31 Days of #GrowingBookworms

Feb 4, 2016

Important announcement: Episode 3 of The Book Blab has been rescheduled for Friday, February 5th (that's tomorrow!). We're trying a new time, so you can watch us live (right here on the blog) at 9:30 AM Mountain Standard Time. Suzanne and I will be discussing reading goals, as well as sharing a couple of book recommendations. We hope you can join us! 

During the month of January, I participated in an Instagram challenge to photograph my kids reading in 31 different places. It was organized by Jodie at Growing Book By Book, and it was a lot of fun. I had the challenge list running through my head all month and kept books close at hand so that no matter where we were, we could get a picture if we found the perfect spot.

My kids were such good sports about it. During the last few days, Aaron even begged to be in all the remaining pictures because he felt like he hadn't been represented enough.

The challenge didn't receive a lot of participation, and I think I was the only one who actually finished it. My kids wanted to know if I was going to get a prize. I think they couldn't understand why I took something so seriously if there wasn't any external reward, but I am highly motivated by check marks, and for every day in January, I got one. That's reward enough for me.

Also, there's no way I'm going to go to all that work and not show off the photos in one place. So here you go:

 Day 1: Under the Covers

Day 2: In a Fort

 Day 3: At the Table

Day 4: On the Floor

 Day 5: In a Bedroom

Day 6: In the Car

Day 7: On the Go

 Day 8: At the Library

 Day 9: At the Library
 Day 10: At a Friend's House

Day 11: In a Chair

Day 12:  Outside

 Day 13: By the Fireplace

Day 14: Next to a Pet
Day 15: On an Errand

Day 16: At a Restaurant

Day 17: On a Blanket

Day 18: Somewhere Unusual

Day 19: Someplace Yellow

Day 20: On a Bench

Day 21: On a Couch

Day 22: Next to a Loved One

Day 23: On Public Transportation

Day 24: In the Bathroom

Day 25: Next to a Window

Day 26: By the Water

Day 27: A Place With Good Lighting

Day 28: In a Reading Nook

Day 29: Next to Food

Day 30: At the Bookstore

Day 31: In a Rocking Chair

For more book recommendations and snapshots of our daily life, follow me right here on Instagram.

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

Feb 3, 2016

The summer after Mike and I got married, we lived in a house right next door to my parents. As you might imagine, it was quite convenient to be able to just hop fences anytime we needed or wanted anything, including all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

During those first four months of newlywed life, we gorged ourselves on the fictional lives of Rob and Laura Petrie. Even though we'd both seen many episodes before, they were so much funnier now that we were married (and had all of three weeks' experience).

Even after we were back at school, we kept a few borrowed DVDs in reserve for those stressful nights when we needed to laugh instead of cry. I can even remember making some of our friends watch a favorite episode or two with us (looking back, I don't know if they enjoyed it or not; I was too busy laughing).

I listened to the audio version of this book, which is narrated by Dick Van Dyke himself. Just even hearing his voice brought a smile to his face. He was 85 when he recorded it, but he still sounded just like he did in The Dick Van Dyke Show.

The book is very much a chronological account of his life. He talks about his growing up years in Danville, Illinois, his marriage to Marjorie, the births of their four children, and his career. He is frank and honest about the less-admirable parts of his life (his alcoholism and affair) without sharing every detail. (When I was in the middle of the book, I happened to look at the article about him on Wikipedia and was surprised to see that they'd listed his children in the wrong order and didn't have their birth years correct. It's something I wouldn't have noticed later on, but since I looked at it right after listening to that part of the book, it seemed like a glaring mistake that someone would catch and fix.)

I was fascinated and interested with the first half of the book. He and Marjorie put in some lean years before he landed the starring role in The Dick Van Dyke Show. Hearing about his time on that set was the highlight of the book for me. I recognized every episode he referred to, and it also made me remember some of my favorites (the night when Laura and Rob eavesdrop on their neighbors; the days leading up to Richie's birth; and the time when Rob goes to a different dentist). I also loved hearing about his work on Mary Poppins (we watched this with our kids when we were in San Diego, and it is still such a classic).

