PAT CONROY AND MY LITTLE FAMILY

You have heard that he has died.  He had been, in the last years, doing so well fighting his personal devils.  He had lost weight, stopped drinking I think, toned up.  They were blindsided by this cancer as everyone who experiences it is, and poof.  The truest lover and best promoter of our eccentric little state is no more.

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I always say this. South Carolina is so small that you can know everyone you need to. We have all had experiences with Pat Conroy.  Many people I know went to school with him at the Citadel.  His descriptions of Columbia in the sixties were my people’s lives.  My ex-husband knew that tiger in the cage on Gervais Street and fed him chicken bones.

Glenn and I last saw him when he was awarded a life achievement award at our annual O’Neil Verner Award ceremony several years ago.  He was looking frail indeed.  This may have been just before his late resurgence to a kind of health.  His wife, Cassandra King, was very protective over him  (I heard her once on a local NPR show.  Herself a writer of southern stories, she spoke at book shops and libraries.  She said that one woman in attendance heard that she was married to a writer and commented to her that she loved her husband’s stories of contemporary horror and fantasy!).

When my kids were young, there was always a tug of war over what they wanted to do and what it might be good if they DID do.  I was always alone on my side.  But Pat Conroy was on my side, twice, and I think now my family might admit that my ideas were worth doing.  Not sure about that however.

We were meeting my mother and stepfather in DC for a long weekend.  We drove.  It was the early nineties, so the kids were about 10 and 8.  I got the hairbrained idea that we would listen to one of Pat Conroy’s books on our nine hour drive because it involved places that the kids knew, Bob knew, and had compelling family stories (to say the least).  I presented the idea.  Everyone was aghast.  Below, we enter DC in our Ford Aerostar.

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But we listened to the book, and it became a part of family lore.  The best book Braxton had ever read (the only book Braxton had ever read and he listened to it)!  It is difficult to remember details now, but it seems it was a good experience.

I got more demanding.  The University of South Carolina used to  have a fine book festival every spring for a week.  Now it is only a shadow of its former self.  One year, Kurt Vonnegut was to be the keynote speaker.  It was the year his home in Manhattan burned down, he was indisposed, Pat Conroy stepped in.  I wanted the four of us to go for my birthday.  A LECTURE, WHAT?  But it was my birthday.  They wanted to refuse, but did not, so we went.

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Always wanting to teach the kids that the world is indeed small and you can see things and know people by simply participating in it, I wanted them to have read a book and then hear the author talk about it.  It demystifies books. And writers. Makes them more real. This parallel is especially poignant with Pat Conroy.  He was a totally honest speaker about his life in these books.

And really not a very good one.  His spoken sentences were kind of like dry bullets.  Maybe he was an average speaker, dunno.  But compared to the lyrical love story to South Carolina that blazes from every page of his books,  his speech simply could not compare to his calculated art.  But I remember this also as being a positive experience for the family, perhaps there was an admission that participating in this kind of thing was not as bad as they had imagined.

Pat Conroy looked at the eccentricities and strangeness of our state, which abound (Strom Thurmond had a black child?), and smooths its landscape with a kind of understanding love.  Knowing what we know about his life, his writing was an attempt to save his.  And it was a generous everlasting gift to the rest of us.

 

 

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I LIVE WITH A LIAR

Undependable.  Exaggerates and embellishes.  Bossy.  Rather than using the ugly characteristic of “liar”as our reference, let’s just use the initial  “G”.

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A gift really, at first, I have become a bit callous to G’s reality.  Pushy on one side, and when I aim to fulfill direction, overcompensation is the result.  It is like having a relationship with a chameleon.  For me, anyway.  There is no anchor, no fact. How can one have a true relationship with an ever changing partner?

I can feel in my bones that I am being prodded.  And judged.  Am I sleeping too many hours?  Too lazy?  It is my overwhelming desire to keep G happy.  But can G really be so or is it just manipulation?  Where is the truth here?

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G’s bigger footprint, interacting with 21st century tools is just not that great either.  Creating our conversation was just such a chore.  Things are not changing in this venue, and I get false feedback.

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Above is an image of my new Garmin.  A minimal millennial.  Less is supposed to be more.  On average, on some measurements it is a pretty consistent 20 percent more. I know my run is four miles, and it measures the same five miles every day.  With stair climbing, who knows?  Sometimes when I am actively climbing to the second floor of the barn just to make Garmin happy, it refuses to record my work.  What does it use, barometric pressure?

