Category Archives: Fiction

The Ticket (a sestina)

Last week for school, I wrote a paper on the postal service reform of 1840, and how the postal service in the Victorian Age parallels what the internet is for our age. I won’t bore you with that.

This week I wrote a bunch of stuff about Isabella Beeton, who wrote The Book of Household Management, the full title of which is The Book of Household Management: Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort. I don’t know about you, but I find stuff like this awesome. It reminds me of the Emily Post Etiquette books. I have read some of The Book of Household Management (you can get the Kindle version on Amazon for $2.99) and there is just something so fascinating about how specific the guidelines are for a woman’s behavior, duties, and role in society.

But, I actually have a whole second class too, which is a writing class, called Studies in Place & Setting. I’ve been worried that I’m neglecting this class a little bit, because the Victorian era class is taking up a lot more of my time (see above). But I think that’s the nature of the two different types of classes. (Also, I’m a little jealous of people who take classes without also having a full time job, and/or a 2 1/2 year old running around.)

Anyway, for Studies in Place & Setting, this week we were asked to write a creative piece about someone who loses something or someone, tangible or not. I decided to write a sestina, which is one of my favorite poetry forms. This is basically the first draft of it.

The Ticket 

Lydia hitches her bag up onto her shoulder
And makes a break for the turnstile. The train
Is coming, moving faster than seems safe,
As it hurtles into the station. She skids to a stop
On the platform, the train a wall of silvery gray
Blurring in front of her, like all the friends she has lost.

The doors slide open. The riders look lost,
Fitted in like puzzle pieces, shoulder to shoulder,
Just another Monday morning commute, slate gray
Like the sky outside the windows of the train.
Lydia gently shoves her way in, looking for her stop
On the map above her head. She feels safe

Among these people. Lydia thought safe
Was the last thing she’d feel, essentially lost
In a big city. Her parents had tried to put a stop
To her leaving home. Her mother had cried on her shoulder
When Lydia boarded that Amtrak train,
Leaving that little town of black and white and gray.

She maneuvers her hand into the cool gray
Interior of her purse, checking that her ticket is safe.
She knows she needs it to get off the train.
But her biggest fear: the ticket is lost!
Not in her purse, not in her pocket; her shoulder,
The one not stuck against the wall, starts trembling and won’t stop.

The people lurch as one as the train heaves into its stop.
Lydia feels like her skin is struck gray.
A man stumbles into her, briefly touches her shoulder
As passengers exit around her, their tickets clutched safe
In their fists. Lydia thinks for a second of the lost
Opportunity: the job interview waiting just off the train.

She is still standing there as the punctual train
Doors close, and the beast rumbles out of Lydia’s stop.
She thinks of all the things she’s willingly lost:
Her parents, most of her accent, the horizon-wide gray
Skies of home. That limitless sky made her feel safe.
Anyway, she was never sure about taking this job onto her shoulder.

There is always another train home, and a gray
Farmhouse at some nameless stop. She holds this safe
In her heart, the lost ticket suddenly a weight off her shoulder.

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Genesis (a short story)

In the beginning, it’s awkward, as so many things are. You don’t know where you’re allowed to sit, where you’re expected to sleep, what there is to eat. You don’t even know what to call him. He seems to assume you know his name, and it apparently doesn’t occur to him to ask yours. Not that you would even know the answer.

He shows you around, touching you carefully as though you’re new-blown glass. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with you. (But you don’t know what to do with yourself.) He tries to make small talk with you, but it’s one-sided. You want to ask him about everything around you, but you don’t want to pester him. When you do ask him a question, he gives a long-winded answer that leaves you feeling…annoyed. If he knows more than I do, it’s because he’s older and more experienced, you think, not because he’s smarter.

Although…maybe he is smarter. You want to ask him what he thinks.

You’re perching carefully on a large mossy rock, watching the fish jump in the river, when he calls to you, “Eve!” For a moment you don’t move, and then you realize he’s talking to you, using a name you haven’t heard him use for any of the plants or animals he’s shown you. He calls again—“Eve?”—and you stand up tentatively and take a step toward him.

