Compartmentalizing – Learning How to Lift My Spirits

Life almost always brings us shit and shine at the same time. Until somewhere in my thirties, I had been so consumed with trying to find happiness without hardships also weaved in that I often looked right past the good stuff. Somewhere within the last few years, I have finally started to understand what so many have tried to tell me. Life will never work like that.

My last post was full of the darkness and pain of recent losses. Now it’s time to switch over to the beautiful moments I’ve managed to create in order to cope and remind myself of the beauty in this life.

The Garden of Eden in Felton, CA is a natural watering hole surrounded by redwoods. Getting to it requires a moderate hike, partially along railroad tracks, that I’d estimate to be a little under a mile. Hitting that spot was on my bucket list and well worth it. Redwood trees are one of the things I miss most when away from Northern California. They are gigantic and beautiful. Something out of a fairytale full of mythical creatures. As such, so was the watering hole. Add to that getting a beautiful hike in, something I have been trying to do on a regular basis, I was a very happy gal. Especially with how much one of my biggest struggles with this lifestyle has been keeping up with my Amazon training in regard to fitness and nutrition.

It’s a pleasant shock to realize just how much even being home now feels like travel. Staying fluid, outside of my head and focused on experiencing as much of what the Bay Area and San Diego have to offer as possible, I now do it differently. Pride in San Francisco was another way I remembered happiness during a difficult time. Such an amazing celebration of life and love, how could it not lift my spirits? Experiencing my last few days of San Francisco, the city I consider my second home, and identifying as Pansexual myself, it meant a lot beyond just a general party. Especially after missing the Burning Man Precompression event in Oakland due to dealing with my uncle who is working as the Real Estate agent to get my parent’s house sold.

Life compartmentalizes in that it gives us good, bad and everything in between at the same time. Learning how to do the same with emotion and response as well as how to fit them together in return is one of the puzzles of life that I’m learning how to handle.

I have my moments of being sad, angry and everything else that comes with loss. Usually because of triggers such as hanging with a mutual friend of someone lost. Also things that remind me of her/him such as my pup’s beautiful personalized pet garden memorial that a friend made out of concrete and sand, a Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood concert I took my bud and girlfriend to (best show ever) or one of their names constantly popping up as a main contact in social media and my phone. Not to mention all of the times I default to thoughts about them being the first person I would invite or go to for something.

I think that’s good, though. My history of avoiding big losses and trauma has just fed that pain to grow as a spiritual cancer. As much as I’ve tried, there has been no ignoring away the hard stuff. I’m proud of myself for learning when is the right time to compartmentalize and when to process. It’s certainly a first.

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Monster May – Four Deaths in Three Weeks

Four people died within the first three weeks that I was back in the US.

I hate May.

Before all this death it was an expensive and chaotic month but for reasons that I loved. Tons of celebrations with my pup’s birthday on the 1st, sister’s on the 4th, mom’s on the 5th, dad’s on the 11th, brother’s finance and two other buddies. Last but not least, who can forget Cinco de Drinko?

It was a constant and happy party. That was until May 5th 2015, my mom’s birthday, when my dog was hit and killed by a car. I still replay every moment of thinking it strange to have gotten a call from a 408 number when in a meeting in my SF office and then begging the woman on the other line, the one who had hit my girl, to not leave her body until I could find someone to pick her up.

I had told my family not to let Layla out without watching her because she was little, would eventually get out of the old beat up fence and get hit by a car. My sister swore she didn’t do it but I don’t know how it would have been possible otherwise. My parents were in Tahoe but our mom had long-since set the precedence of not listening to me. Her excuse later was that Layla was part of the family and I was never there so she had the right to ignore me. From what I remember they never took responsibility nor apologized. There are three sides to every story and I still hope I missed something that will allow me to let it go.

Layla was my everything and it was the worst loss of my life. Even now. Even with the four people I lost in that horrible month of 2017. It was also when I made the decision to go for the lifestyle I am currently living. Losing my fur-baby, I didn’t have any fear left in me. I didn’t care what happened to me.

The current lives lost all impacted me in different ways.
umber of years, and we hadn’t been lovers long, but we had a permanent bond that deserves it’s own blog post. It had an affect on me that messed with my head. Not emotional so much as losing a connection to my body.

The most traumatic loss was a buddy who I had known as not only a close friend for a time, but also a sweet and loving man who had been one of two who saved me when having a grand mal seizure. He also had sat by my hospital bed through that night. Months later, I noticed he acted a little off when I saw him and guessed it was from a bit of trauma from my seizure. Also possibly due to a tiff with my friend, his girlfriend. I had no idea what it really was until he went on a rampage, shooting people and killing one, while waiting for the police to get to him for a police-assisted suicide. He kept my friend on the phone blaming her at the end of it.

Next was an old Vietnam vet bud in Thailand. Just a couple weeks before we had been sitting around for hours with a couple more friends telling stories over drinks. ‘Ol dog had even managed to steal a kiss. Losing him was sad but also beautiful and happy in that he was no longer in the pain of old age. My only regret was planning to record his stories to write the next time I am there instead of doing it then.

At the same time my social media feed was flooding with pictures of his funeral, I got a call that my closest girlfriend in the Bay Area had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. To make matters worse, her best friend, a self-absorbed and uber dramatic older woman, thought it a good idea to run her mouth to others who continued passing it on to a large community of whom many (not all, some are rad) love to gossip and find what ever outlet they can to get attention. The multiple messages I was getting from these people within hours of finding out destroyed me. Losing her was the most heartbreaking of all those lost. While I don’t blame myself, I was also the one who understood and saw the signs. My family’s history with mental health made it pretty easy. I didn’t see that she was so far along but I knew those demons well and that they were after her.

Saved by those there for me once finding out but still destroyed a bit by the one who ghosted after telling her in person. Then there’s the people who would never have been expected to be there and were. Thank God for my sister being there in person at the beginning.

I understand that for others, it’s much easier to go into denial and run than face someone who is going through so much all at once. It can also be a trigger and bring out strange reactions from people fighting to be supportive. Relating a little too strongly, my sister (who has been awesome) told me about something horrible that happened to another loved one as well as telling me multiple times about how one of her worse fears has always been that I will commit suicide.

