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multiple choice

While life is filled with serious choices (too many to count), it’s the less critical ones that are often the most fun — and the most debatable. To wit:

Yankees or Mets? (For the love of legends like DiMaggio, Mantle, and Jeter, you’ve got to give it to the Bronx boys of summer.) Lakers or Clippers? (Again, I say, there’s only one correct answer here — hint: the one with all the championship banners hanging at Staples.)

Thick crust or thin? (As any true pizza lover can tell you, it’s got to be just thin enough to fold while you eat it. Any thinner is just wrong; any thicker is more wrong. And eating it with a knife and fork is just plain blasphemous.) Almond Joy or Mounds? (Neither. Trick question.) New York or Los Angeles? (San Francisco — Yankees and pizza notwithstanding.)

Ketchup or mustard on that hotdog? (Before you judge, you’ve got to try ketchup. I convinced B. to do that very thing years ago, and he’s never mustarded again. And my mother-in-law has never forgiven me.)

On line or in line? (It’s a having-been-raised-in-New-York thing, I think. I say “on line” — although a dear friend of mine from another part of the country once asked, “Really? Is there a line painted on the ground that you’re standing on?” No, there’s not, smartass. And where did she get that New York attitude from to begin with? Huh?)

Cone or cup for that scoop? (Clearly cone. Classic, pointed end, none of this fancy waffle-style nonsense.) And speaking of scoops, chocolate or vanilla? (Yes, I know that surveys say that vanilla is most people’s fave but come on. I mean, a) you can’t trust polls (have we learned nothing?) and, b) chocolate so rules.)

And, with Thanksgiving just a day away, the inevitable choice: on your sweet potatoes — marshmallows or none? I was a marshmallow girl all the way growing up. Truth be told, I never ate the sweet potato part. I’d just scrape off the marshmallow and eat that. (Of course, I was a very picky eater as a kid; so picky that when we ordered in Chinese food, my parents would convince me that the water chestnuts were potatoes to get me to eat.)

Anyway, it wasn’t until I met B. (who dislikes marshmallows intensely) that I finally tasted naked sweet potatoes. Turns out, I love them. And I’ve never looked back. (Adding too-much sweet to already-sweet is gilding the beyond-sweet lily.)

All of this, my friends, as my way of offering up a bit of lighter fare in these tough, tough days. I wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy Thanksgiving and hope that you enjoy as many marshmallows (or as few) as you desire.

Sometimes less is s’more.

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

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write of way

Writing is a tough business. Novel writing, specifically. And the only thing more difficult than writing that novel, at least in my own experience, is getting it published. The competition these days for literary agents willing to take a chance on an unpublished novelist’s first work — to say nothing of the fight for a place at the table of a traditional publishing house — is daunting and nearly impossible to break through. Do some first-timers find lightning in a bottle? They do, and more power to them. But for the rest, like me, the challenge is a mountain to be scaled — with the peak increasing in altitude with each attempt.

While my novel, The Mermaid Mahjong Circle — A Fairy Tale for Women, was met with enough enthusiasm by literary agents for many to request to see an entire manuscript after reading a few sample chapters, the result after that was often this: “We’ll get back to you in a few months … maybe a year.” Or, “We love your book but we only take on at most one new novel a year so …” Or, my personal favorite, “Please submit an overview of today’s fiction category trends, including titles and sales numbers, and cite how your book is different, which other novels it is similar to, and how you see us trying to sell it into a publishing house” — wait, I thought that was your job.

Tinkerbell and I have something in common; that is, we both believe. I believe in my novel enough that I didn’t want to wait for an agent to decide to sign me on — I was looking at a couple of years before I’d see my book in print and that, to me, was not acceptable. I also believe that my book is a little jewel, and I wanted my story told the way I’ve written it, not the way an editor might reimagine it. (Even as I write these words I’m hoping that the publishing gods do not wreak havoc on me should I ever try to submit a second novel.)

My experience is why so many first-time novelists turn to self-publishing as a way to get their work out into the world. The advantage to self-publishing is the amount of control it allows the author in terms of every aspect of her book — from not having to make anyone’s edits but her own to how the book will look and feel.

