Oops, Your Security Has Been Revoked

Storms ahead?

I don’t have security clearance, and probably you don’t either. So why should regular folks like us be concerned about revoking security clearance for this country’s top and most experienced intelligence leaders?

When stuff hits the fan on a national and international level (and there is always such an event right around the corner), we want information. Solid information to make the best decisions for the security of our country, our children, and our businesses. We want people who have been there.

When decisions are being made, we want the wisdom and experience of intelligence agents who have served both Democrat and Republican administrations to lay out the options. Denying them a seat or even an invitation to the table is foolhardy.

Still wondering: so? Let’s take it down to the hearth level (that place around the kitchen table or in the local diner where we talk about the stuff that really impacts us personally).

Revoking the security clearances of our past security advisors is as catastrophic as finding a fire in your kitchen and locking those with experience handling such disasters—the firefighters—out in the garden. “Oh, I can take care of this,” you say, waving a Twitter dish towel at the flames. And then: whoosh.

Besides endangering the physical security of all of us, this political move by the Trump administration launches us into moral peril as well. In a democracy, to silence someone for political reasons is the biggest of no-nos. That is what dictators do first: get rid of or discredit those who oppose them (the press, protestors, the opposing party). Then there is no one to speak out for the little guy (you and me).

There can be no freedom in this corrupt way of ruling. And America stands for freedom. We let people express themselves without repercussion. In fact, through the Constitution, we guarantee that right.

Still, you say, what’s the big deal? We live in the heartland or on the coast, we drink Starbucks and pick tomatoes, those guys getting gagged aren’t us. But they are.

Because we might be next.

A farmer fed up with his crops lying unbought and dying in the field because of tariffs might join a convoy of tractors to protest until an immigration agent shows up at his door and questions the legal citizenship of his farmhands.

Or a restaurateur who loves to tweet about “the swamp in the White House” might find her business of sudden interest to health inspectors or tax auditors.

Silencing others for political reasons is corruption. There is no other word for it. And in a dictatorship, corruption spreads like wildfire.

Anyone got a dish towel?


Memo from Minnesota Niceland

One of my favorite parts of the Bryant and May mysteries written by Christopher Fowler is the hilarious staff memo at the beginning of the books. So in a nod to Mr. Fowler, here is a memo on my last week.

My daughter Suzanne got married on April 29 on an incredible day that somehow proved once again that Minnesota can behave when it wants to. Fourteen days after the skies dropped 16 inches of snow on us, the day bloomed cloudless, bright, and warm. It was as perfect as a Disney movie, and I half-expected woodland creatures to break out in song.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Nobody fell down (that I know of). People loved the food (or so they claimed). And my kid never stopped smiling. Can you really ask for anything more of a wedding?

Every wedding has its own personality, but I have noted some similarities in the weddings of my two daughters. Both chose the Minnesota banks of the Mississippi River as the site for their nuptials. I grew up by this fast-moving water in Missouri, but never considered it particularly celebratory. As a child, the Big Muddy looked just that—big and muddy. But the Mississippi brought a timeless quality to both of our wedding events, as if to say that promises made in its presence are not so much flotsam. They are forever, and I certainly hope that for my children.

Both of my daughters also have exchanged vows within months of royal weddings in England. (See my take on my daughter Sarah’s and Kate Middleton’s weddings.) The English may have it on us when it comes to hats (or fascinators as the Brits call them—and doesn’t that say it all?), but we cannot be matched for our way with artificial flowers, sparkly hearts, and arbor festooning.

Live happily ever after, my love, with your Mister.

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Other matters that happened in the world last week:

If you follow American politics, don’t. Just don’t.

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To the neighbor who left a live chicken in a cage in the hot sun on the street corner, are you kidding me? If you are not prepared to be a pet owner, stay away from cute Easter cheepers. Little chickens grow into big chickens and require big chicken love. And just because you included an empty water bottle and a sack of chicken feed, doesn’t get you off the hook.

