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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

There were many things that got stalled or pushed to the back in the last year. For many of us, reading was not one of them. In fact, a good book was often a saving grace.

I thought to share with you some of the best fiction I read, often historical, starting back from the end of 2019. These books came from several sources – the library; some I purchased online; books purchased at past annual county library book sales; and my own collection.

Here is the best of what I read from late 2019 to present:

Whistling Past the Graveyard – Susan Crandall. This is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Told in first person by a sassy, red-headed nine year old, Starla Claudelle, it takes place in 1963 Mississippi at the height of segregation. Being raised by her overly strict grandmother while her father works out on the oil rigs, Starla wants nothing more than to find her mother in Nashville, whom she believes left to become famous and then reunite her family. Upset by a turn of events, Starla decides to run away to Nashville on her own. She is offered a ride by an older black woman, traveling with a white infant, unaware of the dangerous implications of this situation. Whistling Past the Graveyard is a story with deeply felt characters set against the backdrop of the Deep South at a time in history that Starla only begins to understand for what it is, as well as what family can really mean.

One page in, and I was totally hooked.

Shutter Island and Mystic River – Dennis Lehane. If you want two stories you can’t put down … Shutter Island was a book sale pick, and in it I discovered a writer with an excellent capacity for writing tense, fast moving prose with twists and turns at every corner. This story takes place in 1954 when a detective and his partner come to Shutter Island, home for the criminally insane, to investigate a patient’s disappearance, and where we soon discover nothing is as it seems. Later in the year, I read Mystic River, a psychological thriller about three boys growing up as friends, approached one day by a man in a car. One boy gets in; the others do not. And something – never fully articulated – terrible happens. Fast forward to adulthood, and this plays out in a harrowing series of events. (p.s. the movie is also excellent.)

Lehane is a terrific writer who keeps you on the edge of your seat, no matter the subject of the book. There is no doubt that I will pick up another of his novels in the future.

The Alice Network – Kate Quinn. Historical fiction taking place in the times of both World War I and World War II, The Alice Network is based on the true story of a group of women spies of the same name who, at tremendous risk, infiltrated the Germans to save lives in the most daring and heroic of ways. This is Goodreads’ initial description of the book, and as apt as I could write, “In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.” Please read the full review and you’ll know why this was a book I could not put down. It’s truly exceptional.

Had I not borrowed it from the library, it would be sitting in my bookcase of books that I would read again some day.

Forever – Pete Hamill. This is a masterful book — on the one hand, a magnificent love letter to New York City and all it’s history; on the other, the story of a young man in 1700’s Ireland, Cormac O’Connor, whose parents were killed by a wealthy lord. Added to the mix, we have some magic of the old religion, which allowed Cormac to live forever if he never left the island of Manhattan and successfully avenged his parents’ deaths. This is not a casual, lightly read book, but one that spans centuries as we follow Cormac’s life from childhood to an America at the moment of its birth. From the slaves in the ship’s hold that he saves and befriends through the politics, greed, and buried secrets of New York right through to 9/11, this is a story of great knowledge and depth. Pete Hamill has written Forever with such compassion. It was a long read, but I was sorry when it ended.

The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes. More engrossing historical fiction set in the Depression era in Kentucky. A small group of women who, for different reasons, join together, following the exhortation of Eleanor Roosevelt and her traveling library campaign to bring books to people who had no access to them, but who wanted to read or learn to read. Alice Wright, disillusioned in her new marriage to a distant husband and dealing with a controlling father-in-law, joins with Margery, founder of the group. Margery is strong, outspoken, and independent, and is soon joined by three other women, forming The Pack Horse Library of Kentucky (the real name of the library). The women repeatedly faced danger traversing the rugged landscape by mule and horseback, sometimes from the people who lived there, as well as from men in their lives who would control them. Their loyalty and friendship, finding true love, and always following their mission of bringing books to people in remote areas makes for a rich and rewarding read. An unforgettable story.

