7 Ways to Stay Young: Nuns Reveal Their Secrets

Whoopi Goldberg is no nun, but she played one in Sister Act, where she befriended three other nuns all named Mary and made the convent’s choir into a rollicking, soulful act.

Wikipedia Image
Wikipedia Image

 

Dr. David Snowdon obviously is no nun either. He’s not even a monk. But he is an epidemiologist, who spearheaded a study to decode Alzheimer’s disease as he researched the lives of 678 nuns at the School Sisters of Notre Dame. All had willed their brains to research on death.

Aging with Grace could have been a deadly dull read, but I kept turning the pages because the author was able to intertwine the excitement of scientific research with personal stories. These nuns shared valuable life lessons about “Leading Longer, Healthier, and More Meaningful Lives,” part of the book’s sub-title.

Here are the seven I gleaned from Snowdon’s book:

  1. Keep your sense of humor

 Just before she turned 90, Sister Genevieve Kunkel marveled at her wellbeing. She said, “I have two good traits . . . I am alert and I am vertical.” 183

 

  1. Mingle with the young

When pressed about her other secrets for staying young, Sister Genevieve admitted, “Maybe it’s because I’ve always been with the young.” An educator, she had taught young people from grade school through college and was currently reading a Harry Potter book. She also read nearly every issue of the Sunday New York Times.

 

  1. Enjoy eating as a social occasion.

Share mealtime with others when possible. “The air in the convent dining room buzzes with laughter and . . . chatting.” 168

 

  1. Help others

Healthy nuns served themselves during mealtime. Then they took turns helping sisters in the assisted-living wing by pouring drinks, cutting their meat and helping them take their medications.

 

  1. Stay “With It”

Sister Clarissa, age 90, drove around the convent in her motorized cart dubbed “Chevy” and knew “as much about baseball as any die-hard fan a third of her age.” (She sounds a lot like my Aunt Cecilia!)

Sister Dorothy Zimmerman drew others into Scrabble games, often closely contested.

 

  1. Keep Moving

 Sister Esther Boor, who lived until age 106, sat on her “exercise” chair and regularly pumped the pedals on a stationary “bike.”

 

  1. Wake up every day with purpose

Sister Matthia knitted a pair of mittens every day for the poor. Every evening she recited the names of all 4378 former students until her death less than a month before her 105th birthday.

Unbelievable!

 

  1. Pray and Meditate

Dr. Snowdon admits “while we cannot directly measure intangibles such as faith and social support, the Nun Study would be incomplete without acknowledging their powerful influence.”

Want to know more about these marvelous women? You can read my review here.

Here’s a link to the book!

nunsstudycover

Here is your invitation to add to my list of seven. You can also comment on the tips you find here.

Thank you!

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Pumpkin Power: Embossed Antique Postcards

Do you send Hallowe’en cards? Judging from the racks of greeting cards in stores these days, many people do.

Stores selling Hallowe’en costumes and party gear are now occupying vacated commercial space. October issues of magazines offer decorating ideas including “Boo-tiful” tablescapes. The current Better Homes and Gardens special edition (2016) displays patterns for creative pumpkin carving.

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This magazine, founded in 1922, was not even in circulation when my Grandma Longenecker received these postcards, this one an invitation from cousin Lulu, mailed from the Mount Joy, PA post office in October 1908.

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Another one with a more spooky vibe (freakish cats setting ghostly pumpkins airborne) requests that Fannie “Bring refreshments.”

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halloweenpostcardrefreshments

The venue is John Ebersole’s barn in Kingston, PA. The date: Tuesday, October 31, 1911. According to Google Maps, Kingston is 112 miles from Middletown, Fannie Martin’s hometown.

By car, in this century it would take about 2 hours. Did Grandma Fannie attend? Was her transportation horse and buggy or a Model T Ford that was in production as early as 1908? It could have been Model A Ford manufactured in 1903 – 1904. And I wonder how refreshments would fare during the long trip?

I am pleased to have access to such family artifacts, but I have to speculate about so many details surrounding the events.

