It Ain’t Easy Being Kind

beingkind

I know that many of you are with me in my quest to infuse Guerrilla Kindness into the world. I hope you’ve been inspired to be part of my mobile irregular force performing small hit-and-run acts of kindness.

But here’s the truth: it can be hard to be kind on purpose.

Exhibit A

My mom had the fantastic (GENIUS) idea of asking family and friends to perform an act of kindness in honor of my sister’s milestone birthday. I was pumped. This was my wheelhouse! This was going to be fun. But, I also knew I had to think of something really special. So…I procrastinated. Then the calendar turned and the countdown was on. One day, I had a long list of errands planned. I was determined that this would be the day for my ‘act of kindness.’ I put on my goody two-shoes and hit the road.

But then.

Well, here’s the story as I told it to my sister.

A Kindness for Jenny

(a comedy in four acts)

 

Act One: Target

umbrella

As I pull into Target to make a return, four fat blobs of rain hit my windshield. I decide to take my umbrella with me. Good thing, as halfway to the front door, the heavens open and drop a giant load of rain all at once. People are running and screeching in the warm, unexpected downpour.

I cue up in line to make my return. The person ahead of me is a mom with three boys. One, a baby, is perched quietly in his car seat. Another, a toddler, is curled in the back of the cart. He is whining and crying in a repetitive moan, the cry of a child who either skipped or skimped their nap. The preschool-aged big brother is trying to soothe the toddler, which makes him scream louder.

The mom hears the thunderous rain on the roof, and turns to see my soaked shorts and shoes. “Oh course,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Of course it just started to rain.”

Her returns are confusing, her receipts are kerfuffled, her kids are restless.

Finally, she finishes up, and I take my place at the counter. Roused from my standing-in-line stupor, a thought occurs: the act of kindness for my sister’s birthday! This mom is the perfect recipient.

I keep my eye on her as I quickly complete my transaction. She is trying to cover the baby and the toddler and her purchases with one small blanket. I ponder offering to get her car for her, but realize that would be weird. I’ll drive them to her car in my car? Also weird. Okay, how about I just walk next to her with my umbrella, at least helping keep a portion of her posse dry?

Finished, I turn to follow her to the door, where she is watching to see if there will be a let up in the rain. But a small crowd has also gathered there, and it’s hard for me to get up to where she is. I’m making my way, when suddenly she grabs her preschooler with one hand, her cart with the other, and bolts. Pushing past people, I race out of the store after her. My extended umbrella held aloft, I call to her that I’d like to help. But the rain is too loud, and she is so darn fast! What is she, a sprinter? I’m chasing her, and getting soaked, because I’m holding my umbrella out in front of me as if I’ll be able to shelter her from five steps behind.

Then, in my haste and distraction, I am saved by another shopper who stops me before I run in front of a car pulling into the lot.

Situation: fail.

Act of kindness has been done to me, not by me!

 

Act Two: Grocery Store

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A chance to redeem myself. I’m on the lookout for another harried mom. I’ll never forget those days, when everything was made a gajillion times harder by the constant presence of my little charges.

And there, in the dairy aisle, my opportunity: the distinctive CRASH of a glass jar of pasta sauce hitting the hard tile floor, dropped by a toddler. His mom looks around, embarrassed. She is dressed in a security guard uniform. She looks tired. I spring into action.

Me: Let me go get help for you!

Her (already pulling son out of cart): No, that’s ok, there’s always someone from the store right around here.

Me: Let me leave my cart over the mess, and you take your cart and keep shopping!

Her: No, that’s okay, I’m sure it won’t be long.

Reluctantly, I let her get her own help, and watch her leave her cart to mark the mess. I’m thinking maybe she’s just a really chill mom, and honestly didn’t need my help. But, when her son tries to grab a can off the shelf they’re passing and she snaps, “You’ve already made enough of a mess!” I know that she’s human. So, I give her a big smile and move on. But, a big smile? That can’t be my act of kindness! Not for my sister! I give big smiles out every dang day. I will continue my quest.

 

Act Three: Grocery Store Parking Lot

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I had gotten a good spot when I pulled in. The first spot next to the handicapped one. And here now, loading her car next to me, is an elderly woman. Carefully, bag by bag, she is setting her groceries in her back seat. Elderly woman in the handicapped spot. THIS IS IT.

She has one bag left.

Me: Let me help you with that!

Her: Oh, that’s okay, I’m almost done. (Puts last bag in).

Me: I’ll take your cart back for you.

Her: Oh, you don’t need to do that, dear. I can manage.

