Doing our part

  Last 12 Months - 3498 It’s nearly time to write my year-end recap for Callum. It’s been a bumpy year, for many reasons, and just because it hasn’t been all fun doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mark its passing. But what I want to write today is separate from that recap, I think. We’ve handed Callum a lot to handle this year. We’ve all had a lot to handle this year. In the early fall Neel and I made the decision that it was time for him to leave his current school and attend another next fall. In many, many ways this was a tough call to make. He’s been at this school since he was barely four years old. From the earliest of preschool right through fourth grade. And he loves it here. Callum once said that when he died he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread on this campus. I work here, and Neel’s on the board…the fact that this is Callum’s school is as intricately entwined in our lives as our house is to our homelife. So many wonderful things have happened here. Callum learned to read here. Callum discovered his love of writing here. Callum decided that he might like math, just a little, here. He’s come into his own on the stage and on the field while he was here, and he even learned to sing! 

But things change and places change and people change too. Callum needs, we decided, a bigger world, a higher bar, space that pushed him and expanded him…a place that was both more comfortable (in some ways) and less comfortable (in others).

So this past fall, the great school search began for us. At first we were just exploring. We didn’t tell our son about our thoughts, because at the time they were no more than that…thoughts. We wanted to see what was out there, what options we had. I went to open houses and reported back to Neel. We read and read and read. We talked and talked and talked. We gravitated to one school, and I day-dreamed about a (much) shorter commute. Still small, still nurturing, but a bit bigger and different enough… we thought we’d found it. And then a friend of ours, director of the lower division at another school, took us on a tour of his school. WAY bigger. Very different. We went to mostly rule it out, and, well you can see where this is going. We came out thinking, “hmm.” Hmmmm.

Then we had a decision to make, and we hadn’t yet told Callum.

Last 12 Months - 3853 On the evening we told our son that we were looking at new schools for him in the coming year, Neel and I sat across from each other at the dinner table, making the eyebrow-wiggling equivalent of, “You say it. No, YOU say it.” I’m not sure who jumped in and started speaking first but it was probably me, because all that eyebrow-wiggling reminded me of a particularly painful moment in high school which I am certain is a story for another day. There was Callum, happily eating away when we dropped the metaphorical bomb on him. His eyes grew round, he looked from one of us to the other and then quietly stood up beside his chair. It was as if his seat couldn’t contain him, but his emotions had no voice.

So we talked. All evening we talked. It wasn’t long before he ended up on my lap at the dinner table, just liked he used to do when he was a toddler. We talked about how we still loved his school. We talked about how it was hard to even think about saying good-bye. And we talked about how it might be time to think about doing something different.

After all that talking, we put him through the ringer. Tours, interviews, a day-long visit at one school, rigorous testing at another. Sitting for the tests, spending a day with kids he didn’t know…it all took a lot of bravery, I think. Hardest for Callum was having to keep the news a secret from his friends at school. It was a long winter.

Greece, part 2 775 We told him that he would have input (and he had a clear favorite), but that we would make the ultimate decision (he railed against that, let me tell you). He’d ask regularly which way we were leaning or state emphatically that he knew we weren’t leaning to the school of his choice.
And it was hard. Oh my gosh, so hard to make up our minds. We weighed pros and cons and talked and talked again. It felt like all we ever talked about was school. I really wondered if we’d ever be able to choose, but first we had to wait to see if the schools chose us. And when the first one did, I realized that I’d made up my mind. The way the light of a new day gathers so slowly, one tiny drop at a time, until suddenly it’s day, I had been gathering awareness about what we should do. And then I knew.

This post is as much about me as it is about Callum, because of what I learned. I learned that it’s not about what I need or want for him. I learned that ten is plenty old enough to have a strong voice in what happens to a person. I learned that what I wanted for Callum could be different from what Callum wanted for Callum or from what Callum really needed. And that’s the most important thing. When I was able to divorce myself from my vision of Callum’s schooling to really understand what he needed from his schooling. Well, the decision became clear. Neel got it too. At first I worried that I’d need to tug him along on this because it was so different from what we initially envisioned, but he got it.