Grandma would have known, but she’s not here any more, so I can’t ask her. I can live out my days not knowing details about a minor, but interesting, event. If I devised a story from this event, I’d have to indulge in “perhapsing,” a creative non-fiction technique I discussed in this post.

Still, I’m curious!


What artifacts have stoked your curiosity about family events of long ago?

How do you fill in the gaps when details are vague or absent?


Coming next: Are you are with-it?

Give and Take with Cake

“Let them eat cake!” That’s what newly weds and their guests do at wedding receptions. At 9 ½ minutes after three o’clock on August 5, 1967, I fed my groom a huge mouthful of cake, and he returned the favor more gingerly ten seconds later, if the clock on the wall is any indication.

WeddingCakeCliff

WeddingCakeMe

We are on the verge of celebrating our 49th anniversary. Like the seventh note in an octave, we are almost there, but have not yet reached the golden mark.

How have we gotten this far without hitting the skids? I could make a long list of suggestions, but right now I have only one:

Watch Your Words

Cake is sweet to the tongue just as our words should be to one another. Words have power. Let your spouse or partner hear “please” and ”thank you” every day. Sarcasm is out. Surely contempt must go. Public humiliation, a big NO!

  1. Say “Yes” as often as humanly possible.
  2. Wait for the best time to make a request, offer a suggestion. Everyone needs 5-10 minutes to decompress after walking through the door. Let your spouse have time to breathe before requiring a response.
  3. Once a day, notice the positive out loud: the way they look, something they’ve said, or done.

Michael Hyatt, author and speaker, affirms that “Marriage is a powerful visual of how you treat the people you value the most. (“Why Speaking Well of Your Spouse is So Important”)

Ever the tip and list maker, Hyatt in another post shares his recipe for how to become your spouse’s best friend. Many of items on the list regard minding our words, for example: “Extend grace to me when I am grumpy or having a bad day. Speak well of me when I am not present.”

“Listen without judging or trying to fix me.”

Humorist Ogden Nash adds a dash of rhyme and reason to the mix:

If you want your marriage to sizzle

With love in the loving cup.

Whenever you’re wrong, admit it.

Whenever you’re right, shut up!

And finally, Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”  

~ Colossians 4:6, New Revised Standard Version

 

Light a Candle

CandleWedding

This candle first flickered and then burned brightly on a pedestal at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. The candle came with instructions to burn for one hour on our anniversary date. Some years the candle probably has shone for more than an hour. But we may have even skipped a year or two. Nevertheless, the long, tapered candle is very short and stubby now. Yet the flame still burns brightly.

Whether you are married or not, on this day I light a candle for you and whatever family relationship is most important in your life.

 

CandleDiningRoom

 

Your thoughts, recollections, or advice are welcome here. Thank you!

 

Coming next: Drawing on Love: A Brief Retrospective

A Glorious Fourth, 1909 Style and a Memoir Tip

Would you pass up an invitation to a lawn soirée on a holiday weekend? This week 107 years ago my grandma, Miss Fanny Martin, then a single woman, received a penny postcard invitation to such a gathering on July 3, 1909.

PostcardBackFourthJulyGrandma

 

Mary Elizabeth Kob writes in neat cursive: “You are heartily invited to attend a Lawn Soirée July 3, 1909 in honor of Jacob S. Kob at his home. Meet 7:30. Refreshments. Respectfully, Mary Elizabeth Kob.” I assume my grandmother attended the party.

PostcardFourthJulyGrandmaFRONT

From my vantage point in the 21st century, it’s hard to piece together the details. Was Mary Elizabeth Jacob’s wife, daughter, or sister? Based on the name alone, it’s hard to tell. Was the occasion a combination birthday and Fourth of July celebration? If so, the emphasis may have been on the national holiday judging from the red, white, and blue postcard colors.

Leo Kob was the only “Kob” name familiar to me when I was growing up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Leo, whom I heard my parents refer to as “Kobbie,” owned a G. E. Oil and Gas Heating business in Elizabethtown, a family business that boasted the phrase “Since 1904” in a page in my high school yearbook. Maybe Leo bought or inherited the business from his grandfather or father. Was Leo related to Jacob? A search of genealogical records could prove or disprove any relationship.

