Loving My Chatty Matty Coffee

“Light and mellow…nutty with a caramel finish.”

This delightful blend of lightly roasted and dark roasted beans is one of many options at Planet Bean, a Guelph roastery that carries certified fair trade and organic gourmet coffees.

Like many Guelphites, I’m impressed and inspired by Planet Bean’s vision and mission to create the best-tasting coffee. Their innovative business model measures success in financial terms and in their ability to advance organic production and improve the planet’s health.

While I don’t consider myself a heavy coffee drinker, I enjoy two to three cups each morning, well within Health Canada’s recommendation of no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine each day. (An average eight-ounce cup has 95 milligrams.)

Here are seven ways that coffee can positively impact our health. (Source: John Hopkins)

  1. Researchers found that coffee drinkers—decaf or regular—were 26 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer.
  1. The caffeine in two cups of coffee may provide significant protection against developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  1. Caffeine has been linked to a lower chance of developing Parkinson’s disease. It may also help those with the condition better control their movements.
  1. Drinking one to two cups of coffee a day may help ward off heart failure.
  1. Coffee drinkers are more likely to have liver enzyme levels within a healthy range than people who don’t drink coffee.
  1. Dark roast coffee decreases breakage in DNA strands. While this breakage occurs naturally, it can lead to tumors if not repaired by your cells.
  1. Drinking at least one cup of coffee a day is associated with lowered stroke risk, the fourth leading cause of female deaths.

Note: Too much caffeinated coffee can increase heart rate, raise blood pressure, and cause insomnia.

Do you have a favorite coffee blend?

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Patriotism, Dissent, and Mob Mentality

Patriotism, Dissent, and Mob Mentality:

            Like many in the United States, my husband and I watched with a combination of horror, incredulity, and amusement as armed thugs (instigated by a sitting president) tried to overturn a lawful election.  We felt horror because these actions resembled those of a Third World country, not a democracy where we’ve experienced a peaceful transition of power for over one hundred years. We were incredulous that a bunch of Americans could behave like blind sheep, and we felt amusement (mixed with pity) that this ragtag bunch of “revolutionaries” thought their “movement” would work. 

            Throughout the week, my amazement and anger grew.  (The anger came much later). I’ve seen much in this country. As a very young person, I saw marches against the Vietnam War.  I remember the death of Martin Luther King. As a native of Louisiana, I’ve known, supported, or disliked many colorful governors.  Even when I hadn’t voted for some politician, I accepted that he or she was the legally elected representative for the district, state, or country.  Even at the height of Vietnam protests, Americans accepted the new leader.  Not to do so was simply to give into the Sore Loser Syndrome, a state of selfishness our kindergarten teachers chastised.  

            What truly distressed me was that too many brave members of our service have died so that we could have safe, peaceful elections and a smooth transition to power. Throughout my historical fiction, I’ve written about men and women who have died for that right. They sacrificed themselves for democracy and a system they believed would protect freedom.  In Love at War, my characters face the trauma of battle and participate in espionage to protect freedom from tyranny.  In From Ice Wagon to Club House, Jude Mooney and his family protect democracy in Europe and at home, fighting against tyrants while living the dream of success. In The Progeny, Jude’s sons and relatives continue that fight, willingly joining in the fray to free oppressed people while also wearing a uniform to protect against bullies. 

            I’m not sure what these thugs in the Capitol hoped to accomplish. Had they simply protested and displayed support for what they thought was an injustice, I would totally support their right. Peaceful protest is guaranteed to all Americans. I feel the same about the protests we saw in the summer of 2020. Protesting an injustice is our right.  Destroying property and assaulting others is not.  This nation has never been so divided—not in over one hundred years.  I mourn for my fictional characters and the values they espoused. 

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Booklover Science

On January 6 after watching events with horror and being fixated on television and social media for five hours, it was difficult to settle down. I turned to what I knew best to settle my nerves, a good book. Last August I posted here that reading is my drug of choice. It has always provided me with a way to sooth my nerves and recharge my batteries. Sometimes, when words are flowing, writing is also an escape. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my experience has been verified by science.

