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This Is Why I Don’t Get Out Much, Part 3

door-1587863_1920In a panic, I called everyone I knew in the area. No one was home. I called Nate back and he insisted that I call my parents. “My parents? No way.”

“You have to. I need help.”

They can’t really help you, Nate.”

“Your dad can.”

“Yeah, maybe. But not my mom.”

“Just do it, Cyn. It’s kind of an emergency.”

I stalled as long as I could, then I sucked it up and called my parents’ house. Dad answered, and when I explained what was happening, he said, “Your mother is watching Outlander at your sister’s house. She won’t be home until after 9.”

“Dad, what part of emergency don’t you understand?”

He sighed. “I’ll call. She may not answer.”

Apparently Mom and Jen take Outlander very, very seriously.

IMG_1274I called Nate back, but by then the tantrum was winding down. He and Jennifer got Katie on the swing and soon she was ready for bed. By the time Mom and Dad showed up, Jennifer was leaving to return to Santa Cruz. Katie had climbed into bed, thoroughly exhausted, so my parents stayed outside on the front porch, talking to Nate, then left.

I’d spent most of my final evening in Truckee stuck on the phone, talking to Jennifer and Nate instead of my college friends, listening to my child curse, scream, and cry. This is pretty much the opposite of fun. I was wiped out and feeling guilty. Plus I was convinced that Jennifer would never work for me again.

That would have been stressful enough, but when she returned home, Mom felt compelled to send a string of nasty texts. I was a bad parent for taking time off. My child was out of control and required medication. I was using Nate. Why wasn’t I doing more to help Katie? I was selfish and irresponsible. Why had I left Katie with people who were clearly in over their heads? Nate had a scratch on his face. What was wrong with me? When I responded that her comments weren’t particularly helpful and could she please stop, she texted: THEN START ACTING RESPONSIBLY!!!

By now all of my girlfriends were asleep in their rooms, so I called a friend and cried on the phone. She told me my mother was an idiot. She asked when was the last time I’d left Katie overnight. I said other than a few days at camp, the last time was for a masters writing workshop in 2007. My friend sighed and told me I needed more time off, not less. The fact that Mom couldn’t understand that was the problem, not my actions. She reminded me of all the ways Katie was making progress, all the sacrifices I’d made for her. She told me I was an excellent mom. It helped. But I didn’t sleep much that night.

In the morning, I told my girlfriends what had happened over a quick breakfast. They agreed with my friend and hugged me. One suggested that if my parents couldn’t help in person like they did for my sister Jen, then perhaps they could pay for someone to give me time off. Which, although unlikely, was an excellent idea. (Didn’t I tell you these women were amazing?) Then we all scrambled to pack up and leave.

It had snowed overnight, and the roads were slushy. Once I reached Donner Pass, I was glad that I hadn’t attempted the drive at night. The visibility was poor even in daylight. I took it slow and called Nate once I reached Colfax. He said Katie had slept in and now they were eating pancakes. Everything was fine.

Mary, Renata, Helen, Anne, me, and Dawn in downtown Truckee, CA. November 2017

Mary, Renata, Helen, Anne, me, and Dawn in downtown Truckee, CA. November 2017


I was relieved, but still worried, depressed, and exhausted. I was grateful for my weekend in Truckee, but to say that Katie’s meltdown had put a damper on my enjoyment was an understatement.

I arrived home forty-nine hours after I left. It seemed much longer. My home was a little worse for the wear, but otherwise everything was fine. Katie was glad to see me. And anxious to repair the holes.

I pieced the story together after talking to both Jennifer and Nate at length, but I still can’t identify what triggered Katie’s meltdown. It’s possible she was anxious about my continued absence and had no way to ask for reassurance. Or perhaps she was pissed that Jennifer wouldn’t let her take a longer shower. Or something else entirely that we all missed. Whatever the case, although I’m thrilled that I got away, I’m not sure I’ll be doing it again anytime soon.

Jennifer, thankfully, was willing to return. When I finally worked up the nerve to ask, she said, “Of course! I don’t blame Katie for what happened. I just feel bad that I couldn’t calm her down and had to call you.”

