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April 2020

Read With Us: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

Read With Us

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away (or so it seems now) . . . Bonny and Carole and I announced our next Read With Us selection.  (It was really just a month ago!  Can you believe that???)

Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

At the time we were making our next selection, another book - American Dirt - was much in the news, and getting significant push-back from critics.  When I picked up that book from my library, I decided to dig a little deeper into the controversy before reading.  Despite the fact that the book is highly readable (it's been described as "trauma porn with social justice overtones"), the controversy was all about cultural appropriation and the overall lack of Latinx voices in mainstream literature.  (Really, this was quite similar to what many of us experienced last year as the fiber industry awakened to the voices and experiences of people of color in our knitting community.  Only with authors and the publishing industry.)

I struggled with whether to read - or not read - the book I was holding in my hands.  And then, I happened upon this article - and this one.  They are rather long articles, but each explains the issues with American Dirt very well.  (If you're interested in the controversy, or if you are interested in learning more about cultural appropriation in general, they are very worth reading.)

In the end, I decided to give the book a pass -- and to look for a different book about the Mexican immigrant experience - this time written by a Latinx author.

After scouring lists like this one, we chose I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter for our spring Read With Us selection.

The book was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Young People's Literature -- a first for author Erika L. Sánchez.  The judges panel described the book this way:

Part mystery, part love story, part inner quest. In I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, the vibrant teen protagonist struggles to prove who she is not, and in that journey, discovers who she is: stronger, braver, more worthy of loving and living than she ever imagined. Bold new voice Erika L. Sánchez carries us through an amazing exploration of family, grief, and culture, reminding us that we are all flawed, and it is those flaws that make us priceless.

And, yes.  This book is young adult fiction -- normally not my genre.  But the reviews are good, I'm interested in the author, and I want to learn more about the topics covered in the book.  As I read, I'm going to need to remember that I am not the target-audience for this particular book -- and try to think back to what 13-year-old Kym might have thought about the book.  It's not my usual contemporary literature kind of selection, but I'm keeping my mind open, and I'm pretty sure I'll learn a few things.

(And besides, I think young adult fiction might be perfectly suited to my mood and attention span right about now.)

We'll be reading the book this month (April).  I know your local libraries are closed, but you can still find the book on Amazon ($7.39 for a book-book and $10.99 for the Kindle version), and it's also available to borrow on Overdrive.  Next month, we're changing up the discussion format a little bit:  On May 12 you'll find a book discussion question on each of our blogs (a never-before-attempted-3-blog-extravaganza!) -- and on May 19 we're going to host a real-time, Zoom book discussion get-together.  (Details to follow.)

I hope you'll grab a copy of the book . . . and Read With Us!


Monday, Right?

Yep!

It's time, once again, to . . . 

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As usual, on Mondays I share a bit of this and a little of that.  Things I discovered over the weekend.

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"We must be willing to let go of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."
                --- Joseph Campbell

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Stunning forsythia, isn't it?  Sadly, it's not in my garden!  (But I do get to walk past it every day.)

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We're living in amazing times, my friends.

We're all part of history-in-the-making.  With ring-side seats. 

Now is the perfect time . . .  to create a Pandemic Journal!  As a life-long journaler, this was kind of a no-brainer for me (and someday soon I'll tell you more about my own Pandemic Journal), but if you hadn't thought of doing this yet, maybe this article will inspire you to give it a try.  As you'll read in the article, a Pandemic Journal doesn't have to be fancy or formal -- just some easy, low-key way for you to document what's going on for you in these very strange times.  (Future You will be so glad you did!)

Are you keeping a Pandemic Journal?  I'd love to hear about it!

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We're all missing something these days, aren't we?  Me?  I miss the gym.  My sister?  She's missing live performance.  And especially musicals and plays.  Lucky for her (and maybe for you, too), I found this list of streaming theater in the New York Times over the weekend.  Click in to see what's streaming online.  Classic stage productions, new shows, Broadway extravaganzas -- there's something for everyone!  (And the seats are comfy, too.)

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Cooking at home.  Pretty much . . . it's our only option these days.  I consider myself lucky right now because I actually love to cook, and I have a fairly well-stocked pantry.  My biggest frustration comes from not always having quite the ingredients I want.  I've gotten pretty good at just winging it (generally), but I found this comprehensive article about substitutions to be really helpful.  Maybe it will help you, too.  (Again, this article is from the New York Times.  They have an amazing cooking section -- and have expanded access to many recipes in their index during the pandemic.)

