How Mr. Lucky got lucky

I have a bleeding heart. If you know me, you know this.

And, on my third day in Chiang Mai, this bleeding little heart is tested.

“Hi,” a couple says, walking up quietly to the large crop of desks inside the Elephant Nature Park office. “We found a kitten and wanted to let you know … it’s down the street … it doesn’t look good. Do you want to go and get it and bring it back here?”

I try to mind my own business as I sit on the other side of the desk, but when I hear the words “kitten” and “doesn’t look good” my ears immediately perk up.

“Oh noooo,” says Patty, who runs the office. “That’s not good.”

Silence.

“Diana, you go with them and see where the kitten is ka,” she says to me.

Me?

Charged with the task, I leave my laptop and follow the couple down the street, crossing over the moat which surrounds the old city of Chiang Mai and through Thaepae Gate.

“We saw it and tried to give it milk, but it just sat huddled in a corner, not moving much,” the girl says.

When we come to the kitten, my heart breaks.

Under a metal bench of some sort, I see him. Squatting down. Oh-so thin. Shaking. His orange and white fur is a shade of gray from the pollution. His leg looks a bit deformed. His one eye is cloudy.

My heart breaks.

“I … I … don’t know what to do,” I tell them. What am I supposed to do? Take him back to the office? “Let me call Patty.”

So, I get her on my phone and she tells me to call the park and the volunteer who runs the dog shelter. On the phone with her, I nearly burst into tears.

“We can’t save every street cat in Chiang Mai,” she explains, but I can hear it in her voice. Don’t give up … yet.

Then, I fight for the little guy.

“He just looks so scared. So sick. We can’t take him?”

“Well … look at him with me,” she says, quickly succumbing to my desperation at saving the sickly creature.

I scoop him up in my hand, report to her that he has pink gums, no fleas, a big belly.

“OK … what you can do … if you want … is take him to the vet and see what is wrong with him. You will have to pay for it. Then, if he is OK, I think we can take him up at the park.”

My heart thumps happy.

I leave the couple and scoop his tiny, shaking body into my arms and nuzzle him in my neck as I head back to the office, trying desperately to shield him from the puttering tuk tuks, the thick humidity and the smell of diesel fume that winds its way up my nose.

I try to get a red bus to the vet, but instead, one of the staffers tells me she can take me on her motorbike.

I freeze with fear. I’m scared to death of motorbikes, even though I have been on them before. Here, in Thailand, where you have to always be mindful of getting knicked by one, the idea of holding a kitty and clinging to someone driving sends me into a near panic.

“Don’t worry,” she says to me soothingly. “I will drive good. I promise.”

So, I put the kitten in a cardboard box and hop on the back of her motorbike.

“It is OK if I hold on to you?” I ask, voice shaky.

“Yes, of course.”

And then, we are off into traffic. I try to move as little as possible. At red lights, I peer into the box and talk sweetly to the kitten who has ceased his little meows and traded them for hisses.

“I know, I know,” I whisper to him, wishing with all the world that he will calm down.

When we arrive to the vet, they peel the box from my arms and take him into a room where they examine him.

Mr. Lucky at the vet

Just rescued from the street, Mr. Lucky heads to the vet’s office.

“He very sick,” the vets says once she is done. “He need lot of medicine.”

“What’s wrong with him?” I ask.

“Don’t know, but we do test to see. He stay overnight. Expensive.”

I’ve come this far.

“Do what you have to do,” I say, feeling myself give in to this little life I am trying desperately to save.

She does one blood test as I stand in the doorway, watching him cower on the metal table.

“Oh no, it no look good,” she says, furrowing her brow and casting a sympathetic glance in my direction. “He has parvo. Very sick. May not live.”

I stand there. I can feel the tears coming. I can feel them wanting to leak out of my eyes in front of these strangers. Although it has been less than an hour since he entered my life, he’s already touched it.

I don’t want him to die.

“What do you need to do?”

“He stay overnight for a few night, we give him medicine and get him to eat soft food,” she says.

“I can’t spend the money on him unless I know he has a chance at life,” I explain, wanting her to know if his chances are slim that he will make it, I cannot afford to pay the bill.

“He may make it, depend on immune system,” she says.

