Happy Birthday Tina

It started at a pool party, progressed into pot luck dinners and transformed during a jewelery party. What started as my usual attempt to befriend like-minded parents to create an atmosphere of love surrounding my children has transformed into the most remarkable friendship of my life. Happy Birthday Tina, I love you.


I’ve had friends before, but somewhere during the seven years between a nasty breakup with my college besty and meeting Tina I decided I wasn’t really a likeable character in my own storyline. A great mother, yes, a fantastic spouse, for sure. Friend that allows the confines of my brain to be unsealed to another without fear of the friendship souring over honesty? No. Protecting myself from vulnerability feels like a full-time job.

Having a real friend requires shared vulnerability I wasn’t prepared to offer for a long time. Being a real friend means losing the fear of being honest, knowing that your relationship can thrive only with honesty. It took years of practice and many missteps to get it right in my marriage, and for a long time I was too afraid to do it again. But then I would see girlfriends, in real life and in movies like Bridesmaids, and would be overcome with sadness that my own self doubt regarding my worth, my own fears of intimacy, prevented me from opening up in friendship.

Around three years ago I met Tina, my BFF and the only person who I feel I could break out teenage acronyms for without a hint of irony. I met her and realized that I wanted to have a friendship that went beyond conversations of diaper changes and bedtime schedules. She really gets me, the me that I am now, the one that I thought no one would really like because my need for control and my fear of being vulnerable.

I once offered her advice on how to drive to my house, the house we had left from together a few hours before. I caught my foot on the way to my mouth and apologized, only to hear her say, “It’s ok. I know you know I actually know how to get to your house.” That is love. Once she asked me to plan a rare evening without children for us and our spouses. I sent an itinerary including timelines, maps, arrivals etc. It takes love not to call me out on my over-the-top planningness. It was in her acceptance of me that I realized I am totally the Marney of our 4-some, and that me as I am was still good enough.

Oh, Marney, I understand you

Allowing anyone else to be in the driver’s seat, both literally and figuratively, causes me serious nerves. My life is a product of my choices, my control issues a central tenet of my personality. Opening myself up in friendships past wasn’t hard because I kept an exit option at hand. Learning to close the exit option, dig in, and find true companionship is a skill I never wanted to possess, not until now. Now that I do I feel grateful, grateful that I still have some decades left on this planet to practice vulnerability.

To you, Tina, on your birthday, please know that your friendship is the rock that grounds me into a new reality, full of honest and uncontrolled connection and companionship. You are an amazing mom, wife, business analyst, karaoke crooner and card partner. You accept even the worst parts of me as part of a package deal that you want to keep around. You make me laugh at myself instead of crawling into a hole of self-doubt. Spending the last few years as friends has transformed the fabric of my life, making it so much richer than I thought possible.

I love you, I value you and I promise to be your rock.


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The Glass Unicorn in the Room

When my husband was three he decided he wanted to entertain the world. When he was five he directed and starred in his own rendition of Indiana Jones in his back yard. At age 10 he started running professional haunted houses, by his third year they were good enough to charge money to enter. He was lucky, he knew from the first moments of life that he was meant to be an entertainer.

When he was a young teen he decided he wanted to play Tom in The Glass Menagerie. Twenty years later, with the aid of a brilliant director and surrounded by strong talent, he’s dream is happening. There is nothing more poignant than watching your love walk into their dream and execute it candor and clarity of purpose so strong that an entire audience is enraptured.

The month before a play opens is torture. I am alone 20 hours a day, responsible for all the childcare, household chores, cooking, cleaning and chauffeur duties a modern family requires, with the saving grace being my amazing parents jumping in to ease the stress.  The four hours Dave is home daily are spent sleeping. We see each other long enough to high-five in the hallway, to give group hugs to the kids, perhaps to remind each other to breath. Sometimes it feels like the five minutes we see each other were used to throw our angst against the wall, as if we had returned to toddler-hood, the only stage of life where repelling those we love to prove they always come back is actually appropriate. Preserving those moments for peace and happiness would be far more beneficial to our relationship, but yelling felt cathartic, too, for both of us.

