Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Another Father’s Day

When your dad dies you’re in the moment of loss and you don’t really consider how permanent it is. But dead is forever and that’s a very long time.

In the beginning you get through each day, each moment really, one moment at a time and you try to accomplish all the things you have to do, from arranging a funeral to cancelling his next doctor appointment, and you don’t think about what it will be like sixteen Father’s Days later.

But I can tell you what it’s like. It’s like the first one, just a little softer around the edges. Less the slice of a knife, more the dull ache of a bruise.

Dad would have turned 91 last February. There’s no guarantee he’d still be alive today, but I know for certain that a sleepy truck driver took several years from him — and us — sixteen years ago when he failed to see dad stopped on the freeway ahead.

A young man with big dreams

I wonder if that driver ever thinks of dad. Or us. I think of him often; he’s a father too, and I am sure there will be some Father’s Day thing happening for him this weekend. I don’t begrudge him that. I just wish…I wish he had pulled over when he got sleepy that morning.

I know you all expected some sort of uplifting Father’s Day post, but that’s not where I am this year. Grief ebbs and flows, but the work remains.

In fact I’m working on some truck safety stuff over the weekend. In some ways that’s in honor of my dad. I guess, for me, just about every day is Father’s Day as we fight to improve safety on our roads. Can’t give up, though sometimes it feels futile.

I like to think of him up in heaven sitting with some of your folks who have gone on too, sitting around in easy chairs telling stories about all of us, sharing experiences. Smiling a lot. Don’t see why this isn’t possible, after all, most of us met over the internet, just as unlikely as our folks meeting in the afterlife, right?

Anyway, now I’m rambling. I hope those of you that still have your dad here get the chance to give him a hug or a call or a card. Sometimes dads get lost in our busy worlds, but time is not infinite. Don’t waste any of it.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. No matter where you are.

A new dad.


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I’m turning into an old fart

When my brothers and sister and I were growing up we pretty much ran around the neighborhood, the woods or spent our time out on the lake. But there was one place we didn’t run, and that was our next door neighbor’s yard. Though our neighbor had two kids of his own he wasn’t really kid friendly.

We weren’t allowed to walk across his yard to play with kids that lived on the other side of him. We weren’t allowed to skate on the part of our lake that was behind his house. We couldn’t even touch his grass in order to take his dog back home when it wandered over into our yard to visit our guinea pig. (Robbie the collie and Barney the guinea pig had a very strong friendship.)

That was all fifty years ago.

From our gardens.

This week I found, on our lawn next to our driveway, a large deposit from what must have been a very big dog. I was incensed. This is not the first time we’ve been the recipient of doggie gifts that are not Katie’s. I’ve ignored it when it’s at the further corners of our yard which is bordered on two sides by roads. But a month or so ago the deposit was left right next to our mailbox. And this week it was right next to our driveway.

It was sort of in my face, and I found myself turning into my childhood neighbor, but with no one around to yell at.

So I made a sign, and posted it right next to the offending pile. It said “Who left this? NOT OK! Pick up after your dog.”

The porch pots are vivid.

Of course no one admitted to being the offending human. I don’t blame the dog, though if it could read I’m sure it would take it’s business across the street to avoid me. I picked up the pile after a couple days, and put the sign away. I’m sure I’ll need it again.

But that incident alone didn’t make me think I was turning into an old fart. Oh no, there’s more.

Yesterday I was moving mulch from a very big pile which is sitting in the driveway, to a sweet little spot in our front yard under the trees, and nestled in among the hosta.

Gonna need a bigger wheelbarrow.

I could feel the drop in temperature every time I tipped a wheelbarrow of mulch onto the ground under the trees. A little microclimate exists there, so cool and green. I thought how nice it would be to have a chair there, a place to sit and watch the world go by on the street.

Which solidified the old fart notion.

Our elderly neighbors (defined elderly because they are older than me) used to sit in chairs in their garage and watch the comings and goings of the neighborhood. They have a lovely deck on the back of the house, looking into their pretty backyard edged in woods, but I don’t think they ever sat back there. No, they sit in their garage on sunny afternoons and watch the street, and us.

And now, here I am, thinking how nice it would be to sit in the front yard and watch the street.

