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Archive for the ‘good choices’ Category

As I write this, I’m listening to a gentle thunderstorm pass by. There is the promise of stronger storms later, but at this moment, brief flashes and quiet rumblings are providing a cozy backdrop for the evening.

Twenty-five years ago, I would not have looked at this storm the same way. I would have been hyper-vigilant about checking the news, the weather channel (pre-internet days), or standing outside, anxiously scanning the skies. Because of a scary incident during a tornado warning in third grade, I was terrified of storms.

When I had kids, I made the conscious decision to face that fear so I wouldn’t pass it on to them. It was tough, but over time, I learned to appreciate the beauty of the thunder and lightning, I came to respect instead of fear.

It was the same way with other childhood fears. Spiders used to make me shriek. Years later, I realized that it was a fear projected onto me and while I’m not BFFs with any arachnids, I usually let them live peacefully in the house or put them outside. (Usually because shower stalking is a deal-breaker. Sorry not sorry.)

Dying in a fire was another one, although I blame THAT on the hellfire sermons I heard every Sunday. Telling a four-year-old that they could burn in a lake of fire for eternity does some damage, especially when it’s being screamed from a pulpit by a scary, sweaty, man. Again, it took some work, but that fear is (mostly) gone.

There are other fears that don’t go away so easily, one that my therapist is pushing me on a bit, but I trust her completely, so it’s swimming around in my head and won’t leave me alone. Why don’t I take my passions and put them out into the universe to try and help make them happen? I take steps toward that, to be sure, but I haven’t put my whole heart into it.

Why? I’m terrified.

If I fail, the thought of having to pick myself up is really, really, scary. I’ve been to that very dark place before, more than once, and I don’t ever want to be there again. It gets more difficult to crawl out every time.

So now, I have to decide. Do I continue on with things I’m passionate about as I have before, with enthusiasm but no serious commitment because of that fear, or do I throw myself into what I really want, put it honestly into the universe, risks and all?

Childhood fears are a bit more manageable. I have things to think about.

Peace be with you.

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Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Thy love go with me all the night

And wake me in the morning light.

Amen

My prayers when I was six are a lot different than they are now. I have a lot of questions for God these days.

Tonight, I pray to be better. To be a better friend, a better advocate, a better ally. I pray for the strength to be a better voice for those who need it, for Black Lives and LGBTQIA+. I pray for the courage it will take for change, real change, to happen and for justice to be done.

Now it’s time for action, not just prayers. We have to take a stand and use what voice we have. This blog is one avenue for me and I pledge to do more in my daily life to help, whether that means speaking up more, writing more, or going out to march when COVID isn’t so prevalent.

I hate confrontation, I would prefer to hide away in hole away from the unpleasantness but I can’t. I CAN’T. And neither should you.

To quote one of my favorite musical characters, “If I stay silent, I am damned.”

Don’t be silent. Stand.

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Today, my home theatre released a beautiful video called “Home” that one of our amazingly talented members (who is a wonderful friend) put together. The message is simple: we’re on hold now, but we’ll be back. You can view the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=_yX-Oh_aFLg&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0e8i063ZMv-rLsGH1seNfVpr7BggIaojtzyr-O4oN8HODr-TQ-Yn_jjHM

The thought is the same throughout the theatre community, worldwide. We’re all dark now (not open, for those of you who don’t speak theatre) and we’re all trying to figure out what to do next to stay alive, to thrive, to be ready to welcome our patrons back with open arms as soon as it’s safe. We will be among the last to reopen, and rightfully so. Putting hundreds of people in close quarters together for hours is a really bad idea right now. We need to think about this, to restructure, to figure out our “for now” reality, and we are.

It’s tough. It’s tough for everyone, I know, but theatre is on my mind right now, so there it is.

We’ve been calling our season ticket holders just to touch base and to see if they’re okay. Everyone I have spoken to misses the theatre. They miss our shows and can’t wait to come back, although they want to be safe and want us to be safe as well. They understand and they’ve been lovely, asking about my own family and all.

