A Week in the Woods #SOL17

Although I normally wake up super early to read and write, this morning I slept through until after 7:00AM. Imagine my surprise when I noticed my phone lit up with a tweet from Stacey and GratitudeAbundanceMelanie announcing that I had won the commenting challenge! The prize? An opportunity to attend a summer writing workshop at the Highlights Foundation! To say I am thrilled is an understatement. I have been scoping this place out ever since Stacey wrote about her experience there attending an Unworkshop. It is located in the pristine woods of the Pocono Mountains, close to Beach Lake, where my brothers and I vacationed as kids, which makes it even more endearing.

Ironically, in yesterday’s post, I mused between living in a cabin in the woods versus a cottage by the sea. I concluded that the beach is a great place to read and discover, whileFallCabin the woods is a great place to write and uncover. So now, as life imitates art, I will spend a
week in the woods to live as a writer – a gift that is truly a blessing. Over the last two and half years, I have sustained four surgeries to correct an injury on my foot from tripping over my rambunctious black labrador, Lucy. Since two of those surgeries occurred in the summers of 2015 and 2016, this will be the first summer I can be out and about. What better place to explore my thinking and creativity than in the beauty and tranquility of this setting.

Now I have to decide how I will spend my time. Do I want to continue on my family’s WoodedPathmemoir as a photo journal? Do I want to explore a picture book idea? Do I want to write my talk for an upcoming retreat in September? Do I want to unpack the box of letters I acquired from an auction, which chronicles the life of a couple from WWII through their marriage, and the start of their family? Do I want to think about creating something as a resource for teacher? There are so many outstanding options to choose from. So far, I am in between a July offering called Summer Camp at the Barn which includes open workshops along with one-to-one mentorship. The other is the lure of the Unworkshop, where I can work on my writing independently.

In any case, it’s going to be wonderful. I am so grateful to the Two Writing Teachers for extending this opportunity to write in this community, and I am overwhelmed with the Highlights Foundation for offering such a generous gift. I promise to keep you posted on my decision and on my experience.

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Cabins & Cottages #SOL17

Today, I was uninspired until I found inspiration in some of my notebook entries from our summers in Maine. Between those words, a “word” exercise from poet and writer, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, and a poem from Tony Hoagland aptly titled, “The Word” showed up to get me started. I muse about my two favorite places.

“The way you craft your writing is the way you craft your life.” (Amy Ludwig Vanderwater)

Two words that emerged today are of my two favorite places – a cabin in the woods and a cottage by the sea. I decided to meander down the path of both to see where it would lead me.

Cabin
Beaches and mountains – both are familiar, favorite places. I still wonder where I would be happier – planted on the beach or nestled in a cabin.

When I think of a cabin of course I think of Maine – and our beloved summer vacations. I did my most reflective writing there, carving out time and space to observe and reflect on nature. Honest, deep, life-changing thinking… It has inspired my writing to realize the simplicity of life, or rather that I should live more simply – stripping away the extra – to embrace what’s hiding… always fear at the core. A cabin is secluded, quiet and feels more natural than any other place – rooted and peaceful.

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Beaches are endless… sun-filled and book-filled. The sounds are both calming and distracting.  It’s not as insulated as the woods… voices carry and dance on the wind as the water either laps or crashes on the shore. Sun and clouds tango between warmth and reprieve – one moment optimistic, the next unsure. Maybe for me, the difference lies in expression. When I want to read and discover, I head to the beach, and when I want to write to uncover, I head to the woods.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for this opportunity to explore and share my writing in this wonderful community.

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Dog Tales #SOL17

We are decisively a dog family. My dad had dogs, we had dogs growing up and we all have dogs in our lives as parents. Today is a snippet of those dog tales. It’s still in rough draft form and needs revision… still working on form. But, I’m on a roll with this daily challenge and thought I would submit – as is. I would love to get your feedback.

Dad/Dominick, aka Sonny
There was a quick knock at the door, as the policeman stepped inside. “Good morning. I’m looking for Dominick Tafuni.”

My father stood, arms at his sides, and responded, “I’m Dominick.”

