A Creative Economy is the Fuel of Magnificence, Parisian Onion Soup, and Other Things

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I’ve had M.F.K. Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf on my list for ages, and I finally got around to requesting it from the library. Because I am trying not to buy every book I want to read on Amazon. Fisher wrote this book in 1942 to teach women how to cook and eat well in the midst of the scarcity of war. How to make do, but do it well. Chapters include “How to Rise Up Like New Bread” and “How to Be Cheerful Though Starving.” Gorgeous. Even if you have no interest in cooking any of her recipes the writing is stunning. Her chapter on eggs had me in hysterics.

One of the chapters’ epitaphs, a quotation from Emerson, reads: “A creative economy is the fuel of magnificence.” Yes. Amen.

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(This table of contents should look familiar to everyone, because I know all of you own Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal by now.)

It was only after I had started caramelizing a heap of onions in my second-biggest stockpot this morning, in anticipation of making an onion-potato soup for tonight’s dinner, that I read far enough to see her recipe for “Parisian Onion Soup” followed a few pages later by her recipe for “Cream of Potato Soup.” I will call my soup Parisian Onion Soup with Creamed Potatoes. Because it sounds better than “Random Vegetable Soup That I Plan to Puree So That Will Will eat the Onions.” (Because this child eats everything, but he doesn’t like little pieces of onions in things).

We are so conditioned to think that every meal requires an enormous, solid chunk of animal meat with it, and that to me seems such a violent and inelegant way to nourish oneself and one’s family. And we forget that a nicely cooked pot of vegetables can be a supper worthy of a Frenchman, maybe just served with a glass of red wine and a tiny morsel of cheese. Better a supper of herbs, etc.

So anyway, How to Cook a Wolf is lovely. A good cookbook, but mostly a book to be read for the stunning prose. It is more delightful than any novel I’ve read within recent memory. And borrowing books from the library feels strangely thrilling and sort of subversive. I do not need to buy all the objects! A creative economy!

Anyway, in the life of the family: Margaret is 8 months old and sort of floppily sitting up. Eating like a champ and basically being the most sanguine, happy, darling baby of all time.  We started moving her crib to the living room at night, and she immediately started sleeping the night through. It’s a bit Gaffigan-esque of us, but that’s how we like it. Who needs a bunch of bedrooms, anyway? Not us. Will adores her and requires her to sit right next to him at all meals.  When he pretends to be anything, she is a baby whatever it is: baby baseball player, baby kangaroo, baby fire dog (when he’s a fireman).

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Anyway, we made it through February, and we only have to exist in Ithaca for 10 more days before escaping to Nashville for the remainder of winter!!!!!!!!! Will is officially out of diapers, both night and day. It feels like I won the lottery. So life is good, except for Donald Trump and income taxes.

p.s. This is Hilarious (youtube video for parents. If you’re not a parent, this will probably not be funny, or even make sense). I have been dying all week.

Valentine’s Day & Good poems for Lonely Hearts

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John was out of town for work all of last week. My mom came monday night, just in time for Ithaca to get cold again. The temperature was in the negatives this morning. She brought heart-shaped cookie cutters and we’ve made cookies and heart pancakes and oh lots of things.

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John came back & he and will made this heart garland (above) for me. (Based on this little Valentine’s Day book we’ve checked out from the library to read with Will. Kind of a deep book about how a little mouse makes a huge valentine and wants to find someone to give it to, but it’s too big for anyone else so he and the little girl mouse cut it up into smaller valentine’s to give to lots of people. I mean, that’s really deep for a children’s Valentine’s Day book, right?)

On these cold days we need all the strung up hearts and little honey-spice cookies and treats we can get. My toes refuse to warm up, even in thick wool socks and shearling-lined slippers. I vowed last year that I would never do another winter here, and well, here we are.

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(Above: Will and my mom doing one of many baking projects together; Will eating raw batter. Below: Keeping things classy with orange paper plates.)

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And maybe it’s just me and my enneagram type or my idealism or having read too many Jane Austen and L. M. Montgomery novels at an impressionable age, but even with all these babies and this really, really good man (and the sweetest parents ever and friends far beyond what I ever deserved) my heart still feels so lonely and so sad sometimes. And I wanted to write a whole thing about this, about Simone Weil and Augustine and the void and our hearts being empty and restless and all that, but I just am so exhausted from babies and toddlers not sleeping that I can’t.

But just very briefly. I wanted to say, especially on this particular day, that our hearts are made with this infinite empty space and this space aches so much sometimes. Even when you’re married. Even when you have little darling babies who are latched onto you 24 hours a day.

