Trying Hard To Get Untamed … (or How To Learn From Glennon Doyle, Be Still and Just Listen)

I have just started to read Glennon Doyle’s new memoir “Untamed” (out today). With my own memoir coming out in a few months I am obviously intrigued by how other women write theirs. But with Ms. Doyle I am also always intrigued by her perspectives. That girl has made some tough choices in this life and has lived to not only tell her tales but thrive in them. At least now. It would appear that now, living her third memoir, she is finally untamed and very, very real.

As she thrives, I strive. I strive to be authentic, truthful, clear, brave and sensitive. Helpful, patient (damn, that’s a hard one) and vulnerable. Do I always get there? To those lofty destinations? Hell, no. But I strive.

I left this new book today (I’m the kind of girl who will abandon my life completely to read a good book in one sitting so I have learned to ration) after the chapter where the author teachers herself (and us) to “Be Still”. Yes, physically, but ultimately in the pursuit of mental stillness; a place to which we sink until we finally hear our inner voice. Our “Knowing”, she calls it. God, if you will.

I call it my Personal Cruise Director. Because this life is the one and only cruise I will ever take and if I am not available for advice and guidance from my cruise director, think of all the amazing highlights I might miss?

It’s not always easy accessing this inner PCD. There is a lot of distraction on a cruise ship. Some distractions we must attend (the life-jacket  drill!) and some we choose to observe and/or participate in. Getting STILL can be a challenge.

But a worthwhile one. I realized today that I often write this blog after taking a bath. While luxuriating in those bubbles I get pretty quiet. I’m not washing my hair or shaving my legs or getting ready for the day ahead. I am calm. And quiet. And that is when these blogs formulate in my brain. That is when my PCD shows up. It’s never crowded in that bathtub. My PCD is always a welcome guest.

The other great takeaway (so far) from “Untamed” – most women face an immense challenge. This quest to become … well … untamed. Undomesticated. Untouched by society’s dictates and unrestricted in the choices we make. The choices we make to personalize this one and only cruise to our own authenticity. That exact authenticity that we can only come to know when we quiet all the other voices which, over the years, have drowned out the reality that is us. Or in my case, ME.

Which brings me to a story about my ex-husband that I have not (so far) included in my upcoming memoir. My book (The Potty-Mouthed Chef: How To Cheat, Eat and Be Happy) is not the story of a broken marriage. It is the story of a marriage that broke and my journey thereafter. But this little tale is somewhat significant in that, in hindsight, I realize it set the tone for our courtship, our marriage and our wedded life. It is a tale about the TAMING of Vickie.

We were still in the dating phase and we were at a wedding. All his friends. I may have met a couple a time or two but it was ALL his people. When the formalities ended one of his old (girl) friends swooped in and unceremoniously spirited my beloved away, off to reconnect with their old cronies. He glanced back over his shoulder sheepishly as she tugged on his sleeve and then went along. He WENT ALONG with HER leaving me standing there in a hotel ballroom full of people I did not know.

I truly don’t remember how long I stood. I’m pretty sure it felt like a billion years. What I do recall is he finally returned at which time I suggested we slip out to the lobby for a private drink. And so we did.

I was just a tiny bit (read: huge amount) irate. Pretty sure I blathered on for more than a tiny bit while he sat there stewing and fuming. Finally, when my blathering abated, dearly beloved said to me in the coldest tone imaginable, “I don’t need this shit.”

I froze. In fear. To this day I don’t really remember what happened next but those five words froze me in fear. Because he didn’t need this shit. He didn’t need MY shit. He didn’t need me dragging him away from his pals to point out what an inconsiderate jerk he was. He didn’t need it.

Untamed Vickie would have responded, “Neither do I.” Untamed Vickie would have quietly murmured, “I don’t need an inconsiderate jerk for a boyfriend. If you insist on being an inconsiderate jerk and you can’t even take ownership of and apologize for your inconsiderate jerkdom, I don’t need you in my life!”

That is what untamed Vickie would have said.

I, alas, was still quite tamed. And afraid that once again my BIG FAT MOUTH would cost me another relationship with another pretty fabulous (when he wasn’t a jerk) guy.

So I apologized. I apologized for making a mountain out of a molehill. I apologized for my insecurities and my rudeness and my “unacceptable” behaviour.

Sorry … what? What the fucking what?

I apologized for MY unacceptable behaviour.

I salvaged the situation AND the relationship.

Tamed. I was tamed. He tamed me good and plenty.

I don’t do that stuff anymore. You know why? It doesn’t work in the long run. You get tamed for an evening or a week or even fourteen years of marriage. But you never, ever, ever truly get housebroken. Because there was never anything broken in the first place. You were just YOU.

I don’t believe I am savage or uncivilized or even feral. What I am is aware. Mindful. Cognizant of my own truth and my own needs, desires, boundaries and even limitations. There is NO man, woman or child who can interfere with the legitimacy of MY cruise.

Now please don’t go confusing this conviction with selfishness. Trust me, one thing I know is that we all have two inner voices. 1. The Child. I want, I want, I want. 2. As Ms. Doyle says – The Knowing. I need.

The Knowing is what we need. To survive. To cruise the fuck out of this life.

So get still. BE still.

Your PCD is waiting.

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Is An Idle Mind Really The Devil’s Playground?

You’ve heard the old saying, right – An idle mind is the devil’s playground?

Yes indeed, we are not supposed to be slackers. Ever. That puritan work ethic should ring in our ears loud and clear ALL THE TIME. We should go go go and do do do and be productive AT EVERY TURN because God knows we don’t want that old devil playing on our ground, tempting us into unpuritanical pursuits.

Maybe.

But here’s another one I just read – Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what you’d be forced to acknowledge and feel if you slowed down.

Now that one I totally get. Because I have witnessed far too many people jump on that never-ending treadmill daily. Not because they have to, mind you, and please know I have the utmost respect for people who work their asses off because that’s how the bills get paid. I’m talking about people who make a decent living and have time for an occasionally idle mind but they CHOOSE to energizer-bunny it all the livelong day. They join clubs and take up hobbies and volunteer and hit the gym frequently and do whatever it takes to never ever have a moment alone with themselves.

I don’t get it.

