A letter to my daughter on her “would have been graduation day”… Never Ever and Always

I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

Maya Angelou
Miranda…your name is of Latin origin and means “worthy of admiration”.

A letter to my daughter Miranda,

Never Ever could I imagine that I would write to you on your “would have- could have- should have been” graduation day…

Today is the moment for which you have waited . Sapphire robes trimmed in gold and layered with a white honor’s stole. Braided cords draped around your neck, symbols of committing to excellence when you would have rather been binging Netflix or crashing the best bonfires (which, by the way, you did anyway).

Today is a day when our big Cuban-Italian family would have argued about parking spaces at the fairgrounds, talked trash about the heat outside and security check-ins, saved seats for family members who are never on time, and snapped pictures for FaceBook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram. The same family who would have annoyed the hell out of you, sneaking down on the platform to make you step out of line to take another photo of you, with you. You would have rolled your eyes. You would have said “Mother, stop! You are embarrassing me!”

Today is the day I would have cried as I heard the entry notes of Pomp and Circumstance begin to play, only for Joe to talk over the building crescendo to explain to me the history of the song, significance of every graduation recorded in time, and design the sheet music on your program. I would have “shhhhhhhhed” him and sobbed to the beat of the music.

Today would have been your graduation day. Your moment awarded to your brothers, sisters, cousins before you. The moment you have experienced as a spectator and cheerleader for so many others. Today was your moment. You see- as the youngest child in the family, you have endured many sporting events, band performances and graduations. Now that it is your turn, the family has grown and moved away, but they were prepared to be present for your moment. Only a pandemic would keep them away!

Well….

Today we celebrate differently. You will wear your cap and gown for the first time in the parking lot of your high school. We will join Durant High School’s clap-out and take pictures from our vehicles as car horns substitute for the orchestra playing. Many of our family members will not be there due to distancing and health, but they will be celebrating for you in their hearts. I am grateful that our school is providing us with this consolation which we will turn into celebration.

Miranda and friends getting ready for the senior parade!

Today I reflect on your years as a student, dancer, and supporter of every student athlete for whom you made me by a shirt! Your senior year hit the pause button in March. It sucked. We cried. We grieved. We then looked to the future. What is passed cannot be recovered, but it can be harnessed. The missed moments will collect within you and serve as rocket fuel , remembering you survived and thrived as a senior in 2020. How blessed is our society to have you enter as a game changer, dream changer, life changer! We need you.

Let all of the missed proms, dances, award ceremonies, baseball games, student council meetings, graduation parties, yearbook signings, and college tours inspire you and defeat any doubt that lingers about your resilience and determination. Just remember this little phrase: Never Ever…Always.

  • Never Ever miss a moment : Always be present for every second of your life
  • Never Ever postpone a dream : Always remember “life loves the liver of it” -Maya again 🙂
  • Never Ever believe you cannot reimagine or reinvent yourself : Always know that you- control- you
  • Never Ever give up : Always get up, everytime you fall, even if you limp
  • Never Ever accept the word “no” : Always find the yes

Never Ever did I imagine I would write to you on your would have- could have- should have been graduation day. So, I am putting bullet 3 into action!

Today we reimagine graduation day! Today we celebrate all that “is” instead of mourn all that “wasn’t”. Today is your first step into the journey of the next stage in life.

Reimagining graduation…driving in trucks under the DHS 2020 cranes instead of walking across a stage.

Never Ever think you are alone. For you have me, Always.

Happy “Graduation” Day! I am so proud of you. Look for me in the red car. Honk! Honk!

Love,

Mommy, Ma, Mother, “Bruh”.

Members of Durant High School, FL, Class of 2020

Class of 2020: The Class of Vision and Re-envision

Image from Facebook page Begging for Education and captioned: “Drawing by a high school senior. Class of 2020, born in the shadows of 9-11 and graduating during a pandemic.”

I am a mother of a high school senior, class of 2020. This year all themes, quotes, songs and party decor provided clarity around one key idea – the class of 2020 had vision! From eye focus charts on invitations to cool sunglass shades, you could not escape the 2020 cliché. Hell, when you can buy cheap party goods on Amazon, Dollar Tree and Oriental Trading Company…this is a mommy party planner’s dream theme graduation year.

