Tag Archive: Connection


Man, I’ve fallen behind on blog posts due to the holidays…. Well, back tracking a bit, lets first go to my last week in Seattle with Penny ( Dec. 12th – 19th)…

This week has been a week full of exciting opportunities, connections, and learnings.

First, Penny got me in the door of one of the largest architecture firms in Seattle; Callison. Although the work that this firm does is, in many ways, on the opposite end of the spectrum from the kind of work I see myself doing I am always interested in learning about the other side and hearing other perspectives. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that at least some of the people in this firm were equally interested in hearing about my side of the building spectrum and what I am interested in doing. John, a wonderful Principal in the firm, was incredibly unassuming and talked with me with great interest for almost three hours! I showed him a bit of some videos about earthship building in Haiti as part of disaster relief efforts, some of my own drawings of houses I hope to build one day, and just shared my knowledge about the natural and alternative building world. It was quite an empowering experience to realize that I could reach across the lines of the building world and find a receptive audience.

After my visit to Callison Penny and I took a break from our architecture/building focused tour of the Seattle area and took a trip to Fidelity where I learned a bit about investing and money managing. Money is something that makes many people, including myself uncomfortable. Often I wish I just didn’t have to deal with it. But Penny has been really helpful in talking very frankly with me about money and walking me through things like why it might be important to start building a credit history or investing, and how one can make the system work for you. One thing Penny does, which I think is quite brilliant, is she uses a zero APR credit card to get miles for almost all her purchases and bill paying which has allowed her to travel on many of her trips practically free. And since she is good about managing her money she has never paid a cent in interest or other fees to the credit card company.

When Penny found out that I also knew nothing about investing she decided to invite me to come with her to Fidelity and learn a bit. I was a bit hesitant at first, and still have my questions and doubts about the world of investing, but I must say that the whole investing process seems much less scary and intimidating now. Here is how I understand it (beware, I am NOT and expert, so don’t take my word on any of this money stuff); there are four “pots” that people generally put their money into: 401k’s, IRA’s, Taxable accounts, and emergency money.

A 401k is always attached to an employer. It is money that you ask your employer to take directly out of your paycheck, before taxes, and put aside to invest in a pool of mutual funds that they have already chosen. Often employers will match what you put in your 401k up to a certain percentage of your total paycheck. This match is basically free money that you can now use to invest, so I can’t see a reason to not at least put as much money as they will match into your 401k. But, this money cannot be touched until you are 59, at least with current laws.

Then there is an IRA: an Independent Retirement Account. There re two main kinds of IRA’s: Traditional and ROTH IRA’s. Traditional IRA’s are money you set aside to invest that is not yet taxed. So when you reach retirement age (59) and take that money out you will have to then pay taxes on however much you now have. A ROTH IRA, on the other hand, is an account in which you put money to invest after taxes. So, lets say you put $5000 in that account. Then you would pay taxes on that original $5000 but when you go to take the money out at age 59, even if that money has now grown to 1 million through investing, you do not have to pay any additional taxes. That is kind of incredible, if you ask me. Any money put in an IRA cannot be touched until you are 59, but one could at a certain point decide that you have made enough money and do not want to risk a market crash and pull the money out of all stocks, bonds, etc. and just let it sit in your IRA. Or, you could put the money in lower risks investments, such as only bonds and CD’s. There is also something called a SEP IRA which is for people that are self employed. These work like a traditional IRA, so they are before taxes, but one thing I am not clear on is why a self employed person cannot have a ROTH IRA since as far as I can tell IRA’s in general are independent retirement accounts and not attached to an employer.

Then there are your taxable accounts, which are just things like your savings and checkings account from which you can invest money at will and take money whenever you want (You don’t have to wait until you are 59 to touch this money).

The last pool is your emergency money, which is money you will not invest and is basically always available. Remember, money invested is not really available for your to spend until you sell the stock or bond. So your emergency pot is the money you keep under your mattress for hard times, if you know what I mean. And it seems that it would always be smart, if possible, to have at least 1 year’s worth of saving in this pot in case you lose your job and/or the market crashes, or both happen at once….

So those are the four pots of money. And then you have the different kinds of investments you can make with money from each of these pots (except the last, emergency pot. That stays out of the volatile hands of the market).

