Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Life of a Poet - Diane Belleville

Kids, I have one of my favorite kind of stories for you today. I deeply admire people who transcend difficult life circumstances with grace, who rise to the challenge and with good hearts turn their situations into opportunities to raise awareness, and to help others. Our community poet Diane Belleville and her husband Russ are two such admirable human beings. Diane writes at La Vita Boca. We are joining the poet in her beautiful garden. Pull your chairs up close, pour some lemonade, and get ready to chat with someone special.






Poets United: Diane, So nice to finally be speaking with you. Would you paint us a picture of what your life looks like these days?


Diane


Diane: My canvas is palm trees against a cerulean sky, coral sunsets reflected in an aqua sea.  I live with my husband, Russ, and our dog McGee, a West Highland White Terrorist.  


Adorable McGee


He  keeps us safe from anoles and squirrels and anyone walking in “his” park.  We’ve lived in Boca Raton, Florida, for twelve and a half years. 


Diane in "Mini Driver"


Russ


I have three children, Travis, my stepson, is 40, married to Christy.  They live in Texas, near the Oklahoma border, on eleven acres.  


Travis


They have three children, Brittney 15, Zachary 12, Cody 10.  They are all-around kids with great grades, and also love sports.  They are smart, sweet and wonderful, of course, but I'm not just saying that.  Brittney is girls pole vaulting champion using a boy's pole vaulting pole, since her school can't afford one for girls.  She has also been a cheerleader since grade school.  Zachary is into basketball and Cody is into football.

 
Travis is a a safety manager for a reclamation ship for oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.  They also do repairs on rigs.  He spends a week, sometimes two weeks a month aboard ship and works in an office in Houston and also from home the rest of the time.  


Diane and Erin

I have a daughter, Erin.  She is 37, single, lives in Delray Beach, Fl, close to us.  She works from home for a company that sells, installs and maintains radiology information systems and digital radiology software.  She is an Implementation Specialist.


"The girls" - Erin, left, and Ali, right

I have a stepdaughter, Aliesha.  She is 37, the girls' birthdays are 10 days apart.  She is single and is an Environmental Scientist working for a company in NH that cleans up toxic messes.

Poets United: Your family is lovely, Diane, very accomplished and successful. And working in such interesting  fields.


Russ, Erin and McGee


Diane: Three years ago Russ was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment at the age of 58.  He worked for another year, then was diagnosed with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  He was Director of Internal Audit for Siemens, a large German company, in their telecommunications division.  He had been planning to retire at 55, but he loved his work and I don’t think he would have retired until 65.  

Poets United: This must have come like a bolt out of the blue, Diane. I am so sorry. But what drew me to your story is the way both of you have responded to this difficult circumstance. I deeply admire you both.




Diane: Russ got recognized by a woman from the Alzheimer’s Association at a support group that we were attending.  She recommended him to our local chapter as a candidate to become a national advisor for the association.  We became one of 14 couples who met in Chicago.  All couples were called upon to speak for the association to appeal for the end of Alzheimer’s.  Russ spoke in Toronto at an international conference in 2010 called A Changing Melody along with a woman from Scotland, a woman from Australia and a woman Inuit from Canada, all with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Poets United: In the middle of your own heartbreak, you both stepped up and said "what can I do to make this better?" Wow. 

Diane: It was a huge conference and was streamed online to all of Canada.   He spoke in Atlanta, which was televised locally, he speaks at various venues in Florida all the time, including several televised events.  He teleconferenced to groups in Virginia.  He and I participated in panel discussions two years in a row for our southeast regional conference in Miami.  We participated in a panel discussion in Alexandria, Va for various groups including the AMA.  We went to DC in 2011 and 2012 to advocate for funding for research for effective treatment and a cure for Alzheimer’s. 

In 2011 Russ became an Ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association and works with a national team to plan strategies for getting funding for research for Alzheimer’s through working with our elected officials.  He also works closely with our representative, Ted Deutch.  He is Ted’s ambassador.

