To the Friends Who Didn’t Stay

Dear Friends Who Didn’t Stay,

I don’t know where you are right now, but wherever you may be physically, on whichever continent, whatever city or town, and wherever you may be in life, blissfully wandering or rooted, I hope you are well in mind, body and spirit.

I don’t know why, but at some point life pushed us in different directions, or we chose to part ways.

I don’t know how, but somehow you’re now a person I used to know, someone I used to laugh with and have inside jokes with, and now you are someone who crosses my mind maybe just a few times a year, maybe, or perhaps less, or possibly more, or not, and always at random times, or monumental times, like a pandemic, where the world is crouching into itself and suddenly feeling very small and very collected.

We used to smoke in cars together. Make music. Take fuzzy photos of each other on those early-day cell phones from the early 2000’s. Or even before that, we used to play snake on those small fat Nokias. Remember those?

We used to sit around a make-shift table on a building roof for hours at night where we’d occasionally glance up at the stars, or our watches, and in those moments (I don’t know about you) I wondered what would become of us years from then, and if those stars knew that secret.

We danced together, cooked together, shared mix-tapes on CDs, shared taxis, shared secrets, drank till all the bottles were empty and all our vulnerabilities shone on our skin like sweat. Here, look at me, we’d say to each other in this haze; look at me because I love you and want to be seen and loved by you in return. We always texted or called each other the next day or week because we were friends. We wanted to know when we could do it all over again.

We were friends and now we are strangers.

Mere photographs in a Facebook profile.

And we barely have any photographs together, if any, because that’s not what we used to do back in the day… back in those wonderful pre-social media days, which, because they were so undocumented, feel more like dreams.

I don’t know how or why, but the stars continued to move across the skies as we moved out of each other’s lives, physically at first then mentally then emotionally, then… suddenly we didn’t have each other’s phone numbers (or no longer felt a pull to use them), and the years layered on and on, and our absence in each other’s lives became new soil for new people to take root, and stay.

We’re no longer planning the next time we will meet. No longer seeking each other’s advice or opinions. We’re simply, no longer. Not because you or I were bad friends to one another, but because that’s just life.

And even though I don’t know you anymore, I do sometimes miss the “used to be” of us that we were for a time, even if it was only meant to be for that time. We shaped each other, and whether we realize it or not our impressions still live in each other’s minds. We had such good conversations.

One day we might pass one another on a street, or not, and the spark of familiarity will flicker in the form of shock and maybe even adrenaline, or not. And what is that spark of familiarity but a mirage of the past? Like the faint scent of baked bread that lingers in a kitchen long after the bread has been eaten.

It’s not a longing that I feel for you, dear “used to be” friend, because even if we were to meet again we couldn’t possibly connect like we did before because you and I are no longer that you and me of yesterday. Too much space and time has swelled between us; we didn’t grow together we grew apart, and that’s the difference between a friend who stays and a friend who doesn’t. Friends who stay can grow separately but not apart.

But again, it’s nobody’s fault.

We’ve been moved by different years, events, and people. What we need from friendship today is different from what we needed yesterday. And that’s okay. It is how it should be.

I only want you to know that I’m thankful for the person you once were in my life, however it is we parted ways, intentionally or consciously or not. You’ll always be a part of my story, a part of cherished memories that I go back to from time to time, at random moments, or epic ones, for no reason at all, or for specific reasons, where I wonder, in a fleeting moment that lasts as long as a birthday candle’s flame: how are they today?

(And yes, some years I do remember you on your birthday.)

I hope you are well.

Sincerely,

Your Friend Who Didn’t Stay

Caitlin Doughty on death denial, the funeral industry, and our mortality

I’d never heard of Caitlin Doughty.

It wasn’t until I was waiting for my turn outside of a library bathroom one day and happened to look at a portable shelf to my right, the kind where books sit waiting to be wheeled off and reshelved, and saw the book: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty.

Maybe it was the word crematory and how it isn’t a word you just happen upon in your daily life, or ever really think about, but I picked up the book and started reading.

Turns out, Doughty is a 30-something year-old champion of the alternative death industry, passionate about changing western society’s views on death and how we care for our dead. She was in her late twenties when she wrote her memoir “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” on her first six years in the American funeral industry.

(She’s also a licensed mortician, and host and creator of the educational YouTube series, Ask a Mortician.)

So, what is a 20-something doing working with dead bodies so earnestly, as a crematory operator? I wondered the same thing, and Doughty reveals early in her book how a traumatic event she witnessed as a child plunged her into a spiral of fear then fascination with death. Eventually her morbid curiosity led her to study medieval history in college, then to the gates of the crematory as her first gig post-graduation.

This book isn’t for everyone, as Doughty warns in her prelude: “For those who do not wish to read realistic depictions of death and dead bodies, you have stumbled upon the wrong book.”

Ironically, demystifying death and challenging you to look at it in the face and form a healthy understanding of it is just what Doughty is trying to do with her memoir.

Today, through her death positive movement, The Order of the Good Death, Doughty is on a mission to bring awareness to this topic that has become, over the last 100 years, very taboo in American culture. (So taboo that when I saw the word crematory on the cover of a book, my attention was piqued because this is just not a word you see or say.)

On Death Denial

In our modern western society, the dead are basically invisible. We do everything in our power to hide the realities of death from our minds and from our eyes. We tuck death away behind curtains, beneath crisp white sheets, inside sterilized hospital rooms or basement morgues, in funeral homes with shaded windows, behind euphemisms liked “passed away.” The practice of embalming, accented by makeup and pink viewing lights, further emphasizes our desire to hide the realities of death. We don’t want to face death, which is our ultimate truth as living beings—that we will all die.  

We are, according to Doughty, in death denial.

“Looking mortality straight in the eye is no easy feat. To avoid the exercise, we choose to stay blindfolded, in the dark as to the realities of death and dying. But ignorance is not bliss, only a deeper kind of terror.”

Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Doughty isn’t calling for us to contemplate our mortality daily or to become comfortable around corpses, but she does challenge us to think about how and where we derive meaning from our customs and rituals with death, if we even have any. Because today, she posits, we are more disconnected than connected to the process surrounding death.

Doughty brings to light that there was a time in history where the dead weren’t so invisible in western society—where people interacted more intimately with their dead, cared for them directly and set them up for viewing in the family home.

