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celebrating the senses: taste

raspberriesA friend and I had lunch at the Orchid Thai restaurant yesterday. I chose the Basil Fried Rice (with tofu), which I’ve enjoyed before. The tastes I like are the hot basil, bell peppers, green onions, tofu, and—most of all—the generous garnish of cilantro. I love cilantro. I love it so much that it also made it into my post on celebrating the sense of smell. As far as I’m concerned, cilantro pretty much makes any dish amazing.

Cilantro is one of my three favorite things to taste, the other two being ginger and raspberries. It’s not too difficult to pair cilantro and ginger, especially in stir-fry dishes or Chinese Chicken Salad. Chinese Chicken Salad has been off the menu for me since I became vegetarian a year and a half ago, but I recently discovered that Vinaigrette Restaurant has an Asian Chopped Salad that includes everything but the chicken.

Ginger and raspberries also make a great pairing. Fortunately for me, Heidi’s Raspberry Farm, located in the Village of Corrales north of Albuquerque, produces four varieties of raspberry jam, including one with ginger. Even better, another variety includes both ginger and red chile. Now that’s raspberry jam with an attitude—a delectable, sweet/savory, kick-ass (that’s the chile speaking) kind of attitude.

campariAmong the tastes I appreciate the most are very dark chocolate, dark roast coffee, strawberries, the occasional fresh baked scone, pink grapefruit juice, Campari, Campari and grapefruit juice, good (or even just decent) red wine, fresh basil, rosemary, blackberries picked from the bush, green chile, and the vinaigrette dressing I make with basil olive oil, grapefruit white balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard.

Since the taste buds are merely receptors that register sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness, and umami (savory or meaty taste), we know it’s the brain that generates the variety and complexity of tastes we actually experience. We don’t know exactly how the brain does it, but imagine how boring it would be if it didn’t do it. What if everything tasted the same—or worse, had no taste at all?

There are so many things to eat and drink that both taste good and are good for us that we shouldn’t have to consume anything that isn’t a celebration of the sense of taste.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

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celebrating sunflakes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA suncatcher by any other name would be a sunflake. That’s what the artist who creates them calls them, and I’m not about to argue with her. It all began with a yen to find a single suncatcher to hang in my kitchen window. I searched retail stores and art galleries off and on for well over a year. I also searched online for almost as long before I came across exactly what I was looking for. It’s the one on the lower left in the photo below. But as you can see, it has company.

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I wasn’t able to stop after getting just one sunflake. So I thought maybe I’d get another one or two for windows in the living room. Sunflake #2 is the fourth from the right.

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It turned out that I couldn’t stop with two, either—or with three or four or eight. I now have close to 24 sunflakes hanging in front of the windows in my apartment. The ones in my living room, including this beauty below, sparkle at the first light of day, while the array (above) in my dining room window glints and gleams as the rays of the afternoon sun cross its path. The three in the kitchen reflect the last of the bright light in late afternoon.

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Here you can see it with a couple of its bright companions.

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The source of these beauties is Amber Bechtol of Natural Curve Creations in Leander, Texas. After I’d ordered several pieces from Amber, I realized she was willing to customize the colors of her designs. Of the several pieces she customized for me, this is my favorite. The design is called Zephyr and the color choice is rainbow. So I have a rainbow Zephyr hanging in my kitchen window!

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Although I wondered if I was going a little overboard while building this collection, I have to say I have never regretted acquiring any of them. I notice and appreciate them every single day. Each one is a celebration of light, color, artistry, and joy.

Thank you, Amber!

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating making a difference

animalhumaneOrganizations that make a difference in the community deserve to be celebrated every day of the year. There are two organizations in Albuquerque that I want to give a figurative high five to. My involvement with them has been on a small scale, rather than a large one, but the effect they have on people—and pets—is huge.

Albuquerque Reads

albreadsI participated for a few years in this program that operates in three local schools, pairing adults with kindergarten students to give them 30 minutes of individual attention several days a week. According to the Albuquerque Reads website:

During Albuquerque Reads operations the students have achieved impressive gains in reading levels. Typically at the beginning of the school year, fewer than 5% of the students enrolled were reading at or above grade level. Just nine months later, and with the help of Albuquerque Reads: 70% were reading at or above grade level, and another 20% were reading almost at grade level.

