The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.


Trust: Variation on a theme

"Trust" by Kelly Rae Roberts. (Buy this print here.)

"At the center of your being you have the answer;
you know who you are and you know what you want."
~Lao Tzu

You know how you buy a new car and then suddenly see that make of car on every single road you drive? Or you learn a new word and everyone you talk to or hear on the radio uses it at least once, and you think: How did I not know this word before? It's everywhere!

I've found that living intentionally -- being open to the life lessons and life puzzles around us -- is much the same. I'm amazed at how certain themes creep into my daily life in small and big ways. Maybe this can be explained by the theory that what we focus on expands. Or maybe we actually call these signs and signals into our life by looking for them. Chicken or egg. Either way. (I've written about this before.)

One of my current themes is Trust.

A wise woman recently pointed out to me that I seem to have trouble trusting myself.

I was stunned.

She was right.

We'd been discussing my angst over making a major life decision. A close friend had previously suggested that I'm stumped because I have commitment issues. I had to partially concede the point, but the phrase "commitment issues" made me think of single, 40-year-old men who love the nightlife a little too much. It wasn't a flattering comparison. (I'm sure she wasn't picturing me as a club-hopping pervert when she said it.)

But flipping the point of view just a bit and saying I have a problem with Trust made sense.

I looked around me and saw how I don't trust myself on a regular basis. For example...

I haven't had a decent winter coat for three years. This year I finally broke down and bought one. But I wasn't sure I really liked it. So I bought a second one to compare. I felt like I was just buying coats in desperation because I knew I needed one. And then I bought a third. I kept the tags on all of them and didn't wear any for a month, debating which coat was just right. After trying each one on a dozen times, I eventually took two back and kept the last one. I'm happy with my choice. But still, I bought three coats, trying to make sure I made the "right" decision.

How many things have I bought and kept unworn or unused until I could decide if they were right for me? If something is on clearance with a no-return policy, I probably won't buy it. Being able to take something back is my safety net.

The night before my wedding, I unexpectedly developed cold feet. I was shocked and embarrassed to be so cliché. In our hotel room, I confided my fears to my mother. What she said next may be the most profound and useful thing anyone has ever offered me: "If you weren't getting married tomorrow, would you want to break up with James?" The answer was no, definitely not. "Then I think you're just feeling a little overwhelmed about the wedding." She was right. I was afraid to trust the decision I'd already made.

My mom also stood by me through another agonizing wedding moment: choosing the dress. She patiently watched as I tried on the same two dresses over and over again, one after another in rapid succession, trying to decide between the one I liked better on the hanger and the one I finally admitted to liking better on me.

My lack of self-trust -- this quest for perfection -- showed up early in life. My dad hated going school shopping with me when I was a kid. I would take an hour to choose a pair of shoes or a stack of notebooks. I go crazy with decision-making.

How don't I trust myself? Let me count the ways: as a writer, as a friend, as a thinker, as a wife, as a political citizen. I doubt and fret, picking away at the fraying seam of my own confidence, my own knowing.

Analysis, critical thinking, and research are three of my biggest strengths. They have served me well in building a business, buying a house, and taking care of sick pets. I pride myself on my ability to see both sides of an issues, to empathize with opposing viewpoints, to see shades of grey. These skills enable me to be a diplomatic mediator and a convincing debator.

Unfortunately, these very same gifts can become my tragic flaw. I can talk myself into and out of a decision ten times over before you can say "sign on the dotted line."

The decision I'm currently trying to make doesn't come with a "do-over" option. It's not reversible. There's no turning back. It's definitely a no-returns-clearance-kind-of -decision. And it terrifies me.

I'm working hard to stop the panic, the outflow of fear. And everywhere I look, this theme of Trust comes back to me again and again, like the ocean tide.

It's here in this post called "Trust".

It's here in this post called "Don't Lose Your Trust."

It's below in this "message from the Universe," sent to me by the same wise woman mentioned above after she got it from here.

