Category Archives: Commentary

…oh.

We have houseguests this week, so it’s a shorter post today.  Here’s a little cartoon that occurred to me moments after I cursed the aphids for ganging up on my baby fruit trees last week.

I guess the aphids don’t have a corner on that kind of ‘stupidity’…

 

And, in other news…

I’m doing a short public presentation in mid-July.  There are so many artists and writers and other creative types here on Vancouver Island, I thought it would be nice to offer my writing and publishing experience, for what it’s worth.

I’m not sure whether it’ll be a help, an inspiration, or merely a shudder-worthy cautionary tale; but I hope we’ll all have some chuckles in the process.  I hope to see you there!

Publishing and writing presentation by bestselling e-book author Diane Henders

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Filed under Cartoons, Commentary, Humour, Life

A Day In The Life

People often ask me what it’s like to make a living as a writer.  I tell them I’m living the dream; but I also add that my dream could be their nightmare.  Here’s a peek into my writing life:

The snow is finally almost gone!

(And some outdoor photos, since one of the best parts of my writing life is being able to pop outside for a few minutes whenever I want!  Click on the photos to see larger versions.)

Writing is my favourite thing, but I only get to do it about 16 to 20 hours per week.  The rest of the time I’m bookkeeping, maintaining my web page, marketing, keeping in touch with my readers through my blog and social media, and doing research on  publishing trends, legal and copyright precedents, book design, marketing, and new technologies.

The native ferns are already vibrant.

Weekdays, I usually work from 8 AM until noon, take half an hour for lunch, and work until about 4 PM.  Then I have a snack and hit the gym for a couple of hours (or skip the workout and stay at my desk, but I try to exercise at least 4 or 5 times a week).

I take an hour off for dinner and then I’m back in front of the computer from 7 to 9:30 PM.  I try to knock off at 9:30, but sometimes I work until 10 or 11 PM if I’m really in the flow.

I work 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year; but I sometimes only work half-days on Saturdays and Sundays.  (I know; I’m such a rebel!)  Even when I’m on ‘vacation’, I work an hour or two per day.

The heather and crocuses are in full bloom!

That may sound gruelling, but it’s flexible — I usually take Friday afternoons off to do some watercolour painting and grocery shopping, and I can make time for friends and family whenever I want.  I don’t watch TV, but if I’m not in the final 25% of writing or buried under a book release, I often read a novel in the evening.  (It’s market research — I love this career!)  I read fast, so I usually finish the book in three or four hours, and then it’s off to bed and on to the next day.

Such is my glamorous life.

The birth of a book is (maybe) a little more interesting: (I won’t include any graphic birth photos, I promise. 😉 )

The first minnow daffodil is blooming!

I decide which events will kick off the book and how I want the characters to develop, but I don’t do a lot of plotting in advance.  Instead I throw my characters into the action and see what they do for the first half of the book.

Every day I re-read and edit my earlier 4 or 5 chapters (by the end I’ll have read the whole manuscript at least 25 times) and then write my new content for the day.  By halfway through the book my characters have gotten themselves into a batch of impossible situations, and then I stop and spend a LOT of time deciding how they’ll get out.

The bees are hard at work already.

That’s when I write a plot outline, which is mostly a waste of time.  I make a “final” decision and write in that direction; and a few chapters later one of my hardheaded characters blows my plot out of the water.  I’ve never actually ended up following my outlines, but at least it gets my brain working.

By the 75% mark, all the plot threads start to come together.  Then I write obsessively while the rest of my schedule falls in tatters.

Tiny anemones, only a few inches tall.

After finally writing “The End” I re-read and edit the entire manuscript a few times to tune up pacing, stakes, and clarity before passing it on to my beta readers/editors.  (Nobody gets to see a single word of the manuscript before I’m completely finished — not even Hubby.)  In between final edits, I choose a title (I never know the title until I’ve written the whole book), do the cover design and photography, and write the cover blurb.

At last I announce a release date — hooray!  Then I assign ISBNs, register copyright, send the new book to Library and Archives Canada, convert the MS Word manuscript into epub, Kindle, and paperback formats,  and upload it to retailers.  When that’s done, I fix typos and update links in my previous books, and upload their new versions, too.

