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Aran Leaving, Leaving Aran

Aran has moved out.

Saturday we packed everything up: his clothes, his room, the stuff we'd bought for his dorm.  The major purchases included a small fridge and a small microwave.  (I had already called the school to find out who his roommate would be in order to learn what his roomie might already have, but housing said they assigned rooms when people arrived, so there was no way to know.)  The truck was filled!

We did have a small difficulty.  The Michigan Career and Technical Institute (MCTI) is located in western Michigan, and the only move-in day was Monday, August 24.  The memorial for Darwin's father, who died a few months ago, was going to be held on the same afternoon in northern Michigan.  We decided to handle it by driving to western Michigan on Sunday, spending the night, and arriving at MCTI as early as possible.  From there, we would drive up to the memorial.  It would make for a long day, but it'd be doable.

So off we went.  Sunday night we rented out the attic of the Hall House bed and breakast.  Darwin and I like B&B's way better than hotels.  They're more comfortable, you get breakfast, and they're often about the same as a motel.  The Hall House was built in the 20s and was beautifully restored.  The attic had been renovated into a suite with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, and two more beds tucked under the eaves.  We liked it very much.  Maksim was in heaven!

I didn't sleep well.  I don't think Aran did, either.  We were both too nervous.  Aran has been worrying about what are, to me, odd things.  He worried about how to pack his room and what clothes he should take.  A major worry for him has been how he'll get quarters for the washing machine.  None of his worries included how he would get along at the new school or if he'd miss people back home.

My worries =have= included such things.  I often wonder how my worries would be different if he weren't autistic.  I =know= MCTI is set up for students with autism and other disabilities, but I still worry.

At any rate, we rose in the morning, had a delicious breakfast (Maksim was in heaven again), and headed out.  When we arrived at MCTI (which is literally in the middle of a cornfield), it took some hunting to find the registration area. Although we were there by 9:10, the line had already grown long.

The registration process consisted of several stations spaced around the main academic building.  Aran, who had spent a week there one summer to suss the place out, already knew his way around.  I hung back and let him handle the registration.  I only spoke up once, when it was clear he didn't understand something.  There was also a brief medical interview at the med center, where I also spoke, but that was it.

The final station was the dorm.  The housing lady asked Aran a few questions.  Did he consider himself a quiet, private person, or a social, louder person?  (Quiet.)  Did he want a room by himself (she could put him in one, but couldn't guarantee it would stay solo) or with someone else?  (He wanted to be with a roommate, a little to my surprise.)  And finally, did he want to room with a new person like himself, or an older, experienced student?  (New.)

She clicked around, gave him his room key, and told him his roommate's name was Christopher.  Okay, then.

We arrived at the room to find Christopher and his family already there.  Introductions were made all around, and then we started hauling.  Christopher had brought a refrigerator but not a microwave, so we decided to use Christopher's fridge and Aran's microwave.  (I could easily return Aran's fridge.)  There!  It was much moving of boxes and suitcases and unpacking and making up beds.  The halls bustled with other students and families moving into other rooms as well.

The room was carpeted. This was a surprise, too.  When Aran attended camp, the room he stayed in had a bare tile floor, so we'd brought a big floor rug for him.  Fortunately, this would also be easy to return.

At last, Aran was mostly moved in.  He was only about halfway unpacked, but he could do it on his own.  Besides, if we unpacked for him, he might not find stuff.

We took the empty suitcases and boxes down to the truck and I got a final picture.  We said good-bye, and I acted like I wasn't upset, and Aran simply walked away.

I needed a moment before we could drive off.  Since Monday, I've gotten five terse text messages from him, all of them in response to questions from me.

Aran spent most of his time at home in his room, but he was always there, and the houses feels a lot emptier with him gone.


Aran's Long Good-Bye

Aran is leaving.

Registration for Michigan Career and Technical Institute starts this Monday.  It's two and a half hours away, so we're leaving Sunday, spending the night in nearby Kalamazoo, and driving the rest of the way so we can arrive at 9:00 AM.  I'm trying not to freak out.

This is a natural event, but it's still fraught with more than the usual kid-is-flying-the-nest drama for me.  Yes, of course it's because he's autistic.  How well will he handle living so far away from home, in a new environment, where he's unfamiliar with . . . well, everything?  How will he handle room mate conflicts?  His classes?  Getting to town?  (MCTI is 20 minutes from Plainwell, the closest town, and the Institute runs a shuttle bus.)  Will he be lonely?  How will he handle that?

