Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: Whidbey Island Page 1 of 4

I CAN’T WAIT FOR 2024, HOW ABOUT YOU?

No matter how bad things seem to get on the world stage or in our own dramatic corner of the globe, when the New Year rolls around we see a chance for improvement. You know the litany: Things can’t get much worse…the only way to go is up. Life is lived in a resisting medium…the only way we coast is downhill. In other words, don’t coast, keep climbing, keep striving. Knock yourself out. You can always do better. But by now you know that life isn’t perfect. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, yes, but it may turn out to be an oncoming train (for the jokers). So, try giving acceptance a chance. You may learn something…about yourself and about your life. Wake up or you’ll never know what’s just around the corner…

Yes, there’s something I truly love about January first of each year. I’ve given up on writing resolutions which I’m too old to complete, anyway, but I breathe the air of that chilly morn as I walk up and down the roads and woodland trails near my home…alone, except for the intermittent chirping of woodland creatures, and give thanks for all my blessings, putting the complaints and downers back in the box for another day. It’s a new start. That’s how I feel.

As I’ve written before, I’ve had a few downers since my birthday, which have caused me to cancel a much-looked-forward-to trip to the East to visit old friends and relatives in Jersey and New York over the holidays, returning by way of Manitou Springs to visit Martha, Doug, and grand and great grandchildren in the Denver area. Here’s where acceptance comes in. Had a recap of my earlier ear problems so flying was out of the question. But now, Buddha be praised, it looks as if the Colorado trip may be possible. Stay tuned and when Cary returns from China, Nepal, and S. Korea she’ll put up all my photos and stories. In the meantime, she is going on her fantastic trip to Asia from Nov. 26 to January 18…the first time in years that I’m not accompanying her (acceptance, again)…and hopes to write about her adventures, putting them up on MY blog…hot off the griddle…for all of you to enjoy. How great is that? Cary is a master blogger and will have you on the edge of your seat!

I end this holiday greeting with the announcement that I have started putting up my most recent book on my website/blog, delayed for several years due to my most skillful non-virtue, procrastination. It’s a work-in-progress and tells the story of the Peterson family escapades over the years, more in essay form than as a linear memoir. Title: I Love You To Death, But… It will be under the Family Memoir tab on my blog, and next to the Essays tab. They are now posted in a more clearly readable form than previously. Enjoy! And blessings on you all.

THE SHOCK OF TURNING 95

THE TRAVAILS OF A PREHISTORIC VALENTINE….

No, my friends, I haven’t died
I have just turned ninety-five;
It’s a sign that I am woke
And it’s better than a stroke!

If I tell you what’s transpired
You will think that I am mired
In a fantasy phantasm
An illusionary spasm.

Nepali guava juice

Ninety-four was quite a ball,
I went trav’ling in Nepal.
Soldiered through our winter weather,
Kept my weary brain together.

But the world is too chaotic
And the populace neurotic;
I can stand just so much stress
How to cope with such a mess?

One dark day I started wheezing
As I climbed a woodland hill
Want a life that’s wild and bold,
But, let’s face it, Meg, you’re OLD!

Then the Docs began exploring
Which, to me, was more than boring,
I was always in good health
I preferred it more than wealth!

Soon they’re checking blood and pressure
Pills for every kind of measure;
Side effects that make you crazy,
Dizzy, tired, depressed, and lazy!

Next they try a diuretic
And I’m feeling so pathetic
Used to be a pill-less wonder
Now my dreams are put asunder.

Well, for now the problem’s solved
Only one pill is involved;
But, there’s one last note, draconian,
Yeah, my diet is low sodium.

Winter fades, for spring we’re pining…
Things look up, the sun is shining!
Soon my birthday loomed ahead
I got nervous…what’s to dread?

June the third, a noble date,
Friends and fam’ly…will be great! ….from
Jersey, Texas, New York, too.
Perfect weather, dream come true!

 

But the day before the fest
As I welcomed one more guest
Suddenly one ear drum burst,
Sending pain that was the worst….

Dare I mention something simple
Also, there had formed a pimple
Underneath my nose, a sight
Like a headlight in the night.

So, I sat with one ear, hearing
Lovely songs and poems endearing,
Put my vanity in check
Take heart, you’re not a total wreck!

There’s no reason for complaint;
Now I know I’m not a saint,
And for all that day who gathered
Gratitude is all that mattered….and love.

THANK YOU, WORLD!

What a blast!

This may be the last of my doggerel-style, Ogden Nashian creations, except, of course, for birthday salvos. During the long winter months I began experimenting with different types of poetry, such as some modern-day stream-of-consciousness bloviation that can be serious as well as very funny. It seems that anything goes, today, and I will have to move beyond favorites like Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and William Wordsworth to reach and understand poetry buffs of the 21st century.

I was overjoyed to discover, while re-reading the above poem, that its 7-beat rhythm perfectly coincided with a Tibetan chant I had heard at the Yeshe Long Buddhist Temple nearby in Clinton. Try reading the poem, slowly, and see how much fun it is to superimpose the words over the chant melody HERE.

Like many of you I have been ecstatic during this lovely spring and summer, and photographing the plethora of trees, shrubs, and exotic house plants that greet us each year. On past blogs I have posted photos of the spectacular landscape of the Langley Cemetery opposite Upper Langley, and it flourished as usual this year. But the house plants were especially striking, thanks to the care of son Tom, my plant whisperer. The orchids bloomed for four months, the geraniums flourished throughout the winter on the upstairs porch next to the cedar trees, and the succulents and hanging fuchsia had a heyday!

Lastly, a farewell to our sweet, but destructive, Langley rabbits, who perished this summer, cut down by a virulent virus, rabbit hemorrhagic disease. Many people, especially gardeners, were happy, but children were definitely sad! And it was, indeed, a terrible way to go. R.I.P.

It is with sadness that I see the end of summer approaching, but I have some exciting plans on the horizon which help the transition. First, I have another few weeks of recovering from a corneal membrane transplant. This is happy news and I couldn’t believe the good fortune of being able to correct an eye problem that has been with me for many decades. Modern medicine is amazing! I am also incredibly grateful to the person who donated the corneal membrane that I received.