But after that, I began to lose interest. He methodically goes through every show and movie he was ever in, and most of his later work I'd never seen and didn't really care about. Early in his career, he said he really wanted to only be in things he'd feel comfortable with his children seeing. I thought that was so admirable . . . until he started describing some of the things he was in during the late 60's and 70's, which didn't exactly sound all that innocent. However, when he was recounting his role in the television series Matlock, he again mentioned this goal of creating family-friendly entertainment, but it seemed like he was only committed to it at certain times.

At any rate, the book began to fall a little flat for me by the end. I started out telling Mike, "You need to listen to this book! You'd really enjoy it," but then reversing my initial endorsement, "Actually, don't waste your time." It wasn't that I felt like I was wasting my time, but I knew Mike would.

I know that, for some people, learning about a celebrity's faults can be quite upsetting and forever ruin their favorite movies. That didn't happen for me at all. Dick Van Dyke isn't perfect, but I didn't go into his memoir expecting him to be so (and I would have been suspicious if he cast himself as such). He made some big mistakes, but he freely acknowledged them and didn't try to make excuses for himself.

And his youthful vibrancy and sense of humor that is so apparent in The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Poppins is real. He has a love of life that is simply infectious, and I think it's amazing that, at 90 years old, he's still acting and doing what he loves.

Any other Dick Van Dyke fans out there? What is your favorite role of his? Any hidden gems that I should see?

Raising Readers: How My Parents Raised Readers Without Being Avid Readers Themselves (Guest Post)

Feb 1, 2016

It's the first Monday of the month, which means it's time for another post about Raising Readers. Today you'll be hearing from my friend, Carolyn--a mother, reader, blogger, and fellow advocate of raising readers.

Over the last year, my path has crossed virtually with Carolyn's many times, and each one has been a delight. She is friendly and encouraging, and she has a wealth of knowledge that is enviable. Her blog, House full of Bookworms, is a great source for new books, book lists, and realistic tips. It's a treat to have her here today, sharing some of her insights on how to encourage reading even if you don't have a lot of time (or interest) for it yourself.

My brother and I have always gotten along well. And one of the greatest things we've always shared is our love of books.
Beginning in middle school, I can remember my brother and I sharing book recommendations with each other and becoming immersed in the same fictional worlds. Even today, we enjoy sharing new series and authors we have discovered with each other.
I've often thought it was a fluke that my brother and I both turned out to be such lovers of books. My parents didn't read much, other than their Bibles, as we were growing up (although they are both readers now, particularly my mom).
Or maybe, I thought, the reading gene had skipped a generation. My grandmother was an avid reader. Maybe my brother and I inherited our obsession with books from her.
But as I've thought more about this topic, I believe there are some very essential things my mom did that fostered our love of reading.
In the reading community there is a lot of talk about what parents can do to create life-long readers. Some of the most highly touted techniques seem to be reading aloud, letting kids see you read, and filling your home with books.
I grew up with none of these. We had some books, but certainly not a large library of them. Nor did my parent take us to the library often. I never remember seeing my parents reading, nor can I recall being read to (though I know my parents read to me before I could read on my own).
So, for my brother and I to have both become avid readers, different forces had to be in effect.
Here are the three things I think my mom did right to foster our love of reading.
  1. My mom took us to bookstores and allowed us to pick what was interesting to us--Now, I'm not saying you should give your kids carte blanche at the bookstore. Things have changed, and even in the children's section, there are many books that may not be appropriate for your child or family. And I should point out that my mom generally took us to the Christian bookstore, so I guess she was able to feel comfortable with whatever we might pick out. Taking your kids to the library is wonderful, but owning your own books is something altogether different and special. I still own most of the books I collected throughout my childhood.
  2. My mom recommended books, but she never took offense that my tastes differed greatly from hers--My mom and I have very different tastes in books. Most of the classics she recommended to me I now adore, like Little House on the Prairie. Some I still loathe after multiple tries (like The Great Gatsby). But, as a kid, I adored fantasy, a genre my mom doesn't particularly care for. But she never criticized my choice of reading material, and she continued to buy me the books I enjoyed while gently recommending others that might broaden my horizons.
  3. My mom made room for free time and allowed us to be bored--I think this is key. We had activities and things we did, but we were by no means over-scheduled (at least not before high school rolled around). Nor were we given many chores (for good or ill). We had time to play outside, think, dream, and read. We also played Nintendo and watched movies. But we read because we had time.
So, I want to say thank you, Mom. You have more to do with my love of reading than you (or I) may have realized.

