5 Good Things That Happened in 2020

By the time this post goes live, Christmas will be over and we’ll all be muddling through that weird final week of the year where we’re not sure what day it is, we’ve eaten too much rich food, and we’re waiting to ring in 2021.

Like most everybody else, I am sending 2020 into oblivion with hopes that the next twelve months look brighter and happier for everyone. While I know that the change of the calendar isn’t a magic wand that will make everything shitty suddenly go away, I’m trying to stay hopeful that we can put the ugliness of this year behind us and move forward to a more positive, inclusive, and healthier way of life.

That being said, I do want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that there were a few good things that managed to happen in 2020. These are the things that kept me going over the last twelve months, and I invite all readers and bloggers to reply or re-blog with the little things that kept them going in these unprecedented times.

  • I finished my manuscript!
    January of 2020 started with a slap in the face for me, and this was way before the word ‘Coronavirus’ was a thing. I wrote here about losing my (completed) 90,000+ word manuscript that I’d been slaving over for YEARS thanks to a USB crash. Also on that flash drive was the first draft of another novel in progress, as well as countless other short stories and nonfiction articles. I was devastated. I cried for two days and sulked for another week. But then I opened up a blank Word document and started all over again. Admittedly this was infinitely easier thanks to a very early draft that my friend (and lifesaver 10X over) had saved in her email, and I used that to rebuild the entire thing over the next couple of months. Being quarantined for spring and summer definitely helped the progress along, and I spent the second half of the year getting feedback from beta readers and editing. I plan on 2021 being the year of the query and already have my first five perspective agents picked out! Wish me luck!

  • We rescued 2 doggos!
    As if 2020 hadn’t started off crappily enough, and as if the beginning of the ‘rona pandemic weren’t scary enough, J & I lost our fur baby Comet in April. Saying goodbye to our fuzz bug was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and having a house devoid of any paws or barks or clumps of fur was beyond depressing — especially in the middle of quarantine.
    The silver lining to having a fur baby cross the rainbow bridge is, of course, welcoming a new one into your home. J and I happily welcomed Miss Kitty into our home in May, and Ghost joined us in October. It’s been a crazy ride with quite a few struggles, but overall I’m so happy that we have two crazy mutts sharing our home. Kitty is the epitome of a rescue dog — she was found lactating and emaciated on a four lane highway near San Antonio, TX, and clearly had a history of abuse and abandonment. Seven months in, she has made SO MUCH progress and is quite simply the sweetest girl ever. Ghost still has a lot to learn (we have puppy classes scheduled for January!) but he too has made lots of progress, including learning how to ‘give paw.’ Watching these two play and snuggle together absolutely warms my heart and I cannot say enough about how good it feels knowing you saved a life (or two) by adopting rescue dogs.
    If you’re searching for your own companion, may I suggest God’s Dogs in Texas? https://godsdogsrescue.org/
    Both Kitty and Ghost were adopting through this nonprofit and they were awesome every step of the way. If you prefer to meet your 4-legged friend before adopting, I highly encourage you to visit your local shelter or rescue. There are so many animals out there who need homes!

  • I had 2 poems published!
    While I am most certainly a writer, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a poet. I dabble from time to time, and a few years ago wrote a couple of pieces about the Outer Banks. This summer, Capsule Stories published those two poems in their print journal, and I was super excited to be able to share my love of the barrier islands with strangers and other writers.
    Capsule Stories is a refreshing, accessible literary journal that actually publishes in print, so check them out if you’re looking for something new to read: https://capsulestories.com/
  • Joe Biden & Kamala Harris won the election!
    I still get emotional when I think about that day that my husband texted me the news — I was standing in line at the deli at the grocery store when I learned that love, peace, and integrity had triumphed once again and that Joe Biden & Kamala Harris would be the next pair to occupy the White House. While Biden wasn’t my ideal candidate and I know that his presidency won’t solve all the issues in our country, I am beyond relieved that we won’t have to suffer another four years of hate and lies. It is also incredibly refreshing and encouraging to see how much diversity Biden will have in his cabinet, and I look forward to seeing his efforts on bridging the massive divide that currently separates this country.
    Love trumps hate. Love trumped hate. Love is love.
  • We went on vacation!
    When our friends moved to Holland last year, I was hopeful that J & I would get to visit them sometime in 2020. Of course those plans derailed like a train running on moonshine, and god only knows when we’ll ever get to go overseas again.
    However we did manage to make it to the Outer Banks for the first time since 2017, and though this vacation looked different than any other, it was nice to get out of our zip code and feel the sand and sea on our skin, especially when we were so desperate for some type of peace and relaxation.
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that travel won’t be out of the question for the rest of my life, and in the meantime am having fun living vicariously through books and movies and Facebook posts.

So did anything good happen to you in this mess of a year? Please share, even if it’s something as simple as buying a favorite shirt or learning to cook a delicious batch of cookies. Stay safe, stay healthy, and here’s to a better 2021 — whatever that means!

Outer Banks 2020

Well, peeps, I’m only 2 months late, but here it is — my recap of our vacation to the Outer Banks, 2020 edition.

Better late than never, I guess, and I figured most of us could use a dose of the beach considering winter is rearing its frigid head in most parts of the world right now. Plus, I know it’s been hard for a lot of people to travel what with the pandemic and all, so if you haven’t been able to leave your zip code in the last eight months, I hope this post helps you live vicariously through the Internet for a few minutes.

This trip was originally supposed to take place in May, but got postponed because of COVID, so our vacation looked nothing like we initially anticipated. Virus aside, we planned this excursion with every intention of taking our dog Comet, of course having no idea that he’d end up passing away in April. We ended up taking our new fur kid, Kitty, and as an added surprise our latest (and a bit unexpected) addition Ghost came along too. Considering virus precautions and having two new dogs in tow, my anxiety was pretty high in the weeks leading up to our departure.

