Carrie Allen – Carnivals, Cars and Chili

We are inherently social beings.  Our lives are shaped by our ability to cooperate and coexist with those around us. The power of community is our greatest saving grace in the face of meaninglessness and destruction. I have no words for the horrific events that took place in Las Vegas this week. My heart aches for the victims and their families.  With this post, I want to focus on communities and events that bring us together. For society to renew, individuals must constantly focus on self-renewal.

Self-renewal requires you to cultivate your capacity for renewal by doing new and different things. We can too easily become complacent with our lives and settle into a rigid structure of sameness.

As we mature we progressively narrow the scope and variety of our lives. Of all the interests we might pursue, we settle on a few. Of all the people with whom we might associate, we select a small number. We become caught in a web of fixed relationships. We develop set ways of doing things.

Doing new things shakes us out of our apathy. This is why when you travel you regain an attentiveness that heightens every experience. Use your weekends to explore and engage and try new things…even if you feel like staying home.  Push yourself.  It’s worth it. In the warmer months seek out things like carnivals, antique car shows and, yes, chili cook offs.

This summer my kids pushed me to go to the En Ka Street Fair in Winchester, MA.  I was at first resistant but I am so glad we went. There was something thrilling in being one amongst the crowd, everyone just relaxing and having fun.

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Traveling carnivals are fun to explore and are a good example of temporal experiences set up to bring people together.  The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 was the catalyst for traveling carnivals, rides, food (maybe not fried dough back then…), games of chance, thrills and more.

Every May in Sandpoint, ID there is a Lost in 50’s Car Show and Street Party.  This past May was their 32nd annual event, which is impressive in and of itself.  Krister, my love, attended and took these luscious photos. The downtown streets were lined with beautiful vintage cars, musical acts, street dances and more.

People bring their antique cars from far and wide, even Canada, to participate.  You can feel the sense of pride in sharing their restorations, which sparks many conversations.

In June, stretched out across City Beach in Sandpoint, ID with a back drop of blue skies, big mountains and boats on Lake Pend Oreille, cooks from across the region set up their tents and chili with the hope of taking home the top prizes for their recipes and a chance to compete for the World Chili Cookoff in Nevada. (Who knew there was such a thing?) The community comes together for tasty chili while enjoying the camaraderie and competition.

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I have a robust commitment to hope.  Happiness is not something we find.  It’s something we make. We need each other. Friendship and love dissolve misunderstanding, force fresh perspectives, alter judgements and break down barriers.  Explore, try new things, connect with people. Be open to loving and being loved.  Magic is something you make.

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love. Read more about her inspiration here. 

Carrie Allen – Cry, heart, but do not break

To be human is to know pain.  During times of loss and personal crisis, we are thrown into chaos and can often tumble into despair, misery, bitterness, anger and angst.  Whether it be physical or emotional pain, we all have dark hours. In those darkest hours, it feels like you are so completely alone and you lose hope.  I know, I’ve been there.  Yet to be human is also to be resilient.  We do heal.  Things get better.  It just takes time.   Albert Camus asserted that “there is no love of life without despair of life.”

Everyone has his or her own path for grieving, for mending…for coping.  For those I know hurting now, try to slow down and find solace in quiet moments, simple things.  Focus on the senses. The way a breeze feels on your skin.  The taste of a treat.  The texture of a fabric. A soft touch. Smell. Breathe. Taste. Just be.   Staying present and intimate with the moment, requires mastering maitri, the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness toward oneself, that most difficult art of self-compassion.

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When my brother Robbie passed away in 2001, it was a horrifically dark time.  In my attempt at trying to find order, to cope, I chose to paint a portrait of him, painted from a small wallet-sized senior high school photo of his. I still have it today, it’s scratched and worn, but Robbie’s spirit shines through.

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I painted through my tears. I painted and painted, reworking it over and over.  My intention was to paint a portrait of my brother for my father as a gift, to help him heal.   I spent many months with the painting.  I realized much later that my colors were skewed.  His vibrancy does not come through.  I think my sadness shrouds the painting still.

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Robbie’s birthday was July 29.  He is always with me but these last few weeks even more so. I honor him with this post. This entire blog is a tribute to him. I miss him every day.  His passion and zeal for life and adventure touched so many.

The day after he died in March 2001 his close friend wrote a poem for him.  I close now by sharing it with you here.