Crocuses, winter aconite, and heather.

After that I switch to my ‘marketing’ persona to develop ads, promotional listings, and social media announcements.

When the release furor dies down, I tackle any major work like updating my website, and finally take a breather for a few days.  But within a week or two (or less) the next book scratches at my mental doors, and next thing I know I’m writing again.  The administration is a slog, but the joy of writing makes it all worthwhile!

So… anybody wanna be a writer…?

I love crocuses!

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Filed under Commentary, Geekery, Life

Blow Me Down!

I’ve always thought ‘blow me down’ was only an expression, but it almost turned out to be literal.  The relaxing holiday I’d envisioned didn’t quite work out that way.  Instead, on December 20 we got pounded with a vicious windstorm with gusts up to 140 km/hr, followed by five days without power.

We were incredibly lucky to have very little property damage and no personal injury; but the forest around our house looks as though it’s been bombed.  Giant trees were completely uprooted leaving gaping craters in the ground, and many of the ones whose roots held ended up snapping.

These were hundred-foot-tall trees, yanked up by their roots. (The big crater in the foreground is a pond – the wind didn’t do that!)

 

The forest looks like shattered toothpicks.

This used to be solid forest but the wind cleared it just like a tunnel, and our house was right in its path. Some of the trees that went down were nearly three feet in diameter. We were SO lucky our house wasn’t damaged!

Two big trees somehow ended up on the ground under our front porch roof without damaging anything on their way down; and our utility trailer blew across the yard and wedged itself halfway under our deck, miraculously without causing any damage there, either.  Other people weren’t so lucky.

Usually a storm like that is relatively short-lived, but this went on for hours.  We were afraid our big front windows would shatter under the force of the wind, but somehow they held.  At one point I heard a crash from outside and cracked the door open to see what had happened, but the wind was so strong it took all my strength to push the door shut again (and I’m no 98-pound weakling).

The wind ripped through every tiny aperture, making drifts of the drywall dust that had been under the bottom plates of the walls during construction.

Some news sources are calling it the worst storm on record for Vancouver Island; others say the worst in ten years.  I’m hoping it was the all-time worst, because I don’t want to experience another one that bad!  I grew up on the prairies with a constant threat of tornadoes, and I’m a total chickenshit when it comes to wind.  Let’s just say I was NOT happy during this storm.

Fortunately we’d planned for power outages when we built the house, and we ran our generator enough to keep ourselves warm and our freezers cold.  BC Hydro did a heroic job of restoring power to the 700,000 customers who were blacked out, although some spent more than a week without power.  When I saw the snarled-up mess of wires down our road, I was truly impressed that they’d been able to get it working again as quickly as they did.

So I dunno; I’m beginning to think Vancouver Island doesn’t want us here.  First it tried to freeze us out with record-breaking snow and cold in our first winter, and now it’s tried to blow us away with record-breaking wind.  I’m just hoping it doesn’t attempt to shake us off with a giant earthquake next.

But at least we had a good test of our emergency preparations, and we’ll be doing some tweaking to make sure we’re ready (as much as we can be) for the next crisis.

Meanwhile, our island home is returning to its usual tranquility and we’re feeling thankful for our good fortune.  It’s a nice way to start a new year:  Healthy, happy, and grateful.

Happy New Year, everybody – wishing you all the best in 2019!

Book 14 update:  My writing schedule got disrupted by the storm and power outage, but I still managed to make it to Chapter 42.  The end is in sight!

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The Wisdom of Trees

We’ve had a difficult and emotionally draining week relocating Hubby’s elderly mom, who has early dementia.  My sense of humour suffered a slight sprain in the process, so I didn’t feel up to spewing my usual nonsense this week.

I created this video instead – I hope you enjoy it.

The Wisdom of Trees

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Puddles!

We have puddles! *does happy dance*

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’re undoubtedly studying that first sentence and trying to figure out where to find the double entendre.  That’s a valid and downright laudable reaction.  If you find one, I hope you’ll share it – I do love a good double entendre!  But that wasn’t actually my intention (for a change).