Yes, excavating one’s family history leads to questions, some without clear answers.

Piecing together fragments of family history requires a measure of conjecture and speculation. Therefore, when one reaches the limits of family history and historical record, what happens next? Memoir writers can use a technique known as “perhapsing,” a tool for supplying detail in a scene when memory is unreliable or when facts are simply missing. According the writer Lisa Knopp, “The word perhaps cues the reader that the information [the writer] is imparting is not factual but speculative.” Because deviating too far from fact could result in fiction, life story writers have a tight rope to balance here. Yet “perhapsing” used sparingly or a well-placed “it might have been” can occasionally provide motivation and action, adding richness and complexity to the narrative.

Knowing about Leo Kob and his family is not critical to my own memoir writing, but writing about the details of my visit to New York City to distribute gospel tracts as a young Mennonite girl is significant, as this excerpt illustrates:

Perhaps my memory has amped up the details, but I can now imagine this frightful creature grabbing me by the shoulder in a death grip as I am spun round and round like a whirling dervish. In my film clip of this horror show there was little I could do to resist the grasp of this drunken prophetess. I felt dizzy and afraid.

 


About this 1909 postcard? When my plain Grandma Longenecker received this post card, she looked like this:

Fancy Victorian Fannie Longenecker before she became Mennonite
Fancy Victorian Fannie Longenecker before she became Mennonite

I found it in a stash of other cards inside the fold-out compartment of Aunt Ruthie’s secretary. What other treasures may be hiding there? I wonder.

Secretary_Ruthies_0520

 

What treasures have you found either by design – or unexpectedly?

As a reader, what do you think of the literary device called “perhapsing”? Have you used it as a writer?

Climbing the Swiss Alps: 7 Steps Toward a Narrative Arc

Events in our lives happen in a sequence in

time, but in their significance to

ourselves they find their own order . . . the

continuous thread of revelation.

—Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings

Writers find real life images to compare what happens as they mold life events into stories:

  • To fabric (thread and weaving)
  • To clay (molding a lump into a recognizable form)
  • To construction (building a house from the foundation up)

Finding the right shape for telling our story is a critical step in the memoir writing process. Writers call it the narrative arc.

Paging through a photo album of my trip to Switzerland, I have found another metaphor for structuring my memoir: Contours of the Swiss Alps

All photos: Marian Beaman
All photos: Cliff and Marian Beaman

Climbing the Alps fits with the theme and title of Journey of Memoir by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner. “One of the most challenging aspects of writing a memoir, which of course is based on true and real events in your life, is to create a plot out of what happened.” (104)

I know my life story. I don’t have to make up events and characters. Through trial and error, I have decided that my theme is the quest for my true self as a sheltered Mennonite girl growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Still, I have to mold my tale into a story of transformation, one that will grip readers’ imagination and keep them turning the pages.

* * *

Aristotle affirms that every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end: Act One, Act Two, Act Three.

Stories that intrigue have conflict too. For example, when you saw a play like Our Town or Macbeth, you were transported into another world through exposition, rising action (the story builds), a crisis, a climax, and finally a resolution.

Crisis (all seems to be lost) Climax (major conflict narrator must resolve) Conclusion (epiphany - so that's it!)
Crisis at midpoint (all seems to be lost) Climax (major conflict narrator must resolve) Conclusion (epiphany – Ah,  so that’s it!)

 

My 7 Steps . . .

  1. I created a timeline of vivid memories in my life. This is how I hoped to arrive at my turning points, moments of significant change. As I drew, I thought in terms of chronology. What is my first memory? What stands out in elementary school? What family events pop up? Who looms large as a mentor? Answers to these questions could become turning points, I believed.

TimelineMemoir copy

  1. Then I thought about scenes. On colored stickies I randomly wrote phrases that came to mind. For example: The phrase “Daddy yodeling” could turn into a scene about my sisters and me taking turns singing with Daddy at the piano, relating to the impact of music upon my formative years.