But then opening night happens, as it always does, just four days after I have lost my mind and one day before I say or do anything regrettable because of it. And then, as I watch the man I love share his talent with the world, the talent that he recognized and cultivated since the earliest moments of his cognitive development, I realize that it would be selfish to live any other way. Not everyone can transform the world through live performance, but he can. As Dave’s character struggles to juggle the dichotomy of requirement vs. passion, I feel honored that my husband is one less brilliant sole trapped writing poetry in a warehouse.

If you have never seen a Puzzle Piece show and would like to, leave a comment on this post and I will give you a $5 discount on each ticket you purchase.

I'd Rather Smoke

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Face Off

I have simple goals this year. I want to transform our house into a home, write more, and remember myself as a human being. The last one sounds silly, but somewhere between seeing a second blue line and now I have completely forgotten that I am an equally important being to the other members of my family.

I want to learn how to focus on myself, carve out moments where the only person I see is me, the only needs I meet are my own. I want to stop copping out. I want to stop saying that when my children are blessed my needs are met. that statement is partially true, part of my needs are met, but half-truths aren’t enough anymore.

Confession time. I haven’t had my hair cut by someone other than me estimating length using the bathroom mirror in over three years. I have gift cards to pay for it, just not the guilt free time to skip off and care about me. I sometimes shave only one leg because one of my kids comes into the bathroom to tell me a story, I become enraptured with them and I exit the shower without remembering to finish. I once finished getting my children ready for school, made dinner in the crock pot, packed everyone’s lunches and got myself to work before I realized that I still had a leave in treatment in my hair that was supposed to be washed out in the shower that morning, a shower that I was too busy to get into.  I recently decided to let my bangs grow longer because it covers the fact I haven’t had enough time to fully pluck my eye brows in over a year.

I am going to avoid clichés. 2015  isn’t the year of me, it was never going to be the year of re-energizing, or even the year of redefinition. That year can’t happen until 2027, starting in September when my youngest moves to college and I suddenly feel the urge to sing born free while hula-hooping in my yard barefoot and eating cookies (sorry neighbors).  Even if it can’t be a re-birthing year, 2015 can stop being the year of everything except me, but I am the only one who can control that destiny.

It feels like I am running full speed at a barrier, a familiar one that I have tried to tackle for ages, but when I get to the obstruction I realize I am in a face-off between a well rested, well-groomed young career woman and a good mom. Except both sides are me and I can’t figure out how to combine the two into one person. I wanted to wait to write this until I found a solution, a neat little bow with which to wrap up my thoughts. But the struggle is real and I continue to struggle more as my children get older and their needs get progressively more complicated.

So far I have incorporated yoga into my evenings, meditation into my mornings and child-led dance parties to pop music into my afternoons. There is joy there, radiating peace and finding my center. I signed on to do a few sponsored blog posts this year on beauty products for tired moms. I am going to count that as taking care of me, too. And if any of you figure out how to magically find your center and leaving the guilt behind let me know, I could use some tips.


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Planning the Passion… and the Breaks

Last week I had scheduled myself to write a post about work life balance, but work was insane so I pushed it off. I am trying not to see it as irony, and instead see it as a strategic choice of which parts of my home-life I chose to honor by utilizing my passion planner to the max. I am heavily invested in following a passion planner this year.

Have you heard of the Passion Planner? It is an amazing tool to get people like me, the dreamers  of the world who wish they had a few extra hours a day to accomplish their life visions to focus and get sh*t done. I love it, recommend it fully and feel like my first month with it has changed my life completely. ‘m not paid to say this, by the way, or paid for that link up there, I just really love this product with all my heart. I use it to keep track of my goals for the year, break them into bite size chunks, monitor my progress, answer reflective questions on my progress and learn about myself as I go – and it is amazing.

Last week, as I was trying not to struggle against the quagmire of my life, because we all know that to struggle against the quick sand makes you sink that much faster, I realized that I was still in charge of my life. I could move around some of my items and still hit my goals, I could take my planner to a whole ‘notha level with a new friend called eraser. It was magical.

