Be My Valentine

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Valentine’s Day has always been bittersweet. I think that it started in grade school when your teacher said that everyone had to send a valentine to every classmate. EVERY CLASSMATE – even the classroom bully and the girl who was still sucking her thumb in third grade!

DSCN9739So you had this packet of valentines, and a list of your classmates. Fanning out the cards face up, you placed your favorite card to the right, and in descending order, you worked to your left at which point you had to decide whether the least attractive card went to the classroom bully or the thumb-sucking girl. Choosing was brutal.

It was brutal deciding which cards you’d give to whom, but it was even more brutal opening your own cards. The cards were visible proof of your status in the classroom. In my case, I ranked in the lower quarter.

Given my ranking, you would think that I would have some compassion for Ruby, the student who sucked her thumb in third grade and on through high school! Ruby was a noisy – a slurping sucker. I remember sitting behind her in study hall. I was embarrassed. She was a blight on all females, and I wanted her gone.

And then, some years later, after Ruby had graduated, I learned that she was the unwed mother of two. Listening to the radio and hearing “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” was a chastising moment. I wish that I could travel back and time, and befriend Ruby.

 

 

Not that I’m involved in elementary education, but if I were, I’d prohibit teachers requiring all students to exchange valentines. Valentines don’t build community or respect; rather, they exacerbate the existing social divide.

DSCN9745Valentine’s Day has always been bittersweet. With the perceived notion that February 14th is a special day between two lovers, it can be lonely if one of the lovers is not you. It is good to remember that not everyone is hot, disheveled, and in the throes of passionate love.

Love comes in many forms: for me, first and foremost, loving friends and family. But I love the externals too: a good book, a letter sealed with a kiss, a fat cat purring on my lap. And the list goes on: in my case, fresh snow that will top-up the water table, glittering, ice-clad trees, a blazing fire, and our dog Oogie asleep at my feet.

As for passion, I’m too tired to dance until closing. Although I remember doing so and then going out for breakfast before calling it ‘a night.’ My passion is more quiet all the time. Our youngest grandson, Jackson, fills the bill.

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Remembering 9/11

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Does a tomato graced by a volunteer petunia taste better?

If you are a regular reader, you know that I’m into Food Porn. Can’t get enough of it. My heart races: the pictures, the  techniques, and the text all suck me into the world of food. I don’t have to look for food porn: favored websites come to my in-box on a daily basis where they crook their index fingers and tempt me to come closer.

My all-time favorite website is NYT Cooking. There’s the food, of course, but the attraction for me is Sam Sifton who introduces himself and chats about the featured foods. This morning, Sam (forgive me, but his accessibility invites me to use his first name) began today’s post with a nod to 9/11.

It is a somber day in NYC, in Washington, D.C.,  and Shanksville, Penn., all across the nation, everywhere touched by the attacks of 18 years ago. I can’t help but recall, each time, how blue the sky was that day and how tightly I held my week-old child in horror at what I’d done, bringing life into this world gone mad.

I cooked later that day and served what I’d made to my family. That act sustained me and sustains me still – this vain hope that if only we make food for one another and share it with open hearts we can push forward together in understanding and together maybe make the world a better place. I don’t know if that works. I believe it does. So I’ll continue to do it, seeking grace in the meals, in the work of making them.”

community-dinner-overhead-large-jpg-9525-220x300I don’t know that food – serving as salve – works, but ‘hope springs eternal.’ This year’s Valley Strong Community Dinner is this coming Thursday, September 19. Two, parallel lines of banquet tables run down Main Street, Westcliffe. Starting at Second Street, the tables terminate at The Bluff overlooking The Valley.

Every table has a host who provides decorations and place settings. Guests pot-luck the food. Some tables are exclusively friends-of-friends. Other tables are open to meeting new friends. This year we’re eating with Trails for All, hosted by Paul and Nicole Parsons. I know very few of these people, but I look forward to meeting them.

The anniversary of 9/11 takes me back. I was flying home from London when the pilot shared the bad news. (Not to repeat myself, you can easily find that story. If you look to the right of this text, you will see a search box. Type in 9/11, and the September 10, 2016 blog will pop up.)

Looking to refresh my memory of the Shanksville, PA story, I went on-line where I was reminded that a crew of seven, aided by exceptionally brave passengers, thwarted four, al-Qaeda hijackers who planned to target the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Rather than fly the plane to the hijackers destination, the crew and passengers sacrificed their lives by crashing into a field.

sept 11 Shanksville PANot to diminish the number of deaths and unheralded acts of bravery at The World Trade Center and at the Pentagon, but the self-sacrifice of those on United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, hits very close to home. I was on a plane that day. What would I have done had four terrorists been on my flight?

