Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

Yesterday, as I arrived home and walked in the door to my house, I heard a squeal as my 14-month-old granddaughter walked away from me in that precious, stiff, wobbly way unique to toddlers, hoping I would chase her. Of course, I dropped my bag, slipped off my Skechers, and crept after her, sweeping her sweet little self into a giant hug. Giggling children remind us of all that is joyful, don’t they?

Take a moment to close your eyes and remember the games you played as a child: tag, red-light-green-light, heads-up-seven-up. Do you remember the warm sunshine, the chirp of crickets camouflaged in the verdant grass, the breathless anticipation of waiting for your thumb to be pressed down to your fist by your best friend? I was a hide-and-seek master as a child. I was small enough to hide in very creative places and patient enough to hold my breath if required to remain hidden. Safety was paramount in my game;  I was afraid to try for home base because I didn’t want to give away my prime spot, nor did I relish being tagged in a way that felt physically aggressive.  I’d climb trees or tuck into the laundry hamper to evade my brothers and the neighborhood kids.

When I was a teen attending a church youth group retreat, I remember playing a version of hide-and-seek called Capture The Flag. I don’t recall the rules; what I do remember is that I hid so well and for so long, listening to new friends run around in the inky night of a countryside retreat center, getting caught and laughing while I remained silent and solitary, that no one ever found me; to my knowledge, no one even tried. I finally gave up and went back to the cabin, where the entire group including the chaperones had moved on to a new activity. No one had noticed my absence, and certainly, they had not sent anyone to find me.

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Hiding didn’t always mean literally tucking myself away in a wee spot. Sometimes I hid in plain view. One day in my senior year of high school, my friends and I were goofing around in the choir room with some inflatable frisbees I had in my car trunk from the water park where I worked. All five of my friends struck silly poses and someone snapped a picture. That pic ended up in the yearbook, and my friend Celeste wrote “Kim, where are you?” beside the photo in the book. Where, indeed? I was standing beside the photographer, waiting and hoping that one of my friends would notice I was not in the picture and invite me in. Same thing happened in college at a club Christmas party- my entire group was getting a picture made by the Christmas tree and I was standing off to the side, waiting for someone to notice me.

I tend to hide as an adult, too. I tuck away in my office or my home, surrounded by comforting items that make it too easy to cocoon. My bedroom has always been my refuge, I would happily spend days tucked into my bed surrounded by books and sunshine spattered yellow walls. Travis is always telling me to call someone to set up a date. I can’t. I just can’t. But the presence of my daughter’s family, with those sweet little baby faces, has given me a reason to leave my nest.

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I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert and a survivor of childhood trauma; I am not unique in that. How many of us find safe, cozy places and huddle in there, waiting for our friends, lovers, children, parents, co-workers to seek us out and pull us from our isolation?

Leaving the hidey-hole means risking vulnerability. There is a journey to be made between the safety of darkness and the safety of home base. You may get tagged, knocked down, or made “it.” You may risk love and not be loved in return. Even when you are loved in return, there is even more at stake, because nothing hurts worse than the pain inflicted by a loved one. You may express yourself artistically and not be understood. You may try a new career and fail. You may initiate a new friendship and be ignored.

As a middle-aged adult, I have owned that I have often been complicit in my own isolation. If I had jumped into the photos, I’d have been welcomed. If I’d run out into the darkness of Capture the Flag, I’d have been tagged, sure, then invited in with the rest of the group for snacks.

Yet I don’t know if I will ever be comfortable enough to jump into the photo or invite the friend over. If Travis is ever gone from me, you will probably find me tucked away like a hermit, reading books and eating saltines in bed. I won’t send out an S.O.S. But if you come to find me, let me know you’re around by hollering that old standby: “Olly-Olly-Oxen-Free!”

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Let’s engage!

If you’re an introvert or simply a survivor who tends to hide away or blend in, what are your go-to strategies for taking a risk and engaging? What are your defense mechanisms that might not be healthy?

I tend to hide behind organizational matters and busy-ness.

