FINALLY!!!!!!……

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Welcome to my Revision Cave

So I think I’m on my final revision for HOW TO BREAK A HEART, which is now scheduled to be released by Disney-Hyperion in 2015. One of the ways to reflect what goes on in Revision Cave, is to tell you all the things I won’t be doing this weekend.

I won’t be going to the Calistoga hot springs. Everyone else will. They’ll be all laughing, and floating around, and flouncing around, and feeling all good and melty and self-satisfied.

I won’t be going boating on Lake Sonoma. Everyone else will. They’ll be all laughing, and speeding around, and maybe jumping into the deep parts, and feeling all joyous and free. And entitled.

And I won’t be going to drink wine in a cabana. Everyone else will be doing that too. They’ll be all laughing, and toasting each other non-stop, and ordering things with basil leaves and lime wedges, and stuff, and feeling all self-righteous and no doubt, very smug. Just look at them.

That’s all for now. I’m supposed to be working after all.

Making the best of The Cone of Shame

ImageOn Monday, Casper endured minor surgery that involved the lopping off of lumps near his ear, on his snout, and his low back. The surgery went well, and he’s been tolerated his post-surg meds really nicely. The worst part about it is the mammoth cone he has to wear for two weeks while he heals up.

It’s been torturous to watch him with this massive cone. He bumps into doors and walls and furniture; he has trouble climbing stairs; and eating and drinking is a particular challenge. I can help with his food by holding his bowl up to him, but getting him to drink water has been particularly stressful. I want to make sure he can drink even when I’m not with him, but when I have to go to work, I come back to find his water bowl spilled over the floor. Even the non-spill ones slide all over the floor, eventually landing a wall, which again makes the water inaccessible.

Until today. Because I finally found a solution. Here are a couple tips if you ever wind up the same situation:

– Look for water/feed bowl with a fairly small circumference so it can easily fit inside the span of The Cone. Chances are your dog’s normal water bowl is much bigger — even if the normal bowl still fits inside the cone straight on, it may still not work well with the cone because of the angles the dog needs to drink. So the smaller, the better.

– Something with a broad base so that it’s “non-tippable” is highly recommended. But be aware that it still may tip over, because the cone is big and bossy and awkward and an, unfortunately, a much-needed enemy to all things beautiful and free.

– TAPE THIS BOWL SECURELY TO THE FLOOR, so that it doesn’t slide around when your dog tries to drink. This is perhaps the most important tip I can give you. I used postal tape, and it seems to be working well.

– If possible, find a base with a removable bowl. I found such a thing at Ace Hardware store. This allows me to tape the base down, and still lift the bowl out for cleaning. (Bowl pictured above. Brand name: HiLo, “Fiesta” series – your dog may even appreciate the irony).

– If your dog is still reluctant to drink, put a drop or two of milk or chicken broth in the water. If your dog likes yogurt (which mine does), even better, so he/she can get their probiotics to counter the bad effects of the antibiotics they may be receiving after surgery.

It took me a couple days to figure all this out, so I hope this saves someone out there some time and trouble. Casper seems to be finally well-hydrated and drinking independently, which I know is an important part of the healing process. ImageGood luck!

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving Serpent-Filled Seas of Epic Proportions. (Or Fifth-Period PE.)

When FETCHING came out, the very nice people at the International Reading Association asked me to write a guest post for their Reading Today Online blog. I’m now able to share it with you on my own blog:

Surviving Serpent-Filled Seas of Epic Proportions. (Or Fifth-Period PE.)

“All of life, it turns out, is explained in the eighth-grade English list.”

I wish those were my words, but they’re not. I found them in The Washington Post, in a column by Michael Gerson, titled “Life Lessons in an Eighth-Grade Reading List.” (http://tinyurl.com/az8rmrt). In it, he discusses bullying, injustice, and the torment of outcasts, all to the following point: “Young adults learn big lessons – such as how to cultivate courage and sympathy – through the eighth-grade reading list.”

As Gerson points out, very few of us can read “Lord of the Flies” and not be moved by the savagery; very few of us can read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and not feel a sense of awe and pride.

It’s an insightful article, and Gerson has a great point. Good fiction can give us hope, perspective, and understanding of the world and how it works; good books can not only change how we think, but how we feel. Literature can change lives.

