Just a Cardboard Box



Dear Readers,

There was a season of my young life, when I was intensely lonely and alone.

I was in college, during this season, living as a boarder, upstairs in one room of a family home. I shared a bathroom with one other boarder.  We shared a refrigerator but we had no kitchen privileges.

I had no car — or even a bicycle — so I walked to the university, where I took classes and worked a part-time job. I think the walk was between one and two miles: good exercise, except for days when it thunderstormed!

I was a Junior and eager to finish my college degree program. Unfortunately, I discovered, too late, that I was totally unsuited for the field that I had chosen. With dread, I began to strongly suspect that I would never choose to work in that field.

I was a quiet, serious introvert, at a huge university, and, in three years, I had never found my place:  I had one or two friends but I had no church or community to which to belong.

I did have a boyfriend but he was attending the University of California at Berkeley.

I had no money to buy clothing. I paid for as many college expenses as I possibly could manage, out of my meager salary, for I tried to be as independent as possible.

One day, a plain cardboard box arrived to the door of my room:   It was from my sister, who lived in North Carolina and was recently married.  She was only four years older than I.

Inside the box were items of clothing that she had either sewn, especially for me, or was passing down to me.  [At that time, we were roughly the same size.] She had carefully packed the items, within tissue paper.

I was not a seamstress but I could easily imagine the hours of time that my sister invested in lovingly sewing those outfits for me:  She chose the pattern, the fabric, and the notions. Then, she found time to construct the outfits, in spite of the fact that she worked full-time.

I can remember the fabric and buttons of one of the outfits, now forty-five years later:  one set was a calico print top with a solid culotte skirt. They fit perfectly.

That was the day that I thought to myself, “Well, someone in the world is looking out for me, caring for me, loving me, and investing her time in me — and that person is my sister.”

I think that, of all the gifts I have received, this is the one for which I am most thankful.  I thank the Living God for my “big” sister, who has always looked out for me.

Coram Deo,



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Sukie and the Other Turkey

guy w turkey platter6742726

[Image Credit:  www.nutritionmythbusters.com]

Dear Family & Friends:

A friend told me this story about his grandmother, a Southern lady of refinement and gentility . . . .

One Thanksgiving Day, a large group of family members and friends gathered around my grandmother’s large dining room table, eagerly awaiting the sumptuous feast. All eyes were on “Sukie,” the housekeeper, as she ceremoniously carried a platter, from the dining room to the kitchen. On the platter was the main dish, a roasted, golden-brown turkey, redolent with fragrant herbs.

Our collective mouths were watering when disaster struck: Sukie dropped the platter and the fat bird thumped onto the hardwood floor, spilling some of the contents of its stuffed cavity.

 All eyes quickly turned to my grandmother. Her countenance remained serene. With a calm and soothing voice, she offered to Sukie words of assurance and confidence:

 “That’s all right, Sukie. Just take that turkey back into the kitchen and bring us the other turkey.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Coram Deo,


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“The Valley of the Flowers:” Part Three


Dear Readers,

Click here to read The Valley of the Flowers Part Two.

. . . In stark contrast to the peaceful landscape of the nearby town, Lompoc, “The Flower Seed Capital of the World,” stood the military complex  of Vandenberg Air Force Base [VAFB], California, perfectly situated upon a broad elevated mesa, on the coast.   See the red star, on the map:  Point Conception is the location of VAFB, on the “elbow” of the state of California.


My family lived on the base [1958-1962] during the “glory days” of the Missile Program.  My father was a United States Air Force [USAF] Officer and a Missile Safety Educator.  Among the Strategic Air Command [SAC] bases, VAFB was second only in importance to SAC Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base [OAFB] in Omaha, Nebraska.



The motto of SAC was “Peace Is Our Profession” — but the protection of peace necessitated a huge arsenal of defensive weaponry.  VAFB owned vast, empty miles of coastal property on Point Conception.  The government property contained  a network of underground tunnels, silos, command centers, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles [IBM’s].


In spite of living within four miles of IBM’s,  family life on VAFB was safe and secure:  Armed Military Police [MP’s] guarded the VAFB Entry Gates, through which vehicles entered the base.  Each vehicle stopped at the gate; the MP inspected the vehicle’s official VAFB sticker.  Only after the MP saluted, did the vehicle advance through the gate.


