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We just got back from a short vacation, three days. Originally, we had planned on taking a longer vacation, an Oceans and Dead People Tour Part II. (See my Oceans and Dead People Tour blog from a year ago to know what that was all about.) We were going to go down to Maryland and Washington D.C., stopping at Gettysburg on the way back, but due to several reasons, we decided on something shorter: Niagara Falls and Cooperstown, New York.

Niagara Falls has changed a bit from when I was there as a kid. It’s way more built up with touristy stuff: casinos, Hard Rock Cafe, Rain Forest Cafe, the Hershey Store, which I sadly did not go to because we ran out of time. To be fair, I really only remember the museum where I saw the mummy (see last post) so I didn’t have a lot to compare it to, but I remember it being a lot less busy.

What was amazing to me, though, was the diversity of people who were there. I can’t count how many different languages I heard: Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic, just to name a few. Everyone was happy, taking pictures, having picnics, blowing bubbles, taking pictures, and having a wonderful time. I know it’s a tourist destination, but I couldn’t help wishing it could be like this all over the world, all the time. One can hope.

Niagara was amazing. I didn’t appreciate it as a kid, but just look at the power of the Falls:

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The edge of the Horseshoe Falls

I can’t post a video because I don’t have a premium plan on WordPress, but watching those millions of gallons constantly flowing over and down just grounded me for a while. I could quite literally sit there and watch it all day if there weren’t so many other people around. I felt at peace.

Taking the Maid of the Mist ride the next day was really cool. The boat goes almost right to the bottom of the falls and everyone gets wet, which feels great on a warm day. Cool little droplets of water sprayed and attached themselves to everything, so I tucked my phone away in the provided poncho when we got really close. The poncho is to keep your clothes dry and you can either keep or recycle it after the ride. We chose to keep ours as souvenirs.

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Taken from the rock trail along the American Falls

Leaving Niagara, we made our way via the New York Thruway, I-90, which is a toll road. Some people aren’t fans of toll roads, but I am. They’re usually in better shape than the regular interstates and I LOVE the service plazas. For those that don’t know, service plazas have large restrooms, a couple of fast food restaurants for food choices, perhaps a gift shop, and a gas station all in the same place, no getting off on a regular exit and driving between food and gas stations, hoping for a semi-decent restroom and negotiating traffic to get back on the freeway. Service plazas put it all in one spot and for someone like me who appreciate convenience, they’re a gem on a long road trip. Oh! And they have massage chairs. Three minutes of heaven for $1.00. Sidenote: I-90 is parallel to the Erie Canal Heritage Corridor, which is a lot longer than I thought. I grew up singing, “I’ve got a mule, her name is Sal. Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal”, and for some reason, I never thought it was as long as it is, which is 362.9 miles. Now you’ve learned something new.

We made our way to Cooperstown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, nestled in the beautiful rolling mountains of the Adirondacks and the Catskills. I can’t tell you much about the Hall of Fame, except that I thought it would be bigger. I almost drove right past it while dropping Marty and Youngest Child at the entrance. They told me all about it later. They saw plaques, baseball cards, and other stuff, like uniforms. That’s all I’ve got.

As for me, I found a delightful lake, Otsego Lake, to be exact. I had dropped off my family and turned down a side street only to drive right up to a staircase that led to the lake. It was surrounded by small mountains and was crystal clear. After a man and his dog moved on, I was the only one there and it was so calming, so lovely. I took off my sandals and waded in. It was rocky and surprisingly warm, but it centered me for a few minutes before I moved on. Here ’tis:

After my wow moment at Lake Otswago, I made my way to the Farmer’s Museum, also in Cooperstown. It’s like a small Greenfield Village, except that all of the buildings are all from New York. The highlight of my trip was seeing the little Jersey calf, Parsnip, who was born in March. Cows aren’t my favorite barnyard animal, but those big brown eyes were gorgeous. The Farmer’s Museum also has the famous Cardiff Giant, a famous hoax perpetrated in 1869. Here’s a link to the story if you’re interested: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/cardiff-giant-was-just-big-hoax-180965274/

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Parsnip

It was also at the Farmer’s Museum that I had a spooky happening. I was in the doctor’s office alone (I had sprinted to get ahead of the senior bus tour). There were only two rooms and no second floor. The first room felt kind of charged, like someone was there and when I walked into the second room, I heard three very loud distinct steps on the wooden floor behind me in the first room. I turned quickly, in case one of those seniors was faster than I thought, but there was no one there. Hmmmm… Here’s the spooky doctor’s office:

We began driving back the next day, stopping in Dunkirk, NY on the shore of Lake Erie for the night. It was the same motel we stopped at last year on the way home from Salem and we liked being right on the water for a reasonable price. It’s not a great part of town, but the hotel area feels safe. Plus, the sunsets there are gorgeous.