“Can you bring me some figs?” he asks, from where he’s stretched out on the grass. You look around, until he points to the correct tree. You gather a handful and bring them to him, then watch him pop each one into his mouth. He makes an irritating “mm…ah!” sound after each one, but doesn’t offer you any.

“Thanks, Eve,” he says as an afterthought. You’re not sure what the appropriate response is, so you just smile. Later, you think maybe you should have thanked him back?

As the sun starts going down, and a barely perceptible coolness settles over the garden, an untoward rumbling sounds comes from your midsection, followed by a vaguely uncomfortable feeling of emptiness. Your male companion apparently notices the noise, and he asks, “Are you hungry?”

“Hungry…” you say. “Yes, I think so.”

He seems confused. “Well, then eat something.” He gestures around you. “Eat whatever you like.”

Suddenly the choice seems too large for you. “Oh, I don’t even know what…” He takes your hand and leads you from tree to bush to vine, giving you the names again that he gave you that morning. “Mandarins…grapes…olives…dates…figs…” he says, and you repeat each one, determined this time to remember. At each stop he also picks a fruit and puts it in your mouth, so you can savor each different taste, and use the flavor to help remember which is which. After one complete pass through the garden, you’ve tasted dozens of morsels from his fingers, and no longer feel hungry.

Soon, it’s full dark, the only light coming from a high clear full moon. The birds have completely stopped singing. You hear a hooting noise from somewhere in the wilds of the garden, outside of your clearing. Your mind feels less sharp than it had in the daylight, and you have an urge to lie down. You look around for an appropriate place, but it seems that your male companion has claimed the biggest, softest stretch of grass. He’s on it now, propped on his elbows, legs sprawled out. He’s watching you.

“You can come lie down with me, if you want,” he says. You don’t want to hesitate and hurt his feelings, so you step carefully over to him and stretch out, using your arm as a pillow. For a moment, all is quiet, except for the myriad night noises that reach you, most from sources you can’t yet name, although the sound of the river is familiar.

You can hear him breathing shallowly.

You are simultaneously exhausted and alert. Today seemed so long and so full, and all you want is to be momentarily unaware of it again. You have lived a lifetime in twelve hours. You feel as if you could close your eyes and drift away, tethered to this garden but in a different place somehow.

At the same time, you are highly aware of him so close to you. He doesn’t seem tired and ready to drift off. But what could he possibly want from you? In the dark?

He shifts position and then you feel his hand on your stomach. You hold your breath, but he leaves it there, as if it’s an accident. Then he says quietly, “Do you think that you’re—that I’m—that we’re both here for a reason?”

“I don’t know why I’m here,” you say.

“Well, you’re here for me,” he says. “You’re here because I was lonely.”

“But I don’t even know your name,” you admit.

“I’m Adam,” he says, surprised. “Didn’t anyone tell you? I’m Adam. You’re Eve.” A pause, and then his hand slides higher up your stomach, and your muscles tense. “We belong together.”

“What are you doing?” you ask. He’s quiet for a moment.

“I’m not sure,” he says. “I just wanted to touch you. I felt like I should touch you. So I did. Is that all right?”

“I suppose so,” you say automatically. Then, “Actually no, I’d rather you didn’t right now.” When he doesn’t respond, you add, “I mean, I just learned your name.”

“I understand,” he says, and his hand is gone, replaced by the cool feeling of nighttime on your skin. Your initial sense of relief is replaced by longing.

You don’t sleep much that night. In the moonlight you can see Adam’s profile, as he snores quietly next to you. You think about his words: You’re here for me. We belong together. And if you can’t figure out why else you’re here, isn’t that as good a reason as any? You think of the animals he showed you today—they all come in pairs. A goose and a gander, a doe and a buck, a lion and a lioness. An Adam and an Eve?

As the sky is lightening, you finally fall asleep. You sleep lightly, not really dreaming. When you feel Adam get up, you’re fully awake again, but with a newfound sense of peace.