I really enjoyed Wednesday mornings at Bel Air School with Shan Diin, Shayla, Curtis, Patrick, and Dominic, the mischievous one, who was definitely my favorite. I got to read so many, many books. I was familiar with a few of them from my long-ago stint in the Children’s Room of the Bay City Public Library. But I also encountered many new books, such as Jonathan London’s Froggy series. We read Froggy Eats Out, Froggy’s Sleepover, and Froggy’s Baby Sister, but I think the supply of Froggy books extends far beyond those three.

The refrigerator art our students gifted us with on holidays was definitely appreciated and cherished long after the end of each school year.

Animal Humane New Mexico

animal humaneNaima the Wonderful, my most favorite of all the cats I’ve had, came from Animal Humane. That’s enough reason for me to celebrate this organization.

But they are amazing for all of the things they do, such as:

  • The donor subsidized veterinary clinic that provides low-cost services to low-income pet owners.
  • Cats-around-town, their off-site adoption program that allows people to encounter adoptable pets in locations all over Albuquerque.
  • The many training classes, behavior seminars, and workshops that are offered to pet owners to help insure they have successful relationships with their dogs or cats.
  • The internet cat video festival that offers a cash prize of $250 for the best cat video submitted.

animalhumane2Animal Humane New Mexico accepts animals from other shelters around the state, and the staff and volunteers do a fantastic job in terms taking care of the animals’ health needs and in training and socializing them. Both the pets and the pet lovers of Albuquerque are fortunate to have Animal Humane New Mexico in the community.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating public art

public art1No matter what part of Albuquerque you travel through, you’re bound to encounter one or more of the 800 works of public art scattered across the city. Many of them are the result of Albuquerque’s 1978 Art in Municipal Places Program, which sets aside 1% of City construction funds for the purchase or commission of works of art.

Whether you love or hate individual pieces, you can’t deny that all of these sculptures, murals, and colorful mosaics add immeasurably to the sense of place.

I particularly enjoy the gorgeous mosaics that decorate the entrance to my local library as well as the downtown Convention Center. This (below) is one portion of the Juan Tabo Public Library facade.

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Here are a few more. Which ones do you like best?

GE

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This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating waking up

breathing (2)


the worm’s waking

Rumi

this is how a human being can change:

there’s a worm addicted to eating
grape leaves.

Suddenly, he wakes up,
call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he’s no longer
a worm.

He’s the entire vineyard,
and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
a growing wisdom and joy
that doesn’t need
to devour.


throw yourself like seed

Miguel de Unamuno

Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit;
Sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate
That brushes your heel as it turns going by.
The man who wants to live is the man in whom life is abundant.

Now you are only giving food to that final pain
Which is slowly winding you in the nets of death,
But to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts
Is the work; start there, turn to the work.

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,
Don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,
And do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,
For life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
From your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.


95

e.e. cummings

if up’s a word; and a world grows greener
minute by second and most by more–
if death is the loser and life is the winner
(and beggars are rich but misers are poor)
–let’s touch the sky:
with a to and a fro
(and a here there where)and away we go.

in even the laziest creature among us
a wisdom no knowledge can kill is astir–
now dull eyes are keen and now keen eyes are keener
(for young is the year,for young is the year)
–let’s touch the sky:
with a great(and a gay
and a steep)deep rush through amazing day

it’s brains without hearts have set saint against sinner;
put again over gladness and joy under care–
let’s do as an earth which can never do wrong does
(minute by second and most by more)
–let’s touch the sky:
with a strange(and a true)
and a climbing fall into far near blue

if beggars are rich(and a robin will sing his
robin a song)but misers are poor–
let’s love until noone could quite be(and young is
the year,dear)as living as i’m and as you’re
–let’s touch the sky:
with a you and a me
and an every(who’s any who’s some)one who’s we


This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating the senses: touch

repotting plantsThe skin that covers and protects our body is full of sensory receptors that feed information to the brain, helping us stay alive and making it possible for us to function in the world. We’re physical beings in a physical environment, so we’re constantly touching and being touched even though we may not always be aware of the sensations. Physical contact with others is important to our sense of well-being and social connection—not to mention continuation of the species.

Physical contact also feels good. I’ve just started getting massages again after an absence so long that I can’t remember the last one. I think it was some time in California in the 90s. I don’t have a strong recollection of any particular massage therapist or massage experience, which is probably why I hadn’t made any effort to find someone in New Mexico. Not that I couldn’t have used some help with the chronic tightness in my neck and shoulders.

kelly forrestFortunately I met Kelly Forrest, a skilled and talented massage therapist, several months ago and finally made an appointment with her in March. When I discovered she has magic hands, I had to wonder why in the world I had waited months to make that first appointment. So today, along with the sense of touch, I’m celebrating the happy end to the massage drought in my life!

