Learning from love: celebrating my parents’ 40-year anniversary

On Monday, June 5, my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

This major milestone has particular significance for me, as I approach my own very first wedding anniversary.

Although Kari and I dated nearly five years, we didn’t live together until saying “I do.” We had a lot to learn.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with someone: marriage changes things. It hits you with a weight you can’t anticipate, and it’s a weight you carry together, one of great significance and great power. The ring is always a reminder, and so are the vows.

When my parents married, they were much younger than Kari and me. My mom turned 21 on her honeymoon.

“I can’t believe how young we were,” my dad said recently. “We were practically kids.”

By the time I came into the mix, my parents were six years in, fast approaching the seven-year itch, making it through, continuing to strengthen their relationship and their individual characters.

“In those early years of marriage, I learned you can’t change your spouse,” my dad said. “You must accept them for who they are.”

Mom and Dad

It’s that acceptance, that love, that makes a marriage wholesome and keeps a marriage going, and that’s one of the greatest things I learned from my parents.

One thing I really admire about my parents’ relationship is how well they know each other and how well they know their strengths and weaknesses as a couple. They always look out for each other and always work to make each other better. They do this through reflection, meditation and open and honest communication. They also spend a lot of time traveling and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They put much focus on family. As a result, my sister and I had the good fortunate of going on many trips with them.

Another aspect of their relationship I’ve always enjoyed is their playfulness. When I was a senior in high school, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and I was in love for the first time. I was in love with love. They went out to dinner that night. I actually got home before them, and, when they walked in the door, my dad teased me by being overly affectionate with my mom and loudly proclaiming his love for her.

I admit I was ridiculous with my high school sweetheart, but who wasn’t? We’ve all been there. But now, at 33, I look at my dad’s antics on that 25th anniversary and celebrate it. It’s stayed with me because of how much it says about his joy of being with my mom, and his sometimes over-the-top sense of humor, which I also feel is essential to a successful marriage. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Don’t be afraid to be sappy. Embrace love. Pour it out. Don’t hide your feelings.

Through the years, my parents had their share of trials, especially recently, as my dad’s health suffered and he almost died in a horrifying car wreck in Yellowstone last fall, but, as a result of their strong bond, they overcame. Seeing their devotion demonstrated countless times has helped me appreciate the beauty of true love.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I feel like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor from “Home Improvement.”

I told Kari recently that wives should expect men to do at least 10-15 really stupid things a year. We can be ridiculous. Usually, though, it’s small things. If there is conflict, it’s often a result of ineffective communication. As long as we are direct with each other, we are pretty good at finding resolution, and I know that’s something that will only improve.

It will take work, but it’s work we’re not only willing, but are excited to do together. It’s work I’m proud of. As American writer/journalist Katherine Anne Porter once observed, “Love must be learned, and learned again and again,” and I’m glad my parents never quit learning.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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Disappearing One: Chris Cornell says hello to heaven at 52

“If you don’t want to be seen
you don’t have to hide
If you don’t want to believe
you don’t have to try
to feel alive”
– Superunknown

“I woke the same as any other day
except a voice was in my head
it said ‘seize the day, pull the trigger
drop the blade
and watch the rolling heads’”

“…Words you say never seem
to live up the ones
inside your head
the lives we make
never seem to get us anywhere
but dead”
-The Day I Tried to Live

“Safe outside my gilded cage
With an ounce of pain
I wield a ton of rage
Just Like Suicide”
-Like Suicide