I hand over my credit card and let them swipe it.  It’s not nearly as expensive as a vet in America, but it is pricey for someone who has just moved to Thailand and found a street cat.

“What his name?” She asks me before I leave.

“I don’t know,” I say, not wanting to name him and get attached to this little puff of cat.

“He Mr. Lucky,” she says. “Mr. Lucky because you found him.”

That night, she calls to report to me his condition. “He poo poo a little. He eat a little. He take medicine. Call you tomorrow night unless he get worse.”

The next night, she calls me to report that he is getting better slowly.

And, the night after, I head to the vet to go and see him.

“He would have died had you not found him,” she says as I stroke his little body in my arms. “He very sick. Mom and brothers and sisters probably dead. He would have died in days if not treated. Mr. Lucky? He very lucky.”

Mr. Lucky stays a few more nights at the vet and is then taken up to Elephant Nature Park to finish the de-worming (because he has that, too) and finish his treatment for parvo.

Mr. Lucky slowly gets better.

Still so tiny and fitting into the palm of my hand.

When I head to the park a few days later, the first thing I do is go and see him. He’s quarantined and when I step inside the room, my heart melts.

“Mr. Lucky,” says the volunteer who took him in, “Look who is here to see you.”

From under newspapers, he pokes his little head out and meows. Then, he is in my arms again, purring.

His belly is still a bit swollen from the worms, but he looks a million times better than he did when I first rescued him.

“Hey little guy,” I whisper to him, nuzzling his little body in my face. “You look so good.”

We snuggle for a few minutes before I put him back into his cage and I disinfect myself so as not to get the other animals at the park sick.

Mr. Lucky is an adorable sleeping cat

A little purr machine, and then Mr. Lucky passes out in my arms.

A week later, I head to see him again. This time, he is out of quarantine and hanging in a cage. He mews when he sees me and then, as soon as he is in my arms, crawls up to my neck and tucks his tiny body there, softly purring.

I walk away from his cage and find a secluded spot on a bench. We sit together for 30 minutes. A wave of happy rushes over me as he lays on me.

I saved a life. And, now I get to see this little Mr. Lucky live out his other eight lives. Entirely Lucky.

And now, more than six weeks after being treated and healthy, this is how cute the little playful guy is:

Mr. Lucky hangs out with Mom D

Six weeks after being found …

A portait of the cat, Mr. Lucky

He strikes a mean pose, eh?

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When travel sucks

Flight One: Chatty Seatmate Suck

“We’ve just had two days from hell,” an older woman says, hovering over my seat in the bulkhead as I fumble (too late) to get my headphones in my ears. “You just wouldn’t believe what happened to us. First, our flight has issues, then we get stuck on the tarmac, then we get out and have to wait in line, then we get to a hotel, then we have to wake up early and get back to the airport and now …”

Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. I clearly pulled the short straw in seat assignments.

I smile feebly and silently curse the woman standing over me.

“So now, we are on this plane and we don’t even get to sit together. I mean, really!”

Don’t look at me lady. I paid good money for this Economy Plus seat.

“My husband? He has had a hell of a time the past month. See, we thought he had a problem with his testes …”

Whoa. Chatty Seatmate crosses over into TMI Seatmate in a matter of seconds. 

“Oh goodness,” I feign interest as I struggle to hear the announcement from the pilot about our plans to take off from Dulles and head to San Francisco. But Annoying Seatmate continues her diarrhea of the mouth, sparing me no detail of her husband’s examinations (“thank goodness it wasn’t anything terrible”), family troubles (“my annoying bitch of cousin”) and travel complaints (“I hate United”).

By the grace of god, her daughter comes and sits in between us, giving me the perfect chance to put my headphones in my ears and turn my head to look out the window, letting me enjoy my last sunrise on American soil (or above American soil).

Thankfully, she continues her bitchfest to her daughter instead and I tune out, watching out the cabin window as the plane picks up speed and eventually is airborne, flying over America.

I take it all in, trying to imagine what we are flying over and reliving my road trip adventure from two weeks earlier that brought me from west to east.

Funny I am going backwards to go forward.

Sleep grabs me, but I wake up in time to see the brown of the desert below. I’ve flown to Las Vegas enough times to recognize what is below, and I know it’s not the Vegas desert I am looking at, but it is Nevada. Then, we’re over the mountains, then we are descending into San Francisco.

