Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘in general’ Category

Sunday Musings: Do You Recognize the Person in the Mirror?

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Folks, it’s Sunday. That means it’s time for me to write something with a bit more depth, perhaps…or at least something more elliptical, as suits my mood.

Enjoy!


After my husband Michael died, for a few years I did not recognize myself in the mirror. That’s just a fact.

“But Barb,” you ask. “Why are you talking about this now?”

I wonder how many of us have had times where we didn’t recognize ourselves, as I can’t be the first (and probably won’t be the last, alas) to have had this phenomenon happen. And I wonder, too, if that fuels my need for stories. Because every story I’ve told has dealt with a realization, or a transformation, or sometimes both…and the person who starts the book has had to realize his or her inner truths by the end, or else.**

See, the thing about humans is, we often don’t confront problems until we absolutely have to. This is especially dicey when the problem is something you couldn’t have ever foreseen, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19), or the way-too-early death of your spouse. The latter hits you like a ton of bricks, and you literally aren’t exactly the same as you were before due to your grief and rage and hopelessness, though the essentials of you are still there and can be dug out again in time

But there’s the former group of people out there — I have occasionally been among them, too — where we know there are problems in our lives, but we don’t have a clue how to fix them. Maybe we’re trying to fix them. Maybe we aren’t. But we procrastinate, hoping that circumstances or perhaps a miracle from the Deity high above will bring clarity…and our problems don’t get solved.

Sometimes the consequences of refusing to solve problems — mostly because we don’t like the solutions we come up with — are worse than just dealing with the problem to begin with.

The easiest example I have of this phenomenon is with a non-working toaster. If you try to keep using that toaster, when you know it’s sparking from the elements being exposed (the wiring, perhaps, has gone bad), you’re going to blow up your house. It’s a lot easier to just go buy a new toaster than to keep using the old one, no matter how much you liked that old one because it always toasted the bread perfectly every time…at least, until the wires got messed up and started sparking energy off all over the place.

Of course, human relationships are much more difficult most of the time than this above problem. Still, as Mark Manson has put it — and many others before him — there’s something called a “sunk-cost fallacy.” The quickest way to explain this is, “I’ve been with my husband for seven years. Yeah, things are bad. But I love him, and I think he can change…”

(This example is drawn from my life. My first husband, later my first ex-husband, was a good man in many ways but utterly wrong for me. Just as I was utterly wrong for him. We eventually both figured that out and got out of the marriage, which was just as well. I found Michael later, and he was the right man for me. And my ex found the right person for him, so it all, eventually, worked out for the best.)

Now, I did go to counseling the whole time. I tried to learn more about myself, and why I had picked my ex in the first place. I also figured out, due to counseling, that while people can change, it’s up to them to do it. You can’t make them do it. You can’t even assist them in doing it. They will either do it, or don’t, on their own.

I’ve had friends married to alcoholics who’ve learned the same thing, mind. They know it’s not up to them to stop their spouse from drinking. They can’t. All they can do is control their own behavior.

So, what I learned there is, no matter what good points your spouse may have, it’s up to him to use them. Or not.

And sometimes, we love people who aren’t good for us. Or who once were, but stopped being so, and now have no intention whatsoever to grow with you in a long-term relationship or marriage, mostly because they can’t help being themselves.

The good news is, if you are in a situation where you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror because of your own choices, or because life hit you like a ton of bricks, you can feel better about yourself. Over time, if you keep working on yourself, and read books, and educate yourself, and learn more about who you are and what you truly want (rather than what you think you want), you should find people who will want to grow with you. And who will appreciate your uniqueness, just because they know they, themselves, are appreciated by you for their uniqueness in turn.

It does take a while. It’s not a quick fix by any means. But living your life, and continuing to be your best self, and remembering what it was about yourself that you liked before life hit you like a ton of bricks — or before you stayed in your marriage too long after it had clearly died (and everyone knew it but you) — that’s the best way to go about it.

If you can do that, you can find some inner peace. You will know you’ve done your best in whatever situation you find yourself. And you can pick up the pieces again, and start over (or at least afresh), because you have learned over time that you, too, matter.