Cool relief.

Yep I’m an old fart, not going to apologize. I figure I can sit under my tree in a comfy chair on my nice soft mulch and watch people walking their dogs down my street. And if they or their dogs get too close I’ll be able to tell them to get off my grass.

Somewhere in the cosmos I think my childhood neighbor would finally laugh.


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It’s National Sheltie Day!

Katie here. (What? You were expecting someone else to tell you about my national day?)

Mama woke up this morning crying and she’s not sure why. Maybe it’s because of all the bad news lately. She’s quite sensitive, my mama, and things like protests turned violent, and people dying, and stores being burned down on top of so many people sick and dying from the virus, well, sometimes it’s just too much.

Let’s celebrate mama!

Lucky for her today is National Sheltie Day! Of course the only reason she knows that is because it turned up in her Facebook memories from last year. To be honest, she’s not even sure there really is a National Sheltie Day, she has suspicions that it’s all made up by someone short and furry in her household.

Ahem.

But I assured her this morning that it was real. I am very persuasive, so she said she’d take me to one of my parks to celebrate and I was all excited. We went to a little park not far from home and I was so happy when I got out of my car!

I sniffed my way up and down the smaller hills at the beginning of the trail.

Yep, something very interesting walked here not long ago.

But when we got to the top of the first big down hill (and uphill on the other side of the creek) I stopped. I looked at mama and she looked at me. She asked me if I wanted to keep going and I wouldn’t move, even when she gave my leash a little tug. She asked me if I wanted to go back to the car and I wouldn’t move, even when she gave my leash a little tug in that direction.

I don’t know, mama, that looks like a really big hill to come back up!

She said we could just stand there awhile if I wanted to. So we did. We stood at the very top of that hill and just listened to the birds and watched a chipmunk scurry in the underbrush. Finally mama asked me again which way I wanted to go and I turned around and headed back to the car.

I saw mama look one last time over her shoulder at the trail. She said her eyes weren’t really wet, she said a bug just flew into them. But I know the truth.

The truth is that it was 62 degrees outside (16.6 C), too hot for this little sheltie girl to want to wander up and down big hills. The truth is that I’m 13 and a half now and walks have to be shorter then they used to be. The truth is that even though I get excited at the thought of an adventure, the actual adventure sort of wears me out.

Thanks for understanding, mama.

Mama and I both know the truth and that was no bug in her eye.

But I’m still smiling, I had a very nice, though short, walk in the woods to celebrate me and my National Sheltie Day. And when we got home mama gave me a frozen banana and peanut butter treat and that made me smile even more!

No matter what, I’ll always be your beautiful girl, huh mama.

Signing off for now, it’s time for me to take my power nap, your elder stateswoman, Katie-girl.

Whatcha done for me lately, mama?


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Games

Listen to me, mama!

I’m working on a little watercolor cat postcard for someone and doing delicate work around the eyes when Katie barks. At me. She’s lucky my hand didn’t slip, but I knew enough to put the art away for awhile.

She’s feeling ignored.

She doesn’t want to go out back to her pen, a place she enjoys these days before things get to hot out there in the coming weeks. She wants to go out, but not to go out, if you know what I mean. I attempt, a second time, to take her out to her pen and she detours to the folding chairs on the other end of the deck.

There she settles in her favorite location to watch the road. She looks over her shoulder at me, still attached to her leash, and says I can either stand there like a dummy, or sit in the chair and enjoy the evening. With her.

So I sit.

She watches the road. I watch the birds in the trees above as they make their decisions about dinner. They are coming in for their evening meal and Katie and I, though we are sitting very still, are objects to consider.

A single gold finch begins to sing…three notes, the last on an upward question; “You still here? You still here? He’s not sure what to do about us, so he keeps asking.

The group of three chickadees aren’t worried about us at all. They work themselves down to the lowest hanging branches, just above us, cock their heads, consider us unimportant, and shoot off to the feeder, each grabbing one choice seed and skidding back up into the branches where they tap open their seeds, the sound multiplied by three.

I think I hear a nuthatch, they sort of whine when they want something, but I can’t see it. Then a downy woodpecker swoops down to the feeder, and I realize I might have mistaken it for the nuthatch.

