Miles' Christmas gift

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Let’s not call it a quilt. I’m afraid that would be an insult to quilters, to the precise, gifted, detail-oriented people who measure and cut and follow patterns and produce symmetric, lyrical mosaics of fabric.

This is not that. Though I still call it a thing of beauty for me, and hopefully for Miles. In the same way spray-painted-macaroni art is beautiful to the mama who receives it.


Let’s not call it a blanket, either. It’s more than that thing you throw over your legs when you get chilled.

Let’s call this patchwork therapy. Upcycled, saved from the fabric graveyard, stitched from the depths of my soul. Because, as I sifted through the scraps looking for the right colors and shapes, piecing together each one, I noticed my perspective shifted. In the beginning, I wanted everything to fit perfectly, but the more I sewed, the more accepting I became of every odd piece. I rescued scraps from the throwaway pile. I wanted to incorporate each one, even the ugly, jagged, difficult ones.

Yes, you there with the fraying edges that barely hold a stitch. You with the indecipherable pattern. You have a place here.

I can get through this. I can make it work. It is not perfect. But it is lovely.

It is not square and it does not lie flat. The binding is crooked, but it does its job. The too-small swath of fleece on the back should hold some warmth, at least while Miles is small and can tuck underneath. It is cozy and pleasing to the eye and it exudes love and comfort.


I’m proud of it. I think I might need to make one more. 

convalescence

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Our little Bub has been fighting a virus the past couple of days. He's had a fever of 102 and generally feels like crap and wants to be held all the time. Which, actually, is fine by me. I hate when my kids are suffering, but I do enjoy the extra snuggles. Also, this is the first time in weeks I haven't spent all day rescuing our little mountaineer from tabletops, chairs, or the chandelier.

Since Kris is off work this week, Miles has someone on call to hold him whenever he wants, for as long as he wants.



We're trading off snuggle-duty and toddler-duty (aka "Plan B"). Yesterday, Kris took her to see the movie Tangled, which she of course loved (a princess! long hair! magic spells! happily ever after!). And today she and I went out to lunch and did a little window shopping. There was ice cream and french fries involved. B was like, "umm....can Miles get sick more often, please?"


Tomorrow, Kris is on double duty all day. I'm getting my hair cut (finally!) and working and generally relaxing, as it just happens to be my birthday, and Kris understands how much of a gift it is to take a day off when you're a mom.

the best gift

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We pulled into the Macy's parking lot at 9:50am. Shoppers were just beginning to trickle in when we took our post at the kettle. Within 15 minutes, there was a caravan of cars flowing into the lot. Parking spaces filled and people walked purposefully toward the doors, under the pressure of a deadline. 
It's hard to ignore a 3-year-old wearing pink cowboy boots, ringing a bell and yelling "Happy Christmas!" and so many paused, and dug into their pockets and asked her to put the coins in the kettle. 

 On the drive to the mall, I had tried to explain to Bronwynn what we were doing. "We're going to the store?" she asked.
"Yes, but we're not shopping," I said.
"What are we doing?"
"We're going to ring a bell and collect money. And that money will go to people who need food and clothes and toys."
"Oh," she said.

We weren't sure it had registered until a few minutes later when she said, "but I want to give money too. I want to buy food for people."

Miles danced and ate crackers and took his turn ringing.

This isn't the part where I expect you all to pat us on the back and say "well done." Truth be told, I only signed us up to do this because I was watching all the kids' Christmas gifts pile up in our closet, and I was desperate for something, some tradition or message or something to balance out the consumption. I thought it would be a nice "teaching moment" and not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve, standing outdoors in 75-degree weather. Why not?

What I didn't expect is how much I'd learn from the people who gave. I noticed more men giving than women. Kris had a theory based loosely on people's shoes: If they were wearing comfortable shoes, he said, they stopped to give. Six-inch heels or too-tight loafers? They kept walking. (I'm not sure what that says about society as a whole). I was also shocked to see so many $20 bills stuffed into the kettle. One kid, maybe 12 years old, walked over and gave a $10 bill and his mother frantically tried to stop him, saying "but that's your Christmas money from Grandma!" And the kid just said "I know" and he stuffed it in the kettle.

