Saturday, April 28, 2012

50 Shades of ... What!?!?

** Trying to get organized over here, so I've added a Mama Mzungu facebook page (to your right). If you've ever read a post you've liked, go ahead and like me - it could happen again! Thanks.

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Even over here in Kenya, I can’t escape the latest US literary phenom – Fifty Shades of Grey.  I’ve been able to use my considerable interweb sleuthing skills to learn that it has been the subject of enough morning talk shows, articles and mom blogs that it’s probably worth reading if only to learn what all the hype is about.  This is the beauty of the interconnected world: I find out about this stuff online, buy it on my 3G kindle and then spew back my impressions to all you lucky readers on my blog.

So, here's a brief play by play:

6% in:  

What?!?  Am I being punked?  What is this drivel?  Is this some weird large scale sociological experiment to see if people can be convinced they like something given enough buzz.  You know, like they did with the Mona Lisa?

And this is a goddamn trilogy?  Not possible.

I’m at a loss and I have no one to talk to this about, so I ask my facebook friends:

Will someone please explain to me why there is so much buzz around the FIFTY SHADES series? I've read 6% and it's nearly unreadable. Here's a summary: she is vapid and blushes often, he is hot. THAT's IT! I understand there's some racy "mommy porn" coming up, but I don't think I can get through the crap writing to get there... Should I continue?

My former roommate (who was known for unabashedly devouring romance novels, so something of an authority on the genre) tells me:

"Nearly" unreadable? That's generous, and you know I have no trouble reading trash!

Other people just paste in choice quotes from the book followed with internet laughter of the LOL, ROFL, or "spewing out my coffee" variety.

I stupidly take this to mean I should, in fact, continue.

13% in:

OK.  She’s still incessantly flushing and biting her lip and is still supremely irritating, but now there are three of her to hate since her subconscious (angel) and inner goddess (devil) are battling it out in one of the most played out literary devises ever.  She’s still acting like an immature 14 year old and Mr. Grey is still… gorgeous, aloof and rich.  We’re supposed to buy this chemistry because she’s demure and hot and he’s powerful and hot.

And I would like to know something Ms. E. L. James:  Are we really supposed to believe that Christian is a 27 year old billionaire?  He’s 40 if I’m a day.  27 year old billionaires invent music stealing software or social networking platforms and still act pretty much like 27 year olds but with more expensive toys.  They are not corporate moguls, and they don’t immediately become wine connoisseurs who order around a huge staff of personal assistants like a seasoned boss.  Why not just make him 40? You can’t possibly think your readers would be scandalized by a May-December romance, what with all those nipple clamps and hand cuffs looming in the background.

27% in:

Ohhhhh!!!!!  Now, I’m starting to get it.  And, in fact, I’m becoming a bit flushed, my belly curls and my whole body has come alive, every nerve ending singing softly.  A ghost of a wicked smile escapes my face.  My subconscious is enjoying a gin and tonic and my inner goddess is jumping on a trampoline. 

I close, uh, I mean, turn off my book, roll over and tap my long neglected husband on the shoulder.  And…. And…. Holy crap!  Am I really going to do this?

Now 50 Shades of Grey is his favorite new literary phenom, and I can’t believe they only wrote three of these!   

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Blogspeak

I'm linking this post up with Stasha's Monday Listicles. The topic is list the things you're good at. But all I could think of was that I'm pretty awesome at finding all my flaws, which is totally not in the spirit of this listercise. But I've been meaning to join up with this linky thingy for a while now so in truly bad form, my first link-up is totally unrelated to the prompt, but I thought you blogging listmakers might have some good things to add to this post!
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I used to pride myself on my stubborn refusal bend to the latest technological and social media trends. You know, I was the last of my friends to get a cell phone and then a smart phone. I thought ROFL was a special at iHop and a hashtag was something kids smoke out of.


I kind of felt being the group Luddite made me unique, mysterious even, and somehow principled. Like a zen master at a frat party. Truth be told it was more due to laziness and inability to navigate anything more complicated than an on/off switch. But it was kind of my thing.