First there are mutual funds, which are a portfolio of companies or stocks that change in order to maintain the goal of the mutual fund, which, for instance, could be at least 5% returns annually. These are generally pretty low risk but also somewhat lower returns.

Then there are Index funds. These have a predetermined set of companies rather then a predetermined goal of a certain amount of returns. So, for example, an index fund might consist of 5 of the largest companies in the world, or it could be focused on socially responsible, small businesses, or businesses related to the computers software…. My understanding is Index funds can be higher risk then mutual funds but they can also have much higher returns if chosen carefully.

Then there are Bonds. A bond is basically an amount of money you “loan” to a company that they then pay back to you over a set amount of time with a set amount of interest. So you generally know exactly how much you will make if you keep your bond for the life of the bond. These are low risk for exactly this reason. But you could still be screwed if the company from which you bought the bond were to tank.

Lastly there are CD’s, or certificates of deposit. These are like bonds but you buy them from the bank, so they are even more secure. They are actually government insured so even if the bank were to fail, for some reason, to pay you back the government would pay you. But the interest rates are also generally much lower so the gains are much smaller.

Overall, it seems that most people recommend maintaining diversity with all these different kinds of investments; having some in lower risks investments and some in higher, and also diversifying in the kinds of companies and stocks you invest in; large, medium, or small, and once focused more on value, growth, or a blend of the two. And, on a site like fidelity.com you can look at all these different kinds of investments and buy and sell them on your own right from the site if you hold an account with fidelity.

Ok, enough talk about money. Back to architecture, building, and design….

A few days later Penny and I met with Martha Rose, a woman who is doing her part to make an impact on the building world. Martha comes from a construction background but now designs and builds extremely tight homes in the Seattle area. She strives to build homes that are highly efficient, comfortable, and use as little chemically treated materials as possible. Her homes are in many ways catering to those who experience chemical sensitivities. For me, the most inspiring part was to see a woman builder who does not have an architectural background but is designing the homes she builds and is succeeding in making a living building these homes and marketing them to the mainstream.

After receiving a tour of Martha Rose’s latest project, City Cabins,  we went to meet with Terry Phalen, who is the founder of living Shelter Design, a small architectural firm. Terry is a licensed architect but she got her license not by going through an architectural program but by apprenticing with architects and then taking the licensing exam. This is something that can only been done in some states, Washington being one of them, and an architectural license obtained in this way is also only recognized in certain states.  As I learned about Terry’s alternative path to becoming an architect I also found out that another possible way to become an architect is to do a 2 to 3 year master’s program rather than go through the usual five year programs. These were all interesting alternatives that I will keep in mind for myself if I find that a license or degree in architecture is something that I want. But it was also interesting sitting at a table with Terry and Penny and hearing from both of them that hands on building experience is not something that most architects have and both of them seemed to agree that an architectural degree or license may not be necessary for the kind of work that I want to do. They also pointed out that with an architect’s license comes increased liability and responsibility, so in some ways less freedom to be creative or take small risks. Its like being a doctor; once you have an MD you are also liable for malpractice and expected to deliver a certain quality of care.

The finale of our day was meeting Sam, a friend of Penny’s that I knew from way back in Boston and getting a tour of Sam’s kung fu teacher’s place. Johann, Sam’s kung fu teacher, has a sweet set up on a piece of land that he has been working on for years. He has created a maize through an edible forest garden that he has been growing for over 15 years! In this maize he has many different species of bamboo, fruiting trees, and little boardwalks, to name just a few things. His land also had lots of out buildings that demonstrated creative ways to build alternatively but still to code, including a yurt, a beautiful little “god house,” which is basically a little temple, and and kung fu training room with a rope ladder up to a second floor!

For now, I think continuing to gain hands on building skills through apprentice like programs is what interests me most. Two “schools” that I have bookmarked in my mind as possibilities for my future are Yestermorrow, and the Earthship Biotecture Academy.

Yestermorrow especially intrigues me. It is a design and build school in Vermont  that offers over 15o different hands on courses and a range of options for how one can enroll, from taking individual courses that range from a day to 2 or more weeks long when one has time and money to do so, or doing a certificate or semester program, or interning and obtaining a certain amount of class hours for free in exchange for “work,” which really sounds in itself like a hugely educational experience.

