In Search of Gratitude

My work took me to beautiful Ketchikan, Alaska this week.

 With flooding in my hometown of Anchorage and neighboring towns of Kenai and Talkeetna, I was fortunate to be a part of a nearly 70 degree heatwave in a place that’s nearly constantly rainy.

I should be grateful. Instead, I’m exhausted and outstandingly cranky.

Earlier today, I read Leo Babauta’s post in Zen Habits, and thought I’d share it. I myself need to find rest and grace, as I’m simply mean and grumpy today. So here it is.

The Only Way to Respond to Life

Post written by Leo Babauta.
I went for a run along the beach at sunset yesterday, foam kissing my bare feet, smooth sand caressing my soles, and the sky exploding with color.
I paused for breath, mostly because the sky, and the Pacific, had borrowed my breath from me.
I stopped and applauded.
This is the only response that life deserves: overjoyed applause.
This morning, wherever you are, whatever life has given you, take a moment to really appreciate this gift, and applaud. I mean, actually applaud.
Then give back to life, something, anything, to show your gratitude for this miracle you’ve been given. Do anything: be kind to someone, create something, be gentle with your children, do something where your body feels full of life.
We often not only take life for granted, but complain about it. Life isn’t perfect, work is boring, people are too rude, drivers are idiots, no one gets me, I have too many things to do. But goodness, look around you! What a wonder life is! If only we would take the time to see it, to really appreciate it, and to applaud.
This moment is a ridiculously generous miracle. Give it up, folks, for life.

http://zenhabits.net/



___________________________________
Have a great week. I’ll be back to normal next Sunday.

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My Path to Authorhood/Alaska Writer’s Guild 2012 Conference

Have you ever gone to a conference or workshop that left you feeling invigorated, even in the face of apparent hopelessness?

  At the Alaska Writer’s Guild’s 2012 conference http://www.alaskawritersguild.com/events?eventId=451830&EventViewMode=EventDetails this weekend, I learned that getting my memoir (about domestic violence and recovering my internationally abducted children successfully, fueled by the memories of my own kidnapping’s aftermath) traditionally published will be as likely as giving birth to conjoined twins. Post-hysterectomy. At age 48. Unless, of course, I do everything I can to have the book in perfect shape and develop a solid marketing plan before pitching it to agents.

It’s less discouraging than it sounds.

It turns out, I’ve been doing a number of things right already.

What I’ve done right:

  • Participating regularly in a writer’s group for peer critiques.
  • Creating  a blog that covers key word topics that are emphasized in my book. Domestic violence. International parental child abduction. Finding missing loved  ones.
  • Blogging consistently

But from each of the presenters I’ve heard thus far, there’s much more I must do.

From author/publishing guru Jerry Simmons (nothingbinding.com) I learned that it’s the breadth of writing that matters. Another words, my second book will boost sales of my first, provided their in the same genre. The third would boost the sales of the first and second book. And so on.

From literary agent Gordon Warnock from the Andrea Hurst Agency (http://www.andreahurst.com/) , I learned that that having a great pitch is key. He liked when an author of young adult lit told him her books was as if  “David Lynch met Juno.” He gave some great websites I’d  never heard of to assist debut authors to find an agent, and said writers should go to bookstores every week to look at titles and sales of books similar to their own.

Author Susan Meissner suggested fiction authors consider giving their characters the free version of the Myers-Briggs test and write the results so they can keep their characters consistent, and gave an outline of how to write 300 pages in 30 days.

Author Jan Harper Haines provided engaging writing exercises for writing both memoir and fiction, and gave out a handout that offered some challenges. My favorite? Dare to suck!

So, dear blog readers, you are an integral part of my future.  I plan to follow the directions given, but will need your help.

