Monday, February 15, 2010

How You Know You're Going to Have a Good Day

Much novel writing. Longer blog posts in the works. But for now...


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Thursday, April 23, 2009


Best birthday gift ever?

Three days on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i with my sweetie.

I'd never been to Hawaii before. My sweetie has, but only to Honolulu and Maui. Moloka'i is one of the smaller islands--38 miles long by 10 miles wide--and has about 7000 residents. No stoplights anywhere. One small town. Lots of pickup trucks. Anybody looking for the hustle and bustle of a tourist resort won't find it. But if you want peaceful, rural, and unbelievably beautiful--which we did--well, that's Moloka'i. People we met there said, "We don't want to be another Maui." And they mean it. The residents of Moloka'i have fought off development for decades...most recently, a proposed luxury home development on their southwestern shore. They want to keep Moloka'i, Moloka'i. A picture being worth a thousand words, and all that, you can see why we hope they continue to succeed.

This is Papohaku Beach. Three miles long, one of Hawaii's longest beaches. And in the middle of a weekday afternoon, we were the only ones there. It was still too early in the spring for swimming--the sea was way too rough--but it was gorgeous. One weird thing, though: look at how clean that sand is! In Oregon and California, we're used to kelp, driftwood, the occasional dead crab...but none of that on Papohaku. No idea why, but it was amazing.

A few miles away we found Kapukahehu Beach (aka Dixie Maru Beach) and its calm cove waters. Perfect for the likes of me, who can't see six inches ahead--literally--and therefore routinely get knocked over by waves. (I made a lousy Californian.) This was the most crowded place we experienced during our stay...all of about ten people sharing the sun, sand and warm water. I'm not much into sunbathing (not only severely myopic, but also melanin-challenged--yeah, I made a really lousy Californian) but yeah, this was bliss.

Driving the southern coast highway to the eastern tip of the island, we passed a sign warning us of a nene crossing. Nenes are the Hawaiian state bird, and endangered; only about 800 still survive on all the islands. A mile or so later, we came across a group of nenes, and sure enough--they were crossing the road. Now that's an accurate sign.

Looking from the rocky Halawa beach deep inland to the Halawa Valley and one of its waterfalls. Halawa Valley was the location of one of the earliest known settlements in all of Hawaii.
Kalaupapa Peninsula, on the northern shore. This is where Hawaii's famous leper colony is situated. Beginning in the 1860s, people in the Hawaiian islands diagnosed with Hansen's disease (leprosy) were taken away involuntarily from their families and quarantined here. For much of the colony's history, patients were kept on this almost inaccessible peninsula, in virtual prison, for the rest of their lives.
There's a daily tour of the colony, and we were eager to go. But getting to the tour, we learned, is a whole adventure in itself. Even today, the only land access is a 3-mile trail that drops 1700 feet from the top of a sea cliff down 26 switchbacks to the peninsula below. (Did I mention that Moloka'i has the highest sea cliffs in the world?) Two ways to tackle the trail: 1) saddle up with Moloka'i Mule Ride, or 2) hoof it on our own two feet. Since we're idiots, it didn't occur to us to reserve mule saddles in advance. So we showed up at the trailhead early in the morning, got our state permits (required to enter the peninsula), and started hiking before the four-leggeds were on the move.

A section of the cliff trail. This particular bit has a railing; much of the trail doesn't. And yeah, the ocean at the bottom is as clear as it looks. Absolutely spectacular.

A view of the sea cliff and part of the trail cutting across it.

St. Philomena was the first church built by Father Damien, a Belgian priest who ministered to the colony for sixteen years. He didn't just give sermons; he dressed patients' sores, built houses and two churches, and lived and worked alongside the banished outcasts of Kalaupapa until his own death from leprosy in 1889. Father Damien will be canonized as a Catholic saint in a ceremony on Kalaupapa peninsula on October 11, 2009. Our tour guide told us, in what I think is an understatement: "That will be a big day on Moloka'i."

A view of the sea cliffs from the Kalaupapa peninsula.