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It was reported that gas prices will climb this summer. Don’t let that keep you from enjoying the season, especially in Minnesota, where we are quite season aware. Our summer nights are long, and our grass grows greener by the hour. We Americans have the cheapest gas in the world so let’s stop complaining. Travel and spread some love—before winter comes again. And pick up after yourself. Have you seen how much plastic and trash is making its way into our oceans and rivers?

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Finally, I will leave you with a message I gave to the newlyweds:

Hold each other each night, and laugh with each other each morning. And remember, perhaps the best thing you can do for your marriage is to follow these three simple rules: Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.

Why We Love Amateur Detectives

In the world of mystery writing, amateur detectives come in all shapes, sizes, skills, pedigrees and even species. They go to bed with us at night, keep us company as we wait for the kids in the carpool, and distract us from the fellow on the cell phone spewing his business to one and all in the airport lounge.

But why do we love them?

The amateur detective is an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. They are the everyman or everywoman, both approachable and brave. In short, we can see ourselves as being like them. Through them, we envision ourselves having the courage to step forward and assertively take charge. We too can become the hero.

Also there is, in many of us, a streak of the wild. Amateur detectives are, by nature, rule breakers. They have to be; they don’t have a badge or forensic experts to fall back on. They solve cases with brains vs. brawn. They have to be logical, smart, and even sneaky. They may have to steal, snoop, lie, or at least misdirect.

As a writer and reader of mysteries, I am always looking for the detective’s motivation. Why take on murderers and thieves? Why step into the path of danger? Especially if you’re not getting paid to do it. Is the amateur detective just plain nosy or does he or she have skin in the game?

Simply being curious or meddlesome isn’t enough to carry a good book. Here are some reasons why our favorite sleuths chase that bad guy down that dark alley: 1) It’s in their nature; they have a need to know or they have a need to save. Perhaps something or someone is threatening their town, a friend, or their family; 2) Guilt or they feel responsible; 3) People ask them for help;  4) It’s personal. They have to prove they didn’t do it in cases where the protagonist is the logical suspect or that an accused loved one is innocent; or 5) They seek revenge. They have to find out who killed or harmed a loved one.

In my mystery series, yoga teacher Maya Skye has a background of social consciousness, which gives her a savior mentality and a reason for always wanting to come to the aid of those in trouble. People ask for her help because they sense that she doesn’t look away. She will step into that dark alley to answer a call for help.

Let’s look at some other amateur detectives, why they do what they do, and what keeps us reading about them. Don’t hesitate to add these to your reading lists.

Don’t mess with my people: Like Maya, these sleuths feel responsible for their community, their neighbors, their family. They have a strong sense of justice.

  • Smilla Jaspersen: You can practically feel the biting Copenhagen winter in Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Smilla, a former scientist and current brooding loner, investigates the death of her six-year-old neighbor Isaiah. While the police think the boy fell off a roof, the footprints in the snow tell Smilla a different story.
  • Beacon Hill couple Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn: Charlotte MacLeod’s humorous and literate-yet-light style gives us likable protagonists and an eccentric cast of secondary characters.
  • Egyptologist Amelia Peabody: This creation of Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) finds love and murder in archeology while protecting her family and the world’s treasures amid the sand dunes.

Gotta figure it out: Estelle Ryan’s Dr. Genevieve Lenard is an autistic art investigator who can’t stand to leave a puzzle unsolved (really, she can’t function until the mystery is solved).

On a mission for a higher power: The Blues Brothers were amateur sleuths “on a mission for God” to find out who robbed their old orphanage. G.M. Malliet’s Father Max Tudor, an MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, often seeks spiritual help in his investigations. In one case, God, in the guise of the bishop, sends him to a monastery to find out what the heck is going on.

Mystery magnets: I put Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote in this category. Her small town of Cabot Cove, Maine, has a murder rate 86 times that of the most murderous city in the real-world world. Comedians joke that you never want to be on a plane with Jessica; where she goes, murder follows.

Sweet, old, and not to be dismissed: Miss Jane Marple by Agatha Christie is the most famous sleuth of this caliber. Seemingly a fluffy old spinster, her mind is as sharp as her knitting needles, and having lived in small towns her whole life, nothing about human nature ever surprises her. She appeared in 12 Christie novels and 20 short stories.