Nemesis and the Swan – Lindsay Bandy. This is mature and sophisticated YA, taking place in the French Revolution. Helene d’Aubign, an aristocrat of 19 years old, writes from her cell in a Paris prison. Her diary alternates with her story of being influenced as a young girl by her governess to become a revolutionary and to seek true love at a time when girls were only allowed arranged marriages. Forced to flee Paris as violence breaks out, Helene searches to find the answers to an intricate family mystery involving love and murder, somehow tied together by two unique, painted pins of eyes surrounded by gilt and pearls. She longs to return to her home and the jeweler’s apprentice she’s fallen in love with. When, in disguise, she finally does return to Paris, she finds everything she knows is changed or destroyed. But to make matters far worse, she is being sought – and is soon arrested – by those who suspect her true identity, which will sentence her to the guillotine.

With a richly articulated backdrop of the French Revolution, and the characters enmeshed in a family mystery, you couldn’t help but hope for Helene’s survival and an ending that seemed impossible.

The Mermaid Chair – Sue Monk Kidd. If you have read The Secret Life of Bees, you know Kidd writes with a truly exquisite use of the English language. The Mermaid Chair brings to life the setting of Egret Island off South Carolina where Jessie Sullivan has gone to tend to her mother, now suspected of severe mental instability after severing her finger. But the story is Jessie’s – she is returning to her childhood home of marshes and sea salt, egrets and a monastery where resides the Mermaid Chair. It is a story of love and disillusionment in her marriage, love and awakening with a monk questioning his own commitment, but most importantly, the search for her own self, lost over the years. Interlaced with the loyalty of longtime friends, a mystery surrounding her beloved father’s death, and the idyllic quality of Egret Island, Jessie’s story is stirring and engrossing. This is my own book which I’ve read in the past, and couldn’t wait to return to each evening.

Other notable books – I can’t review them all, but I can mention some other books that stand out from the many I’ve read in the past year+.

The Long Way, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses, – all by Louise Penny. This is the first series of novels I have ever read as an adult, and I love them. I began at the beginning, and am working my way through the series, always drawn in by Penny’s style, wonderful characters and mysteries, all set in her beloved Canada.

Twigs in My HairCynthia Reyes, friend and fellow blogger here on WordPress

Good Hope Road – Lisa Wingate

The Last Letter from Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

Flower Net and The Interior – Lisa See

With the hope that I’ve inspired a future selection or two, I wish you Happy Reading!

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The other morning I was leaning on my Mom’s old Art Deco hope chest, looking out the rear second story window as I often do each day. Not looking for anything in particular, just getting a feel for the day ahead in some way.

Suddenly, crossing my vision, there was a Great Blue Heron, a bird which I’ve seen in other parts of my county, but never here. I immediately felt it was a gift.

It flew from the direction of the river, over the few backyards in between, and landed in a fully leafed-out maple across the street. It was a matter of seconds and it became invisible in the tree. My breath was taken away, and I stood there minutes longer watching the unlikely hiding place the heron had chosen.

A few hours later, the heron was still very much on my mind, and I decided to look up what meaning there might be when Heron appears in one’s life. In cases such as these, I look to Ted Andrews who wrote Animal Speak. You can find his insights here. I realize not everyone believes that animals may have meaning in our lives, or messages. However, over the years I have found that, especially when animals appear in unusual places or circumstances, it has been worthwhile to look into it.

There is so much going on in our world right now. I am often overwhelmed with so many emotions. Each time I think about writing a post about any of it, I wonder what could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said before. It seems I do better to center myself as best I can and send out love and light.

I subscribe to the blog of a wonderful friend, Anysia Kiel. She reminds us that when everything seems to be breaking, it is because a transformation is happening, and something new is taking the place of what has gone before. Like the Great Blue Heron who lifts its wings in graceful flight, I realize that the one thing I can do – we can do – is to lift our hearts and hands in love and be part of the transformation.