The cottage where we stayed. Just the most beautiful, welcoming place. From it, we could see the south shore, the islands of Maui and Lanai and--most exciting of all--whales spouting in the ocean between.
The view from our cottage, our last morning on Moloka'i: a rainbow over Maui.
And then: back home, far too soon.
Mahalo, Moloka'i, for reminding us to take it slow.

The resident goofballs. Yeah, we missed 'em.


Thursday, January 29, 2009


Wonderful news: YALSA has named Ten Cents a Dance one of the 2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults!

Fabulous!! you exclaim. Um...what's YALSA?

Clever, clever minxes! YALSA is the Young Adult Library Services Association, and YA librarians, I can tell you from experience, are the most enthusiastic promoters of literature and reading you'll ever meet. When my editor told me that Ten Cents a Dance had been nominated for their annual list of Best Books for Young Adults, I was thrilled. When I learned they'd chosen Ten Cents as one of their Top Ten, I wasn't just over the moon--I'm pretty sure I sailed out past Saturn somewhere. I'm only just now starting to feel the ground under my feet. There were so many incredible YA books published last year; I can't tell you how honored I am to be included.

Congratulations to Portland's own Lisa Schroeder; her novel I Heart You, You Haunt Me was named a 2009 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. You rock, Lisa (and the fact that you've written three books in three years makes me feel like an absolute slacker!)

Check out the YALSA awards site for all the winners, honor books, and lists: the Caldecott, the Printz, the Newbury (yay, Neil Gaiman!)

And to all you fabulous YA librarians...Thank you! I think you just made my year. Woot!

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Cybils Love!

I got an email from fellow Portland YA author Laini Taylor saying, "Congratulations on making the Cybils shortlist!"

I um, huh, What?

I sped over to the Cybils site and sure enough, Ten Cents a Dance is one of seven finalists for the YA Fiction Award!

*dancing wildly around the room*

When I say that just being named a finalist is an honor, believe me, I'm not being squidgy. I've read some of these books and been blown away by them. To be included on the same list is...well, it's freakin' unbelievably fabulous, is what it is. Unreal in the best possible way.

Many thanks to the Cybils panelists who read through all the YA Fiction nominees (almost 140 books!) to choose these seven. Now, the judges will read and decide the winner. Announcement on February 14th. I'll let you know. Meanwhile, if you're looking for some great reads, check out the shortlists for all the categories. To celebrate, I went on a shopping spree at A Children's Place Bookstore (because hello, the best way to celebrate anything is to buy more books) and came home with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Foundling by D.M. Cornish (not on a list but its sequel Lamplighter is), and Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, which won the 2007 Cybil for YA Fiction. Plus the other YA Fiction finalists I haven't already read.

A stack of new books. Cybils love. No better way to start a new year.

*still dancing*

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's a quiet day for us chocolate and laundry in the morning, dinner at a friend's in the afternoon.

Me: What can I bring?

Friend: You don't really like cooking, do you?

Me: (slight hemming and hawing) Um, I don't mind cooking. I mean, sure, I like cooking. Well enough. I mean, I'd be happy to bring something. I mean...

Friend (taking pity...and possibly remembering the pie I brought last year, which I thought came out OK): Don't worry about it. Seriously.

I'm grateful for friends who understand me. For conversation and warmth and camraderie, which I'll remember long after the the turkey and trimmings are gone. For my sweetie especially. For my family. For everything on this roller coaster publishing journey, ups and downs alike. And for things too many to list but which I hold dear in my heart.

And I'm grateful to you, too, for stopping by and spending a little time. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tayshas! (Gesundheit!)

I recently got some great news from my editor: Ten Cents a Dance has been named to the 2009-2010 Texas Library Association’s Tayshas Reading List. Yippiee-cai-yay! This means that librarians will be recommending TCAD to high school students throughout the entire state of Texas. I am incredibly honored. Congratulations to everyone who made the list…and thanks a million, Lone Star State!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Afternoon with the Greatest Generation

When a writer friend of mine asked if I would do a reading for her mother-in-law’s sorority, I pictured—I admit it—a roomful of starchy, upper crust ladies with Greek letter pins on their immaculate gabardine lapels. How, I wondered, would they react to rough-and-tumble Ruby, the main character of Ten Cents a Dance?

