Sitting in that Same Hotel Lobby One Year to the Day (A Journal Entry Of Sorts)

Here I sit in this East London hotel lobby. The chair I sit in is green. The table my laptop sits on is black. My laptop and phone are plugged into a UK outlet with the adapter I remembered to bring. Last year I had to go back to my room when I forgot my adapter there. I remember that. I am sitting adjacent to the cafe. Bottles of San Pellegrino and iced coffee all facing the same direction, face me. An American man sits two tables away, equipped with buzzwords and catchphrases, makes calls as if he were the only one in the room. I can see the reception desk from here. I watch people check in and ask questions. I am sitting in the same spot in the same hotel lobby that I was sitting in 365 days ago. Truth is, I had to move. I am now sitting in the same lobby, in a different spot. I did not not expect to be here, in this spot, or at this hotel.

I wonder where my head was at then. I have yet to reread the post and do not want it to inform what I want to say now. My head is in a good, peaceful, and very exhausted place. Life is hard. I think I am finally letting go and accepting the fact that life will always be hard. 2022 swinging through 2023 has been an extra tough one.

My health is worse, or rather, I am more aware of my not-so-great health: autoimmune heart issues, lingering demon cough and unexplained anemia. My doctors are looking for cancer. There, I said it. They still haven’t found it. I still believe they never will.

Dave’s beard is gone. I liked his beard. I also like Dave clean shaven. Honestly, I really like Dave. We still hold hands. We still make love, (and with each other). We fight less. I honestly think we like each other more, better, I think we accept who the other is better than we ever did before. Is that what growing old together means?

We celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary in June. We were hiking Spain’s Camino Ingles with our hiking group. I coughed the entire time. My hiking friends, possibly now enemies, thought I had Covid. I did not. On the daily I heard,

“Beth, now so and so is sick and by the way, your cough.”

What I did have is some sort of persistent cough, a cough that has plagued me since May. My physical therapist believes I have PTSD as a result of said cough and suggested I see a therapist,

“People don’t realize how a cough can mess with someone’s head. Are you talking to anyone?”

On the day of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary our group hiked to a beach. The sun was bright. Half the group stripped down to their underwear and swam in the cool Spanish waters. I did not swim. I could hardly get my socks off. Instead, I sat in the shade eating slices of turkey as I watched Dave devour an orange. That night as Dave ate dinner with the group, I was absent as a result of heat stroke. The texts arrived,

“Beth, the group toasted to you and Dave. It was weird that you were not here.”

I feel like I still keep waiting to “be here,” and celebrate our mighty accomplishment. Instead, I have been sick and been preoccupied with tests, blood draws and procedures. My sudden poor health has forced me to stop. For someone who does not sit still well, being stopped woke me up. I sincerely believe I did stop sweating the small stuff. I need to get well. Not setting boundaries was keeping me sick. Consequently, I started saying no to everything, and completely distanced myself from anything or anyone who caused my throat to tighten. I would text,

“I am sorry I cannot talk. I cough so hard that I throw up.”

It wasn’t a lie. I vomit-coughed every day. Twice I woke up and cough vomited so violently that I could not take a breath. I could not move air into my body. As I knelt naked on all fours on our bathroom floor, tears streamed down my face. In a quiet, desperate wheeze, I pleaded, “Dave, I do not want to die. Please don’t let me die.” I do not know how I moved from that one moment to the next. Yet, I did not die.

I spent a lot of time alone, trying not to cough. I started holding my breath.

“Beth, you are holding your breath.” Dave would say.

Then I would breathe. I spent so much time alone, trying to breathe and trying not to cough.Then loneliness sort of became my friend. I am still not a fan of being alone. I am a new fan of taking care of myself.

As I sat in my room coughing and watching a reality show literally called, “Alone,” I promised myself if I rested the entire month of August, we could make our scheduled trip to London in September. I rested and became more anemic. I still traveled to London, celebrating with Kyle before he headed off to New York. While here, we drove Kyle to Oxford to meet up with friends. Since then, Kyle’s light turned back on. What a gift. He and I talked about the moment everything shifted.

“Mom, you know when my switch flipped?”


“When I met up with my friends.” 

Dave traveled to Poland. I wanted to spend time with Kyle before he left so I decided to skip Warsaw and meet Dave here. Life is fleeting and I want to grab as many moments with my kids as they will permit.

Kyle drove me to the airport. We said what we thought were strange goodbyes.

“You’re taking me to the airport and you are moving later today.”

“I know. It is so weird. Sort of backwards and also right.” ❤️

Kyle landed in New York moments after I landed in London. Serendipity. 

I gathered my things and made my way to the Tube. As I watched people buy tickets for the Elizabeth Line, I thought,

“Suckers! Don’t they realize they don’t have to buy a ticket? They can simply tap on with a credit card.”

I caught myself and admitted that last year I was just getting comfortable riding the tube. I told myself that I preferred to walk or Uber. I think I was scared. Then after one exhausting walk from East London to Covent Garden to the British Museum and back, with an accompanying Banksy-sighting, I decided it was time to embrace London’s public transit system. I have never looked back. 

And now here I sit in our east London hotel lobby.  Eli texted moments ago. I love hearing from him. He thinks he sprained his wrist climbing. I feel far away. I hope he is ok. I also did not think I would be here. I am deeply grateful. [I write as my tears fall.]

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Notes from a Plane: Melbourne to Sydney, Australia

Dave & I are on a one hour Qantas Airlines flight from Melbourne to Sydney. This is our first time flying Qantas. Minutes into our journey, the flight attendants serve us a beverage and meat pies. I promptly give Dave my meat pie.

“Oh wow! They are warm.” Dave happily exclaims.

Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

Now mid-flight, Dave & I begin planning our next Melbourne/Sydney trip. He tells me that he needs to return before the end of the year. Knowing I want to be better prepared the next time I visit, I start scheming a plan. I start talking with my hands, which bump into the armrests and the seat in front of me, as I eagerly suggest that next time I will load a duffle filled with my favorite gluten free food. As soon as I am done explaining how I will smuggle all the gluten free goodness into Australia, I look at Dave with enthusiasm and express the following non sequitur: “Dave, I am hopeful I can talk to our hotel into putting a microwave into our room. Then I can cook my oatmeal each day!”  My mind bounces and I imagine myself traveling Australia’s Great Ocean Road. 

