Closing the Distance

We were all hoping the Corona-virus would be conquered by now. We were praying for a large downswing in the curve. Instead it is still running rampant, and we are still called upon to socially distance ourselves. Unfortunately, this is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health. (At least those of us who are obeying the mandates of medical experts and the CDC.)

Social distancing is suppose to mean keeping at least 6 feet between you and another person. Perhaps this was a poor choice of words. Perhaps we should have called it physical distancing. After all, we are social creatures. We need companionship. We need our sense of community and family. This innate need and desire has not gone away in the face of a pandemic, nor should it. What we have to do is modify our social behavior rather than nullify it.

I decided to have a family cookout. Our entire immediate family was present. There were no hugs, no handshakes, and no kisses. Each person arrived wearing a mask. Each person proceeded to the bathroom to wash their hands. We headed to the patio where each person sat or stood with enough distance between them to satisfy the health considerations of the elderly among us. We laughed, we talked, we ate, we drank, and we reminisced days gone by. All of our utensils, cups, and plates were disposable. I’d like to think a good time was had by all. This is just one of the ways we closed the distance in our family. It did my heart good to see with my own eyes that my sons and their families were doing well. (All of them have been working outside their homes throughout the pandemic.)

Yesterday, I talked to a friend in southern California. She told me that she and four of her friends went to the neighborhood park, mask in place, and had a great two hour visit under the trees. She said each of them enjoyed this short visit so much because all of them live alone and longed for human contact. This friend is over seventy years old. She does not have internet access so her interactions have been limited to telephone. (We were on the phone 3 hours. It was easy to ear how much she needs social interaction.) She also shared with me that some places there have made drive-in movies in the parking lots of Walmart stores to provide an outlet for social activity. I was happy to hear that my friend was finding ways to close the social distance between her and her friends.

Staying home, cutting ourselves off from all human contact, especially for those who live alone, can weigh heavily on the soul. Depression and anxiety can grow in a way that destroys the joy of living. I’m writing this short blog to remind us that there are ways to come together safely.

We don’t have to be socially distanced in a way that leaves us in solitude each and every day. We can find ways to close the distance, while keeping some physical distance between us. Here are a few suggestions: Walk around your neighbor, speak to neighbors and others who are outside in their yards; better yet walk with a friend. Drive to the lake or to a community you’ve always wondered about, then call a friend and tell them about everything you saw and felt. Offer to Face-time and elderly person’s children and allow them to have a conversation on your phone by putting it in a plastic food bag. Share conference call numbers for prayer meetings and bible studies with the people you know. Set up a drive-in movie in your church or club parking lot. Invite a friend to the park for a foot race. Set up a conference call to exchange recipes or gardening tips with your friends/family. Go to the golf range with a companion; hit a bucket of balls.

You may still need to wear your mask, use your hand sanitizer, and maintain a proper physical distance from other people, but you can still be a social member of your community. Stay connected while you stay safe and close the distance between your family, friends, and neighbors.

PS: Connect your doctor or a mental health professional if you are feeling depressed and anxious beyond what you can handle. This is a necessary distance to close.

Walter is a good storyteller. His stories will make you laugh and cry — and sometimes pray. He knows the pain of failure and the joy of being rescued by caring friends. In these stories you will find inspiration, laughter, hope and encouragement. Walter hopes that you will find a story that moves you to give thanks for the people who held the rope for you when you were a “basket case,” and inspire you to hold the rope for a hurting friend. Amazon.com

When things get back to “normal” . . .

I have have heard this sentiment expressed so many times in the last couple of days. It always leaves me wondering “whose normal”; “what part of normal,” and “what do you mean by normal?” In my mind “normal” can be relative. After all, very few people have the same lifestyle or the same worldview as others. Right???

I’m not sure returning to “normal” is a great idea. When I ask myself whether I want everything to return to the way it was, my answer is no. There are life lessons I’ve learned during this time of sheltering-in that I don’t want to lose. There are also things I learned about myself that I don’t want to do or be anymore. I see this as a positive not a negative. Here’s some examples:

I want to keep having relationships with the seniors (elderly adults) in my life. I want to listen to their wisdom, their humorous comments, and their recipes for longevity. I want to remind them how important they are and what a blessing it is to be in their company. I want to interview them and record their experiences and their worldview for posterity. When this sheltering time is over, I want to spend time in their presence, not just letters, video chats, and texts or emails. I want to be truly present.

