Friday, January 30, 2009

Preparing for THE Graduation Ceremony

I’ve always looked at Death as a sort of graduation. It’s a time to move out and move on into that great unknown. It’s an exciting prospect, and only scary because the time and mode of transport is so uncertain.

When I saw a former seminary student in church last Sunday—the one who had asked me for a letter of reference for a scholarship application—I realized that this is the time near-graduates are busy preparing for their launch, and I’d better get that letter to him. Then, right after seeing that young man in the foyer, the sacrament meeting talks were on Preparedness. Maybe that’s what put it in mind that I should be preparing for my own launch. Or, maybe it’s just that time of the year. I blogged about the same subject in January of last year, too. That time, I was in the cemetery, looking at plots.

This year, my graduation prep took me to the funeral chapel where I sat with a nice, older fellow—about my age—and discussed funeral arrangements and prices. As he gathered information to have on hand to save the family fuss over details, he asked if there were memorials that could be named in the obituary for donations in lieu of flowers. I assured him I’d rather have the flowers. Lots of ‘em.

Last year, when I blogged about cemetery plots, my friend and ANWA sister, Anna Arnett, commented :

… few years ago when Charles was gently nagging me about how we had to save for our funerals, I asked how MUCH we had to save. He didn't know, except it would be lots. So we went to the funeral home in Mesa that our family uses the most. We left with both our funerals paid for, caskets chosen, and nothing left for the kids but flowers and a program. The feeling it left has been amazingly comfortable.

That’s the way I feel about it. This is a service I can do for my family. I can prepare so that my graduation can be a stress-free event.

It’s interesting that just a couple months after Anna commented on my blog, she posted this on her own blog after Charles had just passed away quietly one morning:

Now the house is quiet. It’s nearing midnight, and I’m probably sleepy enough to rest well. Nothing quite seems real, yet it still is. I realize I just made a transition from wife to widow, from part of a couple to a single. I’m not sure I like it, but I aim to cope. I want to prove that nothing is so bad but what there is something good to enjoy sneaking around somewhere, waiting to be discovered. I think Charles would like it that way.

Now, I don’t intend to depart from this world in the near future. I’m healthy. I still work. I’m busy with my writing and blogging every day. And, I’ve just been called to work with the Beehives. That will either keep me young or hasten my demise. I’m not sure which.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finding a Letter from Louise

The other day I got a phone call from a friend who had just finished my new book Counting the Cost. She said she couldn't wait for a reply to an email. She had to know RIGHT NOW what happened to Ruth.

The character Ruth in the book was based on the woman who married my Uncle Curtis. Her name was Louise. Below is a picture of her that I inherited. You probably noticed it's on the cover of the book, along with a picture of my uncle.

I reminded my friend that the book is fiction. "Yes," she said, "but what happened to her? Did she go to California?"

As far as the fictional Ruth is concerned, my friend's guess is as good as mine. She must finish the story the way that fits with how she understands the character.

Louise, on the other hand, did go to California. I know that because I found a Christmas card she sent my mother several years after her husband's death. It was among some of my mother's keepsakes that passed to me.

Today, as I was beginning to keep a New Year's resolution that had to do with family history, I took out a box of old letters that were my grandmothers. They had come to me in a chain from my grandmother to my aunt to my mother and then to me. I think I'm the first person to untie the string with which my grandmother bound them together. In that stack of letters was a letter from Louise written just two months after Curtis died.

Written in pencil, it didn't scan very well, but here is a transcript:

Los Angeles - Calif
Feb 4 - 41 (Liz note: I set the book a few years earlier. Remember, it's fiction.)

Dearest Mother, (Liz Note: She's writing to Curtis' mother, my grandmother.)

Today I got a letter from you and one from Lou. It does me more good than Lou and Jim will ever know to know that they are going into the Mormon Church. (Liz note: my parents only attended the church for a short time. It was 7 years later that my mother joined the Church.) Curtis knew so very much. His thoughts ran so deep.He studied his religion and accepted it all the way.

