Nature Escape Monday, Oct 12 2020 

The Midwest is popping with color. One of my favorite escapes is a walk through nature. With the change of seasons in this area of the U.S., the scenery is never stagnant. A surprise awaits at every time of year, and this autumn is not letting us down.

This past weekend, my boyfriend, Paul, and I walked along the Batavia Riverwalk along the Fox River in Batavia, Illinois. The path is gorgeous at any time of year but autumn offers a feast for the senses. The meandering river, active wildlife, vibrant plant growth, and rustling, falling leaves participate in a well-orchestrated dance that can be seen, heard, and smelled.

An American Goldfinch, in its winter coat, calmly posed for us in a bed of wildflowers.

Geese lazily glided down the river.

A gull feasted on fresh fish.

And ducks basked in the October sun.

The river leapt over the little dam.

But the greatest surprise of the day was what I believe to be jasmine. It’s delightful fragrance announced its presence before we spotted the lush growth attracting hungry bees.

The Wildflower Sanctuary on the Batavia Riverwalk is a joint project of the Batavia Plain Gardeners Organization and the Batavia Park District in cooperation with the City of Batavia and the Riverain Apartment complex. Volunteers initiated the project in 1991 and continue to maintain it.

A short retreat to this sanctuary, or your closest park, forest, or prairie can offer well-needed respite. Join the volunteers or simply escape into nature for a boost of peace and happiness.

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Do you know that October is the month of the rosary?

Our 1950-Early 1960s Moms Wednesday, Sep 16 2020 

One of my many blessings is a group of women who I’ve known since high school. Susie, Sally, Mary Ellen, and I have supported one another through the ups and downs of life for almost 50 years. As an added bonus, we gained the wisdom of each other’s parents. All of our parents acted as our bumpers in the bowling alley of life. My friends and I could go to any parent, any time.

With the recent passing of Susie’s mother, our last living parent, I was reminded of the responsibilities of women in our early childhood. Homemaking was an exhausting full-time job back then. Mothers had little, if any, time of their own. Their life was about service to family.

When I was a child, visions of my mother included seeing her standing at the washing machine, ironing board, or wearing an apron at the stove. Mom was always working. She didn’t have the conveniences of a microwave, dishwasher, permanent press clothes, or even the ability to drive a car. She walked to the grocery store dragging her folding shopping cart and kids in toe.

Women’s work was labor intensive. Food was cooked from scratch, dishes were washed by hand, clothes needed knuckle-bleeding scrubbing on washboards before tossing into the washing machine, socks were darned, everything had to be ironed, and shoes were polished weekly. The work was never-ending.

Some vendors went directly to the homemaker. Vacuum cleaner, encyclopedia, magazines, and cleaning supply salesmen knocked on the door and gave their sales pitches. Milkmen dropped off the heavy glass containers of milk. Some vendors strolled the streets with push carts or small trucks while ringing bells or calling out their goods such as rags, fresh vegetables, and even bleach for sale, as well as knife sharpening.

During the school year, children came home for lunch. Mothers had only a couple of hours for their morning chores before they needed to prepare our lunches, clean up, and send us back to school for the afternoon. No doubt, it seemed that they barely got us out the door when we returned looking for snacks, needing help with homework, and asking the all-important question, “What’s for Dinner?”

What seemed like most of my childhood, my mother was pregnant. Mom was accomplishing her duties in hot summer kitchens and chilly winters with a growing belly. She had five live births and one stillborn, a total of 54 months of pregnancy in 13 years, which wasn’t unusual at that time. Reliable birth control was not available and any attempt at preventing pregnancy in our Catholic families was frowned upon.

One of my favorite memories of my mother is of her ironing in the living room and watching soap operas, with me at her side while I “ironed” doll clothes on my little ironing board. I was raised to be a wife and mother, just like Mom. However, I had no idea how exhausting her days were. Some women worked outside of the home in limited positions, such as nursing, secretarial, and teaching. However, once married, most “retired.” Wife and mother was their job.