A titmouse flutters above my head, not sure if it should go get something to eat, or pull some hair for a nest. I must have moved; suddenly it flies straight up and over to the feeder.

More goldfinches join the lonely one, each singing, none brave enough to eat with us sitting there. Soon there is an entire choir, but apparently they find no strength in numbers.

I nod off a little, no worries, Katie is keeping watch while simultaneously breaking twigs into smaller twigs. She’s a multi-talented little girl.

Suddenly there is scrambling and chirping and two chipmunks race up the railing and across the deck and down the other side. Since she is so focused on her twigs Katie misses all the action. I nod off again.

Hearing something scrambling in the leaves below I glance down, expecting to see Chip or Dale. But no. It a towhee! I’ve lived here more than twenty-five years and I’ve only seen this bird twice before! It scratches around in the the dry leaves for a moment or two, and then flies away.

Katie doesn’t understand why I am so excited, or why she gets a treat when we go inside. I owe her that towhee sighting, and all the other bird (and chipmunk) games we got to watch. Because if she hadn’t said “enough mama,” I’d have missed it all.

Katie is full of good ideas, if only I’d stop and listen. She’s napping now, probably dreaming up something else fun for us to do.

As I’m sure she’s told you, she has to do everything around here.

zzzzzzzz…


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Feeling guilty

I went out to my favorite park today. It was the first sunny day we’ve had in a long time, and the blue skies drew we outside. I felt like I’d be safe at the park, especially on the nature trails where I don’t usually see a lot of people during the week.

I miscalculated.

But before I get into that let me tell you about the most extraordinary thing that happened while I was in the woods. I had followed a popular trail half way around a lake. Every corner seemed to have more people and I wanted to find a quieter place in the trees, so I veered off onto an old, unmarked cross-country ski trail. I figured wherever it ended I’d recognize where I was and find my way back to the car. And no one else was walking that trail.

When I was quite far back into the woods, I noticed three red bellied woodpeckers screeching and chasing each other among the top of very tall trees. I stopped to watch. They stopped and watched me. In all my years visiting this park I’ve never had a red bellied come to my hand. Sometimes they’re interested, and they always take advantage of any seed I drop, but they’ve never landed on my hand.

Bet you can guess what happened today!

Yes, I was looking the other way, watching a chickadee decide whether to come in for a treat when I felt something with considerable weight land on my hand. I looked out of the corner of my eye and couldn’t believe what I saw. I had to really look, and I had plenty of time because he was sitting there eying me and considering which seed he wanted. He sat there and ate every single peanut out of my palm, leaving all the oilers, before he flew off.

I have no pictures because I had my long lens on the camera, too long to catch a shot of him sitting on my hand.

I refilled my hand and waited. I saw him, or one of his friends, come in for more treats from a long and high way off. He swooped down at what seemed to be breakneck speed, aiming directly for my hand, and landed with quite a bit of force. And once again we watched each other, eye to eye, as he swallowed down every peanut there.

He flew up on this tree after his snack.

Well! I decided if they were going to be this assertive I was changing my camera lens and grabbing a shot. But of course by the time I got the short lens on the camera they were long gone.

Still. It’s something I’ll never forget and I hope you can imagine.

Back to my miscalculation.

I figured the number of people at the park would be similar to most other weekdays that I’ve been there. But the parking lots were full. There were families with kids screaming and running everywhere. There were lots of individuals quietly walking too, but overwhelmingly there were groups of people tromping around the trails. It was noisy. It was crowded.

It felt like a Saturday, and then I realized that it might as well be a weekend day. Kids were no longer in school. People were off work. There will no longer be a difference between weekdays and weekends. I felt a small pang at the loss of my quiet weekday mornings at my favorite park.

And then I realized that none of us should have been there. That maybe we do need to close the parks. I know that people have been cooped up for a couple weeks, that kids are going crazy and need to expend some energy. But maybe that should be done in their own back yard.

And that’s where I’ll be staying into the foreseeable future.

