Dying, As You Do

My friend is dying.

We found out at the end of last year that Georgia has a brain tumor.  In January some friends and I flew out to spend a weekend with her and go out for one last over-the-top meal before the chemo-necessitated diet kicked in.  We accompanied her to doctor appointments, invading the waiting rooms with our Very Much Diva presence.

023I mean, we were polite and all, but there were five of us.  Still, apart from that one incident with the unattended wheelchair and the empty hallway at the hospital, I’d say we behaved ourselves pretty well.

Even so, four middle-aged women, who are used to advocating for themselves and their children – we each have at least one with some level of special needs, so we are all very used to doctors and hospitals and insurance companies – accompanying a fifth woman who is, from sheer height, physically imposing, with a personality to match…

Well.  We made the day interesting for the staff, at any rate.

087cropAnd then we went out for dinner at the second-fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to (the first was the night I met Georgia) and accidentally spent $132 on a plate of caviar.  Okay, but the “1” was really, REALLY small, and did I mention we’re all middle-aged?

When I finally returned home, I figured that was probably the last time I would spend time with my friend.  As much as I wanted to hop a plane again and hang out for a weekend, I knew my schedule was not going to allow it.

And then, miraculously, she was able to come here this weekend for the 4th of July celebrations.  It was like a bonus round.  She has quit the chemo, so the diet is off, so once again we went out to eat food we know better than to eat, because if you can’t eat foie gras with your friend who is dying, when can you eat it?

My heart is full today, full of love for my dying friend, for my friends who are walking her through this, and for the inevitable day that approaches far too rapidly when we will all come together once more on her behalf, but without her presence.

003For now, though, I will focus on the laughter last night around the table, the delight we took in each new dish that arrived at the table, the moments of bliss we shared with that first bite of that steak sampler, that song that we enjoyed so much as it wafted through the sun-warmed patio, the sea breeze that was just enough but not too chilly.

None of our lives are easy at the moment, and every now and then one or the other of us would bring up something we’d had to deal with during the week, and we would find the funny side and laugh about it, and then move on to another topic as if to say, “Yes, this is hard, but it too shall pass and what matters is this – this moment now, this shared joy, this camaraderie, this love for each other.”

Death puts life into focus. Death lines up our priorities with lightning speed. While I do not want to let my friend go and every ounce of my being screams that it’s too soon, that the world needs her, that we need her, that this isn’t fair, I can’t sit beside her with only that in my heart.  I can’t waste these precious last moments I have with her on this earth on complaints about the manner in which she is exiting.

So in my sorrow, there is joy.  I dig deep and focus tightly on that joy, and the sorrow that wails in the periphery, threatening to rush in at any moment and extinguish it, only serves to make that joy all the more precious.

There are any number of Scriptures I could quote here, but each one that comes to mind seems trite in the face of this reality.  Not that they don’t apply, or that they aren’t true, but I don’t think you can just pull out a verse and slap it on a situation like this.  Reality is hard, life is messy, and death is heart-breaking.

It helps to have the assurance that one day I will see my friend whole again, cancer-free and in full command of the words that now elude her grasp.  But there isn’t one tidy little verse that I can recite to encompass all of that, nor do I think I should try.  It’s in times like these that I can only draw on the full extent of faith, of walking with God, of having tried and rejected pat answers and legalistic forms of religious behavior, and having come to the end of myself and having realized more than once that without Him, I am nothing.

And I can rest in the knowledge that as dear as my friend is to me, as much as I love her laugh and her joie de vivre and the mischief we bring out in each other, God loves her more – really loves her, gets her on a level no one else does, cares for her and is walking with her every step of the way until the day He welcomes her into His arms for eternity.

Until then, there are still moments to savor, smiles to share.

And baked olives to eat.

(Something, incidentally, I would not have known had I never met Georgia.)

Categories: Faith, Family, Food, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

No Filter December – Day 21: 21

My oldest son turned 21 today. So here are 21 Reasons I Am Thankful For My Son. In no particular order.

