WELCOME TO THE PERILS OF EILEEN

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow Ireland

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow,  Ireland

This could have been a short story. When I was born, my parents lived in Highland Park, Brooklyn, a hilly area not far from my Beatty grandparents’ home in East New York.  Family lore has it that one day an aunt lost hold of my carriage, and it began to roll down a sloping sidewalk towards busy Hillside Avenue. Stopped by someone walking up. There was more to come.

As we all do in time, I’ve had my share of “dangers, toils and snares” along the way.  But I’m still here, in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in — very grateful to have come this far. And I sing a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace” at Sunday Mass, probably startling those around me.

I’m 79 now, the same age as Grandma Moses when three of her colorful folk paintings were shown in an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art: “Contemporary Unknown American Painters.” Maybe there’s still hope for me, have always wanted to be a writer. (Does a blog count?) George Eliot’s: “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” is taped to my refrigerator. Though gymnast would be a stretch! (Intended)

A while ago, I began to to think I might have earned a memoir, even if only for family and friends.  Therapy for me, maybe help someone else stay strong, not give up. Besides, picturing my plight in print diverted me from troubles. I’ve learned that God’s bargain package deal for our amazing journey covers blessings and trials. There’s no free ride.

Among my blessings: Loving parents.  Happy childhood.  Comfortable home. Some true friends. Tuition free Queens College degree.  Marriage at 38, before it was trendy.  At almost 42, after tears, tests, surgery and prayers, gave birth to “a perfect baby boy,” as the doctor said.  At 52, decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, worked as a librarian for 21 years, lifetime pension and medical benefits.

Some trials: My dad’s early illness and death. Struggles with depression since adolescence. Breast cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, poor prognosis 32 years ago. My husband among 1,000 downsized by AIG in 1991 — could barely get an interview at 60. His pancreatic cancer and death in 1994.  Our son’s Hodgkin’s disease (now called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) the next year

.And  . . . the drama with my brother and sister after our mom’s death — for family peace, won’t go into details. I was heartbroken, wanted to keep busy, prayed for guidance — and returned to Queens for an M.L.S., a Master’s in Library Science.  Mentioned to the Rockville Centre library’s children’s librarian that I was enrolled in library school — and she asked:  “Would you like to work here?” Of course!  So there I was, a librarian trainee — in a building across the street from my mom’s apartment. The Lord’s mysterious ways.

Haven’t had time to tell my tale — too busy clinging to the proverbial cliff, just jotting occasional notes.  My working title: “The Perils of Eileen:  Still Hanging in There,” inspired by the heroine of the silent movie serial, “The Perils of Pauline,” first filmed in 1914, not that long before I appeared on the scene. Pauline, played by the actress, Pearl White, cleverly foiled her wicked guardian’s dastardly schemes to collect her inheritance.

She’s on a boat rigged with explosives. Held captive by sinister gypsies. High in the sky, drifting away in a runaway hot air balloon. Trapped in a burning building. Just a few of the evil villain’s pernicious plots. But never fear. Brave, resourceful Pauline survived at the end of each episode, sometimes with the help of her fiance, Harry. She’d be back again, ready and able for another adventure.

Cliffhangers came later, leaving the star in a petrifying predicament. Hanging on the edge over a chasm as the dirt crumbled away.  Tied with ropes, moving toward a buzzing circular saw.  Bound to a train track as the engine raced nearer. Come next week to see what happens.  I haven’t faced any of these calamities, yet. But, back in the ’60’s, I fell through one of the wide gaps between Long Island Railroad cars and platforms as the train was about to leave for New York’s Penn Station.

Picture the trailer:  Running late that winter morning, I dashed up the stairs of the Laurelton station, sprinted to an open doorway, started to step over the space, slipped on ice, and landed on the gravel bed, head not visible above the platform. Over 40 years later, in 2006, a young woman fell at the Woodside station and was killed. Long Island’s “Newsday” ran a series exposing many other accidents and lawsuits never before reported. (How I survived in a future post.  Hang in there.)