What I can do better:

  • My pitch: Betty Mahmoody meets Erin Brockovich. Does that sound alright? 
  • Commit to grow my blog traffic to 10,000 hits a month
  •  Locate guest bloggers on relevant topics to the book. 
  • Offer a short story on Kindle for the holidays excerpted from my book for 99 cents.
  •  Strive to connect with other writers and readers, and increase the number of comments left by my weekly blog readers.
Do you have any tips for burgeoning authors? Any feedback is welcome.
Thanks goes to the Alaska Writer’s Guild for hosting accessible and affordable annual conferences in Anchorage. With the help of the annual conference and the connections I’ve made through this blog, I know that my goal of becoming an author is within reach.
Agent Gordon Warnock

Publishing guru Jerry Simmons
Author Jan Harper Haines

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How to Collect Treasures During a Difficult Journey Like Cheryl Strayed

 I just finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a gorgeous memoir about a woman in her twenties whose life falls apart after her beloved mother dies. Strayed can’t seem to pull it back together until she decides to hike more than 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in the mid 90’s. Alone. It was an amazing feat for a financially strapped non-hiking heroin user. She had a few scares along the way, but noted that she met far more kind people on her journey than mean or scary ones.

All the time that I’d been fielding  questions about whether I was afraid to be a woman alone-the assumption that a woman alone would be preyed upon-I’d been the recipient of one kindness after another.-Cheryl Strayed in Wild.http://www.cherylstrayed.com/


When you think about some of the worst times in your own life, who were the people who unexpectedly stepped up to help? Did you collect them as treasures, or let them slip through your hands?

As I read Strayed’s book Wild, I had some chance meetings with a few of the treasures I’ve lost touch with. People who supported  me when I was a battered and isolated young wife. Then helped me when I was a welfare recipient and struggling college student with two little daughters. Who celebrated with me when I got my first degree and job. Who cried with me when my daughters were kidnapped to Greece. Who fought along side me, loved me, and helped me raise money to get the girls back. And who didn’t judge me when I fell apart after the girls finally returned home from Greece.

I ran into Mary H, a former coworker who organized garage sale fundraisers while I was stranded in a Greek hotel I could no longer pay for while waiting for the Greek courts to rule.

I ran into Crystal E, a fellow journalism student with me in the early 90’s who was just 20 years old when she  became an important staple in the girls and my life, even helping me pass statistics on my fifth try. And I got to see Anne L, a dear friend who listened to me, abstained from giving advice, and babysat the girls.

Through Facebook, I heard from Popi, my Greek friend who opened her home and heart to me when I searched for my internationally abducted children. And from Mimi, my American friend living in Greece that helped me plan an escape through Turkey when the Greek courts ruled against me.

I’ve often said that sometimes it takes the worst in life to bring out the best in people. And I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see the best in people.

 The key to collecting treasures during a difficult journey is being open to simply accept the love and support offered all around.

Below are just a few of the faces who were/are my treasures.

Mimi

Popi
Pam and Heather

Anne L
Crystal E (with husband)
Julie R

This week, think about your own difficult journeys. Who became your treasure?


Thanks for stopping by.

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Four Secrets to Lifelong Friendships

As a little girl in the mid-seventies, I began collecting friendships that have lasted for four decades. Back then, Laura, Sarah, Susan, and I loved nothing more than to grab our sleeping bags and huddle in Susan’s living room for weekend slumber parties at her parent’s house in Chugiak, Alaska.
Volleyball team, 1978. Can you find all four of us?
This past weekend, the four of us caravanned to Sarah’s cabin and enjoyed a slumber party at Big Lake.


It turns out, the conversations haven’t evolved that much, really.  During our slumber parties in the 70’s, the four of us spoke predominantly of boys and bras. This weekend, we spent much of our time talking about boys and bras, with brief detours into children, pets, and the newest evidence of aging as we approach 50.
I’ve been asked how my little group of grade school friends managed to keep our friendships alive and well. Below are my top four secrets to lifelong friendships.

The four of us at Susan’s wedding, 2002.



1)Listen to understand, not to respond.
It’s tempting to give advice when there’s talk of health quirks, family concerns, or career blunders. But I’ve noticed conversation is healing when we don’t, instead taking the time to carefully hear one another and suspending judgment.
2)Make time for each other.
Between jobs, kids, and other obligations, time is at a premium, but we’ve always managed to squeeze time for a cup of coffee or dinner once or twice a year. We’ve increased our group times to four times annually now, and even added an occasional retreat like this weekend’s.
3)Discover new ways to have fun
In junior high, it was volleyball.  Post college, it was line-dancing. Now, we four have swap meets through fall and summer, collecting our unwanted clothes, books, pots and pans, and meeting at my place to trade them.
4)Remember to Thank You
Always. For everything. Because there’s no gift quite like a lifelong friendship.

