A Primer on Pyrohy

Hello and Ласкаво просимо!

(If your browser can handle Cyrillic lettering, you’ll see a pair of unusual words up there. You pronounce this “laskavo prosīmo” and it means “Welcome!” in Ukrainian.)

Today, I’m following up on a request from a reader in Australia who wants to learn how to make pyrohy.

First things first. What are pyrohy? (Most often, you will hear non-Ukrainian speakers pronounce this word as “perogies”.) Pyrohy (or perogies) are wonderful little round dumplings made of a lightweight dough and stuffed with all kinds of imaginative savoury fillings. You can bake, boil or fry them and they are most often served with butter, onions and sour cream.

I live in Alberta, one of the western provinces of Canada. Alberta was largely settled by immigrants from the Ukraine and they have left an indelible stamp on the cuisine of my home. I, for one, am very grateful for this influence. I love pyrohy and their cousins, holubtsi (cabbage rolls) and nalysynky (crepes). I’m sure that I’ve eaten at least my body weight in these yummies over the course of my life.

So, I’m not surprised at all that someone in Australia wants to learn how to make them.

Here are my pyrohy, in all their pillowy goodness,  ready to be boiled

Here are my pyrohy, in all their pillowy goodness,
ready to be boiled

And Then the Truth Comes Out …
But I’m embarrassed to admit that the only time I eat homemade pyrohy is when someone else makes them. The rest of the time, I buy pre-fab ones.

Now that I’ve cleared my conscience, the next thing I can tell you is that I hit up my home library in search of a book that would teach me the finer points of making them by hand. “A Feast of Perogies and Dumplings” by Samuel Hofer fit the bill perfectly. This little book was a veritable encyclopedia of Eastern European carbohydrate treats.

I tested out Samuel’s “No Fail Perogy Dough” recipe and then created an adaptation that worked for life hacking. Here it is, step-by-step:

Get two medium-sized potatoes, scrub them (don’t take off the skins) and then cut them into 1/2″ pieces
Put them on to boil and let them cook until they’re reasonably soft. While they’re cooking, you can:
a) cook any other ingredients (like sauteed mushrooms) or
b) start the dough
Here’s my dough recipe:

  • Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a bowl.
  • Beat 1 egg into the butter.
  • Take 1/4 cup of water from the boiling potatoes, add to it 1/4 cup of cold milk. Beat the milk and water into the butter-egg mixture.
  • Throw in 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir
  • Begin adding all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time. By the time you get to about 1 1/2 cups, you should have a dough that’s starting to form a ball. Keep adding until you have a ball that sticks together.
  • Cover your bowl of dough and set it aside for about 20 minutes to rest.
While the dough is resting, mash your potatoes very well, and beat in about 1/3 cup of milk or cream or sour cream. Once the potatoes are reasonably smooth, you can add some fillings. The dough recipe makes about 18 pyrohy, so you can make more than one kind of filling, if you like. These are what I experimented with blending into my potatoes:

  • Basil and asiago cheese
  • Sauteed mushrooms and truffle oil (I found a small bottle of truffle oil for $10 at the Italian Centre Shop in Edmonton)
  • Chopped smoked salmon, dill and cream cheese

These were all very, very good, but feel free to experiment with your own creative ideas. (And then make sure to write and tell me what you did.)

Once the dough has rested, pull it from its lazy slumber and get out your rolling pin. Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick.
Now you need something circular that’s between 3″ and 3 1/2″ wide. (Jar lids and very small plates work well.) Use your circular thing to cut the dough into round pyrohy wrappers. Once you’ve cut out as many as you can, you can start building your pyrohy.
This next step is a little fiddly, but it’ll make a difference to the speed of your work, and the quality of your finished product. Wet down a paper towel and drape it over all but three of the cut pyrohy. This will keep the dough from drying out while you’re assembling.
Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of your wrapper, stretch the dough so that the edges meet and pinch to seal. (If you’re worried about the edges not staying stuck together, put a small glass of milk at your workspace, and use your index finger to trace a small line of milk around half the wrapper, to act as a sealant.)
Once you’ve filled and sealed up this first round, mash the scraps of dough together and then roll again. You should get about eighteen pyrohy wrappers from this recipe.
You’re in the home stretch! From here, your pyrohy can be either boiled or pan-fried. Boiling will take between 5 and 7 minutes. If you panfry them, brown one side and then flip them over to brown the other side. And I recommend butter.
Serve them with more butter, sour cream, fried onions and crumbled bacon. And marvel at how something so simple can make a person sublimely happy.
Pyrohy also lend themselves remarkably well to being “tossed”. Try lightly frying up some garlic, green onion, capers and sun-dried tomatoes. Toss your freshly-boiled pyrohy in the saute. Put sour cream on the side, and prepare to swoon.