1995 – one year after Superunknown’s release
My father, a Presbyterian pastor/motivational speaker, was disturbed to know his 12-year-old was receiving these messages through an intricate, melodic, alternative/prog/metal band from the Pacific Northwest. Soundgarden, whose vocalist, Chris Cornell, outshined the rest, were on the rise and entering homes all over the world, namely through teens and young adults. Why? They rocked! And Cornell could sing! He was a singer, not a screamer. At times he rivaled Robert Plant.
But what was his fascination with death? Superunknown reeked of depression from beginning (“Let Me Drown”) to end (“Like Suicide”).
I’ll never forget that night in the living room of our home in the suburbs of Indianapolis when my dad sat me down with the Superunknown CD jacket in his hand, going through song to song, amazed by the melancholy and despair.
“What do you see in this? Why do you like it?”
“I just like the music,” I said.
And that was true. I wasn’t depressed. Yeah, there was things I didn’t like about school. There were people I didn’t like. There were things that brought me down, but I was still a pretty happy and pretty typical suburbanite Hoosier adolescent. Some of my early songs had lyrics, and, perhaps some of it was a coping mechanism, but nothing was a cry for help or cause for concern.
As far as I was concerned, the lyrics of Soundgarden songs were secondary. I didn’t really pay much attention to the words, and, from interviews, it sounded like Cornell felt the same.
“I don’t know if I would say I was in a particularly dark or moody headspace more than other times. I feel the lyrics have to be born from the music,” Cornell said in a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone. “ Or if I had a lyrical idea, separate from Soundgarden music, I knew if it would work with the band because it tended to reflect what the music was and what the feeling of the music was – which was usually somewhat dark and somber or moody, or over-the-top, visceral, aggressive angry.”
Cornell also admitted in the interview that he’s always struggled with “depression and isolation,” so perhaps, like many of us songwriters, some of the lyrics were used as a coping method.

Making his mark
How long was he struggling? How much of that quintessential “complaint rock” was in his soul and how much was just riding the wave of Sub Pop Records and the grunge scene? As the scene blew up, Cornell knew he had to step up, and he delivered. Soundgarden’s Superunknown was their most artistic and ambitious album, and it hit at the right time. In 1994, Nirvana’s Unplugged released to massive success, Pearl Jam released Vitalogy, Alice In Chains continued to explode with Jar of Flies.  More and more bands influenced by the alternative rock wave started to surface. But, most significantly, on April 5 (not even a month after Superunknown released), Kurt Cobain killed himself.
Soundgarden was a powerhouse, and they kept climbing. In 1996, they released Down on the Upside, which, in my opinion, is right up there with Superunknown. Badmotorfinger, released in 1991, is also a staple of the era, and is the favorite album for many Soundgarden fans. It has more edge, reflecting their earlier years, rocking out heavily and being more of a testament to the shifting from 70s metal into what ultimately became the 90s grunge sound. Soundgarden were pioneers, dropping their guitars for a deeper, heavier sound before the others. They had a Black Sabbath and King’s X feel, but despite a familiarity, their sound was richly original, like Black Sabbath suddenly stepped into the 90s. There was something familiar yet uniquely original. That’s what made Cornell, lead guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd’s musical bond so special.
But Cornell accomplished a lot without Soundgarden: Temple of the Dog (“Say Hello to Heaven” and “Call Me a Dog” in particular), “Seasons” from the Singles soundtrack, “Sunshower” from Great Expectations, his 1999 solo album Euphoria Mourning and his super group Audioslave (“Like a Stone,” “Show Me How to Live”) are a few of his most notable works. He even did a song for the James Bond film, Casino Royale (an underrated Bond song. Check it out).

“Mourning” at the Murat
I had the opportunity to see Cornell on the Euphoria Mourning tour at the Murat Egyptian Room in Indianapolis on Nov. 21 of ’99. Toward the end of the show, an audience member kindly delivered a gift to Cornell, placing three joints under his mic stand. It was his reward for responding to crowd’s request for “Steel Rain,” an underrated dark ballad that closes Euphoria. Cornell liked to end albums with such a mood. “Like Suicide” had that feel, as did the closer on Upside, “Boot Camp,” a haunting song about escape.