Thank you, my friends. My life is forever enriched because of you.
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Lunching for Lao Literacy

What happens when you take four juvenile justice professionals, combine their energies with several enthusiastic juvenile delinquents to create and serve up wonderful meals to a caring community in Anchorage, Alaska?
You get a much-enhanced library at the Dong Bang Secondary School in Laos.
Last January, I was in Laos for a week. I brought a few school supplies after coordinating with Pack for a Purpose (PfAP), and set off with Rivertime Ecolodge owner Barnaby Evans to distribute them. http://www.packforapurpose.org/newsletter/liz-goes-to-laos.shtml
What I saw in the school was amazing. Two textbooks were shared among fifty students in a classroom. Nearby, there was a designated room for a library.
 Google the word library and you’ll find one definition is a building or room containing collection of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music. Noticeably missing in this one? Books, periodicals, films, and recorded music.  
The solution seemed within reach when I returned to my work as a probation officer in Anchorage and got permission to involve our delinquent youth in stocking the Lao library. One coworker thought a barbeque was the perfect way to raise funds, and had detainees prepare posters to display around our facility advertising Lunching for Lao Literacy. A second coworker skilled in culinary arts volunteered to make the food with the kids to sell to workers and community partners.  A third coworker, a Lao probation officer, helped organized youthful probationers to work at the actual event, and his wife also prepared food for the barbeque.
Our goal was modest. If we could raise $300 to $500 during the Lunching for Lao Literacy by selling meals prepared in detention to the community, it would be enough to consider the event a success. Our juvenile volunteers would learn cooking and other work skills, and Rivertime Lodge’s Barnaby Evans agreed to take pictures of the village children to give back to our Anchorage youth.
Artwork by the boys detention unit at McLaughlin.
On a cold and rainy Friday the 13th (of July), it was time for the barbeque.   Crickets.  A few stopped by to ask me if the event was cancelled.
Event coordinators.
And then ten orders from a substance abuse program that serves our teens rolled in. Twenty five orders from a local utility company rolled in.  And so on.
All told, the Luncheon for Lao Literacy raised $800 that Pack for a Purpose will delegate to the Dong Bang Secondary School’s library. And the delinquent teen volunteers in Anchorage? They got a lot more than cooking skills and community service credit. They learned that one doesn’t have to be wealthy or have their life in perfect order to make a positive difference in their world.

Barnaby Evans distributes supplies to school staff.

Thanks to Pack for a Purpose for the inspiration. Just as their tagline suggests, just a little effort has a big impact.

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Making Domestic Violence Disappear: A New Twist on an Old Problem

Today, I watched You Tube make-up artist and sensation Lauren Luke’s public service announcement about domestic violence, titled How to Look Your Best the Morning After.(http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/domestic-violence-psa-disguised-a-makeup-tutorial-battered-women-article-1.1108515?localLinksEnabled=false)

At face value, her video appears to tutor battered women on how to conceal their injuries.

As of this writing, her public service announcement has had 638,824 on You Tube. Now, that’s impact.

But not everyone likes Ms. Luke’s efforts. It seems some complain that teens could be exposed to the message about violence in relationships when all they really wanted was another of Luke’s tutorials on how best to use makeup.

Oh, please.
If a teenage girl has a television or a few friends, she knows more than she should about how a dating relationship can quickly turn into a health hazard.

According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 10 percent of high school students report being intentionally struck by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the year prior to the 2009 survey. 

Adults victims surveyed report that 1 in five women and 1 in 7 men who experienced a form of intimate partner violence first experienced a form of domestic abuse between the ages of 11 and 17. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teen_dating_violence.html  

Domestic violence is best bred in secrecy. When victims believe their experience is unique, they are more likely to blame themselves. And if they blame themselves, they won’t be looking for outside help that could change everything.
Congratulations to Lauren Luke for putting the message on blast in an inventive way. Personally, I’d have loved it if someone reached out to my daughters when they were teens and reinforced the message.