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

As I type I am rocked by the turbulence. I am nauseous. (Turbulence usually doesn’t make me nauseous.) I am also listening to Michigan-born Sufjan Stevens’ song “The Seer’s Tower.” Achingly hypnotic, this song tugs at all my feelings. My son, Kyle, introduced me to Sufjan Stevens. Now I miss Kyle – of course. The songs I am listening to are playing faster than my thumbs can hit my tiny iPhone screen. Now I am listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “I’ll Fly Away.” Johnny Cash’s deep, twangy and familiar voice is comforting. Before I finish writing my Johnny Cash sentence, I hear the lyrics, “you better be home soon,” by one of Dave’s favorite bands, “Crowded House.”

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Keyed up from a slew of mournful melodies, I feel desperately homesick. I want to be home right this second. I imagine myself sitting at my kitchen counter, eating my oatmeal and drinking my green tea. I picture Dave and myself, enveloped in a sea of Southwestern spring blossoms and smells as we walk around our neighborhood. I hear Eli walk into the front door, yelling his familiar, “Hello! Hello! I am home.” Suddenly I am snapped out of my melancholy with the realization that I will be home soon. I recognize that homesickness really means I am having a hard time and that eventually it will be ok. As such, I decide to remain present in this moment. I (actually) want to be here and here with Dave.

Craig’s Hut, Clear Hills Track, Mount Buller, Victoria, Australia

Suddenly, I am distracted. First, I noticed the light. Then the man. He is in the seat in front of me. He is shining his phone light around his seat. He appears desperate. I wonder what he dropped? I hear the flight attendant announce that the plane is preparing to land and that we can find our baggage at carousel three.

Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

In the last few minutes I think about our last few days: Dave and I have four days left of our (just over a) month-long adventure. I love to travel. I loved our time in London. I have mixed feelings regarding both Melbourne and Sydney. I am sincerely surprised by those feelings. (See, I adored Australia the last time we were here. I wonder if it was because I was safe in our little family bubble and did not really have to interact with the world around me? Perhaps.)

Dave at our friend’s farm, Gembrook, Victoria, Australia

As a result, I also imagine it would be fair to attribute my mixed feelings regarding Australia to the following: After flying eleven hours from London to San Francisco (13 hours on the plane), then waiting six hours in San Francisco, Dave and I hopped on our San Francisco to Sydney flight. (Yes. We really hopped.) I celebrated my birthday for 16 hours on the San Francisco to Sydney flight; a flight we took while crossing the international date line, (hilarious – nope, but a good story). We left San Francisco on April 23 and landed in Sydney, Australia on April 25. My birthday is April 24. My guess is my jet lag was more noticeable as a result of my feeling a wee bit neglected. (Thanks a heap, international date line!) In the interest of full disclosure, Dave did wake me up at midnight and sweetly wished me a happy birthday. He also brought along two gifts, until he realized he left one of them at home. (True story: Dave still does not remember what the second gift was.)

Cake made by my friend Michelle, Gembrook, Victoria, Australia

My extended blue mood was immediately followed by intense PMS, which come on, aren’t I too old for intense mood swings and menstrual cramps? Wait. Don’t answer that. So of course my PMS contributed to my inability, or I should say, my slow-ability to connect with Australia and its  culture.

Me under the Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

Perhaps the following observation is the reason for my disconnect 🤣: Australians don’t much care for Americans (people from the United States, to you and me  😉). I can’t say that I blame them. I mean, when Americans are brave enough to actually leave our exceptional country, we are loud, we like ice in our water, and then we send said glass of water back until it has enough ice. To prove my point, while traveling through Australia, (and other countries), if I had a dollar for every time a non-American proclaimed, “You are an American. You must need ice in your water,” I could buy a small, lukewarm lake. As we sit in their countries, they are equally incredulous when I say, “I prefer my water room temperature.” “Really? I mean, we have ice. We keep it for the Americans.” “Nope. Just water.”

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

In truth, on week four of our adventure, I admit (and as an American) I became tired (weary/sad/oddly protective) as a result of the onslaught of put downs: our coffee sucks, said a woman who has only been to one Hawaiian island. Our pizza is gross, said another who had a slice in Sacramento. Our stores are too big and so are our serving sizes, said someone else. I will give the Australians the benefit of the doubt. I imagine they usually can slam on America without an American present.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Nevertheless, I must admit that beyond my Tall Poppy Syndrome bewilderment, I gained a greater and more positive understanding of Australia geographically and its culture. As Dave and I reflect, we recognize that because we spent a significant amount of time in each place, we became quite acquainted with each city. In Melbourne, for instance, I was delighted to find that the larger Collins Street was parallel to the smaller, Little Collins Street, and that similarly the major Burke Street was parallel to the minor, Little Burke Street. Naturally I assumed that Flinders Street, which was near our hotel, would obviously have a parallel Little Flinders Street. On our last day my mind was blown when I realized that what I thought was Flinders Street was actually Flinders Lane, (which should be Little Flinders Street, if you ask me).

Sydney Opera House from the ferry, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

 In each city, we actually talked to Australians, meaning we socialized. Socializing with Australians was amazing. We learned about cultural pride and not just pride in Australia itself, but pride in each region. I heard strongly phrased sentences such as, “Melbourne is better because it has more culture. And Sydney sucks, except for the harbor!” I also heard, “Melbourne is cold! Sydney has beauty! I hate Melbourne.” I admit I felt a little pressured to pick a side. That is why when I am pushed against the wall I will take the advice regarding the Tall Poppies and proclaim, “I love them both – equally!

Dave, Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

By the way, travel is never bad. In fact, Australia was pretty great! For starters, they say, “Brekkies,” for breakfast and “Maccas” for McDonalds. (Ok. The McDonald’s abbreviation was a little weird.) I connected with two long lost college friends and their beautiful families. One of them called us, “Beth-O,” and “Dave-O,” because they say that’s what Australians call their friends. (Pretty cool.)