But since my maternity leave, I’ve dove head first into the social media world. I am writing more in my blog and actually trying to promote it, linking up with other sites and spending a criminal amount of time reading all of your blogs – to the neglect of my children. I now have a twitter account that I don’t use and finally figured out how to waste a ton of time on my smart phone. Kim for the win!

And in so doing, I’ve noticed that a new language has developed among those plugged and clued in.

Some initial observations those of you in the thick social media-ing may not have paused to consider:

(1) Good job=”for the win”/ bad job =”fail”. So, when did this happen? You tell an amusing story about a petty triumph, and it’s “Kim for the win!” When did we become our own little color commentators? Truth? I kinda like equating getting my toddler to crap in a potty with scoring the winning touchdown in a playoff. Because it feels about that exciting, and someone should be cheering for me.

Some person or institution does something dumb and it’s a fail. Really dumb, it’s an epic fail. Was I asleep when fail became a noun? Or when failure shed its “ure?” I’ll go with it. Language evolves and all that…

(2) The new “a**hole.” It’s not clever enough anymore to call someone an a**hole, unless you call your grandm an a**hole (because that’s just funny). No. Today you have to merge something scatological or sexual with something mundane. Like ass hat or douche canoe (What? It’s a thing. I’ve seen it) or vagina chair (OK. Not a thing yet. Keep watching...)

(3) New nouns. You all seem to love to add “-ery” to everthing. As in, dumbassery or head scratchery. I like this one. It actually seems to serve an important linguistic purpose in terms of efficiency. This is not a language fail. It’s language win, people.

(4) Calling your readers “people.” I like this one too. Seems the best choice. I mean what else are you supposed to say? “Gentle reader” is a bit too old school. “Folks” is too, well… folksy. “Y’all” is too Southern. “Eskimos” way too Northern. “Patriots” is too right wing, “comrades” too left wing, “lovers” too familiar and “douche canoes” just too mean. “People” is the best. You know what I mean, guys? Oh, yeah, you could also say “guys.”

(5) There’s a lot of stabbing and throat punching. Sure, we’ve always had ways to express our… um… displeasure with someone. “He’s going to get it.” “I’d like to kill that guy” or even “I want to punch him in the face.” But now we are all blogging, tweeting, status updating about stabbing our spouses and punching the guy at the DMV in the throat. 
Did this all start with the Bloggess?

Why so specific guys? I could go on about what this means for the decline of civility in society, but I think we’ve moved in this direction because stabbing just sounds funny. Throat punching? Hilarious.

That’s it from me, but don’t be a total vagina chair – leave a comment and let me know what I’ve missed…

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Caleb cracks me up. The end.

My son 3 year old son Caleb is hilarious.


Both inadvertently and vertently.


Seriously, he does and says the most adorably funny things leaving a trail of people doubled over with laughter at his antics, wiping tears from their eyes at the unexpected hilarity he brings to their lives. Well, if not a “trail of people” at least his mom and dad.
Here's how it goes:
All his little friends play the straight-man to his clown. When they come over, they stand politely at the door as he, upon seeing he has a visitor, starts giggling uncontrollably, skipping around the room and singing. He’s either a physical comedy prodigy or an idiot. (You see, that’s funny because you’re not supposed to call your kid an idiot. He just might get his sense of humor from me.)


He does things that are funny because they are too “adult,”like complimenting me on my driving, like asking me in the morning, “So mom, what’s your plan for the day?”, like exclaiming “Oh Frick” when he can’t find something or shouting “Kiimmm, I need you to get my juice!” or (my favorite) sighing audibly in exasperation when we don’t understand him, finishing with an annoyed“Nevermind guys.”


He’s also got the whole toddler humor genre down cold. He would totally kill at Sesame Street open mike comedy hour.


Me: “Caleb would you pick up your toys?”


Caleb: “What you say Mama tooly tooly lala poondy poopy?”followed by Caleb collapsing to the floor in hysterics at his own cleverness.


Or knowingly getting a simple question wrong (ala “Caleb what color is the school bus?” “Ummm….. Red!”)and then maniacally laughing and the utter craziness of the whole thing. I mean calling yellow red? Hysterical!


But then there are things that are funny because of how he says them. Which I can’t quite capture in words, but you can totally trust me on this because I’m completely objective on the matter. He's a little white boy with an unexpected Kenyan accent and then layered on top of this is an exaggerated earnestness and the most cartoonish facial expressions. It’s winning.


