Macrocosmic Marvels, Memoir, Menagerie

On Being an Ally

Transgender Day of Visibility is March 31

**UPDATE**: I wrote this in 2019 to speak at our church, alongside my son, Eddie, on Transgender Day of Visibility. So much has happened since then. We’ve both grown in knowledge and experience. 

On March 10 of this year, 2022, Eddie just achieved his goal of gender affirming top surgery, and I spent the post surgery week caring for him. I have so much I want to say about how utterly meaningful it was to be there for him and witness his joy and healing. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops that here, here is my beautiful boy and I am so proud to be here beside him.

My son, Eddie, just after surgery

 Instead, I simply witnessed him becoming even more himself. I watched as they pulled away his bandages and he saw his scars, already healing on his now flat chest. I saw his wonder and relief that this moment, so long awaited, was finally here. It was a moment I will treasure forever. My amazing son is at peace and happy in his body. His inside and outside finally match up in a way that matters most to him. I am thankful and humbled to have been allowed to care for his needs and  share this time with him. 

Right now, across the country, there is legislation in far too many states that would, if passed, rob teens as well as some adults of their human rights to simply live as who they are.  Some of these laws require teachers to report transgender kids. These kids, these people, want nothing more than to live their lives in peace and get the medical and mental/emotional support they need in order to do so. They are not harming anyone. They deserve love and all of other basic human rights that cisgender people have and take for granted. If my child had been denied the care he received, I’m certain I would have lost him. He would not have survived. 

If you are at all able to do so, please call your state representatives and urge them to vote no on these ‘slate of hate’ laws that will, if passed, do great harm to transgender teens and their families. And then, if you know a trans kid, show them some love. Use their correct pronouns and correct names at every opportunity. Tell them you love them, no matter what. I guarantee you they need that love and support. 

And if you have transgender folks in your life but don’t know how to talk to them, how to help them get the help they need, message me. I’ll help you find the information you need. Please, just love them, and be the ally they all need.

– March 31, 2022

As a UU, I’m ready, like most of you, to make signs, march, protest, and to help register my neighbors to vote. I’m ready to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. I’ve studied world religions and tried to meet my conservative angry neighbor where she is, fresh baked cookies in hand.

As UU’s we know just how to save our world right?
Parenting has taught me that saving the world begins at home.

About 20 years ago, as I prepared to become a mom, I studied all the parenting books and joined this church, so that I could provide my children whatever support they might need as they grew into the kind of enlightened adult I thought I was. I got involved with the youth group here, believing that working with teens would teach me plenty about parenting my own eventual teenagers. I was not disappointed. I’ll get to what I learned in a moment.

Memories of my own misfit teen years were still fresh, and I wanted to become the kind of mom I’d needed– for my own kids. I told my children, often, that they could be anyone or anything, and that I would always love and accept them, no matter what.

They knew they could tell me anything without fear of judgement.
We were ready to face anything and everything together.

Imagine my shock and confusion when my kid came out as non-binary transgender– not to me– but to all of facebook! What? But they HATE facebook! Why did they feel they couldn’t come to me? How did I screw up the thing I was the most prepared for?

I was devastated. Not because they were transgender, but because I felt excluded from something so deep and so important to them. I hurt because I wasn’t helping them carry the frustration and anxiety they’d expressed so publicly.

What did I get so wrong? What did I miss?

The thing I missed, the thing I’d forgotten was the most important thing I’d learned from every teenager I’ve ever known.

Our main job, at this point, is to be still and listen. It is on us to create and hold a safe space for them to cry, rage, vent, or rejoice.

Then–and this is harder but more important–don’t try to fix it.

I’ll say that again. Be silent. Listen. Don’t try to fix it.

Just Be there. Even when they aren’t speaking. I know, you’d do ANYTHING to protect them, and so much more. But now you’re called on to do the hardest thing. NOTHING. If you just leave that door open, they’ll come to you. If they need help solving it, they’ll ask.

It may look like they’re just sitting there, inactive, lazy even. But I promise, they’re doing the hard work of sifting through choices, determining goals and how to achieve them. Seeking their own paths, fighting their own demons. Don’t try to do it for them.