Show Me the Money
I tried making pyrohy multiple times, so I really can’t give you an exact price figure. Be assured, however, that these are not expensive to make. With the exception of the fillings, the bulk of the ingredients are staples in most kitchens. The extras ran me about $10.

Pre-fab pyrohy aren’t expensive either, but — like many of our experiments on this blog — there’s just no comparing between pre-fab and homemade. The homemade ones are about 127,000 times better. And given that they take about half an hour to create, it’s well worth it.

Library Resources
Samuel Hofer’s wonderful little book, alas, is no longer in print. The copy at my home library has also been taken out of circulation recently. However, I located an excellent fall-back in the form of “The New Ukrainian Cookbook” by Annette Ogrodnick Corona. She calls pyrohy by their alias, which is “varenyky” and there are 7 pages of varenyky recipes in this lovely, recipe-packed book. If you take the book out of the library instead of buying it, you’ll save yourself $19.75. Which is not bad at all.

Done!
And that’s it! Thank you for reading all the way down to the bottom of this very long post. If you’re reading this from Canada, let me take this opportunity to wish you a belated Happy Thanksgiving. Tune in again — in a few weeks’ time — for another travel essay!
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The Real Reason I Went to New York

This summer, I spent a month on the road in Europe, as part of a summer field school experience. For the next little while, I’ll be posting a purely self-indulgent* series of essays, inspired by the slice-of-life wisdom that only travel brings.

*You could say that I’m invoking the “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” rule. After all, it’s my blog and I’ll… etc. etc. Still, I hope these are at least a little entertaining.

On my way to Europe, I stopped in New York. And there was a reason for this. I had an important task to take care of, one that’s been nagging me for quite awhile.

Let’s Go Back to the Start
Back in 2003, I went to Connecticut to work at a trade show. The jump in/jump out point was JFK Airport in New York. The show wrapped up on a Saturday night, but my flight back to Canada didn’t leave until Sunday night. With a day to kill, I figured out how to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan and spent a glorious few hours roaming its beautiful rooms, joyfully basking in some of the world’s greatest art.

At the time, though, things were not so great in my life. There was man trouble, but worse, as a freelance graphic artist, I was perpetually, miserably broke. When I handed over my credit card to pay for a few small souvenirs, I held my breath because I wasn’t 100% sure it would go through.

The beautiful Temple of Dendur

The beautiful Temple of Dendur

Walk Like an Egyptian
Now, if you’ve ever been to the Museum, one of its great treasures is the Temple of Dendur. It’s an Ancient Egyptian temple, gifted to the U.S. government by the Egyptian government. It was dis-assembled, shipped to the U.S. (don’t ask me how) and then re-assembled in its very own room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The minute you walk into that room, you feel an immediate sense of calm. Because it’s set off by itself, all of the ambient noise falls away and you find yourself in a peaceful, tranquil oasis.

Promises, Promises
There’s a pool surrounding the Temple, and people throw coins in it. Back in 2003, as I walked around shooting photos, it occurred to me that I should toss in some coins too. But I didn’t want to make a wish. Instead, I wanted to make a promise. I tossed a few pennies into the pool, and quietly said

“When I come back here, things will be better.”

A pool full of wishes -- and one promise

A pool full of wishes –
and one promise

Fast forward to 2014. I was now on my way to summer school in Europe, but I’d arranged my travels so that I could stop overnight in New York. I got up early, and got to the Museum just as it opened. I picked up a map, and made my way over to the wing where the Temple of Dendur is housed.