So save your praise for that 12-year-old boy. Or for Bill, the elderly Salvation Army captain who took over after our shift ended. He stood there ringing for 6-8 hours almost every day leading up to Christmas. He had his own bell and wore his full uniform in the heat, and while he appreciated the break we gave him, he was eager to get back to it.

the christmas story

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I was looking for an authentic Christmas tale to show B the true meaning of this holiday, and I stumbled upon this video. It's really cute and toddler-friendly. Enjoy!

standing still

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Our Christmas tree is half decorated. Bronwynn puts the ornaments on. Miles yanks them off. And so it stands....a few decorations up top where he can't reach. A strand of lights skirting the tree on the floor. We've hidden all the gifts because a 3-year-old can't restrain herself at the sight of bows and brightly colored packages.

We're not traveling. We're not shopping. We have no big, fancy plans.

In many ways, it's just another week. Which is at once totally freeing and incredibly lonely. Standing still while the world bustles around us.

I have no holiday agenda except to enjoy the week through my kids' eyes. And lately, those eyes have been captivated by our half-naked tree. They snuggle up together after dinner and stare through the branches at the lights.

I refuse to say "don't touch." or "don't pull on that."


Tomorrow we'll stand still for two hours, ringing a bell while last-minute shoppers do their last-minute thing, and maybe I will have an agenda...a little one...to teach these babes about giving. To plant a little seed. Or maybe I'll just sit back and watch them ring the bell and soak up the attention they'll receive from strangers. A little gift to myself. Stillness and marveling at my family.

printable paper dolls

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The weather is a little dreary today, so we spent the morning indoors playing with these fun printable paper dolls from weelife. They're free (woohoo!) and oh so adorable!

I printed them on my home printer using heavy cardstock, then I made little cardboard stands for each one and glued them on.



B colored the clothes and added some flair with craft feathers, pom poms and glitter. It kept her entertained all morning.


 
Those two dolls are dancing, by the way. Get your mind out of the gutter.



Download your own set here, and check out the other great craft ideas on weelife.

the bicycle thief

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Our neighbors warned us. After our house was vandalized, they told us nothing like that had ever happened around here that they knew of. This wasn't a violent neighborhood at all. But theft? Yes, there had been some robberies. Especially bikes.

We live near a network of mountain bike trails, and a lot of our neighbors are avid cyclists. A lot of the bikes parked in their garages are worth more than our Subaru. ...Actually, we have a couple of bikes that are worth more than our Subaru.

So, to be safe, Kris locks the bikes in our garage. That way, if someone were to break into our garage, they still couldn't easily steal the bikes.

We thought we were okay. Until one day we left B's tricycle in the driveway in front of our house, and it was stolen. A little toddler tricycle. Who does that?! And how do you explain to your 3-year-old that she can't ride her trike today like she does EVERY DAY because someone took it?

She's not really old enough for this to be one of those tough life lessons about leaving your toys outside....So, I did the natural thing. I stayed up late searching Craigslist for a replacement trike. And, I have to say, the one I found is pretty stylin'. Chrome fenders. Leather tassels. A built-in bell. And, it's candy apple red. (B calls it "princess red." I call it "perfect color to hand down to your brother someday.") Despite being owned and used by twin 5-year-old boys, it is in pristine condition too. And it was cheap.

I'm hoping B's old trike will fall into the hands of a less fortunate child this Christmas.

All in all, a happy ending.

Guest Post on Mama Moderne

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I was invited to write for Mama Moderne this week. Check out my guest post over there, and peruse their other articles too.

They cover all aspects of motherhood from pregnancy to cooking, work, and house design in a fun, down-to-earth way. I like that their articles feel like helpful advice from a trusted girlfriend. The mom behind Mama Moderne, Ana, is a talented graphic artist and photographer, and her creative eye is evident throughout the site.

