Sleeves. Please.

I admit I will never have Linda Hamilton arms.

In celebration of opening my new store, I am reminded to post my latest addendum to the Middle Aged Woman rules, to wit:

  • Always wear sleeves!

I don’t care how “toned” your arms are – I don’t care if you look like Linda Hamilton in Terminator, if you are a woman of a certain age, sleeves are required.

Even Linda wears them, short though they are, on the set of the new Terminator movie. 

I will never forget the first time I saw her doing pull-ups, sleevelessly, in the first movie of that franchise. (I could link you a YouTube of it, but the clip gets violent and who needs that on a beautiful spring day. You remember the arms, I know you do).

It was a searing moment of self-realization.

I realized that I will never have Linda Hamilton arms.

On the Presidential Fitness Award test, an exercise in public humiliation all fat kids of my era were forced to endure in elementary school gym class, my time on the “flexed arm hang” (basically holding your chin above a bar as if you had just completed a pull up – the girls’ version of chin-ups on the test) was never more than .001 second.

That glorious time of space-era inspired panic-patriotism (also known as oh-shit-the-Russians-are-way-ahead-of-us-on-satellites-and-sending-living-beings-into-space-so-we-better-get-our-asses-in-gear-and-get-fit-and-build-a-Saturn-5-and-send-some-guys-to-the-moon-like-Kennedy-said-we-would-not-because-it-is-easy-but-because-it-is-hard) included the joy of public weigh-ins (again, in gym class, in front of everyone, with the number announced aloud) and some moronic exercise called the “standing broad jump” where you were supposed to jump forward as far as you could with no run-up. Just stand there, and jump forward. As a dancer, I was actually pretty good at that one.

The year I actually completed the half-mile run without stopping, the program managed to turn that accomplishment into yet another form of crushing public humiliation when I was awarded the mortifying “most improved” certificate, given as a half-assed consolation prize to the fat kids who couldn’t keep up with the sporty kids on any of it.

As God is my witness, I didn’t let it lick me (but read “humiliated” where Scarlett says she never be”hungry” again and take out the lying, cheating and killing part – you get the idea.) Made the cheerleading squad in junior high, and directed the talent show in high school, which caused all the pretty, popular, sporty jockettes to suddenly become my best friends around tryout time. I’d include them in whatever Big Musical Number I was planning, choreographing and featuring myself in, surrounded by a bevy of said jockettes dancing the simple moves I had taught them, invariably earning epic applause.

But, sigh, there is no amount of applause or encouragement or coaching or weightlifting that will ever get me those Linda Hamilton arms.

At least I admit it. Hurrah for self-awareness. I live in a town where one of many guilty pleasures is to ridicule publicly (while devouring privately, dish, dish, dish) the local glossy rag that is filled with pictures of rich ladies in deep denial about their arms wearing sleeveless gowns at society fundraisers.

Sleeves, ladies. For the love of God, SLEEVES!

The first item I am featuring in my new store is a baseball-style shirt with three-quarter length sleeves and a message related to the (aspirational) theme of this blog. Some of my designs (if you can call them that – I come up with words and choose the fonts – but I did create the image for and design the logo, and I made the banners and drew the heart by teaching myself enough Illustrator to do at least those things, with a great deal of expletive-flavored trial and error) are blatant “branded items” designed to promote this blog, while others are just for fun, just because.

Some of them even allow you to customize a bit of text on the back (to de-brand it and put your name, or your church’s name, or something on the back instead of the website of this blog) or the type of item (style of shirt.) I hope I haven’t allowed any options for full-on sleeveless display. (We used to call that kind of shirt, pardon the slur, that’s what it was called, a “dago-T” or, eeww, aaaaak, a “wife-beater.” Yes, people used to casually use that phrase to describe a style of t-shirt. AAAK!)

So, anyway, even if the option is available to go sleeveless, don’t.

Just don’t. Please?

Even if they are short, you must choose sleeves.

Waiting for the next awards show to dish on who is sleeveless who really, really should not be, I remain,

Your three-quarter-length-sleeve wearing, vainly-hoping, barbell-using

Ridiculouswoman

Gaga Wha?

My tongue is bleeding – from biting it…..