Would I have been brave enough to attack or distract one of the hijackers? I think about this often. Certainly I’ve looked for terrorists on every flight I’ve taken the last 17 years. I steel myself with a mantra of sorts. “I will be brave… I will be brave… I will be brave.” How brave remains to be seen.

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Looking at the Flight 93 Memorial, I see pictures of a 93-ft. ‘Tower of Voices.’ 40 chimes hang from the tower. Driven only by the weather and the wind, the chimes ring out in memory of the 40 deceased passengers and crew.

Reading this, my heart lightens. And then scrolling through possible sources relating to 9/11 and Shanksville, I came across the conspiracy theories. Page after page of crockpot theories – many fueled by The Rebekah Roth Conspiracy. (Read for yourself. I’m not going into it today.” I only had to read the first post, to feel my heart sink. That first post read: “The Federal Government sure knows how to waste money… maybe some ‘Guilt’ for downing the plane themselves? Gotta Wonder!”

Other articles and blogs were worse. If I were to invite these folks to dinner what would serve? Something sweet and sour? Sauerbraten?  Key Lime Pie? Arsenic? I think I’d choke singing, “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing.” Color me dark.

There’s a part of me that wants to understand the “others.” Who are they, and why are they the way they are? And there is another part of me that wants to turn my back and garden. Enough! I going to garden NOW!

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Death – Not So Creepy

Everyone is a fan of something – football, shopping, or binging on Netflix. I am a fan of cemeteries. Driving down the road, it is not unusual for me to shout at the driver, “Stop! We’re passing a cemetery!”

DSCN9040Currently, I’m babysitting in Denver, and I’m in pig-heaven. Not only do I have quality time with my grandson Jackson, but I’m only three blocks from Crown Hill Cemetery’s 240 beautifully landscaped acres. It is a park, of sorts, only lacking a sandbox, swings, and a slide. But the site’s beauty (too meticulous to my taste) and the headstones draw me. The 15-story mausoleum is definitely worth a visit. Personally, I’d rather be outside beneath the grass, but that’s another story.

Strolling through the cemetery, I note the headstones: O’Toole, Palovich, Hirsch, Hernandez, Lcam Ngoc Xe, Simmo, Ivanovich, Yoshinara, Di Donato… all those nationalities sleeping side-by-side without a bit of animosity or rancor. Amazing! Something to think about.

DSCN9347Along the way, there’s a memorial stone of a beautiful, young, Russian  couple. Beneath their photo is a Bible verse: Isaiah 57:1. The verse reads: The righteous is taken away from the evil to come. And instantly my Swiss cheese memory flit back maybe 30 years. I was teaching at Pueblo Community College and a took a good deal of interest in my students’ lives. In particular, I kept tabs on one of my pregnant students, and when her baby was born, I bought a baby gift. Weeks later, the baby died, and I went to the funeral.

How shocked I was to hear the minister saying how blessed the mother was. Her baby died in grace and would never experience the pain of living to maturity.

I couldn’t believe my ears! I think that had I not been in church, I would have walked out… maybe slamming the door on my way.  How blessed? Aside from a bad Russian/English translation involving subject/verb agreement, what was I missing?

I looked up commentary on the verse. A couple of ‘takes’ on the verse follow: The righteous do suffer by oppression and distress at what is going on around them, but they die in faith and enjoy their eternal reward. Hm.m.m.  Not quite right.

How about: Good people pass away, the godly often die before their time. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. Ah! That interpretation is closer to the bone. Hogwash!!

DSCN9382My husband and I are going to settle down in the Rosita Cemetery, a rough and tumble place which goes back to the birth of the silver mining town in 1870.  The Rosita Cemetery makes up for its lack of landscaping with its rich heritage and family plots with names that resonate with those of us who live near and plan to live there. I’ll need to clear out the Prickly pear that is creeping towards my resting place, and we’ll need a bench under the pines – a place to visit while we’re still above ground. I’m thinking about maybe hosting a small party before we’re interred so people will remember the cemetery as a happy place.

Last November visiting family in Sedona, we went up to the old mining town of Jerome, and one display window in particular caught my attention. Perhaps the display was leftover from Halloween. But no matter, to me it was timeless – good for any season of any year. Of course I took a picture, and this picture perfectly dovetails with a poem I  recently discovered by Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937).  You probably know her as the author of her Pulitzer Prize winning “The Age of Innocence.”  Wharton’s poem is titled “Song,” and I’ll just share the first and third stanzas.