I love my theatre. It’s my second home where I can do what I love and they accept me for who I am. I can be me. I love my theatre family and I miss them like crazy; I’ve met some of the most amazing people there who will be lifelong friends. I miss performing. I miss doing hair and makeup. I miss the energy of a show, there’s absolutely nothing like it in the world. I ALMOST miss hauling a bat-on-a-string across the stage and having it malfunction in more than one show, but that’s a story for another day. In the past, my theatre has probably, quite literally, helped to save my life. While the selfish part of me would love to throw those doors wide open right now and just pick up where we left off eight weeks ago, I know we can’t for a while. My heart hurts so much about this  sometimes.

BUT… we will be back. We will perform again. We will make people laugh, cry, question, and feel, again.

We will be back. I love you, family.

 

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Exactly two months ago, the night of February 17, I was so excited. The next morning, I would board my plane to Boston and begin my mini-adventure in Salem.  I was packed and ready. barely able to fall asleep. I remember it well. At that point, COVID-19 was the furthest thing from my mind. Little did I know

Fast forward to now. It’s only been two months since my trip, but it seems like years ago. Travel isn’t even on the radar at the moment. There have been some really rough days, I’ll admit. Emotions have run the gamut: Fear, inspiration, hope, anger (this past week, especially), frustration, all ramped up due to the situation.

I’m trying not to let my OCD and anxiety run away with those negative emotions, going round and round in my brain for hours without stopping. It’s times like these when I seriously rethink my therapist’s offer of medication. I’m not going to lie, Wednesday was really difficult, watching people completely disregard safety regulations, getting out of cars and clumping together, with such ugliness, waving Confederate flags and white power signs that had nothing to do with what they were supposedly protesting. Just for the record, I believe in the right to peaceful protest; I do NOT believe that we have the right to put other people in danger by potentially exposing them to a deadly disease (including children, OMG!!! There were several children there!), clogging up streets and honking horns for EIGHT HOURS around a Level 1 trauma hospital where there are tons of sick people, children, and a maternity ward. WTF??? Seriously, what is wrong with people? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That’s all I’m going to say on that matter, so trolls, step off. Don’t even try to defend that mess,

That being said, there are many positive things about this social isolation episode that I am focusing on. Such as:

  • Family time. Youngest Child is a brilliant musician and he’s been teaching (forcing) me to learn piano chords. I can already read music, I sing and play the flute/piccolo/tin whistle, but my piano experience has been limited to very simple tunes. Now, I’m learning some really cool stuff. He’s also helping me with learning ukulele. I always wanted to play and, of course, he knows how. We’ve been watching a lot of movies as a family, eating dinner together every night, and playing games. Yes, we get tired of each other and need some alone time, but for the most part, I love spending more time with Marty and Youngest Child. (Oldest lives on his own now, two hours away, and Middle is in his apartment at school since he has better internet and still has an active lease.)
  • Sleeping in. We’re working, Marty teaches, too, but no more 6:00 am wake-up times for us. School starts when we want it to. We’re honestly working a lot of hours, more than we normally do, but we have sleep. Yay!
  • I’m writing regularly. I finished the yet-unnamed sequel to Traveler, began another book, and plan to begin editing (and naming) the sequel this week. I’m also writing a lot more blog posts, in case you haven’t noticed.
  • Languages. I’ve dusted off my Italian and French and am going full-force on Duolingo. It’s awesome. Future plans…
  • I’m starting my Shakespeare garden indoors with seeds. See my Shakespeare Garden post for more on that. It’s so cool, watching everything sprout!
  • Zoom meetings. Two months ago, I couldn’t have told you what Zoom was. Now I use it every day. It helps me to stay connected to my theatre family and my church family. I truly don’t know what I’d do without it. I even get to have my therapy appointment online, which is very much needed.

Now, with things looking a bit better with this stupid virus running its course, there’s a little light shining at the end of the tunnel, if people don’t screw it up and start a giant second wave. We (myself included) need to focus more on the positive, not to ignore the problems, but to keep things from getting very dark.

In the comments, share a positive with me, some bright spot in this dark time, no matter where in the world you are. I want to celebrate with you!