In fact, back then, people were more likely to die in their homes than any other place and that norm has shifted tremendously as more and more people are dying in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care. Today, we seem to want the dead anywhere else but in the safe, comfortable bubble of where people do the living.

“We live in a world where people rarely die in their homes, and if they do, they’re carted off to the funeral home the second after taking their last breath. If a North American has seen a dead body, that body has likely been embalmed, made up and dressed in its Sunday finest by a funeral-home employee.”

Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Doughty suggests that the American culture’s disinvolvement in death is problematic, not only because it keeps us in a state of death denial, but it feeds the commodification of our dead within the framework of the billion-dollar funeral industry.

The shift from personally caring for the dead to handing the dead off to be cared for by others began right around the time that embalming arose at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Doughty shares some interesting history behind the rise of embalming and how it was born more out of a logistical necessity for transporting bodies to surviving family members who longed to see the faces of their loved ones one last time.

She shares how embalming has evolved into the standard procedure that it is today, and how it paved the way for undertakers to create a real profession out of the business of caring for the dead.

This all sparked the beginnings of the funeral industry, which over the following decades would change people’s perceptions and the way they interacted—or didn’t—with their dead.

On the Funeral Industry

Now you may say this isn’t a bad thing, to have a service that cares for your dead so you don’t have to. And yet, Doughty provides an incredibly insightful perspective on the benefits and even importance of playing an intimate role in the death process, through the lens of death rituals of cultures and religions from around the world.

In many cultures, both past and present, there’s no turning away from the dead or sending them elsewhere; there is a bearing witness, and even more than that, an embracing, sometimes literal, as a way to honor the dead, and also as a chance to face our own mortality. The funeral industry, says Doughty, takes that chance away from us by removing us from the process.

“A corpse doesn’t need you to remember it. In fact, it doesn’t need anything anymore—it’s more than happy to lie there and rot away. It is you who actually needs the corpse. Looking at the body you understand the person is gone, no longer an active player in the game of life. Looking at the body you see yourself, and you know that you, too, will die. The visual calls to self-awareness. It is the beginning of wisdom.”

Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

A note on Doughty’s humor, and a trigger warning (not all who die are adults)

Doughty manages to make a book about death not only interesting and thought-provoking, but funny and entertaining. She successfully keeps this heavy topic light with her clever humor that I seriously enjoyed. There are some graphic details at times that made me wonder why I had chosen to eat a squishy cupcake while reading a book about corpses being prepared for cremation.

I’m sharing this trigger warning because there is a chapter about babies. It never occurred to me that she’d go there but it makes sense that she did. Because not all who die are adults.

Doughty handled this chapter gracefully, and I say this as someone who has two small children. Actually, in this chapter, which she calls “Devil Babies” in reference to a thesis she wrote for her medieval history degree, I laughed out loud one time. Yes, she’s that funny that she made me laugh during a dead baby chapter.

She also intelligently placed this delicate chapter in the first half of the book so that your mind doesn’t have to linger on it for so long, because you end up moving on to the next chapters.

I’ll admit I was nervous going into this chapter. As I began to realize what it was about, I hesitated and wondered whether I could handle reading it. But truly, her humor saved the day and I very much appreciated that.

In fact, her humor is one of the things that makes this book so easily digestible and entertaining; it keeps the mood up throughout, which is very necessary if you’re going to spend your leisure time reading a book about death. There’s only so much you can take before getting bogged down by the topic, yet I never once felt bogged down, only entertained and reflective.

I think her attitude rubbed off on me because during the weeks I was reading this book I referred to it endearingly as “my death book,” as in, to my husband: “Hey babe, on your way back from the kitchen can you grab me my death book from the kitchen island please?”

Catch a glimpse of her humor and style on her YouTube series, Ask a Mortician.

On Mortality

This book is a memoir about the early years of Doughty’s career in the funeral industry, but it’s more than that. It’s a contemplation on our mortality and our relationship or lack-thereof with death. It’s about the ways in which we choose to engage or disengage, consciously or not, with the fact that we are all one day going to die, and what will happen to our bodies when we die.

From the history of embalming, to death rituals and values from different cultures and times in our world, to stories and perspectives from philosophy, literature and history texts, to her own personal and honest experiences, this book is a deep dive into everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about death.

Doughty has many criticisms on western society’s approach and attitude toward death and death care, and throughout the book you see how her own ideas on a “better” approach evolve as she peels away layers of knowledge and understanding as a then-new person in the death industry.

This book made me think… a lot. It was fascinating information to learn about, but it also made me reflect on my own beliefs and general knowledge, and what I would (will) do when faced with the death of loved ones, or even what I would want done to my own body after I die. Do I even know the death rituals that my cultures practice? Do I have opinions on what is important to me? And that’s precisely what I feel Doughty wants us to not be afraid to think about, because in the throes of dealing with a death, you often don’t know what to think, so you’re carried through the process instead of playing a conscious part in it.

I was reflective for a long time after finishing the book, as I saw myself, my loved ones, and the people around me through a new lens. Trivial things felt a little more trivial. Dreams and ambitious felt a little more urgent. (Doughty poses, hopefully, that being death-aware isn’t depressing, that it is actually the fuel that drives us toward our achievements and legacies because in our heart of hearts we know our time here is limited.)

The more we accept death as a normal part of our lives, the more we can talk and think about it in a constructive way and find out what’s important to us. Being death-aware can also help prepare us for what Doughty calls a “good death,” which can mean something different to each person.

One person’s good death could mean giving away most of their possessions near the end so that they’re not leaving so many things behind. It could mean making amends with certain individuals in your life as you acknowledge that you truly don’t know when your time will be up for such an opportunity.

It could mean understanding your options within the traditional funeral industry (or outside of it) and making decisions so your loved ones don’t have to. It could mean releasing the root cause of your fears of death so you can enjoy living with a little less burden.

On her website, The Order of the Good Death, Doughty has plenty of reading materials and resources to help us get educated on how to engage with death in a healthy way, without overt fear and despair. It is indeed overwhelming to think about, but Doughty suggests that it doesn’t have to be.

