Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

img 4310 Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

I just finished watching a couple episodes of Preposterous Pets, an Animal Planet show about people who have exotic animals as pets. It reminds me of another show I used to watch, Fatal Attractions, which had the same premise but was specifically about people who had been killed by those pets. No matter how amazingly cute the elephant or polar bear or tiger is, it is still a wild animal at heart and one that is large and can harm the human that feels compelled to care for it. Right?

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I’m trying to gather thoughts around a bigger topic in my head, here, and the thoughts are still kind of murky and incohesive. When I was in Belize, I kept trying to wrap my mind around the idea that what we were seeing there were animals in the wild. On one of our boat rides, the guides fed a ham and cheese sandwich to a spider monkey sitting in a tree on the bank. When we went snorkeling, we were told not to reach out and touch the animals we were swimming next to but with hundreds of people in the water it was inevitable that someone either wouldn’t listen or would inevitably brush against one of the creatures, potentially harming them with sunscreen and bug spray and human oils. I would say that the animals were in their natural habitat but I’m not sure I could really say that they were “in the wild”.

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I’ve just started reading a book called Zooburbia Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness that touches on this topic. It looks at the intersection between wild animals and those that have been domesticated, the animals that live somewhat on their own terms but in a world that’s increasingly overtaken by humans. It’s written by someone who lives here in Oakland, California but the descriptions of what she sees remind me more of what it was like growing up in Tucson, Arizona where coyotes and roadrunners and quail regularly crossed the street in front of us, javalina pigs foraged in our trash cans for food and scorpions and tarantula occasionally crawled down the walls inside our home. They’re all wild and certainly weren’t animals we took in as pets but they were living in our space, making do with the world that we had created that overtook their own.

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This all makes me think about the book I mentioned previously, Animal Madness, and the idea that animals of all kinds can suffer from mental illness. And it makes me think about zoos and how I’ve never really been able to figure out how I feel about them. I know that as a human visitor I really enjoy zoos and like the magic of seeing the animals. I’ve never really determined what I think about the morality of having zoos. I guess I think that in an ideal world there would be enough space for the animals to live on their natural land and not be in zoos but I also accept that this isn’t the case in our world and think that perhaps the best we can aim for is to have zoos and sanctuaries and homes for these animals that are kind and compassionate and intellectually stimulating and consider the mental health of the creatures.

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In those episodes of Preposterous Pets there was a man who swims with his buffalo, a woman who bathes and diapers her five macaque monkeys, a polar bear living in a backyard … and none of this seems right somehow. The bear that gets taken to a bar where it drinks beer and the monkeys that get sugary candies at the supermarket certainly don’t seem right. And yet, the animals are loved and cared for … so is this better or worse than a zoo? Better or worse than leaving the animals in their natural habitat but then slowly encroaching on that habitat with our own homes. I don’t have an answer. I don’t even have a clear decision about what I think about this. I just know that it’s been on my mind a lot lately, in this sort of vague at-the-edges kind of way, and I intend to keep immersing myself in more related reading and show-watching in order to see where this train of thought might take me.

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The Year Begins in Belize

belize zoo The Year Begins in Belize

Although I’ve traveled extensively around the United States and vicariously through library books, I haven’t traveled internationally much at all. I’ve been to Rocky Point in Mexico, Niagara Falls in Canada and had a wonderful 2010 trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. So it was really special to me to get to spend my New Year’s week in Belize with my beaux. He’s traveled widely around the world but hadn’t ever been to Belize so it was a new experience that we got to share together.

Getting There

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It was a long trek to get to our Ambergis Caye resort. We flew from San Francisco overnight to Miami. Then we flew from there to Belize City where we had to go through customs then catch a small 12-person plane to San Pedro Island. From there, we were picked up in a van and taken to a dock for a half hour boat ride to our hotel. I was a little grumpy, a little achy, but when I looked down out of that tiny plane and saw that stunningly clear green-blue water beneath me I felt refreshed.

