In Thanksgiving for Literature and Literary Spots

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I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else. ~Neil Gaiman

 

Truth: When I was a young girl, I had recurring nightmares about being caught inside a burning house and not escaping until I could figure out how to save my books. This revelation quite possibly tells you enough about me that I should stop writing now! Nevertheless, I persist in written expression of my deepest gratitude to all the authors of the literature I have read over my lifetime and for those I can hardly wait to read. Interwoven into thanksgiving for books, I am eternally grateful for the peace I feel every time I enter a library or bookstore. So much so, that I will forever seek out literary spots wherever life finds me and take a piece of their shelves home with me in eager anticipation of visiting the world of words set between the pages of each and every gift of a book.

Just for fun, here is a sampling of some of my favorite bookstores I have encountered in my travels and places I have lived:

Please, leave a comment and tell me about your favorite bookshops!

 

Some books leave us free and some books make us free. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Thankful for the Practical Things, for Wood Floors and Simple Living

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Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. ~ William Arthur Ward

 

The thanks I give today is for the wood floors found throughout the first floor of the home I share with my husband and children. Yes. Wood floors. These Brazilian-red, wide-set planks have seen better days and will need replacing in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, I can ignore the nicks and flaws and find something special in their worn-in beauty. For instance, that they have provided a steadfast platform for multiple levels of child’s play over the years, from babies on their tummy-time mats, to crawling and scooting toddlers working their way from stacking rings to building sturdy block towers, onto puzzle making, racing trains and cars, and now, presenting the base for elaborate card and board games.

Smooth in surface, these suffering floors offer wide, ample space for practicing ballet twirls, cartwheels and made-up cheers. Children will chase, tag, and hide from each other for fun from one end of the floor to the next. Often enough, the floorboards take quite a beating while we dance in the kitchen to emotion-chosen background music, our feet stomping and bodies moving free-form to the tunes that lighten our moods. So many footsteps of family and friends, neighbors and guests have walked the length of these floors, warming our home with their sheer presence and welcomed visits.

When the day is complete and nighttime falls, clean-up of these wood floors is quite simple and allows extra time in the evening for me to relax and catch-up with my husband after a long day spent apart. These floors in our home are the foundation from which we stand together. So, yes. Today, I am grateful for the luxury of having wood floors–the horizontal platform supporting the hard-won and love-filled living that preserves my beloved family together.

 

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.  ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

In Gratitude for Learning how to Forgive Thyself

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Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil; With them forgive yourself. ~ William Shakespeare

 

Allowing my mind to wander at will during my brisk walk today along the trustworthy path in the neighborhood where I reside, my thoughts turned to the act of forgiveness and what a delicate art mercy can be, especially when extending that grace to oneself. Revealingly, my inner critic is a harsh woman and I persistently fight for victory against her bitter tongue and unrealistic expectations. Today, I am thankful for the great lessons of life and heart that have contributed to my acquired strength, humble formation and greatness of spirit over these forty-something years. Self-reflection reveals I am witness to the lasting goodness, genuine beauty and absolute joy that emanates when one learns to forgive herself with the utmost sincerity.

 

“When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines upon you.”   ~ Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

 

Thankfulness for the Simple Joys

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“I have learned over a period of time to be almost unconsciously grateful–as a child is–for a sunny day, blue water, flowers in a vase, a tree turning red. I have learned to be glad at dawn and when the sky is dark. Only children and a few spiritually evolved people are born to feel gratitude as naturally as they breathe, without even thinking. Most of us come to it step by painful step, to discover that gratitude is a form of acceptance.” ~ Faith Baldwin

 

Today woke me to a somber mood that mirrored the gray Ohio skies outside my door. The wind is blowing away the temperate climate now by beckoning and ushering in the cold that will last for days on end. We won’t see sun until the end of the week, I’m afraid.

How might I feel an ounce of gratitude on such a dismal day? I light an autumn-scented soy wax candle and allow the glow of the orange flame to warm up the house with its ambiance and fragrant aroma. I answer a phone call from a sibling and feel gladdened by the goodness of spirit in the sound of his voice, and pleased we’ve made plans to be together on Thanksgiving Day. I sit with a steaming cup of tea and conjure up a dinner menu that will include my favorite roasted vegetables. I journal through my anxiety, type away the fear, and continue editing my essays that remain in-progress by diligently writing closer to completion.

My gratitude today is rooted in having a creative craft to focus on, noticing the plain and uncomplicated blessings that cultivate joy, and that my eyes, mind and heart are made open-wide by the gifts of simplicity.

