Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Thursday, December 31, 2009
And suddenly a new year is upon us.

Right now slate blue and grey clouds illuminated by the setting sun are hanging over the ridge of bare aspens on the far shore of the lake. It’s strange to think the next time we’ll see the sun it’ll be shining on 2010.

It seems it might be an appropriate time to wax nostalgic on the passing year. While not likely to go down as one of my more notable years, 2009 wasn’t without its interesting bits. Namely, I went from temping in corporate America to living in a Shack in the middle of the Minnesotan North woods. I may remain baffled as to what sort of day job truly suits me, but slowly and surely, I’ve had success in the writing world this year: there are deadlines and a blog that weren’t there before. Not notable, but not half bad. Here’s to bigger things in 2010.

The return to work has me a little discombobulated. We have yet to set upon a weekly schedule so my life currently lacks any sort of routine. Andy and I have started the “who are you?” dance with our conflicting schedules. Anything that doesn’t absolutely need to get done is being left to slide. When I got home from work this afternoon I ran around filling bird feeders and watering plants. I felt like such a bad mother. Let’s not even talk about the dirty dishes and laundry.

I know they’re having trivia night tonight and I’ve been invited to another New Year’s Eve gathering, but I may opt to stay home with my knitting, lame as it is. I had an editorial meeting (doesn’t that sound official?) yesterday morning from which I went immediately to work, worked until close and then opened this morning. We’ve also spent a fair bit of the week chasing the Corolla which spent sometime at the shop this week and is now in possession of an engine heater to make the -20 morning starts smoother. That’s really just a long way of saying, I’m tired and it’d be nice to not run around this evening.

I hope whatever finds you (whoever you all are) this New Year’s Eve finds you well and safe and looking back happily on the passing year and eagerly anticipating the year to come. I’m glad you’re all here reading this. To Auld Lang Syne and bright times to come. Happy New Year!
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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Sunday, December 27, 2009
The great Christmas blizzard may have taken longer to get here than the forecasters would have had us believe, but nonetheless, it got here. We probably got 10 inches over a 24 hour period beginning midmorning on Christmas day and there’s been a light snow in the air today.

Despite the weather, Andy and I made it to both family Christmas celebrations, all we left my parents’ early in order to get back to the Shack before things turned really nasty. Good food and good stories at both celebrations. We ended up getting showered with presents, leaving me grateful and a little overwhelmed. I am in possession of so many new lovely things that I’m not sure what to play with first. Right now I’m slouching around in new slippers, attempting to blog while knitting a hat with new yarn and read a new book.

I’m back at work. With the snow, business is pretty slow: people are hunkering down in their cabins instead of going out for a meal. But if the snow keeps coming, it should be a fairly successful winter season of tourism. While I’m likely to remain a rather uninspired waitress, I’m happy for the employment.

We’ve been dogsitting off and on over the last couple days. Really, Andy’s mom had the bulk of the job, but since we live fairly close to Miss Rosey’s family, the Shack has been the staging station of the dogsitting. Right now Rosey’s curled up on the couch with me attempting to sleep but with our brand new window feeder on the window behind us, the squirrels and chickadees are keeping her distracted from her dreams.  It’s lovely to have something sweet and furry around and this may have gotten us one step closer to pet ownership, although likely a cat due to our schedules and space constraints. After all, the houseplants are all still going strong.

This morning, I finally got around to drafting the article that’s due at the end of this week. It’s a classic case of having more information than will fit in 500 words. I’ll edit it a bit tomorrow to make sure all the necessary information is included before sending it off to my sources to look over before I submit it in earnest.

It’s hard to believe a new year, and indeed, a new decade is nearly upon us. While I’m not much for new year’s resolutions – with the exception of flossing my teeth which I resolve to do every new year because I fizzle out on the prior year’s resolution around March – the new year does strike me as a good time to draw up some goals for writing and employment in general. After all, it’s hard to get where you want to go if you don’t know where you’re going.

