On Surfing and Life

Jul 19 2016

I sat by a beach at sunset last night, in the heat and humidity with sticky eyelids and hair bundled on top of my head, watching black specks on the horizon surface and dive, and surface and dive, and surface and dive. The waiter who brought me a mango margarita said they were dolphins, but I suspect they were mermaids or mommies or both who were drowning and surfacing and sometimes barely catching their breath and sometimes exuberantly celebrating their wild, weird and wonderful lives.

I sat with my sister-in-law, Kim, who is my friend and my family and sometimes my confidant, and we talked about life and the ways we’ve loved each other well and the ways we’ve failed each other — through our ten years together and also in the last month alone — and also about our boobs and our butts and whether we should order guacamole. Yes to the last, by the way. We love each other and we fight sometimes, but, my hand to God, we’ve never NOT ordered guacamole, which means, no matter what, we have a solid foundation for trusting each other moving forward.

Waterlogue-2016-07-19-15-39-32We sat on a precarious wood balcony with a panoramic view of the water and the mermaids and the mommies while the tide rushed in underneath us with force and enthusiasm which made us giddy and also made us wonder whether the whole structure would collapse, but we decided there were worse ways to go, so we stayed.

And we watched the surfers surf.

They paddled out into the tumultuous water and waited for it to rise behind them, and then they’d paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle, and try to catch the wave juuuust right. Just before the impact zone. Just where’s there’s the right amount of force. Just where the wave could propel them forward, and, when it did, to stand for only seconds at a time before they could turn their boards seaward again and drift back out to the ocean to try it again.

But that’s only when it went according to plan. Only when the untamed ocean complied with their precision timing. Only when sea and body worked in concert to create split seconds to soar.

Most often, they crashed.

And fell below the surface.

And tumbled inside the wave.

The impact zone taking them down and down and down until their buoyant bodies and boards, which they trusted over and over, brought them to the surface to try again.

And try again.

And try again.

Knowing they’d fall more than fly, they kept trying again and again and again.

It made me wonder if I’m not drowning, exactly. It made me wonder if maybe I’m just tumbling and need to accept the fall as the price to fly.

I googled surfing today. Because I wondered and needed to know. How do surfers survive the big waves? And what can I learn about how to survive mine?

Here’s what I learned, friends, which I share because we need this.

How to Survive Big Water and Battering Waves
in the words of surfers who would know:

  1. You hold your breath and relax. You might be tumbled, but your body and board are naturally buoyant and will surface if you wait it out. Then you look out for the next wave breaking & get the f*ck out of the way.
  2. The sensation is rather intense. You have NO idea what direction is up, if you are going to get dragged along the ocean floor, when it will be over, if you are going to collide with another surfer. Every time you wipe out you are quickly reminded that you are a speck in the ocean and the waves can have their way with you if they want. Fun stuff! You relax, pretend you are a rag doll, and eventually swim your way to the top.
  3. One loses one’s sense of direction under water, but, if one can locate “down,” then “up is in the opposite direction.
  4. I body surfed a lot as a kid, and got washing-machined plenty. You just hold your breath, do your best to relax, and pull your limbs in so they don’t get yanked off.

With love in the waves (and wave-ing 😉 ),

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P.S. I keep forgetting to let you know I’ve updated retreat dates and descriptions for Fall 2016 and Winter/Spring 2017. For information on the spiritual formation retreat, go here. For information on the writing retreats, go here for the 101 version and here for the 202 version. I would LOVE to hang out with you at any/all of these!

Drowning and Swimming for the Surface. Maybe.

Jul 18 2016

Dearest Friends,

I’m drowning.

Optimistic.

And drowning.

Swimming for the surface.

And drowning.

Swimming in circles, maybe, actually, truthfully, since I can’t quite see the surface from here. But I believe in the surface, is what I’m saying. I believe it’s still there. Like I believe the dawn is coming. Always on the way, even in the darkest part of the night. And I’m swimming for it; the surface, the dawn. Whether I’m pointed in the right direction is almost superfluous, right? Almost? Just keep swimming. And swimming. And swimming. Except when I lie still here, under the water, in a dead man’s float where it’s quiet and cold and sort of peaceful in its own drowny way. I’ll swim again in a minute. For now I’ll rest.

