Eight Daring Women

Eight Daring Women

I spent last weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with seven of my new best friends.  Our purpose:  explore and respond to our soul’s whisper and heart’s desire.  The journey within can be more fearful than traveling to the most remote corners of the world.  Here is my ode to my fellow travelers.

Eight daring women step into the arena.

Four stalwart horses stand at attention, electric with anticipation.

Eight daring heartbeats racing, pulsing through the sultry, arid ether.

Eight daring women eye-to-eye with one-thousand pound sentient beings.

Eight daring women exposed and vulnerable.

Eight daring women open to the possibilities.

Eight daring women supporting one another through tears and laughter.

Eight daring women forever changed.

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Thank you Beth Bryce, my fellow travelers and my two equine teachers, Dandi and Lilly, for helping me understand the importance of stillness and letting my bright light shine.

Red Red Robin

Red Red Robin

“Good morning Zelda.  How are you feeling today?”

“Blue skies and sunshine.  Today is going to be a good day Marcie.”  Zelda gazed over the memory garden outside her window.

“Six American Robins are in the garden, or as I like to say, eating off the breakfast buffet.  Earthworms are on the menu, as usual.  Later they will be all over the berry bushes.  I wish I had half their appetite.”

“If it’s worms you want, I can ask the gardener dig some up for you,” Marcie said as she adjusted the pillows propping Zelda in her day-chair.  “Anything you want, name it.”

“A cup of tea is all for now,” Zelda uttered.

Marcie straightened the sheets on Zelda’s bed, cleaned the nightstand and poured fresh water in Zelda’s cup, no ice.

Marcie touched Zelda on the arm to pull her attention back to the present moment.  “I’ll prepare your tea now; you sure I can’t tempt you with a biscuit or some fruit?”

Zelda moved her head from side to side.  “I might try some fruit later, when the robins come back for their afternoon meal.”

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Marcie set the delicate china teacup on the table next to Zelda.  “I brought you a couple of crackers if your appetite returns .  They’re probably not as tasty as earthworms, but I wish you would put a little something in you tummy.  Why the fascination with robins?” Marcie asked scanning the room.

“I was born in 1926, the year Al Jolson recorded When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along.  My momma said I acted like a baby robin from the very beginning.  My head would bob up and down any time someone payed me any attention.  One time momma told me she wished she had named me Robin instead of Zelda for her grandmother.  Momma called me Robin until day she passed.  I knew I was in trouble or something important was happening if she called me Zelda.”

Marcie sat in the visitors’ chair and placed her hands on Zelda’s face, “I like the name Zelda.  It suits you.   Zelda comes from the Yiddish name Selig, meaning blessed or happy.  You light up the room with your smile.   Anyone who visits knows how blessed you are.  Look at all the family photos around the room.  And so many pictures of robins.  Where did they all come from?”

“I taught second grade for thirty years.  My granddaughter put something on Facebook about my being in Hospice.  Seems she asked anyone who passed through my classroom to send a note or something to cheer me up.  My class put on a skit and sang When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along for the school talent show every year.  We painted bird houses for art class and observed baby robins hatch and learn to fly.  Anyway, ever since, not a day goes by without picture or something in the mail from one of my students.”

* * *

“Up for some visitors Zelda?”

Marcie ushered in a dozen second graders and a teacher from the elementary school down the street.

“Hello Mrs. Schmidt.  I’m Sue Thompson, I teach second grade at Pierson Elementary.  I don’t know if you remember me.  You were my second grade teacher.  I wanted to grow up to be just like you.  I got my love of nature and birds from you.  My students would like to perform their piece for the school talent show if that’s alright with you.”

Happy tears streamed down Zelda’s cheeks as the students sang When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along.  Mrs. Thompson set out a tray of fruit for the kids to share with Zelda and Hospice staff.

Zelda turned her gaze to the window.   She smiled, watching the robin family chowing down at the berry buffet in the garden.  Zelda picked up a piece of watermelon and took a bite.

