Category Archives: Whatever

May Writing Challenge

Which was going to be called the Iron Writer Challenge
Because I ripped the idea off from my friend “Iron Rider”
But somebody’s already using that name,
So maybe a better name will come up,
But I’m posting it now anyway.

bike_writing_crop


THE CHALLENGE:
In May, 2015, write for at least half an hour every single day.
Go for 60 if you’re feeling tough.
Yes, that’s it.

FOUR WAYS TO WIN

“A” TEAM: Write for 60 minutes a day
“B” TEAM: Write for 30 minutes a day

24-HOUR TIME TRIAL: 60 minutes a day for 24 days
12-HOUR TIME TRIAL: 30 minutes a day for 24 days


FAQ

WHAT COUNTS AS “WRITING?”

IF YOU WRITE AT A COMPUTER: “Writing” means you are physically present at a computer, with all Internet access turned off, and your word processor is the only app that’s open.

IF YOU WRITE ON A NOTEPAD OR TYPEWRITER: It’s in front of you, ready for writing, and your Internet access is turned off.

In writer talk: Your ass is in the chair.

  • Staring at the screen counts as writing, as long as you do it for the appropriate amount of time, with a word processor (and nothing else) open.
  • Going to the kitchen does not count toward writing time.
  • Going to the bathroom does not count toward writing time.
  • Talking on the phone does not count toward writing time.
  • Looking at your phone does not count toward writing time.
  • Playing games does not count toward writing time. Yes, even if it’s your PROCESS.
  • RESEARCH DOES NOT COUNT. Research is not writing.
  • Interruptions do not count toward writing time. That’s right, even though they weren’t your fault.

CAN I BREAK UP THE 30 OR 60 MINUTES?

YES. You may break it into 30-minute segments. Note that it’s not possible to break 30 minutes into more than one 30-minute segment.


CAN I MAKE UP TIME IF I MISS A DAY?

NO—with two loopholes:

  • May has 31 days, and you only have to hit 30 of them to succeed at the challenge
  • On May 30 AND ONLY ON MAY 30, you may “double up” to make up a missed session

HOW DO I SIGN UP?

You don’t sign up. You show up.


DO I NEED TO DECLARE WHICH CHALLENGE I’M DOING UP FRONT?

NO. You know what the four ways to win are. Aim for one. I don’t need to know which. (Though you can feel free to say so, either here or on the Facebook Group.)


WHAT DO I GET IF I WIN?

Self-respect.

Also, there may be stickers.


WHY WOULD I BOTHER WITH THIS WHEN I CAN JUST SIT DOWN HALF AN HOUR A DAY AND WRITE BY MYSELF?

No clue. That’s your business.


WHAT DO I NEED TO PROVIDE AS PROOF?

Nothing. To quote the guy I ripped this off from: As is true for all worthwhile things, this is on the honor system.


YOU RIPPED THIS OFF? WHO’D YOU RIP IT OFF FROM?

Iron Rider, a fellow randonneur (look it up), proposed a 30-day cycling challenge in March: The “A” Team was challenged to ride 60 minutes/day, the “B” Team would ride 30, etc. It didn’t matter how fast, how much elevation gain, whether it was an official event or a grocery run, or even whether the bike had wheels. (Indoor exercise bikes were allowed.) The only thing that mattered was that your ass was in the saddle and your legs were pedaling.

I demurred, claiming (honestly) that I didn’t think I could commit to 30 days with my custody schedule being what it was. Next thing I knew, the “TIME TRIAL” options had been added, allowing more days off. So now I had to either do it or admit I’d been full of crap with my “I’d love to, but the kids…”

So I did. 30 minutes/day, 30 days. “B” Team. If it was snowing, I went out. If it was raining, I went out. If I had a long car trip, I put the folding bike in the trunk and stopped along the way to ride my 30 minutes, and when I got to my destination, I rode there too. But mostly I rode around my new town, aiming the wheel onto roads I hadn’t been on before. My Strava heatmap blossomed. When the challenge ended, I was riding again.