Do honor their struggle. Offer your shoulder to cry on.
Remind them you love them.
Listen when they tell you what they need. And respect those needs.

They need to know you love them, unconditionally. Regardless of name, identity, appearance, and grumpy moods.

Respect who they are in this moment, even if it changes tomorrow. Know that this is not just a phase, though it may take time to sort out. Some people are male or female, others are non-binary or gender fluid. Trust the work you’ve done to help grow this human. Trust them. They won’t disappoint you. They’ll exceed your wildest expectations.

Celebrate their victories and joys with them. And there are so many joys. Even as you might grieve the person you think you’ve lost, and plans and hopes you may have had for them when they were born–accept the gift of getting to know who they are now, and who they are becoming.

Over the past couple of years I’ve learned so much. I have witnessed so much beauty and profound happiness as Eddie has become, outwardly, the amazing person they’ve always been on the inside.

I am humbled and honored to be part of this journey with my child.

It is a gift to see their unbridled joy in the small random moments.
That moment when someone sees, not a gender, but a person. The first time they receive something personalized with their chosen name. That moment when we started to research counseling and hormone therapy, together.
The moment when we helped another transgender teen on their journey, together.

And the pride they have when they tell their friends they’re out to their parents and that they can tell us anything.

I know this hands off approach hurts. It’s too soon right? We need to be needed. And we are still needed. But in a different way now.

They need our help finding legal, medical and mental health support. They need friends and family modeling how to be helpful allies in our communities. As parents, standing together as advocates and allies for transgender teens, we could be a force for change. We can share hopes and fears, resources and support to help make our world better for all transgender people. I’d love to talk about it with you. My door is always open.

March 31, 2019
Manderley Swain

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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

Ever Underfoot

Always there
Ever underfoot
In my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

Lost in my own hell
I lashed out with fire
Wrapped up in myself
I held my selfish world tighter
A wounded wild thing, confused
Tried to scare him away
Unwilling to see the truth

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

My world
Upside down
Tilt-a-whirl
Turned around
His outstretched hand
Direction found
Light glimmered in the dark
Followed the sound
His voice, sweet sparks

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

Unflinching steady
Friendship’s light
Helping hands ready
Soothing, restoring my sight
Seeing him with new eyes
Perspective shifts
Heart opens, passions rise
Love stirs, closes the rift

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

How did I miss him there before?
His fierce loyalty and love
He was always there, giving more
Too busy hiding in my fortress
Trying to stay above
When I should have listened
Should have loved

Always there
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise

Sparks play across his eyes
His voice, singing softly in my ear
Our passions rise
His hands tangled in my hair
Our duet of heated cries
Growling clawing biting kissing
Love and lust in fevered pitch
Coming down, blissful sighs

Always there
His voice
Constant sounds in my ear
Talking, singing, random noise
Ever underfoot
And in my hair
I’m forever thankful
He is always there

Manderley Swain
July 23, 2018

This is a poem about my partner Zen. Before we fell in love (realized we were in love with each other), we found each other irritating for a time. We were each suffering in our own silent darknesses. When the tide turned, I found I was so profoundly grateful he’d remained underfoot and in my heart no matter how hard I pushed him away. This poem is our love story.

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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

The Spaces Between

Living in the gray spaces
Between dark and light
Living in Liminal leys
Between the lines
Living in the twilight traces
Between day and night
Living in the graces
Between spaces and times
Living in the changing faces
Between the blinks of your eyes
Living in the embraces
Between inside and outside

Living on the threshold
Between the aged stones
Living in the darkened hall
Between the ghostly moans
Living inside the call
Between the numbers on the phones
Living in the bitter cold
Between flakes of ice and snow
Living in stories yet untold
Between the notes of the song
Living inside your soul
Between right and wrong

–Manderley Swain
3/14/21

I wrote this during a breakup/reset period with one of my partners. We’re both intense people in relationship. We both have trauma behind us and within us. During this time, we committed to remaining friends. We agreed that we could not un-know or un-love each other. We hoped that we might take this time to learn each other’s contexts and needs better. And we did that. But in between the new relationship energy time and the back to good time, we struggled with love and longings we could not unknow or unremember. We lived in the between spaces, waiting to be whole again. It was bittersweet and tragic and beautiful.

