Tuesday, March 29, 2011

constant renovations

I'd meant to include knitting photos in this post, but honestly, renovation has been on my mind. Every day, we have some new surprising change. We haven't been up in my sunny office on the 3rd floor to work in a week--the plasterer was working up there so I relocated the laptop to the first floor to avoid any stinkiness or dust.

Meanwhile, on the first floor I can actually answer the door when people arrive without rushing down 2 flights of steps. This is fine except that Harry really misses going to work upstairs with me. Instead, every time there is a stranger trying to work in the house, the dogs have to go to their crates in order to avoid bad run-ins with fur/plaster/paint or other messes.

This morning, we were surprised to find a forklift in the backlane, delivering our shingles. They were deposited on our back yard path here. This is not a small delivery...you can see our (tall) fence and my car beyond it for a sense of scale. At the same time, the roofers are a bit concerned about the weather prediction for tomorrow (flurries and/or rain) so the insulation will happen tomorrow and the roof work will perhaps start on Thursday. Did I mention that tomorrow the painter arrives to work inside for the first time?

My bad postal service karma seems to be continuing. I still haven't received the yarn I ordered at the end of February (the seller is trying to track it down) and no big dresses have arrived yet to offer me enough for a week's worth of twin maternity clothing. I know it is just me because anything the professor orders arrives promptly. I am trying not to take it personally!

In the meanwhile, I present this wacky photo of my belly. It's not the best angle for seeing the whole thing....but last I measured, I was 45" around where there used to be a waist. For comparison --for those of you who know the professor in person? That is several inches bigger than his waist size. The mirror in the kitchen is a bit old and wavy so the best photo of my belly is streaky. Here it is on the left.

People say some mighty quirky things at this time...I'll be 30 weeks' pregnant on Thursday. I'm this big because I'm carrying twins--I don't have a cute little basketball bulge like the full-term folks in my childbirth class who are just expecting one kid. It's more like an old-fashioned watermelon!

I've heard everything from "Gosh, she's pregnant? I just thought she got really fat!" (gee, thanks, you look great too!) to "Oh, you're not that big, I was bigger" (Said in a disparaging way, like if I just tried harder, I could lug around an even bigger belly!) The test was going out to dinner last week. I just looked at what the other customers' expressions were. If I had to guess, it was something like "Oh my gosh, I hope she doesn't go into labor right here while I'm eating..." Of course, I still have roughly a couple of months before these fetuses are full term, so I will be even bigger then.

I meant to tell you about the dyeing I did today as well as some knitting and sewing stuff, but I imagine that will wait for another post. In the meanwhile, you might understand why taking a nap with Sally is top on my list for afternoon activities. I am not going out much anymore--I don't really enjoy the commentary I get all the time. Sally, on the other hand, says very little and curls up with me every day to be sure I am cared for. There is something to be said for the dog as nursemaid. Peter Pan's Nana had it right.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

plasterer, locksmith, candlestick maker

-kidding about the candlestick maker....I hope.

This week, our house has had a continuous stream of construction-oriented visitors. First, there was a carpenter--he did drywall fixes to ceiling holes, among other things. Then, hot on his heels, the plasterer came. The plasterer now visits me for about one to two hours a day, working on the 2nd and 3rd floor ceilings. He is making those ceilings look good for the painter, who might come next week. (So far, I've heard that I'll be seeing the plasterer again on Monday and Tuesday, so the painter might come to visit after that.)

Next Wednesday, weather permitting, the roofers and insulation guys will start work on our roof. They will be able to blow insulation in from the outside because--there are now no holes in our ceilings inside. Whew!

In a separate kind of house repair, we're working with a locksmith that specializes in older houses. In one part of our house, we have a gorgeous lock that we really like--and it is just shy of 100 years old. It needs a little help. That is not related to the ice dam repairs or the roof repair. It just needed fixing at the same time.

