Home for the Holidays
December 3, 2011

photo(2)

Georgetown University Tree Lighting, Dec. 2, 2011

Last night, a couple of my closest post-bacc friends and I gathered in Georgetown’s main quad to listen to carols, drink hot cocoa, and watch the annual tree lighting on campus. It was fun and festive, and for the first time this year, I felt glimmers of the holiday spirit.

I’m a big sucker for the holidays, but this is a strange season: for all of its charms, DC just isn’t home to me yet, and its hard to watch the Christmas season go by without Madison Avenue decorations, the skaters at Rockefeller Center, and, most of all, the cozy comfort of my Mom’s apartment around the corner. Beyond that, life outside this blog has been a little tougher than I tend to let on: work is never-ending, and no matter how much time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears I put into my post-bacc, I continue to struggle. At times, I feel as though nothing I do matters in these classes, and that’s a new and uniquely frustrating experience for me academically (I encountered challenging classes as an undergrad, but in those cases hard work and concentration always yielded improvement).

In any case, I spend a lot of time silencing doubts lately—about school, about med school, about my choice to change careers so dramatically—and this was one of the harder weeks.

Until last night, that is. At some point between the tree lighting, dinner with Valerie (recap to come!), and early morning yoga with Katie, the clouds lifted, and I realized that I’ve found a family here in DC.

I never worked very hard at finding a “family” in college—I made great friends, but I also had the comforts of my home town and childhood friends all around me. I didn’t need community the way kids from out of town seemed to. Now, as I battle this challenging program in a new city, I understand why community and school spirit matter so much to so many students. I’m pretty sure that I’ll survive my post-bacc, but even if I don’t, it will feel worth it to have made the friends I’ve made in the last six months.

On that note, it’s time to hit the books again. Tomorrow, a restaurant recap!

xo

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    58 Comments
  1. Hey Gena!

    I finished med school a few years ago and I wanted to let you know that it will all be worth it!!!! I’m sure you’ve realized that this isn’t the first or last time that you’ll feel this way. I definitely did too, and it leads to a lot of self-doubt and frustration. What you learn in med school about the human body and modern medicine will change your whole view of the world, and for that I am so thankful that I stuck it out through all the hard times. Plus, med school can be really fun–I have great memories with an extraordinary group of friends.

    Thanks for your great blog!! It helps keep me healthy and energetic during residency!

    -Stacy

  2. Awww, I couldn’t agree more with you that when you live away from your family and the place you grow up, cultivating friendships that are family-like is crucial to survival. I have struggled with that when I moved to NY, but over time I’ve settled in. The funny thing is I can have plans every night of the week but still feel lonely without those close friends.

  3. hang in there gena and just remember that the medical world NEEDS inspiring, creative, passionate people like you. one day all the hours of horrible o chem will be behind you and youll be changing the world. think of that when you get down about the path ahead of you. i know you will be successful. i just know it.

  4. Gena – It’s so funny I should read this today of all days, I’ve been struggling with my own degree as an undergrad and feeling incredibly homesick. For what it’s worth, I’m constantly amazed at your ability to maintain such a busy and demanding schedule, and the quality of your posts never falters. You’re seriously aspirational and I like so many other readers that have posted above have complete confidence in your abilities!

  5. Gena,

    I can completely relate with you about struggling through your science courses. I, too am a post-grad (I have a Bachelor’s in Advertising/Public Relations and Master’s in Nonprofit Management) and recently went back to school again to pursue my long-time goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian. I have been in General Chem this semester (while continuing to work full time), and I feel the same way–I spend hours and hours practicing problems and trying to memorize formulas, tricks, “rules, “etc. Needless to say, I think I’ve broken down in tears more the last few months than I have the last few years! My husband and family are extremely supportive, but it is a lot to take on. I just keep reminding myself of the goal at the end of the (long) tunnel. It’s been quite a learning curve, but knowing there are women like you experiencing the same things make it seem a little bit better. Thanks for all you do.