1. He can reach the top shelves in the kitchen.

2. Errand running

3. Errand running for items that he couldn’t buy for Mom before today.

4. He can cook for himself.

5. He still prefers it when I cook for him.

6. He works at Starbucks, so he brings me a pound of coffee every week.

7. He calls me on lazy theology.

8. I can’t get away with half-baked ideas either.

9. He writes music and I can hear him from the kitchen.

10. He’s an excellent driver (he still hasn’t seen Rainman, though, so that’s one joke that continues to go over his head).

11. He actually is a good driver though. At least, when I’m in the car.  The siblings tell me otherwise.

12. He keeps it real with the 12 year old and the 14 year old.

13. He also gives the 12 year old fashion advice.

14. He scares away unsuitable suitors from the 19 year old.

15. If I ever need to let out pent up energy, I can just go to one of his hardcore concerts.  (I wear earplugs, though.)

16. He helps me navigate the world of cell phones.

17. He keeps me up to date on the latest catch phrases, indie music and social networking trends, which helps a lot with my students.

18. He can move out soon (this one actually came from one of his siblings, who will remain unnamed, who has her eye on his bedroom).

19. His girlfriend is a lot of fun.

20. She also keeps him in line, so my husband and I have an ally in the “knock it off” department now.

21. Here are some pictures.  What’s not to love?

The day he came home from the hospital.


Now, with the only person who can get him to smile for the camera.

Now, with the only person who can get him to smile for the camera.

Categories: Family, Relationships | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

No Filter December – Day 20: Why Worry?

One day a lady went to a meeting at her church to hear a missionary talk about the work he does in Mexico.  She wasn’t able to join the next trip that went to his area, but she remembered what he had said about the church he and his wife are starting in February of 2015.

A few weeks later she went to her storage unit, and struck up a conversation with a man from Liberia whose unit was across the hall from hers. He mentioned that he had just moved to the area, but after a couple of months of paying for the storage space, he had decided that it was too expensive to keep all this furniture in storage. He and his wife were looking for a church or ministry to donate it to. So she told him she knew just the place.

037She put him in contact with the head of the missionary’s home team, and a week later he and some other members of the team showed up to the storage unit to pick up the furniture.

It turned out to be around $6000 worth of furniture.  It filled a 20-ft truck.  The couple who donated it only wanted to know that it was going to a good cause. After hearing about the new church and the work that has already begun down in Baja, they got so excited they agreed to join the team on the next trip down there, for the grand opening of the church.

068Soon the furniture bought in Indiana by a couple from Liberia, which was shipped to California, will be headed for Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, to be used by the members of a brand new church, Capilla Calvario/Calvary Chapel Playas.  It will join the 150 chairs that were donated a week before by a Norwegian cruise ship.

When God decides to start a new work in a certain area, this is how things come together.  It makes you wonder why, when we feel a nudge from God to do something or go somewhere, we ever worry about the details.



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No Filter December – Day 14: The Stocking Conundrum

I have this friend who likes to mail gifts for no apparent reason.  I discovered this a few of years ago when I received an antique teacup in the mail.  She didn’t ‘fess up for two years that she had been the one who sent it, even after I posted a photo of it on Facebook.

Since then, she has sent me many miscellaneous and, at times, downright weird things.  This is fine with me.  I speak her humor language.

There was the hot pink rabbit’s foot with an accompanying note, “Because everyone needs a rabbit’s foot.”

There was the shopping tote that folds up into a credit-card sized pouch.

There was a comical coffee mug.

There were countless odd cards and postcards.

And just lately, there was a package of pink and white fondant mice.

001 (10)cropThat one really had me scratching my head, so when I saw my friend today, I was about to ask her about it. Before I could, however, she blurted out, “So tell, me, what is the deal with the fondant mice?”  It turns out she bought them on a recent trip to England, simply because she thought they were odd. Since I am British, she sent them to me, thinking I would understand them.  However, since I haven’t lived in England since I was five years old, I had forgotten about them and had nothing to offer her by way of explanation.  A quick search of the Internet revealed four things: 1) they are more commonly known as sugar mice; 2) they have been a traditional Christmas treat for British children since Victorian times; 3) there is a song named “Sugar Mice” by Marillion, an 80s British band and 4) sugar in even moderate levels is toxic to mice.