I know, I know, everyone thinks their kid is terrific and toddlers are generally pretty funny as a demographic. (They kind of have to be or we’d leave their whinny, tantruming behinds at a bus stop). So, either Caleb has a future in comedy or I’m a typically delusional mother. I’ll let you decide with this photo montage of the comic genius at work:



A budding Jim Carry, right?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Raising Little Foreigners: "Give Me That Ball"


This is the first in a my "Raising Little Foreigners" blog series.  It's simply my observations about raising children in a different culture.  I firmly believe that no one way of bringing up kids is superior to the next, and that we all have a lot to learn from one another.   I feel privileged (and often confused) to experience multiple answers to the question of how to bring up humans. 

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Caleb and I walk down the craggly Kenyan road, one of his little hands in mine and the other clutching his prized soccer ball. 

A man is coming our way, looking at Caleb, his ball, and smiling.  I brace myself for the inevitable, and he says it:

“Habari mtoto. Give me that ball.”

“No!!” screams Caleb and clutches his ball even closer.

“It’s mine, I want that ball.” Counters the stranger.

“No!! Ni yangu!!” (it’s mine) Caleb asserts, hoping the Kiswahili will make his message clearer, because this man is not quite getting it. He runs behind me, frustrated and a bit scared. 

The stranger laughs good-naturedly at this display and chases after him saying, “I don’t have a ball.  Give me yours.”

“NOOOOO.  It’s MIINNE!!!” Caleb screams, completely at his wits end.

“Ok, Ok.” concedes the stranger and walks off laughing at what he perceives to be a funny exchange. 

I’m not kidding when I say that this interaction has repeated itself near daily, as if there’s a federally required script.  We cannot pass a Kenyan with Caleb holding something and NOT hear “Give me that ….”  

Since Emmet’s been with us, it’s been “Give me that baby.”

This “give me your ball” exchange used to unnerve not only Caleb, but his mom. I was stuck between feeling simultaneously exposed and protective. Clearly, this game is part of typical adult-child daiologue, and Caleb, screaming vitriol at the unsuspecting person, is going way off script.  It marks us as more foreign than is already obvious, the objects of laughter. I sometimes end up apologizing or explaining that “he’s just shy.”   

At the same time, STOP TAUNTING MY CHILD!!

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Every country has rules (written and unwritten) about how to interact with other people’s children. 
In the US, teachers used to be able to whack your kids’ bottoms with a ruler.  Now a hug from a teacher could prompt a sexual abuse allegation and a stern warning from a neighbor to “quiet down!” could lead to a Hatfields vs. McCoys situation.

Point is, other than a benign game of peek-a-boo, in the US, there’s pretty much an unspoken “hands off” policy, when dealing with other people’s children.  

In my experience, it’s pretty much the opposite here in Kenya.

There’s a sense here that every kid is everyone’s responsibility. The old “it takes a village” cliché permeates everything. I’ve seen virtual strangers pick up each other’s children to comfort them when they fall, grab babies from each other’s arms without asking, and admonish (and even physically punish) other people’s kids when they misbehave.  It’s seems expected and even appreciated.  It’s certainly a way to share the burden of childrearing.  

So, what does all this have to do with the whole, “give me your ball” exchange?

I think “give me your ball” from a stranger here is much like the “I’ve got your nose” taunt from a favorite uncle at home.  There’s no reason to be scared of a little gentle teasing from a loving uncle.  The teasing is just a way to relate, to interact.

I’m guessing that the “give me your ball” game serves the exact same purpose, and works because adults are viewed by children, in some ways, as extended family.

I’m happy to report that Caleb finally seems to get this dynamic.

Just the other day,  Caleb was playing on his toy motorbike, and a visitor to the compound asked him to “give me your bike.”

Instead of feeling threatened, Caleb simply coyly hunched up his shoulders, smiled a “noooo” – the kind of a “no” that is followed by a silent “you silly man”- and even let out a playful laugh.  And it felt really nice to finally be a bit more a part of this web of playful aunts and uncles.  