Don't you think it should work like this:

You have a desire, you dwell upon it, move with it, and presto, it manifests?

Or, you fall in love at the right time, with the right person, they fall in love, the timing is perfect, and bingo, the earth moves.

Or, you have a huge question, you turn it over to me, forget about it, and ta-da, you just know.

Me, too. Which, actually, is exactly how it does work, in the absence of fear.

Cool, huh?
The Universe
And there's the sub-theme to the Trust theme: Fear. Fear and love. Perfect loves drives out fear. There is no fear in love. Choose from a place of love, not fear. The sayings, the platitudes, the Truths go on and on. Call it the Universe or God -- It's calling out for me to let go and find peace.

I love the Lao Tzu quote at the top of this post: "At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want." I want to believe this. I want to Trust that I have the answer(s). I'll let you know when I find it.

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add to kirtsy | 12:59 AM | 8 comments


Green Birds of Your Youth

To A Daughter with Artistic Talent

I know why, getting up in the cold dawn
you paint cold yellow houses
and silver trees. Look at those green birds,
almost real, and that lonely child looking
at those houses and trees.
You paint (the best way) without reasoning,
to see what you feel, and green birds
are what a child sees.

Some gifts are not given: you
are delivered to them,
bound by chains of nerves and genes
stronger than iron or steel, although
unseen. You have painted every day
for as long as I can remember
and you will be painting still
when you read this, some cold
and distant December when the child
is old and trees no longer silver
but black fingers scratching a grey sky.

And you never know why (I was lying
when I said I knew).
You never know the force that drives you wild
to paint that sky, that bird flying,
and is never satisfied today
but maybe tomorrow
when the sky is a surreal sea
in which you drown...

I tell you this with love and pride
and sorrow my artist child
(while the birds change from green to blue to brown).

~Peter Meinke

I love this poem, even though it ends with a sense of loss. Meinke envisions the girl growing up and losing her childlike faith and wild abandon. The fantastical green birds change to a more subdued blue, and finally to a common brown.

Why do green birds sound so outrageous? Maybe it's because those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere don't see a lot of green birds. Perhaps we picture sparrows and robins when we think of birds. But green birds exist! Some parrots are vivid shades of green. Even the more common male mallard duck has a brilliantly metallic green head. No, green birds are neither impossible nor improbable. Green birds are real. As are red, blue, and yellow birds.

So what is Meinke getting at?

All too often, the artist that lives within us fades away as we age, consumed by responsibilities, self-consciousness, and well-meaning —- as well as ill-tempered —- adults. We let fear, social propriety, and the search for perfection stand between us and our natural desire to create.

Although the poem ends with sorrow, I take it as a cautionary tale and a reminder that it doesn't have to be this way. The gift of creation -— whatever form it takes -— is an enigmatic present. It is a gift that is given to us, but also one that we are delivered to by way of our choices. Like a muscle, our creativity strengthens with use and atrophies with neglect. Creativity is like a language: the more we use it, the more we can understand and the more we can say with it. Like the ideas of faith and love, it is simultaneously an intimate and elusive entity.

What are the green birds of your youth?

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add to kirtsy | 3:41 PM | 5 comments


For Love of Words

If you know me at all, you know that I love words. And if you're reading this, I suspect you love them at least a little bit, too. So in honor of words -- their beauty, their power -- I share these gems with you today.

I found this little meme floating around some blogs I love. It goes like this: Pick up the nearest book and open it to page 123. Find the fifth sentence. Post the next three sentences. (And tag five people.)

