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May 20, 2013

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Karen Stafford

The Thing I Hold Dear:

I see it each morning as I enter the living room to open the blinds, and at the end of the day when I close them. It is the thing that captures my attention as I sit at my dining room table over a tasty meal. The faces stare out at me, reminding me of the need to be more global in my efforts to help, to sustain, to impact lives through my writing and my philanthropy. "It" is a multi-media collage created by one of my 8th grade students in response to the assignment: Show me how you see yourself in the larger world. The student who created this soul searching, inspiring work of art, took pictures from magazines, books, anything she could get her hands on, and placed them on a background of blue construction paper bordered by macaroni and red beans. The pictures are the faces of people - young, middle aged, and old - from various African nations. They tell the story of a people: wealthy in history, not always happy with circumstances, busy with life, ever hopeful, living.

I no longer teach, but will forever remember the young student and her reason for creating this masterful work. She told me: "The world is bigger than just where I am and what I see. My people - here and there - we are one in our struggles, our dreams, our belief in a greatness we know we all have inside of us."

I had the collage framed, and have carried it from California to Maryland, and other states in between. It speaks each day from its mounted place of honor on one wall of my living room where it hangs between 2 wood-framed mirrors. It inspires me; it nudges me on. Daily, I am moved to heed its call.

Dawn Reno Langley

Surprisingly, one of the greatest visceral loves of my life when we're talking about "things," is my black and white composition book that I use as a journal and is something that touches me back. BUT the one physical object I hold most dear and would take with me even if I could only have one suitcase full of belongings is a small silver jewelry box that is tarnished and has a broken finial on top. It's full of buttons that come as extras on new clothes and really doesn't have any other purpose except that it reminds me of the love my friend Carol had for her husband Mike. They were married for a little more than twenty-five years when they both contracted cancer. Together, they went to the doctors and to the hospital and through chemo, but then both became too ill to accompany the other, so I and other friends and family members took over. Even though they could no longer even share a bedroom, they held conversations across the hallway as Mike slowly passed from lymphoma and Carol struggled with a tumor pressed against her spine. For her last birthday, Mike asked his daughter to buy Carol something beautiful and small that she could hold treasures in. When she opened the elaborately engraved small sterling box, Carol laughed and said it was too small to hold her dreams. She passed away several months later, and the silver box held a prominent place on her bureau. Her mother, sister, stepdaughter and I spent days packing up the house and separating belongings, but when it came to the silver box, each of us had memories of Mike's gift and her reaction to it. It was too special to touch. Carol's mother couldn't take it, her sister cried when she looked at it, her stepdaughter thought of her father each time she touched it, so they gave it to me. Every time I look at it or open it, I'm reminded of the tremendous love they had for each other and of the dreams that would never fit in such a small space. Even though it's tarnished and broken, it will always hold a special place in my bedroom where the love it holds can shine through.

Steve Leveen

Oh my, Karen and Dawn...what beautiful stories you both have told. The insightful collage from a wise child, and the tarnished silver box too small for dreams. You both are beautiful writers and storytellers. Thank you for sharing your art. Hugs on you, Steve

Joel Millican

My Sailor Imperial fountain pen, limited edition for levenger 35/300. It is the absolutely finest writing instrument I have ever owned, and it is a work of art.

Norma Niven Washburn

She died January 25,1973...my mother, my best friend. Her hairbrush containing strands of her hair has been in a plastic bag in the top drawer of my dresser all these years. Somehow I cannot throw it away, the only physical remains I have of her. When I'm gone the brush will be disposed of by my sons. Why did I have it? They never knew I kept it. Some things are irreplaceable.

Steve Leveen

Dear Norma,
What a lovely story about your mother's hairbrush. Just this last weekend, my mother showed me a locket that had been her grandmother's. It had a photo of a girl on one side and a locket of hair on the other. The hair was from a daughter my great-grandmother had lost, who had died quite young. These days, people don't seem that into saving lockets of hair, but it used to be very common. The New York Public Library happens to have many in its collection--a part of its collection that most people don't know about. Thank you for sharing you memory of what you hold dear.
Steve

Andrea Syverson

On Christmas Eve our family used to celebrate a tradition passed down from my mom’s Slovakian side of the family. It involved a few foods none of us but Mom really liked (lentil soup and fish, to name two). But it involved a sacramental gesture as well.