  6. Lovely tribute to your DC family. I’m sorry it’s been a tough ride, but something deep inside you clearly wants to succeed and go to medical school. I have faith that you’ll get beyond the difficult stuff and make it through, surely coming out on top! My boyfriend’s been having a rough time recently too, struggling with whether his decision to try to get into medical school is the right one. It’ll all come out in the wash 🙂

  7. Hi Gena – longtime reader but infrequent commenter here. Like those above who have commented, this post resonated with me a lot. While I’m not exactly changing careers, I’m definitely in the midst of a big change. I practiced civil litigation and criminal defense at a NYC firm for about five years. I hated it, and it eventually made me sick. The only thing I have ever wanted to do is be a criminal prosecutor. I didn’t do it after law school, and in July it got so bad at work that I upped and quit. With no job to look forward to. I moved home with my parents and am now in the process of applying and interviewing with various DA offices in my home state (at least I had the foresight to take and pass the bar exam here). I don’t care if I’m poor for the rest of my life – it’s about being happy and doing what you’re meant to do. And YOU are meant to be a doctor. You just are. I hate every doctor I’ve ever had because they don’t understand the holistic and nutritional approach to health and well being that is important to me. Keep at it.

    • Tara,

      What an inspiring comment. Thanks. I’m so glad that you are seeking out a profession that will not compromise your health. You can do it!

      G

  8. Wow! Look at all these people who love you and reached out to you! That’s gotta feel good. 🙂 I didn’t get to read your Home for the Holidays post until today but still want to add my two cents because it’s different than what most have said! If being a doctor is the only career you can imagine being fulfilling for you, then it’s obviously worth it to persist and no matter how hard these years are it will have been worth it. (And none of us have any doubts about your ability to do it! I also would like to mention that I would love a doctor like you!) But if you can think of other careers that could also be fulfilling for you, I believe it is worth it to re-consider continuing. Is being a doctor worth spending the remaining years of your youth stressed, unhappy, and without time to do much else besides study? You will never be able to get these years back. Life is precious – none of us know how much time we will have. There is nothing glorious about perfectionism and excessive hard work that leave you physically and emotionally exhausted. Finding that balance between living your life for the moment and living your life for the future is hard but ultimately you can trust your intuition and be happy with any choice. Even though I don’t personally know you, I wish you the best in these stressful times!

  9. Wow, Gena, that one hit close to home. I do not comment very often but to hear someone talk out loud (err, type) about what I am feeling right now somehow makes it a little less scary.

    I am in the first year of my post-bacc as well. Organic looms on the horizon for next year and the distant threat of the MCAT is not nearly as far off as it sounds. I have a BA in English lit so my decision to pursue a medical career was odd, to say the least. Some days, I hate that I feel totally okay and secure in my sincere and earnest desire to help and to heal and then WHAM, out of nowhere the uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear pop up.

    I have read your blog for ages now because you always seemed like such an honest, frank, and compassionate voice. Thanks for always being those things for us, your readers. I know exactly how you feel because, here, halfway across the country, I am going through the same experience. Somehow makes the difficulties seem a little less formidable, I think. We’re all rooting for you Gena. Keep digging deep, you’ll get there. <3

    Casi

    • Casi,

      My first ever post-bacc commenter! Thanks so much for writing. I’m so delighted to hear you’re in the trenches too, because even if it’s hard, you too will go on to be a doctor. I’m rooting for you back.

      G

  10. Plus, you have all of us, cheering you on! You can always be sure that we are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers

  11. Gena, I really resonate with what you wrote. I am in a new place, building a new life on my own. There is a strange emptiness, and creating a new life and a new community can feel less satisfying than having the warm, familiarity and comfort of something that has always been, or been present for a long time. I had a similar experience last night of realizing I have found a new family, new sisters, and I am so grateful for it. I, too, am seeking a new career. I am 100% confidant about it being the path for me to take, but the logistics of pursuing it are exhausting and frustrating, and cause doubt. I know you are meant to do a great amount of good in the world (you already are). Keep trying and keep being you. You will make a meaningful difference and the world will thank you for your hard work and sacrifices. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Bryant,

      Thanks for sharing your own experience here with me. I’m rooting for you, and know that you will persist as well.

      G

  12. Gena,

    I have followed your blog for awhile now and can really relate to your struggles. I went back to grad school a few years ago in a medical field after several years as a physical therapist. My first quarter I had to take biochemistry, which I naively thought was the same thing as organic chemistry. It was a struggle and I needed a tutor to make it through and their were tears some days.