Alzheimer’s is a horrific disease, and I see it stealing my husband’s mind piece by piece.  He began with short term memory issues, which caused me to get him a medical evaluation.  Now he struggles with tasks heretofore simple in days of old.  He has high cognitive reserve that we feel has kept him functioning on a level above his actual cognition.  He is witty, smart, and dear and audiences take to him with standing ovations.  Recently, I see him suddenly getting worse.  It is devastating for both of us.  It is frightening for both of us.  It is sad, tragic.  But, he perseveres, and I support him the best that I can.  However, it is very stressful for me, stressful for him, and it is not so easy to always respond appropriately.  I get frustrated, I get impatient, I get angry, but expressing any of that to a person with Alzheimer’s  is never a good thing. 

Poets United: Diane, your story, and Russ's, is so inspiring. You are both mustering all your grace and courage, when many would buckle under the gloom of it all.




Diane: I sometimes wish there was someone to support me?  There are 24 hour helplines, but I’m not one for phone talk, which is also difficult with him always present.  I go to my support group twice a month for an hour.  I am friends with other women in my group, but we don’t talk about the issues together much, for we all know we need a break from IT.  It is a sad and difficult journey.  Advocacy gives us a sense of making a difference, a sense of empowerment, and that is important.  Russ is not a candidate for a drug trial, but he hopes to become a candidate.  He feels he will at least help future generations.  He advocates for future generations as well.  He is an amazing man, a good man, but not always a reasonable man, due to his disease.

Poets United: I know. Caregivers need support, too. Sometimes more than the one being cared for. 


Bay of the Pacific

Diane: We are currently in the process of buying a new home.  I want to live in a community with amenities.  Russ is rooted in the house we are in.  He is saying he wants the move for me, but he does throw up roadblocks as often as he can.  I think this is unconscious, not on purpose.  The entire process, stressful for everyone, has become intensely stressful for us.  I am wondering if I should abandon the whole thing.
              
Poets United: I hope it all goes well. Well, I suppose we should talk about writing for a bit :-) When did you come to know you are a writer?

Diane: I always loved writing but never pursued it except for assignments when I was in school.  In high school I joined the newspaper and wanted desperately to be a feature editor, but every year I was given business manager.  In college I never pursued writing except for Freshman English, where I got great reviews and grades. 

I never pursued poetry until I was invited to join my online group, Skywriters.  For some reason,  Mary Kling thought I wrote poetry, (I didn’t), and invited me with the approval of the rest of the group.  The brief high school experience in poetry had frightened me from ever considering attempting to write poetry. 

I was thrilled to be asked to join Skywriters, which wasn’t exclusively a poetry writing group, but I took off with writing poetry about 13 years ago and I have been writing poetry ever since.  I belong to a local group “The Poets of the Palm Beaches.” 

Poets United: Yay for Mary! She has an eye for discovering and encouraging good poets!

Diane: I joined the Florida Writer’s Association a year ago, which has only a few poet members.  I attend the yearly gathering of “The Poetry Festival of the Palm Beaches.”  It is a week long seminar of famous poets who teach workshops, give craft talks and read their work.  I have only done two workshops, but attend all craft lectures and and poetry readings.  It is a most wonderful event every January in Delray Beach, Fl.  I highly recommend it.  

I once made Galway Kinnell laugh, and once chased down Tony Hoaglund to have him sign his book, who said I was the answer to his dream of someone chasing him for his autograph, LOL, sweet man.  I met the icy and bored Sharon Olds.  Heard and talked with Charles Wright, Billy Collins, Kim Addonizio, Gregory Orr, Alan Shapiro, who I felt became a friend for the time of the festival, a wonderful man, C.D. Wright, Ellen Bryant Voight, and Stuart Dischell, who was also very special.  I did get to hear Mary Oliver read at Lynne University thanks to the Poetry Festival bringing her here.  That was special.  

Poets United: I so envy you hearing Mary Oliver in person. She is my all-time favorite poet.

Diane: My most recent teacher at the Festival was Eleanor Wilner, a brilliant poet and a kind and giving teacher. 

Poets United:  Do you have any mentors for your writing? Would you like to tell us how they have influenced your creativity?