 

“Forget about the money for a moment. Lose yourself in the wilderness, listen to the music of the softly blowing winds, feel the rain on your bare skin, let the mountains take the burden off your shoulders.” ~Kiran Bisht

 

Expressing Gratitude for Unfailing Friendship

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The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship. ~William Blake

 

Spending time on the couch this afternoon confiding in a dear friend about the woes and triumphs we face was time well spent. Wise beyond her years, my friend seems to always know what to say in a thoughtful and confident manner. She offers perspectives that are enlightening and encouraging, with empathetic words that affirm, restore, and uplift. Somehow, we get each other and always have been able to see the truth and value in the other. We pray and involve one another in our deepest of sorrows, most appalling revelations, and haunting moments of grief. Our rejoice is pure and exuberant for each other when happy times and blessed events are shared. Never do we take for granted the other, nor hold a grudge or make assumptions when long periods of absence by phone or visit are necessary. Although there is a great distance between us in calendar years, the gap is seamless. Over the years, we have grown in appreciation of and dedication to our friendship with one another and acknowledge that the companionship we’ve cultivated only continues to beautify with age. How utterly grateful I am to know a dear friend who accepts me as I am, and whom unceasingly blesses and nourishes me with her pure existence and genuine presence in my life. 

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. ~Henri Nouwen

Thankful for the Promise of Tomorrow

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Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. ~Buddha

 

My morning started with a broken dish and burned bacon, unfortunately setting the tone for the rest of the day. Still, I’m thankful that I have a cupboard full of dishes and plates to use, and in the refrigerator plenty of food to prepare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

I’m thankful that Baby Boy was eager, for once, to participate in his music therapy class. Today was the first time he showed delight in being there this fall session. He has a new teacher and is part of a larger, more boisterous class than the summer group. Accompanied today by his beloved Snoopy stuffed dog also aided in his comfort level.  Even though there are only two more classes left to attend before the holiday break, I was thrilled to see him relax and enjoy himself more. 

Additionally, I am thankful that I realized, albeit late in the day, that he had left his irreplaceable Snoopy behind and quickly thought to return to the local church where the music class is held. My heartfelt gratitude extends to whomever it was that found Snoopy unattended and placed him in a safe spot where we were able to retrieve him hours later! The tears that my Baby Boy shed in relief when he saw Snoopy broke my heart, and I’m so thankful we were able to find and take Snoopy home this afternoon. 

Losing Snoopy only added to the ill-will of this no-good day and the stress Baby Boy has felt over the past few weeks by enduring a litany of tests, procedures, blood draws, and hospital stays. Today’s scheduled blood draw wasn’t successful at all. After being stuck a few too many times, he was fighting every way he knew how to get that needle away from his tiny body. His wriggling, wrestling, spitting, and struggling to release my hold was too much. Crying profuse tears, my sweet son was overheated and sweaty, wounded and clinging to me in a panic. At this point in the day, I was overwhelmed by the heaviness of our ordeal and needing to keep it together for him. My concern and heartache for my son and his rapidly growing, elevated fear every time we pull into the Children’s Hospital parking lot now has reached a level that crushes this sensitive mama’s spirit. This afternoon, Baby Boy had enough. So, I begged the nurse to stop. Further stating that we would just try again another time. (Preferably with another phlebotomist.)

Yes, it has been “one of those days” at the tail-end of “one of those weeks.” And we all have them, that’s for certain. Thankfully, my monthly restorative yoga class is tonight because I am craving the deep release and stillness. My mother-daughter book club meets tomorrow afternoon, for which I am pleased. There will be ample time this weekend for relaxation and reading, as well. To top it off, the sun is finally shining again! Therefore, I am now going to take advantage of this high-five from nature and get outside with my kids fueled by the attitude of blessedness for having both the time and energy to do so, while looking toward tomorrow with a hopeful heart.

 

At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into an endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.  ~ Patch Adams

 

In Gratitude for Love and Marriage

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“I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. A magical thing. And sweet to remember. We are nearer to Spring than we were in September. I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.” ~ Oliver Herford

 
Increasing our gratitude efforts in the month of November can allow us to reflect back on moments that have strengthened and blessed us, or forward thinking to events and anniversaries that fill us with a happy light. Next month, my husband and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage, and for this phenomenal event, I am eternally grateful. Today, I am giving all thanks to my wonderful husband. For without him, I’d be devoid of the feeling and experience of unconditional, sacramental, true love.