    All this to say, after reading your blog, I know that you have the strength, knowledge and determination to make it through.

    Best of luck and enjoy your time away from studying!!

    ~Susan

  13. I can imagine what a challenge this is for you with a new city and school, not easy! But it seems like you’re handling it beautifully and I adore your spirit. Plus know you have a huge blog family all over the globe. 🙂

  14. oh crap I lost my comment. I am getting more problems again with that these days. It said something about cookies? Can you bake me some?

    Anyhow, I can relate to how you feel and I think it’s only natural to feel that way with all the changes you’ve made lately. I can relate to how you feel because everything I chose and decided to do regarding school and career has been turned upside down. And I don’t feel at home at all where I live now, it feels like a different planet to me most of the time. Hang in there, emotions tend to get magnified during this stressful holiday season.

  15. I empathize so much. Pre-med challenges met with my perfectionism led me to my eating disorder. It sounds like you’re getting through strong.

    I know you can do it. You’ve got a ton of people who believe in you and are rooting you on. 🙂

  16. **Big hugs to you.** When you undertake something so difficult as a postbac, you almost have to set your expectations unrealistically high so that you’ll be motivated to perform at your best. Then, inevitably, your success is less than you expected, and it’s such a blow to the spirit. I don’t envy your experience at all, although I’ll claim just a little sympathy from the dull aching blows that grad school offers- failed experiments, rejected papers, absent advisers. I was one of those 19 year olds in orgo, though less chipper- I was pretty depressed that year. I was upset by my B- but had also decided by that time that I wouldn’t be pursuing a bench science or med school and hadn’t studied my hardest. Orgo just kind of kills. I’m trying to think of something more inspiring to say… here’s one thing. I had a friend in high school who really struggled with chemistry, but wanted to become a forensic scientist. Chemistry was never easy for her and her grades were never great. She went to a small college, struggled through semester after semester of chemistry, and got into grad school- now I’m sure she can teach orgo like the back of her hand, and she’s almost done with her PhD in chemistry. She inspires me! Sometimes it’s really just about persistence, even after blows. I believe in you 100% and have no.question.that you’ll be in a good med school within a couple years.

  17. My best friend just finished her post-bacc (thank goodness, because she was stressed and had no other life). She questioned her reasons for being there, she’s in Baltimore, and made it through even when she was convinced she just wasn’t getting the grades she needed. She has gotten into a superb school and is finally relaxing….for now 😉 You, Gena, have the heart and passion of a lioness, and you have determination to overcome any obstacle in front of you. Fear is meant to be tackled and the hard times are there to remind us to appreciate the relaxing peaceful times. Let out a war cry and keep pushing through!

  18. Hi Gena,

    I can really relate to this post even though I am not a med student or living in DC. In the past year and a half I have left the comforts of a well-paying job and home to go back to school for holistic nutrition, get my yoga teacher certification and move to Milan, Italy to be with my boyfriend. Sometimes I look at my life and it seems so charming and exciting. Other times I am filled with loneliness, fear and doubt. But I am always incredibly grateful. Grateful that I listen to my heart. Grateful that I pursue my dreams regardless of how convenient or practical they may be. Grateful that I’ve learned the importance of community, that I can’t do everything by myself and how to relax around that truth.

    You are incredible. I have followed your blog from the very beginning and I am so inspired by you. I can only imagine how hard your classes are, but even harder for me would be accepting that more hard work doesn’t always equal greater success. That’s part of being American-believing that with enough hard work and determination, we can do anything. It’s true as long as we refrain from judging ourselves and getting attached to the end results. If possible (I know med school is the easiest place to practice this), try to be as gentle and compassionate with yourself as you are towards all living creatures. WE REALLY NEED DOCTORS LIKE YOU. You will get though this challenging experience and you have all of our support. Thank you for being open with us, willing to be vulnerable and sharing your experience.

    Sending lots metta your way-

    xo

    Kate

    • Kate,

      I’m sending love back to you, over there in one of my favorite places (Italy). We can get through this strange displacement together!

      G

  19. My husband taught me that whenever life feels overwhelming, that all a person has to do it the ONE next right thing.

    Gena, I personally am really routing for you. No matter how hard this gets, if you just do the one next right thing, you will triumph in the end.