TimelineStickies

ColoredStickies

3. Next I gathered random scenes into a sensible order.  Writers choose scenes based on how well they relate to their theme, the message of their memoir. For example, a theme can be traveling and what you learned on the journey, recovering from a challenging situation like an illness or abuse, or the struggles of becoming a chef. My own theme can be stated as a question: How can a girl from a sheltered and restrictive Mennonite culture find her place in an emerging new life?

A memoir is not an autobiography. I couldn’t include every detail of my entire life. I selected only those scenes that related to my theme. I write about this in a previous post.

W-FormRevise copy

  1. Sometimes I felt stuck. Fatigue sets in on a long climb. Air is more rare as one moves into the higher altitudes (Alp-titude in Swiss terms). Sometimes I felt faint-hearted.

PuzzledWgraphMarianMarch1 copy

  1. I constructed a narrative arc composed of scenes relating to my theme. A narrative arc can take several forms: curvy like a hill or jagged like the Swiss Alps.

The core of mine turned into an upside-down V-shape, rather like a peak in the Swiss Alps

AlpsOutline1997

W-StructureBoard copy

The sticky notes make it possible for me to move ideas around easily. In fact, I’ve moved some notes into a different order since the photo was taken.

6. I’ve printed out copies of drafts. As I’ve progressed, I’ve stored manuscripts in labeled folders on my computer desktop. But I’ve also printed out copies of my drafts from my laptop because I find it helpful to touch the pages and make marginal notes in colored ink. Pages in the binders feel book-like, real.

BinderManuscripts3 copy

7. I try to overlook messiness in my work space. Generally, I’m a neatnik, but worries about order, except in my writing, distract from my creative process.

MessyDesk copy

So, that’s where I am now!

I began with an impulse to tell my story which progressed from

Journals –>  Blog posts –>  Memoir Drafts

At the moment, I’m in the muddy middle, aiming to complete the journey across the Alpine-scape of memoir.

More to come . . .

 

How about you?

Have you made a similar journey with memoir? How would you chart your narrative arc? 

 

Coming next: Moments of Discovery, a Bubble, a Dome, a Mirror

Are You Too Big for Your Pot?

I didn’t hear a Bang. I didn’t see the pot Fall. But when I looked from the upstairs bedroom window, I saw shiny red chards of pottery on the patio floor. I really liked that red pot and now it was in pieces.

Broken Pot

How did that happen?

There was no wind. I was not aware that a storm had come through during the night. Still the pot had apparently fallen from its perch on the maroon planter, three feet above the concrete. Now it was smashed to bits on the patio.

Encased within the pottery was a plastic inner pot from which roots were dangling. The plant was apparently pot-bound, “longing to break free”!

RootBoundInnerPOT

It doesn’t take a genius to see these tall plants had outgrown their tiny pot: roots bursting through the pot hole.

My solution? Re-pot the plant. Add fertile soil. Use a bigger pot.

Plant Re-pot

I heard my orchid, a rare re-bloom, sing morning praises.
I heard my orchid, a rare re-bloom, sing morning praises.

And then I made the planter pretty too – with an unbreakable basket

BasketPotPlant

Some of the most memorable lines in Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” speak of cracks ~ “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

I see at least 3 lessons here:

  1. Even cracks have a function: they can let the light in.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. What’s broken in you can be a metaphor for human aspiration. Your flaw can show effort and growth.
  3. When you are pot-bound, move into a bigger pot.

My blog friend writer Dorothy Sander recently published a post with a poem “Finding Her Here” exalting our cracked and broken parts. You can find encouragement by reading it here.



Psalm 51:17 “A broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.”

Paperwhites

What are your thoughts about the broken pot? Is there an explanation I may be overlooking, either literally or metaphorically?

Have you outgrown the pot you are planted in?

Or, when you outgrew your “pot,” how did you find a bigger one?

Coming next: Are you ready for spring?

My Day of CHANGE @ a Middle School

“Mom, would you like to volunteer for Challenge Day at Mandarin Middle School in a few weeks?” Joel asked.

“I probably would but I would need to know more about it,” I answered.

Then my son proceeded to tell me about an initiative at the school he helps sponsor, “Be the Change,” a movement to help students break down walls of isolation and loneliness and replace them with compassion, understanding and love.