Precocious children: These kid sleuths are smarter than the average adult.

  • Nancy Drew: The books about Nancy Drew, teenage sleuth, first appeared in 1930. They are ghostwritten by a number of authors and published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene. One of my favorite descriptions of the endearing and highly skilled Nancy is: She could dance like Ginger Rogers and administer first aid like the Mayo brothers.
  • Flavia de Luce: Alan Bradley’s 12-year-old aspiring chemist has a passion for poison and solving the crimes that seem to baffle the local constabulary.

That darn cat: Rita Mae Brown and feline co-author, Sneaky Pie Brown, pen the Mrs. Murphy series. Mrs. Murphy, the tiger cat, and Tucker, the intrepid corgi, have their paws full saving the humans in their lives.


This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Who are some of your favorite amateur detectives? And why do you like them? Drop a note in the comments.

To Parkland, With Love

The silence must be unbearable—for 17 families of children and teachers gunned down in a Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Those killed take with them the laughter, the love, the chatter over the breakfast table, the whispers at night. They leave quiet. Too much quiet.

I was raised in the home of a hunter, and I made sure that the guns were removed from the house when the hunter grew old with Alzheimer’s and dementia. That is what we do. We do what we can to keep our loved ones safe. We keep sharp scissors away from children until they have the common sense and coordination to use them safely.

But we as a country fail to work that way. We experience mass killings over and over—and do nothing. We do not close loopholes in gun-buying laws. We do not have sufficient background checks. We don’t even compile research about gun violence to help us make good decisions, and that’s mandated by a 20-year-old law (the 1996 Dickey Amendment) pushed through by the National Rifle Association that prevents federal funds from being used to “advance or promote gun control.”

In short, we do not do everything in our power to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, children, the mentally ill, the angry, the depressed. Why not? It’s enough to make a mother weep.

Our president rolls back regulations that would have limited the ability of certain people with mental illness to purchase firearms.

Our leaders in Congress and statehouses across the country are too power hungry to turn down NRA “blood money.” The NRA has spent tens of millions of dollars over the years in support of gun rights, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics using Federal Election Commission data. (Go to this link to find out exactly who in your state takes NRA contributions. But, remember this only covers direct spending on federal candidates, which is small compared to NRA funds flooding statehouses where the real gun battles are fought.)

I am tired of excuses that carrying a firearm is your right or that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” If you are not part of finding solutions to common-sense gun reform, you are part of the problem.

I am tired of our leaders standing before cameras and offering their “thoughts and prayers.” Thoughts and prayers? I will remember those meaningless platitudes—and your lack of brave policies—when I enter the voting booth.

I am tired of weeping.

Our math doesn’t have to be so complicated. It is simple: Fewer guns mean fewer people die.

As Former President Obama said, “We are not powerless.”

Our leaders can strengthen background checks. They can repeal the Dickey amendment. They can close the gun show loophole so private sales of firearms require a background check. They can ban bump stocks, which make weapons virtually automatic. They can pass “no fly, no buy,” so suspected terrorists can’t purchase guns.

Yeah, they can do all these things and have even considered them. But somehow nothing ever gets done.

So, from now on, let elected officials and those running for office be on notice: You will be required to take a stand. And if you do not act in our best interests, if you do not change the way this country looks at gun reform, you do not get an invitation to the party.

From now on, any silence will be unbearable.

It’s Impossible to Be Bored

We all have an insatiable appetite for stories. It’s not just crazy writers and steadfast readers. And because we are unceasingly trying to make sense of all our neural gymnastics, it is impossible to be bored.

Author David Gaughran writes, “We impose narratives on everything from a football season to an election or even our own lives. We are so hungry for story that, when bored, our minds “wander” or we “daydream”—in other words, we create stories for ourselves for internal amusement. It’s quite bizarre in one sense, but also comes as naturally to us as eating and breathing.”

