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I went to an estate sale on Saturday and acquired some
items that mean the world to me. No one knows why. Here’s why.

A few years ago, the woman who gave birth to me had a stroke that
changed her personality so drastically that I found myself an
orphan in mid-life. She had always been a difficult person, and I
had labored for my whole life to have a place in hers. I had
acquired all the academic bells and whistles, had become a
respected professional, and had done a sometimes heroic job of
raising three children as a single mother. But nothing I ever did
impressed her or was enough for her; and in the end she showed me
the door because I was, in her terms, a poor specimen of a human
being.

She survived the stroke; but our relationship did not. And
that is enough said about that. I found great freedom in accepting
my situation and moving on with my life. She wanted me gone; I gave
her what she wanted. For the first time, there was no voice whining
in my ear that I wasn’t good enough.

A few months later, a story on Good Morning American snagged my attention.
A lovely young woman in her mid-thirties, also cast out by her birth family without
justification, had actually put herself up for adoption. And she
had found a lovely second family. I considered the ad I would have
written. “Lovely little family of four, all outstanding over
achievers, seeks parents and grandparents. Looking only for love
and companionship, holiday celebrations, loving phone calls.”

It was only a fantasy, of course. But fantasy has often gotten me
through some of the harder places in life.

Perhaps the central difference in my birth mother and myself is the ability
to nurture. I’m not quite sure how an Earth Mother like me sprang from an Ice
accept her as she is.

Queen, but I did. I don’t fault her for what she didn’t have. I
But as a born nurturer, I have to have someone or some thing to take care of.
Of course there were my children when they were little. And even now they
are adults, I can still give them some nurturing, although not as much.
But now they are on their own, my days are bracketed by the need
to care for my two Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm. Every morning
and every afternoon, I feed them and walk them to the enchanting
little pond that some of the condos in our development back
up to. And this routine was especially comforting in the days
when I was still hurting from my mother’s ultimatum and
wishing I could advertise us for adoption.

The path to the pond winds through a grove of lacy
eucalyptus trees, past a condo in our development with a greenhouse
window facing the path. Now all these units are rather old. They
were built in 1978 when greenhouse windows were quite the “in”
thing. As Melody and Rhythm and I passed by day after day, month
after month, I noticed that this particular window’s display
changed with each month and often featured ducks, a tribute to the
mallards that inhabit the pond. At Christmas, the window had
caroling ducks in tiny Dickens outfits holding tiny song books. At
Easter, there were ducks and bunnies and pastel eggs. For July,
teddies dressed in red white and blue and lots of those .99 cent
flags. At Thanksgiving the window held a blend of pilgrims, ducks,
and autumn leaves. Then Christmas and the web-footed carolers would
come round again. In between, the window defaulted to a display of
tiny lighthouses, rustic bears, bald eagles with spread wings, and
a pair of tin lanterns. And now and than a new trinket appeared.

The person responsible for this fascinating whimsy was a tall,
thin, grey haired woman, well over eighty. Just about the age of my
former mother. She lived alone, dressed elegantly in expensive
subdued slacks and blouses, and always wore pearls. There were skis
in the garage and a set of golf clubs. In those days, she still
drove. Her regular routine was a trip to the grocery store around
four o’clock each day to decide what to cook herself for dinner.
She first noticed me because she loved my beautiful Goldens, and we
often passed by just as she was beginning or ending this daily food
shop. She’d wave when she saw us and would smile and say something
sweet to Melody and Rhythm.

I learned that her name was Lenore. I caught glimpses of her mahogany Windsor
chairs in her dining room as I passed each day. I saw the tiny beautiful
antique table in the perfect spot in the hall, the tiny spoon
rack above her miniature sideboard, and the glass-fronted
curio cabinets in the living room. I guessed she was a collector,
and that she was not from California. Her condo was an exquisite
blend of Williamsburg-style furniture that few people in
California are drawn to. But I, of course, loved it.
She was just the sort of mother I would have chosen.

Her monthly displays inspired me to decorate my own front
entrance each month. I didn’t have a greenhouse window, so I made a
front door wreath for each month and hung appropriate wooden signs
and ornaments on the tree by the door. Even the grumpy Homeowners
Association wrote me a letter complimenting my charming entrance.
Little did they know it was all because of Lenore and her
greenhouse window.