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Marty and I just finished watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, where Tom Hanks stars as Fred Rogers. (If you don’t know who Mr. Rogers is, Google him. He’s an American icon.) In the movie, Mr. Rogers is being interviewed by a reporter for Esquire magazine named Lloyd Vogel, a man who had a very difficult childhood and hasn’t processed things well, to make a long story short. At first, he is convinced that Mr. Rogers can’t possibly be the person that he portrays on television, but slowly learns that he truly does care about people and their feelings, children especially. He also learns that while Mr. Rogers isn’t a “saint”, he continually works on ways to express his negative emotions in a healthy way. Through the film, Lloyd is able to resolve his anger.

There’s a lot more to the movie than that, but I took that message to heart. There are so many ways that I can change my reaction to things to be a better person. I don’t have to make the comment I feel like making, I can stop and think more before I react to someone or somebody. Just last night, I could have responded in a better way to someone online. I didn’t insult the person, someone who gets under my skin and deliberately baits me from time to time, but I definitely could have done a better job with what I did say. I was defensive, which doesn’t work and just makes a person look desperate. Mr. Rogers would have known how to respond in a loving way, not in a defensive way.

A few weeks ago, Marty and I got into an argument because I overreacted to something he said. I can see it now, in hindsight, and I own it but I’m still upset with myself that I didn’t handle it well. It upsets me that I wasn’t a terribly patient mom when my boys were growing up. That’s a big regret. I know that after ten years, I’m not a terribly patient teacher when it comes to behavior, especially with I’m faced with deliberate defiance and blatant disrespect. Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks, actually) just reminded me that I can choose how I handle my anger and frustration instead of taking the easy way out and unleashing those negative emotions on someone else.

Do some people deserve our anger? Sure. I don’t think Mr. Rogers’ message was that we shouldn’t be angry, or that being angry wasn’t healthy, but not to be destructive in our anger. I still need to work on that lesson. I have a lot of things to be angry about, a lot of unresolved issues, especially from my childhood, but I can choose my response to that. I can be kinder, I can be more understanding about what someone is is feeling or going through. It’s really, really, hard sometimes because we want to hurt the person who hurt us, or put them in their place, but what does that achieve?

Something to think about.

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We’re 15 days into the COVID-19 craziness since everything started shutting down here in Michigan. Some thoughts I have.

Good Things:

  • Sleeping. Marty are I are working Monday through Friday and putting in longer hours than we do normally, just because everything has to be answered and checked online instead of verbally. Every student gets feedback and that’s tougher to do this way, but I don’t have to be up at 6:00 anymore. I can wake up and post things in my pajamas. I am already used to this.
  • No Student Behavior Issues. This is a fabulous thing. I haven’t had to yell at anyone in more than two weeks. I had one kid act up on a video conference and I just deleted him from the chat. Now that they know I record video conferences, everyone is on their best behavior.
  • Writing. I have time to write! In fact, I’ve almost finished my next book, a sequel to Traveler.
  • Yoga Pants and Leggings. I haven’t worn any other kind of pants for two weeks. I am comfy.
  • Gardening. As I wrote about last week, I’m making a Shakespeare garden and I’ve been able to get that all dug out, plus, I’m enlarging another one of my gardens and making it a spiral garden. It’s going to be awesome. Marty is still scared.
  • Music. Youngest Child regularly serenades us with beautiful piano music. He’s doing well under the circumstances and is channeling some of his cabin fever into music. It’s pretty awesome. (The music, not his cabin fever.)
  • Carry-Out. We are supporting local restaurants twice a week with carry-out. This is wonderful because not only does it get me out of the house and support a local business, I also hate cooking most of the time. It’s a win-win.
  • Deep Cleaning. This is a sort of good thing. I do not enjoy cleaning, but I do enjoy getting rid of clutter, which is necessary. This means that we won’t have to go through quite so much stuff when we move to London, whenever that is. Again, Marty is scared.
  • More Meditation Time. Very necessary.