I cheated a little. I chose a book that was behind me on the bookshelf, not one of the books sitting on the desk next to me. But then I was a good girl and followed the directions. Here's what I read:

When night falls, there will be armloads of branches and flowers on the street, all neatly tied with rope, ready for the trash pickup in the morning. The women who are called to the lilacs will arrive to see that the hedges have been chopped to the ground, their glorious flowers nothing but garbage strewn along the gutter and the street. That is the moment when they'll throw their arms around one another and praise simple things and, at long last, consider themselves to be free.
(from Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman)

In the spirit of community, I tag Allyson, Melissa, Lisa, Pink Shoes, Kelly, and anyone else who wants to participate.


because i like lowercase and needed a poetic shot in the arm, i bring you mr. e.e. cummings:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

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add to kirtsy | 11:48 PM | 1 comments


Jen Ballantyne and the Doctrine of Substituted Love

Two nights ago I dreamt that I got a letter from my doctor informing me that I had leukemia and that my prognosis was poor. I tried to wrap my dream-mind around the fact that I was probably going to die soon. I woke with a heavy sadness that stayed with me all day.

Underneath that sadness is another burden I've been meaning to tell you about. Jen Ballantyne, an amazing woman in Australia, is battling bowel cancer. She has been told that she has 12-18 months to live. At age 39 and with two sons, she's not ready to go. Jen has been breathtakingly honest about this journey on her blog, The Comfy Place. Thanks to the efforts of several other amazing bloggers (including Meg, Jen, and Jena), a host of lovely women have gathered around Jen to lift her up. I invite you to do the same.

I've never met Jen in person, have only recently started to read her blog, but think about her multiple times during the day. I fervently want to see her made whole, with no more pain and plenty of good years ahead of her. I wish this so strongly that I feel like she's one of my kin. That naturally leads to thoughts of how we're all connected, how our lives and stories are intertwined beyond what we can see or explain. I don't mean to sound presumptuous, but I feel like I'm carrying around part of Jen's fear, sadness, and pain. In fact, it feels like dozens of people from around the world are carrying her burden.

In his novel Descent into Hell, Charles Williams puts forth his doctrine of substituted love. He claims that we can carry another person's burden, not in a metaphorical sense, but in a real way. He says that I can choose to take on someone else's fear, carrying it as my own, and freeing the other person from it. The other person no longer has to be afraid, because I'm doing that for her. I experience the fear firsthand, but can handle it just fine because it is not my own.

Here's an excerpt from the book. In it, Pauline is terrified of meeting her doppelganger -- her exact double -- face to face. The poet Peter Stanhope tells her that he'll carry her fear for her, so that she doesn't have to be afraid. (I've included a long excerpt. Williams' writing style is rather dense and takes some getting used to. But I hope you'll stick with it to get the full impression of what he's talking about.)

"It's me," she repeated." It comes from a long way off, and it comes up towards me, and I'm terrified--terrified--one day it'll come on and meet me. It hasn't so far; it's turned away or disappeared. But it won't always; it'll come right up to me--and then I shall go mad or die."

"Why?" he asked quickly, and she answered at once, "Because I'm afraid. Dreadfully afraid."

"But," he said, "that I don't quite understand. You have friends; haven't you asked one of them to carry your fear?"

"Carry my fear!" she said, sitting rigid in her chair, so that her arms, which had lain so lightly, pressed now into the basket-work and her long firm hands gripped it as if they strangled her own heart. "How can anyone else carry my fear? Can anyone else see it and have to meet it?"

Still, in that public place, leaning back easily as if they talked of casual things, he said, "You're mixing up two things. Think a moment, and you'll see. The meeting it -- that's one thing, and we can leave it till you're rid of the other. It's the fear we're talking about. Has no one ever relieved you of that? Haven't you ever asked them to?"

She said "You haven't understood, of course.... I was a fool.... Let's forget it."

"Will you tell me whether you've any notion of what I'm talking about? And if not, will you let me do it for you?"

She attended reluctantly, as if to attend were an unhappy duty she owed him, as she had owed others to others and tried to fulfill them. She said politely, "Do it for me?"

"It can be done, you know," he went on. "It's surprisingly simple. And if there's no one else you care to ask, why not use me? I'm here at your disposal, and we could so easily settle it that way. Then you needn't fear it, at least, and then again for the meeting--that might be a very different business if you weren't distressed."