Yesterday in the United States almost 1000 people died of the virus. The day before it was just over 900. When these kinds of numbers were being reported in Italy I couldn’t fathom the enormity. Now that enormity is here. Here in the states 5,713 people are dead, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So I realized, as I left my favorite park, that maybe I won’t be back any time soon. I will miss it. But it’s important that we all stay home. All of us. Stay home. That’s the only way we will get through this.

And on a lighter note, I had a successful grocery store venture this morning, though I spent twice what I would usually spend because I’m hoping not to go back for at least two weeks.

And look what I found!

Mama! I don’t know why you’re so excited about that…it’s not edible or anything.

But today’s post is not about the toilet paper…it’s about the realization that a stay-at-home order means just that. Stay at home. Don’t go to the park to walk. Walk around your neighborhood or your yard if your neighborhood is too busy. If your yard is too small then walk around your house. But stay away from everyone else.

It’s going to be hard. But we’re strong. We can do this.

We have to.

Time to clean up our act.


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The toilet paper odyssey

Last night my husband came home from checking on family and told me that the family of 5 needed toilet paper. Dad is working more than full time and mom is a nurse and busy at the hospital. Three children are home from school all day.

So this morning I decided to be at the grocery store when it opened at 7, after all I had a couple things I could use as well. And I figured my only hope on a weekend morning of finding any toilet paper would be to look early in the day.

As I drove down the dark road at 6:45 I saw cars pulling out of driveways ahead of me. We all ended up in the grocery store parking lot at 7:01. I knew there was a problem when, while walking up to the store, three people walked out. Each of them had one item and one item only.

You guessed it. They each had one package of toilet paper.

I followed a crowd of people inside, grabbed a small cart, wiped it clean, and worked my way through produce where a store worker handed me a bag of potatoes over the huge boxes of produce she was unpacking. Luckily I didn’t need meat, as there was virtually nothing available. I picked up a loaf of bread and headed to the paper products.

And there a young man was trying to defend a pallet of toilet paper that he was pulling down the aisle. When I got there he had stopped trying to move it to the other end of the aisle where the empty toilet paper shelves waited. He stood in the center of the aisle passing out one package to each person, apologizing that he couldn’t give us more.

I waited in line to get my package, smiled sympathetically at him and headed to the checkout. I’m sure when he took the job at Kroger stocking shelves, he had no idea he’d be in a position where he’d have to ration toilet paper to crazed customers.

I thought I’d try to find one additional package, figuring that 12 rolls wouldn’t last a family of five very long. I pulled into Walgreens, noting the empty parking lot but not thinking about it. It was about 7:30. Walking up to the door I noted a handwritten sign that said their new hours were 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sigh.

Back in the car I headed across the street to a local grocery store. I was the second car in the parking lot. Smarter now, I looked their hours up on my phone before I ventured out into the cold. They opened at 8. Should I go somewhere else? Or stay there and wait the almost 30 minutes.

I waited. By 7:55 there were close to 30 cars in the lot, engines running, anxious people peering at the employees inside who were running around trying to get ready. At 7:58 we all exited our vehicles and lined up at the two doors.

Darn, they opened the other door first. When our door was opened we trotted in. I skipped the cart and went straight for paper products. There I found a crowd of people sorting through the few packages of toilet paper on the shelf. The guy ahead of me said he figured he’d take two, grabbed those and turned around to see me glaring at him. “I just need one” I said. He smiled and handed one of his over. I smiled back at him.

I think I was the first person back to the checkout lane, where an already weary cashier was waiting. “And so it starts,” I said. She smiled and rang me up. Triumphant, I walked back to the car, nodding to the people headed in. I know what they were thinking when they saw me leaving the store with one package.

At 8:03 I’m pretty sure there was no more toilet paper left on the shelf.

Score!

I hope all of you have enough of what you need. Stay home. Stay safe. It’s crazy out there.

Mama, I’m worried. Do you have enough dog food?


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The written word

A runner friend of mine has an elderly friend who lives in an assisted living facility. She used to meet him regularly, not so long ago, for breakfast and conversation.

I went to a park one morning this week to see the sunrise.

Now she can’t do that and she’s worried about him being lonely during this scary time when he can’t get out and visit. So she posted a request on Facebook that some of her friends send him a note. And of course she has received many offers.

His mailbox should be overflowing any day now.