I wanted to write to you on Curt's birthday but somehow I just couldn't. It was all I could do to get through the day. I tremble to think of the future without my husband.

Mother what day of this month are you going to Lou's? I do hope you will go.

We had a slight earthquake here last week. Sure hope a big one doesn't hit here. They say it's coming though.

I am visiting my friend Elfreida Manger tonight. I have to keep working or moving all the time. If I don't, I cry so hard it makes everyone feel badly too.

So glad you sent Nate some candy. I'll make him some too.

Loads of Love,


So, there you go. I was so jazzed about finding that letter that I just had to share.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Woodshedding on

According to , the word woodshed, used as a verb, is a slang word that means to practice a musical instrument assiduously and with a specific goal in mind, as in, “He’s woodshedding for next week’s show.”

My blog today is to let you know about a wonderful service you can find on I imagine you’ve been to that web site to find lessons or conference talks, but you can find most of the hymns there, too.

In just a minute I’m going to give you the steps to find the hymns , and I’ll give you a link, too, but first I want to tell you a couple things this wonderful part of can do for you.

1. Say you want to sing in my choir (I’m choir director of our ward), and you know we only sing hymns, so you’re comfortable with that. Your voice is lower, and you want to learn to sing alto, but you don’t read music. is the place to go. You can find a particular hymn and tell it you want to hear just the alto part. It will play it, highlighting the notes as they sound, and you can sing along until you learn the part.

2. Say you’ve been asked to sing a song for the Relief Society lesson, but the hymn they want you to sing is just a bit high for your range. You can go to, find the hymn, and get the hymn transposed down. Then you can print it out in the new key so your accompanist can play it as you sing in this more comfortable range.

Here is what you’ll see when you get to one of the hymn pages.

As you can see, the music appears just as it is in the hymn book. The magic happens in the sidebar on the left.

The box at the bottom of the screen displayed above shows what key this hymn is in. If you want it in another key, simply press the arrow up or down until you reach the key you want and wait for the hymn to reset in the new key.

The next box up from that is the tempo of the song. If it’s playing too slow, you can speed it up using the arrows.

The next box shows the parts. As it’s set now, when you tell the hymn to play, it will play all four parts: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. But, maybe you want to learn the tenor part. If you click on soprano, alto and bass, they will all turn off, and when you play the hymn, all you will hear is the tenor. Later, after you learn the part, you can turn the other voices back on and learn to sing in the midst of the chords of the song.

The print function is in the next box up. It’s best to print from this button rather than the one at the top of your screen.

To play the hymn, click on the large arrow point at the top right under where it says Church Music.

I said I’d give you both a path and a link. Here’s the path:
Click on Gospel Library (at top of screen)
In the drop-down menu, click on Music
Click on Music at the top of the screen
Click on Hymns
This will take you to a screen where you choose how you want to navigate through the hymn book.

Here’s a link that will take you to the same page:,17631,4650-1,00.html

Happy Woodshedding!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman, by Emily Watts - A Review

I love Emily Watts. She was product manager for The Lodger and After Goliath, the first two books in the Spider Latham Mystery series and my first published works, and she made me feel pretty special.

The first time I met Emily in person was when my daughters and I were on a book tour with the multimedia presentation “Letters from Afghanistan” and stopped at the Salt Lake Library. I called Emily and said I was going to be in town and would like to meet her, but the only time she had available was during the presentation. Since my role in the tour was nanny, she joined me on the library roof as I kept an eye on five very active children.

It was only later that I realized that it might have been presumptuous for a freshman writer to ask a person of Emily Watts’ stature in the publishing company to help babysit, but she genuinely seemed to be glad to be there, and we spent a wonderful hour in conversation. She made me feel like an old friend.

So, when a young mother recently brought me Emily Watts’ book, Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman and said, “You’ve got to read this book. She made me feel she was talking just to me, that she understood what I’m going through,” I knew what she meant. Emily has that ability.

This isn’t a new book. It came out in 2006. It’s a slim volume and is actually the text of a talk she gave at Time Out for Women, but it was new to me.

