Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Heat #roadtrip

We are not all that accustomed to heat, coming from the West of Scotland. Summer for us is “hoodies on, hoodies off” depending on whether or not the sun is between or behind the clouds.

We were therefore a little anxious about the 45 degrees (113 degrees Fahrenheit) heat that awaited us in Las Vegas.

True enough, we got off the plane and fell into a different medium of existence, like stepping bodily into a vat of hot soup.

Waiting for the Uber in the shade of a concrete carpark, the air blew through in a hot breeze. It was like standing in the full blast of a hairdryer on at full bung.

The hotel’s AirCon was great. So we put it up full bung and crashed out. Then we woke up shivering and got into bed.

Walking for any distance, and I mean any distance, took some consideration. The thought of going from the hotel room to the foyer through the grounds was a bit of a thought. Going to the (Hard Rock) café across the street was a major expedition. We could see the appeal of driving even such a microscopic distance, had we had a car.

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The hottest half hour of the whole trip was at Horseshoe Bend. It was a mile/mile and a half walk to a spectacular view. I don’t know how hot it was, but it was hot.

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I felt like a scuba diver – with my hydration hose in my face, sooking in the water instead of air, swimming through the heat haze. A park ranger was on duty to give first aid to people who took ill on the trail, spraying them with water and advising them to pour water over their heads and giving them shade and a seat.

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In Scotland, breaking sweat generally takes some effort.

After the Horseshoe Bend walk, we all got in the van and our bodies went into sweat overdrive. I have never seen anything like it, sweatwise. All the water we had taken in, while out frying in the desert, came pouring from pores. Splish splash drip drop.

The human body is amazing.

The temperatures we experienced are probably at the edge of what humans can take, for any length of time. Las Vegas, and the other hot places felt kind of unsustainable – that city certainly could not function without the robust air con that it has. A major and sustained power cut would finish the place off.

Water in the desert takes on so much more significance than water in Glasgow.

I feel a post about the Samaritan woman at the well coming on, perhaps another day…

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4 vs 13,14.

 

 

 

Alien Activity #roadtrip

We were sitting in the evening at Lake Powell when a strange sight lit up the sky. Like burning magnesium scraping the sky, brightness was drawn in horizontal pinstripes in a linear blaze of slow and steady trails. The burst of light pulled itself slowly to a halt where the stripes became fragments that one by one burnt out.

Of course we didn’t have a camera handy.

It was odd, silent and spectacular and a little unsettling – we were quite glad that is didn’t seem to come to anything – it didn’t turn out to be a nuke or a divine intervention or anything.

We settled on “meteor shower” as the most likely cause. I have googled a bit but I can’t find a picture that is anything like what we saw.

It was like a comet that stalled or the start of an alien invasion.

Which was weird, as we weren’t doing aliens that day.

The day we were doing aliens was when we were driving through the middle of nowhere which is where most alien sightings seem to happen. The desert around the town of Rachel, Nevada is like the inverse of Loch Ness, apart from in that respect. Not that Nessie is an alien.

We had a full briefing on how to counter the alien mind-reading scanners and set off confidently with our hats with which to ‘foil’ the aliens.

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Along the Extraterrestrial Highway there were no aliens, unless the Joshua trees were cunning disguises for them. The only stop on the road is the Little Ale-Inn which offers any amount of alien-related tat, a hospitable chat and a restroom.
The chatty lady at the Little Ale-inn was a direct descendant of Robert Burns, so I quoted her a stanza of ‘To a Mouse’, as he didn’t write about aliens.

It’s not all that far from Area 51 which isn’t worth a visit, apparently, unless you want to get a boundary guard grumpy, which we didn’t.

You can see why the aliens would come. There’s plenty of space in the desert.

Great #Restrooms of America #roadtrip

American restrooms are great. The fact that they are called “restrooms” is the first thing that is great.

Rest.

Rooms.

For the roadtripper, there is nothing like a rest in a room, as a contrast to the travel in a van.

