The Read

May. 28, 2017

The image accompanying today’s installment is significant on several fronts.  “Through death to life”, the cycle perpetuates.  The original motto for the addiction treatment center, Father Martin’s Ashley, (after his death they changed it,) sums up a recent week of profundity.

Two weeks ago, on Mother’s Day, the patriarch of our family passed away.   US, (the other half of AK, he’s made several appearances on these pages,) was, in every sense of the word, our patriarch.  An uncle to me, by marriage, he has assumed the role of my father-in-law for a great many years.  A man of significant accomplishment, he was one of the pioneers who brought movies into our homes.  In addition to having a hand in the birth of VCRs and pay-per-view, he knew the power of cable TV before it was even off the ground.  The man was a visionary.  His vita is the stuff of legends.  Chairman, President, CEO, he had many titles.  Although it has always garnered universal respect, his stature in the entertainment industry wasn’t the core of his patriarchy from my view, it was the care he took; for all of us.  His love and generosity made you feel protected, you knew he had your back.  He helped BK and I navigate some of life’s most difficult terrain.  The Ashley logo plays a starring role in that journey.

We had hit bottom, with no place to turn and the insurance well run dry, US stepped in and secured a scholarship for BK to the treatment center, Father Martin’s Ashley.  Nestled on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, rebirth picked us up and set us firmly on our feet.  US opened the door, and to this day, 27 years later we have never been sure if the “scholarship” came from Ashley or from US.  We didn’t ask, he wouldn’t have told us anyway.  It was more than enough for him that we were okay and our fledgling family had a future.  

US was a handsome man, always impeccably dressed, pure class.  A man who only got more distinguished with age.  He quietly commanded attention just by entering a room.  In his pocket was always a clean and pressed hanky; a trademark US accouterment.  I never saw it look used, whenever he pulled it out, it was starched and, like him, immaculate.  On the day of his funeral, his daughter Kathie, a no-nonsense beauty, handed each of us in the family one of his hankies.  It was a clutch move, a practical piece of him we could carry with us, (noticed during the funeral, several of us were putting them to use, mine got a work-out.)  BK kept his in his breast pocket, close to his heart, where he said it belonged.

An interesting piece of family history, (that leads me to the later half of the aforementioned profound week,) as a child, at the tender age of 10, BK became US’s Godfather.  US converted to Catholicism as an adult and he chose his youngest nephew to stand with him.  Even then, he lifted the child he would eventually assume as his own.  That bit of kindness established a bond that lasted a lifetime.  When it came time to choose Godparents for our first child, US and AK were shoe-ins.  The circle was complete.  In more ways than one, we asked them to be Shay’s Godparents while we were all attending an Ashley event. 

Last Sunday, one week after Mother’s Day, having flown back from the west coast the day before, BK and I stood next to an alter with our new Goddaughter, Leighton.  A babe in arms, she already has both of us wrapped around her finger.  (Her parents, Sully and Ashley and her big bro, Cohen, have made appearances here before, couldn’t adore them all more.)  Leighton's baptism was the perfect way to enclose the current circle.

From one loving Godfather to another, it was a comforting sphere.  We arrived at the church early and were ushered to the nursery, where mom and dad were corralling the kids before the service.  Happy to have some private time with them, we walked in to find poor Leighton on the losing end of an allergic reaction.  Her precious little face was swollen on one side, her crystal blue eyes barely slits, and her nose was running like a spigot.  BK put his hand to his heart, there it was, the hanky.  US would not have been happier to share his soft, saving grace with another of his Godfather’s children.  BK pulled out the hanky and gave it to Leighton’s mom, a square piece of cotton from heaven.  Or, at least, from a man who now resides there.   

My love and respect for US knows no bounds, he gave us our life back.  Through death to life, indeed.  The Ashley leaves will always be a favorite of mine.  They remind me that death finds it’s way to life again.  Rebirth is not only possible, but the natural order of things.  Especially when the roots are profound love and generosity.  

Thank you, US, rest in peace.  

 

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May. 1, 2017

Okay, you’ve been following this saga for over two years now, time to bring it to a close.  Not because it’s over, we have not sold our house; as a matter of a fact, it’s off the market again.  No, because I will henceforth write about it no more.  This is the last chapter, (until the postscript that it’s sold and we’re out the door.)  Its purpose has been fulfilled, no matter how long it takes us to get out of here.

