Never Again

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What would you do if you were in an office building and smoke starting pouring out of the air vents? Most of you probably think the answer to this is simple: you would alert someone, you would pull the fire alarm, you would dial 911, you would leave the building, etc. But if you are like 9 out of 10 people in a real-life experiment that was done, you would simply sit still and choke on the smoke- as long as one simple condition was put into place: An actor who was in on the experiment was put into the room with a number of other unsuspecting people. Smoke was then blown in through the air vents, and the actor was instructed to glance at the smoke, shrug, and look back down at his or her magazine. When this happened 9 out of 10 people in the room would reliably also do nothing and sit in the room as it literally filled with smoke, even to the point where they were coughing and gagging.

Often in human interactions we look to others for cues as to how to behave, or what the correct way is to deal with a given situation. We think we would make the right decisions, or stand up and be a leader, but when it counts, do we really have what it takes to be the 1 out of 10?

When I used to teach world history I would tell my students about Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. They could never understand how Hitler came to power democratically (yes, that’s true), and how the German people could have allowed the Holocaust to happen in their own backyard. Every year I would get the same sorts of questions. They just *knew* that Germany had to be SO backward and SO racist and SO ______________ (insert the unflattering adjective of your choice). I repeatedly assured them that, in fact, Germany was quite cultured. The citizens were highly educated and literate. They considered themselves respectable and mannered. Germany had pretty much everything you could have wanted in a 1st world country of its time.

When the first reports started coming out of Europe that Jews (and other “undesirables” like Slavs, nuns, and homosexuals) were being sent to camps where they were stripped naked and gassed to death, nobody believed it was true. Of course this didn’t come without plenty of lead-up. There had been intense violence against these same groups, and government-mandated ghetto-ization (some said for their own protection). There were sparse reports of people who stood up, at great risk to themselves and their families, and helped to shelter these targeted people, but these were the 1 out of 10 (in actuality less).

I was going to write a blog post about the anti-Jewish violence that has been going in Europe. There have been attacks in England, Belgium, France, and Germany (probably other countries as well, but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head). I was going to tell you about how deeply afraid this makes me, and how the deafening silence of the world echoes back to the 1930s in a way I can only UNEXAGGERATATEDLY explain as history repeating itself.

But then this weekend a relative of one of my former students was killed in Florida. He was shot to death as he walked to religious services, for no other reason than that he was obviously Jewish, in an incident that the authorities were quick to label as “not a hate crime”. This same weekend, an Orthodox Jewish woman in New York was beaten up by a group of teenagers screaming anti-semitic things at her. Who knows how many people could have stopped this or intervened, but didn’t? The more important question, I think, is why this brazen attack happened in the first place?

When I was growing up in the midwest in a diverse community, all of the kids played together. The Jewish kids were friends with the Christian kids and the Black kids and the Asian kids and the Arabs. We had no divisions, and our parents were all assimilated enough not to put any baggage onto us about supposed differences there might be between whatever places we came from in the distant past (some more distant than others). Some of us had grandparents who spoke in haunted voices about the Holocaust and, frankly, we thought they were cuckoo bananas. They would tell us how you couldn’t trust this one or that one- how they might seem like your friend today and turn on you tomorrow, and we would try to explain to them how maybe that was like that in backward Europe, but never in America, where everyone was the same. They would freeze when they saw German Shepherd puppies romping around, and we would laugh and scratch their fur and giggle as our petrified grandparents watched in terror, remembering the attack dogs that were used against their friends and family members when they were our age. We would have non-Jewish friends over and our grandparents would gasp, “You mean they know your ADDRESS?” and we would die of embarrassment at how crazy these people were and how we must be the only kids in school with this shameful secret- that our grandparents all lived like they were in the witness protection program. Didn’t they know this was the 1980s? Things like the Holocaust could never happen again…

Flash forward to 2014. Who would ever have predicted that I would be sitting in Seattle scared to let my kids walk around in our neighborhood? Who would have thought that people would really need to decide whether it would be safer to trust the governments in Europe to clamp down on anti-Semitism or start to make plans to pack up and move entire families to Israel (where, ironically, they can be safer than in European countries where their families have lived for hundreds of years?). Who could have imagined that congregations would be locked in synagogues while groups outside shouted about wanting to kill them and attempted to set the building on fire? Anti-Semitic graffiti is cropping up like weeds all over America and people are oddly silent. Rather than mass mobilizations against this hateful behavior, local towns seem to have a sort of “huh” reaction.