We did have a few hiccups along the way — somehow missing the exit for our first traditional rest stop and driving an hour out of our way & Kitty nearly jumping out of the car unleashed — but the journey went relatively smoothly, all things considered. Finding food and bathrooms during the six hundred mile trek required a little more planning with COVID shutdowns, and we had to be hyper vigilant and cognizant of hand washing and sanitizing and pay attention to the differing restrictions in each state. Once we reached out destination, we found that North Carolina’s restrictions were very similar to those in PA. We had to wear masks everywhere we went, capacity limits at tourist attractions were small, and restaurants only offered take out or sparse outdoor seating. Still, I felt safe all week and following these extra safety steps were in a beach town didn’t take away the relaxing and freeing feeling of being on the coast.

The only major disappointment was our beach house. After two decades of visiting the Outer Banks and staying in everything from mansions to modest cottages, this place was probably bottom of the barrel. The house was old and in dire need of dozens of repairs, and I was not impressed by the cleaning staff, COVID aside. Still, we made it work as best we could, and the drawbacks at the house did not detract from the stunning views and quiet, peaceful location in the southern town of Frisco. We spent hours wading, discovering seashells, watching pelicans and dolphins, and marveling at the stunning sunrises and sunsets. We took the nearby ferry across the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island twice, where we made sure to patronize local shops and restaurants effected by Hurricane Dorian and the virus, and walked the haunting trail at Springer’s Point, where Blackbeard’s body is said to have been thrown after his last battle off the coast. Our dogs particularly enjoyed the sugary soft sand, where they dug holes and chased birds.

Back in Frisco and Buxton, I explored a beautiful church, Our Lady of the Seas, to get inspiration for a pivotal scene in my WIP, Ocracoke’s Daughter. I browsed a cool little bookstore called Buxton Books, housed in a pre-civil war building with each tiny room dedicated to a different subject. We made plans to attend a ghost walk on October 30th, but it ended up getting cancelled due to high winds and power outages from a storm off the coast (2020 strikes again). We visited the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, where I did some additional research on Blackbeard, again for my WIP, and as usual spent my last night walking solo on the beach, feeling the rush of salt water run over my ankles and wiping my tears as I said a temporary goodbye to the sea once again.

This vacation was definitely different from any other I’ve had in the Outer Banks, being in a much more remote location on the southern beaches as opposed to the more populated, touristy spots further north. Still, the whimsy of the island did its job in healing my world weary body, mind, and soul . . . and I already miss it.

Les Sigh.

Guess I’ll have to live vicariously through my WIP until I can return.

Updates Available

Hello, all. I just wanted to pop in and share some updates with the blogosphere. My last post focused mostly on all the writing projects I’ve been working on recently, and I’m really proud of myself for getting so much accomplished in this dismal summer/year as far as my craft goes. I realize that my blogging hasn’t been as consistent as it once was, but of course the entire world is a dumpster fire right now so what IS ‘normal’ in 2020?

Certainly not the last few weeks of my life.

After giving the rundown of my writing projects in my last post, I felt really motivated and was looking forward to getting back on track at blogging weekly or bi-weekly. And then the universe laughed.

My mom had a mild heart attack on September 22nd. The doctors said that this kind of heart attack is very common in kidney transplant patients, and she was only in the hospital for a few days for observation and to have a stent put in before she was back home recuperating. Aside from a nasty reaction to one of her new medications, she’s doing pretty well. With her medical history, this mostly just seemed like a bump in the road, albeit a scary one, but it definitely knocked me for a loop.

J and I have also spent the last month or so becoming more annoyed and frustrated with our disrespectful neighbors and our neighborhood — so much so that we met with a family member who is a real estate agent and discussed the first few steps of selling and buying a house. While we’re more optimistic about our options, we have A LOT to do before these plans can be put into motion, so we have to bide our time for at least another 6 months. Unless we hit the lottery of course.

The BS at work exploded with MAJOR changes two weeks ago, and it’s wreaked havoc on my mental health and confidence. I won’t go into too many details, but I will say that I still have a job, although nearly every single thing about the position looks differently than it had for the past six and a half years. Some days I feel really optimistic about where I’m headed at my 9-5, and other days I feel like my brain is going to leak out of my ear. I have no idea where this is going.

Our dog, Kitty, is going to be a big sister.
I temporarily lost my mind a few weeks ago and agreed to get a second dog. J and I had talked about it after Comet passed, and before we adopted Kitty, but I kept saying I wasn’t ready. But then one day J sent me a picture of an adorable pup from the same rescue organization that Kitty came from, and I started crying as soon as I saw his face. So. We’re getting a second dog. I’m excited for Kitty to have a companion, but I’ve never lived with 2 dogs before and it’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for all of us. Plus, he’s coming 2 weeks before we go on vacation . . . so we’ll have 2 dogs in the car with us on a 10+ hour drive to the beach. I’m sure there will be plenty of blog posts about this to come.

So, yeah, in the midst of all of this, I’m trying to get ready for vacation . . . without really getting ready. This trip was initially planned for May, but COVID ruined that, so we postponed until now. With the way 2020 has been going, I’ve done pretty much NOTHING to prepare for the trip, which goes against everything my type A personality believes in. Normally I’m making color-coded lists and tossing items into suitcases a month beforehand, but this time I’m trying to fly by the seat of my pants. Because again, who knows what is or isn’t going to happen at this point.
Except, you know, there’s 2 dogs going with us.

Any positive/happy vibes you could send would be appreciated.


Featured

Whatcha Writin’ About?

Ever since COVID hit the US and changed everyone’s daily life, I’ve been doing A LOT of writing. Since I’m no longer working my second job and I can’t go to the pool because it’s STILL closed thanks to both construction and this pesky virus, I’ve been spending so much time behind a computer screen I’m starting to think there’s going to be an actual imprint of my ass on my dining room chair.

Anywho, I realized that despite all this writing that’s been going on, I haven’t really talked about it at all on my blog. Which I totally should be doing since, you know, I am a writer and aside from blogging about mental health and connecting with other mental health warriors, I also want to connect with other writers.

So what kind of ventures are in that folder marked “current writing projects?”

