Archive | November, 2010

By The Book

29 Nov

Somewhere, perhaps in the Library of Congress, there is a pair of books. One is titled, The Dad Book. The other is titled, The Mom Book. I don’t think anyone will argue with me because who really knows what’s in the Library of Congress anyway? I figure maybe the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but it’s a pretty big building, so there must be more than just that.

I know the Mom and Dad books exist because my friend, Kate, said so. If Kate says a thing is true, it either is, or you want it to be. Kate is just like that. The Dad Book, according to Kate, contains all of the things that are the Dad’s responsibility in the standard American suburban household. The Mom Book contains all of the things that are the Mom’s responsibility. The Mom Book is thicker.

Of course, the The Mom Book and the The Dad Book were written many years ago, before Moms became self-actualized and liberated. My own mother became liberated when I was about ten. I know this because she took me to a women’s self-actualization group meeting. This was a meeting in which women discussed the many roles they had in their lives and how much they hated many of those roles.

Though my mother became self-actualized and started working, she still adhered to the The Mom Book, or tried to, for a while. Eventually, my sister was given her own version of the The Mom Book; call it the “My mom works so now I have to iron and make dinner” book. My mother said my sister liked helping. My sister says something like, “I was 11 and I was ironing, for crying out loud, and just because I was the oldest.” I was very glad to be the second child.

I know some Dads cook. In our house,  The Dad Book did not include cooking, unless the cooking was done outdoors with open fire. The Dad Book also included fixing things, mowing the lawn and drinking beer afterward. We had a neighbor who liked to mow his lawn early in the day. Eventually, he and my father developed a competition to see who could mow their lawn the earliest. This put the “drink a beer afterward” rule in serious jeopardy of breaking the “don’t drink beer before noon” rule, but my dad adapted.

In my own house, The Dad Book and The Mom Book seem to have fallen off the shelf and had their pages put back haphazardly. But I have not rebooted my default responsibility settings. I grew up with a traditional Dad doing the traditional Dad things and a slightly less traditional Mom doing traditional Mom things.

I expect my husband to do the things my dad did. Problem is, my husband was raised in a home where the children were not exposed to the dirty workings of home care and maintenance. He was raised to read important books, listen to important music and converse on a range of culturally significant topics. I was raised to wipe the counters down before considering the kitchen clean-up completed. Which skill do you think is more useful in a modern suburban home inhabited by two adults, two children, a dog, a cat and a fish?

Our Mom and Dad book confusion is complicated by the fact that I lived alone for many years before entering a relationship that involved actual sharing of living space. Hence, all household responsibilities were my own. I quickly tired of asking male friends for help with Dad responsibilities. If I needed a shelf installed, I had to call a friend. If I needed a bookcase built, I had to call a friend. Eventually, I realized that I was calling male friends more for their tools, than their muscles.

I decided that the reason I couldn’t do Dad things for myself was I didn’t have that most Dad of things: the power drill. One year, my mother asked what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “A power drill.” She laughed and got me a “cute little sweater.” The next year, she asked what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “A power drill.” She didn’t laugh, but I got a cute little sweater anyway. The following year, I told my dad, “I want a power drill for Christmas. Mom is going to want to get me a cute little sweater. I want a power drill.” I got a power drill, and a cute little sweater.

With lots of cute little sweaters and a power drill, I was the empowered woman. I built my own furniture, I installed my own shelves, I screwed . . well, you get the drift.

Then I got married. I assumed my husband would be able to use the power drill at least as well as I could. Instead, I got a husband who can’t use a screwdriver without hurting himself. I had no idea that there is an addendum to The Dad Book. It reads: Any one receiving The Dad Book who also has earned a Ph.D. may, at any time, disregard the entire contents of The Dad Book. My husband has a Ph.D.

One winter day, last year, I heard a strange noise in the kitchen. It sounded like a constant, intermittent “whoosh.” I followed the “whoosh.” It took me to the basement. It took me, in fact, to the sump pump. “Sump pump” is not mentioned in my copy of The Mom Book. Actually, anything with “sump,” “pump,” “hose,” “outlet” or “filter” in its name is, and should be, listed in The Dad Book. My husband believes that “sump” is a word created so that children learning to read will have something to rhyme with “pump” and “rump.”