Snorkeling

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The first big activity that we did was snorkeling, which I’d never done before. Belize is apparently one of the best places in the world to snorkel and scuba because it has a coral barrier reef comparable to Australia’s and clear warm waters that are comfy to swim in. I’m not a strong swimmer and I’ll admit that I found snorkeling tough and a bit uncomfortable. I couldn’t quite figure out how to keep me flittered feet from popping to the surface behind me and I kept forgetting that I could actually breathe under the water. My neck hurt from trying to stay afloat and still se my guide and not bump into anybody. I confess that there were frustrated moments when I thought, “I’d rather be at an aquarium”. But looking back I can see that it was an amazing experience, that it was already getting easier for me by the end of the first snorkel stop, and that there’s a possibility I’d do it again someday somewhere although if I never do I think I was lucky to have such a beautiful place to enjoy that experience.

img 4148 The Year Begins in Belize

We swam with green turtles, huge eels, nurse sharks, transparent fish, rainbow fish and more. Our first stop was probably about an hour long. It’s a little weird to be a few feet away from wild animals and surrounded by a hundred other people in flippers exploring the same area. Throughout much of our Belize trip I kept wondering how “wild” these animals really are when they aren’t domesticated but are so accustomed to us people. I was reading a great book, Animal Madness The Year Begins in Belize, about mental health issues in animals including animals in captivity and it just gave me pause for thought about all of the experiences we were lucky to be having.

There were three other stops on our all day snorkel trip – two to swim in Shark Ray Alley and one that was more of a coral-focused stop. I didn’t snorkel for any of those because I was tired but I enjoyed just being on the boat and watching the animals in the water and relaxing in the sunshine. I forgot how much I really enjoy being on the water in that way. The nurse sharks come right up to the boat to eat the chum that the guides are tossing out while the snorkelers swim around. The birds swoop down to try to get their share. Rays and skates slide by.

Mayan Ruins

IMG 4261 The Year Begins in Belize

Another major thing we did during our trip was to visit the Mayan ruins of Lamanai and Altun Ha. They were very different experiences even though the ruins aren’t particularly different from each other or even very far apart location-wise. We went to Lamanai first on a guided tour with dozens of other people during a time of day when there were many, many other similar guided tours. The ruins were flooded with people traipsing up and down them. We got a lot of information about the history of the ruins and the Mayan people and I felt glad that I was learning that and seeing the site but I didn’t feel anything particularly magical or awe-ful.

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That was in deep contrast to the day we visited Altun Ha on a private tour. We woke up incredibly early to get there and were there before anyone else. It was raining quite hard (the only day that we were really rained on a lot, actually), which contributed to no one else being there. It also apparently was one of the few days of this high season that there wasn’t a cruise ship coming in to port. All of those things combined for an experience of being the only people – me, my beaux and our guide – in the entire area. We climbed the ancient tombs and temples, looked down below on where the people would have looked up at the high priests, listened to the howler monkeys calling out in the trees around us … I don’t have words to describe the magic of being the only people in that place, in that weather, in that space and time. I doubt I’ll ever have a replica of that experience again in my life and while the ruins were originally not at the top of my list of exciting Belize things to do it turned out that it was the most memorable experience carried with me back from that trip.

Howler Monkeys and Tapirs

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The howler monkeys could be heard around the ruins but we specifically went to a sanctuary to see them. It’s a pretty amazing place where the local people have signed a pledge to protect the monkeys in their yards and not cause construction or destruction that might harm them. They are supported by tourist visitors and donations.

IMG 4310 The Year Begins in Belize

We toured the muddy jungle in the rain with a guide who told us a lot about the local plant life. She showed us the “hot lips” plant that the midwives use as part of the healing process during birth and the pregnancy test plant that you pee on and if the leaf turns yellow then you’re pregnant and the bark that you eat if you’ve gotten a snake bite because it will slow your heart rate down and buy you time to get to safety.

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She found a group of four monkeys for us hanging out in the back yard of one of the homes so we entered their gate, said hello to the family sitting on the porch and then went in the backyard and right up to the trees where the monkeys were sitting. We pulled native plants out and extended them to the monkeys as an offering to eat and they came down and grasped them. There was a six week old baby monkey clinging right on to his mama as she scampered down to take the plant and another one year old baby that was curious and approached on his own. They were absolutely adorable and it was precious to be able to have that face-to-face experience with them without the bars of a zoo cage all around.

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We did, however, go to the Belize Zoo. It’s such a curious place. It was started as basically a rescue sanctuary by an American woman who had rescued a bunch of exotic animals from the entertainment industry and realized that Belize could use a zoo. Each animal there has a story of being rescued, which is written in rhyme form outside of its exhibit. They’ve been rescued from fires, from lives as inappropriate pets, from hunting and deforesting situations.

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The exhibits are filled with native plant life, much more so than most of the zoos I’ve been to in the past, and apparently the woman who started the zoo comes around at night and plays her guitar for the animals. That’s not to say that they are happy or enjoy being in a zoo because I obviously don’t know that but there were qualities of this zoo that felt to me more like a rescue than a zoo even though it’s a caged place. And I will say that the guides do guide out of their way to try to convince the animals to perform for the tourists, which felt a little disturbing.

