Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Thoughts on the Eve of a New Year

glasses

Another year has passed. Of course, seasons and years are artificial constructs – they don’t truly exist, except in our minds. Still, they provide a way for us to divide the expanse of time into digestible chunks. At the end of this chunk we call 2015, I find myself reflecting back on a year of heartbreak and breakthrough.

The breakthrough began when I finally went to counseling. Yes. Me. I know I’ve ranted (for decades) about the voodoo that is psychology and huffed self-importantly as I denigrated the soft social ‘sciences’ (usually including the air quotes.) Dubious or not, I finally tired of repeating certain life patterns and found a competent counselor.

07atiyeh 48webOn my first visit, I did my best not to roll my eyes when she wanted to start with my childhood. Hello. I’m almost 60. How relevant could my childhood be? I’m WAY past blaming Mommy for my choices. Then I found myself blubbering like a baby as we discovered that my deep-seated abandonment complex came not from my husband’s suicide in 2002, not from my mother’s remarriage in 1961 (she spent two whole days alone with my step-dad before fetching me to share the rest of their honeymoon) but from my bio-dad’s abrupt departure when I was a toddler. It turns out, understanding origins really can help.

cherie bio pic 2016I learned that there isn’t a bad Cherie and a good Cherie. That the good Cherie isn’t the ‘real’ Cherie, but that I come as an entire package and until I learn to embrace my whole self, I can’t be happy. So I let bad Cherie out of the dungeon. I felt sorry for those around me, because bad Cherie – ahem, because I – can be snippy and abrupt, quick to let others know when they’ve tread on my toes, and impatient with rudeness and incompetence.

Imagine my surprise when a friend told me I’m actually easier to be around. “You’re more light-hearted,” he said. “You seem calmer, even in the midst of small crises.” He’s right. I do feel calmer. I’m glad to know my outside matches my inside.

My self-improvement crusade included losing fifteen pounds (ten to go), having a regular yoga practice, daily prayer/meditation, and regularly indulging hobbies, including playing my piano, guitars, and ukulele. I haven’t opened my clarinet case yet, and I’m sure my neighbors are grateful. I’m clearer on my life and on my goals. And at the very end of the year, I met someone. More on that (I hope) in posts to come.

My heartbreak is for our nation. Police treatment of people of color in our country has been beyond shameful – it looks a lot like deliberate genocide. The response of our court system to the police murders is even more horrifying. It appears they’ve totally misinterpreted the statement, “Justice is blind.”

grandkidsI fear for my grandchildren, who could be shot dead on a playground for playing with toys that white children may use with impunity. I fear for my son-in-law – a teacher, a tri-athlete – who runs daily. My daughter said she worries every time he goes out. She should. Apparently, no judge would prosecute the police officer who killed him for the crime of jogging while black, which means it’s open season on people of color.

grandma and gidu scanThe Syrian refugee crisis hits just as close to home, because my grandparents emigrated from Syria in the early years of last century. The rhetoric of some in our country toward the refugees scares me. Their concerns have nothing to do with national security, it’s merely an excuse to hate and to attack anyone who looks different from the white ‘norm’. I am outraged at those who dare use the name Christian while spouting such ignorance and hatred. I am frustrated because I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know what to do about ANY of it. The injustice. The bigotry. The deliberate choice to hate. What I do know is that I cannot respond with hatred. In the midst of it all, I am called to love. To embrace those who are hurting. To embrace those who do the hurting. To embrace myself. All of myself – the hurting and the hurter, because I am both. Our country is both. Hating will not lead to healing. We can only love ourselves into wholeness.

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Family Matters

mikecorinnaIt’s been two months since I last posted. My brother has had a miraculous recovery from his stroke. He’s not *there* yet, still attending both PT and OT, but he’s back to work (for me!) and feeling good. He has lost 50 pounds in these two months, with a goal for another 50 by years’ end. That’s a dramatic loss, but he’s doing it in a healthy and measured way, and it’s his best defense against future stroke events.