Two versions of When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along for your pleasure

Al Jolson – When the Red red Robn Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along

Children’s Chorus – When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobin’ Along

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For those interested in learning a little about robins, here you go…

Source:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Robin

The quintessential early bird, American Robins are common sights on lawns across North America, where you often see them tugging earthworms out of the ground. Robins are popular birds for their warm orange breast, cheery song, and early appearance at the end of winter. Though they’re familiar town and city birds, American Robins are at home in wilder areas, too, including mountain forests and Alaskan wilderness.

American Robins are fairly large songbirds with a large, round body, long legs, and fairly long tail. Robins are the largest North American thrushes, and their profile offers a good chance to learn the basic shape of most thrushes.

American Robins are industrious and authoritarian birds that bound across lawns or stand erect, beak tilted upward, to survey their environs. When alighting they habitually flick their tails downward several times. In fall and winter they form large flocks and gather in trees to roost or eat berries.

American Robins are common across the continent in gardens, parks, yards, golf courses, fields, pastures, tundra, as well as deciduous woodlands, pine forests, shrublands, and forests regenerating after fires or logging.

Look for American Robins running across lawns or stalking earthworms in your yard or a nearby park. Since robins sing frequently, you can find them by listening for their clear, lilting musical whistles. In winter they may disappear from your lawn but could still be around. Look for flocks of them in treetops and around fruiting trees, and listen for their low cuck notes.

Cool Facts

An American Robin can produce three successful broods in one year. On average, though, only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next. Despite the fact that a lucky robin can live to be 14 years old, the entire population turns over on average every six years.

Although robins are considered harbingers of spring, many American Robins spend the whole winter in their breeding range. But because they spend more time roosting in trees and less time in your yard, you’re much less likely to see them. The number of robins present in the northern parts of the range varies each year with the local conditions.

Robins eat a lot of fruit in fall and winter. When they eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they sometimes become intoxicated.

Robin roosts can be huge, sometimes including a quarter-million birds during winter. In summer, females sleep at their nests and males gather at roosts. As young robins become independent, they join the males. Female adults go to the roosts only after they have finished nesting.

Exit Stage Left

Exit Stage Left

I walked out from behind the curtain, found my mark on stage and delivered my line.  As I turned to take my exit, the audience broke out in laughter.  I was paralyzed. It was the first time performing for a live audience.  I wasn’t prepared for their reaction.

I played the maid in George Washington Slept Here, the basis for the television show Green Acres.  I was comic relief inside a comedy.

Summer Theater was a six credit course at Central Michigan University.  Two directors were staging three productions.  They required every student to work on two shows.  We submitted our credits and read some lines.

I loved my backstage experiences, making sets, sewing costumes, calling light cues from the booth, and changing sets between scenes.  I had no desire to perform on stage.

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Assignments were posted on the bulletin board.  Stage Manager for Our Town, that makes sense.  (Jeff Daniels played the lead.)  But my name next to a stage role, surely it was a mistake.  My eyes flew open, I held my breath.  Dr. Smith, the Director, can fix this, he must fix this.  I begged, pleaded, bargained.  It was not optional.  He wanted me for that role.

In George Washington Slept Here I had maybe two lines.  No big deal, until the audience reacted.  I knew then, for certain, that the theater was not calling to me.  It was my first last and only acting experience, or was it.

In my career(s) as a trainer, consultant, yoga teacher, fundraiser, and community development speaker I put myself in front of one audience after another for decades.  It may not qualify as acting, but I was most certainly always performing a role.

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Nana’s Magic Canning Jars

Nana’s Magic Canning Jars

After a brisk opening day at The Magic Canning Jar Diner, I barely felt my tired feet and achy back when I turned the sign on the door to Closed.  A reporter from the local paper remained in a booth at the back waiting for an interview. I poured us both a cup of coffee and let out a long sigh as I sat down.