Not just your significant other.

_________

**(Before you start on my gender-fluid heroine Elaine from CHANGING FACES, Elaine liked the pronoun “she” even when she was feeling male. There are people who like pronouns that don’t seemingly go with their outward selves, too, in this world, including a growing number who prefer “they” as they prefer not to be categorized for various reasons. Non-binary people, mostly, are in this category; gender-fluid people also can easily be in this category, though Elaine herself is not.)

Continuing on, Slowly, and Solely…

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Folks, I let you all know when I was attempting a long-term, long-distance relationship. Unfortunately, that relationship has now ended; my male friend and I decided we were better off as friends than prospective lovers, but I will admit I was the one to make the break.

Why?

What I found, under the pandemic, is that my mood is shorter and sharper. I am much more tired, too. And the usual things I would do to relax, such as playing in the Racine Concert Band, just haven’t been available due to the pandemic.

How does that relate to the relationship? Well, I think it made it harder for both of us. I was home more. I was stressed out more. And I couldn’t get to see him, where he was, due to Covid-19.

All of that frustration did not help, at all, on any level.

You see, sometimes with all the will in the world, two good people cannot make a go of it as a romantic pair.

That’s just the way it is. (But oh, how I hate to admit it.)

I will always care about my male friend, and I hope our friendship will survive. (He said he wishes the same thing, but you never know until you’re actually at this point after a relationship ends as to whether or not a friendship will happen or not.) I am glad that we got to find out what we could of each other, even if it didn’t turn out the way either of us planned.

I still believe in love, though. There are many kinds of it. Love of friends. Love of family. A higher love, an altruistic love, a spiritual love…as well as romantic love, with all of the wonders and terrors of that very thing.

So, when I said months ago that I was doing my best to get to know someone, I talked of love too soon, I think. Or maybe didn’t clarify it, even to myself. My expectations perhaps were too high. Or maybe I just wasn’t ready.

Anyway, what I had with my late husband Michael was every type of love there was. Agape. Philios/philia. Eros. All of it. That’s why I’ll honor that love, and my husband’s memory, forever.

And I have to believe that eventually I will find someone else who I can have at least some of all three things (agape, philios, eros). A good friendship, where we understand each other, and want to know more and more about each other for better understanding and more love…excellent communication…a positive feedback loop that bears fruit, perhaps, is the way to go.

Anyway, at this point all I can do is go on, slowly, still dealing with the bronchitis, and put my head up high. I know I tried my best; I know my friend and former love-interest also tried his.

Sometimes, no matter what you want, it just does not work.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 17, 2021 at 9:32 pm

Last Week’s Insurrection Attempt in Washington, DC, Continues to Trouble Me

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I’m still trying to comprehend the events of the last week-plus in Washington, DC. I never thought I’d see anything like that in the United States. 

I just do not understand how so many people could go inside the Capitol building, riot, deface and vandalize things, in addition to building nooses outside and apparently wanting to kill the VP, the Speaker of the House, and perhaps anyone else they could get their hands on.

How can otherwise reasonable people do such terrible things?

Because while there were many in that mob that were not reasonable, and had intended from the get-go to do awful things (thus the zip ties, the makeshift battering ram, the rappelling equipment, etc.), there were still quite a few people caught up in the mob that probably had never intended to do anything like that in their lives.

And I just don’t get it.

To those who honestly believe the 2020 election was stolen, I urge you to get the facts. Look at what the judges — many Republican appointees, including a good number of Trump appointees — have said about the various challenges. Look at the actual briefs of the lawsuits that were thrown out. And then ask yourselves, how could so many Republicans down-ticket get elected if there was supposedly so much fraud?

And by “down-ticket,” I mean state legislatures as well as the US Senate and House of Representatives.

In Wisconsin, it was a close, tough vote, but Joe Biden prevailed. How do I know it wasn’t rigged? Because every single one of the Republican legislators in my area — which is purple, meaning it can be D some years and R some years — were re-elected. Every single last one.

I don’t know about you, but if I were going to rig an election, I’d want to throw all of the opposing party out. Not just one guy. But every single last one of them.