Through all of this, women of the 50s/60s were required to look their best at all times. Most wore (circle or sheath/wiggle) dresses, pencil skirts, stockings, and pumps or stiletto shoes year-round, although pants were becoming popular on occasion. Waists were cinched with a belt or sash. Undergarments included girdles, bullet bras, garter belts, slips, and scratchy petticoats to make their circle dresses stand out.

When out of the house, women were certain every hair was in place and makeup was applied, especially lipstick. Accessories included pearls, clip-on earrings, broaches, gloves, a clutch purse, and often, a hat. Little boots could be worn in winter snow storms, but their outfits were designed for beauty, not comfort or warmth.

On behalf of all the “children” my age, we are most grateful to all the loving and hardworking moms. Their attention to providing us with nurturing homes is gratefully appreciated.

***

Photos: Mary, Susie, Sally, Mary Ellen, 2020. Shopping cart and washboard. My parents, John and Pat Doyle, 1956. My grandmother (Florence McCarthy), mother, and Aunt Marlene, 1963.

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Have you read, Love from a Distance,” my blog post on COVID restrictions on families visiting loved ones in memory care homes, on my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books?

Are You Sympathetic, Empathetic–or Neither? Thursday, Sep 3 2020 

“I know exactly how you feel?” We often say this, but is it really true?

Few situations are identical. However, it’s easier for us to sympathize with someone whose experience is similar to one we’ve been through.

I have great sympathy for pregnant women in the Midwest this summer. With the anxieties of COVID and the social unrest in addition to the challenges of pregnancies during the hottest summer on record, these women must be pillars of strength and endurance. I’m certainly not pregnant now! My pregnancies are long-passed. But I can relate to the discomfort of summer pregnancies while in the midst of frightening circumstances. I really do sympathize with them.

In contrast, I empathize with the struggles of people of color. I’m not Black or Brown, so I can’t know how it really is for them. I can only imagine how it might feel to be Black and entering a store with all white people or question why it appears to me that I’m treated differently.

Sympathy and empathy are similar yet distinctly different words. When sympathetic, we relate emotionally to someone from a point of experience. We share feelings with another person.

Empathy is emotionally distant. We may imagine being in a particular situation but have not experienced it personally. We can’t really know the emotional impact to things we have no reference to ourselves.

If we’ve never been without a meal, how can we know how it is to have little to no food to feed our family for weeks on end? If we haven’t fled our home town in fear of our safety, can we really envision the desperation of leaving all of our friends and family behind to trek hundreds of intensely hot and terrifying miles to seek asylum in a strange land? We don’t personally know the suffering that comes with such a decision.

Our world is currently crying for empathy. People are literally shouting to be heard, to be understood. Everyone benefits from good listening skills, imagining how it might feel to walk in our neighbor’s flip flops, and taking other people’s feelings to heart. Peace will come if we are still and quiet long enough to be even a little empathetic.

***

Check out my post, Riches to Rags, on St. Francis and the sweet town of Assisi, Italy and also my website for all of my books.

Who Knows the Truth? Tuesday, Jul 21 2020 

Throughout the world, and certainly in the United States of America, we are fiercely fighting for truth. However, our versions of truth, justice, and equality are polarized to a point that is exploding.

We hold on to our truths dearly, but how long has it been since we strove to understand rather than shout our perception of right? And when was the last time we reviewed the bases of our own truths?

Truth is defined as the actual state of a matter, a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, or principle. It’s a body of real things, events, and facts, a property of being in accord with fact or reality.  

We accept our truths based on research, unique experiences, and the wisdom of political, religious, and social leaders as well as our mentors. All of these factors bring us to a personal truth, one that may be quite different from our neighbors. In addition, we humans are flawed and perhaps all of us are biased to some level, which compromises our ability to be completely truthful.

It’s important to recognize how much we reflect the leaders we follow. These leaders influence our words and actions. We repeat and imitate what they preach.

A trustworthy leader exemplifies vital qualities and characteristics such as honesty, integrity, transparency, confidence, commitment, accountability, empowerment, empathy, compassion, and vision. Strong decision-making capabilities and communication skills are important. Trustworthy leaders promote unity and team-work. They substantiate their facts, express honest opinions as such, and do not exaggerate, distort, or take facts out of context.

