A travelling momma’s Mother’s Day

In true to me form I took my two boys to the “big city” this past weekend for a few days of fun with my best friend. Of course when we scheduled the trip I completely forgot it would be Mother’s Day.

So, my Mother’s Day wasn’t exactly full of blissful breakfast in bed followed by a lazy morning or some family time mixed with some “me” time. It started with an 0630 wake up call from my youngest, we snuggled on the couch after I got up and ran downstairs for coffee because my friend who we were visiting is not a coffee drinker and doesn’t keep any in the house. This meant I was dressed and in public by 0645, ugh.

On my way to get coffee, totally uncaffienated, I actually ran into a Dad pushing a baby in a stroller nearly knocking the poor thing over. While apologizing profusely and trying not to rub my now painful crouch I commented on what a good Dad he was letting this little one’s momma have a sleep in. He responded with “ya, she really needs it too!” Which led me to reminisce about my first Mother’s Day it’s a special one for sure.

Back to my now fifth Mother’s Day, coffee in hand, sandwiched between my two little fellas watching cartoons I was certainly happy even though my tummy was rumbling for some sort of breakfast in bed or not.

I was quickly distracted from the grumbling with preparing for us to leave and getting some food into my growing boys. Once everyone was awake and ready to hit the road we drove to Granville Island, one of my favourite public markets in the world. While my friend had the boys amused for a few minutes, buying them donuts of course, I took the opportunity to check out a new place just outside the market. I found myself face to face with a pistachio chocolate croissant, I figured I deserved a treat. Happy Mother’s day to me ūüôā

Now this wasn’t breakfast in bed but it was certainly blissful. I admit I have a weakness for pistachios and chocolate so now I know putting them together in a nice flaky fresh out of the oven so it’s still warm in your hand croissant is a really, really good idea. Of course I would never make these at home, too much work, which means I HAVE to go back. Funnily enough the bakery is called A Bread Affair, which was clearly what was happening in my mouth, tastebuds meet you new lover.

Afterwards we left Granville Island and headed to Kits Beach for a play in the park before heading to the ferry and the rest of our¬†journey home. At this point I realized I hadn’t taken many photos of the trip and I chalk this up to traveling alone with the kids. You almost always have one or two hands to hold, manage luggage, etc so typically the camera is an after thought. I did try however and managed to get an honest photo of my youngest mid temper tantrum, he did not want to go to the park or wear shoes or walk anywhere. He just wanted to roll around on the grass, rubbing his eyes and yelling “NO!”

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On our journey back home both boys fell asleep in the back of the car and I listened to music for the 90 minute drive from the ferry home contemplating my Mother’s day.

It felt good, it felt like me, not perfect, a little crazy, but grateful for the memories we made, the new experiences we shared. Grateful to be a mother and to be able to share this day with every other mother out there including my own.

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Recharge your batteries with a 24hr staycation

A well planned 24 hour escape is sometimes all you need to to recharge your batteries.

When we travel it’s most often with the kids in tow and this can sometimes leave you needing a vacation from your vacation. I’ve been feeling like this since we stepped off the plane from Chile a few weeks ago and we’re about to embark on another family adventure soon. In the mean time taking care of this family, working and preparing for the next adventure had me feeling a little less than perky these past few days. Then my husband came home form work one day and I could just tell he was feeling the same, we needed¬†a break.

On Tuesday I decided to book us a room in Victoria, 3.5hr drive away, arranged the grandparents to have our kids for a sleepover and informed my husband about our plans for Thursday night. But I knew it wasn’t just about being somewhere else we needed to relax, not just sleep in.

By the time we left Thursday after work I had the workings of a 24hr relaxation plan. We drove to Nanaimo and picked up dinner along the way. Speeding along the highway we talked about our week not even with the music on in the background just talked and got everything out. When we arrived our room had been upgraded to a harbour view and it would have been nice to just relax and let the exhaustion of the week take over but we bundled up and headed for a brisk walk around the inner harbour in the crisp night air. Victoria is brilliantly light up at night with perfectly spaced lighting around the Legislative buildings and reflections of the street lamps off the water it never feels really dark.