For starters, I managed to completely rebuild the 90,000+ word manuscript that I lost back in January thanks to a USB crash. Luckily one of my friends had the first draft saved in her email and I rewrote the entire thing from that in 4-5 months.
The Month of May follows Ella, a young woman who unexpectedly inherits her grandmother’s house and must return to her hometown of Pittsburgh where she is overcome with both beautiful and horrible memories of her first love and her late grandparents. As Ella navigates these complicated emotions in the steel town that raised her, she ultimately has to decide if she’s strong enough to let love in all its forms back into her life again.
I sent it out to 2 beta readers who were actually helpful, and am going over their comments before making some ‘final’ corrections and touch ups. I’m hoping that I can start querying again by the end of the year and keeping my fingers crossed that I can come up with a 280-character pitch to participate in my very first #PitMad on Twitter on December 3rd.

While May was out to the betas, I turned my attention to another manuscript I lost in the great USB crash of 2020. At the time, Ocracoke’s Daughter was 30-40,000 words, another contemporary fiction novel that I’ve rebuilt to around 55,000 words.
Here’s a pitch I randomly wrote — Adopted at birth and raised by strict conservatives, Sarah Sullivan always thought she was destined for two things – to marry the boy she met in middle school and raise his children. But after a decade of miscarriages and indifference from her overbearing husband, she files for divorce and travels to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to find her biological parents and herself. On the serene shores of Ocracoke and Hatteras, Sarah befriends a man with his own secrets, and an eccentric woman who claims to be her aunt – and the descendant of one of history’s most notorious pirates.
I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made with this one too, but I’m feeling a bit stuck with certain aspects, particularly those that require lots of research — and possibly involve traveling to parts of North Carolina that isn’t really plausible right now with budget and travel restrictions. Thanks again, COVID.
Basically I need to do a bunch of historical research on Blackbeard the pirate and should probably travel to the town of Bath, NC, which I have no idea if I’ll ever have the opportunity to do anytime soon. Fingers crossed that I’ll get some research completed when we (hopefully) vacation near Ocracoke this October.

I’ve also got a handful of other smaller projects I’ve been toiling with —


Summer Essays — Since this summer was essentially void of any typical summer experiences, I lamented those warm, sunny hours away by tapping away at my keyboard on my porch. Instead of lounging by the pool, riding roller coasters, or attending concerts, I wrote about past summers instead and came up with a series of ‘Summer Essays’ that I hope to find a home for someday. These include summers in my parents’ backyard pool, long days exploring the hills at my grandparents’ house, four years of band camp, decades of long weekends at a friend’s cabin in the mountains of northwestern PA, memories of dozens of vacations on the Outer Banks, and the summer of 2003, when my life changed forever.

Lunch with Miss Kitty — This is a piece I’ve been working on that I hope to pitch to a handful of dog-focused publications, this one in particular about my new fur kid, Miss Kitty, and our developing bond as she adjusts to her new life in her forever home. I’m pretty happy with it but am struggling with an ending.

Sweats — I decided to try my hand at a flash fiction piece that is told from the view point of a hoodie that a tourist buys on Westminster Pier while vacationing in London. I actually love 2/3 of this piece, but again am struggling with the ending. It took on an entirely different direction than I initially intended, and I’ve always had a hard time wrapping things up in less than 1000 words, so this one may take a while before I’m ready to submit it.

I’m also still trying to find a home for the following — Light of the Fire, a short story I wrote about the bond of female friendship after one of my friends lost everything in a house fire last year; Comet is Cupid, a non-fiction narrative about how our late dog Comet brought me and my husband together; and a short poem called Stained Glass Window about how people in my life who used to be my biggest cheerleaders faded away when I finally began standing up for myself and pursuing my dreams.

Bridges to Beaches — Aside from the novels, this is probably the project that I’m most excited about, yet is the least complete. Right now it’s just a cluster of unorganized ideas in a Word Doc that have been floating around in my head for a few years now.
I love writing about traveling and visiting lesser-known places in and around my hometown, so I decided that I wanted to start a travel blog from a local and down to earth perspective. So many travel blogs seem focused on unattainable destinations — far away, exotic islands, expensive hotels in European hot spots, or remote, sometimes dangerous villages in the middle of nowhere.
As someone with a limited budget (and travel anxiety), I want to write about accessible, affordable, and unique experiences that the average person can enjoy.
Since I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my entire life, I figured I’d start with my hometown. Everyone knows about our champion sports teams, our three rivers, and our myriad of museums, so my blog would focus on the hole in the wall, best keep secrets of this thriving, revitalized steel town. The best places to go kayaking. A tiny, but impressive collection of antique cars and carriages. A $10 tour of one of the MLB’s most beautiful baseball parks. Farmers markets. Secluded walking trails nestled amid the campus of The University of Pittsburgh. Fascinating historical spots.
The blog would also include write ups about nearby destinations perfect for day trips or long weekends, like Lake Erie and Presque Isle, Columbus, OH, Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, Lake Canadohota, and New York City.
Since North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a popular tourist destination for Pittsburghers (and it’s my favorite place on earth), I also wanted to include a section dedicated to vacationing there. Again, anyone can find articles about the beaches, the popular museums, and typical tourist attractions, but I’d want this part of the blog to focus on insider tips, hidden gems, and best kept secrets of this whimsical chain of barrier islands.

Just last week I had an idea for a fourth part of the blog, and that would be a section focusing on small businesses in the Pittsburgh area — a real estate agency, a salon, a photographer, painters, musicians, restaurants, non-profits — the possibilities are endless. I think it would be a really exciting way for independent entrepreneurs and artists to make connections and get their names out there.

Wow. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at all the ideas my brain can conjure up. It’s exciting, but it’s also intimidating. I still work a 9-5 job and though it no longer controls my everyday life, my anxiety is always at the back of my mind telling me that I’m being overly-ambitious or that I’m not good enough to have any success with these projects. I’m also still struggling with the technical aspects of ensuring that any of these ventures are a success, like social media presence, SEO, and being relevant on the internet, but hopefully I’ve recently found some resources to help with such obstacles.