I once skied with a girl I had just met (let’s call her L) who was incapable of sitting on the chairlift without humming. Or half-singing. You know, that weird (annoying) thing that some folks do when they cannot  abide a moment’s silence. It was a gorgeous late-winter day. The sun was ablaze, the conditions were perfect and the sky was really blue. I was totally content to sit on that chair in silence enjoying the serenity as I mentally prepared myself for the next run. But L absolutely could not. Even when I asked her about her constant need to make noise she still could not stop. The minute there was a pause in our conversation she started chirping.

Was it because she did not want to confront her pain? She was distracting herself from the reality she would have to face in a quiet world? She was scared shitless of that next double black diamond?

I have no idea. But I do suspect that L was a girl who simply could not be alone with her thoughts because she wouldn’t like what she was thinking. Whatever that was.

I have another friend F who never seems to have a moment to himself. Literally. Not to himself, not for his many friends and barely even for his family. Between his high-powered job, his many altruistic pursuits, his hobbies, his sporting endeavours and his love of taking on new challenges, F is one very busy little beaver.

F is also horribly dissatisfied with his marriage.

I don’t think I have to spell out the math on this one.

My father, who was truly the most self-made man I’ve ever known (came from Europe with nothing – no family, no friends, no money, no English), was a HUGE believer in the term “creative idleness”. He taught it to me at an early age. He purported that one must have downtime in order to foster inspiration. In order to allow epiphanies to epiphanize (yes I just made up that word). To process one’s desires, accomplishments, dreams and plans.

I call this two things. 1. Getting in touch with yourself. 2. Getting in touch with God. Or the Universe. Or a higher power. Or your own soul.

Which is pretty much just like #1.

I think that when we fill our heads (and agendas) with non-stop commotion, commitments, quests and business (or busy-ness) we simply expend too much energy to ever find the fortitude to become whole with ourselves. To become whole with our choices, our situations and yes, even our goals. To figure out where we went wrong, what we can do to make it right and even find a way to make those HUGE decisions that may be terrifying and life-altering and yet oh so very necessary.

Essentially, we bury ourselves. And then we wonder why we cannot breathe.

My beautiful friend M is learning. She has long “buried” herself under a mountain of responsibility. Job concerns that keep her up way past midnight. Financial concerns that frighten her into panic attacks. Family concerns that overwhelm her to the point of exhaustion. But M does not allow herself to choose those roads anymore. Because those roads are counter-productive to all that she longs for. Peace. Comfort. Simplicity. A good glass of wine.

M has realized that her job is not the be-all and end-all of her existence. It is a means to an end. The end being mortgage paid and food on the table. M has realized that she can only take one day at a time. Do her best and then allow herself the luxury (and I actually mean NECESSITY) of a good night’s sleep. M has realized that she is not solely responsible for the welfare of her children of her parents.  Sometimes it’s absolutely okay if she passes the buck. M has realized that she is solely responsible for her own well-being.

As are we all.

This means YOU.

So … to coin a newly popular phrase, when someone says to me An idle mind is the devil’s playground, I respond, “Yeah … no.”

EVERY creative thought that has ever entered my brain has entered when I was idle. When I was about to nap or walk in the woods or sit in the sun or lounge in the tub. I can assure you I have never had a creative thought whilst skiing (trying hard not to die), working (trying hard to do my job) or taking care of my loved ones (just trying hard).

And the truth is we don’t all have to aspire to creative thought. I do believe, however, that it behooves us all to aspire to become one with ourselves.

Or God.

You pick.

But I personally have no problem with the devil invading my playground on occasion. Because it is MY  choice what to do with the snake. The beauty is that the snake compels me to CHOICE. To action. To creativity, to affirmation or even just to permission.

And ultimately (I hope) … to harmony.

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How Much Truth Are You Willing To Tell?

I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been kinda busy. Not too busy to write, mind you, just busy writing. Editing. Rewriting. Reading out loud and editing some more. And I am now happy (or would that be relieved or maybe even terrified) to report that I am publishing my book. MY BOOK. The one that I wrote.

Well actually, the one that I started writing 12 years ago.

Yeah, sometimes I’m a little slow. But in this case it was never laziness or negligence that rendered me sluggish. It was trepidation. You see, my book is a memoir. Actually my pal C calls it a “cook-moir”. Because it is a memoir which includes recipes.

My book is all about cheating.

In the kitchen.

In the bedroom.

No, not at the same time.

As the word “memoir” suggests (I think) this book will be my memories. MY memories (and therefore my saga) of a tumultuous time in my existence when my marriage exploded and so did my life. But it’s more than a sordid tale of an affair, broken hearts, new love and surprising twists. It’s a tale of my evolution. My jagged journey from desire to disillusionment to discovery. Which I hope is more compelling than my illustrious inclination for alliteration.

The trepidation comes from the fact that even though the names are changed (to protect the innocent; mine remains intact), the narrative is true. At least as true as I recall. But how much truth do we dare tell? How many warts do we willfully expose? How naked are we willing to be as we strut down that very public road?

These are all choices I had to make. And it was hard. Because I didn’t write this book to call anyone out or to blame anyone (except maybe me), to justify my choices or condemn someone else’s or even to seek forgiveness in the public eye. I wrote this book to help.

Golly, Vick, aren’t you just about the most altruistic human being on the planet?! … yes I know it’s what you’re thinking (sarcastically). But the reality is I absolutely had to get to a place of magnanimity before the tone was right. As long as I was sniveling or accusing or even making excuses, my memoir was a kindergarten exercise in self-indulgence. I had to arrive at a place of full understanding and acceptance to actually write a book that (maybe) matters.

But the other thing is – I had to be willing to write the truth. THE TRUTH. Okay, let’s rephrase that to MY TRUTH. Because without the truth my little book is just a racy potboiler drenched in tears. But WITH the truth it is a pilgrimage.

At least I hope so.

The one thing I have always elected to do with this blog is protect the privacy of those included. I never use full names and I even change the initials. Even so, the number of people I have totally PISSED OFF is way higher than I would like.

This makes me sad.

But I also get it. Most people hide behind very heavy cloaks. To have even an inch of that fabric stripped away is disconcerting. Or humiliating. Or both.

I (on the other hand) am just a nude beach waiting to happen. This is a weird and somewhat blessed side effect of spending far too much of your life lying. Or altering the truth. Or hiding the truth? Or maybe not even having a fucking clue of what the truth is.