The truth of my family’s lives this calendar year has been a bit of upheaval, matched by new peace, surrounded by love, sprinkled with relief and dabbed with seriously, more drama again? Twinkle is down to only needing to spend two afternoons a month at Children’s hospital, compared to eight afternoons a month in November (blessing). Through a mix of needs that are too private to discuss here we also found ourselves in need of a new school for the kids in January. It was Kismet, really, because Twinkle was feeling amazing and well and social and strong, so strong that when she walked into her new classroom last week she took to it like a fish returning to open waters after a lovely and important sabbatical in a beautifully protected and secure estuary.

Ninja’s first moments at his new school were like coming home again. In a neighborhood school for the first time in his life, his personality shines through. The high fives in the hallway, the people calling his name, the neighbors all wanting to grab a hug before he gets away, it was a peaceful moment of belonging. He is thrilled we can redirect the tuition funds to get him enrolled in baseball this summer and return him to gymnastics in the fall. The boy needs team sports, and we have the means again (blessing) to get him involved.

But even with all this goodness, all this positive energy circling their transition, it was still a transition full of loss and change.  And it was a transition happening in the same moments I could barely keep my head above water at work, during a two-week interval where my morning meditation ritual was shortened to 10 minutes for times sake when I should have been lengthening my sessions for the sake of sanity.

Every story has a hero, though, and this story’s hero was the Passion Planner. I lovingly looked at it and realized that I could still reach my three goals, and each of their five sub-goals, and even each of the sub-goals monthly success markers, even when I give myself the grace to back off and rearrange. So I did it in writing. I scratched off my plan to write a blog post about work life balance in January and I moved it to June. I will still write 24 blog posts this year, my goal for the year, and life will still move on as planned. I continued my goal to exercise daily, but I gave myself the grace of blocking off an hour on my schedule, but not writing a specific number of minutes. I erased the numbers, friends, and decided that if my goal is to never be a sloth then I can just do that, I don’t have to be the overachiever that over-achieves even the goals I set for myself.

My goals for the year are to engage my family in clean living (with charts! and graphs! and rewards!), to give myself 30 minutes a day, be it in exercise, meditation, stretching or silence, that the only sound I listen to is my own breathing, and to reignite my passion for writing. Months like January happen, where carefully laid plans meet erasers, penciled for later dates with promises of closure. I am confident this year will be better, though, because I am not counting the eraser as a failure, but as a tool and a friend to make my goals possible.


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The Universe Told Me To, I Just Never Realized It

He knew the kids were feeling down this morning, so he left the three of us snuggling in our bed, went out into the living room and starting singing silly songs on the top of his lungs just because.

Every morning he goes into the basement and gets my work clothes off our indoor clothes line. He knows I hate when my feet get cold in the morning, and the basement floor is so very chilly. His get cold as well, of course, but he always goes anyway.

Last weekend I had to work overtime. He took the kids all day, gave them the best day ever, and it ended with them both telling me they need more Dad days, because not everyone gets to be as lucky as they are and have a Dad like him.

Sometimes I weigh what I weigh now. Sometimes I weigh 60 pounds more. When we got married I weighed 20 pounds less. There has never been a day where he forgot to tell me how stunning he finds me, or how lucky he is that he gets to be the one to sleep next to me.

Ten years ago today I arrived at a restaurant 40 minutes early for a blind date, I hopped off the Belmont stop trying to get there first to make sure it wasn’t awkward. He was already there, sitting with his coat off. By the time they cleared our plates I knew I was in love, and by the end of the next day he had already said, “you know I’m gonna marry you, right?”

belmont sign

When he told me he loved They Might be Giants I had no idea that could translate into reading our kids Bed, Bed, Bed in fantastic voices until they fell asleep in his arms with smiles on their faces.

bed bed bed

When he held my arm to prevent me from slipping in the snow I never translated it into the awesome way he would navigate sledding season with our young ones. Ten years in I see all the signs I missed, the signs that spelled out in perfectly garbled first date bravado and fears, that a partnership with a magnitude beyond our grasp had finally, finally been activated.

Happy double digits, bug, I thank the universe we followed the invisible signs pointing straight to our future happiness and jumped in head over feet. Who needs to date when you figure out instantaneously that forever already started, anyway?

We still love to dance close, even if it means a few twirls in the kitchen

We still love to dance close, even if it means a few twirls in the kitchen

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You are like the working class Martha Stewart!