My brother got me a couple NYC guidebooks for Christmas, so my mind’s also starting to think in more detail about April’s travels. I’m on the prowl for a good, moderately priced B&B in Seattle.
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Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2009
 Outside the snow keeps falling and falling. I hope you're all safe inside and enjoying a happy Christmas indeed.
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So That's Why They Call It Cross-Country Skiing

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Shack is located in a cross-country skiing mecca. As luck would have it, I did not grow up skiing. Sure, I went downhill skiing once as a tween on the free day that marks local ski resort’s the last day of the season. Occasionally I’d strap on my mother’s old cross-country skis and tootle around on the trails behind our house, but the skis’ clamps were unreliable and the skis tended to disengage from my boots at awkward moments like when I was going downhill. In the end, I decided to stick with hockey and snowshoeing for winter activities.

Now that a ski trail starts literally 30 feet from my front door it seems foolhardy to consider the book closed on me and cross-country skiing. On Monday evening, I strapped on my first pair of skis in a decade and went for a nighttime ski with Andy. I remembered being rather good at downhill skiing and I expected my experience skating would make the gliding motion of cross-country skiing second nature for me. I cruised down the first hill, pushed off with one ski and moved forward about six inches.You know what happens when hubris enters the picture: gods fall.

“Now I know why they call it cross-country skiing,” I griped as I huffed up a piddly little hill. “Because it makes you cross.”

Despite my self-proclaimed “horrible time” skiing on Monday, Andy and I went out against last night. It went much better. I may not be headed to the Birkebeiner anytime soon, but I can hold my own pushing and gliding now.

Andy has more experience skiing than I do, but he remains notorious for being able to instantaneously go from standing still in his skis straight to being splayed out in the snow. He doesn’t just tip over either: he’ll crash onto his back or break his fall with his nose. Because Andy realizes this about himself, when he’s skiing he tends to take the hills pretty slowly. I like the hills. I can distribute my weight and balance in a way similar to skating. And I like the feeling of air rushing past my face. I really like how it feels when you stop and find yourself still standing.

Last night, bolstered by my improving skiing ability, I decided I didn’t have to putz about on the hill Andy was delicately snowplowing down. I curled in my body and went for it. It was going well until I decided to steer around Andy. Straight down into the snow I went, my headlamp twisting around so the bulb was now on top of my ear and shining up at the stars, my bare hand crumples at the side of a classic ski track, all the snot in my head making a wooshing exit from my nose. Suffice it to say, my body aches is all sorts of strange places today.

Nearly Christmas! I just made simple syrup infused with rosemary springs to use for Rosemary Gin Fizz drinks at tomorrow night’s Christmas Eve gathering. It smells lovely and I’m hoping it will also taste lovely and not just be a bit of taste bud gymnastics.

A huge blizzard is making its way across the Dakotas and straight for us. That may alter Christmas plans a bit. But we can’t really do anything about that other than hunker down and see.

Finished up an essay and got it ready to send off. Still no word from work: frustrating! Time to look into different winter employment options; I wish this would have come up a month ago. *sigh*
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Dimmest and Brightest Month

Monday, December 21, 2009
Dimmest and brightest month am I;
My shortest days end, my lengthening days begin;
What matters more or less Sun in the sky,
When all is Sun within?
–C. G. Rossetti

It’s been a slow start this morning. I’m blaming the solstice for my coach potato start: do you really expect vigor on the longest day of the year? Despite these dark days, the philodendron in the bathroom is in the process of sprouting three new leaves. I appreciate its jaunty sense of optimism.

It’s also lovely to know that from this point onward, the days will grow longer and longer. We’ve been burning candles every night for the last couple weeks, holding on to every bit of light in our lives right now. Spring may be a long ways off, but today we get the first signal that it’s truly on its way.

We five girls had a wonderful holiday gathering in Duluth this Saturday. I wish we did this every month instead of every year. I miss them all and our girly martini-sipping nights out. We’ll try to coordinate another get-together this spring, but it’s always a minor miracle when the stairs align – what with relationships, work, and school – for us to reunite for a weekend.