The thing is, it didn’t matter what was in each package.  What mattered was that I got mail that was not a bill or a request for a donation.  It mattered that someone had thought about me long enough to purchase something and ship it, even though she was probably going to see me the next day.  It wasn’t the content – it was the extravagance of the gesture.

So each piece of unexpected mail, each surprise package catapulted me back to childhood days, when Christmas was still a miracle and I knew I could count on happy things in wrapped boxes at least twice a year.

A week after the fondant mice, one more box came.  This one contained four small packages wrapped in Christmas paper, and I debated whether to open them right away or put them under the tree.  As I dithered, it suddenly hit me – herein lay the answer to my yearly Stocking Conundrum.

Those of you who aren’t mothers may not be aware of this problem.  You see, the person to whom the responsibility for the Stuffing of the Stockings at Christmastime falls is generally the mother.  This is fine, because the mother is usually the one who knows what to put in the stockings. However, the one giant loophole in this arrangement is that the mother also has a stocking that needs to be filled, but it often doesn’t occur to the rest of the family that THAT stocking is their responsibility.  So on Christmas morning in these households, everyone happily digs into their stockings, oohing and ahhing over the trinkets within, and the mother sits and smiles, taking delight in their expressions, and all the while her inner child is quietly whimpering inside her because there is nothing in her stocking.

And since this is the mother, this means she comes stocked with extra emotions, so it’s a little hard to compartmentalize.  She is good at putting herself last and rising above and faking a smile and all the things that come along with motherhood, so she probably won’t say anything.  But she will feel it, even just a little.

Marla Cilley over at the Flylady has come up with a solution to this Conundrum.  She tells her followers to buy themselves some stocking stuffers, early in November if possible, and to wrap them and put them in the stocking. By the time Christmas time comes around, they will probably have forgotten half of what they bought, and at least they will have something to unwrap when the time comes.  Does this sound childish?  Perhaps.  But if you haven’t sat through a stocking session with an empty stocking, you might not really be an impartial judge.   And the weird thing is, it works.  It doesn’t take away the sting completely when no one in the family has thought about Mom, but it does help.  Sometimes Mom just needs to give herself a high-five, and considering that Christmas is like a part-time job that she loads up on top of her already busy schedule, it’s as good a time as any to do it.

The day that I receive this box from my friend, however, I suddenly saw a new solution.  How about we Moms give EACH OTHER a high-five? How about we all take care of each other’s stockings?  How about we confess to each other that yes, it is a bit of a disappointment and yes, we would welcome even a cheap pair of fuzzy socks and a facial mask from the dollar section, because then we would feel a little more cared-for come stocking time.

Think of the fun in this — if you have a friend whose home you visit regularly, you could sneak a little something into her stocking the next time you’re over there.  Or you could mail her a couple of little things with a note that says “for your stocking.”  You could even make it anonymous if you wanted.

But then here’s another thought – this doesn’t need to end on December 25.  We can stuff each others stockings all year round.

Of course, you may want to take that euphemistically.  Or at least wait until your friend takes them off first.


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No Filter December – Day 13: A Boy And His Christmas Tree

Two out of the Three Men of the house (the third has succumbed to the stomach flu the rest of us had last week) went out foraging for a Christmas tree this morning.  It was the 12 year old’s first time really getting his hands in there when it came time to prep the tree.

First, he helped tie it to the roof and untie it when they got home.  Next, joy of joys, Alan actually let him use the chainsaw to cut the end of the trunk off.

And then we decorated.  Well, we tried to decorate.  All that lumberjacking and chainsawing apparently went to his head, because he insisted that we were putting the lights on the tree the wrong way.  Which would have been okay, but he went on to insist that not only was it wrong, but that we had NEVER DONE IT THIS WAY BEFORE.  Okay, but I can think of at least, well, 22 prior Christmases since this family was founded.  Not to mention the ones I had at my parents’ house before that.  Ever since I was 16 and my Dad realized it was a more efficient method to string the lights vertically instead of wrapping them around the tree, the lights went on up and down, not round and round.  My Dad was an engineer.  There was no reason to ever do it the other way.

