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Quicksand and Wishful Thinking

Posted by Tim under Personal

One of my favorite moments in the movie, The Replacements, is when Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) explains what he means when he says his greatest fear on the playing field is “quicksand.”  Its that moment when one thing goes wrong.  Then another.  And another.  And pretty soon you spend so much of your time trying to get out of trouble that it causes you to lose focus entirely.

Quicksand happens in sports.  I’ve seen it happen to teachers when they are being evaluated.  The technology doesn’t work right.  A particular student disrupts the class…again. The worksheet needed for the lesson was left in the office…on the printer.

It happened to me last week.

I’m not speaking out of turn (I hope), because my boss knew I was interviewing for an elementary principal position in another district.  A job I would really have loved.  A job I did not get.

I walked into a committee of six for the interview.  I knew them all except for the new Director of Schools.  The Supervisor of Elementary, two elementary principals, someone from Special Education, and another from Title I (primarily) were on the committee.  My mind immediately started thinking about the direction of questions from this particular group.

The first question out of the gate was a pretty straightforward, softball lob question to get things started.  I even recognized it as that and felt good that I had a chance to sort of “warm up” before the more difficult things came my way.  In essence, the first question was this: When you walk into an elementary classroom as the principal of your school, what do you expect to see?

I’ve answered this question a million times in workshops and discussions with other teachers about best practice and student engagement.  I evaluate teachers using the TEAM rubric.  I know what is expected in a classroom.  And yet, in that moment of singularity, nothing came to mind.  I could have talked about using in-class flipped instruction to get kids focused on the lesson while the teacher monitors the room and gets things ready for students to break out into groups.  I could have talked about the latest brain research that shows us that movement helps activate the brain to learn and remember.  I could have talked about play in the role of learning and how being active is the new ADHD drug of choice.  I could have talked about utilizing the handful of computers in the back of the room to have students watch a Discovery Streaming video and answer some brief questions online to get immediate feedback for part of the lesson to be taught later.  Or using those computers for kids to log into Khan Academy, or PLATO Learning, or Study Island and working through some sample problems so I have some formative assessment data at my fingertips.  I could have talked about using iPads in groups of 5 or 6 as a center activity and having kids learn to code in order to build logical thinking skills for math and writing.  I could have talked about the process in elementary that could help kids learn to work collaboratively, empathize with their peers, and design-build-test-redesign-rebuild-retest in order to see the benefit of failure for success.  I could have talked about Minecraft for goodness’ sake!

I could have.  But I didn’t.

I blathered on about controlled chaos in the classroom using centers for learning and how the teacher should be more of a facilitator in the process than a direct instructionalist and yet understanding that some things (like multiplication tables) should definitely be memorized and stored in a folder of the brain so that dendrites and axons can find the necessary building blocks for mathematics when students need to think.

It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t great.  It was an attempt at a textbook answer devoid of risk or meaning.  OK.  It was bad.

And then there was the silence.  Each committee member had one scripted question, but they could also come back with follow-up questions.  I wondered if the interviewer would ask for more detail or for me to explain something I had said in more concrete terms.  The next person in line to ask questions was evidently wondering if it was her turn yet.  The silence was deafening in my head.  And I felt myself step into quicksand.

The next person in line finally asked the first questioner if she was finished.  Her answer was, I think, meant to bring some levity to the situational awkwardness.  “I’m finished if he’s finished,” she said.  And I chuckled along with everyone else.

But I knew in that moment that I had underperformed right out of the gate.  As I attempted to answer the next question, part of my brain was in overtime trying to go back and re-answer the first.  And yet the questions kept coming.  What is your role as principal in the building? What do you tell a parent whose child just took the TCAP for the first time and the child underperformed?  What do you see as your role in IEP meetings?  What can you tell us about your vision for RTI?

All fair questions.  Each one answered more blandly than the last.  Somewhere in the middle I knew I had failed.  I was neck deep in quicksand and nothing I did helped me get out of the bind that first misstep had caused.

Finally, the Director asked me the get-out-of-jail-free question.  What else do we need to know about you?  But it was too late.  My brain was mush.  My body drained.  It had only been 45 minutes, but I felt like I’d just gone 15 rounds in my head.