I Google’d “sump pump.” I Google’d “repair sump pump.” All of the results were ugly. Sump pump repair is only marginally less gross than toilet plunging, also listed in The Dad Book. I did what any self-respecting woman married to a man with a Ph.D. would do. I called a plumber. The plumber fixed the sump pump. Because the plumber has the traditional version of The Dad Book with no Ph.D. addendum, he was able to tell me how to avoid seeing him next winter.

It is winter again. I have done what the plumber suggested. I am hoping not to see him. In the meantime, my husband will spend the winter doing one of the only things he willingly does from The Dad Book. He will build roaring fires in our fireplace then fall asleep in front of them while watching a football game. Maybe I need a copy of The Dad Book?

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Hapless Husbands

22 Nov

I have been married for more than 18 years. Before you congratulate me, consider that a great deal of staying married is simply being too unmotivated to get unmarried. When the going gets tough, and the going can get pretty tough sometimes in nearly two decades, I have defaulted to a “well, let’s just wait and see what happens here” attitude. So far, the going has gotten much better. Of course, it hasn’t been easy but a little patience and a lot of forgiveness have kept this institution intact.

In addition to patience and forgiveness, there has been a lot of humor in my marriage. Most of it has been intentional. But, I’m fortunate to be married to a man who also does some really stupid stuff.

I understand that it takes a special kind of woman to air her husband’s stupid laundry. I am that kind of woman, but I’m not alone. I’ve found that many other women live with husbands who do really stupid things. I do not mean to exclude gay couples. I am sure that there is a lot of stupidity in every relationship, gay or straight. I can only report on what I know, so if you live with a person who does stupid things but isn’t your husband, just insert that person’s name where appropriate here.

Laundry seems to be the source of a lot of stupid things that husbands have done. My own husband has shrunk cashmere sweaters. He has turned white loads pink. He has failed to remove paper tissues that wound up in tiny pieces all over black pants and shirts. In fairness, these aren’t truly stupid things; they are just the actions of an uneducated launderer.

I have a friend whose husband believes that he knows how to use bleach. He adds bleach to the laundry and to the wash water for the dishes. He has bleached silver-plated cutlery. The cutlery didn’t like it. Once, their dog retched on an antique wool rug. He used bleach and the garden hose to clean it. The rug didn’t like it. My friend didn’t like it.

I think a lot of the things that my husband does he does out of ignorance, but some things he just doesn’t think through. Instead of emptying the wastebaskets then taking the trash to the curb, he took the wastebaskets to the curb. I didn’t notice the problem until, on trash morning, I went to throw out a tissue in the powder room. I turned, tossed the tissue and watched it land on the floor. Putting two and two together, and knowing the garbage truck was due any minute, I ran to the curb. I was too late. The garbage man, who is probably someone else’s hapless husband, took the wastebaskets. I no longer own decorative wastebaskets.

I have another friend whose husband isn’t so much stupid as he is a little lazy. While mowing the lawn, rather than move his baby daughter’s new purple ball, he nudged it with the mower. The baby cried for hours after watching shreds of purple plastic rain down on the lawn. My husband once kept our infant son in his wind-up swing for five hours. It was his first experience caring for our son on his own while I went out. He was confident everything would be fine. I left, had fun and came back home five hours later. When I left, the baby was in the swing. When I came home, the baby was in the swing. Every time the swing wound down, my husband would wind it back up again. He claims our son suffered no ill effects. I say tell it to the therapists we’ve been paying for since he was five.

I’ve heard of lots of husbands who pretend to be asleep. My own husband does this when the children come into our room in the morning. He has the kids fooled, but not me. Even when I tell them they can get Dad to make their breakfast because Dad has arms and legs and is just pretending to be asleep, they leave him lie. They claim he is grumpy in the morning. Maybe I’ll start telling them to shut up, go away and make their own darn breakfasts.

I know of a husband who pretended to be asleep through an entire burglar alarm malfunction. The alarm malfunctioned. The husband slept through. The wife reset the alarm. The alarm malfunctioned again. The wife reset it. The alarm malfunctioned again. And again. And again. The husband slept. The wife looked up the problem on the Internet. She attempted the fix suggested. It didn’t work. The husband slept. The wife tried shutting off the appropriate circuit breaker. In the process, she caused every clock alarm in the house to go off, except the one by her sleeping husband. The burglar alarm still wouldn’t shut up. The husband still slept.

