Freelance Writer’s Almanac – January 2014

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Freelance Writer's Almanac icon - violetnesdoly.com
Happy New Year!

Welcome to the first post in the Freelance Writer’s Almanac series.

Today we start a new year. It’s interesting to look back and see what happened 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago with a view to remembering, reflecting on, and perhaps writing about these things.

Of course if you choose to write about any of these subjects, you’ll need to give it your own angle.  I have linked a few resources, but to do a proper job, you’ll need to sleuth out more info. Also double-check all dates, because even as I put this together, I found date discrepancies in my sources.

2014 is the anniversary of the following big events:

100-year anniversary (1914)

  • The beginning of World War I
  • Woodrow Wilson signed a Mother’s Day proclamation.
  • The Panama Canal was opened.

75-year anniversary (1939)

  • The beginning of World War II
  • John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was published.

50-year anniversary (1964)

  • This was the year of Beatlemania. The Beatles began their U.S. tour by appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in February.
  • A powerful 9.2 earthquake hit Anchorage Alaska.

25-year anniversary (1989)

  • The Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling millions of gallons of crude oil.
  • Chinese students protested and were massacred in Tianamen Square.
  • The Berlin Wall was opened to the West after 28 years.

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Carnation - flower of JanuaryThe flowers of January are the Carnation and the Snowdrop

Garnet - the birthstone of JanuaryThe birthstone of  January is Garnet. It means Constancy.

Here are some things that happened in January throughout history. I chose events  and facts that interest me in the areas of history, the arts, faith, science, food, Canadiana and other cool things. But of course these just skim the surface. There are more links to check out at the bottom of the post.

January

1

  • New Moon

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  • On this day in 1745 at the age of 27, David Brainerd committed himself to reach the Indian tribes of Colonial America with the gospel of Christ. He died two years later but lives on in The Diary of David Brainerd pdf file (published by Jonathan Edwards) TCA p. 17.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien Day. Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892.

4

  • World Braille Day – 205 years ago today Louis Braille was born in Coupvray France (1809). He himself was blind from age three.

6

  • National Weigh-In Day (always the first Monday after New Years)

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  • Earth’s Rotation Day. “On 8 January 1851, using a device known as Foucault’s pendulum, Frenchman Léon Foucault demonstrated that the Earth rotates on its axis.”  Read entire article

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  • On this day in 1922, 14-year-old Leonard Thompson received the first insulin injection to help regulate his diabetes. Canadian scientists Banting and Best had isolated the hormone the year before – TCA, p. 33.

12

  • Today is the birthday of Jack London (born John Griffith Chaney in 1876). He wrote books about adventure and courage like White Fang and Call of the Wild (two books I loved as a kid). He said: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

13

  • Stephen Foster Day. Stephen Foster, musician and song-writer (“O Susanna,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Old Folks at Home” and many others) is sometimes called the Father of American Music.  This year is the 150-year anniversary of his death (January 13, 1864).

14

  • How cold is it? On this day in 1733 Yeneseisk, Siberia recorded a temperature of −120 F. The air was so frigid that birds dropped frozen to the ground and smoke couldn’t rise – TCA, p. 39.

15

  • The first Super Bowl game was played on this day in 1967.

16

  • Full Moon
  • Religious Freedom Day. The Ordinance of Religious Freedom passed the Virginia Legislature on this day in 1786 (TCA p. 42).

17

  • U.S., British, and Saudi air raids on Iraq started the Gulf War in 1991.

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  • Winnie the Pooh Day – A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh and other children’s books was born on this day in 1882. He said: “Almost anyone can be an author; the difficult business is to actually collect money from this state of being” – TCA p. 47.
  • Thesaurus Day – Peter Mark Roget was born on this day in 1779. His claim to fame was the 1852  publication of the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (Roget’s Thesaurus).

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  • French painter Paul Cezanne was born on this day (in Aix-en-Provence, 175 years ago, in 1839).

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  • 81-year-old Myles Coverdale died on this day in 1569. In 1535 he printed the first complete  English Bible, called the Coverdale Bible.

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  • The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) broadcast its first programming from London to the world on this day in 1929 – TCA p. 53.

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  • The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade, legalizing abortion from the moment of conception until just before the moment of birth, was rendered on this day in 1973 – TCA, p. 54.

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  • The Russian city St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad on this day in 1924. After the fall of communism, it was renamed St. Petersburg.
  • Sir Winston Churchill died on this day in 1965 at the age of 90.

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  • Robbie Burns Day – Robert Burns, the Scottish National Poet, was born on this day in 1759.
  • On this day in 1915 Alexander Graham Bell inaugurated transcontinental telephone service.
  • This day is the 90th Anniversary of the beginning of the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, 1924.

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  • The Soviet Red Army liberated the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz on this day in 1945.