Even at the grocery store, they call it Brekkies. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
McDonalds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

On a lovely Mothers Day drive, visiting Phillip Island, Dave and I saw a penguin hiding in its little penguin hole. We also have seen so many kangaroos and wallabies. We saw a lyrebird twice, one near my girlfriend’s farm in Gembrook in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges, and then again near Mansfield, in Melbourne’s high country, at my other friend’s cabin. Both of my friends declared, “do you know how rare it is to see this bird? Most Australians never see one.” Dave and I saw it twice.  We also drove up a crazy mountain road to see “Craig’s Hut,” where the movie, “The Man from Snowy River,” was filmed. It was stunning to see the undulating mountains fade into the rosy purple sunset.

A wallaby at Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

In the end, travel is always ok (better than ok, really). It is, however, challenging, (and probably why I was so homesick just a few minutes ago). Nevertheless, the hard part is ultimately why I love leaving home. I love problem solving after problem solving after deep breath after mispronouncing a word for the fourth, fifth and tenth time, cultural nuances, unexpected delight and deep, soul crushing sorrow.

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Travel is doing laundry on a Sunday night at a crowded laundromat. It’s packing and repacking, bringing the wrong shoes and remembering the right adapters. It’s meeting people, seeing how they live, how they love and learning that lamb is consistently fresher and better in Australia and apparently beef is better in the USA. It’s talking about Australian history with Bernard, the kind cheese vendor, at the local grocer. Then as you exit the local grocer, deep in conversation regarding self love and self acceptance, you look across the street and the heavens open up and you see a gluten free bakery. “Let’s go show ourselves some love.” my friend and I gleefully said as we jay-walked ourselves across the street. (Australians are cool with jay-walking, by the way). Traveling is magical. It really does help me appreciate what I have and who is holding my hand when I have anxiety on a Tuesday evening flight, halfway around the world ❤️.

Us riding the ferries, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia
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How We Saved The Day: Our journey to England

If I skewed my words ever so slightly, I know I could easily make my husband, Dave, and me look like the heroes of this story. Instead, I will avoid embellishment, and to the best of my ability, I will tell the straight up truth. 

Here is our story: 

We decided to fly to London a few days early so we could kick the jet lag before Dave had to be at work on Tuesday. Dave and I arrived at Houston International Airport several hours prior to our flight. We spent that time in the overcrowded Amex Centurion Lounge. After spending a few hours crammed into a cafe table surrounded by our carry on luggage, I realized it was nearly time to board. I put my no-fun compression socks back on, shoved my things back into my travel backpack and we were off to the gate. Our flight to London would be nine to ten hours. Dave and I made our way to Gate E5 in the International Terminal. 

Weeks before our trip, Dave used our United Airlines miles to get on a waitlist for an upgrade to Economy Premium or Business Class. As we stood near the gate, we learned that we would not be upgraded. We would be sitting in our original seats. Dave and I both know that’s just how it goes. In fact, we are both top-tier elites at United and this year we never seem to get upgraded. Weird. 

Dave walked over to look out the massive floor to ceiling windows. They looked onto the tarmac. I continued to stand near the gate. From our respective places, we both heard it: “Ladies and gentlemen, our flight is oversold. We are offering 50,000 United miles to one passenger who is willing to give up their seat and leave on a later flight.” Before I could think the thoughts, “I bet Dave will want to be bumped,” he was walking over to me, “Beth, should we do it?” “Sure, I said.” (*I am sure in our minds we were both hedging our bets, hoping that if we left on a later flight, we would get better seats, or at least the next plane would not be as crowded.)

We walked up to the gate desk and the agent quickly told us they only needed one volunteer, “not two,”  she snapped. We took a deep breath and accepted our fate. Minutes later we were sitting  on that very same oversold flight. We left our aisle assigned seat open and Dave graciously sat in the middle seat. 

Right about then our cabinet guy called. I answered and we talked about warranties and waiting to figure things out until I returned to Utah. As I hung up, Dave said. “They made the announcement. They still needed just one person to give up their seat. This time they are offering a $1,500 flight credit. “Beth, why don’t you try this time?” My response was somewhere between annoyed, uncertain, and humorous: “what the hell, I’ll indulge Dave.”  

At that, I motioned to the closest flight attendant (Sara – not sure with or without an “h.”) She walked over to our seats. I asked and offered: “It needs to be the two of us. We are happy to take the credit for just one.” Quickly she texted something into her phone. I watched her read the message and then she asked me to follow her. 

I followed her to the entrance of the plane. We were surrounded by two other flight attendants. Sara asked me to share my offer with them. “Well, I have one person ahead of you.” One of the flight attendants interrupted. “I will take credit for one of us.” I responded. At once all three flight attendants looked at eachother, and in a cue Beyonce, “Who run the world, GIRLS, (girls),”  moment, they looked back at me, collectively shook their heads and said, “You fight for yourself! You ask for credit not just for you, but for both of you! You deserve it! Ask for what you want!” (Then I swear they said, “Beth, you are worthy!” But I may have only imagined that part…) I assured these epic flight attendants that I would speak up, that we would be ok, and that the world would be right. They made no promises. I thanked them and went back to my seat. 

On my way through the crowded aisles of feet, knees and elbows, a man in Premium Economy asked me about putting his name on this “give up your seat” list. In truth, I was not thrilled that he asked and I was also not very encouraging. I said something like, “There is someone ahead of us, my husband and I.” Then I felt guilty so I added, “Hey, why not give it a try?” I made it back to my seat, sat down and filled Dave in.

A few minutes later, the woman who had the middle seat that Dave was now sitting in, boarded. I could see her shaking as she approached our row. “You can have the aisle seat.” We assured her. Still shaking, she stood next to the aisle seat. She looked at us and began to speak. As she spoke, she began to cry. “This is my second very long flight ever! My partner and I want to sit together.” She motioned as if he were not simply across the aisle, but as if he were in another galaxy: “He is over there! I will wait here.” I could see from her passport she was from Spain. I also knew that she would be more likely to get someone to switch seats with her now that she had our aisle seat. 

Honestly, I remember the scary feeling of anticipating turbulence and sitting far away from your loved ones. I watched her texting and saw her body relax. “We have it worked out. We were able to switch places with someone.” She grabbed her things and moved across the plane. 