Lenore seemed to draw people to her. Most afternoons when the weather
was nice she would put off the store trip, and she would sit at the table
on her patio with several of the ladies who lived in the condos. They
would sip white wine from thin-stemmed crystal glasses and chat.
Their ritual included feeding the ducks who would come up to
her patio, flapping their wings if Lenore was late throwing
out their food. Often, Melody and Rhythm and I would be
walking by about this time, and Leonore and her friends
would wave as they threw food to the ducks.

Then, a couple of years ago, Lenore had a stroke. A widow from Connecticut,
she had moved to San Diego when her husband died to be close to her
children living here. So she had plenty of support from children
and grandchildren. She recovered enough to go on living in her
lovely condo with a live-in care giver; and even though she no
longer drove, she steadfastly maintained her old routine. Store in
the afternoon. Friends and duck feeding on the patio. Waving at me
and the retrievers. Church on Sunday. Always beautifully dressed
with pearls, but now she used her ski poles for support instead of
a cane. And the window changed each month just as before.

I came to count on that window. Her creative additions were mini surprises in
my day. Sometimes a new duck. Sometimes a single flower in a vase.
She was obviously a woman of great charm and creativity. Then, this
October, a month after she turned ninety, she died. I didn’t know
for a long time because nothing changed at the condo. There was
even a Christmas tree at Christmas. And the window displays went on
as before.But in early January, I began to see lots of picture
frames in the trash and a woman in the garage going through albums.
Eventually, I learned that these were her children deciding what to
keep and what to let go of.

I was profoundly sad, but her daughter staying at the condo kept
up the old ways. Window decorated. Afternoons with the ladies and
white wine on the patio. Ducks fed. I half hoped Leonore wasn’t really
gone but was on a long visit and coming back. Silly fantasy.
But the day I saw the blue glass vases were no longer in the window
in her bedroom, the truth became very real to me. She and I had loved blue glass vases.

This Saturday, I was one of the first to arrive at the estate sale. I knew exactly
what I wanted. And there they were, still in the greenhouse window,
with tiny price stickers on each one. I don’t know where the
caroling ducks went, or the bunnies or the patriotic teddies, but I
bought the default bears and lighthouses and lanterns. And a tiny
little Limoges heart box to remember her by.

Lenore didn’t really adopt me. But it was a fantasy that got me
through a sad time in my life. I don’t have a greenhouse window,
but I rushed happily home from the sale and arranged my treasures on
shelves in the guest room. And I go in often to stand
in front of them and smile. They mean the world to me.

And something else came from the estate sale, too.
I met Lenore’s son and his wife, and I got to tell them how
much Leonore inspired me. Yesterday I was out walking the
retrievers at the usual time, and they were leaving after closing
up her house for the last time. They made a point of waving to me
just as she would have done.

So prayers are answered. A part of my own family reconnected with me
after my wish went out to the Universe to belong. And now I will always
be able to look at Leonore’s little treasures and remember how
much she inspired and cheered me during a sad time in my life.
The ducks, too, are being looked after. One of her friends comes
by each afternoon about four to feed them as Melody and Rhythm and I go by on our walk.

Lenore's patio just as she left it

Lenore’s patio just as she left it

The ducks and the pond

The ducks and the
pond

The window empty for the first time.

The window empty for
the first time.

Lenore's eagles and lanterns


Lenore’s eagles and lanterns

The light houses

The light houses

Her bears

Her bears

Her January cardinals

Her January
cardinals

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So from my last post, you could pretty well guess the Windows Phone was not going to be a part of my life for very long. On Monday afternoon, after I brought it home on Sunday, I boxed it up and headed for Verizon with my youngest son, Michael in tow. The phone itself was wonderful, but it did not have Google Maps; therefore it did not have Google navigation. We had downloaded the Garmin Navigation app, but it wasn’t knocking our socks off.

Still the Windows Phone gazed at me and Michael from its box and begged for one more chance that Monday afternoon. So we left the Verizon store unvisited that day.

The charms of the Windows Phone were so seductive, Michael went out and got one, too. Now he has interned for IBM and MicroSoft and will be with Google next summer. So I kept telling myself, this Windows Phone has got to work out because Mikey likes it.

