August Attitude Adjustment: Not Moving After All

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What a crazy summer! It seemed everyone around me was “downsizing.” I joined the movement. In June, I decided to sell my house and move somewhere smaller. By July, the offer I’d made on a nearby townhouse was accepted. I was in the process of packing to move. Meanwhile, even before the old place was officially on the market, I’d been getting a few tentative offers. Nibbles.

Home-Where the heart is

Along comes my son and his family for a visit. They see the new place and hear about the too-low offers made on the old home. After studying the numbers, my son pointed out that I would not come out ahead. Hard to believe at first, but when deferred maintenance was taken into consideration, the house would actually not be making money for me. Financially, I would just about break even. A two-day family discussion: Ultimately, we concluded, it would not be best for me to move. Rather, I’d invest in refurbishing the old home.
August finds me adopting an entirely new attitude. No longer will I mind the indoor and outdoor maintenance. I’ll take full advantage of the hoop gardens for growing vegetables and herbs; I’ll walk the labyrinth every day; I’ll harvest fruit from the apple and pear trees in the fall and turn the bounty into juice, pies, and cobblers. I’ll commune with the occasional deer coming to visit. I am realizing that I hadn’t really wanted to be uprooted.
The home makeover begins next week. That means that I’ll be moving out of one end of the house to the other. The section that needs paint and new flooring has to be vacated. This has led to massive de-cluttering and a donation-a-thon. Thankfully, the work begins outside, with re-stuccoing. So I have a tiny bit of leeway in clearing out of the renovation end. On the other hand, the-clock is ticking.

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Join Elaine for Monthly Blogs on the world as seen through Adoption Colored Glasses

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Goodbye, old Home

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I’m saying goodbye to my home of 45 years. Hard for me believe, but I’m selling the house that’s taken care of me all these decades. The housing market here in Santa Fe, New Mexico is excellent. I can do without five extra rooms to heat and clean, without two acres to tend and without closets for a family of four. Last month I located a nearby townhouse, still in my same neighborhood, but with charm and virtually no maintenance, I decided the time had come. My realtor and I made an offer and it was accepted. The die is cast…

I’ve loved it but I’m leaving.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve been endlessly decluttering. Or at least since January. Purging and more purging, but still way too much of everything. But the need to upgrade my current house to put it on the market: that’s a motivator. As the saying goes, I am putting the pedal to the metal.

Time is of the essence. My life has become all about de-acquisition. Packing to move. Room by room, I am emptying every shelf and cabinet. But then there’s the question: “What to do with EVERYTHING?” A garage sale here and there, some things put on consignment. A lot of donating. Once I started to dig, I learned who can use what. Barkin Attic, a charitable resale store that benefits homeless animals, has been wonderful. So far, I’ve given them two desks, a large bookcase, two couches and boxes of kitchenwares. The Barkin volunteer staff is very professional. Two muscular people and a U Haul truck arrive exactly when scheduled, give me a receipt for tax purposes and – voila- the stuff is gone!

Every possession is a responsibility.

Casa Familia, a local homeless shelter, has also been the recipient of my excess. Perfectly fine clothing, in good condition. Office supplies, cleaning stuff, cds. The public library in Los Alamos, NM, has a thriving Friends of the Library resale store. A volunteer named Kevin drove here to pick up 100 of my favorite books. Though it hurt to see them leave, I loved the fact that someone else would read and appreciate them and that the money made by the Library Friends would help.

Speaking of friends, last weekend, Richard and Kathy came over to help me pack. We all worked for hours and finally had to take a break. Richard relaxed in the recliner and I told him that he could have it. Turns out, the couple had been thinking of getting a recliner, and mine (barely used) was perfect. It fit in their car and off it went. One less item to shed.

Still mountains of possessions to review, metaphorical miles to go before I sleep…so I’ll bring this post to a close. The next yard sale will be Saturday, August 24. We’ll offer rock-bottom prices and some giveaways. Wish you could be here!

The Dad I Scarcely Knew

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Note: Adopted people have two fathers: the original and the adoptive. On Father’s Day I thought about Giovanni Cecchini, the original, all day. Lately, as I massively declutter, I’ve come across albums with photos of my original father and me the few times we met. I’ve come to realize that Giovanni, my original father, did the best he could.