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To Robbie, March 23, 2001

I loved a man who danced with Life;
He’d twirl her in his arms
Until she dropped exhaustedly-
Too heavy with his charms.
I used to look on jealously,
And wonder if he knew
How quickly I’d replace her
If he’d only ask me to,

Because I feel I wouldn’t tire,
But last into the night.
I’d take his turns and twists and dips
With all my strength and might.
We’d cha-cha, tango, maquerena
Till the dawn broke in,
And once we thought we’d had enough,
We’d jitterbug again.

Unconstant Life, you drew him in
Until you recognized
How much he needed loving you,
How much of you he prized.
So whimsically you threw him off,
Refusing one more dance
To one with whom I’d dance forever
Given half a chance.

Love, Kathryn Dunnington

Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love. Read more about her inspiration here. 

 

Juan Gamez – Lost in wanderlust

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About four years ago on my way to Japan for the very first time I felt excited to start over from a life that wasn’t what I wanted for myself, to experience the unknown, and to make memories that will last a life time. I found myself sitting on my flight listening to music when the song The Nights, by Avicii, started playing on my iPhone. The words spoke to me instantly…. Avicii said “When I was sixteen my father said you could do anything you want with your life. You just have to be willing to work hard to get it. That’s when I decided that when I die I want to be remember for the life I lived, not the money I made.” It seems kind of crazy but my dad told me that exact same thing when I was a young boy living in Colombia. It felt like the song was made for me. I knew that I had to stay hungry for knowledge and adventure, that’s when I got lost in wanderlust.

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Traveling, exploring new cultures and getting lost in foreign cities is what gets me going.

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There is nothing more exciting than when you are trying to figure out where to go or what to order but the best part is you have no clue how to speak the language nor do you even know the basics… It’s funny and fascinating. So what do you do when you have no way to communicate through speaking? Point at what you want, smile and hope for the best!

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Open yourself up to new cultures, new foods and new people. Getting away for a while will help you learn a lot about yourself.

In one of my journeys around the world I had the chance to meet some school kids in a village in Bali, Indonesia. They wanted to learn about where my friends and I were from.  As we told the kids where we were from we realized it was four different countries! In our group we spoke three different languages and we all came from very different backgrounds, but we were united by one thing – we were consumed by wanderlust.

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You only have one life so find happiness by doing what you love. Do it for yourself and the ones you love. Don’t be afraid of trying something new, experiencing new cultures, and the most important thing is to have fun on your journey. Get consumed by wanderlust.

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Juan M Gamez is a United States Marine. He was born and raised in Columbia, South America and moved to Boston, Massachusetts in the United States when he was 15 years young.  He is fascinated by culture and art.  He loves traveling, photography and seeking adventure at all times.

You can follow his travels on Instagram @jgamez

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Stefan Barton – Woodcuts

I am not a photographer. I mostly paint and draw. I really only take pictures with a camera if I feel I have to. I do it because I think nobody else would. The images are surprises I find in nature, in artifacts and in the play of light and shadow on some sort of topography. There are pictures of rips in plastic-foil glued to window panes, cracks in concrete walls, shriveled and nevertheless sprouting vegetables, light coming through glass-bricks, cracks in floating ice sheets on a river – and trees. What is different about the following tree pictures is that I manipulate them with my computer. Read on and find out why.

On a random road-trip through the countryside one of us got car-sick and we stopped for a short break. I got out of the car and walked around a little bit, eager to continue with the driving. Then I noticed something odd in a pairing of trees in front of the wall of some dilapidated and rather ugly farming-compound: nothing of importance, just a vague geometric sensation, an aesthetic challenge presented by the coincidental arrangement of lines and spaces. I debated with myself, but then got the camera out of the car and took a picture. I wanted to preserve the sight and find out if the vision would hold up on the computer, in a different environment, at a different time…

Some weeks later, I stood at the living-room window, staring at a row of far away linden trees. Again it took me quite a while to decide to get the camera, feeling a little silly. A hint of dancing, floating, naked figures, headless…

Another tree I could see from the same window, looking back at me somehow…

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Walking in the countryside, armed with camera. The realization that in a forest, in small groupings and single trees, there are countless perspectives, countless compositions of trunks, branches and twigs. I would sometimes run around among the trees for hours, circling them, walking away, getting nearer, studying the bodies, arms, faces, eyes. I could imagine seeing myself from a distance: some weirdo with a camera running randomly around in the forest, obsessed with something invisible in the canopies, in the bark of tree trunks, stumbling, unaware of the path, spellbound, unable to look away. Or standing motionless for minutes, seemingly lost in thoughts.

Afterwards, the downloading of selected images, manipulations with software. Careful cutting and deleting of content, rearranging, little alterations, leaving authenticity to a certain extent intact, the taste of the original randomness, a sense of believability, the possibility of the composition. Simultaneously creating an odd shift in reality, a perforation of it.