Daughter Martha and I had planned to take a few weeks in Ireland in late October, but think it’s a bit too early for me to fly, so we’ll schedule that for another time. I will probably visit friends and relatives in Colorado around Thanksgiving and Christmas and hope to go to Spain (the Basque Country where our friend, Itzy, whom I wrote about in Nepal, lives) with my two daughters around February or March.

Planning is not easy these days, with plane fares through the roof and the global weather patterns unpredictable. But the desire to explore new places and keep in contact with friends and family is something that not even Covid could eliminate. It sure made it hard and has been a challenge for all of us to try to return to normal. However, there are certain positive effects I notice about living during this chaotic time. The attributes of gratitude and acceptance have taken on new meaning, at least in my life, and are closely tied to compassion, a virtue sorely needed that motivates us to help those who are suffering, however we can.

In spite of all that seems wrong with the world, I choose to be optimistic. There’s a lot of work to be done and Godspeed to all of us as we take up the challenge in our own way!

NEPAL, WE’RE COMING BACK!

As I sit on my upstairs deck in mid-October, reveling in the glorious sun, loving the patterns made by the lacy cedar trees, listening to the squawk of the tree frogs and the chirping of the birds, and, later on, the owls as they teach their little ones to hoot, I wonder if I’ve died and gone to heaven. This can’t be! Whidbey Island in the Fall and no rain? And we’re still having potlucks outdoors at Cary’s house every Sunday evening.

Well, that will change when November rolls around. Two days after the traditional All Soul’s Eve at the Langley Woodmen Cemetery, Cary and I will leave for a week in South Korea, to visit our Tibetan friend, Shawo, then on to Nepal, returning on December 27th. We’ll be writing posts of our travels as we explore places where we haven’t been before…an organic farm resort in the Himalayan foothills, Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, our first Nepali Air BnB near Swayambhunath…and still two more weeks to figure out. It will be a different kind of exploration, unlike the previous treks in the Himalayas.

In the meantime, let me catch you up on a few special events that took place this summer. The Island Shakespeare Festival is always a treat, which occurs every summer and now has returned after Covid. This year included excellent productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Titus Andronicus, and a new version of Cyrano de Bergerac.

In August we were treated to a superb concert by Don Slepian at the Ambient Church in Seattle. Don is a dear friend, and former neighbor when our family was growing up in Summit, NJ. At a young age he played the electric piano and synthesizer, for which he has written remarkable music, and continues to be a pioneer in electronic and ambient music. He is a consummate musician and performer, and a devotee of a new kind of musical expression. His harmonies are lyrical, ethereal, imaginative. romantic, and moving. Check out his performances of the following titles: Sea of Bliss, Sonic Perfume, Rhythm of Life, the delightful and whimsical Duel at Sunrise, plus a plethora of magnificent pieces for electronic orchestra.

One other highlight of the summer was the stage reading at Langley’s Outcast Theater of the play I wrote with Lynne Warrin, Thank You, Dear. The director, Patricia Duff, and the cast were first class and the reception was over the top (all shows sold out!). Thank you, producer Ned Farley!

Three sisters meet at the family’s summer cottage to be together with their mother, Alice, for the 4th of July weekend, and, unbeknownst to her, to decide what course of action should be taken to ensure her wellbeing. With years of family emotional baggage in tow, each assumes her role in the family weekend. The complexities of family life come to the surface, and old tensions erupt. Alice, meanwhile, in enough mental control to make decisions, has her own ideas about her future.

Rachel Carey, Shelley Hartle, David Ossman, Joan Rosenblum, Jane Bothel, Christina Boom, Patricia Duff, Director, and me.

We’ll be thinking of you as Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, and hope for all of us a more peaceful world as we move into winter. We’ll be back to wish you a Happy New Year!

A few weeks ago, I saw my final sunset of the season at Maxwelton Beach. A sunset is inspiring wherever you see it…on the Iberian Peninsula, in the Himalayas, or on Puget Sound…and makes you grateful for the never-ending beauty of nature, and for your own good fortune.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

I seem to be full of questions these days. My kids say it drives them crazy, but what about me? I’m the perplexed one, the one who doesn’t know what’s around the next corner and wakes up every morning wondering what new catastrophe or maybe even great pleasure is in store for our civilization…what war will be waged, who will be the next population group to face starvation, or who may face justice, finally, for perpetrating a heinous crime. Then there are those who keep chipping away, making things better, getting married, having babies, remaining optimistic about climate change solutions. Just look around. They may be your neighbors. I’m all for them. Get thee behind me, anguish, and go about making a difference, however small it might be. Just look at the amazing things Dr. Paul Farmer did in his short life, if you’re looking for hope. I read Tracey Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, about his work in Haiti twenty years ago and have been following him ever since. So, I guess I know in my heart What’s Next. Gratitude, compassion, acceptance, and, above all, participation. That’s a tall order for the best of us! It’ll sure keep us busy and it beats complaining.

Can you imagine coming home from peaceful, very warm and hospitable Palm Springs, after visiting your youngest son, Robert, and his lovely wife, Gwen, to wake up two days later to this? And just three weeks after you’d gone through the ritual of bringing in the New Year by burning your Christmas tree?

Click on the photos to enlarge.

 

I spent a relaxed and WARM week in Palm Springs, writing, reading, and relaxing during the day and enjoying the hot tub and pool in the evening. It doesn’t get much better than that! Rob and Gwen are going strong with plans for expanding their business in golf range automation, using Rob’s targets, which he installs for night golf throughout the country. Learn more about them HERE. This adds a new, exciting dimension to the sport.

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Sunday was a day of exploration in the mountains and a visit to the famous Integratron in Landers, CA. It has an interesting and somewhat controversial story behind it, but I can vouch for the efficacy of the hour-long meditation and Sound Bath that I experienced. Daughter Martha corroborated the restorative quality of sound and music in her work in somatics and how various tonalities can, indeed, affect your body in a healing way. I am grateful for the experience.

Next time, Joshua Tree and a return to the rotating aerial tramway.

Back on Whidbey, I’m taking my usual walk in the woods each day, but have been trying other trails as the weather permits. Here is a relatively new area for me, Deer Lagoon, not far from the beach on Double Bluff. I was there in January as the sun was just setting.