A lot of clouds and not much color, but still stunning.

But that, and other pieces I’ve seen on the news and online, has me thinking.

Some years ago one of you, I can’t remember who — maybe Robin or Katybeth or Kathy or Beth Ann — proposed we write letters to friends every day for a number of days, maybe 30, one letter to one friend each day.

Looking west, the hills waited to glow.

It was a way to reconnect or stay connected to people in our lives who maybe had drifted away. Maybe we were the one that drifted, maybe they were. Maybe it was a mutual drift.

Back in the east the sun was creeping up.

I remember that I wrote, some long letters, some just quick notes, for several days. I don’t know that I made it for thirty days, but it was a good long time.

Interesting things hugged my feet while my eyes were fixated on the sky.

I remember that I worried I might not have 30 friends to write. I was wrong. And I remember getting a few letters in return.

It was so good to be wandering in the hills at sunrise.

Do you remember the days of letters? The excitement of going to the mailbox hoping to see a handwritten envelope hiding among the bills and junk mail?

I do.

As the sun rose the grasses turned red.

When I was in college my mom wrote to me every week, and I loved seeing her handwriting on a postcard or envelop. When I worked at a job far from home she continued the practice, right up until emails took over, and then we stayed in touch more frequently but somehow less connected. As if emails were easier and commanded less respect.

Not to say I wouldn’t love to get an email from her now you understand. But there’s something special about old fashioned snail mail, as she called the kind of connection that comes with a stamp.

A place to sit and breath.

So I’d like to propose that during these times of social distancing we stay connected and perhaps accept the challenge of dropping a note in the mail every day for a month. Imagine the surprise. The smiles.

Time to reflect on the new day.

Maybe start with a friend you might have who is isolated now, maybe elderly, maybe with a compromised immune system, maybe just overwhelmed with kids home from school.

My favorite row of trees.

And if you’re not into paper and pen and stamps….well…an email a day to someone you can’t hang out with in person right now will work just fine too.

Deep breath. We can do this.

Stay home if you can. Stay home even if it’s inconvenient. Stay home even if you’ve run out of your favorite coffee or bananas. Stay home and stay safe.

We are strong.


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A roller coaster week

Katie here. You might have noticed that mama hasn’t posted in a week. That’s like 7 weeks in dog math, and almost unprecedented! I’ve been noticing a distinct lack of smiles on mama’s face too, so I decided I needed to take action.

A little snow always makes the world look better.

And this morning, when it started to snow I knew just what I had to do.

I had to get mama off the sofa and out into the snow! Cause who doesn’t like snow? I mean, what’s not to like? It’s white and clean and fluffy. Mama says it’s also cold. And wet. And a precursor to mud.

Yep, a little bit of snow makes everything look better.

Mama tends to get a bit negative toward the end of winter.

Anyway, we went out and explored the backyard. It was simply beautiful, even mama had to agree. And it wasn’t all that wet and cold either. I thought maybe, just maybe, mama would smile.

While mama was busy with her camera, I was busy breaking up sticks. It’s a never ending job.

And she did lighten up a bit when she was focused on that silly camera of hers and all the pretty things in the yard.

Pretty in white.

Including me, of course.

Just the perfect amount of snow to play in.

But you know what really got her to smile? It was these little green nubby things she found in one of her gardens.

Huh…green made mama smile!

And the three red winged blackbirds that sang to us just as we headed back inside. She said that was really worth smiling over!

Though I have to say I should get more credit. Cause really, a sheltie in the snow? That has to make you all smile!

Admit it. I just made you smile.

PS: Mama says that she was feeling very sad because a friend’s sheltie crossed the rainbow bridge Monday and he was just about exactly my age and she feels really really sad for his mom and human brother. Mama almost didn’t let me post today because she was worried it might make the mom even more sad. But I said that we could send our love to her this way, and if she ever needs a sheltie hug I’m available. I hope she’s doing OK, though I know her eyes are probably leaking right now. I wish I could make it all better for her.

Thinking about our friend on this snowy morning.


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Music decompression smile

You know how astronauts, when they come back to earth, need a period of time to adjust to their normal lives again? Though I haven’t been orbiting the earth that’s how I feel now that I’m back in Michigan after twelve lovely days in the sun.

