Archive | June 2011

Wear Your Bicycle Helmet, Damn It!

Yesterday, both my sons were glum and grumpy. They were missing their big sister who had just left for sleep-a-way camp for the entire summer.  My youngest simply missed her because she was his big sister. My oldest, he was just mad because HE wasn’t going to camp the whole summer.

So, to cheer them up, I cleared my day for an activity that would set us soaring and put us all in a good mood. We embarked on an extra long bicycle ride. On their bikes, they had to get along as brothers. They could not cut each other off because they would crash. The older one had to stay with the younger one and remind him about traffic rules like staying to the right of traffic, look out for parked cars, and stopping at stop signs.

Finally, after winding our way through side streets we had discovered in a previous bicycle ride. we made it to Brighton’s Buckland Park.  Finally, I could let my guard down, if just a little, and feel free to let them ride in safety the park’s dirt bike trails that took us through tall bulrushes filled with red-winged blackbirds and over wooden bridges. On the paths, I didn’t have to think about a car coming up from behind them or, well YELL at them to get off their bikes and walk them across the busy intersections.

The other night, as I was drifting to sleep, came on the Late News that a 15-year-old boy had been killed while riding his bicycle. He was not wearing his helmet.The next day, my husband came home from work and let me know that the boy was the son of a man who worked at his office. When you live in a small town, the local news is very local.

Today, I also read about a woman in her 50’s who had just died from injuries she sustained while bicycling. She also was not wearing her bicycle helmet.

But, back to our joyful bicycle ride……

On our way home, I saw a kid of about 13 on his bicycle. We both came to a stop at a 4-way Stop intersection. He said “Hi” and I said “Hi” back.

Yeah, he had left the house with his bike helmet. But somewhere away from his mother’s eye – he took it off and strapped it not to his head but the handlebars of his bike.

Little did he know there are a lot of other mothers out there.

“Put on your helmet.” I said. No pussy-footing around this time, no saying “I’m sorry for being pushy” or “I hope you don’t mind saying..”

I just said it:

“Put on your hemet. A kid your age was just killed this week on his bicycle and HE was not wearing a helmet.”

Maybe another kid would have snickered and flipped me off. But all this kid said was:


And the helmet went right back on his head.


And what if we were … Transplantedsouth?

Getting to Washington D.C. is not what it used to be. Especially if you are Transplantednorth.

I remember as a kid, getting in the car before the crack of dawn, my brother and I clutching pillows and still snug in sweats. We’d watch the sunrise over the New Jersey Turnpike and continue on south on Route 95. We’d have lunch somewhere at a Maryland Welcome rest stop and would arrive at our friends in Maryland, just outside of D.C. by noon. In total, the trip took a little over four hours. Including a stop for lunch.

Not such a direct route when you are driving to Washington D.C. from Western New York. The way ambles through winding roads and Amish country in Pennsylvania, dumps us into sububurban main drags with shopping malls and car dealerships, and winds along both sides of the Susquehana River. Door to door time from Rochester to downtown Washington D.C.: nine hours.

Last month, the family — sans daughter who stayed back in Rochester with a friend to study for finals – went for weekend trip to Washington D.C. to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah (a Jewish girl’s coming-of-age ceremony) of the daughter of some good friends. My husband was excited about being with old friends. I looked forward to reconnecting as well, but at the same time I wanted to have time to show my sons the nation’s capital.

Somewhere on Route 83, I started playing the “what if” game with my husband:

What if we moved to Washington D.C.?

Husband: I can call my contacts at the Deparment of Energy, I’m sure I could get a job down here very easily.

Me: Imagine that! We would be closer to our friends we grew up with and hung out with in grad school!

(but those darned traffic circles…)

Husband: But the traffic! And my commute would be hell!

Me: Yeah, there is such little traffic in Rochester.

(that’s because everyone is moving away because there are no JOBS) 

Me: And I bet there is a bigger chance I’d land a job in PR or writing for a lobbyist or something.

Husband: But you probably would not get a job as a columnist for the Washington Post. And you wouldn’t get recognized in the supermarket with people telling you they love your column.

Me: True. But I’d be able to find a full-time job that makes real money!

Husband: You’d better, because houses are a lot more expensive down here.

Me: And we’d most likely have to pay for private schools.

