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The Choice

It is the first day of the new year and I feel that this is the proper time when one should turn his attention to Socrates and hear once more his exhortation, “know thyself” and read also over his observation that an unexamined life is not one that is worth living. That life, the life that is worth living, the noble life, is the one that has been thoroughly examined.

So I have chosen today, one day after last year, to be introspective.

The Byzantine Emperor Theophilos, golden apple in hand, is inspecting a long line of women, all petitioners for that golden apple. They are the most beautiful women in the Empire and they are now all lined up in one of the palace gardens in Constantinople, not too far from the monumental church Hagia Sophia where the most important Byzantines go to observe all the rituals of Christianity, the birth, the christening, the marriage the death and a whole host of blessings for a whole host of needs. Hagia Sophia had replaced Apollo’s temple at Delphi in importance and in popularity. In need, even.

His stepmother, Euphrosyne is walking beside him and it is her stern eye that will determine which woman will get the prize. A double prize, as it happens, the golden apple and the title of Empress. That woman, the woman who will get the apple, will effectively be her daughter-in-law. Lots at stake here so the eye must indeed be stern so that the choosing might not err.

Among the gorgeous women is one called Cassia, (also Kassia) Kassiani, in Greek. Cassia is the feminine form of the Roman name Cassius and Cassius-Gaius Cassius Longinus, the Roman was given a frown by the then Emperor of Rome, Julius Caesar, to wit (according to Shakespeare):

“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”

This Roman Cassius, chose to play a major role in one of History’s highly significant events, that which occurred on the 15th of March, 44BC, the fatal Ides of March. His blade, along with that of young Brutus, had caused two of the 23 stab wounds found in Julius’ assassinated body, an assassination which he, Cassius, had organised.

The Emperor Theophilos had to make a choice, one that was much like Homer’s Paris had to make, a choice between three goddesses. Paris chose Aphrodite, the consequence of which was the ten-year long, Trojan War.

As Theophilos and Euphrosyne, walked along the line of potential brides, (dubbed “The Bride Show”) they asked the women all sorts of questions or make all sorts of comments to them to try and gauge their IQ, their philosophy on things and, quite possibly their prowess in the bedroom and possibly the kitchen. Virginity being the necessary prowess in the former, expertise in the latter.

When they came before Cassia the Emperor proffered this to her:

Through woman flow all things evil

To which Cassia, without losing a beat, responded with:

And through woman flow all things splendid

She was referring to the birth of Christ, the central figure of Christianity and the alleged saviour of the world.

Theophilos had only just turned 18 years of age and he immediately fell deeply in love with Cassia but the choice was not his to make. Cassia too was love-stricken by the young Emperor but the choice was also not hers. Their choice was ripped away from them.


The young man’s step mother, who, incidentally had organised the Bride Show, thought as did Julius Caesar about Cassius, the Roman: that this woman “thought too much” and that “such women are dangerous.” She scornfully tugged at Theophilos’ arm and dragged him away from Cassia, along the line of women, all now trembling with excitement, until they’ve got to a lass called Theodora. (Now, we must not mistake this Theodora with the other one, the infamous Theodora about whom some 300 years earlier, the historian Procopius, devoted many words in his “Secret History”, on allegations about her being a common whore and a very imaginative stripper.)

This is a whole new Theodora.

A choice was made that day and a few months later, the bells of Hagia Sophia announced the happy event. The choice of the bride was not made by Theophilos.

Ah, choice!

How much of it do we have? How much choice do we have when it comes to the most significant events in our life? The existential events. Events like the time and place of our birth and death. Our genes, our DNA, our blood type. Choice of parents, other relatives, brothers, sisters, aunts uncles, grand parents. What gender we are, how healthy a body or mind accompanies us on our travel through life. What sort of religious, political, social, economic environment we are born. No choice at all to be seen anywhere there. None at all.

All these events, crucial to our existence, are beyond our control, beyond our ability to choose between their variables.

Joseph Carli’s tiny story, “The last lingering kiss” is about a woman showing the need to make a choice. She makes it only to have it taken away from her again, only to turn her back into a creature of a closed convent from which she chose to escape for a few occasional moments.

Nope! Choice is verboten here!