I’m in no danger, I think, this time, while drowning. I’ve been in danger before, but not right now. I have lifelines. I’ve grown them, like tentacles, over time, and collected the lines I’ve been thrown. I have a few tied off, even now, and will climb some soon to see which lead to the surface this time. Those lifelines, though; they’re a labyrinth. Like the stairways at Hogwarts, always shifting. Still stairs. Still lifelines that lead somewhere; just not always where I necessarily need to go, and so I have to seek out different routes to the surface sometimes.

Depression lies. But for now I’m drowning. I’ll swim for the surface soon.

Waving in the dark,

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P.S. Sorry this post is a little weird and dark. I’m OK. I swear it. It’s just that I decided a long time ago to not hide from you — or myself — when I’m “middling dark” instead of very, very happy or very, very depressed. The middle is a weird place to be. Sort of undefinable except in strange metaphors about water and nighttime and believing in the surface and the dawn which are easier for me to cling to sometimes than hope, which is too big and slippery to grab with my tentacles.

P.P.S. My parents and brother and husband have sent me away for a few days with my sister-in-law for respite. It’s a lifeline. GOD BLESS THEM. I’ll be writing more this week. That’s one of the respite goals to unclog my mind and heart and soul. And to rest. Life is challenging right now. And relentless always. I know you get it, friends. That’s why we need each other.

P.P.P.S. This…

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I love you with all my butt. I would say heart, but my butt is bigger.

The Pictures You Don’t See on Facebook: PTSD and My Son’s Service Dog Hero

Jul 11 2016

We went on vacation last week, and it’s not lost on me that we’re now part of a narrowing group of American families who can afford ridiculous luxuries like paid time off and time together in the sun and water. Never mind that this holiday was paid for by Nana and Papa, and not us; we won’t pretend generous grandparents involved in their grandkids’ lives and with the means to gift us family time isn’t its own elite past time. We’re beyond lucky. We know it, and we walk a line that’s littered with guilt and gratitude in equal measure.

I posted pics on Facebook to prove we vacationed. Our happy family. Smiles, surf, sun and silliness. And I didn’t feel guilty about that. Not even a little. I still don’t, in spite of the loud voices everywhere telling us we’re Fakebooking when we post the pretty things and are trying to deceive our friends by highlighting only the joyful parts of life and omitting the rest. Facebook is my scrapbook. It’s where I hold happy memories. And the more happy on Facebook the better, in my opinion. POST ALL THE LUNCH PICTURES, I say. I WANT TO SEE YOUR PRETTY SANDWICH, friends. And ALL THE BABY PICS, too. TOO MANY CUTE KID PICS, PLEASE. When did we decide to be the cranky, old lawn neighbors, anyway? “Damn kids! Keep your happy off my Facebook lawn!

I feel guilty, in other words, for having a vacation at all. Guilty and grateful because I want ALL the families to have one, too. But I feel no guilt for having a happy moment out loud, and one I can share in public. Maybe because I long to share your happy moments, too. Or maybe because I know that vacations and families and friendships and children and life are made up of the happy mixed with the unhappy. The joyful mixed with the barely-holding-it-together. The gasps of air at the surface mixed with drowning. The magic and the mess intermingled. Grace and grime all the time.

Maybe, for me, it’s because every moment like this one,

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comes hand in hand with innumerable moments like this one
IMG_0547where our son, who experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an early life that was deeply unfair to him, falls all the way apart.

Our vacations, therefore, are moments of trauma and triumph strung together haphazardly. Angst and sorrow sprinkled with joy. Frustration, mostly, for this precious man-child, and tiny glimpses of freedom, now and then, and not often enough.