Oh, but the schools are so GOOD in Brighton.  Worth every penny of our property taxes….

We sat in silence for a while. The boys had their headsets on and were watching a movie – Matilda, I think – on the car DVD player.

But then, I had more things to add to our “what if” fantasy:

Me: It would be WARMER!

Husband: Yes, but it still snows in Washington and they don’t know how to handle the snow.

Me: That is an excellent point, but to be WARM!

Husband: Do you know how hot it gets in D.C. in the summer?

This is true. It was hot already there, and it was only June. And my Northern-blooded children can barely stand when the temperatures are in the 80’s.

Me: But imagine being so close to all the museums in Washington D.C.

All that culture we could give to our children!

Husband: How many times do you think we’d really get to the city? We would probably have to live way out in the suburbs.

Me: This is true.

(He had a good point)

Husband: We would be closer to our family in New York.

Me: We would be closer to our family. And more people would visit us

(because no one visits us Rochester)

The traffic slowed even more. Friday rush hour traffic. And, the US Open was on. The GPS lady cautioned a six mile back up in 1/2 mile, but we were already IN traffic.

 And somewhere in our conversation, the movie must have ended because the boys piped in:


Rochester, the only home they ever knew.

“You’re right, guys, we’re not moving to Washington D.C. We’re staying in Rochester.” we both said.

But, it is nice to play what if.

Okay Campers, here is your cleanliness checklist:

In a few days, relative quiet will settle in my house as our eldest heads off for her first full summer at sleepaway camp.

In a few more weeks after that, the true peace will descend on our home as her oldest brother follows. Then, our family of five shrinks to a family of three for an entire month.

Sleepaway Camp. It’s like a child-parent sabbatical.

But kids, this is no time to slack off on basic hygiene, and I can only imagine how this all important priority in civilized life will backslide when you are out from the discerning eyes – and noses – of your parents.

I don’t know how you will manage without us, your nagging parents, to stay disease, filth, and cavity free, for the duration of your glorious summer camp experience. So for my kids and all those summer campers out there, here is a checklist:

These are nail clippers. They will keep your nails short and trimmed. Use them. They will prevent you from accumulating too much dirt underneath your fingernails, which may result in you becoming afflicted with a parasite that may take up home in your intestines.

These are bottles of shampoo. I have sent you up with ONE large bottle of shampoo, which is more than ample to last you the whole summer up at camp. If the shampoo bottle topples in the shower, please return it to its standing position.

You need about this much shampoo

not this much shampoo

to get the job done for an adequate cleaning.

Then, scrub.

Do not merely let the suds sit on the top of your wet head. But scrub and massage your scalp with the balls of your fingers. Then, rinse until you are squeaky.

And children who are at the age of adolescence and above, these are your armpits:  

Okay, so this not your armpit but the armpit of Tom Cruise. He’s an old guy to you but ask your moms about him and the movies he was in when they were young.

You must apply deodorant to your armpits at the beginning of EACH day, no matter how much it may tickle.

You must wash your armpits BEFORE you apply the deodorant. Application of deodorant after playing sports or even GaGa in the camp rec room and after an unpleasant odor has set in is ineffective.

This is your mouth:

Now, many of you may not have this perfect smile – yet. Your teeth may be imprisoned in those metallic braces, but know this: Your parents have spent about just as much money on those teeth in your head as they spent on that summer at sleep-a-way camp. So please: Brush, floss, rinse. At least two times a day.

And for those of you with braces, NO there is no substitute for gum while at camp, at home, or otherwise.

And please drink at least one glass of milk a day.

And change your sheets at least once a week.

And….  remember we love you and will miss you like crazy.

But most of all …. Have fun!

The Last Seconds of the Second Grade

Council Rock Primary School in Brighton is shaped like a hug. It has one main hallway flanked on each side by two other hallways that stretch out like two arms. These arms hold about 800 happy kids from Kindergarten through second grade. These arms are adorned with the colors and words that these children write, draw and sculpt. You’ve never seen happier hallways.

This school has hugged my kids – and well, me –  for eight years. Now it’s over.  Cradling a folder full of Crayola art and essays about butterflies and tadpoles, I walked out of this little school for the last time today.