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The zoo has a large section for tapirs, the national animal of the country. It’s a cross between a horse and a rhino but looks more like a pig. They are friendly and come right up to the edge of the exhibit to nuzzle human hands. I reached out and this snout just moved back and forth as a warm tongue checked out my hand, much like a big puppy.

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The other popular zoo animals are the monkeys (spider monkeys and howler monkeys), big cats (ocelots, jaguars, pumas) and colorful tropical birds. My favorite, however, was the kinkajou – a raccoon-like animal that has teddy bear ears and big eyes and is nocturnal so we were lucky to be there first thing in the morning when he was still out and awake.

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Cave Tubing

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We also managed to fit in some cave tubing while we were there, which was super cool. We didn’t explore the ATM cave, which is the famous attraction where you can go into caves and see Mayan sacrifice offerings, but we did go into an amazing cave where we saw some stunning geo formations. We plopped into inner tubes on one end of the cave and floated through the darkness with head lamps and watched the limestone quartz glittering all around us, thinking about the Mayan belief that this was the underworld or hell on earth. Cave tubing was so relaxing and lovely and I can’t really believe that I’ve never done it before.

Fireworks, Coladas, Hammocks and More

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We were in Belize for New Year’s Eve so we took the boat from our part of the island to San Pedro and watched the fireworks show. It lasted about forty minutes and was really fun to see. All of the fireworks shows I’ve seen recently were on cold nights in San Francisco when I wavered between wanting to see them and wanting to be inside and warm! It was nice to be out at night on New Year’s Eve in short sleeves with a tropical breeze. I was a little overwhelmed by the crowd; it wasn’t really that crowded, not like in San Francisco, but I admit that the long days of travel were hard on me. Still, it was worth it to see the show.

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And we did have some days of downtime. I fell in love with pina coladas, and the occasional mango colada, and drank a lot of them throughout the days on beaches up and down the island coast. I enjoyed watching the calm waters change colors in the dawning of sunlight, the brightness of a full moon, the mixture of clouds and sunshine. There was one day that we saw a rainbow that lasted almost all day long, a double rainbow for part of that, and it was magical and special to see that. We laid in hammocks looking out at the water. We sat on sand looking out at the water. We walked along the edge of the water and watched the play of light. We kept our phones off and didn’t bring laptops with us and although it took a few days to settle in to a different pace of life the settling did finally happen and it was a nice way to ring in the year.

img 1857 The Year Begins in Belize

Reading: How to Cook a Tapir: A Memoir of Belize The Year Begins in Belize

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Moving into a New Year with Changes Here

Ah, this blog has gone through so many changes over the years. In the last few months, it’s drifted into something else yet again. Prior to that I was doing a lot of photo-rich posts for most of the year. However, I joined Instagram in 2014 and that seems to be a more appropriate place for massive photo-sharing. At the same time, I’ve been regretting that I’d gotten away from the lengthier, more conversational and chatty posts that were at times a part of this blog. So in 2015 you can expect fewer photos (although the posts will still have some, just the best of the best and most appropriate ones for that post!) and more thoughtful words.

My intention (although it may shift, of course, as long-term blogging goals often do) is to write about once a week and that post will be a long post, something more like a true journal entry about the things that I’m doing and thinking about, things I’m reading and watching and the things I’m musing on. I’ll still share the various things from around the web that catch my eye and so on and so forth but the main bulk of the posts will be all about getting to know more about me and what is going on in this head of mine. It’s become important to me to give more attention to higher-quality writing and do less posting just for the sake of posting.

I hope that you like these changes as you see them develop in the new year! A happy, creative, fulfilling, wondrous 2015 to you all!!

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Postcron for Scheduling Social Media Posts

Screen Shot 2014 12 23 at 4.53.07 PM Postcron for Scheduling Social Media Posts

I write for a lot of blogs. I write a lot of different blog posts, including at least one post per day on my own craft blog – Crochet Concupiscence. I keep active on a lot of social media accounts. Plus I follow the feeds of several hundred other blogs and try to share my favorites through link love and social media posts. I do most of this by hand and I do all of it myself but the only way that I can do that is to have the right tools at my disposal to keep it organized and efficient. Postcron is one of the tools that I use.

What is Postcron?

