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There’s gold in them hills

Posted by Marlinee on Oct 30, 2016 in Middle Age

It may have escaped your notice that we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the invention of the Yukon Gold potato this year, so I feel it is my duty to bring it to your attention. You might think the Yukon Gold is just another piece of produce that finds its way into your kitchen on a regular basis. You would be wrong. There are many things about this variety of potato that distinguish it above its spud peers. Here are some of them, as well as some random facts that will improve your potato IQ.

1. When it was born, via a cross between a Peruvian variety and a potato commonly grown in North Dakota, the Yukon Gold was called the G6666. This represents its place of birth (Guelph), number on the list of potato creations for the year (66) and year of its inception (1966). We can perhaps be thankful that it wasn’t the sixth attempt at potato cloning, but even more illuminating is the fact it was the 66th. Who knew that much scientific effort goes into finding the Holy Grail of potato? Which raises all kinds of questions about how we choose to allocate our brain power. But I digress.

2. Your first clue might be the name, but the Yukon Gold is a Canadian invention. However, it is grown throughout North America, which may be why Hillary Clinton sparked an international incident by announcing that the entire menu at a White House dinner was American when the star starch was Yukon Golds. Despite its alien status, the potato variety is apparently a mainstay in the White House kitchen and was served to our own Prime Minister at a recent State Dinner hosted by the Obamas. In fact, it has a broad celebrity pedigree via being served at Academy Awards dinners (Wolfgang Puck is a big Yukon Gold proponent), although maybe it was more admired than consumed by the paleo diet aficionados that frequent those events.

3. And speaking of diets, according to the PEI Potato Board (and they should know these things), sales of potatoes fell 30% between 2004 and 2014. The PPB also reports there are 150 potato varieties floating around in Canada but clearly the Yukon Gold is taking an unfair plate-share because of its pleasingly yellow hued flesh and versatility. This has given rise to Yukon Gold fraud, where grocery stores try to pass off imitators as real G6666s. So don’t just fling those potatoes in your shopping cart without inquiring about true provenance. And I thought fake parmesan cheese was the height of deception!

4. Although it was born in 1966, the Yukon Gold only hit the market in 1980. At first I found this surprising but on second thought the Yukon Gold is a very 1980s product. I quote from Wikipedia: “1980s fashion had heavy emphasis on expensive clothes and fashion accessories. Apparel tended to be very bright and vivid in appearance. Women expressed an image of wealth and success through shiny costume jewelry, such as large faux-gold earrings.” I rest my case.

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Blowin’ in the wind

Posted by Marlinee on Oct 16, 2016 in Middle Age

Dyson, the vacuum cleaner purveyors that will sell you a cyclonic bag-less thing of beauty as long as you can qualify for a mortgage to pay for one, is now flogging a cyclonic hair dryer for only $500. Now that Mr. Dyson has solved the problem of picking up pet hair he has chosen to apply his considerable technological acumen to solving the penultimate first world problem of getting wet hair to become dry hair.

In an irony clearly not lost on Mr. Dyson, one of the first devices used as a hair dryer was actually the vacuum cleaner. If you attach the hose to the back end instead of the front end of a run of the mill vacuum cleaner you get air blowing out instead of sucking in. The first salon style hair dryer (the kind with the cone of silence hood) showed up in France in 1890. And during my extensive research on the topic I was surprised to find that the first hand held hair dryer debuted in 1915, although since it weighed around two pounds and had an unfortunate habit of electrocuting people it wasn’t a huge hit. We had to wait until the 1960s before scientific knowledge advanced enough to combine the magic of plastic with state of the art electric motors and arrive at the modern version of the home hair dryer.

Before we had wide spread access to the miracle of quick drying hair women spent a lot of time and energy avoiding getting our hair wet. If you needed to be in the unavoidable vicinity of water, the first line of attack in this quest was the bathing cap and its cousin the shower cap. But these are imperfect devices that require considerable vigilance to ensure their intended function proceeds without breach.

