Postcard from the Future

3 Mar

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“Shit! What day is it?” I’m panicked, thinking that it’s Friday and that I haven’t posted my weekly blog.

My buddy Seer informs me that it is Friday–at least here in Australia. I check my phone, and it tells me that back home, it’s still Thursday, so I’m safe. For what it’s worth, I’ve really been trying to stay on schedule with this blog, so keeping this Friday deadline is really important to me.

But it’s also kind of a relief to know that my deadline is safe. So hello from the future, dear Readers! I’m here to teach a couple of officiating clinics, and my Friday is consisting of finishing up lesson plans. Sure, I’m happy to be out of Boston’s weird winter weather and lounging next to a solar-heated pool at the end of an Australian summer while I’m doing it, but all the same, there’s a lot of PowerPoint in my day today.

And that makes me wish it was tomorrow, because I’d be finished with my lesson plans by then.

 

Let’s Get Season 9 Started!

24 Feb

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Back in 2009, this Windy City Rollers fan got an e-mail saying that the league needed volunteer officials, offering free admission in exchange for helping out. At the time I was a very, very poor freelancer who couldn’t afford the ticket prices, but I was in love with roller derby and wanted a way to go to the games.

I’ve never really seen a game since then.

Just like many random choices one makes during one’s lifetime, the choice to become a roller derby official has been life-changing. To say that I’ve made a lot of interesting friends and been to places I never dreamed of going would be an understatement. I could joke and say Marion, IL, but my weekend in Marion was actually really fun–great officiating clinic, great hospitality, a pressed penny machine, and the opportunity to ride in the cockpit of a small plane.

Over the last season, I’ve had conversations with some officials about how to keep going and avoid burnout. It’s really easy to get sucked into a big derby vortex where your life is all derby, all the time. It can be a lot of travel and a lot of weekends in a warehouse/hangar/skating rink/arena/convention center. The time and money spent on that comes from your own personal account.

For years I’d thought about being involved with derby for the long haul. Decades. This past year was the first time I thought about quitting. I’d been spending way too many hours doing committee work to the detriment of my job. I’d had to deal with a lot of family things, which meant dropping out of tournaments and missing game opportunities. I was trying to balance being a high-level Non-Skating Official with trying to be more than a beginning Referee (I recently realized I’ve been skating for four years and have reffed a mere 17 games, compared to over 150 or so off-skates).

In short, I was tired. After Champs last year, I really wondered how I would come back for another season. A lot of great fellow officials retired from officiating. Maybe that would be the best option for me too.

Instead, I took time off.

A lot of time off.

Sure, I handled a couple of small obligations, but otherwise, I didn’t do any roller derby. I didn’t write the 13 evaluations I owed from Champs (to the extent that I missed a deadline and won’t be allowed to Crew Head or Tournament Head at Playoffs/Champs this year); didn’t read the new rules and casebook; didn’t go to any off-season scrimmages; didn’t go to any neighboring league events; didn’t apply to officiate at events/tournaments–even ones that have been on my list to do for a few years.

It went on like this for about three months.

When Boston’s season started up again, I reluctantly packed my bag and went to scrimmage. I wasn’t thrilled about going, but I wanted to see if I still enjoyed the activity itself…and guess what? I had a blast! Roller derby officiating is so much fun! Every week, I’ve enjoyed strapping on skates to work on my positioning and impact assessment. I’ve liked remembering the rituals I have for NSO positions. New rules? Bring ’em! It’s been really excited to see the league’s new skaters improve and learn strategy, and I’ve loved the challenges that officiating a highly-ranked travel team bring. It’s been really difficult for me to not blurt out, “This is so much fun!” in the middle of scrimmage (though I might have done that too). And I finally submitted those Champs evals.

This weekend is the home-opener, and I couldn’t be more excited about being an Inside Pack Ref for one game and managing the penalty box for another. I hope it’s a fun start to a season that’s likely going to be different than how I’ve managed my officiating in more recent years.

In a way, that might also be a good antidote to personal burnout. If there’s anything roller derby’s taught me, it’s that things don’t have to be status quo, so I’m looking forward to a ninth season that’s hopefully got some surprises in store and can help me set some new goals for this year and beyond.