Meanwhile, outside of our front door, there is a backhoe digging up our boulevard (the grassy bit between the sidewalk and the street) to install a new gas line for the new building across the street. The ground is not free of frost, so there is a complicated process of banging and digging going on. Also, they appear to have a big tube on a truck that blows hot air at the ground. The tube makes a loud droning noise that reminds me of the driers at an old fashioned beauty parlor.
All this makes me wonder how anyone could manage to fix their house AND work at an office that wasn't at home. I have moved my laptop and my current freelance job to the living room, where I can easily answer the front door and cope with the stream of folk coming and going. I never know exactly when they will arrive, when they will finish, or who might come next.

On one hand, I am thrilled that all this work is getting done before the stork arrives. It is amazing how quickly the tradespeople made this work when they saw my big belly and asked about the twins' due date. (Early June if it were one fetus, but sometime in May for twins, we'd guess, although they come when they are ready, we hear.) That has been miraculous so far.

On the other hand, the chaos, noise, and doorbell ringing is intense. There are a few moments when, seized by irrational hormones, I just want to scream, "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! YOU ARE STRANGERS! GO AWAY!" I've managed to hold this in, believe me.

Yesterday, I spent a long time rifling through my stash to find this. Two skeins of bulky weight burgundy tweed cashmere yarn...purchased 3 years ago, with no real project in mind. In fact, I'm not even sure if they will turn into a project now, as my swollen hands are sore, numb and tingly--making it hard to knit much.

I've placed the cashmere skeins right next to where I am working. Every so often, I grab one and have a reviving snuggle with it. A whiff of luxury and a really soft yarn hug every time I feel out of control...so far, it's working. Something about fiber is very reassuring and comforting to me. Maybe this should be a new method recommended to maintain calm. "Grab cashmere. Inhale its comforting soft smell. Repeat." (sign me up for that cure)

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Walking the walk

When I wrote Knit Green: 20 Projects and Ideas for Sustainability, I tried to give information on sustainable ideas as choices that anybody could make. That's how I see it--we each make choices based on our individual values. One of the things I wrote is that I'm a moderate...I haven't given up my car or gone off the grid. That said, I feel like I have to strive to do more.

When I wrote the book, no babies were on the horizon for us. We had a long struggle with fertility and designing and knitting for babies was hard. I did a few baby designs anyhow. (Lots of people knit for babies, so it was just one of the parts of my job that wasn't my favorite....)

In doing research about fertility issues, I found a lot of recent research has gone into environmental pollutants that cause hormonal disruptions. Hormonal disruptions affect fertility. Plastics, like Bisphenol_A, can significantly affect the human body. While humans are actively using plastics in all parts of life, we're not sure yet what its long term effects are for our health. Some of those research results and effects are pretty worrisome. We often only find out long term affects of our inventions a long time after they are developed. (nuclear reactors and radiation, for instance)

In our case, there were no clear causes to why we didn't get pregnant, so no easy way to fix the problem.

Yet, the information I learned about plastics--a petroleum based product--led me to think a lot about why and how it is used.

I am now applying the same research skills to things one needs for babies...and I am stunned by how much baby stuff out there is synthetic. Synthetic: Plastic, man-made, petroleum-based, not natural, etc. It's hard to avoid the sheer number of plastic things out there--right down to basics like disposable diapers or bottles.

As I research, I'm making different decisions than I think many people may make when it comes to these fetuses I'm toting around. The professor and I are trying to find a lot of second-hand things, because if the stuff is plastic, it off gasses and doesn't break down in landfills. We can reuse it instead and reduce waste. For instance--we can try cloth diapers to reuse materials, reduce landfill waste, and avoid plastics. Yes, cleaning them takes energy, but it takes less energy and costs less than manufacturing new diapers and throwing them away after one use.

We are trying NOT to buy or acquire polyester or synthetic materials if we can avoid it. Not only is this oil dependent (oil is a non-renewable resource) but on a practical safety level, it is very flammable. Put your kid in synthetics like fleece all the time? Have you done a burn test on that? It melts!! Wool, on the other hand, is naturally flame resistant.

Since we aren't zealots, we're not going to be able to avoid plastics in everything we do. Our house has plenty of it. Despite my best efforts, my wardrobe is certainly not free of synthetics.

That said, here are answers to a couple of questions that have been posed to me:

So-and-so (average 5 year old) loves his fleece vests! What have you got against all that? (As in, Joanne, what is your problem!? Just buy synthetics and stop being such a vigilante.)