So there are my highlights from my last week in Seattle with Penny. It’s amazing how much you can learn without actually being in school when you have a little bit of time on your hands and the freedom to follow your own interests.

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Hello Seattle!

As I walked towards baggage claim in the Seattle/Tacoma airport I reviewed in my head where Penny had told me to meet her. She doesn’t have a cell phone so we had made plans for a very specific rendezvous point. Penny was my babysitter was I was little, but we haven’t seen each other since I was 7 years old, 15 years ago! Honestly, she was much more then a babysitter to me. She was part of the family, a mentor and a teacher. She was not your typical babysitter; there was never a dull moment with her. I remember going on many outings with her and doing many arts and crafts projects, including some amazing ones that I look at in wonder even today and don’t know how she got me, as a seven year old, to create such amazing things!

When I was seven years old Penny decided to move to Seattle and we have not seen each other since. But, amazingly enough, we have kept in touch. Penny, like me, is also a wanderer and traveler at heart. So when I took my first year off between high school and college and decided to travel through Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador I exchanged many e mails with her, asking her questions about what it is like to travel as a woman alone, what were some of her favorite places in those countries, and general travel tips. Since that year we have talked about someday seeing each other again, and now finally, almost four years later, I am in seattle.

I spotted Penny immediately, sitting in her silver-grey prius right where she said she would be. After big hugs of hello we she takes me on a wonderful little driving tour of Seattle and her neighborhood. The air here feels warm after being in Minneapolis. The city look modern and clean. Penny’s neighborhood, Ballard, feels cozy and progressive, with lots of cute little cafes, restaurants, and places advertising massage, and other holistic health practices. It is right on the water with the beautiful, snow covered olympic mountains visible across the Puget sound.

Penny and I are getting along fantastically. When we arrive at her house she shows me the amazing little cocoon  of a room that she has created for me. It is so adorable, with a bed, desk, lots of plants, and shelves full of books, many of which look interesting to me. We heat up a delicious meal of black bean soup, home made chick pea – edamame hummus, and some sweet potato salad. Mmmmm, so yummy. And of course, I got to try her delicious energy bars that she plans to soon be selling. They are rich and flavorful, almost like chocolate, but not too sweet and not at all dry. They taste healthy, but not too healthy- just like they are made of real, high quality ingredients, which they are. I think they might be the best energy bars I have every tasted!

Even though I have just arrived, the next day I will be heading out to the San Juan Islands for four days to learn the ropes and get a feel for my cob building apprenticeship with Ryan (more on this later). Then I will be back in Seattle for thanksgiving and more adventures with Penny before I go back to the islands!

There are two first impressions about Seattle that have struck me. One is that the people here seem really friendly. I have already had a conversation with with someone on the bus, a man who builds boats and is on his second sailing trip around the world, and a woman on the ferry, a holistic veterinarian who is thinking about moving to the islands. And people have been happy to help me find my way to the bus station, navigate the ferry’s and answer any questions I might have. The second thing that has struck me about the Ballard neighborhood in particular is that something about the aesthetics of the place remind me of Japan. Maybe it is the influence of the many Japanese people who do indeed live in Seattle, but I swear that something in the layout of the streets, the buildings and architecture, and the landscaping make me feel like I could be in Japan! I have a feeling that I will enjoy my stay here, especially if it is a strange melding of the two cultures of my parents.

Highlights from Minnesota

I am now about to leave the heartland of the country, St. Paul Minnesota. I first came here a little over three years to start my undergraduate career at Macalester College. When applying to colleges my father had jokingly told me I had to stay on the east side of the Mississippi and so, being a restless young teenager, I had ended up right on the Mississippi.

But being as restless and eager to experience the world as I was, this small liberal arts college in Minnesota felt too small and insular for me. It felt like it didn’t quite have the myriad of cultures and people that the big cities of the east coast had and it also didn’t quite have the natural beauty of a rural campus. And I found myself frustrated with an environmental studies program that strongly emphasized policy and politics when I really wanted to be doing science. And so by my sophomore year I was applying to transfer and ended up at Cornell in Ithaca, NY.

