Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Christmas Future

better blurry christmas tree

Have you ever wondered why, in the classic tale “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the Spirit of Christmases Yet to Come is portrayed as the Grim Reaper?

Christmas Past is a bright, beautiful fairy, dazzling in white light. In the movies she is dainty, with a soft voice and a kind manner. Christmas Present is a giant, laughing being, so full of joy and the milk of human kindness that he can’t help but spill it everywhere. And then in glides this terrifying apparition, pointing the way, silent as the grave – the spirit of the Future.

Is the future so terrifying that it must be represented by the very image of death? It’s an odd choice when you think about it. The future is unknown, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s dark, or something to be afraid of.

We know that death waits for us all – that’s part of being human. And Ebeneezer’s future was, at that exact moment in his life, not very bright at all. Which made me wonder – if there are such things as Spirits that embody the Past, Present, and Future Christmases that a person experiences in their lifetime, maybe they would be different  for each of us than the way they presented themselves to Mr. Scrooge.

Maybe for someone whose past was filled with violence and danger the spirit of the past wouldn’t be one of light and beauty. Maybe, for them, it would be a dark elf who delights in remembered misery.

For some, maybe the spirit of Christmas Present is a sad fellow, who in spite of all his good intentions not only can’t seem to alleviate the loneliness people feel, but actually makes them feel worse.

But then there’s this. Maybe the spirit of the future isn’t the shadow of death drawing nearer – maybe it’s more like a ball of light – not white, but made up of all colors, shifting and shimmering. It takes no permanent form, as it is always in motion, but sometimes in it you can catch glimpses of your hopes and dreams. This ball of light is always just ahead and slightly out of reach, and we can see its beauty even if we can’t guess its shape. That’s the kind of spirit of the future that I imagine most of us would conjure up – if the occasion were to ever arise, that is.

So maybe instead of losing ourselves completely in nostalgia this year, we could look ahead a little. Not with the resolution-making, goal-oriented, clean slate kind of purposefulness that comes with the beginning of the new year. But in stillness, with the past firmly behind us, hand-in-hand with the present, enjoying the lovely light of the future, twinkling and blurring like the lights of your Christmas tree if you squint your eyes.


Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash



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An Ode to Thankfulness

Candle 11-20-2018

This morning, before I even got out of bed, I listened to what is probably my favorite Christmas song, “Riu Chiu” by The Monkees. Yes, I know it isn’t Thanksgiving yet – sue me. Listening to that song put me in the most blissful mood that has lasted all day, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I’m grateful for.

I won’t go into the list because you can probably guess most of it – family, friends, material goods, steady job, etc., etc. I think about my life and I am overcome with how good I’ve got it. Yes, there are challenges – always. There has been loss, and grief, and pain, and uncertainty. But I’ve got the only thing that matters, and that is that there are people in this world who love me. No matter what. There is no amount of money, no fame, no earthly pleasure that can measure up to having people who love you. My heart breaks for those for whom the thought of living a life surrounded by love is a distant fantasy, and the gratitude I have for all the love in my life humbles me and fills me with a warm, steady glow that feels like Peace.

photo credit: MTSOfan Joy Candle 1 via photopin (license)

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Getting In the Mood

Christmas Cocktail

You know, sometimes I just don’t feel like it. I’m busy with work, I’m distracted, or I’m worried about this or that. I’m just not into it. No matter how much I know I’ll enjoy it once it starts, it’s getting going that can be the hardest part, you know? I have to grit my teeth and force myself to take that first step. I know if I could just relax it would be easier, but I’m having a hard time letting go.

I’ve tried, I really have. I wear the special clothes, I have the right accessories. The room is all done up nice. I’m going through the motions, but I just can’t seem to capture that special feeling.

I can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit. Santa’s just not doing it for me. Not yet, anyway.