In her recent book No Time to Spare, the wonderful Ursula K. Le Guin ponders the meaning of spare time. “The opposite of spare time is, I guess, occupied time. In my case I still don’t know what spare time is because all my time is occupied. It always has been and it is now. It’s occupied by living.” Le Guin was 88 when she died in January 2018.

I notice that my three-year-old granddaughter spends much of her time creating stories in which for us to live. Recently, her favorite story has been Birthday Party. We take turns pretending it is our birthday and give each other presents (a block, a plastic seahorse, a ribbon—all from the toy box). The same presents are wrapped in the same boxes over and over. We eat the same imaginary cake: blueberry and carrot. We wish each other the same happy day with the same exuberance.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell talks about our dread of boredom and that monotony can be fruitful. He notes, “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”

So while the Birthday Party may grow tiresome for me, it may be important to my granddaughter because through it she learns that monotony has a place in her life. Who knows what ideas are blooming while she wraps and rewraps birthday gifts?

Boredom is a vacuum that cannot stand. It will always be filled up. I am grateful for that little part of my human coding. It means I get ideas when lying on the yoga mat, or doing the dishes, or walking the same path I’ve walked for years.

But is there anything that can prevent this natural state of correction?

Yes, busyness.

When we pack so much into our days and lives, into the days and lives of our children, just to avoid boredom, we become addicted to being busy. We forget how to live with monotony, that restful time where the brain stokes up the story factory. We forget how to just sit and be and, by default, create.

Today may you be bored into inspiration.


More on creativity: Everyday Creativity Can Keep You Healthy

Read about an artist’s lost-and-found creativity: Maud’s House

Bird Watching and Writing

I am a birdwatcher. Not the kind who can’t go out without my binoculars, but the kind who feeds hummingbirds and notices when a sharp-shinned hawk is building her nest in the woods behind my house. I also watch the EagleCam maintained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

One winter two events came together: my obsessive EagleCam watching and the wait for my first grandchild. My daughter and her husband were nervous and afraid they really wouldn’t know how to do this whole parenting thing.

And a short story was born. In “Rutherford Speaks,” a young Saint Paul, MN, couple await their first child and learn about parenting from the eagles on the EagleCam. It was selected for inclusion in the Saint Paul Almanac Volume 11: On a Collected Path. I am honored. This is my fourth time to be part of this collection, which is a collaborative community publishing project.

One of the things I love about being a writer is when two disparate ideas come together to form a lovely whole.

Maudie: A Romance with Art

Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis.

If you think you’ve got it bad, get over yourself and go to Maudie, a quiet yet moving film about Canada’s most famous folk artist.

Sally Hawkins is incredible as the irrepressible, smart, yet fragile Maud Lewis. Ethan Hawke admirably plays her fish seller husband, the irascible and stoic Everett. It is a story of a woman who can’t help but paint and a man who, in the end, can’t help but fall in love with her. She is sunshine to his perpetual gloom. She is ready to laugh at life, when he can do nothing but growl at it. As Maud says in the movie, they are a pair of mismatched socks.

I have long admired the story of Maud Lewis of Nova Scotia, a woman who let nothing diminish her spirit—not disease (polio as a child left her handicapped and arthritis eventually made her fingers curl so she couldn’t hold a paintbrush), not a family who made her feel defective, and not a hardscrabble existence living in a 10 x 12 foot fisherman’s shack.

Instead of whining, though, Maud painted the walls, steps, door, even the window of her tiny, dour house with brightly colored flowers, animals, butterflies, and birds. She insisted that all the inspiration she needed was right outside her window. And, eventually, the world came to her door to buy her paintings.

Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke in Maudie.

My novel, Maud’s House, is certainly not a biography of Maud Lewis. However, her life and personality were the inspiration for my Maud Calhoun, who goes from child prodigy granted the freedom to draw on the walls to blocked artist in a small Vermont town. My Maud is lost, and her story is one of lost-and-found creativity. I don’t think, that even in her worse times, Maud Lewis was ever truly lost. Her work is filled with too much joy, her spirit too indomitable. How did she do it?