I wouldn’t have hired me.

I spent the next 24 hours kicking myself every single way I could imagine.  I answered those questions again and again.  I couldn’t sleep that night for laying in bed rethinking how I should have or could have or wish I had done something different.

No.  I did not get the job.  And that kind of opportunity does not present itself often.

And here’s my take away about it all.

When I interviewed for the job I have now, I think I pretty much nailed it.  I was confident.  I was direct.  I felt good about it when it was over.  I did not get the job, but what I did get was a phone call from the principal stating that everyone in the room felt I needed to be at that school in some capacity, so a job was created for me.  That’s not unusual.  It has happened before.

So…perhaps there is something inside of me that knew I wasn’t ready for this job.  Or that this job wasn’t ready for me.  Something in my head that kicked in and helped me fail in order to protect me from a bigger failure.  Failure, after all, is a matter of perspective.

Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.


Reflections on Ely Cathedral

Posted by Tim under Personal

I’ve tried to remain as quiet as I can on social media lately when it comes to the Confederate flag controversy.  It isn’t really in my nature, and sometimes my thoughts have leaked out on to my Facebook page as I have both applauded actions and decried actions.

main-elyFor me, it harkens back to England and my extreme love of Ely Cathedral.  Ely is a little village not far from RAF Mildenhall where I worked with Air Force families in a Christian Servicemen’s Center.  The cathedral, however, is anything but little.  It is so large that planes returning from bomber strikes in Germany used it as a landmark by which to turn toward their landing strips.

Even as I write this, I realize that the word “controversy” explains my dilemma.  In the United States we mostly pronounce this word CON-tro-versy.  In England it is nearly always pronounced con-TRAH-versy.  We’ve often laughed about England and the United States being two countries separated by a common language.

Ely was first built as a Catholic cathedral.  It is wildly ornate in places.  Its octagonal auditorium is beautiful.  And the acoustics…wow.  I had the privilege of singing there once.  It is unlike anything I’d ever done before or since.

There is a section of the Cathedral that is now empty and rather stark.  It is called the Lady Chapel.  All of of the archways that once housed statues of saints are now empty.  There are small statues of saints actually carved into the walls themselves that remain.

But every single face on those small statues have been chiseled off in order to take away any chance they can be used as icons for worship.

What happened?

Cromwell happened.

In a purge of all things Catholic, Cromwell and his men raided cathedrals and shrines throughout Britain and destroyed any vestiges that might be used in Catholic worship.

At the time, I’m sure it made perfect sense to Protestants and the monarchy.  Today, it is viewed as useless, destructive, and extremely intolerant.

Time, even a short amount of time, has a way of changing our perspectives and altering our realities.

The Confederate flag, or rather the Virginia Battle Flag, should have been taken down a long time ago by the SC government.  It was a finger in the eye of the federal government and, to a large extent, the Civil Rights Movement.  There was a reason it was moved to a pole where it could not legally be lowered or taken down without approval of the legislature.  So kudos to the legislators for finally doing the right thing and taking it down, regardless of the length of time it took.

But now…wow.  Dukes of Hazard has been taken off the air because the General Lee has this flag painted on it.  Its been fine for years and years and years…until now.  The golfer who owns the General Lee is threatening to paint over the flag.  Why didn’t he do that when he bought it?  Walmart has stopped selling anything with this flag on it.  Yet plenty of other politically insensitive and offensive materials remain.

And in the midst of it all, I have heard very little about the official state flag of Mississippi that contains this battle flag in its design.  Anybody besides me watch Mississippi Burning?  And few dare to speak of then Governor Bill Clinton signing into law a new official state flag in Arkansas where he said its very design is a homage to the Confederate states and the very same battle flag.

There is a fine line for me between government sponsorship and common sense.  (Sometimes its not so fine a line between government and common sense).

Protestors have called for Kid Rock to stop using the flag in his merchandising and concerts while Kanye West has “made the flag his own.”  Some of the same people who despise this flag for its racist overtones listen to music that is blatantly racist and misogynistic and often blare it so loudly out of the speakers of their cars that the entire universe has to listen as well.