Answer: Kids wear what their families offer them to wear. (So-and-so also loves sugary cereals, but doesn't have to eat them if they aren't offered to him.) Just because someone loves something doesn't mean it is good for them. A fleece synthetic is made from oil (a non-renewable resource), is flammable and melts on the body, and doesn't biodegrade easily. It may cause health issues--researchers are still trying to figure that out. Further, many people find that polyester based materials do not breathe well, so people sweat more and have more skin-related problems with that.

Will I manage to avoid all polartecs/fleeces, etc.? No, but I can make an effort not to buy more of them. I can hope to raise kids who love soft wool, organic cotton, or cool linens instead.

Some babies CAN'T wear wool!! NOT even superwash! What will you do if your kid is extra-sensitive? (This has been extended to...some babies can't tolerate or thrive with cloth diapering/nursing/etc.)

My first response would be REALLY? So, you're saying that plastics/synthetics/polyesters (been around for 100 to 150 years) are always better for babies than natural fibers? That I am essentially going to be abusing these kids by putting them in things like cotton/hemp/linen/wool? While we've had humans in natural fibers for, at minimum, the last several thousand years--and they've done admirably-- we really don't have that long a track record for synthetics.

I'd argue that a very small percentage of people are sensitive to certain commonly used natural fibers. It is the exception and not the rule. It is also likely that someone sensitive to superwash wool is sensitive to the chemical process used to make the wool "superwash" as compared to the actual fiber itself. (Chemicals used to process wool or cotton commercially can be very toxic--a good reason to try organic fibers or locally handprocessed fibers instead. Cotton commercially processed with formaldehyde or wool "cleaned" with sulfuric acid can be toxic...no doubt about it.)

It is also just as likely that the kid is having a reaction to plastics as natural fibers. The kid might be allergic to detergent rather then the fiber. In some cases, the person might just have sensitive skin. That is, he/she is sensitive to everything.

Conclusion? I know that the last few generations of babies have been raised with lots of polyester/plastic/synthetics in their environments. That's what many households are used to--but it doesn't have be that way. We can think it over and review these things. These are just habits/tools for childrearing and we can try to create new habits instead.

Am I being naive? Perhaps. We'll see...but new is not always better when it comes to using plastic. There are reasons I am trying to "walk the walk" and "talk the talk" that I wrote about in Knit Green.

At the end of the book, I mention that it's important to find people who support your new "green" choices. I'm working on that for myself, because it does get tiring to be told that "of course plastics are the right, better, intelligent choice." Sometimes surrounding oneself with positive or neutral opinions is the way to go. I hope I can do that for others. I hope that sometimes, people can also do that for me, too.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Omar the tentmaker

The last few days have been a whirlwind. If the stars align and the weather is good, it looks like we could have our roof, insulation, and inside repairs done much sooner than we'd thought. That means it's possible they could start next week and potentially end in early April sometime. I was almost afraid to talk about this at first--for fear of jinxing it. We'll see how all the arrangments line up and how the weather looks. (It is no where near "spring" here, but it is warmer, roughly near freezing, which makes roofing possible.)

At the same time, this week, I hit a new size. That would be--very big. At last measurement, my belly was around 43" around, but I am growing by the day. All of a sudden, I have outgrown much of my maternity clothing. While I can still wear many of the professor's shirts (he is a big guy), his sweatpants are too small. Frankly, most everything is too small. Maternity clothes are really only designed for a woman with one fetus in her tummy!

When I was in Florida a few months ago, I happened to go to a boutique called Oh My Gauze. I bought one tunic, a dress, and a bathrobe thing there. It was a little out of my price range. Also, in January, buying cotton gauze clothing seemed bizarre since it was so cold in Manitoba. However, that clothing has now come in very handy! First off, I am not spending great amounts of time out doors, and with a shirt underneath and leggings (if they fit) and a sweater on top, a gauze dress is warm enough.

That is good because very little else is fitting around my middle! Today I had to order more clothes from them. Here are photos from their website as a sort of free advertisement...ideal for pregnancy with twins!