 

Postcard from Indianapolis

17 Feb

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We were in Trader Joe’s, picking out some wine for the weekend, when it hit me: Indiana has blue laws. We need to buy more!

Recently I was in Indiana for College Girls’ Weekend. It’s me, my college roommate, and our across-the-dorm-hall neighbor. One weekend in winter, rotating cities. We hole up in comfortable clothes with plenty of wine and snacks and spend a few days catching up–or just hanging out in silence. For those of you who have this type of weekend in your life, you know it’s pretty sacred.

This year we’re in Indianapolis, and as usual, we were adhering to one of the early weekend rituals: The-stock-up-so-you-don’t-really-have-to-leave-the-house ritual. We opted for Trader Joe’s, which in my house is called “the snack store,” and we were stocking up. Everyone was having a good time, until we turned the corner into the wine aisle.

A panic set in. “Oh my gosh, there are still blue laws here, right?” I asked. I couldn’t even enjoy the fact that I was in a Trader Joe’s where you could get some Five Buck Chuck–many of them around me aren’t allowed to sell alcohol–I freaked out about having one day a week where buying alcohol was completely verboten.

My friend looked at me like that was a problem.

“No!” I continued, my words getting faster. “Do we have enough? What will we do if we run out and can’t buy any booze on Sunday?” Never mind that we were getting a box of white, a bottle of red and two bottles of bubbly. That could surely hold three people over for three days.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday, Jill,” my friend reminded me. “We can always go out and get more if we need it.”

That was enough to assuage me, but by Saturday night, when we’d gone through most of the box and one bottle of bubbly, I was panicking again. “We didn’t get the vodka and amaretto for that one drink you wanted to make!”

“You know, Jill, tomorrow we can go to a bar and drink if we need to.”

Also true.

But yet, the panic persisted.

The sad thing is I know that if I didn’t drink on Sunday, I would be OK. There are many days where I don’t drink at all. But take away the possibility…and I freak out and want to stock up like blue laws are suddenly going to seep beyond Sunday, and prohibition will reign again.

Therein lies the problem with blue laws. Restrict something, and people just want it more. I never feel this panic in Massachusetts, even though stores can close up early on Sunday. I don’t notice because I don’t usually feel compelled to buy liquor on Sunday. But with blue laws firmly in place, taking away the option to buy liquor for home consumption on a Sunday, makes me want to buy way more liquor than I really need. It’s the opposite intent of the law, really, and ends up putting so much more focus on this “bad” thing that the restriction ends up causing more harm than good. I wish our society could change that–maybe someday they will.

For the record, we never touched the bottle of red.

 

 

 

Postcard from Florida

10 Feb

Ever had one of those days where you just don’t want to face the world?

 

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Where you’d rather just hide your head?

 

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Or just swim away from it all?

 

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Because you’d really rather just hang out by yourself?

 

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We, the animals of Brevard Zoo, feel ya.

 

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Super Sunday? Scary Sunday!

3 Feb


It’s Super Bowl weekend in Boston. Let me say that again. It’s Super Bowl weekend. In Boston.

I’m going to admit this publicly–wait, let me pull the shades first so no one can see me typing this: I am not a Patriots fan.

I’m not a fan of most Boston teams, to be honest. Bruins excepted. I don’t really care about basketball, so I am neither here nor there on the Celtics. I’m not a Red Sox fan because I don’t believe in the American League, and I don’t like the Patriots, because–and let me completely date myself here–Super Bowl XX, da Bears 46, the Patriots 10. Never mind that the Bears today are playing more like the Chicago Chipmunks and that the Pats are clearly one of the best teams in the game.

But I just can’t like them. Much like my philosophy on baseball, I am not a fan of the AFC, although, unlike baseball, there’s no good reason except the fact that I grew up near an NFC team. Still, loyalty runs deep, and I’m not prone to root for

The other big reason I don’t like the Pats is because Boston fans can get violent really quickly, no matter what the sport. Last year, the Boy and I took his Pistons-loving mom to the Celtics-Pistons game and happened to be sitting in front of a bunch of Pistons fans (good deal for us). A couple of Celtics fans about seven rows down started getting into it with these Detroit fans, yelling back at us throughout the game. When the Pistons won, one of them actually wanted to fight these guys. Are you kidding me?! Fighting someone because “your” team lost?!

