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So we’re halfway through winter as of tomorrow, and therefore the wise Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy has suggested that we all share what is saving our lives lately.  As Anne says, most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, but how often do we stop and give thanks for the things – little or big – that are saving us?  I love this question and its call to gratitude, so here’s what’s saving my life lately:

  • Sunny walks around Old Town with the kids bundled into the double stroller.  It’s all about getting fresh air, and a chill breeze coming off the Potomac feels lovely when you’ve been cooped up in an office and on commuter trains all week.
  • Tea, always, and tea-adjacent fellowship.  Several of my colleagues, I’ve recently discovered, are tea enthusiasts, and we’ve been stash-diving into each other’s desk drawers.  It’s fun to work with fellow tea drinkers again.
  • Rock the Park.  If you’ve been reading my Monday posts, you have probably seen Rock the Park appear in the “watching” category week after week.  It’s such a great show – I love the hosts and the infectious joy they take in wilderness and adventures – and beautifully shot.  At the end of a long day, nothing feels as inviting as twenty minutes of watching Colton and Jack hike through beautiful mountains or splash down another stretch of whitewater.
  • My earbuds.  I chip away at my podcatcher and my audiobooks, little by little, while waiting for the Metro or walking to and from my office.  The minutes and blocks fly by when spent in the company of George Eliot or the Sorta Awesome gang.
  • Trail time.  Whether we’re out for hike in one of the many wooded areas near our house (we’re so lucky) or on paved trails at the National Zoo, there’s nothing like getting out in nature, feeling the sun and the breeze and seeing a few animals, to recharge my perpetually near-drained batteries.
  • Instagram.  It’s my favorite social media outlet and I’ve built a feed that is truly delightful – equal parts #bookstagram, natural wonders, and my friends’ adventures.  My moments of checking in on Instagram are true exhales.
  • My soft grey Hanna Anderssen bathrobe, and my red LL Bean rainboots.  Both Christmas gifts, both keeping me warm (the robe in the mornings as I stumble half asleep into the kitchen to start lunch prep, and the boots as I slosh through the city to and from work on all the rainy days we’ve been having lately).
  • Comfort reads like The Little White Horse and The Making of a Marchioness, both of which I mentioned on Monday.  My Folio and Persephone shelves still have more riches I’ve yet to touch, and I’ll be spending more time in Barsetshire this winter, too.  The crummier things get, the more I want to read the classics.
  • Smiles and giggles from my kiddos as we hang out and play together.  I try to maximize every moment I can with them, since I am so busy during the week.  I cherish our family dinners, bedtime stories, and little weekend adventures.
  • My handsome guy.  I feel so lucky to be married to my best friend and true partner.  We’re on the same page about so many of the toughest issues in marriage, and lately I have been more grateful than ever that we are able to work together toward our shared goals in a productive and loving way.  He’s the best.

What’s saving your life lately?

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Well – it’s here.  I sort of didn’t believe this day would actually come – but of course, I knew that it had to.  And now it’s here.  Inauguration Day.  Eight years ago, I was on the Mall for President Obama’s first inauguration.  It was one of my dad’s “bucket list” items to attend a Presidential inauguration, and the historic nature of President Obama’s was appealing.  So – we went; Steve, my dad, and I.  We spent the night in the West End apartment of a friend who had (probably wisely) decamped to another state for the weekend, so that we wouldn’t have to fight the Metro on our way in.  And we walked down to the Mall early on Inauguration Day morning.  The crowds were intense and we ended up probably a half mile back from the Capitol steps – all the way down the grass at the Smithsonian Museum of American History (which felt fitting, after all).  The cold was intense, too.  I spent most of the day hopping up and down, trying to stay warm in my warmest ski parka, while my dad waited in interminable hot chocolate lines.  But at the end of the day, we’d seen Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the United States and we walked home beaming.

This year – I have no desire to fight the crowds and attend the inauguration.  I don’t even plan to turn on the television.  My office is closed, as are pretty much all offices in downtown D.C., and I’m planning to spend the day in front of my computer, working from home, and ignore the fact that something huge and upsetting is going on just across the river.  I’ll take refuge in work and then, if I get through my to-do list, I’ll open a book and turn to my lifelong comfort – words.

We all have our ways of coping in times of national (and personal) stress.  Steve likes to take out his frustrations in a video game.  I know people who pound it out at the gym or who pour themselves into knitting, baking, running, or innumerable other pastimes when they’re stressed.  For me, salvation and clear-headedness are found mostly in two places: on the hiking trails, and between the covers of a book.  And since Election Day, I’ve taken particular comfort in my old friend – words – when the going got tough.

Historical Documents

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On Election Day, I left the house and walked to my polling place (living in a walkable neighborhood again after a few years is such a delight).  I cast my ballot, exchanged a few jokes and pleasantries with the Hillary campaign folks gathered just over the “no campaigning line” on my way out, and walked to the Metro to head into the office.  As I walked to the train, the enormity and historical significance of this election overwhelmed me and I started to cry.  I really believed that my candidate was going to win (she did pretty much sweep my little liberal Northern Virginia bubble, and I was proud, later, that it was our votes in the D.C. suburbs that delivered Virginia to her).  But I still felt all weird and shaky for some reason.  So when I got to work, I grabbed a cup of coffee from the kitchenette and fired up my work computer to read the only thing that I thought was going to comfort me in that moment – the Declaration of Sentiments.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…

In college I visited Seneca Falls, site of the historic signing of the Declaration of Sentiments and the birthplace of the women’s rights movement (now a national historic park).  I can’t wait to take Peanut there someday, and show her this important place to her heritage.  And on Election Day 2016, as I read articles about women in Rochester waiting in long lines to leave their “I Voted” stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave, the Declaration of Sentiments seemed like the words I needed to have in my head.  I left the document open on my computer screen all day.