So we’re trusting ourselves, we’re trusting our boy. We went big, not small, and we think he’s ready. As parents we’ve laid a good foundation, I think. His current school has a laid a good foundation. Now he’s ready for the big time.

We’re stepping off a cliff, but I think this place will give him wings.

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olympic event

The Olympics have been on nonstop around here. I know that everyone is critical of the coverage and the IOC and is Ice Dancing a sport, blah, blah, blah. We don't care, we love it. Callum's been explaining curling to be, and my dad wants us to form a four-man bobsled team. Last night was the closing ceremonies, and I hate that it's over.

IMG_2865 But what to do with all that time cuddled up in front of the TV? Knit, of course! I picked up my raspberry Clapotis which has been languishing for maybe two years now (gasp!). And despite the grousing that I love knitting more that him (Callum) or that my lap is unavailable (Violet), I powered on. The result? A finally finished Clapotis. I threw it into the lightbox (!) just before I finished to get this shot, and I'm blocking it now. I might even get to wear it this week!

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funny valentine

IMG_0802 I hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day. It was one of my best in a long time.

IMG_0645 French toast in the morning.

IMG_0788 Cooking dinner with my son.

IMG_0794 French food.

IMG_0798 French Champagne.

IMG_0650 And a new lightbox!

We had such a lovely time yesterday. Callum came home halfway through the day to watch the Olympics, and we've resigned ourselves to dinner in front of the tv for the next two weeks. I love the Olympics, especially the winter, and there's not much I like better than snuggling up with my family to watch the games. My family Valentine. xoxo

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sled adventure

IMG_9837 On Sunday we woke to a full moon shining down on our land of white. You can see it peeking behind the trees.

IMG_9863 Even with the temperatures still bitterly cold, the sun was shining, and Callum couldn't wait to get outside. First he tried out a neighbor's cross-country skis. Then we all decided to go sledding.

IMG_9890 The Tidewater of Virginia is a flat land. The best hills we could find were at the golf course down the street.

IMG_9916 We made the trek on foot, a gaggle of adults and giddy kids. All the grownups speculated about the prospect of school the next day. I think we were thinking about it more than the kids. Our neighbor Paul, who's stationed here with the Australian Navy laughed, saying he's been in the Navy for nineteen years and never missed a day for weather. He's been here six months and missed five. Virginia will do that to you.

IMG_9915 As soon as we got there, the bigger boys and one dad went off exploring. Those lone figures in the distance.

IMG_9891 The rest of us and the little kids were ready to hit the hills.

IMG_9963 The Tidewater of Virginia is a warm land. Most came equipped with boogie boards.



IMG_9900 We have the real deal though. Neel couldn't wait to break out the Flexible Flier.

IMG_9953 Not the best snow for the Flexible Flier. He moved on.

IMG_9951 This was extreme sledding at its best. With a fast run and a creek at the bottom of the hill, the grownups had to stay at the bottom to "catch."

IMG_0002 The kids caught air.

IMG_9945 And sometimes couldn't catch a break.

IMG_9962 But mostly what we all caught was delight.

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weekend wonderland

IMG_9709 Oh, hearts beating with unadulterated joy. This is what we woke up to Saturday morning. What a dream! A dream snow fall. The excitement started on Friday as the predictions rolled in. Everywhere there was a sense of anticipation and giddiness. Neel and I went to dinner at our favorite, pre-storm restaurant, just to keep the momentum going. By the time we all tucked into bed, nothing.

I woke up around 1-2 a.m. and still nothing.

IMG_9802 At four, when I looked out again, the rooftops were covered. We managed to stay in bed until seven, but after that I couldn't wait for Callum to finally see it. This poor Southern Californian boy yearns for snow and doesn't get enough of it here.

IMG_9818 The view out the windows was stunning.

IMG_9794 Even with the snow beating down, everyone came outside.

