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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I’m back—and not from outer space, but from Arizona and New Mexico. That’s right—our puppy, Furgus, celebrated his nine week milestone right here in our Colorado home.

By the beginning of this week, Sherman and I had puppy fever—bad—and we were over waiting for the puppy transport company to bring us our puppy. He was signed, sealed, and . . . not delivered. This was supposed to be the first time we had a chance to start from the beginning with a puppy. I know these early weeks are the most influential for developing a puppy’s lifelong character—we were not about to let him grow old before he came home to us.

Christiana finished finals this past Monday, but we didn’t get the details until it was too late to find a good price on a flight for her. Since she is working at the college this summer, she only has one week off before her job starts. Both Sherman and I really wanted her to have a break first.

(c) Christiana Lambert 2011

But, why couldn’t I go get her and take her with me on a road trip to spring the little tike from his birthplace outside Tombstone, Arizona? We could take a classic southwestern tour through New Mexico and Arizona minus the dramatic Thelma and Louise ending—well, without most of the Thelma and Louise experiences other than the scenery.

Talked with his breeder on Monday and left first thing Tuesday morning. Despite not sleeping well the night before, I was relaxed and singing along with my iPod as I drove through the back and forth of spring and winter. I was on a mission: a mission for dog.

Following a late lunch with both Christiana and Jackson in Durango where we left Jackson to finish school and return in the car on his own later in the week, she and I set off toward the Land of Enchantment. With an exhausted former college freshman sleeping by my side, I drank in the wide open spaces and fought the winds with my hands firmly on the wheel.

However, once I discovered we were lost, I woke my navigator. Then we continued on in the right direction through a whole lot of beautiful emptiness, with the setting sun’s rays bending light into pinks and purples. Once the sun disappeared, we reached utilitarian I-25, turning south past Albuquerque’s erratic drivers and into a starlit night that made us feel as if we were on some long and lonesome highway heading for the Hotel California.

No, instead we were on our way to Motel 6 in the town of Truth or Consequences, with Christiana doing battle with the winds that threatened us and caused our gas tank to slip dangerously low while we dipped up and down through canyons.

The next morning, the early birds (outside in the tree and in the motel lobby) awakened me, even if my dorm-trained daughter slept through all the noise. Yes, I couldn’t wait to get back out on the road again—soon, with a full tank of gas and anticipation in our hearts, we were back to cruising speed.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

How often the landscape changed in this Wild, Wild West as we headed further south, then cut across to busy I-10, full of its semi trucks and fear-inducing dust storm warning signs. Across the border into Arizona, the rest area sported signs warning of poisonous snakes and insects. This was no sterile movie landscape, which we noticed even more with our first personal encounter with the Border Patrol on the way into Tombstone.

Once I finally deciphered the breeder’s desert southwest terms on the directions (wash does not equal a carwash and a mare motel does not have a neon sign), I was able to help Christiana navigate up a primitive road—as the sign warned—to a fenced-in house where English Springer Spaniels, big and small cavorted. We had reached the II Shea Ranch and Kennel.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

We met Sue Shea, who told us our puppy was inside. As I watched dogs taking dust baths, I realized why our freshly-washed pup remained inside.

Then we were inside, too. Finally, we got to meet the Bret, now Furgus, we had only known from the pictures on II Shea website. No doubt about it, Sir Furgus was worthy of our dog-seeking quest.

This would turn into an even longer post if I told all the tales of our return journey. Suffice it to say, the day we picked up Furgus, our traveling efficiencies decreased due to frequent stops at rest areas, beside the road, parking lots, etc. We learned to sing louder than the puppy whining in the crate and managed to keep ourselves from getting ousted from the motel only by taking turns sleeping on the floor with the guy to prevent him from making that very loud-monkey-like howl of his.

The next day, though, he slept like a dream on the road trip’s final leg from Bernalillo, New Mexico to our home in Colorado. We, however, had to work to keep our sleep-deprived selves from joining him.

We reached metro Denver just as rush hour was working toward the rush in the hour(s).

Furgus was finally home—and so were we.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert


(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Yoga has this way of bringing out feelings or thoughts you don’t even know you are having. Honestly, I would tell you this was a pretty good day. I completed some work, exercised hard, discovered my favorite driving route was construction-free after about a year and a half while noting the absolute beauty of the April day, and got answers to a few questions.