I finished up the Christmas shopping yesterday when I ran errands in Duluth and now all the gifts are all wrapped and stashed in the corner. This past Friday, Andy and I helped my mom and aunt bake approximately 10 different kinds of Christmas cookies for the church cookie sale. It took a long time, but the finished products looked nice and tasted wonderful. Bon Appetit’s recipe for cardamom orange cookies is probably the best rolled sugar cookie I’ve ever tasted.  The Christmas plans have been settled on: we will spend Christmas Eve and morning with Andy’s family and then head down for a mid-afternoon meal with my family. It’s been a lovely holiday season so far.

I put in a call in this morning to another interviewee for the current article I’m working on. I’d been hoping to write the article based off of the one interview I’ve already conducted, but as it came time to put pen to paper, it became clear that I should probably talk to at least one more person about the event. Although the article isn’t due for another ten days, with it being in the midst of the holiday season, I’m feeling like a procrastinator. I know I can write the article with just the one source so hopefully that should curb any sense of rising panic about the deadline. This current interview I’m chasing is just to make the article better.

Speaking of pushing things to the last minute, I’ve not heard anything about returning to work. Since the restaurant’s meant to open again this Saturday, I’m getting a bit anxious to know what’s going on. I really don’t have a spontaneous personality, especially when holiday plans are at stake.

We got about four inches of fluffy snow last night. It made the drive home slow, but it sure makes everything pretty and I know the local businesses are glad for it. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . . .

Off to the novel and some rewrites.
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Snow is falling, snow on snow

Thursday, December 17, 2009
I finally finished rewriting an essay on fragile things that I wrote in my college advanced writing class senior year. I’ve been tinkering with the essay ever since I wrote it, trying to expand it in the proper manner. Now the essay hinges on a discussion of my grandmother’s death which suits the essay perfectly but the act of finishing the rewrite has left me so depressed that I just got misty when I read an article on Yahoo! about an abandoned woman reconnecting with the two people who found her in a box when she was a newborn. Obviously, it’s time to put the essay aside for a little bit and work on something a little cheerier. Polishing up the short story I’m planning to submit to a contest with a theme of “Hard Times” didn’t really seem like the ticket, so here I am blogging.

The temp’s gone up about 20 degrees if not more since yesterday and there’s been a light snow falling most of the day. It’s these cloudy days when you realize just how little daylight we have this time of year: I’ve had my reading lamp on for all but two hours today. Luckily the winter solstice will be upon us in a mere four days and then we can start the slow, steady chug toward warmer days.

The warmer weather today called for skating before the new snow does anything to affect the currently smooth ice. Andy found a puck somewhere so I puttered around for a while with my stick, reveling in the fact that I was warm enough despite wearing jeans and no long underwear.

The snow certainly brought out the birds. There were nine pine grosbeaks by the feeder at one point today.

Tomorrow is the great Christmas cookie baking day. For the last few years my mom and my aunt have gotten together to bake dozens of cookies for the annual church cookie sale. Although I’ve always been invited to the bake-a-thon, school, travel, or work have always prevented me from making an appearance. This year not only can I make it, but my brother, his girlfriend, and Andy will be popping in and out of the kitchen. To hear my mother tell it, they drink lots of coffee, test out all the cookies, and get really cranky. Bring it on, I say.

This weekend will be the annual Christmas reunion of a group of college friends. We’ll converge in Duluth on Saturday for dinner and a play. It’s gotten be the only time in the year that I see some of them and I’m very glad we make it a point to make sure it happens.

Not working has somewhat retarded my sense of time passing. I’m shocked to discover that Christmas Eve is a week away, my return to work imminent, and a new year not far in the distance.
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Frozen Breath

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
“It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. "So it is." "And freezing." "Is it?" "Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately.” -- A.A. Milne

We’re not going to get anywhere close to 0 today. The electric heater downstairs is doing its best to keep up and doing admirably well, although the electricians will be up sometime in the near future to reprogram it so it charges for a few extra hours in the afternoon and stay more consistently warm throughout the day. During my midday walk today, my breath droplets froze on the top of my gaiter, on the brim of my hat, in my eyelashes, and in the bits of hair sticking out from my hat. It’s beautiful out though: shy blue sky broken with grey stanzas of cloud.