Hold the Mayo: A Reflection on Triggers

Years ago, I found myself in a crumpled heap on the floor in the hallway of my house, weeping as though all the wretchedness of the world lay at my feet in the form of a puddle of white latex paint. I scrubbed frantically and ineffectually as the paint soaked into the beige carpet, the nylon fibers greedily absorbing the goo. My kids waited nearby, helpless to console me, anxious to leave for school yet unable to coax me to my feet. Eventually, I gave up and left the ruined paint-soaked towel in a pink floral heap, taking my kids and myself to school; knowing that by the time I got home the paint would be a hardened shell about which I could do nothing. For years, I lived with that white paint stain on the floor in our hallway; our finances didn’t allow for replacing the carpet and it became mostly invisible. But never totally out of my mind.

The paint stain reminded me of a greasy mayonnaise stain in front of the refrigerator in my childhood home. Our kitchen was floored in hideous 1970s nylon kitchen carpet, a design trend that I find inexplicable. Who in their right mind conceived that raising a family would be better with carpet in the kitchen? At the tender age of nine, I dropped a full jar of mayonnaise while preparing a sandwich. It fell in slow motion to the floor, glass shattering into millions of shards while globs of the eggy, greasy condiment seeped into the gold and brown synthetic loops, the pungent smell filling the air in the tiny kitchen.

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My father was not happy with me, this day became one of the rare ones when his temper found a ready target in me. Of course, I know now that there was much, much more going on in his world than a food stain. And he knew it was an honest accident. But he was, nonetheless, angry. That stain never did go away. Even when we had the house listed for sale, prospective buyers noted the giant dark circle standing sentinel before the refrigerator. The stain reminded me of my own careless klutziness, it reminded me of disappointing my dad, and it reminded me that our family was too poor to have the stain cleaned or the carpet replaced.

On the day the white paint ruined my hall carpet, I was that little girl again.

My trauma had once again chased me into adulthood, sniffing and snapping at my heels like a rabid dog who just refused to let go. My childhood trauma did that a lot (so did my husband’s), and it had made my marriage an uphill climb. In a period of particular strife and struggle in our relationship, my husband and I each attended, separately, retreats with counselors whose mission it was to find sources of dysfunction and shine light on them, enabling their clients to return to their homes equipped with a clearer understanding of their own trauma and the tools with which embark on the perilous journey to wellness.

The foundational exercise that was the crux of the weekend, the one that every bit of healing was meant to be drawn from, was the creation of a “trauma egg,” a visual metaphor for the birth of our brokenness. The preparation for the work began the night before when we were required to enter into silence. We awakened in rooms devoid of the usual chatter heard in a house full of women, our breakfast was eaten in a hush as we began to turn inward.

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And then backward. In the hours-long exercise, the staff coaxed memories and snippets of conversations long forgotten as we sketched our lives in Crayola markers, discovering the seeds, roots, and nuclei of all the hurt we carried with us. Dust motes floated in the autumn sunshine that spilled through the windows, glowing like fairy dust settling on the trembling shoulders of the women who cried in turns. Sniffles, gasps, sobs, and sighs filled my ears as the souls around me bared their anguish in shared privacy. Our therapists’ philosophy was that by acknowledging all of the pains of the past, by drawing them forth out of shadow and into light, our understanding of ourselves would increase and our forgiveness for our own shortcomings would be enabled. This work is where resilience begins.

The mayonnaise incident belonged in that egg. It was the real source of my heartbreak when a can of paint ruined the carpet in the house I had tried so hard to make beautiful for my family after the ratty, dirty, poverty of my own childhood. The filth and chaos of my childhood home are why my spirit now requires order and cleanliness. My family, who loves me, now understands that and they try to honor my need.

There are those who like to berate people for being “triggered,” who deride when someone responds to a current situation with all the hurt of a past one. What I know is that we must acknowledge those old hurts. I don’t mean we clutch them tightly and wear them on our sleeves, touching them like tender bruises over and over, inflicting our own pain and setting traps for others to hurt us, whether intentionally or not. But those hurts are part of who we are. All of us have them. Some of us have hurts where the trauma is genuinely significant.

For us to be truly resilient, we must bring those wounds out of the shadows, expose them to the light of truth, and cleanse them with love from our own selves and from those we trust to love us. Just as importantly, we must honor those wounds in others. Compassion for ourselves can only flourish in soil that is abundant with compassion for the hurts of others, even if they are wounds we don’t understand. I believe that healing is not a me-first-then-you proposition; it is a simultaneous process where my love and grace for others only serves to increase my love and grace for myself. Blessings upon us all.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the trauma egg and its role in healing from trauma, here’s an organization that does this work. If you’re suffering from childhood trauma, I urge you to reach out. You don’t have to walk alone.