I slipped into my `40s vintage, put up my hair in victory rolls (no time for pin curls in the back, but that’s where a snood comes in awfully handy. Those old-timey gals had an answer for everything), slapped on the MAC Chili Red lipstick, and headed over to Albertina’s, a lovely restaurant/charity shop/venerable Portland institution. Most everybody was already there. Not a single Greek letter in sight, I noticed. Introductions were made all around, and then we sat down to lunch.

Over carrot-ginger soup, I learned that this was no ordinary sorority. The women belong to a chapter of Euthenics, which (they explained) is the science of improving the human condition through improvement of external factors: nutrition, education, environment. To join, each member had to have a degree in home economics. Listening to them talk, I realized—for the first time—that home ec is about more than learning how to sew a gingham apron. For these women, it’s a means to better the whole human race—a goal to which they had devoted themselves for over fifty years.

But back to lunch. Anita was talking about Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees (Anita is a beekeeper, as well as the only member not in her eighties…having just celebrated her ninetieth birthday) when I realized that quitting full-time veterinary work to write was the best career decision I’d made in my life.

I’d thought this before, of course. But never with such absolute clarity and conviction. How else would I have met these witty, down-to-earth, wonderful women, had a chance to listen to their stories, and share with them mine and Ruby’s?

After lunch, I read from Ten Cents a Dance. The group responded with enthusiasm—they’d lived through the time I wrote about, after all, and it kicked off a lively discussion of the war…the homefront…the men who came back and never talked about what they’d seen or done. The afternoon was over way too soon—I felt I could have stayed for hours, listening to their stories, laughing at their jokes. If I’m half as sharp and half as active at that age, I’ll be thankful indeed! Thank you, ladies, for your wonderful hospitality. This was my first reading for the Greatest Generation—and I hope it won’t be the last.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Crack the Champagne, It's a Book Launch!

Last Sunday, St. Johns Booksellers hosted the launch party for Ten Cents a Dance. Liz and Nena, the fabulous booksellers, cleared a big space in the middle of the store and set out all their chairs in preparation. After all, my last reading there had been a great success, with more than thirty attendees—fingers crossed that as many people might come this time!

The party started at 3 PM. By the time I started reading, at 3:15, the entire store—front to back, side to side, every chair, between every bookshelf—was standing room only. More than sixty people came out to help us celebrate! To say I was gratified would be the understatement of the year—I was utterly overwhelmed.

The crowd responded enthusiastically to the reading, and in the Q&A session following, questions flew thick and fast: about the research and writing, about taxi dancing and the Chicago of the era, what a dime would buy in 1941 (besides a dance with Ruby!), and about the opportunities and sacrifices that WWII brought to a young generation—some of whom, I was honored to discover, were in the audience. And doubly honored when they told me, afterward, that Ruby’s world seemed to them truly authentic.

I was going for some personal authenticity, myself. With the invaluable assistance of friend and fellow author Sally Nemeth, I snagged a fabulous 1940s dress. Then, armed with YouTube tutorials, advice and encouragement from the wonderful folks at the Fedora Lounge, I practiced and practiced my chosen 1940s hairstyle, reverse victory rolls and pincurls. (Our grandmothers had some dextrous fingers, to pull these off every day. Pincurls are hard!) Finally, seamed stockings, my mother’s ‘40s crocodile platform heels, a flower to top it all off—I was set!

Two days later, I’m still floating. Thank you to everyone who came to this colliding of my worlds: all my veterinary folk, my writing pals, friends, neighbors, and Tallulah fans who came to discover what this new book is all about. Special shout-outs: to my pal Amber, who bought a zoot suit costume for the occasion; to the Portland members of the Fedora Lounge, some of whom I finally got to meet in person, and whose vintage turnout put mine to shame! And especially to my good friend Walter, who flew in from Idaho just for the party, and had to fly right back out again.