But now, as most of my freshman class is in their final year I find myself back at Macalester, visiting old friends and old professors. There is something to be said for the bonds created during the first years of college, when all of you have recently left home and are trying to figure out your separate identities. It has been wonderful to feel welcomed back by old friends. The people at Macalester are truly wonderful people; independent, critical thinkers, and loyal and dynamic friends. It’s also amazing to see how our interests have grown and changed but many of us are thinking about similar transitional things now. Many of us are asking ourselves what is our purpose in this world? What do we want to do once we graduate? It is comforting to know that we are all asking these similar questions now and that most of us don’t yet have the answers.

I spent my first night here with my freshman year roommate! It is crazy to think that already almost 4 years has passed since those first days in college. We went out to a delicious hole in the wall Turkish restaurant, the Black Sea, that she has discovered sometime in the year and a half that I have been gone. I then went to Carleton college where I visited a friend I have known for eleven years! She is a friend I have known since middle school and who I have, if anything, grown closer with over the years. Having friends who have known you for so long is truly a gift. There is a certain trust and stability in such friendships. We have seen each other grow and change and have known each other through both good and bad times. And you are just so comfortable around each other! It is a similar bond to that of family, but it takes a bit more effort to maintain since, unlike family, we have no reason to cross paths if we don’t want to. Instead we have chosen to make each other part of our extended family. The four days I spent at Carleton with her was probably the longest chunk of time I have spent with her since we were in middle school together! And it was quite wonderful. I did art with her as she worked on her final senior project in ceramics. And it’s funny, many of our afternoons together in middle school were also spent doing art together in my mom’s studio!

Upon returning to Macalester I stayed with the crowd that had lived in the coop my sophomore year. This was truly wonderful as well. I felt so welcomed by these people who gave me big hugs and said “welcome home!” when I walked in the door. Sometimes I wonder if I had ended up living in that coop my sophomore year would that have changed my decision to transfer. And then what a different trajectory my life would have right now… I do think Macalester has some wonderful people, but the place itself as a kind of surburbia that still does not appeal to me.

From this home base at my friends house I have eaten almost every meal with an old friend, I have done my best to show my gratitude for their hospitality by baking pumpkin pie and bread for everyone, and I have just had a jolly good time 🙂 Thursday night two of my friends and I went out swing dancing- why did I never discover swing dancing in the twin cities before?! It was such a good time. No bar scene, or pressure to be good. Just pure, fun, funky, goofy swing dancing. And I don’t even know how to swing dance but it was SO much fun. Only one of us actually knew how to swing, so she taught the other two of us the basic steps and then we just went for it! It is amazing how much fun dance can be when you are able to just let go and have a good time. We danced with each other, we asked guys to dance, and we got asked to dance. Sometimes I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and sometimes I got compliments for my dancing, but it was always a fun, friendly atmosphere.

It was also great to have lunch with my old advisor. Having an adult during those first years of college who took the time to get to know me as not just a student but as a person was truly a blessing. He guided me and listened to me as I made the tough decision to transfer, and we have been in touch just a few times a year since, but that has been enough so that I felt able to e mail him and plan a lunch date during this visit. And we just caught up on everything from school to family and home life, to plans for the future and it was so nice! I am very glad I still have that relationship as I have found it difficult to build a relationship with professors at Cornell.

Having only turned 21 after leaving Macalester, we have gone out to the Tap, a little bar nearby bar, to experience some of the over 21 scene. I have also climbed a campus building while here, an old tradition that involved an easy scaling of the building. From the top the campus looks quiet and peaceful at 1 am in the morning and you can see the sky dotted with stars. It was a full moon night, the perfect night for such an adventure with old friends. They also, conveniently, always leave a door open on the roof from which to enter the building; A smart decision on the colleges part as I think it would be much more likely for students to hurt themselves trying to climb down. So an old friend and I tromped around the inside of the building a bit, finding a nice lounge to sit and talk. At this hour it is hard to find many indoor spaces to hang out, and the outside air is getting cold enough in Minnesota that you would rather be inside, so this was a good option. Eventually we headed back to my friend’s house, ate some pumpkin bread and parted ways. It was a good evening.

Friday night I got to see someone who took my permaculture and green Building course with me this past summer; Kaitlyn! Her and her mom drove into the twin cities for a day on the town and we all went out to dinner at a cute diner in Minneapolis. This was Great as I had wondered if I would ever see Kaitlyn again, and hearing what my fellow alumni from Living Routes are doing is always inspiring and motivating.