Another approach was to avoid washing your hair. One solution was to outsource hair washing to the beauty salon, which of course had the hair drying technology but needed to be rationed to at most once a week. Then the ‘dry shampoo’ industry rushed in to fill the void with a powder that was supposed to clean your hair without water but mostly resulted in the appearance of a massive dandruff attack. So what we mostly did instead is throw a scarf on our head and call it a fashion statement.

So I guess you could say the availability of a cheap and safe hair dryer is right up there with other labour saving devices that freed us from the tyranny of spending all of our time keeping the household fed, watered and clothed. And by that I mean just like the washing machine allows us the ‘freedom’ to do more laundry and the vacuum cleaner adds an extra layer to sweeping and mopping our floors, the portable hair dryer enables us to spend more time styling and perfecting our coiffure. But at least for a mere $500 we can do it in high-tech style. Thanks a bunch, Mr. Dyson.

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Viva Las Vegas

Posted by Marlinee on Sep 25, 2016 in Travels

Because hotels in Las Vegas have the tendency to be torn down and replaced every 10 years, the amount of conference space has grown exponentially. No hotel is worth its salt unless it can accommodate 10,000 bums in seats for a keynote speech and as a result, you can have half a dozen events happening simultaneously without anyone noticing. Except sometimes it is impossible not to notice, say for example when the worlds of IBM, the Shriners, Comiccon and the adult film awards collide.

I am still trying to figure out which unlikely universes were intersecting when I saw some Orthodox Jews in full regalia getting off a plane at the Las Vegas airport last week. Near as I can tell, Las Vegas embraces and amplifies every single thing on the non-kosher list. But maybe when there’s an international diamond swap meet or a wholesale fast fashion festival or a seminar on pawnbroker best practices it’s possible to give the location a hall pass. But I digress.

Despite the aspirational pivot to being a fine dining destination, gambling it still the thing that makes Las Vegas go around. However, unfortunately gambling ain’t what it used to be. Used to be you would put some coins in a slot machine, pull the handle and wait for the result. Now there are no slots on the slots, just a reverse instant teller device that takes real paper money or the fake paper money generated by the machine, which means it is impossible to play the one cent slots for a penny. Or maybe I guess technically you could feed it a dollar bill and just play one one-hundredth of the stake, which would happen exactly never, which is of course exactly what the casino has in mind.

Of course you don’t pull a handle anymore either, eliminating the misguided impression you might actually have control over what ends up on the ‘win’ line once everything has stopped spinning. And if you do end up winning, no money drops into the tray. Instead, your number of ‘credits’ (a much better way to say money if the word ‘money’ has an unfortunate association with something you might want to hold onto) increases. But at least someone in the robot slot machine department tried to make amends by supplying a sound track of coins merrily falling out of the machine whenever you land on the right combination of cherries and bells.

The fine dining thing exhibits exactly the characteristics you would expect for fine dining in Las Vegas, remembering this was the place you could go to lose money and feel better about it by consoling yourself with cheap, plentiful food. I regret to inform you that although plentiful, food is no longer cheap. That’s because you can’t throw a poker chip without hitting an incarnation of celebrity chef. I have dined under the marquee of Jean-Georges, Emeril, Wolfgang, Giada, Bobby and who knows who else. And I’d like to tell you I had meals of unparalleled excellence but that would be like telling you it’s a good idea to hit seventeen when you play against the dealer.

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The right stuff

Posted by Marlinee on Jul 31, 2016 in Houses

When you search the word ‘declutter’ Google you get 1,130,000 hits on Google. Or at least that’s today’s result. Tomorrow it will probably be 1,140,000, because apparently Google likes round numbers and because apparently we think more is more. One of the most popular books of late is The Life-changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing by Marie Kondo.

Ms. Kondo has been anointed the Martha Stewart of Japan, but probably that analogy is just to put her in context for a North American market. Near as I can tell, Japan has always been the poster-child for lack of stuff, as evidenced by bedrooms that get packed away each day and luggage that gets purchased on a trip-by-trip basis because there is no place to store it once you get back. Martha, on the other hand, seems to have no end to the possibilities of stuff to acquire and houses (if you can refer to her residences as houses with a straight face) in which to store it. But I digress.