Just wanted to be sure you knew that when I referenced “La Vie en Rose” in my post yesterday, I was thinking of Edith Piaf. I hadn’t seen the Cooper-Gaga version of “A Star is Born,” where the song, and it’s title, in neon lights, are featured.

Watched it last night.

Let’s just say I’m very relieved that the Oscar Lady Gaga won was for best original song, and that it was the only Oscar the film was awarded. If it had been otherwise, I’m afraid we’d be spending a lot of time together over in the Snark Tank.

Whew. That was a close one.

Trying to observe the Thumper rule (but still snickering about its double negative) I remain,

Your biting-my-tongue-but-damn-I’d-really-love-to-dish-on-this-one,

Ridiculouswoman

Humble — or Humble Pie?

Humility is an aspiration. Humiliation is an imposition.

Haven’t read “Charlotte’s Web?”  There’s no help for you. But alright, already…

SPOILER ALERT…..

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Charlotte dies in the end.

We started “movie night,” to get used to watching TV in the basement, but also as an excuse to eat popcorn (which, contrary to old diet advice, is NOT a great snack, even unbuttered, because it is made of CORN and CORN is all CARBS and CARBS turn into SUGAR and SUGAR is EVIL, which doesn’t keep us from eating it…but you knew that already. I digress.)

My daughter chose “Charlotte’s Web.”  It had amazing animatronics,  or whatever the technology of making live animals look like they are talking is called.

She watched the whole thing, from beginning to end.  The first time she had ever watched any movie, with me, all the way through.

Probably because I said no popcorn unless she did, but still.

Add to that, two scenes:

First, kindly country doctor calms down Mom, who worries that her daughter Fern believes she can talk to animals.

Circa 1950-something doctor explains, “it’s a phase. She’ll grow out of it.”

Wow. Now, that Mom would walk out with a costly psychopharmacopia and her wonderful, imaginative, magical kid would be drugged into submission, stat. GAAAH!

(But, Fern can talk to animals. So can Doctor Doolittle. So can I. You should hear the conversations I have with Sophie cat at feeding time. She says “Mah-AAAAHHHHM, MAHaaaaaaaahmm Mahm! Mahm MAAAAAAAAHM!” exactly like a whiny, Midwestern toddler. And horses read my mind. But I digress. Again).

Second: Charlotte explains to Wilbur the pig that she has made her “magnum opus,” an egg sac, is languishing, and will die, as all living things do, when their time is up.

My daughter next to me on the couch, holding her now-empty bowl of popcorn, perfectly still, listening.

Thinking about her Dad. (Yes. I converse with cats, silently talk to horses that read my mind, and listen to my daughter think.)

It was the best explanation of death yet offered her, given in Charlotte’s gentle voice.

Sniff. Sob.

Before she died, Charlotte wove one last word into her web, after “some pig,” “terrific,” and “radiant,” trying to literally save Wilbur’s bacon, so he can be a spring pig who lives to see the winter snow:

“Humble.”

Humility.  You let others have the spotlight. You do good deeds without reward or recognition. You are nice, to people and animals (animals are easier). You never think you are better than they.

You do what you have to do without complaint, gratefully.

Stress and caregiving imposed several career setbacks over the years. I did what I had to do.  Worked two jobs for a while – 18 hour days — as a headset monkey in a call center (OK, that was snarky, but it was a call center) and in retail at a mall-based department store, a/k/a the 12th circle of  hell. I did it to buy food, pay bills and provide health insurance, not always succeeding at all three simultaneously.

The headset monkey employer asked applicants to complete an “optional” assessment.   Optional! No pressure here, desperate applicants! Invasive, offensive, personal questions that had nothing to do with job skills, but allegedly could “predict success.”

Our situation was dire.

I sucked it up, filled it out, and took the job.

That was not humility.

That was humiliation.

It just happened again.

While completing an online application that did a good job of pre-populating fields off my uploaded resume, WHAM – another “assessment.” This one, required.

I don’t mind skills-based tests that show you can do things related to the job.

But I do mind having to “strongly agree” or “somewhat disagree” about tossing litter on the street, doing things I didn’t tell others about, obeying the law, or whether I’m a happy person.

During this “assessment,” my sweet daughter wrapped a blanket around me.