We were married on a snowy evening in mid-December. It was magical, ethereal, lovely. My fondness for the month of December runs deep. When the snowfall begins lightly and lovely, as soft flakes of iridescent beauty swirl and float with ease, a sparkling backdrop to the darkened sky, I am filled with a special sort of nostalgia–an essence my husband and I wanted to emulate and capture as we pledged ourselves to each other for a lifetime on our wedding day. 

The beauty rooted in the winter season brings forth quiet stillness, gentle peace, and a warmth discovered by being wrapped in the arms of your beloved. Despite the cold and the dark, there remains an elegance in winter if only we will ourselves to set forth and seek it out. As long as life gets cold and gray or seems bleak and frozen in despair, it helps to have a loved one by your side for all of the ups and downs life inevitably brings. The holidays in the month of December allow ample chance for us to give and receive thoughtful gifts and greetings of love, peace and joy that will ease the burdens and struggles with pure reasons to hope and annual opportunities to partake in spreading love. For me, each December represents all of this and more, most importantly, a purposeful reason to rejoice for the love burning deep within my heart for my husband, my beloved, my number one.

I’m one lucky lady.

In terms of my marriage, you know, falling in love with my husband was by far the best thing that’s ever happened to me. ~ Caroline Kennedy

Grateful for the Challenge: #30DaysofThanks 2017

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Gratitude is the mother of the virtues. ~ Cicero

An icy cold November rain casts its melancholic tune outside my windowpane this afternoon as I ponder my blessings and sip hot tea from an ordinary mug. November is devoted to the #30DaysofThanks challenge, and I’m heeding the call again this year. 

If my focus remains just on this dreary day, I reveal gratitude for my Baby Boy sleeping soundly in his toddler bed, safely tucked away upstairs this afternoon as I write, since he has been phasing out of his naps recently.

My thanks can be given for a late morning mass time on this Holy Day of Obligation that allowed me to give a wave and a smile to The Boy and Baby Girl in attendance with their schoolmates, the rare opportunity for me to be present inside church without chasing around a two-year-old, and the ability to sit with a friend. The mass was scheduled perfectly so that I could arrive soon after preschool drop-off and ended with just enough time for me to run an errand before returning to my Baby Boy at his preschool pick-up time.

Looking forward to this evening, I am grateful to begin the next session of my newfound favorite exercise class.

I call this a win of a day–one filled with recognizable blessings once I stopped to reflect and contemplate, a practice I adhere to by mindfully implementing the elements of intention throughout my daily life.

“When one has a grateful heart, life is so beautiful.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

Please join me over the next thirty days in counting blessings, practicing gratitude, and focusing on giving thanks. To read my past posts reflecting on graciousness and thankfulness, click here.

I’d enjoy hearing from you about how you are learning to cultivate an intentional heart, finding new ways to be thankful, and discovering the joys of gratitude in your own life. Please, comment below, and go forth giving thanks.

 

 

Motherhood and Finding the Time to Write and Create

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“…there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.” ~ Anne Lamott

 

The local library where I live brings to town many well-known and accomplished authors. A few years ago, I was one of many in the crowded auditorium at the central high school mere miles from my neighborhood where these literary events are held and the author of a favorite novel was the guest speaker. My memory serves that this author’s talk on writing was exceptional, especially the bits about how her stories came to life and how her writing life came to fruition. She was gracious in her answers during the Q & A, one of which I posed, a version of, “How did she find the time to write with children underfoot?” In so many words, she prescribed that you must write any chance you can get, master writing to the background noise and chaos, scrawl away during short spurts of free time, and urged not to wait for the ‘perfect’ conditions conducive to writing because they will rarely appear and the writing will never happen. What I took from her eloquent answer (more precisely delivered than I am reiterating to you) is that if you are a mother longing to write (or create in any artistic endeavor) then you must accept that you must write to the cadence of the season you are in, and weave the craft into the fabric of your daily life, willing to adjust and change your writing tempo as your children change and grow along side of you.

If you are a mother-writer and struggling to find the time to write, here are a few simple suggestions to help you carve out more time for your writing and that have worked for me:

Take a break, and give yourself a break.

There will be days, weeks, and even months that you won’t be able to carve out one minute for writing, and that’s alright. Don’t berate yourself. Embrace the peaks and valleys. Invite the rest in and allow the time off to invigorate your senses. It’s quite allowable to take time off from writing, and preferred, if I might add. After all, living your life and experiencing the world around you will only improve your creative abilities.