The stated mission of my memoir The Goodbye Baby: Adoptee Diaries is to “let the past be the past.” In my concluding essays, I suggested that “bygones should be bygones.” Since the publication of The Goodbye Baby, I’ve had second thoughts about those “bygones.” In the case of understanding ones adoption, the “bygones” adage may not be entirely true. History has been coming back to me, and I’m seeing things differently.
During this season of Father’s Day and the upcoming Summer Solstice, I’m thinking a lot about Giovanni Cecchini, my birth father. These are not comfortable thoughts, but rather regrets and self-recriminations. My birth father and I were never really together, as WWII was raging when I was a toddler. He was always out at sea, and the ill-fated marriage between Giovanni and my birth mother Velma was unraveling even as it was just beginning.

At age five, I was adopted by new parents. My adoptive father Richard, until his death a decade ago, was a major influence throughout my life. A professor of guidance and counseling at the University of Virginia, he was my advocate and hero. I deeply admired him. Giovanni was a shadowy background player, someone I saw just a few times in my life

The occasions I saw that original Dad, I was so full of hurt and resentment that I blew it. After we’d made contact (I was 40; he was 75), I accompanied Giovanni to his birthplace, San Martino Sulla Marruccina, Abruzzo, Italy. We stayed with my aunt and third cousins, my own flesh and blood. I was thrilled to be in Italy, in the land of my father’s birth, and I was hoping that we could get to know each other. I expected him to be the father I’d always been missing. It became obvious that he was hoping to see the four-year-old little girl he’d left behind.

We were sitting one morning at the tiny kitchen table of Cousin Josephina and I asked, “What are your memories of my mother, of Velma?” Giovanni replied, “Well, to tell the truth, you kind of remind me of her.” Retreating into a curmudgeonly silence, he did not elaborate.

I took the remark as a slap in the face. I was hurt beyond words. Father/daughter interactions went downhill from there. The Italian cousins were delightful. It was wonderful meeting them, but the father I’d hoped to bond with eluded me. He put it this way. “Too much water under the bridge.” I did not see him after our trip to the old country and he passed away a few years later.IMG_1329

In retrospect, I would change that moment at the kitchen table in Abruzzi. I might have changed the subject, been more open and loving, transcended my “poor little me” attitude. And if only I had. In the case of these fragile reunions with birth parents, there may not be second chances. A saving grace is the relationship I have with Giovanni’s second wife Margaret. Family members, no matter how distant or difficult, are to be cherished.

(This post was originally issued in 2013.)

Your feedback in invited. Please comment, and join Elaine on alternate Mondays for reflections on life as seen through adoption-colored glasses.

An Adoptee Abroad: Part Two

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Visiting a WWII site in Holland

Dear Readers: I’ve just returned from visiting Mastricht and Nimegan in the Netherlands, sites of the WWII operation called Market Garden. The operation did not succeed in turning back Hitler’s armies and resulted in some 8,000 deaths of Allied soldiers. This somber reminder of war’s futility was one of the most meaningful parts of my recent journey to Holland and Belgium. I was adopted shortly after the end of the WWII…and in a way I’m a product of that conflict. Both my adoptive and original father served. They were among the lucky ones who returned. So many did not. On this day we honor those lost and those who fought in all wars for America’s freedom.

I was deeply moved listening to the guide at the American Cemetery in Mastricht. He explained that between five and ten thousand people visit the cemetery every Memorial Day to honor family members lost during the war.

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Speaking of WWII, From Calcutta with Love, a tribute to my adoptive parents, is being reissued by Pajarito Press in late 2019. More information to follow. Join me on alternate Mondays for reflections as seen through adoption-colored glasses. And please let us know if you have a WWII story you’d like to share!