In addition to all of these projects, I’m still trying to educate myself about being relevant and present on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m seriously considering starting a Linked In page for my writing. And holy crap WordPress has been telling me about its new formatting and offering me tutelage for months now but it’s finally here and now I have to figure out all this new crap on my own. Oops. (BTW does anyone know how to link prior blog posts on here? I found the “embed” button but can’t figure out how to change the text of the hyperlink).
I’ve also GOT to figure out how to link my blogs to Twitter. In the words of Kimmy Gibbler, Sweet Cheese.

With any luck, and a lot of hard work, I hope at least two or three of these projects see the light of day in the coming months or years. I’d love to hear what you guys think of any or all of them, and would also love to hear what you’ve been working on! Feel free to comment with a link to one of your projects if you’d like.

And as always, thanks for reading and commenting.

Rainy Day Thoughts

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Though this post was written on 7/7/19, and although it will more than likely be sunny (SHOCK) the day it goes live, I feel compelled to mention that in the 20 days since I first wrote this, parts of the city and surrounding suburbs have flooded twice more. Not only is the frequent rain depressing, but it seems like there’s no such thing as a simple summer shower or good old fashioned thunderstorm anymore. Every time it rains, it causes devastation in little pockets of the world, and subsequently contributes to all-out panic mode at my work as we get absolutely slammed with hundreds of vehicles that end up being totaled due to flooding. But climate change isn’t real. Nope. 

Anyway, to the post . . . 

Well, it’s another rainy weekend here in Pittsburgh. The day will stretch out from dawn to dusk in a hazy, humid spattering of everything from drizzle to a complete downpour. Lightning will strike, thunder will rattle the windows, and streets and homes will be flooded in different parts of the city and its suburbs.

We will be stuck inside our house for hours on end, once again, just like we are in the frigid winter when it’s too cold to breathe and the relentless snow and ice traps us indoors.

I’m growing weary of the weather in my hometown in case you couldn’t tell, and it’s making me quite bitter. Growing up, I don’t remember feeling like my life was dictated by the weather. I recall endless sunny, warm days of summer with the occasional rain shower and maybe 1-2 weeks of winter that brought the city to a standstill. Now it seems like our weather holds us hostage constantly, no matter the season.

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photo from local news station KDKA Pittsburgh. This intersection is about 10 minutes from where I work. Happens nearly every time it rains.

 

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this picture was from last summer when a local Pittsburgh restaurant got absolutely destroyed by flash flooding. Google images

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and the infamous “snow-magedden” of 2010. Yes, that is my car

 

Maybe it’s because I spend 40 hours a week sitting in an office and 8 hours a week cleaning offices, or maybe global warming is just having its way with southwestern Pennsylvania too.

Either way, I feel like I’m trapped in the house every single weekend and cannot get outside to enjoy anything. Over the last few years, Pittsburgh weather has either been A) too cold to breathe, B) too hot to breathe, or C) torrential downpours.

And I’m just over it. Weekends seem impossible to enjoy anymore, and it’s really triggering my anxiety and depression.

Moving right now is not an option for several reasons. I don’t even want to get into them because that would be enough material for five more blog posts. And it would make me even more depressed.

I know that you’re supposed to “make lemonade” or “dance in the rain” and all that jazz, but finding creative ways to have fun amidst shitty weather gets old after a while. Having a limited budget makes it even more difficult.

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When I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time a few years ago, I remember a part where the author talks about writing a letter to herself/god/the universe about what she wants but didn’t know how to get.

I’ve done this a few times in my life and feel like today’s a day to do it again. Because when you’re trapped inside with nothing but your thoughts and the black hole of TV and Internet, you start thinking about all the things you want to do with your life but aren’t quite sure how to achieve, and your rainy day blues spirals into a full-on depressive episode.

Some of the things on this list are going to be abstract or probably too personal for the Internet but what the hell. Maybe someone will listen this way.

I want to start swimming again

I want to replace my second job (cleaning) with getting paid to write

I want to get my tattoo fixed

I want to take two vacations a year — one to the Outer Banks and one somewhere new (Holland, Oregon, Canada, California, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Alaska, English countryside, Scotland, Ireland, Maine, etc, etc….)

I want to be valued and rewarded for my work

I want to live in a better part of town

I want to get back into volunteering

I want a president who is an intelligent, compassionate human being who isn’t an embarrassment to the entire planet

I want a more solid circle of friends

I want to spend more time outdoors (walking my dog, kayaking, easy hikes, swimming, bonfires)

That’s all I can come up with for now. Am I asking too much? I don’t know how to get from here to there. But it’s probably going to rain on the journey. Maybe I should start building a boat.

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Travel Conundrums

The traveling bug that has always been deep inside me, somewhat suppressed, has now been fed with a trip to London, and the damn thing is taking over my mind and body.

For most of my life, I’ve dreamed of visiting places like Alaska, Hawaii, Italy, and Paris. But the dreams were so unrealistic and seemingly completely unattainable, I gave them the same chance of occurring as becoming Gerard Butler’s mistress.

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all photos courtesy of Google Images

But when J and I decided last year (rather on a whim) to take the leap across the pond and visit London, I was overwhelmed and in a state of disbelief for several months. Even after we purchased our airline tickets, I couldn’t quite believe that I was going to visit a different continent. I couldn’t believe I had somehow summoned the nerve to overlook my fear of flying and general anxiety towards traveling and throw some extra money behind an extravagant vacation.

But not that we’ve done it, I think my appetite for travel has been whet more than I would have expected.

It’s going to be a while before we have enough money (and nerve) saved up again to make a transatlantic flight and jump into the unknown. But J and I have started talking about all the other places we want to visit that are a little closer to home, and the sheer thought that some of these places are now actual possibilities is so exciting I can barely sit still.

But, like always, there’s a complication.

Money. That pesky crap that simply does not grow on trees.

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London was a splurge for sure. And although I realize we don’t have to do anything that extravagant every year, even a small vacation or long weekend can come with a hefty fee.

J and I initially discussed returning to our favorite place, the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a quiet, relaxing, off-the-grid vacation that would be a complete opposite from the hustle and bustle of a city like London.