Choice is a very expensive thing. People can be slaughtered for daring to make it. Many, under the Christian Emperor Theophilos, were indeed slaughtered because they dared make icons and idols of holy entities and venerate them. Priests and monks blessed them. Theophilos was, on the other hand, a fierce iconoclast, a smasher of icons. And the story of slaughter because of belief and choice is repeated around Henry VIII and the kings and queens who followed him. Bodies were hanged from bridges!

The Abrahamics will assert that god has created us all and when he did so he gave us the ability to choose, the gift of choice. We could do what we liked. So would the Abrahamics assert.

But he had made us without asking us, without giving us the ability to choose whether we wanted to be made in the first place and in the second place, to be made according to his image. In the third place… ah, never mind.

“Choice,” I ask him. “What choice is that? Where is this choice, exactly?”

I am baffled by the fact that astonishingly awesome minds like that of Mozart or Vivaldi or Beethoven, of Michelangelo, of Sappho of Ezra Pound of Euripides, of Pythagoras and Einstein, minds that gave us the best nutrients for the healthiest of humanity can coexist with the minds of war mongering politicians, too numerous to enumerate and uncompromising thieves and murderers, committers of atrocities beyond belief, also too numerous to enumerate; minds that deplete us of all those nutrients, destroy them all completely, starve humanity of them; I am baffled about the fact that on a daily basis I see both of these extremely opposite types of mind at work, often the one totally ignorant of the other.

Astonishing, wondrous minds that nurture and nourish the human soul on one hand and minds that destroy body and soul on the other. One lot elevates us, makes us humane, empathetic, considerate, loving, happy, while the other builds mountains of blood and gore out of our bodies, clogs our soul with hatred, bitterness, phlegm and everything savage and turns everything we’ve built into rubble.

I disagree with the Abrahamics: we, humans, have no choice, not a single choice on anything of any significance. No god has made us, no god would be so cruel as to make us bereft of choice!

Politics is a cruel lie. A nasty joke where, in a system called Democracy we, the hoi polloi are told that we have a choice. That who governs us is our own choice. We vote whom we choose. No lie is more phosphorescently blatant!


The last day of the last year was one that is still reverberating with the bliss of a wonderful family gathering complete with the sparkling laughter of three tiny tots, grandchildren whose little arms, when wrapped around your neck bring a cascade tears of joy to your eyes. It was a day where we all gorged with mirth and merriment, with boisterous love and with morsels that rivalled the nectar and ambrosia on the tables of Mt Olympus. We are the lucky ones. The very lucky ones. Not that we had a choice in that.

That nanosecond after the clock strikes midnight changes a whole lot of things: a new minute, a new hour, a new day, week, month, year, century millennium…

Empedocles was right: Everything is in a state of flux and the only thing that is stable is this very fact: all things are in a state of flux!

Within that nanosecond we have moved from the past to the present and must ready ourselves to move into the future, all within the next nanosecond.

I feel the vertigo of the slide into oblivion!

And I can not choose to alter any of that.

We, the lucky ones, welcome 2019!

Cassia’s story, by the way, is simply gorgeously romantic. It is a story I very much urge you to read. Not too unlike Joseph Carli’s nun, though much more intense. The sentiments are there and so is the unfortunate end.


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  1. Darrell

    I’m so glad I chose to read this.

  2. Joseph Carli

    George…a wonderful, vibrant read…one could almost dance to the music of the words on the page..! It is SO refreshing to be reading such humanism again…one can finally exhale the held breath.

  3. Joseph Carli

    The Slight of Aphrodite.

    With love betrayed, all reason to stay
    And substance for existence gone.
    Now…; falling, falling away..
    Without sound nor purpose,
    To lay like Autumn leaves forlorn,
    On the forest floor…
    With our eyes turned
    From salvation’s dorm’,
    Do we strike out alone, down barren roads?
    Under the stern disdain
    Of the slight of Aphrodite.

  4. New England Cocky

    Ahhh “Choice” ….. the pseudonym used by the Liarbral National$ supporters to justify ripping off the common wealth for personal pecuniary gain at the expense of the community.

    But I deny that we Australians lack “Choice”. After all, the majority of Australian voters made the “Choice” in favour of the LIarbral National$ in both 2013 and 2016 at enormous cost to the nation and our national reputation.

    Will we make that same “Choice” again in 2019?

