Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Happy Learners (Photo of the Day)

Homeschoolers at a homeschool science class (my younger son is on the far right). This is a wonderful six hour science,nature, and wilderness skills class held in the outdoors. This is a class my children attend. It is an example of how homeschoolers use the world as their classroom and that learning can take place in the community and alongside other children; not all the learning is done at the kitchen table and taught by mom. (This teacher is a retired science school teacher whose grandson is homeschooled, he is a fantastic teacher and all the kids love him.)

Photo taken and altered digitally by ChristineMM. Photo taken in June 2008 in Connecticut.

I’m Back To Reality

Today I am back to reality. My family and I have spent the last eight days at Disney World. I let myself live both mentally and physically in the land of make believe for a full eight days. (Yes I said “let myself live” because this was an intentional act, to give myself permission to escape from reality.)

It was wonderful.

(Just opening the Disney travel home page and listening to their music is a little escape from reality in fact! If you go to the website you’ll see their promotion for the Year of a Million Dreams sweepstakes where they are giving away one million prizes in this calendar year. In case you doubt that they are really doing it I’ll share that our entire family won a prize one day while at a park, something they call a Dream Fastpass where we could go on all the Fastpass attractions in that park that day using the Fastpass, at the time of our convenience.)

This trip was a celebration. It was a trip we had postponed for nearly five years. (The kids have been very patiently waiting all this time.) This is our first vacation in five years to a ‘vacation place’ that we planned and paid for. So this was a special trip for us, it wasn’t a common thing, and we were grateful for this fun week. And it was very last minute also, booked just ten days prior to our departure date, which was atypical for us to do.

I shed all care for the outside world during that time and it was great. I barely thought of my personal life, of challenges, of problems, and of my relatives. I didn’t think of my volunteer jobs and responsibilities. I didn’t feel guilty for missing a Cub Scout Pack meeting. I forgot all about winter weather and Connecticut and of life in Fairfield County. I didn’t think about anything to do with homeschooling except to be grateful that we could travel without being tied to travel only on ‘school vacation weeks’.

I didn’t ponder anything intellectually challenging or expend mental energy on anything bothersome happening in our culture, in America (like the Presidential race and primaries) or the world. I didn’t ponder much about the marketing giant that Disney is and I didn’t let myself feel that I was a victim of it because last week I was a willing participant in the experience. I didn’t think about the complaints about Disney movies or any of that angry stuff. Rather than being annoyed that nearly every Disney animated movie starts with the mother dying or the child being an orphan I reminded myself that a good story has to start with a challenge and some conflict to resolve, and left it at that. (If you don’t believe me you may want to read about mythic structure in stories by reading either “A Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell or the new third edition of “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers 3rd edition” by Christopher Vogler.

I was so out of touch that while on the plane ride home while channel surfing during a commercial while I was watching a new-to-me show “Make Me a Supermodel”, I found out the State of the Union Address was happening. (I felt ashamed to have been so in the dark.) In my defense, when I found out it was on I did watch some of it. No one in my line of vision was watching the President speak either. The 30 something man next to me was watching “Family Guy” a cartoon rated PG-14, which I watched for a couple of minutes and was shocked at the content of. Others around me were watching the same model show as I was and also "America’s Next Top Model", ESPN (did you know Disney owns ESPN?), "Brett Michael’s Rock of Love II" (a reality show on VH1 in the style "The Bachelor" which has been pornified and pushes boundaries in my opinion). At one point while on the plane ride home, I stood up to stretch my legs and it was a sight to see a dark airplane with every person watching TV on all different channels, plugged in and focused on the little screens, with only one person watching the President. I wished I had my camera handy as I would have loved to take an existing light photo of that as there was something very creepy about the whole thing. But I digress…

Back to the trip itself, I didn’t wonder was emails were coming in (I still haven’t opened my email.) I didn’t feel the urge to peek at my blog or publish a prepared posting for five full days. (That is an amazing thing for me, trust me.) I didn’t write anything nor did I create anything at all (art wise). This trip was about consuming and living only in the moment.