She startled me.  I missed a question. I barked at her.

For this stupid, invasive, offensive, inappropriately personal “assessment.”

If your job application makes me snap at my kid, you know where you can put your job.

Yep. Just as high up in there as you can get it.

Another place used a questionnaire that essentially asked “when did you stop beating your spouse?,”  assuming applicants drink and do drugs on the job, fight with each other, and steal things.

I aspire to be humble, but I’m saying no to humiliation.

I have faith. I believe things will work out. Same day, I got a call for a job more suited to me.  I will turn the other cheek (meaning offer the cheek of an equal, not the cheek of an inferior) and never be humiliated like that again.

Trying to regain some dignity and be especially nice to my daughter, I remain,

Your mad-I-completed-the-thing and hoping-they-shove-my-answers-high-up-there-with-the-job,

Ridiculouswoman

But Enough About Me, Or, What Have I Done For You, Lately?

Does this blog add anything positive to the world?

So, Grandma Noises. Mom’s face in the mirror.

I want to make it clear that I’m grateful for those things, and for Mom and Grandma and all they were to me and all they gave me.

I’m grateful I have made it to an age where I make Grandma noises.

I’m grateful to Grammie for being there in Maine, putting up with a snot-nosed, whiny, sad, bored, fat little punk like me, for two solid weeks, summer after summer.

I’m grateful I can see my Mother’s face in mine, and remember the good things she did for us, in her way.

Although they pretty much detested each other, my Mother came weekly to give Mike a day off when our daughter was an infant, driving 30 miles from the burbs into the city.  It was a long, long day, because I was commuting 70 minutes each way and was gone from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. most work days, and Mike took full advantage of the time, as he should have. He needed the break.

Mom cared for our daughter, making nurse notes (she was a retired R.N.) and cleaning up where she could, in an under-furnished and unamusing townhome in a transitional city neighborhood.

She produced funds when funds were needed in the dark times of under- and unemployment.

She taught me to drive a stick shift, picking up keys and announcing we were getting in the car one day, totally unexpectedly, when I was 16.

She whispered when she sewed, drawing me in, and teaching me how to hem and mend. She was frugal. I am not, but at least I know how to hem a dress or a pair of pants and I have made clothes when I had to (a dying art, apparently – I had a coworker who walked around in too-long pants, because she didn’t know how to sew. I was gobsmacked. How could any neurotypical child who can safely handle a needle and thread reach adulthood without knowing how to hem a pair of pants?)

Mom made pies, rolling the crust out with sharp, fast, angry strokes, this way, then that. Once in the pie plate, she crimped the edges with grim determination.

Both Grammie and Mom made jam and jelly and chili relish and awesome chowder.

They often persisted long past my tolerance in demanding I hand over new clothes to be altered,  get a haircut, or go outside when all I wanted to do was read.

But I wish I’d been more grateful, then, and that I had told them that I was.

I hope they hear me now, on the other side.

David Kanigan quoted the late Julie Yip-Williams, author of The Unwinding of the Miracle, on his Live and Learn blog recently. Ms. Yip-Williams wrote about her life with cancer (the same kind of cancer that took my Mike), and her book was published posthumously.  There’s a review of it in the New York Times.

“Live while you’re alive,” she wrote.

I confess I haven’t read her book yet:  but the Times review reveals that she meant “live while you’re alive” not in the bucket list, run-off-and-climb-a-mountain-or-run-a-marathon kind of way, but in the every-moment-no-matter-how-seemingly-ordinary-is-a-gift way.

To that I would only add, express gratitude to others, while they’re still here to hear you.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I do this – why do I blog?

(Seems to be kind of a theme, lately – Jungian synchronicity – I started writing this before I read Fractured Faith‘s or Writer of Words’s similar posts – but it seems several of us are currently thinking about what this blogging thing contributes).

For me, it started as a way to process grief, and just write. I love words (just ask anyone who has tried to get one in edgewise when I’m talking).  Building words into sentences that convey ideas or emotions makes me feel at home. (There are few places I feel completely comfortable – sitting at my computer writing, singing, and speaking or performing in front of an audience are about it).

But I don’t want blogging to be just for me. I want it to be for you, the reader.