    A well written sympathetic article George.

  5. Joseph Carli

    “The Amorian war between Theophilus and Motassem, A.D. 838.
    The emperor Theophilus, son of Michael the Stammerer, was one of the most active and high-spirited princes who reigned at Constantinople during the middle age. In offensive or defensive war, he marched in person five times against the Saracens, formidable in his attack, esteemed by the enemy in his losses and defeats. In the last of these expeditions he penetrated into Syria, and besieged the obscure town of Sozopetra; the casual birthplace of the caliph Motassem, whose father Harun was attended in peace or war by the most favoured of his wives and concubines. The revolt of a Persian impostor employed at that moment the arms of the Saracen, and he could only intercede in favour of a place for which he felt and acknowledged some degree of filial affection. . . ” From Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall. ..”…

    I like that : “Michael the Stammerer”…that brings it down to a kind of street-level conversation.

  6. auntyuta

    George, I think this is right that some things are given to us without that we ever made a choice about any of it. But then we must not forget that there are many other things that we very much have a choice about. I just looked up on Kassia here:

    According to this article in Wikipedia

    Theophilos said: “Through a woman [came forth] the baser [things]”

    Kassia promptly responded by saying: “And through a woman [came forth] the better [things]”,

    It says: “His pride wounded by Kassia’s terse rebuttal, Theophilos rejected her and chose Theodora as his wife.”

    Now, I wonder, is there some truth in this version of the story or is it more the truth that they were ‘love-stricken’ but did not have a choice?

  7. RomeoCharlie29

    NEC Did the majority of Australians choose the “liarberals”? Or did they only win more seats. Did a majority of Americans vote for Trump? We know the answer to that. No. It was only the Republicans’ manipulation of the voting processes which saw him win more votes in a flawed electoral college system, perverted to deny vast numbers of potential democrats the right or ability to vote. The great democracy cracked, if not actually broken. Off piste I know so I apologise. My own NY day made glorious by a precious granddaughter but also leads me to wonder what her life will be like in a world where a Trump, a forest destroyer in Brazil and a potentially disappointing Shorten Governmen can be elected. Where are the people of vision in Labor?

  8. George theodoridis

    Aunty, that’s Wikipedia for you. They’ll take the soft pulp version of it.
    The short answer is that we don’t know exactly who said what during the Bride Walk. However, Greek books on Byzantium suggest that Euphrosyne was quite the dictator of the palace and she did what needed to be done from her perspective.
    The two phrases should be pretty right though, as I said above, I doubt whether Theophilos was allowed to say much and so it was Euphrosyne (ironically a woman) who made the first assertion.
    That they were stricken is often mentioned especially since she was a nun and an easpecially good poet and writer of many hymns which would be sung in churches everywhere and especially in Hagia Sophia where Theophilos would take his religious duties.
    That he was in love with her it is certain because of a line he wrote in one of her hymns.
    He tried to see her often but she did not want the distraction from her love and loyalty and devotion to god, to whom she felt married. He almost succeeded once, having entered her room but she, I think hid inside some cabinet so he missed her.
    It’s a lovely, very Byzantine story.
    Come 1453 of course, and Constantinople falls to a new empire, that of the Ottomans.
    Greece remained under their brutal rule for 400 more years.

  9. Joseph Carli

    ” I am baffled by the fact that astonishingly awesome minds like that of Mozart or Vivaldi or Beethoven, of Michelangelo, of Sappho of Ezra Pound of Euripides, of Pythagoras and Einstein, minds that gave us the best nutrients for the healthiest of humanity can coexist with the minds of war mongering politicians, too numerous to enumerate and uncompromising thieves and murderers,”

    What of Machiavelli?…a very astute mind that walked next to such people, yet hid from them his real feelings…He was both puppet master and puppet…In truth, many of those brutal tyrants and rulers are not really very bright..the more cruel, the more obtuse…seems to be the rule..Even Alaric the visigoth, the sacker of Rome allocated only three days of licence to his troops to wreak havoc on Rome and its citizens, knowing full well that would restrict the damage to a architectural monument to humanity…

  10. George Theodoridis

    Indeed, Joseph!
    One tries to survive as best one can. What baffles me is the justaposition of the two. How comes it? How is it that we make that choice – being good or being evil, when we are capable of either. Or don’t we have a choice?