Ignorance is bliss let me tell you. I feel like I willingly went to live in Plato’s cave by buying that Disney resort vacation, and living in that artificial world, but now I have to come back out to the real world. It’s almost too bad that I can’t go back to living my whole life like that, in that land of being just a passive recipient of fun and entertainment, where I’m living in a literal artificially constructed world where fun and entertainment are daily goals which always get fulfilled, then to go to sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. Other than parenting my kids, I had no true responsibilities. It was so easy to live where the only decisions I had to make were about which park to visit, which rides to go on, what to eat for meals and which souvenirs to buy.

“One of the great ironies upon visiting Disney World is the wave of relief that overwhelms you upon entering the place—relief to be free of the nerve-shattering traffic and the endless ugly sprawl. By contrast the Disney resort seems like a verdant sanctuary. That was the plan, of course—Team Rodent left the park buffered with thousands of unspoiled acres, to keep the charmless roadside schlock at bay.”
- Team Rodent by Carl Hiaasen, page 5

In fact as we drove around the resort I observed the careful planning that made it seem like the place was huge and undisturbed. They don’t do that everywhere, I noticed but they do it at intersections and places where you are likely to notice, it seemed to me. Careful observation revealed to me that planning by architects and landscape architects reveals that things are tucked away and hidden carefully to make the place look more pretty and larger than it is. I noticed careful landscaping hiding what would be considered normal wild roadside plants and swampy areas. Just as in Epcot where they make you walk a long time to reach your destinations, the roads and roadside landscaping do make you think you are in a fancy, sprawling resort, when in fact I was surprised to see that we were practically a stone’s throw to Epcot despite its gates being a five minute drive away.

Truth be told, our “moderate level” Disney resort was nothing more than a cheap motel on grounds seen more typically at high-end resorts. But I put these observations and opinions all to the side, as I did also the complaints I had about our room, and let myself believe the image that was being displayed as believing the myth made me happier and happy was what I wanted to be. And so I was happy. And life was good.

This feeling so far removed from the real world was accomplished in part by the fact that my husband accidentally forgot to bring the electrical power cord and battery recharger for his laptop. We didn’t want to pay $10 a day to the Disney resort to get high speed access, so I was online only for about 20 minutes, with a slow dial up connection in those eight days, limited by the low and eventually dead battery. My husband had to drive to a nearby Panera Bread a few times to check his business email on his handheld. He kept in touch with the world more than I did, relying on his cell phone to talk with relatives and business associates. I was intentionally withdrawing from the real world.

We were so busy and having so much fun that we both didn’t even have the time (or much desire) to watch TV news (we just wanted to crash at night as soon as we returned to the hotel room). We were so far removed from real life that my husband didn’t even know that the Fed lowered the interest rate by ¾ of a percent for a day and a half. (As my husband told his friend that is a true measure of what a good time we were having on our vacation, to be so out of touch with the real world as to not know that!) And yippee also, because that is now saving us hundreds a month!

We got home at about one this morning. After sleeping in, the kids and I are reacquainting ourselves with our home. I’m doing a laundry marathon. And still resisting opening my email…

Some other time I may write about our experiences and give tips about visiting Disney World and do a book review on the fantastic travel book that I used to help plot our trip. I have abandoned the Birnbaum Disney guides and converted to “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids” by bob Sehlinger and Liliane J. Opsomer with Len Testa.

Books Referred to in This Post

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Monday, January 21, 2008

My Word of the Year

On the Creative Mom Podcast #81 Amy Cowen discussed people picking a word of the year. This idea was first read by Amy on Ali Edward's blog at the beginning of 2007. Then on the CMP Circle Yahoo Group, some members have been discussing what their word should be and what they will do with the word.

After much thought and thanks to Nicole (who nailed the right word for my definition). I picked my word.

I claim the word "content" as my word of the year.

Content (adjective)
1. satisfied with what one has, not wanting anything else
2. satisfied or showing satisfaction with things as they are
3. the state or feeling of being contented

A little background is this year I want to focus on what I have and the goodness in my life. I want to not want for more when I already have so much goodness around me. I want to use and appreciate and be grateful for what I have and to not long for yet more stuff or different things. I want to just be happy with what I already posess.

