Monthly Archives: November 2016

Wrapping it Up: Final Visit Rap

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The World’s Best Orthopedic Surgeon

The hardware from my knee
Was gonna have to come out
Cuz when I’d kneel on my knee
It’d made me want to shout
And scream out in pain
From which I try to refrain

I don’t like to complain
And be a pain in the drain
Because pain is not
The name of my game

So I told that to my doctor
Who is some kind of saint
Who always tells it like it is
And never like it ain’t

Watching Dr. Mazoue
Examining the X-Ray
He said I had a skinny knee
I’ll need a hardware-ectomy

So thank you, Dr. Mazoue
For driving in from far away
With scalpels
And pliers
To pull out nails and wires
Using pails and magnifiers
On sale from weird suppliers
And all things consistent
About which you’re insistent

I’ve got an awful lot of friends
Who’d pay a king’s ransom
For a doctor only half as good
And only half as handsome

I hope our paths will cross again
But I cannot say how, or why or when
I just hope to heck that it will not be
For a bone-ular glitch inside of me

But I digress…
My case I rest
I just gotta confess
That you are the best!

Note: The words “hardware-ectomy” and “bone-ular” are not real words. I assume full responsibility for any and all lexicographal repercussions resulting from their use.

Photo Credit: University Specialty Clinics, University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

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Filed under Humorous Perspective, Poems, Raps, Songs

Two Boats and a Helicopter

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Talk by Gloria Talcove-Woodward
Sunday, November 20, 2016
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia
Columbia, South Carolina

Cautionary Tale: Recitation of Original Poetry by John Starino, “Lois.”
(Included here, with permission, from John Starino)

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John Starino

“Lois”

She was a big woman
For her height, five, five

Her other sibling
A Brother

She was married
Two children
One grew marijuana
For daily use

The other
Invalid from the First
Gulf War by some
Undetermined disease

She rarely sang in choir
Enjoyed her gossip with
Soap Opera at The Beauty Parlor

Her husband died in
An auto accident
While driving to the plant
Early one morning

She smoked, she drank little
She was

Now Lois is on the floor
In a cob webbed corner of her
Mother-in-Law’s garage within
A brown wooden box
Which has a peaked
Detachable lid
Along with her Wedding Picture

Inside of
Two plastic bags
One Wal-Mart
One Bi-Lo

Opening Words [adapted from Deuteronomy 6:11]:

We build on foundations we did not lay
We warm ourselves by fires we did not light
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant
We drink from wells we did not dig
We profit from persons we did not know.

This is as it should be.
Together we are more than any one person could be.
Together we can build across the generations.
Together we can renew our hope and faith in the life that is yet to unfold.

Time for Children of All Ages: Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece
(Gloria Talcove-Woodward)

 

Community: Two Boats and a Helicopter

There’s a huge flood and a man is stranded on the roof of his house. A guy in a rowboat comes by and the guy shouts, “Jump in! I’ll save you!” The man on the roof shouts back, “I’m waiting for my God to save me.” Five minutes later, the water has risen to the man’s knees. A guy in a pontoon boat comes by and shouts, “Climb in the boat! I’ll save you!” And the man on the roof shouts back, “I’m waiting for my God to save me!” Next thing you know, there’s a helicopter, and the pilot throws out a rope ladder and shouts down using a bullhorn, “Climb up the ladder! I’ll save you!” The man on the roof shouts back, “I’m waiting for my God to save me.” Just before the man on the roof gets swept away by the flood waters, he shouts up to the heavens, “God, why have you forsaken me?” And the sky breaks open and God, who looks just like Bernie Sanders, shouts down, “I just sent you two boats and a damn helicopter! What more do you want?”

A religious person would interpret this story to mean that God’s hand is in everything. A Unitarian might say that we are God’s hands if She, in fact, exists, and a pragmatic agnostic (who looks just like Bernie Sanders) might say that if you had paid more attention to evacuation warnings, you might not need so damn many miracles.

My talk today is about community and the low-hanging fruit of happiness and how, in spite of the cards we have either chosen or have been dealt, a spiritual community can point us in the right direction towards having the best life we can possibly have.