“There must be something else
there must be something good
far away…”

I’ll never forget that image of Cornell smiling wide with the three joints in his mouth after the show, taking in the applause. There were no signs of depression. He was laughing and waving to the crowd, grateful people were listening and not moshing. He was in his element. Whether it was a glimmer in his eyes or the sincerity in his tone, you could tell he was proud and you could tell he gave it his all. I feel fortunate more than ever to have witnessed that performance.
Reflecting on that night, I went back and checked out the Indianapolis Star article promoting the show. The headline struck me: “For Chris Cornell, the words matter now.” As a newspaper reporter and a songwriter, I’m curious what Cornell would have thought of that as the hook for readers. Would it be insulting? I would imagine the words always “mattered.” But, looking back on it, I hope it’s right. I hope the words from Superunknown weren’t an insight into his soul. I hope the last song he performed in his last concert May 17, 2017 at the Fox Theater in Detroit, “Slaves and Bulldozers,” wasn’t used as a cry for help or cryptic suicide note:

“Every word I said is what I mean
Everything I gave is what I need

…So bleed your heart out
There’s no more rides for free
Bleed your heart out
I said what’s in it for me?”

And I especially hope his transition into the old blues standard, “In My Time of Dying,” known best from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, was not literal.

“In my time of dying
I ain’t gonna cry, I ain’t gonna moan…
All I need for you to do is drag my body home
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed.”

Some truly believe “In My Time of Dying” was Cornell’s way of saying goodbye, but the band had covered it before and much of their material was dark, so it’s a safer bet to consider it coincidence.
The question remains, however: how much of a message did Cornell convey about himself in his lyrics? How much of the despair in his songs was sincere?
It’s hard to say, for sure, but it’s easy to argue Cornell used very powerful and often disturbing words and images, especially for a 12-year-old in Indy. I don’t blame my dad at all for asking me about the lyrics and asking me if I was depressed.
Did anyone do that for Cornell?
With Cobain, there were cries for help there, but it was too late before anyone realized. Cornell was 52. He was at a different stage in life and he’d lived plenty past 27, but there was something disturbing him. Was it a combination of drugs and Ativan? Or was there something troubling his soul? Or was it everything and more?
Let this be a lesson for all of us. If you have concerns about someone, don’t hesitate. If you are in a dark place yourself, get help, whether it be a counselor or – if it’s an emergency – call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
If you are looking for “something else, something good,” change your life. Don’t end it.

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Meet Sean Devine

If you see him, say hello.
Because if you’ve listened to Sean Devine’s album, “Austin Blues,” you know him. You know him through the sincerity of his voice, the honesty of his lyrics, the openness of his melodies. “Austin Blues” is a naked, unabashed look into Devine’s unfettered soul. Devine proudly proclaims in the title track he’s “feeling pretty free,” and it’s evident throughout the album. But like Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” this is an album about heartache, an album about divorce and loss. However, it’s mainly about hope, as Devine is “putting himself back together.” “going home,” “gettin’ even (closer to the way he was before, gettin’ even wiser about the things he must ignore),”  and “getting along.” All these tracks embody the blood, sweat and tears of Sean’s last few years. They provide an insight into the life of a dedicated, passionate artist living in a society that struggles to support such men. It can be hard to feel the love, it can be hard to make a go of it as a songwriter, but Devine is doing it, and he’s doing it the way Texas singer/songwriter and Americana icon Steve Earle told us artists to do: fearlessly and uncompromisingly.

Devine isn’t alone on this album. He gets a lot of help from fine Austin talent. Austin natives Rob Ramos and Travis Woodward are flawless on bass and drums, Phil Hurley enhances each song he plays on with tasty, melodic lead guitar and Bill Payne adds touching, tender piano. Others also contribute to the wholesome, haunting sounds of Devine’s first LP in more than 10 years.

“Austin Blues” is more than just a great album; it’s a remarkable achievement. It’s Sean Devine saying, “this is who I am, and I’m going to live my dream no matter how hard the road is.” And why not do it in Austin, “carried by the hands of fate, drinking whiskey in the morning, doing all those things you hate?” Like Guy Clark, one of Austin’s finest, or the legendary Townes Van Zandt, Devine bleeds his heart out in his songs. You believe him.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to “I’ll Leave Anything Behind But You” or “Change Me.” “You can change your own picture/of the person you want to be/Change the face in the mirror/But you can’t change me.”
No, you can’t change Sean Devine, but when you listen to “Austin Blues,” you can understand him, and you can damn sure appreciate him.