I managed to find a cute little cabana in Hatteras, a subtle little town at the very edge of the Outer Banks that would only cost us around $500 – $600 for a week in October. It’s right on the beach, near great kayaking spots in the sound, and we could even bring our fur kid Comet.

But J was even uneasy about spending even that much after we’d gone all out for London, and he suggested taking a year off from travel in 2019.

The thought of not returning to my favorite place on earth for another long year brought tears to my eyes. I know it sounds ridiculous to cry over a place I’ve visited a dozen times before, but I cannot describe the impact the Outer Banks has on my soul. I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve felt more at peace and more content. And there’s nowhere else that gives me more writing inspiration than the shores of its quiet, secluded beaches that are riddled with history.

But like I was saying – there are so many other cool places to explore! So once I mourned my loss of the Outer Banks for a few weeks, I dove into the challenge of finding somewhere new to discover.

I’d still love to visit the coast of Maine, with its rocky beaches, picturesque lighthouses, and untouched forests. I’d love to cross whale watching off my bucket list and eat homemade blueberry pancakes from the cute little campground I found online. I want to kayak in one of their many rivers or lakes and marvel at the breathtaking stars shining down from the velvet black sky. But sadly Maine is extraordinarily expensive – almost as much as we spent in London, save the airfare of course.

I investigated nearby state parks like Cooks Forest, Deep Creek, MD, Hocking Hills, OH, Lake Erie, Geneva on the Lake, and Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands. But we’ve either been there, done that, or I’ve been shocked at how much it is to rent a tiny little cabin – almost as much as it is to go to Maine!

J is longing to visit the West Coast or the deserts and mountains of places like Colorado or Arizona – he wants to see the Grand Canyon, the Salt Flats, and the test site of the atomic bomb. While I’m a little less inclined to those destinations, I’d be willing to give them a shot for his sake, if only flying out there weren’t so damn expensive!

All of the above considered, I came to the conclusion that our best bet might be to visit our neighbors to the north, Canada. While most Americans balk at the suggestion of Canada as a vacation, I’m really eager to go. I’ve only been to Niagara Falls once, and that was when I was eight or nine, and J’s never been. I’d love to see the Falls again, ride the Maid of the Mist, and maybe explore the Cave of Echoes. I’d like to dine at one of the restaurants with spectacular views and maybe even pop into a museum or casino. I also found an adorable part of Ontario in St. Catharines and Port Dalhousie. The nearby towns are only 20-30 minutes from the Falls and boasts amazing views of Lake Ontario. The port has a charming beach and little park, complete with an old-fashioned carousel and the old timey Coney Island feel so many people in the States love. Plus, Toronto, home of the hockey hall of fame, is only an hour’s drive away. J and I are both huge hockey fans and seeing the Stanley Cup is on both of our bucket lists.

I managed to find two hotels and a bed and breakfast offering pretty good deals, and I figured we could tackle the Falls, Lake Ontario, and the Hockey Hal of Fame in 4 or 5 days as opposed to an entire week. But we’re still talking a few hundred dollars.

Typically no big deal, but we’re working on paying off a loan ASAP so I can get a new car, and we have some home repairs that need done that we’ve kind of been ignoring for too long.

Sigh.

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To make matters more complicated, we have friends that are moving to Holland in a few months. They’ve already invited us to come stay with them at some point, and while not having to spend money on a hotel for that particular vacation will be nice, the flights are always absurdly expensive and we’ll need plenty of time to save and plan.

I know it’s no big deal if we skip a year and don’t go on vacation, but I’m really hoping that somehow we’ll be able to tackle the “honey do” list at home and go on a little excursion, even if it’s later in the year than usual.

I get antsy being in the same place all the time, especially this time of year in cold, gray Pittsburgh. I want to get in the car and drive, see new things, new faces, and places. I want to eat different foods, see unique sights, swim in other oceans and lakes. I want to take pictures of stunning sunsets, get sprayed by a breaching whale, be in the presence of Lord Stanley’s fabled cup, be in awe of a moving glacier, drink coconut milk right from the source, lay eyes on a natural wonder of the world, oogle at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

I guess I’m just afraid that I’ll never get to do any of it if I wait too long.

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An Assembly of Random Thoughts

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Hello, WordPressers!

September is going to be a crazy busy month for me. As I write this, it’s Labor Day weekend. But by the time this blog post goes public, the month will be half over. To me, the only thing crazier than this is the fact that although my entire summer has been insanely busy (and expensive), I feel like I haven’t actually done anything big and exciting.

Of course, back in May, I attended my first writer’s conference, and in July we had a surprise 60th birthday party for my dad. My husband and I took the kayaks for a spin a few times, I attended a company picnic at a local amusement park, and also went to an awesome bridal shower where I won three prizes!

September will include a wedding, a writer’s workshop, an alumni event for former band nerds like myself, mine and J’s 5th wedding anniversary, an Ed Sheeran concert, and a photo shoot where the goal is to update my writer headshots and try not to end up looking like Mama June like I do on my driver’s license picture.

Anyway. All of this is leading up to something I’ve been looking forward to since January, and that is mine and J’s trip to London. I’m SO excited – but also nervous beyond words.

In preparation for all of these events, I have to admit that I’ve let my “big” writing projects kind of get pushed to the back burner. I did manage to submit five shorter pieces to various contests or open calls this summer, and found a couple of beta readers for my novel The Month of May, but I found that my attention span with writing has suffered.

Although I’ve made notes and have ideas about how to tackle the rewrite of my novel, the thought of actually doing it is way more overwhelming than I thought it would be, and I simply don’t know where to start.

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I’ve also started a list of half a dozen serious or frustrating topics that I want to blog about, but I’ve been lacking the energy or focus to give them the attention and research they deserve.