Enjoy!

Today...

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In addition to completing some writing work for a client, today I...

...stopped by B's school to attend her holiday pinata party, which was basically a non-specific celebration full of sugar and smiles and parents sitting on teeny tiny plastic chairs.


...Multi-tasked while the kids napped in the afternoon: more work and baking biscotti for teacher gifts. I had to make two batches, because, incidentally, I found that biscotti tastes much better when you remember to add the sugar. (further proof that when you multi-task, one task suffers)



...Once the kids woke up, it was basically an exercise in keeping them alive until bedtime. Miles is a MAD MAN. Every time I turned my back, he was climbing on something. Tables, couches, boxes. He's a gifted climber, but he stinks at getting down safely. I took this photo with my iPhone on his 4th or 5th attempt using the end table to launch himself onto the back of the couch. (This was also after I told him for the 15th time not to chew on the Christmas lights.)


Not long after this, Bronwynn opened the gate leading downstairs and prodded Miles to the edge, cautioning "Feet first, Miles, feet first." I grabbed his arm a split second before he would have gone tumbling down head-first. I saved his life, and I saved Bronwynn a life of devastation and shame over having killed her brother.

And then I screamed. Not at the kids. But I screamed near them. No words. Just a barbaric yawp that was so loud it made my throat hurt. I screamed because my head was about to explode and I had to let some of the pressure out, and I didn't want to say something or do something I might regret.

If you know me, you know I am not a screamer. In the last moments of my drug-free labor with Miles, the nurses were forcing me onto the bed (I was trying to give birth in the hospital Jacuzzi, which is apparently a no-no. It's for laboring only, they kindly informed me as Miles' head was crowning underwater)....In THAT moment, the most I could do was yell "Baby, please come out!" Which made all the nurses laugh, because that's the precise moment they expected me to scream at them to leave me the F*** alone.

This scream today came from a deep place. Sure, there was the immediate frustration and exhaustion of the work day and the kids being kids and testing limits the way kids do. It rained today--a blessed, beautiful desert rain that nonetheless kept us inside, stir crazy. But it was so much more. And though it startled the kids and I wouldn't want to scream like that in front of them again, it sort of felt good. Voicing a little pain. Or maybe a lot...It felt like I screamed for all the times I should have screamed.

And, just as rain makes everything fresh and new, that primal yawp cleared the air for laughter and fun the rest of the evening. ...Until B dumped her milk into the fish bowl at dinner and I declared an early bedtime. 

My throat hurts, but my heart feels lighter.

I'm a mess

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There seems to be this misconception out there about me, that I have my shit together because I have this blog and I make stuff and write pretty words and photograph things.

I've spent a lot of time with myself this year, and I can tell you just how imperfect I am. There was a phase in my life that it really bothered me, being imperfect. But right now, I not only accept it, I LOVE it. Thank God I am so imperfect! Realizing just how imperfect I am has given me so much peace, and it's largely the reason I am creative, I believe. Because I'm a lot less afraid of failure than I used to be. Why not try something bold and new? Why not be a little more transparent? I've realized the sky will not cave in on me.

I haven't had a haircut in almost a year, and while I do shower most days, I can't be bothered to brush my hair. (Luckily, the windblown look is in...isn't it?) The corners of my shower are dark and slimy. Cheerios on my kitchen floor and between my couch cushions. On any given day, there are 5 loads of laundry piled on my couch (or on the laundry room floor). I don't do windows. I eat a lot of butter and am addicted to coffee. There's a piece of scotch tape holding my camera together, and that doesn't bother me so much. I like to think of myself as a feminist, yet after nursing two children, I think a boob job sounds like...well... not such a bad idea.

I don't easily remember birthdays. I'm about 3 years behind on thank-you notes.

My kids say "please" and "thank you" but they also eat dirt and smear peanut butter on each other's heads when we're not looking. Their clothes don't usually match. They have nice dress clothes, but I let them wear them whenever they want to. Outside. To the grocery store. On the playground. 

