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{Read-a-thon} Bout of Books, Day Four

{Read-a-thon} Bout of Books, Day Four

I had been planning on reading yesterday evening, but instead spent until 4am glued to live newsfeeds watching in horror as chaos unfolded in the Capitol (and listened to some very rousing speeches by various US politicians when a semblance of order was re-established).

Today I’ve not read much either as I’ve been too sleepy to really focus on anything. That said, I have managed the first 3 chapters of Monty Don’s Road to Le Tholonet. He’s a fascinating man, and reading about his time in France was incredibly calming. He lived in Aix-en-Provence for a while, and writes about his time there with real warmth. As I started this blog whilst living in Aix, it feels rather comforting to be mentioning the city in this post.

Apart from that, my brain has been sleepily flitting from one thing to another. I have also read one more chapter of Mousseline La Sérieuse, have worked through half of the second chapter of Teach Yourself Norwegian, and have drawn up a small vocabulary list from the first 42 pages of the beautiful Chineasy book.

Not much, but today is an incredibly slow day. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be awake enough to read without feeling incredibly drowsy.

Happy reading everyone! Wherever you are, I hope you are safe from harm.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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{Book Review} “Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life” by Paul Dolan

{Book Review} “Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myth of The Perfect Life” by Paul Dolan

This book was put under the “self-help” category of BorrowBox. So I began it thinking that there would be a lot of navel-gazing and sheets to fill in somehow. Instead, “Happy Ever After” turns the self-help genre on its head by taking many of the areas in which people want to “improve” their lives by changing their own behaviours to follow a dominate social narrative. Each chapter is devoted to one area in which people often want to transform their life or their behaviour. Everything from marriage, higher education, and higher salaries at work, to weight, free will, and euthanasia is covered in 229 pages. It’s quite a whirlwind!

Dolan begins each chapter by asking two simple questions: would you rather be X, which is the more socially prestigious option and miserable, or would would you rather choose the less socially prestigious option and happy. He then asks which of these options you would choose for your friends. Dolan is keen to emphasis that there is no right or wrong answer to either of these questions, whilst encouraging the reader (or listener, in my case) to think about what motivated them to choose their answers. The rest of the chapter was taken up with statistics and a discussion on what those statistics might be measuring without realising. Then each chapter would end with him saying about what other people had chosen in response to the questions that had been asked at the start of the chapter, and examine how their answers compared to the data given earlier in the chapter.

The thing that really lifted “Happy Ever After” to the next level for me was the fact that Dolan tackles head-on some of the points of class tension, and classism in the UK. The concept that working class people’s successes should not be judged by popular social criteria dictated by the middle classes should not be revolutionary, and yet I know that for some readers this may absolutely shock them. I read some reviews after finishing the first chapter, and found a fair amount of pearl clutching among some reviewers both because of this point of view, and because Dolan swears in his writing.

Once again, people being horrified at hearing a man say “bloody” as a way of emphasising a point perfectly illustrates a difference between middle class values and judgements of what is acceptable vs working class values and judgements of what is acceptable. Less horror, gentle readers, and more acceptance of different groups’ speech patterns please.

Another thing I enjoyed about “Happy Ever After” is that Dolan himself is happy to show where his own points of view have changed in the process of researching this book. The main example of this is in the chapter about euthanasia. Whilst he gives an incredibly balanced view of a controversial subject, he also shows how his own views have changed as he encountered various statistics. This injected a real sense that Dolan practices what he preaches in examining and challenging his own biases to form new opinions.

Overall: An excellent book that will certainly encourage you to think about some dominant social narratives, and whether aiming for them will indeed create your own happily ever after. His plea that we should not only choose the paths in life that make us happy, but should also be equally happy for those who decide to tread different paths to find their own joy is one that has real value.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2021 in 2021 Challenges

 

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{Read-a-thon} Bout of Books, Day Two

{Read-a-thon} Bout of Books, Day Two

Hello all!

Today has been a surprisingly productive day for reading, and knitting.

Book count: 1

Today I’ve finished my first audiobook of the year: “Happy Ever After” by Paul Dolan.

I’ll post a review for it tomorrow. It’s a self-help book that challenges you to think of the bigger picture. Dolan read the audiobook himself, and listening to his accent made me feel incredibly homesick after 11 months spent away from my family in London.

Yesterday I read the first couple of chapters of “Mousseline la Sérieuse” by Sylvie Yvert. It’s a historical fiction novel that imagines what Marie-Antoinette’s daughter’s life was like, as the only member of her family to survive the Terror. It’s interesting but incredibly sad at the same time.