What have I done for you lately?

Have I given you something to laugh about, cry about, something to feel, something to enjoy?

Have I given you writing that is good enough for you to bother reading it?

Has it meant anything beyond just me, yapping about my little life?

Has it made my little life less little?

Have I told you lately that I love you? For reading, for commenting, for being there?

Mike died. What will happen when I do?

Will I have contributed anything of value to the world?

Would anyone say anything positive about me? Would anyone even show up?

Trying to listen twice as much as I talk (ok, laugh, but I actually AM trying) and thinking about how to use what small gifts I may have to contribute something positive to the world, I remain,

Your loquacious, grateful, perplexed, anxious, wondering what’s-it-all-about-Alfie,

Ridiculouswoman

Dear Santa:

Please direct your attention to those in greater need….

Look, I know this is absurd, a grown woman writing a letter to Santa.

Absurd.

Ridiculous, even.

But ridiculous is kind of what I do.

And here’s the thing: I believe in you.

When you are in the picture at this time of year, people are more likely to be kind. Caring, giving. Generous, even. (Battle lines at big-box stores excepted, of course).

Magical things happen. They do.

It snows magic Christmas snow when the weather nerds insist none is in the forecast.

Packages and invitations turn up unexpectedly, from friends you didn’t know were thinking of you.

Customer service people actually provide service.

I confess I was going to write a tearjerker of a letter, asking you to send us a new man.

Because we could use some company.

My daughter is feeling our two-of-us-that-used-to-be-three-of-us, hard.

She misses her Dad, a lot.

So do I.

I miss the way he danced (very goofy.) I miss the way he used to peek around the door of her room when we were sitting together at bedtime.

I miss us sitting in companionable silence, each reading our own books, pausing to identify and then listen intently to, whatever selection was playing on our beloved classical music radio station.

So I was going to ask you, Santa, for a little help, finding a new man for us. A little help, here?

But I changed my mind because of a few intervening events that put things in perspective since I started writing this letter:

Sophie cat became “Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat.”

She had suddenly lost the use of her back leg.

Vet said prognosis dire. Probably blood clot.

Might have to say good-bye.

Oh, shit, at Christmas?

But Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat, being, shall we say, un-enamored of said vet (who is a really nice lady, but Sophie sees her and thinks, “shot! run!”) managed to drag herself upstairs, do a pull-up with her front claws (and this cat weighs at least 15 pounds) onto my bed, and make herself well.

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Meaning she somehow managed to dissolve the clot, regain use of her left hind leg, and after climbing up and being carried back down twice (for food, and, erm, other necessities) she got down herself the third time, limping a little, but by the next meal was walking along just fine, asking for her next meal, as usual.

Then, just as we were preparing for our annual ladies’ holiday excursion downtown, I happened to go into the basement utility room (OCD, just wanted to check and make sure the previous night’s fireplace ashes hadn’t done something weird and dangerous while encased in masonry behind an iron door in the ash box – you know, the usual, rational concern) I noticed the boiler was leaking. A lot. And not from a pressure release valve – from underneath.

Call heat guy, who luckily lives pretty close by.

Sorry, ma’am, you’re going to need a new boiler.

How much?

THAT much? Oh, my God!

Try to retain calm during ladies’ annual downtown excursion, while also seeking bids from two other heat guys.

Enjoy lovely excursion, including breathtaking, moving and lovely performance of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theater. Wow. Stunning.

But while walking along The Magnificent Mile, between the Disney store and American Girl Place,  among the expensively dressed, happy holiday crowd, we passed many, many homeless people.

Every three feet, there was another person, huddled in filthy blankets, head bowed, cardboard sign propped against their knees, or wheelchair, or walker, plastic cup standing, hoping, for something. Just a little something.

I gave the only dollar I had, because I don’t really carry cash anymore, to a person who was propped up with a walker, legs trembling, speech impaired, seemingly brain-injured and desperate.

And turned to continue our walk past the next homeless person, and the next, and the next.

Overwhelming need, smack in the middle of the swankiest part of town.

I have never been so grateful to come home to an unheated house in my life.

Yesterday, I washed my hair with water heated on the stove, and was warmed by the hair dryer, before we headed off to church.

My dear brother brought over two space heaters.