Before I could do more than mention, “Pop taught us this way,” the 14 year old jumped in, so I stepped back and let her take over.  All the debate training she has had this year in Classical Conversations came into play.  It got vehement.

The 12 year old is stubborn, however.  Mulish.  So we let him win, which meant he got to string the lights on all by himself.  We waited for him to get overwhelmed, but he was so happy with his win, he set about stringing the lights quite happily, singing along with the Christmas carols playing on the radio.   “‘Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree O, Christmas Tree…’  Hey!  I totally know these lyrics!”

The lights are uneven and clump together in spots, but that’s just how we will leave them.  Because sometimes you have to choose between being “right” and being happy, and Christmas is definitely one of those times.


Categories: Around Town, Christmas, Family, Relationships | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

No Filter December – Day Nine: Back To Mexico

I didn’t actually go back to Mexico today, but since the 14 year old and I brought home a souvenir of our trip last weekend in the form of a stomach bug, we won’t be going anywhere soon.  This cuts down significantly on my No Filter December photo ops for the day, and I have 308 photos from the weekend just begging to be posted somewhere, so I will spend the next few days doing a TBT of sorts.  Despite the fact that it isn’t Thursday.  And that I’m only throwing back a couple of days.

Friday, Dec. 5, 2014

Mexico 2013 Best of (2)We arrived in Rosarito at lunch time and met up with our missionary friends, the Wilsons, at Mariscos Tito’s.  Just as I had predicted.  There are certain elements of these missions trips that are predictable, and this is one of them.

The rest of the trip, also predictably, generally falls under the category of The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men.

In fact, David Wilson’s favorite thing to say when working with mission groups is, “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken.”  It’s just an unavoidable aspect of taking 27 people from one country and coordinating efforts with a handful of people and a couple of organizations in another country, crossing both language and cultural barriers.  A veritable plethora of cracks through which details may fall abounds in situations like this.

So one can either get bent out of shape that the Schedule Was Not Followed, or one can see these cracks as New Opportunities instead.  We know this going in, so while we have an Itinerary, it’s considered, like the Pirate Code, to be “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Baja Mission 12-2014 035cropThe rest of Friday actually did follow more or less according to the Itinerary, with the ten under-15-year-olds in the team joining with a local group of missionary kids to make Christmas cards to be given out through local ministries.

It must have been a little surreal for the kids, however, considering that they got up early in the morning, drove a long way on the freeway, then reached a scary place with high fences and guards with guns who might at any minute pull over one of the cars in the group and search it, and then found themselves in a place that looked completely different from the only world they had known so far in their lives, where everyone was driving crazy and nothing was in English except the signs for Office Depot, McDonalds and Burger King.

As if this wasn’t enough for one day, after an hour or so of acclimating to the foreignness of it all, these kids were piled into cars, bumped down some pot-hole-ridden roads and before they knew it, they were sitting around at a house on the beach with a bunch of American kids, eating sugar cookies and making Christmas cards.

Kids are resilient, so they handled it well.  The cards were made, the kids filled up on cookies.  At this point, however, due to some last-minute shuffling of team members, a couple of the mothers who had probably not intended to drive in Mexico found themselves faced with piling more kids into their cars than they had seatbelts for and following a caravan of cars through the streets of Rosarito at dusk during rush-hour.  And let’s just say that traffic laws in Rosarito are another thing that tends to be treated like the Pirate Code.  These women deserve an Award of Bravery.

Baja Mission 12-2014 046In the meantime, the rest of the team was setting up for an appreciation dinner for volunteers at Capilla Calvario/Calvary Chapel Rosarito.  The name of the church is such a mouthful because everything they do there, from the sermon to the worship songs to the announcements and signage, is bilingual.  It takes a little longer, but it results in a wonderful melding not just of two languages but of two cultures into one, unified body of believers numbering above 1500 members.  It takes a lot of staff and volunteer members to keep a church of that size going, and our team was privileged to be the ones serving them at the dinner.

The waiters waiting to wait.

The waiters waiting to wait.


Baja Mission 12-2014 089It was just as well there were 27 of us, because it took all members of the team, from the 6 year old to the 66 year old, to get that much spaghetti and salad delivered to the tables of guests.