So, to be clear, I don’t have a copy of this flag to my knowledge. I barely ever watched Dukes of Hazard. I was born in Indiana, but my roots are in the South.  I am extremely saddened that it took the ruthless, senseless, brutal killings of 9 innocents by a traitorous racist bigot in the sanctuary of a House of God  in the middle of a prayer meeting to get the attention of (most of) the SC legislators.  I’m glad the flag is down.

But if we’re not careful we will reinstate Oliver Cromwell and his reign of terror and our society will lose the uniqueness of its founding and become nothing more than an empty chapel of destroyed beauty where we are no longer allowed to shine forth as individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, gender, religion, geographic upbringing, or thought.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go listen to a little Skynyrd to clear my head.



I suppose I should do a very quick follow-up to my recent trip and bring it to closure.  So here we go.


I will definitely do this again. Yes, there were problems.  I took a total of 4 buses.  Out of those, 2 of them were pretty late.  But these were also the buses with the longest drives, so anything can happen on the road.  Standing in Union Station, I did get an email (which I did not see at first) telling me my bus would be 60 to 90 minutes late.  Once I saw that, I was fine.  Communication is key in everything we do.

The buses were crowded, but everyone was friendly and respectful of your space.  The only thing I would do differently next time is to take at least a half a Dramamine.  I don’t do well on buses sometimes.

Photo Walk:

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 10.53.49 AMI really didn’t plan much with regard to the photo walk.  I sort of had a plan, but was willing to do something different as the need arose. And with rain, the need arose.  In short, I had a blast. I saw some amazing places, and captured at least a few shots that were very pleasing to my self-critical eye.  On the other hand, I regret that I didn’t spend at least a couple of hours at ISTE.  I had the time, but chose to do something else.  When I take another trip like this, I will plan things a little better in advance so that I don’t wind up with a 20 mile hike as I did in DC.  I made it fine, but the next day walking was not fun.

In all, I got some shots I may use in my home.  And I got some I will put on my photography site for sale.  At some point, that may be something I want to push, but for now it is just sort of there.


There is no way, in such a short span of time, to see all of your friends.  By skipping the ISTE Exhibit Hall and the Blogger Cafe, I missed a lot.  On the other hand, I was able to catch up with several, and taking more time with each allowed us to have much more deeply personal conversations.  And I would not change that for anything.

And with that, my summer has come to an end.  It is back to work next week.  But watch out when a 3-day weekend crops up.  I may be off again.


As part of my time spent with my good friend RJ, we discussed our spiritual heritage and journeys for a while.  It had been on my mind since walking through the Cathedral Basilica the day before, and is my habit if it is on my mind its probably coming out of my mouth.

My spiritual history is one centered on the Pulpit.  In the Charismatic, Pentecostal traditions we are known for wonderful music and sincere efforts at praise and worship.  The Charismatic movement is more toward “teaching” from the pulpit while the Pentecostal tradition is more toward “preaching.”  Pentecostalism more accurately defines me, so I grew up hearing fiery sermons on hell and holiness that causes one to want to find an altar and repent as quickly as possible.  I think I went forward for salvation nearly every week in many of my teen years.

When you look at architecture, Pentecostal/Charismatic churches are designed with the Pulpit front and center. This is neither good nor bad in my opinion, but it has led to some who fill that space to think more highly of themselves than perhaps they ought.  And it has caused those of us  listening to hold them up higher than they deserve.  Television pastors and evangelists have proven this downside more times than I care to recount.

Catholicism and other “high church” traditions are geared much more toward the Altar.  The pulpit is set off to one side.  Priests give homilies rather than lengthy sermons.  The emphasis, both by tradition and by architecture is centered fully on the Altar.  It is, after all, at the altar where the priest connects the congregation to the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ through the act of Holy Communion.

I have been blessed to be in both traditions at various times, and I find them both spiritually fulfilling.  But it is in the area of Ritual that I find myself moving away from my Pentecostal/Charismatic past and finding a sense of belonging and community within the larger Body of Christ known simply as The Church.

Some within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement attempt this.  They celebrate Advent, observe Lent, and attempt to move Communion away from plastic cups and animal crackers.  But it often still feels like something “stuck on” as an after thought.

There is a “togetherness” that happens in ritual.  And when it is gone, there is separation and “apartness.”