"But how can I not be afraid?" she asked. "It's hellish nonsense to talk like that. I suppose that's rude, but--"

"It's no more nonsense than your own story," he said. "That isn't; very well, this isn't. We all know what fear and trouble are. Very well--when you leave here you'll think of yourself that I've taken this particular trouble over instead of you. You'd do as much for me if I needed it, or for any one. And I will give myself to it. I'll think of what comes to you, and imagine it, and know it, and be afraid of it. And then, you see, you won't."

She looked at him as if she were beginning to understand that at any rate he thought he was talking about a reality, and as she did so something of her feeling for him returned. It was, after all, Peter Stanhope who was talking to her like this. Peter Stanhope was a great poet. Were great poets liars? No. But they might be mistaken. Yes; so might she. She said, very doubtfully: "But I don't understand. It isn't your--you haven't seen it. How can you--"


"Listen--when you go from here, when you're alone, when you think you'll be afraid, let me put myself in your place, and be afraid instead of you." He sat up and leaned towards her.

"It's so easy," he went on, "easy for both of us. It needs only the act. For what can be simpler than for you to think to yourself that since I am there to be troubled instead of you, therefore you needn't be troubled? And what can be easier than for me to carry a little while a burden that isn't mine?"

She said, still perplexed at a strange language: "But how can I cease to be troubled? will it leave off coming because I pretend it wants you? Is it your resemblance that hurries up the street?"

"It is not," he said, "and you shall not pretend at all. The thing itself you may one day meet--never mind that now, but you'll be free from all distress because that you can pass on to me. Haven't you heard it said that we ought to bear one another's burdens?"

"But that means--" she began, and stopped.

"I know," Stanhope said. "It means listening sympathetically, and thinking unselfishly, and being anxious about, and so on. Well, I don't say a word against all that; no doubt it helps. But I think when Christ or St. Paul, or whoever said bear, or whatever he Aramaically said instead of bear, he meant something much more like carrying a parcel instead of someone else. To bear a burden is precisely to carry it instead of. If you're still carrying yours, I'm not carrying it for you--however sympathetic I may be. And anyhow there's no need to introduce Christ, unless you wish. It's a fact of experience. If you give a weight to me, you can't be carrying it yourself; all I'm asking you to do is to notice that blazing truth. It doesn't sound very

"And if I could," she said. "If I could do--whatever it is you mean, would I? Would I push my burden on to anybody else?"

"Not if you insist on making a universe for yourself," he answered. "If you want to disobey and refuse the laws that are common to us all, if you want to live in pride and division and anger, you can. But if you will be part of the best of us, and live and laugh and be ashamed with us, then you must be content to be helped. You must give your burden up to someone else, and you must carry someone else's burden. I haven't made the universe and it isn't my fault. But I'm sure that this is a law of the universe, and not to give up your parcel is as much to rebel as not to carry another's. You'll find it quite easy if you let yourself do it."

"And what of my self-respect?" she said.

He laughed at her with a tender mockery. "O, if we are of that kind!" he exclaimed. "If you want to respect yourself, if to respect yourself you must go clean against the nature of things, if you must refuse the Omnipotence in order to respect yourself, though why you should want so extremely to respect yourself is more than I can guess, why, go on and respect. Must I apologize for suggesting anything else?"

He mocked her and was silent; for a while she stared back, still irresolute. He held her; presently he held her at command. A long silence had gone by before he spoke again.

"When you are alone," he said, "remember that I am afraid instead of you, and that I have taken over every kind of worry. Think merely that; say to yourself--'he is being worried,' and go on. Remember it is mine. If you do not see it, well; if you do, you will not be afraid. And since you are not afraid. . . ."

She stood up. "I can't imagine not being afraid," she said.

"But you will not be," he answered, also rising, certainty in his voice, "because you will leave all that to me. Will you please me by remembering that absolutely?"

"I am to remember," she said, and almost broke into a little trembling laugh, "that you are being worried and terrified instead of me?"

"That I have taken it all over," he said, "so there is nothing left for you."

"And if I see it after all?" she asked.