And it’s also about how not to wind up in your mother-in-law’s garage like poor “Lois” in John Starino’s excellent poem. It’s a little late for a Spoiler Alert, but I don’t think Lois had a spiritual community.

As a Northern transplanted recovering Catholic, I moved to conservative little Columbia in June of 1987. My only acquaintances were my elderly neighbors with whom I talked a lot about tomatoes, tomato sandwiches, tomato plants, tomato cages, seven dust and tomato worms. I had no friends or relatives here, and other than my five-year old Chris, and the mailman, and an occasional magazine salesperson, I had no one to talk to during the day. I missed adult conversation so much that I believe I was the only person that the Jehova’s Witnesses had ever tried to get away from.

On September 27, 1987, I walked into this church for the first time–almost 30 years ago, great with child, and towing my little Chris by the hand. The first person to greet me was Mark T., who took his jacket off and put it on Chris because Chris was cold. When the service began, Mark lifted Chris up and put him up on the stage so he could light the chalice. I was so bowled over by that act of kindness and inclusion, that I immediately felt like I’d come home to a spiritual community I never knew I had. I knew I’d be here for a good long time. And ever since, I’ve called myself a Born Again Unitarian. Every time I see Mark, I always remember his kindness with a gratitude that I’m not sure he is aware of.

That same morning, during Joys and Concerns, Mitch Y. stood up and announced that he and Angie D. would be getting married right here, that very afternoon, and, to Angie’s complete surprise, announced with that great largesse that was so very Mitch that the whole church was invited. He didn’t have to invite ME twice! I had nowhere else to go!

I ran to Belk’s, bought a Chinese Ginger Jar that was on sale for $10, and Chris and I went back for their wedding, which was wonderful. I felt a part of someone’s family, and it didn’t matter one iota that it wasn’t mine. Angie tells me that the first time she remembers meeting me was on the reception line at her wedding. She had no idea who I was except I’m sure she noticed that I was about 10 months pregnant and that I was stuffing my face with wedding cake. The Chinese Ginger Jar went to Mitch after their divorce nine years later. The congregation continued to cherish Mitch and Angie, and their daughter, who grew up, right here in this church just like my kids. Sadly, Mitch, such a fun and funny guy, passed away in 2006. But every time I see Angie, I always think of her as that beautiful bride and the joy I took from being an almost wedding crasher on her big day. I am sure she has no idea how grateful I still am to her and to Mitch.

The same day that Angie and Mitch got married, Janet S., our wonderful piano player, who had just had a baby herself, also noticed that I was about ten months pregnant, and she gave me her telephone number and said I could drop Chris off at her house at any time of the day or night should I need to go the hospital. Nine days later, my parents were here, so I didn’t need to call on her, but what a relief it was to know that I had someone that I could call even in the middle of the night, if need be. Janet didn’t know me or Chris, but that didn’t stop her from reaching out to me. She probably had no idea of how much comfort I took in having someone I could rely on. Every time I see her, I remember with such gratitude that act of loving kindness.

And that was just the first day of my being here! And I’ve got thirty more years to tell you about, so kick off your shoes and get comfortable. Just kidding!

Why would anyone bother having a spiritual community? I mean, we have our little communities at work, we have our neighbors, we have our kids, other family members, we have sports teams, bowling leagues, book groups, our own circle of friends, you name it. And who has the time, anyway?

A spiritual community like ours remains a constant in our lives. We share a common history with a community that celebrates our joys and mourns our losses, that witnesses our milestones and our rites of passage, providing us with a sense of connection and continuity.

How important is that? Pretty important, considering that all the non-church groups I’ve just mentioned, come and go, but a spiritual community is always there. Your kids grow up and move away. You can move away from here, or you can get busy and forget we’re even here, but you can always come back. And the minute you walk in, you know you’re home again. There aren’t too many other places like that. And if you really want to feel like you’re home, walk into the kitchen, and open up the fridge. Just remember to close the door again after you forget why you opened it.

Everyone is here for variations on the same theme. We need different things at different stages of our lives. You will see everyone from newborn babies to senior citizens. We are all looking to find someone who can relate to who we are and where we are in our life’s journey. Some of us might be leading the way, and others of us might be trying to find our way. So many of us might just be looking to figure out which way is up so we don’t fall down.