The Pats fans are even scarier because of the cult of personality surrounding Tom Brady, quarterback, ball deflator, Mr. Giselle Bundchen, nightshade avoider, or GOAT, depending on what you think. To fans, he’s “Tommy.”

The Boy and I went to our favorite bar for dinner one Sunday last year, and we stumbled into the end of the Pats-Giants game. The Patriots were still undefeated at this point, and New York was ahead. The bar was packed, and people were going crazy yelling for Brady. Think your classic blue-collar Boston accent begging, “C’mon Tommy!” One man in his twenties was close to tears at the concept of a loss. The Pats pulled it out at the end, and we avoided being stuck in a crowd of disappointed Pats fans. That experience was eye-opening to us, and one reason we don’t like being out when the Pats are playing.

It’s not just the guys though. Pats fans are equal-opportunity scary. I recently joined a curling club, and one of the other new members is a big Pats fan. When I wore a Pitt sweatshirt the week before the playoff game against the Steelers, she warily asked if I was a fan. I quickly realized my mistake in wardrobe choices.

As the Pats secured their place in the Super Bowl, we got to see her Pats designer purse, her special Patriots manicure–and the shirts that she wouldn’t wear when they were actually playing (no one in her family does) because if she did, they would lose.

Oh, I get it. Every team has crazy fans–I mean, even Chicago has funky super fans, and fans of every team have odd superstitions that they follow to a T so their team will win–but I’ve never felt the dangerous edge to that fandom that I feel here.

I finally realized my fear yesterday when I was on the phone with a client in Atlanta. When we started talking about the football game, I found myself hunching over my phone so no one would hear me talk. I work alone. In a home office. There’s likely no chance that even anyone walking by would hear me (notice how I say “likely no chance”).

But I can’t live my life in fear, so I’m speaking out now. I won’t cheer for the home team on Sunday. Instead, I’ll lock myself inside on Sunday with some good football snacks and silently root for Atlanta, because even if da Bears can’t be there, the NFC should win.

Postcard from Boston

27 Jan

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When, during the week, the email updates said the numbers of registered marchers grew from 44,000 to more than 90,000, it didn’t sink in. When the commuter rail train only stopped to let people off and not let anyone on because the train was so full that they had to add another train to come and get us, it didn’t sink in. When we were finally on the train, looking at the sister protest marches in Europe, it didn’t sink in. When we walked into Boston Common and couldn’t get close enough to the dais to even hear anything, it didn’t sink in (I couldn’t even tell you where in the park the speakers were, to be honest).

But when we walked up the hill and out of the park to line up on Beacon Street to march and got a clearer view across the Common, that’s when I saw just how massive the Boston Women’s March for America was, and I’ve got to be honest, I was a little overwhelmed at the outpouring of voices who are tired of being marginalized–and not just women. We were all tired–tired of being told that we’re not good enough, that human rights were not fit for us–and we’re done being tired and are ready to speak out and make change.

The march itself was a long day–as we stood around waiting to march, we’d heard that the Chicago protest was so large that they couldn’t march anymore. Looking around, we wondered if that would happen to us too, but it did happen. Two hours after the speeches ended, we stepped off, and it took us an hour to get through the one-mile march. We weren’t even anywhere near the end of the masses either–it just kept going.

As we marched, people chanted all around us. A brave female Trump supporter stood on a stoop and waved to the crowd. People stood on balconies and rooftops, posted signs in windows. Busloads of people who came in for the event were stuck parked there–high schoolers hung out the window of one bus to lead us in chants. A busload of women in their 70s lined up next to their bus, watching us with tears and gratitude in their eyes.

The best moment, however, may have been walking by the Arlington Street Church. ASC has a set of hand-rung steeple bells, and people were up in the steeple ringing them. We first noticed when we heard “Happy Birthday” peal out across the street (no fooling–we had no idea why they’d play “Happy Birthday”), but then they launched into “The Star Spangled Banner.” Those of us walking by the church sang along, cheering as it ended and we rounded the corner to the home stretch.