Carolyn is a Texas gal who believes the proper plural of you is “y’all.” She loves reading children’s books with (and without) her four children. She reviews her favorites (books, not children) on her blog, House full of Bookworms.

A Birthday Trip to San Diego

Jan 27, 2016

Without question, January is my least favorite month of the year. It is cold. It is dreary. It is dark. (Oh, how I hate the dark!)

The fact that my birthday falls in January has always seemed like some cruel sort of joke, especially since the thought of growing older depresses me anyway without the gloom to go along with it.

But a few months ago, I had a rather brilliant idea (stolen from an acquaintance), and I broached it with Mike: "You know, I think I might actually look forward to my birthday if I got to celebrate it somewhere warm and sunny." Call it a not-so-subtle hint, but Mike almost immediately started planning.

His first idea was for the two of us to go to San Diego for the weekend. But San Diego is actually a place we've wanted to take our kids for a long time. So we tacked a couple more days on the beginning and end, and it morphed into a family vacation. Because of that, we could give it as a Christmas AND a birthday present. (And although I usually hate it when I have to share my birthday with Christmas, this time I didn't mind in the slightest. The planning included things for me and things for the boys, so it made sense to share.)

The boys opened up the plane tickets on Christmas Day, and they were so excited. Bradley has been dying to fly for so long (he's actually the only one our kids that hadn't flown before, and he took it rather personally).

For the next three weeks, we talked and planned and anticipated. The Christmas decorations came down. The inversion settled over the city. The streets became a slushy mess. But we didn't care. We had a bright spot of sun in our future, and it made everything seem so much easier to endure (which was exactly the point . . . ).

I was anxious on two points the week before we left: that it would be raining the entire time we were in San Diego (the week before was a week of storms) and that we would be throwing up the entire time (it seemed like everyone we knew contracted the stomach flu a few days before our scheduled departure).

But we escaped on both accounts. And we had a truly fabulous time.

Highlights included:

The flight . . . Even though Aaron, Maxwell, and Clark had all flown before, none of them remembered it, and Bradley had never been on a plane at all, and so it was pretty magical. But don't worry--Clark insured that we didn't enjoy ourselves too much.

Legoland . . . Mike and I expected to endure this for the sake of our Lego-obsessed children, but we loved it, too. It wasn't crowded, our kids were all at the perfect ages to enjoy everything, and the apple fries were delicious!

Sea World . . . We spent part of two days there. Bradley and Aaron sat in the soak zone for the killer whale show, and when the first wave came crashing over, Bradley didn't handle it well.

The beach . . . The water was too cold for my liking, but the warm sun on my back was not. I could have sat there listening to the waves crashing on the beach forever. (And actually, my kids didn't seem to mind the cold water one bit.)

San Diego temple . . . I have loved this temple through pictures since I was a little girl. Seeing it in person was breathtaking. (Our kids complained of being too hot while we were there, but it felt perfect to me.)

Mormon Battalion Historic Site . . . We were looking for something appropriate to do on Sunday, but this would have been delightful any day of the week. The tour was fantastic, and the boys loved panning for gold at the end of it.

Meeting the Gardners for dinner . . . No, these friends do not live in San Diego. They live a mere twenty minutes away from us in Utah, but they happened to be visiting at the same time, so why not?

Listening to The BFG . . . At one point, Mike was trying to point something out to the kids, so I turned it off, and Maxwell said, "Please turn it back on!! It is one of my most prized possessions!"

The seals at La Jolla . . . We went early one morning to see them, and it was practically just us and the seals on the beach. Our kids could have gone right up to the seals if we'd let them (we did not).

Giant lollipops . . . We were going to take the boys on the Old Town Trolley, not realizing that it wasn't some 15-minute trip through Old Town, but an extensive two-hour ride through parts of the city . . . and it was going to cost us $130. So we opted for $6.50 lollipops instead.

Of course, we had some rough moments where the kids were all screaming and crying, and Mike and I were threatening to never bring them on another vacation, but when it was all said and done, we agreed that it was 85% good, and that seems like a high enough percentage to do it again.