The downside is that self-publishing means that the marketing of the book, and the dollars and effort it takes to do that, fall onto the writer herself.

Instead of publisher-arranged book-signings and tours (à la Carrie Bradshaw), there are me-arranged Zoom-style book talks, podcasts, mailings, and virtual appearances at private book group get-togethers.

Instead of publisher-contracted advance reviews from New York Times bestselling authors on my book cover, there are lots of reviews on places like amazon and goodreads, generated by my doing the legwork (and my proverbial legs are pretty weary, I must say). And instead of publishers getting my book to celebrities who have their own book clubs, I’ve been working the phones and email, finding celebrity reps who are actually interested in forwarding my book to their clients (yay, me!).

Mostly it’s been all about my finding creative ways to break through the clutter of social media and get the book into readers’ hands.

Indie writers love their work in a way that makes them unshy about asking friends to “like” and “share;” that makes them untiring (well, sometimes a little tired) in efforts to find new audiences to reach; that makes them unrelenting in wanting to get their work out (like right now — enter to win a free copy of my book here from now through December 15!).

Which brings me to my point — next time you’re in the market for something new to read, whether a thriller or a romance, a tale of espionage or a fairy tale, think about choosing something self-published by an indie writer. Often the only thing standing between their book and a bestseller list is an opportunity, a stroke of luck, or perfect timing.

Believe it.

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

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proof through the night

Four years ago I wrote a post entitled Pigs Are Flying because, let’s face it, the world had seemingly turned upside down that November day, and all we took to be logical and sensible suddenly was not. You might want to give it a quick look before reading on — I’ll wait. Done? Okay. The results of the 2020 election have put the earth back on its rightful axis for me — and, by the judge of things, for millions around the globe — making this a good time to update that 2016 post. To wit:

Pigs are firmly back on the ground. Mittens are no longer needed in hell, where snowballs have turned to steam. Needles are safely hidden back in proverbial haystacks and apples are once again falling not at all far from their trees.

In the world of science, the planets are no longer even considering reversing their orbits, and the sun is happy to honor its contract of continuing to rise each day. The man in the moon is once more thrilled with his gig (earth being a much better place to be looking down at again) and the force of gravity has a new and stronger grip (as does reality). Sales of one-way tickets to Mars have dropped considerably.

The figure in Munch’s The Scream has been erased from the $5 bill, with Lincoln back in his place of honor, and order has been restored to the hierarchy of rock, paper, and scissors. Horses, while once again allowing themselves to be led to water, have now regained their freedom of choice as to whether they want to drink, and cows are back to being non-committal as to when they will come home.

The number of angels dancing on the head of a pin has increased to being too high to count; in related news, every time a bell rings an angel once more gets its wings. A stitch in time has gone back up in value to nine, and, while there are still clouds, we will soon be seeing more silver linings and less tarnish.

Our sense of order is awakening once more, along with the comforting thought that the things we always knew to be so are recognized as truth once again. The times they are a changin’ — again — but this time in the correct direction for human rights, for compassion, for decency.

One thing does remain the same: Silence no longer speaks volumes — silence is just, well, silent. So continue to use your voice. For liberty and justice for all.

For the dawn’s early light.

ⓒ 2020 Claudia Grossman

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mother ship

Oil and water. Of all the relationships out there, there may be no other as complex as the one between mothers and their daughters. Those far more renowned and expert in the subject than I am have researched and written about this dynamic; my own experience is just that — my own. But it is within the relationship I had with my own mother that I’ve come to find myself. After much heartache, many tears, and finally, some peace.

My mother and I were very close in many ways (we lived in the same house for the first two-thirds of my life, so the literal closeness is obvious). My father died when I was 19 — and because I felt compelled (okay, I’ll say it, guilted) into staying with (and supporting) my mother until I “ran away” from home at 38 — the relationship was, unfortunately, not as emotionally healthy as I would have liked. I was complicit in keeping myself in that situation; I just didn’t think I had the strength to leave it.

Did I love my mother? I did, very much. But did I love the situation I felt myself trapped in? I did not. And here’s where the dynamic comes in.

