Friday, October 9, 2015

October 2

The night before E was born, I took my big belly out into the front yard and dug some shallow holes in the pitch black of night.  Every Oct. 2 since then, E and I have planted our own bulbs.
There's something so different about planting in the fall. Spring planting coincides with the waking of the earth, living things bursting forth from every crack in the sidewalk whether we ask them to or not, encouraging our little intentions to bear along side them.  In autumn, the world is warning us, in all its beauty, that everything is dying. Plants draw inward or disappear completely. The earth grows so quiet and still.
 Planting at this time helps me remember. I remember that darkness will be followed by light, and that new life will always appear, charging through the cold and pulling us into spring. This small act of faith reminds me that the fervent summer is only cherished insomuch as it is rare. These bulbs will not bear unless they are given a long, cold, quiet winter first.
There is a time for all things.

I'm thinking of you always. Come follow along on instagram, if you're so inclined.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Writing and Where I Buy Groceries

Last week I attended the last session of a food-writing class.  We were working on food writing in general, and on magazine pitches in particular.  As usual, the class pushed me outside of my comfort zone and the pitch turned into an exercise for me in clarifying my tone as a writer, and my intentions for this space.
I started to talk about my story.  About not really being interested in cooking at home growing up, discovering cooking (and blogging) as a newlywed, and developing a passion for home-cooked food and local food, both as a hobby and even as a source of income.  In the midst of all these things converging, I became a mother. The first few weeks and months of motherhood stripped me of many of the things that used to be a part of my identity, including the time and brain space to maintain the lifestyle of eating that I'd gotten used to. I no longer had the time to cook elaborate recipes. If I'm honest, the harder part is that it hasn't been as interesting to me anymore as it once was.  There was a solid year or two in which food became almost utilitarian for me.  Before these rushed months, I spent a good amount of time and energy appreciating food and cooking, only to have all these free moments taken from me, however joyful my preoccupation.

I'm slowly finding my new food identity. I'm learning how to weave my appreciation for healthy, high quality food into my routine and my sense of self. I'm learning to accept compromise, which is difficult for me.  But I'm doing my best to make it work, including making time to sit here and share this journey with you.  Because maybe you're going through the same kind of thing I am.  Or maybe you just wonder what it's like.  Either way, I think it's important for me to share my experience, in the hopes that people might identify, or at least sympathize.  The struggles of motherhood can be difficult to share, especially publicly. I hope that by being honest about my life, my goals and failures in all their glory, I can make it easier for other people to be more accepting of themselves or others. Because everyone is going through something, and it's much harder to feel like you're alone.

One thing that has become particularly fraught for me as a parent is grocery shopping.  I remember being childless and going to the grocery store with no idea what I wanted. I'd walk up and down the aisles, pick up jars and glance over labels, always take a stroll by the plant section just to look, and generally take my time. It was never a problem to visit more than one store in an outing, so it was easy to buy things consistently at two or three stores.
Now, grocery shopping is all business. It has to be over quickly and done as infrequently as possible.  In her early years, there were many times that I found myself at the grocery store looking through the freezer section. I remember feeling totally averse to cooking because I was so tired and drained of creativity.  (This is actually a terribly sad realization to have, the inability to muster creativity. I remember looking at turning raw food into dinner as an exciting project that I could never grow bored with.)

In the last couple years, I've slowly managed to carve out a grocery shopping routine that doesn't feel like torture, doesn't cost an exorbitant amount, that lends itself well to quick and healthy cooking, and works for us year round.
When the season is favorable (for me, May-early Nov.) I buy and cook as much local produce as I can get my hands on.  When it's not, I still have to put dinner on the table.  Here are just a few of the things that I buy consistently that I know I can always fall back on.
Your mileage may vary, given that this routine depends on some sources that are local to the midwest.  If you're close to me (Iowa City) please feel free to email and I'll get you in touch.