That was the question I kept asking myself as I wrote Maud’s House and learned more of Maud Lewis’s extraordinary story: what drives a person to create—no matter what? I came to the conclusion that we are all artists, and we pursue our art in many ways—in our gardens, in the food we make, in the songs we sing, in the pictures we paint and the books we write, in the relationships we nurture, in the kindnesses we scatter on our journey.

That’s why, when a reader asks me to inscribe a copy of Maud’s House, I write one sentence: Discover the artist in you.

If there is an inscription fitting for Maud Lewis’s life, it would be: See beauty in the world—no matter what.


Maud’s House is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retail outlets. If it is not available in your local bookstore or library, please ask for it.

You can see Maud Lewis’s house and some of her paintings at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

How Yoga and Patanjali Can Help Your Writing

Long ago in a land faraway a humble physician named Patanjali codified his thoughts and knowledge of yoga in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. This is a guide for living the right life. It is also a guide to right writing.

You don’t believe in all this yoga stuff? Fine. But I have found that yoga not only opens the body but the mind as well. It expands our possibilities, which is good news for anyone facing the blank page.

I write about yoga all the time, indirectly, in my mystery series: Down Dog Diary and Warrior’s Revenge. In these unusual whodunits, yoga teacher Maya Skye sometimes seeks answers in meditation and her yoga practice. Just as Sherlock Holmes had his violin; Maya has her yoga mat.

Patanjali’s 195 guidelines to enlightenment are considered the fundamental text on the system of yoga, so what do they have to do with writing?

Here’s a few ways Patanjali, the father of yoga, has helped me on my path as a writer and may bring new perspectives to your writing:

  • Nonviolence (ahimsa). This principle says do no harm to any creature in thought or deed. This is a tough one, especially in the fractious times in which we live. It is so easy with social media to cast judgments, to seek similar views, to fall in with the same crowd—and stop listening. But think about what would happen if you practiced ahimsa in your writing — writing that keeps an open mind elevates the conversation for us all.
  • Truth and honesty (satya). Ernest Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Don’t recirculate false stories or misinformation in your work. Whether you’re writing the next great American novel or a community newsletter, truth is important. Truthfulness touches our very nature and resonates in our soul.
  • Nonstealing (asteya). My writing mentor gave me this advice: “No one else can write your story.” And it’s true. There are a finite number of stories in this universe, but an infinite number of ways to tell them. Still, when I consider asteya, I realize that my stories don’t belong to me. They belong to my readers because, without them, my writing doesn’t come to life.
  • Abstention (brahmacharya). The writer who practices brahmacharya avoids listening to that little ego jumping up and down, shouting me-me-me. “Brahman literally means the vastness,” according to Yoga Sutra scholar Ravi Ravindra. Writing that dwells in vastness is not small or petty.
  • Nonpossessiveness (aparigraha). Free yourself from greed, hoarding, and collecting. Writers hoard ideas and truth; they throw up walls against criticism; they take sides. This inability to share leads to hard feelings in critique groups and cardboard characters on the page. When we don’t clutch so fiercely to our ideas, we have room to acknowledge the perspectives of others, which will always make our writing — and our lives — richer.

I love aparigraha for another reason: it helps us let go. The writer in us gets our snapping turtle jaws around an idea and holds on so tightly. But with aparigraha or nonpossessiveness, we learn to let go of those stories we’ve spent years on but still aren’t working. We can let go of bad reviews and harsh criticism. We can let go of our “darlings,” those sentences we love beyond measure but lay so heavy they drag down the entire page. We can move on. And who knows what wonderful story is around the bend?


I admit I am nowhere near bringing all of Patanjali’s teachings into my writing. But every day, I try. Because this edgy world that we live in could use a little less anger and more love, a little less conflict and more peace, a little less me and more us.

I Am Not an Enemy of the People

When I was a child growing up in a small town in Missouri, I watched wrestling every Saturday night on television with my father. Inevitably, I would cry foul at a cheap shot or when a tag team ganged up on one guy on the ropes. “That’s not fair,” I’d complain to my dad. Even as a kid, I had a sense of justice.