Reading in French is going so incredibly slowly that I’m finding it frustrating. Time was when I’d have been able to read fiction in French as easily as fiction in English. Hopefully by the end of the novel French will be a little more familiar.

Fingers crossed!

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2021 in 2021 Challenges

 

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2021 Language Learning Challenges

2021 Language Learning Challenges

Over the years I have built up a small collection of language learning resources that I have looked after and taken with me as I moved around the country. Now that I’ve settled down for good, I am going to try to do something I always mean to do but never get around to: I am going to use some of those resources to learn languages.
As this year is a bit of a strange one with a lot of free time ahead of me, I am going to aim to complete four language challenges. Click on the one that interests you most to jump down the page to it.

100 Days of Mandarin

In December of last year, I completed the HSK 1 and 2 coursebooks, and took both the HSK 1 and HSK 2 language exams. I even passed them, which came as a surprise as I’d spent years telling myself I’d never be able to learn Mandarin. (Yay!)
But those 300 characters I’ve learned barely get my language level up to A1. (Boo!)
So I am going to keep on increasing my knowledge of characters and grammar. By doing an hour of studying every day for 100 days, I’m hoping that I’ll have learned a couple of hundred more characters, and will be able to understand a few more snatches of speech when watching C-Dramas. Who knows, I might even be able to pass HSK 3 by the end of the year…

Introvert Language Challenge

I actually created this challenge for myself because, as mentioned above, I have a lot of language learning resources. The aim of the challenge isn’t actually to get to B2 or anything lofty like that. Instead I’ve created this challenge to give myself permission to dabble in learning different languages. If I’m feeling nostalgic for LangJam, I might even spend a weekend or two learning the “survival basics” of other languages.

This year I am aiming to complete two of the self-study language courses that I have at home. To make life easy for myself (and because I have wanted to learn some Norwegian since about 2010) I am going to start by working through the Teach Yourself Norwegian course. When I’ve finished it, I’ll work through another language course, as the mood takes me.

The Output Challenge

I lurk on Language Learners’ Forum being inspired by others’ progress, but have never actually made an account on there. So I’ve not officially signed up for the ambitious Output Challenge, which involves writing 50,000 words in your target language AND recording 50 hours of speech, but I am going to aim to complete this challenge.
Spanish is my stronger-weakest language: I used to be on frustrating B2/C1 cusp, but have not used it at all since leaving Spain in 2015 and have regressed back to B1 for all things production-related. I really want to de-rust my knowledge of Spanish this year. If this baptism by fire does not help then nothing will! I sense some very earnest and very terrible fiction is about to be written. Forgive me, world…

Tadoku

As one of my goals this year is to read more books written in languages that aren’t English, I thought why not make an event of it and join a Tadoku challenge! As of January, I’ve started participating in one in French, and am reading Mousseline la Sérieuse. Here’s hoping I’ll complete at least 1 book per challenge!

If you’re learning a language this year, or are even thinking of it, I’d love to hear about which language you’ve chosen!

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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2021 Reading Challenges

2021 Reading Challenges

I originally thought I was just going to sign up for two reading challenges, then I thought about it some more and realised I’d signed up to a third without thinking about it. Then I thought about it even more and realised that 4 reading challenges sounds even more fun than 3 reading challenges, and found another that looks really exciting. I’ll keep this list updated as the year progresses.

Cold Winter Challenge

This winter-themed reading challenge is guaranteed to keep you feeling cosy until the 28th February when it melts away until December 2021. There are 15 different prompts to choose from, and this year I’m aiming to read 4 books to achieve the Flocon de Neige level.
Hosted by the fabulous L’Enluminée, if you’re interested in hearing more about it you can watch her introduction video for this year’s challenge.

Goodreads Reading Challenge

Last year I read a few more than the 52 books I’d signed up to read. This year I’ll be aiming to read a cool 52 again. As I’m planning to read more books in languages that I’m not so strong in, this should be a real challenge. Fingers crossed that it broadens my mind, and introduces me to some authors I’d never otherwise have read.

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

It will be the first year I take part in The Intrepid Reader’s Historical Fiction Reading Challenge! I found it last night when I was catching up on indecently wonderful book blogs. The challenge is simple: read any genre of book as long as it is set in a bygone era.
I’m going to aim to read 15 historical fiction books this year, which should net me the Medieval level. Knowing my current obsession with Pride and Prejudice fanfic I should easily reach this level…

HPOOTP: Flourish and Blotts Challenge

Another old favourite! This friendly group of fellow Harry Potter fans aims to read as many books as we feel like that are based on 52 Harry Potter-inspired prompts. I’ve completed all 52 prompts in the last 2 years, so this year I’ll aim to read 52 books that tie into all 52 prompts.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in 2021 Challenges

 

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Bout of Books 30

Bout of Books 30
Click the picture to sign up to this reading challenge!