There was no crime on the base:  law and order prevailed.  We never locked the doors to our homes or vehicles.  Children safely played ball, roller skated, or rode  bikes in the streets  — because the MP’s strictly enforced the posted “20 miles per hour” speed limit on the base.  [My mother once received a ticket for driving “22 miles per hour.”]

Each of the residential neighborhoods contained a network of sidewalks, a park, and an elementary school.  As a ten-year old, I was completely free to roam the neighborhood all day, as long as I returned home in time for supper.  I took my younger siblings and we played together in the park.  Alone, I walked to school in the morning, walked home for lunch, returned to school, and walked home in the afternoon.

After school and on weekends, I  roller-skated up and down the sidewalks.  The neighborhood was full of hills. I think I probably walked on the grass, next to the sidewalk, if I was going uphill.  Then, I  turned around and coasted downhill on the sidewalk.  How exhilirating! I was free and I was flying!  As a result of frequent tumbling and falling, however, I suffered “scabs upon scabs” all over my  knees.   After each fall, my father carefully dressed the knee wounds and urged me to wait until the wounds properly healed.  But I was tough, reckless, and fearless.  To his credit, he didn’t stop me, a few days later, when I bolted out the door, to skate — and to tumble and fall on my pitiful knees.

163771-MM7950L 24_roller-skates

After school and on weekends, I also rode my bike up and down the same hills — but I rarely fell off my bike.


I remember a beautiful fall day in 1962:   I was a ten year old fifth-grader,  climbing on the “Jungle Gym” during recess at school.  I loved to climb onto the “Monkey Bars.”  I had already suffered through an agonizing process:  First, I developed blisters on my hands, from hanging from the Monkey Bars.  The blisters hurt like the dickens!  The blisters healed and then I repeated the agonizing process.  Finally, my hands developed callouses and I was then pain-free, as I glided along on the Monkey Bars.

After school on that fall day, I walked home, put on my corduroy pants, and walked over to see my friend, Linda.  I carried my skates with me and we skated up and down her street.  Then, we took off our skates and  came inside her home, to play a board game and enjoy some refreshments.  It was five PM:  I remember the time because etiquette dictated that, by 5.30 PM, children should return home.

At 5 PM,  I had not yet left Linda’s home.  We were sitting down on the carpet in the living room, playing a board game.  The television was on and Linda’s mother walked from the kitchen to the living room, sat down on the couch,  and listened intently and quietly, as President Kennedy read from a script in front of him. I was mesmerized by the speech but did not understand the ramifications of President Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis Message.  Cuban Missile Crisis Wikipedia

But Linda’s mother understood!  After the broadcast, she leapt to her feet and said, “Oh, my God!  We are going to be invaded!”

Then, she told us, “Now, listen, girls, you have to learn what each different Civil Defense siren means!  The sirens each have a different sound, according to a “color code:”  The “color code sound” will tell you how many minutes — or seconds — remain before an enemy missile strike!”


My heart stopped.  I wondered if I would have time to run home, before the invasion began?  Or, should I stay at Linda’s home?

No! I wanted to be home, with my own family, before an invasion!  So, I either ran or skated home, faster than I have ever traveled under my own power in my entire life.  I scanned the skies as I raced home, to see if I could detect any hint of enemy missiles.  My ears were tuned and ready to hear the dreaded, heart-stopping scream of a siren.

Breathless, I safely arrived home and, to my amazement, my parents were calmly discussing the events of the day, while my mother prepared supper.  It appeared to be a normal day! What a relief!  The invasion would not occur today!  I fervently hoped that I might enjoy a few more days and weeks within the safe cocoon of my family, before nuclear disaster swept us all away, in a cloud of dust.

Within the span of one half-hour, between 5.00 pm and 5.30 pm on Monday, October 22, 1962, my mind confronted a horrifying truth:  I would never, ever be safe and secure again!  There were forces and powers that might unleash  at any moment — and my father could not protect me from disaster.  My father could not stand between me and the spectre of enemy missiles, whistling through the skies over Vandenberg.