Dad blessed each of our foreheads with a sign of the cross made from dipping his thumb lightly in honey. Part of the traditional meal also included oplatek. This was thin, unconsecrated, greeting card-sized communion wafers with holy images embossed on them like the Nativity scene. One of these wafers was spread with a thin layer of honey and broken into the number of persons at the table.

All of these gestures had religious and ethnic symbolism that was a bit lost on us at the time (and yes, we went to Midnight Mass and later, to bed with sticky foreheads!). Years later, Dad’s honey blessing reminds me of a much deeper blessing.

In biblical times, there was “The Blessing.” It was a big deal. You could actually be entitled to an inheritance by birthright but you still needed the father’s blessing for it to be binding. The blessing was an official seal and declaration of unconditional love and approval.

There was a time earlier in my life when I thought I had lost my father’s blessing. I had acted unwisely as a young person and thought I had damaged our relationship forever. He died shortly after that in a car accident at only 48. Several years later (as a married adult), I came across a long letter he wrote to me (that I had forgotten all about!), acknowledging that rough time I went through.

My dad was not normally a letter writer or overly expressive in the praise department. But in the letter he even said that he was proud of me and how I handled that situation. I cried deeply when I read that letter because I realized I did always have my father’s blessing, even when I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

Rereading this letter is something I do whenever I need to be reminded of my father’s love.

Cassandra Clarke-Belgrave

It is written "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"...most of my treasure is with my daughters...they gave me a Red, fine point True Write fountain pen with my initials CCB a few years ago...the base at the screw cracked and it leaks but up until I retired May 31, 2012 I would have inked fingers every day because I could not give up that pen. I have at least two other True Writers but I cannot get the nib to the fine writing comfort of my Red fine point pen...I am a physician and when the electronic medical record went live on the job I mourned less use of my pen. Now that I am retired I write even less. In church one Sunday my (late) best friend (since 7th grade) asked to use my pen and I reached for my bag to get her another pen and she said "you are really not going to let me use that pen?" and I said "would you let me use your toothbrush?" She never let me forget that. I am glad that I found this blog...it would be great to see the penmanship, lol.

James H. Anderl

My mother will be 100 years old on September 30, 2013. She taught English, Rhetoric, Debate, Drama, etc. in various public schools in Iowa during the '30s, '40s, '50s and early '60s before retiring...to play more golf!

She is in a nursing home now, but her vision remains undimmed. I am still working and she is 300+ miles away. Visits are limited to every other week or so.

I recently started writing her a notecard every other day with family updates, etc. She says she enjoys reading these notes and can even read my handwriting. Thoughts on paper, hand- written and legible..."powered" by one of my collection of Levenger ballpoints. (My current favorite is a blue Wedgwood ballpoint, which honors my memory of my mom's china set.)

J. Norman Reid

I write not about a single item, but a category, my pens. Pens, as you know, have personalities. Oh, not those ubiquitous ball points, which even with today's wide selection possess a certain stamped-out uniformity that deprives them of much interest. No, I'm speaking of fountain pens, whose individuality in expressiveness gives them true character that distinguishes one from another just as no two persons can ever be truly alike.

My own collection of fountain pens, which began with a high school graduation gift from a favorite aunt and uncle and has grown to more than 90 representatives, has many such characters. Their appearances vary widely; their characters are equally distinct. There are, of course, the expected variations in nib style and type. But beyond that are their weight and balance, their feel in the hand, their breadth and ease of grip, their comfort and suitability for long versus short writing sessions.

These differences inevitably lead to specialization when applying them to paper. Signatures, of course, favor broad or stub nibs. Journaling works best for me with a smooth-writing medium or broad nib, while drafting articles and books (I draft in long-hand, then dictate what I’ve written) seems well-suited for a fine or medium nib. Note-taking is generally delegated to a medium or fine, but stubs, broads and italics are nice for a change. Making lists—how else to stay organized?—can be accomplished with whatever pen happens to strike my fancy, and often changes from day to day. My day planner merits a fine nib to help me color between the lines.