We attended a last-minute, lovely, holiday party at the home of a family who have been exceptionally kind to us, especially my angelic, autistic daughter, who loves them, as they have come to love her.

I watched her make conversation with other guests without my cueing or help, or presence, really, beaming, like the lovely young adult she is, heart full of joy.

Today I’ll  make our traditional Christmas Eve clam chowder and cornbread, to be consumed after church, and then, we’ll put on our warm jammies, make a fire in the fireplace and we’ll make s’mores.

Camping! Pioneer ladies!

I have no heat and no hot water, Santa, and I won’t until Wednesday, when the first heat guys who came, whose heart-stopping bid was actually substantially lower than the next guy’s, will install a new boiler.

And I couldn’t be happier.

Because today, we have a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, two space heaters and enough blankets, hats, sweaters and sweatshirts to get us through to Wednesday.

Three years ago, our first Christmas without Mike, I burned the cranberry sauce for the first time in my life. I’ve been making it since I was twelve. I think that happened because of sadness, distraction and depression.

I burned it again, just now, for only the second time in my life.

Because I was distracted by writing a blog post about gratitude.

I’d call that progress.

So Santa, don’t worry about us  Please direct your attention to those truly in need, and we’ll try to figure out something we can do in our own small way. (But maybe could you save a package of cranberries for us at the local market for when we do our shopping after lessons and carols? They were out by this day last year).

Thanks for listening.

God bless us, every one.

See you next year.

Until then, I remain,

Your grateful, silly, burned-the-cranberries-but-thankfully-not-the-house-because-I-was-distracted-by-gratitude,

Ridiculouswoman

Mrs. McWhiny’s Pity Parlor is Closing

Pity party is over – get your gratitude gear on.

So, about that last post. Aren’t we quite the little drama queen, with our little pity party?

Sorry about that.

I really was feeling that way and was writing from the heart, but I can feel my New England ancestresses (one of whom lived as a widowed schoolmarm for over 45 years) are pissed off at me from the next world. They want me to

So, OK, enough Mrs. McWhiny – it’s time to put the big girl pants back on (wait a sec, I am big girl, so I kind of wear them all the time, but whatever), pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get your big ass into gratitude gear.

You’ve probably seen this one, but it bears repeating:

So, yes, my daughter and I (that’s the first thing I should be grateful for — I am not, in fact, alone – I live with an angel; a beautiful, resilient, patient, kind, caring, forgiving angel) have been through some big stuff, but:

  • we’re alive
  • today, we have a roof over our heads
  • today, we have food
  • today, the power works and the faucets produce clean water, hot when needed
  • I have a reliable car that will be paid off by next October
  • I have two brothers, one of whom lives close enough to come and help out
  • that closer brother weatherstripped doors today, so we’re less freezing in here
  • handy closer brother also tested the back-up sump pump he installed, and it works
  • this year’s mother-daughter Christmas downtown excursion is planned and booked
  • I lost a pound by not eating dinner last night – intermittent fasting works for me
  • I had an opportunity to do a small, unnoticed but kind thing today, and I did
  • I have gotten this far through the day without accidentally hurting myself

I am grateful for these things. I am grateful for the wise, kind WordPress friends who have shared their wisdom and kindness with me – you guys rock. I love your blogs. You know who you are (and anyone who reads this should too, because there’s a list of blogs I follow over there in the sidebar – or at the bottom if you scroll down, I think).

I am grateful for small accomplishments and meeting modest daily goals.

I’m grateful for weird dreams that amuse and puzzle me.

I’m grateful that through online shopping I figured out cheap, functional, stick-on, OK looking LED vanity lights for my dressing table, so I didn’t have to hire an electrician to tear up the wall.

I’m grateful for my old, fat, warm, soft cat Sophie, even though she ignores her claw-sharpening carpet remnant and continues to destroy the good rugs, and sits on my face when I’m not ready to get out of bed yet to feed her.

I’m grateful for the really good, really beautiful sacred music my choir director selected for the Christmas concert, and the challenge of learning it and the joy of singing it with a really good choir. You may take that as a shameless plug for our concert, which is a bonus add-on to my gratitude about it, because I really am grateful.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be grateful, and, because I’m breathing, the chance to be happy, one moment at a time. I hope I can maintain the happiness long enough to send a little love out into the word.

