Gardens in the Sand

After our first night camping at Blind River (see July’s post) we travelled on and spent four nights camping in Agawa Bay, Lake Superior Provincial Park.  I remember those days feeling relaxed and endless. It was the first time on our trip we had no permanent access to power – so the process of adjustment could begin.  We were cooking most of our meals on a camp stove and generally spending our time outside, relying on natural light, so the days took on a different rhythm. 

A Superior supper. Lake Superior, the largest of North America’s Great Lakes and the worlds largest freshwater lake by surface area.

My favourite memories of Agawa Bay were wandering down to the shores of the lake with the boys, collecting the beautiful jewel coloured agate and making ‘gardens’ in the sand with Theodore. We spent most of our days and evenings by the lake, the hours stretching for days. Monty was a big fan of the water, so he spent a lot of time ‘Montying’ his way in to the lake and throwing his pretty stones in with daddy. 



I’ll be honest, I was obsessed with bears for the first few nights (weeks) but reading up and speaking to the park rangers helped. It was later that I learned that whilst bears are definitely ones to be aware of, it’s the cougars you’ve really got to worry about. By which point we’d camped our way across five Provinces and survived, so I felt altogether better about the realities of co-existing in nature with two tiny, tasty looking humans.

One night after dinner we got chatting to a family from Fairbanks, Alaska.  A couple with their 13 year old son and family dog.  They explained that they were taking two years out to travel around Canada together in their ‘bear proof tent’, a small tear drop trailer.  They were planning on having a two week break with some friends on Manitoulin Island before heading to the East coast in time for Fall.  It felt reassuring to speak to another family on their own adventure and to exchange stories about our East and West coast experiences (Mike and I travelled the East coast and Newfoundland on a previous trip).

Our tents survived their first heavy night of rain, but we quickly realised the benefits of a tarpaulin suspended above – or at the very least pinned over the top to stop what we found to be inevitable water drops accumulating over time.  We also decided at this point that a screen tent to cook in during inclement weather was going to be very useful.  We already had a ‘play tent’ for the boys (a 6 berth tent), which turned out to be one of our most valuable pieces of equipment.  It provided a dry contained space where they could keep their toys and books and have space to play and move around freely, whatever the weather.  It also provided a place of safety, where Mike and I could sit and relax knowing no one could wander off.

The boys settled into sleeping in a tent very well.  We have co-slept with both of them, so sleeping in one room all together is normal for us – and incredibly useful.  That coupled with our days following the rhythms of sunrise and sunset made for healthy sleeping routines.  The only exceptions were nights when Monty was teething, and the occasional night terror (from me!)

An hours drive from Agawa Bay, there is a small town called Wawa – most obviously notable for a giant goose sculpture on the way into town, along with two others dotted along the road for good measure (the boys really enjoyed spotting the geese!).  

One rainy day we took a trip in to get supplies and to grab some ‘inside lunch’.  As we were legging it from the car into the diner, a tall friendly looking lady with a huge smile on her face and open arms leaped out in front of us, exclaiming ‘hey, how are you? Do you want to stop in and play?’  She explained that she was from the family centre and that they were having a French language day if we wanted to join them, an invitation we very gladly took up with two slightly grouchy children in the rain. 

This was our first experience of any services for children and families in Canada.  Having never leapt into the street to connect with the local community in my own social work practice, I felt inspired and excited by such a pro-active approach.  The boys enjoyed a good two hours in what was a beautifully equipped centre, learning the french names of all the different animals (their go to toys of choice every time, bar a few tractors and cars for Monty).  We enjoyed an enthusiastic and supportive chat (with a hug!) and a good play, a lovely surprise on an otherwise rainy day camping.

Moving on, we spent a night in Nipigon, then on to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park.