A friend once said: “Eileen, you could never be in a silent movie!”  But my son,  with degrees in Psychology and Communication, after his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, registered at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, aspiring to be a filmmaker. Or a stand-up comedian. Or both.  He featured me in an assignment, a silent film, “Lights Out for Grandma,” earning an A for his opus. Told me his classmates went “Aww” when I died dramatically — trying to blow out trick candles on a birthday cake.

Kieran was earning his living as a waiter in Pittsburgh restaurants.  I’d encouraged his dreams and ambitions — he was blessedly alive and well again.  A bonus — he met his future wife at a Friday’s, working part-time there till she finished college. Now she’s a Speech Therapist in a children’s hospital.  He’s an Occupational Therapist in a nursing home.  Who knows what when they grow up? He writes scripts in his spare time.

Being a librarian was a perfect fit for me.  I’ve loved books and reading since childhood, often by flashlight, under the covers, past bedtime. From “The Bobbsey Twins,” to “Little Women,” to “Jane Eyre.”  Later, wrote several poems and children’s stories — none ever accepted. But Greenwillow Press sent a lovely rejection letter for “Kieran’s Climbing Tree,”  saying I wrote well, they’d like to see other work. Didn’t get around to that.

However, I’ve had  the thrill of seeing my name in print. The New York Times published my terse opinion on “W” Bush’s Iraq fiasco.  And Long Island’s Newsday printed two letters — one about the LIRR Woodside fatality, another about breast feeding lessening the incidence of breast cancer.  A study had recently found that pollution wasn’t a definite factor in the island’s alarming rate of the dreaded disease.

And Santa Fe’s Mothering magazine almost printed my article, “Missing Link:  Vital Connection” about nursing’s little known protective effect. I’d researched the subject in medical journals, with the guidance of a librarian at The La Leche League, an advocate for breast feeding. It was to appear in the November issue, but was pulled before.

Before I found my true calling, I had a rather motley career.  After college (B.A. in English, minor in Philosophy) I was hired as a file clerk in TIME magazine’s Letters to the Editor — once a stray tear fell in a folder. Had taught myself to type on an old upright, learned shorthand, called myself a secretary, and the next year transferred to the new Sports Illustrated magazine’s advertising department.  My file cabinet now held a selection of advertised brands of liquor in the bottom drawer.

Seven years later  ( got itchy) found a more meaningful job at MEDICO, founded by the celebrated Dr. Tom Dooley and another doctor to help the sick poor in Laos. When Tom tragically died at only 33 years of age, the office became tense and unpleasant, the two factions vying for control.  So I worked at IBM as a secretary in Communications, then the president’s office, then as a correspondent in Stockholder Relations.

Tried being an elementary school teacher in the South Bronx —  briefly — had enough Education credits to earn a Common Branches license, but no student teaching, assigned to a mostly Spanish speaking third grade. Soon told the principal I couldn’t cope, ended the year doing clerical work in her office.

Followed by seven years as secretary to a partner at Proskauer, Rose, Goetz & Mendelsohn, Esqs. — during which time I married and, at last, became pregnant — leaving at six months, in danger of miscarriage. Five wonderful years as a full-time mother — best job in the world! When my son started kindergarten, part-time work near home, in the Rockville Centre and Oceanside school districts. (Amen!)

I’m rarely at a loss for words, as you can tell.  I’m the latter of  two Irish types: Private and closemouthed.  Outgoing and talkative. In 1969, on my first visit to Ireland with my sister and cousin,  couldn’t miss the chance to kiss the Blarney Stone, a tradition said to bestow the gift of blarney, the ability to beguile and cajole. Smooching that stone may have polished my powers of persuasion — Aer Lingus allowed Honey to come with me this trip. And the doting flight attendants said she was the first pet ever allowed in the cabin.  She sat on the seat next to me like an experienced traveler.

Haven’t had a problem showing my feelings either — and had honed the ability in an NYU acting class. When I’d called The Irish Department of Agriculture for permission to bring my dog to Ireland, I tearfully pleaded: At my age, this may be the last time I traveled to the land of my ancestors. And Honey was an emotional support animal, certified as my comfort companion for flights on Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines.