My one concern is that the clothes might not arrive quickly. Packages sent from the U.S. to Canada can be sort of uneven in terms of how long they take to arrive. Some yarn I ordered in late February has not arrived yet. The professor placed an order less than a week ago and the box arrived yesterday. There's no telling, really. Here's hoping it arrives soon--and way before the twins also arrive.

In the meanwhile, if you see some extremely rotund pregnant lady walking around looking like a hobo in an enormous flannel shirt...please be nice. That might be me!

(caption for these photos? Just add belly)

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

blizzarding onward

I don't want you to feel I have fallen down a well or something! I am doing OK over here, but so much has been happening, both at home and in the world, that I wasn't sure what to post.

The story with a picture wins though! Last Friday and Saturday, the professor went off to give a talk at the North Dakota State University in Fargo. When the professor was in graduate school, he had a wonderful lab community. His advisor, the lab technician, and the grad. students all became pretty close. It was the kind of place where I always felt welcomed and most of his fellow students were good friends and colleagues. (This was in comparison to my grad. school experience--I have only one or two people that I made relationships like that with from those days.)

One of those other grad. students became a professor at NDSU in Fargo, so the professor went off to give a lecture and visit her, her husband, and kids. Unfortunately that planned trip corresponded with a blizzard. A blizzard here on the prairies is defined as some--usually small-- amount of snow and a lot of wind, which reduces visibility and lowers temperatures drastically...fairly dangerous conditions. A blizzard in on the East Coast in the USA usually consists of heavy snow (think a foot or more...) and some wind. Also very dangerous, but different conditions altogether.

The professor made it to Fargo safely, but there were a lot of cars that went off the road entirely on his way. (It's a four hour drive) His lecture went fine, his visit with friends was good, and after he returned to his hotel, he headed outside to shoot some photos. The hotel staff said something like, "Sir? Sir? Are you sure it's a good idea for you to go out on a walk tonight?"

Apparently, the professor smiled and said "It's ok. I'm from Winnipeg. This is winter." (If you know my husband, he is KING of understatement.) The hotel staff understood he knew what the conditions were...so he went out and caught this photo of the old downtown theater in the snow. Can you feel the windchill temperatures of -30F? I think it's a gorgeous shot.

On Saturday, the highways, both in the US and Canada, were closed because of the blowing and drifting snow. After a leisurely breakfast, some shopping, and even lunch in Fargo, the roads opened and he came home again, to my relief.

What happened at home? Well, I was lucky. A friend came by on Friday to visit for a couple of hours and keep me company. I had a long distance phone call or two from family to "check" on me. On Saturday, our cheerful new dog sitter showed up on my doorstep at 9 AM in his woollies, ready to walk the dogs for me so I did not have to attempt it.

All in all, this went fine. I was nervous, I won't lie. Here I am, waddling around at 27+ weeks of pregnancy with twins, and being left alone for a while scared me. I haven't felt great-the newest problem is that my hands get tingly, numb and go to sleep because of (entirely normal) circulation problems. This hurts, and it isn't fun as someone who types and knits all the time. Little things become difficult--our recycling bin blew around in the bad weather, but I decided it was not a good idea for me to chase it down --it was very slippery--and bending over to get it seemed scary with such strong winds. What if I couldn't get up? Meanwhile, just listening to the blizzard warnings and the horrible things happening in Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami left me so worried and upset I had to shut off the radio. News blackout seemed the wisest course...so I read library books and curled up with dogs on the couch.

So this post is about being lucky. I felt incredibly lucky that I had a couple of locals checking on me during bad weather and time alone. I was also grateful to have a warm house, lots of food, and safety when hearing about the terrible things happening in the world this week.

In the past, when I lived in other places, the professor has gone off on a collecting trip for his work for a week or two. During that time, I sometimes never even had one local person check on me. I sometimes was alone for the whole time with no good emergency contact nearby. I feel lucky that things are different here...but even so, I'm glad the professor is home and is not planning any more trips for the foreseeable future.