I don’t usually share much with you about Ian’s life or ours with him. I have occasionally here and here and here and here. But mostly we keep what he experiences to ourselves because each of our kids has control over the “publish” button when it comes to their stories, and Ian is the most private of our kids, the one who’s most bewildered about this strange life; the most uncertain that there are good things out there for him; the most sure that he’ll be hurt again like he was in his first life, before we were there were champion him and fail him and champion him again, like all parents who mean well and succeed and fail in equal measure but still hope they’re not screwing it up entirely.

I took the pictures below of Ian with his service dog, Zoey, months ago, because he asked me to. He wanted to “watch Zoey do her job, Mom,” and so I sat with him while she worked as she so often does to ease anxiety and panic that overtakes my son but which he’s helpless to explain, bearing the double burden of PTSD with an expressive language disorder that keeps most of his thoughts and feelings stuck inside with no way out. I’ve kept these pictures private, of course, because they’re really not mine to share.

Except that Ian has asked me now for a week straight to show them to you.

We had a conversation after vacation. A conversation about Miss Zo and her special place in our lives. A conversation about the many who suffer, as Ian does, from PTSD and myriad other disabilities. A conversation about mental illness, with which I am far too familiar myself. And a conversation about what it’s like to feel so terribly alone, wading through the muck and mire and wondering whether there’s a way out.

Ian said, “Show them, Mom.”

I said no. A whim on his part didn’t seem like a good enough reason to show his anguish to the world.

He still said, “Show them.”

I said no again. And again. And again.

But he’s asked me every day for a week after that convo. Until I said, “Why, Ian? You usually want to keep this to yourself. You usually don’t want people to see this. And once we show them, it’s not possible to take it back.”

And Ian said, “So they’re not alone, Mom. So they know they’re not alone.”

And so, to honor my son and his battle, my son the hero, and his dog the hero, too, here are the pictures we don’t show on Facebook. A face of PTSD and the dog who would lead him to the light at the end of each tunnel:

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With love, friends, and the reminder from my kid that we’re not alone,

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Mother/Daughter Look-a-Likes: Can’t Tell Them Apart!

Jun 28 2016

Everywhere my daughter and I go, people can’t tell us apart. That’s why we have a history of taking twinsy pics; to blow people’s minds that we’re actually mother/daughter.

We took some yesterday, in fact, just for you. See if you can figure out who’s who!

Good luck, friends.

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You’re never going to believe this, but we’re 25 years apart in age. FOR REALS.

I know, right??

Minds. Blown.

You’re welcome, The Internets! It’s like the blue dress all over again.

With love,

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P.S. If you’re not done being shocked and amazed, here are some of our other Twinsie Pics…

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P.P.S. In unrelated news, MY KID IS THE BEST SPORT EVER. The End.

My Husband Is A Better Encourager Than Your Husband

Jun 22 2016

Greg is an encourager, which isn’t at all what I was going to write today. I was writing, instead, an apology for my Christian faith, but I’ve only gotten to the part where I used to buy books on demon possession and stuff them in my heathen friends’ couches so they’d discover them later and be coerced by abject terror to follow Jesus. “Planting seeds,” I called it, and I ROCKED it, man.

But that story’s not finished, and I can’t write something called An Apology for My Christian Faith, or a Declaration of a Faith That’s Wild and Free, or GODAMMIT; I’M GONNA FOLLOW JESUS unless I get the words right in my own head and heart first, so that’s going to have to wait a bit.

So I’m going to tell you about what an encouragement Greg is to me, but first I have to tell you I have a new bike.

A new bike!

Which isn’t new ’cause I don’t really do new, but is new to me, so, like “Beth Woolsey New” which is as good it gets around here.

My new bike looks like this if we paint it in watercolor, which we’re totally doing because I’ve been playing with my Waterlogue app to avoid writing my apology:

Preset Style = Travelogue Format = 10" (Giant) Format Margin = None Format Border = Straight Drawing = #2 Pencil Drawing Weight = Heavy Drawing Detail = Medium Paint = Natural Paint Lightness = Auto Paint Intensity = More Water = Orange Juice Water Edges = Medium Water Bleed = Average Brush = Fine Detail Brush Focus = Everything Brush Spacing = Medium Paper = Buff Paper Texture = Medium Paper Shading = Medium Options Faces = Enhance Faces

 

Also, it looks like this:

Painted in Waterlogue

And like this:

Painted in Waterlogue

And like this:

Painted in Waterlogue

(Psst… this isn’t a Waterlogue sponsored post, ’cause I don’t do sponsored posts, FYI.)