The weekend came and Saturday was a beautiful relaxed day. A few friends and I took a nice walk in the Louise Butler Wilder Flower Gardens, a nice pocket of wilderness in the cities.  Then the evening was spent brewing some beer, talking and just hanging out. Sunday I made vegetarian chili and another pumpkin pie for a potluck in the evening that we hosted. The potluck was lots of fun and gave me an opportunity to see some faces I hadn’t yet seen, including some mac grads that had welcomed me to the campus and shown me the ropes as a freshman. The potluck soon turned into a jamming session later in the evening and someone even had a violin that I could play so I was very happy!

Now I am sitting in the Humphrey terminal of Minneapolis/St. Paul airport waiting for my flight that will take me to my next stop: Seattle, Washington. It is a bit bittersweet as I am very excited for my next stop but also sad to be leaving friends again. My visit to Minnesota was a great success. Although keeping in touch is always hard and can take away from present experiences, these friends here will always have a place in my heart I will welcome them with open arms wherever we again cross paths. And having revitalized these connections I feel confident that many of us will again cross paths.

Community

My Butterfly Spread. The Bear is East, the Snake is South, and Wolf is West, and the Lizard is North.

As my last full day in New York came to a close my grandmother gave me one last gift; a reading of my choice using the medicine cards. I chose what is called the butterfly spread. It is a spread is used give insight into the path of a project or life.

To begin, I stood facing my grandmother with two feet on the ground. We breathed and centered ourselves and then sent down our energetic tap roots from between our ovaries, going down and down into the depths of the earth. Then we spread roots from our right foot and our left foot, grounding ourselves to the energy of the earth. Then we asked for the energy of the earth to come up and into us, cleansing us. It came up through our feet chakras, swirling around and through our body, then our survival chakra that lies between our ovaries, and the second chakra, the one of emotions that lies right below the navel. Then to our solar plexus, the energy center of our body and our third chakra. From here we sent the energy of the earth up through our heart chakra and out to our fingertips, where our hand chakras, the ones of creativity, lie. Then to our throat chakra, communication, and to the third eye, and then lastly to the seventh chakra that lies at the crown of our head. As the energy came up through our crown and swirled around us we then took a deep breath and ran the energy back into the earth, flushing out any and all good and bad energy in each chakra and leaving us a clean and open slate.

Then again I went down deep into the earth, this time asking what is the question or the task that I will ask the medicine cards about today? All at once there is was. The word Community. How will I manifest community? What will be my role in it? Why is community important? And so I brought the task of creating community to the medicine cards.

The first card I drew was the card for the east- the place of birth and beginnings, the Egg Card. Here is where the nucleus or seed of my project would lie. I sat with the cards in my hand until I knew just which one I wanted. Pulling it forth I saw that it was the Bear Card, the solitary Bear of Introspection. Then the card spoke to me quite powerfully, bringing tears to my eyes as I realized that I, like the bear, felt alone, and was seeking a sense of belonging. And in that desire for belonging is the seed for the manifestation of community.

The second card is for the South, the Larva Card. This card is about early doing, the laying of the groundwork that will allow for the completion of the task. In this card lies the question of whether or not the energy will be great enough to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. And it seems my cards are speaking a resounding YES. I drew the Snake Card, a card that speaks of being able to transmute all poisons, transforming them into creation.

“Snake medicine people are very rare. There initiation involves experiencing and living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, be they mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The power of the snake medicine is the power of creation, for it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy reproduction, and ascension (or immortality).”

Could it be that this is speaking of the experience of losing my first love at age 21 to a tragic death? Despite the words of those who love me wishing I did not have to go through such things, I feel strongly that I would never have had it any other way. And that indeed my experience with Stephen gave me much more then it ever took from me. Perhaps this is because I did indeed experience it, willingly and without resistance, a quality that is strongly embodied in Snake medicine.

But the part of the snake that spoke most powerfully to me was it’s rattle, telling me that in the now, I must be willing to sound the alarm, stir up the pot and make some noise. I must work to make my voice heard, despite my soft-spoken nature if I am to bring this Community to fruition. Perhaps creating this blog is part of me doing just that?