News Coverage

Of course, we all know how Election Day turned out.  Everyone coped differently.  Some avoided all news coverage; I found myself sucking down article after article on The Washington Post and The Atlantic‘s websites.  I know, I know.  Reading those publications wasn’t going to do much to explain to me How This Could Possibly Happen In America.  But I wasn’t looking for those kinds of answers just then.  I was looking for comfort, remember?  They delivered that comfort, weirdly, amongst the doom and gloom.

Alexandra Petri, the hilarious voice behind the ComPost blog (and one of my favorite satirical writers) wrote:

You go to Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged shack on the edge of the forest. “Please,” you say. “Take anything you want. I will make any trade. My free press? My bodily autonomy? My voice? My right to a place at the table?”

Baba Yaga looks at you, confused. “You must trade something you still have.”

(From “The Five Stages of Trump Grief,” November 11, 2016).

And Garrison Keillor, that giant of the intellectual community (and D.C. darling) gave us these words in the Post, which were shared and shared and shared in my Facebook feed and which I must have read a dozen times if I read them once:

We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear.  The government is in Republican hands.  Let them deal with him.  Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses.

(From “Trump Voters Will Not Like What Happens Next,” November 9, 2016.)  Keillor’s words were the only thing that made me smile on November 9th.  All of his plans sound great – well, except for maybe meditating, which is something I’ve never been able to get the hang of doing.  But reading Jane Austen, raising heirloom tomatoes, tasting artisan beer and traveling?  Sign me up.

In the days after the election, I devoured satire, along with social justice reading lists, calls to action, hand-wringing blog posts, and articles that began to take apart the question that historians will study for years – how on Earth…?

Hamiltunes

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(Busted.  That’s The Secret Garden playbill she’s reading, not Hamilton.  We’re not taking her with us when we see the show on Broadway in October.  Oh, yeah, did I tell you we finally got tickets?!)

I stay and work with Hamilton.  We write essays against slavery.  And every day’s a test of our camaraderie and bravery.

(John Laurens as portrayed by Anthony Ramos in Hamilton.)

It’s not exactly a change to say that we are listening to Hamilton a lot in our house.  The whole family loves the soundtrack – from Steve, who now knows it well enough to know when to adjust the volume (for instance, before just about every Hercules Mulligan line except for “Yo, I’m a tailor’s apprentice, and I got y’all knuckleheads in loco parentis.”) down to Nugget, who has recently started to bust out with “Frow my shot! Shot!” at the cutest possible moments.  Of course Peanut is a huge fan of the Schuyler Sisters – especially Angelica – and she requests “Wait For It,” her favorite song, every morning on the way to school.

Hamilton, as just about everyone knows at this point, is truly a musical for our times.  In telling the story of the American Revolution through hip-hop, rap, salsa, jazz, and so many other styles of song, Hamilton also speaks volumes about the current state of our great experiment.  The cast has been outspoken throughout the election process, using their fame to reach millions of people with their message of inclusivity and diversity.  And of course, the music is awesome.

I think your pants look hot.  Laurens, I like you a lot.

As I’ve been listening on an almost daily basis after the election, a few lines have jumped out as particularly poignant or relevant.  They’re usually delivered by one of my favorite characters in the show – John Laurens.  I have a soft spot for Washington, of course.  But Laurens was a historical figure about whom I didn’t know much, and Anthony Ramos’ portrayal of Hamilton’s best friend and fellow aide-de-camp to Washington is one of the best in the show, I think.  Laurens – an ardent abolitionist – also has some of the most thought-provoking lines for our time.

Rise up.
When you’re living on your knees, you
Rise up.
Tell your brother that he’s gotta
Rise up.
Tell your sister that she’s gotta
Rise up.
When are these Colonies gonna
Rise up?

And of course,

Tomorrow there’ll be more of us.

Yes, there will.  To quote Hamilton – “Laurens, do not throw away your shot.”

Books, Always

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Eventually I had to take a step back from news coverage.  I didn’t totally eliminate it – I’m still checking my preferred news sites every day – but I couldn’t immerse myself in it anymore.  I’m always reading a book, so it’s not really news that I read books after the election.

The first book I requested from the library after the election was The Audacity of Hope, President Obama’s manual for change written while he was a U.S. Senator.  (I did really enjoy his bio on the back flap.  “Barack Obama is the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.”  I was all, NOT ANYMORE!!!!)  I was craving the thoughtful words of a sane person and The Audacity of Hope fit the bill nicely, although it did cause me to shake my head a number of times and think, these are such good ideas.  How many more amazing things President Obama could have accomplished if only Congress hadn’t obstructed him every step of the way.  I agreed with basically everything President Obama wrote – except that I can’t “acknowledge that the recreational hunter feels the same way about his guns” as I feel about my library books.  Sorry, Mr. President, but nobody feels as strongly about anything as I do about my library books.  (I’m kidding!  Or am I?)

I’ve also continued to try to challenge my shelves with books by people of color.  Most recently, I finished The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s slave escape novel with elements of magical realism, and In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, Diane Guerrero’s memoir of coming home at age fourteen to find her undocumented immigrant parents had been seized for deportation and that she was on her own.  Both were absolutely harrowing, and both felt necessary for the week leading into the inauguration.  Then, craving inspiration, I turned to March: Book 3, the final installment in the graphic memoir by Civil Rights icon, Representative John Lewis.  In the months between the election and today, I’ve read plenty of varied things, but filling my head with the necessary and important words of writers who challenge what we’ve just elected has felt like something that I had to do.

I also know plenty of people who have turned to comfort reading.  Although that wasn’t what I did after the election, I probably will after the inauguration.  Some good escapism is going to feel very necessary going forward.  I predict I’ll be spending plenty of time in Barsetshire – both Trollope’s and Thirkell’s – and between the covers of my Persephone, British Library Crime Classics, and Folio Society books.  I’ll still be trying to challenge myself and read different perspectives over the course of the year, but the upcoming months are – I suspect – going to test us in new ways, and I’ll be turning to old friends for comfort.