My tree is up. The stockings are hung. I’ve done most of my shopping (yes, online, I’m a horrible person, but Amazon Prime is the bomb!). The Christmas cards are all written and addressed and mailed. I’ve baked two batches of cookies that are so good I’m regretting that I’m going to give them all away (Scrooge much?).  I’ve even broken out my seasonal slop-around-the-house sweatshirt, the one that says “Noel” with the red ribbons on it that’s two sizes too big. You would think all that would be enough to have me humming “Holly Jolly Christmas” all day, but, alas, no.

Maybe it’s being stuck in the house that has kept me from catching the Christmas bug. I haven’t been much of anywhere except the grocery store for a few days, and the guy with the bell outside just gives me a headache. I did feel a twinge looking at the Starbuck’s Christmas Blend coffee – there’s something about that stuff that brings out images of crackling fires and warm blankets and good books and cuddling that is distinctly Christmas-y.

Maybe it’s the 70 degree weather we’re having here in Hot-lanta. But really, that’s not all that unusual here, not at all. We Atlantans know how to pretend we’re living in a winter wonderland in spite of the shorts and flip-flops temperatures in December!

I’m not sure what’s keeping me from feeling all goose-pimply and excited.

I love Christmas. I love the little traditions my husband and I have, the rituals we perform every year. I love giving presents. I love the plays and the concerts we attend. I love the annual parties, where we see friends we don’t see at any other time of the year. I love getting together with my family for a big meal and tons of laughter.

I suppose I could get out of the house and go to the mall. I could wander around and look at all the stuff for sale, and the decorations, and listen to fifteen different versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” playing over the loudspeakers in the department stores. But I don’t know – the older I get the more the buy-buy-buy frenzy turns me off. It’s out of control.

I miss my high school chorus. This was the time of year when we sang all of the Christmas music – sacred and secular – we’d been rehearsing since September. We went to the malls and sang, we had a school concert, and we sang in area churches on Sunday nights. The feeling of being a part of that group, making beautiful music together, was (and still is) a highlight of my life. To this day, nothing has made me feel more in the spirit than a rousing rendition of the “Carol of the Bells” or the quiet simplicity of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Such great memories.

And there’s this – it’s hard for me to get in the mood when I’m surrounded by so much suffering and endless need. This year, as I have done for the past few years through my church, I will buy a gift for a child who may not otherwise have any presents to open because at least one (and sometimes both) of their parents is incarcerated. The greetings the prisoners send to their children, written on the gift tags by someone else, probably a stranger, are heart breaking. “Daddy loves you!” The periods of personal poverty that I complain about are nothing compared to these families, and my contributions, while sincerely made, feel hopelessly inadequate. All I can do is this much, and I pray that it makes a difference, even if it’s for only one child. Surely that’s worth a few dollars. I’m just grateful that I have the means to do it.

That’s it, though, isn’t it? I’m not going to find the Christmas spirit under the tree or in my stocking. It’s where it always has been, in the gratitude I feel for what I already have. I have so, so much.  There’s nothing I can buy that will make my life any better than it already is now. So I’ll focus on the love and joy in my life and marvel at how lucky I am, and how blessed.

The rest is just gravy and trimmings.

photo credit: Holiday Cheer via photopin (license)

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The Ghosts of Christmases Past

Christmas Tree

If I had to explain the main message of this blog, I would say that it is about change. To be clear, it is not an advice column about how to deal with change, or an example of a person who has successfully dealt with change (hardly!). It is an ongoing narrative of a person who has been in what seems to be a constant state of change for some time.

As a consequence of my heightened awareness of this ongoing change, I’ve begun to wonder if there was ever a time in my life where there was no change, when I lived in a steady state of being, where I could count on things being a certain way. A time when I felt safe and not at the mercy of the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. It certainly seems that way when I look back, and nothing brings it home to me as the holiday season does.

Each year, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I’m confronted by the ghosts of my Christmases past. My feelings about Christmas are complicated; they are loaded with emotion and memory, joy and grief, surprise and disappointment. I suspect most of us feel this way about it if we’re honest.