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple.
It’s a weeklong readathon that begins Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in YOUR time zone.
Bout of Books is low-pressure.
There are reading sprints, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional
For Bout of Books 30 information and updates, visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

I just saw the above reading challenge on Words And Peace‘s blog. As I have this week off, and the challenge sounds wonderfully relaxed I’ve decided to sign up for it.

I’m hoping to read: Mousseline la Sérieuse by Sylvie Yvert, The Road to Tholonet by Monty Don, and Happily Ever After by Paul Dolan. Here’s to kicking off my 2021 reading in style!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Reading Challenge 2021: one I bet you haven’t heard of before

I don’t know about you, but this year is probably going to be spent hunkering down and trying to power through until the vaccine gets rolled out across the country. So unlike most years where I sign up to a dozen reading challenges and only finish 2, this year I’m only going to sign up for 2 of my favourites and not get frustrated if I don’t complete them both (or indeed either of them).

This a post about one that I’ve been doing for a few years now. Originally I was not going to take part in it this year, but as we have had so much snow over the last week I am feeling quite excited about taking part in such a wonderful, atmospheric challenge.

So what’s this atmospheric click-baity sounding reading challenge that I think you won’t have heard of before?

Cold Winter Challenge 2020

Created by one of my favourite Booktubers, Margaud Liseuse, who has decided to hand the torch on to L’Enluminée this year. This winter themed reading challenge runs from 1st December 2020 to 28th February 2021 which gives you enough time to stay curled up in your cosiest reading spot immersed in the festive spirit until spring is just within view.

The challenge has 3 levels:

  1. Une vie de lutin” which translates as “An elf’s life“. For this challenge, you read a book based on one prompt from one of the 5 reading menus on offer. Just one book, and you are a winner, my friend!
  2. Flocon de neige” / “Snowflake” is the next level. For this you need to read books based on two prompts from two different menus.
  3. Mordu.e de l’hiver” / “Winterholic” is for the hard-core winter reading lover. To gain this lofty title you need to read books based on all the prompts from 4 menus (or 5 if you’re going for glory and reading the bonus menu as well).

The 5 menus each contain 3 prompts. I feel that translating them to English here will spoil the flow, so if anyone wants a translation of any of the prompts then feel free to ask! Here they are:

Menu 1: “Magie de Noel” / “Christmas magic“.

The prompts are:
Under the mistletoe” choose to read a romance or a feel-good novel set at Christmas or New Year.
Raclette” for which you read a book based on family, friends, or secrets.
Danse de la fée Dragée” choose a book based on a dream, set in a dreamlike universe, or choose a fantasy novel.

Menu 2: “Hiver Mystérieux” / “Mysterious Winter

The prompts are:
Yule” read a book based on mythology, legends, or deities.
Reine des Neiges” choose a book with a powerful female character, one containing magic, or one containing feminism.
New Year, new me” read a book containing a metamorphosis, transformation, or evolution.


Menu 3: “Marcher Ensemble Dans la Neige” / “Walking Together in The Snow

The prompts are:
Rennes du Pere Noel” read a book about or including animals, nature or ecology.
Aurore Boréale” choose a book with a journey, or adventure in, or a travel book.
Carol of the Bell” for which you choose a choral novel, or one with different narrators, or one where many different characters share the same experience.

Menu 4: “Hiver Obscur” / “Dark Winter

The prompts are:
Fantomes des Noel passés” read a book containing ghosts or spirits, a journey through time, or even a book that takes place in several different times.
Frissonner sous un plaid” choose a horror, thriller, mystery, or suspense novel.
Nuit de solstice” read a book that’s under 300 pages.

Bonus Menu: “Au Chaud Devant La Cheminée” / “Warm In Front Of The Fire

The prompts are:
Grands Enfants” read a children’s book.
Vitrine de Noel” read a graphic novel, or an illustrated novel that’s set during the winter season. It can be a Christmas one, but doesn’t have to be.
Chocolat Chaud” a book that makes you feel good. From any genre.

Most of my reading friends haven’t heard of this challenge because it’s run by French-speaking Booktubers. I think it deserves some extra recognition because it is so incredibly festive, and the community is incredibly supportive and friendly.