By the way, kissing the Blarney Stone is a sly, wry way of pulling the leg.  Literally and figuratively. Back in 1969,  a jolly man grasped my ankles as I lay on my back on the castle floor, stretching my neck outside an opening in the wall to peck the special block of rock. Uncomfortable, but not dangerous —  a grating prevents plunging to the ground if the guide slips his grip.  My relatives looked down on the procedure. The custom was beneath their contempt. They’d never lower themselves to such an awkward position.

Fabled, beautiful Ireland is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents and paternal great grandparents, and their known forbears.  My husband’s grandparents and great grandparents on both sides were born there, too. He didn’t need to ask if I’d mind going again on our 1970 honeymoon.  This year Aer Lingus made another offer I couldn’t refuse, and several days after our arrival my son and daughter-in-law joined me and Honey in Dublin.

One sunny, gorgeous afternoon, wandering alone in lushly blooming Mount Usher Gardens, I saw a woman across a stream and called out: “How do I find my way out of here?”  She crossed over a small bridge, and led me to a refreshment pavilion where my son and his wife were waiting. Barbara, a Dubliner, was much taken with Honey — no dogs were permitted in the park.  She took her picture, saying she’d write about our chance meeting on her blog, “Just Add Attitude.”

When I read the post I knew that’s how I’d share my story. Seems I’d taken exactly the right path that day.  Barbara quoted Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” and I’ll cite Herman Melville’s Ishmael  as he observes:  “I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right, that everybody is one way or other served in much the same way — either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is, and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each others’ shoulder-blades, and be content.”

Those wise words didn’t make an impression when I first read “Moby Dick,” but struck me when Peg Bracken repeated them in her “I Hate to Housekeep Book,” a title that caught my attention as a newlywed.  Ms. Bracken cautioned us not to judge careless homemakers  — we don’t know what may be distracting them. In effect, we’re shipmates on the same voyage and need to be there for one other, have each other’s back in hard times.

Faith and endurance are rewarded. When a door closes, another does open.  Disturbed by an irritating grain of sand, an oyster spins a lustrous pearl around it. Stormy seas have made me change course, navigate to a safe harbor, mend my sails, chart a new route, then set forth again. (Couldn’t resist. Got carried away on the tide. Promise to be briefer next time.)

 
 
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TRICK OR TREAT

It’ll be dark pretty soon, a little earlier every evening now.  Excited  children are getting  ready to go trick-or-treating.  Princesses, action heroes and heroines, all kinds of creepy creatures will be ringing doorbells, collecting hoards of candy.

There’ll probably be bonfires on beaches tonight.  Spooky stories told.  Apples bobbed for.  Does anyone still do that?  I hope so.  A messy highlight of my son’s costume party for third grade friends. He’d invited only boys — much to the annoyance of the girls in the class.  That was before he’d noticed their various charms.

Halloween’s origins can be traced back over 2,000 years to ancient Celtic harvest festivals, especially the Gaelic festival of Samhain, dedicated to remembering departed ancestors before the pagan new year began then on November 1st. In  the early Christian church, the celebration became known as All Hallows Evening (Hallows E’en) the eve of All Saints Day.  (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Nowadays, there’s more scary stuff going around than “things that go bump in the night.”  More frightening than ghosts, mummies, skeletons, witches or zombies.  More terrifying than Norman Bates, Dracula, Freddy Kruger, Hannibal Lecter or Michael Myers.   Among them:  Climate tragedies.  Multiple mass shootings, Frequent terrorist attacks.  Threats of war and nuclear annihilation.

The fragile middle class is disappearing.  “The rich get rich and the poor get poorer” — remembering the devastating last Depression. Back to the bad old days when the lowly labored for the wealthy?  My 15-year-old Irish immigrant grandmother among them. Immigrants may be disappearing, too.

The Republicans’ trickle-down mantra has never worked before, and won’t work now. The magical solution evaporates on the way down, doesn’t reach the roots. The GOP is willing to overlook the travesty of a rude, crude, dishonest president who promised us a virtual rose garden, but only sows havoc and controversy.  As long as he signs their heartless agenda into law.