“Do you have a dog named Baby?” Dominick nodded, unable to speak, worried that Baby might have been hit by a car.  The officer continued, “I want you to know that Baby bit one of your neighbors, so we are holding him in quarantine.You’ll have to come to the station to get him in a few days.”

The eyes of the 2nd grade class remained on Dominick, until he returned to his seat…

That’s a true story from my dad’s life, circa 1938/1939 in Jersey City. Dominick acquired the stray dog on Thorn Street, where he lived. Although he can’t recall if the police showed up at the house first, before heading to the school, it doesn’t matter. It’s one of those unbelievable moments that would never happen today! Baby returned home, unharmed, and lived out his years until he died of old age. My father loved him dearly.

Tafuni childhood
Fast forward to my childhood, when we acquired Snoopy, a beagle, in honor of everyone’s favorite comic strip canine. Although I was too young to remember, apparently Snoopy wasn’t that friendly, and bit one of us. Not taking any chances, Policeman Frank Maracanda showed up to take Snoopy away to the police farm. I remember staring out the front window as Snoopy jumped into the bag seat. As the police car drove away, I imagined Snoopy’s destination –  running in big open spaces alongside horses and other dogs, training for important police work. I’m not sure how old I was when I figured out that “going to the farm” had nothing to do with roaming the land!

When I shared that tale with my daughter and nieces, Kristin, who was 22 at the time, nervously laughed and said. “Hey, that’s what my parents told me about Max,” their very old dog when she was very young, until she suddenly realized, for the first time, what “going to the farm” meant! It’s like discovering Santa doesn’t exist, only you’re eight years-old, not twenty-two!

Dogs Become our Kids
How we acquire our dogs is another story. My grandparents, Italian immigrants, would have never had the money to buy a dog, so Sonny got his off the street. Joey rescues most of his, and Michael has done both. We, on the other hand, chose a different path. When my own children were old enough, my husband and I decided to surprise them with a dog. Keeping it a secret, we picked them up from school and said we needed to head over to the airport to pick up a friend. My son, anxious about strangers, protested not wanting anyone he didn’t know sitting next to him in the car, then proceeded to take off his shoes refusing to head in. Little did he know there was a bigger prize to gain inside.

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Angel’s last summer in Maine

Once inside, we went to the baggage claim as we were instructed. Shortly after, a man walked by with a dog carrier. I casually said, “There’s my friend.” The response was priceless. Our black lab Angel, short for Moon River’s Sweet November Angel, became our third child, traveling with us on every summer and winter we spent in Maine, and seeing both kids off to college. Putting her down was the hardest thing we had to do, but the most humane. She developed bone cancer at twelve years old… it broke my heart, but she will live in our memories forever.

 

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Lucy 8 weeks old

In mourning over Angel, I reached out to breeders throughout the Midwest, and finally found a puppy in Houston, TX. Instead of having her shipped to New Jersey, my husband and I, like adoptive parents, flew to Houston to pick her up. I felt like Paris Hilton carrying my baby pup in a chic Chanel-like black carrier onto the plane and on the feet by my floor. We named her ahead of time, which is always fun. Her father’s name was The Boss, her mother was Working Girl Trix, preceded by her grandmother’s name, Chorus Girl Lola. There were some heated debates between the following names: The Boss’ Daughter Meadow (NJ “boss” Tony Soprano), The Boss’ Daughter Rosie (NJ’s other boss Springsteen), or Funny Girl Lucy after the infamous Lucille Ball. Girl power won, and Funny Girl Lucy was named.

 

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Lucy’s first Christmas

Although I was looking to replace my Angel, Lucy, nicknamed Lulu Belle, would have no part of it; she’s the complete opposite. While Angel’s name matched her personality, Lucy is as wild, silly and scheming as I Love Lucy! Two months after we brought her home, she showed up unexpectedly while I was stepping off a stool, causing me to trip, fall and break my foot. Three and a half years and four surgeries later, I am still recovering from that injury… literally to this day! But, I love her to death, and despite her rambunctious behavior, I would never think of sending her to the farm!