It’s cute though, the euphemism. It’s a toilet. Not really a room for a rest, as such.

In the UK they are called “toilets” because they are primarily toilets. Or “Public Conveniences” which are our euphemism. Or the very old fashioned “W.C.” just to confuse everyone.

The second comedy feature of American toilets is the fact that the doors of the stalls are all, and I mean all, about two feet off the ground. This is mental. It is so consistent, the raised door thing. You can’t really see it here, but it’s a definite phenomenon. Maybe not two feet. I should have measured it. Maybe it’s federal law or something. Seems to be a regulation height.


In the UK some doors sweep the ground, some are five or six inches off the ground. None, and I mean none are anywhere near the lavvy-heighted distance off the ground of the American ones.

Every set of toilets I entered gave me a flashback to the movie “Witness” where the bad guy kicks in every stall door, looking for the wee Amish kid that is standing on a toilet hoping against hope that he isn’t about to be shot.

I don’t know why the doors are so high. The advantage is that you can totally see people’s feet, so you can see if the stall is occupied, so you don’t have to do that surreptitious duck ‘n’ glance manoeuvre that we have to do here. Or that ginger as ginger push at a door with an ambiguous vacant/occupied indicator. It does mean that it would be super easy to steal someone’s bag and leg it out of there while they were still indisposed. However, if you got locked in, you could totally get out alright, which is a plus. On the other hand, a mischievous person could just too easily lock them all from the inside and that would be annoying for everyone else. Not that it crossed my mind at all.

The other consistent thing about the American restroom experience was the inclusive vibe. When you enter the restroom, instead of there being a wall’s worth of identical stalls, there are all-but-one regular stalls against the long wall and the last one in the row takes up the whole of the short wall at the back, making it big enough for a wheelchair. Either that or there is only one toilet and it is an enormous, disability-friendly one.

It was kind of freaky the amount of restrooms we went to that were identical in layout to other restrooms. They have maybe cracked the winning formula of restroom layout. I just don’t think they have cracked the optimum “height of door off the ground” thing. I reckon eight inches ought to be enough.

The most impressive thing about American restrooms is the amount of them and the access to them. Here, if you want to go to the toilet somewhere, there is an expectation that you are going to spend a penny both literally and metaphorically. “Customers only” and all that. I did see ‘customer only’ restrooms in the city, but in the middle of nowhere, we were free to spill out of the van and into the restrooms no matter how much or how little we spent. We certainly bought enough soda, pringles and pretzels to cover our costs, I reckon.

As well as the open access there was the handiness. You hike to the middle of nowhere – there’s a long drop. There’s a shuttle-bus stop in a National park – there’s a long drop. There’s a gas-station – a restroom. And so on.

If there are going to be people there, there are toilets there. They might not always be utterly pristine, or even plumbed in – but at least there are toilets there. The fact that there are toilets there removes the anxiety that there might not be toilets there, so you don’t end up in that knot of travel anxiety of toilets and their existence and accessibility.

Oh – and the automatic flushes! I forgot about that. I don’t know if the self-flushing toilet is a result of a chronic national laziness or whether is is just ‘the way forward’. The good thing about the automatic flushes is that the toilet was always flushed. But in the restrooms without automatic flushes, people just walk away without thinking that flushing might be needing to be done, so that’s less pleasant. The automatic flush can be a bit of a surprise to your unsuspecting visitor from the UK! And American flushes are vigorous, generally.

But that’s the flushing toilets. When you are in the middle of nowhere, plumbing is not going to happen. The good long drops have no flies, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The bad long drops have an impressive horror-film soundtrack of swarms of flies circling in the darkness, the cavernous pit vibrating with their corporate murmurations. The worst ones are broken or dirty. But I like a long drop, on occasion.

Eco-minimalism and all that.

Woman versus Canyon #grandcanyon #roadtrip

It was time to redeem my previous experience of the Grand Canyon.