There is no doubt that we all have too much stuff and that even includes me, one who prides herself on not having too much stuff but who in all likelihood has way too much of it. I think part of the issue lies in the notion that having stuff – if it’s the right kind of stuff – defines who we are. You need not look much further than the driveways of my current neighbourhood to figure that one out. I get that you might need an SUV to ferry the kids to school and back, but does it really need to be a Mercedes SUV and do you really need two of them, unless of course one of them is for the nanny.

Our garbage transfer station has a place where people can leave certain stuff for other people to scavenge. Sometimes it’s potentially useful stuff but mostly it is stuff that never started out being useful. Like a long shallow wooden bowl-like thing that might be for a holding a baguette or very fat olives (left by someone, picked up by me, soon to be returned to the dump) and a pristine device for mixing salad dressing that was clearly never deployed for its supposed purpose (left by someone, picked up by me, soon to be returned to the dump – is there a pattern forming here?)

Marie Kondo dictates that you put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it. The question this raises is how come there is so much stuff out there that is incapable of sparking joy, and in particular certain categories of stuff that struggle mightily to achieve anything close to KonMari nirvana. Jeans, bathing suits, and winter boots, I’m talking to you. Somebody with more ambition than me will surely see the money making opportunity in doing a ‘reverse Marie’ and churn out only things that are joy inducing. But I won’t hold my breath.

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Trust me

Posted by Marlinee on Jul 3, 2016 in Travels

I am a trusted traveler. Or at least I have a card that proves I have told the government everywhere I have ever worked or lived, which apparently somehow makes me less of a threat to the rest of the travelling public and those who toil in the airline industry. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to play out. In reality I am only trusted when it suits the whims of whomever decides what the security and border crossing rules are on any given day.

They have completely reconfigured the U.S. border procedure at Terminal 1 in Toronto (and maybe at Terminal 3 as well, but Terminal 3 is be avoided at all cost). Instead of going through immigration then security now you go through security before entering the immigration hall. This actually makes perfect sense. Wouldn’t you want people to be screened for contraband before allowing them over the virtual border? Thank goodness someone finally figured this out.

My magic card does get me into the special security line but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to take off my shoes and take out my laptop if it is a day I’m not being trusted. The rule of the day is posted on a sign with pictograms showing what we are supposed to do. This results in delays while those of us in line try interpret the instructions (does a coat with a red ‘x’ through it mean we are supposed to take our jackets off or leave them on?) so as not to run afoul of the disapproval of the security staff. The path of least resistance should be to just do what the rest of the public has to do but it’s not. If you take your shoes off on a day when shoes should be left on, your lack of compliance will be duly noted and probably result in a black mark on your permanent record.

So once through security, you enter the completely reconfigured U.S. immigration hall. The magic card allows you to go to the special kiosk that reads your passport and fingerprints and spits out an immigration slip with a very unflattering photo captured on the spot by the built-in camera. It used to be that all you had to do was grab the slip and whisk yourself to the guy that takes the slip. Now you and your slip wait in a line of fellow trusted travelers to talk to a person about why you should be allowed to enter the U.S. Aside from having to show your unflattering kiosk portrait to more than one person, this means an unspecified wait time to cross the border because most of us trusted travelers travel at the same time and of course completely defeats the purpose of being pre-cleared for immigration.

Maybe this is Donald Trump’s doing, since a virtual wall is a lot easier to build than a physical one. But I really don’t believe that interrogating trusted travelers or putting babies on no-fly lists is making the world safer for anyone. Just sayin’.

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Pet sounds

Posted by Marlinee on Jun 19, 2016 in Middle Age

I think more than any season, summer comes with many sounds. Maybe that’s because we are outside more and have more opportunity to hear what’s going on. And of course, we can finally open the windows day and night and can hear both day and night sounds. Friday night at the cottage was one of those nights. At two in the morning a group of city escapees were still reveling at their good fortune, not mindful of how well sound travels across the water. Then the owl that is mostly heard and not seen took up a perch somewhere close to the window and hooted for about 15 minutes before it flew off to terrorize rodents.