“Are you sure you want to do this now?  I can come back later in the week,” the reporter said.

Let’s do this now. I don’t think business is going to slow down anytime soon, at least I hope not.

The reporter began the interview by turning on her recorder and asked permission to tape our conversation.

“Start with how you came up with the name of the restaurant and the unusual menu.”

I give my grandmother credit for the name and the menu.  Friday was always Nana Day.  She would pick me up from school for an afternoon of no rules and special treats ending in a sleep over.

Mom would say watching the two of us giggle, heads together, “I can’t tell the adult from the child.”

Nana lined the top shelf in her pantry with canning jars filled with everything from homemade jam to pickled eggs.  All the jars were numbered and Nana moved the numbers around every few weeks.

I had two favorite jars.  Nana kept one filled with chocolate.  She liked to buy candy on sale so you might find Easter candy in October and Halloween candy in April.  The wrapper didn’t matter; the treat inside delighted no matter the season.

My other favorite jar we filled with activities to do together. We each wrote ideas on slips of paper and put them in the jar. On a cold, rainy Friday in November, I reached into the activity jar and pulled out a slip in Nana’s handwriting.

“Camp-in. Don’t you mean camp-out Nana?”

“No, a Camp-in is perfect for a day like today, follow me,” Nana said with a tilt of her head.

Nana opened the linen closet in the hallway and started pulling down blankets and sheets.  We hauled them into the living room to build a fort over the furniture. We filled our fort with pillows, stuffed animals, flashlights, games and my favorite books.

After a couple of hours reading, singing and playing games I asked Nana, “What’s for dinner?”

With a lift her eyebrows and a twinkle in her eyes she asked, “How about a canning jar mystery meal?”

I’m sure I made my pickle-puss face, “Oh no.  Remember what happened last time Nana?  We ate those nasty beets, sauerkraut and pickles.”

Nana smiled, “Pick three numbers between one and thirty.  I’ll go to the pantry and bring back our feast.”

I crossed my fingers, trying to remember the number on the chocolate jar.  “Sixteen, twenty seven and thirty.”

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Nana went to the pantry and came back with the jars I selected.

“Pizza sauce, brussel sprouts and banana peppers,” I groaned.

Nana always made the best of things. That night we made pizza bagels and used the brussel sprouts and banana peppers as toppings.

Nana days and the magic canning jars taught me to eat all kinds of food.  I learned how to combine foods that don’t seem like they belong together.  And that’s how the diner got its name.

Grinning, I added, “If you select three magic numbers I’ll whip up something memorable.”



Retro-Fear.  I made that up, I think. Naiveté often looks like fearlessness. Or, “If I knew then what I know now, I might not have (insert act of fearlessness.)”

It all began with a lie, the decision to leave Atlantic City and move to New York City (NYC).

My boss sat on the other side of his desk and lied to my face. Unaware I knew the truth about the possibility of moving from the training department to the marketing department, he told me the job was a demotion and paid less money.

I’d met with the Vice-President of Merchandising beforehand to work out the details. Writing marketing copy seemed much more interesting than writing training manuals.

My boss lied to me.  I was sick to my stomach.  I pressed my lips together and took a deep breath.

Asking my boss to inquire about the job opening was a courtesy and the politically correct thing to do. Calling him on his lie would have been political suicide for me and put others in harm’s way. So I held my tongue.

Back at my desk, fuming on the inside, steam coming out my ears, I vowed to be gone in thirty days.

My college roommate lived in NYC. I called to find out if she knew anyone needing a roommate. She was looking for a new apartment and needed a roommate.  We hatched a plan.

I used vacation time and weekends to look for an apartment and look for a job. At the end of the month I had both. I borrowed the company van and moved my belongings to New York.

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Three important bits of self-knowledge came from that move.

  1. Personal integrity is important to me and a vital quality in the people I surround myself with.
  2. Like Frank Sinatra sang so eloquently, “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere.” New York offers a lot, but is not an easy place to live. After that, nothing scares me, much.
  3.  Big cities are not for me.  I am a small-town girl through and through.