Baja Mission 12-2014 100By the time the dinner was served, and the team was fed, we were all exhausted.

Except for the kids, who were playing in the church playground.

It was at this point that our leader, Andy, told us he was coming down with the flu, so we pulled the kids off the swings and headed back to the guest house where we were staying.


Baja Mission 12-2014 028The adults sat and rested then for a while… while the kids played basketball.

I’m pretty sure the kids would have kept going all night if the parents hadn’t insisted on bed, knowing that we had to be up at 5:30 the next morning.

Youth is indeed wasted on the young.


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No Filter December – Day Five: Mission To Baja

Today I am driving to Mexico. Our long-time friends and camping buddies, the Wilsons, have been missionaries in Ensenada and Rosarito, Baja, Mexico for ten years now, and since I was finally able to afford a British passport renewal last year, I’ve been going down there as often as I can.

On this trip, we are taking a team of 27 people to cook some meals for volunteers at Calvary Chapel Rosarito,  as well as for the Rosarito Police Department and the members of their DARE program for at-risk kids. After that some of us will deliver personal gifts to the girls living at Casa Estrella Orphanage and spend the afternoon with them doing crafts and being an attentive audience for their singing and skits (and how they LOVE to perform!)  In the meantime, the rest of us will paint and clean up a property that will be housing a new church that is starting in Playas de Tijuana in February.

And somewhere in there, more than once, in fact, we will be eating world-famous Rosarito fish tacos.   It’s one of the perks of this particular short-term missions trip.  It makes us feel a little bit guilty, knowing that people equate “missions” with “suffering,” but not guilty enough to forgo the tacos.

Needless to say, since I will probably have neither the time nor the WiFi to post anything live, I am typing this up ahead of time.   So here is a picture from a trip to Baja this time last year, when we gave gifts to the DARE program kids.  Cheating a little, but we will be seeing a lot of these kids and officers again this year, so it’s just going to have to be close enough.

Mexico 2013 Best of (31a)

We were joined in our DARE kids event by Payaso Cristiano Evangelion, a local clown troupe.


Categories: Christmas, Faith, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Filter December – Day Four: Christmas Sweater

When I was young and single, I lived with a married couple and another single gal in a house that was owned by a friend of mine. As we neared Christmas, a friend gave me this red sweatshirt with a teddy bear on it, and the words “Hug Me” emblazoned across it.

Two things, however:

1) The words were in a weird font and clashed with the picture behind them, so that it looked like it said, “Huame.” People asked me if that was Hawaiian for Christmas. I don’t know why they thought I would know – I’ve only been to Hawaii once.

2) APPARENTLY, I wore the sweater all the time. It was very comfortable. But the morning I came out of my room, comfortably dressed and feeling festive, and my roommate Charley looked up from his coffee and deadpanned, “Oh, you’re wearing that sweater. I never would have guessed,” it occurred to me that perhaps I was overdoing the Wearing Of The Huame Sweater.

I kept it for years, since I could only wear it in December (My rules. You guys do what you want). But eventually it wore out and I had to part with it.

Fastforward 25+ years to last Christmas, when the 12 year old simply HAD to have an ugly Christmas sweater. We headed over to Aaardvark’s Odd Ark and found a rack of them. And you will never guess what he not only found, but chose.  And what he has worn EVERY DAY OF THIS WEEK, ever since we got the Christmas decorations out of the attic. It must be hereditary.

One day soon this phase will be over and I will get a picture of the 12 year old with a regular smile on his face.  Soon.  No, any minute now, surely.

One day soon this phase will be over and I will get a picture of the 12 year old with a regular smile on his face. Soon. No, any minute now, surely.

Categories: Around Town, Christmas, Family, Los Angeles, Relationships | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

No Filter December – Day One: AIDS

Today is World AIDS Day.  I looked all day for something I could photograph to post here in honor of AIDS Awareness, but in all my errand-running around town, found nothing publicly posted.

Which leads me to believe that the general public, at least in my neck of the words, is simply not aware that this is World Aids Day.