 

 

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The Gift of Grace #SOL17

Grace

The Gift of Grace

9   There are seasons we find ourselves bearing unbelievable circumstances,
0   invisible pain,
8   which lingers far too long, day and night.

6   Until we are rescued by prayer
2   from angel warriors. 

3   Grace enters quietly,
7   and equips us with strength and courage,
6   to mend brokenness – real or perceived.

8   I stand in awe of this amazing gift
3  to heal wounds.

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers and this SOL writing community for offering this opportunity. I found this idea from a fellow blogger, Rose Cappelli, and decided to give it a try. It’s just what I needed for today’s post.  NewSlicerGraphic

Majestic Warriors #SOL17

This morning, I awoke again to the light of the moon, and the shadows of the trees. Although I tried to take a picture, my storage was full. As I was perusing pictures to delete, I came across three images/poems that tugged at my heart. Then I remembered a picture shared in early March from a fellow blogger Lisa Kincer and photographer Dave Weatherwax– from the midwest, after the storms…

Mother&ChildStorm

The Protector

Awakening to stillness

one winter’s morn,

dusk escaping – daylight dawns…

Majestic limbs loom in the light

erect and tall, braving the night.

Harrowing sorrows, sin and strife,

battling and protecting innocent life

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Moon Shadow #SOL17

I found an old notebook from one of my summers at Teachers College. In it were notes from a keynote given in 2008 by Katherine Bomer – “Writing is a journey of discovery, to find what we didn’t know.” I wrote this poem today after an evening of anxiety followed by a morning of hope, uncovered through my daily writing. 

Moon Shadow
Light beams cast shadows of the moon.
An unearthly sight – soulful might,
early dusk on winter’s night.

Morning sun dawns a different hue.
Bold and bright – reverent and white,
daylight follows winter’s night.

TreesMoonShadowWhile I have been healing from foot wounds and maneuvering from a wheelchair, I am living and sleeping downstairs. At night, I have a full view of the yard and can observe its ever changing shadows. With the full moon currently waning, the views are spectacular, while the winds often unhinge the peace. Having received a bit of bad news yesterday, I fell asleep with a touch of anxiety. As always happens though, day follows night, and with it a renewed spirit, discovered during my morning writing.

I keep several notebooks. One to observe and capture life, one filled with notes and ideas for an upcoming talk, and one as a prayer journal. Right now, I am studying Luke’s gospel,ChildOfGod one chapter at a time. It’s one of my favorites as it chronicles Jesus’s birth and boyhood, as well as his compassion for outcasts, and his love for women and children. All topics near and dear to my heart. I  need that reassurance right now as my husband and I navigate the health issues of our son. A friend once shared her father’s wisdom, “As a parent, you are only as happy as your unhappiest child.” Nothing can be farther from the truth. Although Brian is healing physically, the rest of his being needs to heal as well. Today, I am focusing on the verse from Luke 4:10-11 “…He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and with their hands they will support you…” Having the faith to believe my son is being cared for, beyond his parents and family, brings me peace. Even moon shadows can be dispelled with the light of the word.

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In My Daughter’s Eyes #SOL17

On days I get stuck with my writing, I peruse my notebooks looking for entries to ignite an idea. In one of my notebooks I found a card from my dear friend, Amy. On the front there was this quote, “Letters have souls.” That quote coupled with Betsy Hubbard’s letter writing idea last year and a post from another slicer this year got me thinking more about this beautiful gift of writing.

Over the weekend, one of the SOLSC bloggers, shared that she and her niece exchange letters on a weekly basis. Wow – such a beautiful practice. She also regularly sends letters and birthday cards to friends and family, and is especially mindful of her older relatives who may not be tech savvy.

AuctionLettersSitting on my coffee table right now is a box of letters chronicling the life of a couple in northern New Jersey – from their courtship, education, his service in WWII, marriage, and the birth of their son. It showed up in at an auction along with some other miscellaneous items. Although I had planned on reading through and drafting their story, the letter writing is small, so I need to enlarge them in copy. Beyond the letters, there are other artifacts, from the woman’s job as a teacher, a graduate from the old Trenton State College, and his alumni information from Princeton. There’s even a dance card inside one of his Princeton fraternity dances. I get lost in the romanticism of their life, and in the art of letter writing itself.