So … now that my book has gone off to the editor (this morning – yay!) … I am at peace with my truth. I am comfortable with my telling of it. I am satisfied with my depiction of all characters and I am excited to share my work with the world. Somebody’s gonna be pissed, this I know. Somebody’s gonna take offense. Somebody’s gonna be mad as hell that I reopened an old can of worms.

But hopefully somebody is gonna learn something. Somebody is gonna gain knowledge the easy way (reading about it) as opposed to the hard way (living it). Maybe somebody is gonna think twice before making the mistakes I made. And maybe somebody is just gonna try a cheater recipe or two or just be entertained.

Maybe nobody will even read the sucker?

I’m okay with all of this. I’m okay with all of this because I realize now that if I do not tell the truth, my voice is useless. It is only in the baring of my soul, the telling of MY truth and the sympathetic (I hope) portrayal of ALL other players that my voice finds its purpose.

So get ready for “Confessions of a Potty-Mouth Chef: How To Cheat, Eat and Be Happy!”

This baby is 12 years in the making. And she is ready to be born.

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Don’t Say What You Mean. Say What You (Positively) Mean To Mean.

(Stay tuned – there will be a little exercise for you to complete at the end.)

Words.

Clever little things, aren’t they. Tiny soldiers of fortune, marching out of our mouths, waiting to do battle with life. Or ourselves.

Ourselves?

Yes, I’ve just had my first sip. And no, I don’t talk to myself ALL the time. But I do believe we do verbal battle with ourselves at least as often as we do with others. Maybe more. And much like the way we believe we cannot control our thoughts (Yes we can! Go back a few blogs!), we most likely believe (if we give it any thought at all) that we cannot control our internal conversations. Or our external dialogues when the participants are me, myself and I.  Do we ever suspect that our CHOICE of verbiage influences not only our moods, but our actions? Because we should.

Second sip, and perhaps examples are in order.

My pal K looks in the mirror and shrieks, “Damn, I am so fat!”  She steps on the scale every morning and sighs, “Damn, I need to lose thirty lbs.” She joins me for lunch at a bistro and orders a salad with no dressing. “I am obese,” she moans, “so I can’t have a burger, even though it’s what I really want. But I am just so damn fat!”

K is lost. Lost in a sea of negative self-image. And K reinforces that negativity with every sentence that flies out of her mouth, in private or with me at lunch. It’s a constant onslaught of deprecation. And not the funny kind. I just don’t see this as an affirmative approach to living her best life.

And so I offer: “K … do you think you could alter your verbal approach to this weight issue? Make it a little more positive?”

She glares at me, dumbfounded. “There is nothing fucking positive about being a hippo, Vickie!”

(Well yes, there kinda is, because they are endangered and you’d be special. But that’s another blog.)

“Yes, I get that darling and I too could stand to lose a few, but how about tomorrow, when you get on that scale you say, “I am now working on eating less, eating healthier and becoming my best self.”

K gawks at me in disbelief.

Undeterred I ramble on (yes I do it live too): “You are what you think K, and you are what you say. And right now you are angry and miserable. Why not at least TRY being confident and loving, with your words and with YOURSELF?”

K is a dear friend and she trusts me. I know there’s a part of her that absolutely does not want to let go of her “anger” at being overweight. But she also gets that results are most often produced from positive reinforcement. Not endless self-admonishment.

The next time we meet for lunch K has lost 5 lbs. She orders a salad with dressing on the side. When the waiter asks if she’d like dessert K smiles sweetly and replies “Honey, I would love dessert. And I will have dessert again, by golly! But today I am working on eating less and becoming my best and most healthy self. So no thank you.”

I burst into applause. And the waiter returns with a scoop of sugar-free mango sorbet, on the house. We share it with immense glee and leave him a huge tip.

You see, positivity begets positivity. In ALL aspects of life. The Universe is energy and the Universe will always return what it receives.

J is retiring soon. J is looking forward to new adventures but also a little wary. Because J and his wife have been together a very long time and, apart from vacations, have rarely done the 24/7 thing. J suspects the 24/7 thing will be a very messy recipe for disaster.

So what does J email me?  He writes, “I am formulating a game plan for my retirement.”

Not “Oh my God, Vic, what the heck am I going to do?” or “Holy crap Vic, retirement is gonna be hell!” or even “Geez Louise, Vic, I don’t wanna retire!”

No.  J has this covered.  J is creating a game plan.  J is moving forward in his life with optimism.

Is J sharing this game plan with his wife? Doubtful. I mean, seriously, who wants to hear “I dread 24/7 with you, sweetheart, even if you feel exactly the same?”

Words, people, words. Choose them wisely. But choose them positively. Constructively. Because the words you choose will immediately set the tone for your disposition. And J’s disposition, although realistic, is also encouraging. Because J is developing a game plan.

Finally there is C. C is undergoing a painful divorce and often tells me she is hurting. I remember those days. Those days of such torturous heartache, crashing disappointment and abject fear that you will never know love again. I remember those days when it was so easy to get lost in “hurting”. Hurting was automatic. Hurting took no work. Hurting was almost a haven. A harbor where you could float endlessly in a sea of pain.

We all, at times in our lives, need to get through pain. But even here, perhaps the right words can help us.  Instead of “I’m hurting” how about “I am working through the hurt?”

I am not a victim, powerless in this abyss. I am WORKING my way out of this abyss. I acknowledge it. I suffer through it. I dwell in it because I must. I must dwell in it so that I can find my way OUT of it.

“I am working my way through the hurt.”

Just sounds so mush more hopeful, right?

I encourage you to try a little exercise. Pick your most prevalent complaint. Say the words OUT LOUD that encapsulate your most prevalent complaint. Now turn them upside down and say the words that encapsulate your most prevalent complaint with a POSITIVE SPIN.

Here’s mine: “I fucking hate winter.”

Here’s the new me: “Winter is certainly a challenge but in just a few months it will be spring and then summer and golly these twinkle lights are still darn pretty, aren’t they?”

That feels pretty good to me.

Now try yours. And see how it feels to YOU.

I look forward to finding out.