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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

Pale Flower

I once knew a pale flower
She flew away upon the wind
Spring storms her petals did rescind
Retreated she unto her bower

Another season lay she dormant
Hidden and warm beneath the grass
Unseen by all souls who pass’d
Counting days in reverent silence

I once knew a pale flower
She flew away upon the wind
On her return my heart doth mend
Our friendship lights my darkest hour

Manderley Swain
April 12, 2021

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Memoir, Menagerie, Musical Monologues

Constellation

Written February 16, 2018. This was the Valentine I wrote for my two partners and my meta that year. The originals feature paper cut designs of each person’s symbolic animals on black cardstock with color cardstock backings.

Zen and I had been dating only since October of 2017 and I wanted to express my love for partners and meta alike. I also wanted to express how I felt, and still feel, about this polyamory adventure we embarked on together. It took us all some time to find our way together, but here we are 4 years later, having added yet another partner to the polycule and still strong together, still finding our way. Still strong.

This year I would dedicate the poem to all of us, including Maurice. It still feels right and whole and beautiful.

Together we four
In love’s constellation dance
The stars rewritten
By courage and chance

Sharing dreams
The world cannot comprehend
Through our hearts’ prisms
Perception and starlight bend

The wave of a wand
Forms a magical polycule
An intrinsic bond
Elements in a molecule

Our love is no mystery
Only a glorious testament
to the curious alchemy
Of friendship’s sweet sacrament

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Madness, Memoir, Menagerie

What Polyamory Means to Me

(Originally started November 2020, completed November 8, 2021)

Why polyamory?

I can only answer for myself. There are as many ways to be polyamorous as there are people who are polyamorous. The following is a snapshot of my personal journey.

Polyamory reminds me every day that I am not alone. That no one is an island. We each bring different things to the poly family (polycule).

It’s been more than two years since I dropped a blog post in which I came out as Polyamorous and pansexual. For me, that was a big moment of liberation, in that I let go of any pretense at all of hiding who I am from those around me. Ironically, almost no one really read it. That’s ok. I’ve been coming out again and again ever since that moment. Each time I do, it’s affirming all over again.

As I share who I am, who I’ve always been, with each new or old friend or relative I am granted yet another opportunity to feel and express my joy and gratitude for all the gifts an authentic life can bring. And I get to take a moment to live into the love I feel for my partners as well as for my community in a deeper way than I would be keeping it all to myself.

As for most people, 2020 brought with it many tests, trials, changes, losses and gains, both to myself and to my polycule (polycule is a common term that polyamorous people often use to refer to our partners and their partners as a group). At the beginning of 2020, I dated someone new. It was beautiful, but it turned out I wasn’t ready to add anyone to our little cluster just yet. As the pandemic swept in and re-ignited old anxieties and triggers, I found I was ill equipped to handle my own emotions let alone the extra give and take that new relationship brings. So I ended it–and chose the long standing friendship we’d already built. I dug into self care, therapy, inner work. My polycule supported me as I fell into guilt and depression about it.

Then came one of the biggest, hardest rollercoasters I faced in that fateful year. I closed my 10 year old sewing business. I’d poured so much of myself into my work that I barely, rarely knew where I ended and it began. Closing it was like watching a beloved friend leave me forever. Again, our polycule carried me. Supported me. Loved me. Encouraged me, us, as Zen and I embarked on new paths to fulfill the call of creative work that we both love.

I grieved all summer, kept digging with therapy and more self care. Art. Zen. Polycule love and support.

Then, in November, Zen’s husband broke his wrist. Our polycule supported them. We fed them. We shared in driving and some help with expenses. We’re always catching each other–so no one falls completely now. We’re a family. We share pains as well as joys in each other.