But perhaps the most ubiquitous sound in the summer is the ‘summer song’. You know the one – it’s blaring out from car windows and boom boxes starting in June and doesn’t stop playing until everyone is safely back at school. According to Billboard (the folks that are in the business of caring about such things), 2015 didn’t have a song of the summer because there wasn’t anything upbeat enough on the charts during the timeframe to qualify. That puts a lot of pressure on 2016 in a season when none of us want undue pressure. Luckily, a song called ‘Can’t Stop the Feeing’ by Justin Timberlake has taken an early lead, but Drake is fast on Justin’s heals with ‘One Dance’, so that means it’s unlikely that 2016 will fail to deliver. Of course I wouldn’t recognize either of those songs if I fell over them, but that’s because ‘song of the summer’ is by definition a phenomenon of youth.

Also according to Billboard, an official summer song must have more than 110 beats per minute. And I have no argument with that. I think, though, that another criteria ought to be having the word ‘summer’ in the title or at least an explicit reference to sunshine and heat. ‘Summer in the City’, ‘A Summer Place’, and ‘In the Summer Time’ are obvious winners of the summer song title. ‘Sunshine Superman’ was also a bonafide song of the summer even though the lyrics are little creepy. I think I will grant an exception to ‘Call Me Maybe’, which actually needs more than one exception because it was released in the September before its summer song tenure of 2013.

Another dispensation goes to Elton John for ‘Rocket Man’, which neither has more than 110 beats per minute nor anything to do with summer nor lyrics that make any sense. But not only did it dominate the airwaves in the summer of 1972, it has had proven staying power over the years even though it only made it to number six on the Billboard chart. There are dozens of cover versions, including those by Neil Diamond, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and of course William Shatner. Rocket Man was ranked number 242 in the 2004 list of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Inexplicably, it was demoted to number 245 in a 2010 revision of the list.

I doubt that whatever song wins the title for 2016 will end up on a ‘best of all time’ list. But that’s probably not the point. Summer is about ephemera and sounds that come and go. And mysterious owls.

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The last goal he ever scored

Posted by Marlinee on Jun 11, 2016 in Middle Age

I know almost as much about Gordie Howe as I do about Muhammad Ali. Which is to say, not very much about either of them. Or maybe what I really mean is I care about as little about Gordie Howe as I do about Muhammad Ali except that Gordie Howe was more of a presence (as limited as it was) in my life than the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay. I always thought Cassius Clay was a rather improbable name because what better name could there be for a boxer? But it was in fact his real name until his conversion to Islam in 1964 when he decided there was a better name for a boxer. But I digress.

As you probably know, Gordie Howe played in the NHL for 26 seasons starting in 1946. That means there were at least seven years when I watched him on the ice while being held hostage by Hockey Night in Canada since it was the only thing broadcast to our corner of the woods on Saturday night in prime time. Then if you were completely bored, you could stay tuned for The Juliette Show that came on live right after the hockey game at whatever time it ended.

I’m guessing Juliette sat around in her party dress eating bonbons while waiting for Gordie to win one for the Red Wings without going into overtime. Today, of course, it would all have been prerecorded and Juliette could have done other things with her Saturday night. A fun fact about Juliette: because her show was in black and white, she had to tell the audience the colour of her dress (which was always different from week to week). The Juliette Show was also in the top 10 of all Canadian programming in its time, although part of that was the obvious audience bleed-over from Hockey Night in Canada and I’m not sure that ‘Canadian top 10′ would be considered a huge accomplishment in the wider scheme of things. By the way, Juliette is still alive and kicking at 89. Take that, Gordie.

In my extensive research for this post perhaps the most interesting thing I learned was the existence of the ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’: a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game – clearly a hallmark of a well-rounded hockey player, although apparently he only achieved two of his eponymous hat tricks in his entire career. On the plus side, I would venture to say that this is probably one of his records that Wayne Gretzky did not break or even meet.