Quite by choice, summers are the most challenging time in my writing calendar. Since I don’t employ a daycare facility, a part-time sitter or nanny, the warm summer months around my house are full and well-enjoyed, even on days when camps and classes aren’t on the schedule. Along with my children, I prefer to soak up as much sun as possible while we are blessed with the Vitamin D producer, and the vibrancy of kids enjoying their months of freedom is something I don’t want to miss out on–especially while they are still so young. This is where personal journaling and keeping notebooks nearby come in handy. When there are chunks of time that I don’t feel like powering up the laptop, though want to record my thoughts, ideas, recollections, observations, and experiences, then I journal. I find that the break from typing also helps to refuel my creativity in pertinent ways. Never once have I felt regret for relishing in the days off.

Write at a time of day that works for you.

Although I would love to tell you to set your alarm an hour earlier than your first child wakes up, this has never worked for me. I’m not now, and doubtful ever will be, a morning person. When I was on a writer’s retreat, I insisted I wake up at 5:00 AM every morning to start writing, and I did. However, I did not have the pressing urgency of a child to attend to that week, either. I was there for myself and had only myself to take care of during five, blissful, writing-centered days. It was my opportunity to utilize as much time to write–and I took the gift of being there seriously, not wanting to waste the opportunity. That was three years ago, and I have yet to replicate that early morning habit so easily enacted on an island miles and miles away surrounded by other women-mother-writers. What I have continued is the discipline and confidence earned, and the ability to be flexible with both myself and my writing process.

Please, do not feel obligated to wake an hour earlier than your family does if the extra sleep is vital to your emotional, physical, and mental well-being–especially if you have young toddlers or school-aged children as I do. In this time of my life, it is more important that I sleep in after nursing Baby Boy in the early morning hours. After we rise and ready for the day, eat our breakfast and clear up, then I can think about some writing if our schedule permits. Don’t neglect your health and essential needs, nor those of your children, for the sake of your craft. It’s a recipe for failure. Instead, take care of yourself and children first, and pockets of writing time will appear, I promise. (Just my two cents.)

Let them see you write.  

If you have young children at home able to entertain themselves for a while, take advantage of late morning play time and make that your daily writing time. After I have finished in the kitchen, and perhaps have even started a load of laundry, I set my toddler up nearby with some favorite toys and I write in my journal while sipping my first cup of tea of the day. This has become my almost-daily practice of emptying my head of the noise and clutter inside, or when I may flesh-out ideas for the book I’m working on, conceptualize upcoming blog posts, or even free-write. I keep my journal nearby for reference, and it’s a daily practice I’ll never reject. (By the way, these are my favorite ones.)

Cultivate ideas during their nap time.

If you’re lucky enough to have a child that still naps, I’d love to know your secret! When The Boy was younger, he was a champion napper. It gave me ample time for freelance projects and personal, creative pursuits. Baby Boy is rejecting his nap time most days, I’m sad to say. So for now, I take a midday walk with him and use this time to commune with nature and let my thoughts run free. I highly recommend an afternoon walk for some fresh air and the chance to gather eclectic ideas for your creative endeavors. During most of these walks, my son will doze off for a short time. By the time I return home and transfer him out of the stroller and back inside, I have only a brief time for writing before the older children arrive at their bus stop at the end of the school day. This is the toughest time for me to write. Nevertheless, I strive to utilize that time for me and my writing, if even for thirty minutes, or less. Thirty minutes spent writing is better than writing nothing at all.

Burn the midnight oil, but only if that works for you.

During my younger days, I was a night owl. In my forties, though, I am slowing down in the evening and feel that my writing time is wasted after a certain hour. My wonderful husband will handle baths and the nighttime routine. If given the choice, I honestly choose to exercise most evenings rather than write because a brisk walk or fitness class helps me to decompress in a healthier way. Though, if the weather is uncooperative, or I’ve had ample time to exercise during the day (which is rare), I will plant myself at my desk to scrawl or type away. On the nights I write (like tonight), it’s usually time well-spent. Anymore, I like to have my computer turned off by 8:00 PM so that I can unwind with my husband and rest my mind. I am confident that the writing pieces swirling around my head after hours won’t flitter away into the abyss of forgetfulness, and this schedule helps me to acquire the essential sleep I need to meet, God-willing, another full and challenging day of motherhood.

Designate and schedule one, non-negotiable chunk of time per week for creating.