The Murray Method, Trauma Eggs, and The 30 Task Model

 

 

 

Short and Sweet: Of Sun and Shade

We all know them. Those people whose energy simply glows over everything around them. They are often pretty, usually smiling, they seem to have the right words readily waiting on the tips of their tongues. If/when they welcome you, it’s genuine. When you call or email or DM, you hope they’ll reply- it would be so affirming if they noticed you! Their lives seem … enchanted.

Since I am a woman, but a woman who couldn’t quite figure out how to move confidently in the world until her 48th birthday, my memory is littered with other girls who seemed to be the epitome of feminine perfection in my limited sphere of knowledge:

M. in third grade- with long, golden hair that she wore in bows and headbands, a cute 1976 wardrobe of Holly-Hobbie-inspired maxi dresses, and a bright smile.

K. in high school- varsity cheerleader, impeccable dresser, genuinely friendly. Everyone’s favorite person.

E. in college- same as K. friendly, smart, a leader. Perfect hair. Probably had 27 literal bridesmaid’s dresses.

S. in grad school- that star that every graduate cohort probably has, every assignment seemed perfectly accomplished, she gathered a group of friends that was propulsive and influential, a dynamic that has continued into postgrad undertakings.

J. in just general adulthood world- pretty, eloquent and clever, everyone’s favorite pal. So smart. So talented. So photogenic.

I always hoped to be:

asked to scale the monkey bars alongside her

asked to sit at her prom table

asked to be a bridesmaid

asked to work on a group project

invited to the birthday party (which I was, score 1!)

And it’s not just the girls and women I have known that are sunshine. I am married to a man who is everyone’s favorite.

I notice a pattern here. I waited to be asked. Always. Monkey bars, weddings, projects; I lingered to the side as if a shadow and waited for an invitation to join the sunlight. But it is shadows and dark silhouettes that make the world beautiful. That make it bearable. That provide rest for eyes and spirit.

I have decided, finally, to make my own light. To sparkle in my own way. I will always be quiet in a room full of noise, but I am more like the lightning bug that flickers as she flies in the warm summer dark than the showy monarch butterfly that catches all eyes as it flutters in the hot afternoon sun. Both are gorgeous.

Quiet is a beautiful and strong thing for a woman to be. I don’t have to roar. I don’t have to blaze. Shine on.

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Speak Up! Unless You…Can’t. Pt. 1

Oh, boy. There is a lot of noise happening in the world right now. It needs to, in my opinion. We need to make noise about equality. About human rights. About Earth care. Our voices should be used for justice.

Not only that, there are the other, wonderful things that our voices do. They tell the ones we cherish: “I love you.” They sing lullabies to cranky babies. They shout encouragement to our Little Leaguers. They pray. They counsel. They order cocktails.

TRF 2_42I had always been a singer, an actress, a teacher.

What happens when you can’t make noise? What happens when you can’t talk? I don’t mean just that you’re uncomfortable talking, that you’re shy…I mean: what happens when you physically can’t talk because your vocal cords have been injured?

That happened to me. One day I was rolled on a gurney into a surgical suite to have my cervical vertebrae fused, the next day I was wheeled in a chair to my car, assisted upstairs to my bed, and didn’t talk again for a year.

In that time, I learned what it meant to be silenced.

Silence isn’t a concept we westerners are terribly familiar with. America and Canada are “speaking cultures,” but Nordic and Asian countries are “listening cultures.” In the US, we fill silences with chatter, we are uncomfortable with conversational lulls and jump in to fill them, we may even interrupt each other to be assured that our points can be made (we’re not as prone to interrupt and talk over each other as Italians though, they speak over each other as an accepted mode of conversation).