And if you’re saying something like this: “Barb, they were smart about their theft! They wouldn’t try to take everyone out! You’re being foolish!”

Well, my reply is this. I believe that many of the US Senators running for re-election had tough races, and obviously the Democrats wanted to take some seats. It looked like there would be quite a few Republican US Senators getting turfed out, but instead, most of the Republicans running for re-election (even in those tough races like Maine or Kansas or Iowa, to name three places where the Democrats thought they had an excellent shot to pick up a Senate seat) won their seats back.

I can’t believe that at least a few of those seats wouldn’t have had different results if there truly was a theft of the election.

Nor can I believe that in Wisconsin, a place that elected a liberal judge to the state Supreme Court in 2019, would return all but two Republicans to the Assembly (lower house), and have more Republican state Senators than Democratic state Senators, if there truly was fraud and theft going on.

So, either the fraud and theft here was so deftly done that I — someone who worked on a state judicial recount years ago — can’t detect it, or there was no fraud and theft.

Which means this: You, the angry Trump-supporting Republicans, are in the same place I was in 2016. I was frustrated, hurt, upset, angry, and didn’t know how Donald Trump could win an election. And right now, you are frustrated, hurt, upset, angry, and don’t know how Joe Biden could win.

I can’t tell you what to do about this, but I will tell you what I did. I made sure to vote. And I worked on campaigns — at least a few, now and again — for candidates I believed in. I called my Senators and Representatives to let them know what I thought, and was polite throughout. And I did my best to educate myself, so I could make informed choices as best I could.

In addition, over time, I have peacefully protested. I have worked on a state recall for the sitting Wisconsin governor. And as previously stated, I have participated in a statewide judicial recount.

I did these things because I felt they were important.

And after things didn’t go my way, what did I do? I continued to educate myself, vote, work for candidates I believed in, etc.

I certainly didn’t commit acts of violence. That thought never entered my mind, because it’s utterly wrong.

But you get the point by now, so I’ll leave you with this: The best way to overcome any obstacle is to work hard, keep your eye on the prize, and accept setbacks graciously.

Anything else is useless, pointless, and unnecessary.


Written by Barb Caffrey

January 14, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Johnny Weir, Individuality, and You

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Recently, I’ve been watching the American version of “Dancing with the Stars.” I had stopped watching regularly a few years ago (though I would catch it if I happened to be near a TV and someone else was watching), mostly because all the storylines seemed the same.

But not this year.

Nope. This year had my favorite figure skater, Johnny Weir, partnered with a new pro, Britt Stewart (who’s Black, dignified, and quite talented). And the two of them danced like nobody’s business; they were a dynamic, engaging, and energetic pair that did more interesting things in ten weeks than I’d seen in the previous five or six years on the show.

Now, why do you think that was?

(I know I’ve been asking myself this question, anyway, ever since Johnny and his partner Britt were eliminated earlier this week.)

My view is this: Johnny Weir knows who he is, as an individual. And Britt obviously knows who she is, too. They both understood each other, down to the ground, and because of that, were able to work together and create some truly amazing dance routines. (Johnny and Britt’s tribute to Amy Winehouse, for example, was simply stunning. And that’s only one of the fine dances the two of them created together.)

“But Barb,” you say. “What’s this about being an individual, and how does that apply to me?”

It’s simple. The better you know yourself, the better work you can do. And Johnny and Britt showed that, over and over again, during this season on “Dancing with the Stars.”

You know, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, that I am a firm believer in being your authentic self. I think it wastes time and energy that most of us don’t have to keep up a front. I also think the better you know yourself, the easier it is to get things done.

If you use Johnny and Britt as examples — and I think you should — you can extrapolate a little. For example, the two of them, together, were able to bring a certain style and verve into the ballroom. Johnny is more of an extrovert when he performs, while Britt has a quiet dignity to her. The two, together, were more than the sum of their parts.

And it all started because Britt apparently decided, when meeting Johnny for the first time, to use that uniqueness of his — not to mention hers (though she probably takes that for granted, as she can’t see herself from the outside anymore than any of the rest of us) — to create movement and magic.

