Visiting the lullaby

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Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines.
Ding ding dong. Ding ding dong.

Breath rising and falling. Blades of the fan slowly journeying round and round in search of a destination. Eyes and ears wide open ready for the next repetition. Lulled and soothed by the familiar words, the same inflections. Comforted with the expectation that the bells will ring and all will be fine. Frere Jacques almost missed the moment of his commitment but the bells still rang. And rang. And rang. Swaying to the reliable sound of the bells felt delicious. Full body bell ringing. Familiar sounds like arms wrapped around sadness, loneliness and bewilderment. Frere Jacques to the rescue!


I’m new to racquetball. The first time I ever played was 6 weeks ago. But I love it. Today while I was playing I was totally in the novice racquetball zone.

Life lessons were streaming through my mind as I hit the ball against those lovely blank walls. You can read these tidbits as if they only apply to racquetball if you’d like, but in my mind they were synonymous with major life lessons.

1. You don’t have to know all the rules to get the goodies from playing.

2. If you hit the ball really hard, it might feel fantastic but it flies back at you really hard and this makes the next shot nearly impossible to make.

3. It is better to play by yourself at least until you feel confident that you can have a certain amount of control of your hits. Then, only play with someone else if you feel like it.

4. Sometimes it’s good to miss because then you can get a minute to breathe before it’s time to hit the next ball coming at you!

5. If you hit the ball too high, it bounces back way too high to hit.

6. If the ball comes back too low on the floor, it’s best to just pick it up and start again.

7. If you keep playing, you’ll get better and better and better.

8. You don’t have to compete to have fun.

9. If you practice focusing on what you’re doing, you’ll hit better and you’ll hone your concentration skills at the same time.

10. If you hit the ball with medium force, it’s easier to return and easier to control.

11. Sometimes it feels GREAT to just smash the ball has hard as you can and it doesn’t really matter what happens next.

12. Just because you can hit a blue ball against a blank wall over and over and over is a good enough reason to do it.

13. You don’t have to chase the balls that you’re pretty sure you’re going to miss because after they hit on the back wall, they usually eventually bounce near you.


This morning I decided that I wanted to start and end my day with a statement of intention. I wanted to take one of my specific goals and incorporate something into my day to increase my awareness and focus on that goal. As do most people, I have several goals. After some reflection I chose the statement, “My gentleness rests on my strength.”

For the past few years I’ve been working diligently on my physical strength. At the same time, I’ve devoted more and more time to developing myself spiritually. I want to put some awareness to integrating those efforts.

As I have enjoyed watching my body transform into that of an athlete, it has become more and more clear that the stronger I feel in one area the more my confidence and strength grows in other areas.

This awareness causes me to reflect on a eureka moment from decades ago. I used to love fire walking. A group would get together monthly to enjoy some singing and other fun bonding activities. The evening would start with the building of a bonfire. Towards the end of the evening there were embers left in the fire pit. These were raked out so they were spread evenly on the ground. Then one by one people would walk or run barefoot through the embers. No, no one ever got burnt. Honestly, there’s no magic to fire walking. It’s just physics. It’s possible to walk on hot embers and it really doesn’t hurt. It’s scary the first time but soon becomes exhilarating. I have very fond memories of running again and again through the coals. We’d end the evening in a circle listening to each other share feelings about the experience. Over and over people said, “If I can walk on fire, I can do anything.” EUREKA! That was one of the special experiences that taught me that I can accomplish difficult things. I can walk on fire. I can be a very physically strong 65 year old. I can feel confident and comfortable working with incarcerated people. I can live through extreme emotional trauma and still really like who I am. I can travel to a distant, unknown culture and create a successful business with the people there. I can create a holistic healing business and help people find their way to wellness. I’ve done those things because I chose to tap into my strength.

Now I know that I can apply my strength to my spiritual goals. I want to more consistently bring and spread love and kindness in my day to day life through gentleness. I want to be able to stay calm and grounded when around people whose values clash with my own. I want to bring comfort to ease human suffering. I want to have compassion for people who suffer. If I can walk on fire, I can do these things.

Starting today I will begin and end every day with these words: MY GENTLENESS RESTS ON MY STRENGTH.