Knitting is going very slowly right now, typing doesn't feel great either, but I am still lucky. I think it might be a good week to count one's blessings.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day

Last year, I posted about International Women's Day here. I wanted to post again today, but I haven't been feeling well and this post got delayed. (I didn't sleep much last night and am very out of breath lately from these twin fetuses squishing my lungs.) Then, I saw the Yarn Harlot's outstanding post and it spurred me on. I didn't have to cover that ground--cause Stephanie Pearl-McPhee did that part already. Well done...but I didn't want to miss my chance. So, I hauled myself back up to the third floor to post this.

I was reflecting on something important with the professor yesterday, and it fits here. The thing is, I was raised by a working mother who embodied a lot of the ideas of how feminism works. She was raised by a mom who worked, and a grandmother who worked...all strong women -- but there were two true feminists in my parents' household. My dad is a feminist, too. He took over a lot of childcare, cleaning, and other things when my mother couldn't do it all, and in the middle of the night, well, they were both there, taking turns, when one of us got sick.

I'm reading a lot of "this is how you give birth/care for a baby/care for twins" guides right now. I feel so lucky that I don't have to live in the households described in of some of these books. The world described there is one where mothers might have to "convince" fathers to help. That isn't how my parents did it, and it's not how we do it either. How do I know? Well, first, I worked hard to choose a person who would try to be an equal participant in my household. I was lucky to find one.

As my belly gets bigger and bigger, I have a hard time doing basic stuff in the house that I used to do or chores we used to share. That's ok, because the professor is doing it. Things like ALL the laundry, changing the bedding, walking the dogs, cooking a lot of the meals, all the grocery shopping...all of that and more. He also goes with me to all the doctor's appointments, and that is a huge support.

This past weekend, besides all the grocery shopping and laundry, he put in bannisters. A lot of bannisters. We have an old house, and matching up the bannisters or trying to make them fit properly was sort of difficult. Some of the details aren't perfect because the house is quirky, but the professor put up bannisters for 3 separate staircases this past weekend. Basement to first floor, first floor to second, and second to third floor. He knows I want to keep climbing these darn steps (dang it!) and now I can use my hands to haul myself up if necessary.

Many things in our society are still unequal. For instance, this week, I've been dealing with roofing estimates. (Fixing the roof will ultimately solve our ice dam/"raining inside" problems.) The amount it will cost to fix our roof? It's a lot. The cheapest estimate was $20,000. The most expensive ballpark figures are ridiculous--2 to 3 times that amount. Why is it ridiculous? Well, if I've never earned it in a year ($40,000?) in a "traditionally female" full-time profession like teaching? It seems ridiculous for me to even consider those figures, especially if only men quote them to me. One of them, I might add, had a bombastic macho confidence that leaves me somewhat speechless...won't be hiring him! Women's status in terms of income/health/well-being are so far behind men's status in most countries that it is still hard to imagine what it will look like when we're equal.

I keep hoping for change, and on a daily basis, the professor and I work on it together. My parents work on it, as do my brothers and their wives. I am often inspired by the men (and the women who raised them) who seek change and who make change in their daily lives. They work hard to break down stereotypes, and I want to support that. It goes without saying that I am incredibly inspired by the women who often fight on the front lines for equality on this front.

I know, too, that all these assumptions about nurturing being a "female" thing are just that. Assumptions. Harry (posing in a favorite position here) is a born nurturer...and he's not even a human male. He follows me around, kissing me, sleeping near me, and being absolutely sure I am safe while pregnant. He walks with me up and down every staircase. Sally helps too, of course, but lately, Harry is taking more of the on duty shifts.

I guess what I'm trying to say today is this:
I don't think being pregnant or giving birth or nurturing defines me as a woman. Not at all. That said, now that I am pregnant, it is even more clear to me how imperative it is that not just women are feminists. Men need to nurture women (and each other) as we all demand, support, and work towards creating equality. It's hard to do this stuff alone--and women don't have to. There are men out there who also can help make this world a better place. Sadly, not all men are working on this, but they could be.

In the meanwhile, we just have to start getting everyone else to step up to the plate and do their share. That's the kind of environment I dream of for my future offspring.