Bad Things

  • People Are Dying. Seriously, scary amounts of people are dying from this, alone in overcrowded hospitals. Yes, I know that there are people who are recovering as well, and that’s awesome, but we also have never faced anything like this virus and the numbers jump higher every day. Yes, people die from the flu, but we have medicines and vaccines to help with that. We don’t for this virus that kills, percentage-wise, many more people than the flu. Don’t fluff this off.
  • Social Distancing. A necessary evil. I’m introverted, so I don’t regularly go out just to hang out with people, but I do enjoy going places, being out and about. Even my favorite trails in the woods are closed. Picking up local carry-out has become very exciting, even though people in line are standing very far apart and only one person goes into the restaurant at a time. It’s kind of a weird experience.
  • No Theatre/Church. Self explanatory. I miss my friends. I miss their hugs.
  • Scared Students. Kids are nervous. They miss school, they miss their routine and their friends. Hug your kids tightly, they need it.
  • PEOPLE WHO WON’T STAY AWAY FROM OTHER PEOPLE. Seriously, there are still people gathering in places and not paying attention. God forbid, they spread the virus to someone who will die from it. I get that they may not be worried about themselves, but really, how stupid can you be? People were having a full-on PARTY by my sister/cousin’s house a few days ago. C’mon. We’re all bored, we all want to  get together, but this is where maturity (or lack of) kicks in. Idiots. Batman Slapping Robin Meme - Imgflip

I hope all of my readers around the world are safe and sound. Wash your hands and stay home. If you’re any kind of essential worker, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are appreciated.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts with me. This is a global thing; let’s stay connected. Love you all.

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Just a reminder in this new year to be kind.

Check in with quiet people. They may need a kind word.

Don’t write that scathing comment in anger, but apologize if you do. (I’m recently guilty of this.)

Don’t troll people.

Do nice things without expecting anything in return.

Return the shopping cart to the store or the cart corral.

Step in to help a person who clearly needs it, even if it means standing up to other people. Scary, but necessary.

Be encouraging to the parent with the screaming child instead of throwing a dirty look. (Unless that parent is totally not being present and is on the phone. Totally different situation.)

Hang up the clothes that fall on the floor when you shop.

Change the empty toilet paper roll.

Compliment a person who annoys you and mean it.

Sincerely apologize when you’re wrong and accept responsibility. Don’t deflect or make excuses. Make it right.

Never stop learning about people and what makes them tick.

Learn about a culture new to you.

Being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat. Be kind to yourself, as well, and don’t let people treat you badly.

This world is a scary place right now, but there are also many good people out there. We can make it better. Even a tiny bit is better than nothing at all.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Image result for happy new year 2020 images

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Besides being a mom of three boys, I’m also a middle school teacher. And while I am of the persuasion that kids are precious and still learning and all of that, they can also be incredibly and deliberately cruel to one another. I hear it every day: taunts about weight, skin color, ancestry, hair, financial status. You name it, a middle school student has heard it either directed to them or to someone else. It’s really disturbing, sometimes, to hear what kids can say to each other. Girls are routinely called whores or bitches, boys are called pussies or girls as insults. Even eight- and nine-year-olds say these things. My school is a 4-8 and it still shocks me to hear a tiny 8-year-old tell another one to “shut the f- up.” This is even with all of the anti-bullying programs out there. By the way, this isn’t exclusive to my school, I’ve heard this my entire teaching career, including while subbing, at many different schools.

How we as adults deal with this behavior is really important. The thing is, a lot of times, when a child is subjected to these kinds of insults, adults either tell them to just ignore it or they turn the responsibility on the kid who was the target of the mean comment or action. They’re told to suck it up, “be a man” if they’re a boy (I absolutely DESPISE that term) instead of properly dealing with the situation. This sends the wrong message. I’ve heard boys say absolutely vile things to girls and when I’m confronting the boy, the girl will tell me that it’s okay, not wanting me to do something about it. The boy learns that he can get away with it and the girl learns to just let it happen. This teaches kids to not only expect but to tolerate verbal abuse, to accept it as a normal part of growing up when we should be teaching them to not say those things at all.