Since this song set the tone for the fire walking event and because they are so meaningful to me, I want to share the lyrics to below.

How could anyone ever tell you

You were anything less than beautiful

How could anyone ever tell you

You were less than whole?

How could anyone fail to notice

That your loving is a miracle

How deeply you’re connected to my soul.



fitness beyond expectations

Last year we started a fitness support group at our church. Many people welcomed the idea and talked about their desire to become more fit. Still, many people found it difficult to maintain the motivation to participate regularly. That’s not a new challenge for a fitness group and we wanted to see if we could find solutions that would be helpful. Since being connected to our church community, I thought that it might helpful if people could see the connection between fitness and their spiritual goals.  But, honestly, the words to explain that connection didn’t come to me right away.

Since then my broader study of yoga has helped. Previously I knew that yoga was a specific spiritual practice in itself. Now, it’s a little clearer to me that any fitness program is or can become a spiritual practice.

The key to this understanding came from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s book

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I wonder what moves people across the line from concerned to committed, from talk to action, from individual expression to organized and collective action. People can do great things when they are committed to positive action. But what is positive action?

Often it seems there is a battle between cynicism and idealism. All breakthroughs, from inventions to social leaps forward, begin with the assumption that change is possible. If cynicism wins in that battle between cynicism and idealism, creative thinking, the belief in the possibility of change and the desire to act for improvements is destroyed. So, it is important to reject cynicism and to choose to embrace hopefulness and idealism.

What does idealism mean? It means to believe that it is possible to live by a set of specific values and ideals. Idealism does not mean naiveté or even simple optimism. It is having your life’s decisions driven by your ideals. Bull-dog grip idealism means refusing to give up those values, goals and dreams. It is to persevere in spite of the struggles, the challenges and the unrelenting chanting of the cynics.

Gandhi’s teachings encourage us to become the change we want to see.

At Justice Works!, the criminal justice reform non-profit I lead for twelve years, we spoke often of our founding principles and our values. Our work was to replace the societal myths and societal secrets with solutions based on the same values that we espoused and worked so diligently to live by; safety, justice, empowerment, accountability, and collaboration. Our message consistently repeated – sometimes movingly, often quietly, always insistently – “Things aren’t what they could be, things aren’t what they should be, we can do better, and we must try.”

This bulldog drive for idealism works. In 1989, there were 69 democracies in the world, today there are 167. Rugged idealists from Lech Walesa, to Vaclev Havel, to Corazon Aquino, to millions of everyday people who took to the streets are the behind this march to democracy. The Berlin Wall came down without a single shot being fired. The Soviet Union disintegrated, and Eastern Europe was liberated. Nelson Mandela went from prisoner to president in a remarkably peaceful revolution. Peace came to Northern Ireland in a Good Friday agreement. For the first time in human history, a majority of people on our planet live under some form of democracy.

In the past 20 years there has been an explosion of growth in civil society. In the U.S., we have gone from 464,000 non-profits in 1989 to 1.1 million in 2002. Worldwide, the number of civil society organizations has grown by at least 43% over the past ten years.

Still challenges continue. We’ve witnessed the terrible day of September 11, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq war, genocide in the Sudan, AIDS, terrorism, persistent global poverty, the ongoing struggle for peace in the Middle East, and more.

This is the time for action! But, how do we move from concerned to commitment and from talk to action? How do we strengthen idealism and discourage cynicism?

Idealism inspires action and change. Cynicism leads to apathy and fear. Idealists act. Cynics re-act. Idealists create. Cynics tear down. Idealists say, “Let’s go! How can I help? I have an idea.” Cynics respond: “It’ll never work. Why bother?”

When Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, she was practicing bull dog idealism. When the abolitionists insisted that slavery was morally wrong and had to end, they were practicing bull dog idealism. When the Suffragists fought for women to be treated as full citizens and equals by having the right to vote, they were practicing bull dog idealism. When Nelson Mandela repeatedly refused early release during 27 and half years of prison, he was practicing bull dog idealism. When students sat in at lunch counters, boarded buses for freedom rides, launched the anti-Vietnam war movement, marched in Tiananmen Square, and rose up in Soweto in 1976, they were all practicing bull dog idealism.