The World Literacy Foundation has reported that reading has been found to reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, and reduce stress. In 2009, Minelab International at the University of Sussex conducted tests in techniques that reduce heart rate and stress. The percent to which levels were reduced by various techniques were:

  • Playing video games 21%
  • Taking a walk by 42%.
  • Having a cup of tea or coffee 54%
  • Listening to music 61%
  • Reading 68%

How does it work? One article suggests, “Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.’’

It is unclear to me what role cortisol, endorphins, and dopamine play in all this. I’ve read video cames cause in increase in dopamine, but look where that comes in for stress relief. If that interests you, the blog, Words and Other Things spells some of that out.

Interestingly, research at University of Sussex has also found that writing helps relieve symptoms of asthma, so reading and writing are both helpful.

Will all this fix the problems around us? Of course not; we are all seeking ways to do as much good as we can out there. But if we allow our emotions and stress to cripple us, we can do nothing.

Perhaps the key is just that mini vacation from the things that are causing our stress. Turn off your phone; read a book. Julia Quinn said in a recent interview that she knew her books wouldn’t change the world, she just hoped they improved our afternoon. That isn’t a bad way for an author—or reader—to look at it.

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Pandemic Pastimes by Rebecca Heflin

If there is anything good that can be said of the pandemic, it’s that life has slowed down—at least my and my husband’s life has. In Before Times, we led crazy-busy lives. I have a demanding full-time job, we run our non-profit foundation, and of course, I write books. I also served as secretary for a local women’s organization.

In a typical year we would have at least five in-person fundraising events and a couple of online fundraisers, with all the planning and execution those involve. We’d have day-long in-person board meetings three to four times a year, along with the various schmoozing events we’d attend. Because we are both so involved in the community, our social calendars would be crammed with all kinds of dinners, lunches, and parties.

That all came to a screeching halt last March when the world shut down. Suddenly, we had copious amounts of time on our hands. And it was . . . glorious!

In Before Times, we were lucky if we got to watch a movie or TV we’d recorded on our DVR. Forget about getting drawn into any kind of series. In Before Times, we’d squeeze in exercise whenever we could find the time. And in Before Times, I was far more likely to be setting our large dining room table for a dinner party, rather than settling down to work on a jigsaw puzzle.

In After Times, TV, puzzles, and exercise became our pastimes.

Thankfully, there was/is quality programming on TV, especially with all the streaming services available. I signed up for three streaming services—something we never bothered to do. After all, why pay for something we’d never use?

We’ve watched some of the most beautiful documentaries we’ve ever seen, including The Elephant Queen (Apple+) and My Octopus Teacher (Netflix). We were sucked into the fabulous The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix), like so many other people around the world. And we’ve begun watching The Crown (Netflix) from the beginning. I signed up for Disney+ exclusively for Hamilton, which I’ve watched several times. We’ve also enjoyed re-watching old TV shows like West Wing. And I’m really looking forward to the PBS Masterpiece Theater remake of All Creatures Great and Small.

Then there are the jigsaw puzzles. I had quite the puzzle Christmas, receiving four puzzles as gifts from friends and family. I’ve always loved jigsaw puzzles. They can be quite addicting for me. In Before Times, it was better for everyone involved if there were no jigsaw puzzles in progress in my house to distract me from other important tasks. In After Times, there’s always one waiting to obsess over.

Lest everyone think my husband and I have become completely sedentary, we’ve been taking at least two (if not more) four, five, and six mile walks weekly. Where we live in North Central Florida, beautiful hiking trails abound. And then there are our daily (weather-permitting) walks on the walking trails throughout the 2000-acre development where we live. It’s been sublime, without the need to rush back for this social event or that meeting. We’ve grown even closer during these walks, talking intentionally about things we never had the time to delve into.

With the roll out of the vaccines (I got my first one last week, and my husband got his first one today), I see a glimmer of life’s return to normalcy. A big part of me yearns for this. I miss spending time with my friends, hugging my family, enjoying neighborhood get-togethers, being in the same room with my co-workers. But a return to normalcy also means a return to my frenetic Before Times life. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Other than writing, what have your pandemic pastimes been? Did you take up any new (or old) hobbies?