Although my parents found it challenging to express their feelings verbally, they were comfortable to share their thoughts in writing. I saved all of the various birthday cards, capturing their love. My mother, a recovering alcoholic, wrote my brothers and me letters of gratitude, on the anniversary of her first year of sobriety, thanking us for saving her life. Each if us cherishes those words.

OhThePlacesCapI do my best to keep up this tradtion whenever I can. For example, when my daughter was four or five, I bought her the Dr Seuss classic, Oh the Places You’ll Go. Throughout her life, I wrote inside of it, documenting all the major events leading up to college. When she graduated, she decorated her cap to emulate the cover. When she was deciding on colleges, and ultimately ended up at the University of New Hampshire, there were two times we heard the Martina McBride song, “In My Daughter’s Eyes.” I used the lyrics to write her notes when we dropped her off and when she graduated. This past Christmas, I revisited that song in a letter I put in her stocking. I decided to share it here…

GirlOnSledDear Dana,

I stumbled upon this ornament back in November, and it immediately reminded me of you… and that almost-fateful day years ago when you bravely took to that massive hill in Schooleys Mountain Park… I will never forget that moment as long as I live, because it was the day you taught me to embrace my responsibilities as a mom.

It’s been quite a year, Dana. And although there has been a great deal of emphasis on your brother, the highlights of your year have not gone unnoticed. Your loyalty as a friend was apparent with two more weddings and your role as maid-of-honor (again)… Your commitment to your health has taken center stage as you are in the best “kick-ass” shape of your life… and although your heart was broken, it’s better to have loved than not…

In keeping with my tradition of reflecting on the song, “In my Daughter’s Eyes,” I am going to add another verse…

“… I realize what life is all about,
It’s hanging on when your heart has had enough,
It’s giving more when you feel like giving up,
I’ve seen the light,
It’s in my daughter’s eyes”

Your loyalty, commitment and brave heart have remained an example to me as I’ve navigated my way through the challenges of these past few months. I don’t know what I would have done without you, Dana…

“In my daughter’s eyes,
I can see the future,
A reflection of who I am and what will be,”

As we turn the corner and enter into 2017, my wish for you is to remember that day on the hill, grab those reigns once again, and take the plunge into a new educational or career change. You have many gifts and talents, Dana, to be rediscovered… take some time to reflect, so you can be reminded of those passions and embrace a new path…

Love always,
Mom, your biggest fan

DanaMomUNH

After UNH graduation

I am happy to share that my daughter is making a change out of business and into health and nutrition. She is in the process of completing certifications as a personal trainer and in nutrition. She is also planning on heading back to school to become a registered dietician. I am so proud of her. As an aside, she also has a way with words. Last year, when I was on a retreat, she sent me the most beautiful letter, sharing thoughts and feelings that touched my heart and made my cry – tears of joy, very moving. Hopefully, she will also keep up this tradition with her own children some day, and remember …”but the truth is plain to see, she was sent to rescue me, I see who I want to be, in my daughter’s eyes.”

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At my niece’s wedding with my sister-cousin, Judy

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A Grand Aunt #SOL17


This morning I read a post from Fran McVeigh, where she shared the news of loss in her family. I was touched by her words and with the visual she shared on her role as an aunt. That picture prompted me to write a post about my niece, and our special relationship.

AuntQuoteWhen my niece was born, the first grandchild on our side of the family, my life changed. Not having my own children yet, she became mine in every sense of the word – I could never get enough of her. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and I visited her every single weekend to live through all the many milestones of her infancy and toddler years. Our closeness was legendary in our circle, with the two of use receiving invites to birthday parties of friends, who were beginning to have children.

The truth is, we share the same sense of humor and cleverness, which was apparent from the start. One time she was in her crib ready for the night, when she heard Bart Simpson on TV. Never wanting to miss out, she kept calling out, “Bart!”, “Bart!”, “I want to see him!” until her mother caved in and let her join us.

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Her fingers were a mess, but you get the picture!

