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My sympathies go out to McDonald’s Steve Easterbrook

Oh dear! No more free happy meals for Steve Easterbrook, but I think his separation package will compensate.

Steve Easterbrook, C.E.O. of McDonald’s Corp. recently resigned his position because he had a consensual affair with a fellow employee of the firm. Yikes!! I have to say I feel sorry for him because I met both my first and second husbands through work, so I’m speaking from a position of experience. And many of my friends also met their spouses and partners through work. In fact, I’m inclined to think that with today’s busy lifestyles and the long hours demanded by career-building, I don’t know a better way to meet someone. When you’ve sat in meetings together, attended business functions and witnessed the behaviours of your fellow employees at the office Christmas party, you learn a lot about a person. We spend so many hours each week with our coworkers that it’s natural they become like family, with some relationships growing closer than others. We see our coworkers at their worst while under stress, at their magnanimous best when being rewarded for superior performance and we soon learn who’s kind, who’s ethical, who is lazy and who is honest. The hours we spend with our coworkers under stressful conditions offers the most comprehensive insights into their character.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone bullying or pressure by office predators in order to gain leverage. Heavens, no. We’ve all walked this earth long enough to know that scum bags exist but that’s not what we’re talking about here. This is about genuine consensual romantic relationships developing between coworkers, apart from #metoo. Having worked most of my career in the construction industry which is heavily weighted with male employees, the pickings were pretty good. There were many young engineers, tradespeople, technicians and other staff who mingled often with office staff. In the early years, most supervisory and management positions were male-dominated but as women entered more non-traditional fields, their numbers increased. We often joked about the ensuing relationships that inevitably developed and we were tempted sometimes to sit down and make a list of the marriages that sprang from work-related relationships in our company alone. There were dozens and perhaps even into the hundreds that resulted in people getting together at work, my own marriage being one of them.

I don’t know the specifics of Steve Easterbrook’s relationship. Perhaps he was married. Perhaps his partner was a subordinate. There are so many variables that may have been unsavory but it’s not our place to moralize. Love happens. Apparently, McDonald’s has a company policy that forbids consensual relationships with fellow employees. Their rationale is that they’re a company with strong family values and their executives and employees at all levels have to respect that dictum. Politicians are often subjected to the same moral scrutiny but as evidenced by today’s American President, it really doesn’t hold much water these days. The moral right makes the rules and they’re allowed to break them.

When relationships develop between females and a male with a higher position in the corporate hierarchy, there could be serious fallout if the relationship falls apart. It’s difficult to work with someone you’ve broken up with and women are often dealt the losing hand in these circumstances. Her male superior may want her out-of-sight, out-of-mind and find it easier to terminate her. That’s the price women have unfortunately paid for failed workplace relationships since the beginning of time. When there’s an imbalance of power, the power exerts itself. I’m no longer in the workforce but I hope that has eased up with the #metoo movement and allowed women to continue working in the same environment if they wish to do so.

My husband and I worked together for nearly 30 years before we became “an item” and we have now been together for nearly 20 years. He was certainly above me in the management structure but I did not directly report to him. We’ve had many discussions recently about how our relationship would or could have been handled under current circumstances. Fortunately, the firm we worked for did not have a “No Fraternization” policy and as a result, many happy marriages resulted from employees working together. In fact, some of the offspring of those marriages are now second-generation employees. That is a good thing for everyone. Just ask Bill and Melinda Gates or Barrack and Michelle Obama. Michelle was Barrack Obama’s boss at the law firm where they both worked and I’d say that turned out to be a rather productive relationship.

I think the American military has similar policies to McDonald’s and as a result, a very senior military advisor was recently forced to retire early when it was disclosed he’d had an affair with another officer. The military may have specific reasons for their policy, but I don’t think any corporation has the right to dictate to its workers that they cannot become romantically involved. It has no business in the bedrooms of its employees, but I do think discretion on the part of coworkers is essential. As long they are doing their job and their relationship is not negatively impacting their performance, then the employer should have no say in the matter. If I’d worked for companies with such out-dated policies I’d probably be an old maid today instead of enjoying my life with someone I love and share a similar value system with. I feel for ya’ Steve Easterbrook. I hope your next employer is more open-minded. What do you think?