At the beginning of it all I was in shock. I couldn’t handle thinking about it and was threatened by anyone who tried to make me. It wasn’t real yet. Then I got angry. Angry at the world and more than anything, at mental illness. Somewhere stuck between enraged bitch-mode and denial, there were moments like when I almost collapsed on the floor of a grocery store. Unable to cheat the grieving process, I am now just so sad that I can barely function. I pray it will move on quickly and that I can skip the depression stage, but I can already feel it creeping in.

For now, I’ve spent a little time with another friends dealing with the same loss of the most recent and will soon be going to group grief counseling with another friend mentioned earlier. I’m also looking into volunteering in the mental health field and am desperately looking for some pups to snuggle. Two of the only things that have been able to save me in my darkest times in the past.

We’ll see what’s tomorrow. For now, one foot in front of the other.

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Leaving London and an Intro to Iceland

Leaving such awesome friends in London was sad. Especially after an endearing dinner for Emma’s dad’s birthday at a tapas restaurant with her amazing family, which consisted of a shy and quiet younger brother, Scottish father’s thickly-accented teasing, her friendly Welsh mother and honorary aunt (mum’s long-time bestie) who I was tempted to plan a girl’s weekend with by the end of the night.

Heading to the train about 11:30 PM for an hour and a half ride to the airport, I was off again. Pouting and exhausted but my heart was full.

Getting there too early, I had something like five hours to kill overnight before boarding. What was surprising was how easy it ended up being to separate my huge 75 lb suitcase into two items by using a net laundry bag. Looking back, it’s incredible how those miserable nights spent in airports all over the world have come to mean so much.

Finally catching and crashing out on my first flight, I touched down in Iceland and instantly started trying to work out a few hours at the Blue Lagoons along with asking about any restaurants close enough to hit while being able to get back during my nine hour layover. I even turned to Tinder for a potential last minute tour guide and date. No luck with any, thought the challenges of not having a bank card were more than I had the energy for anyway.

Managing to get outside to at least leave the airport, it was a surreal feeling to be out in the bite of cold as it started to snow after, just a couple weeks ago, I had been in the tropical heat of Thailand. An odd experience that’s hard to explain to those who have not done it.

Reminding myself, once again, to work on booking layovers for at least a 24 hour windows in order to explore wherever I land, I did my best to stop from beating myself up with reminders that I was making progress. I also did my best to write from a makeshift office of my tablet on top of my suitcase while hanging as close to locals as possible. Once finally boarding Iceland’s airline, WOW, it was frustrating that they don’t offer entertainment or complimentary food/drink, and that the man in front of me could use a shower, but the ample leg room was Valhalla for an Amazon such as myself.

Noting to do more research for things like amenities on airlines, it didn’t end up being an issue on that particular flight, as I ended up with my own row and drugged myself into being able to sleep eight hours of the nine and a half hours. At least as well as one can who is in the constant pain of being jabbed with seatbelts and other painful parts of airline chairs that were obviously not meant to be laid across.

Landing in San Francisco, I was finally back in California. Zooming past the torturously long lines in order to use my Global Entry Card, I don’t know if I have ever felt so thankful or proud of myself for such a good investment. If I had the energy, I probably would have started cheering and being an asshole by showing off to everyone who didn’t have one.

Originally planning on taking the train to my family’s house, my mom ended up coming to get me after her 12 hour shift, the third to last before retiring as a nurse at Stanford Hospital. Another thing I was more than a little thankful for. If you ever want to do a solid for a traveler, do this. Even better, bring something delicious, comforting/refreshing (outside of food) and a dog to cuddle on the way home.

Catching up during the 45 minute drive, I had very little idea what I was in for. I knew the rest of the family was finally moving to San Diego to join me and my brother’s family in our homebase of the last 17 years but I had no idea there would already be a For Sale sign up and the house would be half moved out.

Dealing with the aftermath of this trip, already having begun planning the next and pulling into the driveway for what was about to be family chaos for the next few weeks that was to bring us closer together than ever before, I was onto my next adventure before I had stepped foot out of the car.

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Sexual Sabbatical

In an age of instant gratification, you probably have no interest in reading through an entire blog post before getting to the the juicy stuff about the Sexual Sabbatical. In honor of that, I’ll give you a heads up that you may want to continue by reading the last couple paragraphs before starting up here.

I also want to assure you loyal FRFers that we’ll continue with my time in London in the next post. For now, and thanks to an inspirational reminder from one of my own personal Wonder Women, I feel it important to look at the more serious and soulful side of what fueled my last post, A Gas of a Good Time.

Like so many, I was raised with some pretty rough guilt and shame about my body and sexuality through the beliefs of the Catholic church, being plus size since puberty and from sexual assault. All things that are so devastatingly common that, even if you are one of the lucky ones who haven’t experienced it personally, you are likely surrounded by people who have.

Before fully backtracking into the last post, let’s keep it present when pointing out that the most primal reason why a sexual sabbatical was thanks to maternal genetics inclined to a high sex drive (I get it from my mama). Many aspects sound great in such a sexualized society but the reality is that it causes physical discomfort, creates issues in relationships, challenges with self-esteem and other such problems. Turning to the deflection tactic of humor, I you may have noticed me tease on occasion with the saying “crazy in the head, crazy in bed”.

Continuing in ways that affect both posts as well as who I am in general, another area that has been challenging since close to the beginning is religion. Confusing without direction to help make sense of it all, I finally found some help when reading Angels & Demons by Dan Brown somewhere in my twenties. I will always be thankful for that book first opening my mind to the idea that I need to research and think for myself about how organized religion is often used as a tool of control, hypocrisy, sexism, money and power. That isn’t to say that I don’t believe in a higher power, or that there aren’t amazing people and churches, but over all my experience was traumatizing and killed most of my belief in organized religion. I don’t feel comfortable going anywhere near it.

In my late twenties, the final crucial factor that helped me break through feelings of shame in these two areas was when I trained my body into a more traditional physical form of what is considered “hot”. Dealing with a dangerous PTSD marine brother, health problems and the beginning of the crash of my first career in subprime mortgage (mixed feelings there), I had coped with it all through extreme focus on fitness and nutrition. Centering aim on my Amazon warrior side, something that came naturally to me, had helped to empower through strength and control. Something that consisted of three to four days a week of over two hours in the gym followed by surfing. Also eating clean and going as far as to limit socializing if it caused damage to that training.