Back to Greg being an encourager!

I bought a bike! And I love it! It has an electrical assist I can engage when I ride up the giant hill to my house and also whenever I want to pretend I’m 87 and too old to peddle. And it’s enormous and bulky enough to haul a kid AND groceries on the back both of which I now do regularly because COOL BIKE.

In fact, I love my new bike so much I’ve decided to take it on our annual central Oregon vacation this week. And, while some husbands might discourage their wives from packing a huge, unwieldy, motorized bike on vacation — what with the 5 children and the service dog and the piles of luggage and mountains of groceries that attend our holidays with us — Greg said, and I quote, “There’s no way — NO WAY — that enormous thing is going to fit in our car.”

Isn’t that cute??

“No worries,” I said. “We can get a bike rack!”

“Too huge for a bike rack, Beth,” he replied. “There’s no way.”

Aw. He’s the adorablest! I heart him to the moon, friends!

“Car top carrier, it is!” said I.

“Read. My. Lips,” said he. “NO. Way. On God’s green earth, there is NO WAY are we taking that thing.”

I was beginning to sense some reluctance, however small, so I called my dad, and HE WAS SUPPORTIVE, TOO! “Greg’s right, Beth; that’s ridiculous. There’s no way to bring that thing on a 4-hour road trip.”

The men in my life, friends! They get me! I say I want something and then they get all tense and RIDICULE MY ABILITY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN… which lets me know they must WANT me to bring my bike VERY MUCH since expressing contempt and derision for my ideas is the fastest, most efficient way to get me to do anything. They’re SUPER SUPPORTIVE, in other words, and ensuring all my dreams come true.

The internet is all about telling other people how much better our lives are than theirs, so I figure it’s OK that I put down my Christian faith essay tonight to write, instead, about how much more encouraging my husband is than yours.

In conclusion, #FinallyDoingTheInternetRight!

With lots of love,

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The Day I Peed My Shoe. Yesterday, Actually. Yesterday, I Peed My Shoe.

Jun 20 2016

Once upon a time, I wet my shoe.

Not the pretty kind of “wetting my shoe” that’s an adorable misleading statement where I say, “I wet my shoe,” but then I’m all, “J/K! I got my shoe wet with the garden hose while watering the garden. Gotcha!” You know what I mean? Like when you drop a pea on the floor and say, “I peed the floor,” and your nine-year-olds think you’re HILARIOUS and your teenage daughter rolls All the Eyes in All the World and goes, “Stop, Mom. Just stop.”

Nope, this is not that; in this situation, I wet my shoe with my very own urine because — and here’s where I offer as true an explanation as I know — at my core, I am a gigantic dork. A gigantic, shoe-wetting dork.
Now, to be fair to my sweet self, this incident wasn’t actually as bad as the time last fall when I wet my office, about which I haven’t written because I’m loathe to be the girl who pooped my closet AND the girl who peed my office. I mean, how much believable pottying-on-oneself can one actually do? At some point, people will necessarily question my credibility, right? In our current shame-based culture where we can’t even share our lovely lunch pictures on the Facebook (while being simultaneously chided to treasure the little things) without being accused of the overshare, I was afraid I Couldn’t Take It. Losing even more credibility AND being re-accused of over-sharing? HOW WILL I ENDURE THE SHAME?

So I didn’t.

I left the office-peeing story untold.

And it shall remain untold for now, because I have a more pressing matter to address, which is the wetting of my shoe, about which I felt a similar measure of shame to the wetting of my office, until I remembered this afternoon that I HAVE no shame. I lost it long ago, as well as my dignity. I also realized that being absent the credible makes one incredible, and I was all, “INCREDIBLE ME can SO TELL THIS STORY.”

Which is why I’m here to let you know that once upon a time, I wet my shoe.

Yesterday.