No; this post is in celebration of spring.  It’s my favourite time of year – crocuses and tulips and daffodils peek out, the grass turns green, the birds come home, it snows two feet… you know; the usual stuff.

Back in arid Calgary, spring puddles are fleeting – the snow seems to evaporate instead of melting.  But here on the coast we have good old-fashioned puddles that bring back delightful childhood memories.

I grew up on a prairie farm where the terrain was dead-flat for miles.  That and our heavy clay/gumbo soil made it prime puddle territory.  Venice had nothing on us.  I remember riding the school bus along our country road and looking out at water as far as the eye could see, neatly divided into a one-mile grid by the raised road allowances that were the highest point on the prairies (and only a foot or two higher than the water level).

Every kid had a pair of rubber boots:  the taller the boots, the better.  Puddle-wading was both art and science.  We learned about refraction early – the place you thought you were stepping wasn’t always where your foot ended up.  The penalty for that was a boot full of icy water, which didn’t dampen our enthusiasm at all.  It was a sport to see how far we could wade into a puddle before we filled our boots.

We also had a small inflatable dinghy that we could row across our puddles (we had serious puddles on the farm).  And there were always ditches full of water that required all sorts of digging in the mud to produce complex drainage trenches and dams.

Sometimes it turned cold enough to freeze the puddles hard.  That was prime ice-skating:  glassy-smooth, with grass and fallen leaves locked below the surface as if cast in crystal.  But it was always tricky to determine whether the ice was strong enough to bear our weight… which brings to mind another favourite sound:  a slow ominous creak followed by the buzzing crack of ice failing, usually accompanied by squeals and splashing.

I still love going out in the early morning when temperatures are below freezing.  Overnight some of the puddle-water seeps into the ground, leaving a white fragile ice shell floating over empty air.  There’s nothing like the sharp hollow sound it makes when stepped on – it’s almost as addictive as popping bubble wrap!

At 52 years old, you’d think I’d have developed enough dignity to leave the puddles alone; but nope.  Not even close.  I’m still incapable of walking by a shell of ice without breaking it, and last week I went out and bought myself a pair of tall rubber boots that’ll make me the envy of every kid in town.

I’m going out to play in the puddles now… how about you?

P.S. Here on the coast I’ve discovered a ‘new-to-me’ type of spring ice: long silky filaments that form as water is pushed up out of sodden soil into freezing temperatures. How cool is that? (Literally.) ;-)

P.S. Here on the coast I’ve discovered a ‘new-to-me’ type of spring ice: long silky filaments that form as water is pushed up out of sodden soil into freezing temperatures. How cool is that? (Literally.) 😉

 

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Old Farmers And Garbage-Men

I was sitting at the breakfast table idly watching the garbage truck make its rounds when I felt suddenly wistful.  (That’s not quite as weird as it sounds – please let me explain.)

Here in Calgary we have bins that can be picked up, dumped, and replaced at the curb by trucks with mechanical arms.  Occasionally the operators have to pick up extra garbage bags by hand, but usually they just drive down the street and let the truck do the work.

It’s a far cry from the way they did it even a few years ago.  Each garbage truck used to have a ‘swamper’ who rode along on the rear bumper, jumping off to pick up garbage bags and sling them into the back, then hopping on again to ride to the next stop a few yards away.

Years ago one of my friends did that job, and his co-workers joked that you weren’t a true swamper until you’d vomited at least once at the sight and/or smell of the garbage.  It was a brutal job full of heavy repetitive lifting and vile stenches.

And here comes the ‘wistful’ part, because that made me think of my dad.

Not that he was a sanitation worker; although that was part of his job before we got flush toilets.  In the summer we used an outhouse, but in the winter there was a pail in the basement.  When it got full, he’d carry it out across the snowbanks and dump it far away from the house.  He said he only slipped and fell with it once, but that was more than enough.

No; what reminded me of him was the thought of tireless physical labour.

I remember him slinging sixty-pound bales up to the loft of the barn with a single jerk of his powerful arms.  Lift-toss, lift-toss; over and over like a machine in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Manitoba summer.  The only sign of his effort was the sweat soaking his shirt and dripping off the end of his nose.

