Archive | June 2016

A Summertime Conversation with Floey and God and me

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Floey and I had quite a conversation during our morning walk yesterday…

Early in the walk, Floey trotted over to the biggest shade tree between the sidewalk and the street and rolled onto her back. Then she twisted and turned to rub every inch of her back on the cool, shady grass. Next she lay still on her side for half a minute, and then she continued rolling back and forth.

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“What are you doing, Floey?” I asked.

“Oh, this feels so good, Mom. I love it. The cool grass is giving me the perfect massage for a hot day. You should try it.”

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“I haven’t rolled in the grass for at least 60 years. I remember doing it when I was a kid. The lawn sloped downhill for about 50 feet on the northeast corner of the farmhouse. Sometimes on hot summer days, Danny and I would roll down the hill just to cool off, get dizzy, and laugh at how much fun it was. When our cousins or other friends were playing with us, we’d form a “monkey pile” at the bottom of the hill. And then race to the top of the hill to do it all over again.”

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Kids forming a “monkey pile” (Internet image)

“So, you should remember how good it feels to roll in the grass, Mom.”

“I guess I do. Do you know what else I remember as one of the great experiences of summer when I was a kid?”

“What, Mom?”

“Baling hay”

“Baling hay? Wasn’t that hard work, dirty work, and painfully hot?”

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This is the kind of tractor, baler, and hay wagon we had. (Internet image)

“Well, I used to think so. But one day when I was complaining to my mom about having to work so hard in the heat, Mom said, ‘I just love to bale hay. I wish I could do that instead of going to the office to work on a beautiful summer day. It’s so peaceful to sit on top of the tractor, to feel the warmth of the sun on your back, and to watch the birds next to the hayfield perched on thistles surveying their kingdom.’ I thought about what she said, and the next day when I had to bale hay, I was aware of the sun on my back, and I looked for the birds on the thistles. I noticed the butterflies flittering above the field. When I started to feel hot from the sun beating down on me, I noticed a little breeze come up that made me comfortable again.”

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Goldfinch perched on a bull thistle (Internet image)

“That sounds like fun, Mom. You know what I really like about summer, almost as much as rolling in the grass?”

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Gopher daring Floey to stalk him. (Internet image)

“What’s that, Floey?”

“I like to stalk gophers. Sometimes they’re so oblivious to what’s around them that I can sneak up really close before they notice me. I can almost catch them before they start running for their life and duck into a gopher hole. I sometimes wonder if they just duck into the first hole they see, or if they really go back to their own hole.”

“What would you do if you caught one?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’d kill it, which is probably what they’re expecting. Maybe I’d just ask it to play with me. Maybe we could play tag. I’d love to do that. We could chase each other really fast!”

“That would be fun to watch – a gopher chasing you.”

“I don’t think it will happen, Mom.”

“You know what else I really like about summer, Floey? All the smells. Did you catch a whiff of that sweet fragrance we just walked by? I don’t see it, but I know there must be a linden tree in bloom nearby. “

“Yeah. I smelled it, Mom. But my favorite smell of the summer is hamburgers on the grill. We usually don’t smell that during our morning walks, but I smell it quite often when we’re out walking in the evening. That’s also why I like to sit out on the deck with you when you grill steak or hamburgers, or even salmon burgers. Even when you’re barbecuing chicken. It all smells so good!”

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“You know, Floey, summer is the best time of the year to experience delight with every one of our senses – beautiful flowers to see and smell, birds in the trees and frogs in the pond singing happy songs from early morning to late evening, fresh strawberries and raspberries to taste (and steaks, too), and cool grass to roll on to feel a soft cooling sensation… I’m so glad God created us with senses to enjoy all these things.”

“Me, too, Mom.”

“I read something last week that said this is one way God talks to us.”

“I guess I can believe that. Do you remember just what you read?”

Jesus Calling“It was from the devotional book, JESUS CALLING. Sarah Young, the author, paraphrased Jesus as saying:

I speak to you continually. My nature is to communicate, though not always in words. I fling glorious sunsets across the sky, day after day after day. I speak in the faces and voices of loved ones. I caress you with a gentle breeze that refreshes and delights you. I speak softly in the depths of your spirit, where I have taken up residence.

You can find Me in each moment, when you have eyes that see and ears that hear. Ask My Spirit to sharpen your spiritual eyesight and hearing. I rejoice each time you discover My Presence. Practice looking and listening for Me during quiet intervals. Gradually you will find Me in more and more of your moments. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me above all else.