When we live our everyday lives according to our values and when we participate in social justice actions. We are practicing bull dog idealism.

And I hope that many will step it up and practice even more. Why? It’s because idealism seems to be in retreat here in America. We may be the richest country in the history of the world, but the census tells us more Americans are living in poverty – thirty seven million with more than 13 million of them, our children, living in poverty. 3.5 million people, with well over one million of them children, will be homeless in a given year in America. Virtually every day the paper is filled with new stories of senseless acts of violence. It has to stop. Around the world, the situation is much worse. 842 million people across the world are hungry, and six million children die every year as a result of hunger. About 1 billion people – one fifth of the world’s population – currently live on less than $1 per day. These numbers are not just statistics. Every single one of them represents a human being, a fellow citizen of our planet, who is struggling. They are people who need our help. I am hoping that we can find new and better ways to build prosperity, opportunity, and most of all liberty and justice for all. The solution is not a political ideology; the solution is us, as many of us as possible. Ideally we can encourage many of our citizens and the companies we engage with to join us in service. It is anyone who steps forward to be a bull dog idealist.

Gandhi also said that there were three keys to building a democratic society: the ballot, the jail and the spinning wheel or the spade.

The ballot is the basic rights – especially the right to vote – that you get by being a citizen in a democratic society.

The jail is your right to protest. It is your right of civil disobedience. Your right to put at risk the most precious thing you have in a democracy – your freedom, your liberty – in protest over some law that you think is fundamentally unjust. By doing so, you can arouse the consciousness of the citizens in the democracy to change the law.

But, Gandhi said that it was the spinning wheel or the spade that was actually the most important of the three to make a democratic society work. For Gandhi, the spade was the willingness of citizens to get out there and do the day to day work that it takes to build a democratic society; to form associations, to teach people to read, to build houses for the homeless, to care for needy children, to help feed the hungry, and to empower citizens. Gandhi believed this one – the spade – was the most important because it engages citizens directly in their democracy.

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, I hope that more and more people will dig a little deeper, and find it in their souls to work harder to make our great democracy stronger. Do it in large or small ways that work for you. Don’t judge yourself or others for their choices regarding what type of actions to take. Instead, suggest, encourage, support, and be your values every day.


Hey everyone! It’s time to paaaarrrty!

Wait. Let’s back up. It’s time to plan a party. A peace party! But why and how?

Bloggers for Peace is a group of bloggers committed to promoting peace through monthly peace postings. This month’s challenge is to plan a party that will “ripple peace to the world.” That’s a tall order, especially for a person who doesn’t excel at planning even regular parties! Never fear.

Together we can do this!

In order to create our peace party, let’s identify some of the attributes that would make this party a peace party. Peace typically involves groups of people but each individual must be personally committed to peace for it to work. Sometimes it is hardest to achieve peace between groups that have conflicting perspectives or perceived conflicting goals. So, our peace party would need to invite groups of people and ideally they would be diverse groups of people. And, all these people would need to feel heard, respected and secure. The atmosphere could be one of jubilation or of serenity. The mood would depend on the needs of the individuals and the groups involved. Again, the nature of this party would need to reflect the needs of many people. It seems like we need to invite many and encourage everyone to personalize it to suit them.

Let’s all use our imaginations to create our global peace party. We’ll set a specific day and a specific time for our peace party. When the party starts everyone will be encouraged to close their eyes and create the ideal peace party in their imagination.

The location for the party could be at home, in nature, or at some new or exotic location. A small intimate group of friends could be invited or millions or only oneself. There could be decorations that reflect peace. Maybe there are peace signs, mountains of colorful flowers, pictures of happy faces, or nature scenes. Each person would hear music that sets the tone for them. And they would see the entertainment that they feel best reflects a peace celebration. Maybe there could be speeches or games or dancing or simply sitting in silent meditation. All options are available to all people. Maybe everyone around the globe would take a specific peace action at the exact same moment. Finally, everyone would be asked to experience the manifestation of peace as joy, smiles and happiness.

I asked a few friends to send some brief notes with their peace party ideas. Here is what they sent.