There are things about endurance cycling and novel writing that are the same, not least of which is this:

The truth is, you’re generally the only one who cares if you finish, except maybe your family, and mostly they just want you to be nicer to them.

That will be a blog entry for another time.

But fundamental to both is this: Put your ass in the right place, and keep it there. All things grow from there. (Not from your ass, wisenheimer—you know what I meant.)


OK, SO WHERE’S THE FACEBOOK GROUP?

Right here. Feel free to talk about the challenge, post pictures of your desk, or…you know…whatever.

Facebook does not count as writing.


WHO DO YOU EXPECT WILL DO THIS CHALLENGE?

Honestly? I have no idea.


iron_writer

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Simple machine

I WAS DEPRESSED when I woke up yesterday morning, and weight loss had reversed since I got sick earlier in the week, and it was 15° out and gloomy and there seemed no point. So I posted on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.28.48 AM

Because I’d posted something all tough-sounding, now I had to be able to say later that I’d done it, so I eventually found all my winter cycling clothes (not the Lycra ones, the jeans and parka ones) and went outside.

Because I keep a very cheap bottom-end single-speed fatbike outside, and still have the buckskin mittens I got in the Arctic and never thought I’d use again, I could ride to my new workspace without worrying about getting stuck there if it snowed during the day.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.41.18 PM

Because cycling drives your psyche clean, I got there in a good mood, and because even 3.7 flat miles is a workout on a 60-pound bike with 15psi tires, I got there in a good mood and invigorated—and hungry.

Because I was now in Danbury, I didn’t have to eat random leftovers out of the fridge.

And because I was invigorated and fed, and have always loved any unfamiliar cold sweet drink, I was friendly and happy.

Because I was friendly, I got into a friendly conversation with one of the guys who started the Hackerspace, and because I’m “the book design guy,” was taken forcibly by the lapels and hauled across the street, to a medium-small press, where I was introduced to the publisher and acquiring editor.

Because I don’t have a headlight on this bike yet, I rode home just before dark.

Because I was home before dark, I had time to check out Open Mic Night at my local coffeehouse, which I liked better than the open mics I’ve checked out at local bars. I have a new song that’s almost done.

Because I hadn’t written all day, I felt the day had been a failure. But not the kind of failure where everything’s hopeless, which is how I’d felt in the morning; the kind where you know it actually is a failure of sorts, but because you got your riding in…eh, you know, no point being despondent. And the lard thing was pretty funny. Just do better tomorrow.

Here’s the lard thing. I have no idea how to count calories when buying Chinese food cooked by the owner of the grocery store:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.30.26 PM

simple_machine

THIS MORNING I weighed in at less than 220 for the first time since November.

I was also a little sorrowful for no very clear reason, and a little sick, still. But the depression wasn’t so bad. And because I didn’t want to break the new streak, I rode to work again.

Bicycling gives you the same ideas you get when you’re falling asleep, only you can write them down when you get there. When I got to the Hackerspace, I wrote down what the climax and ending of this novel are.

(Because bicycling also replays painful old gaffes on a loop, I imagined how people I’ve been weird to—because at specific times of my life, my personality wasn’t back together yet—would react to the book. Eh, Snyder. Yeah, don’t like him. YOU can, I’m not saying otherwise. We all have our tastes, and none are wrong. Just…you know…*raised eyebrows and shrug*.)

(Because bicycling also pumps good mood through your entire being, I remembered I don’t actually care all that much that I sometimes fumble the social thing.)

Because I know the climax now, I’m taking a break from plotting and narrative and working on blurbable reviews. Publishers Weekly will call it one of the first masterworks of the early twenty-first century. The New York Times will marvel that a genre writer could have produced such a layered work of subtle complexity. These are advance blurbs, and subject to change.

I will be accused, by my friends, of snobbishly distancing myself from genre, and will patiently explain what I really meant in the interview. My explanation will be grudgingly accepted, but only four of my friends will still talk to me a month later. That’s a net gain of two, so this works out great.

Metal tubes, cables, rubber, leather. Gears and levers. Miracles.