We’ve been tricked!

 

 

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SEPTEMBER MEMORIES

Thirty seven years and one week ago today, on September 19, 1970, Kieran John Gallagher and Eileen Marie Copeland were married at St. Mary Magdalene Church, in Springfield Gardens, New York. My sister, Mary, my maid of honor.  My brother, Bill, escorted me down the aisle.  Kieran’s brother, Kevin, his best man.  Six friends his ushers.

A memorable moment at the nuptial mass:  As the priest, citing the Wedding Feast at Cana, solemnly intoned: “And a miracle has been performed today!”  — a rumble of hearty laughter arose from the congregation.  (We were both 38 years of age.)  But I believe it was mostly my husband’s buddies  — he was the last of them to take the leap.

Followed by a reception at my home in Laurelton, tables set in the yard — on very damp grass. A gorgeous, sunny day — after torrents of rain the whole day before.  We’d decorated our finished basement, in case, and the food would be served buffet style in the dining room, but it would have been a crowded, cozy party. We hadn’t told my mom how many we’d invited, over 100, assuming there’d be refusals. There weren’t.  An open bar in the garage.  A strolling accordion player. Best party I ever attended.

Exactly three years later, on our third anniversary, September 19, 1973, I was admitted to Flushing Hospital, a Caesarean section scheduled the next morning.  And on September 20th, our son, Kieran Anthony, entered the world. I’ll always be grateful that, after the recovery room, a sweet nurse wheeled my gurney up to the nursery window to see my infant son.  “A perfect baby boy,” the doctor pronounced. Weighing in at seven pounds, seven ounces. His daddy, Kieran John, came to visit, carrying a dozen red roses, with a card that read:  “Wow a boy!” Would have loved a girl, too.  But couldn’t help saying that!?

Kieran Anthony celebrated his 44th birthday last week.  And he and Bethany are now daddy and mommy to Nolan, Jack and Maeve.   Making memories every day.

 

 

 

 

 

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HOME ON THE RANGE

Not the kind “where the buffalo roam,” in that sentimental song of the old West — the kind that cooks — what I still call a stove.  Last week the oven died in the gas range in my condo kitchen.  Had tried self-cleaning, which didn’t work, and after that, neither did the oven.  Can’t be without an oven to bake my Irish soda breads and apple pies with homemade crusts.  (My mom always enjoyed her little pun:  “Eileen, you’ve got some crust!”)

I’m convinced that many appliances, along with some other modern conveniences, have gotten way too complicated  — for me, anyway.  Though I have a basic cell phone, dabble on the Internet,  and get money (too often) from an ATM.  My husband wouldn’t touch any of them — he didn’t like to be rushed, was deliberate in his movements.  Speed and dexterity are necessary now — fingers flying over smart phones.

I remember watching my Grandma Beatty in her kitchen as she calmly turned out delicious Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for about 25 — herself, grandpa, aunts, uncles and cousins — cooking turkeys and all the fixings in a wood stove, throwing in big chunks to keep the fire burning evenly.  Kids fed first, then pretty much left on our own, chasing each other, playing games, sliding down the banister, boy cousins taking turns riding up and down in the hallway dumbwaiter — girls only allowed to keep watch for adults.

Wish we could go back to the days when families were closer, in both senses — wouldn’t want to go back to  wood stoves.  But do newfangled ones have to be so daunting?  The range was an older one, wasn’t worth repairing — $100 for the service call. Went to Home Depot, sales people scarce, none anywhere near appliance area. Only three gas ranges on display.  Finally ordered one a rare sales rep found on computer, to be delivered in several days, with later installation. With vision of stove sitting in my living room for a while, next day called and cancelled.

But now there’s a brand new Whirlpool gas range (4-1/2 stars out of 5) in my kitchen — reasonable price, black and stainless steel, 5 burners, a griddle, bought at Best Buy, where a helpful salesman approached as soon as I began to browse.   Delivered in two days, old range removed, new one immediately connected. All smooth sailing so far.  Not for long.

