Parachuting Is for Dummies

By Catherine Breese

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think parachuting is an exciting, adventurous feat of human achievement and those who think parachuting is stupid. I side with the latter. Google put up an adorable little doodle on October 22, 2013, on the 216th anniversary of the first parachute jump. A 28 year old Frenchman jumped out of a hot air balloon in 1797. A couple things about this strike me as interesting. One, he was 28, so it was not his mid-life crisis parachute jump. Two, he jumped out of a balloon. Since the airplane was not invented until the early 20th century this means that Man’s desire to fly like a bird through the sky was superseded by his desire to jump out of something really high in the air and fall towards the earth, accelerating at 9.8 m/s/s and slowing himself with a piece of fabric. Um, this concerns me a little because it makes us, as a species, seem sort of insane. At least the airplane had a few utilitarian purposes.

Each year about 30 people die in parachuting accidents in the United States. One jumper bites the big one for every 100,000 jumps. A variety of Internet websites say that it is mathematically safer to parachute than to drive a car. Personally, I think 30 is kind of a high number. Remember, each of those people woke up that morning seeking enjoyment. Each willingly decided that testing a hunk of nylon and line against the irascible and irresistible force of gravity seemed like a good way to catch an adrenaline rush. As a biology experiment, man does not strike me as a lot smarter than a tuna fish. I am just thinking that perhaps there are other ways of bringing adventure into our lives, ones that don’t involve accelerating to terminal velocity. kiteboarding - Copy

 

Lately, Bryan and I have seen a lot of people kiteboarding, a sport that doesn’t have quite the death risk of parachuting. We watched kiteboarders in Oliphant, Ontario, and in Salvo, North Carolina. It is considered an extreme sport that combines a bunch of other sports like wakeboarding, surfing, and paragliding into one. From our viewpoint on the shore with a camera, it is beautiful to watch. The kites are dazzling and colorful against blue water and sky, and the people doing it, mostly men, are highly skilled. But if you were looking for a sport more expensive than downhill skiing, this is your best bet. The equipment for this Rider 1 - Copyextreme sport is pretty outrageous, requiring multiple kites, boards, harnesses, and a vehicle to carry all that stuff around in. Nonetheless, it is attracting growing numbers of participants. There is even a movement to make kiteboarding (a word that Microsoft Word does not even recognize yet) an Olympic sport. I think it would make a great addition to the Olympics because it is quite enjoyable to watch; and unlike, say, the luge, which is hard to make very picture-worthy for TV, kiteboarding is gorgeous.

kiteboarding 4Just for the record, we are not thinking of trying this sport. We are too old. We got stiff necks shooting pictures from the shore. Besides, it combines too many skills that the kiteboarder has to do simultaneously that we can’t execute individually, even on a good day. But one of us is thinking about surfing. More on that later.

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I Coulda’ Been a Contender

By Bryan Ward

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I honestly think I could be in the Olympics. Yes, the ones coming up. The way I see it, all I have to do is really apply myself. Don’t even bother to point out that I have yet to really apply myself at anything. I know I am out of shape. Catherine likes to point out that I regularly hurt myself taking pictures of things, or that I complain a good bit when I get out of bed in the morning. Yeah, but what does she about physical talent? Plus, how many Olympians does she know? I am not saying that I can compete in Track and Field and/or swimming, but I am pretty sure I could be a rocket on the luge. I could be the second or third guy in the four-man bobsled, no problem. I am pretty confident that I am Olympic-caliber ballast. I also thought about curling, but that broom thing is way too much like cleaning. My dream, however, is contingent on corporate sponsorships, but I haven’t been able to arrange that yet.