“Glad you made it home safe,” I mutter to the woman in my aisle as we exit the aircraft, then I head to my next gate.

A delayed flight from San Francisco to Beijing

Flight Two: Delayed Flight Suck and Plane Suck

I look at the departures board, squinting to see my Air China flight from SFO to Beijing. Delayed. By an hour. I do a quick calculation in my head: that leaves me (maybe) one hour catch my connection to Bangkok in China. If I miss that flight, I can’t get to Bangkok until the next day, which leaves me missing my other flight on Air Asia getting me into Chiang Mai.

Shit.

So, I go into Fix This Mode. I message Air Asia. I get on the phone with Air China. I call my parents and bitch, bitch, bitch.

“This is such a pain in the ass … I am going to have to rebook tickets if I can’t connect.”

“Then, that’s what will happen,” my mom says into the phone.

“Got to love travel,” my dad jokes.

Air Asia tells me if I miss my flight, even with a certificate saying it was Air China’s fault, I still have to pay to book a new flight. And, Air China tells me they can’t do anything to get me to Chiang Mai should I miss my connection.

As a last resort, I approach the gate agent to ask what they can do since my connection will now be cutting it very close.

“Guess you will just have to run,” the woman shrugs.

Thanks.

Almost two hours late, we finally board the plane.

I sink into the seat. Or attempt to sink into the seat. It’s hard as a rock.

At least there is entertainment on long-haul flights.

Then, I look at the seatback in front of me.

Something is missing on this Air China flight!

There is nothing there. A tray to pull down. No cute little television. Nothing.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Instead of getting pissed I forked out more than a grand for the flight — because that isn’t going to solve anything at the moment — I pull out some little blue Tylenol PMs and pop them. Goodbye, AmericaTwelve hours later (and with 45 minutes to catch my connection), we land.

The man next to me sits and waits as people from behind us go.

“Sorry,” I say, tapping him lightly on the shoulder and fighting the racing heart pounding in my ears. “I have to catch a flight.”

Flight Three: Security Suck and the Should-Have-Bought-Two-Seats Suck 

Groggy, but awake, I bolt off the plane and am greeted by a shuttle to take us through immigration.

Oh please. Please. Drive. Drive. Drive.

I glance at my phone nervously. 30 minutes. 30 minutes. 30 minutes.

When the doors open, I race through the halls, rounding corners with astonishing speed for someone weighted down not only with a carry on, but also a completely full Pac Safe tote.

I race through an arch that takes my temperature, head to immigration where I am directed to another immigration. When I am finally allowed to pass, I am the first one to get to security.

20 minutes.

I’ve traveled a lot. I know what can stay in my bag and what needs to be taken out. I start to pull out my laptops.

“You have camera?” The security agent asks.

“Yeah,” I say, getting antsy.

“You take it out.”

OK. Fine.

I remove my camera and put it into a bin, along with my laptops, then wait for everything on the other side of security.

The bags move through the belt and stop. Then move a little. Then stop. Then, they come out. Along with a security agent.

“You have chords in here?”

“Yeah,” I say, heat rising in my face.

“No chords.”

What the hell?

I go to open up my bag to take them out, but the agent reaches for it, too. He opens my bag and dumps out my charger for my laptop and my phone. Then, he opens my carry-on and begins to rummage through that. Then, its back through the X-Ray machine.

Anxiety sweeps over my body.

15 minutes.

The bags come out again.

“You have battery?”

“Yeah.”

Again, the agent goes into my carry-on, this time basically dumping the entirety of its contents into bins. Business cards. Make up bag. Journal.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Please, please,” I beg. “My flight. I have 10 minutes.”

Four bins go back through the X-Ray machine. I break into a sweat as I watch them examine the screens, looking for who-knows-what. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, four bins come out. My four bins.

“OK,” security tells me as I fight tears, looking at both of my bags, entirely unpacked, sitting in front of me.

I toss everything into them without caring what is where, and run to my gate.

With two minutes to spare, I get onto the plane and sink into my seat. My aisle seat because, even though I had spoken on the phone with Air China and was insured I would have a window, the ticket said otherwise. This time my seatmate takes up nearly my seat and hers.