Once upon a time yesterday, I wet my shoe.

While on my way home from the Grace in the Grime Spiritual Formation Retreat, I wet my shoe.

In a port-a-potty, I wet my shoe.

After bragging at the retreat how good I am at the “hover, aim and pee splash-free” maneuver — because this is the kind of thing one always discusses at a spiritual formation retreat, yes? — I wet my shoe.

I hovered, indeed, but then I missed, and it cascaded off the seat, creating a waterfall effect off the rim, which is how I wet my shoe. Which I failed to feel at first, so I REALLY wet my shoe.

The night after I told lovely retreat ladies in the hot tub overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset about Peeing My Office and about the shame which kept me from telling all of you, I wet my shoe.

Probably because Jesus was giving me more opportunities to be Authentically Me, I wet my shoe. We must, after all, credit Jesus with All the Gifts and Give Thanks in All Things, and I clearly have the spiritual gift of Soiling Myself, so Thank You, Jesus!

I wrote the ladies just now, in fact, and I shall share with you, too, for the sake of expedience and friendship and OBEDIENCE TO GOD, as you will see…

Ladies. Ladies. Ladies.

I need to tell you something.

I WET MY SHOE ON THE WAY HOME FROM THE BEACH YESTERDAY.

I WET it. With PEE. I am writing about it currently, but I feel that Jesus, who is mean and vindictive (not really) (I think) FORCED ME TO PEE MY SHOE because I neglected to tell the story in the fall about peeing my office. Do we think it’s a COINCIDENCE that I confessed that story to you in the hot tub on SATURDAY and then on SUNDAY I peed my shoe? THAT IS NOT COINCIDENCE, friends; it’s obviously my spiritual gift to pee and poop All the Things — I mean, HOW MANY TIMES DOES JESUS NEED TO SHOW ME THIS BEFORE I ACCEPT IT AS TRUTH?? — and then write about those things. I REJECTED my spiritual gift last fall after the incident that combined tights with that lady-pee-device and my consistently poor judgement, and then I hid my light under a bushel AND TOLD NO ONE WHAT I HAD DONE. Except a few friends at work. And also some people on my back patio when we drank whiskey one night. And also the people at the writing retreat. And also all of you ladies in the hot tub. But, other than, like, a few dozen people, I TOLD NO ONE, so Jesus made me wet my shoe to get my attention. Because Jesus is WILY and PERSISTENTLY IN PURSUIT OF HELPING US FIND AND ACCEPT OURSELVES AND OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS. (Psst… one part of that may actually be true.)

Anyway — I’ll write more on the blog, but just wanted to let you know — NOT GONNA HIDE WHO GOD AUTHENTICALLY CALLED ME TO BE! HEART INTELLIGENCE! WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT!

Also, friendly word of advice… maybe aim REALLY GOOD in port-a-potties so your pee doesn’t cascade off the rim of the toilet, over which you’re hovering, and create a waterfall that gushes into your Dansko clog, which is uniquely shaped to capture every bit of the ever-flowing stream. I mean… up to you to accept or reject my advice, of course… you do you… but I thought I’d mention it in case it helps.

In conclusion, I once peed my shoe. Yesterday, actually. Thanks be to God.

Sincerely,

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P.S. I stole the Danskos pic from the Danksos site and am using it without permission. FREE ADVERTISING FOR DANSKO! I figure they won’t mind. I mean, who DOESN’T want to know Dansko clogs are easy to pee into? <<<SELLING POINT.

P.P.S. I’m finishing this (rudely) while at dinner with Greg and our friends, John and BJ, and I told them I can’t talk yet because I’m writing about peeing my shoe. Greg said, “Again?” And John said, “I peed both of mine today.” In extra conclusion, I like John better than Greg. The End.

More Hope Than Certainty

Jun 14 2016

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It’s 55°F outside and windy on the wild west coast where I sit in my flip-flops and parka, wrapped in the blanket I stole from the beach house, and write and write – by hand because I spilled coffee on my laptop AGAIN – and listen to the waves crash relentlessly, endlessly, while the sun and clouds fight for control of the sky.