I want to spend quality time with my family. I don’t want it to be so unusual that we are all together in the same place actually communicating and participating in activities together. I don’t want to be so busy that it becomes an excuse for being unavailable. Life is too precious for that kind of regret. There’s a time and place for everything, and my family time is not the time to be preoccupied.

I want to continue journaling, my self care regiment, reaching out to friends and family, and taking the time to appreciate the beauty of every day. There are so many inspiring things in nature, so many uplifting experiences, so many valuable relationships, and so many wonderful words to read and to write; I don’t want to lose any of these things. Living through the pandemic has changed my perspective, I believe for the better.

Certainly, I want to continue working with children as an occupation. I love what I do. I also want to continue to produce poetry and stories and writing my blog; that’s part of who I am. I suppose it can be argued that these things are part of my normal, but I’m not sure I will look at these things in the same way. Working with children is an important investment, not just a job. Writing is a valuable means of expression, I can’t afford to frivolous with it. Bene-log (Good Word) is my intention in everything I write – to encourage, to inspire, to entertain.

When things go back to “normal,” I hope people will remember how to appreciate others. I hope people will continue to help others and consider the less fortunate. I hope we will keep the so-called least (the elderly, the children, the homeless, the impoverished) in our communities lifted. When things go back to normal perhaps we can be more thrifty and conservative in our spending and never be hoarders again. Perhaps we can continue sanitary habits in public and private. Perhaps we will never take our blessings for granted again, especially life and health.

When things go back to normal maybe it could be a “better normal.” What do you think? Is the old normal really what you want, or has your normal been changed forever and for the best? I’d love to hear from you.

Many people today feel overworked, overbooked, and burned out. They long for purposeful and meaningful lives. The remedy lies in rediscovering what it means to be truly present…
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Separated but Not Divided

Social distancing has separated many of us from our loved ones, especially friends and family we are used to seeing several times each week. Our new normal includes language like, “who’s sheltering in with you?” While the number of people we are sheltering with may be few, we don’t have to isolated from those we love.

One of the Gen Z members of my husbands family helped me to see this. (iGen, Gen Z, Centennials, I hate all these designations so why didn’t I just say teenager.) She took it upon herself to plan a virtual family reunion. She started by contacting as many family members as she could through her grandfather’s siblings and cousins on Facebook. Using these family members and a number of other social media platforms, she was able to get the word out that we would all meet together on Zoom (a webinar, video conferencing platform) on Palm Sunday at a certain time eastern standard time.

Although we were all separated by time and space, we were united together as a family of many generations. One of the oldest members of the family shared a song with us. Another member shared a prayer. Several members shared updates on their households, and we all took turns greeting members of the family that we had not seen in a long time (even before the Corona-virus pandemic). There was laughter and tears, scriptures and jokes, singing and banter. We were from all over the country: California, Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, New York, Texas; there was also some family members on the video chat from England. Separated but not divided.

Last week my grandson let me know he was going to Face-time me on Wednesday at a certain time. I knew he had wanted to talk to his father, my son, but had been missing him because of his work schedule among other things. I was able to surprise my grandson by having his father on the line when he called. (That was a living in joy moment! See last week’s blog for more about living in joy.) My grandson was so surprised and happy, as was my son. Again, separated but not divided.

One of my dearest friends in North Carolina contacted me with an Easter greeting by text. I didn’t know she had my number. It has been four or five years since we visited one another. Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise to hear form her and her family, and to know they were all doing well in the midst of the pandemic.

My oldest son sent me some beauty lake side pictures by text this morning. I got a chance to see what he was seeing while he is traveling for his job. He knows how much I love being near the water so it made him think of me. (I love oceans, lakes, and rivers; I can’t wait to travel again!) I haven’t seen him for several weeks now which is very unusual, but we remain close through phone calls, texts, and pictures. The love we share on a spiritual plain will never let us be truly separated.