Were I a stronger, more confident person back then, clearly I would have said to my mother, “It’s time for me to fly the nest. I’ll help you however I can, but I cannot live my life for you.” And were she a more confident, less afraid person herself, she would have said, “You’re right. You need to live your life on your terms, not mine. Go and fly, little bird.”

But. The funny thing about mama birds and baby birds is that unless the mama bird is willing and the baby bird is brave, the tie that binds can cause much damage.

Soon after I left, my mother did sell the house and move somewhere smaller, and my (and our) support of her became more reasonable, although her expectations of me did not. And, ironically, I suppose, I never truly confronted her about our issues because, once I was finally ready, she had become an old woman. I always knew that she loved me; she was just unable to give me the one thing I needed — my freedom.

What did I inherit from my mother? Mostly, and sadly, I think, her anxiety. The good news is that I have worked long and hard to fight mine, and I continue to do so every day. Some days are good. Other days, not so much, But I keep on fighting. My mom, unfortunately, let hers get the better of her.

On the lighter side, I also inherited her love of sweets, her sometimes wicked sense of humor, her great hair. And her faith in true love.

I’m a big believer that, aside from any kind of abuse, of course, blaming our parents for who we’ve become and who we are to this day is not productive. At some point, and after a lot of hard work in therapy, I learned that, going forward, my life was my own and my actions could not just be reactions to my mother’s cues.

So to answer the question now, after many years of my mom being gone, how I feel about her — the response, to me, is simple. I love her and I miss her. I do not miss the push-pull dynamic or the emotional heartbreak. I miss her laugh, her nagging me to push my hair out of my face, her unflagging willingness to talk to me about recipes.

Yes, I am my mother’s daughter. But more importantly, I am myself.

Winging it.

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

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keeping tabs

There are lots of signposts that remind us of where we’ve been. Like a certain song first heard decades ago that whisks you right back to that moment each time you hear it (Van Morrison, anyone?). Or that faded-to-super-soft concert tee that you still can’t part with because it makes you feel cool again each time you pull it on (Frampton Comes Alive!). Or that fragrance you — or someone you had a crush on — once wore (Shalimar, maybe? Or Polo?). One waft of it now, and you’re flashing back to times past.

Or, in my case, a sparkling beverage in a hot-pink can. Yup, that paean to the 1970s soft-drink world — Tab. Full disclosure: I used to drink diet soda a lot (a can and a donut were my idea of breakfast for a long time). Tab was my choice when I was a teenager and then a college student and even after that.

For those of you who may not know, Tab was Coca-Cola’s diet choice way before Diet Coke came along. In its signature bright pink can, it stood out. Although clearly not the healthiest choice (in place of sugar, it was sprinkled with saccharine), it was the choice of those of us longing to look like the models on the cover of Seventeen magazine. And the taste? Let’s just say it was an acquired one.

The summer I met B., we were between our junior and senior years in high school and attending a program at Cornell. I have vivid memories of putting my quarters into the soda machine to grab an icy cold can of Tab during those hot, humid, Ithaca afternoons. (And vivid memories of B. running into me at the mailboxes and saying, “You really like that stuff, huh?” Such a smooth talker.)

Tab followed me throughout college — my tiny little dorm fridge was always filled with those pink cans. (The caffeine is what kept me going through the thousand-and-one papers I wrote for English Lit.)

And when I visited B. in San Francisco in the mid-1980s (yes, our relationship story spans decades before we actually got together for good), what did he have in his kitchen just waiting for me? That’s right, the man bought me Tab — enough to last the dozen more years until we got married. (Only kidding. About the amount of soda, not the number of years.)

So what changed? Diet Coke came into the picture and tasted better. Plus, Tab was more and more difficult to find. Finally, I gave up the whole soda thing. Sure, I might order a Diet Coke once in a very blue moon these days, but seltzer (excuse me, sparkling water) is now my beverage of choice. And yes, my breakfasts have become much healthier too (also more boring and less fun).