IMG_9772 There were sleds to be pulled and snowballs to be thrown. (Although the real snowball fight came Sunday until someone -no names mentioned- threw a snowball at his dad and cut his eyelid. The dad had to be taken to the ER for five stitches, and even though it was a total accident and didn't happen to my family, all the moms were probably thinking, "It's all fun and games until someone gets an eye poked out.") 

IMG_9757 It snowed all day. A real event around these parts. Neel brought in so much firewood that we had to pile it on the floor.

IMG_9826 I snuggled up in a cozy spot, while Callum was out, out, out. Only coming in to change out his three layers of socks. Weekend wonderland.

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presents or expecting presents?

IMG_9066 I couldn't take it anymore. I had to put some decorations up. My mom was here for a week and she cleaned and swept...we're getting a handle on the plaster dust. At least some of the house feels like Christmas. I'll probably leave the wreath over the mantle and garland up until Twelfth Night, even if we take down the tree. The house is changing daily, and some of my decorations don't fit in as well as they used to. I'll have to spend some time thinking about that. And maybe hit Pier One after Christmas to see what's on sale.

We have a stack of Christmas books, didn't get those out either. One of my favorites is called Kipper's Christmas Eve.  Kipper was a childhood companion of Callum's and I miss the days of watching Kipper videos together. In this book, Kipper asks, "Which is best, Christmas Day or Christmas Eve? Presents or expecting presents?" For me, it's always expecting presents. For Callum, it's always been Christmas Day: presents. And really, find me a kid who wouldn't agree. Until this year. This year, he says, expecting presents. This year, he's learned the appeal of expectation and anticipation. It's a nice shift. He might be growing up.

I hope you're enjoying the anticipation with you and yours.

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and garden

IMG_7917 It was the garden that really got us though. 

IMG_8123 Roughly three acres, directly across the street from a world-famous botanical garden.  I guess that means you'd feel as if you'd have some "keeping up of standards" to do.  It really showed off for us too.  Look at that splash of red at the top of the photo. Breathtaking color.  We're not that far into fall down here.

IMG_8102 And a creek!  What memories of this creek Neel and his brother have from growing up.  It's the thin line midway through that first photo and crosses the property.



IMG_8099 This pergola had Neel in fits of both inspiration and envy.



IMG_8094 It was where house met garden that we were inspired the most.  These were the images that had us standing in our own backyard in an early November drip, drip chewing on our lips and wondering, "what next" with our blank slate of a back yard.  Deconstruction, then construction was about as far as we got. 


IMG_8131 Too bad we can't put in a creek.  I'm starting to think every kid needs a creek.

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we went away

We made a quick trip to Pennsylvania last weekend. Neel's aunt and uncle live there, as well as some friends of ours. It was the perfect time to go. Autumn in all its glory.  Neel's aunt and uncle have the most amazing home, straight out of the pages of House & Garden, and worthy of its own blog post - which I'll make you wait for. 

I got up before anyone on Saturday morning and raised the blind on a window in the living room. 

IMG_7919 This is what was looking at me.  My first thought was that these guys don't seem to be the type to have deer statues in their yard. And they aren't.  Turns out we weren't the only visitors that weekend.



IMG_7942 They came every morning around 7:30, and we sat so still, holding our breath as we watched.  Mostly doe, sometimes two, sometimes three, they were always alert as they munched on acorns and leaves.

IMG_8072 On the last morning, a buck came along with the doe, and it seemed clear that they were a family.

IMG_8081 My family was mesmerized.

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who wants a meaty treat?

IMG_6825 So we went to Hungary.  Neel had a conference, and we felt that Callum just shouldn't miss this opportunity to travel to another country.  He's a lucky kid, having now been to Europe three times in his first decade of life. 

IMG_6443 We decided that the refrain we use when it's time to give our dogs their treats should be Hungary's national anthem.  Go meat.

IMG_6439 I have so much more to share, and I learned so much (not least of which is that we should have stayed another day), but I'll get to all of that.  Once I rest up, do some (!) laundry and slog through the 600 photos I took.  Go Hungary, but good to be home.

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Father's Day, 2009

IMG_4652 He's a pretty great dad, you know.  And I, having had a pretty great dad myself, have exceptionally high standards.