An Adoptee Abroad – Part I

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Saturday, April 13: Dawn. My friend Peg and I were embarking on our fourth European adventure in that many years. Months earlier, we’d signed up for a Viking River Cruise to Holland and Belgium. Travel time, at last! Our northern New Mexico weather had been balmy, but a cold front moved in during Friday night. The world was covered in a layer of snow. In a winter wonderland we met and motored to Albuquerque by shuttle. So far, so good. Our plane was delayed, however, and the airport situation looked grim.The only way we could make our first connection was to order a wheelchair. This was legitimate, as I’m still recovering from a spinal fracture, not up to running some 20 gates to try to make the Houston connection. (https://tinyurl.com/y4tputkx) There was another wheelchair passenger, so the plane would wait five or ten minutes for us. Otherwise we would have had to start our European tour belatedly. In other words, it would have been a mess.
Miraculously, we caught the flight to Houston and then on to Amsterdam. Nine hours after leaving Houston, we arrived in Amsterdam and were welcomed on our Viking ship Tir before noon on Sunday the 14th. We settled into our stateroom. Peg went off in search of a maritime museum while I unpacked and strolled around the ship. Just 192 passengers on this journey, a good number. Dinner onboard, early to bed.

Our trip through the Lowlands

Monday, April 15/ AMSTERDAM
A city tour began the day, both walking and canal boating. From Kees, our tall Dutch guide, we learned about the city’s rich past and prosperous present. Passed by the “I” Building, a film center. Kees told us that last year, 1,500 river ships and 100 ocean ships visited Amsterdam. In the 1600s, the Dutch last India trading company reigned supreme. Spices were the main goods. By 1621, there was also a Dutch West Indies branch that traded with Africa and South America. Select merchants and traders grew extremely wealthy.

Tulips outside the Rijksmuseum hint at floral wonders to come

The canals we floated along were part of a former swamp. In today’s Amsterdam, there are 2,500 houseboats. They’ve grown increasingly expensive. What would cost 50,000 euros in the 1960s would now be 1.7 million. We passed by the famous wooden drawbridge (“Skinny Bridge”) and magnificent “city palaces.” Many of the buildings were fronted with symbols of what the dweller within did for a living. For example, a slave trader’s city palace boasted heads on either side of the front door.
The Golden Age of Amsterdam was from 1600-1700. A latter day boom began in the 1970s, when a huge cleaning effort dredged filth from canals and streets. Symbolically, that was when the first Dutch MacDonald’s opened. The cleanup effort continues to this day. Bikes, which are everywhere and being ridden by everyone, end up thrown into canals. Today, around 25,000 have to be dredged out each year.

Canals and waterways abound and are an important part of history

Back on board the ship, Tir, we were treated to an evening of wooden shoemaking. Henk, from Vollandam, carved out a pair of wooden shoes before our wondering eyes. A million and a half pairs are produced yearly, explained Henk, but there are very few wooden shoemakers left. It is painstaking work, not particularly profitable. All the tools involved in the making require special maintenance. The tools themselves are becoming rarer. Hardly any people are attracted to the trade, our shoemaker mused.
As we went from lounge to main deck, a wooden shoe dance was in motion, a most fitting end to the first day of this European get-away.
(To be continued).
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Join Elaine during the next several Mondays for more about the trip of a lifetime. Stay tuned as well for news about the republication of From Calcutta with Love and the debut of Clara and the Hand of Ganesha.

The Angels of April

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NOTE: Taking a brief blog-cation, as I’m immersed in novel-writing and ongoing downsizing of stuff. (See The Great Photo Purge, published last Monday. I’m happy to report that CLARA AND THE HAND OF GANESH is moving forward. Enjoy one of my favorite posts from the past, and have a beautiful April, a month with very special gifts.

“April is the cruelest month.” T. S. Eliot

April is full of dazzling sunlight and the earth seems greener

April is full of dazzling sunlight and the earth seems greener

“April, the Angel of Months.” -Vita Sackville-West

April is full of surprises: one day sunny and mild, the next day snowy.
Here in northern New Mexico, April is luminously beautiful. Fruit trees blossom, our deciduous trees turn that electrifying shade known to painters as “sap green.”  Darkness diminishes as our own special Season of Light increases in strength.

Like many in the adoption world, I’ve learned to “flip the script.” On the one hand, I will never know what it is like to have blood-related family. My biological parents were a fact essential to my being in the world.  In the final analysis, however, they were distant figures who I ostensibly got to know, but actually merely encountered. On the other hand, I was fortunate to end up with wonderful adoptive parents.