Looks were farther down the line in terms of importance as to why I was doing it. If anything I was aiming on becoming less exposed to the horrible treatment of weight prejudice. I also just wanted it to be easier to keep up with my athletic friends.

What especially changed my reality with body image and weight prejudice was experiencing how I was just treated like shit in a different way once having lost the weight and muscling up. A noticeable number of women were nastier to me (I’m a girl’s girl, so this especially sucked) and many men and women cared a lot less about anything I was beyond looks. Not by everyone of course, but by enough to remind me that all good things have their own set of flaws. Since then I’ve become pretty good at accepting, loving and being forgiving with myself. As long as I’m doing the best I can and never give up, I’m good.

“If the goal you’ve set for yourself has a 100 percent chance of success, then frankly you aren’t aiming high enough.” – Benny Lewis

The moment that brought it all together along with what inspired me to come out as an actual advocate was when it became clear that I was actually helping people. To see beauty, healing, strength and love in the eyes of another and knowing I was a part of that…wow…how could I ever turn back? Being that person to others has given me more confidence than anything else could touch.

With my last post, while hilarious, I wasn’t completely comfortable putting it out. Sometimes that’s when it matters most.

All of these details give reason to so much of what I do, who I am and what you read. Included is the sexual sabbatical mentioned below that I am just now coming out of.

Why I did the sabbatical was pretty simple. My sexuality was adding too much complication to an already difficult transition into this new and untraditional lifestyle of writing and traveling as a digital nomad. It also set me up to hurt one lover after the other. While always having had been clear about my leaving within a few months to continue life as a bohemian nomad, and having always been reassured that it was OK, it never was. That was the bottom line. Hurting people is the opposite of who I fight to be and I just couldn’t handle the added complications or emotions of it all.

That sexual cleanse was great for mind, body and soul. Especially as someone whose identity is so strongly tied into it. While a little hesitant to jump back in, it’s time to. My last post celebrated how I just started the transition back in with a wonderful man in an experience that will always fill my heart.

There you go. Now that we’re caught up on the emotional and spiritual journey, back to the literal.

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A Gas of a Good Time – My Last Night in London

We’d just started dancing the horizontal hula when he froze on top of me, positioned on all four and let one rip.

“What!” He proclaimed joking around before watching me transition from shock to horror to anger. “I thought you were supposed to be a naturalist,” he said making things worse not only with his question but also because he was laughing.

“BERNARD,” I screamed up the stairs with G still on top of me. “EMMA! GET DOWN HERE!!”

Let me break here to say that I’d normally never share this kind of story (as a writer that may not true) but this particular night was way too priceless to keep to myself.

Before we continue from the middle, let’s take a step back and take it from the top…

Within my first couple days in London I had been giving Bernard a hard time to fix me up with a friend. I had been on sexual sabbatical due to previous lovers making a pattern of becoming upset after originally being OK with my new lifestyle as a traveling writer who was gone for a few months at a time. Needless to say, that was making my life way too complicated and made me feel like shit, so I had just shut it all down. Well, Mama Bear was coming out of hibernation and I was starving.

When asking Bernard and Emma if they had any friends to hook me up with (I’d been hitting Em up since I was in Thailand), I was kidding but not kidding and was thrilled when B had automatically thought of G.

At the time, I was about halfway through my stay in London. Bernard and Emma both forgot but I was determined. Taking action with a thirsty third, and what was to be final, reminder two nights before flying back to the states, G finally got the invite for a dinner party the next night. Emma was going to make Bobotie, the traditional dish of South Africa, where Bernard is originally from.

G showed up completely unaware, innocent of the shenanigans planned and showing appreciation through constant excited words of gratitude in a display that showed what a great guy he was. Half amused and half feeling bad considering our devious plan (which, of course, would really only happen if progressing organically on both sides), I was soon distracted with the thought of how I didn’t know when the moment had been that I had gone from the innocent one to being on the other side. It happened later than most but somewhere along the line, it had happened.

A big smile and being super sweet along with just the right amount of endearing awkwardness that hinted at a touch of shyness happened to be qualities he possessed that also happen to be my weak spots. I still wonder if it was a fluke that Bernard thought of someone with such traits or if he is just that good at reading people.

First saying hello with a hug, G blushed as I made a joke about jumping right into making out when moving our heads the wrong way had almost caused a kiss. A cute and entertaining moment but boy did I feel forward. He did tell me a couple of weeks later, however, (we’re now friends) that he fancied me quick, so in hindsight, I wasn’t too terrible.

Still unaware as he stuffed himself with Emma’s yummy cooking, we talked about dessert, but decided instead to go out for a smoke. A dead giveaway that I’d had drinks. Once outside, G mentioned he was cold while shivering. While also feeling the bit of the chilly temperature, I wondered if it was legit or an attempt to get closer. Either way, I was quick to tell him to come in for a hug in which, being a little shorter than me (I’m 5’10”), he was more than happy to be swallowed by my ample bosom just made for the task of warm snuggles.

Eventually moving to the couch in the sitting room, one thing lead to another until the fated incident, but not before we all cracked up in light-hearted fun from Bernard’s prank of having successfully snuck up behind G once we had progressed into an old fashioned makeout session in order to poke him in the bum hole. Typical bromance humor and definitely funny to watch G jump in surprise. Em having picked up on G being a bit more conservative than the rest of us, she then pulled B upstairs to their room in order to give us privacy. Hence why I had to yell to get them back down.

Having a bit of an idea in the back of my head that he was really embarrassed by the notorious incident and trying to play it off (which he later admitted to), I was too pissed to care in the moment and too into the idea of turning something that would normally bother me into something hilarious. Not just for myself, but I wanted both of us to feel more comfortable.

Once they were back in the room and adding to my rant about what happened by pointing out that G had even still been wearing his socks, Emma then pointed out through shouts of laughter that they were both in their socks and boxers. With the fellas giving each other fist-bumps while almost crying in laughter, Emma and I tried to argue through our own giggles about how wrong it was. At some point in the disarray, Bernard started exclaiming over and over about a situation in which he had his own trouser-cough incident in a much more awkward sexual experience. He even had a dance to go with the story. The whole thing was insane and I hadn’t laughed so hard in years.