Something like
 Dear Teens,
Please know that you deserve to be treated well in your relationships. And you must treat the others with respect and dignity. There’s something very wrong if you aren’t safe with your sweetie, and you don’t have to endure the pain alone. Tell your friends. Text them. Facebook them. Tweet them. And watch Lauren Luke’s video on  You Tube. The whole thing, especially the closing comment.

65% of domestic violence victims keep it hidden. 
Don’t cover it up.


For more information about domestic violence or the public service announcement, see http://refuge.org.uk/lauren/
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10 Books, Blogs, and Movies that Improved My Writing and Survive Winter

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”—Samuel Johnson

Do you ever feel guilty for needing time alone?


 I love nothing more than to read a good book or blog entry, or watch a movie, now that my kids are grown. And the more I read or  listen to how others tell their stories, the better mine become. Here are my top ten from past twelve months.

Books


WHAT REMAINS by Carol Radziwill
I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK by Nora Ephron
(I feel bad about losing Nora Ephron recently)
ABOUT WRITING by Stephen King
TOWNIE by Andre DeBus
HALF A LIFE by Darin Strauss
CARIBOU ISLAND by David Vann
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES by Gary Chapman

LOVE AT THE SPEED OF EMAIL by Lisa McKay






Blogs
The Traveling Writer by Alexis Grant   www.alexisgrant.com
The Simple Dollar byTrent Hamm      www.thesimpledollar.com
Zenhabits by Leo Babauta                zenhabits.net        
49 Writers              49writers.blogspot.com
Milk and Midnight by Terezia Toth http://milkundmidnight.tumblr.com
The Badass Project  by Jon Morrowthebadassproject.com/blog/
Make a Living Writing by Carol Tice www.makealivingwriting.com


Dr. Oz Web Blog     http://www.drozweb.com/category/dr-oz-blog
Gluten Free Girl        http://glutenfreegirl.com/
Alaska Writer by Susan Sommer   www.akwriter.com  (see my interview with Susan at http://www.lameredith.com/2012/04/web-of-friendship.html)






Movies
Carnage 
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Project Nim
Undefeated
Rum Diaries
50/50
The Double Hour
The Descendants
Crazy, Stupid Love
Being Flynn



What’s on your list of recent favorites?


Stay tuned for my interview with author Lisa McKay in a few weeks.




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The Four F’s to Zen

My life’s been so clenched lately.  At work, we’re reorganizing. At home, I’m reorganizing, looking forward to a year with both of my daughters at home with more than a little anxiety.  And there’s no reprieve in sight in my work or personal life for the next few months. 
This weekend, I told a friend that I had find my Zen again. As it turned out, I didn’t have to go too far.
1. Family
An afternoon spent with my daughter, listening to her happy chatter while she potted plants on the balcony did wonders for my mood. We looked at a recent picture of my newly engaged aunt, transformed into a youthful girl again by the ring on her finger. Later I enjoyed a relaxed phone conversation with my sister in New Mexico, and then had a few Facebook scrolls to see how the rest of my large family was doing. There’s nothing quite like family to help me find my footing again.














2. Friends
Most every weekend begins with me going to see an old friend just after work on Friday. We eat, tell secrets and lies, and I go home with my curls unwound. The next morning, I jet over to the gym to do water aerobics with my closest friend from high school. Afterwards, we carve out an hour, just the two of us, and catch up on life’s ups and downs. It’s a ritual we’ve enjoyed since our now-adult children were in school, and we protect it as though our time together is sacred.
 There are lots of nice people in life I enjoy. But these are refrigerator friends. I can open their cabinets and graze without asking if I want, and they can do the same with me. We’re that comfortable.     
Friday Friend
Saturday Friend
3. Food

 I love reading the zenhabits blog. In a guest post by Scott of the Modern Forager Blog, he offers tips on how to recognize healthy, nourishing foods. http://zenhabits.net/the-zen-of-real-food-keeping-eating-simple/
  •          Food grows and dies. It isn’t created.
  •          Food rots, wilts, and becomes generally unappetizing, typically rather quickly.
  •          Food doesn’t need an ingredient label (and probably isn’t in a package either).
  •          Food doesn’t have celebrity endorsements.
  •         Food doesn’t make health claims. 