(Fifteen or sixteen years ago we went there in sub zero temperatures in November. During the night it became clear that my sleeping bag was sadly, sadly inadequate. Between spells of convulsing with cold in the tent, and spells of hiding in the toilet block for a heat through, I eventually made it to the morning, to find chunks of ice in the kettle and the whole world frozen through, except the Yukon Jack.)

This time we were going in late July, with the local Las Vegas Uber drivers moaning about the heat – surely this time it would be different…

It was warm as we arrived at the Grand Canyon, and it started to rain as we had our first look over the rim – as mist moved in and a thunderstorm began, still far away.

Back to the same campsite from long ago. My old faithful toilet block was still there. We began to put up the tents with lightening and thunder in the distance. Then with the lightening and thunder a bit nearer. And nearer still.

So, we are putting up the tents with spots of rain getting bigger and bigger and the lightening getting nearer and the thunder getting louder. We became increasingly aware that all around us were a great many trees that were past victims of lightening strikes, standing dead and steely amongst the living trees.

Then we thought, “Let’s get in the van!”

So we got in the van as the lightening lit, and the thunder thundered impressively overhead and the rain soaked the ground and sapped the warmth from the air, leaving the air about twenty degrees colder than it had been before.

But still well above zero. Phew.

My lightest of light sleeping bag was just about enough, although it was pretty chilly all night – but I didn’t convulse or have to retreat to the toilet, thus redeeming my first experience.

As for the actual Canyon – we did the same hike as the last time, the South Kaibab trail to Cedar Ridge – but with two significant changes: this time I was fit and we had three children in tow – as well as the rest of our group. We made a swift descent to Ooh Ahh Point and felt great, then on down to the ridge for lunch. The first chunk of the ascent was pretty tough – but it wasn’t any harder than a trail running session at home. Then we took our time with the multitude of switchbacks back to the rim of the canyon and we all felt accomplished – although a perceptive daughter later remarked, “I am not sure whether I enjoyed that or not.”

IMG_0049I enjoyed it.

And the temperature that night, whatever it was, was perfect.

Hospitality in the Inhospitable #MonumentValley #roadtrip

I’ll do anything for a good sunrise, it turns out.

We spent a “Night with the Navajo” at Monument Valley: a jeep tour of the valley followed by a barbeque, a pow-wow and what was meant to be a night in a Hogan, but was a night outside a Hogan, under the stars.

Monument Valley is unforgiving and inhospitable. The heat was unrelenting (but not a patch on the heat in Las Vegas, but that’s another story). The good thing about that is that there are no bugs to annoy you when you sleep outside. There are just random horses, dogs, rabbits and cows stoating about between the rocks. (I am sure there must rattlesnakes and stuff, but thought it best not to ask, in case there were.)

We had done our research before the trip, watching Back to the Future 3 with interest. Thankfully our jeep was better suited to the terrain than a DeLorean.

My favourite bit was a rock cave thing called Grand Hogan or Great Hogan that I find difficult to describe: it was like a chunk of a cross section of a natural cathedral in red rock, with a sloping surface to lie on as you look up at a hole in the roof that doubles as an eye of a hawk you can see in the roof. And it is also like looking up at a huge rock donut. Sort of. Other rock formations in the valley are iconic and appear in movies, but I hadn’t seen anything like this. So we had a wee rest looking up through the hole in the roof, listening to our guide sing us a random song about going to Utah and finding a drum.

For dinner we were given Navajo tacos – with fried tortillas, barbequed steak, baked beans and salad and then there was a random pow-wow that was a cross between a ceilidh and an episode of Blind Date.