Bernard stepping it up to another level, pulled out a laptop to Skype one of their buddies for a women vs men argument about whether G should have gone to the bathroom vs the incident being natural and funny as it was. The fellas were still in nothing but their socks and underwear, G being a good sport, and I was in nothing but a sarong. I can only imagine what their bud thought as he played the Judge of Poots with women vs men shouting our side of the debate through a pandemonium that only increased with roars of victory and refusal to accept defeat as our virtual referee sided with us ladies.

With the scene soon to calm down after that, Emma and Bernard returned upstairs and I started thinking about what a great sport G had been along with how I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with the whole thing. As mentioned, I already had a feeling that he hadn’t been quite as comfortable being so exposed and that he hadn’t been feeling well. Something I could very much relate to from traveling. Such a sweetie with his good spirit, we switched gears into a much more tender and compassionate stage for a couple hours until passing out so he could get a wee bit of rest before heading back to work.

I have never had an experience like that, nor would I have ever imagined myself to be OK with it. I’m not one who thinks the ‘ol anal exhale is funny, or any other kind of bathroom humor for that matter. What I am into, and believe to be one of the most important parts of life, is celebration. With the best moments often coming in the most unexpected situations, places and people, our night together had become just that. Having recently lost four people over the course of one month, three of which being due to traumatic circumstances, that memory is one of the only things that has been aboe to make me smile. Who would have ever thought.

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Kickin it in Camden

When Emma woke up the next afternoon after all of our adventures (woman can sleep), we decided to stay cuddled up with takeout, a marathon of watching Grace and Frankie and a constant flow of tea (naturally). I couldn’t have been more relieved for the down time and both of us were totally

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series “Grace and Frankie”. Photo by Melissa Moseley. 

content. Me especially because of the pleasingly productive routine I had inadvertently started that morning of toast and coffee while getting some writing done. Centering back in with that much needed “me time” not only gave me a chance to process and chill, something especially important when rocking out with much younger pals, but also kept me tolerable for everyone else.

Balancing out our shenanigans with the day of chilling required nothing beyond laughing, shooting the shit and cuddling Trevor. It was just what I needed and a fur-baby requirement by Bernard and Emma, or “Burma” if we’re using a rediculous-but-fun combined couple name. It was also twice as entertaining because of the eyebrows we had drawn onto that four-legged bundle of excitement and love. The scene over all made me nostalgic for the hangover days of my teens in which my sister, our friends and I would lay around in front of the TV all day on the mattresses I would drag down from the beds on the second floor. I’m not sure if we ever actually watched any of the movies playing on the TV back then, the old days of VCRs, but it sure was the best bonding time I can remember.

Fully rested and ready for a little Sunday Funday after that, Lucille had found a reggae event in the once ghetto but now up-and-coming hipsteresque neighborhood of Brixton. Popping bottles of Prosecco in the tube and almost giving another passenger a corresponding heart attack, we were once again up to no good of the best kind.

Giggling while observing the honorary sister badge these two had so obviously earned over the years, they bickered about which way to get to the bar as we sauntered around enjoying the sunshine until finally finding that elusive reggae event. Making it too late for the happy hour and the corresponding free entry, the music was also a bust, but it was still entertaining in that it further added to the comical scene of the three of us just wandering around London slightly perplexed until meeting back up with Bernard and getting more PROSECCOOOO! After that was another awesome night of partying until dawn. It was just as much fun as the first night (from what I remember) if not more. I’m tempted to tell you, my dear readers, but some things are better left censored *giggle*. I will give you a hint by saying that there were naked massages and I’m still being teased about accidentally going way too hard.

A couple days later was Camden. Oh Camden, how I love thee.
Walking up to the colorful, edgy and ultra-eclectic neighborhood of the Stables Market (as in used to be horse stables), the cobblestoned neighborhood’s array of personality quickly made it clear that my eclectic-arse had found the spot in that city that I was most likely to feel at home. Located along the Regent’s Canal, the district’s touch of hippiness, pubs, street vendors and a trace of the seedy side of it’s history combined with upper-scale options like the Indian-chic/Pan-Asian fusion restaurant, Gilgamesh, and festival-futuristic store, Cyberdog, to produce what could be the most diverse array in one place that I have ever experienced. Add to that one of the best grilled cheeses I have ever had from The Cheese Bar (CHEESE IS LIFE), the personal history Emma shared and the streets she pointed out that best represented what it used to be before gentrification and I was beyond enamoured. Even the creepy Amy Winehouse statue added to it’s strange and awesome magic.

It was such a lovely day. They all were. For the Grand-London-Finale in the next post get ready, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time to laugh your tails off.

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Laughing and Lounging in London

I left Thailand and was on my way to London. Determined to figure out how to take long flights without getting sick, and also enjoying any excuse I could find to give myself Burning Man flashbacks, I covered my face most of the time with the pashmina scarf I had bought to share with my mom in the hopes that it’s magic would keep the germs out. I was also amused by how wearing it seemed somewhat in theme given which country my flights connected in.

The English teachers from the UK who I had met on a long-tail boat in Pai, along with others who have lived in or visited Abu Dhabi, had opened my mind and interest the the country over the few years before that. An interest that had quickly faded during the short amount of time spent there while waiting for my flight on Etihad Airways. Not the worst, by the way, but also nowhere near the best airline experience I’ve had. As someone who is normally enchanted by other cultures and curious to learn about them, including adornments such as the hijab and burqa, I find exception to that interest when encountering such details as people being excessively rude or taking over the space with intense B.O. A part of certain cultures I could use help understanding better. It’s important to be reminded of how stereotypes can be a great misrepresentation to the individual and that traveling tends to bring out the worst in some. Still, it sent me moving as fast as the crowds and constant security checkpoints would let me.

Once finally touching down in London, I instantly felt like I was on holiday for the first time since leaving America. Excited to see my friend, Emma, I was close to being the last one to get off the plane due to our eager texting back and forth before the doors had even opened. Em and I knew each other from living together for a month at Shanti Lodge in Phuket the year before. We had instantly become close with a friendship that had immediately fell in line with the kind of connection that usually takes much more time to establish. One of the great things I see a lot more of amongst the world of digital nomads and expats as opposed to those who stayed put back in the ‘ol U.S. of A.