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And now, a message from CoronaLisa:

Worried about disinfecting your groceries?  Do read this article from NPR about what you SHOULD be worried about at the grocery store.  (And it's NOT disinfecting your groceries when you get home.)  This is good, practical advice for safe grocery shopping during the pandemic.

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Mary has decided why wait for summer . . . and created Stay-At-Home Book Bingo this year.  Visit Mary to learn the rules of this special-edition round of Book Bing and create your own bingo card.  Come on along for this fun stay-at-home diversion!

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And, finally, from the Look for Joy department:  

A visit to Longwood Gardens is on my lifetime bucket list of things I want to do.  I won't be getting there for an in-person walk through their gardens anytime soon . . . but I can make virtual visits to their gardens right now!  Click in -- for short but stunning "walks," and see spring emerging at Longwood Gardens whenever you need a break from your day.

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That's it for this Monday!  I hope your week is off to a good start.  Be well!


Poetry in Motion

We often think of poetry as a rather passive thing. We picture poetry-readers with a volume of poetry open in their laps, gazing dreamily at the distant landscape outside the window.  That kind of thing.

And, sure.  There is that.  

But poetry can be active, too.  Lively.  Fun . . . even!

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(I often find poetry in my garden.  Poetry without any words.)

Today, I thought I'd share some more active ways to introduce some poetry into your day!  Poetry in motion, indeed.

You can watch it!

Wondering what to stream next?  How about a movie about a poet? (Disclaimer: I have not seen the first 2 movies on this list, but I've seen the other 5 and can highly recommend.)

Before Night Falls - This 2001 critically-acclaimed film is based on the life of Cuban poet Reinaldo Reinas.  Starring Javier Bardem, this movie is available to rent on Amazon Prime for $1.99.

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle - This 1994 film, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Matthew Broderick, is about the life of acclaimed writer Dorothy Parker and her involvement with the Algonquin round-table.  This movie is also available to rent on Amazon Prime for $1.99.

Bright Star - This 2009 period-drama tells the tale of the passionate romance between poet John Keats and his muse, Fanny Brawne.  This one is available to rent on Amazon Prime for $3.99.  (Have your Kleenex ready.)

And if poet-biopics aren't your thing, you can also try a movie that's about poetry, but not about an actual poet:    Dead Poets Society, Shakespeare in Love, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.  (Okay.  So that last one is a real stretch, but there is a great poem in there!)  All three of these are available to rent on Amazon Prime for $3.99, and "Shakespeare" and "Four Weddings" are also streaming on Hulu right now.

You can listen to it!

Do you like listening to someone else read poetry for you?  (It's pretty wonderful, I just gotta say.)  You might like checking out a poetry podcast.

The Slowdown - for 5 minutes of poetry every weekday hosted by former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, this one is balm for the soul.

Interesting People Reading Poetry - this short (occasional) podcast features various artists and luminaries reading a favorite poem and then explaining why they like it.  It's hosted by Andy and Brendan Stermer, and even though they don't broadcast regularly anymore, there are plenty of episodes to enjoy.

Audio Poem of the Day - from the Poetry Foundation, this daily podcast features one poem every day - classic or contemporary - read by poets or actors.

You can click on any of the links above to visit the podcast sites, and from there you'll be able to listen from your computer or device.  If you'd like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that through whichever podcast app you use.

You can also visit The Poetry Archive to access a vast collection of poems being read aloud by their authors.  This site is a true treasure!  It's searchable, and includes an amazing collection of poems and poets.  There is nothing quite like hearing a poet reading their own words.  Check it out!

You can write it!

Yeah.  This is the one that is hardest for me.  I love poetry!  I read it every day.  I listen to it read to me every day.  But writing it?  Not so much.  One year I did a 100-days project . . . where I wrote a haiku every day.  It was really fun!  My haikus weren't very good, but with practice I did get a little better.

Maybe you want to try your hand at writing haiku?  Here's how!  It's easy and it's fun.  (And you never have to share them if you don't want to.)

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And now, here's a poem that's just fun.  (And I can use some fun today.)  (Because it's snowing.)