Granted, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Johnny’s been a figure skater since the age of twelve. He knows about movement. He studied some dance (though I think it was ballet) because that helped him express himself through movement on the ice.

And knowing about movement helped him a great deal, I think. It meant Britt did not have to teach him from Ground Zero.

However, it also may have hampered him a bit, because ballet — and the associated movements of that dance — are nothing like either ballroom dance or Latin dance. They’re not even that close to “freestyle” contemporary dance.

What that meant for Johnny was, he had to unlearn at the same time as he learned. And that’s tough to do.

How do I know this? Well, Johnny once said, about learning a new technique for one of his jumps, that he was “old.” At the age of twenty-five or twenty-six, he said this. (Chronologically, of course, that was just silly. But with the wear and tear of figure skating, I’m sure he did feel old.) And he admitted, at the time, it was not easy to unlearn the previous technique.

(I probably should say “jettison,” but learning is not like that. It stays with you. It can’t truly be jettisoned. You can only use it, or not, or get past it, or not. But I digress.)

So, Britt taught Johnny, as well as helped him correct various issues, and worked with him and his uniqueness from the get-go. (Maybe all of the pro dancers do this, but it seems to me as a longtime viewer of “Dancing with the Stars” that it was far more pronounced in Johnny’s case.)

Being an individual, see, has its charms as well as its quirks. You can do more, if you know exactly who you are. (Again, I think it has something to do with refusing to waste your energy on non-essentials.) Add in the fact that when you’re doing more, you are giving your all to it rather than holding some back to “save face.” And top it off with a good, healthy dose of self-skepticism, for that matter, as that will keep you from getting too arrogant to be borne. (That last has nothing to do with Johnny Weir or his partner, Britt, but it certainly should be factored in by the rest of us.)

Anyway, the points of this blog are simple:

  1. Be yourself. Be unique.
  2. Don’t put on fronts, as they waste your time and energy.

That’s the way to “win” at life, you know. Because that’s the way you will be remembered: as the unique, powerful individual you are, who touched many lives and did many things and knew many people and tried your level best.

Anything less than that just isn’t worth bothering about.

Sunday Musings: Self-improvement, One Day at a Time…

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Folks, I keep having one thought running through my head. And as it’s Sunday, it’s time to talk about it.

Too many of us coast through life. Maybe we take the easy way out too much. Maybe we don’t look hard at ourselves, and our motivations. And maybe–just maybe–we are the poorer for doing that.

(You know I think so, or I’d not be writing this blog. But I digress.)

We must learn how to work hard on ourselves, every day, and to become the best version of ourselves.

For example, if you are a great bricklayer, that means working hard every day to lay your bricks, maybe finding faster or easier ways to do it, or perhaps better materials with which to do it. The one thing you don’t do is to rest on your laurels, because once you say, “This is the best I can possibly be, and I can’t lay any bricks better than I’m already laying them,” that’s when your progress as a human being comes to a screeching halt.

I can hear some of you now, though, asking this question. “Barb, what the Hell are you talking about? I don’t lay bricks, so why should I care about the bricklayer?”

(It’s a metaphor. But again, I digress.)

See, the bricklayer in this example is doing their best to improve every day, and improving their art (of bricklaying, in this case) matters. It gives a shine to everything else they do all day. It gives them a sense of purpose, a sense of satisfaction, of a job well done. And all of that matters, because it all helps them to learn more, be more, and grow more as a human being.

But that’s not really what you asked, is it? What you asked was, “I’m not them, so why in the Hell should I care?” And to that, I have two reasons, one transactional–that is, do it because it will help you–and one that’s not.

The transactional reason is as follows: While you may not know the bricklayer, he may know you. And if you are rude or uncaring to him, or his family, or his friends, that will ultimately hurt your reputation and standing in the community.

But I prefer to use the non-transactional one, which goes like this: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (Jesus said that, and it’s the best reason to do things that I know.)

In short, we are all worthy of care. Because we are all doing our best to learn, grow, change, improve ourselves, and/or survive while doing all of the aforementioned every single blessed day.