Not bad considering yesterday I was in a bit of a funk after finishing reading a book and comparing myself too closely to the unfavorable protagonist—or rather the main character of the story who settled for so little for himself. It’s one thing to be happy to have time to read a good book, but it’s another thing to think there isn’t anything more beyond that.

I promise you I don’t want to be that person, even if I do like my solitary at-home activities.

Thankfully, today’s intense rain followed by the blue skies that enhanced the pinks of the crabapple blossoms, the emerald-green grass, and spring-green baby-like leaves unfurling from trees reminded me that it is finally really, really spring, even if we will still have occasional cold spells ahead. Ask anyone who lives here—there is nothing like the snow-capped mountains on the horizon to set off April’s colors.

But yoga took me back within, back to going from one minute to the next when I could only look for the balance and/or strength to complete a pose as best I could. There were no seasons, just breath and sweat and trying to remain mindful.

So, when it came time for final relaxation, I did not expect emotion. Yet, there Robyn was, saying to breathe in “Let” and breathe out “go”—the very phrase that caught up with me a few weeks earlier.

Let go of what? Everything? Specific things? The past? Worries?

Oh, but how can you let go, if you try to answer that with your mind in the midst of the breath?

You just have to go with the breath and let the unnamed tears come, then brush them away and roll up your mat and go back out into the world outside yourself.

There that oh-so-gorgeous day greeted me once more. As I observed all that glory, into my head popped, “I am so glad this long Lenten season is almost over.”

And once again I was crying. This was not about the past 40 days in the desert—unless you consider 40 days to be a symbolic number. No, this was about my wanting to stop living with so much sad news.

However, Easter is a few days away—first I will try to share with Christ his bitter cup even though this year I seem to need the Good News (now!) for my own peace of mind.

In fact, I need not only the peace of the resurrection, but also the secular chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and rebirth in the earth.

So during these next two days, I will also sneak in a few sips of the tangible signs that show me life continues—forever and ever more. Amen.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

This is, after all, Holy Week. This walk to Golgotha, sad as it is, gives me comfort in facing mortality. Yet still, I am not so ready for myself or anyone else to test out Jesus’ love for us. I continue to be pretty firmly grounded in my humanness, for better or for worse.

Family members, friends, beloved pets, loved ones of friends, celebrities—it seems mortality will not be ignored right now, no matter how many times I say I’ve had enough.

Death is not in my hands, it turns out. Yet, thank God, neither is eternal life solely in my hands.

I like to believe I’m ready, that if it were my turn, I could rest in Jesus’ arms and go toward that proverbial light we’ve all heard about from those who’ve returned from near-death experiences.

Last week as I was sleeping, I had a dream that told me I have more work to do with my faith. (Or is it not work per se, but the need to let go of control?)

I’ll make the disclaimer that it could have been a metaphoric dream that had nothing to do with real death. It could have been about death to old ways, especially since I am firmly set on a life transition as I learn how to be the matriarch of our family while at the same time my family responsibilities have reduced. Despite all the recent sadness, I am returning to a time when I can focus more on my own real life dreams.

But this dream tells me old habits die hard.

I am prone to strange dreams, but this one seemed pretty normal at first. I had walked into a room where Indian music was playing. As I stood there, I clearly heard the woman sing, “Glide on into infinity . . . ” and then my body felt a strong pull upward.

There was no white light and I knew I did not want to go. As dreams go, I was suddenly lying down. With all my might, from head to toe, I held my body down while shouting, “No!” The next thought was that neither Sherman nor Christiana could handle my loss so closely after the other losses. (Lest you think I didn’t care about Jackson’s loss, just know that he is more like me—he builds walls around his grief rather than falling into it.)

No, in the dream I didn’t think nice thoughts about how good it would be to be in the presence of the Eternal. And, I didn’t even think about all the things I still wanted to do here. Nope, I fell right back into care-giving mode.

However, as I lay there awake with my heart pounding, I did think about myself. While I’ve decided that dying in my sleep is preferable to going out in many of the horrible ways I’ve seen, all I could think was, “I didn’t mean yet!” Yes, I was scared I was going to miss out on my own time now that I had finally gotten it back. I discovered I was not at all ready to submit to Divine Will should it be my time to go.