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Lake Erie, Dunkirk, NY

Yesterday, we came home, processing all of the new things we saw and the adventures we had. We settled in, unpacked, took the dirty clothes downstairs, and relaxed. Life was back to normal. (Well, almost. Our house is rebelling against us, but more on that in another post. Let’s just say it’s hot in here.)

Travel is good for the soul, even the short trips. Next year, though, I want the ocean again.

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After dropping my son off at jazz camp yesterday morning (yes, that’s a thing), I went to Greenfield Village for a walk before it got too hot outside.

I love the Village in the summertime. It’s delightfully busy, there are a lot of programs happening, and there are visitors from all over the world. When my boys were small, even though I worked there, I frequently brought them to visit on my days off. One of their favorite places was the 1885 working farm with the horses, cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs. They liked to get close to the pig pen, squeal, “Ooooh, stinky!” and run away, dodging chickens. They loved walking through the dusty barn to see which animals were inside for the day. Pointing out the piles of horse poop in the street after the carriages went by was also a popular pastime. It’s a great place to take kids, even if they don’t understand the historical aspect of the buildings yet, and lots of parents do just that.

Yesterday, just after I entered the gate, I saw an older couple with a young boy. The boy was probably around 6- or 7-years-old with white-blond hair and glasses, a real cutie. He was clearly excited to be there, especially when he caught sight of the horses in the paddock next to the carriage barn. What caught my attention first, however, was the mother roughly yelling at him to, “Get back over here!” when he was only a few steps away.

“Mama, Mama, look at the horses! Mama, look!” He wasn’t yelling, he was within a reasonable distance of his parents, and was simply being an excited little boy, wanting his mama to see what he was excited about. His parents were having none of it, though. I could hear them snapping at him as I passed, things like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this.” “I knew this was going to be a bad idea.” “I can’t believe we paid all this money…” “Get over here!” The father physically took him by the shoulders and moved him exactly in between the two of them. “You have to stay here“, to which the little boy said sadly, “I’m not having very fun”, just like that. The way he said it about broke my heart, since he had been so very happy only seconds before. His dad then told him, “Well, that’s because you make it not fun.” And that did break my heart, not just because that’s a mean thing to say to a little guy, but because it made me think of times when, as a parent of little guys like that, I had said something unkind to them in frustration or anger.

It takes a lot, and I mean a lot, of patience to be a parent sometimes. It can get to you, the messes, the crying, the tantrums, the schedule, and sometimes you say or do something that you’re not proud of. I’m not talking about being abusive, I mean that sometimes good parents have bad days and we don’t react as well as we should. We are definitely supposed to correct our children and teach them to be good humans, but we need to do it in a way that does not crush them. Should they feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong? Absolutely, but they should also know that making a bad choice doesn’t make them a bad person and that they are still loved even when they mess up. We don’t always model that well.

It still happens to me sometimes. I have a teenager who knows how to push my buttons. While I try to be calm when he tests his boundaries, I can lose my cool, especially when it’s blatant disrespect and I’m exhausted from a long day. It’s not easy, but we as parents have to remember that children’s brains are not done growing yet. They act out of emotion because they don’t know how to respond appropriately to emotions like anger and frustration, even when it has nothing to do with us. It’s our job to teach them how to handle those emotions in a non-destructive way, but it’s hard to keep that perspective when it feels like we’re being personally attacked. We have to, though. It’s our job and when we mess that up, we need to fix it.

I thought about that little boy and his parents a lot yesterday. As I had mentioned, his parents were older, I’d say early 50s. Were they tired? Is he a high-energy child and they have a difficult time coping with that? Had they had a rough morning? Were they at the end of a vacation and the parents were just done with it all? Or was that normal for them? I hope not. I have so many questions. I don’t know their story, but I hope that this was just a bad morning, that their day got better and this little boy doesn’t live with those words all the time. I hope that when they went home or back to their motel yesterday he got some snuggles, hugs, and kisses from his parents. I hope he went to bed feeling happy and good about himself. I hope he feels loved.

If you have kids, think about what you say before you say it. Words are powerful and what you say stays with them for a long time. Parents are human, we make (lots of) mistakes. The trick is to learn from them and make sure our kids know that we will always love them, no matter what they do.

Love to you all.