He mucked out the barn with a shovel and his own muscle.  He worked the fields for endless days in the blazing sun on an old steel-seated FarmAll tractor, without a sunshade or even a backrest.

And when the machines broke down he got out the giant tools.  Two-inch sockets.  Wrenches as long as my arm and twice as heavy.  His days were a punishing round of physical chores.

Looking out at the automated garbage truck, I realized those days are mostly gone.  Farming, garbage collection, you name it; it’s machine power instead of manpower now.  Chores are accomplished with the press of a button from a comfortable seat in an air-conditioned cab.

I doubt if anybody mourns the change.  Those weren’t ‘the good old days’.  They were hard and dangerous; heartbreaking and backbreaking.  Many men were killed or terribly injured, and bent backs and swollen joints and missing fingers are the visible legacy of their labour.

But I have to wonder:  If the work of the future consists of pressing buttons, will the men of tomorrow feel the same fierce pride and sheer primeval triumph my dad’s generation experienced when they fell into bed at the end of a successful day?

And will I be able to give them the same respect and admiration?

I don’t think so.  Do you?

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Let The Freak-Out Begin

We did it!  We got the property I mentioned last week, and we’re moving to Vancouver Island!  Woohoo!

…Let the freak-out begin.

Okay, that’s not quite accurate – the freak-out is already well under way.  Apparently I’m an overachiever, because I started the process as soon as we got serious about the property:

  • “OMG, what if we don’t get it?”
  • “OMG, what if we do get it?”
  • “OMG, somebody else is looking at it; what if they offer before us?”
  • “OMG, our offer is in and the seller has counter-offered but they got another offer in the mean time! Will they back out of our deal because they know our only recourse is to sue them?”
  • “OMG, we got it! What if we move out there and hate it?”
  • “OMG, what if our money somehow gets lost between our bank and the lawyer’s trust account?”
  • “OMG, what if there’s some freakish land use regulation we somehow failed to uncover during our (read ‘my’ – Hubby is much more easygoing about these things) obsessive due diligence and it turns out we can’t build?”
  • “OMG, what if we do get the house built and then the creek has a record-breaking flood that even comes over our big setback and grade elevation?”

…And on and on, all of it leading to, “OMG, we’re gonna lose everything and die homeless, penniless, and starving!

In my saner moments (and let’s not quibble about my definition of sanity), I realize this may be a teeny exaggeration.  But hey, at least if my book sales go flat there’s a promising career for me as one of those wild-eyed doomsayers waving a “World Is Ending” sign on a street corner.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m all gloom and tragedy – I’m actually euphoric about moving out of the city and designing my dream kitchen in my dream house.  It’s just that I’ve been cursed with both a logical brain and an overactive imagination.

My logical mind wants to make sure all bases are covered, so it maps out worst-case scenarios and their corresponding safeguards and action plans.  Meanwhile, my crazy imagination seizes those worst-case scenarios and spins them into all sorts of cataclysmic potential outcomes.  It’s a little tiring; but on the upside, I’m rarely shocked by even the most bizarre twists of fate.

Laid-back Hubby just goes with the flow.  While we were running around looking at properties and talking to realtors and planners and builders and bankers and lawyers, I turned to him, totally frazzled, and asked, “Isn’t this stressing you out?”

He just smiled and shrugged.  “Nope.”

Some days I wish I could live inside his head instead of my own.

But now it’s his turn to stress out because he has to clean up and consolidate his packrat-jumble of tools and toys and ‘treasures’; while my stuff is permanently organized and ready to go at a moment’s notice.  So maybe I don’t want to be him after all.

I guess as long as we’re not freaking out simultaneously, it’ll all work out.  But if you ever see a wild-eyed pair waving “The World Is Ending” signs, and if the female half of the couple has long red hair, you might want to detour to the other side of the street.

Just sayin’…

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The Virtual Backyard Book Club is four months old – how are we doing, and what would you like to discuss?  Click here to have your say!

