birthday didn’t mean that you were supposed to buy yourself something!”

“You just spent a small fortune shipping the banjo you already had out west!”

“Why didn’t you just keep the one you had?”

It went on and on but even I can’t remember the full rant of my rage.  It was weeks before I even found out how much it cost. Of course, once he had it, we also had to get a special case for it. We drove to Aurora to Rickard Banjos to pick up a case. This was probably the first time I actually looked at the new banjo. Dang! It was beautiful. All of the luthiers made a fuss over it. They are really great guys and their work is amazing. But there was no way I was going to confess to HeWho how beautiful I thought his banjo was or how much I enjoyed the visit to Rickard Banjos. After all, I only went so he wouldn’t buy anything else.

The following week I thought HeWho was feeling sorry for me because I had broken my toe the night before. He wanted to take me into Toronto for a “concert”. The concert turned out to be two guys set up in a really tiny music store playing…you guessed it…banjos. I sat on a really uncomfortable, rickety stool for a couple of hours with my foot throbbing. After it was over I found out that one of the guys was the person who HeWho was signing up for lessons with. And therein lies the rub. You see, HeWho doesn’t actually play. He loves the banjo, the music and the backroom stories the players have to share. He just doesn’t play.

Copy of 2015-12-30 10.09.56

 

Our road trip this winter took us to a rest stop in Virginia. As I got out of the vehicle I heard the banjo music playing and saw the sign. I said, “It looks like we’ve stumbled upon your people.” He grinned from ear to ear.

A year has passed and I am still waiting to hear some banjo music from my Banjo Boy.

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First, let me say right now…if you’re reading this because you think it’s about basketball, move along. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not sure why I even know that “March Madness” has something to do with basketball.

Token Basket Ball Image

Token Basket Ball Image

March can get a little crazy. When it comes to weather, one might even say it is bi-polar. One day you’re getting emergency winter storm warnings, with “polar” temperatures and record snowfalls. The next day the sun is shining and you are tempted to walk about in your shorts. Let’s face it, we are Canadians — there was a lot of shorts-wearing going on.

Canadians in shorts

If your sanity relies on sending your kids off to school every morning, you may be walking a thin line right now.  There were “Snow Days” with the kids home from school, then “March Break” let them off for an entire week! If you made it through the break and are breathing a sigh of relief that you all survived…think again. It’s a short week. Good Friday gives them another day off: lots of time to sort out Easter outfits, Easter dinner and hiding eggs…right?

Easter Bunny Pancakes

If the weather didn’t confuse you, there is always the calamity that goes with changing our clocks to Daylight Saving Time. Some people will always be confused. Try to remember we “Spring” forward and “Fall” back. That’s right. We lost an hour of precious sleep on the 14th.

Spring Forward

HeWho went out west for a couple of weeks to visit his daughter and grandkids. That meant I could have a “girls weekend”. There is only one rule about girls weekend. We don’t talk about girls weekend…sort of like Vegas. It’s a whole special kind of crazy!

The one day of the year that you are officially allowed to be as whacky as you want is March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. The “Wearin’ of the Green” can make for some strange outfits, some I may or may not have worn myself. It’s acceptable behaviour. No one will lock you up.

Wearing of the green

I may or may not be related to these people and they may or may not be wearing stuff that belongs to me.

You can pretty much find anything and everything coloured green…your food, your drinks, buildings and even bodies of water.

Niagara Falls goes green

Niagara Falls…Slowly it turned…green.

There is one day in March when I actually wake up a year older than when I went to bed. That sucks, but I celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day so I can go nuts and nobody notices. Well, they might actually notice that I am one that walks that thin line. You see I received a “Stress Reliever” for my birthday.

 

Stress Paul

“Stress Paul”

It’s a stress ball called “Stress Paul”. In case you can’t read it, here is what it says:
• Don’t get stressed…Take it out on Paul
• When you’re feeling stressed, punish Paul to keep your sanity.
• When the pressure is too much to handle, squeeze Paul

Best present ever! STRESS PAUL! How perfect is that.  For those of you who don’t know…this is the only time I will mention it…after that he goes back to being incognito…HeWho’s real name is Paul. I repeat, best present ever! STRESS PAUL! How perfect is that.

Did I mention we also officially welcomed the March Equinox whose dual identity is called “spring”, on Sunday, March 20th, 2016? Yes, spring has definitely sprung and I might have a screw loose.

Minion Screwloose

There is one thing that has really put me over the edge and that is THIS March MADNESS…

REAL MARCH MADNESSEnough said!

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Life can be puzzling. I know mine certainly has been. Puzzles have always been a part of my life. So many kinds! He-Who loves to do the Crosswords and I have always enjoyed a good Jumbo Sudoku. These days, however, they frustrate me more than anything but I have to keep doing them for therapy.

SudokuThere were always Jigsaw Puzzles under the Christmas tree when I was a child. I can’t really tell you whose name appeared on the gift tag, but once opened, it became community property. In our home, we had a card table that would go up when the puzzle beckoned to be put together. Then, all the pieces would be dumped on the table. Someone would start turning them right side up, one at a time, and moving them to an edge of the table. Someone else would join in and start assembling the straight edges of the puzzle. Then, someone else, hovering and watching, would see a piece that fit, lean in, pick it up and place it into the picture. Before you knew it, we would all be sitting around and filling in the blanks. Many hours were spent this way with my sisters when I was a child — passing around the box cover to get a good look at what we were creating. At times there was no conversation, just concentration. Other times there would be giggling and laughing and stories shared. I’d forgotten about that. The puzzles stopped after my Mom passed and we were separated at various times and places.