So for now, here are just a few things I’ve jotted down over the last few weeks that I hope to expand on in the upcoming months …

  • What it is going to take for men to start really listening to women? How many articles do we have to write, how many tears do we have to cry, how many hysterical demands do we have to make before they just . . . listen?
    For example, there’s this commercial on the radio for a mechanic’s shop that goes like this:
    Woman: “Honey, why is my oil light on?”
    Man: “What am I, a mechanic?”
    Announcer: “Car trouble? Come to Acme blah blah car pros …”
    Excuse me? The guy’s pissed because his woman asks him to take a look at the car? Do women ever ask if they’re cooks? Maids? Nurses? Chauffeurs? Secretaries? This needs explored on so many levels.
  • I recently starting watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix, and I am SO glad I did. Not only is the show hilarious, but its impressive and sidesplitting musical numbers speak to the theater geek inside me. Somehow Rachel Bloom has managed to create a show about the arts, mental health, relationships, feminism, inclusion, body positivity, and mental health all wrapped into one “certifiable cute” package.
  • I really want to start writing about snippets of “the good old days.” (Yes, inspired by the Macklemore/Keisha collaboration). These include my days as a band geek in high school and those “wild” crazy nights in my early twenties that involve a friend’s cabin on the lake, skinny dipping, crushes on unsuitable men, and plenty of alcohol.
  • Not gonna lie – I had all kinds of “feels” when John McCain passed away and when Presidents Bush and Obama eulogized him at his funeral. I’m obviously a very liberal person, so although McCain’s politics didn’t line up with my own, his defense of Obama’s background during the 2008 campaign and historic vote against repealing the ACA really made me admire him as a person. Seeing people from different political and social backgrounds come together to honor and celebrate such a man just goes to show us that yes, two different parties CAN actually work together in a civil and productive way. These are the inspiring stories that give me hope for this country in such a dark and tumultuous time.
  • As thrilled as I am to be going to London and fulfilling a lifelong dream in the process, I am really sad that I won’t be getting to the beach this year, namely the Outer Banks. I still find myself craving the sea spray, the soft sand, the crashing, blue green waves. I want to hear OBX flags flapping in the strong winds of Kitty Hawk, drink rum in the distillery in Manteo, climb to the top of the Hatteras Lighthouse, and walk around Ocracoke feeling like I’m living in a dream. Fingers crossed so tightly we can do it next year.

Let me know if any of these subjects pique your interest! I hope to be expanding on many of them during the dark and dreary days of Pittsburgh winter that are just around the corner.

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Tattoos

I’ve always been fascinated with tattoos. They’re a form of art, and I love art in every capacity – paintings, sketches, dance, music, words. I love it all.
I was probably in high school when I realized that I wanted a tattoo, but back then it seemed like something that would never happen. For one, my parents viewed getting a tattoo as something equivalent to committing a crime, and two, getting a tattoo required a level of bad-assery that I didn’t believe I would ever possess.

I still don’t think I have a bad ass bone in my body. I mean, I am thirty-two years old and have never had surgery, stiches, or a broken bone. I had my first cavity six months ago. Something like riding on a plane or driving on the highway sends me into extreme panic mode. All that considered, how could I ever handle getting a tattoo?

When my husband and I first started dating, I went with him to get his first tattoo – a memorial for his grandfather. The experience left much to be desired, thanks to a whacked out “artist” and an absurdly long wait time, but J was happy. A few years later, I went with him again so he could get a memorial tattoo for his dad. This time he went to one of the best-known tattoo shops in Pittsburgh’s South Side, and the artist was friendly, confident, and talented. He did an amazing job on the tattoo, and made me feel comfortable enough to ask him how long a tiny tattoo about the size of a half dollar would take. He gave a friendly laugh at my trepidation and told me that it would take him longer to set up his equipment than actually ink the tiny black image I had pulled up on my phone. “Ten minutes,” he declared nonchalantly.

The seed was planted.

Tattoo Virgin

For years, I stewed over the “ten minute” estimate that the tattoo artist had given me. He’d said it after I’d done a quick Google search for “simple music tattoo” while my husband went was getting inked. I knew I wanted something to commemorate my love for music and instantly fell in love with the simple image of an eighth note encircled with a heart. I carried the image around on my smartphone for years, longing for the day where I’d drum up the courage to take a seat in the artist’s chair myself.

Then one bleak winter day in 2012, my fiancé and I were texting back and forth during the work day trying to figure out how we were going to spend our Friday night. Like most Pittsburghers, we had cabin fever and had pretty much done every indoor activity in and around the city. I was bored, so I came up with the genius idea to get a tattoo. I was still scared –  terrified, really, but I was tired of being scared. Carrying around that tiny image on my phone for years wasn’t going to put the tattoo on my body. If I really wanted this done, I would have to, well, get it done.

My fiancé drove me and my sister to the same shop in South Side where he’d gotten his tattoo by the awesome artist who had assured me my design would only take ten minutes. Unfortunately, that particular artist had moved on to another shop, so I had to choose between trying to track him down and lose my nerve in the process, or suck it up, stay put, and accept the artist they assigned to me.

I chose the latter, knowing that if walked out of that shop that night, I may never get a tattoo.

Unfortunately, the guy they assigned to repeatedly stick a needle into my skin was a total jerk. He never introduced himself, he insulted my design choice, and kept huffing and puffing the entire time he was working. While I admit that I probably wasn’t the greatest client in the world when it came to sitting still, I had made it crystal clear that this was my first tattoo and I was horribly nervous.

Approximately sixty seconds into the tattoo, I nearly gave up. This was intense. There was no way I could sit there for another nine minutes. But my fiancé and my sister were sitting across the room staring at me, and if I tapped out, the jackass artist would probably be all too satisfied. So I stayed put. I kept breathing, and began counting. I figured that if I could concentrate on counting to sixty ten times, it would help pass the agonizing minutes.

And before I knew it, I was done. The guy remained a jagoff (Pittsburghese for jackass) until the very end, even after my fiancé handed him a tip he didn’t deserve.

None the less, I bounded out of the tattoo shop feeling like a million bucks. I was not going to let that guy put a damper on my newfound courage and my new art. I couldn’t wait to show off my very first tattoo.