A 31 page Care and Use Guide came with the stove, 16 in English, then in French.  Had a quick lesson from installer, decided to bake Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits.  Mouth watering, put them on cookie sheet, tried to set oven temperature and timer, pressed digital control panel in proper places. But didn’t press Start button within 5 allotted seconds, 3 seconds to lock in. Finally got it right, but wouldn’t unlock when I wanted to correct the temperature.

Called Best Buy — “Press Lock for three more seconds to unlock” —  on page 8 of  manual, which made my brain hurt. The biscuits were delicious, and I dunked them in homemade chicken soup for lunch.  Yesterday, I treated myself to bacon and eggs cooked on the griddle — left some egg for Angel to lick off. Then discovered Low setting on front burners was defective — flame too high. Repair coming Friday. I rest my case.

 

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BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

This morning, on the way to WaWa for my customary French vanilla decaf coffee, plain donut for dunking, and “The [real news] Washington Post,” I turned on Tredmore Road and saw a curious sight — a woman and two young children, sitting on folding chairs near the curb, holding up small handwritten signs. Couldn’t make out the message as I drove by — probably young entrepreneurs offering refreshments on a hot summer day, with mom supervising sales.

As I came near, all three held up the signs, hopeful smiles fading as I kept going. Felt a twinge — sorry I’d passed them by — decided to stop on the way back.  A boy about five — he reminded me of my grandson Nolan — and his sister, maybe six, were selling ice pops for a dollar, though none were in evidence.  And it was their aunt who’d encouraged the project while their mom visited their new baby sister in the hospital, kept there because of complications at birth.

I asked for an orange and an apple ice, gave each child a dollar, and they filled the order in the garage where the pops were kept frozen. I was their first and only customer, said the aunt.  They’d been discouraged and had started to walk away when I arrived. Now they were delighted, both beaming and dancing around, waving the money. The boy  suddenly ran and gave me an enthusiastic hug.  Worth more than a dollar.  Priceless.

This afternoon Angel and I visited Havre d’Grace again for a walk on the boardwalk, water for her and a coffee ice cream float for me at the Promenade Cafe. After, we relaxed in a gazebo,  met a retired kindergarten teacher, Myrtle, and her son Charley, who proudly told me: “Today’s my mom’s 103rd birthday!” His mother added emphatically: “And I’m in very good health!” Which she certainly seemed to be.  Charley told me he’s had cancer three times, last time seven years ago, when doctors said he’d only live three months.

You never know who’ll you meet when you stop along the way.  Or what you’ll learn if you do.

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STILL HANGING IN THERE

Recently realized it’s been three months since I wrote “Out Like a Lion.” And suddenly it’s the Fourth of July — time flies whether or not fun is involved — and I wanted to send my loyal, intrepid followers greetings and good wishes on this anniversary of our nation’s independence.

This year we had a four day celebration since today’s a Tuesday — and we needed every one of them, many of us weary of the constant turmoil  in Washington and the world. Our so-called president seems more unhinged every day while his fans still adore him.

Outrageous tweets.  Bizarre behavior. Alternate “facts,” Health care plans on life support.  Environmental protections dismantled. The Russian question. And more. Our founding fathers would be scandalized and horrified.  And we have to worry about Putin in Russia.  Kim Jong-un in North Korea.  Conflict and unrest in so many countries.

Time for Angel and me to go to bed.  She’s got an early vet appointment in the morning.  Blood work for her Cushing’s disease.  But she’s doing well, thankfully, now about 10 years of age. When we found each other three years ago at Fallston Animal Rescue Movement, they said she was about seven then.

Sorry to say I’ve had another bout of depression, back in Sheppard Pratt again in June.  Out in time for Nolan and Jack’s shared 5th and 3rd birthday party in a park — 20 kids, parents, pizza, pinatas, masks. And Maeve will be one year old on July 15th.  So good to be home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OUT LIKE A LION

It’s the last day of March, nothing like a lamb — rainy, chilly and windy.  Strange weather we’ve been having — some 70+ degree days, people wearing sandals — then frigid temperatures, snow, and winter coats again.  Deniers of unusual global climate change are delusional.