On the road beside Lake Superior, Ontario

9,332 miles, and counting

Writing about our adventures on the road has been more difficult than I imagined!  By the end of our first few weeks in Canada, limited access to power made jotting notes on my phone tricky, but in all honesty, that wasn’t it.  After a short time travelling, it just didn’t feel like anything I wrote did our experiences any justice.  It felt more like taking a photograph from a moving car (something I’m always trying to do) or joining up a dot to dot, with the dots dancing around the page.

Pinning down a picture somehow felt limiting.  Like endeavouring to capture a beautiful moment as its happening, sometimes a photograph just doesn’t cut it. It’s got nothing to do with the camera or the photographer (or, maybe it has…) but often that magic just can’t be captured.  Sometimes it’s like trying to replicate something completely original, oversimplifying it until its only a shadow of its original splendour.  

I picked up a book in a thrift store about Wabi Sabi a few weeks ago, and it describes these experiences wonderfully.  Wabi Sabi is a complicated Japanese concept suggesting that anything deeply affecting and beautiful is necessarily transient, imperfect and incomplete.  In terms of my attempts to write about our experiences, I think that is pretty much what I ran in to.  In fact, I think that describes so much of human experience. 

Transience and liminality can be such great creative spaces, and for me I find that I move into a more creative zone once some of the dust has settled. Helping two sproglets – and a husband – with their own swirls of dust is also something of a task that requires a great deal of loving care and attention. Now the pace has slowed and we have had time to catch up with ourselves, I feel like I have more of a base to write from. So, in the next posts I will attempt to share the highlights and the lowlights of our meandering adventures so far… they will be imperfect and incomplete, but all wholehearted parts of the journey we would like to share.

Toddlers on a Plane

Our flight to Toronto went extremely well for two young children who had been woken up at 4.30am that morning.  I was a little nervous and trawled the internet for ideas about how I could keep a 3 year old and a 1 year old entertained, for at least some of the time anyway.  I found www.babycantravel.com to have some great pointers.  In particular, wrapping each activity individually to be unwrapped at different intervals – we didn’t actually end up having time for that – but we did manage to pack some things in a gift bag!  Peekaboo Farm and Peekaboo Wild apps are firm favourites for both boys. The Montessori wooden cheese was and still is a surprising hit for Monty.  He spent a long time threading and unthreading it, and still enjoys it in the car.  This brightly coloured first words cloth book is also a good travelling favourite for him too. Theodore was very happy with some dinosaur and animal sticker books (courtesy of Nanny Jones) and appreciated the inflight films.  Sleeping and eating also proved to be excellent activities for all! 

After we arrived, we spent a week with Mike’s Uncle Don in Port Dalhousie, St Catharines.  In that whirlwind of a jet lagged week, we went for our visa medicals and met with some friends who made the move from Amesbury, UK to Ontario the previous year, which was a wonderful welcome.  We bought our trusty workhorse of a car and eventually sorted out some car insurance – which is probably the most complicated process we have encountered, other than the visa!  We also visited the stunning Niagara Falls, (of course!) and enjoyed a dance on the shores of Lake Ontario at the Niagara Jazz Festival.  After being a very kind and welcoming host to our gaggle of a tribe, Uncle Don then took us up to his cabin on Lake Nipissing for a couple of days.

Even with their ultra cute life jackets, the mummy bear in me had some reservations around taking my two babies on a speedboat. Thankfully as we bounced through the water, some wisdom came to mind. Not from the most traditional of philosophers or spiritual teachers, but from Poppa in the The Good Dinosaur.  Being immersed in his teachings, at one stage on a daily bases, has obviously had some effect on me, “You gotta face your fear Arlo….if you don’t face your fear you won’t survive out here. You’ve got to get through your fear…”

Deciding not to dwell on how things turn out for Poppa and focusing more on the on the outcome of Arlo’s journey, I found it strangely comforting, and very quickly I was relaxed and loving the wind in our faces and the new blue and green world speeding by.  Monty was even more relaxed and was either fast asleep or feeding every time we got on the boat.