A heartfelt thank you to my wonderful agent, Dorian Karchmar, who bought the champagne and sent a lovely message of congratulations. The crowd burst into quite an ovation!

And finally, my deepest gratitude to Nena and Liz of St. Johns Booksellers, who, the moment I told them I was working on a second novel, cried, “We want to host the party!” They made it a magnificent event—Liz even suffered high heels through the entire afternoon (I hope your feet have recovered, Liz!) These two are truly a class act, and their bookstore is a treasure in our neighborhood.
Thanks to them, and to all who came, and to all who couldn’t but sent their congratulations—Ten Cents a Dance is well and beautifully launched.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Celtic Tour 2007, Part II

Cows and cathedrals. What better introduction to Ireland?

Actually, our real introduction was trying to find our hotel in south Dublin. The directions estimated 40 minutes from the airport. It took us almost 3 hours. Maps don't help when only about 1 out of 8 intersections bothers to have a street name attached. Frazzled? Let's just say a pint of Guiness didn't go amiss, once we'd found the place and settled down enough to venture out to a pub.

The next day, though, we were on the road again, heading south. We stopped at the Rock of Cashel, which in ancient days seated the kings of Munster. In later years, ie, around 1100 A.D. (adjust your chronometers--we're on historical time, now) the land was given to the Catholic Church, and a cathedral was built, along with an archbishop's residence and various and sundry other establishments. All picturesque ruins, now. That's the Rock of Cashel, above, taken from the vantage point of a much smaller, ruined abbey in the cow pasture below.

This is one of the very cool things about Ireland--you're driving along, or walking, and you see a ruined stone tower, or abbey, or some such, out in the middle of a pasture, or tucked behind a modern farmhouse. The cattle must be used to tourists tramping through for a closer look; like Bessie, above, they mostly didn't turn a hair.

From Cashel we made our way to the southern coastal town of Kinsale, in County Cork. I've seen some pretty towns, but Kinsale is so adorable you want to pick it up and tuck it in your pocket. It is that cute. We stayed at the San Antonio B&B, the same place my sweetie had spent a night about 6 years ago. The room was comfortable, the food glorious, and conversation with Jimmie, the proprietor, was best of all. Global politics, the euro, the recent Irish elections--fascinating, intelligent, and funny as hell, and besides that, Jimmie cooked the best breakfast we had in Ireland (and second only to Linda and Dave's in Edinburgh). On Jimmie's advice, we walked to the Spaniard Inn that night to hear traditional Irish music. Three musicians in a corner of the pub, the whole place packed. Occasionally, an older person would come sit by the musicians and start to sing, and those moments were magical.

We did some exploring, around Fort Charles and Kinsale Harbour, but mostly we relaxed, enjoying the food, the scenery, and the wonderful warmth of our Irish hosts. We didn't have long--just two days--then we headed back to Dublin International Airport, and home. It felt like time--I was missing my critters, and the easiness of my own house, and my friends. And so Celtic Tour 2007 ended. I hope it won't be long before we can go back.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Celtic Tour, 2007

OK, so about that whole Scotland/Ireland thing. My sweetie had a veterinary conference in Edinburgh, and he asked if I’d like to go along. Heck, yeah!

Do you want to sign up for the conference, too? he asked.

What? Go to Scotland to sit in a hotel watching PowerPoint slides with a bunch of dorky veterinarians?* Are you insane?

I mean, um, No, but thanks anyway!

So for 5 days, while the sweetie watched PowerPoint slides, I bummed around Edinburgh. I am in love with Edinburgh. First of all, it’s gorgeous. It’s got tons of dark snaky passageways winding between 16th century buildings just begging to be explored. And the castle. Edinburgh Castle sits atop a massive extinct volcano rising over the city—jaw-droppingly beautiful in daylight, and at night, when it’s lit up against the sky? Seriously…damn.