Eventually, the wife, accompanied by their daughter, dug through the cobwebs in the basement, moved the refrigerator in front of the burglar alarm control panel, then discovered she needed a flat-head screwdriver. The husband slept. The wife could not find a flat-head screwdriver, so used the end of a saw blade to open the box, find the battery and end the beeping siege. The beeping husband slept on.

My favorite stupid husband trick involves the slightly lazy purple-ball mowing husband. He lives in a beautiful old house that has a wood-burning fireplace. On occasion, the odd bird will fly down the chimney and need assistance in leaving the home. My husband, when asked how he would handle the situation, said he might open all of the windows in the family room and swat at the bird with a broom until it got the hint and flew away. Not too stupid, I thought, and the kids would love the show.

My friend’s husband, though, is not just lazy, but inventive. Faced with the bird, he did indeed get a broom. Then, he held the broomstick out to the bird and spoke encouragingly to it, hoping to entice it to hop on the handle. He has become, of course, the butt of many a family joke. I can picture his wife and children taunting him with, “Here, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie. Hop on the nice stick, Birdie.”

Having dumped on my husband and the husbands of others, I suppose its only fair to reveal my own stupidities. I have slept through picking up my daughter at preschool. I continue to expect my son will spontaneously hug me and say, “I really love you, Mom. Thanks for all you’ve done for me.” I let my children convince me we needed a cat.

The dumbest thing I’ve done though is arguing with my mother-in-law. For years, she pushed every button I had and I let her. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I eventually smartened up and got along with her for the last year of her life. For years, my husband forgave my stupidity. Pretty smart guy, huh?

Copyright 2010 Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

Put Up Your Dukes

15 Nov

My mother and father were married for a very long time. They didn’t fight much, but when they did, it was memorable. Not for its violence; they were never violent. No, when my mother and father fought, they were eloquent. I can’t remember a particular fight, but I know that it would go something like this. My mother would accuse my father of some transgression. If she called him a name, it wasn’t just any random epithet. Once, for instance, she called him “an arrogant a—hole.” The alliteration just came naturally, flowed right off her tongue and was delivered with panache. My father, a wise man, would respond, but in Latin. “Mea culpa,” he’d say. “Mea maxima culpa.”

Fights are usually about something stupid.

Every couple I know has had a fight about Tupperware, for instance. We have tried every system of plastic container management in our house. Every one has lead to a fight of epic proportions. Early in our marriage, I recall yelling, “If you loved me, you’d put the Tupperware away right,” then running up to our bedroom, slamming the door and crying until I felt like an idiot for crying about Tupperware.

We tried the “as seen on TV” container system with just one lid for every type of container. It brought peace to our house for some time. Then my daughter decided the various sizes made good homes for various sizes of bugs. Grasshoppers fit nicely in the tall ones. The medium ones made good homes for worms and the small ones were ideally suited to Japanese beetles. We had many conversations about how my daughter would feel if I put her in a plastic container with a few twigs and some leaves. Apparently, she would feel just fine because all of my plastic containers disappeared. I hope I never find them.

I stopped buying expensive plastic containers after the bug incidents. I tried the kind with the stacking lids. The lids never got stacked. I realized that part of our problem was that a 14-year-old boy was responsible for unloading the dishwasher. In his mind, that meant that if the dishwasher was empty, he had done his job. Returning the dishes to their assigned location did not enter his mind. So, the measuring spoons were in with the steak knives, the pot lids were with the casserole dishes, the coffee mugs were on the counter and the container lids were nowhere to be found.

One night, my husband snippily asked where he might find a lid for a plastic container. He probably doesn’t think he was snippy, but I heard snip. I sighed, left what I was doing and went to get the poor helpless thing a lid. I knew I could find one, as I had numerous times before.

I couldn’t find one. Nothing matched. We had just two kinds of plastic container, those with red lids and those with blue lids. There were lots of blue lids and lots of red containers. There were even some old Chinese food containers, but no lids that matched bottoms. My head blew up. I began tossing containers around the room, determined that somewhere at the bottom of the container pile there had to be a secret store of container lids. I snapped, “Fine! You organize the darn things.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t say darn, but you get the picture.