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  • I make a birthday cake for someone special at my house on this day!

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30

  • New Moon
  • On this day in 1939 Adolf Hitler called for the extermination of European Jews.

31

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Sources and links to check out for more days:

God In My Everything (review)

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God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy GodGod in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God by Ken Shigematsu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s always a good sign when an author’s book comes from the requests of readers or hearers to learn more. That’s part of the tale of Ken Shigetmatsu’s book God In My Everything. I’m sure he never imagined, that Sunday morning he filled in for a no-show visiting speaker at his Vancouver church with the unrehearsed explanation of how he orders his life, a full-length self-help volume in the Christian Life / Personal Growth department would be the result.

His system of life rules began way before that, however, when he accompanied his friend and mentor Leighton Ford on a 10-day pilgrimage to Ireland. On that trip he visited the Glendalough Monastery and learned about the disciplines these early Christian monks practiced. Shigematsu was impressed with their practical faith that permeated every hour of the day and every task of life. He came away with the question:

“Is it possible to follow the monastic way, enjoying God in every area of my life while immersed in the busy routines of modern life?” (p. 17).

God In My Everything: How An Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God answers that question with a resounding “Yes.”

Shigematsu begins by envisioning a spiritual ecosystem. He pictures it as a trellis. The three up-and-down slats (Roots) are Sabbath, Prayer, and Sacred Reading. They are our means of relating to God. The cross-pieces are three planks that address three aspects of our lives with each other. The Relate plank includes Friendship, Sexuality, and Family. The Restore plank addresses Body, Play, and Money. The Reach Out plank concerns itself with Work, Justice, and Wisdom. These trellis items then become the structure of the book.

In a total of fifteen chapters Shigematsu delves into each subject, laying out for us how the monks handled each aspect of life, describing how they challenge us as moderns, and explaining the life rule he has come to for himself. An appendix section at the book’s end lists his rules along with life rules of six other people, so we get a good idea of how this looks. A sampling:

Ken’s Rule
– Take a 24-hour Sabbath once a week.
– Begin each day with Scripture and prayer.
– Pray the Examen before going to sleep at night.
– Run 2-3x a week, swim 2x a week.
– Aim to be home by 5:15 p.m. each day, and to be home at least 4 evenings a week… etc.” p. 220.

Each chapter concludes with two items: a list of questions for discussion, and an empty page which readers are invited to use to create their own rule.

There’s much to learn and apply in this well-written and engaging book. Some things I especially appreciated were:

Shigematsu’s emphasis on creating bendable rules, i.e. rules that change as life situations change. He relates how his life rule in some departments changed when he got married and changed again when his son was born.

I liked the way this book addresses every aspect of life.

I really liked the chapter on sharing faith (Chapter 15 “Sharing the Presence”) with its helpful four-sided pyramid graphic made up of word, sign, life, and deed (adopted from Bryant Myers, a former president of World Vision International). Shigematsu explains:

“Depending on the context and leading of the Holy Spirit, you might choose a particular side of the gospel to lead with and, as opportunity allows, progress to sharing all ‘sides’ of the gospel. The ideal is to eventually share the gospel as an organic whole that encompasses life, deed, sign, and word” p. 204.

(Shigematsu explains “life” as character, “deed” as a specific act of kindness or help, “sign” as a miracle or unexplainable coincidence that God brings about; it could be one that you share from your life or one that the person you are talking to experiences, and “word” as the gospel message from the Bible.)

Some readers may have concerns with the Catholic origins of Shigematsu’s system and may stumble over some of the practices he endorses (for example lectio divina – pp. 71, 72 and Examen – pp. 160, 220). I personally did not sense any slippage from Protestant orthodoxy in his teaching, only a search for and acceptance of helpful truth wherever it is to be found, in the spirit of the proverb “All truth is God’s truth.”

For a helpful book on how to order your life in a hectic age, keeping God at its center, Ken Shigematsus’s God In My Everything is an excellent choice.

I received this book from the publisher as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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Why We’re Not Emergent (review)

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Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)Why We’re Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few weeks ago I agreed to read a soon-to-be-released book about children’s ministry with a view to reviewing it for a print magazine I write for from time to time.

Silly me, I didn’t check out the authors or do any background research on the book before signing up for the assignment. If I had, I don’t think I would have gone ahead with it. For, when the book arrived, even reading the introductory stuff showed me that I’d got myself into a potential controversy. This was a book on children’s ministry, not for the type of church I attend but for the emergent, postmodern church.

I have rarely read a book with such close attention, underlining, highlighting, and writing in the margins. It turns out the book has many good ideas. But, as I feared (from the little I had read  about the emergent church), they are anchored in, what seems to me, some strange and shaky theology.

