Can you live a creative life without clutter?

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This is the question I’ve been forced to ask as I drastically scale back my possessions. My most recent project has been decluttering the room that has been, in the two and a half years we’ve lived in our townhouse, a study, a library, and now, a guest room. It has housed, at various points, a desk, a chair and ottoman, and four bookshelves. Today it now contains a simple shelf that houses my collection of gemstones, now stored in a beautiful purple jewelry box my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas, images of the goddess and god, and a few treasured mementos. In addition, we’ve moved in the futon from my husband’s office. I pared my book collection down from four bookcases to two, and those are now in theoffice.

The room feels simple, light, and airy, with warm amethyst walls and lots of natural light. It has a feeling of magic, and my creativity shines through in the thoughtfully decorated shelf and artwork hanging on the wall. A box containing my tarot cards sits in one corner, and two small drums wait to be played in meditation.

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The room has been transformed from a crammed storage space for stuff, a room rarely used, to a space for relaxation and contemplation.

I used to think being creative meant always having a messy desk. Today, I no longer own a desk, preferring to curl up on the sofa, in a comfy chair, or on the patio with my laptop and a cup of coffee while I work. I used to be afraid to let go of a single scrap of paper with a story idea or line written on it. Today I thank these ideas for coming into my life, and release them. I used to save binders full of articles and story critiques; today I keep only what’s necessary and gratefully release the rest.

I’ve let go of crafting supplies for false starts and failed hobbies—the jewelry-making kits from fifteen years ago, the art easel from a decade ago. And what I’ve gained is space—not just physical space, but, more importantly, mental space. The shelf I mentioned earlier also contains two scrapbooks that I’m working on, a book of shadows and a wedding scrapbook. Scrapbooking is my latest creative endeavor (aside from writing, of course), and by letting go of the false starts and the old ideas, I’ve made all this space to focus on the beauty and bounty of the present and the creative potential of the future.

We now have a room for our guests to rest their heads, and a place away from distraction to sit, write, journal, meditate, read, create, contemplate. And I’ve found that clutter and creativity don’t have to go hand in hand.

I’m finding that by making space, I’m creating room for creativity to blossom, bloom, and flourish.

And that’s priceless.

I’d like to end with giving you a writing update, but this was a week of rest, as some health woes kept me from really digging in to revisions of Oak-Bound. Hopefully next week is more favorable. The decluttering process will also continue in the weeks ahead.

Looking forward to the week ahead, I’d like to dig in to those revisions and continue the process of simplifying, decluttering, and cozying up our home. And as I move forward, realize that by doing so, I’m freeing up space and time for the creative projects that are closest to my heart.

What about you? How do you grapple with creative clutter?

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Seeking Magic and Whimsy in 2018

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Creative Commons Stock Photo | Dreamstime.com

By now the glitz and glitter of the holiday season are behind us, a time of brightly colored packages tied up with ribbons—but also a time of harried running around for many of us.

Perhaps, now, we can pause. We can catch our breath.

And we can look forward to another year on the calendar. We’re still deep in the belly of winter. For Pagans, we’ll mark Imbolc on February 1, a celebration of the slightest quickening of the earth, of impending spring. And it’s still a long march forward to Ostara, the spring equinox, when daffodils trumpet the season and robins sing their merry tunes.

No, those of us in the northern, colder climes can look forward to trudging through snowdrifts and returning home to curl up under a blanket with a cup of steaming tea and a good book.

But there is a gift in these colder months. Winter is a time of stillness, of reflection, of rest. We can renew ourselves and look forward to the year ahead. We can plan our goals for the year just as we would plan our gardens.

Too many times, we sally forth without a clear vision. I am called, again and again lately, to Mary Oliver’s lovely phrase in her poem “The Summer Day”:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I spent much of 2017 scattered, and through that scattered energy, I found a renewed call to my purpose: to live a life that blends simplicity with whimsy, the everyday with the magical, creativity with calling. Above all, I am a storyteller. I took on too many things in 2017, trying to be and do too much, trying to make everyone happy, trying to live a life that satisfied other people’s definitions. I was exhausted. On the day before Yule, I woke up feeling awful, burnt out and stressed. It was a wake-up call to focus on what mattered, to return to my creative center. Out of that scattered chaos I found renewed purpose. To eat healthier. To care for my body, my mind, and my soul. To focus on my creative gifts. To simply be. To create from my center, my heart.