 

 

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A little whine about about my little wine problem. The good, the bad and the what happened?

This aging baby boomer has a confession. I just can’t drink like I used to. Some of us can’t. Has it happened to you? Liquor never was my personal cup of tea. I dislike the taste of rye whiskey; I hate gin; scotch burns too much going down, and because you can’t taste it, I think vodka is just a waste of money, unless you’re drinking it solely for the buzz. But it’s the buzz that I’ve come to be concerned about. In fact, for me, the buzz now feels more like the burrr! Where I once became all swoony and romantic after a couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio, I can barely get through a single glass now without getting an instant mild hangover. Not to mention, there’s a distinct possibility that I could fall asleep right in front of your eyes.

Those were the days, my friend.

Each of us has our own personal history of drinking. For me, it started in the sixties with the boomer’s ubiquitous bubbly of choice, Mateus, a sweet rosé. Those empty wide-bellied bottles lent themselves beautifully to what we young boomers considered to be sophisticated candle holders in our not-so-sophisticated singles’ digs. Friends could always be counted on to bring a bottle to a party; it was cheap and everyone liked it because it was one step up from drinking pop. Our nights in the pub were always accompanied by a table full of draft beer, again because it was cheap and we calculated we were getting more bang for our buck. I certainly swilled my share of whatever was on tap even though I never was a huge fan of beer, except on a really hot day.

Over the years, my tastes have progressed, although I can’t actually say they’ve improved. In my attempts to be one of the cool urbanites, I went through a DuBonnet phase, a Blue Nun phase and a particularly nasty Black Tower phase back in the 70s, the details of which I won’t go into. Then, about 20 years ago, I discovered Pinot Grigio and we had a love match. The colder the better. In fact, I prefer it with ice because as a friend pointed out, as the ice melts, it lasts longer. I did learn the hard way, though, never to drink at a business lunch. If I did, the afternoon was a complete loss. I’d feel discombobulated and in serious need of a nap. Because I worked in the construction industry, boozy lunches weren’t uncommon (things were different in the 70s and 80s. Remember Mad Men?) and the men I lunched with didn’t seem to be encumbered with my problem of after-effects.

When my husband and I first got together (he’s the one who introduced me to Pino Grigio), we’d enjoy long dinners with lengthy conversations often lasting three or four hours, over multiple bottles of wine and good food. I’m sure you’ve noticed how multiple glasses of wine enhances conversation! I enjoyed the taste; I enjoyed the buzz and I could handle it without getting too sloppy or stupid. But, all good things must come to an end. I can’t pinpoint exactly when the transformation began, but I started to notice I felt terrible, even ill after a few glasses of my favourite PG. Sadly, my ration is now down to about one glass a week, on a Saturday night with a nice meal. But the effects begin before I’m even half-way through my glass.

My ability to always be able to handle my alcohol intake has definite upsides. I’ve never had to worry about whether I drink too much. My liver is probably as good as new and I never have to apologize the next day for bad behaviour—well, at least not as the result of drinking. I could never be an alcoholic although considering my taste and lack of resistance to President’s Choice (Made in France) chocolate almond bars and Kawartha Dairy’s Rocky Road ice-cream, I do sympathize with addiction issues. We all have our Achilles’ heel.

Getting drunk or getting high has never been something that appeals to me. I prefer to be mostly in control of my faculties at all times but I do love my cold white wine, particularly the first cold, crisp couple of sips. Umm good. But as time goes on, I’m being robbed of the pleasure of enjoying anything more than a 6-oz. glass of Santa Margherita and that restriction just pisses me off.

I’ve tried switching to red wine but that’s not where my tastes lie. I do enjoy a few silky sips of Tignanello, an amazing Brunello, but at around $100.00 a bottle, that’s never going to occupy a spot on our wine rack. No wonder it’s (supposedly) Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex’s favourite. At that price, you need to be a Duchess to afford it, so I’ll never find out if I’m able to handle more than a glass. I was first introduced to it when we toured the Antinori Winery in Tuscany, Italy a few years ago. Talk about spoiling you by upselling.  As for wine alternatives, I’m reserving the gummy bear option for when my joints (!!) become too painful to manage. Hopefully, not until I’m in ‘the home’.