I cooked all of Thanksgiving dinner for the polycule and for another friend we invited into our lives at that moment in time. Cooking for everyone was a gift to me in and of itself. It helped heal the longing I’d still been feeling from losing my Grandparents a few years ago.

Fall passed into winter as we continued to all care for one another, celebrating birthdays, joys and sorrows and the holidays. As the seasons turned, I fell in love again, with Maurice. He brought to life other facets of me that were in the background with other partners. Another benefit and joy of being poly. I bring different parts of myself to the forefront with each partner and together they love and bring out the whole me, in ways that enrich all of our lives.

Navigating the ups and downs of new relationship energy and reconciling new love with ongoing loves had and still has its challenges but again, the polycule carries me. We carry each other.

My husband was out of work from April 2021 until recently and we’ve all had challenges making ends meet, but we’ve continued to be here for each other and for friends along the way. I won’t recount all of them, but every week brings new questions, new difficulties and new opportunities to rediscover who we all are, individually and collectively in our polycule. At the end of the day, we all love each other. We share our troubles and our celebrations with each other. We are made stronger by that foundation of trust and communication and shared experience. It is, perhaps, Ohana in that truly no one is left behind or forgotten.

I know that polyamory isn’t for everyone. It requires hard work, communication, trust, honesty and perseverance–just like monogamy. We make mistakes, we work through them together and we forgive and move forward–just like monogamy.

I don’t know what the future holds. I only know that I am grateful for the love and support of my polycule and of my community of friends and family who have taken the time and done the work to learn about our family and have accepted us. It is good to feel seen. Going back in the closet is not an option. So we live our lives out loud now, advocating and educating whenever and however we can.

Invite me for a cup of tea, as I said in my earlier post. I’ll answer most any question and maybe we’ll know each other better after. Be well and be safe my loves.

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Madness, Memoir, Menagerie, Uncategorized

RPGs and PTSD or How Gaming Turned into Therapy

(originally written April, 2020)

I have a long and complex personal history with RPG’s (role playing games). I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in high school with a boyfriend. During the time I was dating him, he used elements of gaming as one of several methods of manipulation and psychological abuse. Further in, the abuse turned physical. I came out of that time with very few memories of actual game play. I remembered the characters I created and minimal mechanics of how to play. I also came out of the experience with understandably mixed feelings about gaming, role playing of any kind along with so much other baggage that mixed together in a crazy anxiety stew.


I’ve always loved all of the elements that led to the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and other RPG’s. I’ve been a Tolkien fan practically since birth. Fairy tales, Fantasy and Science Fiction have been my go to reading since before I could read at all. I was ever the child who believed in fairies. As an adult I still do. My childhood was filled with all of the games of pretend and imagination. Role play was already second nature long before I knew D&D existed in its own right. I love character creation, storybuilding, fantasy art–I was built hard-wired for RPG’s. But that was corrupted in the blink of an eye for me.
Many of my friends have always been gamers. They’re my tribe. So in my 20’s, when I still could not feel safe participating in game play, I sat in on sessions with my friends–watching, listening to the stories grow through the games they played, and sketching. I enjoyed the atmosphere even though it felt too scary to join in. The visions they conjured as they played fed my imagination and my art. I felt certain I would never play again, though I’ve held onto my original set of dice to this day. They’re colorful, sparkly and they still felt good to hold and to look at the light shining through them. And I guess some part of me refused to fully admit defeat. I had a tiny spark of hope that I might someday use them again.


A few years ago, I saw light shining into my self inflicted darkness. ( here I should point out that I am fully aware that the trauma was never my fault, but continuing to hide from something I knew I’d probably enjoy was entirely a self made prison.) The timing might finally be right, after more than 25 years since I left the boyfriend and his abuse behind.


I’d known from before we started dating that Zen and his husband were gamers. I tuned out his stories of gaming because I couldn’t face this thing I wanted to do but felt I couldn’t do. My husband also enjoyed gaming when we first married. I sat in on their games too, but life had taken us away from that experience so he had not done any gaming himself for maybe 10 years or more.