I love that when in the proximity of my phone, I can read email on the watch.  And know the weather.  It could do more than I ask of it in this way, music, for one.

Is it worth having?  Yes.  Does it work well?   Kind of, if you know your own statistics.  It DOES tell the time.  I think devices like this are why some are saying that people are starting to wear watches again.

 

 

 

DEALING WITH THE COLD

Finally, it is cold in South Carolina.  It has not been for long, and the length of the good weather at the end of last year was remarkable and unsettling.  Now over, we have to face the normal chill for a little while.

Our big chill is all my fault, not Glenn’s.  When living here alone, building this house, I chose not to include central heating.  The system I could have bought, it was the monthly bills that scared me.  And it is so moderate here,  I wondered about getting by with a gas log in one of the two huge fireplaces we have.   So that is what I did.

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It really has not affected us much.  There have been really only about four cold days where we did not care to go outside.  But outside is where all the appealing stuff exists, including our art work.  Creating my work is a pathway to feeling OK, and I need to do it.  Running will do that too, but running is tough in the cold weather as well.

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What work I have accomplished is changing.  Getting simpler.  Keep thinking about poetry and editing writing.  An image should contain only what it needs.  Nothing else.

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This piece is called  “Impulse”.  It is pretty spare, but the relationships between the lines are interesting.  I am using three legs in this series, lifting the window off the ground, and importing colors only through objects used.

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Chair legs, spindles and a child’s wooden block are the only recognizable images in the piece.  Other shapes are just odd pieces of wood we have around here. Yes, the piece leans in.  It seems to move.

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Other side.  This window has been several colors in its life time, and that is where the patterning is coming from on the right and bottom of the window.  It is so easy for me to reveal color; to apply it, the worst.

The piece above is entitled “Gravity 2.11.16” for the obvious reasons.  It is woozy in its stanze as well.  Space and time.  Unpredictable?  Maybe not, thanks to Einstein.

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Not a very flattering angle, but this image shows the depth of the piece.  You can see it is a visual cousin to “Impulse” as spindles and legs from the same chairs are used. Work tends to flow in this way.  If work is truly expressive of a temperament at a given time, examples will have common denominators.  Unless you are doing commission work.

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Above is a detail from a current commission.  Only thing in common with my work is the “waste” part.

THE TROUBLE WITH AVOCADOS

Just the fact that avocados have fairly doubled in price recently is trouble enough.  We as Americans have become quite addicted to this healthy but fatty food.  When I first came to South Carolina in the early 80s at my local grocery store, they would go on sale when finally soft enough to use.  Somebody was confused or on such a diet that the avocado never entered the picture.  This was back in the days when the only bagel you could buy was a frozen one, in stores that even thought to order such a thing.  Hell, not six years ago, inquiring at the local Piggly Wiggly about refrigerated quiche mixture, the stock man (and he was old) had me repeat the word three times.  Never heard of such a thing.

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But I have personal problems with avocados.  I cannot see them.  I lose them.  And with their prices these days, it does not pay to lose.  The Piggly Wiggly tricked me.  The sign said, “4 for $5” and I read it “5 for $4”.  Not bad, I thought.  Less than a dollar apiece.  Took two.  When we got to the checkout, the girl rang up @2.50.  Then I realized mistakes had been made.  By me.

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When we got home, only one avocado made it to the refrigerator.  I shuffled things around in there for a while, and figured the problem would fix itself.  Windshield wipers will do that once in a while.  Making salad last night, we revisited the issue.  Reorganized the fridge, nothing.  Glenn went out to the car and there it was under the driver’s seat.  For two days, the temperature over 100 outside each day. Who knows how hot it was in the car?

You see avocados simply do not like to be contained.  Unlike my Painted Japanese Fern, which loves to clutch onto the side of a pot for dear life, avocados are made of different stuff.  They are travelers.  You never know what their agenda is.

Usually we go to Aldi, and of course there, you have to pack your own groceries.  This is where the avocados see their chance.  Our mesh grocery bags are dark.  We pack the groceries under the hatchback of the car, also dark.  We get them in the bags, but they hide and we do not get them out on the other side of the trip.  This has happened more times than I would like to admit.  Same thing happens if I put one in a cooler bag.  Little devils.