Emma didn’t want to wait for me to take public transportation so she sent an UBER to pick me up. A great treat considering I was still hustling from the aftermath of the pickpocket and worn out after all that travel. Especially given that I was lugging the world’s largest and heaviest suitcase. Finally getting to her place and already having discussed how excited she was for me to meet her man along with how they already had a little celebration ready to go as soon as I arrived, I wasn’t too terribly surprised when being greeted at the door of their lovely Cricklewood flat with a big kiss from that fun-loving, outgoing and nurturing South African stud I had heard so much about.

Not even being able to get my bag open before their fur-baby, Trevor, started to climb in, that sweet boy gave me one more reason to be in a great mood. After a quick tour, Emma and I got comfy for a long night of yapping away with a constant flow of prosecco. Or should I say “PROSECCOOOOOO!!!” Something that was to continue through the night and into the wee hours of the morning, not to mention pretty much becoming our theme song and drink of choice while I was there. Bernard was a natural at jumping right in and I instantly loved him. Especially after one of his first excited comments being that he had heard me to be a nudist and that he was was, too. While I self-identify more of an advocate for body positive activist than a nudist, I wasn’t about to argue at that particular moment. Needless to say, we were naked quite a bit of the time from thereon out.

Finally calling it a night (or early morning) and after getting a few hours shut-eye, Emma was so excited to take me sightseeing, I thought she was going to erupt into human fireworks. With her little-girl enthusiasm and my crowd-induced anxiety, we pushed our way through droves of Spanish tourists to explore along the River Thames while checking out such tourist attractions as the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. Definitely grand and impressive. Continuing on, we happily spent a few moments here and there watching amazing street performers such as talented musicians and an impressive group of African dancers interlaced with moments of her pointing out sentimental spots like where a romantic French-style book fair was held along the South Bank (*swoon*) and a beautifully graffiti-covered skatepark she hung out at as a teenager.

Making note of the Tate Modern and grabbing a bite at the darling but very crowded Borough Market, we then stopped at Las Iguanas in the South Bank Centre for some caipirinhas. Em loves to eat and is a pro at the food scene in London. Heading over the beautiful Tower Bridge from there, we also managed to take a peek at the London Bridge and Tower of London before our last stop. For the grand finale of this personal sightseeing tour, she brought me to a darling little tucked away marina by the name of St. Katherine’s Dock. My favorite spot of the day, it reminded me of a place that was meant for a relaxed day of brunching in the brisk sun before wandering around a farmer’s market.

Heading back to the flat and meeting up with Bernard and his big smile, even after our signals had got crossed and he had already been waiting for us at a pub in the neighborhood of Waterloo (gotta love that name), we headed to another one of their awesome local pubs, North London Tavern, with one of Emma’s besties from the time of being naughty teens. Soon to be my pal as well, Lucille had managed to drag herself over regardless of not feeling well. Something you’d never imagine to be the case after the way the rest of the night went.

One of the bitter/sweet things about hanging with B, it’s impossible to stay sober around him. A truth, at least, if you’re starved for a little spoiling and being taken care of. That guy was fun and a gentleman. Who wants to say no to that? Not me! Even if I had wanted to, Emma wouldn’t have let me anyway.

With the party moving back to their pad after the pub and with the prosecco continuing to flow, us ladies eventually headed to a charmingly cheesy bar theme-night, another spot of their old stomping ground called The Goodship, where we danced and had fun regardless of the creepers who we had to fight to keep off of us. One of which being a super wasted young Italian man I ended up socking in the cockadoodledoo after he had been way too touchy for way too long. I’ll tell you, it felt good to be able to defend myself after being in a country in which I didn’t feel as safe to do so prior. A definite to take into account when traveling. Especially alone, double when a woman and triple when an amazon.

Hearing way too many times from sauced locals about how surprised they were to like me since they typically didn’t like Americans (most of whom admitted to never actually having met any of us), it was that amusing time of the night when these new friends also seemed to think me and the only other woman from the U.S. should be bonding. Thoroughly entertained but ready to move on, Lucille, Emma and I headed back to the flat and kept the party going until long after dawn was upon us. Our little crew had been formed and I already loved it.

*Editorial shoutout to Emma Victoria Tooki Laird. Never would have gotten the details even half way straight without her!

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Two Nights in Bangkok

I was down to my last two nights in Thailand.

Up at 6 AM, I was at the bus station by 7:20 AM and, after realizing that my ride was leaving at 9 AM instead of 8 AM like I had originally thought, it didn’t take me long to become more relieved than frustrated to have both gotten away from our horrible Airbnb hosts and also to have inadvertantly eliminated the stress of being rushed. Though still tired, I was had slept 11 hours on and off the night before, so I reminded myself that I had no right to wine about it. Especially considering that I was about to successfully sleep nine of the upcoming eleven hour drive. Thank goodness for the motion pills I still had knocking me out. Also for the bus smelling like air freshener instead of the nasty raw sewage and rotting garbage smells that are all too prevalent in Thailand. What wasn’t easy to deal with was that I was sat next to another lovely lady of ample curves. Though trying to not make each other uncomfortable, we were practically on top of each other. Looking back, I should have made pals and asked her to cuddle. Something I would normally do if feeling well but I was suffering from a case of the travel-exhausted leave-me-alones.

When finally pulling into the station in Bangkok, I instantly exhaled at the more familiarly built up and somewhat Westernized city. Quick to notice a few high-level Mercedes driving by, it was the fuchsia taxis that really got me excited. Within the first hour I had already grown to like this city more than I thought I would and when finally getting to that Shanti location, I was unsurprised to love it just as much as I did expect. Well, the restaurant and staff at least. The rooms were small and minimal (as I had heard) but still cute and came with a lovely shower/bathroom combo with shells and other great adornments. Fine for me as I don’t require much though my 75 lb suitcase was singing a different tune. Happy to have my stuff back, I also couldn’t wait to get rid of that thing.