 

 

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When you come right down to it, it often really is the little things that make a big difference. Sure, the milestones are wonderful, but day-to-day? It’s the small stuff. I count myself lucky, and I suspect you might feel the same way, in being a person who can say, “It doesn’t take much to make me happy.” Here are a few of the little things that have made me happy recently.

This is one of those things where I can say, “Finally!” I’d gotten a new cover (read that as cat hair deterrent) for the couch and was just back-pedaling forever on getting some pretty throw pillows. Voila!

When I came home from an errand in mid-February, I found on a table, at my side door, a beautiful bouquet of tulips. They were left there for me by a dear friend for Valentine’s Day. How lovely is that?

In the wake of losing my sweet little guy, Pumpkin, another wonderful friend sent me this. I shed a few more tears, but yeah, this will do it.

Although the sugar cookies for my friend’s book launch are absolutely fantastic, it’s the catching up, the silliness, the forgetting to add the vanilla (my bad – I fixed it), and fun together that means the most.

Oh, look! It’s another case of “Finally!” The blinds that were once at these back windows had been a little broken on the left side when I moved in; then the cord shredded out on the right side. But how long did it take me to actually get curtains? I’m not saying. The chairs, BTW, if I remember correctly, are from the 30’s and that is the original milk paint.

Hardly a “little thing”, my Jazzy, but she is a part of my everyday life that I am always grateful for. As we can be grateful for the little things, cats are always grateful for boxes. Of any kind.

Irish oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon, and a pat of Earth Balance. Makes my day whenever I cook it up.

It’s been a long winter, even though, thankfully, it’s been a mild one. With plenty of work and too much else going on, I haven’t gotten out as much as I’d have liked.  Today in the low 50’s again, I couldn’t help but notice a harbinger poking it’s pretty green self through the leaf litter.
I see you there, Spring.

And last but not least of the “little things” – the small, muddy paw prints that trace a route from the backyard up my porch steps and to my back door. You know whose they are. I have no intention of washing them away until it’s warm enough for the garden hose to be hooked up. And maybe not even then.

I hope this has inspired you to think a little about the wonderful “little things” in your life. I hope you find and cherish them.

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It was Wednesday, a day predicted to be cloudy and cold with possible snow showers in the afternoon. The perfect day to be inside as I had a good project to focus on. But first, something lovely to light my day. I realized, after I’d taken a few pictures, that the sparkle of a tea light in the unique beauty of mercury glass could not easily be captured with a camera. It’s quite magical, so I’ll offer my best try, and you can imagine the light shimmering within.

At a certain point in the late morning I felt restless and too much inside. The sky had been a nearly colorless grey-white since daybreak and was less than inviting, but I needed some fresh air. I opened the side door to my porch and was greeted by a chorus of happy song. The many sparrows that abound around the house raised their small voices to the sky from the privet hedge and cheered my heart. Soon I heard  the nasal call of a Canada goose overhead, then three, then perhaps seven or so, as they winged their way southward, dark silhouettes against the paleness.

Despite the faded grey skies, I felt inspired to step outside, even if for a little while. The privet hedge nearest my driveway remains green for a surprisingly long time. However, with the temperatures now dipping to 18 degrees at night, even these leaves are turning and starting to fall.

Before the spring earlier this year, I had an arborist come out to trim it and cut back the vines that insinuate themselves among the gentler stalks of the hedge. There is no killing the intruders as all their roots are totally entangled, but once cut back, I can keep a better eye on the vines and continue cutting them to the ground. I watched the arborist out my tall office window – he was an artisan with a ladder, clipping here and there, then climbing down and standing back, assessing his work, much like an artist at an easel. It was a delight to watch him trim the branches so carefully to their natural inclinations. When done, he assured me that it would look beautiful and grow wonderfully in the spring because privet hedge loves to be cut back. He was right.