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The Christmas Miracle (and Why Great Expectations Are Never A Good Idea)

 

I have been a Christmas kid ever since I was, well, a kid. I love this time of year. The excitement, the festive feeling, the cheery smiles and the twinkle lights. The music, the decorations and the wrapping of presents. Love it all.

But I think what I always loved most was the hope of magic. The belief that anything could happen. The expectation that something enchanted and unexpected would happen.

Problem was the fates didn’t always cooperate. And sometimes Christmas was just nice. Not otherworldly. Just nice. Not sure why but that somehow disappointed me. Didn’t I deserve magic? You know, like in the movies!

When I had my own child I always strove to make his Christmas magical. Like the year his two favourite Puffalump Ponies (that he had cherished since birth) were worn, threadbare and unable to withstand another washing. He was desolate. Mostly because they were special, lifelong friends and you couldn’t buy new ones. Believe me, we had checked many times. Discontinued.

And so he asked Santa.

That is when Mrs. Claus (me) discovered eBay. And there they were! The ponies were there and all I had to do was “Buy It Now”!

I did. With immense gratitude and a certain modicum of glee. Santa was gonna come through, oh yes!

My son was at the age when skepticism about the whole Santa thing was winning the war against magic. He wasn’t completely sure but he sure as heck had his doubts. Until he opened those two ponies (Bluey and Pinky) on Christmas morning. I will never forget the look on his face. Absolute disbelief, followed by wonder, followed by JOY!

Magic had happened. We were too busy enjoying it to take a picture (oh, the good old days). But it happened. And the facilitating of it was magic enough for me.

Fast forward to my first Christmas as a single woman. My ex and I had already established that our son would spend Christmas Eve with him and his beloved (for her family celebration) and Christmas Day with me for mine. This left me at odds on Christmas Eve. I had spent the 23rd (Christmas Eve Eve) with my family so didn’t want to inflict myself on them three nights in a row. But I didn’t have a beau to amuse me or a son to make magic for.

That’s when I decided on Christmas Eve for Misfit Toys. You know that special island in the Rudolph movie? I simply put the word out. Who wants to come over? Who wants fondue and wine and merriment? Who is a misfit just like me with nowhere to go and nothing to do?

The roster filled quickly and a marvelous night was enjoyed by all. I was incredulous. I had been dreading this hallowed eve. My expectations that it should be filled with family and romantic love had convinced me without these things it would be a crashing disappointment.

Nope. Resounding success.

After dinner another friend and her daughter fetched me to attend midnight mass at our local cathedral. I’m not catholic and not even very religious but I had agreed to go to help them through a rough time. (My friend had just lost her father.)

I was a little tipsy and pretty darn happy and when I walked into that HUGE church (actually a basilica I believe) I was blown away. The grandeur, the music, the throngs, the reverence. It was all pretty overwhelming.

We were late so we tucked in near the back. First my friend’s daughter, then her, then me. Good, thought I. We will cushion her from her sorrow tonight. We are here for her.

Then a tiny little old man tucked in next to me. He couldn’t have been much more than 5’, dressed all dapper in suit and tie with his white hair perfectly groomed. We exchanged smiles as the service began. When it was time for the first hymn he handed me a book. I immediately put it back. “Thank you so much, but no,” I whispered, bending down to reach his ear. “I will share with you.”

His smile lit up the universe.

And so we shared. While my friend bonded with her daughter, little man and I shared and sang. And sang. I’m not much of a hymn singer because my voice is as low as Barry White’s but I did my best. I sang with joy.

When the service was compete and the last carol begun little man looked up at me and said, “One more time to hear your beautiful voice.”

I can assure you my voice was nothing near beautiful that night. I was tipsy and those hymns are so damn high. But the fact that HE thought it was beautiful was the gift I had been longing to receive. Without even knowing it.

When the time came to part I held out my hand for a shake. He just looked up at me and smiled again, holding out his arms. This little man who I didn’t know and would never see again … he wanted to hug me. And so we hugged.

And magic was made. I realized I had been called to that church not so much for my friend (she had her daughter) but for that little man. Who had no one. Alone on Christmas Eve he didn’t even have misfit toys. He had no one. Until he had me.

To this day I count that Christmas Eve as one of the very best of my life. I truly had no expectations. I had not subscribed to that Disney movie magical scenario that when fulfilled would overload my heart with peace and spread twinkle dust all over my head.

I just took care of some other people.

And it was good.

Which brings us to this year.

Yes, I have a beloved and yes I have family and yes my son still spends every Christmas Eve with his father. I also live two hours away from my family and an ocean away from the family of my beloved. We will (as tradition dictates) do Christmas dinner with my family (facilitated fist time ever by my niece and her husband). And of course we could spend Christmas Eve somewhere in those circles too. But I have another dear friend requiring some extra special care this year. So we shall spend Christmas Eve in a hotel. We will meet her halfway and wine and dine her in a restaurant and make as merry as we possibly can. And on Christmas morning there will be a tiny tree and underneath it will be a boat-load of dollar store presents, just waiting to be opened.

She doesn’t know that part. We agreed on “no gifts”. But Santa is magical, right? The rules don’t apply.

Did I ever expect to fall asleep Christmas Eve in a hotel? Nope. Did I ever expect to wake up Christmas morning in a hotel? Nope. Do I ever expect to spend Christmas Eve with my son ever again? Damn straight I do.

But this year I expect nothing. Nothing except friendship. Caring. Family. Love. And beyond that, the Universe can make magic if it wants.

Or not.

I now know that the magic comes in the giving.

And Santa, I am your most humble assistant.

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Taking A Christmas Stroll Down Memory Lane. (Or why the good old days were so good.)

IMG_7061IMG_7062IMG_706325734261_10155049663515785_712387558681536348_od7b623d613ea5296686aa28b15bcb96e25734134_10155049663345785_1631256999125092758_oHere it is, almost December and the season is upon us. For some (read: me) it’s already here. For others it is soon coming. For you Grinches – never mind. It will come whether you like it or not.

I like it. I am a true Christmas girl and I like it. I like starting it early. For that matter I like ending it early. I could quite easily take down all the festoons on Boxing Day and fly south. But the lead-up to December 25, I love.