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Round Two

People with multiple tattoos will tell you that once you get your first ink, you become addicted. And a few years after getting my music note, I realized they were right. I’d been tossing an idea around in my head about getting a memorial tattoo for my grandparents, three of which had already passed away. Then my grandmother died in June of 2015, and I knew I had to get something to pay tribute to my family’s heritage.
At long last, I decided on an infinity tattoo that displayed the last name of each of my grandparents. This was a way of immortalizing them and paying homage to my Slovak, Croatian, and Polish roots. This time I took a recommendation from a friend and went to a smaller, lesser known shop closer to home. The artist I requested was quiet and polite and latched onto my idea right away. I made an appointment for a few weeks later, and when he revealed the final design before he started to tattoo, I was blown away at how well he had interpreted my idea. The black script of the letters was beautiful and readable, and a thin yellow thread wove through the names as a nod to Pittsburgh being the “black and gold” city.

The tattoo took about 30-45 minutes, and in comparison to my first one, it was a breeze. Although both tattoos are on my shoulder blades, I’d rank the pain for my second one at a six or a seven, while the first one had been an eight to a nine. I liked this artist and knew I’d go back to him if I ever wanted to feed my new addiction.
(NOTE: This picture was taken literally about a half hour after the tattoo was completed, so it’s still kind of bleeding and you can’t really see the yellow thread. It looks much better now, I promise).

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Round Three

When I wrote the first two parts of this blog post last week, my plan was to make this third installment short and sweet. It was supposed to be about my experience returning to “my” tattoo artist and how he’d completed a piece on my inner forearm that I loved and was unique and meaningful. But of course, that’s not that way (my) life works.

The concept for this third tattoo was the Pittsburgh skyline flowing into a simple blue ocean wave that spelled the letters “OBX,” short for Outer Banks, my favorite place in the world and my intended destination should I ever have the fortune to relocate.

My new tattoo is definitely of the Pittsburgh skyline. And I love that part. But where the skyline is supposed to flow into a wave and the OBX letters, that’s where the things get a little muddled. The waves and letters OBX are so tiny that most people can’t read what it’s supposed to say. And the only part that my artist did in blue was the very last wave, something that I honestly didn’t even notice until I had left the shop that night. So now I am in a pickle.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think the tattoo is terrible. I like 75 – 80% of it. But I do think the OBX/wave part needs to be clearer. The problem is figuring out how that can be done. Can it be made bigger? Can the color be more defined? Can the waves be more elaborate and the letters made to stand out more? Do we have to do a total cover up? And who do I go to in order to have this done? Should I start over with a new artist? Go back to the same guy? He did, after all, tell me to let him know if I had any issues. And he did SUCH a good job on my infinity tattoo. His portfolio on the shop’s website is impressive and he’s been there for a number of years. Several friends and co-workers have been pleased with his work on their own bodies.

I’m not mad at my tattoo artist. I don’t think he’s terrible. I’d recommend him to anyone. So I’m leaning towards returning to him for this fix or touch up or flat out cover up.  I think that what happened is the result of some miscommunication; my part probably being that I’m not assertive enough when it comes to telling people what I want. And to be honest, I was so preoccupied with wanting to keep the tattoo small and understated that I probably didn’t even realize that I wanted something a bit more elaborate and feminine until after the fact.

But as is my habit whenever I get myself into a confusing situation, I ask the opinion of approximately 475 other people before making a decision, which, of course, just makes things more complicated for my anxiety-riddled brain. The majority of people say I should go back to him, but there are a few who say otherwise. I personally still think he’s a great artist and a nice, easygoing guy, so I probably will return to give him a chance to fix this.

For now, the tattoo is still healing. It’s at that annoying point where it’s horrendously itchy and starting to peel, so nothing can be done any time soon. And in another week, it’ll be the full-blown Christmas season, and I’ll be juggling that along with two birthdays and my car inspection, a yearly reminder that my blue hatchback Tobey is, after all, eleven years old and may need some sort of expensive lifesaving surgery.
So I can’t do anything about it for now. Maybe after the New Year, I’ll drop my artist an email or stop in the shop and explain my feelings to see what can be done. Part of me is excited at the prospect of getting something cooler, but part of me is anxious about confronting the guy to tell him that 25% or so of his work isn’t something I love. I’ll be sure to blog about it when the time comes, and feel free to comment with your opinions on this latest (or any) of my tats.
Stay tuned!

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Best $20 Travel Contest

 

I’ve visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina a dozen times over the past twenty years, so it’s safe to say that I’ve seen and experienced pretty much every tourist attraction in this unique and whimsical beach town. I’ve climbed the lighthouses, toured museums, basked in the sun, and dined at waterfront restaurants. But it was on a visit to a new rum distillery in 2015 that recaptured my love of the place and inspired me to get back to what I do best — writing.

My husband and I decided to spend our second wedding anniversary in the Outer Banks, but we didn’t count on being rained out every single day by Tropical Storm Joaquin. We were forced to explore every indoor activity and attraction there was to offer, and in browsing the online vacation guides, I discovered that a rum distillery had recently opened in the small town of Manteo. Not being ones to pass up an opportunity to see how rum is brewed, we made the short trip and forked over ten dollars each to the guy behind the counter. I was only mildly interested in the distilling process (I wanted to get right to the tasting), but that all changed as soon as the tour started.

Our tour guide and part owner of the distillery was a guy not much older than us who had begun the business with three of his longtime friends. For the next hour, he talked about how they’d all met thanks to their shared love of beer and rum, and eventually worked to open the distillery in which we now stood. I marveled at what they’d done with the old building, admiring the exposed brick, hardwood floors, expansive bar area, and a giant ship’s wheel in the center of the lobby. The tall distilling tanks were bubbling away as he spoke, and I could tell immediately that these guys were incredibly passionate about the work they were doing. More than that, they went out of their way to keep their vendors as local as possible and did everything in their power to keep the operation running “green.”  Even though the business had only been open for a few months, they’d already sold out several batches of their product and were working to develop more varieties. Their gift shop was stocked full of shot glasses, t-shirts, and rum balls, and the best part was that we got to sample some of the rum before leaving. For someone who doesn’t often enjoy straight hard liquor, I can honestly say that the rum I tried that day was some of the best I’d ever tasted.