Lastly, I have declared the mid-week morning that Baby Boy attends nursery school for two-and-a-half-hours as “Sacred Writing Time.” Sacred Writing Time is designated and guaranteed; the only moments in my week that are non-negotiable, set aside for writing and only writing. During these couple of hours, I do not take phone calls (except from my children’s schools), nor do I read, shop, set appointments, clean, etc… Making this time a priority and only for writing has been a gift and game-changer in my life as a mother-writer. Knowing I will write at least two hours a week takes the pressure off during my busiest weeks taking care of all the essential motherhood tasks, caring for sick kids, running to and from appointments, and more. “Sacred Writing Time” is just that, sacred, and I take it quite seriously. Once I return home from preschool drop-off, I am eagerly at my computer without delay.

For further inspiration about how to carve out the time to write while entrenched in the glories of motherhood, or distracted by your presently busy life, please look no further than to these, more seasoned and reliable writers than I:

http://www.sunset.com/travel/anne-lamott-how-to-find-time by Anne Lamott

https://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers by James Clear

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-menkedick-literary-value-of-motherhood-20170416-story.html by Sarah Menkedick

https://www.creativenonfiction.org/online-reading/writing-motherhood  by Marcelle Soviero

If inspired to, please comment on how you carve out time in your week for your creative pursuits. As always, thank you for reading and happy writing!

 

“We are all carrying so many things in our life and inside ourselves. Often it feels there is no place to put them down. Where do you place the questions you carry” ~ Sabrina Ward Harrison, Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself

 

Strength in numbers and my personal #metoo

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“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it.” ~ Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

 
My father was a traveling salesman for a book publishing company. Part of his compensation package included a leased company vehicle that he would sign for every few years. We had recently moved from Hopkinton, MA to a rural Central Ohio town in the summer of 1986, and I remember the day he picked up his new van like it happened only moments ago. Inside the car dealership, the lights were so bright it hurt my eyes and the air smelled of stale doughnuts, burnt coffee and chemical-laden air freshener. While my father signed paperwork and smoked a few Marlboro Reds with the representative, outside, my siblings and I were restless for being there so long and stayed with my mom waiting in the parking lot for our father to return with the keys and drive the new ride home.

As if they’d know one another their entire lives, my father and the sales representative sauntered outside in the afternoon sun, smiling and laughing, probably sharing stories of the sales trade. My father introduced each one of us and the salesman kept his sideways glance fixed directly on me, when out of his mouth came the words I will never forget, about being a knockout of a redhead, those long legs of mine, advising my father he better watch out with me and the boys that would no doubt be hanging around, and maybe he’d bring me back in a few years for a test drive with him and my own car?

I was ten-years-old when this inappropriate salesman thought it was funny and completely allowable to take note of my young-girl looks and dream of my future physical stature, giving no regard to my blushing face, nor my father beside him. His lingering gaze bore holes of shame through me and his unflinching smile was sinister sweet. Back then, I was too young to understand the implications and innuendos spoken that day. After all, I was only in the fifth grade. Yet, the entire presence of that tasteless salesman–including the outfit he was wearing, his moustached and confident face, smug demeanor, and crushingly detrimental words–have haunted me for over thirty years.

My late father was a good and decent man–absolutely not perfect–but, good, decent, and protective of his children and he handled the embarrassing situation with dignity. And you can be assured that we never saw that salesman again. Though, a few years later, when it was time to exchange company cars, I begged to stay at home and read my book, to which my father did not argue, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Fueled by the news in Hollywood of harassment and abuse that too many women have sustained, I’m sure you’re aware by now of the hashtag #metoo that’s swirling around social media and inviting women to share their personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Within my own circle of friends and family, it is disheartening to learn how much pain has been inflicted and endured in the name of sex. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, in solidarity with my sister-friends, that at ten-years-old, that sleazy car salesman without filter nor decency nor couth, was not the first male to assert his sexual advances or desires over me, nor would he be the last. Though, there are some stories I am not willing to share, and this is my prerogative, while willingly choosing to not let their egotistical, sick, dominating power clutch hold of me forever. I have forgiven, but it’s difficult to forget.

As a caveat to my story, I feel compelled to write and say to all of my readers, that despite my personal stories, devastating experiences, and real struggles with the type of boys and men that harass and abuse, I have known more boys and men in my lifetime that are good, kind, decent, loving, protective, and respectful. Let’s not forget that for as many abusers there are in the world, there is still abounding love, light, and hope around us, and boys and men who will work with us to fight against the social and moral injustices of sexual harassment and abuse.

If you are struggling with your own story of sexual harassment, abuse, or violence and are in need of help, please contact a local therapist specially trained in this type of trauma. You may also contact RAINN or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE.

 

“You are stronger than you know.” ~ Lori Osterman