IMG_4664 So we put him to work!  Actually, this kind of work Neel likes.  Our friends Tracy and Mark live in this amazing house on a river and they offered for us to come and canoe for Father's Day.  I jumped, because canoeing is right up Neel's alley.  He's been dying to get on the water with Callum.  It's criminal that we haven't taken advantage of all the water that surrounds us, but today we tried to change that.


IMG_4682 And off they went!

IMG_4697 We had an appreciative audience, both in the water...

IMG_4726 and out.

IMG_4714  Of course, right as they got out of sight the wind kicked up like nobody's business.  Callum was a great bowman, but he provided no ballast.  Neel laughed when he saw this picture, "No wonder we were getting blown all over the place.  Half the bow is out of the water!"  Of course that was after they made it back home.  It was windy enough that he on the water, and I on the dock were both a bit worried about how they were going to make it back at all.

IMG_4728 So much for my my ride.  We pulled the plug on the canoeing after that.  For now at least.  Perhaps the best part is knowing we can come to paddle another day.  Happy Father's Day, dearest of men, best of dads.  Callum and I both are lucky to have you.

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spring supper

IMG_3844 Food?  Spinach orzo salad with roasted garlic vinaigrette and chilled coconut and corn soup.
Drink?  Sam Adams Summer Ale (water for Callum)
Family?  Of course, dogs milling about under the table
Conversation? Who decked Callum @ lacrosse practice and how many push ups they got.
Music? Al Jarreau and Phoebe Snow (throwback for me)
The worst part? Pre-dinner whining and Neel headed back to work after.  (Grant deadline, June 5.)
The best part? This is my life.

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still with the sunday supper

IMG_2164 We're so civilized.

IMG_2170 Callum with his John Deere tractor cup.



IMG_2174 Laughing until we fall off our chairs or cry or both.  See all those clean plates?  We did manage to eat some too.

IMG_2161 I want to jot the recipe down because it was a perfect Sunday supper, especially for spring time.  I found it out on the internets, a Food and Wine site, and you could too, but why go searching when I'm going to tell you about it right here?

Lemon and Cream Braised Pork Roast (do I have you interested already, or what?)
2-3 pound pork end roast
1 1/2 cups cream
1 head garlic, sliced crosswise
2 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste

Place pork in cast iron casserole (I used my Le Creuset), and add cream, garlic, water and salt and pepper.  Zest a lemon and add the zest, the halve the lemon and squeeze the juice over top of the pork.  Cover and bake in the oven for 3 hours at 300 degrees until meat is tender.

Remove pork from liquid and pat dry.  Strain and skim fat from liquid.  Return liquid to casserole and bring to a boil.  Boil for 45 minutes until liquid thickens and reduces. 

Add two tablespoons cooking oil to a skillet and brown pork on all sides, using tongs to turn.  Slice the pork, pour on the reduced gravy and enjoy with much laughter.

Now I modified this recipe to fit my cut of meat.  The Food and Wine site called for a 7 pound piece of pork, five cups of water and two cups of cream.  The only thing I retained was the whole lemon, and it might have been a touch too lemony.  I haven't been able to decide, because truly, the lemon cream has a lovely flavor.  Perfect for a spring evening.  I'm thinking there are leftovers for lunch today.
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seventeen-ingredient dinner

IMG_1851 While I was sick, Neel took over cooking duties.  I have a cookbook that my friend Megan gave me called The Four Ingredient Cookbook, but could I plan a dinner out of that on a night I was sick?  No....I thought chicken minestrone soup sounded good for someone with the flu. 

Chicken minestrone soup.  The Seventeen Ingredient Dinner.  Poor Neel.  I do most of the cooking in our family.  Well, let's face it, I do pretty much all of the cooking in our family.  Neel does lunches and breakfasts for Callum, but planning, shopping and preparing dinner falls on me.  We occasionally have these grand schemes of sharing duties.  My parents both worked and split the week, and part of me would love that, but it never manages to materialize around here.  I always assume this is true for two reasons.  The first is that I really do love to cook.  True, I get in funks just like anyone else, and tired of it and bored, and all I want to do is go out every night, or have someone hand me a big old plate of homemade macaroni and cheese that I didn't make.  But the truth is that cooking to me is very satisfying.  I've figured out that the key is to know what I'm doing when I walk in the door at the end of the day, and as long as I do it's a way to unwind, feed my creative energy and tend to my family.  Plus I'm bossy. 