Try something new if you are not techno savvy. Call one of those young people in your family and have them walk you through it. They are probably bored anyway and will be glad to help. If you are old school like my mom who still has a land line, use call forwarding or call waiting to hook up with your people. (My granddaughter informs me that hook up means something different these days, but you can’t do that through the phone, so you know what I mean.)

Don’t allow sheltering in to cause division between you and the people you care about. Use whatever means necessary to maintain contact and connection. Use this time of social distancing to reconnect with someone who has been on your mind, especially if you know they are by themselves. Don’t let them be alone.

We may be separated, but we don’t have to be divided. Stay safe. Stay connected.

Our Need to Connect

Why is it you never miss things or people until they are gone or unavailable? When I think of all the times I complained about my students, my co-workers, or even my family, it seems ridiculous now. No doubt, I took their presence for granted. No doubt, I discounted the value of their connection to my life. Funny how we lie to ourselves. In honesty, after small breaks I was always ready to go back to work. After several days of vacation or time at home, I was always ready to return to my routine, my kids, and my people. That’s the thing! We all have our people.

All of our daily routines are connected to people whether they are co-workers, children, clients, siblings, competitors, bosses, or spouses. People connect us to our purpose. People enhance our identity and inform our desires. Okay, maybe that’s a little too poetic, after all that’s my niche. The fact is we have a innate need to connect and that need is suffering from “social distancing” and “sheltering in.” That’s why we need to find creative ways to connect even during these Conronavirus days.

We need to make connections beyond texting and emails; we need to connect with human voices and faces. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facetime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Duo, and all the other techno-means of contacting people. However, I’m talking about more than that. For example, neighbors can schedule times to meet in their front yards or over the back fence. Or you can stand 6 feet from grandma’s open window or six parking spaces from your best friend in the school parking lot. Perhaps you could have a four corners’ community meeting at the four-way stop in your neighborhood. Each family takes a corner so the children get to talk and see each other as well. Today, I met a dear friend in the parking lot of the grocery store, we both stayed in our cars and caught up on our families’ well-being.

Even though we are nervous about contact with others, most of us are still in contact with others in some form such as: doctor’s appointments, essential shopping, and contact with repair people. Asking and listening to the answer of the question, “how are you?” is important. While taking the time to talk to cashiers, or restaurant workers isn’t a deep heartfelt connection; it is still an important human connection. Sharing sincere appreciation for someone’s service is a much needed connection in times like these. All it takes is a little empathy and compassion.

Before COVID 19, we all had a network of friends, family, and even commercial partners in the marketplace (like my hairstylist, nail tech, and mechanic). These are essential connections. Some psychologists believe they are necessary for our mental health as well. Through these connections we become inspired and motivated to fulfill our purpose (dreams, goals, callings, niches). They reinforce our sense of self and increase our acceptance of others. We feel fulfilled emotionally and socially when we have these connections. We also feel safe and whole when we are connected to our people, our community of significant others. (Wow, that’s a little preachy.) Our need for connection is real is all I’m really trying to say.

Our need for connection with others is a real need, and we shouldn’t give up on it easily. We can use our creativity to communicate with others. If you have elders in your life, as I do, here’s one last way to connect. My mom is 89 and she loves letters and cards. She is from that generation where handwritten letters demonstrated the genuineness of the relationship. In fact, she has a little keepsake box of letters she has received over the years. So you can connect through handwritten letters, to protect the most vulnerable in our lives. Don’t forget to add some pictures.

One time there was someone very close to me in jail. They felt isolated and I felt helplessly locked out of their lives. I was shocked to see how much it meant to both us to talk through the glass and press our palms together on it. Just those few minutes each week gave us both hope and kept our relationship in tact. Our need for connection was somehow fulfilled just by laying eyes on one another and hearing each other’s voice. COVID 19 has us behind the glass, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to connect.

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The Face of Favors

Don’t you just hate when certain people say, “Hey, would you do me a favor?” Fight or flight syndrome kicks right in because you know when that person says favor all the give and take is on your end. It’s like when certain people say, “Can you loan me xyz dollars?” Why can’t they just say, “Can you give me xyz dollars?” because they know pay back is not a part of the deal.