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Many of you have had the privilege of seeing the extensive immersive Van Gogh exhibition that is being shown throughout the country. I had the privilege of experiencing it in the warehouse area of Seattle. It is an enormous, very imaginative display. You are not just viewing the paintings, but you are walking among large digital images, interspersed with stories of the artist’s life, accompanied by exceptional music. It cannot replace the intimacy of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, Holland, which I visited shortly after it opened, where you get a close view of the original paintings, but you do get a feeling for the depth and breadth of his work and his troubled life, cut short so tragically.

 

 

Wonder of wonders. I am hoping to make a short trip to NYC to check on Broadway as well as relatives and Jersey friends, and enjoy the usual late March or early April snowstorm. But don’t hold your breath. Ask Covid. After that, Martha, her partner, Doug, and I plan to go to Portugal in late spring. Stay tuned and stay safe!

It’s always wonderful to be welcomed back to Washington by Mt. Rainier!

 

WHAT SHALL I DO TODAY?

“What shall I do today?” This was the urgent question my friend, Claudia, told me was her morning mantra during the twelve days she was in voluntary lockdown at her snow-captured home the last week of December. The gods allowed Whidbey Island a glorious Christmas, but couldn’t resist topping it off with something only skiers and snowboarders would relish.

I don’t live alone, and have a joyful cohousing community to make me feel alive, so my isolation was less draconian. But not Claudia’s. She found that she was chatting to herself, as if waiting for the men in the white coats to pay her a visit, and when she finally made it to the Goose Grocer for a quart of milk, she all but grabbed every stranger in sight, like a masked bandit frantically looking to share the spoken word. Then she circled around town and after a couple of days drinking coffee at the nearest bistro, went back home. I’m glad to report that all indicators point to a speedy recovery.

As for me, for the first two days I was in heaven! Back in Jersey, again, grooving on snowdrifts. But when I decided to venture out and visit with a friend a few miles away, who challenged me to rescue him after his car refused to tackle the roads, I realized that my car was a flop on hills as well, and I knew that I had no hope of getting help from Langley’s solitary snowplow. I, too, resigned myself to isolation for the duration.

So, it is with a great deal of awareness and compassion that I view my fellow-citizens. Whether you are suffering from an unspeakable natural disaster or an uptick in the endless Covid catastrophe, you are not alone. Keep your phone charged, plenty of reading material handy, and, finally, take this opportunity to cull through your storage locker or garage full of memorabilia, face what you have postponed for years, and make those hard decisions. Before you know it 2023 will be here.

Which brings me to the next subject. For those of you who read my December 30, 2020 blog post, you know that New Year’s Resolutions have been a longstanding obligation, if not an unpleasant thorn in my side. I can’t let another year go by without tending to them, agonizing about them, and telling them to get off my back and leave me the hell alone. Even after determining never to go near them again, here I am back on the old hamster wheel. Must I join New Year’s Resolutions Anonymous to kick the habit? How can I turn this liability into an asset once and for all, and die in the knowledge that my Karma will not be damaged if I don’t reach perfection? Haven’t I fulfilled my Protestant struggle of living life to the fullest in a resisting medium, knowing that the only way you coast is downhill? Have I forgotten that the year has only 365 days and you can fill them with only so much? Your thoughts and prayers will be gratefully accepted, and any suggestions to help me overcome this bothersome addiction will be seriously considered and wholeheartedly appreciated.

We celebrated Twelfth Night by walking a star made of luminaries, a tradition my daughter, Cary, and her friends have been doing since 1990. This year it was accompanied by a gentle snow. We do a star walk which for me is a walking meditation where you silently pass your fellow participants on your way to the next glowing star point, repeating the walk as many times as you wish. It is a fitting end to the Christmas season that also celebrates the return of the light. At the end we all gather to eat pieces of “bean cake”, which Cary has baked from a family recipe called Hobo Bread. It’s delicious, full of dried fruits and one bean, which some lucky participant will come upon, making him or her the king or queen for the year. Cary got the bean this year!

THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIENDS….

With all the talk about the commercialization of the Christmas holidays and the laments about being inundated with tinsel and lights from Thanksgiving on, I began to reflect on my own experience over the years, and wondered whether the magic and meaning of Christmas no longer spoke to me. Was the stress of coming up with the perfect gift worth the time and effort, or could I persuade my beloved family members to put a moratorium on this obligation and let me enjoy bringing gifts to them from my travels, whenever the spirit moved me? And give them freely at whatever time of year? Of course, the moratorium did not apply to the great grandchildren. After all, I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge!

I remember spending most of the last ten years in Nepal during this time of year, and there were some charming children’s Christmas pageants in Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, and a few decorated trees at the guest houses, but it was subtle and not overwhelming. One year, at the Shechen Guest House next to the temple, where we were staying, a guest put up a line across the main lawn and hung stockings for all the children of the employees. It caused a great deal of excitement as well as some hearty laughs when one of the monks mistook it for a clothesline and started hanging up his wet socks.

Santa, Buddha and the angels

Christmas took its place along with other religious celebrations and there was a warm feeling of fellowship that filled me with nostalgia. Now, after two years of relative isolation, and a move to a co-housing community here in Langley, I can see that Christmas has no obligations. If you feel like wrapping up a piece of cake or a silly hat, and giving it to your neighbor, you do it. If not, you enjoy the voluntary brand of each individual’s generosity. It is charming and it is spontaneous. I’ve finally been able to weed out and laugh at the commercialism without becoming a part of it, and to retrieve the old-fashioned spirit that brought me joy for so many years. I wish this for all of you.

There are not many photos on this posting, but how many pictures of rain can you take? Instead, I want to share with you a chapter from my new book, I Love You To Death, But…. yet to be published. It seems especially relevant to our society at this time.

GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT

I’m ashamed to say that I always gave my children too much for Christmas. My rationalization: as a child I got almost nothing. Well, one, maybe two presents at most. Christmas was a religious celebration at our home. It was wonderful, heartwarming, and somewhat dull…except for all the wonderful cakes, cookies, and fruit baskets the parishioners showered on my father, a Methodist minister. And the traditional midnight candle service. I finally got to stay up past nine!