My tricky relationship with food improves when I take the time to shop and fix my meals at home. http://www.lameredith.com/2012/03/to-eat-or-not-to-eat-end-of-troubled.html
 This weekend, my friend Heather had me over for some scrumptious paella.  And tonight, when the need for dessert overcame me, I went online and got a gluten-free recipe, and made some substitutions so I wouldn’t have to drive to the store. My baked banana creation may not be photogenic, but trust me, it was good.
paella


Liz’s banana dessert



kale

4. Fitness
Gyms are fine. Home workouts will do in a pinch. But the exercise that heals my soul is simply walking outside.  The sounds, the smells, and just the feeling of the air on my skin is medicinal. Walking creates no stress on the joints. There’s no waiting for a particular machine at the gym. My best times of reflection are when I’m walking alone, my best periods of clarity are just afterwards.
It’s been just 48 hours since I told my friend I needed to find my Zen again.  I watched less television, spent less time online, and more time in the moment with my Four F’s.
And I feel fabulous.
What do you do to find your Zen? 
Can you estimate how many F’s are in this piece?
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Lessons from My Father(s)

My father Kova Meredith

Today is Father’s Day.

It’s  a time when those who have one remember and (ideally) honor their fathers, those who had one remember their fathers, and those who had none mourn their losses.

In my work with juvenile delinquents, it’s common to talk to kids who’ve never met their fathers. Sometimes, their moms don’t know who or which one he was. Other moms, like mine, deliberately cut contact between the child and father.

Such a shame. Everyone needs a father.

What is a father, exactly? I looked at Dictionary.com today http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/father and found the following:

fa·ther

  [fahther]  Show IPA

noun

1.

a male parent.
2.

a father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.
3.

any male ancestor, especially the founder of a racefamily,or lineprogenitor.
4.

a man who exercises paternal care over other persons;paternal protector or provider: a father to the poor.



My first father experience was my mother’s final husband. He appeared in my life when I was two or three years old and didn’t technically leave until I was finishing high school.  I say technically because never fully there. Many years younger than my mother, uneducated, and a hard drinker, this father inflicted a lot of harm. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to,  but he couldn’t ever seem to stop himself.  He wasn’t cut out to be a role model, but he did provide financially, and I’m confident he loved me. And because of his greatly negative impact, I made up my mind to never expose my kids to out of control men with good intentions once my marriage collapsed.  So that was good.

When I was twenty, I met my real father, Kova Meredith. He was seventy by then, and didn’t say too much.  But when he did speak, it was worthwhile. “No one has the right to hit another person,” he once told me.  That was a stunning departure from how I’d grown up, and this simple sentence later inspired a lot of change for me. My father wasn’t perfect, but he was transparent and accountable. He was a hard-working, plain-spoken man, happily playing with his kids long before it was chic for fathers to do so. He had to work at being a patient parent because it wasn’t modeled to him by his own dad.  To that end, he was a successful man, and I admired him for it.

Several years later, I met Hank, or Charles Henry Rosenthal. 

Hank Rosenthal

Then, deep in my twenties and already a single parent, I hadn’t realized truly wonderful life could be.  I met him through his wife. Hank had been a prolific writer and successful oil lobbyist, and I met him just as he was about to retire. There was something about being around him. I felt safe and at peace. Hank was ornery, greeting me regularly with , “Hi, Guy! That extra weight you’ve put on looks great!”  Ouch.
 But he shared more comforting messages, too.  “Never worry,” he’d tell me. “My mother always told me worrying is just borrowing tomorrow’s trouble.”  Or perhaps my favorite, “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut,” which appeared at the top of Anchorage Daily News’ Finance section two years after his death.  Hank had great impact on a lot of people.

But so do all fathers.

To my daughters, I wish for you a borrowed father like Hank.

To those who haven’t met their fathers, I sure hope you can find yours. 

And to all dads, Happy Father’s Day.

Your importance can never be overestimated.