My mentor told me something interesting yesterday.

Side note: I have a mentor. Like, an official one who schedules time for me and answers my parenting questions and reads my writing and gives me pep talks and listens to me cry and makes me laugh and knows all about my imperfections--ones that I can't even type here. I think every mother (and every person, actually) should have a mentor--someone older and wiser than you are who you can be totally transparent with and whose relationship is more focused on you than on her/him. It's a rare gift, to be care-taken in this way, especially as a woman who spends 98% of her time taking care of others.

My mentor used to work doing home visits for at-risk families, and she told me that when they visited a home, and that home was perfect, sparkly clean, and there were young children in the house, it was a red flag. Family homes should not be perfect, she said, because it raises the question of who's doing all that cleaning? And who is paying attention to the children?

She told me to leave the Cheerios on the floor. Let them crunch underneath my feet and don't even think about them. Let the dog lick them up.

Okay, I said. I can do that.

She also encouraged me to do something nice for myself. Like, say, get a haircut. Because, as freeing as the long, tangled layers are, I don't think dreadlocks are me. Plus, it's hard to convince your 3-year-old to brush her hair for school when Mommy's hair is a rat's nest.

So, I scheduled something for next week. And I'm now accepting any and all style suggestions. Bangs? Short? Long? Tousled? Sleek?

Or should I just keep going with the rat's nest?

Memoirs of Miles

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We thought the Bub would love his solo time while B is away at preschool. In reality, I think he's not quite sure what to do with himself for those 2.5 hours a day, but he keeps busy. Here's about 15 minutes of his life captured on film (and sped up about 400%). Enjoy.

video

Guest Post: Sometimes you have to sleep with someone to get your kid into the right school.

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I asked my dear friend Jes to share this story today about the lengths she went to to get her son into preschool....To my surprise (and amusement and dismay), hundreds of Colorado parents camp out to get their kids into the schools of their choice. Would you?

Enjoy her guest post, and also check out her new business: Network: A Coworking Spot which provides a place to work and a community for self-employed peeps north of Denver.


"Why are we thinking about middle school when he's entering preschool?" my husband asked as we left the kids with a babysitter to attend a presentation on why this local preK-8 charter school was awesome. "Because, that's when schooling counts," was my reply.

Little did we know, in less than 3 weeks I would be sleeping on a mattress with a woman I had just met…not due to some drunken wild night, but the desire to get our son into this school. 

I don't really think that one preschool is so much better than another. When Gina moved out of state, we were laughing that some preschools she was finding cost upwards of $900/month…until we realized that isn't so unusual. Then we started crying. But when you boil it all down: Aren't all of these kids learning how to stand in a line? How to respond when their name is called and how not to have smears in their underpants after a day of not having a personal wiper?

Since when does the quality of wooden toys placed in pretty, reachable shelves differ all that much from a preschool filled with circle times and free play? Disclaimer: I was all for Austin attending a Montessori school. In fact, it was our top choice. Until I stopped to think of him as an actual person and not some model in a school magazine getting to play in all of the beautiful centers. Austin would find a work station that he is comfortable with (probably organizing numeric blocks and beads) and would not have strayed for 9 months. We can count beads at home; this I am sure. So, then I thought something a little more directed would be great for exposing him to new things. Seeing that other 3-year-olds aren't able to cut in a PERFECTLY straight line, that it's OK if you can't get the marker top back on, and that sometimes your shirt gets wet when you try to wash your hands would be nice confidence boosters for this little Type-A tot of ours. 

We are surrounded by great preschools. It's not a bad thing. But, with choices come the comparisons. Our public school preschool is nice, then we have the free-play preschool down the street, the Montessori school that is one mile away. The opportunities are endless. When you look further ahead though (to elementary and middle school) our opportunities aren't so abundant. We live in the fastest growing city in our county, which has provided overcrowding issues since we have moved here. We look at constantly changing boundaries due to new schools, and the year Austin enters middle school will be around the projected time a new middle school will be needed in our area, causing more disruption at what I've heard is such an easy time in parenting, the tween years.