I wouldn’t even consider moving to NYC today. Is it retro-fear or knowledge and experience?

Every decision takes us down one path instead of another. No telling where I might be today if I had stayed in my job and not taken the path to the Big Apple.

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A Room with a View

A Room with a View

Karen took in the view from her spot at the front of the room. Brighlty flowerd curtains, rows of chairs split by an aisle, dim lighting, and fresh flowers were scattered around.  The scent of roses and gardenias overpowered a hint of incense clinging to the walls.

Aunt Mini, matriarch of the family, was first to arrive. Cane in one hand and supported by her son’s arm, took her usual place in the first row.

Cousin Candace with her brood, ranging from three to thirteen, sat in the back. A quick exit might be necessary if one of her kids started acting up.

Friends arrived in two’s and three’s.  Some from work and others from her high school days.

More people arrived; the noise level rose.  Lots of hugging and hand-shaking among old friends and long-lost relatives warmed the room.

“I can’t believe how big you are.  So grown up!” out-of-town relatives exclaimed, seeing one another for the first time in years.

Karen counted 52 people in all:  34 relatives, 17 friends, and one stranger who wandered in.

* * *

Tim walked to the front of the room.  Conversations wrapped-up and all attention focused on him.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, looking out at the friendly faces.

After a glance at Karen in her place of honor, Tim looked down at the notes in his hand.

“As you know, we are here to celebrate Karen.”

Tim droned on about his sister.  He recalled childhood escapades, divulging which one of them came up with the idea of digging up their mother’s garden.

“What can I say?  We were looking for buried treasure.”

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Karen tuned out his words and surveyed the crowd.  She memorized the expressions on faces.  She took note of who laughed at Tim’s jokes, who dabbed tears from eyes welling up with emotion, and who yawned in boredom.

Tim gestured with both hands, palms up lifting them toward heaven. “Let’s stand and sing to Karen on this special occasion.”

Karen wanted to cover her ears. The well-intentioned singing reminded her of the choir in the old country church she attended when at her summer home.  No two people sang in the same key.  One enthusiastic singer rushed the words while another sang a beat behind, creating an echo.  It was all she could do to keep from giggling.

“Again, thank you everyone for coming.  After you share your personal thoughts with Karen, join us in the next room for refreshments.”

Tim escorted Karen to the reception. One thought ran through her mind.

I wonder where I will go from hereI hope whoever wins custody of my urn places me in a room with a good view of the outdoors.

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Sweet Space

Sweet Space

“Dying is nothing to fear. It can be the most wonderful experience of your life. It all depends on how you have lived.”  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Today’s “fearlessness” post is about death.  I had the privilege of being with both of my parents when they died.  Each passing was unique.  Each passing was a reflection of a life well-lived.

Sweet Space

There is a sweet space between waking and dreaming where time is suspended; my mind stops flitting from thought to thought, my breathing is steady and my heart is open.  I was in my sweet space when I heard my deceased father’s voice.

“I will be coming for your mother soon.  I miss her.  It’s time.  I need her more than you do.  You will be okay.  You always were.”

During the fifty-nine years of their marriage, my father’s whole purpose in life was to take care of my mother.  He created a bubble around her.  At the same time he was teaching her to be independent.  He cared for her when she was sick and he wanted to be sure she didn’t take herself too seriously.

In our last conversation, my dad asked me if my mother could still laugh at herself.  I assured him she could and told him a story about a recent event when she did something silly and made a joke out of it.

Later that day he slipped into a coma-like state.  His body could no longer keep fighting and he knew my brothers and I would make sure my mother would be well cared for.

To say my father had a strong spirit would be an understatement.  He survived thirty-four months in a Japanese prison camp and the Bataan Death March.  When dementia had nearly taken over his mind, he continued to look for my mother around every corner of the hospital.