That, I always figured, was the second reason.  It's hard for me to let someone else have my kitchen.  When in doubt, blame me.  It's my fault that Neel doesn't cook more.  I can't seem to let him.

But when I feel like this, he can have the kitchen.  No problem.  Get on with your bad self, Neel. 


After the Seventeen Ingredient Dinner, I actually had an ephiphany about why Neel doesn't cook.  It ended up being quite important, really.  Here's what happened.  I get out the onion, the carrots and look around feebly for the broth.  That's pretty much as far as I get.

Me:        Do you think you can handle dinner tonight, Babe?

Neel:      Sure!

Me:        I think all you need to do is get this stuff chopped.  The spinach is in the 'fridge, oh, and I wouldn't worry about pre-cooking the pasta the way it says. I'd just add that about ten minutes before we're ready to eat.

Neel:     Okay!

Silence while Neel chops and chops and chops.

Neel:     Do we have any rosemary?

Me:       There's fresh in a pack in the 'fridge.

Neel:     It calls for dried.

Me:       Fresh will be fine.

Silence while Neel chops and chops and chops.

Neel:    When it says, "diced" what does that mean, exactly?

Me:       Chopped, like squares.

Neel:     How big?

Me:       Like, little squares.

Neel:     ??

Me:       One inch.

Silence while Neel chops and chops and chops.

Neel:     It calls for oil and butter.  Why does it call for oil and butter?

Me:       (worn out, now) Can I explain it later?

Neel:     Do I need oil and butter?

Me:       Yes.

Neel:     Where's the corn oil?

Me:        Use olive oil.

Neel:     It calls for corn oil.

Me:       *--*

Okay, so here's the thing.  Neel's a scientist.  Which means when he's not writing grants asking for money to do experiments, he's in the lab actually doing experiments.  And what are experiments or lab protocols but really bizarre, complicated recipes?  Recipes that you can't fudge.  In my recipes you can use fresh rosemary instead of dried and it tastes better.  And your one-inch diced chicken or squash or whatever needn't be exact.  Corn oil-Schmorn oil. 

Here's what Neel's recipes look like.

Preparation of 10 liters of TC-100 Culture Medium (Neel points out that this is food you feed insect cells and would be a lot like soup.  Hmm.)

NOTE:  Use tissue culture supplies for everything (beakers, cylinders, bottles, stir bar, etc.).

The day before making the medium, make sure the following is done:
● Rinse 24, 500ml bottles with DI H2O, sterilize in autoclave and dry.
● Wrap approximately 40 spatulas in foil, autoclave and dry.
● Clean bench-top with 10% bleach and put down new bench paper and stir plate.
● Fill 12L PC carboy with exactly 9.5L of tissue culture grade water and incubate at 37C overnight.
(1)    Add stir bar to carboy and begin stirring.
(2)    Weigh out the following dry ingredients and add to carboy:

...and here there's a list of a jazillion things in a table that you add, Neel stresses, one at a time.  I said, "Whatever, dork, I skimmed that part."

(3)    Let stir 0.5-1h.  If ingredients are floating on top of the water, shake the carboy a little.  Adjust the medium to 10L final volume with tissue culture grade water.
(4)    Adjust pH to 6.2 by slowly adding (over a 15-20 min period), 10N KOH.  To monitor pH during adjustment, remove 5ml of medium, measure pH, then dispose (do not throw back into carboy).  To make 10N KOH solution, add 11.2g KOH pellets to 50ml conical vial and add tissue culture grade water to a final volume of 20ml.  Put on Nutator to dissolve pellets.
(5)    To filter the medium into bottles, place all the bottles into t.c. hood and remove caps.  Use the Sterivac 10 0.22μm filter unit (Millipore/Fisher) to filter sterilize medium.  The tubing for filtration should be wrapped in aluminum foil and sterilized by autoclaving before use.  Add 450 ml of medium/bottle to leave enough room for 10% FBS to be added.