So, my husband organized the plastic nightmare. Now, every container has its lid firmly placed atop it and the containers are then stacked neatly in the pantry. It’s working for now.  If my son continues his slovenly habit of just putting the containers and tops on the counter for me to put away, we could avoid a Tupperware fight for years.

Recently, I’ve been fighting with my neighbor. He’s a fine man. He has a beautiful family. His children play with my daughter. His wife is lovely. He is building a storage shed right next to my dining room window.

I tried to get him to stop. I was reasonable. I looked up the ordinances. I checked my plat of survey. I went outside and pointed out where I believed my property line was. His shed was going to be too close. Ah, too bad! No shed on the side of my house.

But he looked up ordinances, too. He found an ordinance that allowed him to put his shed where he wanted it. Bad. Shed on the side of my house.

Again, I tried to be reasonable. I calmly discussed the inappropriateness of placing a storage shed right outside your neighbor’s window. I pointed out that I would be forced to look at his shed every time I looked out my dining room window. He said he has to look at my gazebo every time he looks out his living room window. This made no sense to me but instead of saying “Huh?” I shouted, “Your shed will be ugly!” The conversation devolved. It became a fight.

I appear to have lost the fight. The shed is going up. We have made what is probably a vain attempt at involving the city. But, I’m still mad. As I write, it’s cold and dark. The shed is still going up. The nails are being hammered. My inside-my-head voice is saying, “I hope his hands are cold,” and “I hope he hammers his thumb.”

I don’t really want him to hammer his thumb. That would bring me bad Karma and I don’t need any more bad Karma. I’ve got a shed for a view, for crying out loud.

I try to follow the teachings of Buddha but my son says I am the worst Buddhist who ever lived, because I get mad and let people know it. I remember being in a Buddhist bookstore with a friend. She was telling me about a problem she had with a mutual acquaintance who had done something to really make my friend angry. She said, “What would Buddha do?” I said, “Buddha would key her car.” The little bald nun sitting at the cash register laughed out loud.

Probably, Buddha wouldn’t key the car, but he might well have thought about it. We get angry. We lash out. We push back. But, if we learn, we let go. I let go of the Tupperware and pretty soon, I’ll let go of the shed. Maybe then we’ll have a big windstorm and the tree near it will be blown over and fall on top of it.  A girl can dream.

Mendacity

8 Nov

When my son was eight, he and I were cuddled up in bed reading or watching TV or something. I don’t remember exactly what we were doing, but I’ll never forget the conversation.

“Mom,” he said. “Will you tell me the truth about something?”

“Well, yes,” I said, hoping he didn’t ask a question I would have to lie to answer.

“Even if you think it will hurt my feelings?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, crossing my fingers.

“Mom,” he said, “is there a Santa Claus or do you and Dad buy the presents?”

Whew, I thought. Nothing about sex.

“Are you sure you want to know?” I asked.

“Yes, just tell me.”

I swallowed hard.

“Dad and I do the presents.” He stayed still in my arms, head tucked against the soft spot just under my shoulder. He sighed.

“That’s what I thought.” We cuddled for a little while longer.

That September, we went to China. We came home with a little girl. Not too long afterward, I started preparing for Christmas.

“Pretty soon,” I said to my daughter, “it will be Christmas. Santa Claus is going to come to our house to bring you toys. Won’t that be fun?”

My son happened to be passing through the room. He stopped, looked at me and said, “So, you’re going to lie to her, too?” We lied to her for seven years.

This year, my daughter turned eight. She wanted the truth.

“Mom, is there a Santa Claus?”

“Why do you want to know,” I said, expecting her to tell me she’d had it with the years of lying and deceit. “Did someone tell you there isn’t?” Like your brother, I thought.

“Oh, some of the boys in school said that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus and that their moms and dads buy the presents. Do you buy the presents?”

“Yes, we do.”

She didn’t need any cuddling, just went back to whatever she’d been doing.

My husband used to lie to me all the time. Here’s how it would go:

“Will you give our daughter a bath?” I’d ask.

“Yes, right away,” he would say.