Nonetheless, why would it be my time? Just to calm my nerves, I asked Sherman, “Did I sound funny at all in my sleep?”

He replied, “Well, you were making all these loud breathing noises and then suddenly you stopped. I thought you had died.” And then he rolled over and fell back to sleep.

You can guess who didn’t fall back to sleep right away. I mean, do I have apnea or a heart rhythm problem or just a lack of trust in the Big Man? Or all?

I’m trying to convince myself this is a story about my need to grow my faith. Or about how I should not float around without making concrete steps toward the next phase of life. Or how much I do want to live. Maybe, once again, the answer is all of the above.

Then into all this emotional turmoil, I hear of another death—of someone who was a mere 4 days older than I am—and he died unexpectedly the day of my dream. Of our onetime group of four friends during the early months of college, two have now died and one has experienced a brain tumor. As I grieve for them, I look in the mirror and wonder, “Why them?” “Why not me?”

Somehow I have to remember that this walk to Golgotha is about Jesus and how because of his walk, he walks with us on our own walks to the cross. We are not alone, whether we are left, hearts pounding in the dark, to ponder our own numbered days or whether we walk our own holy week, “gliding on into infinity”—and beyond.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

This season La Niña has given the Colorado Rockies both snow and wind—and the gifts just keep going, even though we are more than halfway through April. After reading predicted wind chill values below zero, Sherman and I hesitated about going skiing—but it was April 15 and the snow was still so good!

At the last minute we bypassed Loveland Ski area, as we saw how the wind was whipping the snow around—there are few trees for wind protection on the slopes we ski and the chairlifts are slow—and continued on toward Copper Mountain.

The wind still blew at Copper and the snow was probably not as deep, but the trees and swift chairlifts provided protection from the surprisingly bitter cold. But the snow was still so good—and, in time, the winds began to feel more spring-like.

What I noticed most, though, had little to do with the snow or weather conditions. No, for the first time this ski season, on this last ski day for me, I finally felt free. The backpack of obligations I’ve worn all season has slipped off.

True, I only skied once before Mom died, but by the time I returned to the slopes in February, our dog Fordham was in deep decline. And, as much as our family enjoyed our March ski trip, we had just lost him, too, and later that week would be saying our formal goodbyes to Uncle Carrell and Mom at their services.

I am no longer responsible for trying to help anyone be comfortable in the ravages of some horrible disease process. Life and death decisions are not part of daily concerns.

After you’ve watched someone suffer long enough, you know you have to let them go. In your heart you begin to wish for them to be free even though there’s not a thing that’s going to free them other than death and its separation from you.

Now that my grief is not quite so fresh and does not weigh heavily on every minute of my day, sometimes I can begin to remember them healthy and whole again.

Frankly, it is only in the last two weeks that I have started to feel some relief from whatever has been bogging me down physically during exercise since around the time my mom had to go into memory care.

You see, I seem to have two ways of responding to stress, depending on whether the stress is immediate or ongoing. When Christiana was in crisis, my appetite for food reduced, but my capacity for pushing my body physically increased. With Mom’s protracted decline, I did more stress-eating and felt drained more often than strong while exercising.

Yesterday, despite all the hard—at least in my mind and muscles—workouts I had this past week, my legs and lungs felt strong. I could forget about trying to stay up and keep going, and just turn more attention into form. Form and joy. I felt as if I were flying, something I haven’t felt at all this year on the slopes.

The snow was so good. And as it turns out, there wasn’t an ill wind, just one that added a lot of color to my cheeks and nose—and encouraged my return to flight.

(c) 2011 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Just been thinking about fitness lately—maybe because it’s April. The cliché about thoughts turning to exercise in the spring is often as true as the cliché of thoughts turning to love. People look in the mirror and suddenly realize they can’t hide in their layers anymore—at least if they don’t want to faint from heatstroke.

I meet so many women who aren’t as fit as they’d like to be or who are fit but don’t look that fit. Many times you find out they used to be almost overboard fit and are still mystified that the body facing them in the mirror is theirs.