I remember going to a Holocaust museum and looking at a wall that had the total numbers of Jews killed in each country. The total for Denmark was like 16. The docent told a moving story about why this was the case, even though in all of the surrounding countries there were thousands, if not tens of thousands, killed. When Hitler’s troops came to Denmark demanding that the King mark all of his Jews with yellow stars so they could be rounded up for transport to the extermination camps the citizens of Denmark did a remarkable thing. They ALL turned out in the streets wearing yellow stars. The message of solidarity was very clear and very beautiful. As a result (of this and other heroic measures taken by the people of Denmark), the Jews of Denmark were saved.

We always think that pivotal moments happen in other times and to other people. Usually we don’t know that we are being called upon to do something great until after it has already happened. Consider this a wake-up call and a warning. You can’t say you didn’t know. Now you just need to ask yourself: if it comes down to it, do you have what it takes to be the 1 out of 10 who calls the shots, or are you going to be one of the 9 who chokes on the smoke?

Baby Steps

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Over the last week or so, I have been bolstered by your comments, beaten down by my health, warmed by the love of my family, swollen with pride in my awesome children, bewildered by the situation in the Middle East, and encouraged by the very small steps I have been able to take in the right direction to get over my pettiness and bad character traits I talked about in the last post.

I have started to make a conscious effort to notice and pay attention to what I am actually doing instead of what I am not doing. I am starting to see the gains column of my life instead of just the losses. This has been a hard shift for me, especially now.

I am pretty much always in flux with my medications, but a recent significant bump in some of the stronger ones has left me pretty noticeably cognitively impaired. I haven’t had this much of a struggle with navigating my thinking skills since back when I couldn’t read. Since one of my strongest identities is that of a “smart person”, this newest incarnation has left me not only dumber, but with no clear picture of myself and with self-esteem circling somewhere near the drain. With no positive image to counter the negativity, all I find is this yawning chasm of emptiness when I “dig deep” to shore myself up as to why I am just as good as everyone I see around me.

I used to caution new moms not to compare themselves to other moms because they would inevitably hold up their insides to someone else’s outsides. What I meant was this: Let’s say Jane just had a baby. Jane knows she is sleep-deprived and feels miserable. She yelled at her husband this morning (she can’t even remember why) and wouldn’t even kiss him goodbye when he left for work. She snapped at her sister on the phone an hour later, and then put off changing the baby’s diaper, even though it was really wet. She left oatmeal in the baby’s hair because she couldn’t tolerate the thought of listening to him scream while she wiped it out, and her house looks like a tornado came through it. When she finally manages to change out of the pajamas she has been wearing for 6 days and leaves her house to run an errand, she sees her neighbor Mary, who is also a new mom. Mary is smiling and her unstained clothes match. Her baby is clean and not crying. Jane wonders how Mary can be so put together and have such a perfect baby, and assumes that she must be doing everything wrong because her life isn’t perfect like Mary’s. Little does she know that it took Mary 4 hours to find the one clean outfit she can still fit into because she still hasn’t lost that baby-weight, her husband isn’t speaking to her, and she sits at home alone eating ice cream and feeling frazzled, wondering why she can’t be more calm and happy like her neighbor Jane, who seems to have it all together. Jane knows what a wreck she is on the inside, but she has no idea that Mary is struggling with exactly the same stuff. All she sees is the nice exterior. And that is the danger of comparing.

So, back to me- because it’s all about me, right? (hahahahaha) I see other people having more (fun, brains, capacities, whatever), and especially doing more (this is a big one for me, because when I am feeling okay I pride myself on being very very productive) and it just feels cruddy. So I look inside myself, where I used to see the True Me. That used to kind of make it okay because I could say, “Well, even if right now I am down for the count, I know that deep inside I am still going to rally and get back to myself.” But now I am so medicated that I look inside and see

that.

That’s hard stuff.