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And I wish I knew how to make it stop, but pretty much everything from Jesus to Anne Lamott seems to suggest that we just have to sit with the emptiness and let it be a little empty, without trying to stuff it down with all the chocolate in the world, cough, cough. not me, other people, I mean. Other people do that.

But Jesus, annoyingly, showed us that sometimes we have to sit in a garden and cry. Sometimes we have to pray, “God, why have you left me completely forsaken and alone?” And that is a hard prayer to pray. There is nothing fun or easy or cute about that prayer.  But maybe one of the main reasons I believe the Bible to be true is that the longest book in the whole thing is a book of poems.Poems for empty hearts. Poems for the betrayed, poems for the angry, poems for the soul-starved. Ok, so they are poem-prayers. And ok, the first and second ones are a little austere, if you’re starting from the beginning. You can skip around. 3, 4, 13, 16, 18, 22, 23, 27, 30, 31, 32, 40, 42, 46, 56, 62, 63, 69, 73, 84, 90, 91, 121, 130, and 143 are some particularly good ones.

And the beautiful thing about these particular poems is that they don’t leave us in our misery. There is plenty of room for wallowing and languishing and angst in these poems. They say that every single one of our tears is counted. Matters. But these poems carry us through the ache and into the holy, shining radiant love of God. They gently teach us that our own empty heart is not the center of all things but that the beautiful Home of God is the center of all things. And that that dwelling place, that lovely home, is what our hearts long for (Psalm 84).

And the other beautiful thing is that Jesus prayed all of these poems for us. He became the loneliest and most forsaken for us. And there are no depths we feel that he has not felt. And he is just gathering us all up &  oh so soon will mend all the broken hearts & wipe all the tears from the saddest faces and bring us all home. (speaking of which, pleasepleaseplease listen to this song.) Anyway, happy valentine’s day, y’all.

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Stories and Light for The Ones Who Are Waiting (It was Candlemas)

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Yesterday was Candlemas. I wanted to write all about how people used to take their candles to churches to have them blessed for the coming year, wanting the very light in their homes to be flickers of holy church-light. How in France they celebrate with crepes. How it’s the Holy Day that commemorates Jesus being brought to the temple when he was a baby and placed into the waiting arms of old Simeon, and how Anna the ancient widow beheld the face of her Redeemer. How Candlemas is probably rooted in wild pagan festivals to celebrate the ending of winter and the lightening of days, but how maybe we need all the wild festivals we can get our hands on when the world is so dark and so, so cold.

And I wanted to write about how this small, unnoticed holiday is maybe a holiday for the people who are waiting. Huddling under blankets, crying eyes out in the dark or in the car on the way to work. Waiting for things to change, waiting the long days of every month for a baby to get conceived, or for a husband or for something to make this cold world feel not quite so broken.

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And then by the time I realized I wanted to write all of this, the day was waning and it was warm (40 degrees! In February!) so we all went outside and I played baseball with Will while Margaret sat in her carseat draped with a blanket, and then it was dinner time and the house was a mess and I was trying to cut up cabbage to sauté and dropping most of it on the floor because I was so hungry that my hands were shaking and then all the crying and screaming and bedtime drama, and then after the children were in bed I pretty much huddled under a fleece blanket in a state of shock or something. Drinking tea and reading My Mother’s Sabbath Days, coughing piteously, like the rose in The Little Prince.

So I didn’t write what I wanted to write, which is this:

That we don’t sing songs about Anna and Simeon in Sunday school. We learn about the ark-builders, the giant-slayers, the ones swallowed by fish or walking through parted seas. We hear about the women who get babies: Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth. And all the miracles and angel choruses, and they are grand and we need every story of the dead being raised and the oil lasting and the bread being multiplied and the angels singing over fields of sheep.

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We don’t sing songs about the quiet old folks who sat in the temple and waited all those long, aching days.  But maybe we should. Maybe we need the unremarkable story of this old priest who served in the temple, doing ordinary things every single day, just “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”

And the old prophetess Anna who was at least 84 years old and had lived most of her years as a widow. She was single. “She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37). Her entire life was a prayer. She prayed; that’s who she was.

Anna and Simeon, they lived quiet days. Days of longing and ache and somehow of trusting and worshipping God in the midst of the longing and ache.