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Twelve Things I Don't Want to Hear
Connie Bensley

Assemble this in eight straightforward steps.
Start with a fish stock, made the day before.
The driver has arrived but sadly, drunk.
We'll need some disinfectant for the floor.
Ensure all surfaces are clean and dry.
There's been a problem, Madam, I'm afraid!
We'd better have the manhole cover up.
Apologies, the doctor's been delayed.
I'd love to bring a friend, he's so depressed.
They've put you on the camp bed in the hall.
There's just one table left, perhaps you'd share?
I know it's midnight, but I had to call . . . 

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Today's poem was published in Poetry to Make You Smile, 2005, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd., with a forward by Jane O. Wayne.  Information about the author can be found here.

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Have a great weekend, everyone.  May you find solace in words!

 

 


Traffic is Light

I'm trying not to whine these days. I'm trying really, really hard to look for joy. To maintain my optimism. To be cheer-filled and hopeful.

But. Ugh. It's so hard some days.

(Especially when you get an attack of diverticulitis in the middle of a global pandemic and have to take a 10-day course of TWO antibiotics and can't have even a sip of alcohol for the duration.) (Like . . . not a drop.)

So today?  I'm just gonna whine.  

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Here are three things I miss the most while self-isolating:

1 - My car.  This one surprises me.  But last weekend, I got into my car for the first time in almost two weeks to deliver some groceries to my Dad (I can't visit, but I can leave a grocery delivery).  I got in my car, checked to make sure I had my disinfecting wipes handy, buckled myself in, pressed the START button -- and cried.  I guess it's not my car that I miss so much, but the freedom it represents.  And how casually I used to just . . . hop in.  And take off for . . . anywhere.  I really, really miss that!

2 - The gym.  This one does not surprise me.  I'm working out every day here at home.  We have a little gym set up in our basement, and I go on long walks with JoJo every day, and thank-you-Adrienne for your yoga videos . . . but it's just not the same.  I miss the equipment and the energy and the discipline that comes with my gym. My phone still reminds me of my gym classes - "traffic is light" (no kidding) - which makes it worse.  I suppose I should just remove all those reminders. But I'm not quite ready to let go. (Sigh.)

3 - My art classes.  This one doesn't surprise me, either.  I don't NEED to have a class to be able to "art" -- and I have space all set up here at home to draw and paint and dabble to my heart's content.  But I miss the camaraderie of my classmate and friends.  And the structure of going to class and doing the "homework."  And I really miss the inspiration of my teacher's tutorials and assignments -- and the work everyone else is doing.  And you know what else?  I haven't painted a thing since my last art class.

(I'd include my local library, too . . . except I haven't missed it yet.  I'm still working through the stack of books I picked up the day before it closed. This might be the only time I've been happy about having all my "holds" become available at the same time.)

How about YOU?  What are you missing most right about now?

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Note: I almost didn't share this post today.  I thought long and hard about just trashing it . . . because I know the things on my list - and probably the things on many of your lists, too - are minor inconveniences in the life of a highly privileged person lucky enough to be self-isolating at home during the pandemic. I know there are people all over the world missing so very much more than trite things like their car, their gym, and their art classes right now.

But in the end, I decided to hit "publish" anyway.  I see this blog as another way for me to journal -- to capture and remember what the days are like for me.  And today?  This is where I am. 

In upcoming days, I'm planning to talk a lot more about comparative suffering (something I really learned about while going through cancer treatment), and also suggest a few ways we might be able to help others who are suffering through this pandemic without resources.

So.
Let's just take a breath, support each other (wherever we are) . . .  and collectively whine together!  


Not Unraveling . . . Yet

This morning . . . we have the sun rising on a new day.  And a pile of unruly blue knitting that is beginning to wear me out.

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It's the kind of pattern that leaves much to be desired in the construction-and-instruction department . . . and you can't really try the unruly thing on during the making . . . and I'm nearing the finish . . . and keeping my fingers crossed . . . that it all turns out in the blocking. 

But it's been decent and mindless pandemic knitting, so there is that.

Let's have a poem instead!

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The Cure
Albert Huffstickler

We think we get over things.
We don't get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to "get over" a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish,
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape
and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That's what we're looking for:
not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life
without obliterating (getting over) a single
instant of it.

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April is National Poetry Month, and each year, in April, I celebrate poetry here on my blog.  Hoping to win over some converts to the beauty and peace and accessibility of poetry.  Sharing something that brings me joy.

Today's poem was published in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, 2017, Grayson Books, and edited by Phyllis Cole-Dar and Ruby R. Wilson.  Information about the author can be found here.