OK.  This is NOT the motorbike he was riding. In that case, the "give me your motorbike" might have been more of a stick up than a taunt.  It's the guard of our compound's bike that he lets Caleb play on.  Kind of makes the same point though.

Linking this up with a fantastic group of writer/blogger. Click the link below to find some posts that I'm going to guarantee (you heard it hear) will make you laugh and some that will leave a lump in your throat. Come back Thursday to vote for your favorite.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Four

I sat in the waiting room and played with the little yellow card as I waited for Emmet to finish nursing.  He had just received 4 vaccines, and the length of those needles going into his soft fleshy thighs was at least as distressing for me as for him.  I turned over the card reading all the fine print to pass the time as he soothed himself. 

The card, which we will bring with us for each subsequent vaccine, had what you’d expect: places to record the date for each immunization, a growth chart with upper and lower bounds to check his progress, a place to record our next appointment.

At the bottom of the card were a series of statements with boxes next to them.  The nurse was to check a box if the baby required “special care.”  There was one for a single mother, one for twins, one for a child with low birth weight.  All seem reasonable enough.  We probably have similar precautions in the US.  But there’s one box you’d never see on a routine form back home.  It said “Four or more siblings died.”

First of all, I can hardly fathom the depth of poverty that would see that many children perish or the depth of despair that such tragedy would inflict on a mother. On a family.

But, four?  four? Why four?

The form was developed by the Ministry of Health.  People, experts presumably, sat in a room and decided what amount of sibling deaths would indicate trouble for a subsequent baby.  They had to come up with a number.  They came up with four. 

Their job, I imagine, is to find the right cut-off.  Set the number too low and you pull in a bunch of babies who aren’t at risk. Set the number too high and you miss kids who are.  

There’s a lot wrapped up in that number four.

First, they decided that four sibling deaths was common enough to make the box mean something.  There’s a certain percentage of the population that this is true for, and it’s not zero. That alone is devastating.

And they decided that any number of sibling deaths below 4 doesn’t indicate that this next baby is necessarily at increased risk.  So, I’m living in a part of the world where 3 sibling deaths might be more attributable to what? Accident? Environment? Something so outside the family's control that it doesn’t warrant medical scrutiny for the next sibling.

I’m just amazed that I can live in a country (or a planet for that matter) that has waiting rooms like the one I found myself in -- with freshly mopped floors and mothers holding baby girls in frilly dresses waiting for life saving vaccines, but also a place where the number four is the right number on that little yellow card.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Poop post

I’m going to do it. I’m going to commit that most tacky of "mommy blogging" faux pas and talk to you decent people about my family's poop.  

Here we go:

You know that children’s book The Napping House “where everyone is sleeping”?  (No? Get it. It’s riveting.)


Well, I live in The Constipated House “where everyone’s not pooping.”

Me: Not hydrating enough to keep up with the breastfeeding.  It’s so bad that when I manage to poop, I emerge from bathroom, magazine under my arm, sweating, with some mild anal discomfort and an awkward sense of accomplishment.

Emmet: Has gone FIVE days without a drop of poop.  While this is not unheard of for a newborn, it’s totally distressing. Red faced, he strains and grunts with effort much of the day, and I’m about ready to stick something (a thermometer, enema, anything...) up his little bum to help things along and give him some relief.  Caleb pooped a perfect 5-6 times a day.  So, Emmet is down about 25 poops. Where is all that poop, I ask you?

Caleb: Caleb is the big problem here. 

Caleb is scared of his poop.  Seriously, he’s got a psychological block.  The first time he saw his poop in the potty, he looked at it and immediately jumped back, started screaming, jumping up and down and biting on his hand.  It’s that deep.

I can finally see why Freud devoted so much of his psychological theory to the anal phase. There’s something deeply rooted here.
Maybe he was on to something after all...

People have given me all kinds of explanations for this.  “It’s evolutionary since poop is so unclean.”  “They are afraid because they think are losing a part of themselves,” and even “Boys are afraid their testicles will come off with their poop.”

Six months back we thought we had defeated whatever scatological demons were haunting Caleb. In a moment of desperation and exercising embarrassingly bad parenting tactics, we promised him a bike if he pooped.  He promptly went to his potty, sat down, and pooped! 
He got his bike. 
And thereafter stopped pooping on the potty. 