After a friend from GLT reached out about her twenty year old honorary niece who was alone in a hospital in Bangkok with Dengue Fever, I quickly changed my plans for the next day in order to go check on her. Grabbing snacks from 7-Eleven, a fresh watermelon drink made by a street vendor and the stuffed elephant originally bought in Chiang Mai for my five year old niece, I stumbled upon a temple (hard not to do in T-Land) looking for one of those fuchsia taxis I got such a kick out of until finally making my way to the hospital. Meeting and sitting with this tenacious twenty year old, I remembered the strength and adventure of being so young as she told me about studying abroad and then parting from her friends in order to travel Thailand alone. Had I not known, I never would have guessed she had been so sick, though the relieved-excitement of finally getting better is pretty great. Something I regrettably hadn’t slowed down enough to enjoy after food poisoning. All the same, it was fun to see her relieved excitement when given the drink and cookies that resembled Oreos. Familiar in a land of strange is everything.

Satisfied that my niece’s elephant had been gifted for a good cause and also feeling a little re-inspired, though at the same time reminded of the sadness of not being able to do these adventures at her age when stronger in spirit and body, I left thankful for what was to become one of the more meaningful experiences during this visit to the country.

Still daydreaming about the future of my nieces traveling, adventuring and how I may be able to be a part of that, I was only half paying attention on the ride back in yet another fuchsia cab as I PMed back and forth on Tinder with a sexy businessman from the Middle East until agreeing to let him meet me in the restaurant of Shanti for a quick date. A few hours away and getting back before his arrival, I finally had a chance to sit with Kim, the owner of Shanti. Down to earth and friendly, she distractedly told me about a lowlife who had been trying to twist her daughter in Portland’s generosity as a landlord after she had done so many kindnesses by this man. I’ve only heard one side of the story and haven’t seen proof of any kind, but based on what I do know of Kim, I have reason to believe this to be a case of a lowlife and predator targeting her. On the off chance that any of you out there can help, throw me a shout and I’ll get you in touch. Sounds like this lovely South African woman doesn’t have too much of a support network over there. Sure would be nice if I could be a part of introducing her to one or two Portlandians who could help her build her one.

With Kim departing thanks to the stress making her feel ill, I hung out working on my book until the date I had been waiting for finally got off work and arrived about an hour before I said I wanted to go to bed. Quite surprised as I expected to be more annoyed than anything else, I was thrown off by how attracted I was to him as he walked up. Young, intelligent and exuding powerful energy, it was no surprise that he ran his own IT company and flew around the world for it. Thank you Tinder.

As we talked, he told me about a fun street not far away, Si Lom, and about enough fun stuff in the city to make me wish I was staying longer. Not to mention the Unicorn Cafe I completely forgot about until shortly after leaving. I had already been thinking about how I wanted to hit Thailand at least one more time so I could put all I have learned into play. Kind of a symbolic thing. Now I had an extra reason to not only come back but to celebrate Songkran one more time and to do it in Bangkok.

After all my talk about wanting to get to bed at a decent hour, I ended up being the one who wanted to throw it all out the window and stay with him. Regardless of the way my tune was changing, he was a perfect gentleman in advising that I should get up at 5:30 AM, not 6:30 AM, and made sure I know that he wanted to be with me longer but respected that I needed to get some rest. An idea that I had completely thrown out the window once he had kissed me. Needless to say, I was one smitten kitten and now have something fun to look forward to.

With my cab being MIA the next morning thanks to a staff member writing the time down wrong, something that would be hypocritical for me to get too upset about given that I was the one speaking the foreign language, I managed to get to the airport on time and even get my gigantic suitcase on without the hassle than expected. My time in Thailand was over. I was officially on my way to London.

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Songkran in Chiang Mai, an Elephant Sanctuay and My Last Days with Laura

Alright ladies and gentlemen, we are keeping the adventure going. If you’re just tuning in, the last couple posts have been about the experiences of finally getting back overseas haggard and exhausted after the previous year of struggling to make it happen, getting pick-pocketed in Phi Phi, food poisoning on a date in Krabi, a super drama Airbnb, treehouses, the first day of Songkran in Pai and the friends along the friends along the way.

So here we are back in Chiang Mai…

Songkran back in the ‘ol CM finally brought Laura into the enchantment I had been telling her about. In no small part due to the water gun she inherited that previous Songkran-celebrating guests had left behind. You just gotta be involved with a celebration like that or you won’t feel the magic. Early(iesh) the next morning, after checking into our Airbnb with it’s dramatic hosts, we headed to the bus depot to get a ticket to Bangkok for my next stop a few days later. After that we were ready to rock and roll before even leaving the station. True to form for both of us, I was anal in that I wanted to find a neighborhood that was more fully celebrating while Laura with her laid demeanor and peaceful smile was determined to find the back of a truck to jump into right there. After I begged her to wait until we got to a more appropriate area, and please God not one with kids, she did just that with the reasoning that they can always say no but you have to ask for what you want. After an awkward no from them and a couple celebration fails in other ways, she agreed that it was time to move on and found a friendly local man who told us where to go.

Making it to the road we were referred to, there was an awesome parade of which we ate street food (of course) and danced alongside being doused with water. With many enjoying my pink wig and unicorn horn, we were constantly pulled into the parade and stopped for pictures (with momentary moments of panic while I looked around making sure I didn’t lose Laura) until we ducked into an American bar playing live ’80’s glam rock with people celebrating in front, drinking and showering the crowd. If you’ve never experienced it before, listening to American music being sung by local Thai with their accent is amazing and hilarious. The whole thing was by far the best parade experience of my life. I am still Googling to try to find pictures of L and I in it.

Finally ready to head back out after I partook in a couple big bottles of Chang, we joined a fun crew in a square of cross streets until we found a truck with fun music and people throwing ice water to jump onboard with until it broke down. Laura’s Songkran dream had been realized and, loving life, she stayed in the truck throwing bowls of water at people long after the breakdown while I ducked into a bar to use the toilet and (why not) grab another beer.

Walking around and being offered a drink from some awesome locals and then stopping at a hostel for another (don’t judge me), we soon tired and retreated to shower and rest before heading to a fun market full of food that included a really cool way of making ice cream. Stopping to watch some traditional dancers while savoring our frozen treat, the next stop was shopping.

Something I surprisingly enjoyed and resulted in two items that were to end up more meaningful that expected. Laura’s talking me into buying souvenirs resulted in me getting a Pashmina that I ended up wearing on the rest of my journey and then gave to my mom as a way for her to be with me on my travels. It also resulted in a stuffed elephant that was originally meant for my niece but ended up going to a twenty year old woman in the hospital with Dengue Fever. Later capping the night off with a little live jazz by an energetic British woman, it was a great end to a great day.

