Show me the way to go Home…

“I just feel so proud of her.” My strong mother said through her tears as we followed the lone bag-piper as he led my Granny Breslin to her final resting place. The song was called Going Home.

90 years on this earth. 1 month and one Mother’s Day she’s been gone.

Barely 2 days she shared with her own mother, who died through complications with birth. In the last maybe 15 years she kept her close to her heart on a photo pendant my dear uncle John bought for her. My Granny didn’t really talk about her mother much until she developed dementia. But it was the biggest pain and loss in her life, and she really could not wait to be reunited with her.

“She’ll be soon after her” they said when little Margaret Burns’ mother died. But 90 years, 14 children and 101 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren later… and what a legacy, what a life.

In one of our kitchen table mammoth tea and talking sessions my sister said “Think how terrified she must have been every time she was pregnant.” And it’s true…Yet she went through it 14 times, with only two of the younger ones born in hospital, the rest at home. Such a brave and selfless woman who just used her life to raise her children with her simple faith, strong morals and a lot of laughter.

My friends, and others who had never met Granny were reduced to tears at the funeral listening to all she had overcome between Derry and Scotland. Her father, a good man, died when she was 12 and herself and her sister found him when they returned from the cinema.

She was then raised by her beloved Aunt Annie in Derry, where both parents were from. “If he’s meant for you, he’ll come into the fireside.” Annie always said. And my Granda did just that, coming into the house to wait for Annie’s son Paddy every Friday night before they went to the pub. One day he asked Annie could he take Margaret to the ‘pictures.’ “You’ll have to ask her yourself.” Annie replied. My Granny was listening on the stairs, delighted.

They lived in a little house in Creggan, paying up for groceries, battling through the riots of the Troubles, and doing a miraculous job of raising 6 girls and 8 boys without murdering any of them!

I have to say, I’m biased, they’re my aunties and uncles, but the Breslins are an absolute credit to my Granny. I’m just so proud to be part of this family, and watching as they handled themselves, their grown up children, all the visitors with such grace and dignity at the wake and funeral. They are a big loving family of absolute characters, and although it was the saddest of circumstances we were delighted to see each other. The wake at times was an almost joyful occasion, which I thought maybe would have upset my mammy but she said it’s exactly what Granny would have wanted. Some of us (mostly cousins) had a drink after the soup and sandwiches of the funeral (I was the only one to volunteer to show my family up) and now we are hoping to organise a big cousins meet-up at least once a year.

Mother’s Day was yesterday, and the first one my own mother has spent without hers. I knew it would be difficult, so I had the idea of a version of my granny’s beloved photo pendant featuring a wee song my granny in her dementia especially liked to sing.

From here.

One of my favourite stories about my Granny, and it was told at the funeral, highlights her very healthy relationship with God. My auntie Eileen once found a piece of scone far from my Granny’s chair and jam dripping from the Sacred Heart picture. “You fairly knew your own mother!” she accused Jesus. Kind of regularly, actually!

She died on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. “She’s a wee lover” my Mammy said as she left to say her final goodbyes.

It comforts us all to think of the first Mother’s Day for two amazing long-suffering women. After 90 years. That’s love.

 

Margaret Breslin

7th October 1926 – 14th February 2017

Jimmy & Christina 11 November 2016

My wee (!) ¬†brother Jimmy got married to the most exquisite bride I ever saw, Christina, on Friday. I know it hasn’t fully sank in yet! I had the honour of being a bridesmaid, and we had the most wonderful day.

My family is literally still on a high. It was such a blessed and genuinely happy day. It’s hard not to be totally happy for them as they have been the epitome of true love for many’s a year.

It’s been a beautiful experience. From sunrise in the gorgeous RoCo hair, giggles and the most perfect make up by Kendra. We were pampered and felt like princesses, I also feel like I have made a few new friends as we have been living in each other’s pockets this last week or so! I feel like the colours and happy memories of getting ready have been emblazoned into my mind. I really had a special, happy morning. Thank you Christina and Kendra, Clodagh and Kim at RoCo for such a great start to the big day.