Overall, it was a good day, a peaceful day. An estimated 175,000 people showed up and created millions of moments that we’ll all remember, but those millions of moments need to come together to continue this work and bring about more equality in our nation. I hope we’re all ready for an interesting ride through history.

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Road Tripping: We Did It All Wrong

20 Jan

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For about five years or so, the Boy and I have pointed the car south to spend Christmas with the family in Florida. Sure, it’s a long trip–two days at least–but we like having access to a car, and it’s fun to experience little bits of the country along the way. Driving south reminds me of how vast and different our country is–how interesting it is–and how those differences weave together to become one.

Over the years, we got pretty good at making this trip, finding great stops that we looked forward to making every drive. This year? Not so much. It’s as if we had never taken the car out of state before. How bad was it? Well, it made me feel like I needed to turn in my frequent traveler card.

It was a learning experience though, and if you’re not experienced with road-tripping, here are some of our biggest blunders. Learn from them so you can have a better time in the car!

  • The night before you leave, don’t go to bed so late that you oversleep the next day and are forced to make a late start.
  • Don’t start late enough to avoid Boston rush hour traffic, and then wonder why you’re in New York/Philadelphia smack dab in the middle of evening rush hour.
  • Know where you’re going to spend the night more than an hour before you decide to stop so that you’re not driving from hotel to hotel looking for a room.
  • If you don’t want to deal with full-service gas stations, don’t calculate your gas tank refill to be smack dab in the middle of New Jersey.
  • Stop at Wawa. Don’t bypass Wawa.
  • Find decent restaurants for meals. We actually did better on Day 2, when we found Molly MacPherson’s in Richmond Hill, GA, and had decent food (including excellent salads) and great service).
  • If you want to stop and see something along the way, figure that out early on in the day, not when you’re driving by and realize it’s closed for the day.
  • Pack good snacks.

We did make our traditional stop at South of the Border, but having spent far too long on the road, we were in and out as fast as possible.

Needless to say, we got to Florida in a less than optimal mood, and that’s not a great way to start holiday vacation. It got better, for sure–because sun and warmth really do make a difference–and we had a really fun trip. However, we also pledged to make sure our drive home was something we actually wanted to remember.

 

Postcard from 29,000′

13 Jan

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Near the end of 2016, I started to get this email, which, as a frequent flier, sent me into a bit of a panic. See, I’d had Gold status on American for four years, and I rather liked it. Oh, I know what some of you might say–Gold doesn’t have a ton of perks and you can get most of those with a credit card that only has a $95/year annual fee–but why should I pay that if I’m doing the travel anyway? And if I’m traveling at least 25,000 miles a year, getting a free checked bag, early boarding, better seats and the possibility of upgrades is pretty nice (and I can usually snag an upgrade on a shuttle flight to or from Boston, which is sweet).

Extending my status wasn’t supposed to be a problem this year, but due to some family circumstances, I had to drop out of officiating a roller derby tournament in Vancouver–and that trip would have given me the mileage/segments to put me over the top for one more year.

Instead, I started getting the “extend your status now!” emails, and I did what anyone who has decent status in anything does: I worried. It’s not fun to lose perks, but it really wasn’t worth $399 to keep my status (nor was it worth opening up another credit card either).

However, with all problems, there is a solution, and for me, that was the mileage run. I quickly realized that I could fly to Dallas before the holiday travel season started, hang out in the airport for a couple of hours, and fly back to Boston for a fraction of the status renewal price.

This idea did not go over well at home. “You want to do what? Why?” asked the Boy. The Boy doesn’t like flying because he is very tall and doesn’t fit on airplanes very well. He doesn’t understand why people willingly fold themselves up into a tiny seat with Deep Vein Thrombosis-inducing amounts of legroom in the first place, let alone do it just to get miles.

I don’t bother to tell him that people will spend full weekends taking several segments through multiple countries in order to get Executive Platinum status. Even I think that’s a little extreme. I get it, but it’s extreme.