So instead of taking a photo today, I will share this photo of my friend Cynde‘s brother, who died of AIDS in 1993, just before the “good HIV meds” became available. She will tell you that she did not accomplish much homeschooling with her two oldest boys that year, because they spent a lot of time visiting Uncle John in the hospice, as well as befriending many of the other patients there.

They were the only visitors some of the patients had. Some of them had been disowned by their families, either from fear of catching AIDS, shame from drug abuse or rejection of their son’s gay lifestyle.  So while Cynde’s boys did not hit the books as hard that year as they normally did, they did learn the value of a human life.  They learned compassion.  They learned not to be afraid of things they didn’t understand.  They learned that even when people are rejected by others, and even when they have made bad choices like drug abuse, they are still people, and all people need love.

I can tell you that both boys, now young adults, were changed by this experience.  It shaped who they became.  They are two of the most compassionate, caring and gracious young men I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

So here’s to you, Uncle John, and to the countless others whose lives were cut short by this horrible disease. May we find a cure.  May we find it soon.  And may we never cease to be aware.

Cyndes brother John

John David Skidmore 8/14/1964 – 3/31/1993 RIP



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Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Three (in which we visit Huntington Beach)

(Continued from Of Costa Mesa and Far Too Much Coffee, Part Two)

The Husband (who we shall now call Alan, because “The Husband” is getting a little old.  The term, I mean, not the man. Although he DID just have a birthday…) turned the car west and we drove, obeying the siren call of the beach.  Eventually we found the coast road and headed north toward Huntington Beach.

Huntington is a place we generally drive past in a hurry, since Huntington Pier on a weekend or mid-summer attracts just the size of crowd I will do anything to avoid, but this was November, and it was Monday, so we decided to park and walk around the pier.

559While there are historic buildings scattered around, the main drag leading to the pier and surrounding streets are very trendy, boasting just about any retail establishment or restaurant you might expect to find.  It was somewhat of a cross between San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego.




I pause to pay my respects to Mr. Huntington.

I pause to pay my respects to Mr. Huntington.

Still full from our breakfast at Rooster Cafe, we walked past the numerous restaurants, bars and treat shops and simply admired the architecture.

I had a teacher in college who gave this piece of advice for exploring a new town: “Don’t forget to look up, and whenever you have a chance, nip up the snickelways.”


We debated whether that motorcycle just happened to be there or was part of the decor. Because it just matched a little too well.

Admittedly, this class was in England, and the professor was talking about the city of York, but I took his advice to heart and have followed it ever since.  This has resulted in more than one bruised shin, but has also led to many a hidden discovery.

Sure enough, the “snickelways” (alleys) of Huntington Beach proved worth “nipping up” (quickly exploring). Local artists had painted murals and around each corner was something new.


And there’s just something about a back entrance that intrigues me.

Eventually we made it to the pier. Considering that both of us grew up in Manhattan Beach, 30 miles to the north, we couldn’t help but compare beach venues.

It pains me to have to admit that indeed, Huntington has the better pier.

For one thing, it’s longer, boasting 1,850 feet to our own Manhattan Beach Pier’s 928.

A shot The Husband took a year or so ago at "our" pier.

A shot Alan took a year or so ago at “our” pier.


Manhattan Pier prides itself on its landmark roundhouse, which contains a snack bar and the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium, the site of many an impromptu homeschooling field trip or lazy Sunday afternoon walk for our family.


Huntington Pier Roundhouse

Huntington also has a Roundhouse. Theirs is bigger, of course. And theirs contains an entire stinking ocean-view restaurant. We had no choice but to abandon our deep-rooted South Bay loyalties and bow to the superiority of Huntington.  Ruby’s Diner indeed.

20141124_113725They even had more surfers in Huntington. We consoled ourselves with the thought that the water around OUR pier has become a hangout for young sharks, proving that we’re just that much more hardcore up in L.A. County, because we all still surf and paddleboard and swim (and by “we,” I mean my really cool friends).

Also, we have a restaurant owned by The Fonz.

And I’m pretty sure I saw Kevin Costner on our pier once.

At any rate, despite the superiority of their pier, it was time to turn toward home.  (Read: I didn’t take any more photos worth blogging about).

Well, except this one of Alan with a pelican.




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