I pop another Tylenol PM, blow up my neck pillow, arrange myself to fit into a corner of my seat and pray the carts don’t run over my toes, and close my eyes.

The Intermission Suck

I stand, scanning the luggage on the belt once we arrive in Bangkok.

Where’s my bag?

Fortunately, I’m with a few other girls I met in San Francisco who are headed to Elephant Nature Park, too. And, there bags aren’t here.

We survey the carousel a few more times, then look to find a representative from Air China to help us. Of course, there aren’t any. Instead, we are directed to Thai Airlines customer service.

“Try Carousel 7.”

We head there. Nothing.

“Try Carousel 9.”

Again, nothing.

Finally, we are brought into a room where they track our bags.

“Your bag is still in Beijing,” the rep explains to me. “It said it got on an earlier flight, but it did not.”

“How would it get on an earlier flight? Did it get scanned when I landed in San Francisco?”

“Yes.”

“And it was scanned again when I got to China?”

“Yes.”

“Then, how did it get on an earlier flight to Bangkok or how did it say it got on an earlier flight to Bangkok when I arrived with 30 minutes to board my connection?”

“It will be here in a few days.”

“I need it here sooner than that,” I sigh.

I fill out the paperwork and head into the airport to get some food, some wifi and some rest.

As I lay down, at 2 a.m., people begin to crowd around me, talking loudly.

Finally, I decide sleep isn’t going to happen and, when I can, I head over to Air Asia to check in to my final flight.

The final flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Flight Four: The No Refund Suck

I stand at the Air Asia counter, trying to explain Air China has misplaced my bag, trying to explain I wanted on refund on the $100 I spent to check a phantom bag.

“Sorry,” the ticketing agent says. “You need to cancel at least four hours before to get a refund.”

“But, you just opened and this only happened five hours ago.”

“Sorry.”

It’s just not worth the fight.

I head to my gate and board the plane.

As we fly over the emerald green mountains of Thailand and begin to descend into Chiang Mai, all of the Suck from the past 30-something hours of traveling dissipates.

I look out onto the land and feel warm. Glowing. Thrilled.

This … this is my new home.

Then, the smile doesn’t leave my face.

When has travel sucked for you?

 

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Daily Wanderlust: World’s Largest Baseball Bat

If Louisville, Kentucky could have one major claim to fame in the world, it would be the Lousiville Slugger. At least in my mind.

After all, the wooden bats made here have become synonymous with baseball. The “Lousiville Slugger” scroll etched onto each bat is easily recognized. In downtown Louisville, it is easy to see the city’s deep appreciation for the bat manufacturer. For more than 120 years, the maker has been here, creating bats for some of the world’s best baseball players.

In the century-plus, Louisville Slugger has sole more than 100 million bats and is considered the most popular bat brand in the history of the sport.

Today, the company has extended its breadth, now making gloves, helmets, gear, bags and more.

During our road trip, we made a stop at the famed World’s Largest Bat, perched against the Louisville Slugger Museum. Made in 1995, the five-story bat weighs in at 34 tons and is made of hollow carbon steel, like the bat used by Babe Ruth.

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round went road tripping and exploring America from Colorado to Maryland in June 2012. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

Travel

Daily Wanderlust: Fiskebäckskil, Sweden

It’s about an hour drive from Klädesholmen to the more bustling town of Lysekil in Western Sweden. Along the way, E6 gives way to local roads where rolling green hills with granite cliffs are the norm.

Once arriving in Lysekil, it’s easy to just spend time wandering around the center of town. But, for those with time, hop on the local ferry to Skaftö, an island opposite Lysekil’s south harbor. The old fishing villages on the island are nothing short of quiet and relaxing where the call of gulls and the buzzing of bees take center stage against the calm waters and old homes.

The island, which is only five miles long and three miles wide, boasts gorgeous views and nature every step of the way.

Fiskebäckskil is particularly beautiful and it offers hours of simply wandering among rocks where the shore laps up against the stunning village.

Editor’s Note: My time in Sweden is courtesy of Visit Sweden, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy.