  11. George Theodoridis

    Romeo, and it is the “Theophilos choice” that we are engaged in when we go to vote.
    We choose from the choices already made for us; we are given a choice but it is taken away. In short, we might as well don’t vote, though I certainly don’t advocate that) but we should not claim that we have any say in the matter at all.
    The quintessential elements of a working democracy are choice and knowledge. We must be able to choose freely and we must be able to know who’s what and what’s what. Without these two elements we have nothing resembling democracy.

    Theophilos’ choice is no choice!

  12. DrakeN

    Thank you George T for that article of thoughtfulness.

    We have but very restricted choice in our lives – and often fail to make the better decisions due to predjudices learned from our upbringings and concepts developed from often unrelated previous events in our experiences, so that even when we do have some limited choice, that option is devalued by our own preconceptions and unconcious biases.

    Humans are rarely logical creatures, and the few that exist are usually derided and hunted down by the masses for whom ‘difference’ is an abhorrence.

    The ‘heretic’ must die.

  13. Joseph Carli

    Good or evil is a subjective thing, depending on the cultural acceptance of the times…In the animal kingdom, there is no such juxtaposition…all is natural behaviour, even the teasing by a cat of its prey…in some past human societies there was also much different ideas of what constituted “good or evil”….is the stranger..the “barbarian” a threat to tribe and family?…if yes, then they are fair target with no holds barred and no evil attached…even in these times, we can now say that any foot-soldier of ISIS is fair game and no evil attached to their demise.

    Perhaps there are times in each of our lives where we veer across lines of acceptable behaviour and then veer back after doing some minor transgression…like pinching a candy bar or something in the moment…or even a moment of affection…: “. . . for love is a cruel mistress..on every kiss she puts a price and every embrace is measured”.

  14. George Theodoridis

    Joseph, a judge cannot be subjective. For all intents and purposes he must make objective judgements, based on the laws of his country. He is not the one who makes the call innocent or guilty based on morals , especially morals like good or evil. Those considerations are madw for him by the legislators.
    However, let me borrow from Brecht a little (The Caucasian Chalk Circle is the play I’m thinking about) and let you wear the judge’s robe.
    Before you stand two people and your job is to send one to the evil corner and the other to the corner of virtue.
    This is not a case of minor transgression like stealing candy but of major deeds. Deeds that have affected many.
    Now think: One of the men is Netanyahu and the other, let us say, David Attenborough.
    From what they have given to humanity whom would you put where?

    Remember, you must not judge on their little deeds, some which could be bad or good but on the sum total of what they’ve done as humans to humans.

    Yes, judging the minor deeds as to whether they’re good or evil can be a subjective thing but evil and good are big things and judging them is an act that does not allow for subjectivity, even if the perpetrators tell you otherwise.
    Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, among many others go some way to define these moral differences to the level where there is universal agreement about which is which.

  15. Joseph Carli are being a bit tricky here..You ask me to be objective in my judgement, but then you name two people whose life actions are well recorded and open to a very subjective judgement…One would have to reflect that without evidence of any actions of a man, one cannot make ANY decision…by placing the terms :”Good / Evil” into the equation, have you not already committed a subjective judgement?…a moral decision?

    One of our “condemned” has led a life of passive observation, playing the role of a showman and master of ceremonies…Which jury hat shall I wear for David?
    Netenyahu, on the other hand is well known as an interventionist..politically, militarily and socially most of his adult life…which hat for Bibi?

    But you want a judgement, George…but before I do, I too will use a “playright” exemplar…but not a writer of “fiction” but an advocate of those laws…in the theatre of the courthouse…: Clarence Darrow..

    “ If the person in the dock is a banker, industrialist or landlord, then the attorney will want someone sympathetic to that class in the box”…

    I have at my elbow in permanent residence on my desk, a book on “Roman Law”…and in the preface the author states that:

    “. . . Roman law has lived two lives…in the first, it was the City of the second it was for the Roman Empire…But it was more than this..It was the most original product of the Roman Mind. In all their other intellectual endeavours, the Romans were the eager pupils of the Greeks, but in law they were, and knew themselves to be, the masters.”