 

Bruno the Big-Boned

 

 

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Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, Bikes, Books, Community, Danbury, Divorce, ebook production, Favorite, Freelancing, Hackerspace, Makerspace, Senseless acts of beauty

Two minutes in a quiet kitchen, with dishes

MONDAY THE ROADS were slick and slushy between Willoughby and the town eleven miles away where my kids live half the time, and my low-end Kia is terrible in any depth of snow, so I didn’t get the boy I was expecting. The new custody schedule includes twice-weekly “one-boy” nights, which are very important to me, maybe the most important thing in the schedule. Parents of more than one child know what I mean: Even ten minutes with just one is like a little miracle. There’s that little person you like, usually obscured by blankets of homework, sibling rivalry, chores, laundry…and then you have just one, and…hey, little dude! I like you! And we have TWO HOURS! What do you want to do?

I love it, they love it…and we didn’t get to have it. I’m sure they took it better than I did, since they still had each other and Mom. I hung their new magnetic dart board in their room; I was going to do that with them, after surprising them with it, but it cheered me up to think of them discovering it.

Today, Wednesday, it’s still below freezing, but there’s blue sky and sunshine, and the roads are passable. This is the other one-boy night, so even though I didn’t get Red Fish a couple of days ago, I pick up Blue Fish from school this afternoon, drive him back here, get his homework done in 90 minutes instead of his usual three hours, and take him to chess club at the library. It’s once a month, on Wednesdays, which is why I wanted Wednesdays to be my night with him. At last month’s, he ended up with his picture in the Willoughby paper because there was a reporter there.

And I’ll do dishes. I let things go more when the boys aren’t here, because there’s no one to be an example for. And I turn off the heat to half the house. On a predictable cycle, I live in a cold, silent building that resuscitates and warms up again for boys. If I wanted melodrama and sympathy, I’d chisel an epigraph on this entry’s headstone:

I dwell in a lonely house I know
that vanished many a summer ago

Except I like the house, and I’m pretty much never lonely. And it’s odd. I don’t miss my boys when they’re gone; I’m just thrilled to see them when they’re back.

Except when I’m supposed to have them and don’t. Then I miss them. So tonight is hugs. And chess. And darts.

2min_quiet_kitchen

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February 11, 2015 · 12:27 pm

Interlude: Morning, Kitchen, Willoughby

THERE ARE DIFFERENT kinds of morning light, and they’re not all golden. Today’s is pale, but my kitchen has wood and copper in it, and a new bright orange stock pot, and daisies in a washed-out Bulleit rye bottle on the long prep table from the old apartment that the boys and I sanded and restained a weekend or two after we first moved in. You can do that kind of thing when you leave the city and have a small back lawn. The other finishing touch was a red clock, which is ticking above my head, softly. I think a boy may have just gotten up. It’s 8 a.m.

There’s rice waiting in the cooker and bowls warming in the oven. We’ll be watching anime and eating soon. I think I’m up to four kinds of soy sauce in the pantry, but the good stuff isn’t easy to find around here. I’ll get some at Sunrise Mart, one of the items on the notepaper on the fridge that says NYC at the top. I no longer have cats, including the one who loved to pull everything off the fridge. I’ve had cats my whole life. I don’t really miss them. That was unexpected. And I really don’t miss walking barefoot on cat litter in the morning.

No boy. I guess they’re still asleep.

When they’re at their mom’s, I turn the thermostat off and use a space heater. Then I turn the thermostat back on and can’t figure out why it won’t obey my temperature settings. I wrote to the manufacturer and got a manual for it, but my eyes glazed. I’ll try again when they’re not here and we don’t have better things to do on a Saturday, like try out the local comic book store or see what the “tree festival” is.

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I HAVE NEVER been a good housekeeper, and that has always been a nut of conflict. But this is my kitchen. My house. My daisies. My expensive Honeysuckle-scented all-surface cleaner. My sense of what to teach boys about manhood. Endurance, self-sufficience, beauty, efficiency, cast iron. The cast iron is from my mom, mailed cross-country. I remember using it when I was the boys’ age. The slow cooker is brand-new and I expect it to break next year. In the maelstrom of the separation and move, I wanted a slow cooker, and this is the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, whose cookbooks I really like. I didn’t read the Amazon reviews; I should have. I also got the front end of my new bike wrong; the stem is too low, so it puts me into a racing posture. I am not a racer. You can look at me and know that.