My biggest fear is that he'll get embroiled in some problem or mistake and be unable to extricate himself.  I won't be there to help.  Yes, he can call, but I'm not always available by phone.

Anyway.  Today we rounded up odds and ends he still needed--sheets, a storage locker, a throw rug, a bath mat, a pile of snacks.  We already bought a little fridge and microwave.  If his room mate (we have no way to find out who it'll be) brings them as well, we'll just return the extras.

Packing begins on Saturday.


New York Library and Marketing Genius

After my conference work was over on Saturday, Darwin and I headed back to the New York Public Library.  He wanted to check the geneological collection for some of his ancestors and I wanted to explore the building some more.  And off we went.

On the way we stumbled across a Barnes & Noble and went in.  I found several of my books on the shelf.  My offer to sign them was well received.  Yay!  (Sometimes such offers aren't.)

At the library, Darwin found the collection he was looking for, and I wandered off to explore the library.  They don't build libraries like this anymore, all high ceilings and echoing hallways and rooms you could play rugby in.  Libraries these days seem to be ultilitarian first and architecturally interesting second ("Why are you wasting MY TAX DOLLARS on something LIKE THAT?" wail the masses, and so we're often stuck with dull public buildings).  I like the old school ones that look like a Greek temple, a place where you might find a secret door into an underground chamber, or where a hidden passage might turn up only during the second full moon of the month.

Anyway, I wandered around admiring a number of rare and ancient books and explored the odd nooks and crannies of the library itself to my heart's content.  Darwin, unfortunately, struck out on finding anything about his family, and we retired to the courtyard in front of the library to sit at public tables and people watch.  A wedding party arrived and got its picture taken by the famous lions on the front steps, and I remembered we had to hire a photographer for our own wedding yet.

We shopped--Darwin is looking for a particular style of watch and having no luck--and finally had supper at a delightful Irish pub not far from Times Square. The food (shepherd's pie for me) was fantastic.

And then it was off to Times Square.

Times Square on Saturday night--ohhhh, what a mess.  Crowds so thick you could hardly move!  The TV billboards danced crazily in attempts to get our attention.  Costumed people offered themselves up for photos, including a trio of topless women who wore nothing but g-strings, feathered head-dresses, and body paint.  I wondered if they were actively breaking the law and no one cared or if the law counted Cobalt Blue #5 as clothing.

"Where are the men wearing g-strings and water colors?" I mused aloud.  "Shouldn't there be a set of them, too?"  And Darwin agreed.

We found a particularly dense crowd in one area and realized it was because of the Revlon billboard.  The billboard had a camera in it that threw a wide-angle video of the crowd onto the screen and then zoomed in on one central location and superimposed a heart on the center.  "Kiss!" the screen exhorted.  I assume the idea was for a couple to get caught in the heart and smooch.  But the crowd was eager to get on the big video screen that no one kissed at all.  Instead, they smooshed and jammed themselves together and waved frantically at the camera, hoping to get in the middle.  One young guy with a brown beard waited five or six times so he could get into the heart over and over.

But here's the thing--the video feed wasn't a constant.  Each time the camera did the KISS! thing, the video flipped over to a Revlon commercial.  Then the billboard teased the crowd by showing other kiss camera images, seeming to promise the camera would come up next.  But then there was a commercial.  Then a promise of the camera, followed by yet another commercials.  Finally the camera would show up and everyone went nuts.  Yay!  We're on camera!  Because we've never done that before!  Wow!  Then it was back to several minutes of commercials.

"Genius!" I said to Darwin as we watched this phenomenon from the edges.  "They got an entire crowd--thousands of people--to watch Revlon commercials over and over and over, and all they did was promise to show a random few of them on camera, something they can do any time at home.  These people are giving away their viewing time and not even getting a TV show in return.  Genius!"

"You really need another hobby," Darwin said.

Half the fun of Times Square is watching other people, so we watched other people, along with the billboards.  We tried some shopping, but the stores were simply too crowded.  We did go into a watch store that had the watches on display OUTSIDE the cases. They were wired down with zip ties, but you could still pick them up and examine them.  I liked this much better than the usual watch stores, who hide the prices and don't want you touching anything until you can see the color of your bank account.