(I'm also thinking of how yarn might be used as insulation and roofing...cause I do have a lot of that, and it certainly doesn't cost $40,000. I'm also thinking babies, whether they are female or male, need a roof and a way to avoid getting rained on inside...can one spin/knit or weave a roof?!)
Here's to hoping that in a few years, this kind of post will seem hopelessly old-fashioned..like when women couldn't legally vote or drive. I can't wait.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Festival du Voyageur

The professor and I are both really, really tired. It has been sort of a long week, and it isn't over yet. That said, I think I should post about his adventures last weekend before we completely "lose the plot" and become too tired to reflect on the fun stuff.

Festival du Voyageur is a festival held here in February that celebrates the French fur traders and First Nations' roots of Manitoba's history. There are lots of people who dress up in traditional fur trader clothing, interesting displays, and plenty of time to stand around outside in the (very cold) beautiful out of doors.

I loved it last year but nixed going this year because a) I can't stand up for too long b) the twins in my belly do not dig the cold and c)bathrooms (washrooms for you Canadians) are in short supply--which really doesn't work for me these days.

Instead, I sort of helped the professor arrange a "play date." I still want him to go out and do fun stuff even if I am just better equipped to sit on the couch these days. He went to Festival with a biomedical engineering professor and a microbiology professor. I daresay they had fun together! This is a photo he took of his two friends admiring one of the snow sculptures. Note the sculpture has 3 knights and their steeds. 3 friends? 3 knights? sweet, huh?

Since it was cold, they spent time inside the heated tents. They made maple syrup taffy with the snow.

They visited with the blacksmith, who was apparently a one man show. A bunch of school kids visited, and one said, "I saw you here last year!" The blacksmith never missed a beat and said, "Is that so? You know, I think I recognize you too! You grew a lot!! Oh, and is that a new pair of winter boots? A new coat?"

This was said very earnestly. The professor and his friends were laughing quietly because of course, this would apply to most any kid who came by the blacksmith display. That said, the kid felt very proud and acknowledged, I'd bet! The professor told me that just in case we were considering doing living history at some point in the future? He thought maybe he could try out blacksmithing... You know, for when butterfly and moth genetics research wasn't paying the bills or something?!
They visited the fur trading/general store area and saw the "store" doing a brisk trade. Just as an aside here, the fur trade is still alive and well in Canada these days and you can buy all sorts of pelts in Winnipeg to make your winter time mukluks or your caribou parka. I'm serious about this--you see people wearing mukluks all the time here in winter. Every year on the CBC, you hear radio features about the warmest winter garb. Someone is ALWAYS swearing by his handmade parka, and usually it is made by a friend or family member. Check out this recent article in the newspaper to learn more about this traditional process.

The professor saw several handspun yarn displays, including this one. He made sure to snap a picture in honor of all the new spindlers I taught in February!
I am sure they visited another tent and listened to a band or two. They might just have visited a First Nations living history interpreter who talked about winter time activities in his teepee. The teepee I visited last winter was remarkably warm, considering the outdoor temperatures...

Eventually, they made their way over to see my friend (and wife of the microbiologist) Carol. She is well known for her beautiful fingerwoven sashes. Check out more about her and her work here.
All in all, a great day out that I have enjoyed vicariously--I hope you did, too. I could go into detail about why we're so tired (a grant proposal for the professor, a lot of doctors' appointments for me, and a childbirth class that lasted over 2 hours...but I won't. I will say though that either I am really old, or carrying twins is just hard, or maybe I just am NOT a night owl. I'm not sure I will make it through these 7-9:30 pm classes. I get the feeling the babies will come out one way or the other in any case....but next week, I've got to schedule in a nap somehow.)

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

poke in the eye?

My letter to the editor appeared today here in the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.
For those who haven't heard about this case, recently a judge decided that a Manitoba rape victim's clothing implied "consent" and decided not to assign the rapist ANY jail time. Here's the latest on the case.

Unfortunately, one of the newspaper columnists had some convoluted reasoning when it came to this case. Her conclusions involved thinking that knitters were safe from sexual assault. I wish it were so...but alas, that is just not the case.

On a lighter note, I have more to post this week--the professor took some lovely photos of Festival du Voyageur. He went with some friends last weekend. --I stayed home as the windchills were -40 this year. However, I look forward to sharing the photos with you!

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