We have a huge supermarket chain (HyVee) and I go there as little as I possibly can because I hate it.  But there are a few things that are significantly cheaper there than other stores, and of course it has a huge variety.  Here is Kalona SuperNatural cottage cheese, which is one of our favorite things to eat because it's free from thickeners/stabilizers and full of protein and good grass-fed fat. There's also a dozen eggs from a local farm. The dozen runs $3.99 and the yolks are darker than other year-round local brands that I've found.
The other brick and mortar store that I visit regularly is our cooperative grocery store, New Pioneer.  They have tons of great in-store options.  I'm a huge fan of their potato bread for toast or hot sandwiches, and we love these locally made tortillas. E's favorite thing in the world is one of these tortillas warmed up and slathered in butter (I'll get to that in a minute) and local raw honey.  
(p.s. once I wrote a guest blog post for New Pi's food blog and you can find it here. Omg that salad was so good.)

We also have a Costco and there are a few things that I buy there regularly, including organic chicken, Ezekiel bread, and lots of frozen vegetables. The frozen mixed vegetables have been indispensable for feeding a small human, and I love always knowing that I have a strong side of vegetables on hand even if I don't have anything fresh.  
We also found this huge bag of dried apples at Costco, which are great for easy mess-free snacks, and canned wild salmon which we keep on hand for my favorite pantry dinner, salmon cakes.  (That recipe is one of the most popular in the history of this blog! Also consider clicking if you like baby fat rolls.)  
Another place I buy from frequently is Aldi's.  Do you have one where you live? Aldi is a German store chain, so things are a little different. The biggest things practically that are different are that you must use debit or cash (no credit cards) and you have to use a quarter as deposit for carts.  The business model is very interesting and we have been mostly very happy with our local store. Much of their stock is packaged foods, but we've found a few things we love and can count on. They have the best price of frozen fruit that I've found outside of Costco, which seems to have an inconsistent supply, and these cheese crisps are bonkers, guys.  We also buy organic salsa and pasta there. It's a great place to buy baking essentials, too.  
Lastly, I'd like to talk about Azure Standard.  Azure is a bulk buying group that delivers monthly via semi truck that starts on the west coast. As far as I know, Iowa City is its easternmost drop point.  You have the option of placing an order monthly and a week or so later, the truck stops at a parking lot in your city and all the goods are distributed.  I love Azure for its excellent prices and variety of product availability. Their prices change frequently but I've found them to be consistently good.  We buy all our grassfed butter from Rumiano through Azure and this has been a game changer for us. Ellie often asks for a piece of butter to eat raw, and it's because this butter is so flavorful.  (Seriously, you should see her face when she tries conventional butter.)  We use coconut milk a lot and the organic is cheaper through Azure than the conventional is at our grocery store.  Vegenaise, which I find to be the best tasting mayonnaise, is the same. Lastly, I have never met a Greek yogurt that I love as much as this one from Strauss family creamery.  
So, as I said above, these are the basic ingredients that I use to throw together a lot of our routine family meals.  I try to plan ahead and have easy things on hand and these sources help me do that, but this routine is always changing.
I'd love to hear how you make regular meals work for your family. It's a priority for us to sit down and eat a meal every night as a family, so I'm always looking for new ways to make that happen.  What do you always have in your pantry and fridge? Where do you buy it? 

Lastly, I want to say with as much emphasis as possible, thank you for being here. Thank you for reading. Thank you for giving even the slightest crap about what I think and write here. It means so much to me.

p.s. It is still totally weird to think of myself as a writer, of this as writing. I can't explain it, but that doesn't feel like a title I own. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Half and Whole Assing

Yesterday was a hard day for me at work.
I'm teaching more than usual and it has me worn thin.
I'm also sick, which is extra unpleasant when your job involves speaking aloud in front of people for a few hours a day.
Midterms just came and went, so I have students in my office. I have known one of these students for a long time, and this semester has proven to be especially challenging.  In spite of great effort, this student is not getting the kinds of grades we all want to see when we look down at that glaring white piece of paper in our laps.  This student sits in class every day and is often overwhelmed.  I am still humbled by this profession because I didn't recognize it.  I saw that look and thought it was boredom, disengagement.
We had a meeting yesterday about the grade, and there was sweat and tears, the words "I am just so upset" were said in a voice that I will never ever forget.  And I sat here and thought, "I can't fix this.". 
I saw it all unfolding and saw myself trying to be here for this student in the best way I could, while still feeling like I'd failed.  I tried to radiate compassion and understanding, and be clear that I will do whatever I can to help.
I just tried to hold the space between us in that moment.
Would you believe that I had this very article on holding space open as this conversation unfolded? One of the many tabs I open and breeze past in my short bursts of inattention at the computer screen between tasks.  It was sitting there all along, quietly waiting for me to notice.
If you have a moment, read it.  Try to hold space for yourself, and for me.
See, this meeting and this student, that feeling, it hasn't left. I can't get it to go away, or even really soften.
Because in that moment, I felt like I was half-assing my job.  If I had just had more time, more mental energy, I could have been there for this person the way that I should.
And the lovely flip-side of this work guilt is mom guilt.  The extra teaching I have been doing has required me to work at home sometimes, which is something I never do if I can avoid it, including during my break and on weekends. Including some of the time that I would normally spend soaking up moments with my two favorite people.  So, of course, I feel like I'm half-assing motherhood and wifehood.

