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The Amazing Race: Family Edition!

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I love a good scavenger hunt, which is why, when I was searching for a way to teach my family where we store essentials items in the house I thought about creating a treasure hunt to help them learn.

I know what you are thinking, what a fun way for young kids to get to know where things are! Yes, it would have been fun for my young kids only this treasure hunt is for my 17-year-old, my 21-year-old and my husband.

Apparently, I forgot to train them at an early age.

I think it really shouldn’t be that hard to remember where the extra jarred tomato sauce is, where we keep the extra sheets for overnight guests, or where the cupcake pan is because they have all been in the same place for the 20+ years we have lived in the this house.

And, in case you think my system of organization is at fault, I believe that I have organized our home in a way that makes sense. For instance, the dishes and glassware are in the kitchen and close to the dishwasher; extra towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, etc. are in all of the bathrooms; and cooking utensils are organized by use, i.e. measuring cups and other baking needs are in one area, small appliances are grouped together and grilling accessories are in a separate area.

Sounds logical, right? (and, yes, maybe a bit uptight – I’ll own that)

And yet…

Not a day goes by without a “where is the…?” question. Does my family think that once a week I rearrange the shelves and closets just to mess with them? Although messing with them is something I might consider doing, I assure you that I have not done that (who has time for that!?).

I realize that no one in my house really needs to remember where anything is kept – why would they when I am always available to tell them. It’s like being in the passenger seat when my husband is driving. He doesn’t pay attention to where we are going because he knows I will tell him.

But, what if I’m in a coma? How will they find the toothpaste? Or the peanut butter?? I truly believe that dying is the only thing that would stop my kids from asking me where something is in the house.

Really.

Because even if I’m not home, it is apparently easier to text me and ask where something is then to look for it. And, yes, I realize I don’t have to answer them but they are very persistent and I am clearly an enabler.

Since I don’t think I’m going anywhere soon (knock on wood), I had to come up with another way to train my boys. I remembered the time when my kids were little and the only way to get them to do anything was to turn it into a game. If they needed to get dressed I would say, “Go get dressed, I’ll time you!” and they would race off to see how fast they could get dressed. If I needed them to clean the playroom it was a race, and if I needed them to go get me something it was timed. So in that vein, I’m creating The Amazing Race: Family Edition.

Except without the million-dollar prize and the weird foods.

Whatever, it will still be fun!

I started compiling a list of questions to guide my family to certain often used items.

One of my favorite questions that I’ve come up with so far is, “Where is the water?”

(I assume no one knows where the water is because they always say out loud, “The dog needs water.” But no one fills up the water bowl. It must be because they don’t know where they water is!)

I’m envisioning a sort of scavenger hunt/multiple choice game with prizes hidden in certain locations if they actually go find the needed item.

For instance, one of the multiple choice questions is:

You want to spit out your gum but the garbage can in the kitchen doesn’t have a garbage bag in it. You:

a) spit your gum in the toilet and flush;

b) wrap up your gum in a napkin and leave it on the counter or;

c) find a garbage bag. Extra points if you know where the extra bags are kept!

 

I can’t give away too many of the questions now because they haven’t played the game yet. I’ll let you know who wins. My boys are nothing if not competitive so this may actually work.

Stay tuned.

 

How about your house?

Do your kids know where the flour is? How about the extra sheets? The extra dog food?

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Some Dos and Don’ts to Help Your Kid Deal With a Broken Heart

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine whose daughter, a senior in college, broke up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend. According to my friend, the couple could never quite get on the same page at the same time even after four years. This time her daughter wanted the relationship to progress but her boyfriend’s heart wasn’t in it.

“She’s devastated,” my friend told me. “Part of me wants to make her comfort food and the other part of me wants to tell her to get over it because we all know he’s not ‘the one’ anyway. What do I do?” she asked.

I’m no expert on counseling anyone with a broken heart. Even with the hundreds of hours spent as a teenager dissecting every little detail of my friends’ and my relationships, none of us really knew how to help anyone through the painful stages of a breakup. But – my friend wanted my opinion and who am I not to over-analyze a relationship with a friend – old habits die hard, I guess.