And it’s not just talking that fills our ears. We inhabit a noisy world. There are televisions, radios, and video games blasting media racket. Birds and dogs and bubbling water and trees branches in the breeze create a nature melody. Dishwashers and plumbing gurgle and swish. Children scream. Adults bicker. And for the “normal” person, the one who can both hear and speak, it’s pretty easy to chime in. Even if you’re a bit timid, you can probably make your voice work. You likely are able to open your mouth, expel air across your vocal cords with the use of your diaphragm, send signals from brain to tongue and teeth to manipulate sound, and get your message out. You really don’t have to give a thought to the mechanics of it.

Unless there is a physical impairment, this skill develops naturally in us. I have been watching my granddaughter as she learns to vocalize, she’s added the hard *g* and *d* to her repertoire of pre-speech sounds this week, and my response, as her Lolly, has been as rapturous as if she had just trilled a perfect Mozart aria.

The realization that my voice was gone was a slow process. When I first awoke in the hospital, I couldn’t make any sound at all, my throat was magnificently swollen. The neurosurgeon and his team had intubated, of course. That’s standard for any surgery. Once I was intubated, though, they moved my esophagus out of the way to get to my spine. It was to be expected that my throat would be swollen, my voice nonexistent when I came to. No alarms raised at all. When I began recovery at home, I lay in my bed for several days, pretty much alone while I rested. When a family member checked on me, I tried to speak, no sound but a rasp emitted from my throat. When I got out of bed, I found myself breathless and gasping like a goldfish who’s been dropped on the kitchen counter while its bowl is being cleaned. We kept assuming it would get better. A couple of weeks later, it hadn’t.

I made an appointment with an ear, nose, throat specialist.

VocalcordparalysesThe doc ran a camera up through my nostril and down my throat, encouraging me all the while to relax. I tried, I really did. As I attempted to vocalize, the doc watched a monitor. Finally, after several minutes of awkward grunts and whispers, he shook his head, “The right cord isn’t moving at all.”

I left the medical building with a referral to a voice specialist in Houston and what felt like an iron cloud floating above my head.

I had no voice.

Over the next few posts, I will be exploring the story of losing my literal voice, what it took to get it back, and what I learned about myself, my relationships, and my mission in that time.

For now, I will share a thought from Brene’ Brown, a personal hero. It rings true because the only thing that sustained me for the grief that would be a constant companion in the year to come was the deep well of joy that my husband and kids had been filling for all our life together: “Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience – ensuring we’ll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.”

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Short and Sweet: Bright Future!

I am reminding myself today that my life is pretty great, even when I am in the throes of creating a book. Editing is hard, friends, whether omitting unwieldy words, cleaning out a closet, or letting go of unhealthy relationships.

I found this chalk drawing in our neighborhood. It fit my big old mood.

Back to the manuscript!

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Short and Sweet: Prickles and Sugars

This photo really speaks to me these days. It was taken at my cousin’s ranch, I encountered this still life while out on a wandering. I see so much of my own current life situation: a skull, backed by barbed wire…death binds, but also frees. There’s parched earth, but it’s sustaining a green cactus. Said cactus contains both spikes and a gorgeous splash of fuchsia floral joy.

I’m in a weird place. My career is shifting, and I feel both constricted and free, cowardly yet dauntless. It’s like I’m at someone else’s untrustworthy beck and call, all while I start grasping the wheel of my own ship. Life is like that, I guess.

Also, it’s just a super cool Texan kind of image, don’t you think?

What’s Your Superpower?

 

 

I just spent an empowering weekend. I arrived at Sunday evening feeling a great big mix of things: fatigued, sore, exhilarated, hungry, and hopeful.

It all started on Friday, when I saw this meme, and it said, “No one is you, and that’s your superpower.” And I thought, “Cool!”

It’s true- no one else is me. No one else is you, either.

Now, before you roll your eyes and say something like, “I wouldn’t wish being me on my worst enemy,” just stop for a minute. Really and truly? I used to think that way. Not anymore. Nope. Now I think like the little girl I was when I watched Lynda Carter spin until she transformed into Wonder Woman, using wits and beauty to foil bad guys. I think like the little girl I was when I watched “Electra Woman and Dyna-Girl.” I loved Batman reruns, especially the ones with Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, who challenged the men in the room with her brains and pluck.

 

That little girl didn’t question her intelligence. She didn’t question her thighs. She didn’t say much, but when she spoke it was because she believed in what she was saying. That little girl was not afraid to bring questions to the table. That little girl didn’t wait for permission to climb monkey bars or explore on her bike or jump in the pool or lose herself in a novel.