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I GOT 1) the slow cooker wrong, and 2) the bike wrong, and 3) I signed a car lease I shouldn’t have, and 4) the old landlord outclevered me and kept a few thousand in security deposit.

But:

  1. About a month into our new life, I handed the boys a cookbook and told them to pick dinner from the slow-cooker section. They came back in ten minutes: Korean Braised Short Ribs.
     
    I’m like—seriousl…uh, never mind, YOU’RE ON.
     
    It was excellent. It was less expensive than processed foods. When the accidentally wrong slow cooker breaks, I’ll get a cheaper one.
     
  2. The too-low stem on the bike means I spend a good deal of time out of the saddle, because I don’t like the position. That would be more of an issue if I were spending any time on the bike at all, which is related to it not being quite comfortable enough, and also related to life being an upheaval—but I got the bike built in time to have a finished one at the start of my new life, and I love it in all other ways. It’s not a particularly expensive bike, but it’s got exactly the tires I wanted, and just the front bag and the very fenders, all of which you’d think would be bolt-ons to any random bicycle, but most bikes don’t have the right spaces to accept them.
     
    I ride it around town on errands. When there’s a little more money, I’ll get a fitting and replace the accidentally wrong stem, and it will be the brevet whip I meant it to be.
     
  3. The car lease was a mistake. I can’t afford it. I really wanted to go completely car-free, but the boys ended up going to school twelve miles away. It’s the cheapest monthly rate I could possibly find, on the cheapest car around, but I should have bought a beater outright and paid less for insurance. And the mileage limit is too low and the term is way too long. But we have reliable transportation, and the accidentally wrong lease will—eventually—expire.
     
  4. As for my old NYC landlords:
     
    The ones before these ones were powerful criminals. (No kidding. I spoke briefly with the NY District Attorney a year or two before they finally broke them up and put them out of business. It was in the news. Too late for us.) These ones…benefit of the doubt. Maybe just dishonest slimeballs. So they get my money and I cut my losses and move on. You can’t pull a victory out of everything.

dot_divider
NOW I HEAR the stairs creaking and crackling, so I’ll wrap it up. A new familiar sound in this new familiar life. And the light’s not as pretty in the kitchen. Rice and anime await, and noise and mess and bickering and comic books and piano and trombone and cello and cookie baking and fart jokes and farts. And, I’ll cop to it, the work I didn’t get done this week for, honestly, not any good-enough reason. The copper canisters and the orange stock pot are steadfastly cheery, and the red clock—it just ticks softly on, but soon I won’t hear it.

 

 

my_city

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Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, Bikes, Cooking, Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Food, Gender, Kids, Parenting

The Man Who Designed Books

I REMEMBERED, WHILE compiling a big list of production managers, small press owners, and anybody else I could think of who might need my services, that they always ask for samples, and it always takes hours to figure out just what they want and which things to send. If they specialize in how-to for sports-loving arthropods, I wonder if the self-help for anxious cetaceans I did will be quite the right thing to send, and I notice, while browsing EXO-STRIKE! An Invertebrate’s Guide to Bowling (in order to familiarize myself with the publisher), that it contains a lot of diagrams; there are none in my design for EASY ECHOLOCATION: Mackerel Without Worry.
Continue reading

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Five snapshots of one boy

I LEFT HIM in the building lobby with the last load of divorce stuff. This is my boy who hates being left alone. If his brother falls asleep first, you’ll be seeing him out of bed soon. It was midnight, our move-out deadline, and all kinds of things had gone wrong all day, all week—from the flooded kitchen, to the moving company sending a truck that was too small, to the lapses and errors of communication that worsened an already touchy month and left him with me that night when he wasn’t supposed to be.

“I have to get the van,” I said. The U-Haul van was in a parking lot a few blocks away. “I’m going to jog the whole way and be back as soon as I can.”

“Are you really going to jog? Why?”