So here are some dos and don’ts for helping a kid through a breakup.

  1. Don’t bash the ex.

My friend’s first impulse was to remind her daughter about all of the bad things the boyfriend did. Really rip into him to remind her why the relationship hasn’t worked and why it wouldn’t work. I suggested she not do that because chances are it will bite her in the ass.

I know of what I speak.

When I was in law school, a good friend of mine was dating a girl who flirted with Every Single Guy She Met – often in front of my friend. It made my blood boil. I was so excited when they broke up that I forgot about the cardinal rule of friends and exes: Do Not Speak Badly About Your Friend’s Ex Because She Might Not Stay an Ex For Long. So I happily told him how bad she was for him and how she flirted with everyone and how he was better off without her.

Then they got back together.

Then they got married.

Needless to say we weren’t close after that and I was not invited to the wedding. But I learned my lesson. Even when they got divorced I didn’t say a word about her because you never know…

Granted it’s not quite the same when it’s your kid. You want to protect you kids and seeing them in pain can bring out the claws on the momma bear but can you imagine bad-mouthing the boyfriend and in six months having to welcome him into the family when he proposes? That’s not the position you want to be in as a parent.

  1. Don’t push your agenda directly –be subtle with your advice.

I’m not one for holding back but when my older son and his ex-girlfriend did that on-again-off-again stuff I really tried not interfere. I knew from experience and from watching friends go through this that a clean break was a much better plan but I refrained from screaming, “Let it die already! You will never know if you guys like anyone else if you keep getting back together!” Instead I told him in a very nice, very optimistic way, “Maybe if you guys stay apart for a while you can see if you really like each other and then you guys might get back together again after many, many years.”

See. Nice and optimistic.

Then when he tried the, oh, we are just friends bulls**t, I casually asked, “But isn’t it hard to meet anyone else if you guys are together all of the time?”

Subtle, right?

What I wanted to say (actually yell) was that they should delete each other’s contact information, they should date many, many other people, and they should stop pretending that they can just be friends.

But I didn’t.

  1. Do recognize that it is not your problem to fix.

First, it wasn’t my problem to solve. All the advice I could give him was based on my experiences – my own and my friends’ – and none of it was really relevant (or welcome as he pointed out when I started to speak). He needed to work through this on his own.

Second – and this is also based on experience – no one really listens to anyone’s advice when it comes to relationships. It’s really hard to see the logic in something so emotional – at least at first. I couldn’t talk my son out of caring about this girl anymore than my friends could have talked me out of caring about the people I cared about.

  1. Do lend an ear and a shoulder if requested. Just be there.

Give your kid space and lots of ice cream. Maybe throw in some shopping. Then hunker down with a few movies- preferably one where the girl (or guy) realizes she is better off without whoever she is pining for (Legally Blonde, Sliding Doors, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall come to mind). Just because you can’t give advice directly doesn’t mean that you can’t subliminally make your point…

Any advice you would give?

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A Father’s Day Experience

The only thing I remember about Father’s Day  when I was a kid was struggling to come up with a gift for my dad. The gifts were never very original and I’m sure, if my dad was alive today, he wouldn’t be able to tell you a single thing I gave him (all of those red ties and boxed DVD sets blend together after awhile).

Gift giving became a lot easier when I had kids because there was no greater gift for my dad than spending time with his grandkids. He was content just eating a meal with the kids and laughing at their antics or taking them mini-golfing and out for ice cream. Time was all he wanted and I know he remembered every minute of those days until the last.

I’ve always preferred giving (and receiving) an experience as a gift because a trip, an outing, or an adventure is far more memorable than something material (and really, who needs more stuff anyway). Besides it has been scientifically proven that you will be happier if you spend money on experiences not things and who am I to contradict science.

So in that vein I’ve asked a whole bunch of dads to give me their Father’s Day experience wish-list. Feel free to steal the ideas for Mother’s Day because why should dads have all the fun.