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On The Cusp of A New Year: Part Two-The Way Forward: All Hands On Deck So Roll Up Your Sleeves

As promised, this is the second of two posts. The last was a recap of the events of 2020 through my eyes as as nurse practitioner/midwife and and author of both fiction and non fiction.

Two weeks after my last post, the turmoil has not died down. Let’s leave the politics at that. But like all of you, I am committed to moving forward focusing on what I can influence and on what I can control (some days).

My grown kids are back at college or in their homes in Providence, Rhode Island, Brooklyn, New York City and Woodside, California. Being together during the end of this very um, remarkable year was a moment to savor many family moments while isolating together shoveling snow, and pursuing our own interests.. Every week or so we lined up for COVID tests so we could visit relatives in small groups, chat with friends in chilly cars or outdoor dining venues.

For me that included writing when everyone else was in bed, sleeping late, watching classic holiday specials, The Crown, Call the Midwife, and other PBS pearls, cleaning out clutter, writing, and anxiously awaiting deployment with the New York Medical Reserve Corps.

My latest novel is being edited, and I’ve penned a bit of the second in the series. And as you read this, I will have received my first of two COVID-19 vaccinations and been oriented to the very complex process of vaccination of the entire City of New York and bordering counties of Nassau and Suffolk under a mutual aid arrangement.

After all these years, I can inject a deltoid muscle in the upper arm in about 10 seconds and the patient won’t even know until the band aid is on. And I can take remedial steps if there is an allergic reaction before most folks know they’re having one. But this is probably the most consequential vaccine that people will ever receive. It requires a huge team to educate, screen, consent, prep, and document the administration so that who is being vaccinated, what vaccine they have received, and when the next dose will be is clear and traceable.

This is public health in a epidemic/pandemic–and I’ve been involved or managed in a few. To recap: HIV, Hepatitis B and C, H1N1 (Swine) Influenza, Measles, and Pertussis. Giving the vaccine is easy, quick, and safe. To reassure those who are concerned, there have been tens of thousands of doses of SARS2-COVID 19 vaccine administered. How many serious reactions have you heard of? I can recall four, and all were dealt with.

The infrastructure of vaccine manufacture, transport, and storage are well established. And in New York State, electronic documentation of vaccines has evolved over the course of the last decade so that administration documentation can be immediately transferred from an electronic medical record platform to the Vaccine Registry for a durable, portable record that enables recall as well as allowing multiple providers to access.

But this pandemic requires an unprecedented, cooperative, national effort. Sensible triage of who goes first, and how to accommodate all those who need vaccines may seem chaotic to outsiders, but believe me there is much two and three way conversation going on between state and local governments as well as professional organizations who are advocating for members and, of course, for the general public.

Just because information changes from day to day does not mean there is confusion. We each have one gloved hand on the wheel, while assembling a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, peering through foggy goggles and face shields, with our noses running and chins itching, trying to avoid crashing into an iceberg.

What does all this have to do with authorship? My experiences inform my writing. A category five hurricane features heavily in Storm Watch: Book Three in the Unfinished Business Series. And Northern California wildfires, the COVID pandemic and social unrest figure heavily in my current works in progress, as well as my recent nonfiction publications. I write what I know.

I wish you all peace, safety and better times in 2021. I appreciate all the SMP blog posts over the last year during which we have supported and uplifted each other. I hope my two part series has been of some benefit to weary souls.

We truly are all in this together.

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Horoscope and Zodiac Fun in Perfectly Honest

Do you read your horoscope? They’re fun to follow – especially when they predict good things happening! That’s the allure of horoscopes – they’re usually broad enough that you can find at least an inkling of personal relevance. In Perfectly Honest, Mikaela reads three different horoscopes each day and picks the one that most closely aligns with how she wants her day to go, and that horoscope is at the beginning of every chapter for a bit of tantalizing foreshadowing. In Perfectly Honest, I also had a bit of fun with zodiac signs. Sam’s mom, Marla, pays an unexpected visit to Sam and Mikaela, unaware that Sam and Mikaela’s engagement is fake. Marla has her own idea about zodiac signs and perfect soul mates!