“The author referenced Psalm 19:1-2 (among other references) to make it clear that God really does speak to us through our senses, not just words.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (NIV)

IMG_1133“Floey, isn’t it great to think that God is actually talking to us through what we see and hear and smell and taste and feel?”

“Wow! I need to think about that, Mom. Let’s keep walking for another half hour so we can fully sense God’s presence with us.”

“Good idea, Floey. We need to find time to “listen” to God. Thanks for helping me keep from being too busy to “smell the flowers” and too busy to watch and listen to whatever God may be telling me today.”

“And Mom, don’t forget to feel what God is saying through the gentle breezes and cool grass under the shade trees.”

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God and I Planted a Garden. And it was Good.

D400-0068-091.JonWarrenGod spoke: “Earth, green up!
Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning – Day Three.
[Genesis 1:11-13  The Message]

One of the delights of summer that I’ve enjoyed every year of my life (except maybe the first year) is eating fresh vegetables from the garden. Sweet corn was my favorite. Then plump red tomatoes were my next favorite. And leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, beans, and cucumbers. And all kinds of melons. There were a few things I didn’t like – especially onions and beets – but most things were delicious.

I can remember helping Mom and Dad plant the garden in the spring. The first gardening job I was taught to do was to place bean seeds in the inch-deep trench Dad had dug with a hoe. Then Mom covered the seeds with her hoe. It was fun for the whole family to work together on the project. But the most fun of all was watching the seeds sprout and grow into little plants, and then grow bigger and bigger until we started to pick the “fruits” of our labors and eat our first radishes and lettuce.

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My brother Danny and I spent many summer days husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Every year Mom found something new in the seed catalog to experiment with. Some of the experiments were wonderful successes. Others were not. One success was the first year she tried planting zinnias so that we could have lots of cut flowers throughout mid to late summer. Every year after that we always had lots of zinnias.

One failure was a mixed flower border mat. It was a special paper, one foot wide and ten feet long, covered with seeds. It came rolled up in a mailing tube from the seed company. The instructions were to unroll the mat on the ground where you wanted a border of mixed flowers to grow, cover it with a thin layer of soil, and water it regularly. I don’t think even one flower sprouted. This easy flower border was just too good to be true. It was Mom’s worst failure of all her gardening experiments.

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I love all the bright colors of zinnias, especially the unexpected light green ones.

During the twenty years I lived in Chicago, I still was able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden. Mom and Dad kept planting huge vegetable gardens (and more and more cutting flowers) even when there were just the two of them living on the farm. Throughout the season, Mim and I made frequent trips to Wisconsin to load up on vegetables and flowers.

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Mom sending fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago.

In October of 1986, Mom passed away. In the spring of 1987, Dad still planted two huge vegetable gardens. All the rest of us still had to eat…. (He skipped the cutting flowers.)

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Picking vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The year Dad died (1991), he had finished planting his two huge gardens before he got sick. When he was in the hospital, he kept asking Mim and me to check on the garden. The new potatoes should be just about ready to dig. He died on June 19, and he was right. The new potatoes were waiting to be dug up. Mim and I spent most weekends for the rest of the summer of 1991 driving from Chicago to Wisconsin to tend the garden (and clean out the house).

The next year Mim and I moved to the farmhouse, and we planted our own garden. We bragged that our garden was the same size as the whole lot of our two-flat in Chicago – 30 feet by 120 feet (half the size of my dad’s gardens). We obviously grew more vegetables than we needed, but that meant we had plenty to share. We also had plenty of cutting flowers.

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Part of our crop of pumpkins

When we moved from the farmhouse to the condo in 2007, we gave up gardening. I’ll admit, I miss it. So this year I decided to try an experiment – just like Mom might have tried. I have a tiny garden on our deck. I got the idea from something I saw on Facebook. I purchased two bags of Miracle Grow Potting Mix. I punched lots of little holes on one side of the bags, and placed that side down on a grate on top of a small table. Then I cut the top off the bags, and planted two rows of lettuce with one row of radishes between the lettuce rows. I also have three potted tomato plants.

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So far, my garden is thriving. We ate our first tomato last week, and I picked three more yesterday. We feasted on our first fresh-picked baby lettuce and mixed greens salad for dinner last night. Mim has been thinning out the radishes a little by eating some as sprouts. I think I can declare this experiment a success.