And speaking of color, the whole business of matching inks with pens raises an entirely separate dimension of personality. I, for one, take great care in harmonizing my pens with the inks that flow through their veins. The first criterion is how the ink performs in a given pen. Since inks have differing flow characteristics, each new pen I acquire goes through a series of tryouts with various inks until I find one that fits it well.

But beyond flow performance is the matter of personality again—and how the ink’s hue and saturation match the color and style of the pen body. Most pens call out to me for blue, but what shade of blue? I have something over 30 inks in my pen pantry and thus lots of available choices. Pens in tones of tan or brown generally rate a shade of sepia, but not always. Others cry out for black ink. Then there are purple pens to match with royal blends, and mauves with wine colors, and on and on, for as personalities go, the combinations are endless.

In fact, the characters in my collection have outgrown my ability to recollect all their features. Oh, I know them well enough by name and performance and even by nib size. But the ink colors, ah, these change frequently enough that I require an aide memoire. And thus was born a database that tracks all my pens, their nibs, models, colors, origins, prices and—most important of all—the particular ink they currently employ.

Like characters in a play, each of my favorite fountain pens has its appointed time for entry onto the scene, its roles to play, its lines to present—or write—its individuality to add to the mélange that combines into the whole cast. And like our friends and acquaintances, my pens—with their special delights of personality as well as their quirks—bring a dimension of spice into my life of writing that is simply unattainable by any other means.

Jeff Poulin

There is a special item that made a huge difference in my life, both for itself and what it represented.

The first hardcover book I bought with my own money was a slipcased edition of The Lord of the Rings. I had borrowed a friend’s paperback version and was only a few pages in when I knew I wanted my own copy. That meant a trip to a little local bookstore in our small town. It was run by a retired cop who seemed to take delight in encouraging youngsters to read more and at the top of their abilities. I expected to get a used copy of the paperbacks but there it was: hardcovers, shining foil inlays on the spines and covers (a different color for each volume), and big foldout maps of Middle Earth. It was spectacular. And expensive. The owner knew it was more than I had so he made a deal: I could buy one volume at a time as long as I came back the next month to report on the story and bought the next volume. The slipcase would come with the last book. It took a lot of mowed lawns and other chores a pre-teen could do but I ended up with that set. That was nearly half a century ago. I have read it every year since then and always think of the kindness that bookstore owner showed to a young boy.

What I couldn’t predict is the way it would influence my life. No other single book has opened my eyes to the rich depths of the English language with its myriad variations and a continuity that spans the centuries. Beyond mere definitions, the trilogy showed how writing could have a rhythm that reached into the reader’s senses. It was a heady mixture. The pleasure I’ve had from the glories of Shakespeare, the descriptive power of Melville, and the cadences of Chaucer, Raymond Chandler and Robert Heinlein was built on the foundation provided by those special books from so long ago. The skills I developed to understand and appreciate the Trilogy even enhanced my career.

The books reside behind the glass of my best bookcase these days, to be taken out each autumn. They show the wear of time but so do I. My wife, who has observed these annual readings for so many years, says the books and I suit each other. I have to agree.

Megan McLachlan

Bound in alphabetical order and discolored with random foliage sticking out like tabs in a binder, an item I hold dear to me is more than just a book. It may just seem like a botanical book, one no one would think to lift off of the shelf. But it is an item that inspired not only a wall of art, but a life of art that is on display in the homes of all my ancestors and immediate relatives.

My grandmother, Violet, was and still is my favorite. You know that one special grandparent that used to buy you sweets or new art materials and made you feel like the most important person in the world to them? Violet was an artist that specialized in watercolors, a very difficult medium to master.

This item was her favorite botanical book and her inspiration in most of her artworks. She would read the book and then go out and find a live example in her garden, then dry & file them inside of the book. There are also hand notes throughout the pages. I can still to this day go back to that special book and attempt to relive through the eyes of an artist. I can turn from the book to the wall to see the beauty they once possessed by viewing the watercolors she created. The fantastic cerulean hues that subtly transition into purples and greens are nothing other than an attention grabber.

And the inspiration from where it all started are decrepit, undulating pages in a book filled with pressed history and fleeting memories.

Steve Leveen

Andrea,

What a lovely story you tell. Thank goodness you had that letter from your father. Knowing you just a bit, I’m sure he loved you dearly no matter what.