We hosted an intimate holiday gathering at our new home over the holidays. As is our custom, our famous thankfulness chain adorned one wall. This year the chain had a mate, a handsome new chain festooned with a turkey family made from hand-shaped cut-outs.

turkey banner

In December we added to the atmosphere, spending afternoons painstakingly slicing small shapes from folded construction paper, turning our cozy cottage home into an indoor snow rainbow.


Once our hypoallergenic plastic tree entered the picture the physical embodiment of our mentalities through holiday decor truly took shape. We covered her branches in homemade ornaments saved from 10 years of building our life together, which in turn transformed our home into a masterpiece.


Our home became a visual walk-through our life’s stages. Our childless years were represented by painstakingly created 3-D ornaments representing inside jokes, visual representation of limber-bodied days, adventurous couplings represented with pipe cleaners and glue. The early child years, where we were determined to keep tradition alive, could be seen through paint splotches on cardboard, cut into shapes with years and names written in my hurried mother’s scrawl.

There were paper plate ornaments of early childhood classrooms, hand prints with poems about tiny fingers and growth. We had branches of gingerbread men, all overly eager to share a smile, with lopsided buttons that made me long to reach into the past and tousled the hair of my babies. What is it about the smell of cinnamon and pine that reminds me more strongly of baby soap mixed with play dough than the actual scent? Every wall and branch was a visceral reminder that we created a gorgeous life out of twigs and glue.

When we had our little get together in December, sharing our new home with new and old friends, it was jarring to share this portrait of my interior. We are a messy family, one constructed with hopes on thin paper, not necessary with plans laid on firm concrete. I made a slightly self-deprecating comment in the beginning of the evening to ease my discomfort. One of our guests looked around and loudly proclaimed, “You are like a working class Martha Stewart! Look at your decorations, so much paper, how lovely!”  A Martha Stewart for the real world. It feels good to be understood.

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Bad Guy Music has Better Beats

Twinkle asked me to play Tacky’s Christmas Playlist during a recent car trip, a Christmas CD that came with a book about penguins (good guys) and foxes (bad guys). After listening to the whole thing through, she piped up,  “Mom, why do the bad guys sing hip hop and the good guys sing opera?”

Pause, rewind, what? We took the CD back to the first track and listened through again. All of the characters with high moral standing sang in operatic tones. All of the bad guys? They expressed themselves in rap and hip hop.

Twinkle told me she liked the bad guy beats more, they had more flavor, and she decided to keep their song about Sandy Claws (Santa Clause pronounced with an edge) on repeat. We didn’t really talk about it, because I didn’t really know how, but this dichotomy of music style, and its racist implications, bothered me.  When she asked me if it was okay to like bad guy music instead of good guy music I felt the pulse of the issue – why are we subliminally telling children that music performed by black people must be associated with the bad guys?

Davey is producing a play, opening this week, called White People. It expounds on micro aggression, privilege and power. We have done a lot of research, combing through every resource we could find, requesting support from an expert in race relations to help us ensure our play is produced with care – is this why the inherent unfairness has played on repeat in my head for the last two days?

When I think of Twinkle struggling to give herself permission to like “bad guy” music, when I think of all the reasons the good intentioned creators of the music would have for differentiating good from bad with style of music, it reminds me that the innocent moments instilled with quietly racial statements that shape attitudes and behaviors. We may be talking about penguins and foxes from a storybook, but its in the stories we tell our children that they recognize their world and their role in shaping it.



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We bought a house in September, one my husband’s coworker affectionately called a “moron house”, as in the owner just kept adding more on. This is our first home mortgage, our first attempt at finding the cadence of adulthood that includes ownership of something larger and more impressive than a 10-year-old vehicle. I never knew if we could make it to this place, but now that we are here I feel like the word property, the phrase homeowners insurance and the act of gardening take on a whole new level of sexiness. Seriously, gardening my own plot of ground has such a different feel than toiling on someone else’s soil.

When we decided to buy a house the phrase “buy in the best area you can because you can fix your house, not the neighbors” was central. Our house is quite interesting as a result of this adage.  Davey and I are slowly updating the home, making the repairs and changes necessary to turn it into our dream house. Here are some before pictures, though, just so you know what we are dealing with when we talk about renovations.