More books from Caitlin Doughty:

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death

“Joy” is my word for 2022

It’s a new calendar year and I don’t feel any different than I did a few days ago when it was 2021. However, I do appreciate the energy that a sense of newness brings, and the mental shift that usually accompanies it.

I’m not walking into 2022 with any new year’s resolutions, but I am bringing with me new ideas, hopes and realizations that I hope will make my journey through this year a little more enriching.

I don’t normally do this and maybe it’s more of a mental exercise than an actual commitment, but I’ve decided to create a theme for my 2022, and that theme is joy. I can’t promise that I’ll remember this word in a few months when I’m knee deep in everyday life, but today on this sunny, icy day in January, I feel inspired to set this small intention to look for and create more opportunities for joy in 2022.

The joy doesn’t have to be grand or life-changing. It doesn’t involve things or vacations or parties. The kind of joy I’m talking about is the one that is already present. Present but camouflaged by all the priorities, stressors, mental lists, tasks and general busyness that can drain all your attention. The silent joy that’s waiting for you to notice it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I want to refocus my attention. Shine a light on those moments that bring color to the narrative of my life. Create more pockets of light so that even more color can shine through.

What you choose to focus on strongly impacts the quality of your life.

I feel like happy is a state we’re all trying desperately to live in, but this is an impossible feat because happiness is an emotion, fleeting like all other emotions. You simply can’t be happy all the time.

But you can be joyful.

Like this pandemic, there will be many, many things (and people) I’ll encounter in life that are going to be outside my control. But those things don’t have to touch or erase my joys.

Underneath the rubble there is always cool earth, and seeds lying dormant waiting to come alive.

In 2022, I want to spend more of my energy finding those seeds and giving them room to grow.

*

Sitting on my kitchen table with rays of sunshine streaming through my old windows, I see my toddlers sitting across from me, enjoying their breakfasts. We’re feasting like royalty. Berries, toast, eggs, pancakes, oatmeal. Not all at the same time but these are some of our favorite morning meals. There is a song playing in the background. The kettle whistles because my hot water is ready. The temperature outside is frigid but inside we are content, safe. My dog is under the table, sniffing around for scraps. What will we do today? It doesn’t matter. In ten years’ time I won’t remember. What I will remember are these morning moments. This is joy.

*

Do you have a word for 2022?

When You Put Away Your Maternity Clothes

There is a certain sadness that comes when you put away your maternity clothes. You pull the dresses and shirts from their hangers and run your fingers along the stretches of fabric that once held your bump. You think about the months you spent growing into these clothes. Each item has its own story to tell. You wore this one at your toddler’s second birthday party (a dress that made you feel pretty); this one was your favorite shirt–it fit perfectly till the very end; and this one–this one you wore on your way to the hospital when contractions finally took hold of you.

Your body ached when you wore these clothes but not in the same way it aches now. There is always an aching, it seems, in the metamorphosis that is motherhood. Whether it’s the aching for a baby before you read those strips on the stick or the aching through first trimester sickness. Then of course there are the heavy aches of the third trimester when it feels as though you are a submarine moving so… slowly… through high-pressured waters, forever wondering: are we there yet?

Now your body aches in all its most vulnerable places. Sometimes these aches make you cry. You wonder if you’ll ever be the same again and the answer is no. But that’s not a bad thing, and you’ll appreciate this sentiment a lot more later, when you are healed from the enormous feat of having just given birth. You hear your toddler singing in the next room and you are reminded by how much you have conquered as a mother and will and can conquer again.

Your maternity clothes lay strewn across your bed, mere echoes of a tune you spent months humming. And in their place new clothes emerge. Clothes with one requirement only: comfort. Because like your new baby you too need to feel hugged into your own kind of swaddle. You too need to feel loved and soothed.

The early days of postpartum, clothes are an interesting game. When you had your first baby you naively thought you could slide right back into your favorite shorts. You thought you could just pick up where you left off, reunite with the wardrobe of pre-mother you as though you had just returned from a brief vacation.

But your body isn’t the same and won’t be for a while. Having just had your second baby you understand this a little better now. You give your body the grace it deserves and admire it as you fumble with your old clothes, trying them on in front of the mirror. You touch the soft belly where your child used to be, just as you touched your hard belly a few weeks ago in front of this same mirror.

You miss those weeks of wondering who your baby would be in the same way you love the smell of your new baby’s head as you snuggle him against your chest in the middle of the night.

You miss delicious sleep… the freedom of staying up as late as you want, to watch whatever you want, because you know sleep is guaranteed (even if it was interrupted by frequent bathroom breaks). You miss this freedom in the same way you love to watch your baby sleep.

You fold your maternity clothes and tuck them into their storage bag wondering if you’ll ever see them again. You say goodbye to each piece, trying to remember the last time you wore each one. You wonder if you bought too many maternity clothes but this is only a fleeting thought. Once the clothes are put away and you return to your closet, wondering when you’ll feel comfortable in your body again, you close your eyes and breathe.

You breathe in your aches and the tugs in your heart. You breathe in the sound of your baby asleep in the bassinet nearby. You breathe in the songs of your toddler in the next room. You breathe in the stinging in your eyes from lack of sleep. You breathe in the relief that your baby is here. You breathe in the mounds of laundry that need to be folded (because laundry these days is nonstop). You breathe, like you breathed through each contraction that brought you here. You breathe like that’s the only thing you have to do. You are reminded that one day, very soon, you’ll be moving into yet another new chapter, folding and putting away another kind of clothes. Tiny baby clothes. You breathe. You breathe because the seasons are so short, and because no number of photos you take can truly capture these moments.

For the Love of Pancakes: Three Recipes I Think You Should Try

I’ve been kind of obsessed with pancakes over the last year, so I’ve decided to write a post about it. We are in a pandemic after all so why not write/read about something delicious and happy like pancakes?

I’ve always loved pancakes but was never the type to make them at home. If I did it was always from a box. Pancakes were just one of those things I’d only really eat when someone else made them or when I’d go out for breakfast/brunch.

I think it’s when I became a mom two years ago, or rather, when my child began eating solid foods, that I set out on this path to make the most healthy versions of foods that I could find. For me healthy means minimally processed foods and recipes with limited amounts of refined sugar.