My goals for 2018 are to revise and polish several of my manuscripts and send them off on submission. As far as the first quarter–or “round”–of the year goes, I have several upcoming, self-imposed deadlines. My deadline for submitting Oak-Bound is January 8. My deadline for submitting Spellfire’s Kiss is March 3.

I’d also like to finish a draft of another story finished by the end of March–possibly Riverspell, the sequel to Spellfire’s Kiss, or one of my unfinished novellas, such as Fates Entangled or Silver’s Stray. Both of these have drafts finished but aren’t ready to be submitted yet. I’d like to get a draft of either finished, but Riverspell somehow feels more pressing.

On the home front, I’d like to continue various projects in our townhouse and continue my massive decluttering project. If I can tackle one project per month related to this goal, I’ll be satisfied with that.

I’ll also continue teaching English as a Second Language and, perhaps, branch out to animal rescue and take in a foster dog or two.

Magic. Simplicity. Creativity. Whimsy. These are what I strive for as I move forward.

The winter solstice has passed. The days are growing longer.

Perhaps, the signs of quickening are here. Even in the cold, short days of winter, the promise of spring remains. One need only look to the evergreens to remind us of the sleeping promise of the earth.

What about you? What are your plans for 2018? What are some of the words you’d use to define your “purpose?”

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Bright Holiday Blessings!

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Photo from Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

It was a simple Christmas in the Young household. We opened gifts—simple things, like t-shirts, books, chocolates, and tea. We drank tea and coffee and ate a simple meal of chicken and quinoa chili with cornbread for dinner. And our big outing for the day was a trip to the dog park, which was unfortunately deserted. Leo looked desperately around for puppy friends to roughhouse with, but no one showed up. So, Ryan and I stepped up. We mostly played keep-away, his favorite game. He grabbed a frisbee and we chased him. This lasted for quite a while.

It wasn’t a warm day, instead cold and crisp, and we ran bundled up in puffy jackets and gloves, our cheeks pink from the cold. Cows grazed in a nearby pasture, and we pointed them out to Leo, who was fascinated (he’d never seen one before!).

2017 has been a year of ups and downs, twists and turns, missteps and breakthroughs. A trip to Germany opened our eyes. Sleeping in the loft of a simple red cabin, surrounded by the sounds of barnyard animals, awakened by the sounds of chickens and goats, we realized we’d been moving away from the life we want. We want to live close to nature, to spend as much time as possible outdoors, to experience nature’s bounty and beauty as often as possible.

Making art and living simply. Today was a simple day. Sitting on the living room floor, opening simple but thoughtful gifts. Cooking and enjoying a homecooked meal. Embracing spontaneous playtime with a rambunctious, joyful dog.

In a few weeks, I hope to have a story out on submission and be digging into the last major round of revisions on my novel Spellfire’s Kiss. I’m trying to keep my other goals open for 2018, but I’d like to send out a couple short stories, finish two more novellas and at least one other novel—preferably a sequel to Spellfire’s Kiss. But I’m keeping it flexible.

Change is on the horizon. My husband has just finished his master’s degree in information technology, and we are planning our escape to the country—though when is still uncertain.

Thus, I end 2017 with a renewed sense of purpose. To spin stories and live simply. These are ever my goals.

Onward.

Blessed Yule, merry Christmas, happy New Year, and happy holidays, everyone!

Blessed be.

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The Problem with Perfectionism

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Shirley Hu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Confession time: I am a recovering perfectionist. I am striving to embrace my human imperfection because I have come to realize that is the only path to meaningful fulfillment in life. And I am recovering because I know my struggle with perfectionism is lifelong. The seeds of perfectionism will always be waiting to sprout inside me, if through self-doubt and self-unkindness, I water them and provide them with fertile soil.

Reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly helped me realize what a tremendous burden my perfectionism was—and more importantly, why it had developed. Perfectionism is a form of armor against vulnerability. And vulnerability is scary. But it’s also necessary. Without vulnerability, there is no true love, no vibrant joy, no great adventure. Afraid of judgment or ridicule, I wielded perfectionism like a shield. This is especially harmful because I am a writer. I exist in the creative arena. To create anything meaningful, vulnerability is necessary.

One of my biggest epiphanies as a creative came to me in the middle of the night. As a self-professed night owl, I’m prone to midnight epiphanies, and so I wasn’t surprised, though I was moved by the awakening this realization stirred.