Within seconds I watched as a very large and hairy man walk toward our seat. “Oh no! I thought. “Dave is not going to like this.” The man smiled and sat down. Panic sweat drops covered my lip and the back of my neck. The large hairy main was at least three times as big as the sweet Spanish woman. My empathic anxiety (sweat droplets) were (obviously) for Dave, my middle seat stallion. (And this is why I asked Dave to remain in the middle seat: See, after one too many times of having men enter my personal airplane seat with their wide leg spreading and thigh grabbing, I have learned that I need to have husband or sons serve as buffers. No one crosses them and they keep me safe.) I felt Dave’s irritation. My heart dropped and I thanked him repeatedly for taking one for the team. “Dude, you are the best!” (In the interest of full disclosure, Dave mentioned that perhaps the man was not as big or as hairy as I implied. Dave’s words: “I mean, come on, he is not Hodor!”)

We settled ourselves. I looked around, waiting for the plane to take off. I saw her waving. She was waving at me. She started pointing at her phone. It was Sara, our lovely flight attendant. “You still want to take another flight? Quick! Grab all your things. You both good? I need to let them know you are in.” Sara stood behind our seats. I nodded and gave her a double thumb’s up. 

Dave, who I am sure did not immediately see her, was confused and startled. “Dave. No really. Quick. Grab all your things. We need to get off the plane.” “What? Really” We grabbed our things and followed Sara. She told us that they had accepted our bid and we would be on a flight to London the next day. 

For his seat-switching-generosity, I was hoping the giant hairy man would get the row to himself. After seeing the standby list, and listening to the woman scream at the gate agent, “How many four years olds do you know who are allowed to sit alone? Move my child now,” I am certain the plane would remain packed.

There we were, standing back at Gate E5. Sara said she would wait with us until the gate agent confirmed we were good to go. “I don’t want you to get stuck in Houston. I don’t want you to miss your next flight.” We thanked her and said that the sad thing about leaving her flight was her and the other flight crew: “We fly often. It’s always so wonderful when we encounter a flight crew like yours. Thank you for being so awesome!” Sara sweetly smiled and walked back onto the plane. 

Monkey Island Estate

I continued to watch and listen to impatient, frustrated and angry passengers. Our gate agent was entirely focused on trying to situate Dave and me. Then Dave reminded him that we would be ok racing to catch that flight to Boston that they had mentioned on the plane announcement earlier. “Really?” He said. “Really.” we responded. “Well let me see if I can make that work.” He made it work. Going through Boston would mean that we would only arrive in London a few hours later than we had planned. It was a lot better than staying in a Houston airport hotel until the next day.

In the sea of screaming passengers, one clearly pissed-off the gate agent, all the other gate agents and the man working on our new flight, stood a woman. She was standing very close to me, quietly, graciously. I was so focused on myself that it took me several minutes to realize that maybe she was trying to get on that Houston to London flight as well.

As we stood waiting, I noticed her beautiful french manicure. She seemed a little nervous, kind of like our shaky, Spanish former seat-mate. I am someone who likes to talk to strangers. As a result,  I said, “I love your manicure. It is very pretty.” 

“My granddaughter goes to beauty school. She did it.” “She did an excellent job.” I said. I asked if she was trying to get on the flight. “Yes I am trying to get to my grandchild’s….how do you say the thing when they are baptized?” I noticed her Guatemalan passport and said, “I say sprinkling, but I think most people say christening.” I responded.

 “Oh, Christening. Christening. Christening.” She said it three times to make it stick. She followed with, “Thank you for your seats.” That is literally when it occurred to me that this was the passenger we were giving our seats to. “Of course. We are happy to.” I said.

“Thank you very much. My husband died a few months ago.” She looked up in the air: “I told him that I really needed to get on this flight.” I started to choke up. She continued, “I don’t drive. My son-in-law is driving around the airport waiting to see if I get on the plane. My grandchild’s Christening is tomorrow. They gave me this ticket.” She pulled out her ticket and showed it to me: “See gate agent.” She did not understand that she was not confirmed on the flight. 

I looked at her and said, “I think your husband is listening. I think he wants you to get on this flight. He is looking out for you. He must have known what to do to get you on that plane.” We laughed and then we both cried. I gave her a hug and asked her her name. “I am Gladys.” “Gladys, I hope you have an excellent time in England.” I said. She had her seat and thanked us again. 

At that our super focused gate agent urged Dave and me to run to Gate C35: “Your flight to Boston is boarding now! I have confirmed seats for you.” “Are you sure?” We asked. “Yes. Now run. I will call the gate and let them know you are on your way.” Dave and I ran to gate C35. At first we ran like the wind and then, like at the halfway point I pleaded with Dave to slow down: “Dude, I’m going to pass out!” 

We arrived at gate C35. The gate agent dude looked at us contemptuously as we asked about boarding. “Um, you are not boarding. We’re not sure yet whether we’ll have seats for you. You are on standby.” Then he thrust his arm out in the direction of the seats: “Sit there. I will let you know if you can get on the plane.” We weren’t happy to learn that we were on standby. That wasn’t part of the deal.

Everyone boarded, even the people running from their tight connections. One man was turned away. A supervisor came out. I heard a lot of serious talk. We learned that some of the exit row seats were broken and that everyone may have to deplane. Then, Sharon, the very kind and wise supervisor walked over to us: “Don’t worry. I will get you on the plane.” She and I talked about Gladys, talked about being in the right place at the right time, and we talked about how the world could use some kindness. Sharon, the very kind United supervisor, got us on the plane.

Hours later, with my compression socks still suffocating my calves, we arrived at the gate ready to board our Boston to London redeye when Dave and I realized the magic that had descended on our very weird and long day. It was at that moment we realized that we were on the inaugural United Boston-to-London nonstop flight. There were United executives at the gate doing a photoshoot, a balloon arch, and a table spread with fruit trays, tea, and shortbread. There were gift bags for all the passengers. They gave us little lapel pins with the USA and UK flags. It was a party and it was a pretty amazing experience. We made it to London just over three hours after our original scheduled landing. Our flight attendant was just as kind. He held my hand in said, “Thank you, Mrs. Adams. It was our pleasure to have you on this flight.”

We have been in London since Friday. We started the first thirty hours without our checked luggage. I was disappointed to learn that the United lost baggage lady misinformed us regarding assistance.