For the rest of that week, I gave the Garmin Navigation app a chance. I even turned it on to take me to places I knew how to get to. And I discovered a couple of disconcerting things about it. One, it took the most indirect route it could think of. Two, it loved U-turns. I mean it REALLY loved U-turns.

Michael flew back to school on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He flew into Pittsburgh and picked up his girlfriend, so they could drive back to Virginia Tech together. On Monday he called to let me know the navigation app hadn’t been reliable on the trip to Blacksburg. I have to say, after just tooling around San Diego with it, I wasn’t surprised.

Well aware our Fourteen Days to Take the Phone Back were rapidly expiring, me and Mikey headed to Verizon stores in California and Virginia to divest ourselves of the Windows Phone. In its place, I got a the 4G version of my old Incredible. Needless to say, I am happy to have the new version of my little Droid sidekick back.

This whole episode has impressed upon me just how dependent I have become on my Goolge Maps Navigation. Back in the old days, I’d print directions off the computer, and then struggle to read them in heavy traffic in unfamiliar places. I once had to kidnap a couple of Michael’s friends to read the directions to LAX because my daughter was returning from Ghana, I had to pick her up, and I could never have read the printed directions and executed them in the traffic that perpetually surrounds LAX. (The boys were highly rewarded for their reading skill, I might add. We stopped at In and Out for the best burgers this side of the Mississippi – and probably on the other side, too. I mean, these burgers ROCK!)

My flirtation with the Windows Phone is now history. I am back to plugging in my little Droid friend and sailing off into parts unknown while I listen to its ridiculous, flat computer voice calling the shots. I take this experience to mean, it is good to try new things; but it is important to know when to go back to the old way if that turns out to be the best way. Life is not just about old and new. It’s an ebb and flow of the tide between the two. And besides, you have to love a phone that belches “DROOOID” at you whenever you get a voice mail!

4G HTC Incredible

P.S. If you like to read, check out my book review blog,at deborahsbookreviews.wordpress.com.

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A few weeks ago, my faithful 3G HTC Incredible began to do weird things. For example, when I tried to open my text messages, it would tell me its memory was full. But three text messages a full memory doth not make. Ever resourceful, I hit *228 and, against a background of really strange electronic music, Verizon updated my operating system. Problem solved. Or so I thought.

Faithful 3G Droid

But no, my otherwise highly reliable companion since 2009, kept refusing to go about business as usual. And while the *228 trick worked every time, who wants to hear weird music several times a day just to open an app? Not me. (Now if the background music had been my favorite jazz/ska band, Western Standard Time, I might have taken a different view of the proceedings. But what if’s don’t count.)

Favorite Jazz/Ska Band: Western Standard Time

So I went to a Higher Authority – namely my sons, who Understand Technology and speak Geek Speak to perfection. The answer turned out to be simple, but deadly.

“Your operating system is a piece of shit,” my oldest son Chris said with true Geek Speak elegance. “Verizon has stopped updating it. You will have to get a new phone!”

“But I don’t want a new phone. This is the best phone I’ve ever had!” (Read between the lines: I actually know how to use this phone and It Understands Me.)

“Sorry, Mom.”

I was in heavy denial over the impending death of my little Droid buddy. So I sought a Second Opinion.

Not long after my youngest son Michael, computer software major extraordinaire, stepped off the plane for his Thanksgiving visit, I asked him if my 3G baby could be saved. Answer: “Not a chance, Mom.”

So with a heavy heart, after turkey feasting on Thursday, I set out with Michael for the Verizon store on Friday. While we waited eons for our number to come up on the Next Customer List, we browsed around, trying out the 4G phones. Chris had just upgraded to the gigantic Samsung Galaxy. Ever competitive, I announced I wanted one, too, only to be laughed down by the Geek Speakers who said it was Way More Phone Than I Would Ever Need. Ten minutes of swiping its touch screen not only convinced me they were right (to my great humiliation), it also convinced me the phone was way too big to fit into any evening purse ever invented. Clearly a male designed it. Possibly a male who had never seen an evening purse.

Next, I worked my way through the smaller Samsungs and then, at last, found the 4G version of my beloved Droid. Happily I tried to figure out where in the world they had hidden my favorite icons on this new incarnation of my baby. But they were not in the same places!