Cassandra,

Wow! Your story is one of the best I’ve ever read about the power of a pen. Thank you for sharing and for your business. You’ll be hearing from our customer service folks, if you haven't already…

James,

Your letters to your mother I’m guessing are the objects she holds most dear.

And Norman,

An amazing story of your pens and beautifully written. “Like characters in a play…” Thank you for sharing your gift of storytelling.

My best to you all,

Steve

Kitty Burns Florey

My father died at 46, when I was 13. I have some cards and letters he wrote me, but nothing that was actually his, except his wristwatch. When my mother died, at 91, I found it tucked into her jewelry box. I’d never given it a thought until that moment, but when I picked it up, I instantly remembered it on my father’s freckled, red-haired wrist.

The watch dates from the early ‘50s, with an elegantly simple face—an analog that has to be wound every day. It was no longer working, and the gold expansion band was sprung. I meant to have it fixed but didn’t get around to it. Then came 9/11. I was living in Brooklyn, and the planes hit the World Trade Center as I was on my way to work; I got off the E train to see the twin towers fall. My office wasn’t far from ground zero, and it was closed all week. Like most people, I spent much of that time on the phone assuring everyone I was OK, or in front of the TV watching the sickening details unfold. Several times, I walked down to the river; there was often a small, quiet crowd there, just staring at the nothingness on the other side.

I dreaded returning to work, taking the subway into Manhattan. We were all terrified. And, as the week went by, the certainty grew in me that I had to get my father’s watch fixed and wear it on my wrist if I was going to ever be safe again.

I took it to the kind of shop that probably still exists in only a few places, Brooklyn among them: a combination watch repair and laundromat in my Polish neighborhood. The watch shop is about as big as a bathroom, lined with shelves crammed with timepieces of all kinds. The sign in the window says ZEGARMISTRZ/WATCHMAKER. The woman who waited on me wore a red satin blouse and had fancy combs holding her hair back. She spoke Polish, with only a few watch-related English words, but between us we agreed that she would get the watch running again for $14. She said it would be cheaper to put on a new expansion band than to repair the broken one, and pointed out the scratches. “But it was my father’s,” I said. She hauled out a new band. “Look! Is just like old one!” It was, and I gave in, but still wish I hadn’t.

As long as I lived in New York, I wouldn’t go into Manhattan without the watch. I once headed off to work in a rush and forgot to put it on my wrist, and was in a sweat all day. Now that I've moved away, I rely on it mostly for traveling. I wear it on car trips of more than an hour or so, and refuse to get on a train or an airplane without it. If I arrived at the airport and found I’d forgotten my father’s watch, I hope I’d still board the plane.

But, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t.

Steve Leveen

Dear Kitty,

What a beautiful story of your father's watch--and beautifully told. Thank you for sharing it. I can't wait to read your new book. All best wishes, Steve

Frank Betoulaud

The last tiny screw finally yielded. Followed by some exuberant prying, the thin metal shield popped out, revealing the mechanicals guts.

A while back, I came across an ad stating: “Bell & Howell Super 8 Video Camera. Model 252. Not working, over-wound. Cheap.” Four days later, the package arrived. The caramel colored leather case was dried out and the shoulder strap had been replaced with a canvas-backed black leather strip. The label on the case stated: “ Mr. S.W. Bridgers, Encino, California”.
As I pulled out this tri-lens 1950’s video camera, I was taken aback by the sheer heft of it. The body was cast aluminum with a textured finish resembling leather.

For a few seconds, I could visualize Mr. Bridgers ; dressed in a plaid shirt, pipe in the corner of his mouth, proudly filming his kids doing cartwheels in the front yard. This 25ft strip of 8mm film would have been shown religiously at all the family gatherings despite the kids’ greatest protest.

Once I pried the camera open, two thoughts really struck. The mechanical design was so elegant it reminded me of Saint Exupery’s quote : “ A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”.
The second thought was how well it was made. Careful material choice was made for each component. The tolerance of each gear was very precise. It was not engineered to have a pre-determined lifespan. It was built to last. Case in point, with a slight push from the screwdriver, the mechanism became unstuck and wound as good as new.