When I walked into the room, I took a deep breath — and immediately started to cry.

I had kept my promise. It had actually happened. Things had gotten better and I had finally come back – to the very same spot — to give thanks.

That morning, I’d tucked eleven pennies into one of my pockets – one for every year since 2003. When I was ready, I pulled them out and tossed them all in at once with a whispered “thank you”.

I thought it was a good idea to add a little extra oomph to my gratitude, so there was a dollar in quarters in my other pocket. Those went into the pool next.

Are You Kidding Me?
Now at this point, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. Who goes all the way to New York to throw $1.11 in change into a museum display? I mean, seriously?

This is what it looks like when four quarters simultaneously hit the water

This is what it looks like when four quarters simultaneously hit the water

Apparently, I do.

And if you think I’m crazy, I’ll admit that there are instances where I might agree with you. But — for whatever reason — getting myself back to that room in the Museum became really important to me.

For many of us, keeping a promise to ourselves is so much harder than keeping one to someone else. Especially if the promise is a little wacky. Or expensive.

But I can’t tell you how satisfied it made me feel to realize that I had actually done something I said I was going to do — even though I’d made the promise at a time when I couldn’t imagine how or when I’d be able to deliver the goods.

That, my friends, is definitely worth $1.11.
Plus airfare and hotel.

Always Have A Plan B
And now, today’s travel hacking tips. In my last post, I was busy crowing about the cheap, fast and easy method of using public transit to get from La Guardia Airport to Manhattan.

However, when I tried making the return trip, I discovered that a power outage in Brooklyn had caused severe delays on the subway line I needed. Oops.

Luckily for me, a Plan B appeared to be close at hand with the NYC Airporter bus, which costs $13.00. However, I cannot really recommend this service. It’s advertised as running every half-hour, but I waited close to an hour for a bus that was supposed to arrive “in the next 20 minutes”. (Lying to customers seems to be an acceptable marketing strategy in New York.)

Once the bus arrived, it did get me to La Guardia in 45 minutes, but not before I’d made a panicky call to Air Canada, wondering how late I could check in and not miss my flight. (And because I don’t have US roaming on my phone, that toll-free call cost me an extra $14.87.) You’ll find terrible reviews for the NYC Airporter on Trip Advisor and I’m sorry to say that they’ve earned them.

Here are my tips:

  • Take public transit if you can, and save your money for something more interesting. (The Q70 bus from La Guardia is even equipped with luggage racks.)
  • Avoid the NYC Airporter unless you absolutely have to use it.
  • In both cases, leave yourself plenty of time for something to go wrong.

And always have a Plan B.
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A Tiny Tribute To Two Very Big Hearts

This summer, I spent a month on the road in Europe, as part of a summer field school experience. For the next little while, I’ll be posting a purely self-indulgent* series of essays, inspired by the slice-of-life wisdom that only travel brings.

*You could say that I’m invoking the “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” rule. After all, it’s my blog and I’ll… etc. etc. Still, I hope these are at least a little entertaining.

Hello! Yes, it’s been a mighty long time since you heard my voice on this blog. But today, I’m back with a travel hacking tip and a tiny story.

Let’s Begin at the Beginning
We’ll start with the story. My educational path has been fairly checkered, but I did manage to finish a diploma in Fine Arts way back in 1984. I was a student at the Abbotsford campus of what is now the University of the Fraser Valley, under the tutelage of two amazing teachers: Janina and Mircho Jakobow. I don’t know a lot about their history. They were both very talented artists, classically trained, and they’d come to Canada from Romania.

Can’t Draw
I first met this dynamic duo in my portfolio interview, after I applied for entry into the design program at Fraser Valley. This was also my first encounter with Janina’s customary bluntness. “Well” she said, looking at my sketches. “I can see that you have some design talent, but your drawing is not so hot.” She was right, of course. I spent the next two years learning (among many other things) how to draw.

Looking back on it now, I wonder what it was that possessed them to try and build a fine arts program in what was – truthfully – a pretty backwater town in rural British Columbia. But they took on this task with a great deal of devotion and optimism. Day after day, they worked to expand our minds as well as train our hands.