The crazy list of problems we’ve encountered, (with a brand new house,) has been long and storied.  As mentioned in the last installment, there can be no other supposition than all of it was meant to be.  The latest setback has confirmed that; nobody could have this many things go wrong with a house without there being a purpose for it all.  After the re-insulation job was finished and the drywall was patched, we only hit the market for a few days when an old problem, (have asked the builder to address it since we moved in,) came back with a vengeance.  Snow melted, rain pounded, and the river ran.  A tributary of water and mud made it’s way across our basement.  There had been a sink-hole in the yard on that corner of the house and water was getting in, the builder told us to put extenders on the downspouts, we did; Band-Aid on a gash.  Volume finally had its way.

After multiple emails with the builder, it was painfully clear, he was refusing to take any responsibility for the invasion.  Oh, that sink-hole, instead of digging it out and re-grading that area when it first happened, he just poured concrete into it.  Now the electric box right above has pulled away from the exterior wall; hmmmm, wonder where the path of that concrete went?

We hired someone to repair the foundation, he thinks there’s a problem with the seam on that corner of the house, excavation is involved.  Those beds I had to put in twice?  Third time’s a charm, as they say.  It all has to come out; that entire side of the house has to be re-graded and a trench built to drain everything to the backyard.  This latest debacle will cost us many thousands of shekels.  Natch. 

One can only conclude, this Bandit Builder, the man who steals hopefulness from his victims, is a life lesson.  There has to be those people in the book of life, right?  The ones who make us see the plot more clearly, show us what’s truly important; decency.  Liken him to a nefarious character from an M. Somerset Maugham novel, delusional in thoughts of his redeeming qualities, but really nothing more than a character of withered character.  The kind of villain who underscores the necessity for honesty; an imperative to always admit mistakes.   

The antagonist in our tale has been all these things for me.  And maybe for some of you too.  A literary jackpot of lessons learned.  He stopped by the other day to blame the electric company for the box pulling away from the wall, he’s going to fix it but a lengthy explanation for why he believes it happened had to be recounted first.   Stood, politely at my front door, listening to the exact same explanation I had already received in an email.  Okay, thanks, will just be glad to have the fire hazard repaired.  Phew, thank goodness that was a short encounter.  Oh no, wait, he rings the bell again and asks me to put on shoes and step outside.   After standing there waiting for him to finish a phone call, he has only beckoned to spew BS.  Had nothing more to say about the sagging electric box, he wanted to explain why the water was getting in the basement and what I could do to stop it, (had already emailed him that we hired a company to repair it.)  Wow, that’s some colossal gall. 

That’s when I knew we’d reached the last chapter.  Lessons learned.  The LaSooze who first moved into this house would have reacted a bit differently, (that’s an understatement.)  Instead, I let him know what was going to be done and reminded him he was not taking responsibility for it so his comments were not necessary, then I took my leave.  A much different narrative was flashing through my head, but I refrained.  As I should have.  Me yelling at him would have done no good, I’m grateful to him for teaching me that lessen.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  I do forgive him.  Mostly, I just feel sorry for him.  When the karma tab he’s accumulating comes due, it’s gonna be ugly.  Guess he’s not much of a literary guy, if he was, he’d know that’s what happens to the bad guys. 

He certainly is a novel character, I’ll give him that.  Like all good literature, wisdom can be found in the words; and the worst among us. 

The end.

 

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Mar. 19, 2017

Just heard it.  Was sitting down to write, went to turn my tunes off and, The Long and Winding Road, comes on.  Marching orders.  Been a while now since I started a column by that very name, as my next in line, but writing shifted to scripts and it kept getting shoved to the back burner. Guess it’s time to dust off the road.  How long has it been?  A while. 

Interesting tidbit, now there will be two in the family.  BK's was first.  (He was a columnist long before I took my first keystroke.)  His, Long and Winding Road, was about my brother Tim, his cancer journey.  An achingly poignant tribute to my brother and my family, on the occasion of Tim’s passing.  BK was a columnist for a newspaper in Ohio at the time, I think that one was called, Meat & Potatoes, (there have been several.)  To this day, some 30 years after, and thousands of columns later, it remains one of my favorites.