For example, I remember the exact moment the magic of Christmas ended for me. By “magic” I mean my belief that there was a person called Santa Claus who delivered presents on Christmas Eve to everyone who had been good that year. Up to the moment of discovery I totally believed in Santa and his flying reindeer. One year I remember being very concerned that he wouldn’t be able to deliver presents to us because the apartment we lived in didn’t have a fireplace. My father soothed my fears, explaining that Santa would just come through the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. I think I still insisted on sleeping on the couch in the living room, just in case he needed my help getting in (does this sound familiar, people who know me?).

It must have been the next year that the bubble burst. We were on the way to my grandmother’s house for Christmas, all of us piled in the family station wagon. I was in the “way back” (that backwards-facing seat under the hatch back), and there was a big box back there with me. I could read enough to know that it contained a bicycle. After some deduction, I realized that it was most likely the bicycle I had asked Santa for, and I didn’t understand what it was doing in the back of our car. Then it hit me. There was no Santa. It had been my parents all along.

I may have asked Dad about it; I don’t remember. I just know that from that moment on, my thoughts and feelings about Christmas were irrevocably changed. We all go through it, that moment of truth. Maybe the realization came to you as it did to me, or maybe some mean older kid told you. To my sister’s credit, I’m sure she knew (she’s four years older than me), but she kept that information to herself. And I in turn never told my little brother. We have to face it sometime, though, the truth that there is, unfortunately, no Santa Claus.

And then we spend every Christmas for the rest of our lives trying to re-create the magic and the innocent wonder of those Christmases before we knew. Or is that just me?

As I grew up in the warm embrace of my family, I became sort of manic about Christmas traditions. In our family we got to open one present on Christmas Eve – any one of our choosing. In the morning we could wake up Mom and Dad, but we had to wait upstairs until they said all was ready for us to come down.  We had a Santa hat, and whoever wore the hat handed out the presents – one at a time. Every year my mother made fruitcake (for my grandfather – none of us would touch it, even though it smelled fantastic), divinity, and fudge. We’d have Turkey and dressing and green bean casserole for dinner. My Dad had a toy train set he’d had since he was a child, and he would set up the track so that it encircled the Christmas tree. The noise of the toy train, the music playing on the stereo, the clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen, the rustle of wrapping paper, and, most of all, the laughter – those sounds blended together in what became for me the soundtrack of Christmas. Add to that the sight of the tree too small for all the presents to fit under and the smell of pine needles and roasting turkey, and all of it became the magic of Christmas. And it just wasn’t Christmas unless all of these things happened the way I thought they should, and I did everything I could to make sure they did.

It had to end of course – you can’t stay frozen in time, children grow up and things change. My sister got married when I was still in high school. There was an unthinkable tragedy in a family very close to us that still to this day adds a somber shade to my palette of Christmas colors. My parents divorced. It’s natural – life happens. But I still wanted that wonderful feeling that all was right with the world. The love of a good friend gave me back some sense of that wonder one year, but I didn’t have a really good Christmas again until after I got married and my husband and I began to establish some new traditions.

And again, I got manically protective of those traditions. I worked hard to maneuver things with my extended family so that my husband and I could have our Christmas the way I wanted it. If things didn’t work out, I got kinda grumpy (insert apology to parent/siblings).

Over the years, though, things changed again, and now it seems like every year is something different. I’ve had to give up my ideas about what makes Christmas Christmas, because it changes all the time. For so long I’ve equated Christmas with traditions, and I’ve felt cheated when I didn’t get to have the holiday my way.

This year is even more different than ever, and, finally, I think I’m over needing to have my traditions to make it a real Christmas.

I know what is for me the true meaning of Christmas, and every year I fervently pray for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men. I believe in the promise of the love of God. I don’t have any passionate interest in acquiring more stuff. I have been reminded, yet again, of the fragility of life, and the need to embrace the ones we love at every opportunity. That is the only thing that matters; everything else is just temporary.

So, to my Ghosts of Christmases Past – thanks for the memories, but I won’t be needing you anymore. I have my eyes fixed firmly ahead of me. I will find the joy of Christmas where it has always been, in the love of my family and friends. I know now that the security I thought I had never really existed, and, for the first time in my life, I’m ok with that. More than ok; I’m happy and content with the present. I hope all of you are as well.