My youngest, the second grade graduate, was born on the first day of school in 2003. My husband left the hospital for home a few hours after he was born, showered, and then woke up our two big kids for the school bus.

The first time Toby went Council Rock Primary School, he was under 20 days old. We carried him in the infant car seat for my daughter’s first grade curriculum night. As the school year progressed, Toby visited the school with me about twice a week while big brother got occupational and physical therapy. Sometimes he would be in his car seat, other times I would hold him in the rocking chairs that are in the lobby. The school aides would ask me how old my baby was and I would proudly proclaim, “He is as old as the school year!”

And in a flash, he is nearly eight years old. He will still kiss me and let me hug him in front of his friends, but not really.  My baby is growing up.

How dare he!

He already has the wisdom to know that time flies when you are having fun. He already senses how fast a school year can go.

Tomorrow, I’ll go through all the worksheets about math. I’ll look over how many ways my youngest got to 100 and the worksheets on how to write his ABCS. Then these will go in the recycling bin.

But what I’ll treasure most is his journal on his day-to-day life. His poetry on what it would be like to be an inanimate object such as a tape dispenser. And his self-portrait. And if I only look at them on rainy days when I am looking to clean out my closets, to make room for the stuff from school years to come, it will be just enough.

Third grade, (and, for my daughter, High School) here we come!

Arugula Pizza and other creations from my CSA box: Week Two

The first thing my friend asked when we arrived to split our first harvest from our East Hill Farms CSA was:

“Where’s the tomatoes?”

Actually, what he said was “Ma kara? Eiphoh ha tomatoes?” But for those of you who do not understand Hebrew, I’ve translated it for you.

This was a question of serious concern from my friend, a native Israeli. And Israelis take their tomato-cucumber salads very seriously.

This is the thing that one must understand when joining a local CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture farm: In early June, in Western New York, those coveted red, vine ripened tomatoes don’t exist. At least, not the kind that don’t grow in hothouses.

For those, we have to be patient.

But, here are some things I have made from our first helping of CSA vegetables from the East Hill Farm, plus the earliest herbs I’ve grown and picked in my own garden:

Lettuce – Not the durable, homogenous pale Romaine hearts you get in a plastic bag at the supermarket. But tender, sweet tasting lettuce. Naturally, these went immediately into a salad.

KaleHmmmm, that’s bitter stuff, you may think. But if you join a CSA, be prepared to get a lot of Kale. It really does taste great and is packed with nutrients. It’s best  sauteed with olive oil & garlic (the fresh kind provided by the CSA) for a warm salad. Drizzle it with Balsamic Vinegar and toss it with walnuts.

Bok Choy – I sauteed them with garlic and ginger.

Pea Shoots – I sautéed these right along with the Bok Choy.

Finally, something that did not come from my CSA but my own garden.

Arugula. Since I have blogged about growing arugula, I have received nearly 100 hits for people searching for arugula on the web.

One night, after shuttling my sons to and from their back-to-back baseball games,  I decided not to cook but instead ordered in a pizza.

To jazz up my pizza, I went to my garden. I picked out some baby arugula leaves.Washed them well. Plopped them on top of a pizza slice. Fantastic.

It’s not too late to plant arugula. In fact, it’s the right time to start some arugula seeds now, in a partially shady spot, to enjoy later this summer.

And, have no fear, judging from the yellow flowers that are forming on my tomato plants, I am sure those red globes of sumer deliciousness will be arriving very soon.

The Hunt for my next Human – Interest Story, that is….

This summer and hopefully for many months to follow, my editors have given me a new challenge – find interesting people to profile in the ROC East Towns of Pittsford, Victor, and Webster.  Find people with a unique way of making a living or those who possess a hobby, craft, talent, or story in their past that sets them apart. And make the idea photogenic, and coordinate your source’s schedule with a staff photographer; because photographers have to make a living too.

Come on people, I know you’re out there.

How do I know this? Because within one walking block of my house, I have found interesting people that would make incredible subjects for profile stories. Artists. Gardeners. Mysterious Xylophone players. People who used to live in Nepal.  But I only know these facts about my fabulous neighbors is because they are my  neighbors.

And if all these people inhabit just one small block of Rochester’s eastern towns, then just imagine who else could be out there – other fabulous people with hobbies, businesses, causes, or talents that really make them stand out.