Me: Really, I’m taking mine back, too. Let me take your cart for you!

Her: Well, how far is it?

Me: It’s just right over there (two cars away).

Her: Well okay, dear, if you’d like.

I return the carts, and get back in my car. No, I think. My special act of kindness for my special sister cannot be that I walked an old lady’s cart 15 feet for her, when she didn’t really even want my help.

I get in my car, grab a piece of paper, and start to write.

 

Act Four: Return to the Grocery Store

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I’m wandering the aisles, clutching the note I’ve written, which is wrapped around a $20 bill. The note says something like this:

“This small act of kindness is in honor of my sister’s birthday. I saw you in the store, a hard working mama just trying to make a quick stop before dinner. You were so sweet to your son when he dropped the pasta sauce, even though I knew you were annoyed! Those were the hardest days for me, juggling work and small kids. This is for you, to treat yourself. Lunch out, coffee, whatever helps make your day brighter. From, A friend. P.S. Hang in there, bedtime’s coming!”

I finally find her, the pasta sauce mama, just in time. She’s next in line at the checkout. I catch her eye and hand over the note. “This is for you,” I say. “A little surprise. Have a good evening!”

Not knowing what it is yet, she still gives me a huge smile. “And you have a good evening, too!” I quickly leave, feeling so, so good and happy.

I had finally done it. I had captured the feeling my sister gives me and so many people in her life: you are important, you matter, I see you, and I’m here to help.

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Being kind isn’t always easy, even when you’re trying. Sort of like how it can be hard to see goodness in the world through all the darkness that exists, too. But it’s there. And we’re here. Just keep doing the little things. After awhile, they’ll start to add up.  One candle does not dim when it lights another. Keep bringing the light, friends.

 

 

Guerilla Kindness

justbeniceIt has been a rough couple of weeks for this Pollyanna of politics. I’ve been thrust out of several bubbles I had been living in. And it’s uncomfortable. (I was the white lady reaching for the Xanax in that SNL skit about election night.) I thought that since the people I chose to surround myself with held values similar to mine, that meant that most other people did, too. It was hard to see how wrong I was about that. It was hard to imagine someone being able to ignore the ugly packaging and vote for what I believed to be a message of reversal of times, reversal of progress.

I spent the first few days after the election reading, reading, reading. Trying to understand. I know Republicans who are really good people, and some who aren’t. I know Democrats who are really good people, and some who aren’t. I know Independents who are good people, and some who aren’t. My chosen candidate has lost more than once in my adult life. But this was the first time the outcome of an election made me so despondent. I did not and still do not know how to reconcile the fact that the president-elect of our county embodies the antithesis of what I value most: kindness toward others.

I had to figure out what I was going to do next. After sitting on the couch under my blanket fort for a few days, I knew I needed to start acting. What I’ve decided is that now is the time for Guerilla Kindness.

I first learned the term guerilla warfare in 8th grade, when I was writing an essay about the Iran-Contra Affair (I was an overambitious English student). Before that, I had heard the term but had pictured angry gorillas flinging dung at one another. Guerilla warfare is the use of hit-and-run tactics by small, mobile groups of irregular forces operating in territory controlled by a hostile, regular force (Dictionary.com).

The idea of guerilla kindness came to me after hearing this post-election story: A woman saw a mother and son behind her in a fast-food drive thru line, pointing and laughing at her political bumper stickers. She made a split-second decision to turn her anger into action. She paid for their meals. You see? Guerilla kindness. And nothing they can do about it.

My call to action/forward motion:

safetypin After the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, incidents of racism skyrocketed, and people began donning safety pins as a way of showing their support for the immigrants living in the country, assuring that they’re safe with them. And I had noticed that the trend had spread to the U.S. after our election results similarly emboldened people to act even more overtly on their bigotry.

My first act of guerilla kindness started small, with something I did to make myself feel better. I scrounged in my jewelry box and came up with a safety pin, which I affixed to my burse (my backpack-purse, which is a thing. At least it is to me.) I’m not sure what I thought this little piece of metal would accomplish, but somehow it helped me get my shoes on and out the door. You see, it was my first outing since the election, and my heart was heavy. But I had been waiting 6 months for a one-day-only mattress sale, so off I went to help stabilize our economy. The sales person who greeted me looked similarly glum. We’ll call him Abdelhadi (because that’s his name).

When I pulled my burse off my shoulder to pay, he saw my safety pin. And once my transaction was complete, he whispered, “My wife has not gone to work for two days. She can’t stop crying.” I told him I had been crying on and off, too. “You?” he said with surprise. “You cried?”