Merry Christmas!

photo credit: SurFeRGiRL30 via photopin <a

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Cooking Up Christmas

Christmas Cookies

At this time of year I am always seized by a powerful urge to bake.  Visions of festively decorated cookies and pound cakes and fudge and mince pies begin dancing in my head, and I start to eye the rolls of parchment paper at the grocery store with intent.  I have found, though, that the visions are far more frequent than their manifestation.  That doesn’t mean the impulse is any less strong in the years I don’t bake (or don’t bake much), just that most years I decide I can’t be bothered.  I have cultivated many excellent reasons for not busting out the rolling pin.   Here are some handy ones I use; please feel free to apply them to your own situation, as necessary:

  • My friend (insert name) makes those (choose all that apply: cookies; mince pies; cupcakes; peanut butter balls; other) so much better than I do, and I know she’s going to bring us some;
  • There’s no way my lame attempt to make a (Christmas pudding; Rum Cake; Chocolate Torte) could possibly be better than what I can buy in the store; and
  • I don’t have a (stand mixer; food processor; double boiler) so I really can’t make (that enormously complicated confection) properly.

These (completely rational!) explanations have served to assuage my self-inflicted guilt about not magically turning into Betty Crocker every December 1st for many a year.  But why do I feel guilty at all?  What is the origin of this compulsion?  I’m glad you asked, because if I’m going to keep feeling like a frustrated pastry chef for a month every year, I’d like to know why.

Without thinking too hard, I’m pretty sure a lot of it is rooted in memories of Christmases past.  I have clear recollections of my mother standing in the kitchen, a big bowl held in the crook of her arm, stirring its thick contents with a big spoon and a lot of determination.  Mom made exactly three things at Christmas:  fudge, divinity, and fruitcake.  The fudge and divinity were always warmly received by us kids, but the fruitcake was solely for my grandfather, which was fine by me.  It smelled fantastic as it was cooking, but those clear plastic containers of brightly colored “fruit” always looked suspicious.  One event that has gone down in the family lore is the year Mom made the divinity during a rain storm.  It was too humid for the candy to set, so for two days the dining room table was taken up with wax paper covered with these small white blobs that refused to dry.  Every now and then one or the other of us (mostly my Dad) would wander in and swipe up a blob with a forefinger; they still tasted good, even if they never did firm up.

I don’t know how old I was when I began experimenting with Christmas baking, but it was probably in junior high.  It started with sugar cookies.  I found a recipe somewhere and worked hard to perfect my rolling pin skills, cutting and decorating the cookies with ever improving results.  Emboldened by my success, I moved on to Yule Logs.  Well, I called it them Yule Logs, but the ones I made never did achieve the log-like appearance of the one in the picture that accompanied the recipe I cut out of a magazine.   The example they showed had a little knot that was created by cutting off an end of the rolled up cake and sticking it on the side into the icing.  In the picture, the knot had a decorative sprig of holly “growing” out of it.  Personally I felt like this was overkill, so mine looked more like a giant Swiss Roll snack cake with mocha filling.  It was at this point in my life I realized I wasn’t destined for a future in the culinary arts.  But it was fun.

I don’t have any clear memories of doing much baking between graduating from high school and when I got married (and there’s a dozen years between those events), and I don’t remember feeling the lack.  That all changed when I suddenly had a house to decorate and a husband to cook for; the annual impulse to bake appeared that first Christmas.

Before I continue I want to be clear about something – my husband in no way, shape or form has ever made me feel as if he expects me to live in the kitchen, at this or any other time of year.  He knew when he married me what he was getting.  Martha Stewart I am not.  That being said, I do enjoy cooking when I have an audience, and my husband’s unfailing appreciation for my efforts has guaranteed him a fairly consistent output of interesting variations on dinner over the years.

So if the baking blues don’t come from some kind of perceived matrimonial obligation, what is it?  Is there some sort of collective unconscious or cultural imperative that has driven me to spontaneously wonder about the freshness of that box of brown sugar on the top shelf of the cabinet?