On our first lake swim, Monty, Mike and I  had a grand time pretending to be turtles. It was when I got bitten on the bottom by what looked to me like a small pterodactyl which then pursued me up the bank, that we decided to rejoin Theodore and Uncle Don in the safety of the cabin- and to make our next purchase some child friendly bug repellent.  

A couple of days before we left Port Dalhousie, as we were loading all our Canadian worldly belongings into the boot of our car, a lovely guy called Alan introduced himself to us.  He said that he often got feelings about people and when he saw us he thought we looked like we were on a special journey.  He wanted to give us a gift to help us on our way, and gave us an arrowhead he had made out of clay.  He told us he was of Native American descent and was also travelling to Vancouver to be with his daughters.  It felt like such a good omen to have met him at the beginning of our trip, and was just the beginning of the friendliness and warmth we have received from folks across the country since our arrival.  The clay arrow head has had pride of place hanging from our rear view mirror ever since. 


July

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Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, Ontario

As I walked up to put a nappy in the large bear proof bin, I suddenly realised what people were talking about, why there was a look that some people got when we told them that we had sold our house, given up work and bought plane tickets and a bunch of camping stuff… we have just sold our house? It dawned on me that the little camp behind me is literally everything we have right now.  Suddenly I got it, and I couldn’t help but laugh, it took me this long? The sheer absurdity and a cold fear suddenly gripped me. The whole thing was completely insane. I walked to the shower hut with a sense of foreboding. If we’d have only kept the house at least we’d have had something to go back too… I brushed my teeth and thought of terraced houses with cute back gardens… And we’re spending the money from selling our house on travelling across Canada?  There is no job, no anything lined up at the other side… we don’t even know anyone. With two young children. This is LUNACY. Probably best not to think about it. How can I not think about it? God I want to speak to my Mum… That’s probably not a great idea now either, best wait until I’m in a better frame of mind…

I left the shower hut and as I walked in the evening light, caught sight of our little camp. Just as suddenly, my fear and feelings of absurdity started to dissolve.  This is everything we have, right here, right now. This is everything we need right now. We have sold our house, and we’re using everything we had stored up in it to live, right now.

As we settled together into our cosy tent for our first night under the stars, our two boys all jarmied up, I knew again exactly why we are doing what we are doing.

For this.
For the crickets.
For the spaciousness.
For the uncertainty.

For the stars.

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Uncle Don’s Cabin. Lake Nipissing, Ontario

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Lake Nipissing, Ontario

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Agawa Bay.  Lake Superior, Ontario

 

 

 

 

 

Invitation To Apply

#thisthankfulmoment

To anyone uninitiated into the workings of the Canadian Permanent Residency process, this term won’t mean a great deal.  But to anyone familiar with it, you will know this is the moment we have been waiting for!  

The process so far…

After finding a buyer for our house only a week after putting it on the market and the sale going through in the time that we had hoped for to the day – we didn’t feel that we could complain too much about any other delays.  As you might imagine, there are a lot of hoops that need to be jumped through.  Alongside completing a fairly hefty application form, Mike and I both undertook English language tests (IELTS) at the University of Bath (which, I am at pains to say I will never hear the last of, as Mike got the higher score), obtained police certificates and had our qualifications verified for Canadian equivalency by World Education Services (WES).

Unfortunately an unexpected request for more paperwork from WES, turned into a 7 week delay and despite all efforts on our part to be patient, the pressure did feel like it was beginning to build.  Whilst we were feeling confident that once we had the right documentation we would make one of the upcoming rounds of invitations, the longer we waited, the more chance there was that the points threshold could change… in short, it was a bit frustrating!  

Nonetheless, on the 21st June we received the document we needed from WES, and on the Monday 25th June 2018, we received our Invitation To Apply for Permanent Residency.  Hurray!  