Eventually, I realized I'd left my carryall back at the restaurant.  Oops!  We dashed back to the pub and I found it exactly where I'd left it.  Whew!

We returned to the hotel, footsore and fascinated.


There are two kinds of vacationers: planners and pantsers.  The planners want to plan out the entire trip.  They want to know there will be things to do and see so no one gets bored.  The pantsers don't want to plan anything.  They want to make things up as they go so no one gets stressed or feels like they =have= to do something because it's vacation.

Usually I'm more of a pantser on vacation.  I'll plan for big events ("On Thursday we'll go to Mackinaw Island"), but for the rest, I'd rather let things happen.  Darwin is a total pantser.  He never wants to plan a single thing.  This actually drives me crazy--there are always a few events I want to do on vacation or some things I want to see, and they take planning.

This was why we were at the Empire State Building.  I wanted to see it, and that was that.

(Side note: we actually wanted to see Liberty Island and that big statue they have over there, but it turns out you need to make reservations months in advance, so that didn't work out.)

Darwin is acrophobic, so the ESB would seem an odd choice, but I pointed out that you can see the whole view while enclosed, if you want, so he was finally amenable.

Tickets to the Empire State Building cost $50 to $65 and they get about 40 million tourist visitors per year. In other words, tourists bring in between $70 and $85 million in ticket revenue.  And that's just tickets. There are souvenirs and photo stands and other stuff galore.

There's also a museum of sorts as you head toward the elevators, and you would think it would be interesting, but it's as dull as a Chicago Cubs game.  It's all about how much electricity and water the building uses, rather than interesting things like how many people tried to commit suicide by jumping off it (32 known, in case you were wondering, not counting two people whose falls were broken by ledges, securing their accidental survival).

Darwin and I had opted for the slightly more expensive trip to both balconeys, the ones on the 86th floor and the one on the 120th floor.  We joined the line (which was surprisingly short, but perhaps Friday evening is slow at the ESB) and we zipped up the first elevator.  I asked the elevator operator if his ears popped all day, and he said ruefully that he couldn't get them to fully unpop until he got home from work in the evening.

The view from the 86th floor was, of course, magnificent.  The inside glass-walled balcony that rings the building gave a wonderful view of all Manhattan in all directions.

And then something amazing happened: Darwin said he wanted to go outside.


So we did.  Darwin enjoyed the view from outside while I played Danger Boy at the edge.  The weather was perfect, the sun was setting--a glorious evening.

And then we went up to the 120th floor.

Up there, you can't go outside and you're fighting a crowd, but you can see in all directions.  Darwin and I shared a kiss as the sun set over the city.

And then we came back down, ears popping as we did.


Belated New York Report

I talked about the business side of The Great New York Trip, but didn't go into the social end at all. So here we go:

Arrived in New York after a lively landing.  Darwin is a nervous flyer, so while the airplane went through a great deal of abrupt slowing and speeding, I smiled and said, "Isn't this fun?" while inside a little voice whispered, "YOU'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!"  But we landed fine.  Really.

Hopped a shuttle for Grand Central Station and walked exactly two blocks to the Roosevelt Hotel, where the Writers Digest Conference was being held.  A feisty Russian clerk named Irina told us our room would not be ready until 3:00, but we could check our luggage.  This we did, and we set out to explore a little.

The Roosevelt opened in 1924, and it housed a lot of interesting people over the decades.  The mayor of New York actually lived there in the Presidential Suite for quite some time.  The location, we discovered, was perfect.  Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Times Square, Park Avenue, and lots of other interesting places are within walking distance.  So we walked.

At one time, I tried to act like I wasn't a tourist when I visited a new place.  This meant looking straight ahead and striding instead of strolling, taking few pictures, and avoiding tourist spots.  This was a way of trying to blend in so natives wouldn't bother me--or worse.

I've long since abandoned this practice.  First, no one bothers me.  It's an advantage of being six feet tall with a shaved head.  People think =I'm= going to bother =them=.  Second, the blending-in practice means I don't get to see anything.  Staring straight ahead means I miss the other 359 degrees.  Tourist spots are usually the =interesting= spots, and it's silly to avoid them just because lots of other people think they're interesting.