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In spite of the uphill battle I face for my Olympic dreams, I have found an arena which has piqued my interest. That arena is the Scottish highland games. For years I have wanted to attend a highland festival. At long last, I was able to attend one in Radford, Virginia. If you have never been to a highland games, you should check one out. Where else can you find bagpipes, sheep, sheep dogs, haggis, and, yes, men in skirts? Yes there were a lot dudes in kilts, but they each had two knives on them and a few had animal pouches. One guy had a real badger head around his waist. I wanted to say “nice badger,” but I wasn’t sure if that was culturally insensitive. Plus he had a plate and mouth full haggis.

highlander 1The best part for me was the highland games. The competition is basically throwing heavy stuff around: a stone, a weight on a chain, a bag of straw, a Scottish hammer (think big heavy looking lollypop) and a big log called a caber. As you watch you can easily figure out how these games got started. After a few tastes of Scottish Whiskey some guy said, “Hey badger purse, I bet ye I can throw that stone farther than ye.” I figure the kilt thing got started after the losing guy had to wear a skirt. This is complete conjecture, of course, but it sounds plausible to me. Now, I think they wear them because the chicks dig them. If you don’t believe me just ask a woman if she thinks the kilt wedding looks fancy. There will be an “ahhhh” followed by a “fancy”. Plus, I believe that a kilt is like a tuxedo—if you look bad in, one you are hopelessly U-G-L-Y. But I digress.

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From here on out I am in training for the highland games that I attend. I will get started right after I secure some corporate sponsors.

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Road Food Rant: Give Me Veggies or Kill Me Dead

By Catherine Breese

I do not ever want to eat in a restaurant again. As long as I live. I do not want a platter, a two-for-one special, or anything “all you can eat.” I would really rather go hungry than be forced to scour one more menu for something, anything, vegetable-like.

It did not take us long on this extended road trip to figure out that when you are traveling eating a vegan diet is an impossible dream. Even vegetarianism ain’t all that easy. Apparently the American palate and mine do not have much in common. Yes, I know I can get a veggie sub at Subway. I know. I have eaten one three days in a row and I am officially fatigued! And although I have told many of my high school English students in the past not to write rants, here is one…

First, I do not want any bacon. And I surely do not want it on a freaking salad. As evidenced by the many menus I have perused of late, bacon is an omnipresent ingredient of every course of a meal, from the appetizers to the desserts. (If you like bacon, that’s cool. This article is about my food problems, not yours.) In fact, between the sprinkled cheese, crunchy tortilla strips, croutons, and bacon, there are a whole lot of salads out there that aren’t very salady.

Additionally, they’re putting just about everything in a wrap these days. This is not a new food or a healthy alternative. It is the same fatty schlock that they serve on a plate or on a bun, wrapped up inside a 240 calorie flour tortilla.

Furthermore, I do not want or need ranch dressing in a wrap or on a sandwich or on a salad. Period. It is not delicious, America! It’s just familiar. They usually put it on mediocre food to cover the fact that the food itself is not good. Same goes for mayonnaise. And, I do not want either on my veggie burger.

Finally, stop with the butter-o-rama. Vegetables can be served without butter. No really, they can. I have ordered a lot of sides in restaurants because, well, sometimes it the only way to get a vegetable. Usually when it arrives at the table it is a droopy glob of green swimming in a yellow pool of butter.[i] Back in our old life, the one where we had a house and jobs, we liked to play a little game called Tudor Biscuit World Roulette. This game can also be played utilizing a Waffle House or an IHOP. Rules of the game: Eat at Tudor’s. Get in the car and go shopping, preferably at a mall or a grocery store. Last person who quickly scampers off to use the restroom is the winner. It’s a simple game based on the fact that restaurants cook with entirely too much butter (and/or lard).

If you watch TV and have surfed through infomercials on the upper channels, you might think that there is a raw foods movement in this country. There are all kinds of gizmos designed especially to chop, blend, pulverize, and juice raw fruits and vegetables. Montel Williams and others make very convincing arguments for juicing up bunches of veggies and fruits thereby improving one’s health and energy. If you drew an inference from all these commercials, you might be under the impression that Americans are changing their diets away from the fast food supersized junk of the 1990s. You might conclude that we Americans actually like fruits and vegetables. You, my friend, would be wrong. Take one look at the menu of any restaurant, chain or otherwise, and you will see what we really like: ribs, wings, and burgers. Since I don’t eat those things, you can see where eating in a restaurant might be more than a little frustrating.