I told him it was hard being confronted with just how out of touch I was with the racial divide in our country, how painful it was to have the illusion that I had been paying attention be broken. “Now you know,” he told me. Then he reached out for my hand and said more softly, “now you know.” It destroyed me. Here was this Muslim man from Dubai comforting me about my sadness.

When we parted ways, we shared a lingering handshake. “Tell you wife…” I started, but I couldn’t finish my thought. Tell her what? What could I possibly say to her to make her feel better? Hadi came to my rescue. “I’ll tell her you cried,” he said. “I’ll tell her you cried, too.”

 

 

wabanakibook

Okay, you put a pin on your purse. What now? What else?

I’ve written before about a service organization called hawkwing, Inc (the h is not capitalized, no matter how much I want it to be).  They “provide essential services and support for the people of the Cheyenne River Lakota (Sioux) Indian Reservation,” and run an annual holiday giveaway that is organized in a warehouse near my home. “The Annual Giveaway brings joy each winter to some 2,600 children on the Reservation, many of whom would otherwise receive nothing for the holidays. Each child receives new toys, books, warm clothes and personal care products. We also supply dozens of Tribal programs and schools with equipment, supplies, coats, shoes and educational materials.” They are partnered with First Book and one of my favorite stations in the warehouse is the book corner. But I noticed a need for books for older kids, and when I saw WABANAKI BLUES by Melissa Zobel at a local bookstore, I picked up a copy and dropped it off at hawkwing. Stealth. Guerilla. Kindness.

 

cookies

Okay, you put on a pin, and you bought a book. What else? I thought about the Syrian refugee family, new to my town, sponsored in their transition by IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) and supported by my place of worship. I had been meaning to say a formal “hello and welcome.” This would probably be a good time for me to take them cookies. Making the cookies was easy (and delish). Taking them to the door was harder. I wasn’t sure how much English they knew. Would they be confused about who I was, what I was doing there? Turns out holding a Tupperware of baked goods is the universal sign for “I’m here to say hello.” I got smiles. I got introductions. I got invited in.

I know there are many people whose opinions differ from mine on the topic of immigration and resettlement. I would implore those interested to read the Time Magazine article: This is how the Syrian Refugee Screening Process Works. “Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees [people from Syria] are the single most heavily screened and vetted.” – Jana Mason, senior adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Picture the kids from Aleppo you’ve seen, covered in ash from bombing raids. Now picture them living next to and playing on the Hubbard Green in Glastonbury, CT. Which would you want if it was your child?

We must put education before fear. We must see each other as human beings. Cookie-eating, book-reading, family-loving, human beings. My way of doing that is going to be with this idea of Guerilla Kindness. I’m going to be a mobile irregular force of small hit-and-run acts of kindness. And I’m going to be kind to you no matter who you voted for. Or how you worship. Or where you came from. Or who you love. And you can’t stop me.

Like a friend’s yard sign says:

“🇺🇸  we treat all people with dignity regardless of origin, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views ”

 

Join me?

 

carmagnet

 

 

 

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I’m Still Thinking of You

I’m Thinking Of You

Today marks the three year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Last year, I worked through my sadness by writing a post titled “I’m Thinking Of You.” Today those words are on a field trip over on Mamalode.com. Won’t you please come have a look, and share the message?

I’m Thinking Of You

Like me, you probably have friends and family that are so often on your mind and heart that you can have whole conversations with them without ever picking up the phone. I truly believe there are more positive vibes in this world than negative events.

To anyone struggling with sadness and challenges right now: You are not alone. You’d be surprised how many people are thinking of you right now.

And to the families of Newtown: We’re thinking of you not only today,  but always.

 

 

Interested in turning your good thoughts into positive action? Click the links below to learn more.

Everytown for Gun Safety

“The reasons for gun violence are complex, but real change on a few issues could save lives.”

Text “ENOUGH” to 64433

Sandy Hook Promise

“I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools and communities.”

Sign their petition to pass mental health reform here.

26 ACTS – Changing the World one kind act at a time

“Do one act of kindness for each of the lives taken at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

“Every action, no matter how small, helps us build safer communities and a brighter future. Together, we can end gun violence.”

Sponsoring Orange Walks to honor all of the lives taken by gun violence in America, and show just how determined we are to end it.

Other actions:

Consider writing your representatives in government to voice your concerns. Contact information is easy to find here:

Senators

Congressional Representatives

 

 

 

Poems for Your Pocket

Today is POEM IN YOUR POCKET day! How does one celebrate? By carrying around a poem or two in your pocket, and then sharing them with someone else.