 

Cover PerfectlyHonest600Perfectly Honest

You never know where your words will take you…

When Mikaela Finn agreed to be Sam’s “fiancée” for a weekend, she probably should have told him that she’s a doctor. Sam O’Brien, aka “Dr. Eye Candy,” is trying to shed his playboy reputation and convince a small town hospital that he’s ready to settle down. But when his “fiancée” helps deliver a baby in the middle of the meet and greet, it’s a bit of a shock. If he’d known the whole truth, he might have done things a little differently because somehow his “fiancée” ends up stealing his job and his heart. Not exactly the change he wanted.

Lies and deceit – it’s a match made in heaven!

 

Enjoy an excerpt from Perfectly Honest ~

your horoscope

ARIES (March 21-April 19) Emotions will escalate and confusion will set in with regard to a partnership you thought you could count on. Take time to absorb what’s happened. You are sitting in a much better position than you realize. Bide your time.

As they stirred their tea, Marla leaned forward with excited eyes. “I want to know all the details. What’s your sign?”

Mikaela blinked. “My sign?”

“Yes. You know, Sam is a Scorpio. I hope you’re not a Virgo. All the Virgos are a little…zealous. Too much energy, if you ask me. And I don’t know that Pisces would be a good fit either. They tend to daydream the day away, don’t you think? I think Sam needs someone a little more grounded. Taurus would be okay, but they do tend to be a bit stubborn and Leo, well I think a Leo would be a bit too boisterous, maybe a bit too bossy for Sam. I wouldn’t like to see another Scorpio. Could you imagine? That would be the worst kind of clash. Don’t you think? Now, last year, I would have said Sagittarius. It was a good year for Sagittarius. This year, I’m thinking a Libra or Aquarius would be good. I could see that working. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve told Sam. I told him he has to watch the sign, but I never know if he really listens.”

Mikaela’s head spun. “Ah, I’m an Aries,” she said hesitantly.

“Oh perfect.” Marla clapped her hands. “That’s a good match, especially this year. The moon cycle is perfect for an Aries-Scorpio match. I’ve always thought Aries was best at thinking things through before they do something irreversible. That will be the perfect balance to Sam’s Scorpio impulsiveness,” she announced confidently.

Mikaela almost burst out laughing. Yup, that was her all right. Thinking things through. Planning change. Avoiding the irreversible. Marla’s nailed it, she thought ruefully. Sam really should have paid more attention to the sign.

“What is your Chinese zodiac?”

“Pardon?”

“You know. Your heavenly stem, your earthly branch, your animal, your element?”

“I’m not really sure.”

“Hmmm. We’ll have to figure that out. Sam is a Tiger. At least he’s born a Tiger. Personally, internally I think he’s a dragon. Truly there is a bit of ox and secretively, I suspect a little goat. But then I’m his mother.” She patted Mikaela’s hand. “So if you were a horse, dog or dragon, that would be wonderful. Oh dear, I do hope you’re not a monkey. That would not be good.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m not a monkey,” Mikaela assured her.

“That’s a relief. There are so many things to think about when you choose a mate. Are you a yin or yang?”

“Yin?” Mikaela guessed, hoping to make Marla happy.

“Perfect,” Marla beamed. “Sam’s a yang. The perfect match. You know Olivia and Ron are yang-yang, so I do worry. But they produced the most beautiful daughter. Just goes to show there’s something good there somewhere.”

“And what is your favourite color?” Marla asked earnestly.

Seriously? She was engaged to her son and that’s what she thought was important? She was beginning to understand why Walt went for a swim. “Ah, aquamarine?”

“Oh, aquamarine,” Marla repeated, nodding her head. “Now would that be more blue or more green?”

Mikaela just stared. “Blue?”

“Oh lovely. I love blue, too.”

“That’s important to finding someone compatible?” Mikaela asked skeptically.

Marla laughed. “No, now that would be silly, dear. No, I just asked because I enjoy quilting in my spare time, and I’ve decided to make a quilt for each of the kids as a wedding present. So yours shall be blue. And I’ll get started on that right away.” She leaned forward. “Have you picked a date for the wedding?”