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Ripening tomato almost ready to pick.

For flowers, I bought a “hanging basket” of petunias from a garden center and placed it in an old wooden wheelbarrow. It doesn’t provide any cutting flowers, but I placed the wheelbarrow on the patio right outside my office – so I have a perfect view of them when I’m sitting at my desk.

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In the second creation story of the Bible, the one that focuses on the nature of God and man and woman rather than on the seven-day creation process, God is revealed to be a gardener.

At the time God made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground – God hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) – God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man became alive – a living soul!

Then God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. He put the Man he had just made in it. God made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and good to eat….

God took the man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order….

[Excerpts from Genesis 2:5-15 – The Message]

In the process of writing this blog post I googled “garden quotes” to see if I could borrow the words of someone else to express the profound amazement and delight of gardening. Lots of excellent quotes popped up on my screen. Here are the three that got the most “Amens” from me.

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation. [Phyllis Theroux]

If you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden. [Robert Brault]

I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of day. [F. Frankfort Moore]

I know all these statements are absolutely true. Even when the garden is a tiny one on a deck.

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Feeling Safe in our Homes Away from Home

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1975: Mim and me with a friend in front of our favorite neighborhood bar – Moody’s Pub

“Paris” is the closest experience to “Pulse” (the gay bar in Orlando) I can relate to. Twenty-five years ago, when Mim and I still lived in Chicago, occasionally we would go with a couple friends to “Paris,” a lesbian nightclub on the mid-north side of Chicago. The four of us would sit at the bar, sip on a glass of wine or an imported non-alcoholic citrus flavored sparkling water, try to carry on a conversation over the loud music, and watch dozens of women dancing together. We never ventured out on the dance floor ourselves, because growing up in a Methodist family who considered dancing sinful, I didn’t know how to dance. Going to “Paris” wasn’t our favorite means of socializing, but there’s no doubt we could feel the positive energy in the room. It felt good to be in a place where we weren’t afraid to be identified as gay. Even though we didn’t know most of the people, there was a definite sense of community in the room.

We visited with friends in our home – or theirs – more often than we went out to bars, but there were three other bars in Chicago that we frequented more regularly than “Paris.”

SKMBT_C28016061408070When I was going to grad school a couple evenings a week, sometimes Mim would meet me after class and we would walk to “Sherlock’s Home.” The atmosphere was just as I imagined a personal library in an old English mansion to be like. There was no bar to sit around. Instead the darkened room was scattered with small groupings of leather wingback chairs, end tables, and floor lamps. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with old hardcover books. Mim and I would usually share a plate of French bread, baked brie, and fresh fruit along with a couple glasses of wine as we talked about our days. It was a good way to unwind at the end of very busy days.

Whenever we had out-of-town guests, and we thought they would enjoy seeing the more elegant side of Chicago, we would take them to the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel atop Water Tower Place downtown. The lounge was like a very large living room with lots of groupings of sofas, easy chairs, and coffee tables. Each coffee table had a crystal dish filled with mixed nuts (no peanuts!). One wall of the room was all glass, revealing magnificent views of the “Magnificent Mile” – Michigan Avenue lined with Chicago’s most exclusive shops. There was a grand piano in the room, and usually a pianist was playing Broadway tunes.

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Moody’s cheeseburgers are often rated the best in Chicago.

“Moody’s Pub” was our most usual bar to go to. It was a neighborhood bar that had the best burgers anywhere. We’re still trying to find a bar in Wisconsin that measures up to the standard they set. We went there often enough that George, the waitress, knew what we wanted and brought us a bottle of our favorite wine when she came to confirm our order of two cheeseburgers, medium and medium well, no onion and extra pickles.

Although I grew up never darkening the door of a bar, I have learned that bars play an important role in our lives – a home away from home to get together with friends, share a meal or a drink, and enjoy each other’s company. A bar is a place of comfort, as well as a place for excitement. It’s a place to get together with like-minded souls.

The people who gathered at “Pulse” in Orlando last Saturday night – people who were celebrating their God-given gift of being created gay – suffered a terrible loss. A hundred of them were injured or killed by one person shooting a highly efficient assault weapon. And in addition to the tragedy of those deaths and injuries, thousands, even millions of people worldwide suffered a loss in their sense of safety. Is it safe to go to a gay bar any more? Is it safe to participate in a gay pride parade in any city – even Madison? Is it even safe to go to school? Or church? Or a movie theater? Can we feel safe anywhere outside of our homes?