One year our big present was the LP (that’s old-speak for long playing record) version of Peter and the Wolf. My mother was sure the surprise would be revealed, since my father whistled Peter’s theme interminably. Not a problem. We were none the wiser and it was, indeed, a splendid gift. But we were three girls, and one record and a wood burning set just didn’t do it, especially when we compared our gifts to those of our friends. Oh, yes, Aunt Bea relieved the monotony by sending a pair of frilly panties to each of us, but that, too, became all too predictable. Still, I never complained. And we did have fun planning an afternoon Christmas concert for the family. I played the violin while my two sisters took turns accompanying me on the piano. And then we wowed everyone by sitting together on the bench and playing a three-part piano arrangement of the E Flat Minuet from Mozart’s Symphony #39. The scene was right out of a middle-European salon a la Haydn. At the end we all sang, “Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” while Grandpa slept and Grandma sang lustily in her calliope voice.

I wanted my children to have a little more excitement, but I overdid it. Every single thing they’d needed all year long arrived under the tree. Clothes, toys, educational games, school supplies, you-name-it-I-bought-it. I spent hours in the old wine cellar in the basement every evening for weeks, wrapping and labeling and looking for places to hide the gifts. I tried to make things equal. If one child seemed to have more, I raced out and bought something else to even things out. It was ridiculous and it was exhausting.

But that was just the beginning! Imagine the difficulty of transporting this raft of presents from the basement to the center hall, where the tree stood in all its glory…and doing this quietly so eager children, supposedly sleeping, would not discover the largesse until morning. Once again, the eldest child, who never really bought into the Santa Claus story, took it upon herself to arise very early and stand guard at the upstairs landing to keep the younger ones at bay until the parents, bug-eyed with fatigue, came lumbering down in search of coffee. Then the fun began, if you can call chaos fun. In less than an hour the work of months lay at my feet.

All this changed in 1970 when I read that all you ever need to give to a child for Christmas is the one thing he or she has been asking for, silly as you might think it is. A Barbie doll? No way. I hated everything Barbie stood for! But if that’s what Martha wanted, and probably all she wanted, give it to her.

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T….

TO MASK OR NOT TO MASK….
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW….
EASY COME, EASY GO….

Do you ever feel as if you’re not right here when you’re here…or maybe it’s because you’re actually not here, but there? Are you up one minute and before you know it, down the next? Do you ever think that you’d better change your vitamin supplements because they may be causing confusion within your body politic? Or stop drinking that cheap wine, because with global warming going all-out, a good vintage might calm the soul, or at least the nerves? And what are you saving your money for, anyway? Profound questions bombard us with every passing day, which helps us in our cultivation of the art of procrastination and ennui. One cannot survive without the other. Why bother?

What a summer! We went into it thinking that we’d licked Covid. We danced in the streets, went to restaurants, enjoyed plays at WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) and the Outcast Theater, shopped like the “good old days,” and went just about anywhere so long as we were vaccinated. Then, almost before we’d gotten used to our newfound freedom, the Lockdown Monster returned. Covid cases rose as tourists flooded onto Whidbey Island, the Delta Variant started rolling in at the same time, and we are now experiencing the “Return of the Mask” in spades. But we’re getting wiser. Many more people are seeing the results of anti-vaxxing propaganda and are realizing the need to be vaccinated. Yes, there is hope…tenuous, but on the horizon.

I might add that my friends in Asia, especially India and Nepal, are scratching their heads wondering what is wrong with “you Americans,” who have the vaccine and refuse to be vaccinated, while they would give anything to get it. Does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

If it weren’t for the few redemptive and optimistic segments at the end of the PBS News Hour, and my compulsive need to know what’s happening in the world, I might decide, as so many of my friends have, to eschew the news entirely. International as well as what’s happening right here in the USA. It’s anything but uplifting, and the extent of suffering worldwide is appalling. So, we buckle down, pick how and where we want to make a difference, and do the best we can. We don’t know whether praying for the well-being of all sentient beings is helping, but we do it, anyway, and we make sure not to neglect the needs in our own backyard. And we try to stay positive. Any suggestions?

Way back in July I took off for my first trip to the East Coast in two years. Now what would possess me to do that? You guessed it…a wedding. My grandson, Adam Bixler, and his fiancé, Allie Francis, were getting married after having postponed the nuptials for a year. That’s a century when you’re young. Although they live in a lovely, recently purchased, home in Boonton, NJ, they decided to celebrate in the woods of Pennsylvania, and housed the family by a peaceful lake in two exquisite homes belonging to friends.

What a glorious setting! It was worth the trip, ‘though I wasn’t so sure as we were winding around country roads in Pennsylvania at 1:30 AM. (Hey, anything counts as an adventure these days!) But once we recovered from the trip, it was heartwarming to see the entire family gathered for a splendid celebration! And guess what? After more than a year I got to go swimming in a lake. What a treat!

 

 

We had two big dinners, one before and the other after the wedding. That’s when we cut loose and danced like crazy. But some of us had to retire to the outdoor balcony to avoid losing our hearing. The higher the decibels the better the dancing…they say. Even the great grandkids joined in.

Just before the celebration began, the guests of honor and close family walked into the main hall two-by-two, and after being announced, did a short dance they had contrived together as a greeting. I found this fun and quite charming. I was also glad I didn’t fall over while attempting to project my idea of a pirouette.

 

The day after the wedding we had a relaxing family dinner.

 

Then on Monday, we traveled to Allie and Adam’s house and hung out around the pool, and walked around the leafy NJ suburb. What fun!

In September, Adam and Allie went to Greece on their honeymoon and what a beautiful trip it was!

 

 

After the wedding, I spent two days in Maplewood, NJ, visiting my forever friend, Cheryl Galante, and her husband, Steve Gorelick (see their wedding in New Orleans HERE). She has a glorious garden. Here I am taking advantage of the peace and quiet. The next day my friend, James Wilson, with whom I’ve traveled in Asia, came in from New York City, as did Barry Hamilton, a friend since his high school days in Summit, who now runs a children’s theater in NYC. How great was that? Shame on me for getting no pictures. We were too busy talking and testing out some very good Maplewood restaurants.