Our House

Our House

Here it is, in all its yellow and brown glory. We are concentrating on making the interior gorgeous first, though, so the toilet colors shall remain.

The front of the house is a porch that was plastered closed and turned into a room of the house. Right now it is the place where all of the boxes we can’t figure out what to do with live, but eventually it will be a mud room and a reading room combo.


Next up is our living room and dining room, two rooms separated by a small half wall

living room

Dining Room... the poop brown carpet was the first thing we removed, I promise

Dining Room… the poop brown carpet was the first thing we removed, I promise

Next up we have three teeny tiny bedrooms, but each one has gorgeous built-ins and cool closets. Here is the one from our bedroom.

Underneath those 18 layers of white paint we have really, really nice woodwork. Someday, friends, we will reveal it all to the world once again

Underneath those 18 layers of white paint we have really, really nice woodwork. Someday, friends, we will reveal it all to the world once again

Our bathroom is standard, nothing of interest, really, until we do something with it.

Bathrooms - what you cant see is a recently re-enameled tub and a small closet

Bathrooms – what you can’t see is a recently re-enameled tub and a small closet

Our kitchen is gorgeous, interesting, authentically 1920’s (as in, original to the house’s construction) and completely lacking in the functional capabilities for a cook like me to use it. See what I mean?

My back is against the opposite wall to take this photo... But at least it is pretty to look at as I curse and try to cook

My back is against the opposite wall to take this photo… But at least it is pretty to look at as I curse and try to cook

The house is a shot-gun, from the back door and original front door you can see across the entire thing. This photo shows you the interesting subway tiles that cover our kitchen, including the ceiling. Yes, every square inch of wall and ceiling that is not covered by a cabinet is tiled.

Davey is so cute when he is concentrating

Davey is so cute when he is concentrating

We have an unfinished basement with four rooms and a scary bathroom, too

Creepy bathrooms add character, right?

Creepy bathrooms add character, right?

This picture helps explain the scream in the above photo, am I right?

This picture helps explain the scream in the above photo, am I right?

And there you have it, our home. We have already done a ton of work, and I have process photos of each step. Once we finally complete a room (hahahahaha… that may take a while) I will share it.

What lessons have I learned from all this?

1. Some people waited until they were in their 30’s to start a family, to feel ready to settle down and make it work. We did that, but with real estate. I think this helped us to attention to our non-negotiable items more, to know what features we needed to avoid (no corner lots ever again, laundry rooms without space for excessive laundry avoidance issues), know what features we needed to have (architectural interest, two bathrooms, new big-ticket items so we can wait to replace for a few years), and items we new we could adjust in the future as needs and money arose (room for a second kitchen in the basement, renovating the existing attic into more living space). If we had purchased a home the first time we tried (5 years ago in Chicago) we would not have been as smart about our investment, as back then we just concentrated on finding something we could afford.

2. Neighborhood culture is key to happiness. We live on a block where you can still literally look out your front window and see a pile of bikes/scooters to let you know which yard all the kids are playing at that day. We have three 7-year-old girls, two 5-year-old boys, and two ten-year-old kids who all play together. we have only actually lived inside this home for a week and already our children are completely ingrained in the culture of the neighborhood.

3. Smaller isn’t necessarily bad. Our new home is about 2/3 the size of our last home. We had to be strategic about what possessions we kept, what was tossed and how we could create function in every square foot we possessed. It is still a work in progress in the kitchen, as our huge renovation project for that room (doubling in space by eliminating a bedroom, adding a staircase to the upstairs to recreate the bedroom that was lost, refinishing the attic) is still 18 months off. But the rest of the house is utilized to maximize happiness through organization.

Davey, the kids and I are happy. In another week or two I will feel put away, then we will start the long task of small-scale renovations, room by room. Don’t worry, I will share the process with all of you!

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What I Wish I Said Wednesday (Only Now on a Thursday)

I read a fantastic blog post today called “F*ck Yes Or No”, which asserts that in fledgling relationships we are wasting our time if the other person’s presence in our life doesn’t cause a spontaneous resounding “heck yeah!” to cross our lips. I love this idea, to skip the triteness of relational ambivalence and instead surround ourselves with people who elicit spontaneous fist bumps of joy.