Personally, I feel pretty safe living in Cambridge, Wisconsin. But I know I would feel safer if we had better gun control laws. I would also feel safer if we as a society made it a priority to learn to respect people who are different from us – a different race, a different nationality, a different sexual orientation, a different religion, a different socio-economic status… I would feel much, much safer if we placed a higher priority on loving our neighbor.

One of the Psalms we sing fairly often at Messiah Lutheran Church is “Psalm 27: The Lord is My Light.” Here are the words as we sing them.

Refrain:
The Lord is my light and my salvation,
of whom shall I be afraid, of whom shall I be afraid?

The Lord is my light and my help; whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom should I shrink?

There is one thing I ask of the Lord; for this I long:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living;
hope in God, and take heart. Hope in the Lord!

Text:  Psalm 27:1-2, 4, 13-14; David Haas
Music:  David Haas   ©️1983, GIA Publications, Inc.

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Last summer Mim and I went back to Moody’s. We joined an old friend in the beer garden for Sangria and burgers.

Talking with Floey about Forecasts

Floey sitting - profile croppedFloey jumped off the love seat in my home office, trotted over to my desk where I was sitting, and sat down next to me. “Mom, it’s been a week, and you still haven’t told me about the third thing you were thinking about during your getaway at your Christmas Mountain timeshare last week. Can you take time to tell me about it now?”

“Sure, Floey. I’m ready to take a break from my computer, anyway.”

“Good. Remember, you told me all about reading Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s book, THE GIFT OF PEACE, and how inspiring that book was. Then you told me about how frustrated you got with technical problems when you tried to post last week’s blog post, and how much you need to become more patient.”

“You have a good memory, Floey.”

“Let’s hope your memory is as good so you can tell me about the third thing you thought about during your Christmas Mountain getaway. You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

“Actually, Floey, I thought about some old, old memories during my week away. Last Wednesday was the 25th of the month. For the past forty years, on the 25th of the month, almost every month (except December), I think Forecast Day.”

“Forecast Day? What does that mean?”

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On clear days, I could see across Lake Michigan from my window office on the 63rd floor.

“In the summer of 1975 I started working for Northwest Industries in the Finance Systems Division. I was 27 at the time and living in Chicago with Mim.”

“What did you do at Northwest Industries?”

“I started out with the catch-all title of Coordinator of Financial Systems. Basically, I worked with accountants, analysts, and their managers to be sure all the newly computerized financial systems worked together smoothly.”

“How did you get that kind of job? I thought you were an English teacher and an editorial researcher.”

“I learned on the job. I took the job because they said they would teach me everything I needed to know, and they would also pay for me to get my MBA, taking one or two courses at a time in the evening.”

“Did you get your MBA?”

“Yes, I did. It took me five years of evening classes, but I got my MBA from the University of Chicago in 1981.”

“More important, did you like the job?”

“Most of the time I liked it. Northwest Industries was a good place to work. The corporate office was on the 63rd floor of the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower).

“What did Northwest Industries do? I’ve never heard of the company.”

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One of my treasures from my Northwest Industries days is this pencil holder – a child’s boot from Acme Boot Company.

“Northwest Industries called itself a diversified holding company. It owned about a dozen companies. Acme Boot Company in Tennessee was the world’s largest manufacturer of cowboy boots and paratrooper boots for the U.S. military. Union Underwear Company in Kentucky and Fruit of the Loom in New York made and sold lots of “union suits” and other underwear. Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Los Angeles was the largest bottler of Coke beverages. General Battery Corporation in Pennsylvania made replacement batteries for cars. Lone Star Steel manufactured tubular steel, like that used for the Alaska Pipeline. The Buckingham Corporation was the sole U.S. importer of Cutty Sark Scotch and Mouton Cadet wines.”

“Wow. I guess Northwest Industries was diversified!”

“Yes, it was. In order to manage these companies to make them as productive and profitable as possible, the corporate headquarters in Chicago, where I worked, used four cycles to plan and monitor performance for the companies. And that’s what I thought about at Christmas Mountain last week.”

“So last week at Christmas Mountain you realized it was the 25th, and you thought Forecast Day, and from there you thought about all four planning and monitoring cycles? I think you need to explain a little more.”