Look, I am not asking anyone to stop eating their favorite animals. Some of my best friends are carnivores. I am simply pointing out that something nearly everyone seems to know is nutritious as well as crunchy and tasty is strangely missing from the vast majority of restaurant menus.

So, you win, Beef-Burger-Pork-Chicken Wing-Bacon Industrial Complex! I give up. But, someday veggie lovers across this country will rise up and have their day. Until then, I’ll console myself with a box of crackers, bag of raw carrots, and a Martini on ice in my hotel room.


[i] I won’t even go into the number of places that serve deep fried vegetables. Come on! You could batter dip and deep-fry some shoe box cardboard, serve it up as an appetizer, and most patrons would happily order and enjoy it.

Zombie Apocalypse? I’ll pass.

by Catherine Breese

zombie appoc 1 copyI am not a survivalist. Actually, it’s fair thing to say that in a zombie apocalypse, or any other kind of end-of-the-civilized-world situation, I would, quite literally, prefer to be dead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a mercy killing during the next electrical outage. But if the people of the planet Earth are shooting each other for food, or resorting to cannibalism, I’m just going to pass on that sort of fun.

People are really into zombies these days. Lots of people love The Walking Dead, my friends and family among them. And while I appreciate the drama of the show’s script and the good acting, there are a few things that bother me. No, not the gory head explosions and dark goo splattering as the survivors whack and blast through zombie skulls. The gratuitous violence is at least one of the things that keeps viewers coming back, and I don’t have a problem looking away during those parts. What I am bothered by is the zombie slaves. My cursory understanding of walkers includes the following: zombies are really, really stupid, and you can render them harmless by removing the lower jaw and chopping off an arm or two. Then you can take them with you, benefiting from their smell, I think, or using them as a sort of army. I really hate to see this. I think it speaks to the sort of usurious and unethical side of humanity which emerges in a life or death situation, but one that reveals man to be, well, a real bastard. That said, it does seem ethical to kill zombies. First, they’re already dead. Second, they will eat you if you let them. Nonetheless, how can the survivors justify the enslavement of a lower being? I’m pretty sure that in 2013 we don’t need to argue the ethics of oppression. What the writers of The Walking Dead challenge us to consider is whether or not ethics change under extreme survival conditions.

Perhaps you recall discussing in a high school or college class the dilemma of Donner party, or that 1972 plane crash in the Andes where cannibalism was resorted to in order to survive. I probably don’t have to weight in here, but I’d be a meal before I’d make a meal of somebody else. Thankfully, we don’t have to make decisions like these and thinking about them is some sort of twisted fun.

You may also remember the derecho that happened last summer. Power across several states was knocked out by a terrible storm with a weird name. It was out in some places for two weeks. The temperature was a sweltering 104 degrees and it stayed cool in our basement for exactly two days. We bought the last bag of ice at Kroger’s. The gas stations were all closed. We cooked the few things spoiling in or freezer on our gas grill and then decided it was time to get out. Since we had a half tank of gas we knew approximately how far we could go before we would run out, 167 miles. We called my sister in Illinois and asked her to find us a direct route towards power and gasoline. We piled into the car and drove north.

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The roads were deserted. There were few cars, and no trucks at all. We got off at an exit or two incorrectly believing there might be power and gasoline. That was when one of the kids said the words out loud: “zombie apocalypse.” It really looked like the movies, deserted and isolated. Police were nowhere to be seen. I assume all emergency service personnel had their hands full helping people in need. I actually had the thought that some lunatic with a gun could rob us or take our car. It was a really weird feeling—tangible fear. We don’t own a weapon of any kind, unless a bottle opener can be considered a weapon. I pretended not to be scared because I didn’t want the kids to be scared. The trip was nerve wracking, but we reached Strasburg, Ohio, where the electricity was on. We filled up, grabbed snacks, and drove the rest of the way to Chicago. Our neighbors later reported that the power was out for eight days at our house, and that other than the fact that it was Africa-hot and everyone’s food spoiled, nothing really exciting happened.