How quickly the dream turned into the stuff of 3-D sci-fi nightmares.

How quickly the vision turned into a blurred reality.

How quickly we wished we could purchase a new set of disposable contacts and readjust our prescriptions to witness a brighter future for our seniors.

I am keenly aware this pandemic impacts lives on such a greater level than a teenager’s dream shattered. I am an educator trying to lead our district into online instruction, even for PreK students. I am a caregiver to family members who fall into the vulnerable populations. I live in Florida (with Florida man and spring breakers)…you watch the news and know what is yet to come. My oldest daughter serves in the Navy and I have family members on the frontlines of the medical community. This crisis impacts us all.

But today, I write for the senior class of 2020. Just a brief moment to share their accomplishments suspended in time. I am normally a “tough cookie” type of mom. I am the first to lecture (Mrs. Brady style) on how blessed we are and how worse off it could be. My youngest daughter does not need to hear that lecture right now. She needs “tough cookie” mom to become “empathetic” mom.

She needs a hug (because I am the only one she is allowed to be un-socially distant from).

She needs me to wipe her tears.

She needs to see my cry, too.

She needs me to help her re-envision her senior year.

Miranda’s homecoming 2019…and yes Miranda..there will be a prom!

So here we go…let’s re-envision the class of 2020.

For the time you spend away from friends, you are saving a possible life.

For the time you spend online for school, you are building your technology communication skills.

For the baseball games and sporting events not played, you are winning against an invisible enemy.

For the dances that will be postponed or cancelled, you are selflessly saving our medical force.

For the graduation ceremonies that will be unattended, you are earning a degree in resillience.

For all of the sacrifices you make today, you will show the world the power of your generation, who made a difference for the generations that came before you and the ones you will create in the future.

You are the class of 2020. Your vision and mission is to flatten the curve so you can rise to the occasion.

We see all that you are NOT doing right now. You are clearly an amazing class.

We all thank you, Class of 2020.

Mellissa Alonso-Teston, Mom, Class of 2020

2020… and the Earth is Closed (a letter to my children)

Dear Tony, Bri, and Miranda,

I am not sure how to begin, but the Earth is closed. I am not allowed to use an ellipse for effect because it causes Bri anxiety. Not the fact that Earth is closed, because she bought land in Mars on Groupon, but she is not in favor of using the ellipse as a punctuation device because she feels it leaves you hanging.

More than ever, I need to use the ellipse.

Tony, in 2001, your dream trip to play in Carnegie Hall with the high school band came to an abrupt halt with the horror of 9-11. At that moment, the Earth stopped turning and life changed forever. Your high school career is memorialized by the events of the attack and aftermath that left us shocked, angry and determined.

Bri, in 2019, your Navy graduation for Nuclear Power School was impacted by a very busy hurricane season. The storm that threatened Florida decided to head towards Charelston, SC and blow us away from celebrating the mid point of a two-year strenuous program deserving of every celebration topped with pimento cheese.

Fast forward to 2020. Next week you graduate from Prototype school and complete your nuclear qualifications, yet we won’t be there. Beach house cancelled. Celebrations paused. Hugs left unhugged. Why? Because the Earth has not just stopped, it has closed.

This week, we have begun stockpiling supplies (with an extreme hoarding phenomenon of toilet paper), moved school to online instruction with little warning, adapted a new vernacular including words such as: viral load, super spreaders, social distancing, flatten the curve, to name a few terms and phrases.

The world as we know it is closing, one store and one school at a time.

Miranda, now in 2020, your prom dress hangs sparkling in the closet. Your awards and ribbons lie next to your cap and gown. Your senior cruise tickets are paid for with an insurance policy titled “cancel any time”. Your final dance competitions are scheduled next month and we might not see your last dance or senior recital. Your graduation ceremony is a mirage you cling to.

My dear children, you have each experienced the Earth shattering turbulence of life.

I can’t fix this.

But…I can wipe away the tears.

But…I can grieve with you for memories lost.

But…I can hold your hand as we wait for the Earth to open again.

Until then (and it will re-open)…

We wait together.

Love always,

Mom (I will always be on the other side of the ellipse)

Tony, Miranda, Bri, Mom

How to write your reference section for your first factorial ANOVA (not really).