In the meantime, like sailors of old who were issued a tot of rum a day, I’m rationed one small glass of white wine a week. Ugh! Does anyone else have a problem with their wine consumption? Are we doomed to a life of abstinence?

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Kate Atkinson’s books don’t disappoint

British crime writer Kate Atkinson’s novel Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth book I’ve now read by this author and I can officially add her to my list of favourite writers. Crime Fiction is a genre I never paid much attention to in the past but her writing style and quirky characters get me immediately absorbed into the plot. Started Early, Took My Dog once again stars Jackson Brody as the main character. He’s a bit past-his-prime, a former policeman who pays the rent with money earned as a somewhat down-at-the-heel private investigator based in Yorkshire, Northern England. The Yorkshire culture and locations are integral to Atkinson’s plots.

When Brody receives an email from Hope in New Zealand looking for her birth parents, he takes on the case, but without a lot of enthusiasm. Atkinson introduces a lot of characters but they’re all integral to the plot and all interesting in their own way. Tracy Waterhouse is a retired Yorkshire police officer who now works as head of security at a local mall. One day while walking her mall beat, she notices someone she recognizes as a known drug user and neglectful mother of her children dragging a helpless child through the mall while screaming obscenities. Tracy follows the women to the bus stop and in a moment of abandon, offers a large sum of cash to buy the child in order to keep her safe. The woman hands her over. The ex-cop is now an accidental mother and a criminal.

Around the same time, Jackson Brodie witnesses a small dog being abused by a large bully in the local park and in an act of salvation, he does much the same as Tracy Waterhouse and snatches the dog from the owner’s car. He’s now an accidental dog owner. Meanwhile, we learn that Tracy was involved in a peculiar murder/disappearing child case early in her career that she never forgot. Tilly, an elderly actress in the early stages of dementia has come to Tracy’s attention when she’s caught surreptitiously shop-lifting various incidentals in the mall. She can’t remember committing the crimes and can hardly remember where she is when she’s on stage performing a role.

All of Atkinson’s disparate characters come together in a jolly tale of murder, mystery, roots and deception. There were still some loose ends when I finished the book and I look forward to finding the threads in another one of Atkinson’s books.  I absolutely adored Started Early, Took My Dog and couldn’t put it down. The author tends to introduce too many characters which are a challenge to keep straight, but I persisted. There are car chases, shady business dealings, cute kids, ex-wives, and all kinds of other skullduggery that come together in a great romp. I love the way Atkinson writes, with humour, sensitivity to the characters’ individual character flaws, and a complex set of circumstances that come together at the end. Not a candidate for any literary awards but a good read. I’d give it 7 out of 10.

To order a copy of STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson from Amazon, click here.

Disclosure: If you order from this link, you will receive Amazon’s best price

and I will receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you.

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Are self-checkouts a good thing or a bad thing?

Checking out directly on your cart definitely has its advantages.

There was an item on the news this week that demonstrated the future of in-store grocery shopping. Sobey’s is test-driving new shopping carts that allow you to scan your items as soon as you pull them off the shelf. Each cart is equipped with a product scanner and sensors so you can scan your purchases immediately and drop them into your (recyclable) shopping bags sitting open in the cart. Easy peasy. No checkout clerk required. And special sensors in the cart alert you if you “forget” to scan something, preventing unscrupulous shoppers from circumventing the honour system.

Although I like the idea of getting in and out of the grocery store in as little time as possible, I have mixed feelings about this new innovation. It would be wonderful to avoid checkout lineups and the process of unloading your purchases from your cart onto a conveyor belt, then having to reload them again into your bags to go to the car. It would also prevent being subjected to clerks trying to sell me the deodorant special of the week, and the lure of gossipy magazines I tend to pick up while killing time in the lineup.