Which, I will admit, made me cry. It was the best gift I got this holiday season.

Until next time,

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This Is Why I Don’t Get Out Much, Part 2

door-1587863_1920After the incident in the shower, Jennifer, my respite sitter, struggled to keep things under control. But my daughter was in a rage fueled by anger, puberty, sensory dysregulation, or a combination of all three. Katie kicked the mirrored closet doors in her bedroom, then began kicking the walls. Unsure what to do to de-escalate the situation, Jennifer called Nate, my ex-boyfriend, once again.

By the time Nate arrived, there were several holes in the drywall (we’d find more later) and one of the closet doors was cracked. Jennifer was panicked. She’d never encountered this kind of behavior in almost four years of working for me. Nate saw the state of the walls (and calculated the amount of time it would take me to patch them) and decided to restrain Katie until she calmed down to prevent further destruction.

Nate had pinned Katie to her bed when Jennifer called me in Truckee, almost in tears. I calmed her down and tried to decode what had happened. I could find no clear trigger.

The problem with restraint is that it often only serves to make the child angrier. In other words, it makes a bad situation even worse. Which is precisely what it did that night in my home while I was a nearly four-hour drive away.

Katie was thrashing around on the bed and screaming like she was being murdered. Nate, who is a big guy, was having trouble holding her down. I suggested Jennifer help him by pinning Katie’s legs and then walked her through the breathing technique that I use to help Katie calm down. It worked a bit, but the minute Nate lessened his grip, she turned on him.

Nate began complaining about being tired. I explained that once he decided to restrain Katie, he needed to follow through until the meltdown ended. And eventually, after an hour, it did.

Never have I been more grateful for the end of a meltdown. I’m sure Jennifer and Nate felt the same. I sighed, thanked them both profusely, and hung up. It had been an exhausting and emotionally draining hour on the phone. An autistic meltdown is always bad, but it’s ten times worse when you are hours away and unable to help your child.

Mary, Renata, Helen, Anne, me, and Dawn in downtown Truckee, CA. November 2017

Mary, Renata, Helen, Anne, me, and Dawn in downtown Truckee, CA. November 2017


Half my college girlfriends had headed for bed, but Anne and Dawn were still up. They poured me a glass of wine and asked what had happened. I wasn’t even halfway through the story when my phone rang again. Katie had lost it once more.

The phone reception in Truckee wasn’t good, and the connection was lost. I looked at Dawn and said, “I should go home.”

“No,” she said. “Whatever is happening will be over long before you make it back. You need to stay here and get some sleep. Head home early tomorrow like the rest of us.”

I sighed. She was right. Driving over Donner Pass alone on a snowy night wasn’t a good idea. Especially considering my night vision isn’t as good as it once was. Why had I pushed my luck and stayed a second day?

The phone rang again. I took it upstairs where the reception was better. Once again I talked Jennifer and Nate through the worst of the meltdown, and they managed to get Katie into the body sock, which usually helps to calm her down. As Jennifer counted with Katie, Nate got on the phone. He explained that he was worried Jennifer wouldn’t make it back to Santa Cruz in time for her morning class. (Later he would tell me he was more worried that Katie would hurt her.) He had agreed to spend the night at my house so Jennifer could drive back that night without traffic. But like Jennifer, he had never seen Katie in this state and he was concerned.

“You need to call someone. Jennifer has to leave soon, and I’m not sure I can handle this alone.”

To be continued…

Until next time,

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This Is Why I Don’t Get Out Much, Part 1


Speaking of gratitude, I am beyond grateful that the University of California saw fit to introduce me to five of the most amazing friends a gal could have. We met in Sereno Hall at U.C. Davis (UCD) in the fall of 1982. Mary (Semmelmeyer) Gagliardi was my roommate. Helen (Nazar) Bishop and Renata Ruettimann-Erpen shared the room across the hall. Anne (Gowan) Weaver and Dawn (Kellenbarger) Vollmar lived with their roommates a few doors down. Despite time, distance, jobs, marriages, and kids, we have remained friends for a shocking thirty-five years. How in the hell did that happen?