As it’s Sunday, I would like to ask you all to do just one thing today. It’s a hard thing, sometimes. But it’s a needed thing, too.

Be kind to each other, even when you’d rather not.

What did you think of this blog? Tell me about it in the comments! (I like to know someone’s reading, as otherwise I feel like I’m shouting into the big, dark Void.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 8, 2020 at 3:42 am

Sunday Musings Regarding the United States, Division, and the Upcoming Election

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It’s been awhile since I last wrote one of these Sunday Musings posts, so I thought it was time for another. Enjoy!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the United States came to be so divided. (The idea that we’re supposed to be united despite our divisions and differences really seems to have gotten lost beside the wayside, lately.) And the only thing I can come up with is, some people — maybe the vast majority of people — want to believe in their own version of reality.

Now, you might be asking, “Barb, what the Hell are you on about this time?”

It’s simple, really. Most people, whether their politics are conservative or liberal, want to believe whatever it is that makes them feel the best about themselves and their circumstances. So whatever narrative they see has a great deal to do with their own lives, and nothing else need apply.

Should it be this way?

I’d like to say no. Because facts are what they are, and you can’t choose to only believe some facts rather than others. And optimally, everyone should do a good deal of research into political candidates — almost the same as if you’re vetting a personal friend for a job you’re not sure they’re up for, but want them to try for anyway.

The thing is, here in the United States, and perhaps around the world as well, there are many people working more than one job. Or they are working way more than forty hours at the one job they have, to support their families.

In other words, they are exhausted, and they don’t have time to do the research if they wanted to. So they pick whomever they think they can hate the least, and call it a day.

While I understand exhaustion quite well — having fibromyalgia as I do, that comes with the territory — I still wish people would challenge their own assumptions more often. Because that way, it’s easier to get out of ruts; in fact, if you do challenge your own assumptions regularly, you may never fall into a rut at all.

I also wish that we could somehow get back to where we were ten or fifteen years ago, where people didn’t choose their friends solely by whether or not they fit their political beliefs. There are so many things that unite us that it pains me to see unnecessary divisions making things worse.

It’s almost like people thought after 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, that everything would now be wonderful. (You may remember that I conscientiously objected at the time to that point of view.) And because it didn’t happen, they grew disenchanted with anyone who still wanted to see hope in any form.

Yet somehow, we went from the cult of personality that Barack Obama had about him to the cult of personality that Donald Trump now embodies. And we went from “Yes, we can!” to “Hell no, we can’t!”

What I would like to see, going forward, is that we all realize we have more in common with each other than not. We want safe streets. Good quality, affordable health care. Schools that do more than just warehouse kids, and actually teach them usable skills. And I’d like to see us have a dialogue that shows we’re paying attention to one another, rather than just dismissing everything the other side (or sometimes, sides) says out of hand because it doesn’t automatically fit our worldview.

That said, some things are flat-out wrong. Racism is one of them. Sexism is another. Unnecessary fear regarding the LGBTQ community is another.

But you know what is the most wrong of all? Stupidity.

So I urge you, today, to reach out to your friends, neighbors, and others. Try to see where you have things in common. Do good things for one another, if you can. Or at least listen and care if you can’t.

Regardless of who you vote for, you need to start looking to re-form a community around yourself. So we can all feel like we matter, and are important.

That’s what being a citizen of the greatest nation on Earth is supposed to be about, rather than “us vs. them.”

Hold on to Hope, Despite it All…

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It’s been hard for me lately to hold on to hope. I admit that freely.

Why? Well, the world situation — the coronavirus in particular — is depressing. And the situation in the United States is even worse; Covid-19 is running rampant in many states, including my own Wisconsin. Hospitals here are getting overrun in some areas, and because of that some very little-used rural hospitals are getting a plethora of patients sent out to them. Then there’s the presidential election, which bids fair to become “who can throw the most mud and make it stick,” the wretched economy, which hasn’t bounced back to pre-Covid levels, the huge amount of unemployed people, the foreclosures and evictions because people don’t have any money…the list goes on and on.