We share the same taste in music and love small live concerts so doing that is a treat.”

“An afternoon playing frisbee golf”

“…all being together for a meal when [the kids] are home from college is great. Especially when we hang out by the fire with friends or extended family.”

“Go for a long bike ride together now that she’s older and doesn’t need me to pull her in a Burley.”

“Playing music together in the basement.”

“Get tickets to the bleachers at Wrigley Field for a Cubs game”

“Lagavulin Scotch. Two bottles. One to drink, another for investment or for my kids to drink at my funeral.”

“Golfing together. Not just another golf shirt.”

“Cooking a meal together instead of going out again.”

“Building something together. I need to build a fire pit and I would love for my kids to help.”

“Take a weekend fishing trip together.”

“I’d love to run a ‘mudder’ race with my boys” (https://toughmudder.com/)

“Surfing”

“Make our own beer”

“A night at a comedy club”

“Spend the morning hunting and the afternoon golfing”

“Paintball!”

“Go Kart racing and mini-golf”

Escape Room” 

“A day at the horse races.”

“Go to a music festival”

Now, go forth and plan your adventure.

As Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a Cornell professor who has spent 20+ years studying money and happiness noted, “We consume experiences directly with other people…And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

 

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Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

 

Necessity is the Mother of Independence

They say necessity is the mother of invention but I say it’s the mother of independence.

I’m convinced that if I had continued to work full time when my kids were little that now, at 17 and 21, my boys would, out of necessity, know to fill the soap dispenser with soap and not just add water. They would know how to heat up a can of soup, how to feed themselves something other than goldfish and cereal bars while they waited for someone else to prepare “real” food, and they would know how to shop for groceries.

Last week, in an effort to prepare my boys to enter the world without me I sent my oldest son to the store to buy groceries for dinner and he came back with among other requested things, a four pound, $9.00 organic onion.

A four pound onion!

In his defense, I didn’t specify the size of the onion I wanted; I just sort of assumed that after all these years of watching me shop and prep meals he may have noticed that mutant produce was not the norm.

But you know what they say about people who assume…

Yes, it is a little late for my 21-year-old to just be learning how to shop for groceries, but up to this point he has either lived in a dorm or a fraternity house where food is prepared for him or he has lived at home where I don’t like to send anyone out to buy groceries because, well, a four-pound, $9.00, organic onion. But now, my son is moving into an apartment and he will have to prepare some meals (or find someone to cook for him or get three jobs to pay for take out).

I could take him shopping and attempt to pass on my wisdom but I tried that with teaching him how to do laundry. No matter how many times I went over the steps to do laundry before he left for college he conveniently forgot how the whole system worked. Then, miraculously, when he was away at school and out of clothes he managed to figure it out with only minor damage to a couple of white socks.

See, necessity.

By the same logic, if I take him grocery shopping he will expect me to guide him – and by guide him I mean tell him exactly what to do but nothing will stick. If, for instance, I tell him to check for blemishes on the apples that we are buying he will look straight at me as if he’s listening and then pick up the first apple he sees and drop it in the bag. Only when he is shopping for himself and he has spent his own money will he really care that the banged up apple he just bought is riddled with brown spots and virtually inedible.

I don’t blame him. I didn’t start cooking until I lived on my own. Cooking was never a required chore at home – we owned a restaurant so someone was always cooking for us. Once I moved out I lived on salad bar salads from the local grocery store until I realized how expensive that was. Out of necessity I started “cooking” where I mastered the almost daily meal of scrambled eggs, a microwaved baked potato, and green beans straight out of a can. I’m shocked I didn’t develop scurvy from my limited diet but, hey, it was sustenance.

Eventually, mostly out of boredom, I expanded my meals to include things like baked chicken and pasta with jarred tomato sauce (doctored, of course, with a splash of wine and some dried oregano because I’m fancy). Once I had kids, cooking became even more important because kids need food multiple times a day.

