Tag Archives: family

Southern Housepitality: Become Your Own House Guest

Throughout my life I have noticed certain inalienable truths. You’ll always find what you’re looking for the day after you need it. The home projects you’ve been meaning to tackle (ugly countertops, hideous paint jobs, tragic flooring) are the things that get done just before you hand the keys over to the new owners and move out of your house. And when it comes to rolling out the royal treatment, most of us are adept at treating house guests with a sense of pampering that we fail to master for ourselves in our daily lives.

No more, I say. It’s time to be your own guest.

Southern hospitality is no joke. And while my first year of living in the south may not have sold me on chitterlings, sweet tea or turnip greens, the great lengths that southern women go to in order to care for their homes and create welcoming spaces for guests (whether they’re staying an hour or a week) is near and dear to my heart.

If you’re anything like me, hostessing a house guest is an opportunity to tap into your Pinterest-loving, friend-and-family-spoiling, Martha Stewart-idoling inner core. In the days leading up to a house guest’s arrival, I find myself pressing linens and arranging fresh flowers while plotting flavored water recipes.

As is known to happen, after the guest leaves life returns to it’s regularly-scheduled, hectic pace. Linens get tossed in the dryer instead of line-dried. Flowers bloom and wither on the vine. Water is water.

This is the picture of insanity. Over the course of a year, I probably entertain house guests for an average of 20 cumulative days. That’s less than a month when all is said and done.  The other 11 months of the year, I live here. I know I’m not alone int this tendency. So what is it that compels us to care for our guests with such joy and enthusiasm during a brief stay, while we forgo the simple pleasure of a pampered life when it comes to our own daily lives?

No more, I say. It’s time to become your own house guest. Below you will find ten of my favorite, standard houseguest niceties. I hope you will treat yourself to one (or eleven) of these simple pleasures. They truly can make the difference between just getting through the day and savoring the little moments of life.

Lavender Water

I have noticed that most lavender waters sold online and in stores are often QUITE expensive. (Put anything in a glass bottle with a french name and I guess it gives them free reign to jack up the price.) Here is  a great recipe for an at-home DIY lavender water that is just as lovely as any you will find in the store. Your local Whole Foods is a great resource for reasonably priced lavender essential oil.

Quality Hand Soap

Sure, you can grab a bottle of hand soap at the local dollar store. It will clean your hands and get the job done, but will it invigorate your spirit? For whatever reason (call me a soap snob), I have found that investing in a quality hand soap is one of those unexpected opportunities for a little pick-me-up moment of invigoration. Two of my favorites hand soaps are Mrs. Meyers in Lemon Verbana and J.R. Watkins in Lavender.

A Cream-Colored Quilt

I will admit, I am a bit quilt-obsessed. There are few things as quintessentially American as being wrapped in a quilt on an autumn night. It feels like being hugged by history.

I know some people love to get crazy and colorful with their bed linens, but I tend to be more of a traditionalist, favoring the crisp, clean look of white linens topped with a cream-colored quilt. Not only does it conjure up a sense of B&B luxury, a cream quilt goes with everything and gives me the freedom to change accessories in the room without having to invest in a new set of sheets.

Here’s a beauty from Restoration Hardware

An Signature Scented Candle

Find a signature scented candle. Embrace it. Sprinkle it throughout your home. Breathe deeply throughout the day. Feel good about life. I can understand why some people balk at the thought of paying $30 for something you are going to burn, but I have noticed that Henri Bendel candles really do last forever. They claim to have a 60-hour burn time, and I have squeezed a year of fairly regular use (hour-long burning sessions) out of mine. Firewood is my signature scent. It’s like having an eternal autumn on speed-dial.

Another favorite candle brand: Linea’s Lights. Soy candles, cotton wicks, utterly amazing scents. I pray that they will bring Forest Fir back this Christmas, at which point I will be stocking up with enough to get me through the year.