I kept the working mechanism on my shelf and re-purposed the video case into something else. This little 1950’s camera will always remind me that: 1) There is no substitute for quality 2) The aesthetics of a good design outlives the product’s practical functionality.

Mark Jantzen

I've long used paper and pen for capturing ideas and as support material for actions and projects. One thing I enjoy about reviewing these handwritten pages is how they take me back in time. It's not just what I was thinking or sometimes, what was I THINKING? But it's the actual ink and paper I was using is a part of my own history. Digital tools are useful and have their place but will never fully replicate this one aspect of paper and pen.

Or maybe it's how analog facilitates browsing, not searching, in a way the internet cannot do.

Ann Streetman

Among the things I hold dear are two old cook books circa 1960. The pages are so tattered that I cannot provide a proper citation. Their bright covers are now faded and frayed. One is held together by tape. Now I use Apps on my iPad and iPhone to plan and execute big family dinners. I love these wonderful gadgets, but they cannot replace my two good old cook books that hold copies of my mother's handwritten family recipes on wrinkled notebook paper.

Randy Murray

On the wall of our living room, hanging from a Shaker peg rail, is a rather ordinary red kerosene and oil lantern. It's there among the other antique trinkets we've inherited and picked up over the years, but that's the one that always catches my eye.

It wasn't always red. Or it was once red and now it's red again. When my grandmother was moving out of the farmhouse and clearing out most of her possessions I found it in the smokehouse. It was encrusted with mud dauber nests, rusty, and not a sign of paint on it anywhere. "What's this?" I asked her. "That," she told me, "is the lamp that your grandfather carried with him every morning when he went to the barn to milk the cows and start the day." And she told me that it used to be red. Bright Red. It had hung, unused, in the smokehouse since he died in 1967.

My grandfather died when I was seven years old. I knew the barn, the cows, and the work of farming, but I didn't know that they didn't have electricity until after World War II. This was something ordinary, a tool, but something that he had used every day. So I made it a project. I took it home with me to Ohio, disassembled it as best as I could, then set to work cleaning it. Once the encrusted nests were off I set to work using Naval jelly, steel wool, and elbow grease. It took weeks to get it all down to bare metal.

Then I painted it red, back to what I think might have been its original color, or at least the remembered color. Finished, restored, it shines once again. It was something that my grandmother and I took shared pride in. We'd recovered something nearly lost, something connected with him.

I could have easily bought a lantern for a few dollars to hang on that wall, but this lantern was once my grandfather's, and now, through the work of restoring it, it's mine, too. We are connected through it. It is deeply satisfying to see it there.

I'm a long way from the farm. I grew up there. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all worked this farm that the Irishman, my great-great grandfather, started working in the 1860s. I sometimes feel a loss of connection to that land. But I'm no farmer and never was. I needed to follow my own path and set a new one for my daughters. I'm a writer. They're musicians and artists. But we all know that lantern, know its story, and know where we came from. It's a pleasure and comfort to see it there, on the wall, every day.

Carol K.

The hairbrush of my mother, my best friend, whom I lost to breast cancer in 2002...like Norma, it is one of my treasured reminders of her beauty, grace and loving personality. After my sister and I lost her to this terrible disease, I quit my 31-year career and decided to volunteer/fundraise for breast cancer - last year we raised a total of $1 million together. Now my sister faces this terrible disease and she is winning the fight. Every day I hold my mother's hairbrush close to my heart and read the last birthday card she wrote me sitting beside it - "Thank you for sticking with me so long," she wrote. My mother and I were like sisters...inseparable. I would give anything to have her with me still. Treasure your mothers - they are angels. Mine is always beside me. I miss her every day and everything I am, I owe to her.

Madonna Smith

What wonderful stories and what a variety of items. I, too, have a variety of items, but they are all writing instruments--or were written by pens. I have a note written by my mother--the last one she wrote before she died. I have a name tag my father wrote and wore when our daughter was born and he was so happy to tell people about her. I have pens from my grandfather and a pen/pencil set my mother received for Christmas when she was 8.

I gather pens. Some because of their feel, some for their beauty, some for the way they dance or march or slide on paper.