Hitting the Road
One of their great mind expansion techniques was a semi-annual field trip to New York City. They would shuttle twenty-odd students across the continent from Vancouver, and pack in as much art, fashion and culture as we could handle in a week. I joined this trip in my first year of school, the spring of 1983.

Somehow, Janina and Mircho let me talk them into allowing my two best friends from Edmonton to come as well. We unpacked ourselves into a budget hotel in Times Square and had a week that we still talk about, some thirty years later. Museums! Broadway plays! Shopping! I remember flying home and wondering how I would ever again be satisfied with the cultural offerings of Canada.

One of the places Janina and Mircho insisted we visit was Pearl Paint, on Canal Street at the edge of Manhattan. It was a mecca for art students looking for cheap materials. Of course I went, and bought everything I would need for the rest of my time in college. And then some. And then some more. It was like visiting Aladdin’s Cave of Art Supplies, and I left no pencil or paint tube behind.

Hitting the Road Again
Several years later, well after I’d graduated, I got word that both Mircho and Janina had both passed away. Mircho had suffered a sudden heart attack. He and Janina were very deeply bonded, so it was terribly sad but not surprising to hear that she followed him soon after.

Thirty-one years have gone by since that trip to New York. I’m still in a creative profession, although I don’t draw as much as I’d like. And I’m headed out on another field trip experience, this time for four weeks, in Austria and Italy.

But my first stop on this odyssey is New York. It seemed only fitting that I should plan a trip to Pearl Paint, still in the same location. I thought I could make it a tiny personal tribute to Janina and Mircho, who — bless them — had taken a yappy, temperamental 20-year-old named Sally and done their patient best to turn her into a designer.

And Now, a Detour for Some Travel Hacking
Way back at the beginning of this post, I promised you a travel hacking tip. Here it is. If you’re flying into La Guardia Airport in New York, skip the various shuttle services (which tend to get tied up in traffic) and hop onto the Q70 bus at Terminal B. It’ll take you to two subway hubs where you can catch a train to pretty much anywhere. I was able to get from La Guardia Airport to Times Square in an hour, for the princely sum of $2.50.

In a big city, this is a good way to experience life at street level. And you’ll find this kind of transportation solution in many of the big cities in the United States, as well as those of Europe. Besides New York, I’ve taken the MAX train to Portland’s airport, an MTS bus to San Diego’s airport, and the Tube from Heathrow to downtown London. None of these cost more than $10, and got me to my destination quickly and efficiently.

A New York icon since 1933

A New York icon since 1933

Returning to Our Story…
After I booked tickets and hotels, I printed subway schedules and maps from Google, and figured out how to make my tiny tribute work.

And then … Pearl Paint closed.

Without warning, at the end of April. Apparently not even the employees knew it was coming. A New York icon since 1933, it was shuttered almost overnight. I decided to go anyways. I bought a pair of china markers before I left Edmonton, and guessed that I’d be able to find a place to leave a little bit of heartfelt graffiti.

Getting to Pearl Paint was easy, but the store looked sad, permanently locked up behind big steel gates. I located a spot to leave my mark, on the ancient ironwork steps leading into the store, where my feet had last touched down in March of 1983.

I pulled out my china markers and looked around, a little apprehensive. I mean, what happens when a random person starts drawing on the steps of an abandoned store in a working-class New York neighbourhood? I didn’t know.

As it turns out, nothing happens. People went about their business and ignored me. Still, I worked quickly and as soon as I finished, stood up to admire my handiwork. Then I kissed my fingertips and quietly said “thanks, guys.”

Thanks indeed. For so much more than you probably ever realized.

j+m

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Mais Oui! A Guide to Learning French Online

Bonjour!
Meet Jessica, who writes on behalf of french-resources.org. This is a website with all kinds of tips and tools for beginners, intermediate and advanced learners, as well as French teaching resources, ideas and activities for primary and secondary teachers.
Take it away, Jessica!

I didn’t require much convincing to decide to learn French online. Indeed, this has proven to be an effective, inexpensive, and convenient way to learn the language. There are, however, several challenges that I’ve faced and I’d like to share them with you — and tell you how I overcame them.