Little girls still love Wonder Woman. Big girls do, too. We know it because of the resounding success of this year’s film. Diana Prince still calls to the feminine spirit of power. My daughter Libby, who works for a company that sends characters to kids’ birthday parties, reveled in it this weekend, playing Wonder Woman for an eight year old. Not Aurora. Not Cinderella. Wonder Woman. Amazonian warrior. With a Lasso of Truth instead of a broom of submission. A woman who is her own hero, not the damsel waiting to be rescued.

I am learning to be my own hero, too.

I attended my first political protest this Saturday, standing along a busy thoroughfare, holding up a bright yellow poster. I donned my own super hero costume:

to protect my thighs of power: undershorts. Because even in March, south Texas is hot and sweaty and thigh chafe is no joke;

to add spring to my step: yellow Converse of joy. Because who can feel despondent in bright yellow Cons?

To embolden my heart: a Wonder Woman logo across my chest. Because I am my own Amazonian warrior.

I rode Thelma, my bike, for over one and a half hours to get to the protest site. I am not sure why I did it, I just know that my heart spoke it and I listened. Something in my advocate soul needed to prove that I had the courage and stamina to do it. Bearing in mind that I am fifty years old, have had one knee surgery and two discs replaced with a steel plate in my neck, have two more bulging discs, and two  knees that now sound like crinkling cellophane when I go up stairs, this was no small feat. I hadn’t been on a bike in two years, except for one thirty five minute ride a week ago. I honestly don’t know why I did it. But I arrived to the protest out of breath, sweat dripping down my backside, and exhilarated. I chugged water then found a spot in line.

An organizer led a chant, it went like this:

Tell me what democracy looks like!

And we answered:

This is what democracy looks like!

 

 

With eleven year old blonde girls on one side, and a mom with heavily accented English on the other, we chanted and I got choked up. Because it is what democracy looks- and sounds- like: heavily accented or native English, young or middle aged, rich or poor. This was a gathering of diverse people. Toward the end of the event, a young dad came to me with so much excitement it couldn’t be contained in his body. He wanted to know how we had all gotten organized, and he was thrilled to see like minded people in what has traditionally been an ultra conservative community. He ended up bringing his elementary aged boys over to meet me and to take in what was happening. This was what democracy looks like. And by the way, the folks on the other end of the political spectrum have the same freedom to gather. Isn’t this a great country?

I managed to get halfway back home, and was grateful to my sweet husband for meeting me at a cafe to taxi me back home after a lemon drop martini and a turkey burger. At that moment, Diana the Amazon princess needed a ride from her rescuer because her legs were wobbly and her softer parts felt bruised. Hey, even super heroes need a little help every now and then.

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After a lovely and restful night, I drove (no Thelma on this day) and then limped into the cinema to revisit another childhood hero: Meg Murry in the film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s novel “A Wrinkle in Time.” I don’t know that I can adequately describe what this book meant to me as an awkward, introverted, brainy, dreamy pre-adolescent with an even brighter little brother. Meg was a hero. She saved her dad with her courage and her brain. She visited dream planets by believing and being open. She was magnificent. Oprah did what she does- drop wisdom and grace, while Reese and Mindy brought humor and joy. My own heroes were invoked and quoted over and over: Jesus, Ghandi, Maya Angelou, Lin Manuel Miranda. I didn’t love the movie because it was a perfect piece of cinema.  I loved the movie because it was visually stunning, it celebrated diversity, it exalted intelligence, it honored love. After all, as Meg’s father discovered when his science experiment came to life, “Love is the frequency.”

The film continued the work that I think is underway on our planet. The work of soul and mission and caring.

As Mrs. Which, Oprah challenges Meg, “Be a warrior. Can you?” I felt the challenge in my seat in the darkened theater, too.

What’s my superpower? It’s a belief, down deep in my bones, that life is magical.

What are my tools? First, a listening ear. Then, my written words.

What is my mission, my personal legend, my work? To help others see, create, and accept the magic of their own lives.

Can I be a warrior? Hell, yes. Bring me my shield and my invisible jet. Let my heart be open. Let my soul be brave. Let my life have its own heroic tale.