Buy link https://amzn.com/B00S77IW9O  

Award-winning author Linda O’Connor started writing romantic comedies when she needed a creative outlet other than subtly rearranging the displays at a local home décor store. Her books have enjoyed bestseller status. When not writing, she’s a physician at an Urgent Care Clinic. She shares her medical knowledge in fast-paced, well-written, sexy romances – with an unexpected twist. Her favourite prescription to write? Laugh every day. Love every minute.

Website: https://www.lindaoconnor.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LindaOConnorAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaOConnor98

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A New Year

Every year people make new resolutions, to achieve more and more. Earn more, do more. Or do less – lose weight, declutter. Be better – meditate, be mindful, grow your own kale. To be something else than what has been their norm for the past year – their past life.

It will be great this year! We have vaccines and 2020 is over. And just like that, life is back to normal.

Except it won’t be.

Most countries face a long dark phase of more cases and overloaded hospitals, or street fighting, lack of faith in their government, and a deep distrust of their fellow humans. Society has been tested and often found wanting this year. The basics of taking care of each other, trust, democracy, and goodwill have been broken, and it will take a lifetime to restore these ideals. And it’s not like climate change went away, or pollution, or corruption. You may feel that you got nothing done.

But there were good things that came out of the darkness of 2020. Science, while maligned in some countries, persevered, and produced vaccines in record times. There has been growing awareness and help for domestic violence and mental health issues. Medical advances in Alzheimer’s. Workplaces discovered more flexibility in hours, allowing for less commuting. Breakthroughs in producing lab grown meat and schemes that reduce poverty and deforestation. A new species of whale was discovered. Healers, cleaners, and labourers were lauded as the foundations of how our society functions.

For all of us, it has been a year of heartache, of doomscrolling and fear. And a deep sense of loss of what was normal and not cherished as much as we should have.

So, I urge everyone to forget resolutions. There is no need to put more pressure on yourself, and perhaps now we are all more aware of the hidden struggles of others. Do things that create joy, that lift and heal your spirits. Then send that joy and kindness into the world as best you can in understanding and support.

The world may never return to normal, but we can create a new normal. A world that is more equal for humans, animals and the planet. Now that’s a resolution that is worth making.

About Cindy

Cindy Tomamichel is a multi genre author, with her SMP series Druid’s Portal a time travel action adventure romance set in Roman Britain. Short stories of fantasy, scifi and romance can be found on her website, where she blogs on aspects of world building. Her latest release -The Organized Author – provides much needed help for authors trying to navigate social media and build an author platform. Doing NaNo this year? Check out her free book NaNoWriMo Ready.

Contact Cindy on

Website: https://www.cindytomamichel.com/  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CindyTomamichelAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CindyTomamichel

Amazon: https://amazon.com/author/cindytomamichel

Newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/AdventureNews

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Love and Gratitude

I’ve come into this new year not so much with a fragile hope that 2021 will be better than 2020, but with the firm assurance that I have much to be grateful for. I can list them in pairs: Faith and Hope; health and fitness for Beloved and I, food and shelter, music and art… But very high on my list is work that I love. It structures my day, it gives me a vision of the future (and in my case a vision of the past where my characters live), and it gives me a way to celebrate the things I cherish—love, family, children, and above all romance.

This week I’m polishing my very rough draft for The Price of Glory. I take steamer to Egypt, sail the Nile to Nubia, vanquish bad guys, and even take part in a public health vaccination program (smallpox not covid) at the side of a handsome young hero and a slightly older, more worldly, and very capable woman. It is Indiana Jones meets Amelia Peabody in a stew all its own. How lucky is that. Yes. I’m grateful.

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Marisa’s Musings

Has Netflix resuscitated Historical Romance with a new series launched by Grey’s Anatomy creator, Shonda Rhimes?

Although she’s well known for the sophisticated medical drama with a soap opera bent, Shonda’s not the creator of the streaming service’s new series, Bridgerton. Labeled a Regency-era romance drama and based on a novel by Julia Quinn, the eight-episode season is the first series Shonda has produced as part of her Netflix deal.