Diane: Skywriters are my mentors, our prompts, our critiques, our support of each other.  Mary has opened the blog world to all of us.  She is my mentor for opening this world, and she and all of Skywriters give me incredible encouragement and positive response.  The response in the blog world has also been encouraging.  Members of “The Poets of the Palm Beaches” have been mentors too, but not like Skywriters.  

My husband has always been a mentor, and now a friend of ours, David, who wants to be my agent and get me published, is also a mentor.  He used to be a baseball agent, so I’m not sure as to the crossover, LOL.

Poets United: You have two writing sites. What is the purpose of each of them?

Diane: My other site, “This is My Story”  has been dormant for some time.  It is more a journal for visiting places and recording them in poems, words, and photos.  I haven’t done much with it in a long time.  Thank you for reminding me.  I have things to post there.

Poets United: Do you have a process you follow in writing a poem to completion?

Diane: My writing is purely inspiration.  What I write usually just comes to me, flows.  I do rework poems sometimes, less often than I need to do.  I know they can all be better.  

Poets United: What inspires you, Diane?

Diane: Nature, life, philosophy, religion, emotions, situations, politics, war, science, prompts, LOL.

Poets United:  What are your criteria for good poetry, your own and others’? What do you strive for in your writing?

Diane: I want to paint pictures with words.  I want to make a point.  I want to begin and end full circle.  I want to show who I am.  I want to rage at times.  I want to express sorrow, pain, horror.  I want to express joy, ascendance, acceptance.  I like mystery. 

Poets United: Oh so well said! Do you have a special spot for your writing – a place where the magic happens???

Diane: Generally, I sit at my computer.  One window looks out on the pool, the other looks out on the back yard, a ficus hedge running in and out of huge ficus trees with gnarled roots.  I have a painting of an open window, sheers billowing in on the breeze, a pale blue sky, a golden field rolling to trees and distant blue hills.  I have a hat rack with cowgirl hats, my boots beneath.  I have books of poetry everywhere and how to write poetry.  I have a “Writer’s Almanac" burgundy giant cup that hold pencils and pens.  I have turtles, not live, and an inbox and outbox of important things for daily living.  I used to sit on my lanai and write on paper, then on my laptop, but now I tend to stay inside.  I don’t know why the change.   


La Paz waterfall

Poets United: I love the sound of your writing spot - and the view out the window! What helps you get through times of difficulty, such as you are living now?  

Diane: I live in the moment, don’t think much about the future.  Though I am aware of the changes that will likely come and I am making plans for them.  I have neglected myself for a long time, find it difficult to get all that I need to get done in a day, let alone the things that I need to do for me.  


Me at the Morikami Japanese Gardens

I know I need to create a time for me to meditate, to exercise, to write.  Writing is the only thing I currently do for me, but not nearly as much as I would like.  I do take us for walks on the beach and to various reserves.  We have lovely Japanese gardens nearby, Morikami.  I am a member there, as well as a member of Gumbo Limbo turtle rescue, and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Preserve.  They are wonderful nature museums.  I have faith that we will get through this one step at a time.  I pray.  I read the Desiderata daily.  I think I am going to employ a life coach.   


Where He Is At
Day of the Dead

He cries sometimes at his fate
other times he resurrects himself
spins around like a five year old
jubilation at awareness of life
still intact, gets angry like a five
year old over mysterious issues

We go in the car, I worry, watch
while he drives, yesterday he said
I promise, when I can't drive I will
give it up willingly, no fight, I said
okay, he says, while I can be in
charge of me, us, let me be, okay

but, today he said, you have to be
my strength, you have to take charge
not something you've ever been wont
to do, and I know, all of it, what I must
do, what I've never done, and I don't
begin to know how, need resources

I have to know when, not too soon
not too late, I have to make decisions
today, for our future, what can we
manage, for how long, what next
when, do I need to put us in the place
now, that we need to be in eventually

it all crashes in on me, like the ocean
all foamy white above my head, what
when, as he dances on the sand, happy
frightened, sad, weary, wary, and then
we pick up again, move along, skip
smile, laugh, join hands, jump waves

ocean aquamarine crests
waves wash our prints away

Diane Belleville



Poets United: So beautiful, Diane. It  inspires me,  how people manage to find some laughter, some joy, in the midst of difficulty.   When you are not writing, what other activities do you enjoy?  