This discussion has been so interesting. I’m learning about others in the group by reading what they are sharing about their words and why they chose them.

I plan to go to a nearby pottery place that sells unfinished pottery and buy a coffee mu. I will paint that mug and they will fire it for me. I will also make an artsy sign to hang at my desk where I can see it every day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My ATC: Gift

This ATC was made from the thematic prompt "Gift" for the December CMP ATC Exchange.

I think the message is clear but I'll state it just in case it is not. The word gift relates in this case to people giving themselves the gift of time to do something that you want to do in order to have some enjoyment in your life.

The background was made using the "paint on paper towel" technique which I learned from the book "Artist Trading Card Workshop" by Bernie Berlin.

I typed the word on my word processor and printed it on my computer printer. I used a tissue paper circle sold as party confetti over the top. The bird image is a die cut from a mail order catalog. (I made it long ago and it has been sitting in my pile of ephemera bits.) The long strip is my painting from an old project, a scrap. The fortune is from a fortune cookie that I got with some Chinese take out food months ago.

I chose the bird image specifically because birds have been discussed many times on the Creative Mom Podcast and on the CMP Circle Yahoo Group.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

My ATC: Beginnings

Made in reaction to the thematic prompt "beginnings" for the CMP ATC Exchange.

Background was made with the paint on paper towel technique. Image of the woman from a Dover children's book catalog. Compass face from a broken compass that belonged to my son. Fortune from a fortune cookie from take out Chinese food. The two other pieces are scraps of paper from past projects.

Background paper technique learned from the book “Artist Trading Card Workshop” by Bernie Berlin.

ATC was made by me on 1/16/08.

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Art From Migrant's Trash

I enjoyed this article from the first page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

Article title: Desert Castaways Get Second Life In Art Exhibition
Ms. James Finds Material In Items Left by Immigrants;
Cactus Needles in a Mitten

Published in: The Wall Street Journal
Date: January 17, 2008; Page A1

Artist Valerie James collects interesting (to her) trash left behind by migrant workers. She has two exhibits. One is a display in a building she owns. The other one consists of assemblages in an art exhibit in Tucson Arizona isn’t doing so well:

“Many people react strongly -- and not all positively -- to the assemblage of "junk" art. Gallery owner Randy Ford says the exhibit hasn't been as well attended as he had expected. He believes area residents are tired of the immigration issue.”

My reaction to that is that I think the show would be of more interest in places not near the border. I think the show would be of interest in New York City, for example. I would attend this exhibit if it were near me.

I am interested in trying to construct the story behind some of the left behind items. That is just how my mind works.

And I really like the idea of making art from trash. In my own art explorations I have challenged myself to do things such as use only junk mail or recycled items in order to try to give new life and meaning to something that was destined for the trash or for the recycling bin.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Good News

I have mentioned on here on my blog previously that my husband was looking for new employment. The good news is he has accepted a job offer.

The good things about the job are that we don’t have to relocate. In fact he will have the shortest commute he’s ever had in his life, just twenty minutes on back roads.

Not having to not go into New York City (90-120 minutes each way depending on where the office is in the city) will be a blessing. Not taking the train will save us money. And he won’t be working in a city that has been and continues to be a target for terrorists. (He was in NYC on 9/11, a scary story I’ve shared here on my blog in the past.)

Being able to avoid the jammed highways of I-95 and the Merritt Parkway will be fan-tas-tic. Not only will that reduce stress but his chance of getting in an accident is less (even though the likelihood of a deer strike is higher on the back roads).

And his hours are not long either.

We are happy for all these good things.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Haiku Monday, About Today's Snowstorm

The much-hyped snowstorm began last night at 11pm. Depending on where one lives in Connecticut, 3-15 inches will fall. They called for a dangerous commute this morning, that must have caused the town to agree to plow before the last flake fell (my town's usual policy). So the plow woke me up at five in the morning and I've been up ever since.

I used the time to read more of the book "Staring at the Sun". I'm nearly finished with it.