Since then, we’ve cajoled, bribed, threatened, punished.  Nothing works. 

And now he has us outsmarted.  He knows he’ll be in a diaper for his nap and overnight, so he expertly holds his poop until then.  After we’ve left, he unloads his dirty business into the familiar safety of his diaper and then lays back smugly as we begrudgingly and angrily wipe his tush and hold our noses disgusted by what is becoming more and more adult-like poop. 

We give him the same speech each time, “This is the absolute last time we’re changing your diaper! You are a big boy now and you need to poop on the potty.”  But, he knows we are (much like he is) full of shit. 

Touché little Caleb.  You may have one this battle little, poop-holder.  But we will win the war, by god. 

So, yesterday Caleb emerged from his nap and I heard his little pitter patter head straight for the garage, instead of crawling into my lap for his usual cuddle time.  “That’s strange” I thought. And then… “Oh no you don’t!”

“What are you doing Caleb?” I shouted in his direction.

“I’m just hiding mama.” He shouted back.

“Oh no you’re not!” And I ran to find him.

You see, “hiding” is a euphemism for “finding a poop corner” which is a euphemism for going to a corner of the house to crap in his diaper in dignified semi-privacy.

Seizing the moment, I dragged him into the bathroom, pulled off his diaper and demanded some defecation.

I pulled out everything in my arsenal.  I promised him chocolates, movies, video games. Threatened time outs and loss of privileges. 

To dispel his fear I expounded on how much I just love to poop and how everyone who he loves poops all the time.

I did a baby Biology 101 and explained where poop came from. “You see, when you eat your body doesn’t need all of the food for energy to let you play so some of the food comes out as poop.  That’s all it is! It’s just food really. Isn't that neat?” 
"No."
I even got tried to liven the mood with the grotesque game of “what animals do you want to make with your poop?  A snake?  A lion?”  "See?  This is fun!"

None of these tactics were bearing… um… zoo animals.

There were a lot of tactics on his part too.  A lot of crying and trying to escape the bathroom over the fence I made with my legs.  A tearful pleading, “I’m huuuungryyyy mama!” Even the unexpected “the policeman called and told me not to poop.”  What??

I was having none of it.  I stood my ground. 

“We’re not leaving this room until you poop.  I don’t care if you don’t eat or miss your bedtime. We are going to poop by god.”

30 minutes passed.

He cried, pleaded, begged.   He got up and stomped his feet.  At one point he slumped his head on the bathroom in frustration, his little naked tush sticking up in the air, a cartoonish posture of defeat.  I had him beat, and he knew it.

Each time he tried to push, he cried horrible horrified tears.  He was sweaty and exhausted. Like I said, this is some serious Freudian shit.  Despite my resolve, I felt terrible for him.  So, I extended a hand.

“Do you want me to hold your hand Caleb?” I asked gently.

“Yes mama.” He replied.

So, like Thelma and Louise, we squeezed hands as Caleb, at long last, squeezed out his poop. (For those of you who are wondering, it was a snake).  The whole thing felt more like labor (at one point he literally said, “I feel its head”) and so maybe he just needed a doula. 

Caleb called papa to proudly declare his success.  “I pooped papa!!”  We told his nanny, the neighbors,  anyone who might have cared and quite a few who didn’t.   Sweets and movies were awarded. Caleb vowed that he would no longer be pooping in his diaper.  We hugged.  I showered him with affection, feeling profoundly proud of both of us.

The next morning Caleb pooped in his diaper.   

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Linking up yet again with this terrific group of blogger/writers!  Come check out some great posts and then come back Thursday to vote for your favorites.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sleep-deprived post in which I rail against car seats

I haven’t been the most avid blogger lately.  I can manage about 1 decently thought out post per week, some of which is typed one-handed while nursing.  I’m trying to find my rhythm with a newborn and a toddler, and when one is sleeping, the other often seizes that precise moment to demand my undivided attention.  It’s almost as if they know.  You know the drill. 
So, during the 1 or 2 hours I get to myself (never at predictable times, mind you), I’m generally too exhausted to do much more than the basics like feed and bathe myself or catch up on some sleep. Maybe find a clean pair of underwear. 
So, where am I going with this?  Oh yeah. Car seats. (You see? Not at my best.)