So Darwin and I happily strolled around Manhattan, pointing out various buildings to each other and trying to figure out what decade they were built.  We wandered down Fifth Avenue, one of the most famous streets in the world, and window-shopped.  We watched the people, and I decided that New Yorkers were a lot more fashion-conscious than Detroiters.  (Sorry, Detroit, but you lose big when it comes to interesting clothes, especially on the men.)

Eventually, and entirely by accident, we came across the New York Public Library, complete with lions guarding the front doors.  Darwin hadn't heard anything about it, but I had, and I dragged him inside.

The NYC PL is an archiectural marvel, of course. It was built back when libraries were more than half temple.  It feels like walking into one, certainly. You feel like there should be robed priests and an oracle waiting for you. The rest of it is a museum for rare books. (The main branch here isn't a lending library.)  Darwin and I spent considerable time wandering through it until Darwin remembered with a certain amount of excitement that this library housed a rare geneological collection that he wanted to examine.  Unfortunately, the library was closing in a few minutes and we had to leave.

So headed for the Empire State Building . . .


Want $325,000? Apply to the EAA!

The Education Achievement Authority was created in 2011 to "turn around" the lowest performing 5% of Michigan's public schools.  A school that was declared to be in the EAA was detached from its regular school district and put into the EAA instead.  All such schools--surprise, surprise--were African-American populated schools in Detroit.

During the four years of its existence, it has not changed a single school.  Not one school improved, and more than one school actually DECLINED.  Teachers in the EAA were promised bonuses if they achieved certain benchmarks, and said bonuses were never paid.  The main computer program that was supposed to run the EAA's curriculum never worked properly, but teachers were required to continue using it anyway.  Curriculum materials never arrived, forcing teachers to somehow teach to EAA standards without EAA materials--and sometimes without being told what those standards were.

Finally, amid controversy over where great piles of EAA money had disappeared to, the EAA chancellor John Covington, resigned his contract early and fled the state.

Rather than disband the EAA as a bad idea, however, the State of Michigan, at Governor Rick Snyder's order, is trying to EXPAND and take on MORE SCHOOL.  And they've hired a new chancellor.

Well, "hired" is a loose term.  See, she was the only applicant.  Seriously, she was.  They did have two applicants for the job, but one of them withdrew.

This happened at my school district once.  We were looking for a high-level administrator, and, for various reasons, all the candidates the district interviewed withdrew, leaving only one.  By law, the district was unable to choose that person. They had to start the hunt over so they could have more than one candidate.

But not, it seems, the EAA.

So meet Chancellor Veronica Conforme of New Jersey. For her work at the EAA (where she will oversee about 7,200 students, she will receive:

--a salary of $325,000
--$25,000 for relocation
--security protection
--$8,000 annually for vehicle allowance
--$5,000 annually for purchasing life insurance

Medical benefits are not mentioned in the press release, but her total benefit here is $363,000 plus the cost of her security detail.

All this money despite the fact that the EAA HAS NOT HELPED A SINGLE STUDENT.  Not one.

The Worst of Cindy Gamrat

Cindy Gamrat, the Michigan Tea Party Represenatative who had an affair with fellow Tea Party Rep and office mate Todd Courser, is going to break her long-term silence with a statement on Friday.



People have pointed out that Courser is a hypocrite of the worst order.  He danced atop a bible during his campaign and had a lovely time bashing the LGBT community while professing an undying devotion to "traditional marriage" and "religious freedom."  Once he was caught with his hand up his office mate's cookie jar, he tried to lie his way out of it by releasing a smoke screen to "inocculate the herd" with lies that were, he figured, so outrageous that no one would believe the truth or care about it later.  One of the lies in Courser's vaccine was that he had sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing night club.

Yes, Todd Courser decided that having sex with a man was so shocking, so horrifying, so filthy, that no one would mind at all when he came out with the truth about his affair.

Cindy Gamrat, meanwhile, has been . . . if not ignored by the media, at least given a wary distance.  Courser has been sucking up all the attention you see.

But she's an even bigger hypocrite.  She's an OPEN hypocrite.