Next came my first train ride in a century, or so it seemed, as I headed for New Haven on Amtrak, to spend a week with Judy Wyman Kelly, another forever friend dating back to her climbing days in the White Mountains as one if my honorary children. She drove me, first, to my sister, Anne Magill, in Peterborough, N.H., and her daughter, Margaret Magill.

In early evening we headed for the Berkshires to visit Carol Goodman, an old friend from Morristown, NJ, who is a well-known writer under the name of J. Carol Goodman and a painter par excellence specializing in oils and pastels. She now lives in Williamstown, MA. a place that brings back happy memories of childhood visits with my father, to see his alma mater, Williams College.

We decided to find a place to stay between our two stops, and what an adventure that was! Luckily, we stumbled upon West Marlboro, MA, the site of classical music’s most coveted retreat, and stayed at an authentic old-time inn at the edge of the festival. It has been years since I delighted in the steep stairs, communal breakfasts, and old-fashioned allure of one of these unique establishments.

 

After breakfast we wandered a bit to look at the adjacent lake and experience the hospitality of the New England woods. Unlike many summers I’ve spent in this area, the weather was delightfully sunny and cool.

We relaxed in West Hartford with the Wyman-Kelly family on Monday and drove to Joan McDonald’s home in Southbury, CT, the next day. Joan, my niece, and one of my sister, Cary’s, four daughters, took me to Valhalla, NY, for a visit with Cary. It was wonderful all around. I got to see my sister and her husband, Don, and catch up with Joanie as well.

On the wall of her home was a copy of the August 10, 1940, cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Cary had been the model for Douglass Crockwell, one of the famous artists who was known for his covers. It looked. Just like her!

I enjoyed relaxing in Joanie’s lovely garden before dinner. Like all gardens, it is a work in progress.

 

I also thoroughly enjoyed talking with Joanie’s partner, Roy, who drove me back to Hartford that evening. Again, I was remiss in not taking photos of my hosts.

Two days after our return to Whidbey Island, we hosted Scott Bennett, my Godson, and his lovely daughter, Sarah, for several days of exploring Seattle and Whidbey Island. It was the perfect ending of their western trip up the coast of Oregon and Washington. They loved the gorgeous vistas of the Cascade and Olympic mountains and, of course, grooved on Ebey’s Landing, our go-to hike for all first-time visitors to the island.

 

 

Scott is a well-known artist and can be viewed on scottbennettart.com.

We’ve come full circle and have already lived through glorious spring blooming with more of Tom’s spectacular succulents, orchids, and unusual plants and shrubs. I’ve stopped trying to remember what they are. I just enjoy them. So will you!

Tom and I also managed some interesting walks through the Whidbey woods and the cemetery across the road, and enjoyed the changing colors and trails covered with pine needles. You know I can’t resist a few forest shots in every blog!

 

I was amazed at the number of white pine trees we encountered. These are not native to the Northwest and have been dropping their needles in large quantities during this dry spell. When I approached my first pine, unexpectedly, I experienced the same feeling that I had in Marlboro, MA…a kind of peaceful, cozy intimacy, so different from the sturdy firs and cedars I’ve become so used to in recent years.

As I finish writing this, we have just experienced the first onslaught of rain and cold weather that marks the beginning of fall in the Northwest. We had a blissful September, but our thoughts were also with those hit by disastrous storms and fires, much of it due to unsettling climate change.

In conclusion, it’s hard to believe that I could forget my birthday…whether consciously or unconsciously. I’m beginning to believe some of my friends who swear that Covid causes memory loss, whether you get sick or not. But I remembered just in the nick of time! Here are a few pictures of the celebration.

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I’m looking forward to a post-COVID large gathering for my 95th birthday! Save the date — June 3, 2023!

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

In late June when I was in Colorado, I planned to write a blog telling how wonderful it was to be rid of THE MASK for the first time in over a year. And to walk down the street and smile and make small talk. To mingle. And to see how interesting humans were when they unveiled their lower face and you didn’t have to depend on the eyes, alone, for communication. Those sparkling, sober, sad, questioning, sometimes disapproving eyes.

And then I stepped off the plane in Denver into a wall of 104 degree heat. There went the brain. There went the will. There went the energy. For the first four days friends and family were treated to Meg, the Zombie. I felt as if I were swimming upstream in a river of molten lava. Have faith and be patient, they all said. You’re a mile high and it’s hot (no kidding). You have to acclimatize.

“Who me? I’m used to 18,000 ft. in the Himalayas. What’s a paltry 7,000 ft. You’ve got to be kidding.”

But they weren’t. They would simply have to be satisfied with monosyllables and wan smiles until, miraculously, I was reborn. And the irony of it is that the temperature plummeted to 62 on the day I left and I flew into 95 and climbing temperatures in Seattle. And into the next week we were treated to 100 before returning to normal. A little taste of global warming. If only “forewarned is forearmed” were true.

Here are some photos of my visit to my friend Bonnie Phipps and her husband, Bill Moninger, in Boulder. She is not only an autoharpist par excellence but also the designer of this exquisite garden.

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Doug and Martha

I enjoyed a lively visit in Arvada with my granddaughter and great grandchildren en route Manitou Springs, where my daughter, Martha, and her partner, Doug Hammond, live. They bought a charming Victorian house on a hill (the whole town is hills!) with a view of Pikes Peak, and are surrounded by woods and greenery and lots of steep walkways. Because of the heat the hiking was curtailed, but there’s always the future. We did take a stroll in the famous Valley of the Gods, as prelude to future walks in the valley and hills of the Rockies. And, BTW, the restaurants are superb in the area. Especially in the cool breezes if evening.

My photographs are greatly limited because of my heated “vegetative” state. The fellowship was wonderful, but I would have preferred having it in the Arctic!

Martha has been creating a terraced garden that the local deer are also enjoying.

 

And here is a short slide show to let you know that Whidbey Island is still blooming and weathering the summer heat.

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I would like to end with a poem that flowed out of me during the darkest days of the pandemic. Humorous with a touch of pathos. I had totally forgotten it, but I think it says what many of us felt as we attempted to circumnavigate the new reality of the past year. Lots of lives were upended but lots of soul-searching also took place. True. It was not all bad. But for many it was the end.