A post walk drink at our hotel bar sitting by the huge window over looking the boat slips below was the perfect night cap to the first few hours of our 24hr staycation.

Before we went to bed we decided on ordering room service breakfast which is really out of the norm for us. I LOVE brunch, but the goal was to relax and I didn’t want us to hurry off in the morning to beat the morning brunch crowd. The best part is it seems hotels have come around and the room service menu was in line with what you would pay at any restaurant these days. The food was good, not spectacular but honestly having it delivered hot to your room exactly when you want while you are still in your jammies was perfect.

Part of the plan I had concocted was going to a gentle yoga class at a studio nearby. We went to Hemma yoga studio and moved through a 75 minute class with an emphasis on guided mediation at the end. We left virtually silent, practically melting into our car seats. We really didn’t talk much on the drive home, we didn’t need to, but when we arrived to pick up the kids all felt right in the world again.

I never regret taking time for just the two of us our journey together is just as important as our journey as a family there’s no destination worth arriving at to simply let our foundation fall to pieces.

Ok, ok but what about the food in Chile

I’ve been writing a lot about traveling with kids, visiting in-laws, even doing yoga on vacation and a spontaneous winery stop but what about the food. Don’t think I’ve forgotten. I haven’t. I’m actually still dreaming about one place we stopped that stole my heart.

Pan Pan Vino Vino.

We stopped here on a recommendation from the fella at Estampa winery, which is just down the road and I couldn’t have been more overjoyed with the result. We hit the end of the lunch rush with the few remaining tables getting up to leave on our arrival, lunch is the main meal in Chile so you usually find full tables for most of the afternoon, and quickly nestled into a rustic outdoor table in the shade with just a slight breeze diminishing the hot humid day.

Since we were headed to my father in-laws for a BBQ that evening I choose to sample the appetizer cheese plate with four locally made cheeses, a few dates wrapped in bacon and complemented it with a Pisco Miel. Pisco Sour is the traditional drink in Chile at Pan Pan Vino Vino they substitute the sour for a slightly sweeter version with honey; a delightful result. With my Pisco Miel in hand I settled back into the chair to watch my boys finding their own shady comfort zone in the nearby hammocks. My husband ordered a fuller lunch opting for succulent stone oven roasted lamb and root vegetables cooked to perfection served with a side of mashed garlic cauliflower. Hearing him moan over the lamb, dripping hot savoury broth with every forkful, I admit to thieving a few bites for myself.

The food, the food, it was divine, but the atmosphere stole the show. Just off the bustling highway you enter into a completely different world. The quiet and understated front exterior opens into an open air courtyard dining experience where the owner has perfected¬†old world rustic charm with touches of the modern perfectly placed as evidenced in the bathroom pictured below. Actually, I’ll just stop talking now and let you see what I’m talking about.

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DSC_0307DSC_0312DSC_0289DSC_0324¬†One thing I’ve learned while traveling it’s ALWAYS a great idea to get a locals recommendation, seek them out, most of the amazing places I have been directed to aren’t obvious but are always, always memorable.

Parent Pit Stop

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent looking for parks to play in, making sure all the sand toys were packed and searching for pools that are not too deep for a toddler to play in while traveling with my kids, it’s been many.¬†Sometimes we’re so focus on making sure our kids are having a good experience we put our own needs aside. So lately I’ve become¬†a big advocate for what I’ve termed the “Parent Pit Stop” when traveling with children.

A parent pit stop is anything you, the parent(s) want to do together, keeping in mind the kids will still be with you. Previously we’ve stopped at breweries but on our recent trip to Chile we were driving through wine country and spur of the moment decided to take a detour to a roadside winery. It went a little something like this:

Kids: “we’re hungry”

Me: “we should stop for ice cream”

Husband: “how about that winery back there?”

Me: “Ya sure they probably have food and we can do a tasting.”

Husband: “But I’m driving.”

Me: “that’s OK I’ll take one for the team” batting eyelashes, big smile, coquettish look.

U-turn to the winery.