Why can't I whole-ass anything? Everything?  Does anyone?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm always thinking about you.

 Some recent photos, for your time.  Sorry for repeats, instagram people. (I'm xoaliciarose, come say hi!)

Dough thief.
"This is Elsa's cowl."
A sunny living room is my happy place.
Just us.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Lately I have been


this. will there ever be grass again?
all my people! 
but especially cousins
seriously.  The light of her life.

and honestly, running. I hate the treadmill and haven't been making winter running work. It has been rough. I need to figure out a routine that isn't weather dependent.  I'm trying morning workouts. Pray for me, and maybe send coffee. 


brunch for these wonderful people on New Year's.  
a ton of school lunches.  Soon I will write a post about the supplies we bought. So far we've carved out a good routine and are happy with the containers we have.  

pancakes.  We have made a thousand recipes over the years and it turns out that she loves the one I winged and will likely never recreate.  Kids.  
these cookies for book club. They're a simple shortbread with frosting and strawberry jam layered in between.  They were shared at one of the the nicest gatherings we've had to date in which we read a book of poetry (about motherhood! and life! by a mom with a daughter named Ellie!) and the author came a did a puppet show about her rabbit named Chess Piece Face and then agreed to (possibly) join our book club. So, it was sort of the best. 

Her most beautiful binocular.  Her drawing has taken a huge leap recently and I'm trying to keep up with her motivation. I can't wait for warmer weather and more time spent noticing and drawing nature.  Her interest in butterflies and birds has been through the roof lately.
So many knitted things. Some for a sweet baby that I just can't WAIT to meet (not mine. not pregnant.) so I can't share.  I am working on this seed stitch hat for myself in Madelinetosh yarn in holifestival. I'm such a neutrals girl, but this yarn makes me happy. 
She wanted a pink pom pom, of course.  
gifts for her teachers with homemade olive oil soap. I got the soap decks on Etsy. They're made in the US and reasonably priced.  
some naturally dyed yarns.  This fall we cut down our walnut tree. It was not an easy decision to cut down a tree, but it was poisoning our garden. It broke my heart to cut down a tree, one so old and so special, but I'm confident that the extra hours of daylight and a ton of compost will make our back garden plot productive.  
I had a hard time seeing the tree go, and I have been listening to the Woolful podcast, so I was inspired to use the last harvest of walnut hulls and bark to dye some yarn.
Merino on the right.  
The middle skein is also merino but was dyed in the exhaust bath.  
This experiment in solar dyeing resulted in a light vanilla yarn. 
I love them all.  
I am so inspired by natural dyes. I can't wait to experiment with growing plants and dyeing from them. This summer will certainly bring some yarn dyed with poke weed and goldenrod, and I'm searching high and low for a supplier of woad, and some knowledge about it. There is a ton of information out there about natural dyes, but I'm especially interested in the ones I can grow at home.


one of my favorite Christmas gifts.  
My mother insists that this plant was grown from the original plant in this Grant Wood painting. She's had her own for years and I've always said that I was going to steal it, but this is the next best thing.