 

 

Travel

Daily Wanderlust: Krakow, Poland

I thought I’d never make it to Krakow. Under the cover of night, I boarded a van which took me across the border into Hungary, dropping me off back in Budapest before the sun rose. Then, at 6 in the morning, I got on a bus to head to Krakow. It was 24 hours of Romanian sunsets, Hungarian mornings and Polish afternoons.

When I arrived to Krakow, before I even got to my hostel, I managed to walk straight into the funeral procession for President Lech Kaczynski and many of the political and military leaders of Poland. To be a part of that historic moment, as tragic as it was, is something I will never forget.

That evening I took some solitary time and headed to the city’s main square in Old Town and was absolutely delighted by what I saw. As the sun set and the moon rose behind the historic church, St. Wojciech, little lights began to twinkle in the windows of the old buildings. Horses giving romantic rides clopped their hooves against the old stones. It was a magical moment as I prepared myself for my next adventure, exploring Krakow’s Jewish District the following day.

Travel

Cultural Tips for Thailand

“Chang, Chang, Chang,” we all sing, our shoulders tucked into our noses and our one arm hanging to depict an elephant trunk.

It’s nighttime, and Jack and Chai have called us up to the conference room to teach us about Thai culture and the Thai language.

The first thing that sticks in my head? Elephant in Thai is “Chang.” Just like the beer I have grown to love with the white elephant against the forest green background.

But, there’s more we learn. Much more.

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist culture, therefore it differs greatly from what most Westerners are used to.

Going up those stairs? Take your shoes off.

What’s it called when you put your hands together in front of your face? And, what does it mean?

The Wai is this prayer-like gesture you see everywhere in Thailand, accompanied by a bow of the head. It is done as a sign of respect to royalty, monks, elders, family, employers and those socially equal or greater than the person who is doing the Wai-ing. But, it’s more complicated than that. There are a few variations of the Wai based on the level of respect to show a person. Jack explains there are four levels of the Wai — thumbs at the bridge of the nose for royalty and  monks; thumbs at the tip of the nose for respected elders; the most common, thumbs at the chin for an employer or person of greater social status; and thumbs at chest level for friends and those on the same social level. However, should someone Wai you, the response is the last variation — chest level. The Wai is used to say in greeting, departure and as a “thank you.” Get all of that?

Don’t use your feet to point. Seriously.

In Thai culture, feet are considered dirty and pointing with your feet is disrespectful.

I was standing with Chai after we had our Thai culture class and was horrified when, in coversation, there was something on the ground, and I pointed at it with my foot (which was in a shoe). The lesson from the night before replayed in my mind, and I ducked my head in embarassment, offering a quiet apology for my faux paux.

If you’re in a Buddhist temple/sitting in front of a statute or with Buddhist monks, sit in the mermaid position with your feet pointing away from them.

This goes back to the belief that the feet are the dirtiest part of the body. Sit with your knees tucked to your side and the soles of your feet pointing away from the statue or monk. When I was being blessed by the shaman and was sitting in a permanent Wai during my time, the mermaid position became very uncomfortable. If you can lean your weight on your arms a bit, it shouldn’t be as bad. But, keep this in mind should you want to be blessed during a longer ceremony.

Don't wear your bathing suit in the water.

Keep your clothes on …

The first time we went to bathe elephants, Jack asked us to please respect Thai culture, which is to not show skin. So, for the week, we bathed elephants wearing clothing.

I was shocked when I got a massage one evening and an older couple came up to the room to receive massages, too. The recipients of the massages were all laying on mats, fully-clothed. The woman took off her pants as she sat down, showing her underwear to the entire woman. The woman from the nearby village who were giving us our massages giggled nervously when she laid down, ready for her treatment. It got even worse when the man took off his shirt, explaining it was too constrictive for him and “this” was better.

It was all I could do not to pop up from my relaxed state and throw their clothing back at them and explain to them they needed to keep their clothing on.

But take your shoes off.

Feet are dirty (so be sure to keep them clean), but shoes are even dirtier. Remove them when going into homes, schools, small shops and more. A general rule of thumb? If you are about to enter somewhere and there are shoes outside of the door, follow the leader and take yours off, too.

Don’t get too into touching.

Kissing and hugging aren’t the norm in Thailand. You will see people holding hands — couples, friends of the same and opposite sex — just don’t get too touchy. It can make people uncomfortable. Also, never touch a Thai person’s head. And, if you are a woman, do not touch a monk. Ever.