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It’s a beautiful early Spring day. The air is crisp, but not freezing. The sky is the deep blue that looks clean and fresh, the sunlight is streaming through the (dirty) windows. (Time to clean. Later.) My son was just playing beautiful music on the piano. Marty is reading on the couch, still in pajamas. I cleaned the bathroom and am getting the laundry done on my own time, not in a frenzied rush. I’m not doing my homework or schoolwork, I’m simply breathing in yoga pants and a hoodie, eating lunch, getting ready to go to the library and then write. The anxiety and depression monsters are out for the day and I can relax.

Life is good right now.

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Today, on Facebook, I saw a picture from a wedding. The two who got married are wonderful people and they work for The Henry Ford, one couple of many who met their spouse there. The picture was lovely; it was of all of the people at the wedding who had worked on Firestone Farm, a place near and dear to my heart. It got me thinking about my own wedding, and all of the Firestone Farm people who were there to celebrate that day with us.

When Marty and I got married, twenty-two years ago, I was still a “chicken” on the farm, one of the younger girls. The older ladies adopted us, many of us had “mamas”, and they taught us all that they knew. I hardly knew anything about cooking at all back then, much less cooking on a coal stove, and I definitely made some mistakes. (Helpful tip: Just frying a piece of chicken doesn’t cook it all the way through. You have to put it in the oven, too, or you end up with lovely, crispy skin and raw chicken on the inside.) But I did learn, enough to be a competent cook not only at work, but at home.

For our wedding, one of the gifts we got was a journal, pictured above. The farm folk, both women and men, had passed it around and everyone contributed their favorite recipes.

002.jpgMost of them were favorite recipes that we used on the farm, since we used a variety of cookbooks that were period to the year 1885. Some examples are baking powder biscuits, lemon tarts, and pumpkin jumbles. There were also more modern recipes, too, such as Italian macaroni, sausage and egg brunch, and carrot curry soup. There’s even one page with the phone number to Little Caesar’s!

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I love looking through this book, I always have. Some of the people who contributed have passed away, some I’ve lost contact with, and some I still “see” on social media quite regularly. This cookbook, though, brings those farm days back. It was such a special, happy time in my life. There was a lot of work, a lot of coal smoke, a lot of, well, manure and mud, but we were a family. We danced at each other’s weddings, celebrated new babies, and attended funerals together. For several, wonderful years, it felt like it would always be so. We even joked about making the farm our own country. Of course, it couldn’t last forever, and we could never recreate that time if we tried.

But I have this book, this wonderful, precious book. It’s worn out from use, the spine is gone, I’ve scribbled my own subsequent recipes into it, and it will eventually begin to fall apart, but I love it. One day, I’ll pass it on to whoever shows the most interest in it. Until then, I’ll continue to add more to it, taping it together if necessary, when the cover begins to fall off.

And, of course, I can’t just look through it without making something. A loaf of farm bread is baking in my oven right now, just in time for dinner. I may just use the leftovers to make cheese toast (a Firestone staple) in the morning.

May you remember your own happy times tonight.10398512_1104025886075_7984395_n

 

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I’m a sappy kind of person. I can get rid of tons of “stuff” with no problem at all, especially after watching Hoarders, but there are a few certain things that I have which hold special meaning to me. Things like the necklace that my godmother gave me as a baby, the lens to my father’s last pair of eyeglasses, which has traveled with me around the world, and the outfits my babies wore home from the hospital.

Several Christmas decorations hold that same nostalgic feeling. In the spirit of the season, I’ll share a few here.

The tiny stocking Great-Grandma B crocheted for me when I was little.

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Grandma B has been gone for a long time now, since 1995, but this stocking always goes on my tree. She was Grandpa Ballantyne’s mother and although we didn’t see her all that often, she would always write letters, mail cards at birthdays, and send presents at Christmas time. My mother gave me this to have when I moved out.

The ornament my Great-Aunt Stella made.

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Aunt Stella was a feisty, wonderful lady. My Grandma Ruth, her sister, adored her. She canned the most amazing peaches and pears, among lots of other things, sewed, farmed, and was involved in many small-town community organizations throughout her life. We usually only saw her once a year at family reunion time, but the fact that she took the time to make this little bell for me when she had dozens of great-nieces and nephews (literally; they were a family of ten kids) makes it special.

My skater ornaments that Marty gave me.

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He gave me these the first Christmas that we were married and I love them. As tradition holds, the fancy ornaments go near the top of the tree. Originally, it was to keep the babies from playing with them (you should have seen what Oldest Child did to a satin-wrapped ball ornament. They unravel quite nicely.) but now it’s just habit. Anyway, the beautiful skaters stay safely at the top.

The Nativity set.