What did I learn from this experience? One, Americans have a grossly misplaced confidence in the power grid. Two, you should have some bottled water stored at your house in case the water from the tap becomes contaminated. Non-perishable food for a few days is a good idea, too. Emergency supplies like candles and ice were gone almost immediately, so you have to keep those handy. Three, you can cook a soggy unfrozen cheese pizza on a gas grill in a pinch.

A lot of people bought generators after the storm. Not us, though. We did pick up some water.

In a culturally evolved civil society, the kind that I live in in my head, we don’t turn into barbarians just because the TV is dark and the drinks are warm.

Surely you didn’t think I was going to say we needed a gun to defend ourselves. Nope. If you’ve got a gun and a bad attitude, you should come rob us during the next apocalypse. We can’t defend ourselves. But, of course, we also don’t have much to take, unless you’re desperate for a bottle opener.

Is this Heaven? No sir, this is the RV Hall of Fame!

By Bryan Ward

I like RVs. The regular readers of this blog could have probably guessed as much.  Maybe it has something to do with the number of years that I lived in a mobile home.  From birth to age 14, then two years in college, followed by five years as single dad. I also taught for a couple of years in a trailer that the school administration referred to as a learning cottage.  If you add up the time in all of those, it equals 23 years. Before you pity me too much, please realize that I think trailer living is pretty sweet.

Without delving into the religious ramifications of my life decisions: the two wives, my enjoyment of beer, blasphemy, the reading of banned books, the befriending of free thinkers, agnostics, atheists, wiccans, Jedis, Spaghetti monster worshipers, and a few things I can’t quite remember, I am now completely convinced that heaven is located in an Airstream.  A Flying Cloud model, I suspect. It most surely wouldn’t be the Bambi because they are way too small for most concepts of heaven, especially the ones with seventy-something virgins. My heaven is a big campground filled with Airstreams, and in my heaven I am not sharing my RV bathroom/shower with anyone else.  RV Hall of Fame27

Like everyone else, I will not know for sure if heaven is an Airstream until it is too late. However, I have pilgrimaged to the sacred place: the Recreational Vehicle – Mobile Home Hall of Fame, Museum and Library in Elkhart, Indiana. For those not familiar with Elkhart, Indiana, it is the hotbed of RV manufacturing. However, most RV nerds, like myself, know that the one true center of the RV world is actually Jackson Center, Ohio. That is where Airstream, Inc., the shiny silver gold-standard of the industry manufactures its products.   

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The RV-MH Hall of Fame, Museum and Library is an amazing place. The collection there is enough to make even an agoraphobic homebody want to pick up and hit the road. So, until you can make the trip to the RV-MH Hall of Fame, Museum and Library, I am sharing some of my pictures. If you plan on visiting the place, it is located at Exit 96 on the Indiana Turnpike.  I would, however, suggest you bring your own food. The Indiana Turnpike is, to say the least, not well-managed. The food is horrendous, even when compared only against other turnpikes. And the restrooms, well…Dear Governor Mike Pence: Is all of Indiana filthy dirty, or just your restrooms? Hey, turnpike restrooms are the gateway to your state, and yours are pretty darn awful.

My best advice, go in Ohio.

Enjoy!  For even more pictures visit our photo portfolio at:http://wardcreativegroup.com/photography

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A 1947 Westwood Coronado by Westcraft Trailer Company of California. It was purchased new by John Culp after World War II and used until February 2013.

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Here are a few worthy of more descriptions.

The Silver Streak II

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A custom motorhome built by Paul Jones of Cape Coral, Florida. It was built in 1988 using a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. It was designed to fit into a standard garage door. I hate to say it, but it is the Cadillac of motorhomes.

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My favorite is the 1936 Hunt House Car. It was built for Hollywood producer Roy Hunt. It is called “The Star” because of its hood ornament.

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Think Stripes…

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You may not recognize it from from this angle, but let’s just call it an Urban Assault Vehicle.

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If you really want to see more go to: http://wardcreativegroup.com/photography

There are a whole lot more pictures there.