Eventually, as I introduced my child to the world of food, pancakes came onto the breakfast scene. And I desired to make my own rather than use a box. Nothing wrong with feeding your kid boxed anything, by the way. Not that you need me to tell you that. I try to limit processed foods in my own diet not just my kid’s, but it’s near impossible to have a perfectly clean diet, especially as an exhausted working parent.

Anyway.

Fast forward to present day and I am now a self-proclaimed certified from-scratch-only pancake maker. Yes, I’m hooked to making my own pancakes. I’ve tried a ton of different recipes (thank you, food bloggers!) and I’ve decided to compile my favorites here so you too can enjoy the joy that is pancakes made from scratch. So simple, so easy, so quick, so joyful! I’ll never go back to boxed pancakes ever again. There’s really no need if you have all the baking staples readily available in your kitchen.

So there are many different ways to pancake and my favorite three that I alternate are:

  • Banana pancakes
  • Buttermilk pancakes
  • Regular pancakes

All three are delicious and have their rightful place in your morning breakfast routine depending on what your taste buds are craving. When I first started on my pancake journey (did I just put pancake and journey in the same sentence?), I started out with banana pancakes.

Banana Pancakes

I’ve tried all sorts of variations from those two-recipe banana pancakes that call for only bananas and eggs to three-recipe banana pancakes to other simple recipes, including gluten-free, that use oats or almond flour and the like. Basically, “healthy” stuff… because like I said, that’s what I was on the hunt for. Healthy but also easy. Honestly, I didn’t really love any of those banana pancake variations. They were good, but I always felt like they lacked something inherently pancake about them. It was fun experimenting, but I never came across a recipe that I felt like I really wanted to make again.

Enter Once Upon a Chef’s banana pancakes.

banana pancakes

This quickly became my go-to pancake recipe. I would only make these when I wanted pancakes. It was just too easy and too good.

The only thing I do differently when I make this recipe is omit the sugar. In fact, I’ve never tried this recipe with the sugar. And I don’t feel like I’m missing a thing because these pancakes always taste amazing. The way I see it, the maple syrup I pour on top is plenty sugar for me. And the bananas themselves are the sugar, so, long story short, you can choose to add or not add the sugar depending on your preference, and you’ll still enjoy a delicious batch of pancakes.

Another thing I do to this recipe from time to time is add berries. This makes it a truly fruity delicious pancake with just the right amount of delicate natural sweetness.

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I love this recipe because the pancake texture comes out perfectly fluffy and moist with just the right amount of crisp on the outside. They’re just great pancakes.

Buttermilk Pancakes

So then one day I thought to myself you know what, I have a taste for some good old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes. Buttermilk, after all, is supposed to be the secret ingredient for the perfect pancake. Also, I became such a natural at making Once Upon a Chef’s banana pancakes that eventually I was just in the mood for a change. For a different type of pancake. Therein began the hunt for the buttermilk pancake recipe of my dreams.

A few things to note about buttermilk:

Buttermilk is not one of those things you normally have sitting in your fridge on any given day (at least not in my house). What I do have in my fridge on a pretty regular basis though is plain yogurt. And I discovered that you can make your own buttermilk by mixing yogurt and milk (3/4 yogurt with 1/4 milk to make 1 cup of buttermilk).

You can also make buttermilk by mixing milk with a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar. Pretty cool, huh? I love these alternatives because I dislike having to buy an ingredient that I know will just sit there in my fridge forever until it goes bad after I use the small amount I need for a recipe. So now whenever I have a craving for buttermilk pancakes, I just make my own buttermilk. The yogurt + milk concoction (recipe here) is my favorite.

Back to the pancakes. I tried a few recipes and finally settled on this one by Tastes Better From Scratch.

buttermilk pancakes

I know I said earlier that I prefer to omit sugar from recipes but for this one for some reason I decided to only decrease the sugar rather than omit completely. The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons and I’ve only ever made these pancakes with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Still, they taste stupendous.

I think I kept a bit of the sugar because I figured there’s no banana in here to add some sweetness and I worried the pancakes would be bland without said hint of sweetness. Maybe next time I make these I will try the recipe without any sugar at all and see how it goes. I have a feeling they’d be perfectly fine.

I’ve made these buttermilk pancakes a few times now and always with my own homemade buttermilk and they are heavenly every time. The last time I made these I doubled the batch and barely had any leftovers after five adults and one toddler got through them. So good.

Regular Pancakes

Do not be deceived by the adjective here. Regular does not imply plain or ordinary. Regular here means the original OG of pancakes just the way they are, without any special sauce (buttermilk, banana, etc.). Although, of course you can always add whatever mix-ins you want to any pancakes regular or not (think chocolate chips, a dash of Nutella, berries, cinnamon, hey even nuts…. go crazy, have at it)… Anyway, these pancakes are a good base for all of that and whatever else your heart may desire.

Well, one morning my heart desired pancakes (ha, again) and this time I thought well, I don’t feel like mixing up buttermilk and I’m out of bananas, so how about I just make some regular pancakes? I mean, those are the ones you make out of the box, right? So off I go again in search of another kind of pancake recipe.

And the one that became my go-to regular pancake recipe is this Everyday Pancakes recipe by NYT Cooking. It’s… fool proof.

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So, again with my alterations. I’ve made this recipe a few times now and every time I’ve omitted the sugar AND I’ve used both white flour and whole wheat flour (1 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat since the recipe calls for 2 cups total). I don’t know why I mixed the flour; I just did. I think it was because my whole wheat flour was about to expire so I wanted to use some of it up. This change rendered the pancakes a little denser but I actually really enjoyed them that way. Another change I made was add 1 teaspoon of vanilla because why not. Vanilla is a fantastic addition to pancake batter in my opinion.

For the Love of Pancakes…

I hope you’ll try these three recipes some time to bring some pancake joy to your life. If you do, let me know what you think. And if you have recommendations for other pancake recipes I should try, please do share. One thing I forgot to mention is that except for the buttermilk recipe, I’ve tried different types of milk in these pancake batters (cow, oat, almond) and all milk subs work wonderfully well.

Lastly, please note I am sharing these recipes for the love of pancakes and not because I’m getting paid to advertise these food sites (although, that would be nice). I also just believe in giving credit where credit is due when you enjoy someone else’s recipe.

Now, go make some pancakes!