Over the past few days, I have solved some problems that have been literally plaguing me. You will laugh (I hope, because some of this is truly funny) when I tell you some of what has honestly kept me awake at night:

1) My laundry room floor was covered with laundry, but the colored and the whites were mixed (no, this is not a post on segregation). I seriously puzzled over how I could get them into piles, because there was no room to sort them out. Yes, this perplexor took multiple hours of my time and brain space… how in the world did I finally end up dealing with that Earth-shattering problem? I picked up colored clothes directly from the floor and threw them straight into the machine, one load at a time, until all of the colored laundry was done. That, folks, is the stuff Nobel Prizes are made of…

2) My refrigerator was full of leftovers, some of which needed to be thrown out. The problem was, it was so full that I didn’t have room to move stuff around to see what was going on. Again, a spacial problem of epic proportions. I didn’t call a professional, because I sensed that, given enough time, I could probably tackle this on my own. And after several days of trying to get my kids to eat the old food (that was a fail), I finally found the solution: take out one thing at a time, and either dump the contents or set aside the container to be put back in the fridge after I had cleared everything else out. Pure genius! No wonder I graduated with honors, huh?

3) My bedroom, which is where I sort laundry, was full of baskets of other people’s laundry (all clean). I was feeling very crowded, and I kept looking for what could be given away (this is what I do whenever I feel like there is too much clutter around). Again, this took multiple days of intensive problem-solving before I hit on a workable solution to this conundrum: have the kids take their laundry out of my room!

Are you starting to get a sense of the kinds of things that are tripping me up in my life? When things that used to be (and should be) pretty seamless suddenly turn into MENSA-level brain-benders, you kind of know you are sinking.

On the other hand…

I am still managing to bake fresh bread and make supper from scratch every night. I am keeping the house stocked and the laundry done. I’ve washed dishes, cleaned the house (more times than I can count), and taken kids to appointments. There is plenty I haven’t done, but lots I have, and truth be told there is rarely a day that I am not throwing up so I think that is pretty darn good.

So, what’s the takeaway? I’m not sure. I don’t see any lowering of these meds in the forseeable future, which means I need to make friends with the newer and dumber Julie. I am more relaxed and more fun (who knew?), and I have way less crushing migraines so it is probably a worthwhile trade-off. But it won’t be smooth, and it definitely isn’t easy.

What’s for sure is that I will keep you posted ;)

Falling Off The Ride Before It’s Finished…

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Right now I very much want to be a person who is happy for other people’s successes.

Right now I am a person who feels like every achievement of another person is a big bright beacon pointing to a giant glaring failure in my own life.

That’s a sad and stupid place to be.

One of my daughters babysits for a truly wonderful young woman in our community who does a great job of juggling several small children and lots of responsibilities. She has a super attitude and is an excellent role model of a person who works hard on herself to be the best she can be even under immense stress and less-than-ideal circumstances. Every time my daughter comes home from this house, she tells me another inspiring story about a meal this woman made, or how organized she is, or how much my daughter loves being at her house. I used to try to mentally compare our house to theirs- ‘I also used to do this or that’… ‘Our house is also this way or that way’ (mind you, my daughter is not comparing at all, and this woman is an absolute doll, and would never compare or judge…) But nowadays I just feel like crawling under the covers and crying when she does this. Because I feel like I can’t compare. Not because I’m not a good mom too, but just because I feel like lately I have fallen down on the job…

Another of my children brought it to my attention (correctly so, and because it was relevant to a discussion we were having) that the level of interaction among members of our family has decreased dramatically. We have taken to all retreating to our separate rooms after supper and just vegging out. When there is stress, we deal with it by plugging into screens instead of each other. This is the opposite of my philosophy on how a family should be, and the opposite of how things have always been, but rather than make me want to spring into action to fix it, his observation made me want to bury myself in the backyard.