We ended up at Estampa Winery one whose international export is limited and rarely available in Canada so naturally we walked out with a few treasured bottles. There was no food offerings or ice cream but it was a nice break to get out of the car into the fresh, warm air, use the clean toilets and sip a few glasses of delicious vino in a magnificent architectural setting. The kids got a chance to release some pent-up energy by running down the paths of the vineyard and trying to climb the big bottle in the middle. All in all it was a win-win.

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The parent pit stop doesn’t always have to be a brewery or winery but let’s be honest who doesn’t need a drink when you’re on vacation with you kids!

**As an obvious side note I do not condone drinking and driving only one of us does the tasting then we enjoy whatever we buy together at a later time**

“It is astonishing how short a time it can take for very wonderful things to happen”

In the last 24 hours we have hit the beach, took a bumpy boat ride through some serious swells only to be rewarded with sightings of penguins, dolphins and watched a baby sea lion push it’s momma off the cliff, belly flopping dramatically into the sea. We slept in a dome oceanside and shared our first compleato meal as a family at a road side stand.

I don’t know who the title quote came from but what I do know is it only takes one quick glance at the sparkling faces of my boys watching the wildlife, running from the waves or drifting off to sleep with a mumbled “love you mommy” to know, really know, we could be anywhere as long as we are together it’s a truly wonderful life.

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I think the Mexican Military are just nice guys with big guns

Only our second night driving into the Baja Peninsula we stopped in a small town famed for lobster crepes of all things. As we ate our crepes, decent but certainly nothing to write home about, we checked a surf guide we had picked up before the trip that boasted decent waves at a nearby beach so we asked around. We were provided with some very vague directions and headed in search of promised surf.

Shortly into our voyage we found ourselves 4x4ing in our 2 wheel drive Westy down some rocky terrain at one point the van started to just slide down the steep slope I braced myself with my two arms out stretched in front of me on the window shield absolutely certain we would tip head over heels. After our treacherous drive we landed ourselves level again on a deserted beach stretching for miles. We couldn’t believe our luck the waves coming in good size sets and not a soul in the water to have to share. We donned our gear and headed for the waves awaiting us.

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Just before putting our fins in the water we noticed a couple of bodies heading in our direction along the beach in the far off distance. Upon approach they introduced themselves and shortly into our conversation we discovered they were in town with the circus. As odd as it sounds it’s true, we met Mexican circus performers that appeared out of nowhere on a deserted section along the northern coast of the Baja Peninsula looking for a ride into town. We tried to side step the question not really wanted to let them know we had just decided to spend the night out here under the stars, just the two of us and all of our belongings, probably not a wise decision but I think they figured it out in the end anyways. After they left all I could think of was 2 Mexican circus performers know we’re planning on staying out here alone overnight, hmmmmm?

We spend the rest of the early evening riding endless waves it was a day our dreams were made of. I had one of the best rides of my life promptly followed up by the worst pummeling ever. It was a memorable day in the water.

Afterwards I was inside the van hanging some items to dry and putting away our dinner dishes when Ricardo, who had been rinsing the gear just outside the van, grab his wallet and some money and violently tossed it at me much to my surprise. He sternly told me to put it all in the safe “fast.” Before I could question what was happening he said “a Hummer full of guys with guns is headed our way.” In my head I kinda laughed at the idea of putting things in our tiny little safe bolted to our closet floor. I laugh when I’m nervous or afraid for my life as it turns out.

I poked my head out the side of the van door just as the camouflaged painted Hummer came to a roaring halt spraying sand all around us, but what really caught my attention was the 7 or 8 young men all holding very big guns with intensely serious faces. I elected to stay in the van. Ricardo already standing outside greeted them warmly, I mean how else would you greet men with guns? They questioned him a bit on who we were, what were our plans, curious as to how we happened to wind up on this beach all alone. This was all happening in spanish so of course my english brain was hatching an elaborate get away plan which hinged on actually figuring out where the car keys were. My plan was hampered with the fact there was nowhere to hide only sand for miles and we were clearly out gunned. In addition, this was my first panicked escape plan situation I hadn’t done any drills beforehand for this type of situation and I was really regretting it at that moment. As my eyes darted around the van in search of the keys my internal thought process broke with the sound of hearty male laughter.