Do you take refuge in words during times of national stress?  Any recommendations for either comfort reading or social justice reading that I should check out?

*Title from the Hamilton line, delivered by Anthony Ramos (playing John Laurens) in the song “Stay Alive.”

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And now, and now, and now HURRAY for the new year!  My longtime readers and real-life friends know that I am a sucker for a clean slate and that nothing inspires me more than a new beginning.  And – I say this every year – while I know that I don’t need a new calendar page to make positive changes in my life, I can’t help but get a charge from the thought of all those days stretching ahead of me.  Days that I get to fill – pages that I get to write – with laughter, adventure, learning, fun, and good work that matters to me and others.  It’s an exciting thought.

I always start the year raring to go, chock full of plans and ambitions, and 2017 is no exception.  I’m more excited than ever to chase my dreams, and I love – love – the place from which I’m starting the new year.  When the calendar page turned from 2015 to 2016, I was full of uncertainty.  I had chosen the word “home” as my word for the year (well, really, it chose me) and while I was open to any road that word meant to take me down, in my heart I was yearning to move back to D.C.  But at the time – it was just yearning.  We were selling our house in preparation for an out of state move, but we didn’t know if the move would take us south to Virginia or west to Colorado  or if our dream of leaving New York (again) would work out at all.  I was feeling hopeless – worried that I would never find a new professional home in D.C. after I gave up my dream job to move to Buffalo three years before.  And even more pressing, we would be closing on our house at the beginning of February and we had nowhere to go after several options fell through one after another (which was a real estate theme for us in Buffalo).

You know how that story ended.  After doing a lot of legwork and a lot of secret travel in the first half of the year, I got a job offer in June and we moved back to the D.C. area at the end of July – hurray!  I start this year with – amazingly – no plans to move.  We have a multi-year lease and I am sincerely hoping that I’ve found my forever firm.  Steve and I are finally where we want to be professionally, and now we get to exhale.  Which means that the theme of 2017 is going to be settling into our new life and figuring out how to live it best.  It’s with that in mind that I’ve set my goals for the year.

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2017 Goals

Get with the program!  In 2017, I want to experiment and figure out the systems that work best for me.  Everything’s fair game – from morning routine to how to organize the kids’ closets, to meal planning and prep.  My new job is going to keep me on the go, and having two young kids – one in school, one with a nanny – who both need lunches, outfits, and to be herded through their days as well, adds an extra level of stress (and fun).  The only way I’m going to make it through these first few years on the job and with the kids in D.C. is going to be by harnessing the power of routines and getting (and staying) really, really, really organized.

Make room for me.  At the same time, I don’t want to get so caught up in the mechanics of the everyday that I lose sight of someone important – me.  I’ve been putting myself last for years now, and while I don’t expect Mom to jump to the head of my priority list (hello, unrealistic) this year I would like to take back a little ground for myself.  Once upon a time, I poured energy into my passions – running, hiking, traveling, reading, learning – and while I have very different priorities these days (including two really cute priorities) I have been craving a little bit of myself back.  I’m setting some plans in motion – some running, some travel – and will tell you all about them soon.  The kids, Steve, and work are always going to have their demands and that’s to be expected; I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But I hope that when I review my goals at the end of the year, I will find that I took some time and space for myself, too.  Just a little.

Get my confidence back.  A holdover from last year – as I was saying above, I didn’t make much time for myself at all last year.  Not much time for running or doing yoga, not much time for prepping healthy meals, not much time for hiking.  This year, I want to work on getting back to that version of me who is joyful, energetic and full of life.  I know she’s in there, and with a little work she’ll be back, better than ever, and ready to bag some peaks.

Trust in abundance.  This has never been my strong suit.  I’ve never been a packrat, but I’ve always been someone who felt comforted by a fully-stocked pantry and bookshelves.  Especially in the past few years – after you’ve been snowed into your house for a week, you really do see the benefits to having reserves.  But I’d like to let go of that and make some strides toward a more minimalist existence this year.  We have a smaller house now than we’ve ever lived in with kids (this was intentional) and I don’t want stuff crashing down on my head every time I open a cabinet door.  If we run out of spaghetti, we’ll buy more.  There will always be more spaghetti.  This year I hope to let go of the need to be fully-stocked and trust in the fact that I have everything I need, and access to even more.  Along these lines, I want to work on trimming the amount of resources we dedicate to our stuff and place more emphasis on experiences and memories.

Revive the 12 Months’ Hiking Project.  YES!  I’m bringing back my favorite family project (and blog series) of all time.  Steve and I absolutely loved hiking in a different place every month in 2015, but we didn’t feel that the project would work for 2016 after we exhausted most of the family-friendly hikes in WNY in the first year.  But now we’re in a different part of the country – in a region that has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hiking trails.  Expect to see us out there a lot this year – and not just in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.  We have some travel plans in the works and if they pan out, we’ll be hiking in some truly awesome places this year.

Things to Do this Year

In addition to my goals, I dream up smaller projects and to-dos for myself (and I’m usually more excited about these than anything else).  I doubt this whole list will become a reality, but I sure hope most of it does.  In 2017, I’d like to…

  • Use my dSLR camera more (like, lots more).  And along the same lines, improve my photography skills – particularly outdoor photography.
  • Plant another container garden with Peanut – and try not to kill it this time.
  • Hang a birdfeeder and start learning to identify our neighborhood birds.  (Do we have neighborhood birds?)
  • Get back to the yoga studio, and take up barre3.
  • Run a longer distance race (I’m already registered!).
  • Spend more time in Barsetshire (both Trollope’s version and Thirkell’s version).
  • Bag another ADK peak.  (I’m thinking Giant of the Valley, but haven’t made up my mind…)
  • Clean out our basement until we aren’t storing anything except holiday decorations and furniture.
  • Read diversely again – at least 33% underrepresented voices.
  • Incorporate memory-keeping into new areas of my home.
  • Travel.  Someplace amazing.  Maybe a few someplaces.

