In the Gaps

There’s a quote I came across a while ago, and today it’s on my mind again.  It’s by the brilliant Margaret Atwood:

“We lived in the gaps between stories”

And it’s not so much that this is a powerful quote, or is one that might make us stop in our tracks and consider something new.  Margaret Atwood has so many great quotes that do that – go ahead and google her – but this one is just where I am right now.   And I think it might be a good transition to help me get back to this blog after letting it sit ignored for so many months.  Just in the simple obvious, there’s been a huge gap in my blogging.  I last posted in the fall, and I didn’t even finish publishing everything about my travels through Turkey.   I have so many drafts that I started and will likely never return to, unfortunately.  I wanted to tell about the ancient cites in Turkey, and the epic natural sights, plus the cities and food and vibrancy.    But life was changing and I was busy living so there’s gaps left in my external chronicles.

Here’s a little sample of what I had meant to write about:

I bet you can relate.  We scroll through stories online and keep up with others’ lives digitally, and we post our own hoping to capture a good memory, or to gain validation.  As silly as it may seem to say; the obvious is easily overlooked; Despite our connectivity in 2019 we still have life outside of what we share as our social media stories.  I have to admit, for a minute there last year I was beginning to getting caught up in the idea of being an Influencer.  And even while I knew that my paltry 250ish Instagram followers left me about 2,000 short of what would qualify as a fledgling social media influencer, I’d still daydream about it.   My unplugging from this blog and from writing was not some grand gesture by design, not a deliberate retreat to ‘find myself again’ and come back all glowy and full of marketable tidbits of wisdom.  Nope.  I was just battling a bit of writer’s block and also just really busy.  Living the little details of daily life, slogging away at work but also having fun with the people who mattered to me already.

I lived in the gaps between the stories.  To be literal I say that because I spent about 6 months without posting anything on AimlesslyAli.  Life went on without the spotlight.  More poetically, the gap allowed for an echoing in my life.  Words I had sent out ages ago came back to me and I was reminded that building up love and fostering purpose in myself and others is what life’s all about.  Even without any intentionality, it turns out I did learn something.  Here’s what I learned: I don’t need to be paid for my words, or to get free samples for photos I take.  I want my influence to be personal, in real life, in my day to day connections with people who cross my path.  I hope to be able to demonstrate that kindness and gentleness ARE a form of strength rather than just the aloofness we tend to associate with mental toughness.  So this aimless wanderer is now on a deliberate path to show love to others in the gaps.  Though, let’s be real – this’ll likely be accomplished without a map and written with drifting thoughts and paragraphs of run-on sentences….. I am still Aimlessly Ali, after all.  (who’d in a heartbeat accept a sponsored trip in exchange for promoting the location if I ever got the opportunity!!!)

Stampede City

I’ve said a few times before, I love the city I live in.    And this is especially true in the summer.   The big blue sky, warm air and sunshine, happy friendly people… what’s not to love?!  Also a highlight of the summer – The Calgary Stampede, which is what I’m thinking of today.  Every July, the City of Calgary takes 10 days to host the Stampede; billed as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”   Now, Calgarians are generally split into either loving or loathing the Stampede.  I imagine it must be similar in the major tourist cities, where locals end up inconvenienced by the swarms of crowds on their streets (Amsterdam, I’m thinking of you here!).  I can understand there are some valid reasons a person might not want to be around, so how about I list them quickly, get that out of the way, and then move on to why I love it instead?

So here we go.  A mostly-unbiased opinion of the Negatives:  For ten days each year,

  • Downtown is crowded. The trains are packed, parking sucks, and traffic is slow.
  • Alcohol consumption rockets and public drunkenness becomes normal
  • Modesty seems to take a break (ummm…. #trampede is a real thing)
  • Some people think animals are being taken advantage of.  Animals Resting

And so here is where I need to vehemently disagree.   The rodeo professionals love their animals, and I know absolutely everything is done to protect and care for animals.  For example, one year I was behind-the-scenes in the barns with my friend who was hired to massage the chuckwagon horses.  Yes, Equine Massage Therapy is a booming industry.  And the photo is from this year, where even in the exhibition barns they ensure times throughout the day for the animals to get breaks from all the city slickers gawking.

So maybe you saw those drawbacks, and have decided that’s enough to make you want to run for the hills to avoid it all.  That’s ok, may I recommend Jasper or Banff?  But if you’re still with me, even for curiosity’s sake, please keep reading.