Boy, do I get that. When you grow up slender and spend a lot of energy moving, sometimes it’s hard to realize when you have become far from slender and have stopped putting much energy into moving. What was maybe easy to do or find time for when all you had to do was think about yourself, becomes so much more difficult when adulthood’s real obligations kick in.

Which is kind of a funny thought because right now my exercise lifestyle seems pretty extravagant to most adults in my age group—as if I’m back in my adolescent period (although without quite the same results in the mirror!) Exercise has been my main self-care indulgence during these past years of intense care-giving and lack of time for self-focus.

Yet, I probably can’t afford to be a gym rat the rest of my life unless I’m going to somehow make it part of my profession. I’ve ignored too many real life obligations for too many years. (Nonetheless, here I am still not getting all my paperwork together so my longtime friend Kathy can help us figure out how to salvage our lack of financial planning . . .)

So, here’s a semi-secret: just over a month ago I took my ZUMBA instructor training—and then ignored it in light of all the real life drama. However, my ZUMBA instructor friends, Jennifer, Diana, and Karleen, are getting tired of waiting for me to practice so they can let me do a song in their classes. They say I just have to jump in to teaching.

But first (yes, I’m afraid so far there is always a “but first” with me when I start something new) I had to figure out how to set up a space where I can watch the DVDs and practice. It’s the technology and some long sad story about how the DVD player (and the replacement we bought) won’t talk to our TV, but the Xbox will play DVDs. Yet I am a little bit shaky about how to use the stupid controller to play the DVDs. Blah, blah, blah.

However, I have succeeded in mostly figuring out the system and have begun practicing. At the same time, my mind is filling with other musical choice selections and clothing ideas and trying to pin down how to share my mother’s rhythm instruments in a class setting.

Turns out, this also coincides with a week or so when I have felt stronger during almost all of my exercise times.

Still, I need exercise no matter if I am “productive” or not while doing it. Last week’s yoga classes brought me to tears without warning. Wednesday’s savasana tears told me how badly I was missing my doggie Fordham one month after his death. Then Thursday, strains of “Moonlight Sonata” came on in the background and I almost lost it mid-pose. When my cousin’s son Sam performed the piece at Mom’s memorial service, I listened dry-eyed. But in the stillness that is often yoga I finally heard all the sadness inherent in that most beautiful music.

These are not life experiences I had lived when young and fit. Then running was more a way to workout nervous energy and to deal with the ups and downs of a youthful emotional life. Now with so many more losses from longtime relationships, exercise is even more important to me—and no doubt to a lot of people as the years creep up on them.

The obligations of adulthood make exercise that much more necessary. It’s not really just about improving the picture in the mirror or even how the body works, but about finding something that helps get a person through what inevitably comes with later seasons of life.

That’s why I can feel the mission behind something like the ZUMBA fitness program. Oh sure, they’ll tell you ZUMBA class is a party—which it is. But more importantly, anything that gets people to move, despite life’s scars, has the power to create deep changes.

People arrive to their first classes, timid and afraid, believing in the permanency of the mirror and difficult life losses, but they start leaving happy in the moment. They jump back in the dance of life.

Count me in, too.

(c) 2009 Cheyenne Kelton

Warning: Completely sappy puppy drivel follows.

Happy Six Weeks, little Bret! Get some love from your momma while she’ll still give it and tumble around with your brothers and sisters while you can. And, don’t forget to keep growing strong and healthy so you can move “up north” (most anywhere in the US is “up north” from Tombstone!)

Know that all the pieces are falling in place for you to join our forever family—and thoughts of you are making it hard for me to sleep.

True confession, yesterday I went to Petsmart and picked up two toys for you. After that I stopped though because I have no idea what will be your obsession—and I’m sure you’ll have at least one if not more obsessions.

I also got more training information. Although I have loved my secondhand (or fourth-hand, in Fordham’s case) pups, this time I have a chance to make a difference right at the beginning, not follow-up after someone ignored or abused my forever pup.

I have to laugh at myself. I am sounding just like a typical woman who became a mother in the 90s—do we always have to fixate on doing everything right? I’ll try to keep in mind that making sure you know you are loved is the most important part and everything else we’ll just do as best as we can.