Here’s how literature changed mine.

It wasn’t eighth-grade for me – I have to say that middle-school was more a study in social survival than great literature. It was in my ninth-grade English class, during a section on Western mythology. I had a wonderful teacher named Rudolfo whose lessons have stuck with me, in more ways than I could have predicted.

Every myth, he taught us, has the following elements:

Challenge: What problem is being presented? What does the character want or need that he or she doesn’t currently have?

Journey: What will the character have to do to change the situation or get what he/she wants or needs? How does the character plan to do that? What is the quest?

Obstacle(s):  What thing(s) – both direct and indirect – come up to complicate the quest?

Battle with obstacle: How does the character react to the obstacle?

Reward: The term is used very loosely, and doesn’t always mean a glory moment or a blatant victory, or even a happy ending. Rather, what has changed or been affected as a result of the above?

It was enlightening; when we applied it to the myths we were reading, a pattern definitely emerged. But then he had us take it a little further. Go home, he told us, and watch something on TV. It can be a sitcom, a drama, a movie. Dissect it. And see what you find. Sure enough, each of us found the parallels – whether it was an episode of Family Ties, or Knight Rider, or a storyline in General Hospital. I think someone even found the elements in a toilet-bowl cleaner commercial.

It was fascinating. I felt like I had been given a secret decoder ring to understanding the elements of a story. Rudolfo had demystified it all – from mythology to modern screenplays – he’d made it accessible, relatable, even fun.

But it was during a classroom discussion that he really made us think. Where were the stories in our own lives? What were the challenges each one of us had faced, and how had we managed the journey? What obstacles had come up, and how did we deal with the obstacles? What was the reward, and did it come in a different form than expected?

You may not think a bunch of awkward, ill-complexioned, gum-snapping fourteen-year-olds would have been able to pull all the elements of classical literature out of their own life experiences. But we did.  I’m not going to claim to remember everything that was brought up, but I do remember the experiences ran the gamut from seemingly ordinary (trying out for a soccer team, for example) to slightly heroic (standing up to a bully) to pretty tragic (losing a pet).

At the time, I was still recovering from the very “character-forming” years of middle school and had the self-esteem and confidence of a sand gnat. My brother had been put into a drug rehab a thousand miles away – I missed him. I was scared and full of angst. But Rudolfo gave me a different perspective. Maybe life was like an intricate myth, full of average monsters and everyday titans and little wars and nearly invisible victories, and maybe I just hadn’t gotten to the reward yet.

I know it’s not always so simplistic – in fact, my brother’s struggles with addiction have become a long-strung series of obstacles, perhaps more of an epic odyssey than a myth. But his journey isn’t over. Sometimes it’s a matter of keeping up the fight.

But Rudolfo made us more interesting. He not only taught us how to read a story, and even craft one, but he empowered us. He gave us a way to look at our young lives and our moments of turmoil – bullies, injustices, tragedies of varying degrees – and find real meaning. To this day, when I’m going through something tough, I see the value in what I learned from him. It helps to remind myself that maybe I’ve just come up against a new challenge. Or maybe I’ve hit the battle phase.  Maybe there will be some reward – if I can just get through the journey.

Sometimes I like to think we’re all just modern, ordinary, unromanticized, perhaps even Cheeto-eating versions of those gods and goddesses themselves. Sure, none of us wakes up every day feeling like some sort of glorious Greek deity, but it helps to know that if we don’t shy away from the uncomfortable, inevitable obstacles, we’re channeling a little bit of our own inner hero. #

Here’s a link to the much-more-professional-looking original post: http://www.reading.org/general/Publications/blog/engage/engage-single-post/engage/2011/10/13/in-other-words-surviving-serpent-filled-seas

The Letting Go

There’s plenty of letting go in yoga. It’s called aparigraha —  letting go of old habits, restrictive thoughts, material attachments, expectations and results. Even people. Letting go is never easy, but it’s particularly hard when you’re letting go of a community of people that you’ve grown with and really come to love.

Today, I taught my last yoga class at the gym where I’ve been teaching for more than four years. With the exception of a little break in my voice during my final namaste, I managed to do so dry-eyed, until I got into the car and it hit me how much I’ll miss my students.