I’m of the mindset that our friendship or our family relationship should be close enough for us to be helping each other all the time. For example, if I’m in the market and I see cherries on sell, I buy some for my best friend because I know she loves them as much as I do. If I go to a seminar and get some information that I think may be helpful to someone else I know, I take some screen shots and send that person the info. This is not a one way street. My closest friends and family buy books, fruit, and royal blue things (my favorite color) for me all the time. Why? Because when you have a true relationship with someone their best interest is in your heart. When you care for someone, little things will make you think about them; commonalities make their names pop into your conscious stream of thought from time to time throughout the day/week/month.

So when certain people ask for favors or money, I can’t help but think where are their special relationships? Where are those close family members and friends that they hang with when they need something? How did I get to be their go-to person in their hour of need?

Seriously, I don’t mind doing favors for people or even loaning money when I have it, but it strikes me strange when I only hear from certain people when I’m needed in some kind of way! Is it too much to ask that our relationship should have more depth than that? I guess I’m saying the favors should have the face of real friends and family. Of course, it depends on the need – the favor being asked.

Not very long ago, a friend who lives in Tennessee called me. She said she received a request from me for money via social media. The request said I had been injured while out of town and needed money to get back home. Apparently, the request was for a substantial amount. Being my friend, she wanted to help in any way that she could so she called me immediately. Needless to say, it was a scam! Yet, it must be a scam that works! Someone must be sending money based on this request without checking with the individual making the request. My friend in Tennessee said she couldn’t picture me sending this kind of request via social media. She couldn’t picture my face asking for this kind of favor so impersonally, and I was so glad she didn’t. I was also glad that we had spent enough time getting to know one another that she could not be duped by such a scam.

Perhaps we should all take more time in establishing real relationships. Perhaps social media has interfered with our ability to truly get to know people. I mean, we have a lot of acquaintances and associates, but do we have true friends/true family? Even blood family isn’t as close as they once were! Sometimes it seems like family only gets together for funerals and weddings, and even that depends on which family member it is. Yet, in the time of need, we call on the ones who are most likely to come through despite any real personal connection.

So here it is. Ask me for a favor. and I’ll ask you for time – time to know you better, time to really invest in your life, time for you to invest in mine, time to cultivate a real relationship. Who knows, after we spend some real time together maybe we will meet one another’s needs without ever having to ask for a favor? Perhaps, your face will be present in my heart and pop into my mind on a regular basis. One day, I just may call you up and ask you can I do something for you before you ever get a chance to ask for a favor. The face of that favor will be friendship!

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Expressing Love

Do we really need one day in the year when we express our love in some extraordinary way? I’m not anti-holiday, but some of them really irk me because they seem to be an excuse for us to perpetrate something that we really don’t believe or feel. (Like Thanksgiving and Mother’s day, and yes, Valentine’s Day). Seriously, do I really want to wait for an annual day to express my love and thankfulness to the people that mean the most to me all year round?

At the beginning of the school year, someone gave me a calendar. This particular calendar has all the special days of every month. Things like National Ice Cream Day and the Big Red Dog’s Birthday (a children’s book character), and I Love Donuts Day. Some of the days are considered national holidays, while other days are historical in nature. I think the calendar is supposed to help you incorporate themes in your lesson plans. Perhaps it’s meant to build in some excitement for learning in the children; I’m not sure! Nevertheless, everyday seems to be a reason to have a party, decorate a room, and buy a Hallmark Card. It’s so artificial! All these special days make no sense to me.

I don’t need a special holiday to enjoy ice cream or my pet. I don’t need a special day to read a good author or to re-watch my favorite movie. I don’t need to be reminded to be thankful for all that I have once per year, since I’ve learned to be thankful everyday. I don’t need a special day to appreciate having my mother in my life when I know so many who wish they had their mom for one more day. And I certainly, don’t need any pressure to love my husband, my children, my family, or my friends one special day of the year.

Expressing love should be an ongoing activity! Love is and action, not just an event! The expression of love is not in the big things once per year, but in all the little things all year long. I love to kiss my husband on top of his bald head everyday. I love to go into my mother’s bedroom to watch and talk about the cooking shows. I love to lock my granddaughter out of the truck every time I pick her up from dance or work just to hear her complain and laugh. I love to send my friends and family text messages that say “Good Morning” or “Good Night!” I love to send my adopted nieces and nephews scripture encouragements. I love to send my sons YouTube songs that may inspire or bring cheer to them. I love to send my grandson books in the mail and I love to throw my dog a treat bone. To put it simply, I love to express my love while I can, because the day may come when I can’t.