Think of it in terms of the family dinner table.  I grew up in a time when the family generally sat down together around a single table to have dinner.  It was often nearly the same time every evening.  Things stopped.  Phone calls went unanswered.  Discussions took place.  And bonds were formed. The experience was about satisfying the family.

Today I find myself eating in my car more times than I care to accept.  I stay connected to others through texts, emails, and Facebook posts on my phone.  I eat quickly.  I eat in silence.  The experience is about satisfying me.

And this is where my mind goes when I think about ritual in the church. There is a connectedness found within the act itself that lifts up the Church as a sacrifice to God.  Without it, there is a move me if you can attitude that pervades our mindset.

I know this.  Yet I don’t live this.  At least not right now.  But there is a longing in my heart to belong again. To connect again.  To be part of something bigger than myself.

It will come.


And the Walk Continues

Posted by Tim under Personal, Photography

Philadelphia has been a great trip so far.  As with most things in life, it hasn’t been exactly what I planned, but perhaps its better.

I had ever intention of walking through ISTE’s exhibit hall and seeing some friends that hang out in the Blogger Cafe and other places.  But, the best intentions are sometimes just not enough.  Walking.  Exploring.  Photographing.  These are the things of this trip, and they have been great.

Today, Mark Smith and I trekked down nearly a mile to grab breakfast at Sam’s Morning Glory Diner (the Finer Diner).  And…it…was…marvelous!  A little hole-in-the-wall place with the friendliest waiter and some amazingly  good food.  I think when Mark and I are together again at a conference we are going to need to do a morning podcast about where to get the best breakfasts!

18685452564_e7978eb317_zFrom there I took a long, meandering route over to the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul (nearly 2 more miles).  Today I had my tripod and two fully charged batteries ready to tackle the place.  It is gorgeous inside and out.  On the way I stumbled into a little church (I didn’t catch the name) that was being renovated inside.  It was also a beautiful chapel.

So I spent the first half of my day reflecting on the greatness of God and man’s attempt to demonstrate His greatness by offering up the most beautiful edifices as a place of community and worship.  It brought me back to the theology of the altar and the pulpit and how various Christian traditions emphasize one over the other when both are equally important.

The second half of my day was spent with another long-distance DEN friend, Kimberly Wright.  She was brave enough to tag along with me as I went to the East State Penitentiary to scout around and take more pictures.  We had a fabulous lunch at Jack’s Firehouse.  The food was amazing. The service was exceptionally slow, but we were too busy talking and talking and talking to worry about it.

After that, I was just tired.  And it was about to rain.  Big time.  So I came back to the hotel where I believe I will be hibernating for the evening.

Tomorrow is another travel day.  But not before breakfast with more friends….

My Cathedral pictures can be found here.  Today’s other pictures have been added here.


We Interrupt This Walkabout…

Posted by Tim under Personal

We interrupt this photography walkabout stream of blog posts for the main reason why I even made this trip.

RJ Stangherlin.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.57.20 PMRJ and I met at my first DEN national meeting way back when we were in Silver Spring, Maryland, and 1 Discovery Plaza.  In those days I knew absolutely nothing about technology in the classroom.  I was invited to attend because I had streamed more Discovery Education videos than pretty much any other teacher in the state.  And I’m glad I did.

There is absolutely nothing about our personalities that would immediately tell you that we would become fast friends.  RJ’s vivacious love of life fills the room when she enters.  I usually sit in the corner and people watch.  I don’t think she’s ever met a stranger.  Until I get to know you, you would get much out of me sometimes. She already had over 30 years in the classroom.  I think I had 3.

The 2nd time we were together she walked up to me with a martini in hand and said, laughingly, “I bet you don’t even remember my name do you?”  She had me pegged.  Names have always been a problem for me.  So I just lied and said, “Of course I do!”  But she knew better.

RJ has battled two different types of cancer and a very rare blood disease and came out a winner.  By all accounts she should have been taken from us two or three times over the last few years.  But watching her progress on Facebook showed her continually smiling, telling how good life is, and pointing that thumb up to give the its-all-good signal for the world to see.  (She held it up for me again today in the picture above).