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Finding My Family/ Interview With My Favorite Locator


In late May of 1985, I received the gift of a lifetime when my dear friend, attorney Ira Uhrig, located my biological father. Kova Meredith was living on a farm in rural Kentucky, and had recently rented a home in Louisville. I was twenty. My father was seventy.

 Thanks to Ira, I gained a father, siblings, aunts, and uncles that I’d never known.  Now a judge in Washington, Ira Uhrig tells about the experience that changed our lives, and restored my birth name, changing me from Libby Ponder to Lizbeth Meredith.



Q. How did you become interested in reuniting families?

While in my second year of college, I had the opportunity to hear of an organization that was forming for the purpose of helping adopted parents and children reunite.  They were originally called “Birthright”, but they changed their name when they learned that a pro-life group already used that name.  They became W.A.R.M., for Washington Adoption Reunion Movement.  I knew my roommate and his sister were both adopted, so I convinced him to attend the meetings.  

Within a short while, through the considerable efforts of many people (and I am honored to have played a small role), he was able to locate his father.  When he and his father reunited and I had a chance to spend time with them, I was struck with awe as to how much they were alike – not just in physical resemblance, but in posture, speech, mannerisms, and in every way imaginable, yet they had never had any contact whatsoever or spent one moment of time together before the reunification. I then took it upon myself as a mission of sorts to do whatever I could to help facilitate this type of reunification whenever possible. 


What were the first steps back then in finding a missing family member?

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, it involved a good bit of detective work…numerous phone calls, searching out newspaper articles, mailing letters to possible relatives or even past business contacts.  It sometimes took many months to even come up with a clue.

Of course, things like the WARM Confidential Intermediary System make this all much easier, but I dealt with many cases as an attorney where the adoptee or the parent did not want to use the services of any organization, perhaps because these organizations were still relatively new back then and there was still a large degree of societal opposition to reunifications.  Fortunately, these organizations are much better-known these days there is less hesitance for the parties to seek out their parents or children, and society is recognizing these reunifications as something that can be very important to the birth parent, to the child, and to the adoptive parents as well.

When my friend Libby told me she had been adopted, I asked her if I could help her search for her father.  She had very little information about him …only his name and her city of birth.  Libby was one of my best friends in the world, and I would have done anything for her, so though this seemed a daunting task with so little information, I set out to find her dad, thinking all the while that I might meet with failure, but not accepting failure as an option.

I’d like to say that it was my brilliant investigative techniques that led me to finding Libby’s dad, but it was simply luck and/or divine intervention.  The very first thing I did was to call directory assistance in the town where I expected he might be living (thinking I might find some relatives who could help me), but I was completely surprised to find that he had a listed phone number.  Imagine further the joy I felt when I called that number, spoke to him, and told him that his daughter would like to meet him.  He told me he had been looking for her for 20 years.  

Oh…about the divine intervention part, I should add that had I made my call to directory assistance just an hour earlier, I would have come up with nothing, as he just had his phone service connected that day and it was a brand new listing.   In fact, my call was the very first call to that number, and he had assumed it was the phone company calling to see if the phone was working properly.

I have done many reunifications that were far more difficult, but I can tell you that reuniting Libby and her dad was quite probably the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in my life.  To this day I keep in my desk a copy of Libby’s Name Change Order that was entered on June 7, 1985 (exactly 27 years ago to the day as I type this) which allowed her to once again bear her birth name.


First reunion with my father and some of my siblings, June, 1985.



















How has technology changed the location process?

In the years that have passed, the Internet makes these type of searches much easier…I suppose that is obvious.  And the  widespread use of the Confidential Intermediary System in my State is a great help as well. 


 When I was sworn-in as a Superior Court Judge (coincidentally, in the same courtroom where I got the name change for Libby), I became the Judge in my county who is primarily responsible for all of the Confidential Intermediary requests.  And each time I sign one, I am able to re-live to some extent the joy I shared with my college roommate, with numerous friends and clients, and, most of all, with my friend Libby, in reuniting parent and child — sometimes for the first time ever.


The Honorable Judge Ira Uhrig
The Meredith Family Reunion, June, 2011.


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