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Trolling For Cars

Every twenty years or so, I subject myself to a painful and annoying ordeal.  It’s that time of the vicennium again, and yes, I’m navigating the perilous waters of car shopping.  So far I’ve battled new car dealers sharks, used car salesmen morays, and private sellers bottom-feeders.

I’ve done a ton of research and narrowed my choices down to a shortlist based on my analysis, and now I’m in the process of looking at actual cars.  The research was interesting and enjoyable, but the actual car-shopping is inefficient and irritating as hell.

The problem is that any sort of pressure tactic annoys me to the point where I’ll walk away and go to a different dealership just to look at an identical car.  Salespeople who know less than I do irritate me.  Liars irritate me.  And a large proportion of the salespeople I’ve encountered so far have been ignorant, high-pressure, liars, or some combination thereof.

I’ve only been shopping for two days, and already I’ve encountered these pieces of work:

  • A private seller who bought an accident-insurance write-off, fixed up the body, rolled back the odometer (there was no way that vehicle only had 39,000 kilometres on it), and had his brother the mechanic ‘certify’ it for safety. You know how you just need a shower after dealing with some guys?    Yeah, that.
  • A salesman who asked what I’m looking for and before two words had left my mouth, turned his back on me to talk to my husband instead. No, I didn’t buy a car from him.  Go figure.
  • A saleswoman who demanded my contact information before even letting me get near a car, despite the fact that I’d already told her I only wanted to sit in it to see if the driving position was comfortable enough to remain on my shortlist. She was quite snippy when I refused to give her my phone number and email… but not as ticked off as I was when I finally convinced her to let me sit in the car and the headrests could have qualified as torture devices at Guantanamo Bay.
  • A salesman who, when I told him about the other vehicles I was considering, sagely shook his head and said, “I’m not the kind of guy who’d badmouth the competition, but…” Then he proceeded to badmouth the competition, and all but patted my hand and told me to take his advice and not bother my pretty little head about such complicated things.  Listen, dipshit, I know more about cars than you do.  And it really pisses me off when you lie to me.

So I don’t have a new car yet.  And I’m afraid to even speak the words “new car” within earshot of my good old reliable beater, just in case its feelings are hurt and it decides to break down and dump me in the middle of nowhere.

But I’m still trolling the car-sales waters.  I’m not the chum they think I am.

Anybody else suffered through buying a new vehicle lately?

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New discussion at the Virtual Backyard Book Club:  Sacrifice Or Selfishness?  Considering what John has given up in the name of duty, is he being selfish now? Click here to have your say!

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Self-Driving Auto-Paranoia

A couple of days ago I discovered an article about how and when a self-driving car should be programmed to injure or kill its passengers.  It’s an alarming proposition, but it’s actually a valid point:  if the car has to choose between wiping out ten pedestrians or only its driver, simple logic says it should choose the lesser number of casualties.

But the realization that my future vehicle may be plotting to kill me makes me just a wee bit mistrustful of technology.

Or, in my case, more mistrustful of technology.  I’ve never been good at leaving my safety in the hands (circuits?) of inanimate objects.  (Or even animate objects, for that matter.  I’m a lousy passenger even with a human driver – I spend as much time watching the road as the driver does.  But that’s another story.)

My point is, I’m suspicious of any electronic device that wants to make decisions for me.

Take my GPS, for instance.  The lady inside my GPS can usually get me where I want to go, but she’s not always good at it.  When we’re in unfamiliar territory, Hubby usually drives while I navigate.  Theoretically the GPS should be all we need, but I never go anywhere without a paper map; partly because my GPS has a tendency to announce “Low battery!” and/or lose its satellite connection at critical moments, but mostly because I don’t trust it to choose the best route.

I can set it to ‘faster time’ (which is usually dog-slow) or ‘shortest distance’ (synonymous for ‘via goat-paths and dodgy neighbourhoods’), but there’s no setting for ‘common sense’.  So, after a few forays through dense forest on steep roads no wider than our car (though, as the GPS insisted, that road was technically ‘paved’) our trips have become a power struggle between the GPS and me.

The GPS lady says, “In… two hundred metres… turn left.”

And I say, “Ignore that.  It doesn’t know what it’s doing.  Keep going straight.”