America was born on radical ideas, cultural diversity, and a wide range of beliefs. The promise that we will be tolerant and accepting of these differences is what makes our country so beautiful, exciting, and fascinating and offers opportunities to learn and grow from one another.

If we want peace at home and throughout the world, we all must step back, breathe slowly, listen to all points of view, and respond with compassion toward our brothers and sisters. And we need to seriously consider the leaders we believe in, trust, and identify with.

***

Check out, God’s Kingdom Here and Now and First Place Award for The Alzheimer’s Spouse on my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books.

Masked Since Antiquity Tuesday, Jun 30 2020 

Mandated or recommended, masks are the talk of the day. Do we have the right to choose wearing them or not? Which ones are best? Why do we dislike them? And do we really need them?

Personally, I see mask wearing like cigarette smoking. I understand the desire and choice to smoke but I hate the smell, and I don’t believe anyone has the right to inflect their second-hand smoke on me and my health. In the same way, I understand the discomfort and inconvenience of mask wearing, but I don’t believe anyone has the right to spread their potentially deadly germs in my face. If they won’t wear a mask, they can remain in their home.

Since the Stone Age, masks have been worn by nearly all cultures. The oldest known mask is from 7000 BC. Traditional ones were used for protection, disguise, hunting, entertainment, punishment, membership in secret societies, celebration, healings, and rituals. They were made from any number of materials including leather, wood, and feathers. I have one from Hawaii made from volcanic ash and covered in carved symbols.


One of the few collections I have is a wall grouping of masks, carvings, and a painting I’ve acquired from my travels. In addition to the one made from ash, the collection includes a ritual mask from Papua, New Guinea purchased in Hawaii and one made by the Incas and purchased in Aruba, festival masks from Venice, Italy, face carvings from Alaska and Jamaica, a totem from Hawaii, a leather work from Portugal, and a painting of a turtle on tapas, a type of fabric carefully and arduously made from softened wood bark. My attraction to these items stemmed from their craftmanship, symbolism, and personal contact with the artist or vendor.

When I purchased the ritual masks, I was assured that they had been cleansed. The spirits of the dead or other beings were no longer attached, so I needn’t be concerned about carrying those spirits home with me. That statement opened up a greater fascination and appreciation of the artifacts. I had no knowledge of the historical or cultural meaning of them or that death masks were created in the likeness of the deceased.

Some ritual masks, such as those in West Africa, are used to communicate with ancestral or animal spirits. They can be quite symbolic. For example, closed eyes may show tranquility while bulging foreheads means wisdom.

Today we are familiar with masks of protection such as those for welders, gas masks, police shields, oxygen masks, and our all so familiar, medical and health masks. I don’t plan on adding any of these to my wall.

***

Have you read “Angels to Guard You Wherever You Go” and “Easy Test with Big Answers” on Mary K Doyle Books?

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Please “Like” me on Facebook. I sure like you!

Bird or Bug? Monday, Jun 15 2020 

They may be young but they are often smarter than the adults.

I have two seven-year-old grandsons, a five-year-old granddaughter and five-year-old grandson. Technology doesn’t intimidate any of them. The two oldest grandsons became ZOOM experts before I did. Their parents expose the children to nature, athletic classes, and travels that I didn’t experience until much later in life.

And their energy can be deceiving. As they literally run circles around us, the wee ones are taking in everything around them and remember what they saw and heard, especially if it is something we’d rather they hadn’t noticed.

This past weekend, my grandsons Daniel and Nathan helped me water my garden. We saw an unusual creature hovering over the petunias and sucking up nectar. I thought it was a bee or other type of insect because it had three body parts—a head, thorax, and abdomen, but it was larger in size than a normal bee or moth. Nathan insisted that it was a hummingbird.

Thanks to the “Bug Queen,” my friend, Carol Hendrix, we learned we both were somewhat correct. This beauty is a Hummingbird Clearwing Hemaris thysbe, an insect that mimics a hummingbird. It belongs to the Family Sphingidea (a family of moths, commonly known as hawk moths, sphinx moths, and hornworms). These moths are moderate to large in size and are distinguished by their rapid, sustained flying ability. Their subfamily, is the Macroglossinae, moths in the order Lepidoptera.