Missing Work

By Catherine Breese

Bryan and Catherine's Day OffMost of you reading this went to work today or yesterday, or maybe you’re even reading this at work—in which case, good job, man! Many of you, according to a recent study, also hate your job. 70% in fact. When I first read this statistic I was skeptical. After all, “hate” is strong word. It’s not dislike, or get bored with, or are tired of, or are wishing to move up…actual hate. As in, I’d rather do anything including have a root canal or a toenail removed than go to work, a place where they pay me to be there. How could that many people be so deeply dissatisfied? Well, Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report actually reported that 30% love [my word] their job, and are “engaged and inspired at work.” The rest of the 150 thousand workers interviewed felt somewhere between “unexcited” and “actively disengaged.” This is not exactly the same thing as hate, but certainly bad enough to warrant concern. The report claims that “actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. up to $550 billion annually in lost productivity.” I don’t know how they come up with the figure like this, but even if you didn’t think that a lot of unhappy people at work is miserably depressing, apparently it is also expensive.

Remember that test they gave us in the seventh grade or so, the one that was supposed to set you on your career path? I do. Mine said that I should be a forest ranger or a rock musician. I think that speaks volumes about how valuable multiple choice tests are. But that’s not really my point here. My point is that it is desirable for us to choose work for which are well-suited, work that makes us content. Ideally, our work should give us a feeling of accomplishment and/or satisfaction.

And, at any rate, Bryan and I have recently chosen to jump off the whole work-a-day world thing. We have taken a rather extended absence from gainful employment, a sort of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Without a job to go to every day, we have had lots of time to do other things: think, write, read, drive around, see some cool places, and, of course, glom shelter and laundry facilities from our families. So, we have gotten to look back at our working-selves through the insight provided by our unemployed selves. It has been pretty enlightening. I like me better unemployed, except for the no money part. I sleep great, I feel both mentally stable and physically healthy, and I have temporarily lost the bags under my eyes. My son Jack says it best, “Jobs are overrated.”

Cameron's HouseOne place we had the opportunity to explore recently is Highland Park, Illinois. This is where John Hughes set and filmed some of his iconic movies such as 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Cameron Frye’s house is for sale. You know, the minimalist modern home overlooking a ravine into which Cameron’s father’s Ferrari plummets. It’s a cool house, but at 1.3 million, it’s a stretch for the average unemployed blogger. Jake Ryan’s house is there (16 Candles). And Joel Goodsen’s house Ferris Bueller's School(Risky Business—not a Hughes film) is just a few blocks from Cameron Frye’s house. North Glenbrook High School (used in The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller) is there, too. It was a lovely afternoon of driving around and shooting pictures and trying not to seem creepy. As Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I do miss some things about work: good friends, teaching and learning, and, well…actually that’s about it. No, I really liked the payday. It was just the best feeling in the world when my checking account balance magically went from double digits to hey-let’s-get-sushi-money. It was a manic high for about 24 hours; then we paid bills. In retrospect, payday is probably not the best thing to love about your job because, of course, there are not enough of them. And, while feeling “engaged and inspired” at work may seem quixotic, I’d surely like to feel that way. Quiet desperation is not a road one should choose willingly.

Work-webI hope when I return to the real world, the get-up-at-five a.m. world, I can take at least a little bit of the unemployed me along. She sees the bigger picture. She gets it. Plus, she’s a better cook. I doubt if I will become a forest ranger, and I’m way too old to be a rock star. Ultimately, I’m craving some paid health insurance, but I’ll take a dose of engagement and inspiration in lieu thereof.

I Read on the Potty

By Bryan Ward

Camera 360I read on the potty. I text sometimes, too. Be assured, however, that I am too old to talk on the phone there regularly. Although I have done it, it is only to those who truly deserve it: tech support, credit card companies, and, especially, the cable company. I have no remorse for it either. But with all of the entertainment choices available today for the throne, my preference is still reading.