These women have known me my entire adult life, and when we get together, the conversation picks up right where we left off. Renata went to Switzerland after college and met a wonderful Swiss guy who she married. Her parents remain in the San Francisco Bay Area, so whenever she visits them, we make a point to get together for lunch or dinner.

Last summer, I saw a photo in the UCD College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences alumni magazine. It showed seven women who met in the late 1950s at UCD and have taken a trip together every summer since graduation. Now in their 80s, the women looked healthy and happy. Funny. Vital. Interesting. As in, women I’d like to have coffee with and discuss their world view.

220px-Ucdavis_aggiesMary and I were the only ones who would receive that particular magazine, so I scanned the photo and emailed it to my girlfriends. For a caption, I wrote, “This will be us in a few years! Well, maybe more like decades, but you get the idea. Lol.”

My friends quickly responded. They loved the photo as much as I did. As we exchanged comments, we realized that 2017 was the 35th anniversary of our meeting in Sereno Hall. Even better, Renata was planning a trip to California in November!

We decided to spend a weekend in Truckee at Renata’s family vacation home. For my married girlfriends with high school or young adult children, this was a relatively easy thing to do. For me, a single parent with a special needs teen in the throws of puberty, it was a different situation entirely.

As luck would have it, Jennifer, my long-time respite sitter, was free that weekend and willing to tackle an overnight. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” she said. “No worries. It’ll be fine.”

I was so excited about the prospect of a weekend away with girlfriends, I didn’t ponder the many ways this could go horribly wrong.

I purchased snow boots and wool socks as well as a pair of cute embroidered jeans. I recruited Nate, my ex-boyfriend who knows Katie well, to serve as the emergency point of contact while I was out of town. Just in case, I told myself. I really wasn’t expecting anything to go wrong. Neither was Jennifer.

And nothing did—-for thirty hours. Thirty hours in which I drove to Auburn on a crisp November day to rendezvous with my friends. Thirty hours in which I ate cheese fondue and dark Swiss chocolate while drinking wine and relaxing. Thirty hours in which I hiked and talked and shopped and talked some more. Thirty hours of pure bliss with my dear college friends.

I checked in with Jennifer and she told me to stay the second night. She and Katie were having a blast after several months apart. “Smooth sailing,” she said. She sent me photographic proof.

My girlfriends and I were thrilled.


Mary, Renata, Helen, Anne, me, and Dawn in downtown Truckee, CA. November 2017


Then for reasons neither Jennifer nor I have been able to uncover, Katie began to unravel. At the park her behavior was erratic enough to cause Jennifer to call Nate. He stopped by, but the problem seemed to have resolved itself.

Back at home, Katie manipulated Jennifer into letting her use my shower. After thirty minutes—and most of my shampoo and body wash—Jennifer asked Katie to turn off the water. Katie refused. Jennifer said that Katie could get out herself or Jennifer would come in and make her. (This is a classic autism technique that Jennifer and I have both used successfully.) Katie reluctantly shut off the water … and then kicked my custom (read expensive) shower doors.

Jennifer hustled her out of the master bath, but from then on, the situation eroded.

To be continued…

Until next time,

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Happy Thanksgiving

Katie and I wish you a relaxing and abundant Thanksgiving!


I’m terrifically grateful that the City of Livermore selected me as its fourth Poet Laureate. It’s been an amazing journey, and I can’t wait to see what unfolds in the remainder of my term.

What are you grateful for?

I’ll be back next week with more of my Unplanned Life….

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Holiday Blessings

IMG_1070This month, like many of us, I’ve been reflecting on gratitude. I have so many incredible things for which to be grateful:

  • My ever-amazing daughter, Katie, who is my greatest teacher.
  • Her fabulous school, which continues to rock our world. Open Mind School is literally changing her life for the better every day. I can’t thank them enough.
  • Our amazing tutor/sitter/modern-day Mary Poppins, Melissa, who continues to be a priceless gift. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
  • Melissa’s two adorable daughters, Isabella and Audrina, who have befriended Katie and model appropriate social skills for her every single week. These girls are so kind,  generous, and helpful with Katie. The world needs more children like this. ❤️
  • Jennifer, our amazing respite sitter, who has worked for us so long (nearly 4 years) that she is practically family. No, she IS family. Jennifer is another person I don’t know what I’d do without. I’m so happy that although she transferred to U.C. Santa Cruz in August to complete her degree, Jennifer plans to hang out with Katie at least one day a month to keep things consistent.
  • Our two new weekend/evening sitters, Lora and Katie B (aka Miss B), who have stepped in to replace Jennifer and make my life possible. These gals are flat-out terrific and have helped create a smooth, drama-free transition for Katie (and me).
  • Lenae, the fabulous rapid prompting method (RPM) coach, who coaxes Katie to show us ever more of her brilliant brain. Along with Open Mind School, Lenae is unlocking Katie’s true potential.
  • Nate, my ex-boyfriend, who remains one of my dearest friends. Plus an excellent handy man, graphic designer, pet sitter, and poetry critic.
  • My two goofball pets: Delta, the husky, and Max, the cat. These two rescues never fail to brighten my day and make both Katie and I laugh out loud.
  • My home, which is shabby and showing its age, but filled with love and laughter.


  • My friends–you know who you are–who pick me up when I fall and always listen, no matter the subject.
  • Team Katie, an ever-growing group of friends, extended family, ex-therapists, and others, who consistently cheer Katie on when she achieves milestones, no matter how small.
  • My steadfast Autism A to Z board members, Barb and Sharon, who have helped me keep the little nonprofit that could going for over five years. These women do so many fabulous things for the community. They inspire me.
  • My wonderful Whistlestop Writers community which is still going strong nearly four years after I started it. These multi-talented writers and poets get my creative juices flowing every single month.
  • My role as Livermore’s fourth Poet Laureate, which continues to enrich my life in new and wonderful ways.
  • And let’s not forget my poetry chapbook, Across An Aqueous Moon: Travels in Autism (Finishing Line Press, 2016).

I could go on, but you get the idea. Despite the lack of a long-term relationship or a well-funded retirement account, and yes, despite my autistic child, my life is rich in so many ways. This holiday season I’m feeling truly blessed.

Until next time,

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Yes, You Can Look

toddler-655541_1920Lately I’ve had numerous male friends—guys I didn’t think had an issue with sexual harassment and assault, or even frankly with discrimination, guys who for years had truly seemed to “get it”—whine and say something to the effect of: now I can’t even LOOK at women. Everyone looks! I know you do too—don’t try to deny it—but it’s not safe for me to do that any more. Much hand-wringing and self-pity followed along with a hefty dose of complaining.

The first time it happened, I thought my friend was joking. When I realized he wasn’t, I did my best not to roll my eyes and say, boo hoo, at least you get paid more to do the same job as that woman at whom you can no longer leer. What I did say, after noting that something lay buried beneath the hand-wringing and whining, was this: do we really need to have this conversation?

I mean, really, is this necessary? For you, of all men?

And instantly I realized that we did, because that buried thing, that unformed, unintelligible, and unasked question, needed to be answered. These men weren’t the major offenders, or even the minor ones, and yet, they were still struggling with where to draw the line in this new post-Harvey Weinstein world we now find ourselves in.

In essence, they were asking for clarification, and I, as a woman they trusted, needed to provide it.


In the moment, I simply went with my gut. I said, yes, you can look. Women like you to look—or at least many of us do. Look and make a compliment if you want, but keep it professional. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother or your sister, don’t go there. And don’t expect anything in return other than a simple thank you. You know, the way your mom would respond if you said you liked her new haircut. Or outfit. Or shoes.

If you are looking in a way that makes a woman uncomfortable, however, that’s definitely not okay. Anything you would call checking her out, leering, or plain old staring is off limits. As is stalking, standing too close, kissing, or grabbing. Any body part, even an arm. But especially not in the so-called “private zones,” our president’s comments notwithstanding. Treat her as an equal, a human being worthy of your respect and you’ll be fine.

And absolutely no display of your junk at work for any reason. They all said, well duh, and looked at me like I was crazy. Which made me inordinately happy because we now all know you can’t take it for granted that a male coworker won’t just whip it out at a moments notice.