“It’s just a show,” my father would reassure me, turning back to the fake entertainment with a grin on his face and a beer and a bowl of popcorn in his hands, the ones made strong hammering nails all day long.

But then on Monday morning, I saw boys replay on the playground the wrestling moves they had absorbed on Saturday night. Bullies were born and won, and the weak huddled and learned that the world is nothing if not unfair—unless someone says, “Wait a minute.”

So when I saw Prez 45 tweet a doctored video of him body slamming a CNN reporter, I was back in my old living room, hearing my father cheer on some pretender.

Someday I will tell my granddaughters that I was one of those people the leader of our country wanted to wrestle to the ground and punch. I was a journalist (not for CNN), but I worked for newspapers in Missouri, Vermont, and North Carolina. I went to journalism school (University of Missouri-Columbia) where we were taught to be the ones who shouted, “Wait a minute!” Because the truth matters.

What people don’t understand about journalists is that being a truth seeker is more than a job. It is what keeps us going. We are intensely curious, have somewhat of a savior complex, and truly try not to take sides. We want to know the secrets, and we want to protect the public from unscrupulous politicians, tyrannical leaders, inefficient government, greedy businesses. (And, before this begins to sound all too altruistic, one’s name in the byline doesn’t hurt either.)

The Founding Fathers must have thought we were a useful breed. Freedom of the press is one of the five freedoms designated in the First Amendment—the only profession the fathers considered essential to protect for the survival of a democracy. They’d seen what happened when a country was allowed to operate on secrets, tyranny, and corruption. They decided America needed a watchdog.

Yet, today, reporters and editors are ridiculed and threatened by Prez 45 and the public—the very people the press, by nature, are dedicated to helping.

Maybe someday my granddaughters will look at me and ask if I am an enemy of the people. Me: the one who bakes them cookies and reads them Curious George books by the bushel.

If you are a parent or grandparent, I hope your children and grandchildren never call you a fake farmer or a fake doctor or a fake bus driver.

Instead, I hope they call you open-minded, willing to look for the truth no matter what side you are on or where it leads you. Because there are times when we all need to “press” for more information and shout “Wait a minute.”

Times when we all need to remember: This spectacle we call politics right now is really just a show.

Where Does Light Come From?

In dark times when it seems the world is coming apart like a letter in the rain, we look for light, for the end of the tunnel. As Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

So here are a few places to look for illumination when you are feeling besieged or lonely or overwhelmed by current events:

In the names of our children. This week my second granddaughter was born. Welcome to the world, Ivy Lucia. Both of my granddaughters are light bringers. Lucia comes from the Latin “lux” or light. Ivy’s three-year-old sister is named Sabrina Luz; “luz” is Spanish for light. I have no doubt these children will live up to their names, and that’s not just a proud grandmother talking. Who knows how far these children—or any child—will shine their loving light in this world?

In people who stand up against snollygosters. Snollygoster means “an unprincipled but shrewd person, especially an unprincipled politician.” Merriam-Webster dropped it from the dictionary for lack of use then felt compelled to reinstate it in February 2017. Watching America’s current political drama, I think snollygoster is more fun to say than to live with.

In stories of heroes. Heroes do the right thing—even when it hurts. It seems the more heroes who disappear from our government and leadership, the more heroes Marvel Comics digs out of its archives. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.” Sometimes, I think we forget that we are living our own stories and that we are all on the hero’s journey.

In the sky. Look up. Whether you find the divine in a cathedral or nature, look up. Light is hope.

I am tired of darkness and being angry. I’m weary of worrying about the Monarch butterflies and melting icebergs and the world we are leaving to our children. I’m exhausted by the lies and the deceptions and the bullying. Aren’t you?

I’m so ready to snap on my sunglasses and turn my face to the light.

The world is cracked, and the light is flooding in. So watch out darkness bringers.

For now, we can see.


I write mystery novels with a yoga spirit. As the yoga teacher in Down Dog Diary, Maya Skye, would say, “Some people make it tough to believe in oneness.” But we have to keep trying.

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