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LIVE TRUE

Glenn has done a lot of work for Brad and Tracy.  Actually we both have been involved in their recent home renovation.  At a counterpoint in their professions, time and effort outside of that work is finely paired, and their home is a unique expression of their movement in the world.  This is the way you are supposed to live.  Feather your nest with stuff that helps define you as a person.  Act on the stage of that theater; you will feel harmony.

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As their boy worked through scouting, they earned “advanced degrees” as well.  Their personal universe is built around the natural world, pulling symbolism from old Indian ways, to which of course the Boy Scouts is more than a little indebted.  Arrows, spirals, rays of sun play in their personal iconography.  The three images above show details of a mosaic “frieze” I did for their sun room utilizing symbols from the Boy Scouts and Indians of the Northwest.  The third detail features an abstracted portrait of the family.  The mosaic is just under the 10 foot ceiling on three walls, and little china bird collectibles found at the flea market are used in several places (I think there is one in the middle of the triangle of arrows in the third image, and top and center in the first image).

The materials used in the house as you might imagine are floor stone, lots of it, fine woods, light and dark, both as structure and as object.  Look at nature and wonder how we think we can improve upon it!  Maybe we can simply organize these wonderful raw materials to do specific jobs.   Glenn has fabricated a limb with branches to help deter rainwater from puddling in the wrong place.

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This steel limb has maple leaves that can be twisted to usher the rainwater into a better spot.

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Above is another steel sculpture Glenn did for Brad and Tracy’s home.  It is a life sized fox and bird, with the fox heated to a reddish color and the bird towards blue.

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Recently they acquired a huge ancient pot.  More than a thousand years old, they needed a display device to secure it in a home environment.  Tracy bought a deer skin to use for cushioning material. The structure incorporates symbols of the sun and arrows used by Indians.  The arrows will contain the pot.

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Arrows keep the pot from moving sideways, and embrace its middle.  The triangular base lends stability.

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The hide covers parts of the armature that nobody wanted to see in addition to its cushioning of the pot.

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All these natural materials present a lovely almost monochrome composition which contains amazing textural variety.  They are happy, Glenn is happy.  But know what?  I am not going anywhere near that pot!

 

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

Changes are happening in our part of the county; a little lesson in local government working for the people.  And it was pretty easy to accomplish, this relatively inexpensive project.  The dirt road which intersects our long drive is being paved.  Our neighbor has wanted this for years as the sand on the road finds its way to his pond with rain.  Asphalt will stop this, and probably keep the pond water higher all year.

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Glenn wants the improvement too, and gathered signatures.  Heavy rains cut waterways around the mouth of our drive and around the mailbox.  To me, the paving represents unwanted growth, but I relented.

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We will lose our elaeagnus bushes at the left of this picture.  It is OK.  Planted at the very beginning of my gardening career, they really make no sense where they are.  They do not match on either side of the drive as a car drove over and pruned one set one late night.  Happily, the construction guys will dig them up, root ball included, and lift them on a waiting trailer for us.  We are going to plant them at the very back of our acreage and let them do their fast growing best.

Another local resident has a crop of Loblolly pines growing in harvestable rows at the back of our acreage.  Since I have been here the trees have been thinned twice.  It won’t be long until they are sold and the whole process will start again.  It will mean big changes to the back of our property and we want those ten elaeagnus to be as large as possible to muffle sound and block vision.  It is a noble job for those bushes and we are sure glad we have them for this use.

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What else was positive about this road construction?  Well the way the bigger trees were cut down was interesting, and we got an example that will be the new mantle for the fireplace in the kitchen.  The old one was the victim of an accident.  It is difficult to imagine what kind of huge machine fairly took bites out of the trunk of this tree!

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We are going to try and save the bark, while planing about a three inch flat plane across the top of this.

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MARCH WORK

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Why do this?  To see if it could be done.  The origin of my work is always with the materials.  They inspire new ideas whether it was back in the day when I stitched reacting to a wonderful new pattern, or whether, in this case, when my husband gave me a fine set of wooden casters.  Who knows why he rejected them, but they gave me all kinds of ideas.  This piece stands around 34 inches tall.  The wooden high chair within the system of windows is for a doll.