Senior Pandemic Blues

The children are worried. “She seems so disorganized…even more
Than usual,” they say
Then there’s the book, oh, no, it’s no longer relevant. Was it ever
Relevant? Yes, it’s hilarious. I know I’ll finish it after I tweak
The cast of characters.
Don’t talk about dinner, I can’t think about dinner, please
I’ll take a walk in the woods if it would only stop raining. You know I hate
The rain and I need to see that play being streamed from New York.
I miss the theater so much but I don’t mention it. I’d be accused
Of complaining. Nothing is settled. The new phone, so complicated, the camera, health insurance,
It all takes so much time. I will die “on hold’ with Verizon. Let them pay
For my funeral.
NO I’m not depressed. The cedars are beautiful, their feathery leaves dripping
With water, the ferns in their crispness, resisting the 40° weather and
Lifting their fronds to meld with the fog
The interminable fog….
No, I am not complaining.

The computer calls. The New York Times. The Washington Post
I must read them all and oh, the TV and
YouTube have so much I can enjoy…don’t you want me to enjoy
During this dreadful time? Winter is coming, some call these the
Dark days. I used to be free, but my life is now curtailed; I can’t travel, I am beholden
To a mask for my peregrinations. Is this not a cause for worry?
Does my mind ever stop, for meditative bliss is at my
Fingertips. Dinner. Don’t speak to me about dinner, again.
I am lucky. I am not unemployed. I am not homeless. But I am
Not happy, not fulfilled any more. I miss friends, groups, crowds,
Parties. What gives life meaning? Do I still have a reason to exist? I am a hermit.
I can sit all day and sort memorabilia and
I can go mad. Now why don’t I play my violin or finish my book?
Let’s sit on the beach and watch the sun go down;
The beach is deserted. The beach is peaceful. Only lapping water.
The world turns, chaos continues, the sun goes down.
No, I am not complaining.

I’M STILL HERE (with apologies to Stephen Sondheim and Elaine Stritch)

Lest my children start receiving condolence calls and cards from friends who have assumed that such a gap in my blog must surely mean that I have given up the ghost, I hereby announce that as soon as I can muster something more interesting for you to read about than my daily walks in the woods, and the usual philosophical yearnings for a better time, and hope for relief from the inertia that plagues so many of us who miss our buddies and our hugs, I will be back in earnest.

I may slip in a few photos of flowering bushes and plants, assuring you that spring is well on its way despite the cold weather of the past two weeks, logs covered with bright green moss, impish mushrooms on a bed of grass that refuse to believe anyone would step on them, or the blessed sun coming through the cedar trees outside my kitchen window.

Remember, this is not Denver, Palm Springs, or Phoenix. For many months our sun is not an everyday thing and, thus, incredibly precious. You may also notice that we talk about it a lot. And because of our latitude and Daylight Savings Time, it comes early and stays late…when it comes. With all the chaos and suffering going on in the world today, Whidbey Island is where you want to be as spring and summer approach. And since I wrote those last few lines, it is upon us in all its glory!

I decided to start with a few photos from early January, including my Christmas tree in full regalia and our one snowstorm, and bring you up to date with the burgeoning spring foliage. Just imagine gorgeous magnolia and dogwood with a variety of rhododendron in fast pursuit. Who ever said there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel?

Remember my surprise Christmas tree? Well, it finally got fully trimmed! And stayed with us until its ceremonial burning in January.

There were even bunnies in town for Christmas!

Walks in the woods…from this (snow)

. …to this. I’ve been doing more exploring and finding more places to walk on the island.

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I go mad for mushrooms! They’re everywhere and usually adorned with moss.

 

On Whidbey Island there are bunnies galore and they’ll eat right out of your hand, especially if you have a bunch of carrot greens. But they’re beginning to think they own the place as you can see by a few of my friends.

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Cary found these bunnies at the Fairground, just waiting for a handout. Too bad we had nothing. I took this one for my two great grandsons.

I’ve often mentioned the cedar trees here in the Northwest, for they have become my favorites…so complicated in their branch formation and so expressive as they wave their feathery plumes in the air. I could watch them for hours. Here is the tree outside the kitchen window…

And here are others next to my upstairs porch. They’ve become part of my family.

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I promised you pictures of Tom’s flowers last year, but they didn’t seem appropriate for December. Now I offer you a few samples, all of which survived the winter. Well, why wouldn’t they? He took them inside every night to warm up! Now they stay outside 24/7, a sure sign of spring!

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Gratitude and compassion are also big in our present environment. All you have to do is watch the PBS News Hour to see people hungry and desperate, without homes or jobs. And think about the thousands who have lost loved ones in the past year. My youngest son, Robert, had a close brush with death a month ago when a car careened into him on a California highway at 4 AM, going over 100 mph and being chased by the police. Those close calls make you count your blessings a hundedfold. And in those moments of intense gratitude, most of the old complaints fall away.

In the midst of all our troubles, however, there’s one thing that we can’t let get away from us…our sense of humor. It’s right up there with love and compassion. Supposedly we have all this time to analyze ourselves and examine our faults and make changes, but I have found it heartening to know that some of the faults pinned onto old age, like crabbiness and puttering and forgetfulness, really have nothing to do with that. It’s all because of the pandemic. Isn’t that wonderful? Now let’s see if they go away soon. As you can see, delusion also goes well with humor.

I had all kinds of New Year’s resolutions last December, you may remember, one of which was my attempt to overcome vanity by letting my hair go white. But I was concerned about the chemicals inherent in dye and asked my hairdresser, Anthony, whether he thought it might cause brain damage. “It’s too late for you, Meg,” he answered. If I weren’t a fervent believer in honesty, that would have been the end of him!

Well, my good intentions lasted about three months until a friend asked me what was wrong with vanity. I was mulling that one over, when I tried on the white wig I told you I was buying, as a test run.

Which one do you like better? Please don’t inundate me with negative comments, for although the wig didn’t turn out to be Dolly Partonesque, as I had expected, it sure made a lot of people laugh. And, as you can imagine, it gave me the necessary cold feet to reverse my resolution…at least for the moment. I may reconsider when December rolls around.