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How to survive your wedding day

“It’s going to be the most stressful day of your life.”
“It’s all a blur.”
“It’s complete mayhem.”
These are some of the things people told me about their wedding day, and they were certain my experience would be similar.
They were right.
I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for it, either. Even if you have a wedding planner (which we didn’t), it seems the craziness of the day is just part of the experience. Emotions are everywhere. You can hardly focus on what you’re supposed to do, let alone follow a conversation. At Pourman’s Cafe the morning of the wedding, for example, I was helplessly distracted. Seated with people from all over the country, from different chapters of my life, I wanted to be a part of every conversation, which simply couldn’t be done. A few friends gave me a look – it’s a look many grooms have probably received: “where are you right now?”
The look was justified. I was everywhere. I wanted to share my time with all my friends equally. Impossible. I hardly got any time to play with my nephews. And I still had plenty of details to cover: pick up the flowers, get Nick and Mark guitars so they can practice the dollar dance song, pick up the rings from the house and other errands I’ve long since forgotten (some I forgot even then, hence why the flower girls didn’t have flower petals. We can laugh about it now).
Honestly, without my best man, Thomas, and his wife, Brittany, I don’t know how I could’ve gotten anything done. Seriously. Sitting in the back seat of their rental car was the most comfortable place that morning/afternoon.
“What do you need?” Brittany asked I don’t know how many times.
Together, we ran the errands and got things from A to Z, picking flowers up from the bride’s house, getting the last batch of decorations to the Elks, dropping the sign off by the turn to the reception hall. The list goes on. I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.
But if I visualize myself in that backseat, I’m calm, cool and collected again. It was in that back seat I could really start anticipating the glorious moment about to occur.
Everything came together beautifully. Kari was radiant. My dad shined as officiate, the musicians sang beautifully, the photographer captured it all magnificently and the reception was the most fun and heartwarming event I’ve ever experienced. The anxiety lifted, the nerves washed away. All that mattered was the moment.

But getting there, on the other hand, was even more insane than expected, and I expected it to be insane. Don’t doubt it when people tell you it’s going to be the most stressful day of your life, even if you’re not someone generally prone to stress.
My advice: let your wedding day come at you. Welcome the stress and anxiety, but have people around that you can fall back on. Like Bill Withers so beautifully sang, “We all need somebody to lean on.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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Joy riding: reflections on an innocent, insane adolescence

When I was in high school, I’d always find something to do, even if I had to get creative.

On Friday nights, I’d pack eight to twelve people into my ’93 Jeep Cherokee and we’d drive around, usually stopping at friends’ houses. Most of them weren’t expecting us.

It was a portable party, and where we’d end up was anybody’s guess.

Usually we’d start by getting something to eat, taking over a Steak’n Shake or Donato’s Pizza, then we’d take to drive to Stephan’s or Kim’s or David’s.

When people aren’t ready for a portable party, you get some great reactions. I did this to my own parents a few times, too. My dad would love it, usually, and my mom always would have preferred some notice.

These “joy rides” picked up steam fast. After a few months of adventures, we suddenly had a caravan of two or three cars – maybe 25 people – going from place to place.

It was insanity, but it was innocent insanity. There were no drugs or alcohol involved. It was just a bunch of teenage boys and girls being ridiculous.

We had our regular crew, but we also had first-timers about every week. We were welcoming to any and all, and open to whatever came our way.

There was no agenda and typically no plan, either. Just get in the jeep and go.

One time we went to the grocery store where I used to work, I put on my work shirt and started bagging.

I hadn’t worked there in months, and, in fact, didn’t ever work at that particular branch. As I started bagging, the cashier looked confused, but she had a job to do and didn’t really know what to say to the customer. Some of my fellow joy riders then stepped into the line behind the customer and one tried to purchase a single grape.

We left before the managers asked us to leave.

Then there was the time Adam Grapes left his backpack at my house when we were doing a project for government class. I told him I’d return it for him that evening.