Now, I have a few requests for you. Please treat Abel—the little old guy around here—well as he was found homeless way too late in life. He is finally feeling like he’s home—I’m pretty sure when you burst in the door, he’s going to wonder a little bit about whether this is still his place. So you know, it is, and he’s got a brand new hard-sided crate for protection if you don’t quite understand that he’s earned his rest. Plus, just because you’re going to get way bigger than he is doesn’t mean you need to sit on him—Fordham did that plenty enough to last Abel’s whole life.

Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt our feelings if you were a little less hard-headed than both Fordham and Chelsea. We’ll do for you, so you don’t have to worry about trying to take charge.

Just want to tell you we are getting ready for you—now, you keep getting ready for a happy and healthy long life with us, OK? I’ve been saving you the coolest name for years—prepare for the rubber sword christening ceremony in the near future. Your full name and picture to follow only when you arrive so no one will be tempted to intercept you in the name of their own puppy love!

By the way, here’s a sampling of my current philosophy for life. Worldwide disasters got you down? Get a puppy. Government politics making you tear out your hair? Get a puppy. Kids won’t call on the phone? Get a puppy. Missing loved ones? Get a puppy. Puppy driving you crazy? Oh—not so sure about that circular logic . . .

Anyway, no pressure or anything, little puppy, but we’re expecting big things from you.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

A long, long time ago in a country pretty similar to ours, I was a young adult. Our technology, such that it was, used to give some structure to our time. Before we had cable TV, our stations went off the air at midnight. We could only watch TV shows when they were on and had to wait between commercial breaks. Long distance rates didn’t drop to barely reasonable until 11:00 p.m. Of course, for decades electricity had allowed people to work or play the whole night through, but our world’s transformation to a sense of timelessness hadn’t quite been so complete when I went away to college—1000 miles away from home—knowing I would see my family only every three to six months.

Such transitions in life were different when everything wasn’t available 24/7.

Every Sunday night, whether convenient or not, I called my parents at 11:00 p.m. EST and my brother called them at 11:00 p.m. CST. Long distance was expensive, so we tried hard to discuss anything necessary, money-wise and/or decision-wise at that time, as well as fit in talk about what was happening with me at college and with them back home.

Yes, we had no e-mail, IM, Facebook, Skype, or any of that. Gone was gone. We did not see each other, period. And it was a rare (and spoiled) person in my dorms who talked to her parents frequently on the telephone, even though many of my dorm-mates came from families with money.

When we communicated, we had to make it count.

Now I can see pictures of my kids in real time, thanks to mobile uploading on Facebook and can talk to their images thanks to Skype. They can text me with “send money” requests and call me when there is trouble or decisions to be made.

What we don’t seem to do is connect. I can only surmise how they are doing from Facebook pictures and status updates.

Look, I’m fine with this empty nest thing from a day-to-day living standpoint. I like having a neater house and getting more sleep and not having to decline activities because they conflict with the kids’ events. I am enjoying developing a life after the constant focus on our kids.

But I’m not fine with being disconnected from them while they live 6 ½ hours and several mountain passes away. In the chaos of a 24/7 world, they can’t find any regular time to talk with us on their phones? Really.

In their defense, I think it takes a lot of discipline to fight against letting technology control our lives. We can spend our days and nights responding to instant attempts to connect with us while not initiating those that require us to act rather than react. We can confuse the supposed urgent contact with being the important contact.

And, it’s even harder for people who have ADD, now that the world has gone hyper-ADD itself.

Yes, both my kids have ADD and struggle with time now that they don’t have me to point out the chronos from the kairos. Apparently I wore my chronos role too strongly in our household and they are ill-prepared for a world that, though it may run 24/7, does indeed have time limitations.

However, technology or not, at some point a person has to realize that making real time for people is the only way to maintain connections.

I can’t make my kids contact me and I refuse to sit around waiting for calls that aren’t going to come.

For myself, I’m going to add a little low-tech structure to my life—even if it will cause me to be more reactive than proactive for several months—by getting a puppy and maybe even rescuing or fostering a young adult dog. Short of acquiring opposable thumbs, the dogs will just have to communicate with me face to face.