Ten minutes later, I would find that our daughter was still dirty and he was still playing card games on his computer.

“I thought you were going to give our daughter a bath,” I would say.

“Yes, I’ll do it right away. As soon as I finish this game,” he would respond. My brain would then explode trying to figure out if our daughter would get her bath immediately or when he finished his game.

Turns out, “right away” does not mean immediately. Silly me, I thought it did. In my world, right away meant that my husband was that very minute standing up, pushing his chair away from his desk, looking for our daughter and marshalling her upstairs for her bath. In my husband’s world, right away means, “in about five or ten minutes.” So, my husband was not lying when he told me that he would give her a bath right away. And I was not lying when I told him he was full of crap. He no longer tells me he will do something “right away.”

I don’t lie very much. It’s not that I’m not good at it. I’m a fairly convincing liar, but I was raised Catholic. When I lie, I do it well because I was told to always put forth my best effort. But then, the lie eats away at me. Even though I haven’t called myself a Catholic since I was 14 years old, I squirm and sweat, convinced I will be discovered and I will burn in a hell I don’t believe in for all eternity.

The range of lies I tell and squirm over is wide. I have lied about the beauty of everything from babies to bridesmaids’ dresses. “Yes, of course, I would love to wear a teal lace riding hat for your wedding. I’m sure I’ll wear it again and again.” I have lied about interior decorating, hair color, any number of peoples’ cooking and macaroni necklaces.

I will lie to the March of Dimes next year when they ask me to be their Mothers’ March volunteer. I accepted the task this year after copious amounts of pressure on their part. The volunteer kit came. It sat on my counter. I vowed to do it. I never did. I felt terrible. Next year, I will lie and tell them that I just don’t have the time. Someone else will volunteer, I know they will.

I have a friend who, like me, was raised by a Southern woman. We were taught never to say anything impolite or unkind. My friend is adept at finding something truthful to say in even the most horrendous circumstances. At a friend’s (terrible) movie premiere, she said, “What an exciting night this must be for you?” This is a woman to be admired and feared.

The lies I tell most convincingly are those I tell myself. Recently, I’ve been trying to write fiction. It goes slowly. Still, I enjoy it. I allow my husband to read it. He reads it. He responds favorably. I feel good about his responses. Then, my lying brain gets to work. I convince myself that he can’t possibly be telling me the truth, that every thing I write is terrible drivel and I am, in general, a talentless hunk of female flesh. When I tell my husband this, he rolls his eyes. He can’t win. He goes back to his card game. I go back to beating myself for thinking that I am a talentless hunk of flesh.

I told my kids that I was sad that Santa wouldn’t be coming to our house any more. They looked at me and said, together, “Why?”

After recovering from the shock of them doing anything together, I said, “Neither of you believe in him. I’ll wrap your presents and I won’t have to stay up ‘til midnight waiting for you to go to sleep so I can put the presents under the tree.”

“But I still want the presents under the tree,” my daughter said, pouting and looking extremely sincere. My son did his equivalent of pouting, which comes out something like, “Meh.”

So, we’ll pretend that we believe in Santa. I’ll stay up until midnight waiting for my kids to fall asleep so I can put their presents under the tree. I’ll enjoy it and that’s the truth.

Copywrite 2010 by Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

Things That Go Beep In The Night

1 Nov

My sister and I loved to play “cars.” We would draw an elaborate town on a large blackboard with roads, houses, a police station, a pet store, a grocery store, a toy store. Each of the stores had its own parking strip. We lived in the suburbs, after all. Then, we would take our brother’s cars and drive around, blowing noises through our lips to simulate driving and saying, “Beep, beep” for the horn. I’m pretty sure we didn’t let our brother play with us while we were playing with his cars. At the very least, we probably made the rules so complicated that he gave up. One day, my dad found him banging away on his cars with a sledgehammer.

There was a lot more horn honking when I was a kid. Noise pollution became a big issue and ordinances were passed. Overnight, it became illegal to honk your horn in frustration. Overnight, irritated drivers went from honking their horns to flipping their birds. Cars stopped beeping. I wonder, do children still “beep” their horns when they play cars, or do they flip each other off?