When you get up, he’s sitting cross-legged near the river, absent-mindedly plucking a handful at a time and sprinkling it into the water. As you watch, two ducks float into view, followed by a trio of ducklings. You feel a pleasant tug inside you at the sight of the small family.

You walk to Adam’s side and sit down. He smiles at you and pulls some more grass. You slide your hand into his free hand, and lace your fingers through his, and without a moment’s hesitation he squeezes back. You’re still not sure what the future holds, but for now, you feel content. You lay your head on his shoulder and you both watch the ducks until they’re gone.

 

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tbt: Ashes North

My new term at school started this week, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to juggle two classes at once. Also, this week at work we revealed our upcoming season to the public, so there was a lot of planning to be done for that party and the (good) aftermath. The good news is, I think I got my feet back under me. The even better news is that the Fiction Writing class is exactly what I wanted: some readings, then write a short story. Critique others. Every week. I am so excited.

I have been focusing on the other class (Literary Theory), so I don’t have anything to show yet for Fiction. But I thought I would hearken back to my first Fiction class at UC Davis, which I believe was 2005. I don’t remember what the prompt for this was. But it’s clearly loosely based on Lakeport (which, for the record, I adore – and which, in the last 10 years, finally got a Starbucks).

==

Ashes North

There is a magical thing happening to the town of Ashes South, Minnesota. Children and adults are gathered in the streets, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bulldozer that will destroy the building that was their church in the seventies and early eighties, to raze the land and build afresh on top of it. Teenagers pretend not to care but in their diaries and when they’re drunk they confess to each other how excited they are about the changes that are coming about in Ashes South. There is little more to talk about between classes at the local high school, and the students – 207 in all – shiver in the cold February air, rubbing their arms through their jackets and talking about how the town will change. Daydreaming about the exciting lives that will soon be theirs, they pass around stolen cigarettes behind the weight room during the lunch period, then munch tic tacs on their walk back to the classrooms when the bell rings. But the entire time, they are talking about the news they’ve been seeing in the local paper, watching on the local news, discussing in their economics/government class, and hearing about from their parents over dinner.

South Ashes is the last town in Minnesota to get a stoplight. It is the last town without a public pool: the closest is 30 miles away. There are three families in the town with pools and they have pretty much accepted coming home in the afternoons to pools full of high schoolers, looking sheepish but unapologetic. In South Ashes, everything is closed by 6 pm, sometimes 5 pm on Sundays, except for the Safeway which was built 2 years ago: it’s open until 11 pm on the weekends. If teenagers are hanging out at midnight and get hungry, they’d better have stored up supplies earlier in the day, or they’ll be waiting until the morning. The Ashes South High School has a drama department, but it’s one 45-minute class per day, and their productions are sadly low-budget. Sometimes a parent volunteers to direct the spring musical, but usually it’s directed by the drama teacher, who is also the freshman English teacher, and also coaches boys’ basketball in the right season.

The people of Ashes South feel unexcited. They feel thin, and uninteresting. They flip through travel magazines but don’t go on vacations because they don’t want to embarrass themselves by accidentally exclaiming, “Look at how tall that building is!” or something similar. The tallest building in Ashes South is the courthouse, at three stories, and truth be told, the adults of Ashes South are a little afraid of the big world.

Today something is changing. The mayor of Ashes South is making an announcement about which everyone has already heard: rumors travel fast when there are less than 4000 people in a town. Still, everyone is excited about it becoming official. They gather in the town square, in front of the old library, down by the lake, and they murmur to each other while they are waiting for the mayor to make his announcement. Finally he arrives, and the cheer that goes up surprises even the people of Ashes South: they weren’t quite aware that they were capable of making such a noise.