The next morning was relaxing in that L slept until noon and I hid out writing until a previously scheduled tuk tuk picked me up to go to an elephant sanctuary. With a gorgeously lush and green hour and a half drive from there, I was happy to meet a couple sisters from the UK who were easy to communicate with (don’t take speaking a common first language for granted) and a couple from Guadalajara who also put me at ease in that they were from the second culture I am most familiar with and grew up around. The woman, probably in her mid twenties, was sweet and so beautiful that I had a hard time stopping myself from staring. The entire group was lovely and I got a kick out of feeling like the older perv.
It’s like they knew I was coming!

FYI: Durains smell like “pig shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock” according to famous food journalist Richard Sterling. That’s why they’re not allowed in many places.

Getting to the sanctuary, I was happy to check out the elephants and love on the dogs. Soon we were listening to a speech about how riding elephants had provided a better life for them than the logging had. Especially after that had become obsolete and the they had started being killed due to their becoming a problem with eating crops when the owners could no longer afford to take care of them.

From riding, sanctuaries have provided a better life for them as people like us pay to come feed, bathe and play with them instead of their having to earn their keep by spending excessively long hours walking the same path over and over again. The so-called sanctuaries do appear to be doing some good but from what I hear, only a small fraction of the money collected in known to go toward their care. There is also still a long way to go in the way they are treated. Something proven first hand by one of the trainers as he poked a teenage elephant with a machete a minute after it accidentally knocked over the woman from Guadalajara with it’s trunk when they were playing in the mud. Usually airing toward taking my mouth shut, especially in a third world country where I can go Brokedown Palace if making a wrong move, I couldn’t help but yell at this man. Both for the elephant and for this poor woman who sat there looking both horrified by his actions and terrible for what she had to do with them. Feeding the elephants had been fun and the lunch they gave us at the end was one of the best meals I had in Thailand, but playing in the mud with them so openly defecating and peeing in it wasn’t exactly my style. I may still volunteer with them in the future like I had originally hoped to do that time but, like always, the pups continued to be first in my heart.

Later that night Laura and I headed to a market that was so crowded that it instantly set off my anxiety. Something that is much better than before my seizure meds but can still twist me up in crowds. Originally hoping for a night out (I hadn’t had one yet), I quickly changed tune and wanted to call it a night but was happy to find middle ground by going for an Italian dinner with L. Something we both very much enjoyed as neither one of us are fans of Thai food. After that she continued on in the market while I wandered off to enjoy a foot massage. Well, e enjoy as much as I could considering that I was fighting tears from being homesick. After that I waited at the same bar with the American ’80’s music from the day before until L returned with tales of how much more gigantic the market had been beyond what we had seen. Heading back and doing my best to keep my eyes open, we gave each other a hug before heading to bed. The next day I left early to catch an eleven hour bus ride for Bangkok. Our adventure together had come to an end. At least that one.

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Tree Houses and Our First Day Celebrating Sonkran in Pai

Chiang Mai hadn’t been our thing, at least not what we had seen of it, so we were happy to hop on a tuk tuk the next morning and head north. We were also happy (and thankful) for Thor’s kindness in letting us leave behind my monstrous suitcase for our next hosts (just wait until you hear about them) to pick up for a fee of 300 bhat.

The road to Pai was the beautiful tropical forrest we had dreamed about. It also came with infamously crazy and intense twists and turns; especially toward the end. Two people​ threw up but I was lucky to have bought motion sickness pills when getting probiotics for my tummy. A double win as that was the first day I hadn’t had stomach pain since food poisoning.

Not realizing the inability to keep my eyes open was from the pills, Laura teased me for falling asleep during such a beautiful drive, but was later to join in with taking them before the ride back as she had admitted to having got a little carsick herself. Something that was a telltale sign that I would have been joining in the barf brigade if I hadn’t. She had also become pretty spooked by a car we almost hit along with other aspects of the crazy small and dangerous roads. Additional parts of the journey I was more than happy to snooze through. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Being dropped off at the bus depot of a main street, we were excited about the cute little town and the treehouse we were about to stay in thanks to a friend back home, Juliette, giving a heads up about the place. Continuing on with playful comments about having some very important shopping to do (meaning water guns for Songkran) and needing to eventually figure out tickets back, we were quick to settle on the idea of first catching a tuk tuk to get settled into our place before anything else.

As promised, the Pai Treehouse Resort was nothing short of peter-pan style magic. About ten minutes away from town through beautiful forrest, we pulled into the resort with it’s enchanted wooden structures, a restaurant and lovely grounds of grass, trees, swings and other rustic adornments that were all a part of the charm.
Checking in and heading to our treehouse, the highest of three, my legs were shaking as vertigo kicked in as we began to climb the steep log steps that had been nailed together in the crooked pattern of the way they naturally fit. This was a legit treehouse. Tiny, awesome and would never pass safety codes in the in the US.
Hanging out in awe for a bit, we took a shuttle back (huge benefit they offer) to town to walk around exploring the streets and, of course, eating. I wanted to go to the cute places full of personality. L was more into the more authentic holes in the wall, usually with a dirt floor and little more than a hot plate or grill of some sort for cooking. While still wanting some of that experience, I had been in Thailand longer than her and was well over it being my focus. Especially after getting food poisoning in a similar establishment.
Always smiling and relaxed with comments about how she has great karma, Laura enjoyed the high-like sensation of lack of sleep as we wandered while I tried to heard her in. Waking the streets, I’d say left and she’d go right. Leaning in when walking beside me, she veered us into the street with me in the middle no matter how much I tried to deflect and tell her I didn’t want to be in the middle of the street. The comments went completely unregistered as she floated around on a deliriously pleasant cloud of sleeplessness that took her in no particular direction and drove me bananas. After dealing with this loopiness for a couple hours, I finally demanded that I needed a drink and warned her that she would be getting teased mercilessly later. That serendipitous moment was when we first found that restaurant that was to be our favorite Songkran watching spot and where our awesome waiter was quick to grab my water gun (with my permission) to jump in the fun while we watched some fun locals play party music so common of the event while throwing buckets of water on those passing by. Rowdy and mischievous, it was a great time and also endearing to see them make a conscious effort to be respectful of those they were chucking water at.