My biggest concern with self-checkouts, however, is the loss of service jobs that provide essential employment for so many semi-skilled and unskilled workers. It’s no small matter. Those service jobs are disappearing everywhere at a time when we need them. McDonald’s is using computerized graphic boards so customers can customize and place their own orders, once again by-passing the human clerk. To their credit, they have compensated for the employment issue by using staff/team members to deliver trays of food to the table in many outlets,a nice little bonus. Shoppers Drug Mart is now introducing self-checkout as well and I always opt for using a real live person to make my purchases—again because of the jobs issue. Self-serve bank machines and gas pumps were early examples of machines replacing people. Somehow we were easily tricked into doing the service providers’ work ourselves with no apparent benefit. We now have to wash our own windshields and even pay service fees to the banks for using our own money.

The voice of customer service is not the same as the face of customer service.

With so many commercial transactions now being conducted online, businesses are increasingly using their customers to do the work of what we used to call ‘Customer Service’. Even customer service has now come to mean an anonymous voice in a remote call-centre, an impersonal job staffed by people in third-world countries who speak English as a second language. Despite their scripted words, “I understand”, they rarely do.

Sobey’s executives have tried to assure customers that jobs will not be lost and they insist the people who were formerly checkout clerks will be working elsewhere in the store. I’m skeptical about this even though I would love to have personnel on the floor who could quickly and correctly direct me to where the maraschino cherries are located.

When boomers were growing up in the fifties and sixties, large supermarkets were just starting to take off. Many of our mothers still did their grocery shopping in small local stores—meat from a butcher shop, produce from the greengrocer or perhaps all the weekly groceries at a small local general store. Bread and milk were delivered to our door by nice uniformed men in trucks. If you’re a particularly mature boomer like me, you may even remember the iceman bringing blocks of ice a couple of times a week. He’d usually break off some small chunks onto the sidewalk for us kids to chew on and cool off on a hot day. And we didn’t die or even get sick from eating ice off the sidewalk. We loved it.

My father grew up in a rural community, even smaller than the one I grew up in. The local village was basically a few buildings at the intersection of two roads. A weekly trip to the general store was a big deal. Dad told me that his father would dress up in his suit and tie for the weekly trip “into town” and sit on the front porch of the store catching up on the news with the other local men while their wives did the weekly shopping. And there’s a lot to be said for having a store clerk who knows your Aunt Mildred had her gall bladder out and asks how she’s doing. Catching up on who just had a baby or whose combine broke down was an early version of Facebook but conducted in person.

Seriously? What is happening to living in and enjoying the moment of one-on-one conversation with in-the-flesh friends.

Human beings need personal, real-life interaction with other human beings. It’s a fundamental part of our makeup and conducive to good health. We hear a lot about the plague of loneliness among the elderly but I suspect it’s not just older people who feel starved of human connection. It’s tragic to see a table full of young people in a restaurant or coffee shop each focussed on their smartphones, communicating with others at a distance who are obviously more important in their lives than whoever they’re sitting with. We risk losing the art of meaningful conversation. It won’t be long before even wait staff in restaurants will be replaced by smart devices on each table that allow us to place our order. Then, we’ll even be deprived of the opportunity to say “Yes. Everything’s fine, thank you” to a real human being.

I’m torn on the self-checkout issue. Are they a good thing or a bad thing? On one hand, I like the idea of avoiding the lineup at the cashier’s counter. But that cashier probably needs the job and I enjoy exchanging a few words with him or her. I usually try to make their day a little less boring by telling them I like their hair or asking them if they have special plans for the weekend. We all need that human connection. As to whether self-checkouts are a good thing or a bad thing, one thing we know for sure, self-checkouts are an inevitable thing, whether we like it or not. I plan to avoid them as much as possible. What about you?

Footnote: Two weeks later I went into my Shoppers’ Drug Mart and the self-checkout machines had disappeared, replaced by a conventional checkout with a real-life human being. Victory for our side and one small step for humankind.

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What’s your binge-worthy substance of choice?

 

Guilty. And I have the pounds to prove it.

Some of us (including me) binge on ice-cream or cookies. Others may binge-watch television sports or Downton Abbey. The beauty of streaming and ‘On Demand’ is that we can now watch what we want, when we want and that’s pretty wonderful. For those of us who binge on snack foods, packagers offer individual 100-calorie serving sizes of snacks and treats which theoretically makes it easier to not binge, but that’s a fool’s game. We just eat several packages. Who’s kidding who? I must confess to binge-watching a few television shows that I discovered after they’ve already peaked. But the chief culprit of my bingeing is reading. When I’m into a good book, the goings-on in the rest of the world cease to be.