They say what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

In the bleak midwinter – what can I give?

….give my heart.

Trying to send love in little bits and pieces, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, sucking-it-up-and-snapping-out-of-it,

Ridiculouswoman

I Can’t Take Me Anywhere

I haven’t gotten into an argument with anyone today…yet

I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, as long as you love…”

-Max Martin, recorded by the Backstreet Boys

(I left out the “me” in that quote deliberately.)

I have one goal for today: not to get into an argument with anyone.

Which pretty much means I should go back to bed and pull the covers over my head and hope I wake up to a better world tomorrow.

Yeah, right, Little Mary Sunshine.

Pollyanna.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t change anyone’s mind by making it clear that you think you are smarter than they are. That’s a sure way to get someone who is an idiot and is wrong to dig in.

And you can’t make anyone care about things you care about by making those things all about you and who you are.

The only way to make things better is to try to make things better for everyone, by concentrating on the things we have in common. Quit concentrating on the gaps between us and work harder on the things that bring us together. Which there are lots of, if we could just dial the noise back and address real problems with practical solutions. Most of you do that every day at work, with people who may be very different and may have very different outlooks on a lot of things, but who are perfectly capable of working together toward a shared goal.

Making life better for everyone collectively makes life better for each of us individually. Seems self-evident to me. (Yeah, that was intentional).

So I don’t care what equipment you were born with, how you dress it and how or whether you may have altered it, I don’t care who you love (I just hope you have someone to love), I don’t care what color your skin is or what language you speak or where you were born, I don’t care how or whether you worship (I just hope you can feel and have experienced the existence of a creative, loving power greater than yourself, however you may define that power, or spirit, or energy, or whatever) – I just care that you care about other people, and that you try to make decisions that may affect others conscientiously.

I haven’t gotten into an argument with anyone today (so far – heading back to bed now, covers to be pulled over head) but I’m throwing the flag on myself anyway, as I couldn’t keep myself from asking the supporters of a candidate I didn’t vote for if they were far enough away from the polling place (I was just going to work out at the fitness center, I early-voted last week) whereupon they pointed out that the representatives of the candidate I had voted for were standing even closer to the “no electioneering” sign. Oops.

I didn’t stop myself from muttering under my breath in response to something overheard in a conversation I was not party to as I walked back to my car.

The muttering and the challenging didn’t make me feel better – they made me feel worse.

You know what made me feel better? Watching my daughter enjoy being pampered at the hair salon, sitting through a shampoo and haircut calmly, and patiently reading a magazine under a dryer (curly, curly hair, no blow drying, just a gentle old-fashioned hair dryer on a wheeled stand, that goes over the head like a giant 1960’s space helmet) like any other adult lady at a salon.

This is not a small thing. From the time she was a toddler until in her mid-teens, when she finally insisted on trying to do it herself, taking care of her hair was a major battle.

Her tactile defensiveness meant she couldn’t stand anyone approaching too closely, especially from behind, anywhere near her head, like you have to in order to pick out knots in long, curly hair. Mike could do it, though – when she was four, he patiently, gently, over a year, picked out her Sideshow Bob dreadlocks so we wouldn’t have to cut her hair  – it grows so slowly.

And today here she was, accepting not only a shampoo (lying back in the shampoo chair, allowing the head massage and the comb-out) and dutifully tilting her head this way and that at the request of the stylist, conversing, with a little delay in responding, but conversing nonetheless, with her hairdresser, just as if this was an ordinary thing for her. Which it isn’t and hasn’t been, but might be now.

Her hair, though shorter, looks great, she has promised not to keep cutting it herself (just to get it out of her face, which resulted in a kind of curly mullet, hence giving over my previously scheduled appointment to her, for repairs), and she’s already asking about her next appointment.

Sometimes the small victories in life are bigger than they seem, and more satisfying.

So whatever tomorrow ends up looking like, I’ll hang on to those big small victories and keep hoping that everyone else is having some of them too, every day.

Until then, I remain,

Your nervous, off-for-a-nap and hoping for a better tomorrow, whatever tomorrow may bring,

Ridiculouswoman