(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

Blame it on seasonal weather changes, thirst, the continuous Zumba music running through my head, or the puppy (!) who will be arriving in our lives soon, but I have not been sleeping deeply the last few nights. Anyone who knows me well, knows I am prone to strange dreams anyway, but when my sleep is restless, the dreams get even more vivid.

This April (that cruelest month) I am mourning, but to tell you the truth it’s not so much the recent loss of my mother but that the dreaded disease, Alzheimer’s, took her several years ago. I lost my mother years before she died—that’s one of the harshest aspects of dementia.

Mom was always an absentminded person who often lived outside the norm. We just came to expect her to be slightly crazy. In fact, that was one of the best sides of who she was. Still, when our father died, we realized very quickly that he had been her timepiece, the person who anchored her in the reality of the world of chronos. For her, life was almost all kairos—for good and bad.

But the first time she forgot my birthday, that hurt. Still, it didn’t 100% point out that she had dementia because if she didn’t know what day it was, she couldn’t know it was my birthday. My brother always came to visit at Thanksgiving, so she remembered his birthday longer, but apparently insisted on making him a chartreuse green angel food cake since that was what he supposedly liked—I was the one who liked angel food and the green frosting only happened once, thankfully, when I turned 13 in the mid-1970s.

Looking back, we realize all the dementia checklists in the world don’t necessarily point out when something’s wrong with your loved one. Really what you need to note is when they can’t do the things they always did well. True, she was having trouble with words, but that isn’t so unusual for post-menopausal women. For her, when she started misspelling written words, that was a huge sign of change since she was pretty much a spelling snob. Still, all that’s water under the bridge of sorts for our family.

What I want now is to dream of her as she was throughout most of my life. However, I continue to have these dreams, as I have for the last three years, where she is either in need due to her dementia, or just needs help. Although the final years of her obvious dementia represent only about 5% of her days on this earth—thank God that percentage isn’t even higher—the most recent images seem burned in my brain.

In the pre-dawn hour, I dreamed she and I were at some sort of a roadside stop, such as you find in the Rocky Mountains, where tourists can linger to visit nature. There we saw this circular flagstone or other natural rock structure—water sat deep within this man-made well of sorts. While Mom was looking in, she fell headfirst. I screamed for help, though I didn’t see how there would be time for anyone to climb in before she succumbed to the water.

When my husband showed up, I implored him to do something. Sherman returned to report he had spoken with her and she said she was fine and would get herself out. She’d gotten hungry (blaming blood sugar difficulties was her consistent excuse for any mental or physical missteps and how she attempted to deflect any dementia concerns) and, pointing to a ladder on the inner wall, she would climb out herself after she’d eaten.

Maybe if she had admitted to needing help, she could have avoided some of her distress, but really, there was no way out from her dementia. She was as lost to us as if she’d fallen into a deep well. We could still see her, but could not reach her.

I’d like to think our family’s story is unique, but unfortunately in 2011, the Alzheimer’s Association released a report estimating 5.4 million Americans have the disease and another 14.9 million people function as unpaid caregivers.

I don’t have to read the report to know I am not alone. Sylvia from Deep Water class, Lenny from Yoga class, my nephew’s mother-in-law Anita—these are just a few of the people I know who are walking beside someone they love who has some form of dementia.

Supposedly some people don’t visit their loved ones often because of fear about their own possibility for getting dementia. Suffice it to say, when I stayed away I think it was due to fears about what was happening right then, but that may just be a form of denial. I remember thinking I hoped my kids didn’t have to go through what I had gone through with my mother—and then realizing that if they did, it could be because I had fallen into that well!

So, I will keep working through my own grief and doing what I can for my own brain health, and trying to find more peace in my dreams.

But the thing is it’s not just about my mom or me. We as a nation cannot afford to continue to lose all these brilliant minds—just hearing all the previous professions and past adventures of those who lived in my mother’s care center taught me how much these people had contributed to our society—nor can we afford the costs of caring for them, either financially or emotionally.

Between 2000 and 2008, deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 66%, while deaths from other diseases, including heart disease, decreased. We need to step up the research for this disease in order to both prevent it and treat it. Currently there is nothing that can pull any of us out of the well once we fall in.

But in my sweetest dreams, there really is a ladder on the inner wall, ready for us to climb at any time.

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