Unfortunately, my level of productivity in household chores is inversely proportional to the skill level of the author I’m currently reading. In other words, when I’m reading a good book, nothing else gets done. Sometimes it’s better if I don’t pick up a new book when I’ve finished another one. That allows me to drift aimlessly around looking for things to do around the house. And, as we all know, one chore often leads to another—we have to keep going before we lose momentum. After I’ve washed the kitchen floor, I’m thinking I’d better haul out the ironing board before I run out of ‘steam’.

I’ve just lost the last few days of my life to another book. I even managed to stay up ‘way past midnight reading in bed—just the next couple of pages . . . just a couple more pages. It’s a slippery slope. It’s unbelievably easy to waste away a complete day when the weather is above 70 degrees (F) and I can park myself in the backyard in my outdoor LaZgirl. I read, nap, read, nap. Then, before you know it, it’s dinner time and I have to come into the house and pretend I’ve had a productive day.

But the evidence is clear. The grocery shopping didn’t get done. Dinner is something microwaveable that includes as many healthy food groups as I can fake in one package. The kitchen floor is still sticky. The dog is begging to go for a walk. The only sign I’ve done anything all day is my eyes are tired from being directed at the pages of a book for hours at a stretch, and definitely not from cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming the floors. And I’m pretty sure all that time I spent on FaceBook doesn’t qualify as productive.

Now that I’ve finished the latest Kate Atkinson novel, I’m facing a dilemma. Should I crack open another book or should I attack some of my household chores? There’s a basket of ironing, which I actually don’t find to be a chore when I set up in front of the TV and watch my PVR’d shows. The dog needs to be walked; that’s good for both of us and the weather’s fine so that’s not a chore either. The kitchen floor needs to be washed. I have some sewing alterations to do but that involves going down to my sewing machine in the basement which isn’t likely to happen in the next couple of months, what with the dog needing walking and all. And, I’m terrified to face all those shelves of crap we’ve accumulated in the basement that should be sorted and disposed of. Scary prospect. Best to avoid the basement. If I can restrain myself from starting another book, I might actually get something else done.

I do multi-task sometimes, although at my advanced age I try not to exert myself too much. In the evenings I read books and magazines while I binge-watch my TV programmes. Apart from my regular PVR’d shows like Baroness Von Sketch, The Social, CityLine and The Marilyn Denis Show, I’m currently working my “On Demand” way through The Loudest Voice, the story of Roger Ailes of FOX TV fame. I’ve already exhausted Fleabag, Letterkenny, and every British drama, comedy or crime show that managed to reach our Canadian airwaves. My husband pretty much has a monopoly on all the sports channels which he could watch 24/7. How he can tell one football game from another is a mystery to me. All they do is run and fall down, run and fall down. Boring. Fortunately, we have ‘his’ and ‘hers’ televisions. The secret to a happy marriage—and headphones, of course.

I described my ice-cream bingeing in an earlier post (click here for I’m on the Rocky Road to death by ice-cream) and had to put a halt to that. I would stand at the kitchen counter eating it directly out of the container until I felt sick. Needless to say, I’m paying for that slip with an extra ten pounds that will not be easy to shed. Reading is much more virtuous although not entirely non-fattening as it involves sitting on my ever-expanding derrière for lengthy periods of time. But reading is free (I download most of my books from the library), mind-expanding, doesn’t disturb the neighbours, is pollution-free, and sooooo satisfying. During all those years in the working world, all I wanted to do when I retired is sit in a comfortable chair and catch up on all the reading I never had time for. And that’s pretty much what I’m doing . . . living the dream. Have book . . . will binge. What’s your substance of choice?