Banana Pancakes by Once Upon a Chef

Buttermilk Pancakes by Tastes Better From Scratch

Everyday Pancakes by NYT Cooking 

 

Five Things to Do While Socially Distancing, Besides Watch TV

I’ve lost track of how many days we’ve been socially distancing but being home 24/7 is finally starting to get to me. Maybe it took me a little longer to feel antsy because though I’m not typically a home-body, I do enjoy a healthy amount of social distancing as an introvert. But even introverts crave being social. We’re not hermits.

I enjoy binging on a good show and watching movies and documentaries and stand up, and yes I did watch Love is Blind, including the reunion episode. But I also get tired of TV and don’t want this experience to turn me into a screen zombie. A lot of us are already a little more screen zombified than usual with our phones just trying to stay connected to everyone and keep up with what’s going on.

Well, I’m tired of the news headlines and the interviews with people who are experiencing the worst case scenarios. And I’m definitely tired of being indoors. So what to do? Thought you’d never ask.

I have five ideas to share with you, that do not include TV, of things to do at home while we’re stuck here in this maddening time:

1. Spring clean.

Happy spring! (If you’re on the north side of the equator!) Through all this craziness (and sure, the weather may not be helping) you’ve probably forgotten that winter is officially over. So how about spend some time every day spring cleaning all those nooks and crannies you ignore all year long?

Get elbows deep into your disaster of a closet, or that one drawer you have in your house that you throw random shit into. Even if it is meant to be the random shit drawer, think of it as a treasure hunt. Who knows what you’ll discover in there! And who says chaos can’t be organized?

Get rid of clothes and shoes. And socks that you know you always say no to when you’re choosing which pair to wear. Just get rid of them.

Look under your bed and deal with the mess that may be there (last time I cleared out and cleaned the space under my bed I found a few moth wings. Embarrassing and gross).

Clean the insides of your kitchen cabinets. Clean your microwave (for goodness’ sake you should be doing this regularly anyway).

And when was the last time you deep cleaned your fridge? What about your pantry? The other day I reorganized my pantry items and it feels so good to now know what I actually have in there. (Goodbye three half-empty boxes of expired lasagna pasta.)

You get the point. There’s a lot you can do for your home while you two are stuck together right now. Make a big cup of coffee, put on your gym playlist, and give your place some love. A good dusting and shaking to reset your living space will make you feel so much better about being in it. Plus cleaning can be very therapeutic.

2. Dedicate time to your hobby.

When the world was normal you probably didn’t spend as much time on your hobby as you would have liked. Now that you’re home, how about you nurture those things you love to do? If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a painter/artist, paint/draw. A musician? Play. A baker? Make all those recipes you’ve got saved in your phone and bake your heart out. You get the picture. Take this time to enjoy your hobby. Get messy with it. Share it online (or don’t). Whether this thing you love to do is a passion or a casual hobby, now’s the perfect opportunity to dedicate a little more extra time to it.

3. Have a Skype party with your friends. 

Many of you may already be doing this, but just a reminder that even though we can’t hang out with friends physically right now we can still see each other virtually. Set up Skype (or whatever other app you use) on your laptop or TV screen and spend time together like you’re all in the same room. Bring wine and have some laughs. Have brunch! (This is the new way to brunch.) And there are probably a lot of people you know who live in another country or city, so how about you use this time to finally catch up?

4.  Go for a walk.

Where I am we’re allowed to go outside for walks while maintaining a six-feet distance from people, and this has been my saving grace. Cabin fever is real and a dose of fresh air is necessary. Especially if you have kids or/and a dog, going for a walk is a fantastic sanity-saving activity for everyone. And it’s exercise. If it’s still cold where you are, bundle up and get out there. If your kids are little and have bikes take them out and let them ride. Everyone will come home feeling refreshed and your dog especially will love you for it. Make it a part of your daily routine, weather permitting. It’ll provide some structure to your day and give you something to look forward to.

5. Have a spa day.

Just because you’re home-bound doesn’t mean you have to look or feel like a yeti. Granted I just changed into day clothes and it’s 3:30 p.m., but hear me out. The hair salon is closed and you can’t get your mani and pedi done, but you probably have everything you need at home to give yourself a good pampering.

In no specific order:

Give yourself a mani and pedi (hopefully you have the tools you need but if not just get creative), put on a facial mask, make a hair mask with just a few ingredients from your kitchen and give yourself a hair treatment, blow dry or curl your hair after you wash it if you want to feel extra bedazzled, put on some make-up (maybe watch a few make-up tutorials to really have fun with it), exfoliate your body, shave, wax, whatever, then dip into a luxurious bubble bath in your sparkly clean tub (because you deep cleaned your bathroom the other day while spring cleaning, right?). Light some candles, soak in the bubbles and the peace, and just chill. (Parents, you must do this part after bedtime, obviously.)

If you have a partner this could be a fun couples thing you can do together. Otherwise, it’s the perfect me-time thing to do. And you don’t even have to do all the treatments in a single day. Maybe do a different thing each day of the week. #selfcareinthetimeofcorona

~

So there you have it. My five TV-free things-to-do-at-home ideas for this strange, strange time we’re living in. So far I’ve done #2, 3, and 4 but I’ve got my eye on #1 and I definitely want to do several of the ideas listed in #5.

I’d love to know what you’ve been doing to keep yourself from feeling like a restless couch potato these days. How have you been spending your socially distanced time? How have you been taking care of yourself?

Love in the Time of Corona (COVID-19)

I don’t recognize the world anymore and I’m trying not to be anxious about it. News headlines and press conferences and speeches made by leaders are making me feel like I’m in a Black Mirror episode. This COVID-19 pandemic has infected us in more than one way, turning us into a panicked, gloved, masked people who toilet-paper hoard. Who are we anymore?

I went for a walk yesterday evening, desperate to get out of my house and move my body, and I felt the alienation in the way passersby casually moved over to the next sidewalk before our paths could cross. Am I being paranoid or are they really trying to keep that six-feet distance? But from me? I’m not the virus. (Am I? Or maybe I am. Maybe we all are, and that’s the point.)

Then I found myself doing the same thing. I turned in the opposite direction when I heard a person cough lightly up ahead of me as they came out of their car. Nope, not today, and away I went. We’ve become afraid not only of this thing that we don’t understand, but of each other.