A lie, or shall I say a popular bromide that is being spread throughout our land by computer geniuses, who want to salve their consciences about the story they are feeding all of us, and is causing dire consequences in the older population, is that learning each new iteration of technology is good for the aging brain and will keep us alert, on our toes, happy, and satisfied. A feeling of great accomplishment will fill our hearts as we master each minute change in Windows or WordPress, and, unscrambling dropped messages and solving the disappearance of treasured manuscripts and photos will challenge us as never before. It’s either that or ending up in a mental institution spending our days pressing keys and shouting, “Now what did I do? All I did was press ‘open recent’ and the screen went dark!”

We all have friends and acquaintances who extol their virtue by pointing out that they do not have cell phones, emails, or Facebook (I’m with them there), and certainly would not waste their life on the internet. They prefer to be in the 20th century, they say. It was plenty good enough for them, thank you. I listen and, at times, sympathize with their misguided naivete as they strive to keep life simple, but also wonder if they’d feel the same way should they need a heart transplant. Nevertheless, on the other hand, there has to be balance. As the vernacular goes, a computer can be a time suck, but it sure is great if you want to look up a word, google an obscure fact, download the thesaurus, find out who is married to a particular celebrity at the moment, bask in the largesse of YouTube, or just find the latest news. In fact, it can get you to your bank account in a jiffy if you remember your password and know how to x out all the ads and miscellaneous information. And that comes with time. And isn’t patience a virtue? You see, we’ve come full circle.

But moving right along. The discussion among a percentage of Americans as to whether they will take one of the vaccines available to fight Covid-19 has no credibility with me. Just a I supported the vaccines that rid us of such killers as smallpox, polio, and tuberculosis, I feel that we owe it to ourselves and our community to participate in eradicating this scourge. Let me tell you, I was mighty glad to get mine, FINALLY! And getting the vaccine in the initial wave was difficult and time-consuming. It felt, at times, like Black Friday at Best Buy. Pharmacies sent frantic emails instructing you to get your appointment NOW and by the time you jumped through all the technological hoops, there were no appointments left. At the same time, you were calling other sources and sitting on “hold,” listening to someone’s idea of music, repetitive ads, or the news you had already read in the morning. After bonding with your phone for longer than you care to remember, you hopped into the car, attempting to persuade the pharmacy of choice to find a slot for you. It was dog-eat-dog. Friends became competitors, especially if you happened to see one of them in line. How could they get an appointment and not think of you? They could have signed you up at the same time. Well, you say to yourself, inwardly, in a rare moment of sanity, just think of all the intrigue, the anticipation, the excitement you would have missed. Yeah, turmoil is just what you need to help you forget the weather and keep from being lonely. As if you could really be lonely with YouTube, TV, Zoom, and your cell phone to take up hours while you sit waiting for a representative of an understaffed company, whether your cell carrier or your doctor’s office, to answer. And there are numerous shows, plays, operas, lectures, and dance programs offered online at minimum prices. And many of them are superb. But the big difference is that you see them alone. There is nobody next to you to confer with, laugh or cry with. No personal touch, no real communication.

Small things in the past become big deals now….

It’s hard to put our finger on why it’s so difficult to get on an even keel and regain the balance in our life. And haven’t we all been considering traveling again? There’s that postponed wedding to attend, the invitation to spend a week at a summer cottage on the lake with friends, or a long-overdue visit to a sibling or an ailing relative. Traveling is something I’ve done with ease my whole life. I had a routine, and I had several credit cards that racked up frequent flyer miles. I knew what I needed to take, and off I went. Now I don’t even remember where I stashed my suitcase or my essential toiletry bag. It all looks like so much work, and just think of wearing a mask for six hours at a stretch on a plane full of masked bandits. Am I up for that? These are not considerations I would ever have entertained in the past. So along with the change I’ve been yearning for comes an underlying fear of what? You tell me.

And then there’s this unease about the radical adjustment in how we will dress, for most of us have worn the same “outfit” every day for months, at least in the cold Northwest—long underwear, long pants, and a plain sweater under a fleece jacket. Add your layers of rain gear or a down jacket on to that. No makeup (remember, those masks can get mightily smudged) and nothing fancy. Earrings are used once in a while to be sure the holes in your ears don’t grow back together. And, on the plus side, you’ve had a chance to wear out the clothes and shoes you have because who wants to go to a store all masked up and try anything on? Not I. Ah, life has been so simple. Now, all of a sudden, you’re going to be in society, again. You won’t be on Zoom. You’ll be in a room with people. Think of it!

All those activities that you took for granted, including browsing through a shopping mall, doctor’s visits that have been postponed, and dinner parties, are starting up again. Exciting? Yes. Formidable? They can be. Daunting? Only time will tell. Good luck!

For those of you who are into gardening or those who are starting out and finding it incredibly satisfying and important in our world today, I recommend my daughter, Cary’s, videos. Here is her YouTube channel. She runs the garden program for the South Whidbey school district, and this past year has been a most unusual challenge for her. Children are now coming back to school, but when school was closed, families received “starts” of numerous vegetables like lettuce, kale, tomatoes and many more to grow in their home gardens, so the students could continue their education about the earth and its miraculous ways.

An outdoor classroom was built by volunteers so classes can happen safely in rain or shine. Check it out. Remember, however, that growing plants in the Northwest is not the same as on the East Coast. Each area has its special parameters. But you’ll find that out soon enough! Another one of those fun challenges in life.

My final message to you is a poem written by Rumi at the end of his life, which I quoted at every slide show or presentation I made about travel and living life off the beaten track. The poet, Judith Adams, reminded me of it at one of her Friday afternoon poetry discussions. And it is especially applicable to the unsettling time we’ve been going through. I hope it brings a smile to your face and a recognition of what is really important in the crazy, unpredictable, fearful time in which we live…and points out the perks that come with a long life.

Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT I DIDN’T DO THIS YEAR AND WHAT I PROBABLY WON’T DO NEXT YEAR

Here is my guide to helpful, productive, and realistic New Year’s Resolutions from someone who has a list second to none and has learned more from her recently incorporated organization, Procrastinate Now, than all the uplifting motivational TED Talks of 2020.