My safe, secure world in The Valley of the Flowers was shattered.  The world stood on the precipice of nuclear world.  As the world held its collective breath, I stood on the precipice of adulthood.   At only 10 years of age, I tumbled and fell through the invisible portal that separated the innocence of childhood from the terrifying realities of adulthood.

Now, fifty years later, recording these memories gives me “the willies” and makes my teeth chatter.  Yet, I will continue to record, for my children and grandchildren, the historic events during October 1962, to which I was an eyewitness.  I will continue to write about these events, in the hope that I can confront the nightmares that have haunted my dreams for the past fifty years.

Coram Deo,



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Filed under Cuban Missile Crisis

The Valley of the Flowers — Part Two


Dear Readers,

Read this post first:

“The Valley of the Flowers” Part 1

. . . . And as if this childhood setting was not quaint enough, we also had the good fortune to live near the village of Solvang, California: “The Danish Capitol of the World.”  Danish settlers named the town “Solvang,” meaning “Sunny Fields,” when they migrated to California in 1911, to escape the harsh midwestern winters.  And, really — who could blame them?

Entering the village of Solvang was like entering one of the “countries” of Epcot — except that this village was authentic!  For special occasions, Dad & Mom drove us [my three siblings and me] over and through the undulating hills of The Valley of the Flowers, to Solvang, where we dined  at a Danish restaurant named, “Paul and Margaret’s.”


We also lived near Buellton, CA, the home of Andersen’s Split Pea Soup Restaurant:
The South may know a thing or two about BBQ — but I was raised near the Santa Maria Valley, “The BBQ Capital of the World” and home of the “Tri-Tip Beef BBQ:”
Our Valley of the Flowers was famous for “Pinquitos”  [“Little Pinks”], which we ate with our BBQ.  The Portugeuse farmers brought “Pinquitos” from the Old Country, when they first settled in the Valley of the Flowers:
TriTrip and Pinquitos_June 2012 028
Way before salsa became “hip” and replaced ketchup  — way before you could buy salsa in a grocery store, we dined at the Far Western Tavern in nearby Guadalupe and enjoyed freshly-made salsa with our BBQ and pinquitos:
At this point, I am getting a little ahead of my story — but I cannot resist posting these last two photos of Los Olivos, CA, home to “Mattei’s Tavern,” an Old Stage Coach Inn, circa 1886.
This historic site included a restaurant that was so quaint  and romantic that I fell in love with it — and with my future husband — when he took me there to dine, in 1970.
. . . These are the snapshots – the postcards — of my idyllic life in “The Valley of the Flowers,” circa 1958 – 1962.  The events that interrupted that life will be the subject of the next post, Part Three of this series.
Coram Deo,


Filed under California, Childhood Memories

The Best Advice Ever



[Deviney Hall, Florida State University]

Dear Readers,

I recently read some rather sad news:  FSU is going to tear down Deviney Hall, my home for three years [1970-1973].  I guess the modern university student will not tolerate the monastic conditions under which my dorm mates and I thrived, during those years:

— The dorm had no air conditioning but we each had a window fan [remember, this is Florida, folks!]

— The dorms had steam heat [which the students could not regulate].

— 16 women shared one large, cleaned, shiny tiled room which contained three showers with curtains, one bath tub with curtain, five sinks with mirrors, and five toilets with privacy doors.  [This room was always in pristine condition, thanks to the housekeeping crew.]

— Each room had a small refrigerator.

— FSU did not allow ANY cooking or baking devices in the dorm rooms.

— There was a kitchen downstairs but it was easier to dine in the FSU Cafeteria.  There were no “fast-food” dining spots on campus.

— There was a Parlor downstairs, to which you might invite a male friend.

— There were NO MEN allowed on any of the floors at any time.

— I owned no vehicle but I had a bicycle.

— I owned no typewriter but there was a typewriter in the “Study Room,” which we took turns borrowing.

— All my earthly belongings easily fit inside the trunk of my parents’ car.

— The dorm Basement offered laundry facilities.

— The FSU Library was a QUIET place and did not allow beverages or food.


– 16 women shared one telephone, located in the hallway.

If that phone was in use, you could take the elevator [or hop down six flights of stairs] to the Basement, where you could find a telephone to use.

It was there in the Basement, in the Fall Quarter of 1970, during Midterms, that I telephone my parents, to touch base with them.