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These are just wee snapshots, a bridesmaid doesn’t have much time for photos, so we will rely on Natalie Doherty photographer extraordinaire for the ceremony photos and more. I’m not doing the day justice but I just wanted to document it a little.

The ceremony was at St. Patrick’s Church Pennyburn and we were delighted that Fr. Gerard Mongan officiated. He has been a great family friend from way back when when myself, Jimmy and best man Paddy were altar servers and he was a deacon 15 years ago! He made the Mass so personal and he was so generous and funny. It all ran completely smoothly and every guest was commenting on what a beautiful mass it was. Jimmy and Christina just lit up when they saw each other and it was an absolute privilege to witness their official and spiritual union.

 

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The venue, The Redcastle Hotel and Spa is an absolute dream and I wish I could have stayed in the peaceful ocean view hotel for a week! It’s just across the border in Donegal and we got whisked there in a beautiful vintage car.

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It rained but it hardly mattered and it was such a warm and right feeling to have all your family surrounding you to help two very loved and special people commit their lives to each other. It was touching to see how much my parents enjoyed it, how proud they were and how blessed they felt. I barely have a photo here but my 7 siblings and I are a source of pride (for some reason! Ha) to my mammy and daddy and they said they preferred it to their own wedding day because we were all there this time!!

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How absolutely divine is my new sister-in-law?

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Jacob really stole the show. He danced with 18+ people (he counted in bed the next morning) and he had the time of his life. My Daddy also had a great line in his tear inducing speech ‘For 20 years until Jacob came along, it was just you and me in a house full of hormones.’ He spoke directly to Jimmy about how much he loved and was proud of him and everyone was fighting down the feels. I was actually really proud of my Daddy and his speech (although he was so nervous) was just amazing. A lady came up and called him ‘heart man’ after it. Love is the most important.

Jimmy was almost annoyed at my Daddy for nearly setting him off before his speech. Jimmy also spoke straight from the heart and got choked up when he spoke about his new beautiful, kind and intelligent wife. I have the best men folk.

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We danced the night away and some of the special requests were perfect. My parents had asked for The Obvious Child by Paul Simon as they always danced in the kitchen with the wee siblings to it. Everyone was up and it was a moment. Also the best man requested ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ by the Undertones and it was hilarious. The first dance was a Coldplay song Against the World and they were so beautiful and in love it would break your heart in the best possible way.

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If I could always look this good at 2.am!

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My room had a helicopter pad right outside. And the sea!

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The view from the honeymoon suite balcony after breakfast next morning!

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Way home ūüôā

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This beautiful photo from Ann-Marie Appleton.  Looove it. 

 

So once more a huge and heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to the new Mr and Mrs Mc Callion. I love you two so much and am so very proud of you. Your wedding was a dream. Thank you for everything. So many people have been touched by this love story and this beautiful celebration. Have an unforgettable honeymoon in Mexico and New York. See you when you come home, for the next chapter.

x

 

Happy Birthday Josh Ritter! 40 Lyrics

So, the most joyful of 40th Birthdays to Josh Ritter, the best singer/songwriter, lyrical genius, happiest smiling performer, political commentator, novelist, sound tracker of my life! Anyone who knows me knows of Josh, because I am such a fan of all his work, and have been for many years. Age 16 I was swept away by the lyrics on a random CD my first ever boyfriend gave me, it was a copy of 2002’s Hello Starling, and from the first song, Bright Smile, I was captivated. The music has gone in many wonderful directions since then, but I have to say that one little pretty song has always held a special place in my heart.