This year I am feeling extra sentimental. We moved (again) in 2019. For me, this is move #7 in 15 years. Christmas in a new home can be fun (where the heck will we put that tree?) but every time you move, an old tradition evaporates, forcing new traditions to evolve. And the thing about traditions is they are, by their very definition, “born of the old”.

So I am thinking a lot these days about my childhood in Waterloo. And those random Christmas memories flood in like eggnog on Christmas Eve.

(For the record I don’t like eggnog.)

When we were quite young, my mother would give my sister and me some money to shop at the local Five and Dime. In the days when things really did cost five or ten cents. We had 13 cousins and it was our job to purchase a present for each. She gave us $2. You read that right – two bucks and 13 gifts. And we did it! We did it joyfully and excitedly and argumentatively (hey, it was my sister) and with much gravity too. Because this was serious business! We were in charge as Santa’s helpers. And my mother left us alone. It was OUR responsibility.

Oh, how I loved that special Saturday morning in December. Even more so when she (eventually) upped our account to $5. Oh yeah, we were big spenders.

What I loved even more was watching my cousins’ faces when they opened these handpicked gifts on Christmas Eve. After an early church service (more on that in a minute) whoever was close by would convene at my grandparents’ home. There would be zwieback and sugarbuns and I don’t remember what else. Except for that tiny box of chocolates that we each received from our grandma. A tiny box of Pot of Gold. It truly was gold to us. So luxurious. So grown-up. So very special.

Much like the Oh Henry bar we got at church. Because after the Sunday School program (always ending with a raucous chorus of “We Wishhhhhh You A Merry Chrissssssstmas”) each child was gifted with a brown paper bag filled with peanuts. In the shell. Maybe a walnut or two. A clementine. And a full-size Oh Henry Bar!

Can you imagine the delight? The enchantment? The peanuts?

Can you imagine our children (these days) being gleeful over the same?

But I digress …

As I got older (with an allowance) I started facilitating Christmas on my own. I treated myself to my first-ever very own personal Christmas decoration. A skinny Santa. Perhaps I already knew that a skinny anything would be on my Christmas list in years to come? But I saw that Santa and I just knew he had to come home with me.

I bought my own box of Christmas cards. My best friend and I exchanged them daily throughout the month of December. We wrote long notes and shared our Christmas dreams. Oh, how I looked forward to that post every day (delivered at school).

I didn’t have a lot to spend but oh (again), how I loved buying gifts. Especially for my mother. I think I already had it pegged that she might be in cahoots with Santa so I wanted to personally bring her some surprises on Christmas morning. I spent hours at our nearby K-Mart, counting my change, doing the math (the only arithmetic I was ever good at was counting money) and deducing what I could afford. I still remember some of those gifts. Gifts I bought for her with my own (read: allowance given to me by her) money. A gold satin pillow (for the blue-flowered velvet sofa). A candle in a jar covered in plastic wicker (I think it was red, you know, to match the couch and pillow). And the most magical? A pair of clip-on earrings. They were gold with fake emeralds. They were very expensive. Like maybe $8? I would have to forego the stuffed reindeer that I really wanted to buy (for myself).

I forewent. (what the heck is the past dense of forego?)

And on Christmas morning my mother awoke to an exceptional pair of gold clip-on earrings with fake green emeralds which her younger daughter had purchased with hew own (kinda) money so that she would have something spectacular (in my world) to wear with her fancy blue dress (blue and green match, right?).

I had actually forgotten about those. Those earrings. Until this last year when my sister, having purged the final installment of my mother’s belongings, offered  to me a small treasure trove of jewelry. We had already gifted the good stuff so this was the fluff.

The fluff.

The cheap stuff. The fun stuff. The souvenirs and the memories. And the clip-on gold earrings with fake emeralds that her younger daughter had gifted her with one Christmas morning many, many decades ago.

I guess I miss those good old days. I guess my rose-coloured glasses are firmly in place. I guess I am getting old.

I still have the skinny Santa.

I still have many of the ancient ornaments that bedecked not only my family’s tree but my grandparents’ tree.

I have two handmade stockings (one made by my mother, one by my aunt).

Damn, I have no idea what happened to that gold pillow and red candle.

But I now have the gold and fake emerald earrings. (Pretty sure the gold is fake too.)

I also have a funny little beeswax candle surrounded by a fake wreath that my son made for me in kindergarten. Yes, that comes out every year too. The circle of life.

Honestly, I am not a “good-old-days” kinda gal. THESE days are my good days. Today is my best day. Tomorrow will be even better. But I think a little nostalgia this time of year serves us well. We are reminded of where we came from. What shaped us. What we learned, what we gave and what brought us joy.

My son is also a Christmas guy. At the ripe old age of 26 he makes no bones about his love of this season. This weekend we will chop down a tree and decorate it with all those fragile and still beautiful ornaments that have been passed down through three generations. He will delight in unwrapping each one (so will I).

Skinny Santa will waiting in his room. His new room that he has never seen. So will those stockings. And the beeswax candle.

And maybe … just maybe … when we carve the turkey on Christmas Day … I will wear those earrings.

Or maybe I will pay them forward.

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Baby, It’s (Getting Ridiculously, Stupidly, Politically Correctly, Decidedly) Dumb Outside

I love Christmas music. Really truly love it. And particularly classic Christmas music. I love the crooners, the standards, the songs that have stood the test of time. I love expert songwriting. Ever look at the lyrics to “White Christmas” or “Chestnuts Roasting”? Minuscule. I mean the text to both these songs is minuscule. Tiny. Just a few words. Just a few beautifully crafted, brilliantly-written words. A really great song does not have to have a lot of words. It has to have the right words.

I also understand the me-too movement. I understand that far too many women have experienced anything and everything from unnecessary coercion to outright sexual assault. I feel very fortunate that I have never been in a situation (drunk or sober) that was distressing or uncomfortable.

I have no idea why. Why other women have and I have not. Luck? Good choices? Maybe I’ve always been a bitch-on-wheels? All I know is I have been in many “situations”, some fond memories, some regrets, but never have I felt threatened or not in control.

Now please understand I am only telling you this to set the stage for my upcoming rant. Because I know that somebody somewhere is gonna say “Yeah, well IF you had you wouldn’t be so cavalier! You don’t understand because it never happened to you!”

Fair enough.

I guess.