The first massage Kelly gave me was the best I’ve ever had. So was the second one, which I got today. (I predict all the massages I receive from her will be the best I’ve ever had.) Besides being excellent at what she does, she’s also very friendly and approachable, and the environment she’s created in her new office space offers her clients an immediate sense of comfort and relaxation.

Yay, Kelly! Yes, massage works (and Massage Works is the name of her business). Thank you, so much.

Here are a few other things I enjoy the feel of:

  • The warm sun on my skin
  • My cat’s paw tapping my cheek to get my attention
  • A light breeze on a hot day
  • Hugs
  • Clean sheets
  • Flannel and fleece in the winter
  • My bare feet in sandals
  • Tending to my indoor plants
  • A book in my hands
  • Writing with a favorite pen

What’s on your list?

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating hiking

Pino TrailHiking is absolutely one of my favorite things to do, so even though the weather has not been conducive to hitting the trails lately–nor has my schedule–a series on celebration has to include it. Here are accounts of four hikes on (mostly) my favorite trails in the area.

Pino Trail

Pino Trail is my go-to hiking trail for two reasons. (1) It’s just over a five-minute drive from where I live. (2) The variety and the views never get old. These photos were taken on a short solo hike on a late afternoon in the summer, with the temperature around 94 degrees in the unshaded stretches. I went out by myself to see how the ribs I’d bruised the previous week handled my day pack and the heavy breathing from a little extra exertion.

This trail is very popular, but during my two hours out there I encountered fewer than half a dozen other people; apparently the heat kept everyone else away. My bruised ribs proved not to be an issue. In fact they felt better after the hike than they did before.

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While I love all the gorgeous vistas from this trail, the shot directly above is my favorite.

 Cienega (“Wet Meadow”) Trail

This hike was definitely not a hit. On the way up, my hiking partner and I heard the growl of either a black bear or a mountain lion, and on the way down I took a minor spill on the uneven, rock-strewn path.

On the plus side, we gained 1,750 feet in a little over two miles, moving under continuously blue skies with a scattering of bright white clouds, in very comfortable conditions. The view from the top was amazing. A stone outcropping provided convenient level seating for a snack break (watermelon and almonds) and the opportunity for us to take it all in–along with a few photos, of course.

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The less said about the trek down, the better. Of the wildflowers in bloom, sunflowers dominated. There were also more butterflies flitting around than I’ve ever seen anyplace outside the Butterfly Pavilion at the Botanic Garden.

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Tree Spring Trail

Tree Spring Trail, one of the most enjoyable trails in the area, is located on the eastern side of the Sandias, which makes it a cooler and more comfortable hike in the summer. My hiking companion and I started from Tree Springs trailhead off Crest Highway, hiked up to the crossroads where Tree Spring Trail meets 10K and Crest trails, and then meandered along 10K for a while.

tree spring1This hike was a winner, even though the trails are popular for mountain bikers, and we had to do a lot of scrambling to get out of the way. I couldn’t believe the profusion and variety of wildflowers.

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mariposa lily

Piedra Lisa (“Smooth Rock”) Trail to Rincon Spur

The weather gods provided an absolutely perfect day for hiking this trail, most of which is in the open. The temperature ranged from low 70s to mid-80s, the sun shone brightly, and there was nary a sign of rain.

Piedra Lisa Trail is on the same side of the mountains as Pino Trail, so the terrain is similar, but being north of Pino it offers much closer views of the landmark shield, prow, and needle. My favorite, however, was this sphinx-like “rock face.”

piedra lisa1There were lots of gnarled dead trees along the trail. At one point I turned around to see this row running down the side of a hill.

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The number of wildflowers was surprising. I managed to get a few halfway decent shots and to identify a couple more species–both purple.

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The mountains and sky seem much closer from the perspective of the trail. They’re a good reminder to look up from time to time, to check out the distant view. Sometimes you need the wide-angle lens.

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A Gal and Her Camera:

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Photo courtesy of Lee (Thanks!)