The most compelling reason to attend a preschool (like the above-mentioned charter school) that’s farther away? Kids who enter the private preschools that are affiliated with the public charter schools are given higher priority for open enrollment in elementary school, and in this case, middle school too since the charter is pre-K through 8th grade. And, when one sibling is enrolled, priority is given to the following siblings. So, we are effectively comparing schools for the next 10 years of his, and his one-year-old brother's life. Crazy. I'm the first to admit it.

But that didn't stop me from grabbing a sleeping bag and joining the campout that began TWENTY SIX hours before enrollment processing at the school. Hundreds of other parents subscribe to the same reasoning I do, and vie for the limited charter school open enrollment slots. I was a lucky one. My friend heard the line had started, she grabbed my kids from me and told me to “GO. NOW.” I did. I got there at 5pm and was 22nd in line. Enrollment was not beginning until 8am the next day. Parents had tents set up, a bonfire was going in the school yard, an entire pickup truck filled with chopped wood was backed in as far as it could come and flasks were being passed. It was 22 degrees out. 

I talked to one mom who was there trying to get her son into the 6th grade. She was camped there, her husband at a different school, and her brother at another to ensure their son got the education they were going for. She had arrived at 6:30am that morning, closely followed by another woman, and more started lining up around 11am. One dad had driven by at 5pm after work to "see what the action was" before he planned on going home, changing into warmer clothes and heading out later. He was instead standing there in his work clothes waiting for somebody to bring him proper winter attire.

Chris arrived around 8pm, bringing me some dinner and hot chocolate, some warmer clothes, and set up our sleeping bag on a mattress for us. There were now around 50 families in line, shivering, talking, and still? No complaining. The principal came and told us he was impressed. That they were going to open the gym for us and let us keep warm (with bathrooms!). We filed in, staying in our little line, and made beds. One woman was spotted walking around in her nightgown and robe and had brought her son around because "he thought it would be fun!" I sent Chris home as I didn't need him to help keep me warm, and instead I shared my mattress with a woman who was right behind me in line. We slept, talked, watched movies, browsed the Internet and kept that line! The bonfire was kept going all night with some of the dads choosing to camp outside...a little too into it? Perhaps. Maybe they hadn't been camping in too long.

Needless to say, we were there and we weren't the only ones. It turns out many schools around our area had campers (ours was the only one who opened their doors to us). This happens at many, many schools. Public, private, and charter. If there is a "first come, first serve" enrollment plan, one night of the year schools around the nation turn into just another national park. 

Did he make the cut? We don't know, and we won't find out until February. If he doesn't get in, will we try for the next year? Possibly. But when does it end? "Daddy's been camped here for 3 years to get you in this school!" we imagined telling our kids some day.

"Will we have to do this for college?" Chris asked. "NO way, we'll have taught them how to camp by then, along with how to wipe their own butts, thanks to this awesome preschool," was my reply.

It's beginning to feel a lot like

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It was 81 and sunny here today, and I know I should be doing cartwheels about that, but instead I'm feeling a little dizzy. Something just doesn't jibe in my brain when I see kids swimming in an outdoor pool and hear the neighbors mowing the lawn. It's DECEMBER.

B said to me, "Tomorrow, after naptime, it will be Christmas! And there will be snow! And it will feel cold outside!"

Wrong on all counts, love. But that's okay, because we can walk down the street and stand underneath our neighbors' fake snow machine and watch Santa go up in a hot air balloon.

On the upside, I spent all afternoon with the kids on the playground. And I got to play with my Hipstamatic, which always makes me smile.


when life hands you lemons...

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Actually, the neighbors handed us lemons. An enormous bagful from the trees in their backyard, along with some tangelos and grapefruit, also from their yard. Gorgeous, right? But what do you do with 50 lemons?

You make lemon curd.

You can blame Charlie and Lola for this idea (I recently introduced B to Charlie and Lola in an effort to balance out the princess obsession. ...It's not working. Now she just incorporates Lola into her princess fantasies. Sigh.)