I don’t know what Gordie thought about NHL broadcast rights being wrangled from the clutches of CBC by Rogers in 2014. But he probably would care that ratings for the Stanley Cup playoffs this year are down 44% and there has been a similar decline in regular season ratings. Like many things in the sports and entertainment universe, hockey ain’t what it used to be. Apparently audience research has shown that Hockey Night in Canada needs to be modernized to improve its appeal to Millennials. What that looks like I have no idea and clearly neither does Rogers. But at least Gordie has been spared the trauma of dealing with the ‘hipification’ of something as mundane as a hockey game.

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All that’s fit to print

Posted by Marlinee on May 22, 2016 in Customer Service

Let me first say, in my own defense, I actually do lots of reading on the internet. I probably read the same kinds of things that you do (or maybe I don’t read quite as much of the random content links on Facebook – someone must be clicking on them or there wouldn’t be so many of them, but it certainly isn’t me. And you certainly never saw me do it. But I digress.). I read stuff like news stories on reputable news sites, news stories on un-reputable news sites, and ‘news’ stories on Hollywood gossip sites. But when it comes to reading what is now referred to as ‘long form’ content (meaning it isn’t ‘She took a garden rake and you won’t believe what happened!!’ or ’14 things you never knew about ice cream!!’, I’d rather have the physical manifestation than the virtual one.

Unfortunately, it appears that my preferences (and probably my entire demographic too) are well on their way to irrelevance when it comes to how the newspaper and magazine world chooses to conduct itself. Not that I’m in denial about the economics of publishing today and the necessity of online income streams. Quite the contrary. But here are some recent examples that demonstrate some decisions are not being considered with the big picture in mind.

I have been a faithful subscriber to Toronto Life magazine for at least 25 years, or for half of its tenure as a publication, which I think qualifies me as a loyal customer. I am also a frequent visitor to the Toronto Life website, because of the useful, up-to-the-minute information it provides about events in the city. But there has been a disturbing trend over the past year: the entire content of the main cover story has started appearing on the website a good week before the issue hits my mailbox. This annoyed me so much that I sent an email to the editor to point out the irrelevance of having a subscription when I could read the whole issue online for free sooner than my paid copy. To her credit, I immediately received a response saying she was glad I brought it to her attention and that she would think more carefully about the timing of releasing stories to the general (unpaying) public. Duh!

I also subscribe to the Friday and Saturday edition of a newspaper. They also often publish things online before they hit the physical paper, but at least after a certain point they charge people to read the internet version. So that’s not my beef here. My problem is what happens when I need to interrupt the delivery of the paper. It used to be I received a credit for the un-delivered issues. Now, I don’t get a credit but I get free access to the online equivalent, which isn’t the main website content but a special electronic reproduction of the physical paper, complete with ‘pages’ you can turn, ads as they would appear in the analog layout, and text in columns. This actually sounds like a good option until you actually want to use it to read the paper.

First, the print is of course so small (because the broadsheet has to be shrunk to the size of a computer screen – and don’t even think about trying to read it on anything smaller than a laptop) that you have to zoom in so you can only read a small portion of the text, which is of course still in columns. The other problem is you need the internet to access it, and when I need to cancel my paper I am typically not in a place where it is convenient to download the virtual version. So the result is, I have decided to cancel my subscription for the summer and pick up random papers when it’s convenient. I hope that has the desired effect on the newspaper’s bottom line.

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But wait – there’s more!

Posted by Marlinee on May 1, 2016 in Middle Age

The least well known thing about Phil Kives was his name. Not a bad thing really, since back in the day it was only proper to have your name in the paper twice: once when you’re born and once when you die. This week it was Phil’s turn to punch his second ticket. Before establishing K-Tel, which is why he garnered many more print inches than most of our obituaries will merit, Mr. Kives was a travelling salesman. There was a time when travelling salesman was a respectable profession. So respectable in fact that we have travelling salesmen to thank for the Gideon Bibles in every single hotel room, because the Gideon Society was started when two purveyors of door-to-door goods met when on the road. Or maybe not that respectable, because apparently they failed in their initial quest to start a Christian travelling salesman club due to lack of interest. But I digress.