Now, I know plenty of people who never cook; they buy their meals prepared from the grocery store, they order in, they eat cereal. But I really believe that cooking is a necessity for kids who, like my son, do not have unlimited funds. He also eats about six meals a day, so you can see the problem.

So, this summer, as I wait for the shove of necessity to kick in, I will keep sending my sons to the store (probably with much more specific instructions – maybe even pictures!) and I will continue to prattle on about food prep with the hope that something sticks (Wash your hands! Never leave anything on the stove if you leave the room! Always salt tomatoes!)

I will also challenge both of my boys to master the following really, really, simple recipe. If all else fails I will challenge them to find the areas in the grocery store with canned green beans and potatoes. Scurvy be damned.

Pasta with Bacon and tomatoes (or Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana if you want to impress someone)

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Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces good bacon sliced into little pieces or cut up with a clean kitchen scissors (not the scissors you would use to cut open a package – the one I gave you for the kitchen)
1 small red onion (small!), outside skin removed first, then cut into thin-ish slices and then cut again, in half, to make ½ moon shapes

3 cloves (not heads, just cloves) garlic, (remove papery skin first), then slice
3 to 4 shakes (or 1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes)
2 cups jarred tomato sauce (preferably Rao’s Marinara or whatever is on sale)
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Fill a big pot with water, add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. While the water is boiling , combine the olive oil, chopped bacon, sliced onion, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes in 12-inch saute pan (not the pan for eggs; the bigger one).IMG_0227
  3. Place the pan over low heat and cook until the onion is soft and the bacon has cooked off most of its fat but it’s not too crispy. This should take about 10 minutes, be patient.
  4. Drain all but 3 or 4 Tablespoons of the fat out of the pan (use a large spoon to spoon it out but don’t pour the fat down the sink! Put it in a bowl and wait until it cools then dispose of it in the garbage).
  5. Add the tomato sauce to the sauté pan, turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook for about five to seven minutes (again, be patient you are letting the flavors blend).
  6. While the sauce simmers, cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until the pasta is a little firm and not mushy. Don’t believe the time on the box cook it for about a minute or two less.
  7. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss the pasta to coat.
  8. Divide the pasta and serve immediately, with some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese.

 

 

 

Who Needs “Siri” When You Have “Mom”

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My family doesn’t have Amazon Echo or Google Home. They have me.

I, apparently, know everything. Just ask my family (oh, wait, then they will have to ask me so that wouldn’t work).

I am amazed at how much my family thinks I know. I should be flattered because – obviously – they think I’m brilliant. Why else would they ask me things they can easily find out on their own?

For example, recent requests included:

“Mom, what’s this flower?”

“Hon, when are the kids done with school?”

“Mom, how do you heat up a can of soup?”

I, like any good digital assistant, dutifully answered:

“Daffodil.”

“May 4 and June 7.”

“Pour the can in the small pot and heat on low.”

The thing is, other than the last question (which, by the way, is a topic for another day) I had to look up the answers. I don’t know flowers (after a failed web search I had to ask a friend about this) and I seriously have not memorized my kids’ schedules so why does my family ask me questions when they know I will need to look up the answers? More importantly, why do I actually look up the answers??!

Often, as I’m looking for answers to one of their questions it occurs to me that my children and husband could be doing this themselves. It’s not like I’m hiding the electronics. But by the time I remember that I’m not supposed to be enabling my children (or my husband for that matter), I’m already three Google searches deep into answering their questions and I realize it will probably take longer to lecture them then to give them the answer. Besides, if I say, “See that mini computer also known as a phone attached to your hand? It has the answer to your question; just look it up” chances are they will NOT look up the answers to their respective questions; they will simply avoid the question.

Really, it’s true. I’ve tried it.

For instance, it took me a while to figure out the daffodil answer so by the time I responded my son had moved on. My husband’s request for the kids’ schedules was similarly ignored when he decided not to bother with a possible trip in June and just planned for July because no one is in school then. (Little does he know there’s an entirely different schedule for summer but he didn’t ask and like Google Home, I don’t volunteer answers).