Needless to say, the Boy wasn’t thrilled about my plan, but I decided to spin it by calling it my very own writer-in-residence program. I’d have a quiet space and several hours for nothing but creative writing. It would be fine, great even!

And it was. I wrote about 3,500 words each way, banging out whatever came into my head. I have some short-short pieces and some beginnings to longer pieces–and likely a lot of garbage that was floating around my imagination. However, the goal was to write, and I did–I put my nose to the grindstone and cranked out some material, and that alone felt great.

I also wandered around DFW for a couple of hours–I actually had the faint idea that I could take the train downtown and get back in time, but I soon realized that where I needed to catch the train was too far away from my terminal to make that particular journey. Instead, I gave the Boy a status update while standing in the middle of a parking garage; I stumbled upon DFW’s chapel; and then went back through security. Then I decided it would be a good day for office holiday lunch, so I had a lovely sandwich and bubbly flight at Vino Volo before checking in with a client and getting back on the plane home.

Not that long after, I got this email:

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Achievement unlocked! But really, I had a fun, productive day that made me feel professional rejuvenated. Except now, I need to go back to that work, see what’s actually worth saving (Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” comes to mind when I think of what gems this file of random writing might contain). Hopefully there’s work that’s worth exploring and expanding. But then I’m going to need more time for editing and sending out pieces, which I could do at home, but obviously, as I proved with this experience, when it comes to creative writing, I get more done when I’m on the move. Maybe it’s time to schedule some more writer-in-residence days. More air travel? Or should I see how well I work on the train next time?

2016 Year in Books

6 Jan

Welcome to 2017! After taking a couple weeks off for holidays and travel, I’m ready to get back to it, which means the weekly blogs are back.

For me, 2016 was a weird year all the way around, and my reading list really reflects that this year. In 2015 I really didn’t read very many books (especially for being a writer), so I’d signed up for a Goodreads Reading Challenge, and decided to go light with just 20 books. That goal was more than I’d read in 2015, and what I thought would be a decent stepping stone into making reading books more of a priority. Totally achievable, right? I could really crush that goal and go way over it! Actually, I just barely made it happen, and finished my 20th book on Christmas Eve.

Number of books isn’t the only thing I’ve been tracking for the past few years. After reading some of Ann Morgan’s “A Year of Reading the World” blog, I wanted to expand my horizons a bit and see just where my influences were coming from. Instead of taking on the world, I thought I’d take on the United States and see if I could read authors from every state (tracked by where they’re born)–perhaps not a task I’d accomplish in a year, but eventually would be nice.

The other wrinkle is that I want to read the books I own. I have a problem with tsundoku, or buying books and not reading them. While I continue to buy books, I’m also working on reading what I own. I don’t have any particular order for reading things (no FIFO or anything like that), but it also means that there’s a constant inner struggle to spend less time buying and more time reading (also less time buying, and more time at the library, but that’s a topic for another day).

Anyway, I did meet my reading goal of 20 books for 2016, so I’m pretty proud of that. I was surprised, however, how much of a slog some of these books were. I had some chick lit and young adult lit that should’ve been a breeze but weren’t. While I have a personal rule that I’m allowed to stop reading after 50 pages or so (there’s not enough time to waste it reading bad books), I think I only used that exception once this year, and that was for Gone Girl. I hated all of its characters and had no interest in reading about what they did, so I put it down. I won’t even keep space in my brain to remember the 50 pages I did read, so I couldn’t tell you much of what it was about.

I didn’t do that for Accidental It Girl, which maybe I should have. This was about a paparazzi (who had shelved a dream of being an art photographer) who accidentally got linked with a big star and became the object of the paparazzi. Turnabout is fair play–though it was also a dull book. The character (whose name I can’t even remember) really had no goal other than to not be photographed all the time, and she didn’t drive the action–most of the action happened to her, making it difficult to root for her. It was also full of a lot of stock characters–the wacky mom who got in the way and didn’t really get her; the helpful roommate; the movie star who was a nice, genuine guy. The only thing that kept me reading was a MacGuffin of a package that the main character’s mom sent that sat in the corner of her bedroom for most of the book, was mentioned all the time, and when finally opened, revealed a reminder that the main character that her true passion was in art photography, and shouldn’t she do that instead of paparazzi-ing?