The records we leave tell others something about us, and I like to think that the color of ink and style of writing can add meaning to that record. While writing a note or a letter--and I still write notes and letters--I can also deepen the experience for myself by using a writing instrument that suits my mood and time. I like the time and attention to message that writing requires and allows, and pens let that happen--I feel I'm crafting the message and not just conveying information. Using special pens for special messages makes the experience more meaningful to me.

Because of the variety of pens I have, I can, and sometimes do, match my outfit of the day. I know, I know, that's carrying it a bit far, but I feel good about it. While disposable pens and freebies have their places, I prefer a solid, not-going-anywhere, dependable writing instrument; I like to think my messages reflects those same characteristics.

Noreen Ceraulo

My family was and is the most treasured thing I have. All of my siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are gone but they are all with me every day in my heart. Both of my parents came from large families (11 on dad's side and 12 on mom's side) and what fun we had. I carry all the wonderful times, food and laughter with me always. Now I have my children and grandchildren. My granddaughter Jemma is five years old (a big girl) whose mom is my daughter and my grandson Leo is almost four years old (Baby Leo) whose father is my son. These little treasures fill my heart and I smile whenever I think of them. Jemma and I spend a lot of time together (she lives the closest) baking, coloring, having tea parties and playing restaurant. She is learning to read and always has a smile on her face and loves to snuggle.
Leo is a very special little boy. His face lights up when he smiles and he's a joy to be with. Life can be difficult for Leo at times but he tries to be patient with the rest of us. He is a delight to spend time with and when he gives a hug or sits on my lap it's a wonderful day.
I could have said that I have many tangible treasures such as jewelry, and I do have pieces passed down to me, but nothing can compare to a snuggle or a hug or a smile from my precious babies.

Nicole Morrison

The thing that I hold dear (other than my boys) is my filofax. It is my constant. Always out, open. Important dates and milestones for my boys, all four of them. My life is in it. Photo pages filled with memories. A journal section, a place for me to gather my thoughts. Lists, rants, expenses. It is the "Mama Brain" and my boys respect that and my older two (ages seven and four) asked for one and are learning to appreciate writing and the exquisite beauty of a list.

Cheryl Marie Wilson

Having been born and raised in Galveston, TX, I have a special connection to that city and its beaches. When my husband and I knew we were going to move from our home in Houston, I went back to the beach and gathered random seashells. We have moved more times than I can count since then but those shells sit in a beautiful crystal vase in the center of my kitchen window wherever I am and I see them each morning when I go into my kitchen.

In those shells are memories of the sweet young boys who took me to bonfires on that beach. I see the holiday feasts at my Grandmother's table with all the family gathered around. I recall the heartaches of my family members' passing, first my precious Mother, then my Grandparents, then my dear Uncle, my Father, etc. I remember roller skating; dances; flounder gigging on the beach at night with my Grandfather; the nuns who taught me for 12 years; the hurricanes we withstood; standing on an apple crate to reach the kitchen counter as I learned to cook from my Grandmother's able instructions. The memories, oh the memories!

I am 68 now but that vase with those shells means the world to me. It is my youth, it is my growing up, it is my past and it serves as a reminder of all who have gone before me that I loved and cherished.

Those simple seashells always tell me my true compass is always, always Galveston!

Mary M. McMahon

When the compact Circa "quick web at a glance" notebook came into my life, my financial life has never been the same. Its compact size and ability to be expanded does double duty - with additional lined Circa pages I have a system for paying bills via the Internet on the 1st and 15th of each month. Prior to this I would get late fees for being a day or two late, which was beyond annoying and expensive at 25.00 to 30.00 a pop. I also bought the zip -around compact leather holder, which remains beautiful to this day. This system lets me see, on one lined Circa page, my balance, when it was paid or scheduled and the day it is due. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, no more late fees for late payments. For me, this has added up to a quality of life with more disposable income, an easy system and general peace of mind. In fact I also bought this beautiful bag from Patagone for about 3.00 that ties at the top and holds my Levenger compact notebook/web at a glance perfectly. This has so streamlined my bill paying life that it goes with me EVERYWHERE, EVERY DAY. In fact, my family knows that if I should die...they have full access to all they need for getting into accounts and our financial picture via this great little book. I am so glad you re-introduced the compact pages....and for the future I hope you also re-introduce the beautiful compact size zip-around and leather accoutrements for this incredible product. Life is good. Thank you Levenger.

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