  20. Gena, you are SO not alone in this! I’m so incredibly happy that you posted this. Being a nutrition student and knowing that you’re taking the courses I too struggled with last year (I got a C+ in Orgo and Biochem), I was wondering how you were doing. Not just academically, but psychologically. I don’t think students are aware (or prepared) for the mental toll these classes take on a person. It can be so lonely and discouraging. It is SO hard and, to your point, when you put in all that effort only to have it not pay off in the manner you had hoped, it…well…quite frankly, sucks.

    We sort of have similar experiences. I was majoring in journalism before switching to nutrition and sailed through the first two years of school. Nutrition yielded a VERY bumpy sailing expedition. Know that you are not alone and in some way or another, your efforts will pay off when you’re serving others in the med field, Lord knows we’ll need a doc like you around the clinical atmosphere! You’re intelligent, inspiring, and a wonderfully articulate person, Gena. I know you can do this. <3

    • God bless you, for speaking up about C range grades in these classes. I am not a stranger, but the norm is so heavily weighted towards “beat the curve or bust,” that I can’t even comfortably talk about it with my peers sometimes.

      • I totally understand where you’re coming from. People in the nutrition department look down upon us if we get a C+ or lower. But it doesn’t make us less intelligent…it makes us human. We aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be expected to be!

  21. Hi Gena,

    First off, I adore your blog! I’m a 2nd year medical student and this past summer I spent some time perusing health blogs in order to maximize my energy, concentration and maintain my sanity in med school. Yours has certainly become a favorite. 🙂

    This post totally resonated with me. Without a shadow of a doubt– I am right brained. As an undergraduate I truly thrived in humanities courses and chose to major in the social sciences while being pre-med. I, too, struggled in the basic sciences, despite tremendous efforts. It was a daunting experience to say the least but I’ve had a burning desire to pursue medicine for as long as I can remember and I knew I could never forgive myself for giving up simply because something was difficult. I could rationalize quitting because I genuinely hated something but “too hard” is not good enough of a reason to quit.

    When I took organic chemistry, I literally did every single problem in textbook and workbook we had. I’m not even kidding. That was the course that I discovered that I had the ability to study with real endurance. Despite this, I did not get the grade in the course that I desired (or felt that I deserved). I was frustrated that other people who put in faaaaar less effort were doing better than me. However, when I took the MCAT, I did not find the organic chemistry sections to be insurmountable.

    Also, I became rather strategic in taking courses. I’m not sure if you have this flexibility, but I definitely started taking courses that were difficult with lighter course loads, so that I would be able to devote more time to them. I also started to take courses that were known to be more generous with grading. In retrospect, it was good to help boost my GPA but I definitely am paying my dues for the bit of grade inflation. I regret not pushing myself further, to tap deeper into my potential in science. As a result, I always feel like there are major deficiencies in my pre-med background (being a non-science major, the # of science classes I took were pretty meager compared to my classmates too).

    I hope that you will continue to perceive your struggle as growth, because that is exactly what it is. You are establishing a foundation. While you may not be forced to whip out Orgo in med school, the skills you are building to memorize and understand large volumes of information will help you tremendously in medical school.

    Also, I think its important that I state that I am a totally normal person of totally average intelligence. You can so do this.

    • Amanda,

      This articulate and wise comment suggests to me that you are a person of above average intelligence, but beyond that, you made my morning. Thank you so much. I had the same experience for Orgo on the first two exams (did every problem religiously, and kept up with the class). For the most recent, I tried a new tack of being more focused about which problems I studied and how. The fact of the matter is that neither approach has really aided me, except that this past grade was frightening enough that I will certainly return to undiscerning and widespread problem solving. For Orgo II, I plan to use some outside workbooks and texts as well as what we’re given by the instructor.

      I can totally relate to the humanities sensibility, of course. I’m so glad you pursued that passion as an undergraduate, even if it made you feel disadvantaged at times. One thing I was afraid of entering pre-med was that no one would care about books and arts: I imagined lecture halls full of cold, cerebral kids who only enjoyed science and math. No so: what I like about pre-med is the diversity of interest and intelligence I’m finding.