Taningers at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Diane: I love birding.  We used to love going out in our boat, I even enjoyed fishing, though I was always divided by feeling sad for the fish, yet into the bite and catch and seeing the fish.  We used to go to 10,000 Islands where the wildlife is incredible, birds, sea turtles, various fish, including sharks and rays, and our mammal dolphins, mangroves and shells, powder white sand and sunsets.  There are many places to bird from land where we live.  I want to get back to painting and drawing.  I just need to prioritize.  It is difficult with all the demands of just getting through each day.  I think I need to lighten up. 

Poets United: I have seen some of your paintings on your second site. They are beautiful. I encourage you to plunge back in.


Diane's first painting


Diane: I do want to get back into painting.  Also, Russ and I took a painting class together at the Memory and Wellness Center where we used to go.  He did a great job and it seemed relaxing for him too.  I want to get us both back into painting.  We have our easels and paints.  


Poets United: Sounds wonderful! You have posted some wonderful travel photos on your site. Where did you travel?


Coming down from La Paz


Diane: We went to Costa Rica to celebrate New Year's Eve 2007, with our friends Dolly and George, arriving 12/30.  Dolly and George had become expats and opened a B&B, Alegria, in Alajuela, home of the San Jose airport.  They moved into a Costa Rican neighborhood and we had the wonderful experience of meeting their friends, Costa Rican and expats.  Russ, my daughter, Erin, and I rented an SUV and drove all over Costa Rica. 


Erin is fluent in Spanish so we didn't have any communication issues, though many Costa Ricans speak English too.  We had the most wonderful experience, from Alajuela to the Pacific Coast to Volcan Arenal and the rainforest.  


Poas Volcan, Costa Rica

We even did a zip line in La Fortuna, riding horse back up to the start of the zip line and back down again.  I went back to Costa Rica in May for a writers retreat with Dolly, her friend Peggy from Georgia, and her friend Leslie, also an expat.  We were going to Cahuita on the Carribean coast to a Zen retreat.  


Tarcoles River, Costa Rican Pacific Coast

The morning I flew in, Dolly had a cerebral aneurysm explode.  She was kept on life support for five days, and then they let her go.  I haven't been back to Costa Rica since, but I do want to go back one day.  The people there are wonderful, the country is breathtakingly beautiful, the climate is perfect from Nov-April, and still great into May.  Then the rains begin, but it can still be good to go there into June.  George continues to run the B&B, voted #1 B&B in Alajuela on TripAdvisor.  He visits us in Florida often.

Poets United: It sounds glorious there. But terribly sad about your friend.  Is there anything else you would like to share with Poets United?  

Diane: I wish to become a regular participant, if not sending poems, at least responding to all the wonderful work that so many of you are sharing.  I learn something from each and every poem I read.  Everyone who participates is wonderful, and I only need to once again prioritize.  I love that Poets United and most of the blog world is global, universal.  I love reading about our connections.  

Poets United: Me too, Diane, and I am so enjoying making this connection with you. Thank you for taking the time, in the midst of moving, to visit with us. May the new place bring you both peace!


It's Been Awhile

Much going on in our lives
Russ and Me
always something, but a bit more
of late

Russ and Me
we rise to the challenge

-Diane Belleville



Every single week, another brave traveler on the path, making their way. Wasn't this a heartwarming visit, kids? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!



15 comments:

  1. Sherry, another wonderful interview this week! Thank you. Diane, you are indeed an inspiration. I commend Russ and you for doing so much for the Alzheimers Association. My heart goes out to you for being his 'care partner,' as I can imagine how hard it is to see this disease steal pieces of his mind one by one. The poem included with your interview - "Where He is At" says so much about what life is like. It is so true, what you said, about having to live in the moment. We all should do this, but I know you are aware of this more than many....knowing that today is the best it is ever going to be. You have written some powerful poetry in your blog, Diane. I am glad you write! I am sure you will 'rise to the challenge.' I am proud to be a Skywriter with you.