My day of change came on a Tuesday, when student ambassadors greeted me at the door and pointed me to the gym, where I found my daughter Crista, also a volunteer.

Challenge Day Ambassadors
Challenge Day Ambassadors

CristaMeVol

Seventh and eighth grade students filed in under an arch of welcome, volunteers forming a path of entry with our bridge of arms. Later, we found out students thought doing this was hokey.

There were rules:

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ChallengeValidations

The facilitators, Chris (a guy) and Trish began with games: “Find 10 people you never met before and give them a high five.” All the students were strangers to me, so that was easy. The day proceeded with other forms of friendly physical contact: fist bumps and eventually hugs.

“Now, with your partners, slap the ball to the other side,” students stabbed at a super-sized beach ball to earn points. Music and dance underscored many of the day’s activities: Soul Train, Wildest Dream, Where are You Now? Time of Our Lives . . . .

Then the facilitators turned more serious, referring to parallel lines of blue tape they had previously attached to the gym floor.

“Cross the line if . . .”

  • you have ever been hurt by what someone said about your skin color, religion, or how you dressed.
  • you have been hit, beaten or abused in another way by a parent or other authority figure in your life.
  • someone you know hurts the family because of alcohol or drugs.
  • you have lost someone you loved recently or a long time ago.

Emotion was palpable as students and volunteers alike crossed blue lines. Viewing their somber faces, I intuitively felt students’ dawning awareness of similarities in the lives of their friends and classmates. One of the facilitators shared her challenging life story of abuse and neglect. Students sat agape, eyes transfixed as her startling story unfolded.

Before lunchtime we were assigned to family groups of 4 or 5, two boys and two girls. With guidance, each was ready to share something heartfelt in my group.

  • My parents fight all the time and I think they might get divorced.
  • I don’t know who my dad is and my mother left. I live with my aunt and cousins.
  • My mom died last summer and then we had to put my dog to sleep.

Tears flowed. Each group leader doled out Kleenex tissues.

There was share time, with scenes similar to this photo clip from a Challenge Day video in Michigan, which appeared on Oprah’s website.

ChallengeDayVideoOprah

Most of the students who grabbed the microphone at Mandarin Middle confessed to prejudice or bullying and then publicly asked for forgiveness. More hugs and tears.

The day closed with students writing a thank you note to express gratitude to a special person in their lives. Most chose their mothers. One girl in my group wrote two notes!

* * *

Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John are co-founders of the innovative Challenge Day program and the Be the Change Movement. Rich is a former high school teacher and championship wrestling coach. Yvonne is a gifted speaker, educator, and program designer.

Mark Twain joked, “When a child turns twelve you should put him in a barrel, nail down the lid and feed him through a knothole.” I’m suspicious of the quote because I couldn’t find the attribution on http://www.bartleby.com, a website I trust. Yet, these lines survive in pop culture as does its sequel: “When he turns sixteen, seal up the knothole.”

The leadership at Mandarin Middle School, including my son, doesn’t believe this quip. And neither do I.

 

  • Have you heard of this program or one similar to it?
  • How have you made a change, major or minor, in your life?

 

Coming next: Are You Too Big for Your Pot?

5 Memoir Lessons Learned from a Special Birthday Cake

Earlier in January I baked an apple cake for my husband Cliff’s birthday celebration. All agreed it was scrumptious. However, it was my second attempt at the same recipe for reasons to be divulged in my next blog post. As they say, practice makes perfect! Matilda Butler, who earlier followed a similar plan on her website, would agree.

AppleCakeSuccess

Step 1: Make a plan. Even if you are an accomplished chef or fabulous cook (I’m neither), read the recipe carefully and anticipate how you will proceed. I didn’t have a tube-shaped bundt pan, so even before I began, I had to make a trip to the grocery store for the proper pan.

BundtPan

Memoir Lesson 1 – Don’t fool yourself into imagining writing will be easy. Writing is certainly rewarding, but learning a new skill can be hard. I had done plenty of writing as an academic, but switching to a new genre like memoir required a totally different mindset.

Even if you end up changing your plan, you have something (like starter dough!) to begin with.