Personally, I automatically love the Calgary Stampede because of my positive childhood memories.  My family would come to the city for a day, and we’d delightfully dizzy ourselves on the fairground rides and cheer my Dad on as he won us plush toys at the carnie games.  (To this day, I can’t walk past a ‘strong man’ game without flashing back to him)  We’d watch the rodeo and chuckwagon race highlights on tv every night after dinner, crowding around and crowing when our pick did well.

Another reason why the ten days of Stampede are something I look forward to is the camaraderie this city experiences.  Picture it a little like Cowboy Christmas; with decorations up at businesses citywide, special music played everywhere, staff parties, and days off from work!  Just substitute carols with country twang.   Even without entering the Stampede grounds there is a festive feel throughout the city.  We get to wear jeans to work almost regardless of industry, and cowboy boots are the exact right accessory to every outfit.  My cousin, Erin, demonstrates that perfectly, below.IMG_8123

Erin's Instagram post
erin.slemp: The only place it’s acceptable to wear all denim and eat poutine perogies… #calgarystampede #canadiantuxedo #stampede2018 #calgaryalberta

She brings up another great point: The midway food is an attraction all its own.  I personally can’t go without at least one corn dog (battered and in a pickle this year!) and the mini donuts with cinnamon sugar, but I also snarfed down some deep-fried coffee balls, brisket and poutine, and charcoal ice cream.  IMG_1299

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Me and more cousins

Much more than the midway, though.  The Calgary Stampede is a cultural bridge, reminding us of our heritage as a ranching and rodeo frontier town, as well as the Indigenous roots of the Canadian Prairies.  I took some time this year to explore more of that, and I am absolutely in awe the First Nations set up at the Stampede.  This is exactly the type of thing I would flock to any time I travel to a foreign country – representation of the uniqueness of the cultural history – and I was awestruck seeing this again from my own hometown.

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Tipi skyline
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Watching a traditional dance
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Elder blessing
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traditional cooking

A quick video clip from my cell phone, so my apologies for the lack of quality production, but I had to show you a snippet of one of the dances.  Make sure you have sound on to hear the singers from the drum circle just outside the image.

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You know, this far into the post and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet of everything that’s on offer at the Stampede.  Try learning to two-step at one of the beer gardens, attend a concert, watch the rodeo and events, learn about current agriculture, worry about the motocross daredevils hired to entertain, view the incredible western artworks, watch the grandstand show or the marching show band, and go to one of the FREE pancake breakfasts or (and!) BBQ lunches that are everywhere across the city.  The list goes on and on.   You’ll need to come here and see it for yourself next July.Stampede active

After ten days of “Yahoo!” excitement, the dust is settling, and the city is returning to a normal urban centre.  Boots and hats are tucked far into the back of closets again, safe until next year.  We start to pick up on all the work that was missed, but first all the stories are swapped around the water cooler.   Love it or hate it, The Calgary Stampede gives everyone a story to tell.

Calgary Ali
Calgary Ali

Sunset on the Calgary Stampede

 

 

 

 

 

Little Trips

I’ve been feeling a little mopey about the fact that I haven’t been travelling lately, and can give about a hundred reasons why “I deserve” to feel this way… (just look at what I was doing a year ago!) but then it was pointed out to me that it’s not an entirely true fact that I haven’t travelled – more so an opinion of mine.  And so, I guess I have to admit that yes, I did spend a week the Dominican Republic, then a day in Panama, and weekends in Vegas, Jasper, and Seattle.   Fine – if we’re going to get technical I supposed I still have had a pretty great summer adventuring around.  Why is it that I always feel the need to see more, go further, lose myself somewhere new??  (I could easily spiral into all sorts of ridiculous thoughts like; ‘My identity is a traveller: therefore do I lose my identity and fade away when I’m not away?’)

Glossing right past the silly existential questions for now, I want to share some of the moments that stood out for me this summer.  My most recent jaunt was to Seattle for a quick work event, and while I won’t bore you with those details I will tell about my day exploring Seattle’s famous sights.   I may have a grownup job now but I still really enjoy my aimless explorations, and so when I travel on my own I very happily throw planning aside just to see what comes my way.  I chatted with the hotel clerk and found out that I could take the free shuttle to the airport, then hop on the train from there to the centre where I would find the city’s highlights, so that’s exactly where I started.  Stop number one for me was the famous Pike’s Place Market.  I knew it was busy, but I have to admit some shock at JUST HOW BUSY it is!  I did a bit of digging after, and discovered that it’s in the top 40 destinations by visitor number in the whole world.  Crazy! ( Tourism stats )  I liked seeing it, though, even if I was almost equally amazed by the people watching as I was by the oldest continuously operated farmers market in the US.   My wanders took me through the market, along the piers, downtown to coffee shops, past the Space Needle and back to the water.  It’s a pretty city indeed on a sunny August day!