Now, lots of things beep. I have a timer that beeps until it’s reset. I use it to force me to do things I really don’t want to do. Say, for instance, that my basement looked like a haz mat dumping ground. Anyone with any amount of brain would be reluctant to enter such a basement. Anyone with any amount of dignity would not want to be the owner of such a basement. Let’s assume I have some small amount of dignity, therefore, the basement must be detoxified. I set my alarm for 15 minutes, then I enter the basement and begin detoxification. The alarm beeps and I am done. It will probably take me a year of 15-minute increments, but eventually my basement will only be nasty instead of downright scary.

I use my timer to allow me to do things I want to do, too. Like napping. I really like naps and science supports me in the value of napping. Left to nap unperturbed, I would nap for hours. Of course, if I nap for hours, there will not be fifteen minutes left in the day to detoxify the basement. So, I set my little timer for 25 minutes and I nap. Then, I get up and have a cup of tea. Then, I see that the mail has come so I go get the mail. Then, I realize I have to pick up my daughter. Then, I realize we have no milk, so we go to Target. Two hours later, we go home to make dinner. After dinner, I need to spend quality time with my family. Eventually, I realize that I have somehow forgotten to spend fifteen minutes in the basement and vow to descend to the pits the next day.

Lots and lots of helpful devices beep, besides alarms. Smoke and CO detectors beep. When we lived in Chicago, our CO detector started beeping in the middle of the night. I was relieved to find that it did, indeed, beep loudly enough to wake us. We pushed the little “shut up” button. It didn’t stop beeping. We called the fire department. The Chicago Fire Department is an awesome thing. They arrived quickly and in full dress. Two of the firefighters, dressed in their helmets and their big yellow coats, went through every room in our house. It was a four-year-old boy’s dream come true. They found no CO leaking anywhere. They did find a dead battery.

We have brand-new smoke detectors in our Naperville home. Every one of them is new, replaced just four years after moving here. You may wonder why we replaced all of our smoke detectors. We had to; they all went bad all at once. Naturally, they did it in the middle of the night. We determined that there was no fire. We reset the alarms. Two hours later, they all went off again. We reset them. One hour later, they all went off again. We reset them. Another hour went by, they all went off again. Then, in the morning, they mysteriously stopped. A very nice electrician charged us only a little bit extra to come that very day and install brand new detectors.

The new detectors don’t just beep; they also scream. They may even be cancer detectors. Whenever I broil meat, which has been shown to produce cancer-causing agents in food, the kitchen detector starts beeping and screaming, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Because all of the detectors are linked, the ones in the upstairs hall and all four bedrooms start screaming, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” as well.  Needless to say, I don’t broil meat very often. I bet they’d let me broil eggplant.

The new detectors scold as well. Recently, they began beeping and saying, “Low battery.” The first time this happened was in the middle of the night. I didn’t hear another admonishment for at least eight hours, then, “Beep. Beep. Low battery.” Another few hours went by. “Beep, Beep. Low battery.” As all of the detectors speak with the same generic woman’s voice, it is impossible to figure out which one is scolding you unless you are standing right next to it when it scolds. So, I gathered all the nine-volt batteries I could find and started changing batteries. When I ran out of batteries, I went to Target for more. Please tell my husband that it is not ridiculous to pay $150 for nine-volt batteries.

I felt secure and safe in the knowledge that my smoke detectors were backup-powered for another year. Then, I heard, “Beep, beep. Low battery.” I had no idea where it came from. I stood very still and silent, waiting for another scolding. Nothing came. Enough minutes passed that I grew impatient and noisy. “Beep, beep. Low battery.” I was sure it was coming from the upstairs hall, so I went up there. I waited. Nothing. I got busy and noisy. “Beep, beep. Low battery.” I was convinced it was coming from the first floor, so I went down there. Nothing. Then, it started beeping more frequently.

I played Marco Polo with the scolding smoke detector for an hour before I finally figured out that it was in the toxic waste dump. I decided that I needed a nap before I could face the basement. I set my timer, closed my bedroom door and snuggled under my covers. Just as I was drifting off, my daughter pounced on me saying, with gritted teeth, “You must fix the siren right now, before I go insane.”

So, I changed the battery. Now, the only thing waking me up in the middle of the night is my daughter.

Copyright © 2010 by Janice M. Lindegard. All Rights Reserved.

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