As you can imagine, the Grapes were beside themselves as 20-plus Hamilton Southeastern High School students came to their door. The one who rang the doorbell was wearing a Bill Clinton mask. Another was recording the moment with a camcorder. Others watched on, some laughing so hard they almost fell over.

“Your son, Adam, appears to be missing his backpack. He left it at Mr. Denison’s,” my friend in the Clinton mask said in an Arkansas drawl, shaking hands with Mr. Grapes, who had a bewildered look on his face. “Here it is, sir. Thank you, and please, don’t forget to vote this November.”

Those are just two of many stories. We were absolutely absurd, and we knew it. It was unpredictable, impulsive and harmless.

We were easily amused, finding laughs by squirting cars and pedestrians with washer fluid when the back windshield wiper blade broke. I never replaced it. Instead, I made it a goal to squirt as many vehicles as possible.

That jeep became like “one of the guys.” We even gave it a name: Gunther.

So what inspired this trip down memory lane?

When I look at teenagers today, I am not seeing them come up with many creative ways to have fun on Friday nights. And, as a result, teens around Lewistown (and in many places) complain too often there is nothing to do.

Instead of complain, I encourage kids to think of fun things to do, even if it’s stupid, silly stuff. Get together with your friends and be silly. Go out and explore and experience. There is always something to do. Whether it be creating a portable party or squirting someone’s vehicle with washer fluid at a red light, there are plenty of ways to stay entertained without resorting to anything illegal. Get out of the house and make some memories. Be absurd. Be wild. Be young, and enjoy it. But, also, don’t drive distracted. Leave the phone calls, texting and all other coordinating to the co-captain in the passenger seat. Focus on the road, stay safe and enjoy the ride.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)


Myself and members of the joy ride crew in 2001

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Adessa Campbell, Unplugged: Central Montana native returns from Boston, performs intimate concert


Adessa performs one of her latest at a house concert in Lewistown

On Saturday night, Adessa Campbell, a 21-year-old lady wearing a black tank top and a striped skirt, long reddish brown hair shaved on one side, didn’t exactly give off the vibe of a Central Montanan. Not at first sight.
But Adessa, born and raised in Hobson, is indeed homegrown. Known for her fiddle playing and singing with the Bent Willows, her father’s band, Adessa is no longer the young, small-town girl people remember.
In the fall of 2013, Adessa moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to study at Berklee College of Music, where she’s received not just a music education but an education on what the world has to offer. She’s growing up, and she’s writing songs about it, living her life and opening up to all kinds of experiences.
The show at Dave Rummans’ house was less of a concert and more of a way to catch up with the girl most of the 25-30 in attendance knew since she was little.
“I watched you grow up, and it’s great to see who you’re becoming,” friend and fellow musician Randy Berry said. “Wow!”
Adessa’s mature sound is original, especially for the Central Montana area, as the music veers away from country and classic rock, instead taking more of a jazz, soul, blues and hip-hop route. Her deep, smooth voice is soothing and her melodies and progressions welcome her most impressive vocal talents. With grace and coolness, she makes performing appear effortless.
Her songs are also very personal, honest, often dark, always contemplative and sometimes pretty sexual, which at times made her mother a little nervous.
“Some of these songs I think should have a disclaimer,” her mother, Gerri, said. “Do you really have to say the f-word so much?”
Adessa handled the comment with playful wit.
“You’re not my demographic, Mom,” she joked.
And her mom’s timing couldn’t have been better to issue out a warning.
“You’re in for a treat, Mom,” Adessa said. “This next song is called ‘Cocaine.’”
Adessa did offer her own disclaimer for this song, letting her friends and family know she hadn’t actually tried cocaine.
During the controversial song, Adessa sang about vices and asked the question, “What is life without them?” In Boston, Adessa has learned a thing or two about her own vices, which has helped her establish her own voice. After all, experiencing life, she’s discovered, comes with its hardships and heartbreaks.
“A lot of your songs sound distressing,” one friend said between songs. “I feel sadness. It makes me wonder, ‘Is Adessa happy in Boston?’”
Adessa welcomed the question, and answered honestly.
“I wrote a lot of my songs at a dark point,” she said.
She went into a little detail here, recommending those in attendance never try to date their roommate. During the evening, she played a song specifically about how difficult that situation became. It was hands-down the saddest song of the evening, as she really put the listener inside her shoes.
Between songs, Adessa’s charming personality and contagious sense of humor kept people smiling and laughing, especially when she told the story of Alfredo the rat, a nasty rodent who popped out of her toilet one unpleasant morning at her Boston apartment.
“He was a cool little dude, but he was terrifying that early in the morning,” she said. “That’s like a girl’s biggest fear…something jumping out of the toilet. It touched my butt.”
“You see where the trauma comes from,” her mom joked.