The mayor is a man who never grins. But he is grinning. He knows the good news he has to impart on the people of his town, and he and his advisors have been working all month to perfect the plans. When he announces the arrival of a Starbucks in town, the citizens of Ashes South cheer: they have seen such things on television, they have read about them in books from the local library. Some of them have traveled, and they have tasted the wonders of the Starbucks. They have told others about this good thing. The mayor has just announced that one will be opening in Ashes South, and he steps that up by telling them the hours. “It will be open until…” He pauses for dramatic effect, even though it’s unnecessary. The people are absolutely hanging on his words; even the teenagers have forgotten to pretend that they are not interested. “…ten o’clock on the weeknights, and eleven o’clock on the weekends!”

The citizens are stunned. In the silence that follows, the mayor announces his slightly less unsettling news. “Because of this new addition to our economy, and the direction in which our city will now continue, we will no longer be known as Ashes South, Minnesota,” he says. “We are now the people of Ashes North, Minnesota!”

A cheer goes up, the mayor and the man who will become the new manager of the Starbucks drink a toast to the future success of the city, and the people of Ashes North leave the town square, talking about how their city will grow: how there will be freeways running everywhere and how even at 3 am, it will be so bright from lights that it will seem like daytime. There is excitement in their footsteps.

Ashes North closes down for the night, at 6 pm just like scheduled, and people continue to discuss the Starbucks over dinner, bowls of ice cream, and the nightly news. The old church is razed to the ground by the end of the week and the field sits, looking empty and ready for change.

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Throwback Thursday: Short Fiction

March 2003

Andrew’s father was learning to be a squirrel.

“What is your dad doing?” the other kids would ask.

“He’s practicing—” was Andrew’s reply.

Andrew was almost eight years old.  He lived in a yellow two-story house.  The staircase had a banister he could slide down, when his mom wasn’t watching.  The upstairs bathtub had been leaking for almost a year, so Andrew showered downstairs.  They had a cat, Adelaide, who brought the family gifts of small rodents from the acres around the house.  The backyard was big and sloping, enclosed by a fence that came up to Andrew’s chest.  Flakes of blue paint were chipping off the fence, and you could see Andrew’s footholds that he used to vault over it.

“Andrew, use the gate!” his mother would cry from the kitchen bay window where she sat to do crossword puzzles.  Andrew’s hands would grasp the top of the fence, and in two steps he’d be over and running down the slightly sloping land, into the trees that grew on the acres behind his house and yard.

This is where he first saw his father talking with the squirrels.

 

Andrew timed his breathing with his footsteps, in, out, left, right, in, out, left, right.  Leaves crunched under his feet like the screams of tiny elves.  He grabbed hold of a branch to slow himself, and swung his body around, feeling the sharp bite of the bark in his palm, smelling the moss and the fungus that lived in the trees.  His breathing slowed and he ran his hand down the tree before walking on.

He heard a voice to his left, and he walked toward it as quietly as possible—a difficult feat over dry late-September oak leaves.

It was his father, on the ground on hands and knees.  There were leaves in his brown-gray hair and a little twig on his shirt sleeve.  He was peering up intently at an oak tree, and didn’t see Andrew approach.

“What?”  His father cocked his head toward the tree.  There was a squirrel, bushy tail spread out behind him, clinging to the bark on the tree.  “Ah, I see.”  Andrew’s father rose to a crouching position, and Andrew could see he held something in his left hand.  His father raised it to his mouth, and holding it in both hands, began to nibble at it–it’s a walnut, Andrew realized—as he would at a piece of pound cake, or a chunk of smoked Gouda cheese.

Andrew watched, fascinated, as his father finished the nut and wiped his lips with his thumb.  He then moved, still in a crouch, toward the tree.  The squirrel, who had watched Andrew’s father the whole time, suddenly looked at Andrew.  His father turned too, just as suddenly, and almost fell over when he saw his son standing there.

“Andrew!  What are you doing?  Don’t you have chores to do?”  He had stood and was brushing off the jeans he wore on weekends, and shaking leaves out of his hair.

“Finished ‘em.  What are you doing, Dad?” Andrew asked.  He pointed to his father’s sleeve, and his father brushed the tiny twig away.

“Oh, just chatting with the squirrels.  They’re great company.  You can learn a lot,” his father said cheerfully.  “You ought to try it some time.”  He patted Andrew’s head and hugged his shoulders.  “What do you say we get some lunch?”