I explained that penile display was far, far worse than any type of looking, so I felt obligated to make that point crystal clear. Just in case they, umm, ever felt the urge to share.

Oh, and do me a favor, please, I said. When you see another guy do anything unacceptable, don’t laugh it off, call it “locker room talk.” Don’t look the other way. Don’t make excuses. Tell him to stop. Call him out on his poor behavior. Because that’s the only way this boy’s club mentality is going to end.

You have to do that for me because I can’t as a woman, and yes, it will be uncomfortable at first. Just like it was uncomfortable at times for me as the only female attorney at my first law firm. But things will get easier for all of us if you do. Does that make sense?

One friend asked if I was sure he could still look. I said I was pretty certain no one would gouge his eyes out for taking in his surroundings. He just needed to be, well, discrete. He smiled as if this was the best news he’d had all month. Perhaps it was. My other male friends simply nodded and we switched to other subjects.

I don’t know if my mini tutorial will make a difference, but wouldn’t it be glorious if it did?


Feel free to share this post with the men in your life. It can’t hurt, and if nothing else, you won’t have to listen to any annoying whining about losing the right to look.

Until next time,

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metoo-2859980_1920Is it just me?

I’m feeling triggered (and then triggered again) on a daily—no, constant—basis by what seems like hourly revelations of sexual impropriety in the workplace. Part of me wants to look away. But part of me insists, no, you must witness this. It’s important. Do not turn your back.

My guess is that most women are feeling something similar.

I’m a poet, so as the #MeToo movement continues to grow and spread, naturally some of this anger and angst spills out into my writing life. This is what I wrote this week. I’m guessing there will be more….



How many times must I be
shoved against unyielding wall

or car, unwelcome tongue rammed
down my throat? How many unwanted

hands on my ass, how many accidental
grazes that lingered a moment too long?

This uncharted territory you yearn to conquer
is not yours to plunder. Its spoils are mine

to horde or squander. I am queen
of my aging but still proud domain.

Why won’t you recognize
a sovereignty that is not yours?


Until next time

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Reflections on #MeToo

sub-buzz-28254-1507580086-1In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, lots of women are “waking up.” This is glorious to see, but also a bit depressing. As the #MeToo campaign spreads, story after story is appearing in social media as well as television, radio, and print. When will it end? Clearly not soon, and while it’s difficult to confront this issue day after day, that’s probably a good thing. The dam has finally been breached.

Somehow we must survive the resulting flood.

At long last, women (and men) are grappling with how widespread the problem of sexual harassment and assault–combined with gender-based discrimination–truly is. We are seeing how the details may change, but not the overall storyline. And frankly, it’s not an easy story to digest.

Many of my female law school classmates have noted that while we were fortunate not to experience tremendous amounts of harassment and assault, we had all endured, as I put it, more examples of gender-based discrimination than a person could possibly count. It angers me when I think of all that talent squandered.

How can we as a society afford to waste so much human capital?

For a few weeks after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, I joked that being a female lawyer was kind of like working for Harvey–except without the bathrobe or a much-needed massage. A girlfriend quipped: or the name in lights. All true, but as #MeToo spreads, my joke no longer seems funny.


It’s depressing how widespread the problem is, now that the doors have been blown wide, now that it’s out in the open, standing in sunlight instead of lurking in the shadows. I think every working woman of my generation isn’t surprised by the constant steam of allegations currently in the news, but I suspect all of us wanted to believe we had made more progress. Much more. I know I did. It was easier to think that the legal profession was one of the last bastions of traditional male dominance than to confront what I belatedly see as the truth: I had it pretty good.

Those male attorneys knew I was capable of suing them, and that knowledge protected me. At least to an extent. It was never going to help me become a partner. It was never going to make me an equal in a system that was rigged against me. But at least no one was demanding sexual favors or showing me their junk. I’m grateful for that. Beyond grateful.

I mean seriously, who even knew that was something a woman needed to be grateful for? Having a boss who didn’t feel constantly compelled to show you, and anyone else in a skirt, his little attention-hungry friend?