Let us be lovers to the end, / O you to whom my soul is given, / Whose smiles have turned this earth to heaven, / Fast holding hands as we descend / Life’s pathway  devious and uneven, / Let us be lovers to the end.

Let us be lovers to the end / And, growing blind as we grow old, / Refuse forever to behold / How age has made the shoulders bend / and Winter blanched the hair’s young gold. / Let us be lovers to the end.

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Be thinking what you plan to bring to my funeral. I plan to follow the Egyptian custom of bringing something that I will want in the next world. Books, of course, and maybe a bottle of wine or dark Stout. I’ll need a computer or a Tablet at the very least, and don’t forget that I’ve never said, “No” to eating a Snickers.

I plan to enjoy myself.

 

 

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Put Another Log on the Fire!

I don’t know when I’ve been so cold. My fingers seem to be extensions of  a wooden marionette’s hands, but the person pulling the strings is somewhat handicapped. Mittens or gloves won’t solve this problem. I need a hot tub or a bath. If the fixtures are within toe-reach,  I can put my wasteful water, environmental reservations on the back burner and keep the hot water coming.

That said, guilt is never far away. Although Custer County is 103 % of average snowfall to date and our heaviest snow falls in March and April, we have nothing to crow about. The monsoons missed us this past fall, so in terms of water retention, we are behind the curve and not likely to catch up. Global warming is alive and on-going in Southeast Colorado.

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High wide and lonesome. The towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff off to the left.

The temperature was zero again this morning. Situated at 8,000 feet and caught on the Valley floor between the Wet Mountains to the east and the Sangre de Christos to the west, the cold settles on the terrain like a rain-soaked, frozen tarp.

You might know the Gustav Holst hymn, “In the Bleak Mid-Winter.” Based on a poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1872, the words are: In the bleak mid-winter, / Frosty wind made moan; / Earth stood still as iron, / Water like a stone; / Snow had fallen, snow on snow, / Snow on snow, in the bleak of winter long ago. How perfect: The frosty wind made moan. The wind moans and gusts. It’s the 40-50 mph gusts that get you.

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Last evening I took some photos – hoping to catch the grim, overcast cold. This works.

It snowed here weeks ago, and still the snow stands. It refuses to melt or drift away. If you didn’t know better, you might think that the snow is white stucco. As for the ice, it is treacherous. No one walks in a straight line. Rather, hoping not to slip, we weave from bare ground to bare ground. Having reached the age of broken knees and hips, I move with the caution of an older woman. Not that I am an older woman, but I move with the caution of an older woman. (Bare-faced self-delusion.)

Reminiscing, I think of my youth in Upstate New York where the snow is commonly several feet high throughout a never-ending winter. Sledding, tobogganing and ice skating (unattended after school on farm ponds) ruled our days. I do not remember being cold. I do remember stashing my winter coat along side of the road before getting on the bus. The cool kids did not wear coats. Not that I was a cool kid, but I dressed the part.

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Now I’m cold all the time. What has changed? Is it my metabolism? And to think, in my youth, we used to laugh at all the oldsters who went to Florida or Arizona in the winter. We thought them weak  – not deserving of living Upstate and braving the winter where men were men and women were just as tough if not tougher.

I think I’m through pretending to be tough. No body cares. Least of all me. I think I’m a lot like an old cat. Curled up by a blazing fire, the flames licking the glass and the cast-iron kettle steaming on top of the stove. My claws only come out when provoked, but aside from national politics, little provokes me. I’m in the zone. I read; I write; I feed the birds; I look forward to gardening in the spring.

Sitting two feet from the woodstove, I might as well be in Florida or Arizona.

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I will close with a photo of Jackson, my newest grandson. Untended for the moment, he has taken his blanket and with his feet up on the  fireplace, he has curled up in a patch of sunlight. That could be me!

The apple never falls far from the tree.

                2019 12 pops & jax

 

 

 

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Jump-starting Thanksgiving

 

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Summer’s Last Kiss

Not to sound like a ranting feminist, but Thanksgiving (overseen by women in the kitchen) has always brought me down.

It’s hard to be thankful when buying, preparing, and serving the Thanksgiving groaning board is your responsibility. It is hard to be gracious when you are one of the women in the kitchen while everyone else is off hiking, relaxing or playing bocce ball. (Go ahead! Color me small. I don’t care!)