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Moving back in time, I had a previous work event that brought me to Las Vegas.  I’ve been there several times before so this didn’t hold the same wonder and awe for me, but I still had a great time walking the famous strip after dark to marvel at the neon lights, and sitting by the pool with a novel the next morning before my flight home.

 

More exciting for me was July and exploring my own ‘backyard’ in Alberta.  Have you ever been to Jasper before?  It’s stunning.  You should plan a visit.  Even though it’s an easy and scenic 5 hour drive from my front door, I haven’t been since childhood – I generally go to Banff instead, less than 2 hours away from me.  But a long weekend camping trip in the cutest little cabins has me convinced I’ll be back again!IMG_0653

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Continuing in my July adventures at home, I took in some time at the Calgary Stampede.  If this is something else you haven’t heard of, look it up and plan to come.  It’s a huge city-wide party, a cultural homage to our heritage, a thrilling competition and vibrant midway all packed together. ( Calgary Stampede )   And I just love it!

 

Prior to all this I kicked off my summer 2017 down South with a little quality beach time. Thankfully my cousin decided to get married in the Caribbean so I had a chance to visit Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  I wouldn’t typically chose to go to an All-Inclusive resort, but I was thrilled with the chance to go and celebrate with family and friends.  So often I’m alone when I’m away from home and this made it an extra fantastic treat to be in the middle of a huge group of friends this time.  And now if I ever go to resorts again, I know I’ll want about 40 people I adore there with me.  At least.

Going into this week in Punta Cana, I knew that this would be my last trip with the freedom to just book my own employee-pass standby flights, so I wanted to make the most of it.  I didn’t know exactly how I’d be getting home until the day prior – when I saw that I could fly directly to Panama.  OF COURSE that called my name!  Spending time in Panama would mean that I’ve been to each of the North American/Central America countries and I just couldn’t resist.  (and, I plan to celebrate that milestone again if I ever go to each Caribbean nation.  I haven’t done that yet!)   I didn’t have long, but I made the most of it in Panama by choosing a charming hostel in the Casco Viejo Old Town in central Panama City.  This is the epicentre of the tourism in the city and gave me the freedom to walk and explore.  I loved walking along the bay and taking in the contrast between the glittering new high-rises and the old Latin/Spanish legacy.

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Pretty good for only 14 hours in the country, hey?   I hope I get a chance to go back and see more of Panama.

So looking back with a little more gratitude, I can clearly see that I had a great summer and even one worthy of dusting off my travel blog.    But let me tell you, I have higher hopes for my fall!

 

 

Angkor Wat Again

It’s -26 degrees celsius where I live right now, and as if that isn’t horrific enough we have the distinct displeasure of a windchill bringing the feel of the temperature to -33.   Yes that’s actually true and not a typo.  I have a cup of tea, a big cozy blanket, and blinds over the window so I don’t have to see the wintery misery outside; I’m directing my focus solely to happier memories of warmer climates!  And my first trip down memory lane brought me back to Cambodia, which I remember being more along the lines of 30 degrees celsius above zero instead of below.   Ahhhhh, feeling warmer already….

But I don’t think I’m going to write much tonight since I’m feeling much more visual than verbal.  Instead how about a few more of my pictures from Angkor Wat out of the 250 or so I took that day?

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These women came to Angkor Wat to celebrate a Buddhist Holy day.
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Temples hidden in the Jungle
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Ta Prohm temple ruins
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Gentle Guardians
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Ancient Hindu carvings on a temple wall
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216 faces of Buddha carved at Bayon, Angkor Thom
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This sweet Buddhist monk
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Serenity
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Just past a “Beware of Monkey Attack” sign, this cutie appeared
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A tourist (me) with a shot of another tourist taking photos of other tourists
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Angkor Wat

More miles and Milestones

Guess where I am again right this very moment?   I’ll give you a hint…. in the background around me I’m hearing “cookies or pretzels? Cookies or pretzels?” on a continuous loop anytime I pull out my earbuds.   (Side note for anyone that may get tired of hearing the flight attendants always say the same things, even though you know what to expect on the flight:  I promise they are more tired of having to say it with a smile a trillion times each day!)     So you guessed it – I’m on another flight!!  Today I hopped over to Vancouver to trade in the windy weather of Calgary for the rainy wet West Coast.   And also to actively avoid the adult pressures I have at home…. life seems so much simpler when I’m literally running away from my problems!   Not that I recommend that – please do as I say and not as I do!!! 