I just love Christmas music. And I have always loved “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I believe it is truly one of the most endearing, cleverly constructed, beautifully rendered, flirtatious little man/woman duets ever recorded. By many, many artists. Over many, many years. Some are great, some are good, some are fine and some are horrid. The renditions, not the song. The song remains the same.

Until this year. Until in 2019 John Legend and Kelly Clarkson decide to rewrite it. Take away any and all implications of non-consensual potential.

They also take away all charm, all cleverness, all brilliance and all that sweetly flirtatious man-woman dialogue that yes, might be a tad dated but is also delightful in its archival innocence.

Yes – back then women had to worry about what the neighbours think.

Yes – back then women had to be concerned about getting home at a proper time.

Yes – back then women had to get home at a proper time.

Yes – back then sometimes women actually wanted to stay.

Yes – back then women had to constantly fight basic urges against societal proprieties.

Yes – back then women had to act the good girl, even when they just maybe wanted to a be a bit naughty.

And YES – sometimes lyrics were written simply to find the perfect rhyme. “The neighbours might think. Say what’s in this drink?”

Yeah. Frank Loesser could have gone with “The neighbours might think, That baby you stink.” Or maybe “You’re a rat fink.” Or even “Pass me my mink.”

Except that would be politically incorrect now too.

They were having cocktails for fuck’s sake.

*aside – There’s a song in the musical “Annie Get Your Gun” where Frank and Annie sing “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” Frank sings: I can knit a sweater. (Yay, not sexist).  Annie replies: I can fill it better.

I played that role. I sang those words. It always got a huge laugh and no one was offended.

So now we have John and Kelly taking it upon themselves to “update” (read: bastardize) this old (1944) chestnut. I don’t see anybody updating “Santa Baby” but okaaaay. Personally I figure if you don’t like a song write a different one. But if you absolutely have to rewrite a classic at least make the rewrite GOOD.

John and Kelly – this is shit.

This is like a Saturday Night Live skit gone horribly wrong. Not “out there” enough to be funny and not clever enough to make your point.

These new lyrics are LAME.

“My mom will start to worry (I’ll call the car and tell him to hurry)”

LAME.

“So, really, I’d better scurry (Your driver, his name is Murray)”

SUPER LAME

“What will my friends think? (Well I think they should rejoice) If I have one more drink? (It’s your body and your choice)

LAME PREACHY

“I ought to say, “No, no, no, sir” (Then you really ought to go, go, go)”

GEEZ. THE WHOLE POINT IS SHE DOESN’T WANNA SAY NO NO NO.”

“At least I’m gonna say that I tried (Well, Murray, he just pulled up outside)”

WE HAVE NOW REACHED A NEW LOW IN LYRIC RECREATION.

The only line that is even vaguely clever is this: “My daddy will be pacing the floor (Wait, what are you still livin’ home for?)” Yep. That one got a small chuckle from me.

And then – the crowning glory in this shitstorm of banality – THE UBER DRIVER GETS HIS OWN LINE: “[The driver ] Ma’am, I really can’t stay”

I rest my case.

This is a very LAME comedy routine.

Except I don’t think that is what was intended. And I’m pretty sure if this version had been released BEFORE John Legend was named “Sexiest Man Alive” the fine folks at People Magazine would have rethunk. Cause there ain’t nothing sexy about this.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is not a song about date rape. It is a song about date-dialogue in a bygone era. Period.

You don’t have to believe in Jesus to appreciate “Silent Night”. You don’t have to speak Spanish to sing along with “Feliz Navidad.” You don’t have to hate your granny to find “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” amusing. IF you do. I personally think it’s the stupidest Christmas song EVER. So when it comes on, I turn it off. That’s all. I don’t rewrite the lyrics to be politically correct for 2019. Grandma doesn’t survive and take Santa to court for a hit and run. She doesn’t sue Rudolph for potentially drunk flying. And do you remember the line about Santa “playing with elves??”

Yep.

I am not going to tell you to lighten up or grow up or get a grip or even agree with me.

A classic is a classic is a classic. If you like it, turn it up. If you hate it, turn it off.

And if you’re a songwriter – go write your own damn songs. Or go be sexy. Whatever. Do YOUR thing. Spread your message. Speak your truth.

And let Frank Loesser’s masterpiece stand for exactly what it is.

A classic.

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How Much Social Energy Do You Waste On Guilt?

I was recently conversing with a friend about her active social calendar. G was having a difficult time fitting in all the things she felt she needed to fit in to appease all the people who had invited her to to fit herself into their social plans. She was fretting that with the festive season coming it would only get worse. How could she possibly get to every dinner, every party, every charity event and every casual cocktail hour and still maintain her sanity? There just aren’t enough hours in the day!

I suggested she take a deep breath and tell me which events she was really looking forward to. Which events tickled her fancy? Excited her about potential participation.
She named two. Of the twelve occasions in her datebook she named only two.

So I, in my great and unmatched wisdom (sorry) said “Okay then, just go to those two.”

I thought it was pretty simple.

“But how can I ignore those other people and their parties?” she howled, arms flailing. “They expect me to be there!”

“Tell them you regretfully can’t make it,” I answered.

“But I actually CAN make it,” she countered. “I just don’t wanna. I’ll have to lie and make up an excuse. Pretend I’m sick or something.”

Well see, here’s the thing, G. No you don’t.

Allow me to repeat that. NO. YOU. DON’T.

You are not morally obligated to accept every invitation you receive nor are you ethically obligated to go to every charity event and you are certainly not socially obligated to attend ANY function that will in no way enhance your life. I mean seriously, isn’t that the point of social functions? To enhance your life with revelry or deepened friendship or clever conversation or even excellent cuisine? Why go anywhere when you know you will be either bored silly, uncomfortable or watching the clock. For whatever reason.

Okay I will concede there are certain occasions when you just go, irrespective of your personal feelings. Family weddings. Milestone birthdays. Retirement parties. Once-in-a-lifetime events that demand celebration. I’m talking more about those everyday shindigs. The ones that compete for your energy, your stamina and your presence.

As I get older I find that my, how shall I say, willingness to dress up and go out anywhere has diminished greatly. I still enjoy dolling up at times and I certainly relish a good dinner party with great friends or just some casual cocktails that lead to stimulating repartee. I’m just not ALWAYS up for large, impersonal social events.