While our luggage remained in Houston, we Uber’d our way to our first destination, this amazing place called Monkey Island Estate near the village of Bray. We saw no Monkeys, but did find two three-Michelin-starred restaurants: The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn. No. We did not eat at these fine establishments. We opted for sandwiches and yogurts from the Sainsburys grocery store. I promise we will be back and I am leaning towards The Fat Duck! While on our Monkey Island getaway, we also walked for miles and miles and miles just like Mormon pioneer children. To the relief of my blistered and bleeding feet, we found a Nike Outlet, and I was able to buy new sneakers. After our delightful weekend, we made our way to London via the best smelling Uber ever. Our driver, whose other job is as a counselor for people with Autism, was even better. 

London was a whirlwind of museums, epic walks, city bikes, one play, Neil Gaiman’s, “The Ocean At The End Of The Lane,” an amazing Graffiti Tunnel, crossing several bridges, and lots and lots of Tesco Meal Deals. I think I liked the Temple Church the most. It is the place where Dave and I experienced a total meltdown last time we were here. We visited the church together. I took a picture in the bathroom by myself. We learned about William Marshal, the Magna Carta and the US Constitution and then we made our way over to the Museum of London, where we not only learned that the Romans were the first to settle London in like 20BC, we Face-timed with son #1 in a museum stairwell. On our way back to the hotel, we took the route that led us through Postman’s Park. There, at the end of this tiny, beautiful space we came across a covered shelter. The shelter is called, “The G.F. Watt’s Memorial To Heroic Self Sacrifice.” In it we found tiles dedicated to people who gave their lives to save another. Many were killed saving someone from drowning. Others lost their lives saving people from fires. And then there were Arthur Strange and Mark Tomlinson, “on a desperate venture to save two girls from quicksand in Lincolnshire were themselves engulfed on August 25, 1902.” It was an oddly and very humbling full circle moment. Dave and I gave our seats so a sweet widow could make it to her granddaughter’s christening. Arguably, we benefitted far more than the act of giving up our seats. And here we stood, learning about all these cool British people who gave up their lives for nothing more than to save someone else. 

Now we are back at the hotel. I have been in a relaxed frenzy reorganizing our things. I think we are packed. I should be asleep. We leave in the morning for Australia. 

(PS. I am posting from the LHR airport lounge. When I have a little more time, I will add captions to the pictures and add more links. Thank you for reading.)

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Sitting At My Desk, Here Is What I See: Australia

Us, Ku-ring-gai National Park, New South Wales, Australia

There is a large monitor poised behind my laptop. A picture of the four of us is displayed as the monitor’s background. I stare at this image every time I sit at my computer. In the photo, I still had braces. Kyle is wearing a pink shirt. Dave and Eli are both wearing baseball caps. The picture was taken the day we drove from Nelson Bay, New South Wales to Sydney, Australia. We stopped to hike around Ku-ring-gai National Park. We stopped to hike off the road. The area where we stopped was a little inland. It was wet, a little muddy and there were little waterfalls everywhere. We climbed down a muddy trail, where we found a narrow bridge and an area covered in graffiti. I love graffiti. I suggested we take a family picture. Dave, Kyle and Eli obliged. It was a wonderful and magical day. It was April, 2019. It was a different time. It feels like we were different people.

Us, Ku-ring-gai National Park, New South Wales, Australia

I think I went to Australia on a dare. Many friends had told me they hated Sydney, that Melbourne was much better. But, if I was really going to the bottom of the world, I should stick with New Zealand. They were not wrong about New Zealand, It is also where we were when the pandemic began. And when quarantine is too much, New Zealand is where I travel in my dreams.  We visited New Zealand twice before traveling to Australia. New Zealand is amazing and tracks with the landscapes pictured in the Lord of the Rings movies. Kyle made friends with a curious octopus there. Eli proclaimed it is actually a place he wants to go back to and when Covid intruded on our planet, New Zealand is the place I wanted to hide. 

Us, Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia: The album cover

Dared to be there and determined to make it the very best experience, in April 2019, Australia was where we were. Kyle met us there on his spring break, flying direct from Abu Dhabi. Before we left Utah, I did oodles of research on Sydney and its surrounding areas. One thread on one travel blog recommended we use the Sydney Ferry system: 

“You must use the ferry system. It will change your world.”

Riding the Sydney Ferries
Riding the Sydney Ferries

They were right. Taking a ferry from destination to destination completely revolutionized our trip. Traveling by ferry was like traveling in a postcard, feeling the wet wind on our faces while looking to the left or to the right (depending on which direction you are traveling), blazing under the Sydney Harbor Bridge and seeing the spectacular Sydney Opera House. My mind was blown every single time. 

Riding the Sydney Ferries

Sydney was fantastic. More things were free than we expected. Food was fabulous and walking through the city was intriguing.

Kyle & I on our Birchgrove neighborhood walk

Near the end of our Australia stay, Kyle, Dave and I walked along the water near our AirBnB in the Birchgrove neighborhood. We knew Kyle had the opportunity to do a study abroad the following year. NYU has campuses all over the world. During the week we talked about the pros and cons of Sydney versus other campuses like Shanghai, Florence, or Buenos Aires.

“Mom, Dad, I think I want to do my Study Away in Sydney,” Kyle said.

I tried to tamp down my exuberant excitement and responded in such a low key way,

“Kyle, I think that is an excellent idea.” I blurted and (then probably jumped and high-fived Dave).

January, 2020: Kyle was home for 36 hours in between Abu Dhabi and Sydney

It is now January 2021. One year ago Kyle left for NYU Sydney, where he began his study away. Immediately he made an excellent circle of friends. (Kyle is great at meeting people.) On our video chats he told me how easily he connected with his fellow students.

“Mom, I feel more connected with my peers here than I did in Abu Dhabi. I love my Abu Dhabi friends. Sydney has just been so natural. I have friends. They are so easy. I really needed this experience. I feel good about myself. I am so glad I am here.” 

Each time we talked, Kyle eagerly told me about how he was connecting to his new town. One call he told me how he was intent on taking different modes of transportation each day so he could learn the city. He bought a skateboard, learned the public transportation system and loved to walk. I felt like I was learning the city on a deeper level. Because we had been there the previous year, I felt like I could see the stories and experiences Kyle was telling me. As his mom, I loved that Kyle was having this moment. 