Quality Stationary

Every woman needs a set (or two..or eighteen) of quality stationary on standby. My suggestion is:

  • a set of personalized, blank stationary for formal correspondence
  • a set of fun, blank stationary for casual correspondence
  • a set of quality thank you notes (because, let’s be frank, most greeting cards sold on supermarket shelves are simply hideous)
If you are in the Asheville, NC area, be sure to check out The Baggie Goose. It is one of my favorite places in AVL, and quite possibly the planet. If you’re not in the Asheville area, check out Crane & Co. for stunning stationary.

Reading Material

Last year I went a little nuts with Amazon’s Christmas $5-$10 magazine special, and I must admit, opening the mailbox to discover a new glossy awaiting me still gives me a kid-on-Christmas thrill. Whether your vice is celebrity gossip, interior design or guns & ammo, go ahead and indulge in reading material for your bathtub bookshelf. Your secret is safe with me.

Line-dried Linens

Nothing smells more amazing that line-dried linens. And white linens bleached by the sun? Utter heaven. Do it. And while you’re at it, check out LaundryList.org.

40 slotted clothespins for $2.30

A beautiful, signature tumbler

A special, pretty tumbler, all my own, makes me want to drink more water throughout the day. Or lemonade. Or mojito.

Yummy Bath Products

What pampering list would be complete without a little tub-side luxury? I realize the above photo looks like a jellyroll gone awry, but trust me on this. Lush has THE MOST amazing bath products ever. And while they’re far from cheap, they are worth every penny. And the cost of shipping. And the wait time as they slowly travel down from Canada. Try the bubble bar in Karma. Bathtime will never be the same.

Note: I slice off half-dollar size pieces of the bubble bars to extend their life (and help my wallet.) While you won’t get a bubble extravaganza from such a small piece, it is more than enough to scent the water, your skin and bathroom.

Fruit Infused Elixirs

I always get a kick out of the spa waiting area. Admid the zen waterfall and mood lighting, women chug down thimble-sized cupfuls of spa elixir (fruit infused water.) The possibilities here are endless. I like to pull from my garden. Play around until you find a combination that makes your taste buds cheer.

A few options…

  • Citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit)
  • Berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries)
  • Cucumber slices
  • Ginger
  • Herbs (basil, mint)

Now, go forth and spoil thyself. Happy living!



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Oh, sheet! Your dryer sheets could be killing you.

If names like “Spring Breeze” and “Island Fresh” have visions of tropical escapes and faceplants into piles of fresh laundry dancing in your head — think again. Your dryer sheets could be killing you.
I love wrinkle-free, gently-fragranced, static-free, fluffy loads of laundry as much as the next girl, but after a friend mentioned that dryer sheets are TOXIC, I thought I better do a little research. What I discovered was more than a little horrifying. One of our clients at work advocates against teen tobacco use. Seeing the list of ingredients in dryer sheets list was frighteningly similar to the list of chemicals in cigarettes. The chemicals may vary, but much like cigarettes, dryer sheets pack a noxious cocktail of ingredients linked to dangerous and fatal diseases and conditions.
According to Healing Naturally by Bee, the list of ingredients in dryer sheets includes:
  • Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer
  • Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant
  • Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders
  • Limonene: Known carcinogen
  • A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage
  • Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list
  • Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders
  • Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic
  • Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
  • Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

If that’s not bad enough, dryer sheets are made of FIBERGLASS. I don’t know about you, that will give me pause to reconsider before I toss another dryer sheet in with a load of panties in the future.

So what’s a girl to do? Bid farewell to fluffy towels? No way. There are plenty of wonderful, natural alternatives to chemical-laden dryer sheets. They are easy to make, use ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard and cost next to nothing.


Vinegar (among all the other amazing things it can do) is a natural fabric softener. It also removes soap residue, neutralizes tough odors and reduces dryer static. You can add vinegar directly to laundry during the rinse cycle or pour vinegar into the fabric softener dispenser (or fabric softener ball if your machine is dispenserless) of your washing machine.

Grab and old, cotton washcloth that is ready for retirement. Add 3-5 drops of essential oil of your choice (Whole Food’s 365 eucalyptus oil is my favorite – and very affordable!) to your cloth and throw it in the dryer with a load. Replenish cloth with 3-5 drops between each dryer load.