When his spirit came to me twenty-one months after his death to let me know he missed my mother and would be coming for her soon, I took him seriously but protested.

“You can’t have her yet.  She’s not ready.  I am not ready.”

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My mother was in good health, active and not about to slow down any time soon.  She was getting ready for her second knee replacement in less than twelve months.  She didn’t want the surgery and put it off until winter when she wouldn’t mind being inside while a Michigan winter raged on outdoors.

* * *

Two weeks after my father’s spirit came to me and nine days after mom’s knee surgery, we were in the emergency room.  Mom’s nitro pills were not controlling her chest pains.

This was not our first time in the ER.  Before following the ambulance to the hospital, I grabbed her medications and medical power of attorney.  No matter how many times we had been to this hospital, they always wanted the paperwork.

Mom was having a conversation with the nurse when a traumatic event occurred.  The ER doctor asked the attendant at the desk to call “the team.”  I knew this meant a Code Blue.  A handful of nurses moved her to a trauma room to work on her.  The wheels were in motion and my father’s spirit was following the action.

I spoke with the doctor and asked him to stop any extraordinary measures.  I showed him mom’s advanced directives.

He confirmed my identity and asked me, “Is today the day?”

“This is what she wants.  So I guess today is the day,” I said. There was no time to think about what I wanted, only time enough to think about what my mother wanted.

Two nurses stood on one side of my mom while I sat on the other holding her hand, watching her struggle for breath, her body tensed from head to toe.  She was caught in that space between staying and leaving.  I could sense by father’s spirit hovering above her.

I stroked her brow and said, “It’s okay to let go mom.  Go be with dad.  He needs you and I will be okay.”

Her body relaxed and her breathing settled, becoming shallower and shallower.  My father reached out for her and she slipped away with him into sweet space.

Today was their day.

“Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.”  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

If you have made it this far, let’s end on a lighter note.

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If It Floats…

With tears in her eyes, Sasha said, “I could see it coming but I hoped you and dad would work it out.  Tell me one more time how the two of you got together.  I love that story.”

Sasha and I sat on Flagler Beach watching the sunrise.  I chose the ocean as the place to tell my twenty-year old daughter about the end of a love story that started on a California beach three decades earlier.   Life had come full-circle.

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After twelve months on the road sharing a VW bus with Victor, I thought I knew everything about him.  We were sitting on a bench in the ashram meditation garden, looking out at the ocean.  The sun was slipping out of sight, creating an orange glow, erasing the horizon.  Sky and water became one.

Out of the blue, Victor squeezed my hand and said, “I am going to become a monk and follow the Guru on his world tour.”

Jaw open, eyes wide, breath in my throat, I managed a confused, “What?”

The next day I moved out of the bus and into the ashram.  On the upside, after a year living a Buddhist life style I was drug-free, sober and healthy.  My thoughts were clear and my heart open.  On the downside, I was three thousand miles from home with no money or transportation.  I’d cut ties with my family five years ago.  Plus they would never understand my lifestyle choices.  There was no point in reaching out to them.  I would have to figure out on my own what to do next.

* * *

I attended as many lectures, yoga classes and evening sessions with the Guru as I could, hoping for some insight about the future.

It was impossible to avoid Victor.  When our paths crossed I held my head high, looked him in the eye and nodded silently.

Living in the ashram required thirty hours of service each week.  When possible I worked in the kitchen.  There was something meditative about preparing food for residents and guests.  I spent most of my kitchen time working side-by-side, laughing and flirting with Henry, another lost soul.

When not in the kitchen Henry and I explored the ashram grounds.  Nestled between the ocean and mountains on the California coast, we found lots of places to disappear from view, or so we thought.

Word got back to Victor that I had moved on and was seeing someone else.  Suddenly I was more interesting.  He would stop me in hallways to talk and he would sit next to me during morning meditation.

One day he asked, “Would you let me buy you dinner Friday?  There’s a new vegan restaurant in town.  I hear it’s pretty good.”