It’s been said that every problem is also an opportunity. April has proved this to me. When I recently pulled a back muscle during a yoga class, the pain was excruciating. I went to Urgent Care, then to my regular medical doctor…nothing helped. It was hard to walk. All I could think about was how much my back and leg hurt. This led to a most fortunate discovery: a community acupuncture clinic. After five consecutive treatments, the pain had nearly vanished. What’s more, the clinic’s doctor (of Oriental Medicine) prescribed various supplements and minerals.  The alternative measures, in addition to relief from the injury, cured leg cramps and dietary imbalances. I was given a regimen of back-strengthening exercises. What might have been a disaster turned out to be a blessing.

Easter brought the best gift of all. My granddaughter, age 12, chose to visit me during her spring break. She is not a granddaughter I get to see very often, as her mother and father, my son, are divorced.

Angels can arrive as the young ones in our lives.

Angels can arrive as the young ones in our lives.

During the week this lively pre-teen spent with me, we went to see “Cinderella,” lunched at favorite restaurants, read together, toured the local botanical garden, visited art galleries and museums.  The paints and drawing supplies I’d put in her room were put to good use. I gave her my favorite Walter Farley Black Stallion books. She had such a good time, she wants to come back this summer for another visit.

Since the publication of The Goodbye Baby, I’ve heard from hundreds in the online adoption community—adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, men and women who are still searching for reunions with their original parents. This response has deepened my understanding of why people are seldom happy that they were adopted. Even though adoption may have been “for the best,” it leaves one with  the feeling of a shaky foundation. Despite all that, it is possible to create happiness.

Is April cruel or is it, as Sackville-West maintains, the angel of months? I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, the angels are there. Even for adoptees!

Join Elaine every other Monday for a look at the world through adoption-colored glasses.

Join Elaine every other Monday for a look at the world through adoption-colored glasses.

The Great Photo Purge

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Last week I bought several books from op.cit, my favorite used book store. The best one turned out to be Barbara Sher’s Live the Life you Love in Ten Easy Step-by-Step Lessons (1996).

In it, I discovered a great chapter titled “Clear the Decks for Action.” Sher points out that we cling to our stuff because we’ have the illusion that it will someday be useful and that a world of projects await us. We hold on to potential projects “so that we’ll never be bored”.
Long before the Marie Kondo craze, this bestselling author told the truth about having too much. To quote, “Clutter is a tribute to indecision” and it “gives the illusion that you’re surrounded by projects just waiting to be done.”
Her description of the seductive power of “stuff”describes my situation perfectly:
Everything in your house calls to you. There isn’t an item in your house that isn’t talking to you. It’s saying ‘clean me, read me, fold me, finish me, take me to Aunt Jane’s house, answer me, write me —get your messages, return this here, take that there — it’s a din…[but] for whatever purpose you were put on the planet, it couldn’t be to organize clutter.

These photo boxes were stuffed. Now empty, they’re headed for a garage sale

After countless garage sales, years of saying that I was going to downsize, and believing that I would someday get organized, I finally admitted that I needed help. Enter Wanda, a professional organizer. With her as co-purger. I began ruthlessly dredging through decades of acquisitions and archives. Donating, pitching, selling or otherwise getting stuff gone for good.
After conferring at the kitchen table for nearly an hour, Wanda and I agreed that photos and scrapbooks would be the best place for me to begin. We went through boxed photos from every decade of my life, beginning with the years before I was adopted. Wanda removed the photographs from envelopes and pitched duplicates and negatives. I reviewed stack after stack of photos, saving only one or two from every vacation, event, outing, rite of passage of my children, every marathon, ski trip or bicycle trek I’d ever taken. I started three small boxes of photos I’d keep – one for me and one for each of my sons.
I’ve discovered some treasures from the past that I didn’t realize that I had. They were buried under layers of the past, and they had to do with my adoption.
Here was an album that my birthfather, Giovanni Cecchini, had kept for forty years. It had photos I’d sent him as an adult (after our initial reunion), clips of articles I’d written, and highlights of my teenage and adult years. I’d had no idea he’d been keeping all of that. My stepmother, his second wife (after Velma, my birth mom) had saved it for me. Attached was a sticky note that read “I believe Elaine will appreciate having this album.”
Another surprise was a collection of album pages from my birthmother.They comprised pictures of Velma’s parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, none of whom ever knew of my existence. She was apparently a woman who kept the various compartments of her life completely separated. It amazed me that I’d never even seen that gallery of pictures. I’m not even sure how they came into my possession. The missing puzzle pieces filled in, but the puzzle still remained.
In previous purging campaigns, I’d mainly shuffled things around. Now, with the organizer by my side, I am actually removing excesses from the house. Photos were merely the beginning. Next frontier: the kitchen. Awaiting Wanda and me are the closets, the garage, the guest room and beyond. My new motto: Dare to be Spare!