There’s Mathilde, who rushed in to be my surrogate mother when my own mom died. There’s Irene, who called to check on me during my most difficult times. There’s Marcos, whose enthusiasm and enjoyment of yoga made teaching a pure pleasure. There’s Jocelyn, the superstar who was a real inspiration to me. There was Clarence, who became my technical glitch-fixer, and Nancy, who mastered the poses with ease and grace.

There was Yong, who liked class enough to start bringing nearly her entire family, and Lee, a yoga natural who has great taste in coffee. There was Catherine, whose gorgeous smile always somehow had the magical effect of making me feel happy despite any hidden turmoil in my life, and the ever graceful Elizabeth, and Judy, whose elegance I couldn’t help but to step back and admire.

There was Dave, who appreciated my crazy “cocktail poses” and didn’t laugh too hard when I brought in the “Moving Men” disks for him to work with, and Eugene, who will very soon, I’m convinced, get into headstand with both legs floating up at once. And there was Erika, who I had many laughs with, few of which I can share in a G-rated setting, but none of which I will forget.

There was Yoshiko, who became a friend both on and off the mat, along with Susan, who generously loaned me the use of her West Virginia cabin when I had a writing deadline to meet.

And those are just to name a few. Through the years, these students didn’t hold it against me that I CONSTANTLY confused my left and right sides; that I often forgot names of things like the wriggly parts at the ends of your hand (Um, yep. Fingers. Exactly); that my sense of time was faulty enough that we often went about fifteen minutes overtime; that I sometimes spent a good five minutes instructing on how to stand; that I often — perhaps too often — referred to the pelvic floor, and occasionally used the awkward word, “buttock.” (Sorry, guys, on both accounts!). They never held it against me that the room was often too dark, or too cold, or too hot, which it often was.

Some didn’t speak my language. Some had never done yoga before. Some came only because Zumba was cancelled, but ended up becoming yogis. Some were senior citizens who were brave enough to give me a shot. But they were all so generous with their kindness. And they all made me feel incredibly appreciated. I only hope that I made them feel somewhat the same. Because for four years, they made my life better. More fun, more interesting, and more meaningful. Teaching this class, even just sharing time with these wonderful people, was an actual honor.

It’s hard not to get attached, especially when you meet people who seem so irreplaceable. So maybe I’ve overstepped the yama of aparigraha, just a little bit, simply because I would hoard my students if I could — I wish I could take them all with me to the west coast, where we could do fun, pretzely things all day, and sometimes just sit around and breathe, and then practice all sorts of gravity-defying Cirque de Soleil stunts, and come up with fun substitutes for words like “pelvic floor” and “buttock” that don’t make us cringe. But I can’t. So I’ll stay on the yogic side and try my best to let go.

It won’t be easy. But then, I guess, neither is side crow. (And hey, guys, if that ever is, I’ve got some more tricks for you! Just ask Jocelyn!)

Bye, guys. I’ll miss you — almost to illegal standards (those yamas and niyamas can be harsh!) Keep practicing, and don’t forget me, and let’s please keep in touch.

The First World’s Most Underrated Skills

Outside of the obvious, such as parenting, meditation, and assembling Ikea furniture, there are a couple other skills that make my list:

1) Screen protector application.

If you own a highly priced but cheaply made smartphone, and are slightly resentful and paranoid about it, as I am, you may have tried to place a sceen protector over its fragile face. And if so, you may have learned that it requires more than sheer will and basic common sense. You may have wasted several screen protector sheets, scraping over each one with the reserves of your patience, convinced that you will eventually conquer the stubborn, deceptively resilient bubbles underneath. Understand this: You will not. The bubbles will win. Best to leave this to One of the Chosen Few who actually have this superpower. They are often the least appreciated clerks in the AT&T stores. Be prepared to ask very nicely, to kiss up, and to tolerate the smug and sometimes self-righteous attitude that comes along with such magical superskills. It’s well worth it.

2) Avocado whispering.

Unlike the banana, the avocado is a deceptive and fickle fruit. As soon as you think you have the science down (waiting til it’s slightly soft, then waiting an additional 11. 25 hours, if you want my unskilled opinion), it changes the rules on you. The avocado is especially sensitive to light and temperature, and possibly to moon phases as well. Try to get to know your avocado. Coddle it; value it; be respectful. When you slice into it (or slaughter/sacrifice, as it sometimes feels), you may find it’s already started its slow death inside.