All of these things contribute to my feeling of overall wretchedness. Because I can’t do much about them.

The thing is, giving in to despair and hopelessness — even if they’re caused by damned good reasons — doesn’t get you anywhere.

So, how can you hold on to hope, when everything you see seems gray, depressing, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I can tell you a few things that have worked for me.

  1. Reading a book for no other reason than it makes you smile
  2. Watching a movie, because it takes your mind off your troubles
  3. Do something for someone else whenever possible, even if no one seems to appreciate it
  4. Take a long drive in the countryside, and sing along to your favorite songs at the top of your lungs
  5. Writing for the pleasure of it
  6. Playing or composing music
  7. Talking to a good friend (or two, or six)
  8. Petting your dog, cat, or anyone else’s friendly dog or cat whenever possible

All of these things remind me that life still has good things, and good people, in it; they remind me that I have more to do, and that I can maybe have a little fun while I do what is needful. And they remind me that hope, indeed, is still possible…and still worthy of pursuit, even during a time where all seems dark, grim, depressing, and awful.

What do you do to remind yourself that hope is still possible? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 1, 2020 at 6:14 am

What Kind of Person Do You Want to Be?

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Lately, I’ve been thinking of the above question: What kind of person do you want to be?

Do you want to be helpful? Blaze your own trail, while empathizing with those who can’t? Following your own dream in your own way, while helping others do the same? While knowing there are such things as love, freedom, spiritual sustenance, and the willingness to grow and deepen as a better person throughout?

Or do you want to be harmful? Someone who actively insults others. Someone who thinks everything and everyone is transactional, a business deal; someone who does not believe in love, or empathy, or happiness, or anything except himself/herself.

Bluntly, the choice is yours.

What kind of person do you want to be? And why?

Think about this, please. (And authors, not just for your characters’ motivation.) Because everything you are — everything — relies on your answer to this question.

And refusing to answer this question is, unfortunately, also a choice.

What do you think of this little bloglet? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

September 5, 2020 at 1:18 pm

Heat, Humidity, and Writing

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Folks, I’m still alive. Covid-19 hasn’t gotten me yet, and I hope it never will.

But the heat and humidity here in Southeastern Wisconsin have been brutal for about a week. We also haven’t had the world’s best air quality. And the two things have slowed me something fierce when it comes to writing, though I have managed a little progress here and there despite it all.

I’ve found that high heat, plus humidity, seems to be more difficult to manage than the bitter cold in the winter. I don’t know exactly why this is. It’s not that I enjoy cold so much; far from it. But at least when you go indoors, you can get a respite from the cold and a hot shower will do some major good.

I don’t have air conditioning, so dealing with the heat and humidity is definitely a challenge. It does sap my strength. I am an asthmatic, as I’ve said before, and that means I have to be hyper-vigilant…or at least make my best effort at being prudent. I get annoyed at having to be so “safe,” mind you, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Staying safe is essential, of course, no matter if it’s the heat, humidity, Covid-19, the bubonic plague, or trying to stay away from murder hornets. (I think we all should be able to get behind that. Who wants to get stung by a murder hornet? I don’t even think another murder hornet would, but that’s another story…ahem.)

Still, I’ll move forward, slowly, and keep a positive thought. It beats doing anything else by a mile. And that way, I may accomplish something.

What’s going on in your life? How are you handling the heat and humidity on your end, or if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, how are you handling the winter? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 18, 2020 at 11:20 pm

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Ten Years of Blogging Later…

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Folks, yesterday I passed my tenth anniversary of blogging.

Ten years. Ten.

Wow.

I keep thinking how quickly time passes by, yet how slowly things actually change. Especially as I’m interested in most of the same things I was ten years ago — perhaps that’s not entirely a surprise, considering how obstinate difficult determined I can be, and have always been.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ten years of blogging to date. And I do hope to have more to say, soon, about life, the universe, and everything…or at least my corner thereof.

What have you enjoyed most about my blogs? What would you like me to do next? What have you always wanted me to talk about but never thought I would? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 11, 2020 at 12:27 pm

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