I also liked this, because true to my style, it's very easy. The whole recipe takes about 20 minutes.

You'll need:
    •    3 eggs
    •    1 cup sugar
    •    1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (2-3 lemons worth)
    •    1/4 cup butter, melted
    •    grated lemon peel (about a teaspoon)

Beat the eggs and sugar together and put them in the top of a double boiler (or in a heat-proof bowl over a simmering pot of water). Stir in the lemon juice, butter and lemon peel. Cook over simmering water, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes or until thickened.




You can use the curd as filling for a tart, or use it in place of jam and eat it on toast, with scones, or pound cake. I had some banana walnut bread (also gifted from our neighbors. I love neighbors!) that was getting a little dry. A dollop of lemon curd brought it back to life.



You can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple months...



Now...what to do with the 47 lemons I have left? Any ideas? (we don't own a juicer, so lemonade is not my first choice)

146/365

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There's an ebb and flow to the 365 project. I go through days where the photography is challenging, energizing, inspiring. Then other days, I'm just shooting something haphazardly on my iPhone so that I can check it off my to-do list. Some weeks, it feels easy, taking a unique photo every day. Other weeks, it's overwhelming.

Yesterday I photographed Miles in his highchair (tied down so he couldn't run away from me!). I sprawled on the ground beneath him, and I tried to capture his little red button nose. I composed, and composed and composed again. His personality is too big for one frame, so I tried to capture just a slice here, another bit there. When he's teething, he drools a lot and his nose runs and he looks like Rudolph. It's sad and yet oh-so-cute.

The light pouring in the kitchen windows was just perfect. I never use a flash, and as a result, many of my images are a bit dark. Nothing that I can't tweak slightly in editing, but my ultimate goal is to compose images that don't require any editing. I am far, far, far from that point, and maybe I'll never get there, but I'm happy with these 3 shots of Miles, untouched.

It's also kind of nutty to think I'm nearly halfway through the project. It blows my mind that we've been in the desert for six months. I'm not even sure what to say about that. It's been such a mixed experience. But here we are, putting down our roots. Teething. Celebrating Christmas. Telling our stories. Living them.

I know a lot of you joined me in attempting the 365 project. Are you still out there? How's it going?

Is your house on fire, Clark? No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights...

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Turns out what Arizona lacks in snowfall it makes up for in Christmas lights. This on a stroll through our neighborhood.

And this...


This house actually had a snow machine rigged to their palm tree, so when you walked by you got sprayed with synthetic snow. The kids were a little freaked out by it....


Oh, the silent majesty of winter's eve...

DIY advent garland

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I wasn't going to do an advent calendar this year, but B is at an age where she is quite aware of Christmas...yet not so aware of time. So, every morning for the past couple weeks she has awoken very excited, assuming today is Christmas.

"Soon," I say. "In a few weeks."

But "a few weeks" is an impossible concept when you're 3.

This should help.

I found these adorable mini paper sacks at our local hardware store. I numbered them, and used clothespins to attach them to some ribbon as a garland. Inside each bag I placed a little goody--some stickers, a matchbox car, or a piece of chocolate.



I also made the paper ornaments out of paint chips from the hardware store. I got the idea from one of my favorite craft blogs, elsie marley. You can see her tutorial here.

My favorite part? This garland multitasks as a Christmas card holder. As we remove a bag each day, we free space to hang up a new card.






Like all my favorite DIY projects, this one was cheap and easy. It took about an hour to complete, and yet it should bring us a lot of joy this holiday season.

should you have a baby?

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I have a lot of friends and family members who are childless, and occasionally someone will ask me some variation of the question: How did you know you wanted to have kids?

For some, it’s simply curiosity. How did you know? For others, there’s an underlying worry: How will I know if I want to have kids? When should I have kids? Tell me the truth about having kids. Is it as great as everyone says? Is it as awful as everyone says?

The answer is “yes, and it’s complicated.”

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