We stayed at a wonderful little B&B just outside the city, and every morning we were plied with Scottish breakfasts. The full Scottish breakfast, as presented by our hosts Linda and Dave, included porridge, eggs, bacon and sausage and black pudding (you don’t want to know what’s in it, but man it’s good), tomatoes and mushrooms, potato scones, toast, juice, and tea or coffee. I never ordered the whole thing; if I had, I’d have had to lie around like a stuffed crocodile for at least 2 days.

Once the sweetie was released from conference duties, we rented a car and took off for the Highlands. I’ve seen some beautiful places, Oregon—my current abode—being one of them. But I’ve never seen country so beautiful as the Scottish Highlands. Here in the American West, the peaks are higher, the wilderness far more wild. But there was something about the raw light sparking over the water of the lochs, the impossible shades of green, the farmsteads white specks under the looming dark mountains—I can’t describe it well enough, but it swept my heart away.

The sense of history is everywhere. We explored Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI. Visited the grave of Rob Roy. Stood on the bridge where William Wallace (he of “Braveheart” fame) won a stunning victory against the English, in the cause of Scottish independence. We laid our hands on the stones of Castle Urquhart, ruined and brooding beside a gray Loch Ness. We walked across the battlefield of Culloden—an open, empty moor, dotted with stones carved with the names of the clans slaughtered at the hands of the English in 1746, buried in mass graves under the heather. I’d read the history, but to stand on the moor in the freezing wind, to read The Well of the Dead, Clan MacKenzie, Clan Fraser, Clan MacGillivray, one stone after the next—brought the reality home in a way printed words never can.

We stayed at inns in tiny towns, ate tons of amazing food, ignored the rain and delighted in the sunshine, and met many wonderful, warm, hospitable Scots. Too soon, we found ourselves back in Edinburgh. I wasn’t ready to leave, but only a few days remained on our trip, and Ireland called. More on that, later...

*Some will dispute my assertion that veterinarians are dorks. But if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas in February, or Reno in October, look for the folks carrying conference tote bags and wearing khaki Dockers with either cowboy boots or Birkenstocks. See? Dorky, every last one of ‘em. Just like me. I rest my case.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Welcome to the World!

Congratulations to my niece and nephew-in-law, Monica and Kenji, on the arrival of their second child and first daughter: Julia Concetta! Welcome to the world, baby Julia!


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Snowing! Snowing!

I may be grown-up, but when it snows, I still clap my hands in pure happiness.

I didn’t listen to the weather forecast, so it was a beautiful surprise to get up at 6 AM and find flakes drifting down. It doesn’t snow much here in Portland—once every year or two—and often not more than a dusting. Right now, though, we have about 4” at our house. Which I know isn’t a hill of beans compared to what some of you have endured recently (hello, Denver!) but I’m thrilled nonetheless. Especially since today is a writing day. I’ve been snuggled up for hours with four furry animals, a mug of coffee, a fleece robe, and my laptop, while the snow fell and everything outside gradually disappeared.

Unfortunately, not everything in my fair city was so peaceful. Seems Portland’s drivers have made the national news. Don’t laugh! We just don’t get enough real winter weather to cope well. Like in ’93, when a freak storm dumped 18” of snow in less than 24 hours over Knoxville, TN. At that time we lived about 20 miles outside the city. It seemed like EVERYONE took out their 4-wheel-drive SUVs and promptly got them stuck in ditches. (The best part was how cheerful everyone still was, even when they had to walk home. Snow in unexpected places does that for people.)

Two thousand words written today (that’s about 8 manuscript pages.) The snow has stopped and it’ll be dark soon, so time to take a break and take the dogs for a walk. I hope wherever you are, winter’s treating you well.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

So much to be thankful for. Not least of which, for all of you who visit me here. Happy Thanksgiving! I’m spending my holiday writing, answering the call of the deadline. I love to write, so this is no hardship--and anyway, that deadline is one of the biggest things I'm thankful for! (since it means that my new book already has a home...kind of like a puppy who's already been adopted, but is too young to leave mama just yet.)

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Behind Every Successful Writer...

Tess Gerritsen is an award-winning writer of thrillers. She also writes an insightful blog about writing and publishing. Her latest post, “Only Another Writer Would Understand,” is a beautifully written essay on the difficulties of being married to a writer.