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The wooden windows are screwed together in a “Z” conformation to a depth of about 24 inches.  An old toy wooden hammer and toy ladder make up the rest of the elements that serve to embed the chair within the windows.  Initially the chair was purchased for its wooden parts, but the more interesting question became the merging of the two compositions together.

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The seat of the doll chair has luminous single digit numbers and bits of paper under layers of varnish.

The former chair then inspired the next chair, which made itself into a gift for the baby of my baby, Benjamin.  It started as a reaction to the first chair, and then became HIS chair as the universe presented elements to me, over and over again, which represent his first trip around the sun.

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I bought the little chair without a back years ago.  It became a plant stand.  I loved the peeling paint, and for this piece it has been preserved with layers of varnish.  The bit of brownish paper on the right front leg came with it; as the chair began to form and use so many warm browns, I added the rest of the newspaper bits, from an old St. Louis paper.  Have to get his heritage into the work!  One bit just says “boy”.

Glenn has lots of rusty metal farm parts for his work around.  I love the hay rakes and the way he stretches and curls them in his work but here one is used intact, minus the handle.  The bird couples had all been secured at the flea market at one time or another.  Interestingly when looking for dowels to use there was the little wooden plane at the bottom of the dowel box.  Perfect for a little boy’s circle of the sun in his first year.  All the circles used in the composition refer to this trip as well.

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The arms constructed for this chair are fairly complex using a mismatched pair of wooden swans, same with wooden birds (mismatched), and a  spoon and a fork.  They are finished with the inside and outside of an embroidery hoop with a nod to his grandmama, the former stitcher.  The tail of the little plane moves, as well as the rotor.  We shall see how he feels about this (un)toy.

 

 

 

 

 

THE WORKINGS OF CREATIVITY

Artists need to observe patterns in their behavior.  For me,  pattern is the most important element in art making.  Knowledge comes from repetition, visual cohesiveness comes from repetition, personal truths come from repetition.  Notice.

If the artist can pull way back and observe the chronology of their work, patterns will emerge.  Often, that pattern is seen retrospectively, but it helps to know what you are doing, even if you are in the middle of it.

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A while ago, I knew that sooner or later I would do something with chairs in my work.  Love their shapes and their differences.  We have two houses chock full of chairs, to the point that we can handle no more.  Where did this start?  Figured that out.

It was with my rather large collection of gliders.  Most are in good shape, nicely reflecting a well-used history.  Some are kind of abused however.  It was with these that the idea came.

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Glenn got this one for me off of a street in south St. Louis.  Its rails are gone, and the seat is full of automobile body putty.  I still wanted it.  I WANT THEM ALL.

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This one is in better shape, but the rails and swinging devices are totally gone.  It sits on nubs.  Low-slung.

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This aluminum glider skeleton never had any cushions.  I put pressure treated wood where the seat should be and have plants on it nine months out of the year.  Being aluminum, it is in fine shape.  It simply has no cushions.

I would love to be able to take parts of these gliders and mix and match them, weld them to the other, and make silly conjunctions.  My mind can see how wonderful they would be.  But I lack the skills.  Glenn has them, but he has his own work to do.  I dropped the idea and started working with wooden windows.  I can do screws and a drill.

The chairs did not leave completely however.  An early window sculpture features the back of a chair that was found in a house built in 1939 which was moved to our land.  It was used as a beautiful line.

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The detail shows also that an armrest for an outdoor aluminum chair was used in the composition.  The break in the pane of glass is highlighted in gold paint the way the Japanese do their broken teacups.

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Coming into the present, the image above represents a good haul from one day at the Goodwill Clearance Center, a place where parts for sculptures are secured.  The white baby high chair I bought for the wood, knowing that it would make great spacers to keep my windows from colliding.   They would do what the dowels are doing in the image below.

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I sat the doll chair in front of three windows for which I intended to use it as spacers.  Then I thought, why not keep the chair integral but also use it as spacers?  So below it is in progress.

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And here it is finished, but not photographed with an infinity wall yet.

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A child’s ladder, divided in two and wooden hammer complete the image.  The sculpture rolls around on wooden casters.

For the next chair in progress, the windows are completely dropped.  Interesting way to progress.