I just decided to take a look outside now that it is getting light out, and so stood on my front steps in my pajamas and robe, snapping photos and taking mental notes to use for Haiku Monday. So here they are.

Snow falls silently
Slow dripping sound in gutter
No man-made sounds though

Every branch coated
The forest a wall of white
Tinted grayish blue

The trees silhouette
All so different, unique
The snow changes them

It is so quiet
Are the creatures all sleeping?
No, squirrels at play.

Nothing is moving
Except two squirrels chasing
Up the great oak tree

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Silly Little Thing

You Are a Turkey Sandwich

Conservative and a bit shy, you tend to stick with what you know and trust.
You are very introverted, and you prefer to blend in whenever possible.
Though you may be hard to know well, anyone who does know you considers you a true friend.

Your best friend: The Ham Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Tuna Fish Sandwich

Greetings From My Town To Yours (Photo of the Day)

As I snapped these photos cars blew by us too fast to even notice this beauty.

I feel sad for them.

I am happy I took the time to see this and to take these photos (it took less than one minute of my time).

Photo taken by ChristineMM on 1/6/08 in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Something Happened

Something happened...something good.

I can't tell you yet.


It prevented me from being able to create ATCs last night as I had to go do something in relation to the other great thing that is happening to celebrate the good thing that is happening.

The thing is so good, we're celebrating tonight with the special champagne we purchased in Napa Valley while on our honeymoon.

I am heading upstairs to color with my Berol Prismacolor colored pencils on book pages to then turn into altered text ATCs for an "Altered Text" themed ATC swap.

Now That's a Boot! (Photo of the Day)

Holy Moly that boot is huge!

And my boys are getting big too! My younger son is now 7.5 and my older son is 10.

Photo taken by ChristineMM on New Years Day, 2008 at L.L. Bean in Freeport Maine.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Best Looking McDonald's (Photo of the Day)

Here is the best looking McDonald's I've ever seen, located in Freeport, Maine, on Main Street.

The town put strict zoning restrictions on McDonald's. Note the subtle signeage. Additionally they banned sound from the drive-through window. When you go through you have to act on faith that they heard what you said then proceed to the window. The last time I went through it, they didn't have the screen to use to communicate either.

If you double click on the photo to make it larger you might be able to see the McDonald's sign which hangs over the door.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Creative Block on an Idea

I am stuck on an idea for a themed ATC swap.

Oddly lately I have the worst creative block on a simple ATC swap that I do once a month that requires that only one ATC be created. I think after many months of being stuck I have figured out what my problem is.

When I have to create a volume of something, 6 or 9 or more ATCs, I just start making stuff and make a bunch and then pick the best to swap out. But when I have to create just one I get stuck and scared almost and want it to be right and perfect.

I'm trying to make an ATC for the theme of "gift".

My first idea was to draw a present. I am not a great drawer, so I scrapped this.

Since I was trying my hand at metal crafting I thought next I'd do a simple graphic of a present but made out of joined metal pieces. I'm having challenges using the eyelets as cold connections so I nixxed that idea.

My newest idea is to not make a present/gift image but to think more in general of a gift. Of something other than material things for gifts. The gift of time. The gift of life. Something like that.

I need to just get making and get this over with.

The weird thing is that for me I already know that the way to break the creative block is to get making art and just make stuff and then new ideas come and stuff gets made, often in abundance. However I have not let myself sit down to make art here at home since way before Christmas.

I am going to make an appointment with myself and make myself follow through. I hereby declare that Friday night after dinner I will have some 'me time' to make art at the kitchen table.

Maybe I can also get that one ATC for the January swap out of the way as well. The theme for January's swap is 'beginnings'.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Haiku Monday 1/07/08

Fifty degrees out
The smell of spring in the air
What wacky weather!

Eleven degrees
The other day and now it
is fifty degrees.

Homeschooling began
Christmas break is now over
Hitting the books hard.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Some Scans of My Recent Journalling

Here are a few scans of the journal I am working in right now.

I am guessing the size of the journal is 10x10 inches so the scans are not showing all of the page. This is a blank book that I bought maybe five or six years ago but was 'afraid' to write in. I'm working on filling up all the blank books I own right now, what else are they good for? I don't want them just hogging up shelf space!!