Like many other students, I had never had to study very hard in high school.  Now, competing for grades at a huge state university, I was completely overwhelmed.  I had not previously developed solid study habits.  Western Civ I was utterly daunting and “Bone-Head Math” eluded me.  I could not skillfully compose an English paper to save my soul and Biology at 8 am was a puzzlement.

And the lecture halls were huge!  Every class seemed to hold 250 students.  There was no hope of asking the Professor or Teaching Assistant for help.

It was humiliating.  I had been an above-average student in high school and now I was studying afternoons, nights and weekends, just to earn a “B.”  I had absolutely no life outside of my part-time job and my classes.

So, I called my parents one evening, hoping, I suppose to elicit some sympathy.  My dad answered the phone and my mom got on the extension.  They asked me how my studies were going, and I said, with a waver in my voice, “Well, it’s hard!”

That was the defining moment.  Right then.  I heard my mother’s quiet voice first: “Oh, sweetie . . . ” Her voice was full of the sympathy that I had hoped to hear.

Then, I heard my dad’s voice, full, booming, confident, with the mere touch of a chuckle:  “Yeah!  It’s supposed to be!”

And that was it.  Just five words.  I felt as if someone had splashed cold water in my face but it was refreshing and woke me out of my self-pity.  Just five words but they were exactly what I needed to hear.

Our conversation was short and I hung up the phone.  I don’t remember anything else we talked about.  But I remember those five words. It was the best advice anyone has ever given me.  My father, the former military man, had seen events in WWII that were too horrible to contemplate.  He raised four children on one salary. He knew a thing or two about life and he knew that each of his children needed to be strong to get through this life.

I contemplated all this, climbed the stairs to my dorm room, grabbed my books, and walked over to the library, where I dived into my studies.

I did graduate with a degree but I still have haunting dreams about still working feverishly, to finish my degree. So, I know that the stress of those university years will always be with me.

I wish my dad was still alive so that I could tell him this story.

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Filed under parenting, the university circa 1970, Tribute to My Father

Out of Sync With Pink: One


[Image Credit:  Fabricandart.com]

Dear Readers,

Please read this post first:   The Problem With Pink.

Last year,  I devised what I thought was a very clever and original title for a series of posts regarding Breast Cancer Awareness.

However, last week, I  “Googled” the phrase, “The Problem With Pink” and discovered, to my dismay, that several other writers have already used that title.

So, I asked for brainstorming ideas from my sister, who provided this title for the series:  “Out of Sync With Pink.”  Thanks, Susan!

. . . I am “Out of Sync With Pink” because of this concern:

The philosophy behind the ceaseless flow of commercial products and advertisements, which target the Breast Cancer Population.  

We, as Breast Cancer Patients, float upon — and threaten to drown under– an undulating river of Free Pink Plastic Products.

I do not wish to appear ungrateful and cynical — however, I am smart enough to realize that I am a target and the ultimate goal is profit.

My strongest objection is focused upon:

The advertising campaigns which recommend “feel-good” Glamour Products as “the best treatment” for Breast Cancer Patients.

I object to these campaigns because they trivialize the potentially deadly nature of Breast Cancer and the devastating nature of the required therapies.

Breast Cancer Patients endure therapies that include surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation.  We endure complications, ER visits, hospitalizations, short-term side effects and long-term side effects.

In what universe would Glamour Products be “the best treatment” for a woman walking through this nightmare?

If I may be so bold:

I will “speak up” for my Breast Cancer Sisters . . .

. . . We long for the day when this “ceaseless flow of commercial products and advertisements” will stop.

. . . We envision a time when the money invested would instead be diverted into Breast Cancer Research, in order to save the lives of women:  in this generation and the next.

. . .We look forward to a time when research will improve the quality of life and health of women who are struggling with the devastating side effects of therapies.

Yet in the meantime . . . .

. . . If we lose one or both of our breasts, we submit to Reconstructive Surgery or, at the very least, we have the decency to wear our Prosthetic/s.

. . . During the course of Chemotherapy, we agree to wear wigs or hats in public, to hide the shameful sight of our bald heads.

. . . We agree to wear Glamour Products so that we will appear to look good — even if we feel dreadful.

We hide the ravages of Breast Cancer and its therapies so that no one will see.  