Among those of us who read and write Historical Romance, the majority of reviews have been positive. My social media feed blew up on Christmas day, when the series was released, by the #bookstagrammers on Instagram who couldn’t binge the series fast enough.

On the professional side, Rotten Tomatoes gives the Bridgerton series a Certified Fresh score of 92%, a special distinction awarded only to the best-reviews for movies and TV shows. And another respected review site, IMDb, has given the series an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. 

Regardless of professional reviews and personal recommendations, Historical Romance writers should bask in the Regency storytelling spotlight after recent years of waiting in the wings for an encore.

Yet, any authority on publishing will tell you, authors shouldn’t try to chase after a market. It may take up to a year or more to get a book on the shelves, virtual or physical. However, for those of us with already published Historical Romance novels, I’ll speak for us as a group, we’ll answer a call from Netflix.

And what if you have a Historical Romance manuscript under construction right now? How can you make it salable to TV or Film producers? According to Forbes Magazine, we are in a “golden age of content” with streaming services like Netflix needing compelling stories and needing them now.

One author, Alys Murray, who recently wrote an article on “Writing a Hollywood-Ready Book” for Romance Writers Report, can speak from experience as a screenwriter too. One of her novels was made into a Lifetime Movie. Like Alys, I believe most authors would love to see their work on the big screen, not to mention benefit from the financial rewards.

If you are an RWA member and adaptation is one of your goals, I suggest you check out her article in the November edition where she gives detailed recommendations, and shares why content-hungry streamers and production companies are ready to option books, especially romance.

Marisa Dillon has a three-book historical romance series published by Soul Mate. She invites all readers, including film and television producers, to check out her books on Amazon.

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2020 in the Rearview Mirror and Counting Blessings:

2020 in the Rearview Mirror and Counting Blessings:

I’ve recently read MANY blog posts about this monumental year. All have remarked on the challenges the year has posed and to what degree we as the human race have coped with isolation, frustration, loss of loved ones and/or traditions, and personal illness. I firmly agree that no person will be sad to wave goodbye to 2020.  My husband and I have the champagne ready to toast its demise. 

As a teacher, my spring semester came to an end in March of 2020. Teachers and students went home on a Friday and were told not to return.  Teachers returned on Monday to collect any personal items.  Any learning was online and was minimal since most of our students did not have computer access on a daily basis.  (The district has since provided computers for each student).  This period marked the beginning of minimal contact with friends, colleagues, and family; however, it also opened many possibilities. When I left school that Monday, one of my fellow teachers said, “Well, you now have no excuse not to write that book.” 

My young colleague was right about writing.  I embraced my writing, and during the first bleak days of the pandemic, wrote endlessly. I was working on three manuscripts until my husband uttered these words: “Finish one.  You’re just dabbling here and there.” Wise words from my scientist hubby! I finished the third installment of my Jude Mooney saga as the school year resumed, and it has been submitted! Fingers crossed!

The year has also brought blessings and losses.  Several friends have had babies.  Several relatives are adding their own additions to the family. We lost some near and dear to us. We’ve known many who have suffered because of COVID or the challenges the illness has brought—hospitalization, loss of income, loss of loved ones. The year also brought attention to the divide in our country as COVID became a political football, and we as a people realized how little progress we’d made in the area of tolerance or race relations. Still, this year has provided hubby and me with much needed time together that we don’t always have when I’m working. We have taken walks together, lingered over coffee, and enjoyed leisurely meals.  My scientist hubby has provided me with valuable, unbiased information on the demon COVID and the vaccines we now so covet.  We’ll stand in line to receive that shot.  

In New Orleans, we love social gatherings. Hubby and I mourn the loss of our favorite festivals, but we will be in line for tickets when they resume.  We’ve mourned the distance we must maintain from family and friends, but we’ve found a way to maintain some social interaction through Zoom and our large front porch, which has allowed us to interact with friends at safe distances.  No one shakes hands at church during the sign of peace, but we do wave and smile through our masks. 

On New Year’s Eve, we will drink a toast to all those we lost, celebrate the future, and wave goodbye to 2020. 

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