In his new book, “Tribe,” Sebastian Junger points out that while 50% of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans apply for permanent PTSD benefits, only 10% of those veterans have seen or been engaged in active combat. How can this be? He suggests that their PTSD is due in large part to their separation from their military brothers and sisters, their “tribe,” for whom they were prepared to fight and die, regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, political philosophy or any other characteristic.

After their deployment ends, our veterans return to a society that has learned to live without them, and which seems to be at war with itself. Disoriented, marginalized and isolated, they cannot recreate what they have just lost: a purpose. In their platoons, they developed an intense loyalty towards each other and an unquestionable sense of belonging not common in our nuclear families and fragmented social systems. It is easy to forget that we were once a communal species, but the lack of our own tribe where each person is needed and valued does seem to explain our never-ending quest for meaning.

Tragedy and loss intrude their way into our lives when we least expect it. Death, divorce, addiction, betrayal, illness and disability, financial insecurity, and even elections, can all devastate us and make us wonder what, if anything, life is all about. Our survival depends upon our ability to get back on our feet again.

The right kind of community can help you to define a purpose to your life, just in case you’ve lost sight of what that purpose might happen to be. If you’re really busy and stressed out, the purpose of your life is just to get through each day. But during transitions to other stages of our lives, we have to reinvent ourselves. To some people, such an opportunity is a joy, but to others it is a profound and daunting challenge. Communities will have a common purpose, and whatever you contribute to that common purpose will be appreciated by others, and best of all, you’ll have the personal satisfaction of being useful. If you find yourself with some time on your hands, please don’t forget that we are here and we have lots of fun things we could use your help on. And the pleasure of your company would be just as good!

I will never forget the conversation I had many years ago with a man who was a custodian at my kids’ school. He told me that he had been a hopeless alcoholic, crushed by debt and illness, and tons of family problems. In desperation, he sought out the preacher from his local church. The preacher didn’t lecture him or quote the Bible to him. The only thing he said was start tithing, come to church two or three times a week, and you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise, and you (probably) won’t go to Hell when you die.

Now if you’re a Unitarian and you come to church more than once a week, you just might be the minister. Also, we generally don’t tithe, probably because we don’t believe in Hell, so therefore, 10% of your income (and I don’t know if that’s before or after taxes and deductions) would be a steep price to pay in order to avoid going somewhere you were never going to go to in the first place!

That’s probably why the only Unitarian miracle I’m aware of is meeting our pledge goal. Now if we did tithe, we could probably afford to hire Megachurch Preacher Joel Osteen as our minister which would probably increase our membership by at least a thousand-fold, but then just imagine how high our capital campaign goal would be! It makes my head spin just thinking about it. Come to think of it, our current capital campaign is a real bargain! It’s much more than half-off!

Getting back to that man? He told me that he had stopped drinking from one day to the next, and, miraculously, his health and family relations had improved tremendously, and his finances stabilized, allowing him and his family to live a more secure and peaceful life.

It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles, but the skeptic in me just couldn’t take that at face value. Then I figured it out: There’s a difference between value and cost. Just like that commercial: The cost of tithing: 10%, the value: Priceless.

And here’s the explanation in Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of which means that the man probably went to church where he was probably eating church food (which could be something like mystery meat on a hot dog bun), which would constitute a nutritional upgrade from bar fare (which could be something like four beers and a handful of Slim Jims). He probably got involved in some healthful activities like playing basketball with the church youth and quite possibly became a mentor to a few of them, and maybe he became the go-to guy for plumbing crises, and maybe he discovered that he was someone people could look up to, and maybe his kids were proud of him because they saw him as a leader that other people respected, because when I met him, he seemed like someone who had earned the love and respect of people he loved and respected himself.