The tall tree in the furthest corner of the yard was a pattern of lace in the sky, also still holding on to some of its last leaves. In the foreground to the left is more privet hedge which the owner lets grow tall and wild for privacy. Totally untended for a while now, however, it has slender maples growing here and there, and I wonder if they might choke it out at some point. On the occasions that the hedge was trimmed, it was always with a chainsaw, so I suspect my little area of privet along the driveway may be counting itself lucky indeed.

At the corner of my front porch is a tall shrub, perhaps some sort of hemlock. From the recent rains, it was covered with droplets of water, sparkling without the benefit of sun, just catching whatever light they could, and looking quite festive.

Also still wet from the rains of the night before, the branches of this evergreen glistened with moisture, cradling several of the now crisp maple leaves that have flown by from neighboring trees. This shrub has quadrupled in size since I’ve lived here – it’s in a very happy spot. It didn’t get its chainsaw shaping this year, so I hand trimmed it myself to keep its nice natural shape. Still, I suspect it will need more attention come spring; it has a very expansive nature and gets just the right amount of sun to fulfill its dreams.

Holding on to its once-bright green leaves is another shrub, sporting its cheery red berries. The branches are a tangle of dark criss-crossing patterns, and the leaves have now turned coral and copper, soon to join the slumbering grass below.

I didn’t venture far. It wasn’t that kind of day. But the caroling sparrows and gently changing plant life around my house and yard brightened my spirit, and invited me back into myself.

 

 

 

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On the top of a dresser, under a handmade box, is a small piece of paper with my writing on it. It’s been there forever, never moves except when I’m cleaning. Many days I don’t even look at it – I know what it says. But other days I look and know I absolutely have to think about these four questions.

Change can bring with it a lot of stress. Changing how I think and go about my daily routine, focusing on where I want to go … not so easy in the face of so many ongoing demands on my time. Three of those questions are “big picture’, but how I can make change more manageable is to focus on the third – What do I want for my life today? It’s a way of helping me keep my eye on my dreams when running from new and/or bigger challenges would be so much easier, and when I want to curl up safely in old habits which don’t serve me. Procrastination is based on fear and I can’t afford fear anymore; actually, haven’t been able to for some time, but it seems that the Universe is about to give me the next big push.

To remind myself that I can swim in the deep end of the pool – because in my heart I know I can – I’ve made a post-it for my Mac –

What do I want for my life today?

And I’ll think. And know. And swim.

 

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The Delaware River in her many moods extends a never-ending invitation to be photographed. Just three houses away, I’m able to easily see whatever weather-inspired beauty is happening on the river on any given day.

One of my favorite views is after rain or snow, when the fog in the area has cleared, and a cloud all her own has settled on the river.

I’d already started my work, but when I looked outside, I couldn’t resist, so slipped out with my camera down to the edge of the road.

There’s just such a moodiness at this time of year to how that cloud sits low, and the wintery colors are as rich in their own way as the green vibrancy of spring. If I were able, I could happily just pull up a chair and sit for hours.

This very old concrete structure had something to do with the railroad tracks and the trains that once ran here, I imagine. Oddly enough, I’ve never inspected it more closely, and today that ground was a field of mud beneath the leaf litter.

An ancient twisting tree of the sort that inhabits mysteries and horror stories. One of the joys of the winter months is in appreciating the skeletal silhouettes of so many different types of trees.

Rising from the misty shrouds is a ghostly white hotel on the far river bank in Pennsylvania, appearing to be much closer than it actually is.

On drier days, I can go over the tracks and much closer to the river’s edge, but the muddy ground was soaked, and on the bluff overlooking the river at this point, undoubtedly quite slippery. So I just counted myself lucky to live near such beauty, and returned, inspired, to my work

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I reached for a pocketed folder on my office bookcase and heard a small crash. I looked down and it was a little volume titled Great “Quotes” from Great Women!

I hadn’t looked at this in quite some time, but I am never one to ignore books jumping off a shelf! I always assume events like these are the Universe’s way of pointing out something to me, even if just to slow down my workday and take a look. I had a business meeting coming up and wanted to get all my ducks in a row, but then there was this.