The manipulations leading to something recognizable, hinting at something familiar, classifiable, interpretable.

Is there something in forestscapes that wants to be seen; are there hidden images in trees, manifestations, truth in observation?

The way of the wood – branching, the dendritic ramifications – is in reality too chaotic for us to recognize the true emergent and complex structure of trees. It is chaos –  and self-organization. A tree is in its slowness something like a frozen fractal. But it is slow only to us. In its own temporal reality it grows rampant, shooting upward waving about greedily for light, competing for height and size. The procession of days is a flicker.

There is beauty in trees. They are reassuring and steadfast. But they are also mysterious, incomprehensible.  One can, as in clouds, choose to see metaphorical images, maybe meaning. The barren treetops and the geometry of wood transcend the apparently mindless growing-ons and sproutings. One can refine it, purify it, even show the absurdity of it.

Wood doesn’t blush.

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Stefan Barton resides in a village near Hamburg, Germany where there are many patient trees, but he spent 20 Years in the US (San Francisco and Boston Area). He works on paintings, drawings and printmaking. Once in a while he is transfixed by taking pictures and manipulating these in a peculiar way. To see more of his images contact Stefan (stefan.bartongmail.com ) visit  http://clex-werk.blogspot.de/  or look at a book:

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Jeff Liberty – Here and There

Films like “Lost in Translation” and “Up in the Air” give you the impression that business travel is a deeply lonely and alienating experience, especially for men.  I can certainly understand how people who spend too much time on the road can feel disconnected from everyone and everything and exhausted from being nowhere and everywhere at the same time. When I travel for work, I do miss my family and the creature comforts of home.  I can get tired of aggressively upbeat music in hotel lobbies and elevators, paranoia about the charge in my cell phone battery, and the endless search for healthy food and good coffee. At the same time, I’ve come to realize that traveling to new places for work sharpens my powers of observation and makes me feel more connected to strangers and, at some level, to my core beliefs and values.   

Recently I visited San Francisco for a “thought leadership in education” event at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which was half the reason why I was willing to travel across the country to attend.  The gathering’s organizers had promised to “bring together 250 of the most interesting people” in the education space.  Raised in a working-class neighborhood in Boston, it all seemed so pretentious, so self-involved to me.  And yet there was a part of me that was flattered to be on this exclusive list and excited by the promise of a private, curated viewing of the SFMOMA’s Fisher Wing.

At Logan Airport, I was impressed by the young mothers who were traveling alone with young children and navigating strollers and diaper bags along with the normal amount of luggage through the security checkpoint.  It struck me as particularly poignant that this generation of children—my own kids included—will grow up with the basic understanding that everyone is to some extent a threat and that no one can be assumed to be safe.

As I dutifully remove my shoes, suit coat, belt, and laptop and place them in gray plastic bins, I notice an African-American woman, her feet spread shoulder width and her hands raised above her head in the tubular full-body scanning machine.  Her t-shirt reads “Free Black Woman,” and it occurs to me that no white person in America would ever feel the need to buy and wear such a shirt.  

tsa (1)When it’s my turn in the body scanner, I mold my body into the pose required by the silhouette inside the tube and feel something like shame at the fact that, as a white man, my putting my hands up as I am scrutinized by paramilitary TSA agents must be a very different experience from the woman in the “Free Black Woman” t-shirt.

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On the cross-country flight, internet access is spotty, which causes me some productivity-related angst, but the unreliable connectivity allows me to pay more attention to my fellow passengers, including a lovely older couple sitting next to me. I am taken by the easy way they ask each other questions and show genuine interest in responding to each other’s queries.  At various points during the flight, they look up from their reading and share aloud long passages—the husband a whole paragraph from an article on Chinese currency manipulation from Foreign Affairs magazine; the wife a passage from People about the recent death of Mary Tyler Moore.  Their tender regard for one another is apparent and makes me hopeful about the future of my own marriage over the long haul.

On the taxi ride from the airport, a gnawing feeling of nervousness starts to dog me.  This is an old and familiar sensation of fraudulence I can sometimes feel when I am in social situations that feature lots of affluence.  Most days I manage my emotions by reminding myself of my worthiness through positive self-talk, a concept that would have made my even more insecure teenage self want to punch my 47 year-old self in the face.  On this day, however, I am having a hard time keeping my nerves in check, so I do what I often do on work trips—I go for a long walk.