Terri – I’d hold it in a Japanese garden with Ammachi from India. Music would be American Indian flute, artwork would decorate the party perhaps Georgia O’Keefe (I like big flowers). There would be speeches by David Helfgott (pianist…’Shine’ the movie), people with disfigurements and disabilities from violent offenses committed to them would be seen living full forgiving lives such as the woman who is a child Meglele survivor from Aushwitchz who has forgiven. Food would be from all over the world, but any animal products would have been killed ritually (no pigs or cows to respect the religions). Cat Stevens is cool.

Anna – I would have the party in Switzerland because that country managed to remain neutral during 2 world wars. It has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and, of course, chocolate would be the featured food. Gandhi, the Dali Lama, former President and Mrs. Carter would be invited. There would be a time for peaceful meditation as well as a time for great conversation.

Deb – I would begin in Downtown Detroit, with a Pied Piper like parade of people singing and coming out to join the parade. Then we would end in space to turn into a community garden. Together! I chose Detroit because Detroit just declared bankruptcy. There are so many abandoned buildings, homes, etc., that parts of the city are being reclaimed by nature — parks are growing into fields of grasses. And there are community gardens being created and tended by community organizers. Saw it all on Anthony Bordain’s show, Parts Unknown, on CNN. They need a Pied Piper! When Cuba was suffering so under the embargo in the 60’s and 70’s they began a national slogan, Si se puede or Yes we Can!

Sarah – Peace ah freedom. I hear messages all the time that we need to have guns and war to have peace. Peace. I am reading an astronaut’s guide to life on earth by the former commander of the ISS Chris Hadfield. He says it is always so busy but every chance he got he would look at our planet. He took tons of pictures of our planet. I think I would want the party on the ISS. There is no gravity so they had flying races and played with water bubbles so cool and so utterly disarming and peaceful. Peace to look out the window and see ‘our world.’

Nancy – I just heard on public radio that there is less war going on now in the world than in recorded history. Peace is winning, one person at a time.

Now I invite you to imagine an event that would ripple peace to the world. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.

DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT – Finding the Cathedral Builder Within

It’s a gift to be able to envision the “big picture.” Knowing what you are working towards is a critical part of creating a short term plan that takes you to that long term vision. But, sadly, sometimes the final destination seems so far away and hence so unattainable; people sometimes give up without really trying. It’s understandable.

I’ve witnessed this dilemma a lot in the social justice work I’ve done. Getting discouraged and disappointed by the snail’s pace of progress can be one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining the motivation needed to ultimately succeed. While we do have the power to change society, it can only happen if lots of people work together over time to build that change while dealing with the realities of one day at a time and one small step at a time. It works but not if you give up.

I found some ideas in the book FINDING THE CATHEDRAL WITHIN – Transforming Your Life by Giving Something Back by Bill Shore very helpful when encouraging words were needed. Justice Works! was the name of the social justice all volunteer non-profit that dealt with difficult issues of racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Below are some of the ideas I used to encourage my fellow organizers. This advice can also help when dealing with all difficult life challenges, not just those related to social justice.

It’s a basic human desire to want to do something that makes a difference and that could ideally have a lasting impact. That’s what Justice Works! was about. It was about working as an authentic, healthy, diverse and strong community of people that took actions based on a set of clearly stated and well understood values knowing that what we did would lead us all to a more just society over time. That’s a big vision. It’s a big, long-term vision.

The book describes the mystery and awe inspiring efforts that have gone into the construction of cathedrals. The author’s primary example is the cathedral in Milan which took five hundred years to build. People worked endlessly on it knowing that they would not live long enough to see its completion. Many different people contributed in many different ways. It wasn’t the technology that inspired its creation, it was the vision. And, the outcome of that effort and dedication wasn’t a building; it was mostly the accumulated spirit of all that went into it. Today, the cathedral inspires those who visit in ways that ways that are often beyond explanation. That inspiration is a combination of the place and all that went into creating the place.

The author suggests that there are 5 overarching principles that go into cathedral building. These principles can also apply to social justice work and life struggles in general. They can give meaning and purpose to our personal lives because they help ensure that our individual contributions endure and that our communities will be stronger even after we are gone.