There’s been 5 albums since, I have had 11 or so years of listening to this wonderful wordsmith. I have never found any lyrics or music that spoke to, comforted me in difficult times and buoyed up my successes like the works of, or should I say the Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. I think I have saw him in concert here in Ireland 10 times, and met him on a handful of happy occasions. My favourite time was the porch of the Empire Music Hall in 2009, during my first month or so of University. We bonded over Muriel Spark if I remember rightly.

My bestie Aisling and me bumped heads trying to hug Josh after one of my first times seeing him in Letterkenny, probably in 2007. My Mammy still feels a little ill when she listens to Kathleen because she was pregnant with Ellen when she listened to the album a lot and it calls up the morning sickness. Josh was there when relationships came and went and the words surrounded me on my best and worst days. Every workplace I was in or class I took I always converted a few to the Book of Ritter! To the point of being teased.

I have made so many memories, and met some good friends. This music has really enriched my days and I’m not doing it justice here.

As part of the celebrations, to let the birthday boy know how much all his songs are loved and appreciated, I bullied  requested that my friends and family help me out on a little lyrical project. Aisling gave me the idea of my 40 favourite lyrics, and I loved that idea, so these are at least 40 significant lyrics (I probably could go on forever.) And then to make it interesting, I assigned different people in my life some lyrics to hand write, and decorate as they saw fit. There are some works of art here. I think I might finally get an idea for a tattoo…

These lyrics all mean something to me, so take a wee minute to be inspired. 

In no particular order, I give you 40 lyrics from the man of the moment, Idaho legend Josh Ritter! Happy Birthday, Josh. Thank you for writing such rich and magical poetry to music. These songs have genuinely made a big difference in my life.

I think I will let the lyrics mostly speak for themselves. It’s only little snippets, but I strongly advise you chase the song up and give it a listen. Enjoy!

#JoshRitteris40

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Beginning how it began, Bright Smile.

@thebadactress is now my username for most things… including Twitter. Where Josh follows me! Huzzah.

 

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I find more and more depth to this song every time. Considering ending the world just to stay in an underground bunker with your love…

 

 

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A magical story of a ‘cursed’ Egyptian Mummy falling in love with an archaeologist.

 

 

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Beginning of relationship questions and wishes!

 

 

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Like, what a compliment… and Ellen did a great job of the mini Aurora Borealis.

 

 

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A beautiful story song that gets me right in the feels every time. Also cleverly inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee. The first time I heard it I assumed it was an old cover of a classic song.

 

 

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A definite ‘up there’ for my favourite song.

 

 

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This song was a bit of a commentary on the Bush administration 10 years ago… but so apt today.

 

 

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If you’re familiar with the next line, Jacob (7) drew a blackbird, a starling and winter being over by spring flowers. Awww.

 

 

 

Joy to you, Josh, wherever you are on your 40th Birthday. You have done the music world, and the world in general so much good by being here. Thank you for keeping me company through music, and offering so much inspiration through your words. Keep doing what you’re doing, and please come back to Ireland when you can.

Happy Birthday!

Fiona x

Huge THANK YOU to my artistic contributors who were put under some pressure! I am so impressed and I owe you :

A. Breslin

Dr. A. Duffy

L. Gilmour

C. Lafferty

R. Harley

Dr. M. Montague

E. Mc Callion

J. Mc Callion

P. Mc Callion

S. Rooney

M. Turner

C. Tracey

And an extra special thank you to A. Nelson who really made me want to get my friends involved cause of her calligraphy skills. Beautiful! 

My Name is Leon

A brother chosen.

A brother left behind.

And a family where you’d

least expect to find one.

My Name is Leon is a heartbreaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how- just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.

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I had a good feeling about this book, and had been saving it for a while. I gobbled it up in a day and a half. Leon is nine in 1980 England, he is mixed race, his Mum has baby Jake with another guy and he is white. This does not stand between them in any way, and Leon soon finds himself having to change, feed and look after Jake for longer and longer periods of time as his Mum descends into post natal depression or maybe something else. Leon doesn’t mind too much. He loves his brother and he is good at it, and only goes to Tina Downstairs for help when there is no food and no money left.