Excerpt from my first STATS 2 factorial ANOVA
2-19-2020

It has taken me 7 days to stutter 558 words. Normally, I can fluently speak 558 words in less than 3 minutes. However, as a PhD student of literacy studies taking STATS 2 this semester, I have hit my proverbial academic vocabulary “wall”. While I can look at the numbers and determine statistical significance, turning statistical data into statistical language is truly a cognitively complex task that requires “whining” and “wine-ing”.

I would be remiss to take credit for completing this task on my own. I relied on several sources to help me and I struggled with how to give proper credit to all of those who served as mentors, knowledgeable others and support pets.

I must give credit, where credit is due.

I am not sure of my grade, but I know this.. I have never been more convicted in my wrongness. I am sure I have created 558 words of babble, garbled ideas and confused analyses. However, I have learned in the process. I have birthed an ugly writing piece but I am in love with it. It is my ugly baby. It is my thinking on paper. In 5 years, I will look back at this blog and laugh at my emerging self.

But right now, I am proud of stuttering 558 words of statistical nonsense and must pay gratitude in writing to all who have supported my confusion 🙂

References

Amazon (2020). Distraction and poverty and boxes. Ruskin, FL.

Coopershawk (2020). Almond sparkling. Tampa, FL.

Coopershawk (2020). Sparkling rosé. Tampa, FL.

Google (2020). Stats help or I am going to freak. Mountainview, CA.

Jesus (4 BC..I think). Prayers daily. Tampa, FL.

LaMarca (2020). Prosecco. Italy.

People (1940-present). Facebook “friends“. USA

Teston, Bella & Luna (2018). My two yorkies. Tampa, FL.

YouTube (2020). Any stats subscription I understand. San Bruno, CA.

The Clock is Ticking…

Dali’s The Persistence of Memory

The clock ticks. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. In my dreamlike state, I have all the time in the world. Deadlines are elusive. Time and space are my friends, not my enemy. I am not a docent nor do I pretend to understand the meanings behind surrealism, yet I relate.

I am a scholar. Well, an emerging scholar. The clock ticks relentlessly in my second year as a PhD student. I am a doctoral student who works full time. I am an emerging researcher who has five children, dance schedules, Navy graduations, college campus visits, senior prom dress shopping, and homework. Kid homework. My homework. And housework. The second hand meticulously repeats the chorus,”assignments…assignments.” With each passing minute, the cadence remains the same yet the lyrics morph into, “deadlines…deadlines.”

I have a goal. I desire publication. Not for recognition. Not for accolades. I simply want to start to enter into the conversation. In order to “talk”, I must “write”. But time is not my friend. Home. School. Family. Work. Tick tock.

I recall attending a Franklin Covey training on time management many years ago. The presenter asked us to raise our hands if we were hoping to learn time management techniques. We all eagerly raised our new leather bound planners while our wallets were about $350.00 lighter. The presenter knowingly baited us and then stated “Well you are in the wrong training!” We were quite confused.

But then, in Covey fashion, the presenter went on to explain a concept which has stuck with me throughout my career as a professional and now a 50 year old returning grad student. You see, we were told, you cannot manage time. We all have the same amount of time each day. The same second hand ticks for us all. The same amount of sand sifts through the hourglass (these are the days of our lives, yes I am THAT old.) We CANNOT manage time. Tick Tock. We CAN manage events. Instead of a time management workshop, we actually signed up for an event management workshop. We learned strategies for prioritizing, inboxing, outboxing, list making, and list checking. Of course, some days are much more productive than others but one has to decide if the goal of life is to check of many tasks or complete a few…really well. (That is a debate for another blog).

Tonight, I sit at my computer and prepare to write my first scholarly article. My deadline is Friday, February 21. Tick tock. I am acutely aware that the clock reads 9:39 PM on Monday, February, 17. I also realize that I am blogging instead of writing my article. This is not avoidance behavior. Tick tock. This is not procrastination. Tick tock. This is an intentional strategy to manage my events, not the clock. Blogging helps me think creatively. Blogging helps me consider how I find the flow of my writing.

I am not sure if my article will be accepted. I am not sure if my article will be rejected. But despite the uncertainty, I also know that I am sure that I am ready to enter the world of scholarly conversation.

My time is here.

My time is now.

Wish me luck…and a little bit more time to get it done!