I have therefore been trying to teach myself to say no. As in no thank you. As in no I can’t make it and I don’t need to provide you with a reason. Just no. No IS a full sentence.
It’s not easy, this I know. My pal A is in the awkward position of choosing between a family event that is NOT a milestone and a weekend with good friends that she KNOWS she will savor. Her guilt gene tells her family must prevail! Her social gene says I want that time with my pals.

You know what I say? Life is too short to waste social energy on guilt. I’m not even sure if there is such a thing as social energy but I’m going to run with the concept that such a thing does in fact exist. We all have family energy, we have work energy, we have hobby energy and we have friend energy. But yes, we also have social energy. And as we mature I believe its supply diminishes. I actually have a “no two nights in a row” rule now which I fervently try to implement. It basically means if I am socializing on Friday then I am home with my beloved on Saturday. And Thursday.

It never used to be that way. I could just go, go, go like the Energizer Bunny.

Not anymore. I prefer not to.

That’s correct. I prefer my dull, boring, unthrilling, fully contented cut-off-jeaned, un-made-up life.

At least every second night.

So the next time you get invited to something that holds no interest, or competes with something that does, or is just not your jam or you just don’t wanna … don’t. No matter how much someone else wants you to.

Remember these words – Life is too short to waste social energy on guilt.

Invest your social energy in joy. In pursuits that revive you. In celebrations that speak to your soul. There will be more than enough “have-tos” in your life. Allow your social calendar to be brimming with “want-tos.” You are your own cruise director.
It’s Halloween night and I’m about to hand out a bunch of candy. This is exactly what I want to do tonight. Nothing more, nothing less.

Tomorrow night I will welcome some good friends for drinks. And no, that’s not two nights in a row. I mean it IS. But there is no guilt in either of these endeavours. Only pleasure.

Staying at home with no makeup and cut-off jeans is just a bonus.

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“You Don’t Have To Be A Good Girl To Be A Good Person”

These “immortal” words were penned by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”). They’re probably not immortal at all, actually. She probably just penned them to publicize her latest tome “City Of Girls”.

If you’ve been reading my ramblings for a few years you probably already know that I’m a big fan of EG. She’s a darn fine writer and more importantly, a damn clever girl. And truth be told, it was her famous memoir that compelled me to write this blog. In my own voice. As she had written her adventures. Once I realized that I didn’t have to BE a “writer” and all I had to do was communicate my thoughts truthfully from MY perspective, well, the words started tumbling out. Or I guess rambling out might be a better turn of phrase.

So I just started reading Ms. G’s new book and I’ll admit that much like her previous work of fiction (“The Signature Of All Things”), this one is a slow starter. So slow, in fact, that after about 50 pages (and dwindling optimism) I almost gave up on “City Of Girls”. I didn’t. And I haven’t. And I’m happy to report that now, more than a third of the way in, I am becoming more interested. The characters are more interesting. More rounded. More compelling.

C of G starts out in the 40s, when good girls were just that … good. Women were supposed to be virgins until marriage. Moral propriety was instilled from a young age. Wanton behaviour was unacceptable and a reputation was something definitely NOT to be ruined.

At least that’s what I think. You see, I wasn’t around in the 40s. I’ve just read books and watched movies and listened to my mother. There were rules. Rules were meant to be followed.

This new book (at least so far) takes an entirely different approach. New York City is a veritable den of brazen delights, meant to be sampled nightly by our gorgeous heroines, soaked in gin and cigarettes, jazz and juke joints, countless pliable males and sex, sex, sex!

Which got me to thinking about my (misspent) youth.

You see I kind of straddled the sedate 60s (hey, I was a baby) and the swinging 70s (where I grew up in a hurry) and even the easy 80s (before HIV scared the hell out of us all). I was a late bloomer sexually and yes, there was a very real part of me who believed my first lover would become my husband. Now even if he had, my mother would have been none to please that we consummated our love prior to wedlock. As a matter of fact, when she found out I had gone on the pill she didn’t speak to me for two weeks. My father, on the other hand, said “That is something you tell your father and NOT your mother!”

Well … okay then. The truth is I always had some rebel in me and by the time I reached the end of high school said rebel could not be contained. She was ready to take the wanton world by storm!

Maybe an exaggeration. I actually did marry the second guy I slept with. That blessed union lasted an entire year and it was then and only then that my wild child was born.
I embraced freedom (from my parents, from a husband, from society’s outdated codes) with a fevered ferocity. I was always honest and I was always kind (I hope) but I wasn’t always a good girl. I mean, I think I was a good girl. I was a good friend and a good daughter (TO my parents, not FOR them) and I was a good sister and a good roommate (I had the best – oh God, the adventures she and I had!). But I no longer attached sex to love. To happily ever after. To husband material only. Sex was interesting. Sometimes fun. Sometimes entertainment. Sometimes a crashing disappointment and sometimes duller than bad TV on a Saturday night.

But sex was MINE to choose. Mine to orchestrate. Facilitate. Enjoy, turn down, rinse and repeat or even confuse with love.

What, who me?

Of course, me.

Because all those earlier life lessons didn’t just go quietly into that good night. They still nagged. They whispered. Sometimes they barked like a Doberman.

I usually drank them quiet.

Much like the nubile young showgirls in C of G.

I have no idea how this book will end. Ms. Gilbert’s book, I mean. I do know that I am (finally) interested enough to find out.

As for my own story, it is most definitely a long, winding and vibrantly colourful road. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll write it down. What I have learned – about myself and dare I say most women of my generation – is that straddling that line between being a “good girl” and having a “good time” wasn’t always easy. And don’t get me wrong here. When I say a “good time” I don’t mean a licentious and corrupt pursuit of carnal pleasure. I mean FREEDOM. Freedom to act as men have acted throughout the ages.

Freedom to explore. Freedom to experience. Freedom to choose. Freedom to be 100% human in all its glory.

No, it wasn’t always easy.

And it didn’t require alcohol either.

It required fortitude. It required belief. Belief that men and women don’t “get” separate rules. Belief that sometimes pleasure in itself is a highly worthwhile pursuit. Belief that my mother’s rules are not my rules.

And most importantly belief that just because my mother’s rules are not my rules I am NOT a bad person.