It went something like this: There is no such thing as a perfect book. The best of books has its critics. What one reader loves, another loathes. The best we can strive for is to create a story that moves someone, to stir human emotion, whether joy, sorrow, hope, sadness, excitement, or passion. Or, perhaps, all of these.

This seems obvious, but perfectionism is sneaky. It has its tricks to convince us otherwise.

This dawning was liberating. It freed me from the sharp briars of perfectionism. It renewed my joy in the creative process. It doesn’t make writing easy, but it does make it more enjoyable, more exciting.

Brown opens her book with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I think can serve creatives and recovering perfectionists well:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So, onward I march, flawed and imperfect. Fumbling and failing all the while, I strive forward, toiling at the page, living the life of a storyteller. Starting next year, I will be sending my stories out to editors and agents, daring greatly.

This week I started the second draft of Oak-Bound. The plan is to incorporate my critique partner’s suggestions and a few changes of my own I want to make and then send it to my husband for his feedback. After that, I’ll make some more changes and hopefully by January, it will be ready for submission. I also want to start the next draft of Spellfire’s Kiss this month and try to get that ready for submission early next year.

I’ll share another quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I think can serve creatives well:

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Or, as Buffy more succinctly said:

“The hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.”

Be brave. Live deeply. Dream wildly. Create passionately. Embrace imperfection.

What about you? In what areas of your life have you struggled with perfectionism? How are you daring greatly?

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Autumn—With a Dash of Chill

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Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

Late autumn is here in earnest this week, with some chilly temps and soggy days. It’s been a week for sipping tea and curling up under a blanket with a good book.

I’m finally getting around to responding to blog comments, and I apologize for the delay. Having two new part-time jobs has sent my schedule all topsy-turvy, and I’m still finding my groove and getting into a new routine.

It’s also been a year of introspection, as I really have delved deep into what I want out of this one wild, precious life. I want to be a storyteller more than anything, but I also want to travel, to have adventures, and to help people. So, I’m processing all of that as well as slowly progressing on my stories.

That brings me to the big progress for this week. Here’s where I’m at with my fourth-quarter goals.

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-BoundI’m officially finished with the first draft. I wrote the ending lines a few weeks ago, but there were a number of changes to make before I sent it off to my critique partner. And it’s sent!
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss, once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader. On hold until December.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month. Went to a local craft fair Friday afternoon.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week. 
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own. I found some flooring online for the living/dining rooms, and we’re hoping to go look at it in person on Sunday.
  6. Bonus Goal: Baba Yaga novelette. Now that Oak-Bound is finished, I’m off to work on this story. I’d like to finish a draft before Nov. 20, when I meet with my CP, so I can work on the second draft of Oak-Bound while my novelette, tentatively titled Ancient Charm, rests for a while. Current: 2K/12K.

It’s hard to believe, but soon it will be Thanksgiving, with the winter holidays following fast on its heels. I’m enjoying the last stubborn traces of autumn leaves before winter sweeps them away, while embracing the coziness of the colder seasons.

What about you? What have you been up to lately, writing, reading, or otherwise? I’ve missed the online community, and I’m glad to be back with all of you!

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Autumn Whirlwind

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Photo by Bellemedia, Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Wow. My life has been a whirlwind these past few weeks. Some of it amazing. I started teaching English as a Second Language, which is promising to be a life-changing journey for me. Some of it not so amazing—like a beloved family member being diagnosed with a serious illness.

So, in the midst of all of the craziness, I’ve been plugging away at my novella Oak-Bound and trying to get it done by the end of this month. I’m close, guys. It will probably be 25-27K, and I’m right around the 22K mark as I type this. I hope to get another 1K or 2K words in before I go to bed tonight.

So. Close. This is a story half a decade in the making. I remember sitting at my friend Amelia’s kitchen table and going over critiques of the first first chapter of this story. And then I set it aside. I wasn’t ready to write it then, but Nick and Cassie kept whispering in my ear, and I knew I couldn’t give up on them.

Five years later, a first draft is close to being completed. And yes, there will be a happy dance when it is done.