Hubby, like all husbands with a modicum of self-preservation, silently follows my directions while the GPS says in snotty tones, “Recalculating.  In… one hundred metres… make a U-turn.”

Me:  “Ignore that.  Keep going.”

GPS (getting cranky):  “Recalculating.  In… three kilometres… TURN LEFT, IDIOT!”

Me:  “Ignore that…”

Given the choice, I’d rather have an up-to-date paper map and only use the GPS to pinpoint the location of the nearest Dairy Queen.  (And don’t get me wrong; that’s a critical function.  I need frequent ice cream breaks when I’m on the road.)

But antagonizing my GPS is probably a bad idea, because the new cars will have them built in.  And if a hostile GPS triggers the ‘kill-the-driver’ algorithm, I could be in serious trouble.

On the surface, the self-driving car seems utopian:  I could be snoozing or reading or snacking while my car takes me safely and efficiently to my destination.  But in reality I’d probably end up sitting in the driver’s seat with both hands on the wheel, simultaneously watching the road and keeping a wary eye on the car in case it tries to kill me.

But maybe I’m just paranoid.

Or maybe that’s not a ‘maybe’…

* * *

And speaking of technology… there’s a new discussion over at the Virtual Backyard Book Club:  Aydan’s Tech Gadgets – Love ‘Em Or Hate ‘Em?  Click here to have your say!

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Serious, For Once

(Don’t worry, this is a temporary aberration. I promise I’ll be back to my usual foolishness next week.)

I try to avoid being serious whenever possible, but my father-in-law lost his battle with cancer last Thursday so I’m not quite myself this week. We knew his time was getting short so we were able to say our goodbyes, but many people aren’t so lucky.

The following is a post I wrote ‘way back in 2013.  I didn’t share it at the time because it was more solemn than I generally like to be, but today it seems fitting.

* * *

I’m at the age where mortality starts to get up in my face a little more each year. One of our friends just died of a heart attack at age 47, another at 50. Other friends are being diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, you name it. “Catching up with the news” used to mean hearing about happy things like weddings and babies. Now it’s diseases and funerals.

You just never know when your time is going to run out.

I drive the highways quite a bit, and I see lots of memorials beside the road. One I pass frequently is a white cross with a hard hat and safety vest hanging from it. There are bouquets of flowers beside it in the ditch, along with hand-lettered signs that say, “Miss you, Dad”, and “We love you, Dave”.

The little roadside shrines always make me sad. Sad that somebody lost a loved one in an accident, but sadder still that Dave’s buddies probably never said, “We love you, Dave” while he was alive.

Why is it so hard to tell people what they really mean to us? Imagine how Dave would have felt if one his buddies slapped him on the back and said, “Man, I love working with you. Your sense of humour makes my day.” Or whatever they loved Dave for.

Maybe he made up rude song lyrics and sang them off-key and it made everybody laugh. Maybe he bought a round for the guys every Friday night. Maybe he was always willing to swap a shift so a co-worker could go to his kid’s hockey game. Or maybe he was the sympathetic ear everybody turned to when they needed to blow off steam. Whatever it was that made him special, I’ll bet Dave never knew how much they appreciated him.

And now it’s too late to tell him.

We’ve got so many commercialized occasions for “heartfelt” cards and gifts. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day are fine, but they’ve become obligations and you’re in trouble if you miss them. So you stuff a card in an envelope; buy some flowers; go out for a nice dinner; bang-boom-done-for-another-year. All the “heartfelt” your money can buy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we created a new occasion? No cards or gifts allowed. Just one day out of the year where our only obligation is to say something nice that we’ve thought to ourselves but never said.

And not just to parents or spouses. How about to co-workers, doctors, baristas, teachers, or cleaning staff? No big embarrassing fanfare, just a quiet, sincere “You make my life better”. Or “We love you, Dave”.

Nobody else even needs to know we said it. Only the person who truly needs to hear it.

Maybe we could do it more than once a year, too.

It’s just a thought.

* * *

And on that note, thank you to all my readers. I don’t blog because I like flapping my virtual gums; I do it because you wonderful folks brighten my day with your comments. Thanks for taking the time – you’re the best!

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