Guess it's fitting I would write one with the same title.  BK is the reason I write.  It was his words over the years that inspired me.  In college, he was an editor for the newspaper, the Wright State, Guardian.  Loved listening to him on a typewriter, he used one of those clunky black, oldie-timie jobs at home.   (Don't you love a good visual aid?)   His fingers would fly.  I marveled that anyone could put words together so quickly; and so adeptly.  Lucky are those who have followed his writing over the years, his is a charismatic voice.

My road is the result of the journey we’ve been on since we moved to Mushroomville, (for those who are new here, two years ago we moved to the mushroom capitol of the U.S., Kennett Square, P.A.  For us it has, literally and figuratively, stunk.  Mushrooms pack a pungent punch, as did our builder, but I digress.)  Because I never plugged in here and just continued my connection to Maryland like we’d never moved away, long and winding roads have defined me for the last several years.  Literally.  I shudder to think how many miles LaCiv has had to endure.  More columns have been written on those roads than not.  Dare say I might not be talking to you now if it wasn’t for the roads.  They have taught me so much. 

It’s interesting when you find yourself with hours of reflection that wouldn’t otherwise be there without the solitude of a drive.  Although I thought it was going to be a pain to make that trek back and forth, realized early on, I relished it.  Needed it.  This has been such a weird time for us; so many heavy things to ponder.  From a strangely long list of family challenges, to the insane, publically played out pit that has become politics, there’s been a lot to contemplate.  And on several fronts, some anger to yoke.  

Past installments have painted the not-so-pretty picture of this house we had built.  A sad, who-would-believe-it, tale.  Anger has been in surplus, pretty much throughout the sentence of this build.  Though I’m not proud of it, at one point, let a tad bit out on our builder; expletives were involved.  Not my proudest moment.  But the list had gotten too long and grading our yard with a small garden rototiller, over weeds that were left to grow to tree-size, (chopping them up to little weed seeds,) raking it out by hand, (so every time it rains the yard offers a squish fest,) then spreading seed over that hot mess, put me over the edge.  Didn’t have the strength to keep it in.  Oops, it was time to hit the road.  Anger was not a place I wanted to hang out in anymore.  No one has taught me that more than the man who built our house.  He has been a potent lesson. 

Before I wrap this up and get to the point, (promise, there is one,) there’s some more back-story necessary.  BK got a job offer with a great company in North Carolina; he took it.  We get to leave this troubled house behind.  He’s already there, we moved him into an apartment in early January.  (I know, I’ve been away a long time, sorry.)  I stayed behind to sell the house, we had it on the market for a while, but had to take it off.  It will come as a complete shock, there’s a problem; it’s a doozy.   At the end of the frigid and windy month of Jan., we got an electric bill for $800.  Average for tough winters in our last house, with several hundred more sq ft, $300 to $350.  Unless you live in the Taj Mahal, 800 balloons ain't chump change to heat a house, no matter how you deal it.  Something was wrong.  After weeks of our poor HVAC friend tearing his hair out to find the issue, a light bulb went on.  

His smoking gun, (who knew there was such a thing beyond a good western,) isolated the problem.  The entire back wall of the upstairs three bedrooms has to be re-insulated, along with the seam between the house and the foundation - all the way around.  The substandard work is pumping freezing air in all the outlets and baseboards.  We moved in after the cold weather last year, the first round of brutal cold and wind was the judge and jury.  Video of the gun proved a strong incentive to make the botched job right.  Our builder used the word, "surgery",  indeed, walls need to be cut out.  Drywall mess, re-painting rooms, lost buyers (anyone for $800 a month,) just a little hiccup.  And the worst outcome of the whole thing?  It’s been too cold to turn the heat ON.  As ludicrous as that sounds, we can’t carry $800 bills, we’re paying for two locations now.  Space heaters and the fireplace have taken the edge off for six weeks.  That is, until this past few days, woke up and the house was 42 degrees.  Braved out that day, but eventually had to turn the heat on, couldn’t take it anymore.  (Maybe a crowd-funding campaign?)  I was sick of seeing my breath, indoors.