So, where does this leave my progress on my goals for this quarter? Well…

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound. On track, and I hope to finish this in the next few days. Fingers crossed!
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss,once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader. On hold until I finish Oak-Bound.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month. Going to see author Sharyn McCrumb at the local library on Sunday, and hubby and I bought tickets for a hayride next weekend.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week. Nada.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own. Ordered new chairs for the living room and library, and I’ve piled up a large quantity of items to take to the thrift store. I’ve also hung some photographs in our hallway and in my library.
  6. Bonus Goal: I just found an upcoming call for submissions for an anthology based around the mythology of Baba Yaga, this fascinating figure from Russian folklore. I’d like to write a draft of a Baba Yaga novelette—somewhere in the 10-12K range, so I’m adding this goal.

I am hoping the rest of autumn will be calmer, as I settle into a teaching routine, dig deep into my stories, break out the cozy sweaters, and move closer toward submitting some of my stories for publication. I currently have one short story out on submission and will hear back sometime next month.

What about you? How is your autumn progressing? And please, because I love this season, what is your favorite thing about autumn?

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Round 4: Intentions

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Triberg waterfall, in the Black Forest region of Germany. Photo by my husband, Ryan Spoon, August 2017.

Since my return from my trip to Germany in August, I’ve entered a period of quiet introspection. What direction do I want to go in my life? Am I on an authentic path that will allow me to drink from the wellspring of creativity? How do I define success, and how have I internalized society’s definition of success?

My head spinning with such questions, the universe brought Tami Lynn Kent’s book Wild Creative into my life. I didn’t devour the book. I read it intently, studying some passages over and over and taking my time with the prescribed exercises. A few of my favorite quotes from Wild Creative:

“Most of our current work and life structures have been devised to emphasize production and how much we can accomplish rather than the nurturing of the soul. This routinely takes us away from our natural inclinations and the flow of our energy field.”

“Taking ownership of one’s creative life force is a conscious act to change the focus from exclusively monetary values to modes that value life.”

“Though we may tend to take note of visibly productive years where we have ‘something to show’ for our work, the less visible years are equally important and essential to the overall creative journey.”

Too often as writers, we’re obsessed with word counts. There’s the #1k1hr hashtag. There’s NaNoWriMo, in which we’re given the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. There’s the infamous 1-millionth word we pen. And there are countless prescriptions out there for how many words we should write in a day.

Naturally, wanting to “succeed,” I followed such models, only to find myself burnt out. The wellspring of creativity was dry. I would write in short bursts when inspiration struck, or force myself through a revision, only to grow burnt out and exhausted once more.

So 2017 will not shape up to be a year of epic word counts. Instead, I believe, it is a year of introspection, of peering deep inside myself and trying to ascertain the life I truly want.

That life is authentic. It is imperfect. It is one of individually defined success. It is sometimes messy, often beautiful, filled with countless moments of joy. Watching Leo chew on sticks in the yard while I sip my coffee and read a book. Enjoying the color of the rose bushes as they bloom. Cooking a simple meal. Making my own home products—so far this year, I’ve discovered recipes for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and lavender goat’s milk soap. Owning less and living more. Travel as a form of discovering self and connecting with the world around me. And, of course, creating art, stories that, if I do my job, will enchant and inspire.

My latest work in progress, Oak-Bound, is one that came to me five years ago. I wasn’t ready to write it then, and it came out flat and forced. I tried again a year ago. Same result. Back in July, I stopped and I listened. Like a tree, I stretched my roots deep into the loamy soil of inspiration, and I soaked up what I found.

I am finally ready to give form to this story, a novella-length work about loss, grief, trauma, and healing, and the human relation with the divine and nature. I want to tell stories that spring from my heart, stories that are vibrant and authentic, and Cassie and Nick’s story feels like one of those stories. I very much hope to share it with you one day.

Thus, I have no “goals” for the last quarter of 2017. Instead, I share with you my intentions for the rest of the year:

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound.
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss, once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own.

As the Wheel turns toward Samhain and the seasons cycle toward winter, I will continue to dig deep, to listen closely, to spend time in nature, and to move toward authenticity.

What about you? What are your intentions for the rest of 2017? Have you read Wild Creative? Do any of the quotes above resonate with you?

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The Turning of the Wheel of the Year

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“A study in Scarlet 1” by boogy_man at stock.xchng

I felt the shift last week. The air, a little cooler. The leaves, with their hints of gold and red. Autumn was on its way. This week has been filled with cool mornings and autumn rain. We ate chili and snuggled up under blankets. As I walk Leo, I notice the marked shift in the leaves.