 

Step 2: Assemble what you need. Anticipate the ingredients and tools necessary. Pull out the mixer, bowls, wooden spatula, measuring cups and spoons. Take the eggs out of the refrigerator to bring to room temperature if necessary.

Memoir Lesson 2 – A memoir is a slice of your life, not a biography. Ask yourself some serious questions: What part of your life will you depict – your childhood, a traumatic experience, a thrilling adventure like sailing around the world? Can you sketch out this “slice of life” in a series of memorable moments? Scribble random thoughts on colored sticky notes? Draw it as a timeline? Write an outline?

What is your theme? If it’s success after a failed first marriage, that controlling idea will be the filter through which you tell your story. Flashbacks can add dimension to writing, but only if these stories connect to your theme.

 

Step 3: Be aware that you may need to make adjustments. Even though I knew where I was headed before I began (a perfectly baked cake, I hoped!) I had to make a few changes. I ran out of clean measuring cups, so I had to wash one. A phone call interrupted the process, so I had to quickly drizzle some lemon juice onto the apples so they wouldn’t turn brown.

Memoir Lesson 3   I didn’t open up the spice cabinet or pull everything down from my dry ingredients’ shelves and dump them into the batter. I had to be selective. Just so, you can’t tell every story that happened in your life. Stories have to fit your theme.

 

Step 4: Keep at it until it’s done. I was not done with the cake until it had been iced. Preceding this was planning –> mixing –> baking –> cooling –> de-panning–> icing.

 

Memoir Lesson 4   Memoir writing requires a series of steps to name a few: writing multiple drafts, revising, revising (Did I say revising?), writing a book proposal, finding various types of editors and an agent, planning for publication. You can find a more complete list of steps on Laurie Buchanan’s website here. 

 

Step 5: Celebrate! Light the candles and let the birthday boy blow them out. Serve everyone else a slice.

Cliff and birthday cake ablaze with candles
Cliff and birthday cake ablaze with candles

Memoir Lesson 5  Cake bakers hope the eaters will find their slice delicious. What delicious morsels of truth do you want your reader to get out of your book? That’s the memoir’s takeaway. Brooke Warner says it’s “ a gift to the reader, something heartfelt, universal, and true.” Figure out what that something special is in your memoir.


 

As a reader and/or writer, what writing tips would you add to this list?

Any cake-baking advice? Have you ever tried a baking project that turned out to be too elaborate?

 

(Watch next post for full apple cake recipe.) Coming next: Hoorah, My 300th Blog Post with an Oops and an Aah!

Through a Glass Darkly: Anniversary # 48

This week Cliff and I celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary. We are not experts on marriage by any means, but we have learned a thing or two about

  • navigating its mysteries and
  • negotiating the best for both

 

  • PragueCubeSidePragueCube

We sometimes see through a glass darkly

Image captured in a 3-D hologram cube created via laser – visit to Prague, Czech Republic 2006

(Nothing dramatic happened in Prague except black light shows with marionettes. If you want wild and crazy drama, you’ll have to click here!)

I Corinthians 13, American Standard Version
I Corinthians 13, American Standard Version

For now we see in a mirror, darkly . . . But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three: and the greatest of these is LOVE.

* * *

Poet James Dillet Freeman expressed his view of the mystery of marriage In “Blessing for a Marriage” in at least 8 ways:

  1. May you need one another, but not out of weakness.
  2. May you want one another, but not out of lack.
  3. May you entice one another, but not compel one another.
  4. May you embrace one another, but not encircle one another.
  5. May you succeed in all important ways with one another / And not fail in the little graces.
  6. May you look for things to praise, often say, “I love you!”
  7. And take no notice of small faults.
  8. If you have quarrels that push you apart / May both of you hope to have / Good sense enough to take the first step back.

In the last last stanza he concludes:

May you enter into the mystery which is

The awareness of one another’s

Presence — no more physical than spiritual,

Warm and near when you are

Side by side, and warm and near when

You are in separate rooms

Or even distant cities.

May you have happiness,

And may you find it making one another happy.

May you have love, and may you find it loving one another.

Cliff & Marian_Wedding Day_96dpi

Here’s where you can share your own tips or observations.