"But not 'after all'," he said. "The fact remains--but see how different a fact, if it can't be dreaded! As of course it can't--by you. Go now, if you choose, and keep it in your mind till--shall I see you to-morrow? Or ring me up to-night, say about nine, and tell me you are being obedient to the whole fixed nature of things."

"I'll ring up," she said. "But I ... it sounds so silly."

"It is silly sooth," he answered, "and dallies with the innocence of love. Real sooth, real innocence, real love. Go with God."

They shook hands, and slowly, looking back once, just before she reached the lane, she went out of his sight.

(pp. 96-100. Williams, Charles. Descent into Hell. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993.)

My friend Allyson and I tried this out once when she had a piano recital. I told her that I'd take her stage fright so she could play unhindered. As soon as she sat down at the piano my stomach turned upside down and inside out with nervousness. Sitting there in the audience, I had a full-blown case of stage fright. And yet, it wasn't overwhelming or unmanageable. I felt the fear completely, and yet it didn't belong to me. That small but significant difference made it fine, made it bearable.

Allyson played the Chopin Nocturne beautifully. Afterward, she said that her fear melted away as soon as she sat down.

An informal piano recital is one thing. Dealing with a life-threatening illness is another. But I believe we can do more than simply sympathize with Jen Ballantyne's burden. I believe we can can collectively carry it for her, taking away the fear so that she can continue on this journey unafraid. It sounds grandiose, crazy, and a little bit naive. But I believe it's already started to happen as strangers take Jen into their hearts and support her in unfathomable ways.

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add to kirtsy | 4:37 PM | 16 comments


My Worn Out Love Story

photo by corazón girl

An old love story has been on my heart and mind for weeks now, invading my dreams, leaving me shaken and sad when I wake. In these dreams, my old lover comes to me and confuses me just like he did all those years ago. Sometimes he's cold and aloof, refusing to answer my burning questions about what happened between us; what happened to him. Sometimes he tells me he still loves me; that we should be together again.

For years after he broke my heart, I fantasized that he'd come back to me, across the distance, against the odds, despite his wife and their rumored child. I imagined that he'd unveil his reasons for leaving so unexpectedly and so thoroughly. This daydream was laced with conspiracy theories and angst-ridden confessions. I'd desperately try to recreate his soft, seductive voice in my mind, hearing him say, "I'm so sorry. I never stopped loving you."

In weak waking moments, I still wonder what will happen when I finally see him again. It's been more than a decade, but I'm convinced that he'll cross my path once more. It's not obsession; it's just something I've always known.

And I still fantasize about him sometimes, especially when he visits my dreams. But the fantasies are different now. I no longer ache for his affections. If he came bearing them, I'd be heartbroken once more for the inconvenience of it all. I'm married to a man whom I love dearly and would not leave for the old lover. Now, I just want answers, and maybe that apology. The truth would be sweeter by far than hearing that he still loves me. In the end, what I want to know is that at one time, he really, truly did.

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add to kirtsy | 9:45 PM | 4 comments

E is for ME! (Excellent Blog Award)

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I'm tickled pink to be the recipient of my very first blog award. A hearty shout out and humble thanks to Lulu at Redefining Sanity for bestowing an E for Excellent upon this blog.

Lulu found my blog because she generously participated in the latest Bloggy Giveaways carnival and I'm a whore hound for quality free stuff and entered her contest for a Juice Beauty Organics To-Go kit. I didn't win, but I'm okay with that. Not because I'm a good loser, but because I won something else from another blog (Hot Diggity!). And more importantly: because Lulu made my day with this award!

All sarcasm and joshing aside, I'm honored to be one of the 10 blogs that Lulu awarded. Go check them all out here and here. And while you're there take a stroll around Redefining Sanity. Lulu has some good stories about her amazingly wise kids and why she needs to return to the Year of Glamour.

Thank you for sharing the good juju, Lulu!