I really could write a book about raising a child in a cross-cultural environment – well it’s just that that pesky nourishing and cleaning myself seem to always get in the way.  Point is, there is a lot of stuff here to talk/write/blog about.
But lately I’ve been fixated on car seats. 

When we moved to Busia I lugged a car seat for my toddler through 2 transcontinental flights.  It’s pretty safe to say it was the only one in that Western Kenyan town of 30,000 people. No one (even the few who own cars) used one, and most people had never seen or heard of one.  When I tell people they are required in the US, that you can get a ticket if your child rides without, people look at me like they didn’t hear me right.    It sounds ridiculous.  You mean everyone must purchase this little baby thrown and put their child in the backseat.  By themselves?? Nonsense.
And this is where you’ll have to bear with me.  There’s a tiny part of me that agrees.
I get that they are lifesaving, and this is why my family uses them.  And they’re totally necessary if mom wants to drive a car and take a baby with her.  You can’t very well strap the little one to a seat or balance him on your lap while driving, and the roof rack is just cruel. 
But driving with a baby in the car seat is one of the only times when your baby is crying for you, and you’re right there, and you can’t comfort him. 

Sure, you can’t always get to a crying baby right away.  Maybe you’re cooking or in the shower or tending to another child.  But no law is tying your hands in the matter.  You can always shuffle things around domestically to reach your baby.
Walking on shamba (farm) I once heard a cow making the loudest and most distressing “moo” I’d ever heard.  (Stay with me here)  When I looked in the direction of the moo, I saw a mother cow tied to a tree looking over at her baby who was tied to another tree.  Their tethers did not allow them contact.  It was a very distinctive noise.  My Kenyan colleague knew the sound was a mother in distress before we even saw the cows.

That’s what I mean.  It feels unnatural not to be able to comfort your crying offspring when you’re right there.  It’s distressing on a primal level.

       (**Before you say anything, I'm aware of the current political risks comparing mothers to farm animals.)
I feel car seat ambivalent mainly with newborns, even though they are the most fragile and you’d think I’d be most “pro” car seat at this stage.  But this is also the stage in which they need their mamas most urgently.  Here in Kenya, I’ve never seen a baby under 3 months more than a few feet away from caring arms.  And that newborn cry is just… there’s gotta be a name for that nerve that goes directly from mama’s ear to action/panic brain center when triggered by a newborn cry.  Because they need to be close to you.

So, given a crying baby backseat, you try everything.  You sing, play children’s CDs, stop and start the car to rock the baby, turn the fan on extra high for white noise.   I’ve nearly torn a rotator cuff twisting my arm back to rock the seat while driving and singing.. and then crying.  But really the little bugger wants none of this.  He wants you. He knows you’re close.
You can always stop the car, you say.  I’ve done this. But ultimately you have to get where you need to go whether or not your little one is consolable.  I remember on a long drive to visit my sister stopping several times to soothe an infant Caleb only to start and hear him wailing again.  It was so stressful I literally contemplated not driving again.  Not just to her house, but until he was no longer a baby.  I know that sounds hysterical, but it’s how I felt.

I realize how heretical this car seat bashing all sounds.  Do you remember when Brittany Spears got caught driving with her kids in the front seat with no car seat? It was met with unqualified outrage.  Gossip columnists took it as further evidence for her deteriorating mental health. 
Complaining about life-saving car seats might strike you as crazy, wrong-headed, or just a bit too whiny. My husband certainly thinks so.  Don’t worry – we still use the car seat.  And I’m certainly not advocating that anyone abandon doing so. 
But just the other day, as I was loading a 4 week old Emmet into his little straight jacket of a car seat in the backseat, I overheard a Kenyan man say with astonishment: “Ona, anaweka mtoto peke yake.”  Look, she’s putting the baby in by himself.  Clearly he found the practice bizarre.  And, there’s a secret part of me that very much agrees.

My first at 4 days old in that dastardly car seat (Boston)
I'm hooking up again this week with the Yeah Write blogging community. Click on the link below to see some fabulous posts. Come back on Thursday to vote for your favorites!
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