But perhaps the best part of touring the distillery was what happened after we left. When I went to bed that night, my imagination was hard at work on what would become a novel. While writing books had always been an aspiration of mine, it had been years since I’d put a pen to paper or spent hours tapping away on my laptop. But there was something about the magic of the Outer Banks combined with the evident passion the owners of the distillery had for their craft. It had seeped into my bones and I couldn’t stop thinking about what an awesome story the guys had told. Once we arrived home from our rainy vacation, I got to work on my first writing project in years, and nine months later I self-published my first adult novel about a girl who meets a guy who owns his own rum distillery.

Publishing this book has re-awakened the writer inside me that I thought was lost. Thanks to that hour long tour one rainy day in the Outer Banks, I am now back to doing what I love. Ten dollars well spent.

This post is an entry for Mozo’s Best $20 Competition

(Extra)Ordinary Vacation

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Most Recent

It’s been one month since I departed the Outer Banks, the place that holds my heart and soul and dominates my wildest dreams. Each vacation to this whimsical beach town is special for different reasons, usually because of a new discovery or adventure. But this time the reason my trip was so important was simply due to the fact that we got to go at all.

In the weeks leading up to our mid-September vacation, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico fell victim to an unrivaled hurricane season. At the end of August, Harvey decimated the islands off the coast of Florida and flooded Texas. And right behind him was Irma.

By all accounts, Irma was massive. Her projected path changed hourly with meteorologists predicting her to make landfall from as far west as Texas to as far east as the Carolinas.

So while my family and I had been eagerly planning our vacation for thirteen long months, we were now forced to wait with baited breath to see if Irma was going to impact or flat out ruin our vacation.

My anxiety, of course, reared its ugly head in those few weeks. When I should have been happily tossing tank tops, flip flips, and sunscreen into my suitcase, I was checking my phone every ten minutes for updates from The Weather Channel. Instead of making reservations for wild horse tours and scoping out great kayaking spots, I was making a mental list of emergency items we might need to bring instead.

My husband and I didn’t make a final decision until the last minute, when it seemed as though most experts were agreeing that Irma was going to hit Florida – and hard. We decided to make a go of it with our extended family meeting us at the beach house we’d rented in Nags Head. We had half-assed back up vacations planned, but I was understandably unenthusiastic of the prospect of fleeing my favorite place on earth for something like D.C. or Williamsburg, VA.

Luckily we were able to spend our entire week in the Outer Banks as planned. And while nothing extraordinary happened during our trip, perhaps the best part was that I learned to take a step back and appreciate being there at all.

It Was . . .

. . . waking up on the first morning and greeting the angry sea and beautiful sun breaking through the clouds, wiping tears from my eyes as I ate cereal on the deck.

. . . . discovering new things like Ocracoke Island and the Elizabethan Gardens.

. . . seeing my dog frolic in the sand and chase ghost crabs and sand pipers.

. . . . lying on my back on the deck of our beach house, looking up at the millions of stars in the night sky and listening to the waves crash in the darkness.

. . . watching the sunset over the sound behind the little shops in the quirky village of Duck and seeing the wild Spanish Mustangs roam peacefully along the sugary soft sands of Corolla.

. . .  about conquering fears – my husband climbing the Bodie Island Lighthouse despite his fear of heights and actually being able to enjoy the view, if only for a few seconds. One morning I woke up early, and with nothing else to do, I grabbed my self-published novel, set the GPS for a Little Free Library in Kitty Hawk, and drove on the bypass, despite the fact that driving on highways, especially in unfamiliar places, normally leads to a panic attack. I managed, with much coaxing from my husband, to get into the ocean further than my hips for the first time in over ten years. I swam out until the water was over my shoulders and I couldn’t touch the bottom, just so I could hop on a sand bar and marvel at the natural formation and rolling waves. Once closer to shore, I floated on my back, squinting up at the sun, letting the ocean’s waves roll gently beneath me. I rose and fell with the water, relaxing in its salty arms and smiling, until the inevitable rogue wave came rolling in unexpectedly and crashed over my head, stinging my eyes and burning my throat so that my smile became a laugh, and I remembered that the unpredictability of the sea is one of the reasons I love it so much.

 

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Because of, Not in Spite of

This was, I believe, my twelfth visit to the Outer Banks since 1996. And while I’ve explored half a dozen Caribbean Islands and waltzed down Main Street in Disney World three times, the island is still my favorite place on the planet. I cry when I get there and I cry when I leave, so I’d like to think that I’ve never taken advantage of visiting the place. But after this near-miss of a vacation, I realized that isn’t exactly true.

Each and every vacation, I admire its beauty, its rich history, its uncanny ability to calm the mind and ease the soul. And even though I’ve read about how many storms the tiny strip of land has weathered for centuries, I never really understood how much its resilience played into why I loved it so much.

The Outer Banks, physically and logically speaking, is an enigma. It is a narrow strip of land jutting out from the east coast into the violent and ever changing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Unpredictable waters batter its beaches, shifting sand bars sink its ships, and its remote location make it seem much further from the main land than it actually is. But all of those things also contribute to its appeal. Its isolation is, of course, one of the reasons it is such an ideal vacation location. But considering it is only accessible by bridge, and its hurricane season lasts from July through November, that also makes it a precarious place for plans of enjoying the sun and surf.

The Outer Banks is only three miles across at its widest point, making it seem as though any large storm would surely swallow it up completely, making it a modern day Atlantis. But despite all these factors, it is still a living, breathing, thriving piece of heaven. Its residents embody the resilient spirit of the Outer Banks by building houses and businesses mere feet from the ocean and rebuilding quickly and efficiently after a strong tropical storm or hurricane. They are almost comfortable with the threat, knowing that it’s a small price to pay to have the privilege of living in such a stunning location.

That spirit, that resiliency, that respect for the natural world and all it brings, made me seriously reconsider my ultimate dream of living there one day. And after all was said and done, nothing has changed.  I still hope that one day I can make the Outer Banks my home. Give me the hurricanes, the Nor’easters, and floods. Give me high insurance costs, crowds of tourists in the summer, isolation in the winter. It is not in spite of these things that I love this place so much, but because of them.

 

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