I understand what she’s talking about. I could write the companion piece: “Only Another Veterinarian Would Understand.”

Fortunately, my significant other is a veterinarian, too. We both understand fourteen-hour days and the lack of weekends. We consult each other on the hard cases and commiserate over the heartbreaking ones. We accept the near-absolute certainty that we’ll arrive late (or miss entirely) any event for which we buy tickets. And still, sometimes, we get frustrated with the demands of each other’s careers. For spouses who don’t belong to the same profession, those frustrations must get enormous—even when they are entirely supportive of their loved one’s vocation.

How much worse it is, then, when the spouse is not supportive.

Years before I had the great good fortune to find my sweetie (and long before I started writing), I experienced exactly that. The attitude ranged from comments like, “Why would anyone spend money on a cat?” to a silent, condescending indifference toward anything veterinary-related…because after all, “it’s just not important.”

Bye-bye. Better to be alone, than with someone who thinks my work—my passion—is trivial.

Writers with unsupportive spouses hear a lot of the same kind of thing: The writing is a “hobby.” It’s "not important." It’s a "waste of time." And when the rejections arrive (as they always do): “I told you so.”

I changed career mid-stream. I took a pay cut to pursue writing. I spend countless hours in my office tapping at the keyboard, and countless more musing about characters and plot points and story problems. My sweetie sure didn’t sign up for that. He thought he was getting a veterinarian who liked to read. Without warning, he ended up with a writer, complete with angst, negligible odds for success, and an anemic cash flow. And throughout it all (Quitting my job! Haywire schedule! Rejection after rejection!) he has been my champion. Because it makes me happy. Because he thought I should go for it. And because he’s the most excellent man on earth. To say I’m blessed is the understatement of a lifetime.

To those struggling with this issue, I can only say: Don’t ever, ever settle for less.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Enchanted Evening

Like most writers (and most veterinarians, for that matter), I’m an introvert. I take my socializing the way I take wasabi—small doses for flavor, carefully calibrated not to overwhelm.

Not only that, I’ve succeeded in avoiding most of the party-giving occasions of life. Given that my boyfriend is as introverted as I am, birthday parties—surprise or otherwise—are highly unlikely. (I should point out that avoiding parties is not one of the reasons I’m unmarried. I mean, I may be a reclusive geek, but I’m not so far gone that the thought of having a shower given in my honor sends me screaming for the hills).

Which made it all the sweeter when my writing group threw me a party to celebrate the publication of Tallulah Falls.

What a lovely, magical, amazing experience.

We thought perhaps 20 or 30 people might come; it was a Sunday, after all, and raining to boot. Instead, something like 75 people crowded into my friend Connie’s living room, mingling, chatting, and nibbling on adorable tiny homemade cheesecakes. And me? The party organizers sat me down at the head of the table and for over 3 hours, I signed books, chatted with guests (some of whom I hadn’t seen for years), and laughed, laughed, laughed. Ton of fun? You have no idea. In a fit of optimism, I’d ordered 45 books from a local bookstore, figuring we’d have some left over. We not only sold out—the next day I had to order more, for all those who’d paid for a copy but didn’t get one at the party.

Perhaps the most surreal aspect, though, was that for the first time, all my worlds collided.

People who knew me as a veterinarian met those who knew me as a writer, who met still others who knew me as a college instructor. The consensus I heard from everyone afterward: “You know so many nice, interesting people!”

Yes, I do. To everyone who came, thank you—I’m overwhelmed that so many of you took time out of your hectic weekend to come buy a book and share a laugh with me. Thank you also to Broadway Books, a wonderful independent bookstore, for ordering in the books for me—twice. And to my wonderful writing group, the Writers of Renown, and our fearless leader, Karen Karbo—novelist, memoirist, and indefatigable teacher—I am still floating on air. Thank you, compadres! The next party, in honor of the next one of us to get published, will be at my house. I can only hope to match what you’ve done for me—no way can I top it.

Champagne, anyone?

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