And, as a consequence, people forget what Breast Cancer does to women.

Example:  I am a swimmer and people sometimes ask me:  “Are you careful to ‘cover up’ in the Pool Locker Room?”

The answer is “No” but I  find that implication in that question full of irony for this reason:

— Before surgery, I would have offended no one if I had walked onto the Pool Deck, wearing a revealing bathing suit, which shamelessly displayed  the cleavage of my bounteous breasts.

— But after surgery, I must offend no one:  I must “cover up” in the Pool Locker Room, to hide the view of my “shameful” scarred and concave chest.

Because no one wants to see what Breast Cancer does to women.  We want to forget.

Please do not misunderstand me:  I am NOT suggesting that Breast Cancer Patients “bare all”  and become visual “Poster Children” for Breast Cancer Awareness.

If you have had Reconstructive Surgery, I salute you.  If you wore a hat during Chemotherapy, as I did, I understand.  If you have mastered the art of applying eye brow powder, I say, “Well done!”

However, together we can send a strong message to the “For-Profit” Corporations:  

“I refuse to accept ‘Free Plastic Pink Products,’ which focus merely upon my ‘appearance.’

Deliver, instead, substantial help to this generation of Breast Cancer Patients and to the next.  

Contribute, instead, to Breast Cancer Research, to significantly increase the longevity of and improve the lives of women:  now and in the future.”


Coram Deo,

Margot Blair Payne,

for Breast Cancer Awareness Month:  October  2013

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Filed under Breast Cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Mastectomy

My Unplanned Wedding: Part Two


[Image Credit:  Father of the Bride film]

Dear Readers,

Click here, to read My Unplanned Wedding: Part One . . .

“They told me that it could not be done!”

I always did like that kind of challenge and, in the end, we proved them wrong.

This is the story of how My Professor and I planned our Wedding & Reception in just 30 days and for merely $500:

The Ring:

After the Unplanned Proposal, the first order of business, of course, was to select an Engagement Ring — and it was done — in a heartbeat!

Directly across the hallway from Morrison’s Cafeteria,  was Carlisle’s Jewelers.  

I told my newly-minted fiance that I wanted a simple setting, similar to my grandmother’s engagement ring, circa 1918:



[Image Credit:  Orange Blossom]

And, lo and behold!  The very first ring that I saw, as I peered into the glass display case, was an engagement ring, which appeared to be inspired by my grandmother’s ring:


[Image Credit:  Orange Blossom]

The jeweler asked us if we wanted to inspect the diamond, using the “loupe”  and the criteria of the “Five C’s”* of diamond selection.

We declined.  We were too embarrassed to admit that we had never heard of either the loupe or the Five C’s.


But what did we know?   And what did we care?

We were buying an enduring symbol — not an investment!  The ring would be an emblem of our life-long commitment to each other.

We were horrified when the jeweler assured us:   “Not to worry!  You can  purchase of a larger diamond ring, in the future, when you can better afford it.”

How dare he suggest that my diamond was small!  Would I ever part with the ring that my True Love bestowed upon me?!   Perish the thought!

The Theme:

If there was a theme to the planning our wedding, it would have been “Little Women.”  I was only eight years old when I first read the book, by Louisa May Alcott, but I have read it many times since.  The book’s philosophy of life, themes, ideals, and virtues have continued to give shape and form to my mind and life.

I could imagine no more perfect Wedding Theme than that of the simplicity and sincerity of the marriage of Meg March and John Brooke.  I perused no books or magazines on “How to Plan a Wedding.”  The book, “Little Women,” provided all the instruction and guidance that I would ever need:  Not merely for the Wedding Day but, more importantly, for the serious business of nurturing and forging a life together.


[Image Credit:  Little Women film, 1994.]

Pre-Marital Counseling, a Minister, and a Church: 

Rev. George E. Nickels, our good friend, was also a minister and counselor and he graciously agreed to provide both pre-marital counseling and to officiate at the wedding.

He was the Director of Faith Counseling Center, located at Faith Presbyterian Church, where he arranged for us to have our Wedding Ceremony, in the Sanctuary, and the Reception in the Parlor.

The church was available on Sunday, September 2, 1973 and we decided that an Evening Candlelight Ceremony would be perfect.  We planned the wedding for “Half-past Seven O’clock.”