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My mom gave me this when Marty and I got married. I think it’s beautiful. While playful Nativity sets like Little People and ducks are cute, I prefer sets like this. It reminds me of the one my Grandma Ruth had. She would set it up under the tree every year, but ours goes on top of the piano. Of course, Baby Jesus doesn’t enter the scene util Christmas morning. The boys take turns putting Him in the manger.

The tree skirt.

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My dear friend and farm mama Jackie made this for us when we got married. To say that she is a talented seamstress is a gross understatement. She has her own company and designed and made my wedding dress and veil. In short, she’s bloody incredible. The tree skirt is double-sided and we change it up from year to year, but this will always be the only tree skirt I use.

Ornaments that my boys made, or that have their pictures in them.

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My babies are precious to me and hanging their sweet little faces on the tree year after year makes me tear up.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” bells.

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I remember when Grandma Ballantyne gave these to “the girls” at Christmas one year, meaning my mom and the aunts. They were sets sold by J.C. Penney: twelve porcelain bells, each with a scene from the song. When she gave me my very own set the Christmas before I got married, I felt like I had finally grown-up, like I was one of “the girls”. It was special. Sadly, about eight years ago, a crazy squirrel broke into our house the week before Christmas and caused a bunch of damage, including a few broken bells. My mom graciously gave her set to me in order to replace the broken ones and the display was whole again.

And last, but not least…

Our name ornaments.

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Grandma and Grandpa Ballantyne started the tradition of giving all of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren a name ornament from Frankenmuth every year. In case you’re not from Michigan, Frankenmuth is a small town that boasts the biggest Christmas store in the world, Bronner’s. One could, quite literally, get lost inside. When my original gold name ornament broke, I was just sick about it. Grandpa had passed by then and Grandma wasn’t in any shape to go to Frankenmuth anymore, so Marty and I went to pick one out. They didn’t have my name in gold, so I got this deep blue one to replace it. Our name ornaments line up all the way down the front of the Christmas tree every year and are the first ones to be hung.

These are just some of the decorations that make the season special, things that I plan on passing down one day. There are more included in that group, but it would take a much longer blog post to catalog them all and I have to start Christmas cleaning.

I would, however, love to hear about special items that you celebrate with and the stories behind them. Feel free to post about your cherished items in the comments.

However you celebrate, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a joyous holiday season.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

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While researching family history, it’s inevitable that one will eventually come to a dead end. Records are missing, and/or lost, there are multiple versions, or mistakes have been made. Those missing folks are always listed as “Unknown”,  a word that means the family line ended, and it makes me kind of sad. Besides, it’s bs. Family lines don’t literally end; people don’t just spring up on their own like weeds. They had parent, grandparent, etc.  The necessary records for those who came before simply don’t exist anymore, if ever.

Those “Unknown” people were real, they lived lives and, somehow, history has lost them. I’m thinking of one of my grandmothers in particular, Charlotte “Lottie” Clark. The only concrete records I can find for her are census records and her daughters’ marriage certificates. She probably married her husband, my grandfather, Horace Gay, somewhere around 1878 or 1879, a year or so before my great-great-grandmother, Olive was born, but an actual marriage license hasn’t surfaced. If it ever does, it may have her parents’ names on it, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m immensely curious about her. Where did she come from? The census records say that she was born in Pennsylvania, but where? Who were her parents? What was she like as a person? She died young in 1893, only around 37 years old, leaving three daughters behind. My grandfather, understandably, married again a few years later, but nothing more is heard about Lottie until her daughters married and they listed her name on the marriage licenses.

She’s buried in the same place as my father, Fort Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, Ohio and I intend to visit her next time I stop by. History seems to have forgotten her, but I don’t want her to be forgotten. She deserves to be remembered, at least by her descendants. She was a blip in time, but without her, my grandma, my father, and I wouldn’t be here.

I’m raising a glass tonight to the “Unknowns”, to those who are the figurative end of a family line, to those whose names weren’t important enough to be recorded by some monk in an abbey or whose records were lost to fire, water, or misplaced over time. They mattered then and they matter now.

Slainte.

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I attended a funeral this past week. A friend of my mother’s from her childhood had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind two not-quite-grown children and a devastated husband.

Dee Dee was a quiet force of nature. I remember her from the very beginning of my memories, from those fuzzy edges when I was very small up until the more clear thoughts of today. I loved her. She had a pet skunk for a time, I remember, named Mandy. I wanted a skunk for the longest time after that and didn’t understand why my mother didn’t think that was a good idea. She always had animals, which made me an instant fan.