As a young adult living on my own without a lot of disposable income, puzzles came back into my life. One caught my eye and it wasn’t long before I had the card table set up and was sorting out the pieces. After that, seldom would you enter my apartment without a puzzle at some stage of creation, welcoming you. Often, people who came by would end up sitting with me, coffee in hand (OK, more likely Scotch… depending on the time of day) catching up with each other while working on the puzzle.

house puzzleThere were a couple of issues with my jigsaw…shall we say, “habit”. I couldn’t stand to take them apart after they were done. I would find a board and glue the pieces down so that they’d stay put. Sometimes I’d have them framed and give them to someone to “proudly” (my word, not theirs) display in their home. Eventually I discovered plaquing. A nice coat of decoupage and then off to the plaquing place I would go. It would be mounted, sealed with a plastic coating and it was ready to be hung. I’m not sure if habit is the right word, perhaps addiction or obsession is more like it. One particular cold, snowy day, I came home early in the afternoon because of a blizzard. I remember walking into my apartment, glad for the warmth. From where I stood an illusive puzzle piece caught my eye. My thick gloves flew off as I walked over to the table. I triumphantly placed the piece where it belonged. Several hours later, I heard the phone ringing from somewhere far away. It was insistent and getting louder. It was my phone. As I walked to answer it in the kitchen (no cells back then), I noticed the storm must have gotten worse, it was so dark out. My friend said, “I just wanted to check that you made it home safely before I went to bed.” I was surprised she was going to bed so early in the day. Except she wasn’t. It was well into the night. I had been standing for hours, working on that puzzle. I hadn’t taken off my winter coat, boots, hat or scarf. I hadn’t sat down, drank, ate or even had a pee for crying out loud!

Most of the time I tend to think and work as if I am piecing together a puzzle. In the edit suite at the TV station it was always about piecing together a story. When I am writing I often have a beginning and an ending but need to make the stuff in the middle fit together. Once, I set up a puzzle in the lunch room at the TV station. It was a welcome distraction for everyone. We were having trouble making something work on the studio floor and with tension mounting and personalities flaring, a lunch break was called. After a bit of teamwork on the puzzle we returned and things just fell into place.

Put together by Staff and Crew at CTS TV.

Put together by Staff and Crew at CTS TV.

Over the years I tried to find more challenging puzzles. I tried a black and white one of a vampire and his prey. My nephew ended up with that one. Next I tried a round one. No corners. No problem. Then I got into mosaics. The first one I did was fun. It was a huge Mickey Mouse. The image was actually made up of thousands of little tiny cells from the original Disney animations and it hung on our wall for years.

Mickey Blog

The second…and last mosaic I did was the hardest. Not because of its level of  difficulty, but because of the emotional impact it had on me. It was of the New York City Skyline prior to 9/11. This photomosaic was designed by Robert Silvers and created from thousands of miniature photographs of people lost in 9/11. I cried for every one of the 1,026 pieces of that puzzle and saw those faces in my sleep for some time. It was plaqued and hangs in my brother-in-law’s home in Lewiston, New York.

Twin Towers pieces blog

Somewhere along the line, my older sister came to visit. When she saw I was working on a puzzle she went to it and started working. I was shocked. I said, “I didn’t know you liked to do puzzles.” She was quite surprised. “Of course I do. We all do. There was always one on the go when we were kids.” How could I have forgotten that? It was the closest I’d felt to family in a long time.

Michelle Puzzle

The puzzle pieces of my life haven’t always fit together perfectly. Quite frankly, there will always be pieces missing. But every once in a while, I find a piece and fill in another section. When I was 27, I met my birth father and three sisters I hadn’t known. More pieces that I wasn’t sure how to make fit.  A couple of years ago I moved back to Niagara Falls for a few months. I was able to spend time with old friends and family that still lived in the area. It was also an opportunity to spend some time with one of my “newer” sisters. The only thing she has ever asked me to do turned out to be one of my most cherished gifts. She wanted me to get to know her daughter Jane, who was only 10 at the time. I had no clue what to do. I’ve spent tons of time with nieces and nephews that I have known from the time they were born. I’ve baby sat, we’ve had adventures and special times. I love them all. All of a sudden I am looking at my sister thinking, “How can I do this without a history?” As usual I was skint and couldn’t take Jane places or buy her things. But I wanted to know this beautiful child as much as her mom wanted me to.

I showed up on their doorstep with…wait for it…a jig-saw puzzle in hand and nervous as hell. In all honesty, I think her father wasn’t too impressed and thought I might be missing a few “pieces” myself. Over the next few months we put puzzles together and really got to know each other. Jane’s piece fits perfectly in my heart and I will always be grateful that I was given the opportunity to know her. We even found a portable case for puzzles. Now we can keep one on the go for whenever I visit and it can easily be put away until the next time.

Puzzling Jane

I’m thinking that it’s time to start a new puzzle — at home. There are a few people around I’d like to get to know a little better. Yes, life can be quite the puzzle.

 

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