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One Word

Last but not least – choosing a word.  It was actually hard this year.  For weeks at the end of the year, I was waffling between “breathe” and “be” – but neither felt right.  I knew I wanted my word to speak to multiple areas of my life and to anchor me in a long-anticipated year of no major life changes.  But the word just didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come.

One afternoon, early in January, I was driving into the city to visit with my friend Carly, who recently welcomed a new baby.  My trunk and passenger seat were both stuffed to the brim with hand-me-downs for the little guy – everything I hadn’t given to my friend Michelle for her baby boy, I’d been stockpiling for Carly.  As I drove, between half-listening to Sorta Awesome and anxiously watching the D.C. traffic around me, I was running through possible words in my head.  Sanctuary?  Sweet?  Family?  Joyful?  Reach?  Stay?  Peace?  And then a word suggested itself.

Gather.

Hmmmm.  Now that’s interesting.  I wasn’t immediately sold.  It wasn’t like 2016, when home burst into my life in a frenzy of certainty and urgency.  Gather was much more of a whisper.  But I sort of liked it.  It had a ring, a sound about it that appealed to me.  And it seemed appropriate that it quietly suggested itself to me as I was on my way to see Carly, one of my oldest and closest D.C. friends and the person I missed the most when I left three years ago.  Who opened her home to me and let me crash in her guest room while I was interviewing for jobs.  Whose new son I was on my way to snuggle for the first time (and sniff his head, and kiss his little toes, and tell him that Aunt Jaclyn loves him).  Gather is a word that is about community, and people, and Carly and her family are my people.

I started thinking about what gather could mean if I chose it (or it chose me) as my 2017 word.  It could mean renewing contact with so many people I haven’t seen yet since moving back here.  (And as much as we love Great Falls, it’s not the reason we moved back to Virginia.  Our friends are.)  It could mean seeking out new communities – at work, at church (maybe I’ll finally join a group!), at school, in the neighborhood.  It could mean taking the initiative and starting that knitting group my neighborhood Facebook community is always talking about.  It could also mean bringing the memories that mean the most to us – of our travel, and time with family like my brother and his wife – to the forefront of our home; gathering those cherished moments and mementos up and using them to create a place that holds meaning in every corner.  Or it could mean so many other things I haven’t even considered yet.

I didn’t decide right then and there, in the car.  But gather was on my mind as I rocked, shushed and patted Carly’s son until he fell asleep in my arms, as I listened to her relate her birth story, as I proudly displayed the travel bassinette I’d set aside especially for her, and as we made plans to get both of our families together for a playdate in the next couple of weeks.  I thought about it as I drove home, and over the next few days, and the more I considered it, the more right it sounded.  So, gather.  I have no hopes for where it will take me – no plans – no schemes.  I’m just open to it, ready and willing to absorb the lessons the word has in store for this year.

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What dreams and plans are on your 2017 agenda?

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Checking In On 2016 Goals

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Well, the old year is gone – good riddance – and the new year is slowly settling over us.  I was definitely glad to see the end of 2016 from a global citizen perspective.  (Although I have to agree with Kerry that anyone who thinks 2017 is going to be less stressful than 2016, from that global perspective, is in for a rude awakening.)  But from a personal perspective, 2016 was decently good to me.  Not perfect, but good.  I started the year stressed and unhappy where I was (location-wise and job-wise) and I was able to make a major life change midway through the year – moving back to D.C. – that solved those issues for me.  I felt very blessed that such a move was an option for my family, and we are very glad to be home.  D.C. isn’t a perfect city, but it’s my place, where my people are.

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Resolution Recap

The move was the biggest deal of 2016 for me.  It was sort of the fulcrum point, the pivot from which everything swung.  Everything leading up to July was getting ready for this major change, and everything after that was adjusting to being home again and soaking it all in, and starting to put in place the systems for making this new life work for our family.  Because of that singular purpose and focus, I didn’t actually spend much time or energy on my other resolutions.  Yet when I look back on them, I at least made progress on several points.

  • Get my confidence back.  This, I can’t say was one of the areas where I made progress.  With the day to day challenges of raising two kids while working as an attorney, my own personal well-being took too much of a backseat this year.  I ran a few 5K races, but I was undertrained for them, I relied too much on convenience food and eating out, and I was abysmal at coping with stress.  I’ll be revisiting this goal in 2017 with hopes for more success now that I am not job searching, secretly flying to D.C. multiple times per month, looking for child care and arranging a multiple part, multiple state move.
  • Be a good memory keeper.  I think I can say that I have done this.  I always have more memory-keeping projects in mind than I have time for, but in 2016 I created my 2015 family yearbook, Nugget’s baby yearbook, and several other projects using my photographs.  And I posted a lot about our family adventures here on the blog.  I love the process of organizing and preserving family memories, so it’s not hard to stick to this goal.
  • Challenge my bookshelves.  I definitely did this.  Although I did not finish Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, and I did not read as many classics as I wanted to, I well exceeded my goal of 33% representation by diverse voices in my 2016 reading.  I haven’t crunched the numbers yet, so I don’t know exactly how it finished out, but I made diversity a major focus of my reading this year.  I’ll have more to say on that when I post my look back at the books of 2016, but – briefly, for purposes of this post – it was wonderful.  Having the benefit of so many different perspectives and worldviews challenged my own thought process, crystallized my thinking on a number of important issues, and gave me even more satisfaction than I expected.
  • Embrace slow.  I started the year not really knowing what this goal meant, and I’m ending it still not knowing what it meant.  In some ways, I feel like I have really succeeded, but in other ways I think I was a giant failure.  Long, leisurely afternoons of knitting and listening to audiobooks, mornings with a cup of steaming hot tea and a good book, dawdling walks along the river, evenings of cooking big pots of homemade soup in my kitchen while music plays in the background – this has not happened.  But to be fair, I didn’t think it would.  What has happened?  Lots of weekend mornings where I sit with my coffee while my kids play together (finally!).  A slow-paced beach vacation with zero pressure to sightsee.  A string of hot weekend mornings sitting in the grass while the kiddos dug with trucks in the sandbox at our local park, last summer.  Weekly walks to the library – both in Buffalo and in Alexandria – to return books and pick up holds (instead of flying past on my way to or from work, like I used to do).  Another sun-drenched morning spent at the berry patch with good friends, not actually picking berries.  Many, many evenings of ignoring the dishes piled in the sink and the boxes still to be unpacked and instead curling up with a book.  In the end, what this goal looked like was giving myself a little grace, permission to exhale, and a moment in the sun.
  • Write something off blog.  Heh.  Didn’t do it.  Not even a little bit.