After much contemplation, I’ve decided that I don’t really know where the compulsion comes from, but something has become clear to me as I’ve been thinking about it, and it is this:  I’m really not all that interested in the end result of my baking.  I don’t have a huge craving for sugar cookies or cupcakes or any of it.

What I yearn for is the sensory experience that surrounds the art of baking.

There’s an excitement about putting on an apron and gathering up the ingredients particular to holiday baking – vanilla extract and sugar and cinnamon and ginger.  Those smells invoke the deepest of holiday remembrances, memories from earliest childhood of the warmth and love of family.  When we visited my grandmother at Christmas she would keep a small saucepan of cloves simmering in water on the stove, and the whole house would fill with their sweet, pungent scent.  The smell of the Christmas trees on display outside my local grocery store overwhelmed me the other day, taking me back to the days of searching with my parents and siblings for the perfect tree in the forest of choices available.  I remember being in the kitchen of my family home, rolling out cookies or beating eggs into stiff peaks, peeking into the den to see what the others were watching on television, or dancing around to whatever music my father had going on the stereo.  The sounds and smells of Christmas carried magic through the house, covering those memories in a bright, golden haze.

So I suppose, subconsciously, I have equated the magic of Christmas with the smell of fresh baked goods.  That must be it, then – it isn’t Christmas until I’m standing in the kitchen covered in flour, peeking through the window of the oven as whatever delicious treat I’ve concocted rises up from its pan to give off the aroma of Love.

I guess I’ll be getting the rolling pin out after all!


Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: eamylove via photopin cc

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A Small, Quiet Christmas

Holly & Ivy

Today on Facebook a friend posted a link to a video of the Monkees singing an old Spanish Christmas carol called “Riu Chiu”.  I don’t understand a word of the song, but the melody and the harmonies are hauntingly beautiful.  For me, it is a perfect reflection of this time of year – as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, a quietness descends, muffling the sharp sounds of summer.  Instead of sandals slapping on hot pavement, boots rustle though piles of fallen leaves.  Overcast skies have shrunk the wild blue yonder to a cloud-ceilinged room.  Fireplaces are lit and curtains are drawn over windows, further encapsulating us into the smaller universe of winter.

I love this time of year.  Thanks to the very wet summer we’ve had here in the southern United States, the trees turned their leaves into a blazing show of yellows and oranges and reds before being stripped by the strong winds of cold fronts now pushing their way across the country.  And with the coming of winter there’s the anticipation of Christmas.

I know what I said in my last post may have been understood as a declaration of apathy towards Christmas, but that’s truly not the case.  I love Christmas; or rather, I love what Christmas has come to mean to me as I’ve gotten older.  How I’ve come to view the “most wonderful time of the year” has changed significantly over time, as I’m sure it has for most people.

For a long time after I knew there was no Santa Claus (spoilers!), Christmas was about trying to recapture a little of the childish excitement I felt on the run up to the Big Day.  I would think about those feelings and try to manufacture them, with varying success.  In High School I sang in the choir and the Christmas performances were special, but I remember that I always felt a little let down when Christmas morning finally arrived.  Eventually I realized that my expectations were too high, being, as they were, founded on a childhood memory of wonder untempered by time and experience.

And then an unthinkable tragedy would for years dampen any joy I felt at Christmastime.  The evening I arrived home from college for Christmas break my sophomore year, my whole family was waiting for me around the kitchen table.  My parents told me that three boys I knew, two of them brothers, had died in a freak accident the day before.  They had been sitting in a running car whose exhaust system was faulty, and they all died of carbon monoxide poisoning.  It was horrible, and senseless.  That Christmas was totally overshadowed by incredible loss – we had known the brothers well, as our families were very close.  That year, and for the next few years, we just went through the motions at Christmas, unable to connect with the joy of the season in the face of so much grief.  To this day I think about that family at this time of year and pray for their continued peace.