Emily bonds with her readers immediately as she recounts her experience with unmatched socks and other laundry issues. As she uses the unbalanced washing machine as a metaphor of a life that’s out of kilter and talks about her quest for balance, you’re nodding , because you know that this is your quest, too.

I love Emily for the admission that the time management seminar she attended in her quest didn’t solve any problems, but only added a layer of guilt. (Yes! There’s someone else out there who makes lists and loses them.)

Emily takes us through several experiences in this quest—some hilarious, some poignant--but in the last pages she doesn’t tell us she found the magic formula for achieving balance. What she says is, “…I have learned there is something better than balance—something more desirable and more attainable and infinitely more practical.”

She tells us what it is, but you have to read this delightful little book to find out the answer for yourself.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Heroes: Sonia and Gregoria

I’d like to introduce you to two exceptional women. The first is Sonia. She is the Bolivian director for SWAN (called CISNE down there).

Sonia and her husband Erwin were involved in personal humanitarian outreach before Terry made contact with her, and they joined the efforts of SWAN wholeheartedly. Since Montero was to be the focus of SWAN’s efforts, and because Sonia and Erwin lived fifty miles away in Santa Cruz, they bought a small, run-down house in Montero from which she administers SWAN’s program, returning to their big, comfortable home on weekends.

Sonia, pictured at left with Terry just after delivering a load of bricks, is a marvel at organizing classes, overseeing the microcredit process, watching out for the ladies who are bootstrapping up with the help of SWAN. She is positive and upbeat and, because of the things she has sacrificed to be a part of SWAN, the ladies understand that she is there to serve them.

The other lady I want to introduce you to is Gregoria. You may have met her before when I blogged about her being the first to repay her loan. Her business plan was to travel by bus to Santa Cruz and buy clothing which she would then sell door-to-door at businesses in Montero. She would sell on credit, making the rounds each week to collect payment from her clientele. She has excellent taste and always looks sharp herself, and people began to trust her judgment and would ask her to buy to their order.

When Gregoria paid off her loan, she immediately took out another one and bought a sewing machine, determined to learn to sew so she could make her own clothes and thus cut down her overhead. When Terry told me her plan, I was skeptical. Though I don’t sew much anymore, I’m a pretty good seamstress, and I know it’s not a skill acquired just because you want to. But Gregoria pulled it off.

It hasn’t been easy. When Terry called Gregoria to ask if I could name her in my blog, she reached her at the hospital where she was staying with her young-adult daughter who had just been hit by a car and was hurt pretty bad. There were other setbacks, too. Terry describes them in her recent email from Bolivia:

“I wished you were here with me to visit Gregoria! It was a celebration to see what she has done. Instead of carrying her wares from house to house, she now has a tienda en el mercado where she sews clothing. She does a good job. I didn’t realize that she had purchased a serger! So she sews with a treadle machine in her tienda, because there is no power there yet. The reason is that she uses the shop without renting it. She knows the woman who owns it. But because it is on loan, she doesn’t have the electricity hooked up. Recently, she had electricity hooked up to her home, so she uses the serger at home and the treadle machine at the store.

“She is almost done paying her second loan. She really is the poster child for SWAN. Sonia is having her make me some PJs. I didn’t know that after she took out her first loan, she had a stroke! It took time to rehabilitate, and she still has problems with her left leg, but she works very hard. She said that this past year has been the most trying for her, with her stroke, the death of her mother, the severe accident of her daughter and the political upheaval. Yet she has made the most progress of all of the women we work with. She has two sons that will enter the mission field in several months.”

It does me good to see these two exceptional ladies blazing the trail for their sisters. Life is certainly not easy for them, but they keep on keepin’ on. They’re an example to us all.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Terry Gifford Reports from Bolivia

It was just a year ago that Terry Gifford traveled to Bolivia to set up the Bolivian counterpart to SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations), a 501 (c) 3 organization that, among other things, makes microloans to women to set up small businesses.