If you catch me smiling, last week we broke the bonds that tied us to tradition. To heck with turkey and all the trimmings. Family reunions are supposed to be about family, not cooking. And so this year’s annual family reunion in Sedona was scheduled three weeks prior to Thanksgiving.

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And what a brilliant idea that was! It was a great week with kids, grandkids, and six dogs. The food was family food with everyone serving himself. We ate a lot of chili, and no one complained. I was particularly happy.

DSCN9499No trip to Sedona is complete without a short drive to the 1890s copper mining town of Jerome: the arts, the crafts, and the old buildings clinging to a mountainside riddled with 88 miles of tunnels is well worth the trip. On a clear day, you can see forever.

 

Looking down is one choice; looking up is another.

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As for the arts and crafts, name your price. There is something for everyone. I couldn’t afford my favorite something, but if any reader would like to surprise me with a little something, I’ll paste in a photo so you will know what I want. I’ll hang it in a west facing window so the Sangres will shine through in the background.

 

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A second highlight on our pre-Thanksgiving was to stop at Chaco Canyon, a prehistoric ruin and a designated National Historic Park in northwestern New Mexico.

DSCN9569Scanning Chaco Wash, you see an arid, over-grazed inhospitable landscape. Not that the land was ever lush, but looking at the dirt-scape, try to get your head around ruins that were once three and four stories high and home to a thousand people in the years between 850 and 1250 A.D. In addition to being an ancient trading center, the complex was a ceremonial center and built with astronomical alignments in mind.

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This is a poor photo with the remains of a ceremonial kiva in for foreground. Unfortunately, there is no way to capture the scale of the complex.

DSCN9542I fell in love with the audacity of the peoples who lived there. Who were they who could embrace the landscape, build their community, worship in place, irrigate the land, grow their crops, trade with other cultures,  and still have time for art?

A visit to Chaco is humbling. Who are we who shop for our groceries, drive to the dentist, and rely on a contractor to build our homes?

I feel small.

If you live in Custer County, you can find the PBS video narrated by Robert Redford at our West Central Library. You are wanting to check out The Mystery of Chaco Canyon: unveils the astronomical brilliance of an ancient culture in the American Southwest. 

 

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Queen for a Day

At 8:00 a.m. on October 9th, our thermometer registered eight degrees Fahrenheit. It’s too early! My flannel-lined jeans are still packed away with the long underwear. The leaves have faded , but they are not ablaze in orange, bronze and gold; rather, they’re motley brown. The leaves hang on as if for dear life. Our leaves are never going to shout their last hurrah but are directly on their way to intensive care and a quick demise.

Was it only last week that I was delighted to see a newly hatched  Monarch butterfly?

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After years of talking about planting milkweed seed but not following through, I am finally trying to do my bit in an attempt to save the monarchs at-risk and in decline from land development and roadside weed spray.

Several days after had I photographed the monarchs on my flowers (and vowed to plant some milkweed this year) I found an unopened milkweed pod which I bought home and set on the kitchen table. 24 hours later – ba-boom! The pod had opened and the seeds were beckoning. Coincidence? A miracle? I’m not to say, but such improbabilities do make one wonder.

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Hellbent to get the seeds in the ground before I got distracted, I did a bit of research. Oops! I’m ‘a day late and a dollar short.’ You can plant in the fall or the spring, but prior to planting, you should roll the seeds in a damp paper towel, bag the towel, record the date, and refrigerate the seeds for 10 – 12 weeks. Before planting, the recommendation is to soak the hard shells in warm water for 24 hours.

Obviously, the window on planting this fall has slammed shut: no one in Westcliffe plants in January. I have, however, looked ahead to 2020, and if I start preparing my seeds in January, I can plant in April. Perfect. When my bones are cold, what better way to raise my spirits  and think ahead to spring?

2019 10 milkweed catepillarAn egg will take four to six days to hatch; the caterpillar (larva) stage lasts two to three weeks; the chrysalis (pupal) stage is five to 15 days in length; and the adult monarch lives between two and five weeks. Butterflies that winter-over south of the border may live several months.

The monarch is amazing. Butterflies east of the Rockies, migrate to Oyamel fir trees in Mexico; those west of the Rockies, winter in the eucalyptus of California. Depending on where they summer, some monarchs migrate up to 2,500 miles each way!

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Note the butterfly’s wings visible inside the chrysalis. Photo by Rosie Watts (master birder, gardener, and photographer) currently of Tucson, formerly of Penrose CO.

Even more confounding is that each monarch’s return from Mexico to the States or Canada encompasses three generations.  Even so, the monarch returns TO THE SAME TREE that played host to a parent four generations removed!!