Most of my plants are on a set of three shelving units against the back of my house. It allows me full use of my limited space and plenty of sunshine with southern exposure to promote hearty growth of flowers, herbs, and vegetables and less consumption by chipmunks and rabbits. The Hummingbird Clearwing Hemaris thysbe isn’t often seen in my area of the Midwest, so I appreciate that it visited my little boxes of plantings. The opportunity to have witnessed one in action up close and personal was a special gift of nature.

***

Check out my posts, “Waling in Someone’s Painful Shoes” and “Why We Suffer.”

Open Our Ears and Hearts Tuesday, Jun 2 2020 

I am so, so very sad. Our country is in serious trouble. Americans are suffering on multiple levels. Many were barely earning enough to pay their basic living expenses before the pandemic which then caused illness in unprecedented numbers and record-breaking levels of unemployment. And now we are seeing rioting, looting, and destruction of property and even life.

I’m so sad and disturbed that

  • Racism continues. Our country was founded on the promise of equality but the reality always has been otherwise.
    • Let’s make an honest effort to treat one another with compassion, respect, and equality regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or age.
  • George Floyd’s life was snuffed out by a cruel police officer while other officers failed to stop him.
    • As a country, let’s demand all those in roles of authority treat everyone with compassion, respect, and equality regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or age.
  • Good police officers who truly serve and protect suffer the backlash caused by bad cops.
    • Let’s treat police officers and those in roles of authority with compassion, respect, and equality regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or age.
  • Towns that strive to provide clean, inviting shopping districts for patrons are being defaced by graffiti. And shop owners who labor long hours and invest personal finances to provide employment and items for sale to their neighbors suffer destruction and looting by rioters.
    • Let’s assist these towns and shop owners with cleanup and patronage treating all owners and employees with compassion, respect, and equality regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or age.
  • Protestors who attempt to declare an important message and prompt positive change are being sabotaged by violent, terrorist thieves.
    • Let’s honestly listen, strive to understand the protestors’ issues, and treat peaceful protestors with compassion, respect, and equality regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or age.
  • Innocent people are brutalized and even killed by rioters caught up in chaotic frenzy.
    • Let’s lookout for and protect one another and treat everyone with compassion, respect, and equality regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or age.

2020 is progressing as a trying year, for sure. But there also are so many lessons to be learned. Problems don’t vanish without being attended to. The longer problems are ignored, the greater the frustration and response. Let’s strive to open our ears and hearts to one another and treat everyone with compassion, respect, and equality regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or age.

***

Why We Suffer? Check out my post on Mary K Doyle Books.

When Live Entertainment Was It Thursday, May 21 2020 

Even with limitations due to COVID-19, we have a range of sources of entertainment to choose from. But imagine the world in the late 1800s and early turn of the twentieth century. Television, radio, and of course, the internet, were yet to be invented. Live entertainment was the only option.

Vaudeville was a fun venue that began in the late 1800s in France and became popular in the United States and Canada soon after. Chicago opened its first official vaudeville theater at the West Side Museum in 1882. More theaters seating as many as 2,000 patrons soon followed. Musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, magicians, ventriloquists, strongmen, impersonators, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, and actors shared the stage for a variety extravaganza.

Irish immigrants took the brunt of crude derogatory jokes for years but then turned the table by becoming the majority of entertainers. My grandfather, Jack Doyle, born in Ireland in 1897, was one of those on stage. Grandpa was fascinating to me, even at a young age. He was funny and gentle. My fondest memory is of him lifting me onto the counter and watching him bake.

According to blurred, undated newspaper clippings, Jack Doyle was a “well-known” Chicago vaudevillian and comedian before and after his military service. Articles state that he was injured in France in 1917 and spent time in military hospitals. The only dated article was of my grandfather in the J.W. Norman Circus in 1925.

Low-priced tickets to cinema movies and the Great Depression led to the extinction of vaudeville by the 1930s. Some of the actors found work in silent movies and then talkies, but most scattered into circuses and traveling shows.