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“First, let me identify the four cycles: long-range plan, budget, forecast, and actual results. A brand new long-range plan was created every summer. That’s when everyone took some time to dream and plan how they would like to see Northwest Industries develop over the next four years. Each operating company prepared its own plan, and then our computer systems consolidated the plans.

In the fall an annual budget for the upcoming year was developed. This is where each company prepared specific plans for improving its productivity and profitability over the next twelve months, consistent with its long-range plan.

These two cycles were annual cycles and they focused everyone’s attention on planning. The other two cycles were monthly cycles and they turned everyone’s attention to monitoring progress against the plans.

The Forecast cycle was the most stressful cycle of all. On the 25th of the month, or if the 25th fell on a weekend or holiday, the last business day before the 25th, a complete set of financial statements was prepared along with narratives. The Forecast was intended to give corporate executives a preview of what actual results for the month and remainder of the year would be – before the month was over. The narratives explained why the forecast deviated from the budget, if it did, and what could be done to improve the numbers, if possible.”

“But, Mom, couldn’t those executives at least wait until the end of the month to get the final monthly numbers?”

“No, I think they thought if they knew ahead of time, they might be able to make some changes that would improve the final numbers, even for the current month.”

“Well, I think I understand the first three cycles – Long-Range Plan, Budget, and Forecast. Tell me about the Actual Results cycle.”

tumblr_m32egnnhYP1rsiwfpo1_500“The final numbers for the month were usually due from the operating companies by the 5th of the following month and they were consolidated by the end of that day. If Actual Results for any company differed from the numbers submitted for the Forecast cycle, individual company analysts were held accountable for not understanding and monitoring their businesses carefully enough. For example, one of the closest predictors of Sales for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Lost Angeles was the weather forecast. More Coke is sold when it’s hot and sunny than when it’s cold and rainy. If you want to know how much Coke will be sold for the whole month, and it’s only the 25th of the month, it makes sense to study the weather forecast.”

“That’s interesting, Mom, but why were you thinking about this stuff at Christmas Mountain? You haven’t had to care about these cycles for at least thirty years.”

“Well, like I said, on the 25th of the month I still think Forecast Day. At Christmas Mountain, on Wednesday, it was the 25th, and I thought Forecast Day. And, being at Christmas Mountain, I had time to think more about those days back in the 1970s and 1980s. I was probably more inclined to think about my Northwest Industries days because of my technology frustrations the day before when I was working on my blog. I remembered what it was like to wait for the computer to consolidate all the numbers, and then to wait again for the computer to print out complete sets of financial statements. I remember some months I physically ran copies of the statements to the executives at the last minute, just before they left for the day, so that they could carry these statements along with them to study on their train ride home. Thinking about these four planning and monitoring cycles brought back lots of memories. And then I thought, maybe it makes sense to think about how relevant these cycles could be in our personal lives today.”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

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“I think it might be a good idea to do a long-range plan for our own personal lives periodically – probably not every year, but at least more than one time – when we’re finishing school and beginning our careers. I also think it might be a good idea to come up with specific plans (like “Budgets”) every year. That may take the form of New Year’s Resolutions…”

Floey interjected, “Or choosing a special word to focus on all year, like we do.”

“Yeah, that’s the idea. And then comes the Forecast. I don’t know if that needs to be done monthly, although it probably wouldn’t hurt. I think it might be good to periodically review what we’ve observed and learned related to our word for the year and other experiences we’ve had so far in the year. As part of that Forecast review, we could decide if we need to make any changes to be sure we’re working toward the results we want to see in our lives. Following these cycles just might help us become the people God intended for us to become.”

“Wow, Mom. You’ve really been thinking hard about this. Are you sure you’re not taking this too far?”

“Maybe I am, Floey. But what is important is that at Christmas Mountain I have quiet time to think about things like this, and to listen hard to hear what God may be trying to tell me.”

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Floey and me taking a walk in the neighborhood.

“Okay, Mom. I’ll try not to be mad at you next time you go away like this and leave me behind. Maybe I can use the time when you’re gone to try to Forecast where I’ll be by the end of the year in learning all about my special word for this year – Meow – and learning how to communicate better with cats.”

“That’s the spirit, Floey. After all this heavy thinking, let’s go for a walk.”

“Great! We can’t let thinking get in the way of enjoying life! Let’s go!”