I'm trying to write more often and more openly about what's going through my mind.  I got such an amazing response from my post about depression and that has fueled me.  I want to start sharing the story of what I'm experiencing more clearly, positive and negative, beautiful and ugly, because I think that there's intense value in it.  There are so many stories of women, of people, and hopefully hearing what I'm going through can make even just one person feel less alone.  I've started opening up blogger and putting up the beginnings of a post, even if I can't see the end of it.  Here's an idea I've had rolling around recently:  

When we're sitting in meditation (i.e. when we're being in the world), sometimes we experience negative emotions related to something in our lives.  The practice is to observe these feelings as reactions, and kindly and non-judgmentally witness and try to understand them.
I frequently feel sad that I'm not able to make my living doing something with food or farming.  I wish that I could dedicate my working hours to a job that makes a direct impact on my local food system, especially as a producer, and I'd prefer to do most of my child's schooling at home in this environment.  I enjoy making and tending and see great value in a rural life, and it would be such a pleasure to make this my living.  But financially I don't see how to make it a reality right now.
Tonight I found myself with this feeling again, which has been pervasive lately.  So many thoughts of leaving, developing a different pace of living, retreating from the hustle and bustle.
When sitting in meditation, if we feel something painful or difficult, we don't try to reject what's happening to us.  We become receptive to what's actually happening, and then explore easing ourselves around this difficulty, with affectionate attention.  Even if we can't make the back pain go away, we can try to soften around it and relax the muscles that we can control like our jaw and neck.   This eases tension about pain, which makes the actual pain more bearable, in my experience.
I'm trying to soften around my life right now.
I have a temptation to tense up about it all, my shoulders pinched to my ears.  It's freezing, so I'm constantly twisted up into a curl just to survive.
But I am trying to wrap myself in cashmere and wool and relax a little.
I may not be able to become a an alpaca farmer or have my own CSA.
But I will buy locally sourced ethical foods and help those farmers stay in business.
I can afford this because of my job.
I will knit with yarn made from American sheep and hand dyed in small batches by an artisan. All of the included workers will be well paid.
I can afford to do this because of my job.

I am thankful to have the chance to do my job every day.  It affords me great luxuries, which do help improve the causes that are important to me.
Sometimes we need a small shift in perspective.

What can you soften around today?  How can you find some ease and forgiveness for yourself in even the most challenging times?
Tell me all your secrets :)
All my love to you, as always.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

as if for the first time


Have you ever found yourself scratching an itch but not remembering feeling the itch itself in the first place? Or suddenly recognized that you're intensely hungry? Or noticed that you've got some food in your mouth that you don't recall choosing to eat?

When we sit in meditation, we ask ourselves to become more aware of our automaticity. When things occur, rather than reacting, we try to take a moment to understand the event itself and recognize our reaction. From there, any action we take is a conscious and volitional one, rather than a thoughtless reflex. ]

When we are aware of an unpleasant event, we have two choices: the first is to react mindfully to resolve the issue by making a conscious choice, rather than reacting without control. The second choice is to sit with the challenge, to direct all our energy and attention into that difficulty. Over time, it will change. Frequently it will resolve itself without any action on our part.

By cultivating this awareness in our formal sitting practice, we hope to make use of this skill of observing and choosing in our daily life.

It may be the case that the holiday season is not a particularly happy one for you. Maybe you have a relationship that causes you difficulty, or you feel frustrated and insecure about the amount of money and time that seems to flow so freely at this time of year. And certainly we all feel some pressure for things to be just perfect for everyone.

I want to encourage you to take a few moments to step back and be observant in the coming days. Try to see things as they are, rather than how you think they should be or how they've been before. And rather than reacting, give yourself some space to make more skillful choices. Are there stressors that you can limit your exposure to? (For me, this means simplifying my social schedule. I love my friends so much, but I feel drained after too many hours out of the house.) Maybe you have held some traditions that no longer serve you. Maybe it's time to let them go. Look at this season and try to see it as if you've never seen it before.

I hope that you find the kindness and love that your community has to offer. I wish you peace and fulfillment, and implore you to make time and space for self care and compassion. (I can't recommend highly enough these meditations on self compassion. If you are feeling a difficult emotion that's very intense for you, please give yourself 15 minutes and try this one. *warning: you may cry.)