First, I had a real problem with pronunciation. Like all native English speakers, I found this difficult because some French sounds have no English counterparts. I had an especially tough time with the letters U and R, which take on modulated pronunciations and which are difficult to describe in text. It’s challenging because you don’t have a tutor to guide you on the correct accents. I overcame this by watching French movies and listening to French music, all of which can be accessed through your local library. I also recently visited France, which allowed me to get firsthand experience in French pronunciation.

And then there’s the French H. The French H comes as either muet or aspiré. Both sound the same (they are both silent), but there’s a huge difference in that mute H (H muet) requires liaisons and contractions whereas aspirated H (H aspiré) acts as a consonant. Remembering which H word is which is tricky, but I’ve overcome this by making a vocabulary list that has definite articles such as l’homme (H muet) and le homard (H aspiré). English movies with French subtitles also helped. (Additional helpful hint: I’ve discovered that the longer you make spelling mistakes, the more difficult it will be for you to fix them!)

Listening to French recorded lessons, watching French movies and my interactions with other French learners in discussion forums and other online communities has been a great resource. As an example, I now automatically pronounce B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R whenever I find them at the end of a word.

When I was starting out, I had a problem concentrating in my lessons and following my personal schedule. I’ve discovered that — for me — learning French in a structured manner was the path to learning effectively and efficiently. I enrolled in an online class and set a specific time early in the morning for my French lessons. (I also talked to my family and asked them to give me sufficient space and support.)

Finally, French is unique in that French words are assigned gender (they are either masculine or feminine). This, as I’m sure is the case with most native English learners, has been very confusing to me. The only answer seems to be memorization. There is no other way around it. I have read countless books to get proper usage of French words and to determine their gender.

And in the end, has it been a worthwhile endeavour? I can confidently say: mais oui! It certainly has.

Let’s Get This Party Started … Again

Having wrapped up a very interesting 2013, it’s time to let you know what I’m thinking about for 2014.

Instead of focusing strictly on life hacking, I set a number of goals that I’m going to be turning to my library for assistance with. And … I have some interesting adventures coming up.

Let’s start with adventure — it’s more fun. From June 29 until July 23, I’m going to be in summer school in Austria and Italy. I got the acceptance letter two weeks ago and now that I’ve stopped dancing about in joy, I’m realizing there’s actually a lot of pre-planning required for something like this. However, there’s also loads of opportunity for some good-quality life hacking. I’m looking forward to sharing all my sneaky travel tricks. (That is, when I learn what they are.)

Plenty ‘O Goals
Now, about those goals:

  • Lose 20 pounds.
  • Start running again — and keep running.
  • Learn to speak passable German and Italian.
  • Pull together a wardrobe that will work for Europe in the summer, make me look sophisticated and wordly, and yet fit into a backpack.
  • Get my job under control so that leaving for a month doesn’t create mountains of chaos for my beloved co-workers.
  • Buy a condo.
  • Get successfully through eight university-level courses.
  • Be creative.
  • Learn how to be content.

I know that’s a pretty tall order, but I figure that if I at least put in some effort, at the end of the year I’m still ahead of where I was at the beginning of the year.

I’ve already started working on some of them. The good folks at Weight Watchers are helping me with the 20 pounds, and I’ve used Jeff Galloway’s “Running Until You’re 100″ (which we first talked about early last year) to build a training plan.

Ciao Bello!
I’m also quite jazzed to be trying out the Mango Languages software, which is available FREE through my home library. This is language learning that’s completely online, so I can chirp “Buongiorno, Signore!” and “Guten Tag!” in the privacy of my own home, whenever I want. You can even access Mango on your phone. It’s just so cool. (You can check at their website to see if your own library has access to Mango.)

More Crazy Experiments
As well as my ridiculously ambitious list of goals, I still have a whole pile of life hacking experiments left over from 2013 to be tried out. Here’s a quick sample list:

  • Making port
  • Fixing a car (I thought an oil change might be a good place to start)
  • Making candy canes
  • Building a guest bed
  • Learning how to paint watercolors
  • Learning to cooking Thai food
  • Figuring out how to make my own lunch instead of buying it every single day
  • Growing herbs indoors
  • Writing a Harlequin romance
  • Learning how to win at blackjack
  • Making good-looking pottery without a potter’s wheel
  • Basket-weaving (and that’s not a joke)

Even though I haven’t quite figured out how to make it all happen, I think we’re in for a fun 2014. I hope you’ll come back and visit now and again, and I’ll endeavour to have something new and interesting to show you.