Mr. Kives was, by his own account, a travelling salesman extraordinaire, proving that neither modesty nor lack of self-confidence interfered with his ambitions. One of the keys to his success was the ability to craft questions to clinch the sale that could only reasonably be answered ‘yes’. Such as, ‘don’t you want your wife to cook better meals?’ or ‘don’t you want to look neat and tidy?’ or ‘don’t you think if you listen to classical music everyone will think you are smart?’ (Okay, maybe I made that last one up.)

According to Mr. Kives, his career really took off when Seymour Popeil (father of Ron Popeil, scion of Ronco and beloved by fishermen everywhere) refused to let him sell his wares because he was getting ‘too big’. Such is the cut-throat world of the gadget huckster. But that didn’t keep young Phil down for long: that’s when he got the idea to produce compilation records. The first big seller was 25 Polka Greats, surely the most unlikely title to have been snapped up by a million and half U.S. households, the most unlikely part being finding 25 polka tunes that could be labeled as ‘greats’ (although I don’t think Mr. Kives worried too much about accuracy in advertising). Apparently you can still buy Hooked on Classics today, in case you were not one of the original 10 million who added it to their record collection the first time around.

Aside from inventing and popularizing the musical polyglot, Mr. Kives was also a pioneer in the art of the infomercial. If you think about it, this was a natural extension of door-to-door sales: instead of having to knock on the door you go straight into the living room. And given the amount of air time taken up by the modern infomercial, he was clearly on to something.

At this point in history, it is hard to imagine how many new things it’s possible to invent. Even Elon Musk is less an inventor than someone seeking to perfect things that have already been invented. So say what you will about the lasting importance of Veg-o-matics and Miracle Brushes, at least Phil Kives made a lasting mark on day-to-day life.

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The rites of spring

Posted by Marlinee on Apr 17, 2016 in Houses

Opening up the cottage is like a cross between Halloween (the trick part, not the treat part) and April Fool’s day (the that’s a joke right? part). Even though we do our best to batten down the hatches and wrap a swath of protective cover over everything in sight, the ravages of winter and random acts of time that take place behind our backs always have the last laugh. Herewith the known chronicle of opening weekend 2016 (there will, of course, be ample room for the unknown chronicle to make its presence known in the weeks to come).

1. Although this fact was well known on closing weekend 2015, when the barge was at least considerate enough to limp into the dock rather than give up the ghost in mid-lake limbo, we have four boats with nary a working motor between them. Kind of an issue when living on an island.

2. Even though there are no visible ways they can possibly be getting in, at least one mouse breached the walls last year. We know this because one of the cats deigned to interrupt his nap to fulfill his job description, and not because we witnessed this heroic feat but because a month or two after the fact the carcass made its presence known. So just in case, before closing up I placed mouse poison in attractive locations. And sure enough, at least one mouse had an all-inclusive winter vacation spent dining on Warfarin, sleeping in freshly made beds, and lounging on the couch (which was also apparently a tasty thing to eat).

3. The kitchen faucet decided to call it quits. Probably because some errant drops of water froze in the mechanism that runs the spray nozzle. So the question is whether to spring for a new faucet or just remove the bits that don’t work and do without a spray function. The answer, as anyone with a cottage knows, is the latter, because you don’t mess with anything that works at least within a tolerable range of acceptability because it will never end well.

4. One of the crowning achievements of 2015 was the final completion of the dock and its associated shoreline deck. I will not go into the details surrounding the 15 year journey to realizing this key infrastructure component because that would just add insult to injury, the injury in question being ice damage. Fortunately most of the dock remains functional. Unfortunately, some effort will be required to rehabilitate other parts. And we all know the only truly limited resource is time.

5. On a more positive note, it looks like the garlic I planted last fall is coming up, as have the early spring flowers. I have never planted garlic before and learned after the fact that you are supposed to separate the cloves, not just put the whole head in the ground, which kind of makes sense but was less obvious than the purveyors of garden garlic seem to think it should be. So anyhow, the garlic is coming up and I will consult Mr. Google to find out what you do with the green bits above the ground and figure out when I’m allowed to uncover what’s below the ground. Be afraid, very afraid.

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