The best way to surround yourself with a loving community is just to roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Whatever you do, you’ll probably have a pretty good time doing it. Very often, you find yourself just working on a committee with someone, or washing dishes in the kitchen after coffee hour, or painting the RE wing, or putting the chairs away in the social hall, or manning a table at our garage sale, or attending a pancake breakfast fundraiser for our RE program or carrying our rather unwieldy Standing on the Side of Love banner in the Pride Parade. (I mean, could that thing be any heavier? Even we Unitarians have our cross to bear) And something happens. You drop something (hopefully, it’s not the banner dropping on your foot!) or you say something, you laugh and you find yourself sharing a moment with someone that neither one of you will ever forget, and that becomes a little tiny chip in this huge mosaic of all the experiences that you have over the years in this church that will keep you coming back. You find yourself caring about other people’s lives, rejoicing with them over their triumphs and crying with them through their sorrows, helping lift a burden off their shoulders or letting them help you lift one off your own.

Community, especially a spiritual community, is an investment of our time, our care, our talents, our love, and our resources. If you take care of your investment, the dividends are surprisingly high.

A spiritual community contributes to our physical and mental health. Just being here calls us to our better selves, helps us to practice things like gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, mindfulness, respect, generosity and acceptance. It helps us to deal more honestly and effectively with disappointments and conflicts. If you have children, you know they watch you and they learn from you how to solve problems and conduct themselves during trying times.

It is here that our children learn to think critically and to make good decisions using our Seven Principals as an ethical guide. A community is where you learn to be kind, when to say yes, when to say no, and when to say nothing It shapes your relationships with people in your own life, the larger community of our neighborhoods, our institutions, our state and our nation. I like to think of our UU kids as good global citizens.

Not everyone needs or wants a church, and that’s fine, but for those of us who do, I sure am glad that this place exists. Community is a little bit like health insurance—it pays to have it before you realize how much you need it.

And because my favorite spiritual practice is laughter, I will close with one more joke:

God appears to a man one night in a vision. The man asks God to let him win the lottery. God agrees. When the man dies in a tragic flood, he goes to Heaven and meets God and complains that God broke his promise because he never won the lottery. God, who looks just like Bernie Sanders, says to him, “You never won the lottery because you never bought a damned ticket! What more do you want?” And the man says, “I don’t know! Two Boats and a Helicopter?”

Thanks for coming. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving, and please know how thankful I am for you, this wonderful congregation that I love so very much.

Benediction

Each of Us Ministers to a Weary World
By Darcy Roake

There is too much hardship in this world to not find joy,
every day
There is too much injustice in this world to not right the balance,
every day
There is too much pain in this world to not heal,
every day

Each of us ministers to a weary world.
Let us go forth now and do that which calls us to make this world
more loving, more compassionate and more filled with the grace of divine presence, every day.

*******************

Go in Peace.

bernie-and-me

Bernie and Me

 

Music Credit: Bruno Mars, “Count on Me,” www.youtube.com

Photo Credits: “John Starino,” by Kevin Oliver

“Two Boats and a Helicopter,” from The Office of CBP Air and Marine helicopter (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File )

“Bernie and Me,” by Sarah Damewood

“Literary Credit: Onion Season, Pt. 1, by John M. Starino, SilDag Press, 139 Dickert Drive, Lexington, SC 29073-9040, jmstar5@aol.com, Copyright © John M. Starino/SilDag Press, First Edition, 2012. “Lois,” p. 8.

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Coup de Grâce

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After spending a gorgeous star-studded night in an enchanted treehouse surrounded by giant redwoods, making love one last time, they awaken to stray beams of early morning sunlight that have managed to penetrate the dark coolness of the thick forest. And a wonderful last morning it is, indeed.

Downstairs, they hear pots and pans sliding onto and off of gas stove burners, serving spoons clinking into glass bowls, and an open refrigerator exhaling frosty air and its heavy door shutting on gummy gaskets; then they remembered that they forgot to cancel the breakfast that was included in the price of their last night’s stay. With or without breakfast though, this place was a real steal of a deal, thanks to their “Living Large” coupon that they’d bought on the internet.

The irresistible smell of $12-a-pound coffee brewing wafts up the spiral staircase, but they can’t have it. Too bad. Only now do they realize that their last cup of coffee was yesterday morning, served in a Styrofoam cup on the plane coming out here.