So, if you know of any such people and they are your Pittsford, Victor or Webster neighbors, won’t you please ask them if they might like to be possibly featured in the Our Towns section of the Democrat & Chronicle? If they are a budding entrepreneur, artist, musician, this could only be a win-win situation.

If not, I just might show up in a suburban development near you, walking the sidewalkless streets wearing a placard that says “Got Story?”

Answer #153: The smartest thing I’ve ever heard was at a Dunkin Donuts

A few years back on a visit to see the family in Staten Island, I went into a neighborhood Dunkin Donuts to get my daily cup of Joe. Actually, I was on my way to visit my grandmother, who was very frail and suffering from dementia. And, to tell you the truth, at this point in her life, she was slowly ebbing away from us, slowly dying.

I don’t know if I ever saw my grandmother in good health. Though she always gently lectured us about getting the right amounts of calcium, sang the praises of eating fish for “brain food,” and questioned me into my 30’s about if I was maintaining a “slim” weight. Her body began to feel the ravages of osteoporosis in her late 60’s.

I consider myself lucky. I have never had a weight problem. And I try to stay active with enough weight-bearing exercises and eat calcium rich foods. I know I won’t be young forever, but I want to be able to stand on my own, walk on my own, until my last days on this earth.

Meanwhile, back at the Dunkin Donuts….

Ahead of me on line stood a rather large man.

Dunkin Donuts had recently introduced its DDSmart marketing plan that aimed to put more low-fat nutritional items on its menu in addition to their traditional offerings of Boston Cremes and Munchkins.

As I looked at the lower fat options for reduced fat Blueberry Muffins (450 calories compared to 500 in a regular blueberry muffin) and skim milk Vanilla Lattes (130 calories in a medium-sized drink compared to a 200 calorie Latte made with whole milk), the guy in front of me turned to me, as if reading my mind, and said:

“Low Fat-Low Shmat. Will it really make a difference? Enjoy your life, because no one gets out of this world alive.”

African Burial Ground, Lower Manhattan

Ranger Doug at the African Burial Ground Monument in Lower Manhattan

This summer, play tourist in your own city. 

And if you are one of those native New Yorkers that scoff at tourist traps like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, there is a relatively new attraction just north of City Hall that after one visit will change the way you will think about the American history you learned back in your school days. As we approach Juneteenth, a little known holiday that celebrates the emancipation of the last slaves of our nation, it’s worth a visit.

This spring on a visit back to New York City, my family went to the African Burial Ground National Monument and we all got a brush-up course on American history.

From what I remember about my public grade school education, slavery was taught like this: 

  • Africans were captured from their native lands. 
  • There was a very harsh, inhumane passage over the Atlantic where slaves chained together in the hulls of ships. 
  • Southerners owned slaves to work in the cotton fields and in their master’s homes.
  • Northerners didn’t own slaves.
  • Blacks were treated as slaves in the South so they tried to escape to the North, to places like New York City where they could be free

My kids were disappointed that the indoor museum was closed that day. However, the outdoor African Burial Ground National Monument Memorial was open, as it is daily from 9a.m. until 5p.m. except for all Federal holidays. 

The burial site, used by African slaves from 1626 through the late 1700’s, was discovered only 21 years ago, when the federal government broke ground for a new building on 290 Broadway. Because archeologists uncovered the remains of 419 individual bodies of all age groups, it is regarded as one of the most important archeological findings of the 20th Century. In all, it was the final resting place for 15,000 Africans and their descendants It was the only place where Africans could be buried in the city.

The plans for the building were modified to accommodate a museum and a 6.1 acre monument that was opened to the public in 2007.

On the first approach to the memorial from Broadway, a grassy patch of ground with partially raised holds the remains of those 419 slaves. The grassy area gives way to a path marked by bricks and marble that spirals downward to what used to be the street level of the New York – or New Amsterdam – centuries ago.

The Circle of the Diaspora includes symbols that represent the African cultures from where the slaves were taken

The walls were marked by strange symbols and dates.

In the middle of this spiral is a map of the world that marks each native land where slaves were taken.

My kids, aged 14, 12 and seven, wandered around the site exploring.  Finally, my youngest mustered up the courage to ask the Ranger what this place was all about.