 Armijo-Faulty-Cienega Loop

After parking in the small lot before the Cienega Canyon trailhead, my companion and I backtracked up the asphalt, getting the hardest part of the hike over with right away. We picked up Cienega Horse Bypass Trail, which eventually merged with Armijo Trail, which offered some dramatic views. Armijo Trail was also where we encountered this little guy (or gal?):

collared lizard

Armijo Trail ends at Faulty Trail, which runs 8.7 miles altogether, but is an interior or connecting trail, so you can’t get to it directly. We could have gone either north or south, and chose north to make our loop. The terrain on both Armijo and Faulty was up-and-down, which was unusual and very welcome. Most of the time you figure on going UP. And then coming back DOWN. A portion of Faulty Trail follows an actual fault called Flatirons Fault.

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I can’t get enough of this place. It’s awe-inspiring, wild, and restorative all at the same time.

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I think it was on Faulty where a fellow hiker warned us he’d seen a bear off-trail about 200 yards back (in the direction we were headed). Just before Faulty crosses Cienega Trail, there is a short, very steep descent against the north face of Cienega Canyon. The views were spectacular! I failed to capture the grandeur, but I did succeed in making it down, which was sufficient accomplishment.

After the short leg of Cienega Trail, we snacked at an actual picnic table, then crossed the asphalt road to check out Cienega Nature Trail. We were reminded that Cienega means “wet meadow.” The area was very different from the trails we’d been on across the road. Green. And open.

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Lastly, we hunted for Acequia Trail for a bit before finding and following it in the direction of the parking lot, thus completing the loop. Pine cones abounded. And my friend Lee waited patiently while I took yet another photo.

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This very pleasant hike was five miles in all. It’s one I would definitely do again.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating short stories: fjord of Killary

fjordIt seems counterintuitive, but short stories are more difficult to writeat least to write well—than longer works. Although I’ve written all my life, short stories are a form I have yet to master. Maybe that’s why I admire and celebrate really good short stories. It takes skill to pick readers up, quickly orient them to another world, and immediately immerse them in it.

Some contemporary short stories leave me wondering what the point was, but occasionally I come across a story that sparkles all the way through the reading and lingers in my memory long afterward.

Fjord of Killary, by Kevin Barry, which was featured in The New Yorker several years ago, is one such story. I tore it out of the magazine and held onto it, which is why I still remember it.

It begins: So I bought an old hotel on the fjord of Killary. I was immediately taken by the off-hand tone, as if the narrator were relating this tale to a friend or acquaintance, perhaps in a bar. He continuesIt was set hard by the harbor wall, with Mweelrea Mountain across the water, and disgracefully gray skies above. Disgracefully gray skies are something I can relate to. I’m listening. It rained two hundred and eighty-seven days of the year, and the locals were given to magnificent mood swings. I can picture this place and its inhabitants already, just three sentences in.

On the night in question, the rain was particularly violent–it came down like handfuls of nails flung hard and fast by a seriously riled sky god. As well as being wonderfully descriptive, that sentence might very well be perfect. I was at this point eight months in the place and about convinced that it would be the death of me. End of first paragraph. We readers are set up with everything we need to know. And we know something is about to happen. If we are too dense to figure that out, though, he then says: “It’s end-of-the-fucking-world stuff out there,” I said.

One of the things I like about this story is that all the characters who speak talk the way I do when I’m not self-censoring. To wit, local funeral director, John Murphy, speaking to no one in particular, in these three successive paragraphs: “I’ll bury anythin’ that fuckin’ moves,” he said. “Bastards, suicides, tinkers,” he said. “I couldn’t give a fuckin’ monkey’s,” he said. While the casual cussing certainly isn’t the only thing I like about the story, it does make me feel comfortable. I could fit right in with those folks, at least for an evening.

And the last sentence is an absolute gem, one of those things that may not have occurred to you before, but that you realize the truth and humor of as soon as you hear (or read) it. It’s a bit of a celebration all by itself—especially for those of us of a certain age. But I won’t spoil it. Here’s the link to the complete story in The New Yorker.

kevin barryKevin Barry was born in Limerick in 1959 and now lives in Dublin. He’s published sketches, columns, and stories for a number of newspapers in Ireland, England, the U.S., and elsewhere. His short story collection, There are Little Kingdoms, won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2007. His first novel, City of Bohane, about “a small and murderous West Ireland city,” was published in April 2011 and reviewed by Pete Hamil in The New York Times.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating fresh flowers

flowers1There’s something about having fresh flowers inside that changes the atmosphere and brightens even a gloomy or overcast day. I have a lot of plants around my apartment, but I really miss the flowers when I don’t have any. The empty vases seem so…empty. Cut flowers often feel like an extravagance, so I don’t get them every week. But I make a point of getting some at least once a month.