Those cathedral building / social justice building principles are:

  1. “Devoting your life to a cause you will never see completed need not diminish your craftsmanship and dedication. Cathedral builders worked backward from a grand vision and a detailed blueprint that, if followed, would produce the desired outcome.
  2. Cathedral building requires the sharing of strength, the contributions of not just the artisans and experts, but of everyone in the community. Ambitious civic projects can’t be achieved by government, businesses, or religious institutions alone. They require all of civic society.
  3. The great cathedrals are built, literally, upon the foundations of earlier efforts. The effort to incorporate the work that came before is conscious and deliberate, and the cathedrals are stronger, more solid, and better built for us.
  4. Cathedrals were sustained and maintained because they actually generate their own wealth and support. The main source of funding for their building or renovation was income from accumulated land and property. In this way, cathedrals did not just rely on donations, handouts, or redistributed wealth, but instead created new community wealth.
  5. Cathedrals, through their stained-glass panels, statues, and paintings, were intentionally designed to convey stories and values to people who were otherwise illiterate. In this way, they taught important history, passed along best practices, and perpetuated a philosophy and culture that reflected their values.”

I believe in people-power. I believe in our ability to do and create great things. My hope is that we can share a vision and we can commit to caring for each other along the way. Surely, if we do that, we will create a better world together.

I’m hoping that we can find good ways to stay encouraged through excellent self-care and a commitment to the care of others. Let’s agree to build cathedrals together.



In a recent group conversation focusing on the topic LOVE, it was acknowledged that loving one’s enemy is oftentimes nearly impossible.

Why? The actions of our enemy represent values contrary to our own. Our enemies can be scary. Many people absorb the feelings of others and we want to stay far away from people whose feelings we don’t want to absorb. We don’t like them. We don’t want to be around them. They make us angry, resentful, frustrated and more! We hate them!

But, what do you do if you really do believe in love? What if you believe in compassion or empathy? Should we only express those emotions when it is easy? But, but, but…..

I told the group about a sermon I heard years ago that really impacted me. The minister told us about a time when she was demonstrating against racism at a KKK rally when she saw something that stopped her dead in her tracks. It was a woman who lovingly straightening the folds in the white robe worn by her young child. While she obviously understood the horror of what that white robe represented, for a flash she saw the humanity of that woman. She saw a person worthy of empathy and compassion. And yes, even love. Confusing.

Why would anyone even want to waste any energy even thinking about loving your enemy?

All the reasons for NOT loving one’s enemy are very easy to understand.

Feelings of resentment, anger, and others are completely normal. There is no value to feeling badly about experiencing these emotions. It’s what we do with them that matters.

But at the risk of sounding grandiose or preachy, here are some reasons for wanting to learn to love our enemy.

Does it make you feel happy to distain and loathe others? Does hate encourage healing or the change that we really hope for? Does carrying hate make you proud of yourself? This is NOT to challenge your good values. Instead, these questions are to help you examine the value of old ways. You really will feel happier if you can live a loving and peaceful life and release hatred.

Harboring hatred is not only exhausting; it can literally be harmful to your health. So, if you think your hatred is hurting the other person, think again! It’s likely that you are harmed the most by harboring your hatred, resentment or any other negative emotion!

Even if it isn’t your intention to change anyone, love and respect are literally powerful tools. Someone who might be used to being disrespected and hated will be shocked to their core if they feel your love and / or sincere respect. This shock can fuel positive change. They may begin to even subconsciously think, “Maybe I can act differently if this person sees me as worthy.” This can be a surprise but potent impact of loving your enemy.

You can feel satisfied about the example you are setting for others, especially children. You know that displaying hatred and bitterness impacts children. Demonstrating how to love, even under extremely difficult situations, is a powerful lesson for others.

It is better for the community. Loving others brings out the best in them. If a person sees themselves as a “bad person”, they will take hurtful actions. If they see themselves as a valued and productive part of the community, they will take ownership for the health of the community.