Are you inspired to take part? If you do and you post about it on social media, feel free to use the hashtags: #coldwinterchallenge or #cwc

Happy reading to you all!

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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Top 5 Achievements of 2020

Top 5 Achievements of 2020

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on here, you’ll know that I’ve neve been one to blow my own trumpet. However this year has at times felt like Groundhog Day. So for this year, and this year only I am going to be celebrating the 5 largest of 2020’s incredibly small achievements. Just to remind myself that even though it feels as though I’ve spent most of this year standing still, I have actually been moving forward. It may be that I’ve been moving at a glacial drip, but I have been moving nonetheless.

If you’re reading this and are proud of anything you’ve done this year then please share it in the comments below!

Top 5 Achievements of 2020

5) Got a nightly skincare routine
It might not sound like a big deal, but I’ve never managed to get into the swing of doing a massive nightly skincare routine. As a woman there’s a heck of a lot of pressure to follow multi-step routines the deliver incredibly soft and glowy skin (and cost an absolute bomb).

This year I got into doing an incredibly simple skincare routine every night before getting into bed. It’s literally just washing my face with soap and water, then applying some moisturiser and some lip-balm. I don’t start stressing about how much product I’m using or whether I’m doing this or that the right way. My face seems to have thanked me for this nightly routine by not looking utterly terrible every day. Thanks, face!

4) Learned how to code
I never thought that I would be able to learn how to code. And had I not got a place at a free bootcamp that taught JS, I would probably have continued to think that for the rest of my life.

This year I spent a few months learning how to code, and starting to job hunt… and then lockdown kicked in and everything fell apart. Somehow I’ve managed to make up for lost motivation and confusion at the world (and at React hooks, hallelujah!) and have managed to get some work in tech!

I’ve got a few plans of things to build in the next year and have started figuring out my first spare-time/ passion project. I’m incredibly excited about this, and cannot wait to share it with you guys!

3) Knitted a blanket using entrelac
Knitting is one of those creative things that I always mean to do but have gradually stopped doing over the years. Friends and family know that I can knit though, so I have built up a terrifyingly large stash of yarn that fills two 35 litre boxes and that scares me a bit to look at. Entrelac knitting is even more terrifying for me because it can be incredibly fiddly if you don’t do it the Norwegian way (and I haven’t yet worked out the Norwegian way) so every couple of stitches I have to turn my work around. As you can imagine, this gets very heavy very quickly, and my wrists were not happy with this.

After a couple of months of gentle knitting, I completed my first entrelac blanket, which used up 7 balls of yarn, and is so cosy that it’s become one of the cat’s favourite places to curl up and snooze on during the day.

2) Published a short story
OK so this sounds a little grander than it actually is. Back when lockdown started, the languages department at my old Alma Mater, the Open University, got in touch to say that they were going to compile and publish a book of short stories in foreign languages, in the vein of the Decameron.

I wrote a short story in French, Spanish, and English (my main languages), and was excited when it was accepted for publication. I had to do a couple of edits, and honestly it could do with a little more prodding, but overall I’m happy with it. It’s the first short story I’ve written in over a decade so it was lovely to discover that I could actually write semi-coherently, if not compellingly.

This buoyed me up so much that I drafted and started writing a story for NaNoWriMo 2020. I stalled at 25k, but it’s been good to go back and start editing what I wrote for it. It would be so lovely to get better at writing fiction.

1) Learned Mandarin
Hold your horses, I’m not saying that I’ve fully learned it in 12 months or anything intense like that!

Mandarin is one of those languages that seemed so daunting that I’d gone out of my way to avoid learning it because, like coding, I thought it was beyond me. I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme developing. So what shook this world view? Well back in June, I saw a post by a PhD researcher offering 8 weeks of free Mandarin classes in return for them doing some research. There was no pressure to actually learn any vocabulary, the classes were free, and taking part would help research on Alzheimer’s. Obviously I signed up in a heart-beat, and then proceeded to discover just how beautiful a language Mandarin is.

I loved it so much that I decided to sign up for a 12-week HSK 1 course in September. Sadly the pace was a little slower than I’d hoped, so at the end of October I signed up for the December HSK 2 exam to push myself a little harder. Then I thought “what the heck”, and signed up for the HSK 1 exam too.

On the 22nd December I got my marks back for both: 100% for HSK 1, and… 80.5% for HSK 2 (ouch). Clearly 8 weeks of casual learning wasn’t enough for me to ace a whole HSK level, even though it was one of the low ones that most people skip instead of taking. That said, it was fascinating to see how much Mandarin I could learn. As soon as I’m able to get 100% on mock HSK 2 tests I’m going to start learning the HSK 3 syllabus.