Evidence of the need for Avocado Whisperers

3) Sharing good news.

Okay, so say you haven’t saved the world from spinning off its axis. Heck, you haven’t saved anyone from anything. In fact, you just vaccuumed up a spider! You’re actually contributing to the demise of the world, if you think about it. BUT. You do have good news. You don’t want to brag about it or anything, but you do sort of want mariachis and pinatas, at the very least a special champagne toast. That CNN crawl wouldn’t do any damage either. You want to people to throw confetti, maybe break out a few dance moves, but how do you keep tact and dignity in balance, while you have this shameless need for attention? How do you…..OKAY, TO HECK WITH ALL OF THIS!! MY SECOND BOOK JUST SOLD!!!!! I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK DEAL!!!! I AM SKIPPING AND SKIPPING MORE AND I JUST DID A CARTWHEEL DID YOU SEE IT!!!?

I hope so.  Because I didn’t trip or anything.

Anyway, here’s the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement: Author of FETCHING Kiera Stewart’s HOW TO BREAK A HEART, in which a 13-year-old girl who’s been dumped almost as many times as the characters on the telenovellas she loves tries to turn the tables and learn to be a heartbreaker herself, again to Abby Ranger at Disney-Hyperion, by Holly Root at Waxman Literary Agency (World English).

Dreamfail

My best friend Michele texted me about a month ago to tell me about a dream she had. In it, she and I were able to transport ourselves in time — we went back to a time when my mom was alive. She was visiting with a friend and was happy. Michele said that I went and gave my mom a hug; when I came back, Michele felt the need to remind me that it wasn’t real (She insists she wasn’t trying to be mean!). I said, “I know, but it still felt good.”

So kinda nice, right? When she told me, it made me cry a little. Then I told another close friend about Michele’s dream, and she cried a little too. It was a pretty sweet little dream. But it wasn’t mine.

I wished it was. Apparently, I wished that so hard that my head tried to conjure up something similar. BUT…here’s how mine went:

I was sitting in an armchair in someone’s living room, and suddenly became aware that my mom was sitting on the couch in front of me. I was thrilled. She wasn’t looking at me, but she seemed serene and somewhat detached, and I spent a lot of time thinking, “This is it! I’m reconnecting! This is the moment!” But I spent so much building up to the moment, that her facial features began to change — she started looking a little like Sally Field. Finally, I asked, “Is that really you, mom?” And she opened her mouth to talk, but her teeth were made out of abalone shells. THEN she started talking all right — about how great the Kardashians were, how much she admired them. So it became painfully clear that this wasn’t actually my mom at all, it was just an imposter.

A pretty crushing dreamfail.

But finally, a couple of weeks ago, my head finally got it right. I dreamed that I got to hug her. We didn’t say much, just hugged. (Full disclosure: There were also slightly disturbing peripheral details of this dream, such as a very unglorious nude hot-tubber in my field of vision, but please let me not ruin my Hallmark moment.)

I don’t know if that means that I’m closer to having peace about her being gone. Maybe I’ve babystepped into the “acceptance” phase; maybe not. Either way, I know it wasn’t real, but it still felt good. Despite the hot-tubber.*

*Just googled that complete phrase in quotes. To date, I’m happy to report that there are NO RESULTS FOUND! Until now, google. UNTIL NOW.  You’re welcome.

The day the book came out!

So, if you’ve been reading my postings lately, you probably realize I’ve been a little derailed. Over the past six months, death has ironically been a big part of my life. If you’ve been bearing with me, I really do appreciate it.

But here’s the thing. My book came out! Yep. It did. It actually did. FETCHING is an actual book, one that you can hold, and fan the pages, and admire on the shelf. It weighs a full pound, and makes a nicely satisfying thud when you put it down on a table, and it thwacks shut, and it has actual substance and matter AND IS NO LONGER A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION as it once was, years ago.

So here’s what happened on November 8th. It would have felt like any ordinary Tuesday if it weren’t for my best friend, Michele (who was my best friend back in eighth grade, so very fitting!). Determined NOT to let it be any ordinary Tuesday, Michele shuffled her kids off to various family members and drove to my house and insisted I take her Barnes & Noble.