I don’t think I was alone in the belief that we as women had made more progress than what appears to have occurred. A friend recently reminded me how when she went to join N.O.W., the National Organization for Women, after college, the organization was focused on LGBT rights. At the time, in the late 80s and 90s, that seemed like the right choice, the right direction. But looking back, I see it was premature.


Why was it premature? Because it seems painfully obvious now that men hadn’t changed their behavior. The behavior simply disappeared underground, where it festered, became malignant. Now our task is to continue shining a light on that inappropriate behavior, in all its many forms, to root it out, dig it up, and destroy it once and for all.

Because that’s the world I want my daughter–and yours–to inherit.

Until next time,

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Transportation Woes, Part 6

school-busMy daughter Katie was quiet and subdued for the next two days. She slept on and off, which was odd given she wasn’t sick. If I needed further reason to fire the taxi company, they were a no show Tuesday morning. Or else really, really late once again. It didn’t matter. I was done. Katie was done with them too.

That night, Katie threw up her dinner in the kitchen sink. The next day, she wanted to sleep instead of swing. During her therapy session, she slumped at the table with her head in her hand. When asked, she said she had “a sick head.”

I searched and found an egg on her forehead, just inside the hairline. The therapist and I wondered if she had a concussion. Melissa, who had recently had one herself, agreed. As did my mother, a retired nurse. Plus the advice nurse at the doctor’s office. I scheduled an appointment, now thoroughly anxious.

Wednesday evening, the District’s transportation coordinator called and informed me the District had been unable to arrange alternative transportation. Either I could drive Katie to Open Mind School, or she could stay home. My choice.

I asked if I would be reimbursed. “Of course,” the transportation coordinator responded.

“Is it still your policy to reimburse for only half of each trip?”

She said she would check.

The transportation coordinator didn’t know the District’s policy on trip reimbursement? Was she kidding?

MP900409051-300x300Later she would agree to reimburse me for both legs of the trip to Menlo Park (plus bridge tolls) as if this was a generous offer. At the standard IRS rate $0.535 per mile, the District was barely covering gas plus wear and tear on my car. It wasn’t paying me for the 2.5 or 3 hours of time each round trip required. Time I couldn’t afford to lose.

Katie couldn’t afford to lose time either. She needed to make up seven years of lost academics. So I reluctantly agreed to drive Katie to school. Temporarily. I gave the District just over two weeks, until October 2nd, to work something out.

The pediatrician shrugged off my concussion concerns and told me to let Katie sleep. She was probably just sick. I didn’t like this answer, but had no energy to fight it. Besides, as the pediatrician pointed out, there wasn’t much she could do even if Katie did have a concussion.

My transportation deadline came and went, with no response from the District. I sent another email, spelling out that they were in breach of our settlement agreement and copied the new Special Education Director. He responded that he was “terribly sorry” the issue was taking so long to resolve. We discussed the situation, and he agreed to check on several issues. We scheduled a meeting for late October, the soonest he could meet.

When I told Mom, she said, “You’ll be stuck driving all year.”

I suspect she’s correct. But guess what? Unlike the taxi drivers, I’m not getting any behavior on the drive to and from Open Mind School, which despite fewer miles, is a longer commute than to  the old location. So what were those drivers doing–besides getting lost–to trigger her behavior?


I wish, as always, Katie could tell me. Until she can, I’ll keep searching for answers. (And spending a lot of time driving to and from Menlo Park.)

Until next time,

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Tomorrow I’m Reading at the Livermore Library

Tomorrow I will be reading at the Civic Center Library in Livermore, California as part of the Library’s Friends, Authors, and Arts Series. The event is called An Evening with the New Poet Laureate and will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The Civic Center Library is located at 1188 South Livermore Avenue, Livermore, CA 94550.

I will be reading selected poems from my chapbook, Across An Aqueous Moon: Travels in Autism (Finishing Line Press, 2016), as well as some new work. There will be time for questions after the reading. Books will be available for purchase and signing.


As always, it’s an honor to have my work featured, but particularly nice to have it happen in my community.

If you are in the area, please plan to attend.

Until next time,

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