We’ve never been good with the unknown. We humans thrive on structure and predictability (well, most of us, I think). We always want answers, proof, assurance. All these things bring us comfort, much like the comfort a baby feels when she knows her mother is near.

But our sense of security and normalcy have been interrupted, watered down into strange days that pass into strange weeks. We’re not making any plans and we’re worrying about the ones we did make long ago that now sit there on our calendars, just floating in an unsure not-too-distant future, reminding us of a time where we could schedule something weeks in advance, so casually, so confidently, so… normally.

These last couple of weeks have been unsettling and jarring, and even though I’ve been loving the Coronavirus memes and jokes (keep them coming please), and enjoying the break from commuting, I know there have been many people around the world who have felt the jaws of this pandemic in a very real and tragic way. And my heart goes out to them.

*

I’m an introvert, so time spent at home and to myself is more of a life line for me than a challenge. However, this forced home-bound situation we’re finding ourselves in is even making me feel a little people-deprived and stir crazy.

Mostly though, it’s making me reflect on just how much we rely on each other and the many communities of which we are a part, in ways we don’t really think about. There’s so much we took for granted. The hugs we give friends, the spontaneous meet-ups, the birthday party or other celebration we plan because we want to be surrounded by people we like and love—all these things that came so easily and that felt so simple are just not so anymore. My parents aren’t a plane ride away anymore.

And really it wasn’t our fault that we took these simple joys for granted. I’d argue it’s in our nature to not actively appreciate or recognize what we have until it’s gone. And perhaps it’s impossible to be constantly appreciative. Perhaps we need strange and scary moments to shake us awake a little, from time to time (just not a pandemic please).

Yet through all this, we are doing what we do best as humans. We are adapting. In this time of isolation, of uncertainty, we are finding ways to connect and make each other laugh.

We’re playing music and singing songs to each other on our balconies, creating obstacle courses in our living rooms with pillows and cups so our kids can exercise and play, and so we can be kids with them again.

We’re Skyping, Face-timing, Zooming, Whatsapping, and whatever other video mechanisms are out there- ing to see each other, speak to each other, and tell each other that hey, we’re still here.

Through all this, we haven’t stopped believing that this will end. We haven’t stopped loving. And maybe after this becomes a chapter that we will dog-ear to tell our kids about when they’re older, we’ll love differently because of it.

Maybe we’ll hug each other next time for a few seconds longer. Book that flight to see that friend or family member that we’ve been putting off for years, because life. Maybe we’ll splash in the public pools with a little more glee and dance a little more freely at the next party we go to.

Maybe we’ll love our bodies better too. Maybe we’ll go out for more walks or take up running (because social distancing has made us want to run from the walls of our homes) or maybe we’ll be more attune to our health: drink more water, make a doctor’s appointment we’ve been avoiding, start taking vitamins, stop eating foods that make us feel less than good, sign up for our first 5K, or start going to therapy.

Who knows what we will be like after this is over. Who knows if we’ll move on to the next chapter and just, move on. Forget. Get on with life and continue with our old habits, our old familiar, comfortable ways. Netflix and numb.

Whatever happens, I just know that this whole experience has shown me that we do love each other, even though we have a shitty way of showing it sometimes. Small businesses are missing us right now. Parents are missing schools. College students are missing classrooms and campus events. Athletes are missing the roar of the stadium, the rush of the game. Museums are missing the steady flow of footsteps. Concert venues are missing music. And loved ones across lands and seas, and even mere streets, are missing each other.

All this missing I equate to loving.

And sure social media is great and has its pros, especially now, but I hope this experience of being physically a part because we have to reminds us that togetherness and connection and community in real life are infinitely more valuable than a tag on a post or a text convo that tapers off with “lol.”

Strange times, indeed, and stranger times ahead, probably.

This virus may be mutating and spreading rapidly, but let’s not forget, we hold our own powers too. In our ability to evolve and adapt and keep getting up. In our ability to love fiercely and endlessly, and spread that love—and hope and strength and support—rapidly.

In the end, history has proven that we are resilient. The courageous and inspiring stories always outlive and outshine the stories of fear.

Many stories will come out of this time, but I hope the overarching theme from those stories are not of fear. I hope they’re of love. I hope the story is of how we, the world, stepped up together to fight off fear because we love each other (except the toilet paper hoarders, they don’t love anyone but themselves apparently).

I hope the stories are of how families spent time together, learned something new about each other. I hope they’re of the heroism of the people on the front lines (thank you) and the resilience of people who overcame challenges that seemed insurmountable.

So yes let’s continue to socially distance for now to stay safe, but in the process, let’s also continue to love and show each other just how creative we can be in doing so. We’re in this together.

When I Was a Brand-New Mother

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Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Last summer, I was a brand-new mother. I had a soft, bulgy belly and hips that were too wide for shorts I’d worn easily the year before. I lived in a total of three or four outfits and wore makeup zero times. (The no make-up was wonderful, freeing.)

My days and nights had swirled into one big daydream. There I was at the center of it—on the couch, on the bed, on the couch, on the bed, outside on the steps—with the same loving people passing around me, always doing something, or keeping me company, doing nothing.

When they were gone—silence. My dog, a constant warmth at my feet, was vigilant, aware of the change in the air.

My life felt like an abstract painting that I was painting blindfolded. Looking at it now, I find the painting beautiful. I wish I could reach back into those days and swim there for a little while longer. Dip my feet in and tell myself it gets easier. Mostly, tell myself that I am amazing. I didn’t feel amazing. I felt happy, yes, but there were frequent dips of sadness. (With any gain a loss must come, a loss needed to make room for the new.)

I was in a daze, not working for the first time in years, listening to the sound of cicadas at dusk, I mean really listening, and contemplating the hot laziness that was summer, with a feathery new weight on my arm.

What was being lost in those days? Me.

Or, the me I had known up until the day I gave birth to my daughter.

I was unfurling into something, someone, who I’m still discovering today. Peeling layers and painting new ones. This is motherhood, a constant layering, a constant stream of newness to encounter. I was… all the phases of the moon, moving back and forth between pre- and post- mother me, trying to find common ground between who I was and who I was becoming.