Kyle, Dave & Me, Queenstown, New Zealand

Then the pandemic hit. Even though the world was shutting down, Sydney seemed safe and less impacted. NYU Sydney assured us that the students would stay in school. We felt so confident that everything would be ok with Kyle that on March 13, 2020, Dave and I flew to Queenstown, New Zealand where Kyle would meet us for his spring break, and Eli would meet up with all of us the following week back in Sydney. Eli was excited to do his first international trip without us. Kyle made his first international trip alone at the same age. 

Until 7:00PM on Friday, March 13, 2020, that was our plan.

As we were packing to leave for the airport, the Salt Lake Schools shut down school. At the time they said school would only be shut down a week. We felt safe going and Eli was still planning on meeting us the following week in Sydney.

Dave and I were now in San Francisco on the long flight to Auckland, New Zealand. 

Kyle, Dave & Me, Queenstown, New Zealand

From the time we were in the air until the plane landed, the world changed. We landed and immediately told that we had landed a few hours before the enforced incoming-traveler quarantine would take effect. 

Things just got worse — for the entire world. 

Kyle & I, Queenstown, New Zealand

Now safely in the country, Dave and I flew from Auckland to Queenstown where we met up with Kyle. Within a few days his dreamy perfect study abroad was canceled. A few days after that he was abruptly told he could not get back into Australia, to leave his belongings in Australia and to go home. Of course we canceled Eli’s flight. Then it took some finagling to get Dave, Kyle and me out of New Zealand. We decided to spend our last few days hiking, healing and enjoying the amazing Queenstown area. Most travelers were already gone so we felt like we had Queenstown to ourselves. Again, it was magic. New Zealand was a gift, a respite from the pandemic storm. I will always be grateful. 

Us, Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

We made our way home. Kyle finished his semester online. It was painful. I am not sure he has recovered. I am not sure any of us have. And when I say any of us, I am speaking of everyone on the planet.

I still long for Australia. I still fantasize about finding our way back. Our time together feels unfinished and incomplete. 

For now, I will have the picture on my monitor screen.

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Coronavirus Campus Chaos

Dave, Kyle & I, Queenstown, New Zealand

The other day I wrote what I would call our Coronavirus download, or better, a “I don’t want to forget this moment” journal entry (that I made public). The post was a bit sloppy. This one might be too. At the time, I had been up for more than two days. I was jetlagged. I was definitely nervous and completely freaked out. I imagine I am not alone. Today I woke up at 6:00AM —  worried. As I listened to Dave’s deep breathing, I tried to stop—worrying, that is. Then, while I hid my head and my brightly lit cellphone under the covers, Eli and I texted about his day. That just made me worry more. Of course Kyle woke up seeming sad. He assured me he was just tired. I have been worrying ever since. Nevertheless and in spite of my worry, I am going to try and write again. I think it is important. I want to remember this moment, even in its rough draft awkwardness. 

Kyle & I, Queenstown, New Zealand

My hope is my words convey the love I intend (and are not glazed with worry). I know everyone is dealing with a lot. I am sorry you are struggling. We are sending you love & disinfected air hugs.

This Coronavirus business is complicated and hard. As a result, in the past few days, I have been in awe and completely overwhelmed. I have witnessed unexpected anger and extraordinary patience. I have been firsthand-judged in one moment and then unyieldingly supported in the next (from the same person). I have seen awkwardness, a weird sort of piousness, and a thousand times more compassion, kindness and love. At first I felt a little tender and maybe even protective of our bad-timing-travel choice. I think I also understand why people would be mad at us for traveling. I think I get why people might think I am an irresponsible mom for leaving Eli home. Yet, as I slow my own roll, I realize that we are all just doing the best we can. We all have our path. I never intentionally want to do anything that would cause someone else pain. That being said, I am sure I have. Yes. This moment is also making me contemplative. I think it should. Consequently, what I see is that I also need to be patient and forgiving.

Dave & I, Queenstown, New Zealand

We are still in the thick of it. We are still uncertain. 

See, we left Utah before the world shut down. We believe in and support social isolation. We do not take the potential harm our travel could cause others lightly. We never have. Last Friday we were on a flight to New Zealand when the announcement was made that New Zealand would shut its borders. We landed hours before they did. Kyle landed here a few short hours after we did, but before the self-quarantine deadline. As we traveled, we were extraordinarily cautious about touching people and things. We antibacterial-wiped down our airplane seats. We washed our hands. We used hand sanitizer. Social isolation was not as enforced until we arrived. Nevertheless, we still feel like we could have done more. We also feel like we are exactly where we are supposed to be. Is that just weird? I can’t explain it either.

Kyle & I, Queenstown, New Zealand

Up until the second we left Utah, we questioned our choice. Dave and I rarely, if ever, feel the united calm we did before we left. We still feel it. We think it’s weird. We recognize that Eli is home alone. We feel guilty that Eli is home. We tried to find a way to get him here. Having him fly here at this point is irresponsible at best. Eli and I spent a long time talking. It is complicated. I think he loves being home alone and also wishes we were home. I wanted him to know he is loved. He is. Thank the stars for my super awesome neighbor (dear friend). She offered to help both my mom and Eli. Then, without even saying “let me know if you need anything” first, she texted Eli and brought him delicious tacos packaged in her own take-out container and a yummy chocolate pretzel dessert. To let me know he is really ok, she sent me a proof-of-life photo with the following message:

“Take care of yourselves. I will plan on making extra dinner for Eli until you get home. Even if he just puts it in the fridge for later.”

As I relayed this story to Dave, our eyes filled with tears. 

Eli & my sweet neighbor/friend, Salt Lake City, Utah

I am grateful for Eli. I am grateful for friends who fill in when I can’t. We are here. Kyle has had a tough study abroad experience. So have the million other students who had their studies abroad cut short. We only have one Kyle and one Eli. I am not exactly sure what Dave and I are doing, except providing a safe place for Kyle to land. 