My sister-in-law, Corinna, also jumped on the health bandwagon – and she’s also lost 50 pounds. It’s been so much fun to watch her explore new foods – discovering that cherries and other fruits are DELICIOUS. That salads can be a fun and filling dinner. In fact, I ate much better when I stayed with them – maybe I should move back!

The month I stayed with them allowed us to reconnect and deepen our relationship.  It was the silver lining in the stroke storm-cloud. Why did we allow geographic separation – and only 60 miles – to cause such emotional distance? As far as I’m concerned, this is the person  for whom the song “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” was written. I would walk any road for my baby brother – no matter how long. I’m sorry it took such a traumatic event to bring us back together.

I am determined not to let it happen again.

 

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Wake-Up Call

mikeMy baby brother (he’s only fifty-one) called me Sunday before last. “I don’t think we’ll be able to get together tomorrow,” he said. “I think I’m having a silent migraine. I have tunnel vision and I just can’t seem to keep my balance. I’m so fuzzy-headed, I’m having to really concentrate to talk.”

“Those could also be stroke symptoms, Mike,” I replied. “Maybe you should go get that checked out.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine. If they don’t go away in a day or two, I’ll see a doctor.”

On Monday, he was in the ER. He was admitted and spent four days in the hospital. He did, indeed, have a stroke, and in addition, he was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes.

The doctors had good news and bad news. The good news is, he’s likely to make a complete recovery. The bad news is, without significant lifestyle changes, he has a good chance of recurrence.

So I’m staying with him for a while so his wife can go back to work. I’m cooking for us all, and helping Mike with therapy and exercise. The diet is familiar – the one I’ve been imperfectly trying to implement over the past year-and-a-half. I’m not missing the mark now, though. This was a wake-up call for us all.

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Super Sleep

DSCF7541Last time I visited my doctor, she asked me how many hours I slept each night.

“Between seven and eight hours,” I said.

“You need nine hours of sleep,” she informed me. “Latest research shows that people should sleep nine hours each night for optimal health.” She looked sternly over her glasses at me. “Nine hours.”

The thing is, I don’t set an alarm. I haven’t for years (no one wants to be photographed at 7 am.) Most nights, I’m asleep between 10-11 pm. And most mornings, I’m awake between 6-7 am. To sleep nine hours, it seems like I’d need sleeping pills, so I decided to do a little research.

We have at least two phases of sleep. The first, called deep sleep, is where our brain processes our short term memories into long term storage. We only have a twenty-four hour window to complete this process, so if we don’t get enough deep sleep, the memories are lost forever.

The second phase is REM sleep. During this phase, our bodies are paralysed, but our eyes can – and do – move. Hence the name: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep our brains process everything that happened the day before, and to keep us calm while it processes, a chemical called noradrenalin shuts off.

If we don’t get enough REM sleep, our brain doesn’t have time to deal with everything we experienced, our bodies don’t get enough non-noradrenalin time, and we become stressed and anxious.

Sleep studies have shown that humans are hard-wired for a minimum of seven hours sleep. Less sleep means higher inflammation (arthritis) and stress, impaired immune response, and greater activity in genes that are associated with cancer and diabetes.

What about those people who claim to need only four hours of sleep a night? They’ve been studied. They are not wired differently than the rest of us. They perform better and are healthier with more than seven hours of sleep. By shortening their sleep cycle, they’re setting themselves up for poor physical and emotional health, not to mention accelerated aging.

This is true for people who sleep only six-and-a-half hours, too. That extra hour or two is crucial. We can’t do an end-run around sleep, not without paying the price.

It’s time to end the myth that those who need less sleep are somehow more productive (and virtuous.) It’s a lie. It’s a product of the protestant work ethic gone awry.

Back to my doctor’s recommendation. Nine hours? I’ve experimented with laying in bed for that extra hour. About half the time, I fall back asleep. I feel GREAT when I awaken. I think I’ll stay with this experiment until it’s habit.

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Astaxanthin to the Rescue

Astaxanthin - super-oxidant!

Astaxanthin – super-oxidant!