If you’re seeking something with even more wrinkle-release power, check out Mister Steamy, a non-chemical fabric softener/wrinkle release ball that depends on the power of steam to whip your laundry into shape.

CHIME IN: What are your favorite alternative, green or natural laundry tips? 


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Elegy for a Man Named Mutt

My great uncle Mutt passed away last week. And the world is a little less of a place this week as a result.

This is a letter I sent to a friend in 2010. I remember the day vividly.

Saturday May 30, 2010

My Great Uncle Mutt’s real name is Ivan.  Save for the mail on his kitchen counter, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to him as “Ivan.”

Unlike the majority of relatives on my Mom’s side of the family, my Uncle Mutt did not live in Wichita until very recently.  My mom used to tell me how Mutt was a former beatnik.  For the longest time, I had no idea what that meant, but I knew it made him fascinating in a way that always made me want to sit by him at family gatherings. Even as a small child I remember feeling transfixed by Mutt.  He is the type of old, gentle soul who walks into a room and people just want to know him. They want to be liked by him. And when everyone else in the world would say to me “Amy, you are your father’s daughter,” Mutt would walk through the door and marvel “Amy, you remind me so much of  your mother.”

It was only around the age of 15 or so that I finally realized Mutt’s companion Terry was more than a roommate.  It never phased me before that…or after. I loved Uncle Mutt for his knowledge of art and film and the intricacies of cultures of countries I had never even heard of.  I loved that in a sea of chattering loud women, Mutt, a former social worker, could sit quietly and soak in every tidbit of the conversation going on (verbal and nonverbal.) I loved that his coffee table wasn’t a coffee table, rather some sort of refurbished door from an old Italian villa. And whenever I visited, he took the time to tell me about the art on the wall. 

Of all the conversations with Uncle Mutt, the one I remember the most is the day he declared “Fresh flowers are as essential to life as food.”

He isn’t just a man who speaks it, he is a man who lives it.

Mutt isn’t doing well.  His health has been in rapid decline since Terry passed several years ago. I often wonder if his condition is tied to true malady  or a truly broken heart. You see, it turns out not all the art and films and Italian doors in the world cannot compete with the love of your life. You can buy more everything, but you can’t buy more love. 

We went to visit Uncle Mutt today. I noticed that he has a picture of Chihuly’s glass ceiling at the Bellagio framed on his kitchen counter. He obviously loves it, as people only take the time to frame the things they truly adore.  That ceiling is my favorite thing in Vegas, competing only with the water show outside, which gives me goosebumps and makes me leak from the eyes. I remember the first time I saw this particular show, I was in awe. It seemed all of Vegas was left speechless, too. From the smallest children to the drunkest drunks, it made people stop. On the sidewalks. On the streets. It hushed the crowd and captivated everyone.

If the flashes of light people talk about when they return from the brink are real, I have to imagine that passing from this life into another is not unlike “Time to Say Goodbye” at the Bellagio Fountains. All the madness and chaos and multi-million dollars of the surrounding hotels and casinos fading into the background. Time stops as a life gently folds in on itself, and a soul is escorted from this place in one final, golden show.

We have a huge Chihuly installation at the Franklin Park Conservatory in town.  I think next weekend I will dust off my camera and go to the conservatory to take pictures of our Chihuly to mail to Mutt.


Wherever you are now, dear Uncle Mutt, I hope you have a Chihuly garden to call your own.

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Giveaway Winner + a nostalgic lesson in doughnuts

Congratulations to Rufina, the winner of the Vintage-Inspired Measuring Spoon Giveaway! You can check out her blog, Being Rufina, here.

A special thank you to EVERYONE who took the time to enter and share their nostalgic kitchen-centric utensils and memories. I was really inspired by your stories, and will be sharing a few of them (as well as one of my own) in upcoming posts. In the meantime, here is Rufina’s memory. Happy reading – and happy weekend!

As soon as I read the requirements, I ran to my kitchen.  I started rummaging around in one of my utensil drawers, sure that I still had kept it, and I found not just one, but two!  My grandmother’s doughnut cutters.