They’d had their last supper with their son and his wife somewhere between the airport and here. They had begrudgingly learned to love their son, always an odd and ungainly child with a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even though they’d named him a perfectly good and respectable name, he’d insisted on calling himself “Boom.” They even learned to love his wife, Jezza, if only because she loved him for the very reasons they didn’t. The young couple, presently in their mid-forties, were failed strawberry farmers, and now, courtesy of Mom and Pop, were sinking another small fortune into vermiculture, a fancy word for growing worms. In spite of sounding like a foolhardy investment, handing over all their worldly wealth to these two young people felt like the right thing to do. At least it helped to assuage the guilt they’d felt all these years about their lack of unconditional love.

Their house, their cars, all their belongings, every trace of who they were, all liquidated and transmogrified into columns of numbers on financial statements. All their final papers are in order, all signed, sealed and just about delivered. They both have their own manila envelope, all set and ready to go. The only other thing they both have in their matching backpacks is their made-to-order, custom-fitted, zip-up mushroom suits, guaranteed to decompose their wearers more efficiently than natural processes alone. They’re the latest craze in green funerals.

Showering without any of the luxury soaps and shampoos provided by the host of the treehouse was a little disappointing, but the hot water and the power shower head helped rinse away some of the malaise that naturally asserts itself during one’s last anything.

They both dressed in yesterday’s clothes and took one last, mournful look around their charming little treehouse, and negotiated their way down the spiral staircase into the kitchen. Two silver-haired women, speaking softly in Spanish, were plating cheese omelets and blueberry pancakes. There was an inviting table set just for them with a four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set, lace place mats and double hemstitched linen napkins. Having to refuse such a beautiful breakfast almost made them cry. The women were so disappointed that their loving efforts came to naught, but they quickly packed up the omelets and the pancakes in cardboard to-go boxes, pressing the boxes on the mildly resistant couple as they headed out the door.

Who would be the recipient of the breakfasts they did not know, but waste not, want not; and what a sin to waste the earth’s bounty—such an ungrateful gesture.

They walked along the forest trails they had already researched and planned for their final walk, only now they were carrying these cardboard boxes, an inconvenient reminder that they could not eat the food so tantalizingly tucked inside while their protesting stomachs grumbled with outrage, which did, in fact, diminish their enjoyment of the walk.

Through the trees, they became aware of a man walking parallel to them, dressed head-to-toe in Hunter’s Orange. The woman’s first thought was to give him the boxed breakfasts, but quickly decided against it since the man looked a little agitated—actually, demented. He was mumbling to himself, his stride springy and stringent, his right hand grasping a shotgun, his index finger looped through the trigger guard. He was wearing an orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap. He never looked at them, but seemed to accompany them on the whole walk, keeping a distance of a hundred feet or so. They could hear his ranting punctuated by obscenities, conversations, and laughter.

Needless to say, the couple’s last walk was not the idyllic commune with nature they had planned.

As they approached “Sunset Associates, LLC,” a building that was camouflaged as a giant redwood, the man seemed to disappear and, other than an uneasiness that seemed to settle into the very marrow of their bones, they thought no more about him.

The receptionist looked up at them. “George and Adelina Edgecraft?”

“Yes,” they answered in unison. They had yet another coupon, also from “Living Large,” that they’d bought on the internet for “Assisted…,” well, they didn’t like to say the word, but yes, this was the best end they could possibly come up with. It was such a good deal that they couldn’t really pass it up. Plus, the timing was right, or so it seemed. Taking advantage of a free screening opportunity at their local Mall, George, 70, had just been diagnosed after a urological exam with some suspicious pre-cancerous cells, and Adelina, 69, had just been diagnosed with what could be a degenerative neuro-muscular disease. At the moment, both were asymptomatic, but they were told that could change with time. Both were advised to opt for aggressive treatment to “get out ahead” of any possible progression of their respective maladies. They both agreed that they were not prepared to witness each other’s nor their own decline, much less wind up at the mercy of Boom and Jezza and their damned worms!

“And you have both fasted for at least 12 hours and neither one of you is wearing any perfumes or deodorants nor have you used any soaps or shampoos in the bath or shower that you took this morning?”

They are ushered into a waiting room. Within a minute, a nurse comes first for George.

“We thought we’d be doing this together!” protests Adelina.

“No, we don’t have a double option. It’s only one at a time,” explains the nurse.

Oh.

They kiss and hug and tell each other what a good life they’ve had and how they love each other, and off goes George.