The next morning, after enjoying the tolerable breakfast that was included (another great perk of staying at the Treehouse), we headed into town for the official main day of Songkran. Once there and already wet from having buckets of water dousing us from sitting in the back of the truck on the way in, we both were bothered by the inauthenticity of the touristy scene and stereotypical early twenties (mostly American) type backpacker who was trying way too hard to represent the traveling hippie while really just looking to get waisted and have fun. Nothing wrong with that but also not helpful for the authentic magic this little town exudes. An irony not lost on me in that so many of us travelers are bothered by it when we too are tourists.
Finding a beautiful resort restaurant on the river, I grabbed a drink while she sat there with her patient smile as we enjoyed a tropical storm. Just like the woman who had met up with me for one night in Phuket, she’s into other festival-type experiences but not alcohol. So strange to me but to each their own and I suppose it’s better to have a traveling friend who doesn’t drink than someone who just wants to be super wasted the whole time.

After watching a storm, the streets were starting to liven up. Walking up and down loving life as I joined in to the water play, L wasn’t too into it which came as no surprise to me considering she hadn’t bought anything to join in herself. I’d imagine because she was traveling for a year on an insanely tight budget I wouldn’t even want or have the skill to try. She also commented later about not liking guns which is something I can very much relate to but was choosing my battle. Literally. Last but not least, she had her heart set on finding the back of a truck to jump into with the bins of water to throw on people with bowls as opposed to a water gun fight on foot. Something that I must admit to be the most fun way to go by far.

Songkran was my main objective when setting up my return to Thailand so I wasn’t exactly thrilled that the person I was traveling with wasn’t feeling it. Wanting to get away from the temporary mismatch and the correlating selfish emotions of my somewhat bitchy nature, I retreated out of an epic and hilarious water battle and into a massage shop full of employees who were in great spirits and were laughing first at the fight that was in clear view of the front of their establishment with it’s glass wall and second at me for being a soaking mountain of happy chaos as I ducked in with my gun. Enduring what was probably the most painful Thai massage I’ve ever experienced, with the strained neck later to prove it, I changed out of the dry clothes they had given me that had made me look like a gigantic Amazon barbie, I headed back out into the chaotic celebration to find Laura.

Heading back to our treehouse after a bit more water play and opting for a peaceful morning the next day for hanging on the grounds and getting some alone time, we then caught the 2 PM bus back to Chiang Mai for what was to be the worst Airbnb experience I have had to date. Canceling what had to me a much better Airbnb option (with fee) in town center in order to stay with a French woman and her Portuguese husband in a situation that had seemed lovely prior to arrival and like a chance to give Laura a nice opportunity to connect with someone else French after so long on the road, we hadn’t even walked through the gate before the first sign of trouble. Tonio, the Portuguese husband, made a comment about us not being there when expected. We were half an hour early.
Soon after that, we met Valerie. A nonstop fireball of aggressive chatter who was so intense that it even overwhelmed Laura. As a laid back social worker whose nature is to listen, that said a lot. As this woman rambled on, my mind wandered back and forth in questioning if she was on drugs (very skinny and messed up teeth) or just had some kind of imbalance, as she would focus her tornado rants at me from time to time regardless of the fact that I don’t speak more than three words of French.

Later reflecting about how things come in threes in regard to the three intense hosts we had encountered (Thor, the American at the hostel and this couple as a grand finale), I chuckled once in our room when L made a comment about how she was hoping for a relaxing evening. Something that was opposite enough from what we had experienced to too exhaust us out of our plans to go our after getting settled in.

The intensity of our hosts wasn’t the only thing that had knocked us off guard with this comedically awful stay. Once finally abe to break away from their rants enough to be shown our room, we were knocked out by the smell of kitty litter as soon as we stepped inside. Something we were soon to find out was coming from the kitchen and the maybe twenty cats inside. A few of which were cute little four week old kittens and a pregnant cat that I was about to witness give birth the next day. In the kitchen. Where our food was prepared.

After showing us the room that we were surprised to see didn’t come with air conditioning as listed, Tonio made an amazing dinner for us (at 300 bhat each) of personal pizzas and salad with ingredients they had grown from their own garden. Continuing on with both of them taking turns to talk our (or mostly Laura’s since I don’t speak French) ears off, we were told about a pretty cool idea for a kitty cafe they were trying to make happen as could be seen by the materials that were there to make huge bamboo walls all around the property so that the cats could run free without being able to escape. Looking back, maybe also for guests.

There also had plans for some killer lounge areas and a fully functioning restaurant. Even the beginning of a treehouse in the works. All sounded lovely but at that moment the place was still a mess. Not as bad as the place in Krabi that was literally a construction site but still far less constructed than had been suggested through the listing. Even the area showing as a plush and colorful restaurant and lounge area had been disappointingly packed up.

With comments over our stay from Tonio about how he doesn’t like the French (I’d imagine he thinks this OK, even to Laura, since he’s married to a French woman), about how they quickly kick patrons out if not in like with what they want (bragging, a warning or both) and judgment from Valerie, I briefly considered forfeiting more money just to stay somewhere else. Especially because I had talked Laura into canceling the place we were originally supposed to stay at longer and she had preferred until I talked her into this place. Something I still feel bad about and hope to make up to her. We stayed and made it through but were more than happy to get out of there when the time came. A time, by the way, when I was accused of sneaking out like a thief because I had an early flight I had previously told them about and that stuck Laura, a few hours later at normal checkout time, with a bill of stuff that we weren’t supposed to be charged for. We’re in mediation through Airbnb right now but I’ll be sure to throw up a post with the specifics once that’s taken care of. It’s just too damn too entertaining to not.

Just like the pickpocket incident, I see a stay like this being par for the course. It’s next to unavoidable and just means we’re earning more traveler badges. It’s funny and amusing as long as it doesn’t happen too often. If nothing else, it’s character building, makes for a great story and one hell of a learning experience. It’s not like we were stuck there too much, anyway. We managed to get out for an epic last day celebrating Songkran and I to an elephant sanctuary. Look forward to all that good stuff in the next post. Until then my beloved Free Robin Flyers, xoxoxo to you and your adventures.

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