Tick tock.

Dear Daddy, I can hear you…

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It has been a year. Your maracas sit on the piano. Silence. Your dominoes lay quietly in their wooden cocoon. Your pictures smile at us daily. Silence. I talk to you. Silence. In the silence, I can hear you.

During this year, Miranda has begun her senior and final year of high school. I can hear you say, “Wow…how time flies.” During this year, Tony has become a property manager and thriving in his new role. I can hear you say, ” That is great Tony. Buy me a beer!” During this year, Brianna is finishing her second year of Nuke school in the Navy. I can hear you say, ” Coño! I was in the Navy…does she wear the white suit or the blue suit?” During the year, I finished my first year towards my PhD.  I can hear you say, “Missy, your mother would be proud.” During the year, we lost Derek, only 4 months after you left us. I can hear you say,” You should have seen your mother when he got here to Heaven. She dropped me like a hot potato.”

Daddy, it has been a year. Ups. Downs. Successes. Failures. Love. Loss. Tears. Joy. Memories. A lifetime, wrapped up in a year that has challenged and strengthened our family. The sting of loss written all over our faces. When I was born, you wanted to name me Dawn (still not sure why) but momma over rode that decision and I was christened with the name Mellissa. Of course the double LL means I can never find my name spelled correctly but that came in handy the day I lost my name bracelet (another blog).  No matter the spelling, the meaning of my name carries the same significance.

According to nameberry.com

“Melissa derives from the Greek word mélissa, meaning “bee,” which was taken from the word for honey, meli. In Greek mythology, Melissa was a nymph who nursed the infant god Zeus with honey. Melissa was used as a given name by the early Greeks, as well as for fairies by Italian Renaissance poets.”

Why does this matter? The day of your services, Tia Yoly ordered a beautiful arrangement of patriotic flowers. The flowers did not arrive. I watched your sister break down because her tribute to you was in jeopardy. In true fashion, our cousin Nanette moved into action. With minutes to spare, the beautiful red, white and blue heart arrived in all its glory to stand watch over you.  As we admired your flowers, we heard a faint buzz. A single, honey bee took her last treasures from your bouquet, danced around me and flew way.

At that moment, in the silence, I knew you were there.

In your silence, I heard you Daddy.

Love, Mellissa (honeybee)

Pop, fizz, & fifty orbits

May 29, 1969

The alarm clock buzzed predawn. The welcome of a new day. The welcome of a new decade. Today I turned 50. I woke to my husband playing the SNL skit for me of Sally O Malley yelling ” I’m 50! I can kick. I can stretch. And I can kick. I am 50!” This has to be the most annoying way to wake up on the morning of your quinquagenarian milestone. By the way, yes I can still kick, stretch and kick.

Working my way to the kitchen, I spot a display of red roses and a supply of prosecco bottles in the formation of the number 50. Again, another subtle hint by my husband of my rite of passage. The 40s are gone…forever. I have traveled 50 times around the sun. I have 50 years of a story of my life written on the pages in my mind. But the number 50 is not the only statistic of significance of my life. If I were to create a numeric mosaic of the most important integers they would look like something like this:

17, 3, 51, 1, 2 percent, 52, 28, 0,12, 21, 2012, 10, 15, 2016, 1992

These are not the vintage years of my favorite wines. These are not serial numbers to the bottles of prosecco. These are not winning lottery numbers. These are the pivotal moments of a lifetime of stories. The story of when I had my son at 17. The story of the birth of my 3 blessings. The story of being the first college graduate in my household. The story of attempting my PhD with two percent of the population even thought I had to graduate from night school (that is a great story). The story of the age my mother lost her battle to breast cancer at 51. The story of my graduation year and death of my mother in 1992. The future story of when I will be older than my mother in the next two birthdays. The story of the 28 years I have worked in the school district and the 0 amount of birthday wishes or even a card from my department colleagues on this day (partly the function of having a birthday during the last week of school in an educational setting). The story of the dates I met my husband and the date I said “I do”.