All it took was that one simple question.  Ranger Doug – Doug Maslenberg  — brought the history of this place to life. In a narrative presentation that was no less fervent  than sermon delivered like gospel at a Baptist church,  Ranger Doug went into great detail to tell us about the lives of the slaves who were found buried at this very site. Through his booming voice, he brought the suffering of those people back. He spoke of the horrors of the middle passage on those ships, represented at the memorial by the 24-foot Ancestral Libation chamber:

Reminiscent of a ship's hold, the interior is a place for individual reflection.

He spoke of the bones of children that had been bent under the weight of carrying bricks and buckets of water too heavy for their bodies to withstand. Bones of men that contained evidence of whippings.

Ranger Doug looked directly into our eyes, almost a bit too long. Any preconceived notion that I had about a slave-free New York City was obliterated under Ranger Doug’s stare.

Back at home in Rochester – a city with its own past link to Abolition and Emancipation – my kids and I wanted to learn more. So we picked up a historical novel called Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. This young adult novel, a 2008 National Book Award finalist, follows the life of an African slave girl in New York City during the Revolutionary war.

Thank you, Ranger Doug, I’m glad we asked.




My Dark Dances with Danger

Dark path

When I was younger, there was something about a boy carrying a flashlight for me on a dark night that would always invite me to take a dance with danger.

A stroll in the evening can be peaceful, even romantic. But dangerous? Well, it might be if you are a 19-year-old volunteer breaking curfew to take a mile walk through the wilderness of Israel’s upper Galilee region with a bunch of soldiers just to get to a party.

I am a pretty cautious person. I don’t speed when I drive. I’m afraid of heights so that rules out roller coasters, sky diving, hang gliding or even trapeze flying to get a thrill. So this story of my walks through darkness may be tame in comparison to other risky ways to have fun.

My earliest memories also find me sneaking out into the dark for adventure. I was five or six. I must have been that young because my brother, four years my junior, was still in a playpen.

My family was on vacation at the Bay of Fundy in Canada. My parents had a knack for making fast friends with other families on vacation, and it happened that one such family invited us for dessert in their big Winnebago Camper one night. It was the kind of camper that kids drool over at R&V shows at the mall: complete with a kitchen and a loft perched over the driver’s cab. My parents and this other couple were sitting having coffee outside the camper, I had bunked down with the kids of this family in the loft, and my baby brother was sleeping in the playpen.

All of a sudden, the family’s oldest, a boy of about 10, said we should go for a walk in the dark because not too far away, there was an outdoor amphitheater playing a movie. And, according to this boy, my parents had given me permission to go with him.

There are reasons why you shouldn’t talk to strangers.

I remember bits of what happened next. I remember the kid, his sister and I leaving the camper, He carried a flashlight to light the way, and at one point he shined it on the ground so I could tie my flower-patterned Keds.

To get to the amphitheater, we had to cross a four lane road with a grass median. A road with trucks on it. And not a crosswalk to be seen. No lying. Now, I remember this kid stepped into the middle of the road and held out his hand to stop the traffic. Miraculously, the traffic stopped both ways, to let three kids under 10 cross the street.

I can’t remember what movie they were showing in the amphitheater, or what happened afterwards. I think I remember a part where I was crying to my parents explaining to them that they said it was okay if I went wandering in the dark to go see an outdoor movie.

Sure, any parent of a six year old would say that!

But, getting back to Israel….

The summer I was 19, I picked myself up from my comfortable American surroundings and volunteered on a collective farm or a kibbutz for a month. It was a great way to meet kids from all over Europe and to better understand Israeli culture. All on 5 shekels, or about 1 dollar a day. Plus free room and board.

In addition to the volunteers and the residents of the kibbutz, there were also a group of Israeli soldiers who did part of their military service by providing free labor to the kibbutz. They were called the Garin.

One night, some of the Garin told me and some of the other girls in my volunteer barrack that they knew of a party taking place at a nearby kibbutz. But, we would have to break our curfew and walk through some brushy wilderness to get there.

There was no real path. There had to be snakes, scorpions and other lovely things along the way, not to mention that we were right on the border with Syria and Jordan. I tried not to think about any of those things. I was with trained soldiers after all, and in addition to the flashlights to guide our way, soldiers also carried guns.