While out of town last week I colored 56 backgrounds with water soluble oil pastel crayon and then used water to blend them. I also did some journaling onto the pages.

(My boys then wanted in on the fun and they both did some of their own drawing with the crayons and using water. My younger son also asked to do some of the water application on the pages I was prepping.)

Here is a more light journal page I did.

Here are two facing pages waiting to be journaled upon.

This is pretty emotional writing in my journal. I had not intended to show this to anyone but here it is anyway. I wanted to show that not all of my journal pages are happy pastel colors and not all of my thoughts and writing are super-upbeat, happy and light.

More pages that I create and work on while at home will contain more collage on top of the colored backgrounds. I was working with very limited material while away (the magazines I’d brought along to read while on the trip).

The inspiration to try water soluble oil pastel crayons was from Teesha Moore.

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I Was Wrong About the Pens

I finally found my issue of Art & Life #9 last night, tucked in someplace where it didn't belong. I re-read the part about where Teesha Moore shared a recommendation for a certain Sharpie pen that works well on top of oil pastel crayon.

I was wrong in my memory and thus ordered a different product than she recommended.

Teesha Moore recommended the Sharpie Poster Paint pen which comes in various tip sizes and colors, including white. She specifically said she does not recommend the oil paint pen. She said the poster paint Sharpie is hard to find but is sold by

Oh well, I had ordered and am using the Sharpie oil paint pen. At times it is leaking and leaving blobs on my paper. It also has a scent that bothers me a little. I don't know if it is just a scent I don't like or if this is a fume that is not so great to be inhaling (to be honest).

I plan to try the Sharpie Poster Paint pen some time in the future!

(I wish there was a local store in my area that sold them so I could just go buy one and not pay big shipping fees or feel pressured to make a big order to 'make the shipping cost worth it'.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Mixed-Media Collage: An Exploration of Contemporary Artists, Methods and Materials: Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Mixed-Media Collage: An Exploration of Contemporary Artists, Methods and Materials
Author: Holly Harrison
Publication: Quarry Books, 2007
Format: softcover book
ISBN: 9781592533169

Book review by ChristineMM

My Rating: 5 stars

Has a Major Focus on the Creative Process and What Inspires the Artists

How I Discovered This Book: While shopping on this book popped up as a recommendation based on other books that I purchased. Later Amazon gave me a gold box discount offer on this book so I bought it for myself with money received for Christmas gift.

After a quick introduction to collage and collage tools, the book is divided into two sections.

Section one features in-depth profiles of five artists. Each artist is interviewed and interesting questions are asked about their creative process, their inspiration and why they choose to use the materials that they do. Multiple pieces of their artwork are shown. One project is featured with stepped-out directions and photos so you can learn their technique.

The five artists profiled and directions for their project are:
1. Laurinda Bedingfield: 3D collage book sculpture with photographs
2. Barbara DePirro: using acrylic gel medium to create the look of encaustic
3. Paula Grasdal: printmaking and collage
4. Sharon McCartney: mixed-media multi-paneled wall hanging
5. Teesha Moore: mixed-media journal page

Section two is a gallery of two pieces of artwork from 20 different contemporary mixed-media artists. The information includes brief technique explanation, inspiration, and a list of supplies used.

The strengths of this book are that there is a great variety of type of artwork represented. This is not a book of fads and trends. It was clear to me that each artist is following their own voice and making their own unique kind of art that they enjoy working with. For this reason I treasure the book, because there are other publications on the market which seem to display the ‘trend of the season’. This book is fresh and unique. Just seeing different types of artwork and seeing these artists using their own inner voices to guide their art (even if I personally didn’t love the look of all of it) made me want to go and make some art.

The book closes with some essays on the topic of the artist on the Internet. Directions on how to do photo transfers and how to do encaustic collage are provided.

The book has a products resource guide, a vendor listing and a directory of all the artists featured in the book.

The paper in the book is high quality glossy paper. The layout is very nice and the photographs are in full-color. This was very nicely put together.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in mixed-media collage. If you love to read about what inspires artists and about people’s creative process you will really enjoy this book.