You see, these 50 trips around the sun do not rattle the diva in me. I do not worry about the greys or the wrinkles because I can color my hair and apply great concealer to whatever is offensive to the eye. My mother’s 50th year was spent in chemo, radiation, surgeries and difficult conversations with experts. Her cocktails were mixed in IV bags and not delivered in cosmo glasses nor served chilled with the cork popped. Instead of planning her birthday celebrations she was fighting for an extra trip around the sun…at any cost, including hair, mobility and quality of life. She wanted one more orbit. A little more time to add a few more numbers to her story. Mom’s final trip around the giant star ended on July 15, 1992 – 45 days away from her 52nd birthday.

So today I “pop” the cork,  enjoy the “fizz”, and sip the bubbles and embrace my new number “fifty”. I celebrate the age and stage of this page of my story. I celebrate for my mom. I celebrate because I am still here for my children.

I am 50, est. 1969…I celebrate getting older, wiser and fine like wine.  Thank you Diana Yanes, my mother, my life giver…on this day… 50 orbits ago.

 

Cambridge Week 3: “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” Isaac Newton

A “bridge” letter from my present day self to my future dr. self 🙂

June 25, 2018 or as they write in England 25.6.18

Dear Dr. Teston,

This is your third week in Cambridge. You have been writing postcards to everyone except me. I have been waiting patiently to hear form you. I notice that you have been observing, listening, writing, reading (and more reading), questioning, talking, thinking. Sometimes the articles you read sound like a different language, the language of PhD.

While you are studying teaching about teaching and learning about teaching, you are also analyzing coaching. I have noticed from your pictures that you keep running into bridges as you journey through England. Bridges in Cambridge, London, Oxford…there is a metaphor here that needs exploration.

What role do you play in bridging the gap between theory and practice? Who will listen? You often feel that you are trying to break down walls. You are stuck between two worlds…so why not just build a bridge? Not everyone will want to travel on your bridge. Not everyone will agree. Many will stay on one side or the other. But what if your bridge helps others. As Martina McBride sings… “build it anyway”.

Bridge from Student to Teacher: You are so blessed to have this time to watch new teachers joining the profession. You are surrounded by palettes and canvases already painting a picture of their future teaching. As an adjunct, you get to help form their definitions of literacy. As an educator, you could become their future employer.

Bridge from Pre-Service Coaching in Cambridge to Pre-Service Coaching at Home: So your brain is racing. How can you keep the momentum for coaching moving forward? They have been receiving coaching during the summer…why stop? Can you build a bridge between this experience and their next field experience? What would this look like? What model could be created? Would they want the support? Are current coaches willing to support them? Work on this…

Bridge from Pre-Service Coaching to Inservice Coaching: I know you already want to go to their graduation! You want to watch them enter into their first jobs! Since they have had such a positive coaching experience, can the bridge you build in field experience translate to coaching new teachers? Why do we always take a mentoring stance with new teachers? Follow their journey…maybe longitudinally???

Bridge from Teacher to Peer Coach – You know, while you are thinking so hard over there, why don’t you add a new component to your coaching institute? Not everyone has to leave the classroom to coach, you know. Why don’t you create a Peer Coaching Institute within the Summer Cadre. Full time coaches and teachers who want to peer coach from the classroom could learn side by side—they could even support the new teachers!

Bridge from Mrs. Teston to Dr. Teston – Get to work. Put on your hard hat. You have a lot of learning to do and ideas to implement and bridges to build.

With Love,

Mellissa

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Cambridge Week 2: “Common sense is what tells us the Earth is flat.” – Albert Einstein

I have become a flat earther. I can’t believe it actually happened. For years I resisted. I have protested. I have finally succumbed to the pressure.

Since June 7, my Fitbit has registered over 224,000 steps. In order to travel across Cambridge you either walk, walk to a bus, walk away from a bus, walk away from bikers , walk to eat, walk to shop, walk…walk…walk.

If you know me, I am a lover of shoes. Heels to be honest. Stilettos to be precisely accurate. I love all things tall, sexy, and elegant. There is no way on this green, round, blue marble can I navigate Cambridge in my usual stock of height enhancing footwear. Cobblestone is a beautiful footprint of the history of this town, but a dangerous threat to the 120 mm sculpted heel.

No one believed it could be done- this conversion of a heel obsessed city girl to a legging wearing, flat earther. As I packed for this trip, I promised I would not bring one pair of heels. I actually went into my closet and explained to my most loyal pairs, with great guilt, they would not be allowed on the trip. As I loaded the suitcase with layers of clothes, I would add shoes, weigh the bag, remove shoes, weigh the bag…until finally I decided to bring an extra bag for the shoes.