Gamrat's district includes Allegan County.  Allegan County snuggles up to Lake Michigan and contains the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas.  In the late 1800s, when the timber industry gave out, both Saugatuck and Douglas transitioned from shipping centers to tourist resorts.  Somewhere in the 1920s or 1930s, they became a destination for gay tourists.  Gay men from Chicago took advantage of the short drive to vacation on Lake Michigan away from the city with other like-minded men.  The town became accustomed to it.  After the Stonewall riots in New York, the town began advertising about it, hoping to attract more money during the recession of the 70s.  Today, it's central to Saugatuck and Douglas's economy.

In other words, gay tourism is one of the main sources of income for Gamrat's district.  She couldn't survive without the LGBT community.  And yet she campaigned on an anti-LGBT platform.

Why?  Western Michigan is very conservative, except for the little island that is Saugatuck/Douglas.  The Tea Party got ticked at their incumbent GOPpie representative and during the primaries, got Gamrat on the ballot.  (The Tea Party, remember, is very good at getting people to the polls during primaries.)  Michigan is also heavily gerrymandered, thanks to the Tea Party being in charge during the last census, and no Democrat has a hope of getting elected in any western district.  So hypocrite Gamrat got elected.

Now it's catching up with her.

I'm interested in what she might say, though unless it's "I resign," I doubt it'll be very satisfactory.


The Trilogy Ends

BONE WAR is done.

Sure, there will be the editorial rewrite and the copyedit and the page proofs, but the hard part is done.  This means the TRILOGY is done.  Whoa.  It's been a ride.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I read a book about Norse trolls and the splinters in their eyes that kept them from seeing truth.  Moments later, I conceived Trollboy, who was half human and half troll.  His splinters had been knocked out, so he could always see the truth, even when it hurt.

I wrote a short story about Trollboy, but couldn't sell it to any of the print magazines.  A few years later, I sold it to an ezine that, alas, no longer exists.  I put the story in my PUBLISHED file.  But I remembered Trollboy and his tribulations.  His story wasn't complete.

And then a few years ago, I was meeting with my editor Anne Sowards at a convention.  The Clockwork Empire was drawing to a close, and she wanted to know what I had coming up next.  I pitched several ideas at her, but she liked none of them, even though all of them had female protagonists.  "You know what I'd like to see?" she said. "Some boy-centered fantasy."  So I pitched Trollboy at her.  She liked it quite a lot.

So Trollboy--Danr--got his own set of novels at last.

Along the way, we met Aisa, who started off in my head as a lone figure wrapped in a cloak with her face hidden behind a fluttering ragged scarf.  She watched Danr from a distance.  I needed to know more about her. Who was she? Why did she stay wrapped up?  What was her relationship with Danr?  IRON AXE spent considerable time exploring this.

And there was Talfi, the third member of the triad.  In Norse mythology, I've always liked Talfi (Tialfi, Tjalfi), the mortal boy who can run like the wind and who gets tricked into becoming Thor's servant.  Only two stories about him survive, and I wanted to play with the character.  What would it be like to become immortal?  I had my own take on it, of course.

My original story idea underwent some huge changes.  Initially, I had it in mind that the characters would climb Ashkame, the World Tree, and visit a number of different worlds, escape dreadful monsters and fight giants.  But as I put the synopsis together, I realized that this would disconnect the characters from the mortal world, the very place they were trying to save.  So I put them back on Erda, which turned out to be much better.

Most of my original story trappings disappeared.  I was planning to have shy Aisa drink the mead of poetry and become a great bard, but Aisa turned out brash and sarcastic instead of shy, so that plot vanished.  Kalessa, the orcish princess who wanted to be remembered, showed up and was supposed to be around for only one book, but was too interesting to abandon, so she played an important role in successive books.  Talfi, a major surprise, fell in love with Ranadar, the elven prince.  And Danr and Aisa both wove themselves into the very fabric of the universe itself.  Their ultimate fate in BONE WAR wasn't something I had in mind when I started, but it was the only possible resolution.  (No, it isn't a sad one--I don't write tragedy.)

And now their story is concluded.  It feels odd, knowing it's over.  I've lived with them for over three years, and now our relationship is drawing to a close. But that's the nature of novels.

Aran and the Destruction of the Cobalt

I sent Aran down to a store in Northville for a few groceries because he needed some practice driving on the highway, and Northville is a short highway drive away.  About 45 minutes after he left, my phone rang and the caller ID showed it was Aran.  I was immediately frightened in the worst way.  But I told myself maybe he got confused about something he was supposed to get at the store.  Nervous, I picked up.