*

My breasts felt foreign to me. They were too big for my chest, too tender to sleep on (so much for being able to sleep on my stomach again), they ached at certain times of the day and no longer belonged to me. They were on center stage, doing things I never knew they could do, teaching me about myself and about perseverance, patience, pain, power, selflessness, strength. Breastfeeding is hard.

*

Last summer, I was without a washer or dryer (perfect timing with a newborn), but I had my stainless-steel kitchen sink, a bar of laundry soap that smelled of cypress oil, and I had my trusted clothes rack, the kind that folded into itself, that I would set outside in my backyard on the sunniest days.

I loved to sit on the stairs that came out of my kitchen’s back door—my baby in my arms, still too delicate to hold her head up—and watch her clothes hang there in the sun, like tiny kisses. I never thought laundry could look so cute.

I felt anything but cute.

My hair was still lush from pregnancy, but my body felt… like an empty boat, bobbing in the middle of an ocean. In the celebrated realm of mother-to-be no longer, I’d been thrust into a strange new reality of am-now-mother, where I was supposed to get on with it and just know how to be.

I had nine months to prepare for this day, but let’s face it. I’d spent those months daydreaming about the blissful moments I’d spend holding my baby in perfectly clean outfits and sheets, seraphic music and chirping birds playing sweetly for us in the background. So unaware I was of all the bodily fluids, stained clothes, discomforts, well of emotions, loneliness, exhaustion, demands, decisions, hunger, diapers that awaited me. I mean I knew, but I didn’t know.

Everything felt so heavy (me physically, my tears, people’s opinions and advice, the new responsibility, the social media I finally turned away from, the thought of going back to work). Everything came down on me so fast, a sudden monsoon. I listened for my motherly instinct while voices crowded around me, all the while wondering, how in the hell have women been doing this all this time? (Also, my God, mom, thank you; I love you.)

On those steps of my kitchen’s back door I heard my heart say:

I’m someone’s mother. I’m… mom.

I watched my daughter’s onsies, white and pink and yellow and blue, play in the wind as these words rolled around in my heart, picking up old wounds and planting new hopes.

*

An image of my daughter playing in this backyard one day conjures before me. I see her but I can’t see her face. I wonder what she will look like, just as I had wondered what she would smell like when she was still doing somersaults in my womb.

My womb, it feels like a bruised grapefruit.

I feel like a fallen tree.

I’m alone and it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, probably, I don’t know, I don’t check the time these days.

I’m happy, I tell my heart, who keeps fumbling with the words, trying them on for size—I’m mom.

There’s no selfie here and no social media to prove my feelings to. Good. There’s no one who calls to ask if I’m happy. Not so good.

I think my friends are giving me space. Others, I think, don’t know what to say. I’m too busy, they must think. Too busy being a mother and being happy.

*

People come over to hold my baby. I don’t put eyeliner on for these occasions, but I put on earrings. Earrings make me feel put together. They make me feel pretty.

The people stroke my baby’s sleeping face, softly, with their fingers, and my insides scream. Please don’t touch her face, I want to say, but I decide to wait it out and be polite. Later, I run a damp wash cloth over her cheeks (as she still sleeps).

(When will I stop treating her so delicately? I can’t picture treating her any other way.)

Before I had my daughter, everyone told me to get ready for no sleep. But that’s all my daughter does is sleep, all day, she sleeps. Even at night! Dare I say. Sometimes, I sleep too. Other times, most times, in the silence of the day, I watch her sleep.

I google questions that lead to more questions. I watch movies. I drink so much water. I wait for my husband to come home.

My dog wonders why we don’t walk together like we used to. I try not to think about it because I don’t have it in me to consume the sadness.

*

My hands sting from the laundry soap even though it’s suppose to be gentle on the skin. Washing gloves… I’ll walk to the store to get washing gloves. I’ll take my daughter and my dog.

But my daughter, she’s so new and the sun is so hot. What if she gets thirsty or too hot and she can’t tell me? What if I trip and fall while crossing the street and the stroller goes rolling out of my hands? (Extreme, but not far-fetched.) What if it starts to rain? (Very possible where I live.)

I decide to stay home because honestly, leaving the house requires a militarized kind of effort. And I think I need to nurse her soon. Her laundry is done anyway, and her clothes are probably dry. I go down to inspect the tiny colorful things. I’m happy, my heart tells me again. (I need so much reassurance these days.)

*

My eyes live on my daughter. I memorize her eyelashes, her nose, the dip in her upper lip, her chin, her hair, so dark and so much of it. I marvel, so thirsty to know her. I try to remember what it was like when I didn’t know her face, when I was so eager to know it.

*

The wind is warm and blowing a little too strongly now. The clothes rack shakes and threatens to fall, but instead of rescue her clothes, I retreat inside with my daughter (still asleep). My dog follows me, collar click-click-clacking.

You’re happy, aren’t you? I ask my daughter, and for a moment I imagine her replying, Yes, I’m happy, mom, because I’m with you. You’re the only person I’ve ever known and the only place I want to be. Can’t you see? You’re perfect for me, exactly as you are. (This makes me tear up because I hope that I am.)

I’m inside now, away from the wind. I settle into my nest of pillows and throw blankets on the couch. Remote control, check. Water bottle, check. Cell phone, check. Yes, my daughter is definitely happy and content. I feel a bubbling in my heart because I know this to be true, and the sureness of it and its simplicity puts me at ease.

I kiss her nose and as I do this I hear the soft thud of the clothes rack fall outside in the grass, but not a drop of worry accompanies the sound.

I’m mom… it’s all good… I’ve got this, I hear my heart say.

If a Blog Were a Creature…

Blog is a funny word, isn’t it?

If a blog were a creature, I imagine he’d be something like a slimy amoeba, but very jolly, and the only thing he would be able to say is: “Blog, blog, blog.” He would crawl his way through life saying “Blog, blog, blog.” He would look at birds high up in trees and say, “Blog.” He would stare with bubbly eyes at enticing ice cream cones in children’s hands and say, yearningly, “Blog.”

He’d be a really friendly dude but he’d have no friends because he’d keep scaring everyone away with his constant: “Blog, blog, blog.”