If you’d like to read about some of the women who have received microloans, you can read about Gregoria and Elizabeth, and you can also read about how SWAN raises money to augment donations with a hamburger/hotdog stand.

Terry is back in Bolivia this month and writes about this current trip:

"We visited about 20 of the women that have received a microcredit from Cisne (SWAN in Spanish). Many are having success. I am finding that those that have familial support have great success. The ones that struggle the most are the women that have many children, and no husband. There are many cases that the man just leaves, sometimes to find work elsewhere, sometimes to find another woman. We have many women with more than five children and have to leave them daily to try to earn money. Since there is no family to help, the children are left alone.

"This was the case today when we went to visit Olga. She has six children, her husband is who knows where, and she has no skills. She lives far removed from the hustle of the city and has to travel to the place where she can sell her tamales. We found her children home alone. I think the oldest is ten; the youngest is 3.

"We arrived at 2 o’clock, well past the lunch hour, and the mom was still not there. The children were very wary of me, and wouldn’t come out of the house. The 8-year-old boy ventured out and showed me the shallow well that is their only source of water. As he was drawing water, I noticed him favoring his left hand. He had an awful burn on his thumb that was weeping and swollen. It cut to my heart. I made small talk with him and showed him how to put his hand in the water that we pulled up to ease the throbbing.

"I left with a huge lump in my throat. It bothered me all day. I knew they didn’t have food. We returned that evening with groceries, just the basics: rice, pasta, beans, eggs, oil, sugar and flour. The children were still wary of the gringa, but we made merry with their mama enough to gain their trust. The mother of these precious children has no option but to leave every day. She is embarrassed that she hasn’t paid her loan in several months. She is one of the first loan recipients and we didn't have the support groups in place that we do now.

"We are having a meeting on Wednesday with all of the women to celebrate Cisne, give encouragement, and establish the support network in that first group. The women will be better served.

"I wanted to report on Benita, the woman Aunt Elaine sponsors. My heart is very tender towards her. She is very quiet, but very faithful in the church. Her husband works as a motorcycle taxi and earns very little since he doesn’t own his own motorcycle and works for someone else. They have seven children.

"Benita is very ill and has been for some time. The doctors here say it is her liver and I believe it. Her skin is sallow and her eyes are yellow. She is too sickly to run her business, but has a teenager who takes the food cart to the plaza of their small village to sell food. I don’t know what they do when school is in session. Right now, the kids are in their summer vacation. The loan has been a blessing for the family. It has provided the means that the children don’t go hungry. Her two young girls are adorable and have lots of spunk."

Next time, I'll blog about Gregoria's new venture.

Terry is a member of the Sedro Woolley Ward of Mt. Vernon, WA Stake.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Praying for Hani's Family

Someday I’m going to blog on prayer as an act of service. I think that would be a nice subject to philosophize about. You could recount the benefits to the prayer as well as to the prayee. You could imagine the power in the combined focus of ten or fifty or a thousand minds on a single subject, willing good toward a person or family. You could cite the Brother of Jared from the Book of Mormon and what he achieved by faith. Or, Alma the Elder and what his prayers for his son accomplished.

BUT, that’s for another day. Today I don’t want to talk about prayer in the abstract. I want to get concrete about it and enlist your faith and prayers for the family of a young man who is a friend of our family.

His name is Hani. I blogged about him shortly after I first met him. The picture at the left was taken when he spent the Christmas of 2007 with us. (Hani is in the blue coat) A graduate of BYU, he attended on a BYU scholarship and was my son’s roommate. Hani is from Gaza and is a devout Muslim. While at BYU he studied Mormonism and Christianity the way my son Clay studies Islam—from the outside looking in. He found many commonalities and loves Mormon people.

Hani can’t go home. It’s impossible for him to get into Gaza. His family is there—nine siblings, his parents and a large extended family—and in the past two years since he spent time in our home, I would check in with him and ask how his family was doing. His father taught at the U.N. school there, so he was always employed, and though there were lots of difficulties, they at least had the basics of food, clothing, shelter, and though two of his cousins were killed in violence, his immediate family was safe.