Okay, enough preface.  All the crap, all the incompetence, and under-handed moves were there for a reason.  The tough twists in the road finally brought me to a clearing.  Can see the big picture now, and it's a relief; the time for anger is no more.  I’ve only fueled the flame of the misfortunes by giving anger credence, whether I spoke it aloud or silently fumed.  The house will be repaired.  As always, it will have cost us money, time and heartache, (not to mention a few frozen toes,) but it will all be resolved.  It is, what it is.  For the past two years, anger has only compounded the situation.  Robbed me of my peace.  I’ve learned the hard way, no amount of frustration, resentment, or anger (justified or not,) will help; no matter what the obstacles along the road ~ bills, builders, or politics.  It only makes the world ugly.    

Take a look, the clearing is beautiful.  Plan on taking in the sights like never before.  God has a plan, and I’m down with it, no matter what.  Today is the two-year anniversary of starting this column.  Will always be obliged to His winding path for giving it life, for the lessons, the growth, and the view up ahead; the road is straight and smooth for as far as the eye can see.   

 

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Nov. 18, 2016

The Women have waited long enough; it’s a suitable time to share the thoughts.  There’s a long list of women who inspire me, but for the sake of your time and inches on this site, I’ve cut it down to five.    

Relevant to current events, the first formidable female on the list is, Millicent Fawcett.  In 1897, Fawcett formed the, National Union of Women’s Suffrage.   She wanted to vote.  She wanted to change the perception that women were too stupid to understand the workings of government and law-making.  Hard to believe there was a time when that pompous and visionless nonsense was the accepted judgment on females.   (Interesting that women have outnumbered men on college campuses since the 1970s, but that’s for another time.)  Although the Suffragette movement ultimately turned to violence to get their message across, Fawcett prescribed peaceful protest.  Hers was the long game; played out with logical arguments (big fan of that approach.)  She understood that violence reduced the cause to the same base thinking they were fighting against.  No discerning person would resort to violence to make their point.  In words or deed.  A respectful nod to you, Ms. Fawcett; yours was an example to be emulated. 

Let’s bring it up to date; next on the hit parade, Joanna Coles, the Editor-in-Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine.  She’s recently been promoted to the newly created position, Chief Content Officer, for all Hearst domestic and international titles.  (A collection of heavy hitters.)   This is an impressive woman.  British born, Coles has a BA in English and American Literature, from the University of East Anglia.  Her career includes a list of high-profile publications, including The Spectator, The Guardian, and The Times of London. When she landed at the Hearst Corporation, she started as editor-in-chief of Marie Claire before moving over to Cosmopolitan, with her hand in Seventeen as well.  (That’s an eclipsed version of her career and accomplishments, but you get the idea.)   My knowledge of Ms. Coles came through Instagram, started following Cosmo, which lead me to Ms. Coles’ feed.  She makes the list for several reasons; first, and most obvious, as a writer, I admire her talent and track record.  Next, the expansion she brought to Cosmo speaks volumes about her respect for, not only the whimsy of women, but their creativity, intelligence and power as well.  When I take a break to escape the thunderous noise of a dreadfully divided world, Instagram is a salve; and Joanna Coles, an oracle.   She offers the perfect prescription of frivolous fun, female fraternity, and practical politics.  And finally, I admire her for her ability to poke fun at herself.   The woman makes me laugh on a regular basis.  She’s armed with Boomerang, and she knows how to use it.  She has a treadmill desk, nuff said.  Thanks for the comic relief, we all need it.

The next person on the list danced her way into my heart.  Her story and talent are the stuff legends are made of.   Misty Copeland didn’t start dancing until she was 13; emerging as a phenom, she glided into her professional career within one year.  She joined the American Ballet Theater’s Studio Company at 18, after only five years of training.  Unheard-of.  The next part of her story I have a hard time even bringing up, because I don’t categorize people by color, but it is unavoidable in it’s poignancy, Ms. Copeland is the first African American Woman to rise to the coveted position of Principal Dancer in ABT’s 75 year history.  In 2015 she was named one of the 100 Most Influential People, by Time Magazine.  She is extraordinary.  The best part of her story is her path.  Where all her contemporaries were students of wealth and privilege, Misty lived in a hotel with her parents and five siblings.  Hers was a life of poverty.  A story of overcoming demoralizing obstacles to become a prima ballerina.  (At the bottom there’s a link to a YouTube feature story, five minutes that’s worth the time.)  Include Misty on the list not only for her unique story, it’s a wellspring of inspiration, but primarily for her unmatched talent.  Watching her is transcendent.  She was put on this earth to dance; perfection in motion.  Such perfection should be noted.