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add to kirtsy | 1:15 AM | 3 comments


That Pesky Fear

Sometimes I think that life is a series of mini-post traumatic stress episodes. We live in so much fear. It usually surfaces as stress, irritability, distractedness. We think maybe we're tired or just having a bad day or week or year. Underneath it all, I think we're mostly scared.

A few nights ago I ventured back out into the world of business networking. There was a time in my life when I did this regularly. It was part of my day job working with women entrepreneurs. Later it became a way to grow my own freelance writing business. I like people and have the ability to talk to almost anyone about almost anything. But I can’t eat, breathe, and sleep business nonstop, which is what I was forced to do for far too long. So while the networking was valuable and sometimes even enjoyable, I got burnt out on it.

So for the last 18 months or so, I've been dormant. I quit my day job and crawled over into a corner to recuperate and refresh. And of course, my word of mouth referrals slowed to a trickle. I knew that I needed to get back “out there” and start connecting with people again. But the mere idea of it exhausted me.

Why should it? After all, I already admitted that I like talking with people. One word: Fear.

Because I'd stopped actively networking at the same time that I was mentally and physically tapped out, my fight-or-flight mind connected the two. I subtly started to hate the idea of going to business events because I feared losing myself again. Rationally, I knew this didn't have to happen. Viscerally, I was the victim of a mini-trauma.

Not long ago I laid out a loose plan to generate more business, and of course networking was on the list. Lo and behold, the perfect event showed up on the calendar for this week. How convenient.

Oh how I hemmed and hawed. I came up with every excuse not to go. The weather forecast called for rain during the hour drive there and back. I didn't have any clean business attire. I didn’t even know if it would be a beneficial event. As I threw out these excuses, I saw a look of disapproval cross my husband’s face. A moment later I realized that I was seeing a mirror of my own disappointment for chickening out.

So I rooted through my closet and found some clothes that weren’t jeans and a sweater. The weather cooperated and only rained on the way home. I overcame my fear and was rewarded. I rekindled old connections and made a few new ones. I even met a few people face-to-face after only "knowing" them over the phone. And there are new business prospects on the horizon, some related to the event, some not. (I have a theory that work breeds work, but that's a post for another day.)

I did my best to talk myself out of going to that event. I almost let mini-post traumatic stress get in the way of a good experience.

How are you talking yourself out of something good?


add to kirtsy | 11:58 PM | 5 comments


Chain Reaction

Ten years ago, when I still lived at home with my parents, and my husband was just my new boyfriend, I inadvertently caused a car accident. One late summer night I wanted to meet my boyfriend at a friend's house. In order to get to my mom's Ford Taurus (the car of choice, when the choice came down to that or my Dad's blue Buick) someone needed to move the Buick out of the tandem driveway.

We lived near a busy intersection on a busy street. But traffic was sparse this night. So sparse in fact, that the slightly intoxicated lady driving the SUV down the hill at a high rate of speed should have had plenty of time to see my brother backing the blue boat out onto the street. After all, she had a clear line of sight from the top of the hill to the intersection at the bottom.

She crashed into the Buick underneath my parents' bedroom window. I’m not sure what woke my dad: the noise of the crash, or my mom, who was watching us through the window, shouting, "David's been hit!" Either way, Dad bolts out of bed, flies out of the house, and starts running down the street. Only the running was more like prancing because he was shot through with adrenaline and was barefoot on a sidewalk littered with gravel. On his way to save his youngest child, he hadn't thought to put on shoes, his glasses, or any clothes. I should mention that he was sleeping in his tightie-whities.

My brother was fine, the car needed some work, Dad didn't seem to be embarrassed by the ordeal, and the SUV driver got off clean, even though the cops said she was "borderline" on the sobriety test. And my boyfriend thought I was joking when I called and said, "Can you come here instead? My brother's just been in a car accident and my dad's half naked."

Thanks to Jenna Glatzer at Hot Diggity! for prompting me to share this story. I was lucky enough to win one of Jenna's books, The Street Smart Writer, during the Bloggy Giveaway Carnival.

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add to kirtsy | 1:48 AM | 4 comments