Additional Thoughts on How This Book Affected Me
My personal take-away from this book is a feeling of freedom of expression and a desire to go make my own personal style of art. In the past I have felt uncomfortable when I was creating art that was not the current trend. Also while doing mail art swaps I have been criticized for making art that is not the hot fad of the day, for using different colors or materials than some people were. I have been a fan of Teesha Moore’s for a couple of years and emulate a bit of what she does but other than that I personally don’t plan to copy the work of these artists even though there are stepped out directions for five projects. What each of us takes away from a book is unique and that is alright.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Finally Finished a Metal Crafting Project

Over a year ago I bought and read the book “Metal Craft Discovery Workshop” by Linda and Opie O’Brien.

After reading it the first time I tried making something but I lacked all the right tools and I could not finish the project. Specifically my files were not right or good and it was leaving sharp, dangerous edges. I also lacked anything to make the cold connections with. (The book covers the use of brads, rivets and wire.) Yes, I did not even own metal wire. So I stopped thinking about making something right then.

I slowly gathered tools as I came across them and put them in a box with all the other metal crafting tools. I saved some tins and other metal pieces to use in the future.

My last acquisition was about four weeks ago when I went into Home Depot myself in search of the right metal files. My husband claimed they really did not sell them there. Well I found them on a gigantic wall of files, down at the height of my ankle. I bought the cheaper brand set with a handle and it was just under $10.

And I have read the book a total of three times since I first bought it! That is how much I wanted to do metal crafting.

Last month I had an idea for a project. I figured I’d start small.

Last week I was going away on a trip to visit my grandmother. I knew we’d most likely be snowed in and having quiet time in the house. I gathered up everything I thought I may need and brought this book along and decided I’d do it.

I waited for a day when I had time and when other relatives were not coming over to visit. I laid out all the tools.

It was then that actual fear gripped me. I am not kidding. I was scared to actually cut the metal and try anything. I sat there for just a few minutes then I talked myself out of the fear. I forced myself to just jump in.

To make things easy I began by deconstructing an aluminum can (specifically a Starbucks iced coffee drink can which had cool stripes in the design). I realized the smallest shears were the right tool for the job. If I cut carefully, I didn’t even have to file the metal.

I had trouble with the brads. I am brad-challenged. I don’t know what is wrong but they don’t work for me.

I then switched to using wire for the cold connections.

I made my little project. Hooray!

My ten year old inserted himself into this in the middle of my exploration. He was begging to learn to do it. So I taught him. He had a concept and he cut out the metal and punched the holes using the two-hole punch (that is not a power tool).

My seven year old said he wanted a finished piece. I then did ¾ of the work on a new project to give to him.

This whole project took me over three hours and by that time I’d had enough and I put it away.

I will say this, learning a new skill such as this is not all fun and games. I have no experience with jewelry making so my skill working with wire is not good.

Before I can consider doing this kind of art something that helps get rid of stress I will have to perfect my skills with these new materials and with these new-to-me tools. I am sure once I am used to these it will be more fun and less work and therefore I’ll have less frustration with myself due to my lack of ability with the materials and tools.

I will share a scan of the finished piece as soon as I can scan and upload it. It is a little robot.

For now I am patting myself on the back that I had the courage to try something totally new. I am proud also that I taught myself to do this with using only the Metal Craft Discovery Workshop book as my guide and teacher.

If you have been curious about how to do metal crafting and you are interested in learning cold-process connections, this is the book to use. The book by the O’Brien’s is also full of inspiration and eye candy. They also teach the skills of how to color metal, etch metal, change the finish on the metal, transfer images onto metal, collage onto metal, and more.

If you are interested in learning to solder I would recommend Lisa Vollrath’s book “Metal Mania” which is sold on her site "Ten Two Studios".

You might also see if you can find any video demonstrations on YouTube about soldering. I bet there are some out there (I have not looked yet). Learning to solder is on my list of things I want to do. (My mother knows how and she could teach me; she used to make stained glass windows. It is nice to have an option of having a real live person teach you things.)

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