Another time she was spending the weekend with me and wanted to paint her finger nails. I asked her if her mother let her do it at home. She smirked, and nodded, “Ah Uh.” So this rookie aunt gave her the bottle and she went to town! Another time she was watching me and my sister-in-law wallpaper my dining room. Sitting in the playpen, she was not happy and wanted to be with us, in the midst of the action. At one point, after awaking from a nap, and not forgetting her goal to escape, she stood up and defiantly pulled over the side of her diaper to pee, all the while looking right at her mother with that wise-guy look. Cindy told her, “you better not do that mister.” But, she’s my niece, so of course she completed the deed and got her way.

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Kristin is an only child, but Dana and Brian were her siblings.

After my daughter was born, sibling rivalry ensued. Kristin did not want to share me with anyone. One time we were taking a picture at Easter to send to my mother. We placed Dana, who was six months old, onto Kristin’s lap, who was three and a half. Once the shot was over, she immediately threw Dana off her lap! My husband freaked out, while I couldn’t stop laughing. She was fine. When my children were in 2nd and 3rd grade, we moved to the same town as my brother, so our kids grew even closer, attending the same schools. In those years, we vacationed up in Maine in the Moosehead and Rangeley Lakes regions, kayaking and tubing in the summer along with skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. Great times – great stories.

The first time we went snowmobiling, Kristin wanted to ride

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The girls on the boat with Dad/Uncle Dennis, the real fisherman

with me. Dana was with her dad, and Brian was with our nephew. Even though Kristin’s parents were there as well, she hopped on with me. With a five minute lesson in the parking lot, we started out of the lot across the street onto the trail. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but there was a pile of snow I was trying to manuver, but instead I went up the makeshift ramp, tilting on the left blade only! Bam! We fell over, the two of us hitting the ground with the snow-machine on top of us! My sister-in-law was flailing her arms, screaming, my son and nephew were staring in disbelief, and my husband, unsurprised, marched over saying under his breath, “Well, that didn’t take long, did it!. We, on the other hand, were laughing hysterically. Just another adventure – just another memory.

FlowerGirl

My little flower girl.

When I got married, Kristin was my flower girl. As the Ethel to my Lucy, she had to be there. During the ceremony, I placed a bouquet of roses at the feet of the Blessed Mother; Kristin joined me. Sensing the special moment, she quietly kneeled by my side, her hands in pretend prayer.

Dana&Kristin

Sister-Cousins

In November of 2015, Kristin got married; this time with my daughter at her side as her maid-of-honor… sister-cousins I like to say. She is a teacher, the same as her aunt, and is also in the process of completing her masters as a reading specialist; another passion we share. I am so proud of her.

 

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Baby Mansey

In February, she stopped by to share the greatest news of all… she is pregnant and due with her first child in September! Unable to contain herself until the customary twelve weeks, she and Matt, presented me with the classic, Goodnight Moon, in a gift bag filled with pink and blue tissue paper. I sobbed… overwhelmed with pride and joy for this new life on its way – made even more special as we’ve recently experienced many health issues, and need this “over the top” blessing. Since my brother is going to be a grandfather, I guess that means, I’ll be a grand aunt! I am looking forward to watching Kristin grow into motherhood. For better or worse, I know she’ll carry a piece of my influence with her as she raises Baby Mansey!

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The Cookie Caper #SOL17

In this slice, I share another story from my elementary years involving my friends, Diane and Colleen. As mentioned in an earlier post, we often found ourselves in ridiculous situations where uncontrollable laughter ensued.

ZoomColleen, one of my friends in elementary school, had a wild imagination. Although we both loved creative writing, my stories were largely realistic fiction, while hers were fantasies, dark and ominous. She was also crafty, reimagining and repurposing materials long before it came in vogue. In fact, her creativity even landed her a guest spot on the show Zoom, a kid-run show on public television back in the early 70’s.