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  2. Sherry, your interview questions are so warm, sensitive and on target.

    Diane, I find it so interesting to know someone who cares for her spouse. I cared for my mother. Thank you so much for the work you and your husband have contributed to help find a cure.

    So sorry about your friend in Costa Rica. My husband and I are planning to go in November. Maybe we'll find the B&B.

    So nice to meet you. Blessings in all that you do.

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  3. Truly inspirational, Diane. I am glad I came across this interview. Thank you SO much! :)

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  4. You have captured the spirit and talent of my friend, Diane, very well. Thank you.

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  5. Boy Sherry, you did a great job here! Diane, I've known you a few years now and had never asked some of the questions Sherrie asked, especially about your kids. It was good to see the pictures of your kids and grands. I love the openness that you show in writing poetry about the difficulty as well as the love (and the love as well as the difficulty) of being with Russ in this disease. You tell your truth, and that's what people need, truth. You also, because of your great gift with words, tell truth with beauty, which is even better. I'd forgotten you didn't write poetry until Skywriters - find it hard to believe. Love you Diane. Thanks Sherrie.

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  6. I loved your interview of Diane, Sherry. I feel honored to count this woman as a very special and loving friend, in Skywriters, and in life's journey. Aside from her talent, Diane is an exquisite human being with the kindest soul one can imagine. You captured her well here, Sherry. Diane, you inspire me in so many ways and you and Russ amaze me with all you do for the cause. You seem to carry the weight of the world on your shoulder, and you do it all and handle it with such grace,strength and love. You simply shine, woman!

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  7. What a great interview, Sherry. I really admire Diane on a personal level, and I admire her word skill. Diane's poetry is usually intense and deep, and you captured that depth in your interview. Nice job.

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  8. Diane, I feel for you very much. As some of the PU people are aware, I am in a very similar position. My husband has Alzheimer's (plus a number of physical conditions such as diabetes and Parkinson's) and I am his carer. He has responded well to medication. Is there any possibility of you consulting a geriatrician to get it prescribed? In Australia we have government help to afford such medications. I don't know if that is the case in USA.

    I too am very stressed, but do have in-home respite three times a week and help with housework, again at government expense. And my husband is about to go into two weeks of residential respite so that I can have a bit of a holiday from caring for him, which I badly need. The medical people will tell you, it takes such a toll that the carers can become ill, and then everyone's in trouble.

    I raised the question of my husband's driving with the geriatric specialist, and he confirmed that it was no longer safe, so he surrendered his licence. He has regretted it since, but fortunately too late. Your husband might not be the best judge of his ability. I'd trust your own instincts!

    You also need to get Power of Attorney and Guardianship put in place - whatever they are called over there - so you are empowered to make financial and medical decisions on his behalf when that becomes necessary. (Apologies if you know this already.)

    Poetry is such a gift. I often wonder, what do people do who don't have that to turn to in times of trouble?

    I also blog about living with dementia at Shifting Fog: http://shiftingfog.blogspot.com.au/ This is partly for stress release and partly in the hope that my, admittedly subjective, account may help others who are going through it.

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  9. Nice interview Sherry and you know this hits me personally because my 'mamasita' insidiously attacked with Alzheimer's. I came to the decision that at this time, in the world under the umbrella of medical cures this is one that we're still unable to amieliorate, what I could do is hug and love in every moment where time permits understanding that it may not be reciprocated. There is something very positive in this human contact.

    Good luck Diane with your journey knowing that this experience will not be with the lack of love.

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  10. Diane, so nice to meet you~ I hope you can find facets to cope with all that you n' Russ are enduring~ Your poetry, photos and painting are wonderful paths to proceed on~ I think when we are in pain or surrounded by it...we have to find beauty. It is through this path we can cope, seems there is a fine line there. I have found more beauty in my life, as I dance with pain. I hope n' pray you can find time for your soul. It helps one cope...

    A touching interview! Well Done Sherry~ Diane I hope and pray through this dance, you continue to work on your passion. Art is medicine! (((hugs)))

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  11. Diane, your grace and honesty shine through in every word of this interview, as does your talent and resilience. I have found that tapping one's creative core serves to balance some of the pain with which we're faced. My prayers are with you and Russ on this difficult journey...I will definitely check back and offer whatever small support I can.