So speaking of doing as I say… I’ve recently found a great website that has the potential to make my life as a traveller much easier.  Have you heard of RideGuru?  If you haven’t yet, I say you should go look them up!!  This handy site helps sort out the options available between ride share companies, and will give a realtime estimate of the costs for each option, including a traditional taxi cab.   It’s like comparison shopping for modern transportation!  Here’s a peek at what I had today when I pulled it up on my phone:

My RideGuru screenshots

Super easy!  And since I like things that make my life easier, this automatically ranks pretty high in my books.   Unfortunately, keeping with my “aimless” title apparently, I realized with hindsight that a little planning may still be a good idea, even when using a smart new website.   If you look back at the bottom left screenshot in the picture above, you might see that the Uber ride is from Vancouver Washington.   Turns out that Vancouver B.C. still has a lot of restrictions in place on rideshare operators, and there’s no Uber here.   So we took a taxi, but at least thanks to RideGuru I could anticipate how much it would cost!

In the cab, because Vancouver doesn’t have Uber
Rain on the window

That I had a little hiccup in my travels probably doesn’t surprise anyone who has read my blog before.  I seem to do this a lot, launching into action before looking at the details.  Maybe one day I’ll learn – but then what would I write about if everything went smoothly?! 

A pint at the harbour

I’m lucky enough to have high caliber friends in multiple cities who are willing to put up with me when I say things like “Hey! I’m in town for 5 hours – want to show me some city hotspots?”  And two of the best happened to be available to do just that today in Vancouver!  From our first perch overlooking the False Creek Harbour, to a scenic walk through a rainy park and into a new Distillery at Granville Island, I don’t think I stopped laughing.  Next, with a little help from RideGuru, we zipped to Yaletown and settled into yet another pub.  Usually I spend a day walking through a city; today I ate and drank my way around.  I like to keep it balanced!  

My day with Mark and Dave
These poor guys had to listen to me gush all day about how much I love writing my blog, and while I’m sorry for being repetitive, I’m currently a little obsessed in my excitement about all this.  I am over the moon thrilled with the response I’ve been getting, and it truly makes my day learning that people read what I write.  From they bottom of my heart, thank you for following along aimlessly with me!!  I reached a big milestone today – 500 WordPress followers!   So exciting!

Snapshots of the Canadian Arctic

Next week I’ll be jetting off to South East Asia so pretty soon I’ll have all sorts of new posts, but right now I want to run back through my archives and write about some old experiences.  I missed #ThrowbackThursday… how about #FondmemoryFriday ?  Can that be a thing??  #Way-back-whenWeekend ?   Whatever we’re calling it, I’m taking you along as I reminisce on my time North of the Arctic Circle.

My memory was triggered last week when I visited the National Gallery in Ottawa and viewed the Inuit Art exhibit.  Beautiful collection, by the way.   I think I’ve mentioned in this blog that my previous career took me to all sorts of locations, and one of those was the Canadian Arctic.  This is a unique world unlike anything else I have ever experienced and I consider myself spectacularly fortunate to have had the chance to be there.

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This map is from the Inuit Art Exhibit.  I added in the stars at the communities I’ve been to

In 2007 and 2008 the company I worked for had a contract with one of the airlines serving remote Arctic communities, and I would spend two weeks at a time on rotation up North.  Dramatic landscapes, extreme temperatures, different languages, new foods – there were many times I had to stop and remind myself I was still in my own home country!  (At least until I started talking with someone again: I found Canadian Inuit people to be very generous and friendly!)    In summer the sun doesn’t set, and 24 hour daylight is something that takes some time to get used to.   But that’s a much easier adjustment than winter, where the constant darkness is made even worse by the incomprehensible temperatures.  (Negative 45 degrees Celsius in not uncommon during winter!)