So, we walked guided by those soldiers, just kids like us really, the light of the flashlights and a thousand visible stars. We got to the party and danced with lots of other kids to songs from the Pet Shop Boys and Ska music by Madness and an Israeli Madness wannabe band called Machina.

My British barrack mates, in true British form, got very “pissed” drunk and could barely get up the next morning for our 4:30 a.m. wake up call to work the fields.

Was it dangerous? Maybe. Was it fun and would I do it all again? Definitely.

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Get on Your Bike and Ride to Feel Like a Kid

To quote a song from Queen, “I Want To ride my Bicycle.”

I remember my first bike ride. It was shortly before I could ride a two-wheeler of my own. But my first cycling outing did not take place in one of those pediatrician-approved baby bicycle seats, a toddler bike trailer, or even a tandem bike. No.

Just before I learned to ride, an older girl on my block would take me for a spin on her Huffy Spyder bike with me sitting backwards on its banana seat. Bravely, I hung onto the u-shaped metal bar of the seat and waited for her to push off the curb. I marveled how she could balance us both on those two wheels. I remember watching the pavement roll away from beneath the wheels and feeling that uneasy tilt in my stomach when she made an unexpected turn, all the while assuring me that she wouldn’t fall.

Do you remember getting a ride like that, on a friend’s bike? Hanging on for dear life either on the back or riding on the handlebars? This was the 1970’s. This was before all the worry about safety and helmets. These days, finding kids riding like this or without a helmet is enough to warrant a call to Child Protective Services.

When I want to feel young, I ride my bicycle. I’m not an avid, up-at-dawn, century riding cyclist. I just like riding around the block, just like I did when I was a kid. All it takes is coasting along a stretch of flat road, the sound of the wheels spinning to take me back to childhood and the thrill of learning to ride a bike.

I learned when I was seven or eight. My parents got me my very own Huffy Spyder, complete with an iridescent banana seat and handlebars with streamers. And, a white woven basket decorated with flowers.

At first, I rode with training wheels but my dad at some point decided it was time to ditch them. So, he held onto the back and ran behind me as a pedaled. I started to get the hang of it, enough so that I guess dad felt confident enough to stop and talk to some neighbors – and let go. I went for a while, not realizing he wasn’t there. Riding straight was easy. Stopping was not.

After I crashed, dad encouraged me to get right back on.

May was Bike Month. Many communities around the continent hosted “Bike To Work” Weeks.  My town, Rochester, NY was voted by magazine, as one of the top 50 cities in the country to bike to work. Okay, so it came in 50 out of 50, but still, that’s pretty good for a town that sees an average of 90 inches of snow a year.

It’s no wonder that biking is one of the best ways to get fit. In fact, in a recent article, studies showed that biking increases happiness, suppresses appetite, and is just plain fun. And, as gas prices edge towards $4 per gallon, biking also saves money and is good for the environment.

But I didn’t have any specific reason in mind when my husband and two sons set out for a bike ride late in the afternoon over the weekend. We just wanted to spend some time together on a ride to the library to return some books, and maybe go a little further. And in the late spring air, zooming around the quiet streets of our town, I imagined myself anywhere: Cape May, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard…we smelled the remains of the lilac bushes, fresh cut grass, and whatever was being grilled in someone’s backyard.

As we biked throgh the side streets of Brighton, my sons discovered where classmates live. We also stopped by the house of an older couple we knew. They are well into their 70’s. As they saw us pedaling by their house, the woman turned to her husband and said, “Now, why did we get rid of our bikes? We need to get new ones. There is no reason why we can’t ride too.”

In addition to chatting with our neighbors – something you can’t do while speeding by in a car – we discovered shortcuts that we wouldn’t have thought about while driving. A useful one ambles along quiet, curved streets and ends up at a traffic light that allows for safe passage into Buckland Park, one of Brighton’s newer recreation areas. This park contains, you guessed it – lots of bike paths. This will be very useful in the school free days ahead.

But bike riding with my kids reminds me that in reality, I am definitely no longer a child. Instead of feeling completely carefree, I am barking very grown-up, mom-like orders such as: “break at stop signs!” or “DON’T dart out into the middle of the road! That’s how you can get killed!”

Another reality that brings me back to my current age after a childlike bike ride: the ache in my very middle-aged knees.

What do you do to feel like a kid again?

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