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MY STUDIO

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Above is my studio as seen from our second floor gallery.  You can see the white wooden window at the right, leaning against the wall waiting for stripping and sanding.  It seems my world is full of wooden right angles.

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This stuff does not look like much until it enters into a composition.

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Other shapes are more interesting from the start.   Here you see many similar lines/shapes that can work well together in a composition.   The skill is knowing just how much of this to use and  what to use in contrast.  Also, these shapes have to do structural jobs.  They are the connective tissue of the sculptures.  Bought all of these unglued furniture parts last weekend at a flea market for three bucks.  This kind of stuff is my number one shopping priority for the window sculptures just now.

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The windows are the bones of the composition, usually three.  Only the back window is cleaned up here.  Notice the yellow coil.  Never have I had a tool this fine.  We have a giant compressor that  Glenn uses for everything.  He made three stations in the barn where one can access the power.  One is back here in second class.  It is used to get the windows clean before varnish.

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Unfortunately most surfaces have some collection of raw material loaded upon them.

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But not all.  This fine oak desk was brought here this week, free for the taking from another scavenger friend.  This top must hold something significant, but what it might be remains unknown.  It was the acquisition of this that made me clean and organize.  That is a good thing.

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Critique chairs.  It is wonderful to sit out here until after dark with the studio light glowing and talk about creative options.

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This is taken from outside the building.  We have both warm and cool light in this studio.  And we have multiple sources.  Had been having a problem when using just the hot light on the right hand side.  The windows, being so linear were casting shadows on the wood chip wall.  And I was composing with respect to those shadows.  Of course, they are temporary.  We had to solve that problem with more lighting from all directions.

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Back of the barn.  We have an Overhead Door back here for unloading things like my big new desk.  Some tile stays outside the door because it can.  All that white will go to the pool deck next summer.

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Bicycles separate areas of the barn.

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They work well visually doing that.

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Out of all this mess will once in a while come a clean piece.  This is the first piece on which I used bunji cords.  Fun.

 

 

ALL THE RINGS

My husband made all four of our wedding rings.  One for him, three for me.  The first two he made the morning we flew off to Italy to get married in 2009.  I watched and waited.  We had been together long enough for me to know that we respond to pressure much differently.  It is amazing that he always gets stuff done on time.  Holding those work hours, I never would.

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It was a while before I realized the rings were made of welding rod.  Bronze (love turquoise).  They are simple lines that wrap around our fingers two and a half times.  The first of the four was pure experiment.  That was my Rome ring.  Where the spiral band ended between the ring finger and the two on either side was too short.  It should have gone a quarter of an inch more towards the palm side of the hand.  Then the three lines on the front would be complete.  He knew he had to change it when we got back from Rome.  He hammered it some more, the metal got too thin, and it broke.  Have no idea where it is now.  That was ring number one.

Ring number two solved the design problem.  Now the ring was, so to speak, in my hands.  That’s where trouble starts.  I am hard on things.  I try to do too much, too quickly.  Stuff gets beaten up or lost.  It really is a terrible characteristic.  Glenn is the total opposite.  When we met, he had an old cycling team uniform from age 14 in his trunk.  All beautifully embroidered.  I started using it for running in the winter and then painting interiors. Poof!  It was gone in a year.  Terrible.

Don’t know when ring number two was lost.  You see, when gardening, gloves just don’t work for me.  Nor when laying bricks, which is what I have been doing all this week.  I had been taking my ring off in the kitchen before going out to work.  Glenn noticed.  But in the early days of ring number two, I did not take care.  It was lost either in a garden or down the drain, we thought.  Oh well, we have lots of welding rod.  Glenn made ring number three.  That is the ring that was taken off and left in the kitchen last week.

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So the other day we were making the bed.  The bottom sheet was so tight that we had to pick up the mattress and bend it to get all four corners in.  Glenn picked up the mattress, and what I saw left me speechless.  Ring number two was sitting in the middle of the box spring, all alone, as if waiting for a princess to lay down and test the mattress.  My mouth opened, but nothing could come out!

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How in the hell did it get there?  Some other sheet changing time?  When we first erected the bed in the new bedroom?  Who knows.

I have chosen to wear ring number two.  Its design is slightly better.  Glenn thinks we should put number three back under the mattress, and he is right.  It feels good to have a wedding ring under where you sleep.

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