Michael found me trying to get the hang of the new version.

“It’s not the same phone, Mom.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not. If you get it, you’ll still have to get used to a new phone.”

“No, I won’t.” I was too proud to admit he was right. And I was wondering why they had changed things. At least it wasn’t any bigger than my own little Droid. It would fit into an evening bag!

But, then, for some reason, both Michael and I turned to the left and saw IT: The Windows Phone. It drew us like the Sirens singing to Ulysses or like the Monolith dropping out of the sky in 2001, A Space Odyssey. We picked up its ultra sleek thinness and began to explore its touch screen. I expected to hear the opening fanfare from Thus Spake Zarathustra. (That would make a killer ring tone, by the way.)

The Monolith

Guilt settled over me. How could I even consider another phone? It was like picking out a new husband while the old one watched. But after I discovered the Windows Phone understood my southern accent and would let me dictate a text message, I let Michael talk me into trying one out. After all, I had fourteen days to Bring It Back. And my tiny little thumbs are not user friendly on touch screen key pads. (What do people with big thumbs do? Buy the Samsung Galaxy I guess and forego evening wear.)

Anyway, in deep emotional conflict, I left with the smart, sleek Windows phone in my purse, and its various charming accessories packed into a suitably Christmasy Verizon logoed shopping bag. How could buying a new phone leave me feeling as if I were setting out alone on uncharted waters? Because, truth to tell, the next not quite fourteen days would show me I had done exactly that.

Siren’s song: Windows Phone

Next time: Trying to Survive Without Google Nav or Droid Love II

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I stink at goodbye. I freely admit I have avoided the ceremony of parting as much as possible throughout my life. As I was driving away from dropping my youngest child at the airport curb this morning because he is headed back to college in the east, I wondered if my aversion to “saying goodbye” is a virtue or a vice.

It was labeled a vice once by the kids’ dad when he was trying to win custody of the children years ago. Like a prosecutor accusing a defendant of first degree murder, his attorney shouted in open court, “And Your Honor, do you know that she DOESN’T EVEN SAY GOODBYE?” (His attorney always made “she” sound like some really nasty, dirty word that no nice person should ever be called.)

This flaw was supposed to be some evidence of my bad character – I think. I’m not quite sure because the attorney never got any farther than that. She didn’t accuse me of neglecting my children, or of being a drunk or a drug addict, attributes that I’m pretty sure would have won him custody of the kids. No, the worst she could come up with was I don’t say goodbye, which (fortunately for me) did not turn out to be grounds for declaring me an unfit mother.

But at least once in my life, in a public place, someone labeled my aversion to goodbye as a vice. Is that right?

The word “goodbye” is a short for “God be with ye.” Now, I have no trouble with “God be with ye.” I could toss that off in a heartbeat. It sounds so much friendlier than “good bye.” And, as a good Episcopalian I have heard the priest intone a thousand times, “The Lord be with you” and responded, “And also with you.” I actually think I would rather use this ritual in parting because to me “goodbye” sounds so dead end – so final, so “Get out of my life and stay out” or “Yes! You are leaving and never coming back!” On the other hand, wishing blessings to someone and wishing blessings back seems to express so much more love and caring than just an abrupt “Goodbye!” (Which also makes me think of “Begone!”)

Of course that brings the religious problem into play. For those who don’t believe in traditional religion or even God, using the Anglican liturgy at parting would definitely not be an option. But what if we said, “Blessings to you” and the answer was “And also to you”? As a committee of one, I like that better.

Still, I think my aversion to saying “goodbye” is not really based entirely on the word we intone during the “ceremony of parting,” as one dictionary defined it. Where the people I love are concerned, the separation never feels real. In my mind and heart, we are still together even if we aren’t physically in the same place. “Having to Say Goodbye” feels so drastic to me. And even when I do say “goodbye” I inevitably add, “See you soon.”

As I drove away from the curb this morning, the post-holiday sadness began to settle on my shoulders because Thanksgiving 2012 was now officially a wrap. For a brief second I longed for the old way of airport parting, where we parked the car and headed inside and even sat at the gate with our traveler until the call for boarding. Of course we can’t do it that way anymore. So all airport partings are now a quick hug curbside like mine was this morning.