So it’s not with the regret of missing something I love that I received the news earlier this week that Tab was being discontinued. Just the regret that those memories are now truly only that — memories.

So rest in pink, you bubbly, effervescent friend. You were fizzy while you lasted.

Utterly fan-tab-ulous.

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

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the write to cry

Seven months ago I wrote a blog post about the absurd (because at the time, that’s what it seemed like) day I had tracking down a package of toilet paper for my mother-in-law (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d see myself write). Six months ago I wrote about what it’s like to have my husband teaching his college business-law classes from home (go ahead, ask me anything about torts). Four months ago, my post was a chronicle to banana bread because that’s all I was baking for weeks (now I can’t look at the stuff without gagging). Two months ago? My tribute to our new way of being in the “same” room with old friends — the Zoom session. All trying-to-be-light observations about the ominous times we are in.

Last month, I beyond sadly wrote about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the woman in whom so many of our hopes were invested. A trying-to-remember-her-light observation during the ominous times we are in.

To say it’s been a long seven months is, of course, an understatement. To those who have suffered themselves, whether it is by falling ill with the virus or by losing someone you love to it, my heart breaks for you, and I can only wish you the physical and emotional healing you so dearly need.

It occurs to me that one of the hardest things about this time is how suddenly our normal lives were taken away from all of us. Losing our way of life seems grief-worthy in its own way. In trying to process the changes, in trying to deal with the uncertainty, in attempting to get from day to day without feeling like the world is ending, I realize that maybe we need to process this loss by going through some of the traditional stages of grieving — including sadness, denial, and anger — before we can reach a place of acceptance.

Not acceptance of the situation as it is (because it is so not okay), but acceptance that it’s all right to feel horrible some days. Acceptance that we can hope to get through this (even though that sometimes feels like an impossibly tall order). Acceptance that it’s okay to feel crappy about it all — and, through that, hopefully, find the fortitude to keep on going.

“Good grief,” said everyone’s favorite round-headed kid. Maybe what’s good about the collective grieving process is that it helps us see more clearly what’s important, what’s essential, and what we’re made of.

In that spirit, make someone’s day. Make someone laugh. Make someone a banana bread (just not me).

And make a difference. Vote.

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

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charm school

Okay, raise your hand if you remember those old-school charm bracelets. To me they seemed the accessory of choice for those perfect, suburban TV moms of a past era — think June Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver fame — women who vacuumed in pearls and heels, who had dinner on the table each night at six sharp for their ideal, if somewhat unevolved, husbands and adorably impish kids, who never had a hair out of place. These were the women who seemed to live charmed lives (hey, it was the suburbs in the late 1950s) and, therefore, wore the bracelets to match.

But those ubiquitous accessories were worn by more than those TV icons of the day. My mom and her friends wore them with pride and panache whenever a dress-up occasion came along.

My mother’s charm bracelet was something to behold. Milestone birthdays and anniversaries called for charms, and my father gifted her with them. Then there were the charms from each state they had visited — a wrist full of colorful New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC, shapes jangling with every move of her hand. There were the charms to mark the birth of my brother and me; the “just-because” gold heart; the of-the-time, diamond-accented sunburst celebrating another life moment. 

My mom so loved her charm bracelet that she started me with one of my own when I was about 12 or so. It had just a couple of charms at the time, but it grew to include sweet-sixteen mementos, a piano, a seashell, a locket, and more. But the bracelet was never something I really cared for or enjoyed wearing — its weight, its noise, and its very “jewelry-ness” bothered me — so, for the most part, it stayed in its box.

Charm can be a fleeting thing, I discovered one day. To wit:

My mom would soak her bracelet every so often in a jar of liquid jewelry cleaner. On that particular day, I came across the jar of cleaner on the kitchen counter. Noticing that the liquid inside looked dirty, I assumed that she had removed her now-clean bracelet from it and — yes, you guessed it — I threw the jar out. Only it wasn’t empty. Uh-oh.

The mistake wasn’t noticed until the next morning, well after the trash had been picked up from the curb. Too late to recover a lifetime of charmed moments caught in gold.