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Join Elaine on alternate Mondays for a fresh look at the world from an adoptee’s point of view. Her newest suspense novel Clara and the Hand of Ganesh, sequel to All the Wrong Places, is nearing completion. Do you have a decluttering story? Feedback invited.

 

Calling all Writers: Santa Fe, New Mexico

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POET LUCI TAPAHONSO HEADLINES ANNUAL DINNER

Two New Mexico Writers Awarded Grants

Luci Tapahonso will speak at the 2019 Writers’ Dinner

Thursday, March 28 at 5:30 pm La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe

Acclaimed poet Luci Tapahonso delivers the keynote address at the 3rd Annual New Mexico Writers Dinner on March 28, in Santa Fe, where two New Mexico writers will be introduced as the first recipients of grants created to nurture aspiring writers.

Tapahonso, of Santa Fe, served as the inaugural Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation, 2013-2015. She is the author of three children’s books and six books of poetry. In 2018, she was selected for a one-week Artist Residency at Hedgebrook Writers Retreat, Whidbey Island, Washington, and received a Native Arts and Culture Foundation $20,000 Fellowship. Tapahonso recently served as a judge for Poetry Out Loud, New Mexico’s high school poetry competition, and was selected as “2016 Best of the City-Our City and State’s Prolific Authors,” by Albuquerque The Magazine.

A native of Shiprock, New Mexico, Tapahonso has shared her poetry at various institutions worldwide, including Harvard University, Gallup (NM) Central High School, Kenyon College (Ohio), the Tbilisi International Literature Festival in the Republic of Georgia, and “Creativity Week” at the University of New Zealand at Auckland and Wellington. She wrote the script for the exhibition, Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art at the American Heritage Gallery at Walt Disney World’s Epcot.

Tapahonso earned an MA in English from the University of New Mexico, and played a key role in establishing the Indigenous Studies Graduate Studies Program at the University of Kansas. She is Professor Emerita of English Languages and Literature at the University of New Mexico.

This year’s dinner will introduce two New Mexico writers, poet Sylvia Rains Dennis, El Prado, and children’s book author Laurie Goodluck, Albuquerque—the first to be awarded grants by the New Mexico Writers organization, launched in 2017. (See notes below.)

Proceeds from the annual dinner fund the grants for aspiring New Mexico writers. Grants may be used to support their work, including tuition for writing programs, mentorship, travel, and research.

The annual New Mexico Writers dinner brings together a diversity of writers, poets, playwrights, and journalists from around the state, along with literary arts supporters, including librarians, booksellers, editors, and publishers. It is an occasion to celebrate the writing craft and literary arts that contribute to the richness of New Mexico arts, and to raise money to aid aspiring writers in reaching their goals.

This year’s grant recipients:

Laurel Goodluck of Albuquerque, who is publishing her first children’s picture book. She is “…determined to continue to improve (her) skill as a writer and loos forward to being able to produce art where all children can see themselves in books.

Sylvia Rains Dennis of El Prado, a poet, native ecologist, and educator who will use her grant to restore links to natural surroundings as well as to her extended New Mexico community. Her credo: “The rivers, mountains, meadows, shrub-steppe, and sustainable farmlands are inseparable to who we are.”