Farewell 2020, you’ve been an utterly surreal year, but you haven’t been wholly terrible you know.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Top 5 books I read in 2020

Top 5 books I read in 2020

It’s Christmas Day, and for the first time in my life, I’m not at my parents’ home eating mince pies and playing the antediluvian board games we break out every Christmas period. The last 3 seasons have been very queer, and for once it’s a sort of “queer” that just doesn’t tickle my pickle.

Like most of the people I know, during lockdown I’ve bounced between bouts of listlessness where even getting out of bed to shower and brush my teeth has taken a Herculean effort, and periods where I’ve spent time luxuriating in doing things that I’ve never had time to do wholeheartedly before. (Think Chloe Ting workouts, learning how to code using JS, and knitting blankets). Strangely this year hasn’t really been one for reading. I’ve only read 69 books so far this year, of which one has been a textbook. I don’t think I’ve read this few books since 2017 when I only just squeezed in 63 books around my degree.

Top 5 Books I read in 2020

5) Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes
Greek Myths have never really spoken to me before: there’s a lot of war brides, and very bloody killings. In short it’s never been my jam. Natalie Haynes (who I’m going to very lazily describe as being to Greek mythology what Mary Beard is to Roman history) absolutely blasted my perceptions on women in Greek mythology by cutting through the twee retellings and translations from the Victorian era, and returning to the meat of the “original” Greek stories and plays.
My partner and I had a fantastic time as he read the whole darn book out loud to me while I knitted (over the course of several months, I should add. I’m not that cruel a taskmaster!).

4) The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham
If you’re looking at that title and thinking, “Huh, that title looks awfully familiar…” then you are clearly a cultured person who knows about Midsomer Murders. My wholly unbiased opinion is that it’s still one of the best TV crime series to have come out of this Sceptred Isle. I’ve watched all 21 series apart from the last 2 episodes because they’ve not yet released them in the UK, the cruel cruel people.
Well anyway. The Killings at Badger’s Drift is the first book in the series that inspired the Midsomer Murders TV show. How did it compare? Oh gosh it was beautiful. The TV series is full of chocolate box images of rural life in the South but the books have the sort of casual social observations and idioms tossed in there that makes the writing punchy, and the characters believable. Barnaby is so wonderfully understated that he reminds me of those tiny touches of colour that painters add to their paintings that you don’t really notice, but that lift the colours and transform them from flat to richly variegated.
I really hope to read the rest of the series over the next couple of years.

3) Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
I came across this one by chance when I wanted to borrow a short audiobook from the library to kill a rainy evening. This was a rich reward! Owls Do Cry was incredibly poetic, and moving in a way that the middle section from To The Lighthouse is. Based on Frame’s time in mental health units, this book is full of the horror of her experiences wrapped up in lyrical text. I spent a good part of this book in tears in spite of the humour threaded through it.

2) My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
I’m very late to this party. We’re going to pretend that I’m fashionably late, OK?
I was startled into gales of laughter by things that really would not have made me laugh had they not been written so punchily. The nuances of the main female characters made the dark humour and satire especially mordant.

1) The Spoken Mage series by Melanie Cellier.
First up, it’s set in a world where writing words literally creates magic. Secondly, the main character is a woman (OK, teenager but she’s female). Thirdly, the writing is so incredibly magical that I blazed through the first 4 books in the series (of 5) in 3 days. This is practically unheard of from me nowadays and really is the best testament to the quality of the stories. (And also a little bit to the amount of free time I have at the minute, but let’s not dwell on this too much).
Bonus points for touching on classism and having a few BAME characters that didn’t feel like token presences.

BONUS mention: HSK 1 Standard Course Book by Jiang Liping
Although this is a course book, and not my usual fare, it deserves a mention as it played a large part in my first steps on my Chinese learning journey. It’s the first time in an age that I’ve worked through a text book with so much pleasure, and that was in part due to this exceptional resource, and in part due to the amazing teachers I had at the CI.

So there you have it! Those were my top 6 books of 2020. If you celebrate Christmas, then Merry Christmas! If you don’t then please accept my best wishes to you and your loved ones at this dark time of year.

What were your favourite reads of 2020?

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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{Review} The Laughing Policeman – Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

After several weeks of the frivolity of Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Wimsey, it was time to settle down with a more serious crime novel. What better than a classic Swedish detective novel to sober me up! As we had two copies of this crime story at home, it seemed a good idea to read one of them before giving it away. 🙂
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