The fun continues. As I mentioned in my last post, I visited the doctor for the first time in five years and discovered my cholesterol is too high. It turns out, the iron in my blood is also too high. WAY too high. A healthy range is 20-80 ng/ml. Mine is 166. Too high? You’ve got to be kidding me. I spent decades of my life with borderline anemia – at best –  due to heavy menstrual flow. Now it seems that menopause has wrought the opposite issue.

High iron blood levels aren’t good. They can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, cardiac arrhythmias, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Yowza! Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, arthritic aches and pains, heart arrthymias, skin pigment changes, diabetes and premature menopause. If you’re over 40 and have any of these symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to have your iron levels tested.

Common causes of high iron levels are cooking in iron pans; eating processed foods that are fortified; drinking well water that’s high in iron; and taking vitamins with iron supplements.

I don’t eat processed foods – no boxed cereal, white bread, etc. I don’t take iron supplements. I don’t know the iron content of the well water I drink, but we use a Brita filter before drinking it, so I’m *probably* ok. (Though I’ll be checking it.) But I’ve spent a lifetime cooking with cast iron. I love my cast iron pans. Sigh. I’ve discontinued their use.

The easiest way to lower my blood iron level is by giving blood. I’ve avoided it most of my life because my constant anemia caused me to be dizzy and faint for days after donating. I’m happy to know that won’t be a problem anymore.

In addition, ingesting green tea and rosemary helps reduce iron absorption. Also helpful is turmeric. An iron chelator, it helps remove iron from the body. Here’s a earlier post about the wonders of tumeric:  Tumeric, Gardens, and not being a Know-It-All.

Finally, in my research, I discovered an amazing antioxidant: Astaxanthin. Found in salmon, krill and shrimp, it has many health benefits, including removing iron from the blood. Other researched uses include:

  • pain and inflammation relief. It blocks chemicals in the blood that trigger pain. It reduces inflammation – and unlike most anti-inflammatories, it’s completely natural.
  • fatigue fighting. It reduces muscle fatigue, increasing indurance and energy.
  • eye health. It reaches the retina, reducing diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, as well as everyday eye-strain and fatigue.
  • cell cleansing. It gets into every cell of the body, both the fat-soluble and the water-soluble parts. It’s far stronger than vitamin C, CoQ10 and green tea.
  • skin protection. It provides natural sunscreen when taken internally, preventing UVA damage.

I’m almost glad my iron levels were too high, because I might not otherwise have discovered this antioxidant. I’ve ordered a bottle. I’ll let you know what I find.

PS: I get all my supplements from Swanson Vitamins. Not all companies provide reliable products, but in every expose’ article I’ve read, Swanson is highly rated. I trust them.

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Kombucha? Again?

kombuchaI’m back to square one with the great Weight Loss journey. Well, that’s not quite true – I’m 10 pounds lighter than when I started, but I’ve regained 7 from my lowest point.

So. Starting again. Measuring and recording every bite of food. Making a new batch of kombucha. Exercising. Meditating.

Plus a new idea: I’m wearing my jeans, because their *tightness* will remind me to eat less. I tend to wear leggings, yoga pants, jammie pants, and other clothing with very forgiving material. Wearing clothes with less stretch has been reputed to help with weight loss, and I’m willing to give it a try.

I’ve mentioned kombucha over and over, and I thought I’d talk a bit more about it. Technically, kombucha is a fermented tea. It’s been around for centuries, originating in China, then spreading to Russia and beyond.

It’s made from sweetened tea (black, green or other) fermented with a bacteria/yeast culture. There are few scientific studies regarding its efficacy, but it’s rich in probiotics, antioxidants, glucaric acids and glucosamine. That means it can reasonably be assumed to balance gut PH, have detoxifying effects, boost the immune system and be good for joints.

From personal experience, I can say that it results in a drastically reduced appetite and greatly increased energy. Perhaps it’s a placebo effect. That’s OK. The placebo effect is a ‘thing’, and it shows how much health can be influenced by thought.