Her mother was my godmother, my Nina. I still have the cross necklace with a diamond chip in the middle that she gave me on my baptism day when I was just a few weeks old. They lived just down the street from us and it was there where I got to know Dee Dee’s three sisters, who fussed over me, and where I got my first delicious taste of lobster dipped in melted butter. (There is dispute over that. I remember them saying it was lobster, my mother said it was crab. Either way, the experience is etched in my memory.) Her family had been a refuge for my mother when she was pregnant with me as a teenager, loving her as their own, and they have always been in contact.

As I mentioned, she died rather suddenly, without warning, at only sixty years old. Sixty is young these days and although she did have some health issues, no one expected her to be gone so soon.

I met my mother at the service, held at a local funeral home. It was already quite full of people when I arrived, about an hour before the service began, but as the time drew nearer, more and more people poured in, leaving the staff to hurry and add many more rows of chairs. If I had to estimate, I would say that there were around 150 people crammed into that small room.

The priest began the service by welcoming everyone and asking Dee Dee’s son, and then her husband to speak. My heart broke for this strapping young man, set to graduate from college soon, as he choked back tears and referred to his mother as his best friend. Her husband, the shock still evident in his voice, told the room how there was not one single bad thing about her in the many years that they had been together.

The floor was opened to other people who wanted to share their memories of Dee Dee. It was touching and beautiful to hear from so many people, at least twenty, who got up and had a story to tell. Some were poignant, some were funny (the Sam’s Club Cheetos story had everyone laughing), and some were sad. For most of her adult life, Dee Dee had worked for a company that helps people who have disabilities and many of her current and former coworkers filled the room. I was moved by the stories of her selflessness, her patience, and her apparent love for her vocation, a calling she had always had. It didn’t surprise me at all. I remember when she had adopted a young boy with severe disabilities back when she was in her twenties, before she was married or had her biological children. Meeting him was my first experience with someone disabled to that degree and I remembered how patient she was with him. She taught me through her actions to not be afraid of people with disabilities, that they want to be loved and accepted like everyone does. I’ll always be grateful to her for that lesson.

The service lasted for more that an hour and a half as people shared their love for Dee Dee. In her short sixty years, she had touched so many lives, probably more than she ever thought. I’m sure she would have been embarrassed by all of the outpouring of emotion, she wasn’t one to toot her own horn, always working quietly in the background for the good of others. After the priest made sure that everyone was finished sharing, her daughter read from Ecclesiastes and her husband thanked everyone for coming. In closing, we all held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer together, then listened to one of her favorite songs.

When the service was over, my heart was full. The world is a scary place and these days, watching the news often makes me feel as if nothing will ever be right again, that hate, discrimination, and willful ignorance have taken over the world. Just read the comment section of any article to see some scary people. (Or don’t. Really, it’s horrifying to see what some people post online.) It’s hard for me to understand how people can be so awful to each other, or how terrible things are condoned or ignored because of money, religion, or politics. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes. Hearing all of the wonderful things said about Dee Dee. though, reminded me that there are good people in this world, that things like love, patience, and understanding still do exist, even if they are hard to see through the haze right now.

Yes, I’m sure that Dee Dee would have been embarrassed about all of the fuss made over her, but what a legacy she has left behind! Think about it. We’re all going to die someday, whether our lives are short or long, whether we know it’s coming or, like Dee Dee, it takes us by surprise. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, though we try to put it off as long as possible. What we can do, though, is choose to live so that we leave some good in the world when we’re gone and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same. We can stand up for what is right, we can help in a million ways, we can love. Yes, indeed, we can love.

We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to mess up sometimes. It’s human nature that prevents us from being perfect, that lets our masks slip now and again. But I firmly believe that the more we do the right thing, especially when it’s difficult, the easier it becomes. I also believe that when we own up to our mistakes and admit that we made a bad choice rather then blaming it on someone else or circumstances, we earn the respect of others and we grow as people. It’s not the easy way of doing things and it’s hard to bite that bullet sometimes, but it’s so necessary.

We need more Dee Dees in the world. We need more of that patience and understanding that she lived every single day. We need to accept people as they are, the way she did, and to protect those who don’t have a voice. We need to be good people.

So, I challenge you. I challenge you to open your mind, to open your heart, and to deliberately do something different today that will benefit those around you. It doesn’t have to be huge, it can be as simple as opening the door for someone when you normally wouldn’t. It can be letting someone go ahead of you in line. Instead of getting angry at another driver, take a deep breath and let it go. (I especially need to practice this one. I say a lot of bad words in my car.) The point is, the world isn’t going to get better if we sit back and wait for other people to do it. It begins with us. It begins with you.

I’m closing with part of Lin Manuel Miranda’s speech from the 2016 Tony Awards. I feel that it is appropriate here.

“We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”

Dee Dee loved, with her whole heart. It’s a goal to work toward.

 

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