I picked this little collection up back in 1984. It is dedicated to “all the great women whose words have motivated, inspired and brought tears and laughter into our lives.” I suspect were this book published today it would be greatly expanded.

Those quoted are a cross section of women in politics or whose husbands were in politics, leaders, authors, actresses, singers, even comediennes. One of my favorite quotes is by Elaine Boosler, “I’m just a person trapped inside a woman’s body.”

My little break of inspiration was much needed when this book landed on the floor. I’m still smiling as I think of it. I hope these few quotes do the same for you. Here’s another, this one from Edith Armstrong: “I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal and soon they’ll forget my number.”

Now why my little Jazzy, you may ask? Well, first, because I can. And second, because that peaceful repose is a reminder to be sure to take in some sun and some time to relax whenever you can. I accept that as her inspirational contribution to the post, as it’s always great advice.

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Today, Sunday February 12th, is the beginning of Random Acts of Kindness Week. This whole concept had taken off to such a degree as to be a movement, but I pay no attention to that. And while you can, you needn’t either. What we can all do during this week is one little thing – one kind little thing – each day for another person or animal that will make some small difference in their life. Just because we can.

randomactkindness-novicedog2

Kindness, as you know, is it’s own reward. And if you enjoy how you feel this week, then go for another week, and another. Because not only will you have changed the world,  you will have changed yourself.

Here are some new quotes I found for inspiration …

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”
~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
~ Leo Buscaglia

“Sure the world breeds monsters, but kindness grows just as wild… ”
~ Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club: A Memoir, 1995

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
– Desmond Tutu

“In the long run, the sharpest weapon of all is a kind and gentle spirit.”

~ Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

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At the end of my street is the river … the moody, enchanting, ever-changing Delaware. Sometimes she is soft and shy and all wintery gauze. Though I haven’t in a while, I can go over the broken tracks, down an incline, across a small plateau where someone builds fires, and touch her. Yes, I see this river as female, though I cannot tell you why. Sometimes I take her presence for granted, yet I never forget she is there.

delawareriver-foggy2

Lately I’ve been thinking. Oh, about so many things. The words of others drift through my head. These are the words I want to share with you today. I may have done so before; if I have, they are no less true.

“You were born with potential. 
You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. 
You were born with wings. 
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t. 
You have wings. 
Learn to use them and fly.”

~ Rumi

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This crystal ball of melting ice is somehow enchanting. Perhaps it is its simple beauty or perhaps because it holds the paradox of fire and ice.

iceball-newyears2

Especially now, at the edge of a New Year, I am put in a reflective mood when I watch a tea light shimmer and dance within. I am not one to make resolutions, but I do think back on the year past, where I’ve been, how things have changed, how things have not. What I hope for.

I do believe our past has created who we are, but paradoxically, that we can also change this instant. It may be a challenge, or if we get our minds in the right place, it may be simpler than we could ever imagine. Sometimes we have to want something enough – or not want something enough – to change.  How wonderful to have a dream, a vision, to guide us. We can create that. How wonderful to acknowledge that light that grows from within where we always know who and what we truly are and can be.

As another New Year dawns upon us, I encourage you to find your light and shine brightly. If we all glow together, surely this will be a better world for each and every one of us.

Happy New Year.

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northernhawkowl-jbalsam2I found myself really looking at a stunning calendar photograph of this Northern Hawk Owl for the month of November. I am the recipient of a large number of calendars each year, some from organizations I support, and others that are cold mailings from like-minded organizations. I have several of them posted around my home, not to remind me of the date but to enjoy the beauty of nature and animals, changing every month.

As December approached, and a new bird would arrive, I started to play with the idea of doing a watercolor of this owl. She is clothed in multiple shades of browns with large white flecks on her dark wings and a cap that looks like it has been dusted with freshly fallen snow. But ahh .. there has been a bit of a drought in these parts in terms of my drawing, so rather than tackle something I haven’t done in ages, why not do something I really enjoy, simple black ink. And so I drew.