I read a friend’s blog today, because she is always incredibly inspiring to me, and has a way of setting me on the right path when my mind is veering sideways. Her post today was exactly what I needed to read (http://avivahwerner.com/ )(I love when the universe throws you goodies like that), but within a short time after getting off the computer, I was back to the same type of thoughts: Her blog is so popular and mine isn’t anymore. I used to have so many more readers than I do now. She is awesome and I am not. (Grant- I know if you are reading this you are wanting to give me a good hard shake about now, but I’m just being honest…)

I know this sounds like I am just big fat depressed, but the reality is that I’m not. I’m functioning fine, and I’m doing okay- there just seems to be a glitch in my matrix where I can’t seem to get on top of my life and I can’t figure out how to fix what’s broken. For a solutions-oriented girl like me, this is pure torture. To live with good-enough-for-now has never been acceptable. And for whatever reason, there seems to be a lot of taking stock going on right now and a lot of coming up short. I’m thinking that a lot of this has to do with medication- that I’m just not thinking clearly and I’m not processing correctly. Even on the blog, I feel like I’m writing more jibberish than quality, but I keep plunking away at the keyboard hoping that what’s just beyond that clouds of my mind will come through. But it hasn’t so far…

It used to be that when I wrote a post, it would almost knit itself together. Sometimes it was a magical thing, that by the time I came to the end, I had a point, even though that isn’t what I started with. I would read it back over and it would just feel right to me. Like I had written what needed to be said. And often, when I had something on my mind that I couldn’t resolve on my own, I would blog about it so my thoughts could coalesce more clearly, and I felt lighter after I wrote- and freer, and better for having done the writing. Now I just feel done.

And that makes me feel sad. And sometimes empty. Like I am missing an essential part of something. But I don’t know where I left it, so I can’t get it back.

Yet…

Another Bite At The Apple

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For several reasons- all of them related to the state of my health- it has seemed like our homeschooling journey had come to a close. This year, I am really happy to see that this is not to be the case. One of my children will in fact be home this year, and although I wish I could homeschool all of my kids (at least the ones who haven’t graduated yet), I am glad that at least I can still go back to being home with this one.

I tend to be a bit heavy on the self-reflection though (maybe you’ve noticed that? hahahahaha), and one of the things I have to be honest about is the ways that I fell short with some of my other kids in the homeschooling arena. While officially I strove to create an atmosphere of independence in their learning, if I am going to be 100% truthful sometimes that was just an easy way of me shifting my responsibilities onto them. It is quite correct that in a perfect world I wanted my kids to all be internally motivated to learn at all times, and to learn what inspired them- to the point that they would want to “take the ball and run with it”. And for certain kids this worked wonderfully, and for certain kids less so. Had I been well and more on top of things, I might have had the stamina to work more intensively with those particular children and get on top of what was happening, but since I didn’t, certain things fell through the cracks. And although all of my children are certainly more than literate, in hindsight I wish I had done better. But, as Maya Angelou said, when you know better you do better.

So that’s what I’m hoping this time around. I’m hoping that I will be able to keep the lessons of the past in front of me on those days when I really feel like just crashing into bed. I’m hoping that I will get the fortitude to plow forward through schoolwork when what I really need to do is rest. I’m realizing that getting a do-over in life is a precious gift that happens very rarely and I really don’t want to squander it.

But at the same time I’m a little bit afraid. After all, I am not homeschooling my little ones for a reason. *h and I chose to give up on a principle that is very important to us because we saw that it just wasn’t a viable option given the reality of what I struggle with on a day-to-day basis. I am talking a lot to the child who will be home about being responsible for learning on the days I am not up to supervising- but this time coming from a different place. I am setting up systems that I hope will be easier to manage, and will be easier to maintain. This child is now older and wiser and also in a different head-space than the first time around. Whether this year will be a success remains to be seen, but the weight that I am attaching to it as an experience of redeeming the failures of the past almost dooms it to fail now.

So I know that what I really have to do is to free my mind and just do what I do well: teach my child. The irony of this year is that in order for it to succeed I have to remember the lessons of the past without staying mired in the past. The blessing of this year is that I have so many children going away and now I have one coming back. The crux of this year is that I will need to work on self-growth at least as much as I need to work on homeschooling. And maybe that will be the best lesson of all for my child to see.

Whatever happens, I’m sure I will keep you posted…

An Epic Year

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A few days ago was Epic’s first birthday. I won’t tell you exactly which day (or his middle name) for fear of identity theft ;) , but I will tell you it’s been an Epic year…

I thought about doing a great birthday party for him (which my kids moaned and groaned about every time I brought it up- especially since we don’t do birthday parties for humans because I think they are narcissistic and excessive…yes, hypocrisy noted :) ), but that didn’t end up happening for various reasons. In the end, the actual day passed quietly and without fanfare, but my boy did indeed turn one, causing me to look back and reflect over how quickly the last year has gone by.