Note: a silent auction precedes the writers’ dinner. Over 20 prominent writers, poets, and agents will offer “coffee and conversation” sessions to the highest bidders. All money earned from the auction goes toward the 2020 New Mexico Writers grants program.

 

To purchase tickets or for more details, visit nmwriters.org.

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Join Elaine Pinkerton on alternate Mondays for reflections on adoption, hiking, writing and life in the Southwest. Her novel Clara and the Hand of Ganesha, a sequel to All the Wrong Places, is a scheduled for publication in 2021.

 

A Valentine Gift for YOU!

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Healing the Power in You-Tapping into Courage, Hope and Resilience is a unique and very personal book on wellness. And for today only, author Dr. Joalie Davie is offering a free download. Newly published, Healing the Power in You combines the best of two worlds. Written in a gentle, conversational tone, the book combines medical science and holistic treatments. Through true accounts, starting with her own case history, Davie shows how people can and have healed from within. Accounts of her patients’ successes with physician-led holistic approaches build a powerful case for using the power within each of us.

Letting Go of Letters

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“Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
January has flown, but February is also a great month for new beginnings. Inspired by Marie Kondo, queen of the Declutter World, I vowed to sweep through the entire house and prune the excess, reduce the redundancies, eliminate the irrelevant. It’s not the first time I’ve embarked a declutter campaign, but this time, I am being non-negotiable. My new motto: OHIO (Only Handle it Once). Years of selling stuff at neighbors’ yard sales, donating to charities, giving things away: I still felt hopelessly cluttered. The “things” grew back, multiplied, maybe even reproduced at night while I was sleeping.
Correspondence collections are close to my heart, harder to part with than books, photos, or just about anything else. Because it would be tough, I decided to start there. I recently tackled a column of banker boxes that resided in a closet, unopened, for several decades. I’d do my heirs a favor by going through, keeping a precious few letters, and taking the bulk of them to the recycle bin.
As an adult adoptee, I’ve always believed that the best way to know where to go, one must see where one has been.
“The past is not dead. It is not even past.” —William Faulkner
Not surprisingly, most archived letters were from my parents, both biological and adoptive. Giovanni Cecchini, the birthfather I got to see three times after I was adopted, was a Navy photographer during WWII. When he and his new wife Margaret moved to Amelia Island, Florida, he became a well-known photographer in the town of Fernandina Beach. He gardened and photographed for many years before his death in 1998. I travel yearly to Amelia Island to visit Margaret. On 12/29/91, Giovanni wrote “Another letter from me — lucky you (I guess).”
My birthmother Velma and I had a long correspondence, and I came across her epistle of 2/13/94. She wrote “Dearest Daughter, I had to peek at my Valentine on Friday (I sent one to her every February) but put it away until Monday…Your four parents are very proud of how you grew up to be beautiful with many talents.”
My adoptive dad’s WWII letters provided the material for my book From Calcutta with Love-The WWII Letters of Richard and Reva Beard (published in 2002 by Texas Tech University Press, due to be re-issued by Pajarito Press in 2020). He also wrote to me every Sunday until his death in 1997. His letters were filled with reports of his life with my adoptive mom Reva, observations about everything from world events to the weather. On February 18, 1990, he wrote “Dearest Elaine: This week has featured several wonderful springlike days, but today and to some extent yesterday were more like typical February weather. It has been dull, overcast, and just cold enough to be raw and uncomfortable outside — I know, I tried walking around the lake and even the Canadian geese looked discomfited.”
I am reading through the boxes of letters, keeping a precious few but relegating most of the epistles to the recycling bin. Typed and penned words from the past made time fall away. I was reminded of a time when letter-writing was the way to keep in touch. Those missives kept us close despite the miles in between. Now, with Email, Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp and other channels of communication, letters are nearly obsolete. With their passing, we will have lost something irreplaceable. On the other hand, think of that person who’d love to hear from you, not instantly. Perhaps it’s not too late to revive the custom of letter-writing.
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Join Elaine on alternate Mondays for reflections on life as seen through adoption-colored glasses. Do you enjoy writing letters? Comments are welcome!

The Goodbye Baby gives an insider view of growing up adopted.