 

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The story behind Dr. Zhivago is as fascinating as the novel itself

It’s not a coincidence that Lara Prescott, the author of The Secrets We Kept is named after one of the main characters in Dr. Zhivago by famous Nobel-prize winning writer Boris Pasternak. With the first name of one of the lead characters, Lara Prescott was obviously born with an inherent interest in the novel and its story. Boris Pasternak was one of Russia’s most famous and revered poets. As a favourite of Joseph Stalin, the position came with certain benefits such as a premium dacha in a closely monitored colony of writers and intellectuals near Moscow. Stalin even prevented Pasternak from suffering the fate of other writers who were deported to gulags in Siberia. After the death of Stalin, Pasternak devoted himself to finishing a novel that he’d been labouring over for more than ten years. Thanks to the movie, we’re all familiar with the story of Dr. Zhivago and perceive it as a classic love story between the beautiful Lara and Dr. Yuri Zhivago. The Soviet government, however, interpreted it as a put-down of the great revolution and considered it nothing short of treason. Consequently, it was banned from publication in the U.S.S.R. and anyone found to possess a copy was considered a traitor and sent to the gulag.

Prescott has created a wonderful fictional account of the true story behind the publication of Dr. Zhivago. Different characters based on real-life people relate their particular part in the story over a period of a few years in the 1950s. One of the most interesting and relevant is Olga, mistress of Pasternak until his death. As a result of her association with him even prior to publication of his book, she was sentenced to three years in a remote, brutal gulag. When she returned after completing her sentence, she was a shell of the woman she had been. She had aged considerably, her body was destroyed and had taken on a different shape, her hair was no longer shiny and she’d lost the beauty he’d so loved before her incarceration. But he still loved her and wanted her to be part of his life, much to the chagrin of his wife, Zinaida.

Pasternak set Olga up in a smaller house near his family’s dacha and she served as his muse, his agent, his proof-reader and manager. She was also the inspiration for Lara and the love affair between Lara and Yuri Zhivago. When they were not able to find a Russian publisher for his book, Olga was able to make a covert connection with an Italian publisher who agreed to publish Dr. Zhivago in Italian and act as his world-wide agent. This transpired during the 1950s when the Cold War was at its peak. Americans saw the publication of the book as an opportunity to further their interests in undermining the communist philosophy and used their intelligence agencies to support the publication of Dr. Zhivago in English and other languages.

Julie Christie and Omar Shariff were unforgettable as Lara and Yuri in the movie version of the novel.

The Americans printed contraband copies of the book in Russian and made available to traveling free-thinking Russians so they could take it back behind the iron curtain and facilitate its wider distribution in Russia. It was a subtle anti-communism act of espionage that worked. Pasternak was forced to decline his Nobel Prize for the novel in order to save his life but everyone in his sphere was under suspicion, including Olga and her children. We’re given a glimpse into what the world of espionage may have looked like in the 1950s. Women who had performed critical and crucial roles in underground and resistance work during World War II were now relegated to secretarial jobs typing reports for men who were probably less competent and qualified to be doing fieldwork. But some of these women were still active in the field and formed part of the network responsible for distributing Dr. Zhivago not only to the western world but also to sympathizers in the strictly controlled USSR.

The Secrets We Kept is fascinating from start to finish. It offered everything I like in a good book—strong characters, fictional first-person accounts, Russian literature, espionage, and mystery. Deeeelightful. There were a few anachronisms the author made that should have been edited out but who am I to nitpick? See if you spot them. The first time I viewed Dr. Zhivago in a movie theatre was in Amsterdam in 1967 when I was traveling around Europe on a Eurail pass. It was shown in English with Dutch subtitles and I was transfixed; I even bought a record of the soundtrack when I got home.

It’s interesting how reading a great book can create a thread that leads to needing to read another. In this case, I must put Boris Pasternak’s original novel Dr. Zhivago on my list of books to read. Original books are inevitably better than the movie, even movies as amazing as Dr. Zhivago. I’ve loved all the Russian authors I’ve read including Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekov. Seeing Russia through their eyes is fascinating. Reading about a Russian writer through the eyes of a skilled American author was also an insightful journey back in time about a fascinating subject. I’d rate Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept 8 out of 10.

To order a copy of THE SECRETS WE KEPT by Lara Prrescott from Amazon, click here.
To order a copy of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO by Boris Pasternak from Amazon, click here.

Disclosure: If you order from these links you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you.

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