Living through these dark days of worldwide political upheaval, it is easy to spiral down. I am certainly guilty of sinking spells. The monarch is only Queen for a few days, but she achieves so much is such a short time. Not that I’m looking forward to a death sentence, but I often wonder how I would spend my days if I knew how limited my time.

If the lifespan of the monarch did not cheer you up, read “Small Kindnesses” by Danusha Lameris.

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk / down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs / to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” / when someone sneezes a leftover  / from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. / And sometimes, when you spill lemons / from your grocery bag, someone else will help you / pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. / We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, / and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile / at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress / to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, / and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. / We have so little of each other, now. So far / from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. / What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these / fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, / have my seat,” “Go ahead – you first,” “I like your hat.”

I’m on my way to the grocery… maybe I’ll drop an orange or two.

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Jackson Alexander Jimenez 16-mo. “Have courage and be kind.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Forever Young (at heart)

Least you think I’m deluded at 76 because I still think that I’m in my late 50s, let me hasten to tell you that I refuse to look in the mirror. There’s no point in underscoring the wrinkles that I catch reflected back to me in store windows.

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When Jackson says “older chicks,” I don’t think he’s thinking of me.

I don’t obsess about the canyon craters inherited from my mother and my mother’s mother. Wrinkles run in that side of the family. Also, I try to curb my jealously of my sister Christine who, favoring my father’s Welsh line, has not one faintly etched line across her ever-youthful face.

Instead of focusing on my falling face, I’ve been rejoicing in my good health.  Despite the ads for walk-in tubs and Silver Senior dating sites that pop up on my In-Box, I’ve been convinced that I am holding age at-bay…

DSCN9273until this past week of babysitting my grandson Jackson who at 16 month is into everything. I can’t keep up. Jackson is either drinking water out of the dog’s bowl, eating a past-prime peach that he fished out of the garbage, or attempting to pull the fish tank off its stand.

What a shock to learn that I’ve been deluded! I AM 76!

Taking Jackson for a walk in his stroller today, a neighbor called out, “Hi, Jackson. Are you taking a walk with your Granny today?” GRANNY! She was talking about me!!

Adding insult to injury, Jackson’s mother Laura and I stopped at Goodwill this afternoon to drop off some donations. Driving up the drop-off, Laura saw a donated tricycle and urged me to jump out and grab the bike that had been dropped by the car in front of us.

Of course, I declined. When Laura questioned my reticence, I replied that picking up goods at the drop-off was stealing. And she said, “‘At your age you can fake it. Just act confused and ask the attendant why there is no price on the tricycle.”

Of course, she was just pulling my chain. I think

Really! Yes, maybe once a month a week I get confused, but not on a weekly daily basis.


As a sort of postscript, I’m remembering a poem that I wrote recently. Enjoy.

“Reading Between the Lines”

The smell of manure, funnel cakes and deep-fried Snickers

mingle and hang hefty in the stifling air.

My hand-held, battery-powered fan

does little to cool me.

 

I’m at the Colorado State Fair,

but had you asked,

I would have sworn that

I was dying by degrees in Death Valley.

 

I feel faint… flushed.

My adult children suggest that I get out of the sun.

Passing a palm reader’s booth, they urge me,

“Sit down. Have your palm read.” And so I sit.

 

Wanda, the Reader, is dressed for the part.

She wears a pleated, black turban on which

front and center, she has pinned a large amber stone.

A third eye, perhaps?

 

She’s old… wrinkled. Twenty dollars’ worth of eye makeup

does not make her any younger.

Rings and bracelets weigh her wrists down.

Without a word of greeting, Wanda waves me to a chair.

 

She takes my right hand and turns it palm up.

She squints. For the first time,

I too look intently at my palm, and

I’m surprised that it is so faintly lined.

 

Perhaps the palmist will think that I have money and

I’m a lady of leisure.

I’m guessing that she will interpret my lines accordingly.

I wait for her to prove my conjecture correct.

 

Glancing at the wall chart, I note the hand’s major lines.

My heart line is well-defined, but my head and lifeline are faint.

My fate line is nearly indistinct.

A good number of lines are entirely missing.

 

I wait.

Wanda’s pursed lips and furrowed brow have me holding my breath.

Her performance is good… dramatic… theatric.

Finally, Wanda sighs.

 

Turning my palm over, she tenderly pats the top of my hand.

Lifting her eyes, Wanda studies me.

A few moments later, she smiles at my lined face.

Now, she has something to work with!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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