I am at ISTE, but I’m not really at ISTE.  I have not registered for sessions.  I haven’t even used the pass for the Exhibit Hall I was given.  I am in Philly because I promised RJ a cup of coffee on me.  This morning, I got to pay up.

I got to spend about 4 hours with RJ today.  And we shared a fantastic lunch time with another great friend, Danielle Abernathy.  Listening to her laugh, watching her eyes beaming with joy, and sharing our life stories with one another was exactly what I needed.

I cannot even begin to describe the joy that is in my heart today after this visit.  RJ, you are an inspiration to so many.  But you are a very special angel to me.  I love you, my friend. You embody the heart and soul of what it means to be an educator. But more than that, you embody the heart and soul of what it means to be a human being.

It is an honor to be your friend.


Day Two…Wow

Posted by Tim under Personal, Photography

Sunday was my second full day on this walkabout, and what a day it turned out to be!  But then coming to ISTE is like that (even if you aren’t really going to ISTE).

I boarded the bus at Union Station in DC.  This time the Megabus was not overcrowded, so I had an empty seat next to me.  Unlike my first outing, Sunday’s driver was not a big believer in air conditioning.  I don’t do well reading or being jostled about in a moving vehicle unless I am either a) sufficiently cooled down with a constant stream of cold air on my face, or b) asleep.  And, after all, I needed the rest.

I had been to the Megabus stop at 30th Street Station on my last venture through Philly, so I sort of knew my way around.  I got on a train into City Centre, and in two stops I was walking up onto 12th Street around the corner from the Marriott and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

I had lunch at Reading Terminal Market with my gracious host, Mark Smith, and one of his MACUL Board Members.  Then it was off for a walk.  Since I was meeting a long-time friend, Danielle Abernathy, at JFK Plaza (otherwise known as Love Park because of the Love Statue there), I decided to walk in that general direction.

I discovered the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul, which may be the loveliest Catholic Cathedral I’ve ever been in. And, of course, I did not have my tripod with me, so I snapped a few iPhone shots using the black and white Lenka app and promised myself I would be back!

After a quick pretzel with Danielle, Cheryl Woolwine, Anne Trueger,  and the group Danielle was hosting, I was ready for a break, so I stopped by the hotel and began looking through pictures.

At 5 I was headed to Bare Burger to meet a Facebook friend, Kevin Jarrett.  Facebook, for its foibles, is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern Day World.  Until yesterday, Kevin and I had never met.  We got connected on Facebook because we are both educators.  Then, as I followed his posts I realized he loves photography, and he’s dang good at it!  Then, it all got real when I realized he loves trying out new hamburgers wherever he goes.  I recognize a kindred spirit when I see one.  Dinner was great.  The menu was perhaps the most creative I’ve seen in a while, and the Elk Burger with blue cheese, caramelized onions, and bacon was simply amazing.

After dinner I went out for photos during Magic Hour (that time of 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after).  I have to say by that time of the day, and nearly 20,000 steps at the time, my heart (and my feet) wasn’t in it.  By the time I got back to the hotel I could barely put one foot in front of the other from the pain.  Going from couch potato to 10 mile walker overnight was not a great move on my part.

Last night I got to catch up a little with Kristy Vincent, met Beth Still (another Facebook and Twitter friend), and spent time at a regional meetup sponsored by groups like MACUL, ICE, and more.  It was great seeing more DEN friends as well, but by 9 PM I was already dying.  I left the party just as it was cranking up and gingerly made my way back to the room.

Like clockwork, I was awake at 5:30, and here I sit in Starbucks sipping coffee, people watching, and sharing yesterday’s adventure with you.

So far, I am liking this little adventure I’ve set out on. Getting around has been extremely easy in both DC and Philly.  No rental car. No hotel parking. No crazy traffic.  Just wandering.  No agenda to speak of.  Just being present and seeing what is around me.

Today has a mini-agenda.  I’m seeing one of my favorite people in the entire world, and I’m going to the 10th Birthday Bash of the Discovery Educator Network (my favorite PLN in the entire world).  And if that is all that happens today, my heart will be full.

All of my Philadelphia pictures will be here on Flickr.


Day One Is In The Books

Posted by Tim under Personal, Photography

Day one of my Megabus, photography, ISTE, Philly, DC adventure is over.  And the results are a little mixed.