      Anyway, I cannot thank you enough for this comment, which (along with others) makes me much more determined to give this final push my all.

      xo

  22. This is a hard transition, Gena, so don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for working through it as best as you can! I am seriously impressed with your work ethic – but you definitely deserve a deep, restful break during these holidays. I appreciate you being honest on the blog, and that orgo is not just a breeze – we all have our struggles, but you are showing the world that you are doing your best in this situation, and that is all that matters 🙂

  23. Chin up. I follow your blog – you are my virtual kid lol since my own kids are mostly grown. Follow your heart and your dreams – it is difficult now but the reward at the end of your education will be worth it. I chuckle every time you make a comment about changing careers at such as ripe old age as yours – I’m 48 and finally pursuing law school :). The best (I think) career choices come after you’ve had some life experience and gotten to know what it is that you really need to do with your life. Few people are lucky enough to discover that at 18, 20, 26…or even 40. Your energy (and your dedication to your blog) as well as the concern you show for all living things are an inspiration. Believe in yourself and know that the future needs more physicians with openness to wholistic wellness instead of just treating symptoms. Looking forward to your next success story (and recipe for something yummy that I would have never come up with on my own). Happy holidays!

    • This is exactly right, about the best life choices being made later in life. Yes grades are important, but med schools want to know they are making a good investment when they pick you. Someone who works as hard as you do and has a bit more maturity and has truly thought the decision to do this through (both things you have) is the best investment. They are looking for a complete package, and girl, you have it!
      (as per Finding Nemo) Just keep swimming:)

    • Oh, Sandra, thank you. I know the whining about age is a little absurd: one of my virtual mentors through this is a mother in her late thirties or early forties who is in med school now. It’s just daunting to be around the 19 year olds who are so energetic, adept at these disciplines, and fresh from AP classes, no less.

      Chin up, indeed.

  24. Gena, I totally understand how you feel. I haven’t changed careers, and this may only be my first go-round at college, but as someone who goes to school far from home, I definitely feel like the family I’ve created here with my school friends over that last 2.5 years has become so important to me. It’s nice to have people here who understand the finals craze as well as I do (we’re in the middle of it now), as well as the hard work and frustration that goes into an academically challenging school. I also find that whenever I go home to New York, I appreciate being there much more than I did in say, high school.

    Remember that as tough as it all is now, it’ll all pay off in the end when you’re doing something you believe in and are a fantastic doctor. Good luck with finals!

  25. Gena, I’m so glad you’re starting to feel at home in DC, and so sorry to hear about your frustrations with school! All I can do is echo what Anonymous and the others have said–effort will win out! And really, all you have to do is well enough to get in–once you’re there, you are SO going to wow everyone. And remember that WE NEED DOCTORS LIKE YOU!! I have a friend who is now an MD who tried 6 times to get in. Ultimately, he moved cities, worked in a medical field for a while and then applied again–after he was friends with a few doctors. Something clicked–and he got in. And now, he is a fantastic doctor, and his patients are the luckier for it. Hang in! (and have a little fun in the rest of your life along the way. . . otherwise, it’s just not worth it). 😀 xo

  26. I’m so glad that you’re recognizing that you have support around you. It’s a daunting thing, making home in a strange place, and this is your first time doing it too, so it’s a whole new paradigm. As for the work, I can imagine what a challenge–and an affront to your self-identity–it must be. I have total belief that you can do it, though. It may be a valuable lesson that you can still be successful even without perfect scores on every test.

    You are the quintessential brave-faced trooper, and I’m always grateful and glad when you share a bit about the toughness you’re toughing through.

  27. Stay strong, Gena. I wish I could offer you sage advice, or alleviate your academic frustration.

    I do hate to hear how hard you are on yourself – all you can do is your best. From all appearances, you are brilliant and your work ethic is incredible, so beating yourself up only zaps your much needed emotional energy. Remember: there are many paths to a meaningful career in health care and beyond. Trust your intuition and you will know if exploring alternatives makes sense. There are always options.

    So proud of you…have a wonderful break!

  28. Just wanted to chime in, as a med student that is very familiar with the cloud of doubt and anxiety that school can cast, things will always get a little bit better. I’m in my second year and whenever I have a really tough patch (which is pretty much at some point in every system we’re in) I remind myself of this quotation from Og Mandino,

    “Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.”

    That is all I need to hear.