The limits to my reading cravings are very few. I will read almost anything, anywhere, upon little or no provocation. I have at times been reduced to reading shampoo bottles and medicine packages. The shampoo bottles use the word “natural” a lot, but when you read their actual chemical composition, they seem a lot like medicines. Medicine containers are much more exciting. They have long lists of side effects that are like reading a good thriller, both puzzling and horrifying. There seems to be a lot of swelling, and, from what I have read, itching is really bad and may require a doctor’s consultation. Diarrhea also seems to be a real problem, but only after quite a few days. When I am forced to read these things I get worried. And frankly, most side effects seem far worse than the original affliction. Luckily, I have a pretty good grasp of my bowels and reading materials are usually close by, but I still occasionally get caught off guard.

I blame my mother for this cruel reading affliction. She had the audacity to bring me home to a house full of books. She told me when she was a kid she wanted a big library of her own. So, she took me to libraries, bookstores and more recently quaint coffee shops with books. Her house is full of books, as was mine before we sold it.

It was a big decision to sell our home and quit our jobs. It was also a big decision to trim down our book collection. After lengthy discussion we decided to keep two boxes each, plus professional collections. At our house sale giddy booksters scavenged through my collection and left with arms loads. I am proud to say we sold almost all of the shelf-loads of books we owned. Each shopper seemed thrilled with their treasures and several bought more than a bag full. I joked to my mother who manned the front lines of the sale that, “I think this reading thing just might catch on.”

While we were visiting Lake Bluff, Illinois, Catherine’s sister Heather asked us to join her at Bernie’s Book Bank. At first I thought it might be a book superstore or cool coffee shop, but she explained that it was a nonprofit that has provided nearly 2 million books to the children of the Chicago area whose lives would otherwise be devoid of books.

As a former teacher, university adjunct professor, and West Virginia State Archives assistant director, the idea that children would enter elementary school without ever seeing or holding a book is as incomprehensible as it is heartbreaking. I jumped at the chance to volunteer. So on a sunny September Saturday we went to a warehouse in a technology/industrial park in Lake Forest, Illinois, to Bernie’s Book Bank.

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Upon arriving we signed in and were given an overview of the book bank’s mission—to provide books to kids from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. They provide children in need with both new and used books two to three times a year, books that they get to keep as their own. We were put to work in the pre-kindergarten to first grade section. We took three new books and paired them with three used books and put them in a bag for distribution at pediatricians’ offices. The idea is that the kids and their parents will get the books from the time they are babies, long before they get on their first school bus.

The process was straightforward, and as I was filling the bags with books I kept thinking about how much I really loved reading. Many of the books that went through our production line were books that were read to me, or that I read to my children. In our group the adults kept picking up books and showing them to each other explaining how much they loved them. With watery puppy dog eyes they would say things like, “My Jessica loved this book. We must have read it a million times.” Oh, I am sure that on at least one or two of those million times they had wished that Jessica would have picked another book or would have gone bed already. I, too, took part in this sharing and thought about how much that time reading to my kids meant to me. Every kid in the house had a bookshelf of his or her own filled with a history of their reading experiences. Their collections began with picture books, then little skinny ones for early readers, followed by thicker ones, and finally with the voluminous Harry Potters and vampire-werewolf love story tomes. I thought about having on occasion to do the ridiculous dad thing: barge into the room and yell something about stopping all this reading nonsense, forcing them go to bed, only to return to my own room to read into the wee hours of the morning.

We were there only for a short time. But, I really felt like I was making a difference. I kept thinking about how simple all of this was. It’s not hard to give kids books. It’s just not that hard. Over time the payout will be monumentally huge. Before we left they showed us a short video of a group of the kids receiving their books at a school. A few of the children in the video explained what the books meant to them. Conveniently, the lady next to me started bawling loudly and drew all of the attention so I could wipe my own tears without anyone seeing.

As we walked back to the car I saw the Bernie’s Book Bank truck. It made me think that what we need in this country is a whole bunch more book banks and maybe a few less monetary ones. I believe that the investment in the former would pay far greater dividends than the later.

For more information about Bernie’s Book Bank and the work they do, please visit http://www.berniesbookbank.org

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