A sigh of relief washed over me, I should have known Ricardo would have them in the palm of his hand within minutes he can charm the pants off a naked person. Cue naive wife whom offers up chocolate biscuits for the men to devour. Nothing like chocolate biscuits to potentially save your life. We learned a lot of young Mexican men do military service to secure a passport which may otherwise be unattainable. Before they departed we actually talked them into letting us take a few photos, we tried, but to no avail, to hold the guns. They wished us well and let us know they would check back on us later in the evening.

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A few cold beers later, which always taste that much better after you think you may be kidnapped or worse, our armed friends returned to and to our surprise set up camp just a few meters from our van. They stayed the night and instituted an armed perimeter with two roaming guards throughout the night. We should have felt comfortable, we should have felt secure, instead we felt cheated, our deserted beach had been invaded and needless to say it just got that much more difficult for a girl to pee, damn beer, without witnesses.

A few weeks later we learned a father and his teenage son from California had been camping in a tent on the same beach a few days prior to our arrival and unfortunately had been robbed and beaten with bats. The closest town, Rosalita, citizen’s had been very angered by this attacked and had requested the military increase patrols in the area. Beating up tourists is bad for the economy you see.

Little girls of Guatemala and how they stole my heart

We recently watched Living on¬†One Dollar a Day on Netflix. It’s college students trying to live on one dollar a day in rural Guatemala and the green lush tropical imagery instantly took me back to our time there.

It’s the children of Guatemala though; that draw you in with dark¬†innocent¬†eyes, ever-present toothless smiles, clad in bright hand-woven clothes, that makes you fall in love with the country. When we visited Guatemala on our road trip south I didn’t have children, now I have two boys, and in hindsight I am glad, because of the happy demeanour of the children we interacted with I didn’t look beyond our small exchanges. I didn’t see the signs of malnutrition or the lack of proper footwear. I didn’t wonder about how their parents were feeding them or clothing them. I just saw their bright inquisitive eyes, heard their shy giggles and bought their handmade wares. I’m not saying we should look past all those things I just mentioned we definitely should not, but I know me and I can get caught up in things I can’t change for the better immediately. So maybe I’m not being completely honest with myself. I did think about those things but the overwhelming poverty was too far reaching for my understanding. ¬†What I did do was small but after watching this documentary, humbling as it was, it made me realize what kind of impact those small things actually may have been.

We encountered a group of girls in one village on the shores of Lago Atitlan selling vibrantly coloured hand-woven bracelets and small wooden trinkets. Initially we waved them off as you are usually surrounded by gangs of children when you step off the boat and I just need space to assess the situation before re-entering the swarm on departure. One curious little girl followed us as we entered the village and watched the mothers laundering their linens on the shore of the lake.

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We slowly and casually walked through the town plaza and into a few shops vaguely aware of our miniature shadow. She was persistent and frankly eventually broke us with her shy giggly smile and hop/skip kinda walk. Eventually we sat down to order ice cream from a street vendor and my husband asked her, in spanish, if she would like to pick out an ice cream for herself. Her reaction was of disbelief, blinking rapidly she look from my husband to the vendor, back and forth, back and forth, seeing both men nodding she hesitantly walked closer to the ice cream vendor’s cart, no smile. She looked up again seeking permission from both men and was greeted with more nods but something inside her refused to believe. So I stepped up and picked out two I thought she might like and presented her the options. Slowly her shaky little hand reached out to lightly grab an ice cream bar whisking it away, big smile.

Now I’m sure this was not the first time she had every had ice cream but she certainly didn’t seem to understand a tourist buying her one she could pick herself. Once we also found our own fancied flavours and paid she seemed to relax and actually enjoyed it but of course she had been spotted and within seconds we had bought ice cream for 3 of her colourful, less timid, little friends as well. We also bought some of their trinkets for our niece back in Canada who was approximately the same age (5 yrs) at the time commenting on the similarities but also the vast differences.