As for the soup question, well, if I hadn’t reflexively given my son the answer or if I had told him to read the back of the can (like I should have!), he would probably have given up and eaten a cheese stick (which would have solved his hunger issue but, seriously, READ THE BACK OF THE FREAKING CAN!)

I think it might be too late to change our ways. I needed to nip this in the bud when they were little (or, in the case of my husband, when we were dating) but everything took soooooo long when my kids were young. If one of my boys asked, “Mommy, what kind of flower is this?” when he was six years old and I responded, “I don’t know. Let’s look it up,” the process of finding the answer would have taken a good 30-60 minutes of haphazard, child-directed searching and I am not a patient person.

This, my friends, is known as a lack of foresight…or stifling independence, or shitty parenting, whatever you want to call it.

But now, if I keep answering their questions will they ever learn to find the answers on their own? Will they care? Should I just buy them a Google Home and be done with it??

The thing is, unless we can use “Mom” as the voice prompt for the digital assistant I’m not sure my family will know how to get it to respond. Then they will just ask me to ask Alexa…

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Prom + Drama = Prama (in case you are new to this)

What happened to high school Prom?

It used to just be a dance in a high school gym decorated by the pep club; a night that never lived up to the hype generated by Hollywood movies like Pretty in PinkTen Things I Hate About You, Valley Girl, etc. – typical tales of star-crossed lovers and romantic reunions. Now prom has reached a frenzy once reserved only for weddings—but without the gift registry…at least for now.

Today’s prom involves party buses with TV screens and dancing poles that take the students to urban hotels for catered dinners followed by club-hopping after the dance.

Seriously.

If your child, like mine, is smack dab in the middle of Prama Season I feel for you, but if your kid isn’t quite there yet, you may be able to help stop the madness.

Here is my list of the Five Ridiculous New Prom Traditions. Feel free to add to it. I’m sure there are things I don’t even know about yet.

1. Let’s start with the point where the craziness begins: the “Prom-posal.” Yes, that’s an actual thing. In fact, March 11 is National Promposal Day .

I kid you not. (It’s also National Worship of Tools Day so there’s that)

I know boys who have choreographed flash mobs, girls who have asked someone via the Jumbotron at the Chicago Bulls game and someone who used the loudspeaker at school to sing a request to his date. There are even companies that will help with the planning.

What’s wrong with just asking, “Do you want to go to Prom with me?”

Would someone really say no to a potential date who asked by himself instead of singing it, posting it, splashing it across a screen or having a celebrity ask for him? If the answer is yes, then what happens down the road when a marriage proposal comes your way? Are you going to be disappointed when it’s just a simple, “will you marry me,” and not a sunrise ask on a mountain top with Ed Sheeran singing quietly in the background while being streamed via Facebook Live??

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2. Then there’s the cost. WTF? You could feed a small country with the money that is being spent on this dance. My kid will be shelling out a lot of money (his own – let’s be clear) for dance tickets, a tux rental, a corsage, and a limo. On the plus side, at least he isn’t getting a spray tan, a manicure, a pedicure and an updo – as far as I know.

3. The extras. The pictures! The limo! The after party! The pictures should be taken in a spot with an appropriately breathtaking backdrop. The limo, excuse me, party bus needs to have flashing lights, music, videos and room to dance for the hour-long drive to and from the party venue. The after party, well, that needs it’s own paragraph. See #5 below.

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4. The actual dance (or, as the kids call it, the worst part of the night). My mom was reminiscing about decorating the gym and serving punch and cookies at her prom ala Grease.

Sigh.

That’s never going to happen again but do they really need to drive 45 minutes to a hotel in the city for the dance? I guarantee there is somewhere in the ‘burbs that could accommodate the party without forcing a trek into the city. (But the party bus is one of the best parts, Mom!) Why can’t they just take a page out of the original Footloose and host the dance in a barn across the county line! (Wow! There really are a lot of prom moments in movies and, wow, I’m really showing my age.)