I’ve never been okay with that. When my boys would deliberately say or do something hurtful to one another, all most kids do, I tried my best to get them to understand exactly what they were doing, how words, especially, can hurt and for a very long time. I remember a lot of things said to me as a kid (as I’ve mentioned before, I was kind of an odd child by society standards) and I still feel a twinge of pain when I think of them. I wanted them to know that what they say in the heat of the moment can cut deeply. I wanted them to think before they spoke, to make a choice about what to do before repeating what someone else is passing around, and to put themselves in another’s position. Did it always work out in the real world? Honestly, I don’t know because I wasn’t with them 24/7 while they were at school or activities, but I do know that that kind of thing wasn’t tolerated in our house. I hope they remembered what we taught and what we tried to show them, even to this day.

I try to do the same thing when I hear students say these things. I pull them aside, if I can, one-on-one, and talk to them about what they said. Why did they say that? Do they even know what those words mean? Would they say that in front of their parents? (In some cases, the answer to that question is a heartbreaking, “Yes”.) What if someone said that to them? To their mother, father, siblings? In other words, I try to not only hold them accountable for their actions, but to do it in a way to make them think about why and to help them understand that there are consequences for their actions. Their brains are still growing and kids do dumb things when their bodies are changing and the hormones are flowing but that doesn’t mean that we can’t plant the seeds of being kind. It also means that we shouldn’t just dismiss it as “kids being kids” or, even worse, “boys being boys”. Shudder. And don’t be fooled, girls can be just as abusive, especially to each other, unfortunately.

Where do they learn it? It’s very simple. Us. The adults in their lives, either in their own homes or in the media, especially social media. Have you ever read the comments section? It’s a freaking scary place. Kids are left to roam online, unmonitored, uncensored, exposed to every racist, sexist, misogynistic thought out there. They are exposed to racism, porn of all kinds, not to mention incels and extremists. The internet is not a babysitter, but a lot of parents treat it that way. You don’t think your kid has seen anything? Don’t fool yourself. They’ve seen and heard more than you know. Even with the protections we took, our kids still managed to stumble on some crazy stuff. This is a scary time to be a parent.

What to do about it? Talk to your children. Learn about what’s going on their lives, who their friends are. Know where they’re going, not only physically, but online. Hold them accountable for their actions, teach them consequences without berating them and be consistent. Above all else, teach them to be kind and to treat others with respect in any situation and not just by telling them, by demonstrating it yourself. Treat others with kindness and respect and make sure your children see you do it, even if the waiter/waitress/customer service rep seems to be having a bad day and gets something wrong or the food is late. Don’t make disparaging remarks about women, men, other races or religions. Change your behavior if necessary and talk to your kids about it. Showing your kids that you can change is incredibly powerful. Be a good example.

Parenting is really difficult sometimes and most of us do the best we can, but we can always learn and grow. Parents are the most important example and influence in their child’s life. They imitate us, whether they realize it or not. The culture won’t change until we do.

Let’s raise kids to be good humans.

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We’re close to the Christmas season, particularly since Thanksgiving is so late. Despite my policy of taking one holiday at a time, I’m starting to think about Christmas-y stuff right about now. Of course, the decorations won’t come out for another week yet, but I’ve already started shopping in an attempt to get everything bought and wrapped by the day before Christmas Eve. The number of times this has happened in the past? Zero, but I do try every year.

All of this has stirred up some of my best memories. My grandparents, both sets, always made Christmas fun and special.

At Grandma and Grandpa Ballantyne’s house, we always celebrated on Christmas Eve with all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was crowded and loud and I sometimes retreated to the back bedroom or the bathroom for a few minutes of quiet, but after I recharged, I couldn’t wait to join the fun again. Grandma made dinner and then all of us kids had to wait for what seemed like hours for the adults to stop talking while we eyed the mounds of presents. They always threatened to make us wait until after dessert, which, of course, was pure torture. Grandma’s tree always had mounds of tinsel spread throughout and I thought it looked lovely, like in a fairy tale, gifts heaped in piles spreading out from the trunk. Grandma loved giving; there were gifts for everyone. She always over-shopped, so we got tons of gifts, which my mother would grumble about for days afterward. I still have the non-Barbie doll with brown hair (like me!) that I got when I was three years old from “Santa” there. After presents, there was the chocolate eclair dessert that my great-grandma made, which was fabulous. We kids would play with our gifts and as the sugar crash began to happen, we were carted home to await Christmas morning.

At Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Nick’s house, it was a slightly calmer affair with fewer people, my brothers and I were the only kids for a long time, but wonderful, nonetheless. For several years, Grandpa would be waiting at the door for us with the old video camera rolling with actual film and no sound. There was dinner on Christmas Day and sometimes we had presents before dinner rather than after. I don’t remember a pattern. Before we opened presents, though, we had to put Baby Jesus in the manger because it was his birthday. (Side note: I know it’s not his real birthday. Just wanted to clear that up.) Christmas seemed holy and beautiful at their house, the emphasis placed on the religious meaning of Christmas and it felt special. I loved the smell of Grandma Ruth’s kitchen, she was an amazing cook. We always had ham with pineapple on top. I called ham “bugs” for the longest time. I have no idea why, so don’t ask. I was an odd child. There were always Christmas cookies with the sprinkles and cinnamon dots in the shapes of bells, Santas, Christmas trees, and reindeer. I have those cookie cutters now and I use them every year. Later, we sometimes played Uno or Go Fish with my aunt and uncle or I curled up in the old green rocking chair and read all the stories in Grandma’s Liguarian magazines until it was time to sleepily go home, where our other presents were waiting. I loved Christmas there.

Were we privileged at Christmas? Yes, we definitely were. Our gifts weren’t expensive, but the grandparents put a lot of thought into them and I always felt loved. The memories of being at their houses for Christmas are some of the best I have and as an adult, I can appreciate how much effort they put into making it wonderful for us. I hope my boys look back on Christmas with the same amount of mushy nostalgia as I do.

What is your favorite Christmas or other holiday memory? Share it in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

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Marty and I attended a wedding for two of my theatre friends yesterday. What’s really cool is that I was in the show with both of them when they met and have been able to see their relationship begin and flourish, leading to the beautiful ceremony and reception yesterday. They are a magical couple and deserve all of the happiness in the world.

As I listened to them recite their vows that they wrote themselves and watched them try to hold back their happy tears, I held my own tears back and thought of my wedding day, almost twenty-three years ago now. I was so young and so unprepared for what marriage really takes, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I was excited and in love and I thought it would be all sunshine and rainbows. After all, we hadn’t even had a fight yet, at least not a real one. Boy, have I learned a lot since then!

I love my marriage but it has definitely not always been easy. Money woes, communication issues, being parents of three young boys, unemployment, HOUSE ISSUES (omg, this house…), a miscarriage, and my depression issues, meant that things were broken sometimes and forced us to think about what was really important and to work it out. We had to learn to be honest with each other about our feelings and truly listen to each other. For someone like me who was always “fine” (I wasn’t), this was extremely difficult. But, do you know what? Doing the hard work was worth it, especially when it would have been so easy to just walk away, but we didn’t want that. We’ve grown so much as a couple and a team over the last few years. I can honestly say that my husband is my best friend and that I am happy in our marriage. I recognize that that’s not true for a lot of people. I’m so happy and fortunate that I’m married to someone who doesn’t want to always be right (except during Jeopardy), he wants to work with me toward our goals as a couple and my individual goals, just like I want to work with him. He loves and accepts me, weirdness and all. We learned together. That’s what marriage is about.

Would I tell my young bride-self this if I could? Maybe, but she probably wouldn’t listen, silly, headstrong thing that she was. Experience is a good teacher and going through what we have, I really appreciate us now.

I thought about all of this yesterday during the wedding and reception. I squeezed Marty’s hand, more than once, and made him dance as much as I could. In my mind, not only was I celebrating the beautiful union between my friends, but also between us.

Feeling so very thankful with a full heart today.

 

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