Needless to say, although I wouldn’t recommend it, it was a good example of what not to do when writing, so at least I got something out of it.

I covered nine states and four non-US countries this year. I seem to really like Ohio (four books) and the UK (five books). Still, I’m making progress on my map coverage–I’m up to 19 states and 10 countries in three years. Not bad. Could be better, but I’m happy enough for the moment.

For the moment, I’ve added just one book to my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge total. Maybe I can do better than that, but my first read of the year, The Games: A Global History of the Olympics is turning out to be a really slow one. A really good and interesting read, but it’s a little slow-going right now. It might be a book I read alongside some others, just to make progress.

Speaking of progress, if you want to follow along, feel free to check out my book reading tracking doc. Suggestions to fill in my missing geography are welcome!

 

The Ma Jaracz Cookie Train Comes to Town

9 Dec

I’ve got the song “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” in my head and not because it looks like Christmas outside. It doesn’t. Where it’s beginning to look like Christmas is my belly, thanks in part to Ma Jaracz.

Every year my mother sends out a big package of Christmas cookies. She gets her Martha Stewart on the day after Thanksgiving and makes probably 15 different kinds of cookies. Me? I make a mean chocolate chip, and every once in a while I forget what a pain it can be to make cut-out cookies, so I’ll try a batch of those. I like baking, but I’ve never gotten into the same Christmas cookie-making habit.

This week the annual package came. It’s meant for sharing among who’s ever in the household (depending on who’s visiting for the holidays), but due to dietary preferences, no one else does. So it’s me. And the box. Of large samples of 15 different kinds of cookies, packed matryoshka-style, with each batch in their own individual zipper bag, and then those zipper bags are packed in larger zipper bags. I’m sure if Hefty made a super-jumbo zipper bag, she’d pack the jumbo bags in it too.

When the box came this week, the Boy said, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then properly ignored the enthusiasm with which I dug into the bags of butter-laden treats that would wreck havoc on his digestive system. Which means that the embodiment of my Christmas childhood is all mine. Two jumbo zipper bags of mine.

I’ve been carrying them around the house like a security blanket, digging into toffee bars, Special K cookies (this year without the weird red and green jellies! Yes!), a bunch of variations on sugar cookies with colored sugar and more, whenever I can. I’ll look at the Boy with a mouthful of cookies and think, “You poor sap. You don’t know what you’re missing! THIS IS CHRISTMAS!!” And if my brain accidentally talks to my mouth during this thought process, I spray crumbs all over the place. The Jaracz Christmas is known for its classiness.

And while you might think, Well, Jill, it’s kind of obvious that you might have some Christmas belly going on because you’re eating a ton of cookies every day, let me qualify that. If you’re familiar with Ma Jaracz’ cookies, you’d know that eating a ton of her cookies was par for the course.

See, my mother used to be the master of the miniature cookie. If you made a regular-sized cookie–and for argument’s sake, let’s call “regular size” a Chips Ahoy–the Ma Jaracz version would be about a quarter of the size. I’m not fooling. I think in her mind she made teeny cookies for a couple of reasons: She used to give away tons of plates of cookies every year, so small cookies stretched the batch a lot longer; and smaller cookies meant you could try more of them and not stuff yourself (well, you might still stuff yourself).

However, Ma Jaracz has gotten older, which means her vision’s going a little bit. Now she’s making the large print version of her cookies. The jelly in a jelly thumbprint cookie is actually the size of a thumbprint and no longer the size of a pencil eraser. A toffee bar is four bites instead of one. A melting moment melts in your hand because you have to take so many bites that your body heat starts disintegrating it before you can pop it all into your mouth.

After a few days of eating cookies, my stomach is protesting, but I’m having a problem being reasonable and putting some in the freezer for later. I want my security blanket of Christmastime, and I want it now. I’ll deal with the weight gain sooner (preferred) or later, of course, and once they’re gone I’ll definitely cut back on the–Wait. Is that a snickerdoodle? Score!

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