Be polite.

This is a good rule to follow, regardless of where you are. Always put your best foot forward and be a glowing representative of your country. Thai people are charmingly polite and seem to always have a smile on their face.

What other Thai culture tips can you provide? Have you ever accidentally done one of these things? Share your stories!

Planning a trip to Thailand? There are plenty of options, including your very own Thailand rental to enjoy all the country has to offer. For more information about this option, click here.


Asia Blog Thailand Travel Travel Tips

Floating elephant poo and other awesomeness

“Ele poo! Look out, ele poo!” Jack screams as we wade into the rushing water, elephants at our side.

Sure enough, there are huge balls of elephant poo floating by our legs.

It’s like the elephants just hold it until they hit their own, big rushing river toilet.

Before we get into the water, we are given little black buckets and told how to wash the elephants. Basically, stick the bucket into the river water, fill it up, then throw the water on them.

And, that is exactly what we do.

An elephant heads down to take a bath

I’m standing next to one of the elephants … really close, and filling up the bucket of water and tossing it over her head. Onto her back.

There’s water coming at me from all sides. Not only is our volunteer group bathing these girls, but the visitors to the park are in the water, too. Groups of about five or 10 concentrate on an elephant. Within a minute of getting into the water, I am properly drenched.

I watch as the elephant I’m helping bathe blinks each time the water splashes into her face. Then, she sticks her trunk into the river and sucks up water, flings her trunk over her head, and shoots it onto her back.

Bath time!

Clearly, these elephants are able to clean themselves, but they stand there and patiently let us get our time with them. What makes me even happier? I swear, the elephants look like they are smiling huge smiles that rival ours.

For 10 minutes, I dunk, toss and repeat. It never gets old. Each time, I give myself a reality check between dodging the floating poo.

Standing in a river. In Thailand. With elephants.

“OK, you need to get out of the water now, Hope is coming with his girlfriend,” Jack warns us, ushering us out of the murky brown, poo-filled water and onto the bank of the river. “Go upstairs and watch from the sky deck.”

The volunteers have heard about Hope. He’s been with Lek and the park since he was a baby and his mother died. Lek has spent a lot of time with the boy, who the staff refers to as “naughty” since he is going through musth and all about the lady elephants these days.

He’s also a part of the future of the park. Hope, who used to have a bell around his neck so people would know when the mishcevious little boy was around, is being trained using positive reinforcement. He is fortunate enough to never have been put through the crush. Instead, he learns tricks by being rewarded with heaps of fruit.

We all stand at the deck as Hope and his girlfriend make their way into the water.

The two walk together into the middle of the river, their huge bodies barely noticing the rushing water. Then, Hope dunks himself, rolling onto his side.

The group of volunteers, the day-trippers, we all let out giggles and “ooohs” and “aaahhhhs” as the two elephants spend five minutes dunking and rolling around in the water.

On cue, the two emerge from the water and its time for Hope to show off his tricks. With mahout at his side, he walks up to little buckets placed strategically below the sky deck. He sticks his trunk into the water, sucks it up, and then shoots it up at us.

Squeals of delight.

He eagerly takes the bananas from his mahout’s hand and shoves them into his mouth.

Then, he kicks his legs to the side and is rewarded with more bananas.

It’s heart-warming. And inspiring.

Once Hope heads back to graze, the large elephant family comes down to meet visitors. They stand in the grass, munching on bananas and other fruits, and one-by-one, people get their photo taken with one of the baby elephants who has learned to give trunk kisses in exchange for food.

A person stands next to her, then the long trunk snakes its way to the face, landing somewhere — anywhere on the face — and leaving little dirt marks. Then, the trunk finds its way into the caregiver’s hands and bounty of fruits.

We stand watching for a few minutes, until Jack once again, herds us inside.

“It’s time to get your rooms!” He announces.

At first, I don’t want to leave them. I could watch them eat, fling dirt on their backs to cool off, rub against the wooden posts scratching themselves, dip into the water, stand around doing nothing, all day. Then, I remember I am here a week. And, this is just my first few moments with them.

Baths, feeding, caring for them … it all awaits and will unfold in the next six days.

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