And then Mary and Joseph bring this tiny baby in and lay him in Simeon’s hopeful arms. And Simeon took the baby up in his arms and blessed God. Took the Consolation of Israel into his empty arms and thanked God. And Anna after all her unremarkable years or prayer, of inhabiting God’s house with no husband, no miracles, no displays of glory. Just being faithful in ordinary days. I like to think that when she saw the baby she knew instantly Who he was, picked up the folds of her dress, and ran over to him with the abandon and glee of a little girl. I picture her and Simeon passing the tiny baby back and forth, just laughing and dancing with joy.

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And maybe Isaiah was right when he wrote that the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married (54:1). Maybe the ones who wait the longest with the least will one day be blessed just a bit more? And maybe Saint John was praying the best prayer of all when he wrote the last prayer of the Bible: Even so, Come Lord Jesus. A prayer of longing for Jesus to return.

So until He does & until our desperate prayers are answered, we light candles against the darkness and eat crepes to makes us happy and read poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and sing hymns and keep telling each other the good stories from the Good Book. We keep sweeping the floor and washing dishes and driving to work, doing ordinary things over and over again in the midst of our ordinary days. With broken hearts or broken bodies.  Waiting maybe for angels or manna or honey from a rock, but maybe it will only be the Messiah.

January: Some Good Things, a Fat Baby, Weather, etc.

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DSC_1879Life around here is so beautiful and so crazy. We all have terrible colds so I’m making little potions for us of cayenne pepper and honey and apple cider vinegar and kleenex are strewn about hither and yon in the way you’d imagine they would be in the home of an INFP mother of two babies.

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It has been a mild winter so far; we have had several days above freezing so far. Unlike last winter. But we won’t speak of last winter.

I bought plane tickets to take the children and myself to Nashville in late March, by which time the South will be all daffodils and sunshine and joy and low taxes, and Ithaca will be 14 degrees and miserable. I cannot wait. I’m flying by myself with a baby and a toddler and I don’t even care.

Some good things around here lately:

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Bullet journal!!!! I want to recite all of shakespeare’s sonnets to you every day.

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Making butter with some cream I found on sale at the co-op. Awesome toddler activity.

Watching lots of Jeeves and wooster with the toddler. He’s obsessed. It’s the best.

This baby:

There are lots of other good things I wanted to write about, but I am being clawed at by a toddler. More later.

The New Year and Just About the Best Thing I Ever Did

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Just a quick update. Life is beautiful and crazy. I just started a bullet journal yesterday (using this as a guide) and I love it more than life itself, pretty much.

I don’t have much in the way of New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to cook my way slowly and haphazardly through Jerusalem, a cookbook I’ve heard about over and over the past couple of years and then finally cooked no fewer than 6 recipes out of with my mother in law one afternoon over Christmas. The dinner we made was epic and insanely delicious as of course anything with that much garlic and cilantro and lemon juice and za’atar would be. It was exhausting, but glorious.

Which, by the way, pretty much sums up my entire year. Exhausting but (or maybe I should say and) glorious. A toddler, being pregnant, being a chaplain, living through last winter in Ithaca, giving birth in a bathtub in complete terror and ecstasy, and now two babies, another winter, and potty training the toddler. Heights of glory and depths of, well, something.

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I also want to listen to more music this year and read more novels. So those are my resolutions or hopes or intentions or whatever.

Next on the agenda. So obviously the best thing I ever did was to marry the most amazing man in the world. And then the next best few things I ever did were: go to Davidson College, birth two babies without pain medication, and sing in a gospel choir when I was in grad school. But maybe the next best thing I ever did is this:

Right before Christmas I had John take Safari off my iphone. I don’t have a facebook app, instragram app, or any other social media apps on there. I also have disabled the email on my phone. So now I can: text, make calls, take pictures, and use a map. Oh, and listen to podcasts. That’s all. At first I kept looking frantically for the safari icon, desperately wanting to check email or Facebook or read something to make me feel good. But now!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Y’all, I don’t even have words for how awesome this is. Now I have to use the actual computer if I want to check my email or facebook, so it happens maybe 3 times a day instead of 500.

Maybe you are not like me and you have self control and you don’t get sucked into all that crazy not-real stuff, but anyway, I just wanted to share. I am un-tethering myself from that blasted thing & just feeling better and happier and more present than I have in awhile. I know that’s not the answer for everyone, and I’m not trying to be all, “Look how awesome I am.” But it just feels good not to have access to those empty sink holes any more.

Anyway, now i must return to my bullet journal and some trashy tv! Love & joy to everyone and hope your 2016 is going beautifully so far!

Christmas Tree & a Heap of Babies!