It’s not that I didn’t want to go to Barnes & Noble, I was just afraid of being disappointed. It was the release day — there’s no way my little book would have made it to the shelf already, right? I tried to convince Michele. FETCHING was probably still in a box in the stockroom waiting to be unpacked — a necessary but tedious retail chore to be handled when all the glitzy bestsellers had been handled, you know?

But she wouldn’t accept my Debbie Downerhood. She kept insisting. So we drove to the nearest B&N, went in and looked.

And couldn’t find it.

So we asked the coolly aloof teenager at the customer service desk (If I wasn’t so self-absorbed, I would have noted his name. For now, I’ll have to call him Clark). So Clark typed in the title. I sighed and waited for the expected, “We can order it for you.” But instead, he said, “I’ll show you where it is.”

I think I said, “Really?” And it was an actual question, because it didn’t seem real. But he started heading into the Juvie section so Michele and I followed, practically skipping. My heart started going a bit wild and I found it increasingly difficult to exhale.

But then he couldn’t find it, and I thought, “See? What did I really expect?”

The three of us browsed another few shelves and I started feeling panicky. I started manically hurling descriptions of the spine at Clark (“it’s hot pink”) and the cover (“it’s got a Boston terrier on it”) and the compliments the book had gotten on its cover (“everyone says it’s EXTREMELY attractive!”). Clark smiled at me nervously and rightfully backed away some, toward another shelf.

And then. I saw it. THERE IT WAS! On the top shelf. FACE OUT. Under a sign that said “New for Young Readers.” And a few inches down from Raold Dahl (!)  and right next to a Pulitzer prize-winning author (!), and nestled nicely among new books from some great and notable writers (!!!).

So maybe I squealed some. Maybe I danced some, or otherwise awkwardly jerked myself about. I’m not sure, but judging from the look on Clark’s face, my behavior was clearly not that of your standard shopper. So I told him it was my book (I actually think my first words were, “It’s MINE! It’s MY book!” But those were quickly followed up with further context and he relaxed). And then Clark dropped his coolly aloof facade and actually got a little giddy too, and we all had a great little moment — for me, a really memorable one. A lady in the aisle overheard us and joined in on the revelry, smiling and congratulating me. (However, it’s entirely possible that I might have blown that sale by stroking the cover and muttering, “Mine, mine,” one too many times.)

And then Michele and I bought four copies. Because we could. Because my book had been published. It was on the bookstore shelves. And my dream had come true.

And it definitely was NOT an ordinary Tuesday.

Release day joy! FETCHING on the shelf at B&N

Bungling through….oh, nevermind. I’m calling this one You’ve Got Mail.

A few weeks ago, I got a letter from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences — where my mom donated her body — to let me know her cremated remains were about to be sent to me. While I had a choice about how I wanted them delivered, they said their preferred method was through the mail. Yep, the U.S. Postal Service.

At first I was a little incredulous. Even though USUHS had assured me in the letter that it would be certified mail, I still pictured the box of her being shoved into a big blue mailbox and winding up on my doorstep in a pile of Safeway circulars and Domino’s coupons. My friends agreed. Somehow, it just didn’t seem dignified.

I was pretty close to checking the other box, until I started thinking about what my mom would’ve wanted. She believed in “authentic” experiences. She was the kind of person who opted for bus over train (and even put me on the Trailways bus from Fresno to Redding alone when I was seventeen — “Just think of all the interesting people you’ll meet,” she’d said. “Plus, it’s cheap”). She preferred the company of complicated, slightly troubled people. She was wary of the perfect. She was cynical of the pristine. 

So. I chose the USPS. And mom-in-a-box arrived on Friday. Maybe what was left of her WAS shoved into a mailbox. Maybe it got lost once or twice under a pile of Harriet Carter catalogs. Maybe it even got pushed up against a shipment of toilet paper cozies. But I can bet that being delivered by mail was an experience, an authentic one — one that she would have found the adventure in, the imperfections in, and, certainly, the laughable awkwardness.  

Today, I learned that her body was one of four used to help the White House medical staff practice intubations and “unique” IV placements — it was a two-day cause to help better prepare the medical team in the case of a possible terrorist attack.  As an Obama supporter, a medical enthusiast, and an educator she would have been thrilled.  And she would have felt good about giving someone else an authentic experience.