Kombucha is fairly safe to make at home because the high acidity keeps bad germs away. If the acidity is weak, mold can grow (as happened to me) and then it’s time to ditch the whole thing and start fresh. I got my new starter from the local health food store. Brewing supply stores often carry it, too. You can also get it from Amazon:  kombucha starter kit

Some websites warn against drinking it because illness can result if it’s not prepared properly. I think that’s a little excessive. Botulism can result if vegetables are canned improperly, but I see no medical sites warning us away from eating veges.

The point is that I need to do it properly. It’s easy – I keep my prep space spanky clean. I think my kombucha molded because I skimped on the sugar, so I will follow the recipe exactly from now on. And I will enjoy the benefits!

 

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Accidents Happen – and other political thoughts

exuberantA funny thing has happened since we moved. I’ve relaxed. Other than terroir, nothing has changed, really. Finances are still challenging. I’m still overweight. (Again. The Wii and I aren’t currently on speaking terms.) I’m working at settling my business in – to the third town in three years.

This does not seem like a recipe for relaxation. But in this place, in this time, I’ve been able to let loose worry and anxiety.

I think it’s because we live in community. When we lived in the city, we felt alone. In this rural setting, we find community all around us. A short walk. A short drive. A quick call. The change it’s made in my outlook is dramatic.

I believe humans are meant to live in community. I believe our American idolization of ‘rugged individualism’ is misplaced. We are better as individuals and as a society when we look to the corporate good, not merely personal prosperity.

That means that we are only as successful as our least successful member. Our current ‘every man for himself’ mentality is destructive. The Declaration of Independence says that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights for each person, yet 45,000 people die in America each year because they didn’t have access to health care. They were certainly denied life, and I doubt they felt very happy or liberated in their suffering.

It should be unthinkable that one person has access to health care and the next does not. It should be unthinkable that one person has a fully stocked pantry and the next an empty plate. It should be unthinkable that there are three empty houses in America for every homeless person. If that’s American Values at work, then it’s time for our values to change.

Ahem. <stepping carefully down from the soap box>

Being relaxed. There’s an unfortunate side-effect when I’m insouciant: the five-year-old in me ascends. That means explosive joy. Exuberant gestures. Spilled drinks and elbowed noses. Oops.

In a business meeting yesterday, I spilled my coffee. Twice. Two rounds of cleaning the furniture and the carpet. But I didn’t MEAN to, I said with hunched shoulders and a repentant expression.

Lucky for me, I’m part of a community that loves my energy and enthusiasm, and understands that…well, accidents happen. Especially around me.

 

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Work in Progress

orangeMy kombucha molded. I can’t help feeling it’s symbolic of my whole ‘healthy me’ kick. True confession time: I’ve fallen off the bandwagon. I’m afraid to get on the scale, because I know I’ve gained weight. I’m not exercising – well, unless 10 minutes every week or two counts. My focus has been on other things, which is fine, but I really need to be able to focus on those other things without losing the vision for my physical, emotional and spiritual self. Bottom line, I’m disappointed in me. I know I can do better.

Deep breath. Now I’m going to reframe everything I just said. Here goes.

When I moved from my house a year-and-a-half ago, I sorted through the boxes in my basement. (You know the boxes I’m talking about. THOSE boxes. The stacks and stacks and STACKS of boxes that accumulate over a lifetime. The ‘I’ll get to this later’ boxes. The ‘oh, I can’t bear to get rid of it though I don’t know what I’ll ever do with it’ boxes. The ‘I don’t want to deal with it, and out of sight is out of mind’ boxes. Yeah, those.) I reviewed, reorganized, and let loose the myriad items that no longer served me.

Fast forward to the past few weeks, where I’ve been sorting boxes that have accumulated in the basement of my life. This time, I’ve reassessed what I do and why. I’ve reorganized my time. I’ve given myself permission to quit focusing on that which I felt I ‘had’ to do or was ‘supposed’ to do. As a result, my life is larger. My vision is clearer. And I’ve acted on that vision.

I’m becoming more realistic about my health goals. Bryan and I were watching Orange is the New Black last night. I looked at the leading actress, Taylor Schilling, who happened to be naked at the time, and said, “Wow. Look at that flat tummy and firm everything.” And Bryan responded, “Yes, and it’s a full-time profession to look like that. She has to spend at least four hours in the gym every day to maintain it.”