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Christmas tree farm (from a few weeks ago). Will reading, snuggled up on the couch. me and a pile of babies on my lap!!!! Will loves climbing up on my lap when I’m holding Margaret. He’ll say, “Have two babies?” And I’ll say oh yes, I have two babies. And he climbs on up and we all snuggle. (And yes, those are snowman pajamas, and yes, Will isn’t wearing pants.) Just finished all the gift-wrapping. About to make tea and curl up for a little bit with a book! INFP bliss!!! Happy Christmas Eve Eve to all!

Winter Solstice and Some Good Things This Week

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It’s not as cold as it should be for December.  We had a little dusting of snow a few days ago, but mostly it’s been incredibly mild. I’m still emotionally scarred from last winter, so I’ve been glad for the warmth.

Today it’s raining, Will is still in his dinosaur skeleton pajamas, and the house is strewn with Toddler Things. An empty egg carton by the front door, a little football, a bin of trucks dumped on the floor, tiny plastic beads everywhere. Whose idea was it to let a 2 year old play with tiny plastic beads anyway?  The floors are filthy. The days have been getting darker and darker and finally, today, the tide turns. Light comes again. Sunset at 4:30 in the afternoon will soon be a shadowy memory. And until then we will keep our Christmas tree lights on and burn all the candles and sit by the fire and use the oven all we can and wrap gifts in bright paper and sing songs of joy in the midst of this darkness.

A few sparks of light in my little home this week:

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A package from a friend that held a perfect cream colored throw blanket, two little presents, and hand-me-downs! Including a gray and black flannel dress that is perfect for this breastfeeding mother who doesn’t like wearing pants but also doesn’t have many dresses to nurse in. I think if Jane Eyre were a stay at home mother with babies (and no servants) she might wear this dress.

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And speaking of flannel, this one (above) from LL Bean. Bought it with birthday money last month and I literally wear it night and day, at least 3 days a week. Even though it hasn’t been cold cold, it’s still been cold enough that I want to feel cozy.

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This book of winter and Advent reflections compiled of writings and poems by Madeline L’Engle and Luci Shaw, sent by a sweet friend as an unexpected Christmas gift. I cannot even tell you how beautiful and perfect this book is. It is my new one and only Advent book. Forever.

And this. True story. I had four errands to run last night (because I do not run errands with both children, for the sake of any small remaining shreds of sanity I might possess), including two different grocery stores plus Target because Christmas snuck up on me and why oh why didn’t I get all the gifts weeks ago? But I didn’t! And John, bless his angel heart, went over my list with me and went out. To all four places. At 8 something pm.  And came home with everything, plus a bottle of wine. Amen.

Our winter CSA. One box packed full, every other Saturday. Spinach, kale, potatoes, squashes, onions and garlic and brussels sprouts. Beets, radishes, broccoli, carrots. More than enough for each week, and every time we get a box Will helps us pull things out with extreme delight and puts the potatoes in their little wooden bin, the squashes on their shelf, etc. So thankful for these beautiful boxes of sustaining food.

Will walking around saying, “It’s Advent! Advent means waiting! Waiting for Christmas!” And literally just loving this baby sister like it’s his job. I know we will have some insane quarrels on our hands pretty soon once she starts taking his toys, but for now, this:

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And finally, a conversation with a precious 9 year old child at our church this past Sunday about the Chronicles of Narnia. Which he’s reading for the first time. He was literally brimming over with excitement and joy.  And I teared up a few times talking with him, just thinking about the glory of those stories. The Last Battle. Puddleglum! And about this child discovering oh all the things (he’s on the Horse and His Boy right now, which I told him was one of my top five favorites). He asked me which character I would want to be (out of the first two books), and why it had to be Lucy who found the door, and why Aslan would let Eustance come in if he knew what would happen. And as we were talking about the last question, and how maybe a story like Eustace’s is important and why it might be so, this boy’s twin sister came over and said, “Like Paul?” And I almost cried again. Yes, child, like Paul.  And like Peter. And like all of us. As a matter of fact, I am going to go re-read all of them starting right now.

Another post coming soon, I think, with pictures from our Christmas tree expedition! Anything rather than vacuuming these floors and wrapping gifts and packing for our impending trip! Merry Christmas & happy winter solstice, y’all!

 

Easy Way to Save Money! (And a few pictures of life around here)

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So probably everybody already uses Ebates, or there’s some really dreadful thing about it that I just don’t know yet, but I just heard about it and signed up for it and even just used it to buy some insoles for my LL Bean slippers (the shearling is totally worn out in my right heel, not sure why). SO for anyone doing last-minute Christmas shopping this is a super easy and awesome resource for saving some money! (Well, making some money back on stuff you would be buying anyway).