Adessa performs, “Echoes” the first single for her album due out next month

Trying to lighten things up a little more throughout the evening, Adessa played a variety of covers, including Estelle’s “American Boy,” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” and Usher’s “Yeah.”

Adessa also played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” dedicating it to a friend of hers in Germany, who is in the hospital fearing a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She encouraged those in attendance to sing along and think healing thoughts.
Despite the sorrow in some of the content, the “dark place” Adessa often referenced is no longer the place she’s in. Excited about her direction, Adessa shared she is studying music therapy.
“I teach life skills through music,” she said.
Some of the work she is doing includes songwriting with psychiatric patients, working with them on getting out their thoughts and ideas. She does most of this work at McLean Hospital, which is the asylum Susanna Kaysen’s book “Girl, Interrupted” is based on.
Adessa’s also proud of her band, Adessa on Bay State. Next month, they play to release their first full-length album, featuring all original material, some of which she performed Saturday.
Those interested in keeping in touch with Adessa’s musical progress can find her at http://www.adessaonbaystate.com.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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What this year looks like is up to us

It seems no matter who you are or where you stand, 2016 was an emotional year. For me, 2016 certainly had extremely highs and scary lows, as I got married in June and then almost lost my father when he was involved in a horrific head-on in Yellowstone in September. We lost Prince, Bowie, Princess Leia, Willy Wonka and the great Muhammad Ali.

I could go on and on with reflection, but instead I’d like to move forward, and first ask, “how are you?” Really, I want to know. Some of us are hurting after 2016, and some of us aren’t, but we all still share this beautiful country and this beautiful county. At church, the congregation is asked to welcome those attending, to shake hands with a neighbor. It’s too bad such opportunities don’t also occur at work, sporting events or even happy hour.

The political season brought out the worst in a lot of us, as it often does, but this year, most can agree, really took the cake on a local, statewide and national level. And, as is the case any election year, there are winners and losers. We have to come together now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t express concerns. We should feel comfortable talking to people when we see something that disturbs us. Like Jack Kornfied said, “Whatever your political perspective, now is the season to stand up for what matters. To stand against hate. To stand for respect. To stand for protection of the vulnerable. To care for the natural world.”

This is not about red and blue, Kornfield writes, it’s about “standing up for the most basic of human principles, for moral action and the prevention of harm.”

What the next four years look like is anybody’s guess, but what this year looks is up to us. That’s the beauty of new year’s resolutions. And, this year, instead of focusing on how much to work out or personal ambition, I’m going to focus on family. I’m going to focus on what truly makes me grateful day in and day out. I want to enjoy my time with my wife and step-son, do fun things together and go places we haven’t been. I want to keep in better touch with my sister, brother-in-law and three nephews in North Carolina. Grateful to still have my father around, I want to spend as much time as possible with him and with my mother. It’s a blessing to have them in Montana, and I don’t want to take that for granted.


It can be easy to focus on the negative, and there will be plenty of it as the year goes on, but I recommend those reading this take the higher road and focus on the positive. Don’t lose sight of everything you have that you love. When you think about it, I’m sure you can find plenty. And when you search your soul for the positive, you may find something that surprises you. You may think of a long lost friend or family member. Call them. Get back in touch.

Let these emotions be the ones that guide you throughout the year, be it about relationships, business or politics. As Kornfield observed, “listen deeply, bear witness, honor everyone and choose actions wisely and courageously.”

Happy New Year to all.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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