Kit De Waal is astounding at getting into Leon’s head, the way he has learned to tell Social Workers what they want to hear, and not believe what any of them say. He distracts himself with Action Man and swiping fifty pence pieces when things get too hard. He is a good, lost child and your heart really breaks for him.

Leon and Jake go to live with Maureen, an older lady who has been fostering forever. I LOVED Maureen. She is no nonsense but wise and loving, larger than life and is always cooking up fabulous grub and endless snacks for the boys. She asks Leon about Jake’s routine and what he does and doesn’t like so she doesn’t get it wrong. She gets out a pad and pencil and writes down two pages of notes on what Leon says ‚̧

Leon licks the sauce off his fingers and looks around. Maureen’s house smells of sweets and toast and when she stands near the kitchen window with the sun behind her, her fuzzy red hairstyle looks like a flaming halo. She’s got arms like a boxer and a massive belly like Father Christmas.

Maureen is amazing. The boys and the reader trust her implicitly.

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Each chapter was headed by a teeny cute illustration which were a joy and totally instagram-able. 

Something devastating happens, Jake is adopted. Maureen believes because he is white. Poor Leon trashes his room and starts grinding his teeth in his sleep, and can’t cope very well. There’s a heartbreaking but wonderful chapter where Maureen has to wake him from a nightmare and she sits him down and ‘has words’ about how she knows a thing or two about children.

‘Answer me this. How many children have I fostered over the years? I know you know the answer because I saw you ear-wigging the other day when I was talking to the neighbours.’

Turns out its twenty-two. And including her own children, grandchildren and Leon it’s thirty. She tells him how she knows he will be alright and that he will see his brother again. It might not be until they are adults, but Leon will see Jake again. ‘He hasn’t gone forever.’

Despite this safe environment there are still a lot of trials for Leon and even Maureen. His Mum sometimes doesn’t turn up to see him, he doesn’t hear from her for months. He makes friends with some older men at nearby allotments when he acquires a bike, and for a long time it’s not clear what their motives are and it left me a bit uneasy.

But there is a whole sub-plot about police brutality against black men which I wasn’t aware of, in England in the 80’s. And Tufty, who has an allotment is key to this, and teaching Leon about Black Power, and racism and dignity.

This is a brilliant first novel, so real and genuine and tender. Beautiful stuff, and well worth a read. Book 32 of 2016.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon.

The cover of this book has the most beautiful photograph of an extremely well dressed woman posting a letter into a post box in a square that is reduced to rubble.

Backdrop: London, 1939 to 1942. ‘It was a city in love with beginnings.’ I find WWII endlessly fascinating. Chris Cleave the author speaks about why World War II is so vital for novelists very eloquently here:

I had high hopes for this book, I received it twice on my birthday because I had been talking about it so much. Every Chris Cleave novel (The Other Hand, Gold, Incendiary) has floored me. He writes in a truly beautiful but hard-hitting way. This is first historical novel.

In a powerful combination of both humour and heartbreak, this dazzling novel weaves little-known history and a perfect love story through the vast sweep of the Second World War- daring us to understand that, against the great theatre of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

Mary is thrust into teaching, as all the school masters are away at war. She is quite indignant about this at first. But she accepts it. ‘Mary almost wept when she learned that her first duty as a schoolmistress would be to evacuate her class to the countryside. And when she discovered that London had evacuated its zoo animals days before it’s children, she was furious.’ What Mary actually ends up doing, is teaching the children that have been rejected and sent back from their temporary homes in the countryside.

Mary, as an aristocrat goes from quite enjoying the novelty of the idea of war, herself and her friend Hilda go by train to view the first bombed site in London, never dreaming it would soon be them, to truly suffering. They both sign up to drive ambulances almost on a whim.