The ups and downs of traveling with children aside, this trip did exactly what it was supposed to: it gave us a six-day break from winter, the three weeks leading up to it were a little brighter because we knew what was coming, and the week since we got home hasn't been as bad either because we have the memories to lift our spirits (although the icy rain/snow was not a very nice welcome home the morning after we got back!).

And you know what? There are some things I appreciate far more since we went away: our water (it's so crystal cold here!), my hair (it couldn't handle the humidity), our house (staying in a one bedroom condo was the cause of most of our meltdowns).

So I'm glad we went. I'm glad we came back. And I can survive winter. (And I'm already planning my next birthday getaway!)

The Lake House by Kate Morton

Jan 25, 2016

I don't think I'd necessarily list Kate Morton as one of my favorite authors. I've had mixed feelings about her books: I didn't like The Forgotten Garden; I loved The Secret Keeper; and I quite enjoyed this one, The Lake House. I feel like, after three books, I have a pretty good feel for her style, and I like it, but not enough that I'm going to rush out and read everything else she's written or wait with bated breath for her next release.

I don't even know if I dare attempt a plot summary of this book. Like the other Kate Morton novels I've read, it's full of multiple characters spanning several generations and places. It's a lot to keep track of even while reading, let alone in a little summary, but here's my attempt.

When the story opens, it is 1933. Alice Edevane is sixteen years old. It is night and raining, and she is burying something. We don't know what it is, but from the way she's acting, you get the feeling that it's something that would implicate her to something horrible.

Fast forward seventy years. Detective Sadie Sparrow is visiting her grandfather in Cornwall. She's there on a forced leave of absence after she became too emotionally involved in a missing person case and leaked an unconfirmed fact to the press in order to keep the case going. Her partner thought it best if she left London until the backlash had settled down.

But Sadie is not one to sit around and relax. While she's out running one morning, she comes upon an abandoned house. Although overgrown and in need of repair, she can tell just by looking through the windows that whoever lived there left it just as it had always been. She's intrigued but even more so once she realizes that it belongs to the Edevane family and that they left it in 1933 after their eleven-month-old son vanished in the night and was never found.

Although the case was closed decades before, Sadie is drawn to the unanswered questions. She becomes obsessed with learning about the family and trying to figure out who took baby Theo all those years ago and what happened to him.

I think one of the reasons Kate Morton's novels are difficult for me is that they are somewhat impenetrable. I feel like I am completely in the dark for at least the first thirty pages, and I have to reread sections and flip back to earlier chapters in order to keep track of who's who. I love mysteries and questions, but I don't love feeling like I'm constantly missing something, and that's how I feel with Kate Morton's novels. Many authors employ different perspectives and time periods to tell the story, but usually it's somewhat predictable: first this character, then this one. Back and forth. But with Kate Morton, it's not like that at all. First we're in 1933, then 2003, then 1911, then 1931, and then back to 1933. We're getting the perspectives of old Alice and young Alice, old Eleanor and young Eleanor, and present day Sadie, and it's all just a little bit hard to settle into.

Along with that, there's no question that it's Kate Morton calling the shots. She leads you down one path, making you think you're figuring it out on your own, but then all of a sudden, you realize that there are still 300 pages left in the book, so that can't be it, and sure enough, it's a dead end. Then she does the same thing again, leaving little clues so that you reach a conclusion just a hair before the main character, but then it turns up false again.

I was definitely manipulated by her storytelling in many areas, but there was one belief I held firm to throughout the book, even when she was making a good case for something else, and I'm pretty proud of myself because I ended up being right. Also, Kate Morton is known for her mind-blowing twists. There were two in this book, and one of them caught me by surprise, but I figured out the other one before it happened, and that's never happened to me with her novels (I'm blaming it on my excellent sleuthing skills).