“Because I know you don’t like this. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I left at a run, with my iPad, so I could message his mom, from the Starbucks on Dyckman, that we were leaving and I would just keep him tonight. No Internet in the apartment anymore, and my phone was dead.

But the Starbucks was closed. Surprising, considering the huge-capacity nightclub down the street and the jumping row of bars right next to me. So I stood there for a minute on the corner of Broadway, with the heavy Alcohol Alley foot traffic blurring by me, and then turned the iPad on in case Starbucks left their WiFi on, and got signal and sent my message. But I couldn’t stick around to see if it was received. I knew he’d be at his limit, and I still had to get the van.

He couldn’t see me running to the garage, but I ran.

When I came back in, he was red-faced and holding back his tears. I remember the Hemingway story “A Day’s Wait” whenever a child visibly masters himself. There are things I love and admire about my children, but this is one thing I respect. To have a nine-year-old brain and prevail over fear? Holding back his tears? Mad respect.

dot_divider

HE HELPED ME load out. I propped the door with something heavy, and we organized and hauled and reorganized.

Am I being a big help? he asked as we passed each other.

You’re being a humongous help.

And on the next pass, I said: I want to tell you something. You’re not working like a boy, you’re working like a little man.

He LIT. UP.

Really?

Yeah, really. Tell you what. It’s midnight. We’re wiped out. Our new place is still an hour away. Make you a deal, you stay awake that whole time, I’ll split a beer with you when we get there.

Oh, you are SO ON.

Another pass…

Dad, because I worked like a little man?

Yeah. I’ll split a beer with you.

A BEER NOTE: He gets ONE SIP. ONE. ONE. A SIP not a GULP! ONE! whenever I have a beer and he happens to be around, which was a couple times a month and is now less frequent. They also get ceremonial quantities of wine on Jewish holidays. Split a beer means he gets about a tablespoon in one of my tiny sake glasses and I get the rest. So don’t write to me.

You’re not going to stay awake.

Oh, yes I am!

No way.

Youuuuu’ll see.

Nope.

What makes you think that?

It’s midnight, you’re exhausted, and you’re nine.

Youuuuuu’ll see.

dot_divider

WE SAT TRIPLY exhausted, grimy, and sweaty, in the idling van at the curb. I put it in gear but didn’t move out yet.

“You guys don’t like it when we use profanity, do you.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. It makes us feel like we’re not safe.”

“Even hell?”

“Yeah.”

“What about damn?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Then I will just say: Let’s get the HECK outta here!”

I checked the mirror and waited for traffic. There was a pause.

“Well, what were you going to say?”

“Well, I was going to use the F-word.”

“Oh, THAT one’s okay!”

“It is?”

“Yeah! That doesn’t bother us. We’ve heard that a lot!”

“Well, then,” I said, looking at my son looking back at me, hesitating, both of us waiting to see if I’d do it. “Let’s get the FUCK outta here.”

He laughed. I laughed. Then he said excitedly:

“Can I say it?”

I paused…

“ONE time. ONCE. You may say it ONCE. Not twice, not three times. ONE TIME.”

“Okay!”

“Got it?”

“Got it.”

And he flung his arms up in the air and shouted, “WE’RE! FUCKING! DONE!”

Then he said, “Wow. That felt GOOD!”

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“Dad, why does that feel so GOOD?” he asked on the highway to Connecticut.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I do not know.” And then added, “ONCE. ONE TIME. That was it.”

“I know.”

“You may not say it at school, you may not say it around Mom–”

“I KNOW.”

dot_divider

AND BLASTED THE air conditioner to keep myself awake during the drive, so that my hands were in sharp pain by the time we got to our new home full of boxes. And split our beer.

my_city

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Brilliance and color


A companion piece to this entry,
Five Snapshots of One Boy
is here.


brilliance_and_color

AT 7AM THE NEXT morning, I got up from the mattress that doesn’t have a bed frame yet and went into my kitchen to make my tea. I can see the wet street because there’s nothing covering the kitchen window—which is probably odd, since I moved here ten weeks ago, but general move-in stuff hasn’t been as important as making one single room beautiful and functional. That’s the kitchen. The boys and I live in it together. We cook together, they do their homework there, and if they don’t want to read in their room, they’re doing it down in the kitchen. That’s what I wanted when I put the kitchen together, and that’s what I got. When they’re at their mom’s, I cook in it, sit at the nook with my computer and work, and keep it nice. (Usually.)