 

Let’s Go Fly A Kite!

Daddy and me, 1970I believe kites are dreams. I mean, really, when you’re flying one, don’t you feel as though you’re floating alongside it, aloft like a dandelion seed, rising and falling on unseen wafts of air? I have not flown a kite in years, but I used to love to send a kite up into the air, running with the string, giving it slack or yanking it taut to keep it soaring.

My daddy loved to fly kites. When I was a kid, he would sometimes bring an armful of newspaper to the kitchen table and call me and my brothers into the room. We gathered scissors and tape; I would usually decorate the kite, and Daddy always stressed the importance of the tail. On other occasions, Daddy would see a kite at the store and on impulse, he would snap it up and take it excitedly to the cash register. This was a real splurge for us, money was always scarce. I think maybe Daddy bought kites when he was feeling discouraged and needed a lift.

Perhaps kites are prayers, too. Though always a man of faith, church was not something my daddy attended regularly. I am not sure what his personal faith journey was, I know there were some devastating hurts inflicted by well-meaning but misinformed church leaders. I know that in my own arrogant twenty-something faith years, I probably landed a few good blows, too.

Perhaps my daddy sent kites up when he wanted to connect with the Almighty;  by shifting his focus away from the heavy gravity-soaked earth under his feet and onto the vast expanse of blue sky, he could send a little whisper to God on the breeze. I like to believe that God whispered back.

The year my daddy turned fifty, I learned something new about him. While visiting us for Christmas, he and I stayed up late to chat in the living room speckled with tree-light glow, whispering so we didn’t wake my sleeping toddler. He told me, for the first time, that he had always wanted to be an Air Force pilot, it had been his aspiration throughout childhood. When he applied for the Air Force, his eyesight prevented him from being accepted into flight school, so he went to the Navy instead.

Maybe for him, kites were also Air Force jets.

Anyway, once our kite was ready, Daddy would load us three kids in the car and we’d head to a field, usually at the nearby elementary school, and we would fly our kite until it broke or darkness fell. Those are some of my favorite memories with my dad and my two brothers.

11427195_10152818410851097_4664171811351207828_nRecently, my eldest daughter, Hilary, posted a photo on Facebook of she and a friend flying kites on the beach in California. She’s another dreamer, off in L.A. pursuing a career in film, putting away doubts and only listening to voices that encourage. I love that image- sun, sand, kites aloft, and my daughter’s smile.

My daddy was not the only one who loved kites. The Chinese are credited with inventing them thousands of years ago. The Afghan people fly kites competitively. Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner is an exquisite chronicle of a father and son who run after fallen kites.

When I taught junior high theatre, there was always a day after standardized testing when the kids took the kites they had been building in math class out to fly. The halls were filled with such laughter and excitement– flying a kite is way better than sitting at a desk doing endless formulae, and I know that flying their very own colorful creations is probably one of their favorite school memories.

Charlie Brown

Poor Charlie Brown never could get his kite up past the kite-eating tree. Dreams denied, indeed. The classic loser can’t fly a kite.

And then there’s the classic Disney film Mary Poppins.

I always cry at the end of the movie. Somehow, the Sherman Brothers, who wrote the song for Walt Disney’s film, perfectly captured the joy that comes when you fly a kite. With its lilting melody and hopeful lyrics, a kite lover can close her eyes and remember exactly how it feels to send a kite soaring, all at once “lighter than air.” In that film, the kite is a symbol of a healing family: “Up, through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear, come, let’s go…fly a kite!” A family needs a moment when the air is clear. So does a dreamer, or a God seeker, or a middle-aged former teacher who wonders at every turn what in the world she’s supposed to be doing.

Mary Poppins kite

Life is kind of like kite-flying, I guess. Wind dictates direction, sometimes we go in ways we never envisioned. The glass-covered strings of our enemies can cut our own fragile strings and send us plummeting to earth, shattered and broken. Hopefully, a kite runner, maybe a loving family member or an attentive friend, occasionally even a random stranger, picks up our damaged kite and, with glue and tape and love, puts us back together so we can give it another go.

All this talk of wind and adventure and dreams has made me want to go kite-flying. I’d better go find tuppence for paper and string. Time to build my own set of wings.

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