I have kept notes from 1945 to the present and often browse, nostalgically, through my admonitions to be more respectful to my parents and stop teasing my baby sister, who is now 89 years old. I also have jettisoned the ones that encourage me to practice my violin four hours a day in the hopes of replacing Heifetz in the event that he dies. That goes hand-in-hand with my vow to save the world by lining up with Clifton Fadiman’s World Federalism Now, and getting a doctorate in political theory from Harvard.

But that was long ago and none of my setbacks (getting married, having children, knocking myself out to earn a living in music education) have deterred me from resolving that next year will be better. And, truth be told, there have been many wonderful “next years” filled with travel, love, journaling, writing a travel memoir but not the great American novel, and trekking in the Himalayas. Still, there is this feeling that no matter the nobility of my resolutions, I experience a lack of accomplishment, spending too much time on frivolous, unproductive, superficial, everyday activities (cooking, cleaning, organizing the front porch, retrieving lost emails, and fighting with Microsoft Word) that will never change the world in any profound way or get Trump to give me the Medal of Honor, one of my biggest disappointments, and, now and forever, a lost opportunity. I will have to be satisfied with the Autoharp Hall of Fame.

But the past is the past and ever shall be, world without end, Amen (you never get over being a preacher’s kid).

Obviously, I’ve managed to survive the pandemic so far, for which I’m grateful, and also survive the many phone calls from long lost friends who, when they hear my voice say, “Oh, is that you? Uh, how are you? Is everything alright?” Translation: “Are you still alive?”

I started out the year with a bang, removing from my large storage locker my plethora of boxes, old furniture, miscellaneous detritus and old college papers attesting to the fact that I once studied Russian and Constitutional Law, using my youthful brain.

All of this was moved to daughter Cary’s extra cabin, not far from my house, which had heretofore been used as a Buddhist meditation room and library. This was her gracious contribution to her mother’s sanity, and, very definitely, to hers.

Here are my resolutions and what I hope will be helpful suggestions for living in this most unusual time in our history.

Goals I set for 2020 that were not entirely attained:

Resolution 1: Clean up that mess! Sort the old letters, put the pictures in albums, make a Shutterfly album for each child, decide what to do with the art work of five elementary school children, the youngest of whom is now 60, and cull those ancient papers.

  • Did I do it? I leave that up to you….

 
Resolution 2: Walk up and down hill and dale and into the woods for at least 5 miles a day. Use your iPhone to check number of steps and heartbeat. If heartbeat gets too high, come back later in the day—if it doesn’t rain, which it probably will.

  • I cannot tell a lie. I was lucky to get two miles in, because I was still recovering from the unintended broken back in 2019 that inspired Resolution 3.

 
Resolution 3: Try to stay upright when running, to avoid crashing into the fender of a parked car, and breaking your hand and your 5th lumbar vertebra, which you did last year. Lower the possibility of further dramatic episodes that ruin your life and impact negatively on your children.

  • I was doing fine until July 21st when I fell backwards into the garden shed and fractured my left arm at the shoulder. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do for an encore.

 
Resolution 4: Finish the family memoir which you started when you were 80 or so and forgot about when you moved from the lights of Broadway to the fog of Whidbey. Pray once a week for the muse to return.

  • I did make headway. This should be off the list by 2022.

 
Resolution 5: Take all your Master Classes, which were the generous gift of your second daughter, Martha, even the ones about Jamaican cooking, hoping to expand your world and become the Renaissance Woman you have always wanted to be.

  • I’m still not a Renaissance Woman, but that doesn’t deter me. I’m making strides.

 
Now to start over on a more optimistic note with the thought of an exciting New Year and a new America on the horizon, and a new president in the White House, but, unfortunately, a very old and unwelcome virus terrifying the world. I, like so many of you, have been doing a lot of soul-searching, which, if not regulated, can turn into wheel-spinning, with its layers of fear and anxiety. As I see it, this is the challenge: to keep our eyes on what’s really important at this very moment, do our part to make things better no matter how small the deed may seem, and trust that in the long run we, as a nation, will have learned some difficult, but essential lessons.

Goals I set for 2021….Hope springs eternal:

Resolution 1: Study more about poetry, and experiment with various forms, expanding your expertise in doggerel to rap, stream-of-consciousness, and something that will be bad enough to be accepted by The New Yorker.

Resolution 2: Spoiler alert! Publish your family memoir, now in its third iteration, on your website, and hope that your friends on Facebook will give it the accolades that will put it on the NYTimes Best Seller list, even though you are not selling it, but giving it away.

Resolution 3: Return to Nepal with your daughter, Cary, and hope that she is still game for trekking and singing you up the trail with her Buddhist mantras. God bless Tara! And Cary.

Resolution 4: Do not look for another dramatic “break.” One more shattered humerus is unacceptable. Try going in a more productive and enlightened direction. Slowly and carefully and mindfully!

Resolution 5: Make this the year that you jettison some of your major faults, but not all of them, because your children have to have something to talk about. The one that strikes me as an ongoing cross to bear is vanity. And the longer I live on Whidbey Island the more I realize that I stand out as the only prehistoric Valentine without white hair. It’s almost embarrassing, especially since both my daughters are silver-haired. So, to get with the program, I have decided to dispense with the color and see what turns up. Or rather, what shows up. To help me transition, I went online and ordered the cheapest white wig I could find and decided that I would try it for awhile to see if I could adjust. I imagine I will look a little like Dolly Parton with wrinkles, which wouldn’t be half bad. Yes, it’s that kind of wig. Keep tuned and send me your words of encouragement. I’m sure there are more difficult decisions I will be called upon to make before the Grim Reaper comes for me, but giving up a favorite cornerstone of one’s vanity is not to be underestimated.

Resolution 6: Accept the fact that you’re not perfect and neither are your children. Become more non-judgmental and give criticism a rest. And it would help to add a little equanimity into the mix.

I’m looking forward to next December. Not only will I have some answers to my hopeful resolutions, but I may be in the kind of shape where I can add a few push-ups and sit-ups to my list of healthy habits that I believe are so necessary for coping with this crazy, frantic, exciting, and interesting world.

I wish you success with your resolutions and a marvelous 2021 in every way!

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© 2024 Meg Noble Peterson