5. And, finally, there is the after-party. Yes, there is an after-party in addition to the picture pre-party, the party itself and, often, the day after party. The after party used to be just hanging out at someone’s house but now there are all-ages dance clubs, comedy clubs and boat parties with DJs to continue the fun. In Manhattan there’s even a company that caters to the after-prom party set.

All of this for ONE NIGHT people!!

It’s a slippery slope.

You’ve been warned.

 

Where do you draw the line? Can you if you aren’t footing the bill?

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Life Lesson: Teen Dating

Dear Sons –

I know we’ve talked a lot about dating before (even when you didn’t ask my opinion) but I wanted to give you your own handy-dandy written “Guide” in case you are ever wondering what I would tell you and I’m not around. Call it, Mom’s Guide to Dating.

Don’t roll your eyes.

Here goes:

  1. Don’t be an asshole. You heard me. If I find out that you are treating your significant other badly I will personally kick your ass.
  1. Don’t be a doormat. This is not the opposite of being an asshole. Don’t always give in to your significant other just to keep the peace. If she wants to see Star Wars and you want to see Inside Out make an argument for why you should pick the movie this time. Or compromise – there’s nothing wrong with compromise. If she insists that you always give in – move on. Don’t sell your soul.
  1. Move forward at a mutually agreed pace. No one should dictate how quickly a relationship progresses. Both parties need to be comfortable.
  1. Laugh – a lot. Not at her (or at anyone, for that matter), but with her. Remember, if you guys can’t laugh at the stuff that makes each of you smile – move on.
  1. Don’t let Hallmark be your guide for gift giving. I personally hate Valentine’s Day (as you know). Your father has not been allowed to give me a gift on Valentine’s Day for the 25 years we’ve been married. Sure, for a few years he tried to give me flowers the day after Valentine’s Day but, no…just don’t. One caveat: if the person you are dating LOVES Valentine’s Day or Sweetest Day or any of the other made up holidays (yes, I’m holding back a comment) you should acknowledge the day with something (just remember that the florists jack up the prices on Valentine’s Day so don’t blow a paycheck on a dozen red roses – especially if she is demanding them). Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
  1. It’s the little things that matter. I swear.
  1. Find someone who likes to do the stuff you like to do (but not necessarily everything you like to do – see #8 below). Your dad and I bonded over Chicago Blackhawks hockey, horse racing and eating out. It was a great place to start.
  1. Have separate interests (this is not the opposite of #7, above). Remember you are separate people. I do know couples who do EVERYTHING together and haven’t killed each other – yet. These are the outliers. It’s good to have separate interests – it gives you something to talk about and something to share – occasionally – with the person you are dating.
  1. DO NOT alienate your friends (make sure your girlfriend doesn’t alienate hers either). I lost many a friend over the years to the “I’m dating someone and I need to spend every waking moment with him/her because that’s what couples do.” Ugh. If your dad and I didn’t have our friends around I’m not sure if we could have been together this long. Sure, your dad and I do a lot together but I also like going to the theater (he only like musicals), running (he HATES running), dancing (he can’t dance), and overanalyzing just about everything (he has no patience). Similarly, I have zero interest in playing poker in Vegas, watching European soccer and skiing. That’s what our friends are for.
  1. Apologize when you do or say something stupid. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made. Just don’t make it a pattern of do-something-stupid-apologize-later. Then you are just being an asshole (see #1 above). Also, if you are dating someone who is stuck in that pattern – move on.
  1. If your relationship has run its course have a face-to-face conversation. No ghosting, no break up texts, no social media announcements – I don’t care what the media or your friends say is the norm nowadays. Anything short of a face-to-face conversation makes you a jerk. Yes, it will suck; yes, she may be really, really pissed; and, yes, you will potentially be hurting someone but eventually, when the scars have faded, at least she won’t be able to say you weren’t honest and respectful.
  1. Be honest, respectful and kind. Always.

Love,

Mom

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What would you add? What do you disagree with? Let me know!

 

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