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The next stage…

We now have 90 days to submit all the evidence we need to support our application.  Having previously collated the documents we were aware of, a new list has now emerged.  It turns out that in the chaos of the move, things like our wedding certificate were put somewhere in a storage facility near Birmingham.  So, weighing up the swiftest course of action, we are very grateful to our kind friend in Italy who is doing his best to cut through all the red tape to obtain us another copy- which is unfortunately more complicated than we could have imagined!  Failing that we will be travelling to London via Birmingham next week…

We also need medicals, which are half price across the pond, so we have decided to get them done when we arrive in Canada.  Once submitted, our application should be processed within 6 months, however the average time on the Government of Canada website is currently 58 days, so we are hoping for something closer to that!*

*Update: As of September 2018, we now know that this 58 day time frame actually refers to the Permanent Residency card itself, which is received seperately after the initial paperwork.  This means that the average processing time is usually, but not always, within 6 months. 

In the mean time, we are enjoying our last week in Ireland.  It feels (to me) like our time here has flown by.  Playing, swimming, meditating, growing, learning, exploring together.  Monty has both learned how to walk and run!  It has been such a privilege and I am full of gratitude for a moment in time I am sure we will look back on with great fondness. 

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Garnish Beach, County Cork
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Grandma and Grandads garden, Castletownbere

Next weekend we travel to London to spend some time with close family and friends. Play time with cousins, evenings out for mummy and daddy and an important trip to the Natural History Museum is all on the cards before we say our fondest farewells. We then catch our early morning flight to Toronto, travelling on holiday visas with the intention that we will receive our residency cards on the road.  And so, the big itinerary planning has commenced!

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We are planning our trip from Ontario, on through to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and then on to British Columbia.  The route after this will depend on if we have our residency cards and any job offers.  So far, after four job interviews we have discovered that whilst there is an encouraging amount of interest, until we have the visas (and permission to work in Canada), it is difficult to get any further forward.  In order to bridge the gap as economically as possible, we have decided to take to the road in a trailer tent, which we are hoping will take us through to somewhere around the end of September, depending where we are.  

St Catharines - Nelson

Google maps won’t plot any more stops, so we’ve had to stop at Nelson for the purposes of the above map, but after that we plan to spend a few weeks travelling in British Columbia- further itinerary pending.  Depending on job offers this might include a trip up to Whitehorse in the Yukon, but if not, we are looking to pause and take stock on Vancouver Island… although part of the fun will be to see where the wind takes us!

Thankfully we are pretty much where we hoped we would be back in January, even with the unforeseen delay.  So the next time I write, we will (hopefully!) be on the other side, post flight with a couple of jet lagged toddlers, and the proud new owners of a second hand trailer tent – all advice for surviving the flight very welcome!  There is still a small part of me that can’t quite believe that we will be flying off and following our hearts into the big unknown, but there is a larger part of me that really can!  It has taken the best part of a year to plan and process between us, the vow being that whatever happened next, it would all be part of the adventure… We’re stuck right in now, the sun is shining, our spirits are high and the dinosaurs are ready and waiting!

Bon Voyage!! 🇨🇦

#preparations
 

Planting memories

Our adventure begins…

So here we are!  We have sold our house in Shaftesbury, waving goodbye with a car loaded to capacity with all the worldly goods we could carry, and so far with a couple of stops along the way, we have made it as far as the west coast of Ireland, County Cork.

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Lauragh, County Kerry, Ireland

On the day we departed, we hadn’t left Gillingham before I had lost and found the first twenty pounds of our travel budget.  Stopping to say goodbye to one of our much loved friends, I had swiped my phone out of my pocket to take a goodbye pic, and dropped  a twenty pound note into a gust of wind outside Waitrose.  Within 10 minutes my friend had cafe staff and her family entourage searching the banks and the bushes.   Just as we were about to give up, a passer by asked what we were doing.  I explained and she told us that we couldn’t give up now – she had lost twenty pounds only the week before and she simply couldn’t see it happen again.  Within another 10 minutes she had found it clinging to the side of a hedge and returned it.  Lunch was saved and I had avoided the sheepish conversation I was dreading with Mike (he was wondering where on earth we had got to and why our son was wandering around in his pants – although we’d made the toilet trip before the lost cash debacle, we still hadn’t quite made it in time!)  