As the air grows colder, as the seasons cycle toward autumn and impending winter, I find myself turning inward. I’m reading Tami Lynn Kent’s amazing book Wild Creative, and it reinforces a reawakening that had already begun inside me. I had internalized societal pressure to “get a real job,” “make some money,” “be successful” (whatever that means).

I turned inward and realized that those pressures, reinforced by others in direct and sometimes subtle, indirect ways, were taking a toll. I was carrying them around like a load of bricks on my back. I let them fall.

I am still trying to figure out what all this means, where it will all land. Deadlines are a part of the writer’s existence, and I must manage those while living with chronic medical conditions that sometimes seem to drain the energy from my body, leaving me tired to the core and struggling to get through the day.

And I’m still processing the lessons from my trip to Germany, which taught me I’m most alive when I’m close to animals and nature. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate those lessons into my life as my husband and I contemplate an escape from life in town and into the country.

As for my writing goals, I have finally started writing again after the block that followed my return from Germany. I wrote a poem, “Call me Raven,” that’s got this very Romantic/outcast vibe to it, and just got comments back from a friend and fellow writer. And I wrote 658 words in my novella Oak-Bound last week and 357 words last night.

 

Ideally, I’d like to finish a draft of Oak-Bound by Samhain (or, as Muggles refer to it, Halloween)–when the Wheel of the Year begins a new cycle. And then I can turn toward Spellfire’s Kiss, which is very much a story about autumn, colder days, and even colder nights.

I’ll share more about my journey through Kent’s Wild Creative in my next post.

In the meantime, does it feel like autumn where you are? How do you embrace the slide into the colder half of the seasons?

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Very Simple Round Three Goals

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It’s hard to believe that my last post was in early June. This summer has turned out to be a hectic one, and I’ve struggled to fit both writing and blogging into that. And I must admit that with everything I have planned for the next few weeks, my blogging will be sporadic at best until late August/early September.

Nonetheless, I wanted to post my goals for the rest of this round. According to the ROW80 website, there are 53 days to go in this round.

My goals are simple. First and foremost, I want to finish a first draft of my novella Oak-Bound. This story started as a tiny seedling of an idea probably five years or so ago. It’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. I feel strongly connected to the lead characters, Cassie and Nick. It’s new-adult paranormal romance, and finally, after all these years, I feel ready to get Cassie and Nick’s story out of my head and onto the page. My goal for Oak-Bound is to write 3,500 words/week. I wrote 3,867 words last week on this project.

My other goals are to continue with my goal to read 30 books this year and to start some sort of workout regimen.

That’s it. Like I said, simple. I also want to check in regularly with fellow ROWers, but I’ll have a lot on my plate, especially in the next few weeks, so if you don’t hear from me, I’m not ignoring you, just a little overwhelmed.

What about you? What project are you currently working on? What’s on your summer reading list?

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Simple Summer Pleasures

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Photo by Orientaly | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Summer is in full swing here in Virginia’s New River Valley. As I type, birds are singing in the twilight. The grass beneath my feet is soft and lush; the trees are bright green and filled with scampering squirrels and countless types of birds. Leo and I have been enjoying long walks in the park and on the nature trails we’re lucky enough to have right outside our back door. I’m growing herbs and squash in containers on our front porch, and the lemon balm, oregano, and basil are already taking off. Tonight I cooked stir-fry and added some of the sweet basil into the mix.

We live in a go-go-go society. Too often we miss the birdsong and squirrels because we’re focused on other things. Too often we forget to drink in the forest’s tranquility because we’re distracted by modern life. Too often we don’t savor the taste of fresh basil because something else is calling our attention away.

True contentment, I believe, is slowing down enough to enjoy these things. True contentment means embracing moments of stillness and the small moments of joy that are all around us—if only we’re paying attention.

So what did I do this week, aside from some container gardening and long walks? I wrote 3,612 words in Fates Entangled. I did a lot of refreshing of my social media presence. I’ve been more active on Facebook, tried a new Twitter chat, updated my cover images for Facebook and Twitter, and started planning some changes to this website for the launch of Spellfire’s Kiss, hopefully this autumn. I continued reading Courting Darkness by Yasmine Galenorn.

On the home front, hubby and I are talking more and more about saving up to buy or build a house in the country. He really wants to live in a yurt, so we’re researching that option. No definite plans yet—this is all just dreaming out loud. But it’s something that might be out there on the horizon. And long summer days and warm summer nights are the perfect time for such dreams.

What about you? What are your favorite summer pleasures?

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