Adelina, sitting by herself, all alone in the sterile waiting room, starts to hyperventilate and shake, hoping it’s just nerves and not the degenerative neuro-muscular disease kicking in big time.

Half an hour later, the same nurse returns.

“How did my husband do?” asks Adelina.

“Oh, he passed out so we’re trying to revive him. State law says that you can’t euthanize someone who is not conscious.”

Oh.

She follows the nurse down a narrow hallway into a small room with a hospital gurney, and is given an adult diaper and a paper gown.

“Here you go! Take off everything and put your shoes and clothes in this bag and put these on, and I’ll be back in a jiffy!”

Adelina peels off her clothes and quickly puts on the paper gown just in case the nurse comes back too soon. The adult diaper is surprisingly thin and fits very comfortably. Hmmm…they probably don’t look too bad under jeans. Maybe if you’re not too heavy to begin with…? And if you are already fat? Well, who the heck would notice anyway?

She puts her backpack, the plastic drawstring bag with her clothes and shoes, and the two breakfast boxes on the floor under the chair in the corner.

An alarm cuts through the air and a mechanical voice drones, “Armed Intruder, Armed Intruder! Lock all doors, shut off all lights and shelter in place.”

The nurse barges into the room, deadbolts the door, and shuts off the lights. Side by side, they crouch on the tile floor and huddle, shudder and hyperventilate together. Both the nurse and Adelina are wimpering in fear.

An orange Elmer Fudd hunting cap and a scowling face appear in the little window of the door, and both women, paralyzed with fear, shake soundlessly.

Adelina’s paper gown has already ripped in a few places but she’s grateful for the adult diaper. It’s bad enough that her feet are already numb and she’s covered in goosebumps, but at least she’s not sitting bare-assed on that cold, tile floor.

The Elmer Fudd gunman kicks the door but it doesn’t budge. With the butt of his rifle, he smashes the little window, and fires into the room several times, miraculously not hitting them. A string of expletives and some hysterical laughter ensue. Newly enraged, he fires blindly into the room just once more, and the bullet ricochets off several surfaces in the room before lodging itself directly into his forehead.

George stumbles out into the hallway dressed in his paper gown and his adult diaper and almost trips over the dead hunter. He alternately screams like a little girl and bellows like a jackass, and in the end, is grateful to have been wearing that adult diaper.

Back in their own clothes, George and Adelina say goodbye to the receptionist on their way of out “Sunset Associates, LLC.” She reminds them that their coupons will expire in three days and that they are non-refundable. They gladly acknowledge that the coupon will expire long before they will, and they are delighted not to have extracted the value due to them.

Back out in the pristine forest once again, George and Adelina take their mushroom suits out of their backpacks, and stuff them into a bear-proof recycling bin. At a picnic table along the path, they sit down and eat their beautiful luke-warm breakfast from the cardboard to-go boxes. Never before, have cold cheese omelets and cold blueberry pancakes tasted so good!

After forcing themselves to finish it all, they head back to the treehouse where they’d spent what they thought was their last night.

The two silver-haired women are still there, the smell of coffee still lazing in the warm air of the kitchen.

“Hi, it’s us again! Two questions: Do you still have that coffee we didn’t want, and can we get another night here?”

Sitting at their little table with the lace place mats, they drink a whole pot of coffee between the two of them from the four-piece Romantica Collection silver coffee set.

George looks at Adelina and they smile at each other with new eyes.

“What the hell were we thinking, George? I can’t believe that we almost just did what we almost just did.”

“I can’t either, but I’m so glad we didn’t do it. Thank God for that crazy guy who almost killed us!”

Adelina gazes thoughtfully into her third cup of steaming coffee. “I’ll bet Boom and Jezza wouldn’t mind having us around for a few months. Maybe we could help them with their vermiculture business.”

“Why not?” says George amiably. “At this point, we really don’t have any other place to go.”

“Well, then,” laughs Adelina, “looks like we’re going up to the country!”

“The best part is,” says George, “we have absolutely nothing to lose! I never knew that could feel so good!”

Illustration Credit: http://www.pinterest.com (Oregon Treehouse)

Music Credit: Canned Heat, “Going Up To the Country,” youtube.com

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