    I just read a wonderful novel about Early Onset Alzheimers told from the viewpoint of the woman afflicted, rather than from her caregivers. The book is "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova, and it taught me much I didn't know. It would probably be of interest to you.

    And Sherry...well done. As usual you get to the core of things and let us know the person behind the poetry. Thank you for another insightful interview.

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  12. I want to thank Sherry for choosing to interview me and for prompting me to share my story and my family. You make the interview what it is, Sherry, and I thank you.

    Thanks to all of you who commend Russ and me for the work we do to end Alzheimer's. Russ' favorite saying is, "It is better to be part of the solution rather then just part of the problem." This journey has many rewards if we are willing to look for them, from the people we connect with to learning what's really meaningful in life. It was been a rich and rewarding journey. I grow everyday in compassion and patience and making the most of each day. Russ finds humor often on this journey and tells me often laughter is better then sorrow. We try to keep in the moment, which is what any of us really has.


    Rosemary, thank you for sharing that you are a care partner for a spouse with AD and thank you for sharing "Shifting Fog." It is a perfect title for this journey and I will definitely be visiting it regularly. I will share more specifics with you there. We traveled to AU a few years back and loved it, especially the people. I have learned that the lives of care givers is shortened by 4-7 years if we don't "first put the oxygen mask on ourselves and then assist others." We need to rest, we need to take care of ourselves. Today I had a facial and a massage using a gift certificate from our local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

    I am sorry, Nene, about your 'mamacita.' You are right, currently there is no definite understanding as to the cause of AD, thus no cure for AD, and currently no effective treatment for AD. Due to the fact that it is largely a disease of aging and we baby boomers have turned 65, AD can bring the world to its knees caring for people with AD.

    Yes, Ella, "art is medicine" for both of us.

    Lynette, I read "Still Alice" early on in Russ' diagnosis. It is an excellent window into the feelings of a person diagnosed with AD, and a view of some of the fall out that can happen.

    I also recommend the Canadian movie, "Away From Her," and the play "looking into your voice" by Canadian Cathie Borrie.

    Again, thank you to everyone for your heartfelt wishes and prayers for Russ and me as we travel through this disease.

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  13. Wow. I don't often do interviews - I don't know why - I think I'm afraid of the connection.

    This one, I had some steaming wimbi porrige (is Kenya black porrige - I think millet...)and sausages and potato chips (?!) and I began. I was going to flip...but I began, and went on, and saw the writer and her husband, and their children and doggie, caught snippets of their lives - and listened.

    It was marvellous.

    '...I want to paint pictures with words. I want to make a point. I want to begin and end full circle...'

    It's how I feel!

    My father died of an anyeurism in 2005, and my mother is early onset Alzheimers. It's been such a very difficult 2 years. Everything changes. I can't explain, and sometimes it feels like I can't explain it to others - they just don't get it - and feel terribly alone.

    My parents were highly accomplished people - My father is that man who coined 'UNEP' and dragged it into Kenya, my mother, a Prof. of Biochemistry and a senior politician.

    Yes. I'm very proud of them. So...it hurts and its confusing this thing Alzheimers.

    The poem is wonderful and this experience was gentle, deep and enriching. I thank you so much for it.

    Onward.

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  14. Diane, I have come back to investigate, and I see that your story has inspired and moved people, as I so knew it would.

    Rosemary, I emailed you after reading your moving comments.

    Kolembo, I love how this cyber-connection brings us all together and helps people walking similar pathways to connect. I hope you find lots of support in this way.

    It is my privilege to keep bring the amazing life stories of our members to you every week. It has become a journey we are making through the blogroll and is one of the best parts of my week. Thank you to those who allow us these generous looks into their lives, and thank you to all who come to comment and support our fellow members.

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  15. This is a wonderful interview of an amazing woman who I have known now for many years. Diane is really an inspiration and also a wonderful writer. I really like her work with its unique mystery. Thanks for recognizing a pretty marvelous person!

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