Perhaps most surprising as I hunched over my desk, was that Jazzy, who normally would be meowing up a storm demanding dinner at that precise time, was utterly quiet. It was as if she knew this was something even she hadn’t seen in a while, and best not to disturb a woman at her work.

We never know what will inspire us. I, myself, was surprised that this owl had been calling out to be drawn for days. What I do know, is that when we’re inspired, it’s good to listen.

 

 

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From when I was quite little all the way to today people have asked me, `How do you know the names of so many flowers?’ It actually never occurred to me that I did; I thought everyone knew the names of flowers. Apparently not. The answer to that question is I just followed my Dad …  like a puppy.

MyFamily

Growing up, we had a smallish, but perfectly sized, house on a not very big lot of 50′ x 100′. I have a photo of our house shortly before we moved there; it was the second house in from the next bigger road and the rest of the houses on the block had not yet been built. I suppose it might have been called a development, but it looked nothing like the ones of today, all cookie-cutter and same-ish. Each home looked quite different in both style and building material, some clapboard, some all brick, some a mix of both and so on, but always  on the same size lots. What made our house so special was that there was always something growing, and it was my Dad who orchestrated it all.

To this day, I can see the rhododendron and the red, pink and white azalea in the front of the house interspersed with some evergreen shrubs; the daffodils and narcissus circling our beautiful big elm (home for a nest of those rapscallion squirrels); and the spot to the right of our front door with another rhododendron and a yearly change of annuals, purple and white ClimbingRoses-1957-newalyssum come to memory. Next to the garage grew a length of lily-of-the-valley with a flagstone walk alongside, and on the other side of the house, an andromeda, a dogwood with creamy white flowers, and myrtle.

The climbing roses, taken with my humble little Brownie camera.

But it was the backyard where my Dad really went to town. Behind the dining room were his roses; additional myrtle created a dark green backdrop behind. I can’t remember all their names, (perhaps he had a Peace Rose?) but I do remember the Japanese beetles. They were beautiful, too, I thought, and I wished they and the roses had a better relationship. At the end of the rose bed was a lilac tree. On the back of the garage was a trellis where he had smaller climbing roses of a cerise color. At the base of the roses, he grew strawberries, but I also remember pansies.

In the back right corner, there were peonies fluffed out like ballerina tutus. I always wondered why the ants liked to crawl on their buds so much; I’m sure he told me and I don’t remember. There were two large bleeding hearts, and a mix of other flowers I can’t recall, and  portulaca in front. Oh, I remember the portulaca! They were loaded with honeybees, and I was always sure they had me in mind for their next pollen visit. Or worse.

And in the other corner, a forsythia and a pink weigela, a mass of brightly colored tulips and zinnias for cutting (we always had cut flowers in the house all summer), and then my Daddy’s delicious tomatoes. We enjoyed them with many a dinner. Later he added a flowering plum in the yard with those lovely burgundy leaves and delicate pink blossoms.

Thinking back, how did my Dad do all this? When did he do it? (Oh – and he had gorgeous gardenias inside!) I can remember following him around when I was small and “helping.” I have no idea what all I was actually doing, I just know I was next to him, watching and listening while he trimmed and pruned, staked and watered. AnHonestHouse-CReyes2For the size of our little lot, it was quite an impressive display. My Dad was always happy when he was gardening (except for the squirrels and Japanese beetles.) He truly had a green thumb …  something I, unfortunately, did not inherit. I could plan a color layout like nobody’s business, but didn’t always have the right mix of what needed sun and shade, more or less water, trimming back or deadheading. Having all that come so naturally as it did to my Dad is a gift and I’m just thankful I got to follow him around.

And thanks to Cynthia Reyes and her memoir “An Honest House” for inspiring the warm reflections on my childhood and my earliest appreciation of all things growing and green.

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