Aran's voice.  He was very frightened and upset.  "I crashed," he said.

I was half frantic now.  "Are you all right?"


"Were you hurt?"

"No.  I crashed."

I was trying to stay calm.  "Where are you?"

He was at a nearby roundabout near our house that receives a huge amount of traffic due to a construction zone that was routing everything through an intersection that wasn't built to handle it well.  Once I'd established that no one, especially Aran, had been hurt, I told Aran I would be there quickly, and I got into the truck.

At the roundabout, I found a royal mess.  Traffic was backing up, and the police hadn't arrived yet.  I parked on the berm and found Aran.  He was completely freaked.  The Cobalt was a total loss.  The front was totally destroyed.  A big gouge was taken out of the passenger door.  The driver door was bent.  A number of other people were standing about.  An SUV and a delivery truck had pulled over as well.  The SUV had a slightly crumpled bumper.  The delivery truck wasn't damaged at all.

I got Aran calmed down a little more and asked him, "Did you hit the other person, or did the other person hit you?"

"She hit me," he said.

I tried to get more details from him, but it was difficult.  Even under normal circumstances, this would have been a challenge, let alone now.

At this point, one of the delivery truck drivers came forward and introduced himself.  "She hit him," he said, gesturing at a teenaged girl standing off to one side with a woman who was, I assume, her mother and father.  "She was entered the roundabout while he was leaving it and ran straight into him.  He spun completely around and hit me."

Some more questioning turned up the fact that the other driver thought that Aran, who was in an inner lane of the roundabout, was required to keep going around the roundabout, when actually the arrows on the lane clearly pointed out that he could exit it.  The girl assumed Aran would keep going, so she entered the roundabout, but Aran left it, so she rammed straight into him.

I was furious, but trying to keep it under control here.  The car was a total loss, and the insurance coverage on it wouldn't pay for full repair or replacement.  This girl screwed up hugely, but her little SUV gets a tender little crumple while Aran's vehicle is utterly destroyed.  Not only that, a whisker in either direction, and Aran would have been dead.  It makes me shake just typing this.

Meanwhile, there was a screech of tires and another SUV sideswiped the rear bumper of a Rite Aid semi truck.  Both of them pulled over just ahead of our accident.  There was a third accident 120 degrees counter-clockwise around the roundabout as well.

The police arrived.  A burly officer took statements from everyone and, as expected, cited the girl with failure to yield.  Aran was not cited.  The car was towed away.

I spent considerable time with Aran reassuring him that the accident was not his fault and that he did everything correctly, even the police said so.  I, however, didn't sleep that night or last night.  I was dealing with huge freak-out myself.

Now I'm dealing with the car.  After some research, I learned that the  local NPR station will take a donation of a car even its totaled, which will get me more in a tax deduction than a cash payment from a salvage yard, so I filled out the on-line forms for that.  Monday I'll make the final arrangements.

Meanwhile, Aran won't have a car at MCTI when he leaves in two weeks.

I'm very angry at the other driver.  She made a very basic mistake that destroyed Aran's car and nearly killed him while she got off with a ticket and a crumpled bumper.  This is exceedingly unfair.  If there were real justice in the system, she'd have to swap cars with us.

I'm telling myself that if Aran =had= died, I'd be thrilled to have him back and deal with the (relatively simple) car donations and assorted other headaches.  I'm glad he wasn't hurt.


Wedding Mailing

The invitations arrived a few days ago, and today was time to send them out.  It was surprisingly easy, thanks to the magic of electronics.  When I didn't have an address, I simply texted or messaged either the person in question or someone else in the know.  Usually I got a response in a minute or two.  I only have two strays I'm waiting to hear on, and Darwin has a few more.

We addressed envelopes by hand on the grounds that it would be faster than untangling how to import addresses from our phones to a database, and from there to Word or WordPerfect labels, or retyping them into the program, printing up the labels, affixing them.  (Odd how the old-fashioned method actually saved time.)  For return address labels and address card envelops, however, we printed up mass quantities of address labels, since that was just the same address over and over and only took a few seconds.

Then it was stuffing, labeling, and stamping (ohhh, the postage costs).  And now they're all done!  Whoof!


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