Postcron is a social media app that allows you to easily post various things from around the web to several of the major social media sites. You can add your Twitter, G+ and Facebook (profile, pages and groups). I’ve got 8 accounts set up:

Screen Shot 2014 12 23 at 4.52.59 PM Postcron for Scheduling Social Media PostsI can easily pick a post and decide which accounts I want to share it to. (What you see there are my personal and professional Facebook pages and profile, one of my Facebook groups, my two Twitter accounts and one G+ account).

Advance Scheduling

Continue reading

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Huge Giveaway from NYT & USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Melissa Foster

Seaside Sunset Cover Huge Giveaway from NYT & USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Melissa Foster

To help celebrate the release of her newest Romance, bestselling author Melissa Foster,has created a fun Street Team for readers of her books and lovers of the Romance genre. As part of this launch, she will be giving away lots of prizes—and I mean lots. From chocolate gift baskets to autographed books to super swag, she will be giving away more than 20 prizes, and as many as 520!

If the Street Team reaches 500 members by Monday, December 22, every single member will score an Advance Review Copy of her upcoming novel, Seaside Secrets. That means that you can enjoy the newly released Seaside Sunsets and then immediately read the next installment in the series. Pretty cool, huh?

Melissa Street Team Banner Huge Giveaway from NYT & USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Melissa Foster

Not in the mood to join the team? Not a problem! You can still enter the Rafflecopter contest for your chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card and autographed book.

Now that I know you’re excited, read on to learn more about Melissa’s Street Team and her newest release, Seaside Sunsets.

About Melissa’s Street Team

Melissa Street Team Badge Huge Giveaway from NYT & USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Melissa Foster

Do you LOVE Melissa Foster’s hunky heroes and smart, sexy heroines? Want to tell others about her books and help spread the word while gaining exclusive peeks at upcoming releases? Join Melissa’s Street Team, and become one of her most trusted fans!

Fab fan benefits:  Personal interaction with Melissa, lively discussions with other super fans and romance junkies, sneak peeks into future publications, exciting challenges with great prizes/swag, and fancy badges for your website, blog, and social media profiles.

Join today:  www.facebook.com/groups/melissafosterfans

About Melissa’s Newest Release

*SEASIDE SUNSETS WAS CHOSEN AS ONE OF AMAZON EDITORS’ BEST ROMANCE BOOKS OF DECEMBER 2014

For the first time since developing the second largest search engine in the world, billionaire Jamie Reed is taking the summer off. He plans to work from the Cape and spend time with his elderly grandmother–and falling in love is not in his plans.

From the moment Jamie and Jessica meet, the attraction is white-hot. Once-overly-focused Jamie can think of little else than sensual, smart, and alluring Jessica, and Jessica discovers a side of herself she never knew existed. But when Jamie’s business encounters trouble and his attorney and best friend intervenes, he proves that the blond beauty is too distracting for Jamie. To make matters worse, it appears that Jessica might not be who she says she is, turning Jamie’s life–and his heart–upside down. In a world where personal information is always one click away, Jamie must decide if he should trust his heart or watch the woman he loves walk away

Recommended for readers aged 18+

Get Seaside Sunsets on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, or Google Play!

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Word(s) of 2015 … Intentional Breath, Time, Consumption, Production

IMG 4075 1024x1024 Word(s) of 2015 ... Intentional Breath, Time, Consumption, Production

I like this idea that’s come about of choosing a word for the year. I did this for the first time at the start of 2014, choosing the word story. I thought that I would purposefully consider this word but instead I just let it linger in the background of my life, informing me throughout the months. I didn’t focus specifically on finding or telling or revising my story but I consistently remembered to think about my story during different activities of my days. I feel like it taught me a lot, informed me in ways that I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t set attention on it at the beginning of the year.

And so, as we wrap up 2014, I’ve been thinking about my word for the new year. At first I was thinking “breath” because so much of 2014 felt like I was trying to catch my breath. Then I thought of looking up the synonyms of breath because that word didn’t feel quite right. But I sat with that, gave it some space, let it breathe so to speak.

Ultimately, what I determined was that focusing on my breath is an important thing right now but it’s not the focus of 2015. Instead, I have chosen the word “intentional” because I really just want to have more intention around everything that I’m doing in my life. I don’t want to continue to be swept along by the randomness of life and the habits I’ve rutted into. I want to think about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, to consider it without judgment but to make choices intentionally. Maybe I’ll watch TV for 12 hours a day but I want to do so consciously, conscientiously, with awareness, with intention.

While I was still in the middle of deciding between “breath” and “intentional”, I realized that I could focus my intentional energy on specific areas such as breath. I’ve literally been having trouble breathing and I’ve figuratively felt breathless as well. Giving intentionality to my days will help, I hope, with the latter. Intentionally working to attend to my physical respiration is important for the former. I don’t want breath to be my only focus but I do want it to be a focus this year.