My Grandpa Bill had a love of words and an incredible memory. When we visited, he would come to the bedroom door to say goodnight, and without preamble, would recite for us THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT by Edward Lear. I can still see his silhouette outlined by the hall light, and hear his gentle voice. Isn’t that a nice gift to send someone through life with?

One of my all time favorite kid poems is by Ogden Nash:

THE RHINOCEROS

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.

There are many fun and funny poetry collections for kids. Here are a few that won’t steer you wrong:

Hilarious characters like Snerry Jake speak a language all their own in this billy sook.

Hilarious characters like Snerry Jake speak a language all their own in this billy sook.

If you like Shel, you'll love Jack. "Watson Watts, upon his legs, balanced forty ostrich eggs..."

If you like Shel, you’ll love Jack. “Watson Watts, upon his legs, balanced forty ostrich eggs…”

Find a kid  to give a poem to today. I sent my seventh grader off with a poem and an eye roll this morning. It is a love poem I wrote just for her. I’ll take the eye roll, she’ll take the poem, and with any luck we’ll meet up on the other side of junior high.

For more information about how POEM IN YOUR POCKET day originated, as well a great selection of downloadable poems, click here!

You may also enjoy visiting the website of poet Jason Tandon. I’m a fan.

I’m Thinking of You

 

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My husband never talks about his patients with me. (He’s the poster boy for the HIPAA law.) But when a call from the hospital comes in at night, sometimes I am privy to his side of the conversation. I might hear snippets such as the person’s age, or what tests they need to have done. I’ve learned which key words will lead to me sleeping alone that night (ruptured, perforation) and which will keep him snuggled next to me (elective, antibiotics).

Within thirty seconds of the phone call ending, my husband will be back to sleep. It’s a self-preserving skill he learned in residency.  But for me, it’s not that easy. Now I’m up. And now I’m thinking about this person who I know nothing about, beyond the fact that they are, say, 66-years-old and have a high fever and need an ERCP, whatever that is. Now that I know about them, and I’m awake, I do what I can for them. Which isn’t much, but I hold them in my mind, and I wish them well. I like to envision a little bit of the comfort I’m sending to them actually finding it’s way to the ER, or the ICU, or their room. It’s improbable, but it’s possible. So I go there.

Many, many nights, phone calls or not, I hold my husband’s hands in mine and offer a straight-up prayer. First it’s a thank you for all the times his hands have been safely guided to help in the past, then it’s a prayer for continued guidance and strength in the future. If my husband knew any of this, he’d be doing an eye-roll/gagging noise combination. He’s a man of hard logic and science. We’re quite a pair.

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Sometimes, one is on the receiving end of good thoughts. Two years ago this weekend, Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT experienced the unthinkable. The news trickled first into our local consciousness and then onto the national and international stage. And while I struggled with shock and fear and that sickening too close-to-home feeling, something strangely comforting started happening.

First, a phone call from my sister, 3,000 miles and two time zones away. When her first patient of the day asked, “Isn’t it terrible about what happened at that school in CT?” her stomach dropped, and she thought of me. Then a steady stream of friends, from all over the country, from all phases of my life, started checking in.

I heard the news, and I thought of you. Are you okay? Are the kids okay? 

I heard from people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, from close friends, and from Christmas-card-only friends. All wished me well and expressed relief that today, this time, the tragedy was not ours. In the weeks that followed, sadness would wash over me in waves. But the comfort of being thought of and wished well by so many always pulled me to a safe shore.

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We can never know how many people are thinking of us, maybe right now, and wishing us well. It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to think of the Newtown families. A face, a name, or an image will come to mind, and in that moment I’ll wish them love and comfort. Imagine, for every time someone pops into your mind, or you hold someone in prayer, meditation, or good light, someone else could be doing the same for you!

Maybe the husband or wife of the doctor you visited last week is at home, doing chores, and sending you strong, positive vibes. And if you’re reading this, consider yourself pinged with positivity, because at this moment I could very well be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things, including….

best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

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Snowflakes Fall

Last weekend was a difficult one for all of us.  The one year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary brought up emotions and memories that painfully juxtaposed against the normally joyful holiday bustle.   Images of angelic faces … Continue reading

George Clooney and First Book

I think about George Clooney a lot, but it’s not what you’re thinking.  Well, sometimes it probably is what you’re thinking.  Because, really. But honestly, most of the time it is because of his philanthropy work, and specifically something he said in an interview a few years ago.

Really, I'm only in it for the philanthropy!

Really, I’m only in it for the philanthropy!