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2016 Word: HOME

Last January, I wrote:

We’re preparing to (yet again) move at the end of this month, and as of the writing of this blog post we don’t know where we’re going.  (We should probably get on that.)  But aside from just the mere shell of a house, we really need to find a home.  I haven’t felt at home – really, truly, at home, at peace, at rest – since the moment I pulled out of my driveway in Virginia and turned my car northwards.  I don’t know what to do with, or about, that, but it’s the truth.  I still feel like a Virginian stranded above the Mason-Dixon line.  I’m constantly homesick for Old Dominion.  And the fact is – I need to sort out what “home” means to me, and find some way to be at peace no matter where we live.

A few months ago, I told you all about how my 2016 word of the year, home, chose me.  I remember the exact spot in the parking garage where I was when it popped unbidden into my head – and I knew exactly what that word was telling me.  Move to Virginia.

I did just that.

I’d thought it was a perfect word for the year, and for where I needed to go, even if the move didn’t happen.  In December of 2015, things were still very much up in the air as to whether we would stay in Buffalo and change the things that weren’t working for us; or move home to northern Virginia; or take on a brand-new adventure and move to Denver.  We were actively exploring all three possibilities.  And I knew that whatever we decided on – that was it.   The last big move.  We were choosing a home for our family.  I wanted my word to guide that process, at least for me.

And it did.  I started the year packing my life into boxes, most of which were destined for storage.  We moved into a rather bleak apartment complex (a relief, after having several lodging options fall through at the last minute, leaving us with no lease just three weeks before our sale closed).  Even knowing that the living situation was only temporary, it was easy to get a bit beaten down by an apartment that wouldn’t stay tidy and wasn’t where we wanted to be.  I kept my word, “home,” in mind each day as I turned my key and tripped over the piles of shoes that were always spilling down the stairs just inside the door, whispering the mantra, thank you, apartment, for sheltering my family while we figure out where our future is.  And then the call came through, and I knew that my word would, in fact, carry me home.

I also wanted my word to do something smaller.  No matter where we ended up, I wanted a constant reminder that it is my responsibility to create the sanctuary I crave – I can’t put that on anyone else.  Whether that means hanging special family photos; filling my kitchen with the smells of Earl Grey brewing; lining my shelves with the books that have been good friends to me; creating sweet play spaces for my children; or anything else that I want – it’s up to me.  I hoped my word, home, would keep me focused on the goal I always have to create a place of rest for myself and my family.  I didn’t do quite as well on this point – I’m still living with boxes, although I am gradually chipping away at the unpacking remaining to be done.  I’ll carry this focus into 2017 with me.

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As the sun goes down on 2016 and rises on 2017, I want to know – how did last year go in your life?

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Home Sweet Home

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Way back in January, I told you all that my word for 2016 was going to be home.  I’d actually been considering “forward” as a possible word for the year, because I was hoping it would give me some momentum.  I was miserable at work, feeling as though I didn’t fit in with my colleagues and missing Nugget horrendously through the day.  I was facing the prospect of another endless Buffalo winter spent slogging through slush and picking my way over ice patches into May.  I was moving houses (again) and – while I didn’t want to keep the house I was in – I was dreading the prospect of packing, unpacking, and living in limbo for the next six months or longer.  “Forward” seemed like a good word to focus on, a word that would remind me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, until another word jumped out at me.  I remember exactly when it happened.  It was December, I’d parked my car in the Main Place parking garage (in my favorite wide pull-through spot that I had to leave early to get – sometimes my one smile of the workday) and I was crossing the driving lane to get to the elevator when a word popped into my head, completely unbidden.  HOME.

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Just a couple of months before, Steve and I had had a “where are we going with this family?” conversation.  I’d been unhappy in Buffalo for more than a year, but had been trying to make it work for Steve and the kids.  It helped that much of that time, I was either distracted by pregnancy or was enjoying a sun-drenched maternity leave with Nugget.  But even on the good days, I was weighed down by a sense of wrongness.  Meanwhile, Steve was coming to his own conclusions, and in November, he told me he agreed with me – it was time to go.  The question was, where?  Since before Nugget’s birth, we had been talking – at first casually, and then increasingly more seriously – about destinations.  Sometimes one of us would throw out a truly crazy proposition.  “Let’s buy an old house in Provence and renovate it like Peter Mayle,” I would suggest as we drifted off to sleep.  Or, “Let’s live in a cottage in the Cotwsolds like Stephen and Geri,” Steve would half-joke (referring to a pair of DC friends of ours who have since moved and are splitting their time between the Pacific Northwest and England – livin’ the dream).  Ultimately, we narrowed the options down to three: staying in Buffalo and changing the things that weren’t working for us in the area; moving out to Denver to be closer to my brother and sister-in-law; and going HOME.  Which meant DC.