All that has changed. On January 6, Israeli forces shelled Hani’s father’s school. The school is a United Nations facility and had been turned into a temporary shelter by the UN Relief and Works Agency. Twenty-seven civilians were killed, mostly women and children. Many others lost limbs or were torn by shrapnel.

Hani’s family has left their home, and they and extended family members are living in a basement. One of Hani’s cousins, a dentist, was volunteering as an ambulance worker, rescuing wounded, when he was hit by a blast. His assistant died instantly. He died of his wounds the next day, New Year’s Day.

Another cousin’s house was bombed while he was sleeping and he and his children (five, I think Hani’s dad said) were killed instantly.

Hani managed to talk to his father by phone and posted a recording of his conversation on his blog. While he was on the phone with his father, a childhood friend was killed.

Now, I'm not advocating for either side in this conflict. It's far too complicated for that. What I know is that a friend's family is in danger. I know they're good people: kind, gentle, with high ideals and a love of god. What I am advocating is that you join me in the practical matter of praying for the safety of Hani's family.

As I said, we’ll leave the philosophizing for another day.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Building Bridges and Putting up Signs

I was coming through Samish Canyon on the way home the other day when I saw a flashing yellow light ahead. Because the highway skirts the mountainside and there are lots of trees, it’s not the brightest drive in the world, even on a sunny day. Heavy rain falling from sodden gray clouds had turned mid-afternoon into evening, and I drove slower than usual.I had already hit one place where a film of water on the road caused me to hydroplane.

Cascades tumbled through fissures in the sheer rocks above me, and a boulder bigger than my car had come loose and flattened a guard rail. I slowed even more and peered through the gloom, trying to make out what that yellow light was. When I saw the rooster tails sent up by the car ahead of me as he plowed through a shallow pond, I figured it out. There was significant water over the road, and a Department of Transportation truck had parked in front of it to warn oncoming motorists.

My watery entrance wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the car in front of me, but that may have been because of my death-grip on the steering wheel and my little-old-lady caution. In any event, I was grateful for the person who came out and set up the warning beacon. I know it’s his job, but that doesn’t lessen my appreciation.
After that, all the way home, I thought about people observing a hazard and putting out warning signs for those who were obliviously heading toward it, and I remembered the poem, "The Bridge Builder." First published in 1900, and written by Will Allen Dromgoole, it goes like this:

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

(Retrieved from "")

My commute was long enough that my mind jumped from the bridge builder to the water system builder—my late father-in-law, Bill Adair. He was the personification of the statement, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” He didn’t sermonize, didn’t talk much at all. But he was tireless in serving his family and his community. He was instrumental in putting in a water system for all the houses in the little town where he lived, and he spent the rest of his life as an unpaid keeper of that system. He read the meters, sent out statements, and fixed breaks in the pipes. Every night of the year he drove a mile out of town to turn off the manual pump, and every next morning, he turned it on so the people of the community would have water.

And, if there’d been a flood over the road, he would have been out there setting up warning signs.
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Monday, January 5, 2009

Dr. Lynn Curtis Teaches about Grassroots Empowerment

One thing about being a shirt-tail connection to a grass-roots humanitarian organization is that you get to see a lot of good things happening. It’s like being Relief Society President without all the work involved.

My daughter Terry is director of SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations), a small humanitarian outreach organization. We call her Terry the Tornado, because the whole family gets sucked into the vortex of her current fund raising or outreach activity.

That tornado sucked me into spending all last Saturday sitting in a class taught by Dr. Lynn Curtis. Dr. Curtis is President and CEO of Sustainable Solutions, a Utah-based company that works with NGO’s and other entities to train their people as they go out into the world to do humanitarian outreach. Dr. Curtis’ most recent training session was at the LDS Church headquarters’ Agricultural Services Program.