Oy. To say that I felt awful would be a huge understatement. While insurance covered the monetary loss, my mother never replaced the charms — I guess it had something to do with collecting each charm at a particular moment of her life.

At some point, over the years and the miles from east coast to west, I lost track of my largely unworn charm bracelet.

But one day, while looking through a drawer, I came upon a surprise — one charm that I had, apparently, saved. It had been a gift from my parents when I graduated high school. Something to mark the beginnings of my talents. Of all the charms that used to be on that bracelet, this is the one that has held its meaning, fulfilled its promise, and stayed with me all these years.

A tiny gold typewriter.

Charmed, I’m sure.

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

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lifting her lamp

It’s been a year. A year of what was unimaginable just six months ago. Of untold and unfathomable sadness and hardship, of fear and loss, of heroes and saviors, of courage and compassion.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, and typically a day of joy and celebration. While I consider myself simply a secular Jew — that is, not religious or observant in any way, but with a cultural connection — the day seems to stand out for me this year in ways it hasn’t in decades. And the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is, I believe, what has made me so conscious of it.

The loss to us in RBG’s passing — to the country, to its citizens, to women, to anyone who has ever had to fight for their rights — is inestimable. The woman was a warrior for good, a brilliant mind with a heart to match, an unfailing moral compass to follow as she fought for fairness, decency, and justice. Comparing Madam Justice to Lady Liberty would be more than appropriate.

The fact that her death comes now, as we continue to rail against a pandemic — of disease, of natural disasters, of racism, and of a country torn apart — only highlights to me how much tougher it will be to fight it all without her spirited will and her indefatigable spirit to help lead the charge.

And yet. Perhaps as this New Year dawns, the depth of her loss will signal a turn in the direction she so valiantly believed in. Perhaps the realization of all she stood for and what she has left us as a legacy will cut through all the noise, the disinformation, and the hate. Perhaps her one last act will be to shake awake the conscience and awareness needed for us all to find that brighter future sooner rather than later.

And so to Ruth Bader Ginsburg I say thank you. For the fires you lit, the ceaseless determination you showed, the justice you brought about. For the sweet liberty you broke barriers to instill. To you I wish godspeed and a well-deserved, peaceful rest.

And for the rest of us, I wish that the year ahead, whether or not it begins with Rosh Hashanah, is one of healing. Of light. Of serenity.

Vote. (And try some matzoh ball soup — it can’t hurt.)

 

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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dangling earrings

I wrote this essay (edited here for space reasons) and had it published in the Los Angeles Times several years ago. In re-reading it now, I couldn’t help but want to share it because it’s so much a part of my creative heart.

This is a story about letting go and letting life happen. About recognizing yourself for the first time even though you look in the mirror every day. About love — and about earrings.

B. and I had been having an earring debate for years. I always wore pearl studs or tiny hoops, mostly because I thought that small, modest earrings allowed me to blend in. While they may not have stood out in a crowd, they didn’t force me to stand out, either.

B., on the other hand, had always been a proponent of my wearing arty, dangling earrings. Nothing outrageous, but long enough to catch the eye, colorful enough to make a statement, and unusual enough to be noticed.

“Just try them once,” he’d implore me. “I know they’d look great on you.”

But for all my “sure, maybe someday” responses, I wasn’t about to put myself out there. After all, we were talking appearance here, and as I approached yet another birthday, the idea of standing out in the crowd was even less appealing than when I’d been younger.

Until.

We had decided at the last minute to take off for a long weekend getaway.  Actually, B. came up with the idea at the last minute — it then took him about three hours to convince me to be spontaneous (irony intended).

One short drive up the coast later and found us at one of those charming little seaside towns you always read about (but never really make the time to visit).

Its few streets were filled with the requisite cafés, galleries with work by local artisans, a general store, and, wedged between a florist and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, a tiny little jewelry shop. In its front window was a display of colorful dangling earrings.

What else could I say when B. nudged my shoulder? Give him a break, my inner voice told me. It won’t hurt to look.

Created from handpainted glass beads mixed with beautiful coral and jade, lapis and crystal, these earrings were not to be ignored. Brilliantly bold or delicate as glimmering snowflakes, they twinkled and seduced at the same time.