I used to ask my grandmother why she went to church so much. She said she wanted to go faithfully while she was able, because the day would come when she wouldn’t be able to go. She said then she wouldn’t feel bad or guilty because she would know she did all she could when she was able. Later, blindness and Alzheimer’s stole her ability to go to the place that she loved, but I felt peace in knowing that she had given it all she had when she was able. This is the way I see our opportunity to express love.

I have no idea where I will be on the next Valentine’s Day, (For that matter, I have no idea where I will be tomorrow, or next week, or next month.) but I do know that I don’t want anyone that I love to wonder whether I truly loved them or not. While I am able I will find ways to express my love as often as I possibly can. If the day should come when I am unable to move, unable to buy a card, or say a word, I will not feel bad or guilty because I will have expressed my love in every possible way I could think of when I was able. There shall be no doubt among those that I love, that I loved them well.

If you must celebrate these national and historic days on the calendar, let it be an add-on to what you’re already doing all the days of the year. If you do this, no one will ever wonder if you were perpetrating; they will know the sincerity of your heart. In fact, why not make up your own calendar of special days to express your love! By the way, I love sharing my blog with you!

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Planning to Keep Up Rather than Catch Up

The game of catch up is a ridiculous game as far as I’m concerned.  I mean, once and opportunity passes you by do you really every catch another opportunity just like that one?  Or what about the overload of tasks on your to do list, do you ever really catch up on all those things so you can do what you truly want to do? 

Okay, so you missed the baby shower, but you’ll catch up with your friend before the baby is born. You missed the girls’ night out again, but there will be time when you finish the reports on your desk, Your body’s saying rest, but you only have three more projects to write before that pending deadline. You really can’t plan to catch up without something else coming up, and sometimes that’s because you never say “No”. After all you are the go to person in the family, on the job, in the club, everywhere. Just ask Sue, she never turns anybody down! Does this sound all too familiar?

Perhaps we need to take a different approach to planning our lives. I’ve got two suggestions. The first one is to put everything in your planner (or smart phone). Include your social activities, your down time, and your special plans right alongside your business and “have-to” appointments. I put everything on the calendar so that when someone asks me to do something whether work or pleasure I can look to see if I already have something in that slot. I treat my social and pleasure activities like a appointment because they are. They are appointments with myself and the people and things that are important to me. In the same way that I won’t let things interfere with my business appointments, I don’t let things interfere with my life appointments.

My granddaughter is graduating from high school this year.  We are very close and I’m going to miss her terribly when she goes off to college.  So I’ve made the choice to spend time with her whenever possible  – breakfast outings, shopping sprees, the ballet, special conferences and classes she needs transportation to – whatever allows us to have time together in the midst of our busy schedules. (She’s also a very active and overly committed person.)   In order to make these things happen I’ve had to turn down seminars, get-to-togethers with friends, teaching opportunities, and even some writing time.  True some of these opportunities won’t come around again until next year. Some may never come again, but I also know I won’t get these previous moments with my granddaughter again.  Its a matter of planning and priority for me, and right now she is a priority.

There will be other conferences and seminars. My friends, if they really are friends will not disappear on me.  I will always find time to write.  (Like right now in the middle of my bed with a slice of cheesecake.)   So I have no problem planning and prioritizing what I want to do. So my first suggestion is to put everything in your planning calendar that’s important to you. This will help you make the time and keep the time of your life events.

My second suggestion, you may have guessed by now, is to administer the word, “No!” To do list and busyness will never stop growing if you don’t know how to administer the word “no”.  Seriously, why do we feel bad when the answer is no? We don’t have to make excuses to turn things down, we just have to set our priorities, check our calendars, and our conscience and answer accordingly. “No, I don’t have time for that!” “No, I’m really not interested in doing that! ”  “I’m not available at that time, so the answer is no this time.” Now that didn’t hurt too much did it? You don’t have to be rude or harsh, just matter of fact. (I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of the word no from time to time. Were you understanding? Then others will understand your no’s too.)