For now, what’s left of her body is in a small, still-sealed cardboard box. Which only cost $9.30 to send. But this would have made her happier than a fancy funeral, or an expensive hearse, or even delivery via a special courier certified to handle human remains (I’m guessing here. Seems everything in the death-biz is quite regulated).

I still don’t know what I’ll do with her ashes, but, sadly — for me at least — I suppose having her made into a diamond and mounted in platinum is out.

Bungling through…the memorial process

My mom's melted-crayon painting. She wasn't trying to be avant-garde about the medium, she was just out of paint.

This past Saturday, with Hurricane Irene throwing the East Coast into an unexpected panic, I held my mom’s memorial service. I’m not sure if “service” is the right word — she was an unconventional person, and it was an unconventional event. I rented a small gazebo the gardens of a public park. I hired an acoustic guitarist to play folksy songs from her era. I emailed her closest friends. I wore flip-flops and brought my dog, Casper. We had no minister, no bouquets of flowers, no formal program, no rain plans. And yet it all came together.

I hadn’t planned on speaking at her memorial. I’m not the most charasmatic public speaker anyway, and when you mix faulty presentation skills with the pain of loss, it’s pretty much guaranteed NOT to be a pretty picture. I foresaw my voice cracking, my throat closing, my face clenching up with grief — the whole idea of it made me lightheaded, dizzy, and practically immobile with fear. I figured I could give myself a pass on this. I mean, everyone knows I’m grieving. Everyone knows I miss her. Why make a show of it? But on Thursday, just two days before the memorial, I was sorting through her house and found something she’d scribbled on the bottom of a cable bill: “I am not going to shy away from the things that make me uncomfortable sometimes.”

At first, I thought, how great! What a nice little find — I don’t know why she wrote that down, or what she was thinking about when she did, but I loved the idea of her facing an uncomfortable situation, approaching it handily, taking it on with conviction. Not letting her fear or discomfort get in the way of something she felt driven to. What great words to live by! Maybe I could make this my mantra!

And then the Tony Robbins effect wore off, and it really hit me, and I thought, oh crap. If I really wanted to honor her, I’d have to step up, face my own discomfort, say a few words in front of her friends.

And so, on Saturday, I did. I only spoke for about a minute — and it was about the scribbled words I found. And my voice did crack, and my face did seize up, and I probably only got through it because my dad called out to me to take “three deep breaths!” (which, as it turns out, actually DOES work), but I didn’t shy away from the thing that made me uncomfortable, and I think that would have made her happy.

And I’m glad I did. Because you know what? Among other people, an EIGHT-YEAR-OLD BOY, an amazing kid, actually stepped up and said a few incredibly wonderful words about her, and I would have felt really, really stupid if I couldn’t have handled a few of my own.

I don’t really get the How To Recover From This Kind of Loss just yet. My mom was my friend, my advocate, my confidant. She made me laugh. A lot. (Sometimes purposeful, sometimes not — sorry, mom!) She was always up for an interesting conversation, and had her own unique way of looking at the world. She was the person who loved me most of all, and one I loved back pretty damn hard. She gave. I don’t know if I ever gave back quite as much. But hearing her friends speak about her helped, and hearing Elijah say what a nice lady she was helped. And maybe bucking up and saying a few words too helped. At least now, I can’t regret that I didn’t.

My friend Michele read the essay “Nurture a Plant” from Richard Carlson’s DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF (AND IT’S ALL SMALL STUFF) — a book we found in her house. And my dad gave me a melted-crayon “painting” she did of two horses (I told you she was different, right?), and a photo of her from the Peace Corps in Venezuela, laughing and running downhill with the little girls of the town. And we ended on this poem.

AFTER GLOW by Helen Lowrie Marshall

I’d like the memory of me

to be a happy one.

I’d like to leave an after glow

of smiles when life is done.

I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the way,

Of happy times and laughing

times and bright and summer days.

I’d like the tears of those who

grieve, to dry before the sun,

Of happy memories that I leave

When life is done. ~

And I think that helps too.

My mom with the children of the village of Cumuna, Venezuela, where she served in the Peace Corps.

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