Not to say there’s never any sun here. But it seems to be rare. And it hasn’t stopped snowing since we arrived home. Today the windchill temperatures will be in the single digits, and the driveway needs to be cleared of last night’s snow. Perhaps we can just wait until it melts sometime in April.

I’m still battling the major cold I got while I was out there enjoying the sun. I’m not blaming Arizona for my cold, I figure I got it on the plane ride home from Washington DC the week before. I almost always get some sort of sniffle after I fly, but this one is a doozy.

I’ve been taking over the counter drugs every four hours for more than a week. The cough is low in my chest and the tickle in my throat is constant. I should buy stock in Kleenex and my nose is raw.

I’m pretty miserable.

We took the red-eye flight home from Phoenix on Sunday night. Our plane left at midnight and we arrived in Detroit at 5:00 a.m. By the time we got our luggage and got out to the car we were looking at driving home in rush hour traffic. Yep, that was fun.

I got a couple of hours of sleep at home, then went to pick up the Princess from camp. I hoped that she would be exhausted from all the fun she had and we could all settle down to a long winter nap.

I was wrong.

So anyway, by the time Tuesday night’s community band rehearsal came around I was really dragging. And I still couldn’t breath well, was still taking drugs to function. And I hadn’t practiced in almost two weeks. I really wanted to stay home.

But have I told you that we have a concert in one week?

So I went, not expecting to be able to stay the entire two hours. Uncertain if I could even play. And guess what?

The music filled me up with such peace. Even the hard parts. We didn’t sound too bad, and though there are definitely places we each need to work on before next Tuesday, some of the time we sounded quite beautiful. And my head cleared and my throat stopped hurting and I only coughed once.

That’s the power of music.

So this is a long post to relay a simple idea. If you’re feeling down, emotionally or physically, if you’re stressed and tired and worn out, if you need to get through another cold, dark, snowy day, well…play some music. Whether it’s on the radio, or your mobile device or an actual instrument or your very own voice, play some music.

It’ll make you smile. And that’s the first step to feeling better.

Guaranteed.


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Behind the fog

I’m up early this Saturday morning because, as usual, Katie is up early. But I can’t place the blame solely on her; before she demanded breakfast I was already awake.

A dreary day is brightened by a visitor.

Katie and I wander the dark yard after her morning meal, looking for the perfect spot. It feels warm, at 36F (2.22C), though of course it is not. Fog drifts above the melting snow, drips from the trees sounding loud in the silence that envelops an early Saturday morning.

My mind is in a fog too.

I heard from a high school friend last night that the latest treatment for her cancer hadn’t worked, tests results are in and she and her doctors are moving on to another type of chemo. I don’t know how many different treatments she’s tried in this past year, but this is by far not the first failure.

When I received her text I told my husband and he sat down heavily with a sigh. “So many…” he said then drifted off into silence. We have several friends in different stages of treatment for cancer.

I remember my Dad, years ago, saying that the Christmas letters they received had morphed from talking about their marriages, to their jobs, to their kids, their kids graduations, marriages, grandchildren, and by the end of his life Christmas letters were filled with health issues. But I thought my folks were lots older than I am now when all that health stuff started.

Puffed up against the cold he knew he looked magnificent.

But when I think about it…no…they were just about our age. When did our lives and schedules begin to revolve around doctor appointments? How did we slide so effortlessly into this place where our own mortality stands starkly in front of us?

Heavy thoughts for so early in the morning but maybe early morning is the best time to contemplate the wholeness of life.

Katie grabbed a toy when we got back inside, offering it to me, wanting a bit of play before she wandered off for her morning nap. She reminds me that there is still fun and goodness and hope in all our lives.

Coming in close to offer comfort.

She’s snoring now and I’m sorting through yesterday’s photos. Some people believe cardinals represent visits from our loved ones. I can’t prove that one way or the other, but this morning I find comfort and smiles and a bit of hope all rolled into these shots.

Today I will think about my friends and their struggles and hope that the sun comes out for a bit wherever they are, that the fog lifts and hope shines and a cardinal wings it’s way into their lives too.

A bit of a snack before heading out.