As we drove away, I felt that the last twenty odd minutes had summed our experience of living in Dorset perfectly.  The consistent loving kindness, from friends and strangers alike, the ease of finding friends and the willingness from neighbours and passers by to lend a friendly ear or a helping hand.  We left feeling full of gratitude for the years that we have had there and for all the people that we would be taking with us in our hearts.

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The Woodland Retreat, Langtree, Devon

Our first stop was at The Woodland Retreat in Devon.  I had booked this little break to celebrate Monty’s first birthday last year, little did I know that it would also be marking a variety of other beginnings for our little tribe!  Our cabin was set in an absolutely idiliic spot.  We were amazed that the surrounding  space was also ours for our stay, which included a huge bell tent where the children could play – which was great insurance for any rainy days!  We were in fact blessed with the weather and we were able to thoroughly enjoy the camp fire and surrounding woodland, complete with hammocks in the trees and beautiful enclosed spots making the most of the gorgeous surroundings.

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The Woodland Retreat, Langtree, Devon

We didn’t venture too far afield during our stay, just a little trip into Greater Torrington to get essential supplies like marshmallows for the campfire.  We spent our days between the rustic outdoor kitchen and living areas of the cabin and exploring the camp and the woodland areas around.  The log burners kept us toasty warm in the evenings and at night.  We slept in the cosiest room in the centre of the cabin, with a double bed and bunk beds surrounding a log burner.  As our stay was in early May, it was necessary to top it up with logs throughout the night, but once it was burning, it was deliciously warm and cosy.  The beautiful patchwork quilts we all had to snuggle up in were the perfect finishing touch.  Connected to the cabin was a little path leading to a converted bus ‘The Dodge’ which also had additional beds and a log burner had our party been larger.  A firm favourite for our new-to-toilets pre schooler were the composting toilets – his toy animals still frequently queue up across the coffee table to ‘sprinkle their sawdust’ at each trip!  

We all had such a lovely time, and it felt like a real privilege to be able to ‘land’ in such a beautiful place after the craziness of our initial move.  A big thank you to Alex and Lydia who made us feel very welcome during our stay, and had organised a cream tea for the boys and some vegan treats for Mike and I on our arrival, just the perfect welcome!

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The Woodland Retreat, Langtree, Devon

We were sad to leave after our long weekend, we could have very easily stayed for a few weeks, or even for the summer!  Part of me was still very happy landing in that little woodland. 

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Its a sign!  The Severn Bridge, Chepstow, Wales

Our next stop was over the border in Pembrokeshire, Wales, staying just a short drive from beautiful Freshwater West Beach.  We spent the morning jumping waves and exploring rock pools  – and eating a delicious breakfast and lunch from Cafe Mor, a   boat shaped beach cafe, serving fresh seafood and seaweed delights – with a delicious black bean burger for the vegans among us.

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Freshwater West Beach, Pembrokeshire

After lunch it was onward to the afternoon ferry from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare, Ireland.  We were very fortunate with a smooth crossing, especially as the gentle rock  we experienced crossing into open sea was enough to leave me rooted to my seat, gazing at the horizon trying to combat much less gentle waves of seasickness.  Our two young sons thoroughly enjoyed themselves, intrepidly exploring one end of the ship to the other.  I can’t help hoping that in the short time we plan to stay in Ireland before our departure to Canada that aeroplanes could start to offer the same amount of space and entertainment, especially as I eye our particularly rambunctious one year old!

It’s  around a four and a half hour drive from Rosslare to Castletownbere, so we bundled our suitably sleepy babies into the car and chased the sunset ever further west.  

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The Irish Sea on our crossing from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare

Grandad and Grandma’s warm welcome has made the transition into sharing their home a very enjoyable one – at least for us!  Despite an anticipated outbreak of chicken pox in our youngest soon after our arrival, the boys have both settled well into their new surroundings.  Three weeks of sunshine (which I am assured is fairly rare without a break!) has done wonders in healing the spots and allowing us to be outside in all the  green and rugged coastal beauty that the west of Ireland has to offer.  