This afternoon I finally got around to doing the last interview for the last article this month. It feels good to be nearly finished with the current batch of articles, but it also means I need to put some effort into lining up a new batch. As the adage goes, if you’re a writer you’re either writing or thinking about writing.

After happy hours spent rewriting the beginning of the novel last month, I have officially hit the muddling middle of the novel. Now is the time in the project when questions start to buzz and squawk in my head. Questions like: What is this shit and who wrote it? I did? Was I on crack? As someone pointed out, it was hard to write the first time; of course it’s going to be tough to rewrite the second time. The draft of a novel I wrote in high school never got past this rather angsty stage in the rewrite process. When it comes to this current endeavor, it’s time to spend some serious thought on restructuring its midsection. This morning I realized a plot device that needs to be integral to the story’s climax is hiding out in Chapter 13. (There are 26 chapters in the draft.) I’ll be hunkering down with a cup of cocoa and the book From First Draft to Finished Novel this evening.

Working from home is agreeing with me. A lot. Sure the pay’s not much at the current moment and I really can’t commit to freelancing full time until I have several more steady writing gigs lined up. But after being homeschooled for nine years (4th grade – high school graduation) it only feels natural to work from home. I received my high school diploma through independent correspondence study, which was kind of like a freelancing test run. The experience gave me a strong understanding of how to effectively manage my time as well as an awareness of the real-life consequences of slacking off. Did I really get my college degree just so I could go back to living a life similar to the one I had in high school? Looking back on things: probably.

I finished a short story I started over the summer yesterday and polished it up a bit this morning which gives me another checkmark for the December goals list. There’s not much left on that list except for some querying projects left over from November. It’s been a productive couple weeks. Cold weather’s good for keeping butts duct-taped in their computer chairs.
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Pretty Little Thing

Monday, December 14, 2009

Male pine grosbeak in the sapling outside the door.
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Is A Shack A Home?

Sunday, December 13, 2009
When I was in London, Ikea had a rather convoluted commercial that often played before the feature presentation at movie theatres about what made a house transition from being a house to being a home. Yesterday, Andy and I made some progress in transitioning the Shack into a home. Family friends of Andy’s have been holding onto an extra full bed. We picked up it yesterday and replaced the heavy, sagging valley of a mattress that’s been in the Shack for years. This morning Andy and I woke up well-rested and free of back pain. The new mattress inspired other tidying up: all the linens were washed, the piles of crap that so quickly accumulate about the Shack were sorted through and put away, the bathroom scrubbed out, garbage and recycling taken out, and the floor swept. It all looks so much better. That said, by the time the Shack truly becomes a home, it will probably be time to move out and neither Andy nor I are dreading that day. Just a few more cubic feet of living area would make a huge difference.

We ran some more errands over the weekend as well. We took down one of the deer stands yesterday. I’ve made a start at lining the felted caps I made for Andy and Dad. Right now Andy’s testing out the flannel prototype. I like the way the lining looks, but it may be a little too snug in Andy’s cap. The Christmas cards are mailed. The bird seed has found a new home outside which frees up a bit of space inside.

In the last few days, the lake pushed up a layer of slush that has frozen relatively smooth in the middle of the bay. Yesterday evening, I strapped on the skates for the first time this year. Andy’s just getting over a cold I now seem to be contracting in a mild form. It’s frustrating to have limited lung capacity on top of already being in not great shape and the skates are dull enough that I don’t trust them completely on the bumpy surface. But it feels good to be on the ice and it makes me long for a smoother surface.

When I came home from trivia on Thursday, it was 48 degrees in the Shack. By the time Andy got home, it was 43 degrees. We have off-peak electric heat which is meant to charge when electricity’s at its cheapest and store the energy for when you need the heat. Unfortunately, we seemed to be requesting more heat than it had charge to give. After some tinkering around, Andy got it charging properly and when we woke up the next morning, it was 70 degrees. Hopefully we’ve gotten the problem figured out; winter’s just beginning.