On this crisp February morning, San Francisco strikes me as a symbol of everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with America.  Young San Franciscan professionals that I imagine to be employees of tech companies with edgy, ironic-sounding names commute to work.  Nearly everyone has headphones tucked under fashionable hats and unnecessarily warm coats.  Some talk to the wires next to their cheeks as they walk down the sidewalk.  Others glance at their phones in between sips of coffee and tea as they wait for traffic lights to change.

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This SOMA neighborhood is booming—there are new high-end construction projects on every block.  Construction workers on their mid-morning breaks—burly, unshaven dudes in orange hard hats and yellow fluorescent vests—congregate in groups of three and four on street corners and on raised platforms made of dusty lumber and metal piping.  They curse and smoke and eat slices of pizza and breakfast burritos and drink coffee from stainless steel thermoses.

On the same street as a futuristic hotel that looks like a series of glass cubes stacked asymmetrically, apartment maintenance workers power-wash shit-smeared sidewalks as city employees in cheery blue jackets remove cardboard boxes that have served as beds for the city’s many homeless residents the night before.  Some newer commercial buildings feature sidewalks outside their windows in which large stones have been cemented into the walkway, ostensibly as a way to discourage people from sleeping there overnight.

I turn onto Mission Street.  Every few blocks there are medical marijuana dispensaries with names like “Spark” and “Relief.”  Their bouncers, muscular giants perched on too-small bar stools at the front door, check their phones and wait for trouble I hope will never come.  I spot a young man passed out on the sidewalk, his back held upright by a temporary construction fence. Shafts of morning sun warm the lower half of his legs.  An unlit cigarette balances impossibly, almost comically, from his mouth. One of his hands is open, palm outstretched to the heavens.  A cell phone is clutched in his other hand.  Thinking of Jacob Riis, I want so much to take a picture of this boy, whom I judge to be around twenty.  I want to bear witness, to share his image with the wider world. Like the black woman at Logan, he seems to represent something potent and crystalline about the challenges and opportunities of the moment we’re in. I wonder if there is any way that I can frame the shot that will not strip him of his remaining dignity.  Ultimately, I walk back in the direction of my hotel.  On the way to my temporary home, I notice that the wall of the San Francisco Chronicle has a deep crack in its façade, where black Gothic letters teach me that the paper was founded in 1865—the last time we had Civil War, I can’t help thinking.

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A few weeks later, I stop into the Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham, North Carolina. The snaking lunchtime line curls like a long sausage chain through the restaurant.  Every skin tone and hairstyle in America seems to be represented and people of all ages are happy to wait for the fried whiting, the pulled pork sandwiches, the turkey plate, and the famous mac and cheese.

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An older gentleman with a kind sun-splotched face and bushy eyebrows that can’t decide what direction they want to grow in enters the crowded shop.  He moves slowly, almost painfully, with the help of a metal cane, uncertain about where he should place himself in the line.  Two elderly black women allow him to cut in front of them.  For a second, I consider offering to let him go ahead of me as well, but something about the interaction between the ladies and this man seems to me to be a deep but quiet gesture of Southern gentility, something subtle that a lanky Yankee in a suit like me can recognize but not fully comprehend.

The man slides into the space the ladies have created for him and clutches the wooden frame of a nearby booth for balance.  He introduces himself to me as Chase. When I share with him that I’m in town for work, he tells me that his daughter is a teacher and his son-in-law is a youth minister. Chase tells me that he’s 80 years old and has survived five different kinds of cancer, one of which resulted in his liver being removed.  As we wind our way through the restaurant, inching closer to the mouth-watering food that Yelp has promised, he tells me about his son who died at 48 of a heart attack while skiing.
“You can accept other kinds of death,” he tells me, his blue eyes suddenly far from this BBQ joint.  “My parents, even friends.  You expect that.  But your own child,” he trails off.  “That’s different.”

 One of the chefs pops out from behind the counter, taking fried food orders that he seems to remember with ease without writing them down.  The catfish comes so big that it can’t fit on the plate, Chase tells me.  He asks me if I have children.  He celebrates my choice of the brisket, collard greens, and squash.  When the time comes to pay for my food, he shakes my hand with startling firmness, wishes me luck on my trip, tells me I’m doing good work, and shuffles off towards the door with two sandwiches, one for himself and one for his wife.  

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Having woken up early and having sat in the line for so long, I scarf down my lunch.  The contrast of the tangy, spicy red vinegar with the moist brisket is divine.  Chewing on a mouthful of bitter collard greens, I can’t help thinking about the fact that I’m only a year younger than Chase’s son when he passed away, the same age as my own father when he died when I was in college.  I let two hush puppies dissolve on my tongue and wash them down with sugary tea, happy to finish the meal with a mouthful of sweetness before getting back on the road in my rental car.