For me, one of the most intricate and captivating themes in this book was that of the role of mother. There's:
  • Constance (Alice's grandmother, Eleanor's mother), who gave Eleanor everything she needed for her physical well-being but withheld her love in a truly despicable way.
  • Eleanor (Alice's mother), who is carefree and fun until she can't be and becomes strict and responsible. And yet, she cherishes her baby boy, Theo.
  • Nanny Rose (Theo's nanny), who loves Theo like a son and will do anything to protect him.
  • Sadie, who is a mother by birth only. She gave up her daughter for adoption just hours after she was born but, fifteen years later, still remembers what it felt like to hold her.
  • Ruth (Sadie's grandmother), who took her in at a difficult time and loved her fiercely.  
  • Sadie's mother, whose name I've forgotten, which says something about the kind of mother she was.
  • Maggie, who supposedly abandoned her daughter even though she always seemed like a conscientious mother (it's this case that Sadie is in trouble for).
  • Nancy (Maggie's mother), who won't give up on her daughter's case--something about it just doesn't feel right.
  • Gemma (Maggie's ex-husband's new wife), who steps in to care for Caitlyn when Maggie leaves her.
  • Sophie, a French woman who we only get a small glimpse of.
  • Deborah (Alice's older sister), who wanted children but was never able to have any.
  • Clemmie (Alice's younger sister), who loves Theo with such a fierce and devoted love, she's pretty much a second mother to him.
  • And someone else, whose name I better not mention or it will give away important information.

All of these mothers beg the question, What makes a mother a mother? Biology? Love? Sacrifice? Dedication? The threads of these women's stories weave together in an intricate but complicated way, and for me, this was definitely the most impressive and well-crafted aspect of the book.

Beyond my initial frustration with not being able to get into the book, it was a delight to read. It was one of those novels that's just fun to be in the middle of. I found myself thinking about it at random points during the day, and it was a pleasure to return to each time and uncover a little more of the mystery. There were things I didn't love about the ending--things that seemed a little too implausible and wrapped up a little too neatly--but for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters were multi-layered and heartbreaking. Eleanor was my favorite. I didn't love all of her choices, but she was inspiring nonetheless, and it was because of her that I shed some real tears at the end. And I loved, loved, loved the setting. I'm ready to hop on a plane to Cornwall right now.

If you've read and loved Kate Morton's other novels, you will love this one. If you've felt somewhat lukewarm like me, I think you'll actually enjoy this one. And if you've never read anything by Kate Morton, then this would be a great one to start with.

Content note: some infidelity but nothing too descriptive
P.S. Oh, and just a little unrelated announcement. Suzanne and I will be holding our next blab this coming Wednesday, January 27th, at 7:00pm MST. Come join us!

Five Things I Started Doing in 2015 That Changed My Life For the Better

Jan 21, 2016

I wouldn't say 2015 was a groundbreaking year for me. It was a good (and, in other ways, a hard) year, but it wasn't one of those where I look back and think, Wow, what a crazy ride. I can't believe all that happened. Has it not even been a year since ______?

However, even without any monumental changes, there have been a few things I started doing consistently that now, stepping back, I can see that, even though they're small, they've blessed my life in a significant way. And let that be a lesson to me: small steps, consistently taken, sometimes have a bigger long-term impact than world-rocking ones (and, if I'm being honest, I actually prefer those types of changes as opposed to the ones that leave me reeling).

Listening to a Conference Talk Every Morning
Every April and October, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (of which I am a member) holds, what's known as, General Conference. Lasting for two days, it consists of four general sessions filled with dozens of talks from leaders in the Church. Those are some of my favorite days of the year. They're a time for me to be filled up spiritually, and I always come away with a stronger testimony and sense of purpose.

Around the time of last April's conference, I was trying to figure out how to give more priority to my spiritual life. I was reading my scriptures every day but usually that was happening at night and sometimes I could only get a few verses in before I fell asleep. I knew I really needed something at the beginning of the day to give it a boost and help me stay focused on the most important things. All of the conference talks are archived, and I decided to start listening to one talk every morning as I got ready for the day.

This has made a huge difference in my spiritual well-being. It hasn't replaced my daily scripture study but it's been a way for me to start the day off building my faith and thinking about my Savior, Jesus Christ, without having to find a quiet place to read my scriptures (which is pretty much impossible in the crazy chaos of the morning). Instead, I can just pull one up on my phone, put in my headphones, and listen while I'm making lunches or cleaning up the house or doing my hair. It was one of those habits that slid into my normal routine so easily that it was like it was meant to be there. (Two of the talks I've returned to the most from last conference have been Yielding Our Hearts to God by Neill F. Marriott and Faith is Not By Chance, but by Choice by Neil L. Andersen.)