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As you likely already know, we ultimately decided to move back to the DC area, and here we are in northern Virginia feeling in many ways as if we’d never left, and in other ways as if we’d been gone for ages.  Some of the changes – mostly our changes – are good.  Steve is in a better place, career-wise, than he was when we left the area three years ago, and since a career move was the entire purpose of our relocation, it feels good to know that we made the right decision back then.  And of course, the main thing that is different is that there’s a fourth member of our family now.

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Back when we lived in Buffalo, people were often confused when I’d refer to DC as “home.”  I fielded many questions about how I came to consider DC my real home, when I wasn’t born there and didn’t grow up there.  Most of the time, I answered those questions simply: DC is where I grew up, I’d say.  It’s where I became who I am today.  When I was (rarely) feeling like expanding on that, I’d add: I moved to DC when I was twenty-one.  Just about every major adult thing happened to me when I lived in DC.  I graduated from law school, passed the Bar, became a lawyer, got married, bought houses and became a mother in DC and northern Virginia.  I’m who I am today because I lived there.  I think people understood that.  Either they understood or they decided it wasn’t worth asking more questions.

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But the truth goes even further than that.  To me, home isn’t just where you grow into yourself or where grown-up stuff happens to you.  Home has a meaning far beyond that, and one I’m not sure I will be able to put into words – although I’m going to try.  To me, a home is a place where you’re completely safe and free to be who you are or become who you hope to be.  It’s a place where you feel a deep belonging.  It’s not just about being around people who knew you when – I’ve had that and not felt at home.  It’s about the feeling of rightness you get when you’re in your place.  It’s a deep knowing.  And perhaps the deepest truth is the simplest at all.  How is DC my home when I wasn’t born there?  Because in DC, I am me.

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That’s not to say there haven’t been other places that were close to my heart, or where I felt at home even if I wasn’t home.  I have a place in my heart reserved for the Adirondack Mountains, especially the lake where my parents have a cabin.  And then there’s Ithaca, which will always be an important place for me – the first place I lived on my own, the location of my beloved Cornell, and the place where I first started dating Steve, where we started a journey of love and friendship that has lasted sixteen years now and will go on for many more beyond that.  And there were pockets of space in Buffalo that felt almost home-like.  My office, when I was working with one partner in particular with whom I was well-matched – I remembered what it felt like to love my job and feel like I was in the right place during those projects.  East Aurora, where I would take Nugget for long walks during my maternity leave and where Steve and I talked about moving if we decided to stay in New York.  And perhaps most of all, the kids’ preschool.  There were days when I’d walk through that gate three times – in the morning for drop-off, at lunch to nurse Nugget, and in the afternoon for pick-up – and each time, the vise around my heart would loosen and I would smile a genuine smile when greeting the receptionist, the school directors, the kids’ teachers and the other parents.  The school was one of our places, where we knew we were family.  Steve was on the parent advisory board, our kids were beloved, and I knew everyone.  It was a home.

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At the beginning of the year, I didn’t quite know what my word, home, was going to end up doing in my life – but I knew I needed whatever it was.  I thought to myself, “I want to go home to DC.  But if that doesn’t happen, I have to find a way to be at home wherever I am.”  As it turned out, I made it home.  I’m back in DC, back in my old stomping grounds – eating at my favorite restaurants, walking streets I know like the back of my hand, and resuming local friendships that had been painfully long distance for three years too many.  (Just in time to welcome two new babies to our friendship circle!  And this time, I’ll get to hold them and kiss their little cheeks and tell them that Aunt Jaclyn loves them.)  Life isn’t perfect and never will be.  But it feels good to be home, finally, after three years adrift.

Where’s home for you?

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Dear kids,

Last week, an important election took place.  You were only vaguely aware that it was happening – little girl, you knew, thanks to school, that something called an election was taking place and that Mommy hoped that Hillary would win.  But you almost certainly didn’t comprehend much more than that.  Little boy, you had no idea any of it was going on, because you’re not even two.  You’re just happy to be here.

Little girl, you know that Donald Trump was elected and that Mommy wasn’t happy about that.  You don’t know who Donald Trump is or why Mommy wanted the other candidate to win, and perhaps by the time you are old enough to understand, this election and the next few years will be an interesting chapter in your history book – about America losing its collective mind for awhile – and nothing more.  Perhaps we will have succeeded in bequeathing you a better world.  I hope so.

I have thought about what I would like to tell you – or the future versions of you – about this election.  I thought about not writing anything at all.  I thought about writing you something private, that I would share with only you.  (Future you, again, of course.)  But I think that I need to write this as much as you need to read it, so here it is.

First, some hard truths.

The 2016 election was a long and stressful season for everyone in America.  That’s true no matter what candidate they supported.  Ultimately, our candidate lost – but it was more than that.  This wasn’t a sporting event.  This wasn’t the Sabres (those poor Sabres) leaving us to console ourselves with another round of “maybe next year.”  This was more than the disappointment of a normal election cycle when your candidate loses.  The election of 2016 resulted in the elevation, to the highest office in the land, of a man who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has mocked the disabled and our veterans, who has built his empire on the backs of working people, who has gotten rich by refusing to honor his contracts with small business owners, who is proud of not paying federal taxes – that means he’s proud of not playing by the rules that Daddy and I have to play by and that you will one day have to play by – who has threatened to tear apart families, build walls, and turn away refugees (the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that our Statue of Liberty vows to welcome) because of their religion.  These are not the values of our family.

We value honesty.  We value work.  We value respect.  We value the dignity of every human soul.  We value the right of our fellow Americans to speak freely and worship as they see fit.  We value the humanity of every one of our neighbors, no matter the pigment of their skin tone.  We value the marriages and families of our LGBTQ+ friends.  We value the fundamental right of all to live in peace and without fear.

These are our family values, and it is more important than ever that we hold them tight.