First, the ride on the Megabus wasn’t bad.  I wasn’t prepared for it to be 25 degrees in there, but lesson learned.  I napped on an off throughout the night-long ride and arrived in DC around 9:15 at Union Station.  Immediately, I was looking for breakfast.

19213562642_d022b8825b_zThis why the Internet is such a beautiful thing.  As we got nearer to DC I pulled up my browser and typed in “Where can I get bacon for breakfast near Union Station?”  About the 3rd post down was a question from a father wanting to take his family to a “not very expensive” place to get breakfast after arriving at the station.  Two or three results popped up (on happens to be the restaurant in my hotel, so I’m about to go try it out after I finish this post).  The Dubliner caught my eye.  It is a nice little Irish pub that serves as the restaurant for a local hotel.  The Full Country Breakfast reminded me of my days in England enjoying breakfast at the tea shop in Beck Row.  Wonderful.

After breakfast, I set out to take pictures from the Library of Congress to the Lincoln Memorial.  You know that saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”?  Yeah, that happened.  Rain.  Some drizzle.  Some monsoon that almost grabbed my umbrella out of my hands.

So some of the pictures were taken with my iPhone using a combination of the Lenka black and white app and the 645 Pro app.  Lenka shots were uploaded to Facebook immediately (love this app).  645 Pro shots were transferred to Lightroom and edited slightly since I shoot those in an Uncompressed TIFF mode similar to RAW.  Other pictures were taken with the camera on a tripod while I attempted to cover it up with my umbrella.  Not fun.  Sometimes the rain stopped and I could walk around with camera in hand.  And then, about 5 PM, the rain pretty much quit altogether, and I was able to get a few HDR shots in along the way to experiment.

I got out of the rain for a while at Old Ebbits Grill, and again at a Starbucks down the street.   It was raining hard enough, and long enough, while at Starbucks that I just transferred the pictures I had to Lightroom, did some quick edits, and posted them.

By the time I got back to my hotel (nearly 2 miles from the Lincoln Memorial),  I had walked over 30,000 steps.  That’s 14 miles.  Carrying a nearly 40 pound backpack the entire way.  Needless to say, those last 2 or 3,000 steps were willed out of my knees and arches because I was determined not to take a cab.  Silly me.

Today, I can barely walk.  It will get better, but this morning it is rough.  Thankfully, I have fewer steps to take today.  My Megabus leaves DC for Philly at 8:30.  I should arrive around noon.

You can see the first day of picture adventures on Flickr here.


Megabus Review

Posted by Tim under Personal

imageI rode a Megabus from Philly to NYC and back the last time ISTE was in Philly. It was that ride that kept this trip gnawing in the back of my mind.

As as we approach DC, I have a few things going through my head about the experience so far.

  • There is no terminal for the Megabus. No person to tell you how late it might be. That was an inconvenience when our bus was nearly 45 minutes late.
  • I need to wear layers. The bus is freezing. Even for me!
  • A neck pillow of some sort would have been helpful.
  • I should have ordered tickets sooner and got the front row seat for the additional $5.
  • Overall, the sleeping experience was about what I expected. More like multiple short naps. I think I would have slept better had I not been freezing.
  • Headphones are a must.
  • My phone was at 6% battery when I boarded. The power outlets are lifesavers. (Haven’t tried the wifi).
  • Nearly all seats are general admission. I should have taken more care to get on the bus earlier in order to have more variety.
  •  Megabus needs a Keurig

All in all, this has not been a bad experience (except for the freezing part). There are several families with small children on board. I’m not sure I would want to travel that way, but I understand cheap is cheap, so it is extremely affordable.

Livin’ the dream and livin’ it large!


And We’re Off! Sort Of

Posted by Tim under Personal

It is 11:10 PM. I’m standing on the sidewalk with a couple of dozen others waiting on the Megabus that was scheduled to depart 10 minutes ago.

imageWe we will eventually be on our way, but for now we wait.

My plans for tomorrow in DC may undergo some slight modifications. The weather app shows rain all day. Drizzles I can handle. A deluge will be a different story.

I guess we’ll figure that out like everything else about this trip….on the spur of the moment.

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