Epic is no longer a one and a half pound ball of fluff; he now bends the scales at a whopping eight pounds and a few ounces. This may not sound like much in comparison to, well, anything, but for a boy who used to fit in the palm of my hand, he now seems huge! (By way of reflection, I will point out that when he was weighed at the vet’s office, I had to laugh that he is currently smaller than my firstborn son was when he was born…) He has lost his puppy cuteness and developed a certain mischievous little boy quality that is alternately endearing and maddening depending on what he is doing and who is assessing his behavior at any given time. He still attempts to lift his leg and mark things in the house from time to time (maddening and truly gross- and what’s up with that anyway?), but he will also play like a kitten with certain toys, instantly morphing into the cutest pet in the world… He snuggles under my covers with me some time during the night (super sweet) and then wakes up when I do by kissing me on the mouth (so gross I could die, and meaning that every single day I wake up with my hand over my mouth and nose feeling like I am smothering. Decidedly not endearing and 100% maddening- but clearly not enough so that I would consider having him sleep somewhere else. Yes, I am whipped by an 8-1/2 pound dog. But I am also someone who would have slept with my chickens if I could have! hahahahahahahaha).

He refuses to be completely potty trained (what is it about little dogs???), and is positively addicted to smelling the girl dogs in indecent places. Yuck. But he sits on my lap when I read books and calms me down 194 notches, which is a big plus in my world. Most of my kids love him, except when they are getting Epically frustrated by him, and our dog pack wouldn’t be the same without him. When our mixed dog barks, he barks. But when our husky howls, he mini-howls. He puts back his head and lets loose with this pint-sized little husky yowl, and more than one person who has heard him from the porch has asked us if we have husky puppies in the house. When the big dogs play something, he is right there with them, and he has all of the big-dog moxy I knew he would (and then some- he is my dog, of course…)- but he will still bark at strangers as he backs up and hides behind things in fear in our very own house. On walks he will cower at random things (like if a person is holding something unfamiliar -not my dog at all…), but if he thinks one of our dogs is getting hurt, he will go to the mat to defend them against anything (YES! my dog!).

I wish he was better trained, but I will confess to acting like that just kind of happens, and not really putting in the work to make it happen. I have offered to pay one of my kids to work with him, but that doesn’t seem to be falling into place. Plus Epic is a little bit of a brat. Ha! Epic just came to sit on my lap at the computer, requiring me to stop what I was doing, kiss him all over, sing 8 rounds of an off key made-up version of a non-existent “I love you so much” song, pet him a lot, and wistfully put him down so I could finish typing. So you can imagine why he is not well-trained. Because I am a marshmallow. Yes, I will face down thugs in the street, but no, I will not put my 8-pound dog in his place. Do you sense a problem? (disclaimer: that is not entirely true, and I am exaggerating for literary effect)(disclaimer #2- the part about him being on my lap and what I did is 100% true)

In any case, it has been a great year with my sometimes great dog. I am happy I have him, and happy he is in my life. I can’t believe he is already one, and I can say honestly that the year has zoomed by- do you all remember when I got him? Phil said he looked like a Barbie accessory (the best description ever!), and Grant said I needed and epic name for him. The rest is history.

Thanks as always to all of you for sharing the journey :)

Home Is Where The Rockets Are

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Yesterday a very interesting thing happened to me. In quick succession all of the major US and European airlines cancelled their flights to Israel after a rocket fired at the Tel Aviv airport made it through the Iron Dome and landed on a house two miles away. Citing security concerns, the airlines diverted a flight in the air, and stopped all flights for the next 24 hours (this ban has now been extended, so for all practical purposes, Israel is isolated thanks to the terrorists).

A voice that has been a mere whisper in the back of my mind became at that moment very loud and insistent. It said: “Go home! Go home!”

In times of trouble and strife, I have a very strong nesting instinct. I always want my kids home if there is supposed to be bad weather, or an illness outbreak, or political unrest. I stock up even more than usual on food, and I cook and bake like a woman possessed. I like to have everyone in the house by dark, even though several of my kids are now “big”, and if *h is out of town I like him to check in (a lot) so I can be sure he is okay.