 

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Jeff Liberty is the Vice President of Personalized Learning at BetterLesson.  Jeff has been married for 15 years and has two school-age children.  A graduate of Emerson College’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, Jeff tries to get better at his use of words when he’s not trying to help teachers get better at their craft.

Kelly Anona Kerrigan – Documenting a life on canvas

I feel most alive and most connected to the world when I am creating.  In college, I fell in love with painting.  I received a very traditional art education as an undergrad, learning the foundations of painting, drawing, and sculpture.  Our studio time was spent exploring still life setups and the human figure.  In graduate school, I branched out and explored other ways to use materials while trying to find my own vision.  Through my exploration, I discovered that my work always come back to portraiture.

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Anona 2010, oil on canvas

There is something about painting a portrait that feels like a special connection that I am making with my subject.  I want to invest the time to really see a person in a way that we don’t get to do on a day to day basis.  I use portraiture to explore identity and personality, and how much we can really know each other.  I feel a rush of adrenaline when a painting starts to form on the canvas, representing my personal relationship with and interpretation of the subject.

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Anona 2011, oil on canvas

When my niece, Anona, was about 10 months old, I painted her portrait.  At the time, I wasn’t thinking past that initial portrait.  I just wanted to capture her as I knew her that day.  Anona is now 7 years old, and I have painted her portrait every year since she was born.  That first portrait started an ongoing project that, for me, is about more than painting.

Anona 2012, oil on canvas and Anona with her early portraits.

Anona and I live on opposite sides of the country, so I don’t see her very often.  The distance and time between visits make it seem like she is growing up so very fast.  It is amazing to see how much she changes and exciting to watch her grow into her own unique individual.  Each year, I try to capture her in a way that feels true to my interpretation of her, and shows her personality.  In a sense, the portraits become a representation not only of Anona, but of my relationship with her.

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Anona 2013, oil on canvas

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Anono 2014, oil on canvas

A theme that runs through my work is one of identity and what shapes our sense of who we are and how we present ourselves in this world.  By painting Anona each year, I am watching her grow up and become who she is, while creating a lasting document of milestones throughout her life.  All of the portraits of Anona live with her on the west coast.  While compiling these pictures of the paintings today, I realized that this is the first time that I’ve looked at them all together.  I love seeing them as a group and noticing how she changes from year to year.  I’m pretty sure she enjoys seeing herself on canvas, as well.   I am determined to add to this group every year, for as long as she will let me!

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Anono 2015, oil on canvas

Anono with her 2016 portrait and Anono 2016, oil on canvas

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Kelly Anona Kerrigan is an artist living and working in Boston’s Fort Point Artists’ Community.  She received a BFA in painting from Boston University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University. In addition to painting, she also enjoys designing and making clothing and costumes.  Some of her favorite things in life are running, nail polish, and the Red Sox.  See more of her work at www.kellyanonakerrigan.com

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Krister Allen – Fortnight Idaho

‘Remember my friend, one kind word can warm three winter months … ‘ I am not entirely certain who to assign credit for this (C. Bronte, R. Hunter, S. Freud and even B. Dylan comes to mind) … sage and prudent advice, this however stands.

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I fondly recall my grandmother once describing winter as the most misunderstood season … I never really pondered the ‘W’s’ (why, what, where, when) of this statement until now – my own interpretations, selected by my love, illustrate the profound ‘winter’ beauty of North Idaho’s – Selkirk Range.

A proper winter is as brilliant as it is austere – in the higher latitudes, where the days are severely shortened, one covets an occasion revealing beaming rays of sunshine, serving to shatter the loneliness of the ‘sheltering’ long winter nights.

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A proper winter is silent … listen carefully – unadorned silence can be beautiful.  Savor the gift of long stretches of solemn quiet as the accompanying winds pressure recognition of proven adequacy (or, inadequacy for that matter) … forcing reflection and gently encouraging correction.

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A proper winter transforms the heinous trepidations of collective materialism – rough textures become smooth, abrasive debris reappear as ‘artful’ snow fashioned ‘pretty’, while the unfinished tasks of Fall become forgotten and return a sweet clarity to the landscape.

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A proper winter makes the green lichens and Alpine Firs … opulent and greener.

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A proper winter forgives the forthcoming and seemingly endless sprinkling rains – making the prosperities of the Spring rebirth even more scented and respectably pleasant.

A proper winter has me yearning and desirous for the past, present and future warmth of my true love – to you Q!

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Krister Allen lives (for now) in Sandpoint, Idaho. He is an architect, avid sailor and skier…oh and happens to be my true love.