That said, I don’t want you to read this and think that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is bad, and everyone who voted for Hillary Clinton is good.  Lots of people who voted for Trump did so for reasons that have nothing to do with hate or bigotry.  Many people feel discouraged or forgotten, or they’re worried about their jobs.  I hope and believe that these people, who voted for Trump despite his rhetoric and not because of it, will speak up and tell him that they are going to hold him to the standards befitting the presidency.  Trump says that he wants to be president for all Americans – and I do hope he means that, although I am not optimistic and I am still deeply worried about your United States, kiddos.

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Next, some hard truths for you, little girl.

You are privileged in many ways.  You are a white, upper middle class child in an affluent suburb.  But you are also a girl, and someday you will grow up to be a woman and while I would love to shield you forever, there are certain things that will probably happen to you.

Let me give you an example.  A few weeks ago, I was crossing the street in front of our family dentist’s office.  I was in a hurry, because I was late for an appointment, and the light was about to turn – so I was rushing.  As I crossed the street, a man shouted “Smile!” at me.  I ignored him, because I am of the opinion that I do not owe smiles to every random stranger on the street.  Not getting what he wanted, he yelled out “Be polite!”  I (politely) continued to ignore him.  He then snarled, “Bitch.”

You will grow up someday, and you will probably also encounter strangers who believe that you owe them your beautiful smile.  You do not.  And if you choose to withhold it, you may also hear a foul word thrown your way.  You will probably do what I did – continue to ignore him, walk a little faster, and breathe easier when you reach the safety of the dentist’s office.

You may be mommy-tracked at work.  You may see a man with less experience get promoted over you.  You may be asked on dates by random guys on the street, guys who may get mean when you turn them down.  You may have someone grab you, not even ask, and “just start kissing” – as the new President-elect has gloated he does.  These are all things that have happened to me.  This was why I was so upset last Wednesday.  Because the election results made me feel as though half of my fellow Americans think that’s acceptable, and it is not.

Now, a promise for you.  Or really, a renewal of a promise, because this is what I told you when you were born:

I am your mom, and I will always be here for you.  I will smooth your path if I can.  I know where the stumbling blocks and holes are, because I walked up ahead to do reconnaissance for you.  I will hold your hand, I will be your guide if you’ll let me, and I will always have your back.  If you want to walk on your own for awhile, I’ll let you, but know that I’ll be right there on the path too, if you need company later.  I’ll never stop telling you that you are smart, and capable, and brave, and compassionate, and loved for the bright little person you are.  When Daddy sings you songs he’s made up about the Mars rover, he’s telling you that you’re smart.  When I read you stories about bold, brave, adventurous and independent girls like you, I’m telling you that you’re capable and strong and in no need of any prince to rescue you.  And if you ever need me to, I’ll put on my spikiest stilettos and kick some ass on your behalf.

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Your turn, little boy.  I have some hard truths for you, too.

You have been born into a world where you are going to have many advantages based entirely on the fact that you are white and male.  You are privileged beyond the wildest dreams of most of the rest of the world.  Like your sister, you are a white upper middle class child living in an affluent suburb.  But you have an advantage that she doesn’t: you’re a boy.  You’re going to grow up to be a white American man (probably), and as Peter Parker’s uncle would say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  When you have privileges that you’ve done nothing to earn (and I say this with nothing but love in my heart for you, little one) you owe a duty to wield those privileges with compassion and honor.

So here’s my promise to you, again a renewal of the promise I whispered in your ear as I held you in my arms, only a few days old, watching snow fall outside of your nursery:

I will teach you to be a good, honorable, decent man.  I will teach you to respect all people, to acknowledge the humanity of everyone you meet, to treat the planet and its inhabitants with kindness and to behave with dignity toward women, people of color, our LGBTQ+ friends, and those who cherish religious beliefs that are different from yours.  In short, I will hold up Daddy as the example to follow.  I will show you how to walk with responsibility on our Earth, and I will do the same – I will do my part in passing down to you a home that is clean, fresh, and filled with as many whales as possible (because I love whales).  I will hold you accountable and I will demand that you be the best of men, because you are my son and I love you more than life.

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It’s been a rough week for many of us, and we’re in for a rough time ahead.  Our family is lucky in that we will probably emerge pretty much unscathed from this presidency.  I wish I could say the same for other families, and for the environment.  Close to home, I promise to do whatever I can to shield you from what the new President-elect represents (which shouldn’t be too terribly hard, because you’re babies).  I can’t shake the feeling that we really messed this one up.  Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I could have done more.  Yes I voted, and I’m proud of my vote – but could I have helped out in some other way?  I was so wrapped up in living, and working, and parenting, that perhaps I didn’t do enough.  I won’t be asleep at the switch anymore – that I promise you both.  We’re going to wake up tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and we’re going to declare with every action that our family believes in a diverse America, that we want to live in an America where all are welcome and all are safe, and we’re going to insist that our leaders protect our wild places and respect our neighbors.  Finally, we’re going to teach you to do the same, so that when you grow up, you can just look back on all of this and say, “that was weird.”

Love,

Mom

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Laugh Warriors

 

Public Service Announcement: If by some chance you actually haven’t seen “Melanianade” yet, here ya go.  Go ahead and watch it.  I’ll wait.

I first became attuned to political satire after 9/11.  I remember searching for the Saturday Night Live video of a comedian playing George W. Bush telling Osama bin Laden “You screwed up, buddy,” because “you messed with Texas” after hearing my friend Seth describe the sketch.  I was vaguely aware that SNL mocked politicians (and that they were equal opportunity mockers) and was wondering how they were managing to approach a national tragedy as a comedy show.  (I thought they walked the line incredibly well, but I suppose that’s no surprise.  SNL has, throughout its history, been written by very, very smart people.)  Of course, I never got to see these political sketches as they were actually airing, because I am way too old and lame to stay awake that night, and that was also true when I was twenty.