Next week, we have a guest post from Jessica, on some unconventional ways to learn French. Until then, I hope the sun is shining in your part of the world!

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A Look Back At 2013

Hello!

Before we get too far along in this brand new year, I thought it was a good idea to wrap up what we did in 2013.

The initial goal of Library Life Hack was to determine the dollars-and-cents value of a library card in the life of a (more or less) ordinary person. At the close of 2013, the life hacks I had tried out had saved $3971.86.

As well as life hacking, I borrowed entertainment resources that would have cost me $424.26 to buy, and I also borrowed $124.32 worth of books and DVDs for my academic pursuits. That’s a grand total of $4520.44.

My library card weighs 3 grams, so pound for pound, that makes the card much more valuable than platinum.

A library card is worth more than $4500. Who would have thought?

And … what did I learn?
Quite a lot. My favourites:

All these little enrichments added up to a life that felt very much enriched by the end of the year. I also got exposed to a lot of terrific, insightful and inventive authors and filmmakers. I felt like my brain expanded into all kinds of new territory, and there were several nights I would lay awake, too excited by all these unexplored frontiers to go off to sleep.

I learned a few other things along the way. To my surprise, a rolling pin is nothing to be afraid of. And not so much to my surprise, food that you make yourself tastes way better than anything you buy in a typical grocery store.

And I had so much fun
Oh my gosh, I had fun. I loved doing the experiments and I loved writing the goofy stories about the results. I still play my Butter-Making Dance Mix when I’m cooking and cleaning, and laugh as I’m shaking my 50-something derriere to Katrina and The Waves.

Thank you, Thank You, Thank You
We’re now two weeks into 2014, so let’s close off 2013 with a few words of thanks.

  • First to Chris Guillebeau, who provided $100 and the instructions that inspired Library Life Hack. (You can read the whole story here.)
  • Second, to the brilliant staff of Strathcona County Library, who offered help and suggestions at every turn. (This is a gorgeous library. If you’re ever in Sherwood Park, stop in for a visit. You won’t be sorry.)
  • Third, to everyone single person who has ever sat down and read through the posts, offered their comments and even trusted me far enough to subscribe. You’re a giant part of what makes this blog so much fun and so worthwhile. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And now … it’s 2014. Let’s go!
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Happy New Year!

Hello and Happy New Year!

Exactly one year ago today, I released the first post on this blog, full of the enthusiasm and optimism that accompanies new ventures. And exactly two months and three days ago, I released the most recent post.

For this, I apologize. My intention, on January 1st of 2013, was that this be a weekly blog.

“Life is what happens” said the great John Lennon, “when you’re busy making other plans.”

In my life, the happenstance is that I work full-time and go to school part-time. At least until this past September. I decided to try taking three courses per semester, which meant that — legally, anyways — I was now a full-time student. Juggling a three-course load with a demanding full-time job was … well … a little hairy. And Library Life Hack became a casualty of my academic pursuits.

I survived. I even got good marks. And I signed up to start three more courses on January 8. Having tackled it once, I’m gambling that I could manage a little better on Round Two.

Library Life Hack’s domain registration came up for renewal four days ago. And I had a decision to make. Do I continue? Can I do it? Do I want to do it?

The answer to the last question is easy. Of course I do. Library Life Hack was one of the brightest spots of my 2013. Despite my embarrassment at falling off the wagon for two months, I’m quietly proud of my blogging adventures. I’ve even gotten to speak live about it to other library folks.

And there are still things — lots of things — I want to try. So, I’m back for another year of kooky life experiments, engineered with library materials. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it. It would be foolish for me to promise weekly posts because that’s unlikely to happen. But I will tell you that I’m taking a page from “The 4-Hour Workweek” and looking at the possibility of outsourcing.

There are fresh adventures yet to come. And I’m really glad you’re here.

Happy New Year.

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