A few photos of our season:
Traditions old
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and new
and eating
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As always, thinking of you and yours. 
all my love.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


My dad keeps bugging me to write, so here I am.  
I have a lot of little posts that I want to put up, but this one is the one I’ve been meaning to put here for a while.
This August, I experienced a significant transition.
I returned to work full time for the first time in over two years and Eleanor went to preschool. 
Being home part time with her was my great luxury.  I couldn't treat myself to nice new clothes when I wanted them, or splurge on gifts for the people I loved. Heck, there were times when just meeting our day-to-day bills was a challenge. But as soon as she was in my arms, I knew that I didn't want Eleanor's early years to be spent with someone else. I wanted the majority of her hours, not just for ideological reasons, but because being separated from her was, for me, physically and emotionally painful.
I should be clear that my mind about this topic has not changed. While I've come to a point of acceptance, and can see that there are immense benefits to me nourishing my career and her thriving in an excellent preschool, I still deeply believe that the best place for her to be is at home with her mother. As I march firmly down the path we've chosen of Working Mom and Preschooler, I still hold a very clear ideal in my mind of a homestead and homeschooling.  (My fantasy is complete with a hefty retirement fund and a book deal or two, naturally.) 
I remember the phone call that started the transition.  I was offered a full time position with a significant raise plus generous benefits to teach one more course in addition to the two I was already teaching.  I was walking the aisles of the grocery store pushing Ellie in a cart and as soon as I hung up the phone, I burst into tears, overwhelmed by all the things that were about to change, even though the contract wouldn’t start for months.   
The first three weeks back were perhaps the hardest of my life. I have never experienced anything like it before, but I think it should be called simply depression.  I have never experienced real depression before, so it’s still strange to me to label this thing that happened to me. (I recently started getting migraines and it took me a long time to recognize what was actually happening to me. It’s funny how things change when you have a name for them, isn’t it?)
I had anticipated that the return would be difficult, so I dedicated a significant amount of time to self-care. I took baths and ran as much as I could. I cut my hair, losing a full 10", in an attempt to shed my old self and mark the big change, and bought a few new things to wear to work.  I kept the house tidy because it makes me feel better, and spent as much time as I could taking care of myself in all the ways I know how.  I let myself play with Eleanor without worrying about chores, but I also went out by myself, for no good reason, so that I could just be alone.  These things usually fill up my cup and I can draw on them when I feel stretched thin, but nothing helped.  I don't need to add to the sea of writers who have talked about depression, but for me, it was like being lost at sea.  I watched myself struggle with the new schedule, ticking off all the requirements of packed lunches and morning coffee and fresh sheets, but I barely felt like I was keeping my head above water. I’d come up long enough to get air to survive, but most of the time I struggled.  
I cried. I cried so often. I cried at my desk at 12:30, the time when I'd normally leave to get her. I cried at 4:00 when I left, feeling all the hours in between.  I cried when I heard the tiny voices of toddlers around town and when I watched a new mother open the door to the pumping room.   I cried after she went to bed because I felt so guilty for snapping at her and my partner because I was feeling so frustrated, helpless, and lost. 
When I wasn't crying or angry, I felt sort of numb.  It was this insipid underlying nothingness that pervaded everything, and I’d never experienced anything like it. I had moments where I felt happy, but that numbness never left. I would recognize that something good was happening to me or that I was enjoying something, but I only felt my face smiling from the outside. 
I could sit at this keyboard forever and never adequately describe what it was like. (And to all my friends, loved ones, and fellow humans who continue to struggle with this every day, I am here, sitting next to you quietly and supporting you, humbled.)
I threw everything I had at this thing and it wasn’t getting better. 
Then a few things changed. The first few weeks of each semester are testing, when I have to enforce a lot of rules and meet an endless stream of students whom I will never work with.  But eventually my classes started.  I had real names and faces to take in and see again each morning.  
My period came. (I’m sorry if that’s too much information for you, but its significance cannot be understated.)
Things were still very difficult, but I no longer felt unmoored.  
In early September, I had the opportunity to take an intensive class on mindfulness meditation and I jumped at it.  For eight weeks, I meditated daily for 30-45 minutes and attended a weekly class.  I practiced a variety of types of meditation, all completely secular, and experimented with giving my awareness to different aspects of my emotional life, from how I recognized positive emotions to how I responded to stress.  I spoke with a group of thoughtful and hard working people every week about what it’s like to live in a world where everything (and everyone) moves so fast, and sitting, just being, doesn’t seem to have a place.  The course is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. If you want to read more about it, you can look here  If you’re interested in taking the course but it isn’t offered where you live or you can’t afford it, a free online option is available here.
Meditation is sort of a strange concept for some people, and it can evoke a lot of negativity.  To be clear, mindfulness meditation is simply the practice of intentionally becoming aware. 
I still meditate daily. I may miss a day here or there, but for the most part I’ve been consistent since I started the program, thanks to my supportive family.  
Mindfulness has taught me about four simple things:
1)  Seeing things for what they are.  Like most people, I spend most of my time thinking about the past or worrying about the future Mindfulness has helped train me to recognize when I’m seeing things as they actually are and when I’m caught up in the story I’m telling myself.  
2) Recognizing my reactions to things as they are.  All events elicit some reaction: positive, negative, or neutral. We want good things to stay, bad things to go, and boring things to be over.  Meditation has helped me recognize that I have automatic reactions and that these reactions, in themselves, are a sort of story. Everything changes with time. My depression passed. My back pain, which can be incredibly intense on some days, is often completely gone. Migraines end. Job situations change. Children grow and move on to new phases of life.  Everything moves along, with or without me, and my reactions to these events do nothing to change them. 
3)  Being with my emotions. Having these emotional responses is natural, and meditation has made it easier for me to sit with my emotions as I have them, that is, to see them as passing objects, rather than getting caught up in them.  (Please understand, I’m not able to do this all of the time. I still struggle with letting my emotions dictate my behavior, and wanting negative emotions to go away.)  
4)  Being accepting and playful with my life, even when things are difficult.  Being a careful parent has taught me a greater understanding of empathy, but it has always been difficult for me to direct empathy and compassion to myself. I didn't realize it growing up, but i have perfectionistic tendencies and get frustrated with myself when things don't go the way I want them to.  Mindfulness has helped me be more accepting to the things that happen to me and to my reactions to them, and it has given me tools to be more playful with the difficult parts of life.  Being playful and kind to myself takes so much of the sting from things that otherwise could cut deep into me.  There are some excellent free guided meditations on self-compassion available here.