Budget:  $500

Like my sister and her husband, who were married in 1970, Stephen & I decided that we would pay for almost all of the expenses of the Wedding and Reception.  The two exceptions would be the fee for the photographer and the expense of the Rehearsal Supper.

At the time, my sister and I considered the planning of a low-budget wedding to be perfectly normal.  In retrospect, my sister and I could have co-written a book, “How to Have a Simple Wedding for Under One Thousand Dollars,”  if only we had known that we represented the last vestiges of an “odd normality.”

Wedding Attire:    

Dress:  Stephen & I went shopping at a little boutique and I quickly chose a dress:  It was on sale for $25 and fit perfectly!  It looked exactly like what Meg March might have chosen for her Wedding.

[On the day of the Wedding, I “did” my own make-up and hair — in the style of any regular day — as Meg might have done.  Simple.]

Suit:  Stephen wore the one suit that he owned.


I asked my college friend to be my one attendant and she chose a dress from her closet.  Stephen asked his friend to be his one attendant and he wore a suit from his closet.  Sadly, we have lost contact with both friends.

[NEWS UPDATE:  My college friend and attendant just found me, through this blog!]

Guest List & Invitations:  

Stephen & I composed the text of the invitation.  A friend and I hand-wrote — not only the addresses — but also the text of each invitation, on sheets of plain ivory stationery.  We invited 50 people and 35 of them were able to attend the Ceremony and Reception.

Rehearsal Supper:  

In those days, invitations to the Rehearsal Supper included only the Bridal Party and the Immediate Family Members.  We chose Garcia’s Restaurant [now Cypress Restaurant], made reservations, and just “showed up.”  There were no decorations, no program, and no “toasts” [that I can remember].  After supper, three family members each insisted upon paying the bill:  Stephen’s mother, my father, and Stephen’s grandfather.  I do not know how they resolved it.


The Faith Presbyterian Church Flower Guild agreed to leave the floral arrangements from the Sunday Morning Worship in the Sanctuary; we needed no other decoration.  The Sanctuary, with pipe organ, stained-glass windows, and vaulted ceiling, provided all the beauty and grandeur that one could imagine or desire.

From Elinor Doyle Florals, I ordered seasonal floral bouquets, a wreath for my hair, and a centerpiece for the Reception Cake & Punch Table.


My parents brought from their home a brass candlestick holder, which held three candles.

By now, you have perhaps witnessed so many “Unity Candle Ceremonies”  that you have grown weary of them.  However, we were one of the very first couples to introduce this enduring ritual.

Ceremony Liturgy & Music

The Liturgy was straight from the Book of Common Prayer and the Order of Worship for a Wedding, which provided suggestions for Scripture Lessons, Prayers, and Hymns.

George delivered a Wedding Sermon.  If he were still alive, that dear man, I would ask him for a copy of that Sermon.

My friend, Karen Jackson, played beautiful harp music for the Prelude, Procession, Recession, and Postlude.  She chose classical sacred music selections for the harp [Bach] and the congregation sang hymns from the Hymnal:  “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”  is one that I remember.

Reception Catering & Cake:

A friend recommended “Mrs. Roberts,” who suggested a menu of cake, punch, nuts, and mints.  As a luxury item, I also agreed to the suggestion of sandwiches, cut into quarters and served without crusts:  chicken salad, egg salad, and pimento cheese.  I ordered a Publix  cake, specifying cream [not white] icing.


Richard Parks Photography:  My father paid for this luxury item and the photographs were lovely.  However, sadly, Stephen & I could not afford to buy any of the prints!  [I should not have to point out that, in 1973, all cameras used film and photographers retained the rights to all images.]

Fortunately, my father was an excellent photographer and I cherish the images that he captured on our Wedding Day.  These are the ones that I will soon share with you!

. . . To Be Continued:  The Un-Planned Honeymoon and the First Apartment . . . . 


*”To establish a diamond’s quality, you must examine each of the Five C’s:

  1. Carat Weight
  2. Cut
  3. Color
  4. Clarity
  5. Certification

It is the overall combination of these that determines the value and beauty of a particular diamond.”  [International Diamond Center]



Filed under Engagement, Marriage & Wedding