Ironically, before vaudeville ended, my grandfather studied and became a member of the Illinois Association of Physio-Therapists. An undated letter of invitation was sent out announcing that his office on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago was open to treat “sprains, lumbago, sciatica, nervousness, neuritis, neuralgia, poor circulation, rheumatism, dyspepsia, constipation, reducing, and rebuilding through the use of Swedish massage, ultra violet ray, and infrared ray. Grandpa was forced to close his practice when patients were unable to pay during the Depression but continued to be called Doctor Doyle.

Unfortunately, Grandpa passed away when I was only six years-old. It was enough time to leave a memorable mark on me but not longer enough to ask all the questions I’ve had ever since.

***

Want to see the tiny mustard seed? Check out my post, “Small but Mighty Mustard Seed” as well as “Choosing a Memory Care Home Sight-Unseen” on my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books.

If You’re Going to Fly, Fly Like an Eagle Tuesday, May 5 2020 

When I was a kid, I wanted to fly. I had to restrain myself from jumping off ledges and thinking I could soar into the sky. Strange, but true.

If you want to fly like a bird, the eagle would be a powerful choice. The eagle represents freedom as it lives high, soars majestically, and sits at the top of the food chain.

The royal creature was chosen as the symbol of the United States of America on June 20, 1782 because of its strength, longevity, and that it is native to North America. The scientific name comes from Haliaeetus leucocephalus signifying a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head. At that time, the word “bald” meant “white” not hairless.

Eagles are members of the Accipitridae family which also includes hawks, kites, and vultures. Scientists loosely divide eagles into four groups based on their physical characteristics and behavior. The bald eagle is considered a sea or fish eagle.

Bald eagles are found throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico, but half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska. Sexual maturity is attained at four to five years. These great birds range from 28-40 inches in length. Females are about 25% larger than males averaging as much as 13 pounds to the males 9 pounds. Their eyes are similar in size to humans but their eyesight is four times greater than our perfect vision.

It’s no wonder they are so amazing to watch in flight. Eagles are powerful fliers soaring on thermal convection currents at speeds of 35-43 mph when gliding and flapping and about 30 mph while carrying fish. They can dive at speeds between 75-99 mph. And their impressive wingspan is between 6 to 7 and a half feet across.

Both male and female adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast; a white head, neck, and tail; yellow feet, legs and beak; and pale-yellow eyes. Their call consists of the weak staccato, chirping whistle kleek kik ik ik ik. The calls of young birds tend to be more shrill than those of adults.

We are blessed to have nesting eagles in the little town in which I live along the Fox River in Illinois. Bald eagles usually are sensitive to human activity while nesting. However, the ones in my area don’t seem to mind a fascinated yet respectful audience below snapping photos.

Eagles have the largest nests of any North American bird. Nests can be up to 13 feet deep and more than 8 feet wide. These mammoth nests can weigh as much as a ton so they require a sturdy perch. Coniferous or hardwood trees for perching, roosting, and nesting are typically more than 66 feet tall and offer proximity to prey.

Eagles mate for life, at least the life of one of the pair. Nest building occurs by mid-February. One to three eggs hatch from mid-April to early May and the young leave nests late June to early July. Around 50% of the newly hatched eagles survive the first year.

Eagles are opportunistic feeders devouring dead or decaying fish. Their preferred prey includes grebes, duck, gulls, coots, herons, egrets, and geese up to 4 pounds in weight. Along some areas of the North Pacific coastline, bald eagles are now preying on seabird colonies rather than their traditional kelp. This may be due to overfishing and otters interfering with their food source. Ironically, being at the top of the food chain makes them more vulnerable to consuming toxic chemicals in the environment.

Eagles maintain a respected role in the Native American culture. Pow wow dancers use the eagle claws and feathers as part of their ceremonial dress. In the Navajo tradition, eagle feathers represent the protector. Navajo medicine men use the leg and wing bones for ceremonial whistles. The Lakota people present eagle feathers as honorary symbols to those who achieve a notable task. The Pawnee consider eagles as symbols of fertility because their nests are built high, and they fiercely protect their young. The Choctaw relate the bald eagle with the sun and a symbol of peace.