I decided Tina and I had to be friends because her mother in law publicly proclaimed that she was an amazing woman – she felt blessed that her son married her. That statement made me feel like Tina could teach me something. The decision was made for me, really, within 5 minutes of a catalogue party at her house. The items for sale were jewelry. Even though I wear only a plain wedding band from Dave and a necklace from my father I bought a bracelet, as friends do at their new BFF’s party, especially when their BFF doesn’t know she has earned such a prestigious new official title.


Last Saturday night Dave and I were out on a double date with our best friends to watch another friend’s fantastic sci-fi synth band perform. The first time I spent any time with this couple (guitarist and his lovely wife)during their children’s birthday party their house was full to bursting with palpable love, delicious baking and filial bonding across generations. Talk about spontaneous fist bumps (in my mind, though, I am working on not scaring people away with my inability to follow social norms).

Our double date had a cameo appearance of the nicest Buffy the Vampire Slayer watcher I met at that party many months ago. Side bar, did Angel’s love for Buffy ruin anyone else’s expectations for love and honor in their adult life? I mean, why couldn’t they ever figure it out and reclaim their love? I was so ecstatic to run into this lovely lady again that I ran my inebriated butt to my husband and told him that the nicest girl was there.

His response, “You met her at a birthday party for children, you’ve spoken once.”


So? I met you once for mango margaritas and decided to marry you before our dinners were brought to the table. Do you really want to talk about this?

BOOM. That was the sound of me dropping the mic.

Buffy Gets it http://btvs-reaction-gifs.tumblr.com/

Buffy Gets it

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Lovers Love and the Others Run Away

I avoided social media this week because I keep catching myself saying “that’s what it looks like when your parent dies of mental illness when you are 20”. Tragedy takes on new tinges when it hits this close to home. My face burns when I hear people wonder what it feels like to watch your husband stay in bed for 20 hours a day. What would happen if I answered, “it feels like your life’s happiness is being sucked through your belly button until eventually you learn how to pretend it isn’t happening”.  Love can no more stop a depressive episode than it can stop cancer from metastasizing.

This week, during a declared state of emergency in our city and with racial violence erupting miles away from where my beloved was raised, I separated myself from this world for a few days. I did this not because of powerlessness, nor because of feigned ignorance. No, I did this because I can’t bear to look in the face of children who lost their father to mental illness and search for similarities to my own children.

Love isn’t enough to end an illness and that terrifies me. Love IS enough to make sure medications are taken, appointments are kept and regimens are followed, but love will never be a cure. This week I have kissed my husband more than usual, looking in his eyes as I tell him I love him. Every time I look at him I see how hard he works to manage an illness that the world pretends can be cured with platitudes of perseverance. If only self-love and determination could cure HIV and impetigo as quickly as it cures depression and bipolar, then the world would be so beautiful!

This week has been traumatic – listening to the side conversations around the water cooler about selfish choices and leaving children behind leaves me cold. Every time I hear someone congratulate Robin William’s first wife for being smart enough to leave him before “it got too bad” my cheeks grow crimson and I walk away. I advocate and I give speeches; I find safe spaces and talk about the beauty of our life in the presence of a bipolar as a silent third partner – but never at work, of course never in the office.  How can these people possibly know that their triumphant rationalizations of trauma and loss are choking out my spirit?

It is after these moments with others that my anger bubbles. The reality that I am in love with someone with mental illness, not living with mental illness myself, knocks me back again. If it can hurt this bad to know that people think it wise for me to get going before the going gets rough, how must it feel for Dave and others living with an illness to know that the world advocates that the people who love them should leave them cold and alone before they have a chance to hurt them?

Please be kind. If you love someone who has a mental illness, sometimes being silent is a far superior alternative to trying to fix things. If you love someone who loves someone with mental illness, I am a strong advocate of the word always. Say I love you always, then stop talking. No caveats, no explanations. Just stop and let the world, their life and everything else progress as it may. The world can be a dark place and we could all use a little light, levity and love in our days.

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