After my parents divorced the year I graduated from college, Christmas again took on a different aspect.  Suddenly the possibility that my whole family would be together again was gone forever, and that idea took a lot of getting used to.  Actually it pissed me off, and thus began the next few years of trying to avoid the thing altogether.  I didn’t handle it well, and I know I hurt my mother in particular with my need to not be around during the holidays.  For some time Christmas was a reminder of grief and loss to me, and I found any way I could to engage in as little of it as possible.  I may have been there physically, but emotionally I was far away.  And I would physically remove myself as soon as I could, which was incredibly selfish and something I regret now.

There were a few odd pockets of joy in those otherwise depressed years.  One crystal memory happened my senior year in college.  I came back to my off-campus apartment as early as I could after Christmas, as much to get out of the house as to spend some time with my boyfriend before the semester started.  My roommate knew when I was coming back, but her plans took her home just as I was arriving, so we were going to miss each other, which I was sad about.  When I pulled into the driveway it was dark outside, and there was an odd glow of light coming from the living room.  I walked in to find that my roommate had bought and decorated a Christmas tree and had left it lit up for me.  In the kitchen was a plate of freshly baked cookies, and there was a bottle of Champagne in the fridge.  My roommate knew how hard Christmas had been for me, and this was her gift – a small, quiet Christmas, just for me.  Later as I sat on the couch with my boyfriend and we looked at the tree and listened to music and drank Champagne and ate cookies and talked, I felt a sense of peace and some of the joy I had been missing.  There were still many joyless Christmases to come, but the gift of that moment stayed with me and helped me through a lot of sad days.  I can never express to her how profoundly important that little tree was, and still is, to me.

In time the pain of the loss of my friends and the fracturing of my own family faded and I began to rebuild my connection to the Christmas season.  Working on a production of “A Christmas Carol” certainly helped; it’s hard to stay down when Tiny Tim asks that “God bless us, everyone” on a nightly basis for two weeks.  And it was during the Christmas season one year that I began to realize that the attraction I felt for a certain actor was something deeper; we kept running into each other at holiday parties and more than once became so lost in conversation that everyone else left before we tore ourselves away.  This is the man who would eventually become my husband, and who would finally restore my love of Christmas, as we together have built new traditions.

In the original version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (the one released in 1965), Charlie Brown bemoans the rampant commercialization of Christmas.  He is bothered by his inability to get into the spirit of the season until Linus recites the story of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Bethlehem.  In an amazing twist of irony, the later version of the show removed this scene; I wonder if the studio people who made that decision realized what they had done.  At any rate I was glad to see the original version restored, for sentimental reasons if nothing else, but it struck me hard that this show, written almost fifty years ago, was concerned that we the people were forgetting the true meaning of Christmas in the flurry of all the modern trappings.  So what we’re experiencing now isn’t new at all; I’m sure every generation feels as if the spiritual roots of the holiday (the Holy Day) are losing ground to the wholly secular pursuit of enforced merriment and corporate profit.  I can identify with Charlie – I just don’t get it.

That’s why I am so enamored by the tradition of the Advent season.  I didn’t grow up in a church that recognized the liturgical calendar, so Advent is a new thing for me since we’ve started hanging out with the Lutherans.  I understand it to be a period of reflection, and self-examination, and longing.  It is the quiet time that comes before the burst of celebration for the coming of the Christ.  The music of this season is “O Come O Come, Emmanuel”, not “Joy to the World”; that comes later.  It is preparation, and the celebration of the small things that bring us joy.  It is at its core an alternative to the frenzy of our modern Christmas, and I find that I am drawn to it more and more.

Christmas is no longer an emotional fireworks display for me.  Instead, it is a deeply meaningful celebration of life, and love, and family, and friends.  It is the memory of the joy of Christmases past, the comfort of Christmas present, and the anticipation of Christmases yet to come.  It is the excitement in a child’s eyes, and the warmth of a loved one’s touch.  It is the comfort of traditions that evolve as we grow and change.  The trimmings are fun – the music, the movies, the gifts given and received, the endless parade of goodies – but these things are temporary.  They provide entertainment, not Joy.  It took me a long time to fully appreciate the difference.


Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via photopin cc

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