“I already ate,” Andrew said.  The squirrel had run up the tree into the high branches, and he scanned for it, but it had blended in and disappeared.

“Oh, did you?  Well, I’m going to go get a sandwich.  Are you going to stay down here awhile?”

“Yeah.”  It was the perfect time of day to play in the woods.  The sun was beginning to fall, and it was slitting through the trees in places, creating glitter out of the dust in the air.  There were places Andrew could see the actual shafts of light, and he liked to stand still and watch them shift and then disintegrate as the sun moved out of place.  He liked the way tree trunks went fire orange right before the sun finally set.  The woods could never be the same because leaves fell and trees grew and squirrels ran madly like small senile old ladies and the sun never stopped crawling across the sky.

“Well, you know to be back in the yard by dark—”

“Yup,” Andrew said.

“I’ll see you later then.  Remember, the squirrels are very interesting.  They can teach you anything.”  His father winked solemnly.  “Just listen to them.  Bye, Andrew!” He began to make his way back up the hill.

“Bye, Dad!” Andrew called, then turned and surveyed the trees around him.

Read the full story

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10 Books That Are Important To Me

This thing was going around on Facebook, and One Classy Dame tagged me to do it, but I felt like it deserved slightly more space and thought than just a Facebook status or note.

Then I forgot about it for a month.

But I remembered. And so I thought I would share with you 10 books that have been important in my life.

Dollanganger01_FlowersInTheAttic1. Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. I found a copy of this book in my grandma’s house when I was about 9 years old, and it set me on a course of trashy romance novels, from which I’ve never fully recovered. I’m sure I would have turned out to be an entirely different person, had I not discovered these types of books. I certainly wouldn’t have been the sixth-grader who took them to school so my friends could also read the trashy parts. (Yikes.)

2. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery / Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Two wonderful books, particularly for young girls, written by excellent female writers. I was deep in my VC Andrews phase when my parents got me a copy of each of these books for Christmas, and I remember being vaguely disappointed. (I’m really sorry, Mom and Dad!) But then I read the books, and I liked them. I reread both of these books in 2013 and they’re even better than I remembered.

3. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. The first time I’ve ever liked a book and a movie adaptation, as separate things. It happens rarely…but it happens.

4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Okay, this is kind of a long story but bear with me. When I was younger, we made a lot of movies. Not exactly home movies, because it wasn’t stuff like birthday parties and Christmas morning. We would make movies for class projects or just for fun. And I remember making some kind of movie, where I – as a middle schooler – was reading The Grapes of Wrath to my little brother, who was at that point maybe…10 years old? I have no idea what this was for. And we kept cutting away to show the clock ticking forward, and I’d be further in the book, and my brother would be more and more bored. And finally by the time I read the last lines, I think he was gone maybe? Or just asleep? I don’t remember. Anyway, at the time of making that movie, I tried to read The Grapes of Wrath, and I was SO BORED. Then, in my junior year of high school, we read it in my English class…and I loved it. I couldn’t understand why, just a few short years before, I hadn’t gotten into it. So, to me, this book is a solid representation of growing up and maturing.

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s held a spot on my favorite books list for the last, like, 15 years. Barbara Kingsolver offered me an eloquent way to express the feelings I was having about faith in high school. I printed out a quote from the book and had it stapled to my wall along with everything else in the world that I thought defined me. (The “it” in the first line is the Bible, by the way.)

photo (7)Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to not print in an artsy font.

6. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. My first exposure to nonfiction humor. Before that, I assumed “nonfiction” meant “history book” or “book on how to refinish a dresser.” David Sedaris, a gem in and of himself, opened up an entirely new world of reading to me.

7. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The first time I ever cried while reading. You know what I’m talking about.

8. You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen. I don’t know anyone else who’s read this book, and I don’t remember how I found it, but I’m obsessed with it. The writing is incredible, it’s gorgeous to read, you just know she labored over crafting every sentence. Plus, the plot is enthralling. (I actually just discovered there’s a movie coming out this year, with Emmy Rossum and Hilary Swank, and yes I’ll totally watch it.)

9. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth MD. I read a bunch of parenting books when I was pregnant, to prepare myself, and then I read a bunch of books on dealing with an infant, when I had an infant. This was the first book that I got partway into…and just had to toss out the window. There was so much BS in it, and I figured I had two choices: I could either throw it all away, or I could go crazy trying to follow all these rules to have the perfect child. This book represents my revelation that you read some books, you talk to some people, you do what works for you. And everything will be all right.

10. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I know…it’s cheating. But these books (all seven of them) feel like family to me. Like, I know there are some minor plot holes. I know that some people have complaints about them. I know they’re totally overexposed. And I DON’T CARE. To me, they are perfect. I have all these memories: of reading The Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time and realizing this was something great; of sitting, waiting for the mail when the fifth book was coming out, and reading it all in a day; of Drew declaring his intention to read them all out loud to me once I was pregnant. (For the record, we are on the seventh book – it’s slower going now, but we’re still making progress.) These books are ingrained in my adolescent and adult life…and I’m proud of that.

HP collectionA set of hardcover for posterity; a set of paperback for actual reading; and some spares.

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Why I quit nanowrimo 2013

Okay. So, I realize that technically there are still 4 more days in November; and that if you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it; and it’s not over until the fat lady sings, etc etc. But here’s the thing. I have some really good reasons for why I’ve decided to quit Nanowrimo this year.

1. Ultimately this is about fun. So when I’m having an adult temper tantrum because I “have” to write, then the purpose has been defeated. At least for me.

2. I guard my sleep jealously these days (since it’s still interrupted multiple times a night, and it’s always over by 7am at the latest). I’m not about to stay up until 2am writing, like I used to.

3. I thought I liked my story, until I got to a point that I was like, what the heck is this about. (Yes, I know that’s kind of the point of this whole thing.) But then I abandoned it midstream and switched to this YA novel idea. And it was downhill from there.

4. I also joined a dietbet this month, and I won that, so you know, you win some, you lose some.

5. When I started this, I was shooting for 25,000 words (the “real” goal is 50,000). I figured that 25,000 would still be impressive, especially with the other things I’ve had going on this month. And I made it to about 32,000 words. So I think that’s something to be proud of.

So…that’s that. Sorry, I hate when people just whine about how busy they are. But I’m not going to spend the next four days (and over Thanksgiving, even!) feeling guilty and stressed about this. There’s too much other stuff to pay attention to. Sorry, unfinished weird novel. I’ll read you over in a few months and see what’s salvageable. RIP.

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ISON as we know it

The other day, my dad asked me whether I’d heard about this comet. I had, in fact, just noticed the super bright…star? Venus? incredibly slow-moving plane? in the sky that night.

My dad was not super clear on the specifics of the comet, so I had to do a bit of googling. And here’s what I’ve concluded:

1. The comet’s name is ISON.

2. In the next month, it will either a) fly around the sun and away again; b) melt to oblivion when it gets too close to the sun; or c) crash into the sun.

3. I probably don’t have to be afraid of it.

4. But I still wish people wouldn’t say things like, “There is absolutely, positively, 100% no way that ISON will have any effect on earth.” That just seems like asking for trouble.

Because here’s the thing. Comets remind me of a book called Life As We Knew It, written by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It’s a YA novel, so naturally it’s the first of a trilogy. A trilogy about a regular, everyday comet that crashed into the moon, and surprisingly, knocks the moon closer to the earth, which interferes with the tides, volcanoes, etc etc etc. I had such anxiety while I was reading this series, which is all told in diary entries. From the characters realizing something is wrong, and rushing to the grocery store to stock up on canned and nonperishable food, to volcanoes covering the earth in a layer of ash so no food can grow, to a terrible, terrible scene in an elevator…this series gave me super bad dreams. I still think about the story all the time (obviously).

I so wish we had a pantry that I could pack with bottled water and canned goods. I’m sure this is nothing. But still.

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