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Backing up for a minute, though – it was not actually SNL that started my love affair with political comedy.  It was this man: my favorite comedian of all time and longest-running crush, the incomparable Jon Stewart.  There was a period in my life when I got 100% of my news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and that period coincided with me being better informed about the political process and our governance than I ever have been before and since.  I mean, who can resist the patented Jon Stewart Smirk?  You know the one, where he’s just reported some crazy but true news item about rampant Congressional stupidity, and he turns his face to the camera and gives a look as if sharing a private joke with his viewers, asking them, you find this as ludicrous as I do, right?

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That’s the one.  And also this:

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(Please excuse my present tense when writing about Jon.  I’m still in the denial stage of grieving his decision to leave The Daily Show.)  Of course, one can’t talk about Jon Stewart without also talking about his counterpoint and foil:

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Steven Colbert, who I adore almost as much as Jon Stewart.  The days when The Colbert Report immediately followed The Daily Show on Comedy Central really were the golden days of political satire.  I don’t care what the Greek philosophers would say to that.  It’s the truth.  amy-and-tina

These are scary times that we are living in.  We’ve been buffeted by hateful rhetoric for months, listening to a candidate for the highest office in our country spew sickening comments about women, immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims, the disabled, and basically every group of people other than his immediate family.  We’ve watched hate crime after hate crime unfold in a twenty-four hour news cycle – mass murders at nightclubs and churches, and death after death of unarmed black men, women and children at the hands of out-of-control renegade police and angry vigilantes.  From early in this Presidential election cycle, there were comparisons with Adolf Hitler’s rise, and those comparisons started looking more and more apt as time went on and we all started to fray at the seams.  And now the worst has happened and we are left to wonder – what went wrong, did I do enough to prevent it, and how on Earth am I going to explain this to my daughter?

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We have reason to worry about the behavior that was exhibited in political rallies, about the tightening of restrictive voter laws, about the fact that rampant hate and bigotry was elected last night.  I can’t fault anyone who grabs for a life raft in these stormy seas.  And this is the life raft that I am grabbing for – that I always grab for – satire and parody.

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You may say, Jac, it’s just comedy.  But it’s not – it’s more than that.  The people who mic up and go into battle, eyes blazing, against the forces of absurdity are performing a necessary public service.  They are fighting for America and Americans using the most basic of liberties: the First Amendment.  They are proving that we are still a democracy, and we will be a democracy as long as they are around.  Because when we lose the right to make fun of our Presidential candidates’ hair, we lose our humanity.

No, I mean that.  I am completely sincere when I say that the right to laugh at Alec Baldwin in a Donald Trump wig, to wipe tears of mirth as Cecily Strong sings “You’d just be that guy with the weird hair” and then declares “I wrote that all by myself!” in Melanianade, to giggle at Kate McKinnon as she assumes the roles of both Hillary Clinton and Kellyanne Conway – these are fundamental American rights, as important to our democracy as anything else.  And I believe that the fact that we can do this, laugh and mock and point out the ridiculousness – this makes us strong.

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Donald Trump has, unsurprisingly, laid into SNL for its portrayals of him and his campaign.  Trump has proven again and again that he can’t take a joke, that he doesn’t recognize the importance of parody and satire in our discourse, and I believe that is the tendency that would cause him to try to strip away our American freedoms one by one. Contrast this with Sarah Palin, who threw her hands up in the air, did a “raise the roof” move and busted out an admirable duck face when Amy Poehler rapped “All the mavericks in the house put ya hands up!” in 2008. I was not a fan of Sarah Palin in 2008, and I’m not a fan now, but there’s a difference there, and I gained some respect for Palin when I saw the sporting way in which she sat and laughed along as Poehler teased her in rhyme.  Yo yo, my name is Sarah Palin and you all know me, V.P. nominee of the GOP… McCain got experience, McCain got style, just don’t let him creep you out when he tries to smile.  ‘Cause that smile be creepy! But when I’m V.P. all the leaders of the world gonna finally meet meeeeeeee!  (And who could forget my favorite line from the Palin rap: My husband Todd lookin’ fine on his snow machine.”)  But it’s not just about being a good sport.  It’s about sending a message: This is part of our political tradition, and I understand that.  If I’m elected, you can make fun of me all you want – you can even point and laugh – without fear that you’re going to be thrown in prison or shot.  Because this is America and that’s not who we are.

Satire and parody.  These are weapons to expose the soft underbelly of politics, and all its attendant ridiculousness.  Satirists such as Jon Stewart also eviscerate the mainstream media for its flaws, and in that way, they preserve a tradition of robust debate that dates back to the founding of our country.  (Wouldn’t A. Ham be proud?)  These are the reasons why it is important to keep political satire alive and well.

Some may say that promoting comedians to a role on the front lines of preserving our freedoms assigns them too much responsibility and importance.  I disagree.  I don’t think it’s possible to overstate their importance to our democratic discourse, to our freedom to debate and disagree.  And they keep me optimistic that we’re going to be okay, in the end.  As long as Alexandra Petri is skewering Washington insiders in the pages of the Post, as long as Seth Myers is ripping into the collective insanity that has gripped one of our major political parties, as long as the Harry Potter Alliance is selling “Granger / Lovegood 2016” tote bags for those who want to vote third party… I can have some hope that we’re still America and we’re going to be okay.  We can’t be a dictatorship, we won’t be a dictatorship, as long as someone like Kate McKinnon can poke fun at the ruling elite and do it with impunity and without fear.  The political comedians and comediennes are shielding the rest of us with their audacity.

Jon Stewart.  Steven Colbert.  Tina Fey.  Amy Poehler.  Seth Myers.  Kate McKinnon.  Emily Blunt.  Cecily Strong.  Alexandra Petri.  They are our laugh warriors, keeping us free.

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