I have no authority to teach meditation or mindfulness, but I have a little tool that you might find helpful.

When something challenging happens to you, use the acronym RAIN.
R: recognize Take a moment to see what is actually happening to you and label your reaction. Sometimes emotions can sneak up on us and we need to take a moment to step outside our reactionary selves and see what’s really going on.
A: accept Instead of spending time wishing you weren’t angry, or getting frustrated that you’re wasting time by being sad, accept your emotions as they are.  
I: investigate Be curious about your emotions, especially how they are in the body.  If you’re sad, where in your body do you feel it? What does it feel like?  Don't get caught up in thinking about why you're sad, or what you should do to make it stop.  Focus on the feeling of sadness in the body in the present moment.
Nnon-identify  Your emotions aren’t you. The things that are happening aren’t you.  Negative emotions aren’t as powerful when we refuse to let them threaten our sense of self.

I don't mean to sound like sitting in meditation has made all my problems go away, but it has made me feel like I can truly handle anything that happens. It has dulled the sense of helpless urgency that used to populate my everyday thoughts, and has freed me to enjoy the good things in my life more fully.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take the course and couldn't have done it without the support of my family.

Other things that have been going on here recently:
I've been using instagram a lot.  It is so easy to share quick snaps of our days. If you want to follow me, you can here. (You can look at that link even if you don't have instagram!)
Here we are on the Culinary Walk. It's funny to look back and think about years past, before her existence and during my pregnancy, going on this walk.  This year I'm on the executive board of Field to Family, the organization that runs the Culinary Walk, and it has been a pleasure to watch it all come together so beautifully.
We raised some tadpoles! It was so much fun to watch them go from tiny little eggs into bright green frogs. 

IMG_3207 IMG_3491
We've also been making a lot of things. 
I made my first quilt for E's nap time at preschool.  
We made a leaf mobile by dipping the leaves in beeswax and hanging them from a painted stick.
IMG_4272 IMG_4275 
The nephew turned 10 and wanted a minecraft cake.
And this one turned THREE!
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I'll be back with more updates soon. Thank you as always for sticking with me. xo

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