In every situation, Colleen was always the first one to either think “outside the box,” or just add her imagination to every day happenings. For example, her family had an Alaskan malamute, named Sonu. When he howled, Colleen said she imagined little O’s coming out of his mouth. And when a visiting nun, a novice, came to our school to recruit for the vocation, and I asked her about “the calling,” Colleen quickly began whispering, “Laurie… be a nun…”

One time, in the 8th grade, she convinced us to write and produce a play. Her inspiration came from a song she heard in Miss Rosemarie’s School of Dance, from a younger group who practiced before her class time. Here’s a glimpse into some of the lyrics, which I can’t believe I still remember:

  We’re cookies on parade
So crisp and freshly made
We are so yummy 
In your tummy
We’re cookies on parade

SOMPuppetShowColleen insisted that we make our puppets out of actual cookies, which sounded like a good idea at the time. I decided to use a Vienna Finger, the thin oval shaped cream filled cookie. With the marionettes from the Sound of Music in mind, I dressed my puppet in a European costume – pale blue and yellow. We stretched out wire hangers to make the body form, glued both sides of the cookie to the hook part for the face, and then added the fabric to make the dresses. We also designed the stage, backdrops and curtains for the puppet theater. Engagement was high as we had ownership over this self-directed project.

We practiced on Saturdays, until we were ready to perform it for the children in our school. We received such outstanding reviews, that the parents asked us to come back to perform it for the PTA. That’s when everything went terribly wrong. We started out okay, until Diane either missed her line, or was using her “Edith Anne” voice from Laugh In. In trying to suppress our chuckling, somebody snorted, and that was it. The contagion spread. Laughter flew through the air attacking everyone in its path. The puppet theater tilted, the backdrop slipped, cookies splattered to the floor – and we were we were unable to finish the performance. There were no encores or standing ovations that night for our little cookie caper… only another humorous memory to mark our adolescence!

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Curb Your Laughter #SOL17

Last night my husband and I were binge watching Curb Your Enthusiasm on-demand. It was one of those “laugh out loud” episodes – funny from start to finish. Although I know Larry David’s humor is not for everyone, I love it. It’s bold, quirky, and often inappropriate. “Rolling Stone” magazine once wrote, “Some comedians say the things that everyone else is thinking; Larry David says the things that nobody realizes they’re allowed to think.”

CurbIn the opening scene of this particular episode, Larry and his manager/friend, Jeff are commiserating about not having tickets for an upcoming Dodgers game. They want to ask their friend, Marty Funkhouser, a season ticket holder, but Marty’s dad just died, so they aren’t sure what they would say. “Hey, Marty, I know your father just died, but what are you going to do with that extra ticket?” Out of context, it’s not funny, but if you share in Larry David’s humor, it is. ChuckesIt’s sort of like the Mary Tyler Moore classic episode, “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” when Mary finds herself hysterical – with laughter at the funeral home. Both scenes reminded me about a situation I was in at a friend’s relative’s wake.

“I know you’re laughing, Laurie Ann,” a voice far too familiar was standing behind me.

“Diane, don’t get me started,” I pleaded, the corners of my mouth already beginning to turn. I was at her grandmother’s wake; a lovely woman who lived well into her nineties. Although it certainly wasn’t the place to get the giggles, they were on the brink of erupting -for no apparent reason, but what else was new?

Shoulders shaking, which conveniently mimicked sobbing from behind, I told her to step away, knowing I would need to collect myself before facing her father, whose mother lay before me. I stood up to share my condolences with her dad, a serious man. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Dillon.” I started, struggling to contain myself, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.” It was easier to stick to the standard script, rather than improv.

“She was a special soul.” he responded. Then added, “They broke the mold after she was born.” I went on to tell him about the time Diane and I visited her in the nursing home. Two teenagers out shopping for the day, making that stop was not in our plans, but of course we popped in. LaughSoul“Grandma,” Diane shouted, “This is Laurie Ann.” After she introduced me, I looked at her and said, “Hello, Mrs. Dillon. How are you? I met you once before.” She looked at Diane, confused and answered, “She said she met me in a store?” Finally, I was able to release the laughter stuck in my throat!

That’s the way it was for us – always laughing inappropriately. Our mothers were the same, so we blame it on genetics. I don’t know what it is that makes me laugh, but I’m glad I’m not alone!

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