So then I was thinking that it could be a quarterly thing … intention around breathing for the first quarter, for example. That didn’t feel quite right but the focus on four different areas of intentionality does feel right, so here’s what I’ve determined. In 2015, I want to intentionally consider:

  1. Breath
  2. Time
  3. Consumption
  4. Production

With breath, I include all aspects of health, starting with the breath. I want to explore and examine some of my history with asthma, medically but also holistically.

With time, I want to increase my awareness of what I’m doing with my time. I want to make intentional choices instead of just letting it slip by, instead of just letting things slip into my calendar that I don’t actually want there. A lot of my struggle to catch up this year was because I agreed haphazardly to things that were fine but weren’t juicy, rich, meaningful.

I want to intentionally consume – food, yes, with attention to its impact on me but also media and anything else that goes into me. I want to select the things that are filtering through my body and mind and not just mindlessly allow them to enter.

In reverse, I want to be more intentional with what I produce, particularly in terms of creativity. I’ve got a lot of habitual writing patterns and some of them are out of date and need to be revisited. I need to look at them with intentionality. I seek to make choices around them so that I feel more fulfilled in what I’m sending out into the world around me.

These things all go hand-in-hand … what I choose to consume and produce is related to how I spend my time, for example. That’s why breaking it down into quarters doesn’t feel right but still having these four focal areas of intention does feel right. So there it is. My 2015 word is “intentional” with a subtitle of Breath, Time, Consumption and Production.

What is your word for 2015?

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4D Things

Last week I went to my first 4d movie (Hunger Games) where my seat shook and the wind blew on me. I’m not usually into action movies of any kind and it definitely engaged me more. I do have to say I was disappointed that the 3D visual effects (no glasses required) weren’t very good because that would have really added the right stuff for me but all in all it was a good unique experience and a terrific glimpse into the future of entertainment.

Above you’ll see a video of the first “4d” printed dress. We’re barely starting to see 3d printing hitting the mainstream and we’re already moving on to 4d. And I love it!

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Crochet Blog Awards

Every December over on my crochet blog I do a series of daily posts recognizing my favorite crochet bloggers for the specific cool things that they are doing. One of this year’s winners, Crochetbug, wrote this very lovely post on her blog today that included the following:

“It is an absolute delight to have my work recognized by Ms. Vercillo. To say that she is tireless in her efforts to promote crochet is an understatement, and her encouragement is a reminder to me, in this season of giving, that sometimes the most important gift is the one where we acknowledge of the humanity and efforts of those around us who do the many things (large and small) that make it possible for us to carry on with our lives.”

I was so touched by the post and the sentiment!

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5 Inspiring, Wonderful Resources on the Simple Joy of Walking

IMG 4324 764x1024 5 Inspiring, Wonderful Resources on the Simple Joy of Walking

I recently wrote an article for About.com about the similar health benefits of crochet and walking. In that post, I shared some of my favorite resources about inspired walking. I thought I’d share those here as well, along with a couple of other related resources that I hadn’t mentioned yet.

  • Walk It Off: A Walker’s Rambles. This terrific blog has a lot of information and inspiration for all walkers including people who have never walked regularly before and want to try it out.
  • Walking in this World by Julia Cameron. This book, part of The Artist’s Way series, is a creativity exercise book that also encourages daily walking as part of a creativity plan. It has great tips and information for using movement-based creativity to improve your quality of life. I love the whole series and I was excited when Cameron added the element of walking to the other daily rituals she was already recommending (journaling, etc.)
  • On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by Andrea Horowitz. In this book the author takes a simple short walk with experts in different fields and discovers that each person sees different things in the world. It’s an inspiring guide for walking and I found that it also gave me a new perspective that infused creativity into my craft work and writing.
  • The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White. This is one of the first books I ever read about walking and it revitalized my own interest in this simple exercise. It’s a book about Paris, a book about the history of wandering, a book about the magic of walking through the world.
  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. I’ve fallen in love with author Solnit in recent years. The first book of hers that I read was the one about San Francisco, which someone had given to my beaux as a gift and he had lent to me. I also read Paradise in Hell, her book about how we thrive in big disasters. And I’m currently reading The Faraway Nearby, a memoir about memory and stories. Wanderlust is her book about walking, about all of the different ways we walk and the stories of walking that are intertwined through time and her own experience of walking in my own San Francisco Bay Area.

Where was the last place that you walked? What did you discover?

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