Here’s the real questions: how much joy (bucket filling ) are we missing because we say yes to everything that comes along?  How often are we complaining on the inside because we aren’t doing what we really want to do? Are we missing the important events in our lives, like our children growing up, or spending time with our elderly family members, or rejuvenating our bodies with some healthy down time (personal investments)?    How often are we trying to play catch up with the people we love because our time has been stolen away by busyness?

That use to be me until I realized there’s no catching up!  I always planned to spend more time with my dad, but now he’s gone.  I really wanted to catch that Broadway play but I missed it.  Graduations, strolls in the park, midnight swims, seeing the new baby, taking that vacation – I was too overly committed to ever catch up.    Now I let my personal priorities take precedence over other people’s demands on my life! 

How about you?  What are you missing the things that mean so much to you?  Perhaps it’s time to start planning to keep up rather than play catch up.   It goes back to personal investments and filling your bucket (If you are new to these conversations, we covered these topics earlier, take a look back Jan 9th and 16th.) 2020 is a good time to start planning and prioritizing your life.

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Personal Investments

These days everyone is either involved in investments or interested in investments because investments offer a certain amount of security for the future. Of course, that depends on the value of your assets, although value is subjective I suppose. That’s why I want to talk about one of greatest commodities today – people. Now if you’ve been following me at all you knew I wasn’t going to talk about micro and macro-economics. Trust me, when you reach the crossroads between life and death your first thoughts will be about the people you love not the portfolio you had. Yes, I said had, because when you die it all goes to your beneficiaries or the state. (Side note: Have your stuff in order so the state doesn’t inherit your fortunes even if you have to give everything to charities.)

Several days ago I walked into a branch of my bank in another neighborhood. As I walked up to the teller he greeted me by name. That threw me off because I had never been in this branch before, and his face wasn’t one that I recognized. He proceeded to ask me if my mom was still with us. I replied in the affirmative so he asked how she was. By then I guess my strained response or more than likely the look on my face told him I was completely puzzled. Finally, he says, “You don’t remember me do you?” “I’m afraid not,” I said, “it’s the plague of getting old,” I smiled. He told me his name and the name of his sister. They had been students in a summer camp I used to own when they were small children. They came back every summer for three or four years he informed me. He went on to say how he remembered me playing with them and taking them on so many field trips. These were some of his best memories in childhood according to him. “You showed us the world of possibilities.” By this time, I was completely floored, pleased, and completely happy to be the recipient of such praise.

This young man had gone on to college and graduated with a degree in business. He was commercial loan officer at the bank filling in for an absent teller. We looked at pictures of his family and talked a little about the school his children attended. As I left, he said he was going to call his sister right away to tell her about me. Now you tell me, wasn’t that a wonderful payoff for my investment. Time and money well spent. Dividends still paying off for another generation.

This past holiday, I received a handwritten card by snail mail from a women I’ve known for more than 20 years. She lives on the west coast and we only see her every four or five years. I was so surprised to get this card; everyone I know sends greetings by text or social media; they certainly aren’t that personal. I was so touch by what she had written I called her immediately. We talked for more than an hour. It was great to reconnect with a long time friend. One thing she shared with me was her commitment to send personal notes, birthday cards, and greetings for other occasions for her friends and family. She said not only does it make them feel special but it brings her joy to do it. (Sounds like she filling her bucket!) She emphasized how the elderly on her list really enjoyed these handwritten notes because some of them are not techno-savvy. Also many people save these and look at them again and again; each time they experience the love and joy that they received when they first opened them.

Are we to busy to invest in people? Are we so consumed by work or personal entertainment that we don’t have time to actually talk to people? Has technology caused us to forget the personal touch of actual conversation? If we don’t invest in the younger generation why should they invest in us? I know time is also a precious commodity, but what’s the point in having a high volume portfolio if I can’t make time to share my life with others?

How are you personal investments coming along? Parents? Grandchildren? Children Neighbors? Friends? Co-workers? Classmates? Are those relationships growing or depreciating?

I’m beginning to see a great return on my investments. I hope you will too!

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