B. handed me a pair of carnelian drops, painted with tiny green and violet flowers, threaded on gold wire and topped by antiqued bronze-colored beads. I slipped out my small silver hoops, and, looking in the mirror, put on the new earrings. At first, nothing. Nothing but my feeling uncomfortable and too  “out there”. 

But then it happened. B. stood behind me and lifted my hair off my shoulders, twisting it up onto the top of my head. 

All of a sudden, the earrings glowed and danced, bringing out the color of my eyes, lengthening my neck and giving me a grace and beauty I hadn’t known I’d possessed. When I turned my head, they grazed against my skin, swinging gently back and forth. The entire experience was a physical rush, and I hastily took them out. “They’re not me,” I murmured.

B. said nothing, but brought over another pair. And then another and another. And with each pair I tried, he held up my hair, looked over my shoulder into the mirror, and smiled.

It was then that I realized that he saw something I hadn’t. He saw the woman inside, the woman who loved colors, the woman who yearned to paint and draw. Who danced in front of the mirror when no one was home to see.  Who could lose herself in children’s books and wild imaginings. She was wonderfully out of the ordinary and unexpected — and he wanted her to see herself that way. 

It was finally clear to me why he had always wanted me to wear dangling earrings — because in letting go and letting myself be noticed for all of whom I was, I would be letting in limitless possibility.

After more than an hour of watching my true self emerge, I decided I was ready to have her meet the world. I chose the first pair of earrings — the cinnamon-colored carnelian drops — and put them on right then and there.

Never to be (proverbially) taken off again.

 

© 2012 and 2020 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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girl power

girl-powerBecause it seems like the days just run into each other these days, it took me until yesterday to realize that yes, it’s been 40 years since my college graduation this past May. Wow. And whoa.

And with that thought in mind, I realized that I and my three dearest college friends (all of us have stayed in touch with all of us) have never been together in the same room since. Pairs of us, sure, but never all four. So, while the same room hasn’t happened yet (and doesn’t appear like it will anytime soon), the same Zoom seemed completely doable. And necessary. And, as sometimes happens in life (although not often enough, in my opinion), a moment’s spontaneity actually worked out. I called, they came, and two hours of face-to-face finally came true.

And there we were:

My kind friend from New York. The warmest, most welcoming, most generous woman I know, as well as one of the best moms I’ve ever met. She never rattles, she makes yummy brownies, and she’s got a heart big enough to wrap around everyone she loves. She’s super smart, an amazing multi-tasker, and tough as nails when she needs to be. You don’t want to negotiate against her.

My wonderful friend from Chicago.  When you look up “joyful” in the dictionary, her picture should be next to it. Here’s a woman who is really intelligent and strong, with a huge range of interests — the greatest probably being other people. A mediator by nature — and by profession, at times — she lives and loves with her whole being. She is a constant cheerleader for her friends, her associates, and for anyone who needs it. And she loves dogs.

My dear friend from DC. I’ve known her the longest and have always been in awe of what a brilliant mind she has (she always raises my conversation game). Incredibly loyal and loving, with an unerring sense of perception, she seems to remember everything I’ve ever confided to her — in a good way. Her seemingly quiet-at-first nature belies her strong voice in standing up for what she believes in. In truth, she’s a marshmallow inside. With a fabulous laugh.

And me, well, you know me.

Our two-hour reunion reminded us all, I think, of the young women we used to be and just how far we have all come since. There wasn’t as much “remember when” to our talk as there was talk of the now. Of plans for the future. Of what we still all want to do. With touches of funny stories and moments of touching poignancy sprinkled in.

We’ve come a long way in time from that Boston campus to the world that awaited. The years have been kind and challenging to us all for different reasons. I’m so proud of how we’re all still standing; still powering forward; still using so much of what made us who we were back then to grow into who we are right now. Those roots we planted 40 years ago are in full blossom today.

So, to my dear friends (and I hope you’re reading this) — know that you all have a piece of my heart. Here’s to you, to us, and to staying connected.

Girls rule.

©2020 Claudia Grossman

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