One room at a time, as money allows. The living room is next.

I don’t remember the precise moment when I realized we could use the 25-minute drive to their school as podcast time, but it happened in that kitchen or on the way to it, and I got kind of excited. My more sciencey boy loves RadioLab (so do I), and my less sciencey boy tunes out anything he’s uninterested in and listens to the music and TV shows in his head instead, so I thought it could work well—and RadioLab Shorts are about the right length.

So we would do that. I got them up and we had breakfast and referred to the new checklist on the envelope on the refrigerator and got out the door at very nearly the appointed time.

brilliance_and_color

FALL IN WILLOUGHBY, Connecticut is retina-dazzlingly gorgeous. If you’ve ever had the experience of barely being able to look at someone who was talking to you because they were just too beautiful, it’s a similar sensation, especially along Simpaug Turnpike before it crosses Umpawaug Brook. During this part of October, every morning brings a new shock of rust and gold, and the green and yellow fade, morning by morning, like drying paint.

The RadioLab Short I already had on my phone was about an endangered bird species. There are spoilers for it two paragraphs from now (like, big spoilers for the entire episode), but the episode’s not very long, so you can listen here first if you care about that. I started it playing when we were underway and glanced to see who had noticed. Science boy was forehead-down over Rick Riordan. Music-in-his-head boy was looking out the window. I can never tell what he hears or doesn’t, but it’s generally a good bet that whatever’s already in there is more entertaining than whatever you’re trying to force through his ears.

So I let it play until it got to a point they had to understand, or the rest wouldn’t make any sense, and I paused it and made sure they did, which I also figured would get them listening in the first place if they weren’t. They made the right noises to make me go away, which are indistinguishable from paying actual attention, and I let it play again.

This episode is about a group of people who go to a huge amount of trouble and gargantuan expense to try to turn endangered whooping cranes back into a viable wild species. There was a full-length RadioLab about it; the Short is a sort of coda, in which those people realize some of the cranes are going into this lady’s yard and eating from her bird feeders, which is not good for a variety of reasons, one of which is that whooping cranes in this project have already been shot, so allowing them to learn populated areas are good foraging grounds—that’s bad.

So the endangered-crane repopulators go to the lady’s house and ask nicely, and she refuses to take the feeders down.

At this moment in the show, we’re disappointed in our own species. (Except for those of us who are longtime RadioLab listeners and can see how much time is left in the episode.)

The next thing is a phone call they recorded with her—and she is not what we expect. She’s not a crazy bird lady, or some intractable ignoramus. She’s a widow whose husband of fifty years had Alzheimer’s, and the one thing that brought him back to her was when the birds came back to the bird feeders. And then, in more recent times, amazing huge white ones started showing up. It was magical.

The hosts, as they do, performed our own thoughts and emotions for us. On the one hand…but on the other hand…but how does this change…and I won’t spoil the rest of that conversation. But in the car, driving through the painfully splendid Autumn and making the sharp right onto Cain’s Hill Road—which I refuse to stop reminding them I climbed on my folding bike with a trailer because I didn’t know the hill was there until I got to it—first I asked what they thought. And got the expected responses: Why won’t she take her bird feeders down!?

Which we talked about. And then I pointed out that there were no bad guys in this story. There were only good guys, but what they wanted was different. Then I said, What if you were a judge, and you had to decide how this should go?

Science boy, who was the main one I was talking to, since his brother was still just looking out the window, said, I think she should take them down. It’s a whole bird species!

Then, because I have a thing about including them both whenever possible, even when it’s pretty clear (as during the story the night before) that one isn’t paying attention, I said his brother’s name and repeated the question. If you were a judge, what would you decide?

He said, “I’d tell the lady that even though he’s gone, she still contains him within her.”

dot_divider

MAY YOUR DAY be gorgeous and humbling.

my_city

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Filed under Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Parenting