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Gleninchaquin Park, Kenmare, County Kerry

Potato and bean planting with Grandad has commenced and Ottis has taken great pride in showing us around his new garden and beaches.  He arrived a few weeks ago, and has shown us that sharing his retirement with Grandad and Grandma has been a great asset to his favourite hobbies, playing continuous fetch all day in the garden, followed by an early evening swim in the sea – it’s spaniel heaven.

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Dunboy Castle beach on the Beara Peninsula

During one of many dreamy evenings looking out into the twilight over the bay, we were admiring the work that Mike and his dad had been doing together in the garden.  Mike’s dad explained that with each plant and tree he wanted to sustain and grow memories that were significant for each, not just for himself but for generations to come.  There are trees for both myself, and Mike and each of the boys, planted on or around the time of each of our sons births.  There are other trees and plants, some from previous lives, previous gardens, some from our garden in Shaftesbury that now grow in amongst all the lush vegetation and rocks, so fitting with the rugged landscape.  There are layers of plants and trees, some that have taken years to flourish, some that were not intended for the spot they were in, but now look as if they could never be anywhere else. 

All the planning in the world could not have predicted exactly how this garden would look at this moment.  How the relationships between each piece would grow and compliment each other.  How every fragment influences and changes the other and makes something new, whether it was intended or not.  Being a part of it, for however long we are here now, and looking forward to whatever blooms in the future seems like a fitting way to spend our time while we wait for the next pieces of our adventure to come together.  Things may go close to the way we have planned them, and they may not, but I’m looking forward to seeing all the moss and the wild flowers that grow in between.

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Grandma and Grandads garden, Castletownbere, County Cork

 

 

Mono no aware

Mono no aware has always resonated with me.  It is a Japanese concept referring to impermanence and the fleeting nature of beauty.  It refers to a wistfulness, inferring that the transience of life makes it all the more poignant. Sometimes referred to as “an empathy towards things”, it describes a bitter sweetness in our experience of being human.  It is traditionally illustrated by the image of cherry blossoms; the short term nature of the beautiful flowers followed by their absence.

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At different times in my life I have had a greater or a lesser sense of mono no aware.  I remember feeling invincible at times, like the rules didn’t apply to me.  On the face of it you might imagine this was a carefree and enjoyable existence and at times it was.  However on the same thread there was an unavoidable recklessness to it.  I also remember feeling for a longer while than I would like as if life hadn’t started yet, like it was possible to hit a ‘pause’ button.  This of course, is not possible and whilst I believe all our experiences make up who we are, the option of rewind and replay buttons have felt appealing at times.

Mono no aware suggests that we experience things more intensely when we are aware of their impermanence, something that I feel I have grown to appreciate (although I’ve no doubt it will only become more apparent as time goes on).  The idea that fluidity makes the colours more vivid & the landscape more beautiful. Watching my son grow and change in the knowledge that this time is so short.  Spending time with family and friends in the knowledge that the time that we all have together is fleeting, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

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That said, the notion of constant change being the one constant is sometimes hard to accept, let alone embrace.  This particularly within a culture that often seems to promote a sense of control and power, however much of an illusion this might be.  ‘Wabi-sabi’ includes acceptance and imperfection as part of a similar Japanese concept; imperfection being an essential part of beauty; acceptance being the key to human comfort.

So often for me it is separating what it is possible to change from what I might need to accept and perhaps let go of.  This has become all the more significant when thinking about my son, how he needs me to be able to facilitate change whilst remaining constant; to hold him and at the same time let him go.  It’s through my experiences with him that mono no aware seems all the more relevant; all the more important to bear in mind and not just for myself.  The hellos and goodbyes, the change from summer to autumn, an excitement about the cosy coming winter; we will never have these moments again.  I want to enjoy all the cherry blossoms before letting them go freely on the breeze.

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