Andy’s back at work today and that means I should be too. However, this morning I’m feeling a stronger pull to finish Anne Lamott’s Blue Shoe, which I’ve been reading for the last couple weeks. I only have 40 pages left and although that wouldn’t take me terribly long to read, it seems awfully decadent to spend the morning reading while giving absolutely no pretense to writing. At the very least, I’ll blog before I finish the book. Book club has motivated me to devote a bit more time to reading decent literature and Blue Shoe has all the elements I enjoy in a modern novel: a complex mother, family secrets, and an awkward heroine.

I need to track down an interviewee sometime today. The interview itself will likely take little longer than 15 minutes, but for some reason I’ve been putting it off for months now. Best to get it over with so I have something to work on tomorrow.

Off to feed the birds.
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Eggnog Pancakes and Elves Named Crumpet

Thursday, December 10, 2009
What a happy, odd little day it’s been. The winter blizzard that seems to have hit every other bit of the Midwest tracked too far south to really affect us: just some flurries and blowing. The past few days heralded in the cold weather though. It’s looking like our high today will be around 1 degree. Yes, that’s Fahrenheit.

I put out the new suet feeder on Tuesday. The pine marten hasn’t been around for a while and I feel like I’ve found a more secure location for the feeder. However, the only birds to notice the newly available suet were the already happily full chickadees. When I filled up the tube feeder with sunflower seeds this morning, I gazed wistfully at the suet feeder and wished a woodpecker –who are the true suet lovers – would find the feeder soon. “Chickadees don’t even like suet,” I thought to myself. I picked up the bag of sunflower seeds and trudged to the door when who should swoop down to the post with the suet feeder but a hairy woodpecker (Mr. Harry Woodpecker, is it?). Then this afternoon, I walked downstairs to find two pine grosbeaks plunked in the snow picking at fallen seeds. With their rosy coats, pine grosbeaks could be the wildflowers of winter.

The one article was sent off early in the week and went well received and now I’ve just sent off another batch. I’m mildly concerned that I’m making a habit of submitting things before their actual deadline. What will the other writers think?!

I’ve been in an excessively Christmasy mood lately. Perhaps that comes eating nothing but sugar today, a sure sign the holiday season is upon us. This morning I was overcome by an odd desire to create eggnog pancakes. I’d heard of eggnog French toast and figured there was no reason why eggnog couldn’t make up half of the liquid in my pancake recipe. Low and behold, they turned out high, fluffy and just slightly noggy.

The rest of the sugar load came at the mid-morning women’s book club meeting which seems to be an excuse to eat sweets, drink tea, socialize and occasionally discuss books you’ve read recently. I’d never been before, but a group of women from lodge were and it seemed silly not to tag along. In the woods, in the winter, you can hole up in your Shack and not venture out until April. Or you can drive 30 mph and actually see other people. I vote for the latter.

The Christmas cards are nearly done and gingerbread house construction is slated to take place sometime this weekend. It’s a good time to make some tea and think about elves named Crumpet.
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Ice Weasels

Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come. -- Matt Groening

Maybe the above quote doesn’t have much of a context in my current life; I just like the bit about the ice weasels except where I come from, ice weasels bit should really be replaced by “moose” in the quote. With subzero temperatures, a frozen lake and a blanket of snow, winter is officially here. The road into town has experienced its seasonal transformation into a skating rink. As I poked along home yesterday at 30 mph (why yes, that does double my travel time), I couldn’t help but thinking: “At night, the moose come out.” The woods would have large ruminant animals attracted to road salt.

I’m not sure I’m ready to battle winter just yet, although looking out my window, it’s pretty apparent that I no longer have a choice in the matter. Hopefully the Corolla will have a block heater installed soon so we can at least eliminate the cursing at cars which do not start when it’s 30 degrees below zero.