Right. (And by the way, I’m married to the best man EVER. I’m just sayin’.)

I don’t have that time. Wait. That’s not true. I absolutely do have that time. I have exactly the same amount of hours available to me every day as she does (Twenty-four, last I checked.) It’s just that, for me, spending hours in a gym doesn’t interest me. And that means I need to readjust my ideas. Quit making ‘flat tummy, firm everything’ my goal. I can’t reach that goal, because I don’t really want it, not enough to discipline myself to do it. That means it’s really not that important. To continue the analogy, I can get rid of the contents of that particular box.

What IS that important to me is writing and photographing, using my images and my words to enrich the world. What IS that important is speaking to individuals and to groups, encouraging them until I see the SPARK that tells me their fire is lit. What IS that important is being a conduit of the Divine into the world through word, sacrament, and image.

Wait. This isn’t new. I’ve already sorted this stuff. Where is that box? Oh. It’s here, under my nose, where it’s been all along.  In it is my candidacy for the Episcopal priesthood. So I’ve re-engaged the process. There is ongoing discernment needed (by me and by others) and that takes a lot of ROOM to unfold. I’m glad I’ve created the space. I did it partly by refocusing my business vision, which meant engaging others to pick up the pieces I needed to let loose.

That’s not easy for me. I am a CONTROL FREAK extraordinaire. What if they don’t do it *right*?

The answer came as I was driving home from church. “It is better for things to be done in a messy, sloppy, joyful way than to have flawless results and a miserable, rigid attitude. Besides, how are you doing at getting it all done?”

Fair enough.

So. The past two years have been about clearing my external space. The last two months have been about clearing my internal space. I’d love to think I’m done and ready to move forward without further delay. But we all know how that works. We are ever and always a work in progress. So, I don’t need to worry about ‘doing better’. I just need to keep on doing.

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In Search of Peggy Porschen’s Marshmallow Puff Recipe

marshmallow puffsEvery morning, as my eyes first open, I reach out and grab my tablet, that I might review what important events have transpired whilst I slumbered.

A cup of coffee usually appears concurrent with the tablet. Have I mentioned just how much I love my husband? Not only does he bring me coffee in bed each morning, but he doesn’t even TRY to converse with me until the first cup has disappeared.

I begin by viewing the most vital pages: Facebook. Twitter. Path. Instagram. Tumblr. A couple of online comics that I follow. Pinterest.

Pinterest was my downfall this morning. As I scrolled through, virtuously repinning autumn-themed quinoa recipes, my eyes stopped – dead – on a beautiful pastel photo. The caption: Peggy Porschen’s Marshmallow Puff Recipe.

Squirrel!  Marshmallows, homemade or not, do not belong in my diet regimen, which I renewed just this week. You see, I kind of ditched diet and exercise – and writing – during the past month, due to moving…and moving…and moving. When I had time to think about that, which was rarely, I wondered if I should be discouraged about my inability to maintain an optimal health regimen during my hyper-busy times, which is probably when I need it most.

After a few microseconds of deep reflection, I always came to the same conclusion: fuck it. It made me tired just to consider worrying about…whatever it was I was worrying about. What was I worrying about?

On a TOTALLY unrelated topic, have I mentioned I’ll be 56 in less than a week? Ah, demon menopause, you robber of thoughts.

However, an upside of menopause is what I call the fuck-it effect. “What was I thinking? Fuck it. Glass of wine, please.” Not only can I now say ‘fuck it’ (because I no longer have young children for whom to model non-profane speech) but I can mean it.

Marshmallow Puffs. I looked at them. Pretty, perfect pastel mounds of deliciousness, one floating daintily in the coffee.

Diet be damned. I clicked on the link. And came to a page that was NOT marshmallow puffs. Why do people have difficulty understanding that when they see something they like on a blog, they have to click on the particular post if they wish to link to it? Otherwise, future clickers are treated to the latest blog post, not the pertinent one. This is serious. World peace may be threatened, Deep breath. OK then. Plan B: google Peggy Porschen Marshmallow Puff Recipe, and find the original link.