I felt scared and intimidated by trying to learn a new thing while fighting off panic and anxiety that I had always felt around gaming and adding up the numbers quickly and under perceived pressure. When I feel anxious or triggered my brain can’t do any of the things that should come easily. That kind of compounds any other fears or anxieties already present.


One day Zen told me how much his husband, Paul, loved sharing his love of gaming with newbie. He loves teaching new people how to play. He has infinite patience with the often clumsy newbie. I tentatively reached out and asked if we could try it to see if I could do this.


Paul chose a game system that only uses d10’s (10 sided dice). That simplified everything. That reduced the pressure and anxiety by half at least for me. The game was Vampire: the Masquerade.


At first, it was just the four of us with Paul as the storyteller, or game master. (GM). Keeping the group very small gave me a sense of safety as I learned. Once I began to feel more secure in my role and in my skills, we added a few more friends to our group. Then we started exploring other systems using d20’s and all the other dice too. I still get anxious and stressed at the beginning of a gaming session, but I can feel even that easing up little by little with every new session.


We’ve been playing for about three years together now, and I look forward to gaming no matter what system we’re playing. I know that if I begin to fall, my group will catch me and show me the way back to where I need to be, with patience and love and lots of fun. Gaming has provided a creative outlet, therapeutic benefits, new ways to apply my own creativity, new friends, new ways to interact with friends and strangers alike and more opportunities for growth with every session.


And an ongoing obsession with shiny, sparkly, colorful dice! I still use my original dice too. Only now I have several other sets, despite some guy at a local gaming store questioning my choices in dice purchasing. Sad customer service aside, I’m certain one can never have too many dice sets…


And now, with social distancing in place, I’ve been battling my difficulties with technology. We’re using Discord for gaming. I find technology challenging, daunting and stressful. But I’m not letting that stop me. Tomorrow, I’ll participate in a third gaming session using Discord chat and digital dice apps. Soon, even that won’t phase me much.


It may not seem like such a big thing to most people. Gaming is even regarded as ridiculous and frivolous to some. But to have reclaimed that piece of myself in this way has been profoundly empowering. To have friends and lovers who cared enough to help me reach this point makes me feel wealthy beyond measure. My gratitude for this gift is limitless.

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Memoir, Menagerie, Muse, Uncategorized

Backyard Superheroes

My own children at ages 5 and 7 in costumes I made for them

Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Batman, Storm, Rogue, Spiderman, Superman, Kitty Pryde, Bionic Woman and Bionic Man– heroes a child could find in popular culture, not just in comic books, in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

As children, we wore all of their mantles, my best friend, and I. In the twilight between our houses where we played all summer, weekends, and after school. From comic books to movies to TV shows, we tried out each one for our imaginary play.

Before cosplay was even a word before Halloween costumes graduated from boxy painted vinyl jumpsuits with cheesy plastic masks. And long before you could easily find replica props for your favorite characters, we became all of our favorite characters with nothing but our own minds’ eyes. Visualizing every detail of costuming as we played, we ‘saw’ each other vividly as the characters we portrayed every day together.

We imagined complex worlds for our heroes to play in–worlds rich and nuanced and complete in every detail as if we’d been transported there by Scotty himself.

Onlookers, outsiders, or parents only saw a couple of kids, playing, riding bikes, rollerskating, running, yelling, laughing and dreaming together. They couldn’t see the villains we battled every day as we saved the world in one-hour increments, one afternoon at a time. Every. Day.

We rarely, if ever, allowed anyone into this sacred space of our imagination. It was an unspoken agreement, but we both knew that others, especially adults, were unlikely to comprehend us and how we played, nor even how we discussed plans for play.

There was nothing sinister or sneaky here. It was simply a private world where we could truly be whomever or whatever we wished, without fear of bullying or teasing. We could be real behind the safety of our make-believe masks.