But then, as I swung my beloved red Mini Cooper into the “Exit to Downtown” lane, I realized that the brief hug at the curb is better for me because we aren’t really apart, no matter the miles in between. And, as with every parting from a loved one, I remind myself not to think about the separation, but to look forward to the next visit. Which, in this case, will be in just three short weeks!!!!!

Ok, I admit it. I stink at goodbyes. But I’m not sure that matters much.

Good Bye

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Thanksgiving is almost here. The turkey is defrosting in the refrigerator. The sweet potatoes are looking at the bags of marshmallows across the kitchen. Tomorrow I will bake pumpkin pie and chop veggies to put into the stuffing on Thursday. I will bake cornbread and tear up white bread, also for the stuffing. I will chill sparkling cider and champagne. I will count the sliver place settings, dust off the Waterford, and decide which dishes to use this year. (I’m a dish lover. Only cabinet space limits my yen to bring more home like lost puppies and kittens.)

On Thursday morning, I will be up with the sun to get my hands messy mixing stuffing, putting it in into the bird, and getting into the oven. I will baste the bird and check its internal temperature at intervals, mindful that the difference between a perfectly roasted turkey and an overcooked one can be just minutes. When I was a child, I watched the women in the family do these things. Now it is my responsibility.

This cooking ritual, year afer year, is as satisfying to me as the liturgy of the Anglican mass (back in the days when I shepherded the kids to church, Sunday after Sunday). On the rare holidays when we have chosen a restaurant for our feast, I have missed my personal culinary rites of thankfulness.

The basics of the meal haven’t changed much from the first Thanksgiving I cooked in November of 1985. In that year, I had been in California for all of two weeks. I went to the now defunct K-Mart to buy a hand mixer to cream the sweet potatoes. I had no children then, but I wished for them. That November afternoon, I saw a car with a Fulton County Georgia plate in the K-Mart parking lot. I cried because I was homesick. I started to leave a note on the windshield asking the driver if he or she felt as marooned in a foreign land as I did. But I lost my nerve, and so I will never know the answer to my question. Now all these years later, the foreign land has become home. The K-Mart is shuttered and empty.

We rarely traveled at Thanksgiving, but our few trips were memorable. In 1999, we flew to Tennessee to be with my family for the holiday. It was the only year my children ever experienced more than the four of us for the feast. They raked leaves for the first time in their lives and jumped into the piles with their cousin. They discovered southerners put giblets in their turkey gravy. Ugh! They learned that pecan pie with chocolate chips in the bottom is so rich, a tiny bite will do, even for the most avid sweet-lover.

On another holiday away from home, my daughter and I walked through a cold Chicago rain to a delightful restaurant, formal enough to have a coat check room and bottles of Pellegrino sparkling water on the table. The chef accompanied his perfect roasted turkey with butternut squash ravioli in brown butter sauce. We missed the boys, who were with their father that year. But it was a special time for the two of us, alone is a wold class city.

Now the years of being divided at holidays are over. The ritual food preparation has expanded to included a ritual housecleaning before my adult children come to stay for the holiday. Although I miss the days when we all lived under one roof, it is exceptionally exciting to have my grown ones coming back to share their adventures in far places. Like many things in life, when one thing goes away, another even more wonderful something comes along to take its place.

Although the holidays for those of us who create them for our families are a lot of work, I personally love the run-up to Christmas. From now until January 2, I will be planning food and gifts and decorations to create a festive world for me and the ones I love. I thank the Universe every year for giving me so much love and joy and for giving me wonderful souls to share it with. We are entering the Magic Season! Let the Magic Begin. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Four of Us

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Single life has many advantages. No problems with toilet seats up or down. No one to say you didn’t need yet another pair of killer heels. No one to steal the covers on a cold night. No one to complain if you would rather Zumba at supper time instead of cook. And you can’t fight with yourself over who takes out the trash. (Well, you can, just to stay in practice, I guess.)

But despite these advantages, I recently overheard a fellow single complaining about her single life. She had visited her neighborhood restaurant for the first time alone, and the hospitality was not the same as when she’d come paired. She’d decided to take herself out solo on a busy weekend night; and instead of being given the table she’d requested, she’d been asked to sit at the bar. Insulted, she left, vowing never to return. And cursing singledom.