Night fell, but the heat was still powerful. Despite us having the lightest of light sleeping bags, I was in for a night of not much sleep. But that was okay because we were in the middle of actual nowhere, lying in the ground in the dark with the plus point of that which is you get to see the stars properly with the Milky Way as a backdrop. The downside is that I wear glasses and I couldn’t see the stars if I took my glasses off to go to sleep. So, I took my glasses off and on to look at the stars while thrashing about in my sweaty sleeping bag trying to optimize my sleeping position, listening to other people thrashing about in their sleeping bags while someone else had a fit of the hiccoughs and a cow came wandering by in the darkness. And then the moon rose, which was great as a spectacle, but it was a little like someone was boring a hole in my retinas with a laser so, less helpful with the sleeping. Plus there was that full-fat caffeinated can of soda (like what I don’t drink any of in real life) that I had with my dinner that kept my head spinning, wondering what one would do, should one manage to have a snake bite or a freak head injury in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal or handy means of transportation…

The low point, or should I say the long drop point of the stint in Monument Valley was the long drops. (We had a wide range of toilet-based experiences on the road trip – but that’s for another post.) It turns out that the Navajo, while being big on friendliness and food hygiene are not at all that fussed on running water or bathroom cleaning. Or bathrooms, really.

There were two long drops in outhouses, some way back from the Hogan we weren’t sleeping in. One was worse than the other, but that is not to say that one was better than the other. However, the lack of bugs was noted (although I didn’t appreciate the lack of bugs until we were somewhere with long drops with flies, but, as I say, that’s another story…)

In the morning we got muffins and good coffee and a slightly less awful toilet before heading back to our own transport and our next destination.

So, the inexplicable thing about Monument Valley is how the people who live there live there – and how their ancestors lived there. There isn’t water for ten miles (except at the visitor centre… oddly), so the residents have enormous water tanks on the back of their pickup trucks and go and collect the water. Maybe there was more water in the past – I don’t know. But there’s certainly a lot of sweat and dust and barely tolerable heat.

However – before the coffee and the muffins we had the privilege of seeing a perfect sunrise, with the sky with colours graduating from the horizon upwards and crisp silhouettes against the skyline. You can see why the Hogans all face towards the rising sun in the valley.

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A non-sleep and a dodgy toilet were definitely made up for by the spectacular skies in Monument Valley.

“I have children.” #motherhood

Okay, so she said it with an arguably patronizing tone, but she was stating a fact. It didn’t go down well. That’s for sure.

 (“Don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”)

Society, the media and the echo chambers of social media are fickle. That’s also for sure.

Recently there was a rash of schmaltzy memes asking people to “Share five pics that make you proud to be a mum”. Then on mothers’/mother’s day there was any amount of near-idolatry going on online. While some (including me) may think, “well, this is awkward on a variety of levels”, most people seem to hit “like” and move on, or indeed share the “proud to be a mum” pics.

Pride and motherhood, in my opinion, should not be related. (Although I am reminded of a teacher-friend who, when faced with parents’ night appointments, found that the best strategy in any given meeting was to begin by saying, “You must be VERY proud.” Always a winner.)

But then, I probably have a problem with pride, as a concept and especially when people are proud parents.

From my theistic perspective, the fact that anyone is a parent in the first place is an undeserved blessing. I can see why, when people take God out of the equation, they might think, “We did this”, “We made this person” and feel proud of it – but I see motherhood as part of God’s grace – pride doesn’t fit in.

Similarly, when the child achieves a thing or displays a positive characteristic – pride is again inappropriate for me. I can feel pleased when something turns out well for them or happy that my advice or hopes worked out – but pride still is jarring. Again God is gracious. My children are not a sub-set of me. They are them. Any pride I may feel is wrongly attributed.

But “I have children.” I do.

And I know that many people don’t – whether that is by lifestyle, choice, singleness, infertility or fear, or whether there have been miscarriages, stillbirths or deaths. And it’s private. And people should be aware – as they are in British politics today – that any comment about another person’s personal status is none of their business and therefore shouldn’t be made.

When I had my son, the Robert Frost poem was on my mind, the closing lines are:

 Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

As I lay there recovering from the birth, I thought about the fact that two roads diverged, and I was on my way down the one called ‘motherhood’ – no matter what happened from that point onwards. And I thought about the parallel life that shot off, unlived down the other path – a different life – “all the difference”.