    A lot of people try to achieve something and some of those people fail and don’t keep trying. No matter what, if you want something and you continue to work at it, you will achieve it. There will be hurdles, surprises, sad days and happy days–from what I’ve read on your blog, you’re capable of getting through all of those if you want to.

    Post-bacc work is difficult and sometimes the worst part is feeling your own doubt. Just remember that its normal and everyone experiences it–just keep chugging along like you are and a brighter day will be around the corner. Good Luck with it all..remember, the countdown is on till Winter break, thank goodness!

  29. hello dear Gena – I love this post – as someone who left “home” (not that I felt very at home there) just shy of 16 and never went back, building family is not something that I really understood until a few years later when I first lived in NYC, when a friend of mine said that her friends in NYC (she is from CA) felt like an urban tribe and a second family. When I moved (kicking and screaming) to DC in 2008, I vowed to build that sense here too, as the first timeI lived here I only had it in pockets, rather than continuously. So I am so glad I contributed to feeling like you do indeed have a home here – think of it as one of two home (or more, depending on where you go to med school, do residency, fellowship and so forth). So good to see you last night.

  30. It will get better in time, like when it is OVER!!!! Hang in there girl.
    It stinks when there is too much at one time, but once you get over the difficult times, it will eventually ease up, UNTIL the next difficult time!!!
    You have lots of good energy from all of us currently being sent via pranic air waves ! 🙂

  31. I doubted my chollege choice during my first year as well. Getting homesick and wanting to just ‘give up’ and return home. I didn’t have a close relationship with my roomie (she had her own group) and without a car (who needs a car living in NYC???We got subway to travel around in), having a social life was quite difficult studying in a small town. Luckily, I stuck it out and graduated. I love my alma mater and thinking back now, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything else.

  32. Gena as we chatted about, I know this has GOT to be such a stressful time in your life…so many new things, challenges, stage of life, new city, new friends, new routine, etc etc…they say that any one of these things would be stressful and you have like 17 all at once.

    My heart goes out to you b/c I know that it has to be realllllly lonely and hard and challenging at times. You have a fantastic spirit and you seem to be staying upbeat about things….and thank goodness for new friends and yoga meetups. Those are sanity savers…for sure.

  33. i hear this and have been dealing with a similar situation. for the first time in five years i am actually “home” but living in the city and i couldn’t be happier. but professionally, i am struggling in this new job i got a couple months ago. i put my very best effort forth and sometimes, it just isn’t good enough. experiments aren’t working and to say i’m frustrated is an understatement. i wish i had the answers but i don’t. just keep embracing your new family and enjoy this season as much as you can with your intense coursework!

  34. This may sound ultimately worthless, because I am sure you are working so hard. When you find yourself cast down in an academic program like that, the only way to keep moving on is by doubling your efforts until the end. You haven’t yet even reached the MCAT hurdle, and you’ll rock the verbal section with your humanities background! And remember to apply broadly and widely! Continue to refocus, and reapply your efforts. This might be overboard, and personal, but I got through OChem by studying 30 hours a week for it. Like a full time job. The rewards will come! If it’s the largest focus of your life right now, maybe you’re spreading yourself too thinly? I’m really sorry, I’m not saying you aren’t working hard enough, but I think you can do it, even if for a little while you’ll be walking on straight up hellfire. A lot of people don’t understand that below A- isn’t competitive for med school, and every experience is different, but I got into NYMC with a C in OChem, and C+ in OChem II and Calc. Sometimes it takes more than one application cycle to get in. & I bet you can get into NYMC or SUNY Downstate with your credentials! Sorry if I’m rambling. I’m glad your chin is up!

    • Anonymous,

      This comment means the world to me. Thanks. I do pretty much spend time on Orgo like it’s my job (esp. before tests), but I also have bio to contend with. The only other things I do right now are blog (and I’m putting no more than 1 hr a day into that), and the occasional time with a friend. So it’s not so much time, as I think it is basic comprehension. That’s frustrating to me, but true. I have a tutor and I’ve purchased additional books, problems, etc. — it’s just hard stuff.

      You’re right in that my discouragement right now is deadly, because it *does* make me want to give up. This comment has motivated me to try, try, and try harder than ever. Thanks. I hope you comment again soon 🙂

      xo

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