Yes. I learned long ago (even without the help of Elizabeth G) that YES – you can be a “good person” and not be a “good girl”. You can choose your path and walk it without apology, all the while still being good. Good to your family. Good to the people around you. Good to the world.

My personal “book” has brought me to a wonderfully fulfilling place. Do I regret certain escapades? Of course. Do I remember them all? Yes I do! If I could would I change anything?

Yeah, here’s where you think I’m going to say no. But that’s just dumb. Of course I would change certain things. Wouldn’t we all?

The point is, I had the freedom to choose to make mistakes. The freedom to live by my own definition. The freedom to participate in my own life by my own rules.
For that I make no apology. For that I express deep gratitude.

As for that City Of Girls, who knows how it will turn out for them? My gut tells me some will thrive and some will lose.

I’m pretty sure that in the grand scheme of life, the same goes for us all.

Good girl or not.

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Why I Am No Longer A Damsel In Distress

It’s funny (not really) how you can reach the age of 50 and have no idea who you really are or what kind of programs you have been running (unsuccessfully) your entire life.

Yes – programs. Like a computer. We all install our own programs (usually at a young age) that we think will serve us well. We discover these programs via movies, books, our parents, friends and fairy tales and then we self-install (unwittingly), assuming (based on nothing concrete) that our operating system will benefit.

And then we age and experience and learn and suffer and get disappointed and suffer some more and then if we really, really pay attention we finally choose to decipher those programs, scrutinize them, analyze them and probably realize that they are mostly … shite. Malarkey. Poppycock.

Now that I am past the age of 50, with a multitude of life and love experiences colouring my outlook, I am been forced to confess that one of my most compelling operating systems was “Damsel In Distress”. And no, I do not mean I was a fragile weakling of a woman, waiting in a tower spinning silk whilst awaiting Prince Charming. I mean I was always “looking” for a man to bring meaning to my life. A man to bring joy to my existence. A man to rescue me from the prosaic tedium of everyday life.

Don’t get me wrong … I wasn’t JUST looking for that dude. I was singing and traveling and having fun and sometimes getting into trouble. But there was ALWAYS a GUY somewhere in the picture. And when that guy started to flounder there was always ANOTHER guy waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces. I always had a Plan B. I always solidified Plan B before ditching Plan A.

I was an asshole.

And a Damsel in Distress. Because I fully believed that without that dashing hero I was a useless heroine. Incapable of defining my own existence. I hadn’t read “Paper Bag Princess” and probably wouldn’t have liked it even if I had.

And then my heart’s true desire showed up. Life and love as I had always imagined became real. I was living the dream.

You know. For a minute or two. Until “Heart’s True Desire” moved on and left me a true Damsel In Distress. No Plan B. No guy waiting in the wings.

I was just alone.

And so after a (distressing and pitiful) spell I started dating. But eventually I also started living my own life. Gathering together a girlfriend posse. Volunteering at my son’s school. Singing professionally. All things that had been back-burnered in my ongoing pursuit of LOVE.

It took years. And I mean many, many years. The thing with programs is that when you finally begin to uninstall them, once again you may not even realize you are doing it. You just keep writing new code and trying new systems and then SUDDENLY (not really) you are totally updated. Maybe even upgraded.

My darling ex husband genuinely wanted to be my Knight in Shining Armour. He even said those exact words to me after the third or fourth time I left him. The problem was he just didn’t know how to implement that program and I didn’t understand the manual. We were incapable of communicating (two entirely different operating systems). So even when we scored the occasional win, we always returned to “system malfunction”.

But when I left him the final time for HTD (sounds like a disease but I mean “Heart’s True Desire”) my darling ex found himself in daily communication with HTD’s darling ex. They were in the same boat. They shared the same pain. They got each other instantly and they built on that understanding. She was quite rightly a broken mess and he was a DUDE (also somewhat broken) who could not only empathize with her mess but SAVE her from that mess. She was a Damsel in much Distress and he finally had a program he could implement.

He could rescue her.

And he did.

Some people said it would never last. Rebound and all that stuff.

Wrongo.

Fifteen years and still going strong.

Maybe some fairy tales are actually meant to be? Maybe some programs just need to find the right computer?

Okay. I give up on the metaphor.

I am most grateful they found each other and rode off into the sunset. It certainly helped lessen my guilt.

The problem was … I was still desperately running that old program. Waiting for that KISA (Knight in Shining Armour) to rescue me. I mean, I THOUGHT I was. Desperate. I thought I sincerely and desperately wanted a partner.

OMG.

That was the tipping point. I did NOT want to be rescued. I did not want to be saved and I did not want to spend my life with some guy on a white horse.

I wanted a partner.

So when my first real post-HTD relationship struggled on the brink of extinction, did I revert to that old program and procure Plan B before abandoning Plan A?

I did not.

I came to the rational conclusion that we were simply not a good fit. I bid that lovely boy a fond farewell and I got on with my SOLO life.

Yep.

I was middle-aged, living in a new town, my son was off on his own adventures and I didn’t have a clue how I was going to function solo. But I knew that clueless on my own was better than clued-in with the wrong mate.

I rescued myself. I paper-bag-princessed the fuck out of my life. There was no prince abandon or to save or find or bow down to or hope for.

Okay not true. Obviously I was still hoping for a prince. Not even a prince. You know, just some cute commoner to augment my already pretty cool life as a teammate. I didn’t need saving from anything.

Talk about a shift in planetary energy!

It took exactly two months for Prince R to show up.

And here, in our tiny kingdom, after more than seven years, he doth remain. Augmenting my life as I hope I do his.

The program I am running these days is decidedly different. If you own a computer or even a phone you already know that if you do not update constantly you get left behind. You become obsolete. You can reboot all you want but eventually that old system needs to be put to rest.

Amen.

I was a DID (Damsel in Distress) for far too many years. I would have punched you in the face had you called me that (aren’t we a ridiculously proud lot?) but the absolute truth is THAT is exactly what I was.

Now I like to think of myself as a co-president of an international cooperative.

Developing new programs daily. Implementing them, improving them and sharing them.

This ain’t Disneyland. And I ain’t no damsel in distress. There’s no white horse, no shining armour and no happily ever after.

There IS happily right now.

And this is definitely a program I can log on too.

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