Motherhood does change a person. But I am sure the experiences down the other path change a person too. I value the lessons I have learned through motherhood – but who is to say what I would have learned or how I would have grown, had my life been different? Am I better at my job because I am a mother? Yes, my perspective changed and I think my new perspective helped me change for the better. Am I better at my job than my colleagues without children? Absolutely not. (They happen to all be amazing – with or without children. Not a single duffer amongst them!)

I don’t know whether to round off with a quote from Holden Caulfield or the Apostle Paul. Why not both?

Holden observes, “All mothers are slightly insane.”

As a single man, Paul writes, “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”

And that has made all the difference.

#Prayer Patterns #psalm23

The Lord’s Prayer was recorded in the gospels a few centuries after David wrote Psalm 23, but in Psalm 23, the writer sounds as if he has prayed the Lord’s prayer and it has been answered.

What do you think of the links between these familiar prayers?

David prays: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing”, demonstrating an answer to the request, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

He continues: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths”. Such restoration and peace are the hope of the heart that prays: “Thy kingdom come”.

This guidance and refreshing is all: “for his name’s sake”, foreshadowing the Lord’s prayer saying “Hallowed by thy name.”

David continues: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The psalmist has found the leading of the Lord as Shepherd comforting: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

He states, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows”. This is less easy to map onto the Lord’s prayer – but the relationship between the person praying and their “enemies” is addressed. In both images, the person and their “enemies” are being brought back into relationship with one another, and that relationship is put into context in the relationship of both parties to God. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Psalm 23 ends: “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” which could be seen to point to God as “Our Father, who art in Heaven”.

The Lord’s Prayer is given as a pattern as to how we should pray and David in the Psalms seems to have captured the pattern before it was given.

What is the pattern? – earthly sustenance, restoration of relationships with God and others, peace and hope and heaven.

THE LORD’S PRAYER:

Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

PSALM 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,  for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

Hoovering Dust Bunnies

It has been a weird week. It really has. Not only did everything that could happen in British politics happen in British politics, but nothing happened here at home: the eye of the storm has been the calm found in the cyclone action of my Dyson.

I have been on holiday at home for a week, with the rolling news functioning as kind of info-muzak as I have wound down from the usual commitments.

Between the government melting down and there being no necessity to set an alarm, it has been an odd week of inertia and stasis.

So, what did I do?

Monday’s task was culling dust-bunnies. They had been tormenting me for months – not that I could see them: I knew they were there. Nature may well abhor vacuums, and indeed, the dust had done its best to create a dust-galaxy ex nihilo. But the dust bunnies are now gone, abhorring vacuums from inside of one.

Tuesday’s task? I’ve forgotten already. (I ask my son for clarification. He said, “I don’t keep track of days.”)

Wednesday we did shopping-for-things-we-actually-need and I cleaned my towel-rail-radiator. Rock and roll.

Thursday I fell asleep with my face in a book at Lollipop Land softplay. All good.

Today involved a lot of watching of tennis, watching of football and eating of pizza. And moving things around.

If my brain hadn’t slipped so readily into holiday mode, I figure I might have had some interesting things to think about the state of the nation/nations and various political unions and things – but things are so fluxional, I can’t get a handle on it.

It’s at this point that I need to turn the vacuum/dust bunny thing into a metaphor for Brexit.

But I’m on holiday.

😎

Domino Day #brexit #remain

Well, that was unexpected – and almost exactly what I didn’t want.

On the first of this month I wrote:

 “What I don’t want is ‘EnglandandWales’ dragging us out of the European Union and for Salmond and Co to reach for their smackeroonies to invest in another campaign for Indyref 2.0.. I couldn’t take a sudden onset/relapse of referendum fatigue.”

And it looks as if that is where we are.

And fair enough. The results map, while predominantly blue for Brexit across ‘EnglandandWales’ had an unbroken yellow beacon of Remain in the form of Scotland.