Kyle, Queenstown, New Zealand

When we arrived here on Sunday, Kyle’s school was still planning on keeping campus open after Spring break. On Monday, and after my other post, we received notification that NYU Sydney will be moving to an online format for the rest of the semester. Kyle has three friends who are also here. Two of them cut their spring breaks short. One of them flew back to Sydney today in hopes of packing up her things. The other’s parents bought him a flight home while he was out of cellphone range. He flew back to NYC this morning, the long way round. The third is here with his parents and is taking it a day at a time. All these amazing humans are traveling their own road and dealing with the impact of having their study abroad cut short. As they process their own shock and remorse, I am amazed and inspired by their strength of character. 

Kyle & I, Queenstown, New Zealand

But wait: there is more. We were told by NYU that they do not want any students who are outside of the country to return to Sydney. Instead, NYU said that they will mail back their things. Further, students who are still in Australia have until March 22nd to get their things packed and out of their rooms. After that, students will no longer be allowed back into student housing. Wait. Wait. There is even more. We feel bad that all of Kyle’s belongings are stuck in Sydney. Kyle came here with enough clothes for a few days. If we did travel to Sydney to pick up Kyle’s things, we would all be required to self-isolate for 14 days or face severe fines and penalties. At this point (and we think it is a super long shot), we are trying to find out if the Australian government would allow Dave and me to remain in the Sydney airport while Kyle quickly packs up his things and then immediately returns to the airport. Dave and I are not allowed into student housing or we would go with him.

Kyle & the horse, Queenstown, New Zealand

In the meantime, we remain safely in Queenstown. It is beautiful here. Kyle and I went on a walk this morning. We saw two horses in a field. For a moment, they found us and healed our souls. I love horse energy. At first they were like, “Um, you two have so much stress” and they trotted away from us. I was like,

“Kyle, I think they know it’s been a crazy week.”

Kyle & the horses, Queenstown, New Zealand

Eventually, we joined their moment. Kyle noticed some hay just out of their reach. For several minutes he fed them. It was a gift. Dave later commented about our free equine therapy. It was the best. In fact, except for the stunning realization that Eli is not here with us, we almost feel like we were given a reprieve from the chaos. We do feel blessed. Coronavirus signs on storefronts about travel outside of New Zealand keep us grounded. We don’t know how we are going to get home. We don’t know if we will be allowed back into Sydney to pick up Kyle’s things. We don’t know what we will need to do to get back in the country. We are also taking it a day at a time. Some moments are light, like now. I hear Dave laughing heartily as he tells Kyle a story. Some moments are heartbreaking, like earlier when Kyle broke down in frustration. We imagine unpacking the moment will take a minute. We encourage Kyle and his friends to pace themselves and not skip healing steps. I was like,

“of course it is ok to be uncomfortable. This moment is hard.”

Dave & Kyle, Queenstown, New Zealand

Some of Kyle’s study abroad friends were in a car accident yesterday. They are ok. They also have to go home. I really don’t know how they are doing it. I also know I have to bite my tongue. Of course I want to save them pain that I think my experience can save them. Alas, this is their journey, not mine. Like I said, we are here as a sort of oasis. Once Kyle’s cup is full, I am certain he will soar. 

Kyle, Queenstown, New Zealand

What a week. Thank you everyone for loving us, especially knowing you are dealing with your stuff too. 

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Happy February

Barcelona, Spain

Here is the deal. It is February. Traditionally, February is my toughest month. I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. And the sad switch that turns off my happy has always been the month of February. I feel meh. I feel unmotivated. I kind of feel sad, but then I am simply distracted by the grey. I am fighting every urge not to write the dark, disgruntled or dissatisfied parts of my life. I would love to share the stories of recent fraud, gloom, late night tears, or how frustrating I find people who whitewash reality. Seriously. So, as I sit at my laptop staring out the window, and see little sunshine, the melting grey snow half-covering our brownish lawn, I will fight that urge to be dark. I know when February rolls around all of these things seem much grim, even our yard.

Me and Big Daddy, Collioure, France

Instead, and maybe because I know the days are only getting longer, I have decided to share a happy February memory, a memory that often saves me, and of course often makes me a little melancholy.

Giolitti, Rome, Italy

My February Memory:  Rome & The Amalfi Coast

Four years ago, Dave and I enrolled the boys in online school. He was working in San Francisco at the time, and we decided to finally make the move to the Bay Area. (Of course that move did not stick, but it was the plan at the time.) Nevertheless, because the boys were in online school, I had this genius thought.

“Why don’t we take them to Europe for a really long trip.”

Dave bit. While Dave worked, I would spend the first half of the trip with my friend Emily, and Dave would trade places with Emily and join us in Barcelona around Valentine’s Day (which is in February as you know).

Rome, Italy

We love Rome. The boys were very excited to be back. On the way to Rome we made an overnight stop in Dallas Texas at my friend Rachael’s, with Dave and the boys. Then we parted ways. Rachael stayed in Texas. Dave flew on to San Francisco and the boys and I started our overseas journey. I nearly lost my jacket in the Chicago airport. A man hit on me on the plane, about which Kyle said,

“Mom, that man is weird.”

“Yes. Kyle. Stay close.”

We both laughed. We ended up getting re-routed through London’s Heathrow airport, and finally landed in Rome. We made our way to our AirBnB, which was probably a VRBO at the time.

Giolitti, Rome, Italy

We settled in. Then, because the boys are really good navigators, they directed me to our beloved pizza place, and bookended our pizza (cut-by-the-slice with scissors) with two stops to Giolitti, our favorite gelato establishment. After visiting Giolitti twice that first day, with a fair amount of foreboding, Eli wanted to know if our gelato days were over.

“Mom, can we really get gelato EVERY SINGLE DAY?”

“Dude, we will get gelato every single day.” I responded.

“Are you serious? Really? Every day?” Eli incredulously asked.

“Maybe even two or three times.” I insisted.

“Won’t you make us eat healthy food too.” Eli tested.

“If said healthy food fits into our gelato schedule.” I proclaimed.

Giolitti, Rome, Italy

And to my word, and proven via our credit card statement, most of our food budget was spent buying gelato at Giolitti. (True to my word, we ate gelato once to three times a day.)

On the third day in Rome, and after no small feat, Emily arrived. We asked her if there was something she wanted to see.