The next woman is one I admire for many reasons, none more so than her selfless service.  In the face of constant undermining, it is a wonder that Hillary Clinton has continued in a life of public service for so long.  The fabrications about her career, brings her to the list.  I’m okay with political gamesmanship, to a point, but the disgraceful way the Republican Party has dogged Mrs. Clinton borders on criminal.  Got in a political discussion with a conservative recently and she made the comment, (with complete conviction,) that Hillary Clinton was responsible for murdering people.  Yup, there it is, the line, crossed.  As President-elect Trump has mentioned since the election, Hillary Clinton is a good person; a good person with a successful career that’s been turned into something nefarious by the GOP.  Can only imagine, calling Mrs. Clinton a murderer was referring to Benghazi.  A devastating event that joins the list of 13 prior deadly attacks on US diplomatic facilities since 1998; and seven US ambassadors who have been killed since 1950.  Attacks that were not held over the heads of the Secretaries of State at the helm for those tragedies; oh, that’s right, because they weren’t Mrs. Clinton, and none of them had presidential aspirations.  Benghazi was a perfect storm of misfortune, starting with the security lapse precipitated by proximity.  The compound was a provisional base, set up for one week only.  Ambassador Stevens was normally based at the embassy in Tripoli.  Anger was high in the already incredibly unstable region not only because of the propagandized video, Innocence of Muslims, being promoted by the Koran-burning preacher, Terry Jones, but by the anniversary of 9/11.   Just as the attacks for the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed weren’t carried out against the Danish embassies until months later, the anger surrounding the Benghazi attack flared like a flash in a pan.  There was no warning.  There didn’t need to be protests in the streets, they were happening in their homes, in front of YouTube.  The information Hillary and her team came out with at the time was to the best of their knowledge.  Americans want answers now, they tried to keep us informed.  The attackers arrived in trucks that were marked with the name of the local Islamists who were working with the government to provide security.   How we have allowed ourselves to be duped into thinking there should be any fault heaped on Hillary Clinton is shameful.  She did the best she could do in the instantaneously explosive situation.  Thank you for your dedication to our country, Mrs. Clinton, your service has been admirable; to say the least. 

Okay, saved the best for last.  The woman who gave me the idea for this column; my favorite female in the world, and the person I admire more than anyone, my daughter, Shay.  She doesn’t make the list via nepotism, she‘s earned the top slot the hard way.  Her kindness and consideration in the face of those who don’t deserve that respect is notable.  She’s been a potent example of patience, tolerance and unconditional love.  Although she’s had justifiable reasons, I’ve never seen her be angry with or mistreat anyone.  And yet the mistreatment she has endured would have fried the patience of a saint.  I’ve burned for her, (many times.)  But she keeps her cool and her compassion in tact, no matter what; I’m always humbled by her restraint.  A character trait that’s exercised regularly but nowhere more overtly than when she’s working.  For years she was the GM for an exclusive nightclub in Miami, dealing with an interesting cross-section of people.  From her regular clients, who became friends and dropped a grand every visit, to the most obnoxious, entitled snobs you can imagine, who wanted everything for nothing, she treated everyone with respect.  I’ve been with her throughout the night, several times, arriving at 10:00 p.m. and staying until 6 a.m., (if I wanted to visit her it was clubin for me; the wee hours thinned, we snuck in our quality time.)  Watching her with those crowds was like watching a maestro, she worked the place like a complicated instrument, turning out some beautiful music.  So many times I watched her defuse anger and turn a tough situation into a workable solution, using her strongest tool, kindness; wrapped in amazing efficiency.  Exhaustion never altered her charity, where most people would snap with an average of only three hours of sleep a night, (she ran the marketing and social media for the club, a restaurant and a start-up app during the day,) she could be like the walking-dead and still be affable.  Her endless energy and brilliant creativity has taken her in a new direction and I have no doubt she will make her mark.   She’s a natural born philanthropist, in every sense of the word.  Thanks for always sharing your heart, Shay, it’s been a priceless lesson. 