The other main characters are Tom Shaw, an education administrator who reluctantly gives Mary her first job and becomes her lover. His best friend and flatmate Alistair signs up for the war as soon as it begins. Alistair sees so much horror from early on, and he becomes rather distant. The humour of Tom’s letters revive him, and he is jealous of Tom’s newfound love, but this is nothing until he actually meets Mary.

Tom gives Alistair a homemade jar of Blackberry Jam before he leaves for war, and Alistair keeps it, through starvation and being shipped to further and further battle zones, to share with Tom when it is all over. It’s a really beautiful symbol of friendship.

It’s such a human story. Even against such a dramatic and seemingly well known background¬†as the Second World War. Chris Cleave makes the most familiar, yet surprising observations:

One didn’t understand, until one had seen a great many bodies, the unconscious effort that one must be making every minute simply to keep one’s hands and face and clothes clean. The world’s surfaces were so filthy that the living touched them only with the tips of their fingers and the soles of their shoes. How grubby it was to die, to give up making that effort.

There’s a graphic description of something Alistair witnesses in Malta, a German pilot crash lands in the street, and the locals attack him. I completely zoned out in Starbucks, it was so vivid and brutal. You completely understand Alistair trying to stop them.

If you’re interested, you should watch these short videos of Chris Cleave speaking about the book.¬†I really enjoyed them and he talks about his work so much better than my rambles.

This, my 29th read of the year could be the best book of 2016 so far. I have been talking about it to anyone who would listen and trying to thrust it into customer’s hands in work. A love story, but so much more than that. It did not disappoint, I didn’t want to finish reading, and I’m proud that I must be descended from the Mary Norths and Alistair Heaths of the world.

The Light Between Oceans

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Okay, it has been a while, I miss doing book reviews and a LOVELY girl called Laura whom I was at school with and used to work with pops in to my current job sometimes and her and her hubby bum me up about my blog, they demanded more book reviews so here we go. (Hi Laura and Eoin!)

I had been wanting to read The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman for a long time. I picked it up in work quite a lot, and when I heard it was soon going to be a film I thought no time like the present.

The crying persisted. The door of the lighthouse clanged in the distance, and Tom’s tall frame appeared on the gallery as he scanned the island with the binoculars. ‘Izzy!’ he yelled, ‘A boat!’ He vanished and re-emerged at ground level. ‘It’s a boat alright,’ Tom declared. ‘And -oh cripes! There’s a bloke, but-‘ The figure was motionless, yet the cried still rang out. he hoisted out a woollen bundle: a woman’s soft lavender cardigan wrapped around a tiny, screaming infant.

Tom Sherbourne, released from the horrors of the First World War, is now a lighthouse keeper, cocooned on a remote Australian island with his young wife Izzy, who is content in everything but her failure to have a child.

One April morning, a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man- and a crying baby. Safe from the real world, Tom and Izzy break the rules and follow their hearts.

A decision with devastating consequences.

This is a beautiful, difficult book mostly about love. And ‘a story about right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same.’

You do really try to think what you would do in this situation, on a tiny island with nothing but a lighthouse on it, and three painful miscarriages, and so much love in your heart.

Tom is reeling from WW1 when he takes this quiet post on the windswept island of Janus. He tends to ‘the light’ with as much care and dedication possible. The reverence with which all who are responsible for the light protect it is poetic and beautiful .

Later, when the old man spoke about the light, his voice changed, as though he were talking about a faithful dog or a favourite rose.

I have always have a fascination, a romantic notion of lighthouses. When and if I grow up I’d love to live in one and fill it with books. No big deal. The writing is absolutely beautiful, and I love how everything is thick with salt on the island. Salt lends itself wonderfully to prose.

On a visit back to the mainland, he meets Isabel Graysmark, she’s 10 years younger and knows what she wants as soon as she sees it. She arrives in his life full force and they are soon married. After so much heartbreak, the arrival of Lucy seems to be an answer to Izzy’s prayer. Tom wavers in his¬†strict records and they go against every regulation little by little. By the time he realises what they have done it is too late.