    As in all law, there are the laws of “principles” and “rules” ..You, George, have commissioned me to make judgement using the former yet then demanding I apply the latter….ie; do we judge either of those men on “principle” or do we simply apply “the rules”?

    I know what I’d do personally, but then the next man may do otherwise..

    You will have to reframe your question, George…and name the action that brought us to this situation…I abstain from judgement and plead the (whatever) amendment!

    You’ll have to accept, George, that being a builder, I am in the first instance a pragmatist…in the second ; a humanist who wants to please his customers (there is payment involved) I have to know the needs to be able to apply both.

  16. Joseph Carli

    George…I wrote two replies to your question…the one above is the second…here for you to see the process of my line of thought is the first….for the sake of an answer, I have to go with the one above…the second conclusion…

    ” Well..that is an easy one, George…but before I do, I too will use a “playright” exemplar…but not a write of “fiction” but an advocate of those laws…Clarence Darrow..

    “ If the person in the dock is a banker, industrialist or landlord, then the attorney will want someone sympathetic to that class in the box”…

    George, you are committing a crime yourself equal to those classic advocates by making me judge two completely different situations and two completely different placement of men and then calling on the citizen body to be your witness…knowing the general bias of that citizen body…step forward ; Cicero!

    One of our “condemned” has led a life of passive observation, playing the role of a showman and master of ceremonies…Which jury hat shall I wear for David?
    Netenyahu, on the other hand has been an interventionist..politically, militarily and socially most of his adult life…which hat for Bibi?

    So we, as judge have to assume that there is a good and an evil person standing before myself..of course I am going to be subjective in how I assess each person’s character…if I am to be honest with myself..and then, having decided, I can pass the application of justice over to the correct authority…but at the end of the day, I must be satisfied within myself that I have sent the correct person to that “virtuous or evil corner”…for can there be but any “honest” reason to take on the role of jurist except to want to do one’s best in oneself and for the community?

    But if we reflect back on the sad case of Lindy Chamberlain…where in the first trial, the Judge and jury found her guilty and sent her down for a stretch..but then sanity prevailed and she was released on appeal…Where, I have to ask, was the objectivity in that decision?…more, I’d opine, a decision of public outrage….

    But you use Socrates, Plato and Aristotle as your exemplars…Socrates was a frustrated husband of a harridan wife who, I suspect, drank the poison as per instruction from Winston Churchill’s “. . . and if I were YOUR husband, Madam…I’d Drink it!!”…death was an escape for him..Plato ..always the “worshipper of the idol” if not the seeker of the oracle…held faith to his doctrine of “might is right”..Aristotle, I recall little of from reading of so long ago…But in all three, you have the jump on me…your capabilities in that area being so much more absolute than my own.

    But back to making a judgement on two different people…I’d have to send Netanyahu to the evil corner…NOT because of what he has done in his office of authority, but because, having access to and knowing of the history of both his religion and the country there, he would know there never really was any “Land of Israel” except in myth and doctrine…he has lied to himself and the actions he has committed, while done with good intention for his tribe, are not in the best interests of the world community so to the “evil corner” he goes.

    But that is just my opinion. “

  17. George Theodoridis

    Joseph, I knew it would be distracting to put people before you to judge. I tried to explain that it’s not the people but the deed that needs to be looked at. There are deeds that are unquestionably evil. I’m sure you can think of a lot of such deeds. The point of the article is to show that though we are capable of performing the most virtuous deeds as well as the most evil, some of us decide to the evil rather than the good.
    It’s the deed, not the person and the deed can be indisputably one or the other. Do we have a choice which we perform?
    People can change, be rehabilitated or forgiven etc. deeds, good or bad remain.
    Anyhow, I’ve got babies all around me at the moment and simply not given the choice to remain on the phone 🙂

  18. Joseph Carli

    Jacta alia est.

    Jacta alia est..; The die it is cast.
    Caesar quietly mumbles the words,
    Mixed with the tumbling Rubicon’s waters,
    And when he whispers his secret,
    Who does he direct his knowledge to?
    What lines do the poet place on page?
    Is there those who will like the rhyme,
    But curse the metre?
    Will like the idea,
    But curse the action?
    Jacta alia est..; The die it is cast.
    But there is no-one left
    Who knows what chance is.
    None want to take the risk.
    So he says it quietly..under-breath,
    And leads the dumb and blind
    On to their deserved death.