I started down the results list. One link took me to the same adorable image, with a ‘click here for recipe’ button that looped you back to the current page. No recipe. Just the photo. I clicked it several times, because I hadn’t finished that first cup of coffee, and therefore thought that perhaps I COULD yield a different result if I clicked smartly enough.

Finally, I clicked another link. Expired. Panic began to set in. I NEEDED that marshmallow recipe!

I finally found it on a UK website. All measurements in metric. Moment of truth. Did I really want the marshmallows badly enough to do the conversions?

Fuck it. Turns out, what I really want is a tablespoon of sunflower seeds and another cup of coffee.

PS: So it turns out Peggy Porschen is a thing. Her boutique baking books (nice alliteration, huh?) are quite popular. Here’s one: Boutique Baking: Delectable Cakes, Cookies and Teatime Treats

PPS: The recipe is here: Peggy Porschen’s Marshmallow Puffs .You’ll have to do your own conversions. I’m busy slurping quinoa squash soup.

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Be Boring, Part Two

eggLast post, I talked about the importance of creating a set pattern of meals and snacks. Today, I want to share my current routine.

Cherie’s Diet Routine

1) Pre-breakfast snack: 2-3 bites of active culture, fat-free yogurt. This feeds my gut flora, and starts my digestion off right!

Coffee. Lots of coffee. With a little skim milk. Don’t talk to me about health benefits vs. health costs. I need my coffee.

2) Breakfast: an egg and half a banana. My tummy can be touchy in the morning, and an egg always goes down easy. Bananas are potassium rich, which is good for the heart, skeletal and muscle systems. Potatoes, beans, dried fruit, tomatoes and yogurt are also great sources of potassium.

3) Mid-morning snack: 1 tablespoon unsalted sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon raw cashews (or almonds), 2 dried figs.

4) Lunch: 2 oz of protein (OK, I do have some variety here), seasonal fresh fruit, a cup of cooked veges. Sometimes I add a slice of whole grain bread (i.e, a sandwich.)

5) Mid-afternoon snack: salad greens with lemon juice, 1 tablespoon nuts/seeds, 1 tablespoon dried fruit.

6) Dinner – ADVENTURE! Now I’m feeling like a bit of variety. Quinoa or fish? Steak or lamb? Or perhaps grilled zucchini topped with pepper-jack cheese? A baked potato with broccoli? I love me some variety now!

&) Evening snack: a small glass of wine. I try not to eat anything after 7 pm, because it’s healthy to go to bed a little hungry.

This routine works for several reasons:

  •  I love nuts and dried fruit. A lot. They are good for me, and it feels like a treat every time I ‘get’ to have some.
  • Because I change my fresh fruits seasonally,I’m always excited about them.
  •  I happen to like my vegetables well-cooked (I drink the water they’re steamed in, so I retain the vitamins) so that’s how I eat them. I don’t have to eat them raw, no matter how many others do – it’s OK to have preferences! Even those with picky tastebuds can find ways to succeed. We all know what a healthy diet looks like (and if you don’t, here’s a book that makes it easy to understand: Nutrition Made Simple)
  •  I’m busy, and it’s easy. I don’t have to spend much time on preparation. I don’t have to think. I can fall into it, rather than fight uphill.

I’ve found that my regimen changes naturally. I was on an almond kick for the longest time. Now, it’s cashews. Come autumn, it will likely become filberts or walnuts. You notice, I don’t really have to *think* about it. Same with dried fruit. If Trader Joe’s doesn’t have figs, I substitute prunes. Or dates. Or raisins. My routine continues unchanged – a tablespoon of what’s in my cupboard.

The important thing is to be sure it really IS there, otherwise my need for crunch may lead me to potato chips, my craving for sweet to candy or donuts. I do live in the land of Voodoo Donuts, after all!

So, be boring. You have my permission. (Picture me waving my hand in divine dispensation.) Make a diet routine – one that you LIKE. It’s oh-so-much-easier to stick with a healthy lifestyle if you do!

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