While I figured that Scotland would be largely Remain, I didn’t think it would be quite as of-one-mind as it was and I didn’t think that Scotland would be quite so on its own in that.

I really didn’t think there’d be a Brexit – especially with the Remain swing that seemed to happen in the aftermath of the murder/assassination.

So, here we are, with dominoes of consequence toppling all over the place, with London looking a bit politically isolated from the country of which it is capital and Scotland looking evermore like a stray Scandanavian country attached to EnglandandWales.

It has been a very odd day.

Teacher Presents?

Not long to go, and all of a sudden the kids are asking if they can buy their teacher a present. Gah! Not only that, the facebook – awash with helpful suggestions as to how to vote tomorrow – is peppered with teacher-gift anxiety.

Teachers themselves may be preemptively clearing out the boot of their car to fit in the 30 bottles of ASDA wine winging their way towards them.

But should it be this way?

Eh… Teachers get paid. It is their job to teach your child. They teach your child. Why do they need a present?

Remember, they are getting on a plane to Mallorca for the next fortnight while you have to sit and construct a patchwork of childcare to get through the next six weeks.

Can they even accept presents? Does it in fact cause them a conflict of interest with their employer’s Code of Conduct? Have you checked?

Man, I am so grumpy.

But let’s think about the other people that have worked in that school with your child. The kitchen staff, the PSAs, the Support for Learning teachers and assistants, the Behaviour assistants, the music, art and PE specialists, the janitorial staff, the managerial staff with less class contact – why is the class teacher singled out for a present? All of these people have worked. All of these people get paid. Very few of these people get a present.

Not that I am bitter.

How do secondary teachers fare? Pretty badly in comparison to their primary colleagues. Younger pupils in secondary may have about thirteen different teachers in a year, so, understandably, the presents for teachers are fewer and further between. But that’s okay. The teachers have been paid for their efforts. A card with thanks for specific over-and-above service is probably the way to go, if some acknowledgement is felt necessary. Senior pupils will do as they see fit and don’t involve their parents which is as it should be.

But if you feel you “have” to get your child’s teacher a present, what should you get?

Ask a teacher and they will say “wine”. But is that even appropriate? For a child to hand over? For a teacher to accept from a child? In a culture where teachers are advised not to have photos of themselves holding a wineglass in the public domain, when Big Brother is watching you – is this something that should be encouraged? Your child’s young, blonde, twenty-five year old teacher is about to be on holiday for six weeks. Is it responsible to be a part of a culture that gives her a bottle of wine every week night for her whole holiday?

If you balk at the wine thing, there are gifty teacher gifts from the teacher gift aisle: plastic decorations, wall hangings, shopping bags, magnets, pens, notebooks, nail files, comedy novelties. Feel free. Knock yourself out. But would you give it house-room if thirty of them came your way?

Although, it has to be said, most teachers love stationery. Unnaturally. At least stationery is consumable in some respects and functional.

Safe options are shareable consumables that will last over the summer. Biscuits, in fact.

Middle-class-nightmare gifts are gift vouchers that have been collected by a committee of loudmouthed women at the school gate who have made skint folk feel awkward and the recipient feel conflicted with the Code of Conduct.

I sound grumpier than I actually am in this post.

Sure, it is lovely to make someone feel appreciated for their efforts. I probably only find this one tricky as I am not a ‘gift’ type of person. It is not my “love language”. I suspect that the giving of a gift in this context is partly to do with avoiding feeling awkward when everyone else is handing over a present. If your kid happened to be absent on the last day, would you still feel the need to give the teacher a present, or is just it part of a last-day ritual?

So, my advice is biscuits for sharing in school and a hand written card from the child thanking the teacher (or another educationalist) who has helped them with something specific and meaningful.

Here’s the hypocrisy: my daughters are off school for the election tomorrow and want to go shopping for teacher presents. So they will likely choose something ornamental.

Hopefully they will have something meaningful to write in a card or on a gift tag.

All the best with your shopping.

 

 

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