The reporter asked him how giving back came to be such a large part of his life. And George (I’m assuming he’d want me to call him that) said that from a young age, his father always took the kids with him whenever he was volunteering for something.  When the reporter asked if he’d enjoyed this, George answered honestly and said something like, “No, he dragged me kicking and screaming.” But he admitted that those early experiences helped influence how much he commits to philanthropic endeavors as a grown up.

I think of this every time I drag my own kids on do-gooder adventures.  It would be SO much easier to leave them home.  And it might even be more productive for whatever group I’m trying to help if they weren’t there.  But little by little, I see them moving into the asset column, and being less of the kicking-and-screaming liabilities they once were.  And always, I hear George whispering in my ear, “this is going to pay off later.”  (No, he doesn’t whisper other things…get your mind out of the gutter!)
~
Recently we had the opportunity to help out an organization based in our town called hawkwing. From their website: “hawkwing is a Native American Federal non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to offer cross-cultural education while assisting the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota meet their basic human needs.  Each year, we conduct a major collection drive in order to bring basic need items to some 3,000 children and 500 Elders on the Cheyenne River.”
~
The scale of this effort and the way it is organized is astounding.  We showed up at a warehouse that was packed with supplies and well-trained volunteers, and were greeted by hawkwing founder and president, Rochelle Ripley.  Each year in the late fall, Rochelle oversees the organizing of supplies and packing of a large truck, which then makes its way out to South Dakota for distribution.
Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

As volunteers, we were given a sheet of paper which detailed the needs of a specific family group.  We then took an empty box and worked our way through the warehouse, picking out personal care items, toys, clothing, and sometimes shoes for specific people.
New toothbrushes went in every box

New toothbrushes went in every box

My kids had a lot of fun in the toy section, being directed to pick out “a toy for a 5 year old boy,” or “something for a 12-year-old girl who likes to draw.”  This made the idea of who we were helping very tangible for them.
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Donated clothing items and outerwear were brand new, and each area had a trained volunteer that helped make sure we were picking out the correct sizes and items.

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Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

And then we came to MY toy area, the books!  It was just so thrilling to pick out books for the children, especially after learning that some areas of the reservation do not have libraries. 

Look at all the books!

Look at all the books!

The “book corner” volunteer had everything sorted according to age and reading level, and gave advice with the wisdom of a librarian (she probably was one!).  I saw many new books that I’d have loved to have gotten my hands on myself.

Middle grade/YA books

Middle grade/YA books

Picture books

Picture books

Knowing what kind of shape my children’s books are in when they get around to being donated, I asked where so many pristine, new books had come from.  The answer was that several of the books were purchased, at drastically reduced rates, from the organization First Book.

From their website: “First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.”

And while I’m tooting First Book’s horn, as many of you know there are other equally great programs that are working to get new books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.  Some of my favorites are: Book Train, which works to “[help] foster children discover great books – and keep them!” and Reading is Fundamental.

Rochelle pointed out that it is especially helpful when people donate money to hawkwing, because she can use that money to get so many more books through First Book than she can if the same donor bought books from a traditional retailer.

There are so many organizations and people using their powers for good in this world.  Pick one and get involved! Donate or volunteer!  You might just meet George Clooney!*

Also, if you are interested in current Native American culture,  I encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  It’s a fantastic and eye-opening read.

*This is probably not going to happen. Sorry.

Feelin’ and Spreadin’ the Love

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  Did you know it’s also International Book Giving Day?  IBGD is a “volunteer initiative aimed at increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books.”  What’s better than sharing book love?

The initiative suggests spreadin’ the love in one of these three ways:

1. Give a Book to a Friend or Relative.
2. Leave a Book in a Waiting Room or Lobby.
3. Donate a Book.  
There are so many good programs working to get books into the hands of kids who would otherwise not have access to them, including:
As for me, I’ll be leaving a fresh copy of BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman (illustrated by Dan Yaccarino) in a local pediatrician’s office.
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My favorite part of this book is when Bot finds Boy sleeping, and he thinks Boy is sick.  He takes the boy home where he gives him oil, reads him an instruction manual, and tries to change his battery.  I think kids headed into a check-up at the doctor’s will get a kick out of this.
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The International Book Giving Day’s website has a lot of other great ideas for giving.   They also have fun bookplates, some designed by big names in the biz, which you can download for free.  I chose one by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, (illustrator of the new picture book, I’M BORED!):
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I’m all for flowers and chocolate, but if my husband gave me a bouquet of a dozen books, that would be an amazing valentine!  Hope you all get to share and feel some love today.