Many years ago, I had exactly the same experience in a small neighborhood restaurant in Richmond Virginia’s Fan District. On a Friday night, having just come back from a business trip to Washington, D.C, and still in regulation lawyer gear, I encountered the same choice: the bar or the door. I chose the door. But since then, I have discovered that was the wrong choice.

Here’s the thing. The joy of going out alone is the opportunity to observe the world on your own. Sometimes you meet new people; sometimes you don’t. But the information you gather while out alone is entertaining and enriching.

The bar is not a bad place to eat when you are alone. Why? Watch people eating at the bar sometime. They chat and interact with each other. If you are there with your friends, you enjoy the evening; but you don’t hear a new story from a new potential friend or silently watch a drama played out between strangers while being happy you aren’t on that stage. When you’re out in pairs or groups, it’s same old, same old.

Last weekend, for example, I headed up to Los Angeles to hear jazz at Vitello’s on Friday night. Alone. Now, downstairs at Vitello’s is strictly a restaurant. But the room upstairs, quaintly named “Upstairs at Vitello’s,” is a jazz and supper club. Those of us with tickets for the show were waiting downstairs while the band finished its sound check. An elderly couple were waiting with the rest of us to go upstairs. The man had a bandage over one eye. The woman used a cane. Suddenly a small woman, around my age, got up from one of the chairs along the wall and offered them her seat. Impressed with her good manners, I complimented her. She laughed and said with twinkling eyes, “It’s karma. I hope someone will give me a seat when I’m their age.” Petite, with short dark hair and laughing brown eyes, she looked like an elf that had just materialized from another, more magical world.

Soon we learned we were expat daughters of the South. She was originally from Richmond, Virginia, but had traveled widely since then. We compared notes on adapting to life in SoCal and why we finally came to love it here. But the most touching part of her story was her description of her marriage. “I’m a widow,” she said but with a smile. “My husband died seven years ago. He was the only man for me. My soulmate. It was wonderful, and I could never replace him. I’m happy on my own. I miss him, but I’m so very grateful for those years we had.” Not a trace of bitterness in her voice. Just joy and exuberance and gratitude. She was obviously a very happy person. Happy in her life right at that moment. And her happiness was contagious.

I wanted to sit with her, but Vitello’s had other plans. So I went on to hear other stories that night from the people around me as I listened to the music. None were as interesting as hers, but I had a fabulous time solo, entertained by not only the music, but by the people who had come to hear it.

So single life is quite fabulous when you stop telling yourself you have to be validated by the presence of someone else. You are wonderful company for yourself. And perfect just the way you are. Love yourself right where you are, and the world will love you, too. That’s what I learned from my elf friend that night.


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I have not visited Colonial Williamsburg in many years.  It has always been One of My Favorite Places, and it continues to be.  But today I experienced Too Much Information, Colonial Style.

The visit to the Brush-Everard House began like most of the others on our two-day tour, with a fifteen minute wait outside for admission in a group with a guide who would take us through the house.  But once inside, we were TRAPPED by DETAILS.  For example, we had to hear the excruciating story of the recovery of unused 250 year old china from the bottom of the sea.  Piece by Piece.   For my money, just saying, hey look over there in the china cabinet would have been fine.  And then, we learned it was not a china cabinet at all.  It was a “bowfat” or, as we all know now, a “buffet.”  Could have survived without that piece of trivia, too.  Then there was the history of EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF FURNITURE in the room.  Sorry, it was enough for me to know they were all period originals.

We learned the history of every print on the walls, the hue of the paint, the way wallpaper was hung, and how carpet was woven and  sewn together.  Upstairs, we heard every detail of the daughthers’ marriages and deaths.  I mean every detail.

Back downstairs, all of us were waiting for a chance to dash through the back door.  As the tour guide followed us out, wailing, “Don’t you want to hear about the outbuildings?” our group was making a break for it through the side gate, one by one.  I do love history and Williamsburg, but word to the wise:  there are only so many details that are (a) interesting and (b) pertinent and (c) that the human brain can absorb in a sitting.  Anyway, we made up for being BORED with a good lunch and a walking photo shoot this afternoon.  No more being TRAPPED inside on guided tours.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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