 


Trust Me

About this time twelve (!) years ago, I was beginning my very unnerving, frightening, and frustrating path toward an eventual cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen.  How could I have known then . . . that the emotions and feelings of those days would be back to haunt me twelve years later in the form of a global pandemic!

Yep.  

They're all there; the same emotional elements . . . 

  • Shock . . . learning that life really IS temporary -- and that none of us is guaranteed a future.  Or, at least, a future that we can control.
  • Denial . . . this can't really be happening; they must be wrong; let's get another opinion.
  • Living in a "trance" . . . going through the motions of life while adjusting enough to deal with the reality of the situation.
  • Freefall . . . losing life-as-we-knew-it -- and the comfort of thinking that we knew what the future would look like.
  • Living in limbo . . . because we really have no idea what will happen next, or when, or what it will look like AFTER; hoping there IS an AFTER.
  • Fear and anxiety . . . about being sick, about dying, about not knowing, about, well, EVERYTHING.
  • Accepting . . . what we're dealing with, focusing on the facts, taking action.

Cancer diagnosis.
Global pandemic.
More alike than different.

Twelve years ago, I was going through these feelings on my own, really.  Now . . . all those feelings and emotions are collective!  Rather than just me feeling those feels . . . well.  Right now we're ALL feeling them!

Oh! Oh! There's one more thing.

Hair!

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When I first got my cancer diagnosis, the first question out of my mouth was not (as you might expect) "Am I going to die?"  Oh, no!  It was, "Will I lose my hair?"  

And, yeah.  I did.  (Lose my hair.)

It was devastating.  Pre-cancer-Kym cared a lot about her hair.  (A LOT.)

But it didn't take me long to understand that my hair was not really all that important in the overall scheme of things.  Losing my hair to chemo freed me in ways I never could have imagined before my cancer diagnosis.  When my hair grew back, I embraced the silver.  I kept a low-key, simple-to-maintain style.  I threw away my round brush!  I didn't worry about my hair looking goofy when I rolled out of bed and went to the gym.  Sure.  My cowlicks still bugged me, and I got regular haircuts -- but I didn't stress over it anymore, y'know?

A lot of my friends are stressing about their hair right now -- with all the salons closed and our favorite stylists sidelined with the stay-at-home orders.  Maybe you are, too?  

I'm here to tell you . . . it'll be okay!  

Use this time as an opportunity to start growing out your silver.  (You won't believe how liberating it is.) Now's your chance to let your hair grow long enough to try a different style.  Or grow out your bangs.  Go natural.  Maybe you've always wondered if you could cut your own hair.  You could even try some crazy, temporary hair dye and try something off-the-charts different.  

Or you can just put a hat on!

It's just hair.  
And it turns out that hair . . . is just another something we think we can control.  It's sort of a physical embodiment of all those other feels we're feeling.  Something concrete . . . in the midst of all that heavier stuff like the limbo and the "trance" and the freefall and the fear and the anxiety.

Keep moving.  
Once we get to the AFTER - and we WILL get to the AFTER - we'll ALL look different.  We'll BE different.  Our hair.  Our attitudes.  Our compassion.  The way we deal with adversity.  The way we see the world.  The way we see EVERYTHING.

Trust me on that.

 


Just In Case You Lost Track

. . . it's Monday again.  Time to . . . 

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As usual, on Mondays I share a bit of this and a little of that.  Things I discovered over the weekend.

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"Some days there won't be a song in your heart.  Sing anyway."
        --- Emory Austin

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(One of my neighborhood swans . . . )

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Let's talk face masks, shall we?  

I've been busy sewing face masks using this pattern, but . . . I really don't like the fit all that much.  I've tweaked and fussed with it for a couple of weeks now, and I'm ready to try something new.  After much (probably too much) research, I'm planning to try these today instead.  (This one is simple to cut out and simple to sew.  Fewer steps AND it looks like a better fit.)

Can't find elastic?  (Because apparently elastic is the new toilet paper. . . ) The pattern I'm going to try today includes options for elastic OR ties.  I've also read about suggestions for elastic-substitutes, including using hair ties or cutting up old pairs of tights or pantyhose.  Looking for an easy and effective fabric for making ties?  Use knit fabric or cut up old t-shirts (the knit will roll up on itself and make a comfortable tie). 

Want to make masks but don't sew?  Here are some great tips for making no-sew face masks.

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Looking for a creative outlet to get you through your days?  