My father always says, “No one makes doughnuts the way my mother used to make them.”  And he is right.  I can almost smell them now.  The sweet, cinnamon, sugary, rich scent of fresh frying homemade doughnuts.  I used to watch as my grandmother made the dough, rolling it out on her large wooden pie board, and cutting them out with these very cutters.  The “holes” were saved too,  fried up. Nothing went to waste.  And Lucky me, I also saved her recipe box, so I still have her handwritten recipe card for this family treat.
Typing this out exactly as written:  (I have no idea who Peon was, but obviously someone who’s doughnut recipe my grandmother found good enough to copy!)
Peon’s Doughnuts
2 eggs, 3/4 c.W.Sugar, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. milk, 2 1/2 c. flour,3 level tsps. B.Powder
1 tablsp. Crisco, 1/2 tsp. salt
Beat eggs, sugar, Crisco-
Sift flour, B. Powder, nutmeg, salt
Mix alternatively with milk.
That’s it!!  No other instructions.  I will have to rely on memory to try and get the dough thickness right. I believe she fried them in Crisco. When I try to make these to surprise my father, I will have to wear one of her cherished aprons that I also kept.
I remember they always seemed to turn out perfectly, and then my grandmother would lay the fried doughnuts and doughnut “holes” out on paper towels, sprinkling with icing sugar, regular sugar or else leaving plain.  It always amazed me how a flat disc cut out with these cutters would puff right up into a perfect doughnut,  which was then served warm, soft and so delicious.
Simply the best childhood nostalgic memory, taste and smells.  Thank you for bringing it back in full living color to me!!  
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A Letter to a Friend: The Joy of Dirty Dishes

[From a letter to a friend]

I hate it when people leave, but I adore the silent hum and hush that fills the house after a happy evening with people you love. I spent my childhood sneaking peeks at my parents’ parties, trying to figure out where that magic comes from. To this day, I still haven’t been able to find the right word for it, but I know what it feels like. And I know how to spot the artifacts and fingerprints it leaves whispering in its wake. Empty wine bottles, corks here and there. Layers of plates stacked on top of one another. Plate, wadded up cocktail napkin, utensil. Plate, wadded up cocktail napkin, utensil.  Stacks of dirty dishes in the sink – and for just one night, nobody cares.

It fills the empty spaces between walls and floors, foundations and ceilings radiating with an almost palpable sense of aliveness.

It’s hard for me to imagine many other moments in life when I feel more acutely aware of the passing of time than in the hum and hush, alone at last, just me and the dirty dishes. These moments leave me feeling deeply blessed, wishing for a bigger dinner table…and more minutes, more years, more dinners, more cheers, more refills and popped corks and cups of coffee (I won’t drink) with dessert.

If I ever write a cookbook, I’m going to call it “The Joy of Dirty Dishes.”

And I will mean it.

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Thinking Outside the Lunchbox: Meet the Bento Box

Move over lunchbox, there’s a new lunch box in town. Meet bento!

In all fairness, bento is not technically new. It’s quite old, dating all the way back to fifth century Japan. So what the heck is a bento box? I’m glad you asked. A bento is a single-portion packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. Long story short, it’s a packed lunch in a lunchbox.

The term “bento” originated from a slang term meaning “convenient.”  Traditionally people working outdoors (whether in the fields, mountains, on fishing boats or in town) carried their lunches with them because they didn’t have time to go home for meals. These boxed lunches typically contained staples such as white rice or potatoes. The boxes provided a simple, convenient way to carry food and to eat on the go.

As time went on, bento evolved from a matter of convenience to a culinary art in its own. Today it is not uncommon to find bento arranged in a style called kyaraben or “character bento,” decorated to look like popular Japanese cartoon, comic book or video game characters. Another popular bento style is “oekakiben” or “picture bento,” which is decorated to look like people, animals, buildings or natural elements such as flowers and plants. Contests are often held where bento arrangers compete to design the most aesthetically pleasing bento arrangements.