But the idea that I would go back to live in Israel is a totally new thing for me. I lived there in my early 20s, and although in an idealistic sense there is no better place on Earth to be, the reality of life there was tough on me. I had trouble with not being fluent in Hebrew, and although I eventually achieved a somewhat clumsy basic understanding, it was nowhere near what I needed in order to function comfortably in another country. Ideologically I was ready to eschew every comfort of American life, but as *h and I started having children it was harder on me to be away from family. After a while we moved to the US, and I never really thought about going back to Israel.

Flash forward to yesterday. As things have been escalating in Israel, I have been feeling more and more connected to the people there. I think this is at least in part due to the very ugly rallies that have been going on in Seattle (not the one I wrote about, and I’m not sure if they are happening in other places…). We live in a very diverse area, with all types of people in close proximity to each other. We have more people in Muslim dress around here than I saw even in the Middle East- but everyone seems pretty chilled out. But at the rally a few weeks ago many of those people marched and carried signs talking about throwing more Jews into the ovens, and how Hitler had it right, etc etc etc. Lovely, huh? After the rally, some of the marchers went looking for “Jewish targets”, which thank goodness they didn’t find- but there’s nothing like finding out that some of your neighbors are not feeling so neighborly toward you to make you glad you have at least one country in the world where you will always be welcome…

In any case, it surprised me very much that my reaction to the world shutting off Israel was that I should get there, STAT. On the other hand, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me very much at all. In many ways my reaction to stress is to walk toward it instead of to shy away from it. Will I actually go? I can’t really say. Since I don’t make decisions in a vacuum, this will have to be something my family thinks long and hard about. In the meantime, what I do know is that this experience continues to be a wake-up call for me about the state of affairs in my new hometown. Who would have thought that I would move from bad-rep Detroit to politically-correct Seattle only to be in the middle of a potential war zone? You couldn’t even make this stuff up…

Conduct Becoming

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A few days ago we went to a pro-Israel rally in Seattle. Similar rallies in other cities have brought out violent counter-protesters, so we were a little unsure about what to expect here. There was a very large police presence, along with private security, and I’m sure more than a few plainclothes law-enforcers walking around as well.

The people who organized the rally began by stating the message of the event: that they were there because they wanted peace for ALL people in the Middle East, Jews AND Arabs. That this was a PRO- rally, and not ANTI- anything. That they knew there were counter-protesters there, who were likely going to try to disrupt things, but to please not engage with them or argue with them, or shout back at them…

Interesting.

There were several speakers, and for the most part, the counter-folks stayed quiet in the back, flanked by plenty of armed police. Good call on the part of the Seattle PD. One man, a bit out of his senses, came up on the side and stared yelling lots of curses, interspersed with some super-hateful rhetoric about Israel. People tried to ignore him, but he was walking closer and closer toward to speaker.

Uh oh.

So you know those moments that you watch unfolding in slow motion? This was one of those. I looked over to see if anyone was doing anything, and everyone else was looking around to see the same thing. I walked in front of the security guard and looked him straight in the face to see if he was showing any impulse to jump in and stop this guy. Nope. And here comes the guy, lumbering toward the speaker, closer in to the crowd (which, incidentally, had kids in it) shouting expletives the whole time. Well, that was no good.

So, I stepped in front of him.

I stood facing him (he was about 6’4, so this threw him off big time) and blocked his advance. He tried to step around me, and I blocked him again. He stopped yelling and this got some attention, I think. I kept my hands in my pockets, and my eyes shifting between his hands and his eyes. Kept taking his pulse. He shouted on and off, and we kept dancing, but now I was backing him up- away from the crowd, away from the speaker, and away from the kids. This went on for maybe a minute, and then I realized there were like a dozen police standing there. They took it over and got him across the street, and I went back to my family.

The question is: do I go looking for trouble? I don’t think I do, but I also don’t think I am averse to taking action when something needs to be done. I think there can be a fine line between being a person of action and being careless. I hope I always have the judgement to be a person of character and to be driven by principles and not ego.

And I hope no big bullies try to get in my way ;)

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