That evening we decided to find a nice restaurant to eat our evening meal. One of their common delicacies is fried plantain which we had been introduced to at the border, but like anything in life some people do things better than others and the plantains we ordered that evening didn’t ¬†remotely compare to our street vendor plantains at the border. Luckily we had a local woman approach our table in the hopes we would buy some weaving. We were feeling a little too over stocked in the hand crafted tourist trinket department so Ricardo let her down gently but I urged him to ask her if she would like a plantain as a parting gesture. Well, with no hesitation she grabbed everything on the plate swiping it into a basket at her waist as she turned swiftly to leave us, a little astonished. We didn’t mind, we would have been choking those plantains back, but she took the garnish and all in such haste¬†it left us¬†dumbfoundedly staring at the now empty plate between us¬†.

When she left we looked at each other and, without the understanding I now have of what exactly a stack of poorly cooked plantains actually meant to her and possibly to her family, we kinda laughed at the absurdity of the situation.

Before we left the Lago Atitlan area we drove up the hillside and pulled off near the top to get a picture from a spectacular viewpoint of the lake which is where we met another little bright-eyed girl. In her too big ratty shirt she perked at the site of our struggling Westfalia climbing the hill and ran to the back of our van the minute we stopped. After we took our requisite photos with her standing close by in silence we turned to get back in our van both curious as to where her trinkets were stashed she blurted, in spanish, her “payment.” We looked at each other and again looked around, no trinkets. Thankfully for us my husband’s first language is spanish and after a brief conversation he informed me “we need to pay her for providing us a rock for our van” with a slight shrug. She had stashed a rock under the back of one of our tires so our van would not roll backwards down the hill. We paid her handsomely for her services.

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I urge you to watch Living on One Dollar a Day if nothing else it may give you an idea of how easily a small encounter can make a big impact or how the actions you think are inconsequential or automatic actually change the day in the life of a person, possibly their entire family, maybe just one day but at least it’s a change for the better even if it’s just momentarily.

My first, and hopefully my last, hurricane

Have you ever been in a hurricane? We hear it all over the media during hurricane season seeing the material devastation, of lives disrupted and emotional pleas for help on the screen. Here’s the story of when I met Hurricane Norbet on the Baja peninsula in the fall of 2008.

The day before we drove onto an ocean front campsite with only one other family within sight. The campsite itself was a skinny piece of land jutting out into the Sea of Cortez. ¬†We spent the evening floating in the clear tranquil calm waters slightly north of Loreto, Mexico. Our van parked a few meters from the water’s edge we prepared our dinner and read some pages in our books before bunking down for the night. This is what we had dreamed about for our trip. The beach, our van, the two of us together soaking up the last rays of warm sunlight all the whilst blissfully unaware of the world outside our little bubble.

Our ocean front camping
Our ocean front camping

Early in the morning around 5am I heard the family camping near us departing the sound of their engine jarring me awake momentarily as the lap of the waves gently rocked me quickly back to sleep. Not thinking a thing of their sudden early morning departure we started the day¬†with a light breakfast and a long cup of coffee only slightly urged on by a light drizzle. Once packed up and back on the road the drizzle quickly became a down pour as we headed south. We seemed to be alone on the road yet not at all concerned and only noticing once we realized it seemed everyone was heading north. I remained unfazed silently glad Ricardo was driving as the poor excuse for windshield wipers seem incapable of doing their job. Eventually the engineer in Ricardo piped up as the onslaught of rain pounded the ground in front of us beginning to form small rivers across the highway. He began to¬†question “the design of the road and it’s drainage capabilities” a foreign language to me I gazed, uninterested, out my passenger window. Then the wind started slam the side of the van rattling our windows. OK, that woke me up. Sitting starkly upright I stared hard at the GPS to see how far the next town was.

In what seemed like an eternity but was in all likely hood less than half an hour we pulled over at the top of a hill into an area with a long line of roadside stands to find out what was going on. Enter Hurricane Norbert he was up a for a party beyond the likes we were interested in or had to fortitude for but never the less we were going to get acquainted.

We quickly found shelter in a hotel, on relatively high ground, who so generously provided us with the “Hurricane Rate” which could also be called the “Desperate Gringos Rate” and we fleetingly¬†considered bunking down in our1987 Westfalia during a HURRICANE.