And so the courting began.

* * *

This was a very different Victor than the one I’d followed around the country.  He seemed focused, considerate and interested in something besides himself.  One night he prepared a picnic and took me to the beach to watch the sunset.

He popped open a bottle of champagne and popped the question, “Will you marry me and create our future as we live in the present, one day at a time?”

At a loss for words, I put the top back in the bottle and threw it in the ocean.

“If the bottle floats, my answer is yes.”

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Whoa Boy!

Whoa Boy!

“Get back on the horse.”  It’s a metaphor, or an adage or an idiom.  You pick.  It generally means if you get hurt doing something, try again as soon as possible or you will be afraid of it forever.  Since this post is about fearlessness, let’s just say, I’m no stranger to getting back on the horse.

I fell while racing my bike around the circle at the end of the street when I was young.  The entire left calf scraped and ripped up.  I was back on the bike right away.  I suspect there are many other similar incidents.  That one has stuck with me.

When it comes to jobs, I’ve been laid off, down-sized, right-sized, and eliminated.  I kept going back for more until I decided to take control of my fate and work for myself, so to speak.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve tried a stable of horses.  My lips are sealed on that topic.

In this story, there I was, flat on my back on the Alaskan tundra, arms out stretched, nothing but sky above me.  I took a few deep breaths, enjoying the view and getting my bearings.

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“Are you OK?  Like mother like daughter,” my brother quipped from his saddle.  Our mother was thrown from a horse on a summer trip to Yellowstone in 1960 something.  She landed on a rock and never did get on a horse again.

I wiggled my fingers, arms, toes and legs.  I felt my head and torso.  “Nothing hurts.  Am I bleeding?”

If it had been on film, it would have been in slow motion.  We were taking a break at the turn-around point of our ride.  My horse bolted for his place in line for the trip back to the barn.  Not expecting the sudden movement, I wasn’t hanging on and slowly slid to the left.  I became acutely aware that both feet were still in the stirrups.  I focused my attention on getting them loose or I would be dragged along like a stunt double in a movie.

The top layer of the tundra is spongey with plant life in the summer.  It was a soft landing.

Our guide rode over.  “Can you get back on your horse?”

“I guess so, but I’ll need a boost.  I can’t reach the stirrups from the ground.”

My options were to either climb on the large boulder that just happened to be nearby and get back on my horse or wait for the ATV to come fetch me.  I climbed on the boulder.

“I’ve been training for this my whole life.  See you at the barn.”

Papa’s Boots

Papa’s Boots

Trowel in hand, head tilted back, eyes looking up toward heaven, Terri took in a deep breath.  The smell of new-mowed grass turned up the corners of her mouth.  She glanced down at Adele, a miniature version of her.  Eyes closed, nose toward the clouds, Adele took a big whiff in, exhaling with a puff.

“What do we smell mama?”

“Take another whiff Adele and tell me what you see.”

Adele closed her eyes again, turned her head up to the right, took a deep breath and exhaled exclaiming, “Wow, I see Papa and me.  When I was little, he used to let me sit on his lap and we would cut the lawn together.”

“You remember that?”

“It’s one of my best memories.  Do you think Papa is riding his lawn mower in heaven?”

“He just might be; Papa loved being outside in his yard.”

* * *

“Ready to plant our spring flowers,” Terri asked Adele.

“Let’s do it,” Adele exclaimed, garden tools and gloves in hand.

“It might be a bit muddy, why don’t you put on your rubber boots.  I think they’re in the storage shed.”

Adele returned wearing her rubber boots, carrying an old pair of work boots.

“What have you got there?” her mother asked.

“Aren’t these Papa’s boots?”

“Why yes they are.  What do you want to do with them?”

“I think Papa would want us to put his boots in the garden.  He can be outside where he loves it and we can visit him anytime we want.”

“Let’s do it,” Terri uttered, a catch in her throat.garden tools 1