Missed posting in February, though a made an unfinished attempt on February 28th. A lot’s been going on.  A trip to Massachusetts for the Hogans’ annual St. Patrick’s festival – bringing my Irish soda bread, of course.  The next week went to a Celtic Celebration concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra — third generation Irish descent, and the songs, dances and rousing bagpipes of my ancestors move me — roots go deep. Best of all, weekly overnight visits to Bethany, Kieran and my adorable grandchildren. Volunteer work at a hospital. Exercise classes at the senior center — hanging in there.

I promised epiphanies back in January — hope you haven’t been in suspense!  Reminded me of Al Francken’s Stuart Smiley, in the glory days of “Saturday Night Live,” gazing in a mirror,  affirming himself, murmuring “deep thoughts.” Now Senator Francken from Minnesota, it was wonderfully ironic to see him  — deadpan, with a sly downward glance — skewering our so-called Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

Have had glimmers before, but understand more now — brace yourself!  It’s a miracle we’re even here at all — think of the odds, the multiple possible combinations of sperm and ova. And God charges a fair fare for an amazing lifelong journey — challenges to try us, then blessings and joys if we keep faith. We’re all in this together — I couldn’t have managed without loving family, friends, and my angelic pet Angel.

The trees are blossoming pink and white in Maryland.  Ducks and geese are pairing up on the pond in Bynum Run Park — babies coming soon. Tomorrow, I’m sowing grass seed on the bare patches in front of my patio.  The condo’s pool passes will be ready for Memorial Day weekend.  And America will survive the ignorance and incompetency of our so-called President Trump. (So unhealthily puffy looking — so full of himself.) Anyway, springtime is a time for hoping.

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EPIPHANIES

I’m back!  Haven’t been up to writing since I posted “A Harbor Full of Grace” in October.  Tried to stay hopeful, kept moving however I felt, but my depression worsened and I was admitted to Sheppard Pratt the end of November — spent my 85th birthday there on December 3rd, dear Kieran visiting with cupcakes for all. Was in Harford Memorial Hospital last year on my 84th — really don’t want to make this a tradition!

I’ve become something of an authority on the merits and demerits of various behavioral health centers — mental isn’t mentioned much. Sheppard Pratt was absolutely the best — caring, excellent staff; private room and bath; varied, decent food; music, exercise and other therapy programs;  Lexapro, a different anti-depressant; and ECT (shock treatment).  I’d been reluctant, and my son was apprehensive at my age, adding I’d been somewhat forgetful after it was administered in 2000, sixteen years ago.  But it was effective again.  (And I don’t remember being forgetful before.)

Kieran wryly remarked I’d been admitted to Mercy Hospital on Long Island soon after “W” Bush was elected president, courtesy of Florida’s hanging chads and the Supreme Court.  This time soon after Donald Trump’s mind-boggling win.   Coincidence?

Have been home for a month — happily celebrated my granddaughter Maeve’s Christening, Christmas, and the New Year. And my family, friends, and pet Angel have been loving and comforting. I’m grateful for every simple pleasure — reading The New York Times” and “The Washington Post, sipping my now decaf morning coffee.  And when I see that our soon-to-be-presidentTrump has once more erupted, tweeting praise of Putin, maligning the media for reporting what he says and does, insulting our “Intelligence” agencies, castigating  critics — I’m wide awake, don’t miss caffeine.  Behavioral Health, Donald?

Today is January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, remembering the Magi’s visit to the Christ Child in a humble Bethlehem stable. My Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary states that epiphany also means: “a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something,” and “an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking,” and “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.”

I may have come across a couple of those of late,  wanted to publish this today since there may be a metaphorical, metaphysical convergence here — old English majors can’t resist them.  Will tell more in a future post.  But for now I wish you and your loved ones — even some you’re not that crazy about — a happy, healthy, blessed New Year, and only troubles you can handle with the help of God.

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