“I have heard the Amalfi Coast is really beautiful.” She said.

“Well, let’s make that happen.” We assured.

The Forum, Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy

Emily had not been there more than twelve hours, which was like two gelato trips, before we were on our way. Dave had rented us a car. We walked from our apartment up past the Spanish Steps, then past the Villa Borghese, to the Sixt rental car place, which was approximately a two and a half mile walk. Because Sixt was hidden in a crazy,  underground parking lot, it also took like an extra half an hour to find.

Villa Borghese, Rome, Italy

I have vivid, happy memories of Emily, Kyle, Eli and me walking back and forth on this road called, “Viale del Muro Torto,” looking at the map on Emily’s phone.

“It says it is here.” Emily insisted.

As we walked and looked and walked some more, we all said, “But I cannot see it.”

For some reason we eventually decided to walk into a road we saw going underground. It was not clear that the road was leading us to a parking garage. And when we entered said parking garage, it was not clear that there was a Sixt Rental Car place. Alas, and by some early morning miracle, we found Sixt.

Our Sixt rental car in the underground garage, at the end of our long day, February, 2015, Rome, Italy

Between broken English and the .1% Italian I speak, which includes the words, “Buongiorno, sì, and grazie,” we completed the transaction. We all walked over to our PT Cruiser-looking rental (a Fiat 500) and threw our bags in. That is when I noticed the stick shift. When we are out of the country Dave always rents standard shift cars. Perhaps he was on auto-pilot when he rented the car. Perhaps he thought I would totally be down (I was not down). Perhaps that is all Sixt had. Considering the language barrier, I am really not sure. All I know is Emily was excited to see the Amalfi Coast. I heard the Amalfi Coast roads were treacherous, I had two eager teens ready to hit the road, and no Dave to lean on for backup so I said,

“I haven’t driven a stick in years, yet we are here. Let’s do this.”

We all laughed as the clutch ground and shrieked over and over again.

“At least this is a rental.” I said.

We all laughed. Then one of the boys said,

“Mom, are you sure you can drive this thing?”

“Of course.” I giggled.

The boys at the top of the Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy

The boys navigated us out of the complex underground parking lot/Sixt dealer and Emily navigated us to the Amalfi Coast, with a stop at a gas-station bakery and Pompeii on the way. With only forty-five minutes until the gates closed, we decided that looking over the fence was a much funner and more cost efficient way to see the result of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption and a spectacular archaeological dig. Not only was Pompeii epic, but trying to take pictures that made us look like we were inside the city was also a feat.

Within twenty minutes we were on our way (again).

As the boys watched videos on their iPods, Emily intently looked at her map and then calmly give me the next coordinate.

“Up here on your right, you want to follow the road until you see the sign for whatever…”

Pompeii, Italy (Mount Vesuvius in the background)
The Boys and Emily outside of Pompeii, Italy (Mount Vesuvius in the background)

In what seemed like a few short minutes, we and our stick-shift car, were on a very windy, narrow little road. To my left was the beautiful, wind-swept Amalfi Coast, painted with quaint Italian villages and rugged coastline. Except for the stop we made in the tiny Amalfi Coast town in the rain, I did not see much of the coast that day.  You will have to ask Emily, Kyle and Eli what is was like. What I did see (and maneuver), however, were several tetris-skill-inducing semi trucks in the opposite lane, life-ending narrow corners, death-drop embankments, third-world-styled washed out roads, cars coming straight at me (because that is how narrow the roads were). At some point, a sweet old Italian man, driving a fruit truck helped us find our way down the mountain as our vision was obscured with snow-rain.

The boys and I, Pompeii, Italy

What Emily, Kyle and Eli heard was swearing like they have never heard before. My typically prolific dialog was replaced with every sequence, some new, of all the bad words. In between, “Oh shits,” and the, “Holy-Batman’s-Ass,” were the apologies.

“Kids, I am so sorry, This car is hard to drive. That being said, I should not be swearing.”

To which the kids would said, “Mom, these roads are crazy. I get it,” and, “Mom, we hear all these words in school.” Of course Eli would follow up by saying something like, “But maybe not in this combination.”

We would gasp. I would avoid the next obstacle. We would laugh a sigh of relief. I would see the next oncoming semi truck. Then, in like .5 milliseconds, I would try to figure how we were not going to drive off a cliff while avoiding a head-on collision. I would push in the clutch, maneuver, and explicate some more. Around hour two of repeating this process several times, I specifically apologized to Emily.

Me driving the Amalfi Coast, Italy

“Hey, Emily.” I said, paused and continued,  “It is your first twenty-four hours with us and all you have heard is a string of swearing, a.k.a., my sailor talk.”

Emily laughed and then became quiet. For a second I worried. Then she said something like this:

“Beth, I learned to swear in high school. I may not say the words out loud, but I am definitely saying them in my head. These roads are crazy!”

We chuckled. She took some pictures and then I asked her to take some pictures of my driving.

“I need to remember this moment. I need to remember how it felt to be driving these insane roads, in a stick-shift car, no less.”  

The boys and I, Rome, Italy

As the snow-rain fell and I avoided the next oncoming vehicle, she snapped away and we laughed some more.

We made it back to the crazy Sixt underground dealership just before 2:00am. Of course Eli wondered if Giolitti was still open. Emily pulled out her phone and said,

“Let me check.”

“Mom, can we really go?” Eli asked, followed by Kyle.

“A deal is a deal, boys.” I responded.

“They close at 2:00am. If we run, I think we can make it.”

The boys and I, Giolitti @2am in February, 2015

And then we ran. We ran a fast and breathless run, a run like I have never run before. We ran back through the edge of the Villa Borghese, back into the city walls, down the Spanish Steps, through the wet, dark, sparkly streets of Rome. In the distance we could see the Trevi Fountain. As we approached Giolitti, we saw them rolling down the big metal door.

“Please. Please.” We pleaded.

The gelato guys looked out the door. It was one of the guys we always see. He recognized us as well.

“For you. Come.” He said as he motioned us inside.

We climbed under the half-closed door, laughing. They closed the door behind us and we ordered our gelato and sorbetto.

Honestly, that was one of my best days ever. And it is even better because it happened in February.

The boys, Emily and I, the Amalfi Coast, Italy

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