Going on Weekly Dates
This has been something Mike and I have tried to do our whole married lives, but once we added children to the mix, it became much more difficult. Finding a babysitter stressed me out and often,  it felt easier to just stay home than try to coordinate all of the logistics to make an evening out happen. Plus, I harbored a little resentment because, when we did go out, I felt like I was the one who did the bulk of the planning, and it seemed like something we should both be invested in.

Then, early in the year, my sister-in-law, Sonja, mentioned that she and her husband were trying really hard to go on weekly dates. They traded off the planning every other month, and that sounded like a pretty awesome idea to me. I sold the idea to Mike as a competition (we would each take a month and keep track of the dates and whoever ended up planning the most dates would be the winner), but within just a couple of months, we stopped talking about the competition aspect of it. We were just having fun spending quality time together. Since we trade back and forth, I actually enjoy when it's my turn to do the planning because I get to do things that are fun for me, and when it's Mike's month, I relish not planning anything while knowing the dates will still happen.

Doing it this way has also helped us branch out from the standard "go out for dinner" or "stay home and watch a movie" dates we were used to. In the past year, we've gone to an art exhibit, been on a couple of hikes, gone to concerts and plays, and even done a room escape mystery.

Also, over the last nine months, we've discovered that we love middle-of-the-week, middle-of-the-day dates. They feel so indulgent.

Making lunches for the boys
A few months ago, Janssen mentioned that she was packing lunches for both of her older girls, even though only one of them is in school (an idea she got from Miranda). When I read her post, I had one of those lightning bolt moments Gretchen Rubin talks about. What a genius idea, and why had I not been doing such a thing all along? I was making a lunch for Aaron every morning anyway so it wouldn't be that difficult to just pack lunches for Maxwell and Bradley at the same time.

I started that very day, and I haven't looked back. It was one of those habits that fit our lifestyle and our schedule so perfectly that it took virtually no effort on my part to adopt.

And it has transformed my life.

I know, that sounds so dramatic, but I promise you I don't make such a statement lightly. Think about it. What is usually one of the worst times of the day? Lunchtime, right? (The only time of day that could possibly compete with it is the 4:30pm witching hour.) My kids tend to go a little psycho around 11:30am, which tends to make me go a little psycho. But by making the lunches in the morning, when things are relatively calm (and I'm just listening to my conference talk), I've eliminated the stress and craziness of that time of day entirely.

And if we ever decide to go to the park or a friend's house, I can just grab the lunches on our way out the door.

I'm telling you, transformative.

Learning to knit
Early last spring, a sweet older lady in our neighborhood taught me how to knit. It had been something I'd wanted to learn how to do for a long time. I started with a dish cloth (isn't that what you always start with?). Then I moved onto a pillow. And right now, I'm halfway through making a vest for Bradley (I'm using small needles, so it's taking me a long time.)

Everything about knitting is calming and relaxing to me (well, except for trying to decode the pattern, but luckily, my teacher hasn't abandoned me). I love the feeling of the soft yarn sliding through my fingers, the methodical click of the needles, and watching the finished product magically grow beneath my hands. It's the perfect thing to do while listening to an audiobook or watching a movie or just sitting tucked up on the couch watching the falling snow. I'm constantly planning out future projects, all while continuing to enjoy the project I'm currently working on.

Plus, learning to knit was one of my actual goals for 2015, and it felt so good to be able to check it off after wanting to learn for so long. I thought I would have to take a class or find some tutorials on the internet, but instead I formed a wonderful friendship with someone in our neighborhood, and that has had its own blessings.

Poetry Snack Time
When I first heard about "poetry tea time" on the Read-Aloud Revival, I decided to try it with my kids, just for fun. The idea is that you combine reading poetry with eating, and that just sounded like a winner combination to me. However, these types of things are often hard for me to stick with simply because, since it's not something we do every day, it can be tricky to know when to fit it in.

But again, as with everything I mentioned above, this tradition took hold with virtually no prodding from me. My kids immediately fell in love with it and look forward to it every time. Over the summer, we did it once a week. Now we do it about once a month (or every other week if we're lucky). I've tried not to force it into our schedule because it's meant to be fun, not essential.

We've tweaked a few things since we started, and I keep meaning to write a full post about it. Hopefully soon.

And that's it. I'd love to know what things YOU started doing in 2015 (big or small!) that changed your life for the better.
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