The average lifespan of bald eagles in the wild is around 20 years, with the oldest confirmed one having lived 38 years. Premature death often results from impact with wires and vehicles, gunshot, poisoning, electrocution, trapping, emaciation, and disease.

The Department of Interior removed the bald eagle from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened, but eagles are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

***

Choosing a Memory Care Home Site-Unseen” and “Perfect Opportunity to Ponder” are two of my most recent posts on my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books. And watch on my Author FaceBook page for upcoming virtual presentations.
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All photos on my site were taken by me, Mary K. Doyle, unless otherwise noted.

Mask Attire Thursday, Apr 30 2020 

Do you think this mask looks good on me? Does it bring out my eyes? Does it clash with my outfit?

Who could imagine that the #1 2020 wardrobe accessory would be masks? Every day, I’m at my sewing machine for a few hours sewing for my very large family. The masks aren’t particularly stylish, and likely, do clash with wardrobes. At some point, I may be able to make ones that are fun to wear or more attractive, but for the time being, the ones I’m making are functional and no-fuss with inserting liners. The option is to get at least one in everyone’s hands and on their faces.  

If you must shop for materials to make masks, be ready to hunt. Most fabrics and notions needed for mask-making are difficult to acquire due to high demand, limited inventory, store closings, and short-staff to fulfill orders. And be ready to wait weeks or months before supplies arrive, if you’re lucky enough to get them at all. Most frustrating, ordering often results in later notices that the item is no longer available after spending hours locating ones said to be in stock. If possible, order from your local family-owned sewing shops. You may have more success in getting what you want and will help to keep the business open.

Creativity with substitutions that don’t jeopardize the integrity of the masks is key. Tightly woven fabric, such as cotton quilting fabric, is recommended for the two outer layers. There are many suggestions online as to what can be used as a filter. Masks can be designed with a pocket to replace filters after every use or be fully machine washable and dryable after use. The object is to have several layers over the face without obstructing breathing.

It’s a good idea to watch a few instructional videos on YouTube before beginning. JoAnn Fabrics has several. Other videos offer ideas for substitutions.

A mask doesn’t take long to make, but it’s a tedious job. There are a lot of little stops and goes along the way. This is my favorite pattern. I use only quilters cotton fabric for the two outside layers and prefer flannel for the lining since I haven’t been able to get my hands on nonwoven interfacing.

I recently found that two layers of lining, which results when you fold your fabric in half as suggested, may be more protection but is too warm as the outside temperatures rise. I’m now cutting the flannel 7 ½ by 7 ½ and setting it in the lower half of the mask so when folded over, there is one layer plus a fold over to place the wire.

I sew a doubled piece of florist wire along the top to press along the bridge of the nose for a closer fit. I begin by folding an 8-inch piece of wire in half, then twist the two wires together, bend in the ends, and wrap the ends in a narrow quilt-marking tape that is like masking tape. The wire is placed in the crease of the fabrics folded in half and sewn around it to hold in place.

Ties allow for universal fit, but take a little longer to make, a little more effort to wear, and can get caught in long hair. The standard elastic ear loop is cut to 7 inches. 6 1/2 inches is a better fit for me and my daughters while many of the men in the family need 7 1/2 to 8, so make adjustments if you are making the masks for people you know.

If you can get them, purchase number 90/14 needles which don’t break as easily as others when top stitching. The thick, bulky pleats make it difficult for the needle to penetrate without bending or snapping. The best option I’ve discovered is to cut the liner about 1 ½ inches narrower than the outer piece, center it on the back of the outer fabric, and sew around all sides to hold in place. This eliminates having to get your needle through double layers of cotton plus the double layers of lining when pleating.

The process goes quicker if everything is pre-cut and ready to assemble before sewing. I line up my outside fabrics, liners, cut elastic, ties, and prepared wire before beginning. And I press often after stitching.

Once you do a few masks, the process is quick. I’ve made at least 50 in the last couple of weeks. I can’t say it is fun, but I also don’t mind it. The activity is meaningful, important, and like a little ministry providing a product needed by most everyone in this very unusual time.

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Check out my last post on Midwest Mary, “Perfect Opportunity to Ponder,” and watch on my Author FaceBook page for upcoming virtual presentations.

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