All these women have one thing in common, they make the world a better place; their talent, intelligence, extraordinary gifts, dedication, energy, selflessness, passion and strong character are what the world needs. Now, more than ever. 

 

Misty Copeland

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXIapH9kc20

 

 

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Aug. 26, 2016

I’m back.  Finally.  Been writing, but for other purposes, work that needed done.  Unfortunately, it kept me from hangin out with you.  I’ve missed you.  Several people have reminded me lately that I haven’t written; it’s time. 

If you talked to me yesterday, the name of the column would have been, The Women, that’s what’s been in the pipeline; but on my two-hour drive home from the old hood today, another blog stepped in.  Ladies, you’ll get your due, but first things first. 

It was one of the females from, The Women, who got me thinking in another direction.  A person who’s made several appearances in the blog, AK; she had a birthday this past week, gave her a call to shower some b-day love.  Before I go on, a bit of recap is necessary.  AK is quite possibly one of the funniest people in the world.  No exaggeration.  This is a rare mind, one that has a quip or a comical comeback for even the most serious of topics.  Her levity has always been strong medicine; it’s her MO.  Lately, the prescription has changed.  The world is doing a number on her; on us all. 

The last couple times we’ve talked, the conversation took a different turn.  Her light and playful spirit has been replaced by a deep concern for the world.  Oh, she still gets some classic zingers in; but her heart is weighed down by all the negativity around us, she’s even mentioned the possibility that we’re beyond hope.  Wait a minute, this is AK we’re talking about.  She sees the jollity in everything.  If she’s doubting the future of the world, we’re in trouble.

Humor has been kidnapped; we’re an angry society.  Anger is the new black.  We wear it like the latest fashion statement.  Everywhere you turn, people are angry; forget humor, there’s not even a smile to be had.  It’s damn near impossible to get people to even look at you, let alone return a smile.  Make a point of trying to smile at every person I pass on the street, and the reciprocation is dismal. Give it a try, it’s pretty disheartening.  People today avoid looking at each other.  Why?  It hasn’t always been like this, where did we go wrong? 

I have a theory ~ permeation.  Could get all scientific on you, but the easiest analogy is the Kool-Aid Man, you know, the beloved pitcher of red sweetness, who came on the scene in 1954, crashing though walls to say, “Oh Yeah”.  (He has since adopted a kinder, gentler approach.)  The transformation of that bulbous visual aid is what I’m talking about.  If you pour enough red into a clear host, the color takes over. 

Our current political climate is bright red; saturated with anger.  And it’s only compounding our problems.  Anger begets anger.  There’s been so much of it in recent history, the world is seeing red.  We’ve been infiltrated by negative thinking; and the more we contribute to it, the darker things get.  Tough to avoid, though, especially when you’re saturated.  It hangs in the stratosphere, just waiting to invade the next thought.  Spreads like a cancer.  No wonder the world is in such dire straights, we’ve annexed the air; unwittingly created a pervasive atmosphere of antagonism.  If it continues to perpetuate itself, AK might be right. 

So what do we do?  Tough spot.  Gonna have to start small and work our way clear; if we got here, we can get back.  Might as well try, what do we have to lose?  Let’s weight it: an angry society that ends up imploding on itself, or a peaceful existence.  Sounds like a hard choice to me. (Never said we couldn’t be sarcastic.)  Kidding aside, it’s time for a new mindset, one person at a time.  Alter the permeation, imbue the world with consideration and self-control.  #TeamTemperance; restraint from retaliation and excessive anger.  We need to start resting in a little reason. 

It's gonna be work to get the red out.  But, let's be real; how important is that angry response anyway, is it even necessary?  Could it be reasoned out?  Maybe we can stop choosing to see the worst in people and look for the best.  There are some pretty cool people in this world, if we’re always looking for what’s wrong with them, we miss everything that’s right.  And maybe our opinions are just that, ours.  There’s enough room for everyone to have one.  Everything doesn’t have to be a fight.  Rarely pick one, but my dukes shoot up when I’m confronted; but even that makes the water a deeper red.  I need to join #TT.  It's not going to be easy, red is a persistant color, but do we have a choice?

Maybe, just maybe, we can start with something as simple as a passing smile on the street.  Even the Kool-Aid Man knows how to do that.  

 

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