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A 10 minute walk in Yellowknife left me frosty
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Beautiful Spring day in Yellowknife
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Cambridge Bay, March 2008
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Glaciers and mountains
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Glaciers, lakes and mountains
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Flying over glaciers and mountains
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Pond Inlet Airstrip
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Pond Inlet in Summer
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Kids of Clyde River
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This shop always made me giggle – I love the irony
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Iqaluit, Baffin Island, in August.  Notice all the icebergs in the bay
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An Inukshuk marking the way
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Something magic about the Arctic

 

8 hours in Ottawa

I think I’m getting too old for this.  I can’t believe that these thoughts are entering and escaping my head – who wants to feel old?!? – but the truth is I have been squirming in my seat on the plane for the last hour trying to find a way to believe that my knees and lower back aren’t actually starting to ache.  Oh and earlier today I was so mad at myself for forgetting to bring my sunglasses along, because it meant I had to squint in the bright sunlight and all I could think about was the new wrinkles that were sure to be forming at that very second.  Aaand I just realized as I wrote that last sentence forgetfulness could also be another symptom.  I’m rolling my eyes at myself right now….

Let’s back up a little, to yesterday, when I apparently believed I could still pull an all-nighter like a twentysomething.  It was Thursday morning and I was trying to figure out how I could be in about 3 different places across the country at roughly the same time.  (And failing at that solution, in case you were curious)  I realized I would have to scratch PEI and the East Coast off my weekend list, but then had the brainwave that I could take the red-eye flight again from Calgary to Ottawa, spend the day there and still be back in Alberta for my family’s Thanksgiving Dinners on the weekend.  Bingo! Two places – one day!!

I did have a valid reason for being in Ottawa today.  Last week on my way to Toronto I dropped off our passports at the Vietnamese embassy because Tricia and I need a tourist visa stamped prior to our trip in less than two weeks!! so I needed to be back to pick them up today.   (It was more fun this way than mailing the passports… just roll with it.)   And I was pretty excited about another chance to stroll around Canada’s beautiful capital city, which is clearly way better than sitting at home brooding about all the adult stresses I have.    My luck with the standby flights continued to hold and my plan worked, so I had a great day and am thrilled with it all.  Just not my aging knees.

Alright, let’s get to the interesting parts, shall we?  Here’s Ottawa in a day.

I took the bus from the airport downtown and then started walking to the embassy. Should have been a quick 35 minute walk but I was distracted every few minutes with all the things I wanted to take pictures of.   I’m a sucker for nature in cities. 

 

After I finished collecting the passports, I went to see the exhibits at the National Gallery of Canada.  Beautiful.  I love museums and galleries, and I passed more than 2 hours here today.  This is despite the main exhibition wings being closed for renovations.  I’ll need to come back again after May 2017 when it’s all reopened for Canada’s 150 birthday. 
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After the Gallery I walked past and through beautiful buildings and neighbourhoods slowly arrived at the Byward Market.  This is several blocks of outdoor markets and vendors, eateries, entertainment, and an all around good time.

Ok, the Beaver Tail stand is worth mentioning.   In my experience when asked what a uniquely Canadian food is, the first answer is Poutine and the second, after some hesitation, is generally “Beaver Tails?”.  Not very common in Alberta (yet?!) so today was my first taste of the amazing fried dough with cinnamon and sugar.  It’s somehow so much better even than it sounds, and I’m already addicted.

After that fat-bomb of deliciousness I made a healthy effort to pick up the pace and walk a little quicker than the slow saunter I’d be doing all day.  This brought me to the Rideau Canal Locks and Parliament Buildings, where I of course had to slow down again for the gazillion photo ops.

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Chateau Laurier and the Locks
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Rideau Canal Locks

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I would have gone for a guided tour inside the Parliament Building, but it was so nice outside there was no way I was going to miss anymore of the sunshine!   Instead I plunked down on the lawn, took my shoes off, and enjoyed pretending it was still summer while I people watched other tourists.  And took pictures.   I would have had a cute selfie here, except I had to block out the wrinkling-and-squinting glare from the sun….     After this was more walking to see some of the monuments to great historical Canadians, and then back to the airport for me.


My four hour flight tonight has gotten me back home, and it’s just after 11pm on Friday.   I can’t wait to get home and crawl in to bed, but it’s a good thing I did take advantage of the summer weather in Ottawa – Calgary had winter today!   My car is encased in a sheet of ice, but at least I can finish up this post while I wait for the windshield to defrost…

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