Modern Japanese bentos typically consists of rice, fish or meat and one or more pickled, cooked or raw vegetables. Although bento meals are readily available for purchase throughout Japan, everywhere from convenience stores to bento shops, train stations to department stores, it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend time preparing bentos for the family each day.

A little closer to home, bentos have hopped the pond, popping up in offices and school cafeterias around the United States. My recent re-vegetarianism has affirmed a harsh reality: it can be a challenge to find fast, vegetarian-friendly lunches on the go. (And this “harsh reality” was all the confirmation I needed to give myself permission to begin shopping for a bento box of my own!)

Below you’ll find a handful of the neato bentos (and bento accessories) I have found along the way…

Not sure you can turn rice balls into adorable pigs? No worries. Here are a couple “doable” bentos even the most amateur bento makers can assemble. Click the image for the recipe…

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Preschooler Forced to Eat Chicken Nuggets After Homemade Lunch Confiscated by Government Agent

I wonder if the ketchup packet counts as a veggie?

Hey, parents. Let’s play a little game. The goal is to send your child to school with a nutritious lunch. Which would you choose?

a) turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, apple juice and potato chips
b) chicken nuggets

If you picked “A” … YOU LOSE. At least according to one North Carolina school system.

A Hoke County (North Carolina) preschooler recently had her homemade lunch (which included the items mentioned in choice “A” above) confiscated because a government agent conducting lunch box inspections felt it did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. The guidelines state each lunch must include one serving each of meat, milk and grain and two servings of fruit or vegetables, and apply to home-packed lunches as well as cafeteria meals.

The homemade lunch was then replaced with the school’s CHICKEN NUGGET MEAL, which satisfies the guidelines.  [Full story here]

The decision was made as a result of regulations put in place by the the Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services, which requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs to meet USDA guidelines.

Sound like an isolated incident? It’s not. Here is another story from across the pond. If students are found with sweets, chocolate, carbonated beverages or full-fat chips, the items are confiscated and held in the teacher’s staff room. The treats are returned, but only if parents ask.

A note sent to parents about the lunch box searches warned: “Lots of unsuitable items have been sneaking in lately. Therefore, we will have to look after such items until the end of the day in order to be fair to everybody.”

In the article, the Headmistress of the school says, “We were finding that some children could be bringing in crisps, a Mars bar and can of Coke with their lunches. This stance is trying to work with parents to provide a healthy meal for their children.’ Danegrove is not the first school to cause controversy with its healthy eating policies.”


SO. What do you think? Do we applaud schools for taking an active role in student nutrition – or it this the onset of a lunchbox gestapo?  Should schools be responsible for strong-arming parental choices about their child’s nutrition? Or should schools stay out of the lunch box and keep to the classroom? And do these anti-sweet sentiments send an unhealthy message to kids? Does villainizing food instead of empowering healthy behaviors and choices (such as moderation) send the wrong message to kids? 

Would love to hear your thoughts. Chime in. 




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Life, Death and a Dinner Table: A Family Tale of the Healing Power of Eating Together

Four generations of us.

I have a fairly large extended family. For the most part, our current clan originated in Wichita, Kansas, but through the power invested in marriages, divorces, job transfers and time, we have been strewn out across the country over the years. You’ll now find pushpins in our family map everywhere from the Florida Keys to Honolulu, Austin to Wisconsin.

As a result of our geographic divergence, it makes it very difficult for all (or even many) of us to ever come together in the same place at the same time. Years go by and we don’t see each other. The younger cousins eternally frozen in my mind as munchkins at the “little kids table” are now high school seniors and sophomores in college. The home I cast as the scene for all family memories hasn’t been in our family for nearly a decade. This is just to say – things change, people get busy, time flies.

A year ago my grandmother passed away after a brief battle with cancer. Weddings and funerals. For better or worse, these are the things that  finally bring a modern family together. As each branch received the call, they made plans to descend upon the teeny, tiny town of Frederick, Oklahoma – my grandmother’s childhood stomping ground. She had elected to be buried in Frederick beside her parents.