I’m deliciously warm except for my nose and ears and fingertips and toes, which are ice, and I’m outside alone except for the teenager chasing her rainbow kite down the shore because it escaped her grasp and made the dash for freedom.

It would be more practical to sit inside where the temperature is controlled and the wind wouldn’t play with my paper and my hair. Surely I would be more practical there, too. And more productive. But my soul is one of the Wild Things and makes decisions sometimes for my body – when I listen – and She couldn’t sit inside today where She felt trapped by walls and ceiling. No, She longed to be set free today, so I’m taking Her where She wants to go and letting Her use my pen, which is always risky because my soul loves Jesus to the moon, and loves people, and says fuck a lot, so I never quite know where She’ll take us, my pen and I, if I give her free rein, but I am always interested to find out, and I’m more and more willing to let Her lead to these days. She loves well when I let her. Even me.

I woke up Sunday morning with Things to Do. Graduation Things for my high school senior. Packing Things for the retreats I’m running this week. One thousand things to finish by noon, and boxes and bags to throw in my fancy blue Pontiac with the cloth seats so I could book it for the coast where I hoped I’d beat my retreat guests, scheduled to arrive simultaneously with me.  I had, in other words, Things to Do and no time to Be.

Then I read Sunday morning’s news.

Orlando.
Shooting.
50 dead.
LGBTQ.
Biggest Mass Shooting in U.S. History.

The To Do’s faded away. My Soul sat us down. We bowed our heads and prayed:

“No.
“No.
“No.
“No.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
“No.
“No.
“Nope.
“No.”

We continued for quite some time. Days now, actually, the only variations, “Oh, Jesus, no,” and all the Goddamnits.

I thought maybe we should say something out loud, but the Soul said it wasn’t time for us yet, and Practical Me agreed that writing ALL the Goddamnits would take more time than we had at hand.

“AND,” Soul said…, “AND remember how we’re learning to not always tell others’ stories FOR them, Beth? Remember how we’re learning to tell stories WITH them?”

She’s right, of course. We are trying to learn this, my Soul and I. Trying hard to use our words to champion the vulnerable and marginalized, like our LGBTQ neighbors and friends, without speaking FOR them and rob their voices and co-opt their perspectives. Trying to learn to be good allies and friends. Trying to grieve our collective tragedies and losses while recognizing the particular and profound grief and suffering the targets of these attacks – the LGBT community – experience.

So I sat at the coast with new and old friends, in the wind and watching waves, and I scrolled through Facebook, where my friend, Geoff, who is a humanitarian at heart and by trade, who is a musician, who is kind and tall and handsome and gay and brave and a survivor, wrote this:

“Despite my sadness, I have great hope today, because at last night’s vigil I witnessed, once again, the community come together and show that, in responding to hate, our weapon of choice is more love. We greet with open hands those whose fists clench against us, we sing and joke and cheer when some would silence us, we assemble with lights and flags of all colours when some want us to disappear. The more we are persecuted the more deeply and widely our love spreads: for one another, our neighbors, and even our enemies. We say, You are invited to this party, too; there’s room here under our rainbow. We will not let you stereotype and demonize another minority in our name, either. And this is why, though we suffered terrible losses, we are winning.”
-Geoff Rempel-

“Can I quote you?” I asked Geoff.

“Of course,” he wrote, “if you wish, though I wrote those words with more hope than certainty.”

More hope than certainty.

More hope than certainty.

I love this. ^^^

Imagine a world with more hope than certainty.

More hope in love as a weapon than the certainty that our neighbors are evil.

More hope that we can find each other in the darkness than certainty we are two divided.

More hope in inclusion and invitations to dance and celebrate together than the certainty that the “other” is out to get us.

Yes. More hope than certainty. This is how I write, too, Geoff – with more hope than certainty. And how I live. And how I breathe. And how I love.

With more hope than certainty.

Always and forever.

This is, after all, what it means to be compassionately human and to live on after tragedies; to keep seeking change, and to act as if Love really does win in the end.

I keep seeing that rainbow kite tumbling down the beach. Free.

With love,

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