If a blog were a creature, he’d spend his days sitting in a fishing boat waiting for fish to catch his bait. He’d sit in his boat for hours, confident at first that fish would come, then by hour five then six then nine he’d start melting in the sun, that at that point would be setting, and by night fall he would be a bubble at the bottom of the boat, and he would disintegrate as he uttered, out of desperation to be heard by someone, anyone: “Blog.”

Overnight, in his sleep, he would regrow into the big healthy blog that he knows himself to be, and begin fishing again, eager because of the hope of a new day. He would greet the sun as though it never set on him the night before. “Blog,” he would say, happily, as he threw his line into the water. “Blog,” he would call out to the fish.

If a blog were a creature, he would sometimes feel insecure about his appearance because as a blog, he wears no clothes and has no face or shape. He has no body so no clothes would reasonably fit him. He has no lashes to apply mascara, not that he knows what makeup is. He worries that people will notice how horrible he looks, but he also worries that no one will notice him at all.

If a blog were a creature, I would invite him to dinner. I would ask him why he chose to be a blog, to which he would respond, “Blog.” I would ask him, why do you appear to be so happy all the time, and he would tell me his secrets but I wouldn’t understand him because all he would say is: “Blog.”

That’s why nobody likes you, I would say, frustrated because the dinner I’m paying for is expensive and the conversation is stale, and I’m realizing as the night progresses that a blog doesn’t eat because he has no teeth and no esophagus and no stomach either. He is a blog, he is but himself, a creature that exists for the mere sake of existence, but also, though no one seems to understand him, he has something to say.

“Blog, blog, blog,” he says, as I press on about why he lives the way he does.

“Blog, blog, blog,” he responds, when I say I’m just trying to help but it appears as though he could care less.

“Blog,” he says, finally, when I ask for the bill, and I eye him curiously wondering, if I don’t understand him, is it possible that he doesn’t understand me either?

“Blog,” he says again, as we exit the restaurant. I look at his bloggy face, his bulging eyes and mouth that resembles the outline of a number eight without the line in between. I think I see a trace of eyebrows but it’s just slime seeping downward; I think he is sweating but it’s hard to tell. He has no feet, he simply slides along the floor beside me. He’s usually jolly but tonight he seems sad. I don’t like this look on him.

“Blog,” I say.

“Blog,” he says, his eyes lighting up.

“Blog?” I say again.

“Blog,” he says, even more enthusiastically.

And finally I understand. I understand his language. I understand what he’s been trying to tell me, what he has been trying to tell the world. I understand because I realize he is an echo, and he is simply speaking my mind.

“Blog,” he says, relieved that I finally understand.

“Blog,” I say, back. “Blog, blog, blog.”

“Blog, blog, blog,” he says.

And so we finally begin to converse.

And in this moment, our moment, unscripted as it was, a stranger walking by slows down upon hearing our strange exchange, recognizing something in us.

“Blog?” says the stranger, looking up from her phone, curious.

Are we a déjà vu? An unearthed memory? A reflection? The words she’s been trying to find? The sign she’s been waiting for?

“Blog!” we cry happily, calling her to join us. We recognize her too, though we’ve never seen her before.

“Blog, blog, blog,” we sing together in the night.

The Importance of Doing Nothing (Sometimes)

I made a peanut butter banana smoothie earlier, and the blender, emptied of its contents, is waiting for me on the kitchen counter.  I can’t see it because I’m in my living room right now, but I know it’s there.

The plates from lunch are also there, waiting. And there may be a block of Swiss cheese under one of them that I forgot to put back in the fridge.

My baby’s bib is crumpled up on her high chair, also in the kitchen. Just another item in the long list of things waiting to be cleaned. It’s one of those long-sleeved full body bibs that has saved me from having to wash her clothes after every mealtime (we do baby-led weaning, which is extremely messy). The bib, however, as I’ve just noted, needs cleaning, so really there is no escaping constant washing and cleaning when you have a child.

My baby is finally asleep and I haven’t picked up the toys strewn upon the living room floor (that my dog lazily assesses from the couch). And I haven’t folded the clean clothes that have been sitting in the laundry basket since last weekend (today is Saturday).

I’m sitting here with my dog contemplating all these things I have not done, and these things are making me feel claustrophobic. I start to get up… then I decide to ignore them and do nothing. (How glorious!) My dog is quite the expert at happily doing nothing, so I’ll just take my queues from her tonight. She never judges—she understands.

Here are some things I did do today though:

I went to a car dealership (didn’t get the car I wanted but it was a cool learning experience).

I played with my baby. Marveled at her as she crawled—everywhere. Watched her raid my bookshelves and very much enjoyed the entertainment she provided removing every book and tossing it on the floor.

I watched a weird kids movie called Gnome Alone. Not sure how I feel about it. Wasn’t the most intelligent kids movie I’ve seen.

I fed my baby, bathed her, told her I loved her as I kissed her toes.

When I first sat down after she finally went to sleep, I felt guilty that I didn’t accomplish any of my chores that I had set out to do when the day first started. I felt guilty for sitting down instead of turning to the next thing that needed my attention.

Something always needs my attention. (The books she tossed on the floor? Still there.)

But sitting here doing nothing (well, now I’m writing) is bringing me a peaceful kind of joy.

And joy needs nurturing.

A blogger I follow tends to say “being present is being productive” when she talks about motherhood. I really like this mantra, especially on Saturdays like today, when I spent so much of my afternoon just being with my baby instead of putting her in her playpen so I could run around the house doing chores.

Saturdays—weekends in general—are the holy grail of “when I’m going to get things done.” But sometimes Monday comes along and I look back at my would-have-been productive weekend and I sigh and push everything to the next weekend.

In the midst of doing so many things=, all the time, on high speed, on auto-pilot, or on copious amounts of caffeine, it’s really good for the mind to do nothing sometimes. A healthy dose of not doing can help you achieve balance when you spend so much of your time doing. Self-care, self-preservation, protecting your sanity—whatever you want to call it and whatever that looks like for you—doing nothing should be a necessary part of the week.

The dirty blender and plates in my kitchen? I know they’ll greet me tomorrow morning. The clothes in my hamper? Sure, they may be wrinkled, but at least they are clean. The toys on the floor? They will be played with again tomorrow.

All is well. All is okay.

I simply can’t do everything all the time.

Sometimes, I need to do nothing.  I need to. And as my dog would agree, it’s a perfectly fine way to pass the time.

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