About 10 years ago, I discovered the Alstroemeria. I love these flowers, which are commonly known by nearly as many names as the colors they come in: Peruvian Lily, Lily of the Incas, Parrot Flower. The supermarket across the street sells them in bunches of five stems, each stem with its own bouquet of blooms.

flowers2The ones in the pictures are a mix of cherry and cherry and white, a good choice for spring. I’ve also seen them in shades of purple, lilac, white, yellow, orange, deep red, and many subtle variations and combinations thereof.

Two bunches are enough to fill a large vase as well as a smaller one that sits on the sideboard in the dining area. Sometimes there’s even a sprig left over for the bud vase in my bedroom.

Having fresh flowers always—always—feels like a celebration. They remind me that I’m rich, at least in spirit, no matter what else I may lack or may be under the impression I lack.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating wine

sidewaysI’m no oenophile (connoisseur of wine), by any means. But I always enjoy a glass of red. Unlike Miles, Paul Giamatti’s character in Sideways who refuses to drink Merlot, almost any red wine will do. But I definitely have some favorites.

Tempranillo

Yesterday evening, I attended an event at Scalo Northern Italian Grill in Nob Hill (the one here in Albuquerque, not the one in San Francisco) and the happy hour reds included Cubo Tempranillo. Oh, I’ll have that! I said.

According to the Total Wine & More Guide to Tempranillo Wine:

The Tempranillo (tem-prah-NEE-yoh) grape is as important to Spain as the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is to the Médoc. The great reds of Rioja and Ribera del Duero are Tempranillo based. This versatile grape is capable of yielding big, full-bodied reds with firm tannins and loads of complexity to very light and easy-drinking wine with light tannins. Typically Tempranillo yields red wines with red-fruit flavors, which include cherry and ripe strawberry with rustic nuances of leather and earth. With substantial oak aging such as the Gran Reservas of Rioja, Tempranillo produces elegant and complex wine with multifaceted layers of flavors. Also known as Tinto de Toro, Tinto Fino, and Tinto del País.

I can neither confirm nor deny the firmness of the tannins or degree of complexity of the glass of wine I enjoyed last night, but it was very, very nice. I haven’t encountered Tempranillo often, but every time I’ve tasted it, I’ve always wanted more.

Malbec

Malbec is another wine I will usually choose if it’s available. The Total Wine & More Guide to Argentinian Malbec Wine says:

The flagship red grape of Argentina, Malbec [MOWL-beck] was once popular as a blending grape in Bordeaux, where it is still one of the permitted varietals. Malbec plays a supporting role in many appellations in South West France and especially Southeast of Bordeaux, in the region of Cahors, where it is the primary grape and is referred to as “the black wine,” due to its deep, dark color.

Nowhere does Malbec’s star shine as brightly as it does in the Mendoza region of Argentina. The ripe and plush Malbec wines of Argentina feature dark fruit flavors of blackberry, blueberry and black raspberry and supple tannins, with nuances of violets and toasty oak in the more expensive offerings. Blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah add additional complexity.

1629

Winery_1But New Mexico has it’s own history of wine production, and my current favorite red wine is locally produced. Casa Rondena Winery is located in the Village of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The facility includes several buildings with indoor and outdoor tasting areas. You can hang out in one of them, bring your own picnic to enjoy on the grounds, or—if you can afford it—even get married there.

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’ve been treated to all of the Casa Rondena reds, the absolute best (and most expensive) of which is:

2009 1629 – A true Casa original: 50% deep dark Syrah; 41% dense, soft tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% spicy Tempranillo; – blended and named in honor of the first vinifera plantings in North America, right here in New Mexico!

The first time I enjoyed a few sips of this wine was at the end of a tasting. It was near closing and the owner, who happened to be behind the bar, wanted us to experience the effect the size and width of a wine glass can have on the way the wine tastes. So he gave us several more samples of this fantastic wine in various glasses. I hadn’t had dinner yet, but I kept on sipping, to the point where I got a bit tipsy.

Periodically my friend, who belongs to Casa Rondena’s wine club, will pick up a bottle of the 1629 and we will enjoy it together whenever we have something to celebrate. It just seems too good to have on an ordinary day. But maybe that thinking needs to change. Maybe we ought to use the wine to turn an ordinary day into a celebration. I’m game to give that a try if she is.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

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