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So anyway, for people who might not know: Ebates is a website where you can sign up, and when you use their website to shop online you get a certain percentage back in cash. They just mail you a check. Or put money in your PayPal account! You don’t give them your social security number, your bank account numbers, or anything scary like that.

You can shop at just about any website at all: Amazon, Gap, Nordstrom, J. Crew, Groupon, Snapsfish, Sephora, Target,  Amazon, Walmart, Ebay, and on and on. Even Etsy!!! And did I say Amazon?! And travel booking websites! You just go to the ebates website, and search for the store or item you’re looking for, click that link to go straight to whatever website you want, and get cash back for stuff you would have bought anyway.

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Today a lot of the cash back deals are doubled, so for a lot of stores you can get 10% cash back. And when you sign up and spend $25 in purchases within the first few months, you get a $10 credit. And you still get each individual store’s discounts! So for example, everything at Lands End is 40% off today, and if you shop through Ebates, you get that 40% off plus 8% cash back through ebates.

And if you refer 3 friends you get a $100 credit. So that’s awesome.  (If you sign up using this link you will count as one of my 3 people, ahem, mom, dad, etc, cough, cough.)

Ok, that’s all for now!

Babies. And Christmas.

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We’ve had a nice, cozy Thanksgiving weekend together.  We didn’t travel, so we missed our families BUT it was so nice to not be on the road! We had a sweet Thanksgiving meal with some friends in town, had a lot of baby/toddler chaos I mean joy and watched many, many episodes of Parenthood after the kids went to sleep each night. Today we went to our tree place and cut down a beautiful tree! Will was deeply impressed by the “farner” (i.e, the Christmas tree farm guy; “farner” is how he refers to farmers, and I just love it so I don’t try to correct him, which is horrible, I know) and his tractor. Which Will got to sit on. So obviously he was in heaven. Anyway, we made it back, got the tree up, lights on, and managed to take few pictures. And now the little ones are snug in their beds, the kettle is full of hot water ready for winter tea, and I have a delicious stack of library books to read next to the fire.  I love Christmas. And I love these two babies. And I love this man who deals with toddler bathroom situations, fixes curtain rods, lies down on muddy, wet, cold ground to cut down a Christmas tree, and has woken up with Margaret at 5:30 every morning for the past 4 days. (Pictures of the tree expedition coming soon.)

My Babies!

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We made it to the library (and back) this morning. It was snowing, no big deal. Being a surgeon in the ER during a power outage or climbing Mt. Everest with no food or water during avalanche season would be a calm, relaxing experience after taking two small children to the Ithaca library in the winter.  Have I ever mentioned that our library has no parking? Anyway, we stocked up on books about Thanksgiving, and I got some Dickens  (Oliver Twist) and some fun mysteries if the Dickens feels too difficult, which it probably will. And an anthology of 20th c. poetry! I realized I need more poems in my little world.

But before we went I tried to get some pictures of the nuggets for a possible Christmas card!!!! We’ve never sent one out, and every year I long to with all the fervor in my little heart, and then I realize that it will cost money, and we don’t.  But this year.  Maybe.

Also. I hope these photos convey how we are always sitting about laughing heartily and kissing our baby sister and gazing with wonder at the falling snow wearing coordinating outfits (minus, I guess, Will’s random track pants)! Not how unshowered I was (and still am) or the heaps of laundry in the other corner and econo-pack of toilet paper sitting in the middle of the living room because I don’t have a place to store huge quantities of toilet paper in the new house or how immediately after these pictures ensued approximately 1 hour of Margaret screaming because it was her nap time and she was hungry but we were also trying to get out the door to go to the library or how I spent most of the weekend sobbing or huddled in a ball of panic because of how hard life with two babies is.

Ok, so as crazy as life is, I just have to say. Will is obsessed with Margaret and all he wants to do is snuggle with her, help me change her diaper,  bring me cloths when she spits up, sing songs to her when she’s sad. And obsessed with helping. Takes out the trash with John, helps me wipe the table, puts his clothes away, everything. Good little productive firstborn child. And the other morning while he was playing on the rug with his trucks I heard him whispering to them, “Get cozy, get cozy.” And Margaret’s little baby smiles are just radiant beams of golden joy. So anyway, Merry early Christmas because yes, I am one of those people who starts celebrating Christmas before thanksgiving!

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