This book is so, so worth reading. It made me weep. It really is a beautiful story, masterfully told. Been recommending it to everyone. Michael Fassbender better not mess this up.

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Birthday Bubble

I turned 27 on Saturday, and am somewhat disturbed by this. However, after two nights out I think I have hit a bit of a depressive stage today. I have been feeling so loved and spoiled all weekend I thought I would let it spill into a blog post.

I had to work on my birthday, just from 2-7 (27!) and I did try to swap it, alas. But in the morning I was spoiled with a coconut cream finger, and many paper creations from Ellen and Jacob. Well really just Ellen. Jacob gave me 70 cents from the windowsill. Ellen who is 9’s masterpiece was a big map with a 3D library, a ‘gorgeous garden’ made from a Graze Box and our house complete with 10 family members. There was a really cute note on it saying I didn’t have to keep it if it was too big.

After my sweaty shift manning the stationery department, I rushed home and enlisted my lovely visiting Belfast sister to do my hair and make up which was happy days for me. She had bought me some lovely make up from Soap and Glory which we tried out. We have become really good friends of late. We don’t contact each other that much when she’s not at home, but we have late night chats and laughs when she’s back, we are weirdly similar and different, and herself and her boyfriend are so good to me and our family.

I got several lovely cards and packages, and because people know I love snail mail they probably feel under pressure, but they are not and it was a lovely surprise. Thank you Ruth, Mammy, Abbye and L! Too kind and generous. What funny, pretty birthday parcels.

Caoimhe and me had already had quite a good week of events, she got me a ticket to Lisa Hannigan in Belfast for last Sunday, which was beautiful and then we had the time of our lives at Sarah Millican on Tuesday! Still laughing about that. We are both more and more determined to make the most of it and it is working out well for now!

So, I was ultimately late to my own birthday night, but five of us went to Claire’s house to have a few drinks including pink prosecco before heading out. Two are friends for 16 years, one about 8 years and one is a new friend.

We got carried away and had such a laugh, and a serious conversation about sexism in the workplace. We celebrated being 27, some being single, that pHD, we took selfies and learned about snapchat. And this is what is so important to me about friendship, and in particular female friendship (one of my favourite subjects and indeed things) all of us have difficult things happening in our lives, some really hard stuff for some of my best friends that I know of, but there is just a constant circle of support, and closeness and yes, love. This often gives way to the best laughs, and teasing. There is nothing like it. We left it so late to go out that we weren’t sure where to go, but you know what? It didn’t matter. We got a wee corner to dance in and everyone was happy and I mostly remember laughing!

Aisling, the George to my Fred had sent me this quote which I love;

The best kind of friendships are fierce lady friendships where you aggressively believe in each other, defend each other, and think the other deserves the world.

We met some interesting people as we weaved our way home, and my friends looked after me really well! Plenty to tease me about in future, I am sure but that’s ok!

I dragged myself out of bed after a few hours to do the Foyle Hospice Walk/Run and it wasn’t that pretty, but it was for a good cause and I got to see Ruth and baby Luke and properly meet her sisters and mum so it was all good.

A power nap and some Chinese food later, Claire and Aisling decided on Sunday Sips so away we went again! Quieter drinks in Claire’s and the bar later. But we all felt happy and I really appreciated the friendship and the love bubble.

I think I just really wanted to get my gratitude on, and really appreciate all the kindness that has been shown to me over the last few days, but really all the time with these girls! Again as I always say, I am at a bit of a funny place in my life, and I at least thought I would be married off by this stage, and making a bit more money but I really am trying to be appreciative of the wonderful gifts that I do have, and keep hoping. I did have a huge disappointment, and a mysterious bouquet of flowers within a week so I guess anything could happen, ha.

This could be our year! And I will get by with a little help from my friends.

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