Dr. Curtis was teaching a class in Sedro Woolley, WA last Saturday because—you guessed it—Terry the Tornado funneled through a presentation he made at a conference on microlending held at BYU last November. SWAN has a microcredit program in Bolivia. (Click here and here to read about a couple of ladies that received some of the first loans in January 2008. Those first loans have been repaid, and the repaid capital is now funding a second round of microcredits.)

But, back to the class: Terry sees that there is a lot of teaching that needs to be done so that these microloans can be utilized to the fullest. When she attended the conference in Provo, she saw that Dr. Curtis’ program would be a tailor-made fit for how these things could be taught, so he was invited to present his class on participatory social action up here. He taught us how to be facilitators in the process of taking a diverse group of people and helping them become a critical-thinking, action-focused council that operates within the cultural norms of the country they live in.

The class was amazing and eye-opening, and I could see that the process he taught is universal and could be used in teaching concepts or solving problems in any society.

On their web site, Sustainable Solutions lists their Ten Keys for Sustainable Change. I’ll list them here, but I invite you to check them out so you can read what they say about each key. Lots to think about there, especially with #5.

1. People not things
2. Local not outside ownership
3. Holistic not fragmented
4. Learning not prescription
5. Agency not dominion
6. Participatory not passive
7. Partnerships not paternalism
8. Grassroots structures, culture and aspirations
9. Self-sustaining not dependent
10. Environment

I was impressed with how generous Sustainable Solutions was with proprietary materials. Terry has encountered entities like Sustainable Solutions that charge so much for their workbooks and classroom materials that preparing for the class of thirty women would eat up the capital for several microloans. Dr. Curtis made all his materials available to SWAN without charge.

At the left is a picture of Dr. Curtis and one of the class attendees, Sylvia Goodwin. Ms. Goodwin teaches English as a Second Language at Skagit Valley College.

Dr. Curtis is a member of the Upton Ward in the Coalville Stake. A former bishop of that ward, he
now serves as mission leader and Sunday School teacher.

If you ever get a chance to take a class
taught by Dr. Curtis, take it! You’ll help make the world a better place.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Community Classifieds on Craigslist

I spent about an hour on craigslist this morning looking for a Murphy bed, killing time while I tried to come up with an idea for today’s blog. I was leaning toward a philosophical piece on Time: How Time serves us as a grid to measure our progress with those New Year’s Resolutions, but I didn’t have the oomph or post-holiday brain cells to tackle that. Suddenly it hit me. Here I was using this great, free service. I could write about craigslist.

Craigslist calls itself an online community, and is the online presence of that community. Although it has forums, a blog and a foundation, I think the thing that is used by most people is the classified section. My husband uses it all the time to buy tools. My son is a cyclist and buys bike parts there. My daughter bought a cotton candy machine, a spinning wheel and a treadmill. One son sold his apartment contract over the holidays on craigslist, and another found a job there. My daughter-in-law checked out a tongue-in-cheek ad about a child for sale. The child turned out to be autistic, and my D-I-L, also mother of an autistic boy, became fast friends with the lady who posted the ad as a therapeutic way of dealing with her situation.

Craigslist began in 1995 when a man by the name of Craig Newmark set up an email list of San Francisco events as a hobby. It has evolved into a site where users self-publish more that 30 million new classified ads each month. These are people from more than 550 cities in over 50 countries. More than 40 million people in the US alone use craigslist each month. Though it is a for-profit corporation, it is still free to most users. The company makes money by charging small fees for job ads in several major cities.

When you go to the home page, you see that it’s very utilitarian, not glitzy at all. I like that. There are some cities listed that you can click on to find local classifieds, but if you will click on your state (under the US States column), the various local areas will come up and you can pinpoint the area you want to search more accurately.

I like craigslist better than Ebay because you can deal locally and because you can contact the seller and look, consider, and haggle before buying. My cyclist son likes it because of the sense of community that he finds and the contacts he has made through craigslist. That’s because it gives you ability to shop locally.

I’m heading back there right now. As I said, I’m looking for a Murphy bed so I can maintain guest capacity while making room for the elliptical trainer I bought on craigslist—part of my New Year’s resolution to get fit.

Wish me luck.

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