Well needless to say we were glad we didn’t when we tucked into warm beds, turned on the t.v., something we had not done in months, to watch the news and get this……Skyped our families. Yup, dishing out the dollars provided us with free WIFI for the duration of our stay. We also took breaks from our temporary cocoon to swim in the pool. So needless to say my hurricane experience was not exactly “as seen on t.v.” And I just want to finish by saying an extra special thank you to the Mexican family that clearly got a hurricane warning phone call from friends or family early in the morning – thanks guys for not giving us the heads up, much appreciated.

One day pre Hurricane Norbert
One day pre Hurricane Norbert

How to get out of bribing corrupt Mexican police 101

Let me start off by saying if you ever plan to drive anywhere yourself in Mexico please commit this post to memory.

Corruption in the Mexican police force runs rampant we all know that so how the heck do you get out of sticky situations without forking over your well earned cold hard cash every. single. time. Here’s what worked for us, more than once!

1. Make sure the person driving is male

2. Make sure you have a permit for your car to be in Mexico

3. Make sure you have a female passenger that can pull off being really pissed off (super easy part) and slightly offensive but yet knows when to shut the f*ck up

4. Make sure your male partner remains calm and reasonable throughout the conversation (knowing fluent Spanish also helps)

5. Throw your dignity out the door and LIE, LIE, LIE!

That’s it! it’s just that easy and it worked every time once we figured it out.

Acapulco brings to mind Mexico circa 1980’s early 1990’s when it was THE destination. Returning travelers peddling tales of daring cliff jumpers and beautiful sandy beach vistas upon their return.

Driving into the town in the late fall of 2008 it was clear from the vacated resort skeletons and deserted streets the party had long ended but it seemed someone had forgotten to clean up. The air was thick with memories of the glory days lined with a layer of regret. Where had all the money gone? Certainly not into infrastructure improvements and updating leaving a sad, crumbling old resort town to slowly turn to dust.

As we meandered along, feeling not quite comfortable, Ricardo mistakenly drove through a flashing yellow light (which actually means stop in Mexico) and straight into the menacing glare of two federales. With just a slight nod of his head there was no question we were going to have to pull over. Shifting nervously in my seat, I knew we had been lucky to get this far without incident, I looked over at what might have been the most scariest looking police officer on the planet. Tall, for a Mexican, thin, wiry, pock marked face with a big scar along his left eyebrow and dark, dark eyes that with one glimpse left you void of all hope. Oh, and he had a gun and his partner had an even bigger one where he stood leaning casually against the hood of their truck a few meters ahead chewing and spitting tarry looking substance onto the dusty roadside.

OK, so I didn’t actually use any of the tricks above with this guy he scared the bejeezus out of us and frankly Ricardo had just technically broken the law in their land so we ended up handing over as little cash as possible the whole incident costing us $65 which was actually all the cash we had on hand. However pissed we were at having to bribe the guy we were silently thankful to just be alive.

The next morning; however, armed with very little sleep and a desperate desire to get the hell out of Acapulco we found ourselves being pulled over again just before leaving the city. I didn’t know it before this incident but it turns out I have a voice that occasionally pops into my head that vaguely sounds like a pissed off J Lo with snapping fingers waving about and it was yelling at me “OH, HELL NO!”

Two young fresh faced transit cops politely request Ricardo to exit the vehicle and take him to the back of the van to “chat.” But me (and my alter ego aka angry, snappy J Lo) are not about to sit this one out and I jump out of the car with a verbal onslaught of slightly aggressive lies/threats (use words like consulate, ambassador, corruption, whatever you think might work) littered with offensive, do not use in front of your grandmother, kinda words all entirely in English.

Looking utterly bewildered they calmly ask Ricardo to ask me to remain in the van – “No!” I say as Ricardo simultaneously throws up his hands. At this point I actually start to calm down because I realize they feel sorry for Ricardo, mano y mano, they can not understand why his wife will not listen to him so they kindly ask Ricardo to request I apologize to them, which I do, tersely, in English. They exchange a few words in Spanish, shake hands and pat him on the back as he walks back to the driver’s seat.

Knowingly triumphant we both hop effortlessly back up into our seats. We look at each other all smiles and Ricardo burst into laughter while pulling away from the curb telling me they told him to “take his wife and get the hell out of Acapulco!”

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