Artist Kim Bernard is providing a daily 15-minute art prompt.  These quick little "exercises" are simple, fun, and a nice way to keep focused on something other than the news.

And artist/author Keri Smith is posting an Exploration of the Day (not every day but most days?) to help us all pay more attention to the world around us -- especially now that we are isolated, afraid, and unfocused.

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Have you heard about the Mouse Book Club?  I discovered these little books last year when I was trying to use my phone less (after my "digital detox").  These miniature phone-sized books are perfect when you're looking for a portable diversion out in the world.  (I used to keep one in my wallet, and pull it out instead of my phone when I needed to "kill time.")  Now that I'm not going out in the world anymore, I find I need a phone-sized something (now more than ever) to keep me from looking at my phone.  Again. 

Check it out!  A great diversion -- AND a great way to sample those pieces of literature you've been meaning to read anyway.

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Lastly, I have a couple of things to share that may help you with your anxiety and general stress about what's going on in the world.

First, something quick to read -- a simple antidote to help with coronavirus anxiety.  It's not going to solve all your problems, of course.  But it might help you make it through the next moment.  And maybe the one after that.

And then, something that will take a little more time -- but worth it.

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And that's it for this Monday.

Be well.

 


Finding Solace

Yesterday, we enjoyed an absolutely perfect spring day here in my corner of the world.  There was sunshine and blue sky all day long.  It was warm enough to work out in my garden - did you hear that? in my garden! - without even a jacket.  It felt so good to pull out my little garden cart and pull on my garden gloves for a while!

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I spent two glorious hours cutting back dead stalks and ripping out dead grasses and pulling some incredibly vigorous weeds.  It was wonderful.  So good for my heart and my soul.

And for those two hours, I (almost) forgot about the rest of the world.  It felt surprisingly normal in my garden . . . where everything is doing just what it's supposed to do in the spring.  Emerging. Unfurling. Budding. Growing. Even blooming!  I was reminded that . . . 

Despite everything.
Spring is here.

I found solace working in my garden. A little reprieve from the bad news. A feeling of normalcy. A connection with nature. I could breathe out there. And dream of a future that looked beautiful.

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I'm sure I won't be able to get out in my garden every day (because Spring in Michigan. . . ), but I'm going to get out there whenever I possibly can.  I'm looking for moments of solace.  And I always find them in my garden.

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May your weekend be filled with peace, and may you find the solace you need.

Here's a poem to set you on your way. . . 

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blessing the boats
Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

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Learn more about Lucille Clifton here.

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Neighborhood Joy

(Today's post features Really Bad Photos.)
(But it's a nice story all the same.)

In my neighborhood, our mailboxes are all out at the street at the end of our driveways.  That way, the mail deliverers can just drive up and pop the mail in our boxes, easy-peasy.  A lot of people have little garden beds around their mailbox posts, so in the spring and summer I like checking out the plantings to see what's blooming. (I often have to resist the urge to pull other people's weeds, but that's another story). It's a bit early for all that right now, though, so mostly I don't notice the mailboxes at this point in the season.

Anyway.

Last Saturday, I was out for a walk in my neighborhood with JoJo.

As we were walking, something brightly colored caught my eye.  Too early for blooms!  Turns out . . . it was a little painted rock at the base of a mailbox post.

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As we walked a little further, I noticed another . . . 

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I found painted rocks at the base of signposts, too. . .

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They weren't at every mailbox, nor were they at every post.  But there were enough of them that . . . I started looking!

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There was even one at the foundation of our neighborhood "landmark" (a big metal barn just down the road) . . . 

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I have no idea who placed these painted rocks, or if they're meant to be part of some activity for kids in the neighborhood, or a sort of Easter egg hunt maybe???  All I know . . . is that they brought me great joy as we walked!

I was kind of sad . . . that I hadn't noticed  a painted rock at the base of MY mailbox.  

But when I got to my corner, I caught a little flash of orange!

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We live on a corner, and have a city-installed brick retaining wall next to the sidewalk (which the snowplows hit every winter, so the city has to replace the bricks every spring) -- and there was a sweet little orange rock on the retaining wall.

I was SO excited to find it there!  A bright spot on my corner!

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I have no idea who is behind these bright and charming painted rocks in my neighborhood (probably a crafty mom cooped up with her kids and desperately looking for things to do. . . ), but they have been a wonderful sight on my walks!

These days, it's really all about the little things that brighten our days.  
(And especially unexpected painted rocks embellished with glitter and pipe cleaners!)