So, duh, no wonder the poor man doesn't cook.  I wouldn't either if I had to pay attention to that stuff all day.  I am, however, thinking he'd make an excellent baker.

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so we went skiing

IMG_1427 Neel loves to ski, Callum loves snow, and I love Neel and Callum, so a winter vacation seemed in order. 

IMG_1444 This was Neel's birthday present actually.  A winter getaway from the flatlands of marshes, bays and beaches.  His care for the ocean is a direct connection of his love for me, he picks the mountains over the continual wash of the waves any day.  Me?  Don't ask me to choose.  I grew up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, and those rolling hills sing to my soul as much as the sea spray of where we live now.  When I was a little girl I yearned to live where I do now, nearly a stone's throw from warm sands and warm water.  We treat our beach the way little-girl me treated the mountains of my childhood.  A quick trip after work or school.  Stop by for a swim or dinner.  Sunday morning for a few hours before getting on with the day.

IMG_1445 We both miss mountains.  Vistas.  I have so much to be grateful for, here in the little gray house.  The rhythm and clank of neighborhood life.  So much that I wouldn't trade.  But sometimes I yearn to break away from the chains of suburbia.  A little hut on a hill.

IMG_1436 We arrived at the beginning of a ferocious windstorm. Did you hear about it on the news?  I think Pittsburgh had a wind gust of 92 miles per hour.  Holey Moley!  The wind howled around our little rented condo and whistled down the fireplace.  Throughout that first night, I'd wake up and hear it whistling around the window and think, "We're here!  This is so exciting!" and fall back asleep.  It was still dark when I got up, but as the sun came up the snow cats came out and started working the slopes.

IMG_1501 There's Neel, headed off down the hill.

IMG_1517 Callum's not too far behind him.  First in his class down the hill, of course.  Oh, if I were nine.

IMG_1523 It was a wonderful trip.  Except for the tv, we were totally unplugged, and just together, inside and out. Happy to be there and be together.  We learned a lot, actually.  Like the fact that we like taking winter trips.  We already planning for next year.

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a man turns forty

IMG_0871 My beloved turned forty yesterday.  We celebrated with a party on Saturday night with about fifty of our closest friends.  What fun the evening was.  I'm only up for this every four years or so (So I don't expect I'll be throwing a party next year for my own fortieth, unless it's off site.  And someone else cooks.), but we had a wonderful time.

IMG_0829 We had dinner parties and bigger bashes all the time in our condo in California, and it's different here.  Not a regular thing.  Parts of it I miss.  The dinner parties especially.  A couple of couples sharing simple homemade food and a lot of wine.  We tend to go out a lot here, and while I love going out (don't get me wrong!), I'd like to shift us back to cooking and staying in to socialize.

IMG_0843 The first time we had a party here was also for Neel's birthday.  It was our second winter in the little gray house, and that night our house really sparkled.  Neel remarked that it felt like the house accepted and welcomed us that night.  It had clearly been suspicious of us for a while.  Withholding judgment.  Prior to us it had been a rental and run through a series of short-term owners.  I don't blame it for taking it's time. Here's the living room, expectant and waiting.

IMG_0853 Here's the dining room, filled with laughter and life.

IMG_0857 There were air hockey games.

IMG_0858 And a chocolate fountain.  We ran out of food and nearly ran out of wine.

IMG_0837 Tyler made me a pre-party drink, and that saw me through.

IMG_0848 His specialty, Planter's Punch.

IMG_0846 It was cold, so no one went outside.

IMG_0867 We ended the evening over some Scotch, and everyone started clearing out just before midnight.  It was just the three of us then, Callum had come home from a neighbors, and we spent a little time talking about the evening and starting the clean-up.

IMG_0882 We stayed up long enough to mark it though.  Right before bed, a birthday kiss for a fine man.  I think it's only going to get better from here.

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