The third card is for the West and is the Cocoon Card. It is the place of the spirit, and speaks of higher purpose and transformation. How will this Community serve the Great Spirit? Here I drew the Wolf Card, the card of the teacher. The wolf is the pathfinder and forerunner of new ideas; the one who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine. And it is an animal with strong familial ties.

It is also an animal strongly connected to the moon, a symbol of psychic energy, and the unconscious that holds the secrets of knowledge and wisdom.  The moon in this card is what spoke to me most strongly, speaking of a community that looked to a broader, larger, cosmic vision and stood as a beacon of light and a model for the world to strive towards.

My forth and last card was the card for the North, the Butterfly Card. This is the card that speaks of the rewards to be gained in this project, and whether or not the Great Spirit has walked hand in hand with this community. Although this card speaks of manifestation and the rewards that may lie at the end of ones path, it is also a place of Spirit, but one must remember that matter follows vision and spirit.

For my North Card I drew the Lizard. Looking at the lizards card made me think of chameleons and the ability to survive in the harshest of deserts. To me this card spoke of a community able to change, adapt, and evolve, thereby surviving even the hardest of times. The lizard is also a creature of dreams and shadows. It is truly an animal of spirit, and a fitting one to tell of a dream come to fruition and evolved into even bigger dreams.

Time with Elders; A Lost Privilege

It is not often in todays society that a grandchild has the privilege of  intimately getting to know their grandparents. Tomorrow marks the end of five whole weeks that I have lived with my grandmother and grandfather in their apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. I obtained this privilege of spending this time with the elders on my father’s side of the family by willingly agreeing to be a helping hand as my grandfather recovers from an operation. And this time has truly been a gift for me as much as for them.

How often does one get to see a couple, married for almost sixty years, still vibrant with love for each other? And how often does a young woman trying to navigate the labyrinths of relationships and the world get the chance to speak honestly and openly with her grandparents who have lived, and are continuing to live in their 80’s, such rich fulfilling lives and seek guidance from them? During this month I have heard the stories of how my grandfather and grandmother each found themselves on their path. I heard about the unexpected marriage of psychotherapy and art that led my grandfather to become one of the founding names in the Art Therapy Movement. And about the group of mothers upset about a park closing that led to the birth of my grandmother’s Shadow Box Theatre, a musical puppet theatre for children. I have learned some basic healing techniques and experienced some of my grandmother’s profound healing work. I have seen the power in doing work you truly love, your soulcraft, and the gift such work brings to the world. At 83 years old, with no real knee and on a daily IV antibiotic, my grandfather insists on returning to work as soon as possible. For three weeks now he has been holding his supervision groups and seeing patients and I have watched it bring life back into him. And I have seen my grandmother stretched thin as she wakes up at 4am to work on a grant for her non profit theatre. And yet she returns home from a show filled with renewed energy as she tells me of the public school teacher that gave her big hugs and thanked her for her work. And I cannot help but be inspired and uplifted as I sit in the audience of one of her shows, in an auditorium filled with public school children who are cheering and singing with the characters of the story. These are stories of substance that address issues of race, gender, the environment, and culture, as well as bullying and safety among other things. This is the kind of art that truly enriches a child’s education and helps them grow into a conscientious person.

I have watched how my grandfather’s face lights up when he hears my grandmother walk in the door, and I have watched how she loves him from a place of utmost acceptance and non-judgment. I have seen a more playful, laughing, and smiling side come out of my grandfather- a side I always sensed was there but rarely before had the privilege of seeing. And I have had honest, heartfelt conversations with both of them about my own struggles; the different professions I am considering going into, the process of healing after the death of a close friend, and the choosing of the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. To be able to ask advice, receive insight, and learn from one’s own grandparents in an intimate and heartfelt way, as well as to be able to give back and help them in a meaningful way is a truly beautiful experience.

Guidance and mentoring between generations has been an integral part of almost every culture worldwide except the modern western culture. This, to me, feels like a huge loss. We have much to learn from our elders and much to give them as well and I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to fully partake in this exchange. Tomorrow I will leave with new insights, a backpack a few books heavier, and a more intimate love and understanding of who my grandparents are. Hamdallah.

Connection

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