Though we could not have articulated or even fully identified it all ourselves at the time, we knew, on some level, that our games of pretend were unique. We knew that we were tackling deeper problems through play than anyone would expect children to even consider, let alone understand. It didn’t even matter that we, ourselves, were not conscious of all the complex emotions and concepts inherent in battling imaginary foes. It was all still there, bubbling beneath the surface. Inner demons, bullies, the unfair powerless feelings children often experience for any number of reasons–all these were processed through putting the bad guys in jail–usually after great chases, grueling battles, wounds and scars, captures and daring rescues.

Powerful discussions and profound healing took place daily under the metaphorical disguises of larger than life superheroes and villains.

As we grew older and found that the heroes on page and screen were no longer multi-dimensional enough to hold all that we ourselves were becoming, we created our own characters, our own alter ego heroes. Never committed to writing or art but instead, indelibly etched into our psyches as all the old masks fell away. We didn’t need physical representations of these characters–we simply saw them in ourselves, in each other, with no question of the accuracy in the details. We’d been playing together our whole lives, best friends. We had a connection so strong that we might have been communicating telepathically anyway.

To quote my friend “Like the X-Men and most other heroes, we didn’t ask for these powers, we just had them. We just were them. And we always will be.”

Our imaginations were our greatest superpowers. And still are.

Knowing that playtime hour awaited us at the end of most days allowed us to conquer whatever challenges our ordinary days held for us, large or small. Because we had our secret identities, the selves we presented to the workaday world could withstand whatever we had to. We knew we were strong, invulnerable creative beings.

Myself, age 4, 1974

We knew we were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, along with any other obstacle we encountered. We knew had each other’s backs. We knew we were heroes.

My own original childhood character’s superpower was turning illusions into reality, hiding in plain sight or being noticed, colorfully, at will. She shaped the world around her into whatever she wanted to see, she manipulated colors, all the colors in her world. She was a living Rainbow. She often made something from nothing.

Now, as an adult, it is my great privilege to bring to life those cherished visions everyone has of their favorite character, real or imagined. I sew cosplay costumes, I make ordinary people (children AND adults) feel and look like movie stars, kings and queens, gods and goddesses.

My job is to make the world more colorful. I manipulate colors. I am a Rainbow. I often make something from nothing. What’s your superpower?

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Memoir, Menagerie, Muse, Uncategorized

Serendipity

wp-image-483930761Serendipity!

Yesterday I was surprised with another family’s button box! This was an unexpected and truly wonderful gift. My friend Helen, having no one in her family who wanted her button collection, offered me a simple white cardboard shoe box on Sunday morning just after church. I am both honored and excited to receive it!

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We opened the box together so that she could tell me about one or two of the items inside. Right away I could see that these were treasures. Helen had lovingly sorted them by color and some by style or use into small plastic bags. They were clearly labeled as well. Many of them were stitched together in sets with single strands of teal thread. There are enormous coat buttons and tiny shirt buttons. And all sorts of in between sizes.  Also included are buckles of all sizes and a few other adornments that are not, strictly speaking, buttons, but are wondrous all the same.  She pointed out some of the fancier ones and was somewhat apologetic over the modest white shirt buttons. As we talked, she was searching through the box for the buckles. She pulled out two of them to show me specifically.

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These two special buckles had been bagged, not with the rest of the assortment of small buckles, but instead, were in the bag with the fanciest of the buttons. The label on these reads ‘very nice buckles’. At first glance these two buckles seem somewhat plain and a little rough and uneven, with some dents and scratches in the bargain. Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that they were hand crafted, many years ago. They have no signature or maker’s marks on them but it’s obvious they were carefully designed and constructed. Both buckles are pewter, created for a 1 and ½ inch belt width. Designed by and for a lady to wear, and would have been quite stylish in their time. In any time really. Helen tells me that they were hand-crafted by her own mother around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I fully intend to find a way to wear them, and proudly.

I will also, no doubt, find some way of adding some of the other, equally beautiful and dramatic buttons to clothing of my own design. Whether I wear them or not, though, I will spend hours in the months and years to come imagining stories that must go along with the many treasures that are tucked away in this simple shoebox.

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Helen had never read my story about my own grandmother’s button box and so she could not have known how much I will truly love and cherish her gift. I am humbled and honored that she would think of me. And I am delighted by the serendipity!

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