After a long weekend of gallivanting, now that I’m home, I’m finally realizing that I’m no longer employed and that any structure in my day will be that which I impose myself. Pressure’s on not to squander the next couple weeks. I’d best be duct-taping my rear to my chair.

That said, I’m very happy with where all the projects are sitting at the current moment. The closest deadline’s article is completed and I’ll send it on to the editor this evening if I haven’t heard from any more of the people quoted in it by then. I did another interview yesterday and now have all the information I need to complete another two articles.

We’re all hunkering down for the blizzard predicted to hit this evening. According to the National Weather Service, we could be getting up to 10 inches of snow over a 24-hour period. Luckily, there’s no place we need to go and with the massive amount of groceries I laid in when I stopped in Duluth yesterday, we should be okay or a few weeks if need be.

The birds seem to know bad weather’s approaching. Our feeder’s buzzing with chickadees and bluejays this morning. I may even tempt fate, and the pine marten, and put out a new suet feeder.
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City Mouse

Sunday, December 6, 2009
I’ve been spending a long weekend in the Cities. As much as I despise city driving, I’m happy to be here with a good friend and having a chance to take care of some errands. The oil’s been changed, I picked up some supplies I need to finish up the Christmas presents and a 50 lb bag of sunflower seeds for the birds. Throw in a Target run, some Christmas sales, and a trip to Half-Price Books and I’ve taken care of a lot of things I’ve been meaning to do for a month or two. Tomorrow I’ll do a big grocery run and fill up the remaining empty space in the Corolla.

I spent last winter in this townhouse, working at a major retail corporation downtown and running home to the woods on the weekends. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to be a roommate. But I do miss my bed that’s still stored here and the space and sometimes I miss the convenience of it all.

Beyond the shopping and eating out, we’ve had a chance for some Christmas traditions. The annual batch of Shitballs (chocolate-covered peanut butter balls so called because of the lumpy chocolate coating we created the first time we made them as a sophomores in college) was whipped up and now there’s sugar cookie dough chilling in the fridge. Last night we decorated a mini gingerbread village complete with houses, buildings, a church and a chalet. We even completed a canvas for Sarah’s entry, although I have to admit that my participation was heavily supervised; I’m pretty out of practice as a painter.

I’ve had a chance to get some writing done and I’m feeling much more in control. One draft is finished and sent off to those who were quoted to verify accuracy. I’m halfway through another draft and am fairly positive I won’t need to gather any information to finish it. So I’m down to just two articles to write, one of which isn’t due until the very end of the month. That gives me just an article and a half to get done in the next week, leaving me with plenty of time to work on other writing projects.
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Like Riding A Bike

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Someone once told me that getting into writing again was a little like riding a bike. I’ve never been sure it was quite that intuitive. It seems I just get back into the swing with one type of writing when I find myself re-rememberimg a different type. In my college days, as news editor of the school paper, it wasn’t unheard of for me to be writing three, or four, articles a week for the paper. With the news writing on top of my academic work, any novel writing became a joke. Since graduating, I gradually reclaimed the novel, but left my journalistic skills to tarnish.

Now, faced with four articles to write before the month’s end, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. By all accounts, four articles a pithy amount when it’s spread over an entire month, so I’m unsure of what exactly accounts for my waning and waxing confidence. Maybe it’s the sudden emphasis on word count (I’m accustomed to writing articles however long it takes to get all the information out) or the fact that someone’s actually paying me to write that has me all flustered. Gone are the days of personally deeming things “good enough” and in are those of others judging my work.

The rough draft of the first article due is nearly done. It took longer to hammer out than I thought it would. Part of the problem is that I’m exhausted. Another problem is the plethora of information I’ve gathered in the interviewing process and trying to determine what to focus on without bounding past my word count. With fresh eyes, it will all be easier.

December’s here. Two inches of snow last night. The Christmas cards are addressed.

I’m off to the big city this weekend and am very much looking forward to a change of scenery and a chance to run errands and catch up with a good friend. The laptop’s coming with me though just in case there’s a spare moment to get some work done.
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