  19. Sheepdip

    So New England Cocky what is your job at AIMN? Chief trouble maker ?

  20. LeonieS

    Excellent piece… Thank you George Theodoridis

  21. Matters Not

    George Theodoridis re:

    a judge cannot be subjective

    Sorry, but a (human) judge will always be subjective – albeit to a greater or lesser degree. It’s well recognised in legal circles and elsewhere.

    By the way, Plato never recognised any conceptual distinction between Good and Right or Bad and Wrong. It seems he thought what was Good was also Right (and vice versa). Same with Bad and Wrong. These days ethicists entertain such distinctions usually via reference to deontological or teleological stances. Then there’s also existential ethics and so on.

    But I really enjoyed the read.

  22. George Theodoridis

    Matters Not, thank you for the thumbs up.
    What I meant by the judges statement is that theoretically, they cannot be, they must not be subjrctive. Justice wears a blindfold and holds a sword in one hand and a balance in the other. That’s the quintessence of justice: objectivity

    About Plato’s views on whether he had made distinctions between “good” and “right”. I haven’t said that he did. His Republic (as with Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” is a journey of discovery, one where they search for the answer to the question “what is Justice” and “whether Justice helps one to have a better life.”
    Both philosophers (Aristotle was a student of Plato’s so this is expected) use words like “just” or “moral” and “virtue.” A reasonably interesting question Plato poses on this subject is the one about returning what is borrowed (the “right,” the “just” thing to do) and mentions the example of someone landing him a sword but by the time he comes to ask for it back it has become obvious that he had become mad. Should you put that sword into the hands of a madman even if it is right- ie just, to return that which you owe?

  23. George Theodoridis

    Matters Not, Of course, we are all very much aware tha Philosophy and theory are one thing but reality can often be quite, quite another!

  24. Matters Not

    George Theodoridis re:

    but reality can often be quite, quite another

    Indeed it can. And is. Well aware that reality is constructed by each and all – from the insane to the learned and all in between. Not suggesting that each construct is equally valid – or should be viewed that way – only that it’s what each and ever human does. Seems like it’s inescapable. lol.

    Perhaps a reason to rejoice – and also fear?

  25. George Theodoridis

    Thanks, MN.
    It’d be a funny -and possibly fun- party to attend:
    “And now let us all rejoice and be afraid!”

  26. helvityni

    George, I’m getting rather fed-up with Oz politics of the day…I’m tempted to leave the fight to the next generation, in my case they are all very aware teenagers….

    How are your little grand children coping in the Melbourne heat….?

  27. George Theodoridis

    How wonderful you asked, Helvi. They are stunning little creatures who melt my heart when I even think of them (which, of course, is all the time) and have me in near tears of uncontrollable joy when they’re here with us. Our walls are covered with their photos.
    If “love you to death” was ever a true statement, it is most certainly a sentiment we all have for them. Endless joy.

    Oz politics give me nightmares, Helvi and if it weren’t for these little creatures I would made for the mountains. Find a cave somewhere and live like a lunatic troglodyte. You get three hard kicks in the head by one mob and two and half hard kicks to the same spot by the other mob. Totally depressing and as despondent as one can get.

    These days I help the Greens on election day by handing out how to vote cards for them and I do that for no other reason than to talk with the people who do the same for the other party.

    During the last Vic election I was thrilled to talk with perhaps the only woman politician I had and still have any respect for and that is Anna Burke (Fed HoR). My federal seat, now gone over to the Libs. She is a fantastic woman. Brains, energy, morals! I don’t know if you remember her. She was the Chair in the house for a while. We had a brilliant, long chat as we were handing out our respective HTV cards. Revived my faith.
    But alas, it was short lived.

    I’m hoping… beyond hope.
    How’s Gerard?

  28. helvityni

    George, Hubby left Labor because they were equally harsh with asylum seekers, and joined the Greens, they have turned out be a bit of a disappointment since Bob Brown, I always wanted those two to get ‘married’, no such luck…

    As we really only have two parties, and as I dislike the nasty side , I’d be pleased to see a Labor to win the election…as I said, I’m losing interest… Grandsons coming here tomorrow and the weather is cooling, makes it easier to forget about mean politics…

    Keep taking pictures of the little ones…

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