Sigh…

I admit now, that the decision to part ways with my wedges, platforms, pumps, peep toes and stilettos was excruciating. But 224,000 steps later (110 miles but who is counting) my tootsies are grateful.

So who made the cut? Converse, Asics, Tory Burch, sandals, duck boots and ballerina flats in blue, black and nude. My shoe family at home is waiting patiently for my return. In the words of Carrie Bradshaw ” Hi! I am not here right now. But my shoes are. Leave them a message!”

I will be a flat earther until July 7. At that time, I will board the Chunnel with my hubby and head to Paris, where I may or may not stop into Christopher Louboutin’s and add a new VIP member to the team (my first pair). At that moment, my flat earther membership will be revoked and I will magically grow from  a vertically challenged 5’3 1/2 to a statuesque 5’7 – that is if I remember how to walk in them!

Proof of my temporary flat earth membership:

PS…the world is round. Just in case I needed to say it.

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Cambridge Week 2: Nance Drew to the Rescue

Cambridge Day 4-12 “Smart Phones, Stupid People”

The Mission: Nancy Drew here! The phone saga is over. A 30 second error of leaving the phone on the bus, has cost me days of misery. Ok, misery is a slight exaggeration. I have lodging, food, friends and money – but the inconvenience of not being mobile in a new city is quite debilitating. While I do have some time to explore Cambridge and surrounding towns, my first purpose is to work in schools Monday through Friday collecting evidence towards my PhD in literacy. The mobile device is a critical tool for navigating bus times, school locations, and communicating with the other members in the program. Not to mention, the impractical rose gold phone Michael Kors case which conveniently held all of my IDs, credit and debit cards – also disappeared with the missing phone. Nancy Drew: Communication and Budget Impaired – two catalysts for solving the mystery. When a girl loses her rose gold MK case filled with missed possible shopping opportunities, she springs into action!

The Recovery: The moment the bus drove away in the rain as I was left handling three overstuffed pieces of luggage, I begged a bus rider stranger to let me use her cell to call National Express, the bus company I chartered. She handed me the phone and when I looked at the number, I realized I was “England phone digit impaired”. The number was something like +00 8394838 03039 94984 … again another exaggeration, but I couldn’t find the + sign on the phone pad to even start the process. She dialed for me, I expressed my panic – but clearly, I was alone in my sense of urgency. Days 2-11 were a combination of investigating, hunting, stalking, Facebook friending, calling, Tweeting, iPhone finding, pinging – all directed at the bus driver of my coach (bus). He finally answered one of our SOS calls on my “lost” phone and my son obtained his name. I now learned through the process of inquiry that National Express is just the brand name and the actual bus company was named Whippet (as written in tiny font letters on the door that holds the luggage cargo). Let me polish my magnifying glass.

My investigation shifted focus and I learned the entire staff by the names of David, Peter and Steven and I was known as “The Girl Quite Determined to Get Her Phone Back!”.  Through some persuasion and probably a lot of just wanting me to stop calling from the house phone, they gave me the bus driver’s schedule and I met him at the Parkside stop and introduced myself. 24 hours later and a 36 pound cab ride, I ventured to the pit of the bus depot in the business district where I was united with my deactivated “Rosie the Lost Mobile”, Michael Kors and all of my cancelled credit cards. Mission accomplished.

The Lessons:

  • Phones are smart, people are stupid. The irony of losing a phone but needing a phone to prove your identify, just unlocking passwords became an ironic joke, “need your number so we can contact you”, blah blah blah…caused me several meltdowns!
  • No matter how cute the phone case, do NOT put all of your eggs in one basket. Put your cards in a DIFFERENT location. (my husband told me this over and over…)
  • Overnight shipping does not mean you get a new phone overnight – you get it 5 days later. ( Overnight Shipping – “You keep a using that a word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya)
  • Customs will block your new phone from entering the country – save your insurance claim, email them with the proof and wait for them to call you— on the phone, that is in the box they have yet to send you.
  • Stalking is not beneath you. Stalk the bus driver on Facebook, at the bus stop, wherever you can.
  • Most importantly: Never, ever, ever, give up!

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