What does it really mean to love thy enemy? Let’s say it means to set aside whatever it is that makes them your enemy and to muster the feelings that will allow you see the humanity of this person. It doesn’t mean that you need to invite them to your home for dinner or to love them like you love a friend, family member or respected role model. But, there are lots of different kinds of love. The kind of love that we’d give to our enemies would be to open our hearts to them and to have some loving feelings toward this human spirit. It might mean you’d say hello to them and maybe even smile if the situation called for that. A greeting or a smile to an enemy doesn’t mean that you have changed your values. It means that you really do believe in treating all people with respect and dignity. It means that you really do embrace love, compassion and empathy as your spiritual path. It demonstrates that you have the spiritual strength to take action on your values even when those actions will not be understood or even accepted by many.

If you can remember that you are accountable to your own self and your own values, you will ultimately feel comfort in your decision. And you will eventually find internal peace because you’ll feel comfortable with your choices and unburdened by the need to constantly carry hatred and resentment.

Again, we all know how hard this is; almost impossible for many. It’s a very emotional issue. It’ll only happen with people who really want it. Maybe these few words might help someone move closer to being able to love all.

Loving one’s enemy is a life-long challenge. Isn’t spirituality a lifelong practice too? One is a reflection of the other.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” – Martin Luther King Jr.


Danger can lurk behind platitudes.

But what is a platitude anyway? It’s a statement that is offered as if it is a wonderful, moral, or deep thought. Generally it’s a statement that is overused, trite and therefore empty. But is it just that?

I don’t think so.

Here are just a few of the most common platitudes we all hear regularly.

Good things happen to those who wait.

It was meant to be.

You reap what you sow.

Time heals all wounds.

Everything happens for a reason.

Anything that doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

This too shall pass.

Typically a lot of energy goes into determining if these statements are true or not. Below are a couple examples of these efforts. I’m not saying that there isn’t validity in the analysis presented here. Instead, I’d like to look at platitudes from a different angle!

Example 1 and example 2.

Let’s not debate about if this or that platitude is correct or not! Although I do think that danger can lurk behind a platitude, I don’t want to criticize anyone who relies on platitudes. Let’s instead look at WHY people might resort to these shallow bits of un-wisdom.

Frankly, some people don’t have the intellectual capacity to comment beyond the platitude. That’s OK. Everyone is just able to do what they are able to do. No danger here.

Some people have used these statements so often in their lives, that they derive comfort from them. All good. No harm done.

Sometimes platitudes are spoken by capable people during emotionally stressful moments when that person really doesn’t know what to say. They feel awkward. They feel embarrassed. So, they look for something to say that might pass as meaningful. That’s pretty common and pretty inane.

So, where is the alleged danger?

OK. When someone covers up low self-esteem with a steady stream of less than inspiring platitudes, trouble could be right around the corner. Platitudes could be an attempt to cover up feelings of inadequacy. Low self-esteem comes with a built-in negative filter. This filter provides a less-than-helpful negative interpretation of life, people and interactions along the way. As these negative incidents happen, typically a passive or passive-aggressive response is given. During a difficult moment, a confident person would normally respond calmly in a respectful but assertive way. Their goal would be to resolve any misunderstanding so that both sides feel good about the outcome. But over time, inside the person with low self-esteem pressure accumulates as negativity festers. Eventually defensiveness and aggression explode into an irrational and unproductive display. These incidents are dangerous, indeed. They are especially dangerous if these outbursts become a persistent and predictable pattern.

Or, maybe there is a person whose self-esteem is healthy enough but they haven’t yet mastered how to handle their anger. Anger is a normal emotion which can be very instructive or very destructive. If it isn’t used to provide a positive lesson, it can set the stage for an outburst that creates harm in the short term and potentially the long term. Again, irrational statements are blurted out and bad decisions made are often regretted later.

So, what is the point of all this? It’s not to criticize or judge others. Rather, it could serve as a reminder to look at oneself. The only person we can change is ourselves. Ask yourself these questions to see what is possible.

Do I often use platitudes rather than making appropriate and authentic personal comments? Do I listen well so that I can even know what is appropriate? Are my responses to others superficial or sincere? Do I need to learn how to move towards a better self-image? If yes, what will I do now to avoid making unfounded negative interpretations? If I respond in a passive or passive-aggressive style, where and how can I learn how to switch to healthy assertiveness? What I get angry, do I wallow in that anger or am I able to step back from it to look for the healthy lesson? Where and how can I learn how to better deal with my anger?

Best wishes and love coming your way!


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