Frederick. How do I explain Frederick? It is perhaps best described as a blip town. A blip I fell very much in love with. Frederick is the kind of little place you pass through on a rural highway heading somewhere else. The last census put the population at under 4,000. I’m not sure what industry supports the economy there, I can only guess farming, and I remember reading somewhere that the median income in Frederick was well under $30,000.

In many ways Frederick feels like a land untouched by time. It struck me as the kind of place that could be described (and accurately so) as the heartbeat of America. A place steeped in family, God and the American dream. Unpretentious and hardworking. A welcome smile with a little grit under the fingernails. A land where people know their neighbors – and the value of a hard day’s work. Frederick isn’t relic as much as it is artifact. It isn’t un-evolved, rather it’s a place – and a lifestyle – unperturbed. From what I have gathered from my mother’s accounts of visiting the sleepy tow in the 50s and 60s, not much has changed for Frederick the past half-century…and that’s okay.

My family descended on Frederick like a bit of a storm. If you’re going to stay in Frederick, your lodging options are limited to two motorlodge-type hotels on the outskirts of town. If you don’t like the first, no worries. The other option is right next door. But if memory serves, one of the signs boasted that they were now offering wireless internet, so you may want to take that into consideration.

Our first afternoon in town, we took a driving tour around the city – and down memory lane. 40-some years later, my mother’s memory was still able to trace its way back to the modest farmhouse my great-grandmother (Mimi) and great-grandfather (Homer) had owned together. It is the place where my grandmother grew up. My mother reminisced about the small patch of land my great-grandmother had tended, a vegetable and flower garden, and beyond it, the land my great-grandfather had tilled. She regaled us with stories of Mimi, the industrious wife of a farmer, snapping the necks of dinner chickens and plucking them clean. It was a stark contrast to the gentle, quiet, if not a bit frail, great-grandmother I remembered. In my mind, she was a soul better suited for gently cradling a cup of tea than slaughtering unsuspecting chickens. The image of her strong and fearless doing what had to be done gave me new perspective.

I come from a long line of strong, courageous females, it would seem.

The funeral went as funerals go. The chapel and cemetery set in a picturesque, rural area outside of town. It was a beautiful day, unseasonably warm, and cows were murmuring off in the distance. I suspect our unusual quietness was a bittersweet recognition of the irony that bidding a loved one farewell was the one thing that had a way of bringing the living back together.

After the casket had been laid, we mobilized the troops. We’d need lunch before everyone traveled back to their separate corners of the world. Having had our fill of Pizza Hut (and having no inclination to try Sonic), we ended up at a little local restaurant called The Bomber Inn.

My people are not a small people. At 5’10” I am one of the shorter cousins on my mother’s side of the family. As we descended on The Bomber Inn, the staff and regulars looked at us incredulously, but only for a moment before shuffling chairs and tables to make it work. We crammed into booths, shared menus, stormed the single restroom. Clearly strangers, nobody poked or pried. They just made us feel welcome.

I don’t recall what I ate that day. A grilled cheese or a chicken-fried steak, who can say for sure? I remember strange things from that afternoon. One of the waitresses asking my cousin to come into the kitchen to reach something on a high shelf. An older gentleman approaching my uncle to tell him he had a “mighty handsome family.” More than that, I remember a feeling. A feeling of being acutely aware of the importance of eating together that day.

The truth is we cannot control the ticking of time. We don’t get a say in when or how or where things come together or fall apart. We get busy, stressed, preoccupied, but at least a few times a day, life forces us to stop and eat. And we can choose to do that together.

Author Norman Kolpas once said, “Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort.” That afternoon, crammed in booths at The Bomber Inn, we weren’t just eating lunch, we were celebrating a life. We weren’t just nourishing our bodies, we were nourishing our hearts and our spirits, too.

It’s unlikely I will ever be in Frederick again. I doubt I’ll be back at The Bomber Inn. But I often think of the kindness they showed us that day, and I hope they know that more than a meal, they gave us a rare and precious moment of togetherness in the heartbeat of America. It won’t soon be forgotten.

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