That brief foray into the beliefs of the emergent church left me with many unanswered questions, questions like: What do postmodern Christians believe about Jesus and the reason for and meaning of His death? Do they believe in original sin? What about life hereafter? Hell?  Why are they so critical of the modern evangelical church? What is the significance of their emphasis on the Kingdom of God? And more.

Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck was a great resource in beginning to answer my questions.. In eleven chapters DeYoung and Kluck tag-team their way through the maze that is the Christian postmodern (emergent, emerging) belief system.

It’s tricky in that it comes from no one spokesperson but a network of people across denominations who endorse each others books, interview each other, and seem to be generally affiliated.

DeYoung is definitely the heavy hitter of the two authors. Using examples from the writings of prominent emergents such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Spencer Burke, Leonard Sweet, Doug Pagitt and more, he ferrets out the emergent position. With his gifts for analysis and logic he exposes it as: against formal doctrinal statements; for questions, doubts and uncertainty; super-critical of the modern evangelical church; controversial concerning Jesus especially regarding the significance of His death and resurrection; almost completely silent on what happens after we die, and more. As a Reformed pastor he has a rich and broad-based knowledge of the Bible and church history, and is able to compare the teaching of postmodern Christianity to what the Bible says and previous theological movements.

Kluck is the color commentator of the two. His chapters consist of vignettes of his experiences, visiting an emergent church, interviewing apologist D. A. Carson, attending the funeral of an old saint etc. They give us a break from the DeYoung’s heavy braininess and do a little showing versus telling.

Here are a few quotes that give a flavour of some of the conclusions DeYoung comes to (of course where needed he cites footnotes for statements like the below, and examines and explains the ideas at length):

Postmodernity: “The postmodern Way, as Leonard Sweet puts it so candidly, is an experience. The journey is more wandering than directional, more action than belief, more ambiguous than defined” – Kindle Location 417.

Propositions: “Few things are so universally criticized in the emerging church than propositions” – K.L. 1033.

Theology: “The task of theology in the emergent model is to express communal beliefs and values, to set forth that community’s particular ‘web of significance,’ and ‘matrix of meaning’” – K.L. 1161.

Kingdom of God: “For those in the emerging church, Jesus’ message of the kingdom is a manifesto about God’s plan for humanity here and now. It is the secret, and subversive announcement that God is working out His plan for peace, justice, and compassion on earth …. Joining the kingdom is not a move in status (i.e. from unsaved to saved) but a move in practice” – K.L. 2847.

Atonement: “So the atonement did not accomplish anything on our behalf. God’s attitude toward us didn’t change. Jesus simply enacted and represented the forgiveness that was already in the heart of God” – K.L. 3037.

Hell: “…hell is just one imagery among many to describe the negative consequences of rejecting God’s way” – K.L. 3075.

If, up till now, you’ve only heard about the emergent church or skimmed the surface of what its champions believe and teach, DeYoung and Kluck’s book will take you deeper.

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August prompt: rain

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Rain on roses in June

Raindrops on roses – in June

Here in the Lower Mainland of B.C. we haven’t had a drop of rain for all of July. This is a record for the first calendar month ever without any rain recorded at the Vancouver weather station!

By now lawns that aren’t watered are looking brown and thirsty. Forest fires are a very real threat due to the tinder-dry conditions. Still most local weather forecasters echo the bias of sun-lovers saying, when predicting showers, “Our luck has run out,” or “Not a great forecast,” even after such a long dry spell! That’s testimony, I guess, to how rain is no novelty   around here.

The Bible’s first mention of rain is not a happy one. The forty-day rain that  flooded the earth resulted in mass destruction of land and people. Only Noah and his family survived that flood – Genesis 7 & 8.

Noah's Ark - artist unknown

Noah’s Ark – Artist unknown

Most of the time, though, Bible writers view rain as a blessing. No doubt their views were influenced by rain’s scarcity in the Middle East. And so its coming is usually reason for celebration.

God is generally credited with sending rain (Job 5:10; Psalm 65:10; Amos 5:8). And He sends it indiscriminately on good and bad alike (Matthew 5:45).

Moses, when talking about Canaan describes it as “…a land … which drinks water from the rain of heaven” (Deuteronomy 11:11) and calls rain one of God’s “good treasures” (Deuteronomy 28:12).

Rain is also used as a symbol in the Bible.

  • Isaiah describes the way the rain and snow fall from heaven and water the earth as a picture of the way God’s word goes across the world accomplishing spiritual purposes (Isaiah 55:10,11).
House of Sand - Gutenberg project

House Built On Sand – Gutenberg project

  • The prophet Joel equates the predictability of the rainy season with how faithful God will be to restore His people from waywardness and spiritual drought when they repent and return to Him (Joel 2:23).
  • In one of Jesus’ stories rain serves as a test to show the foundational integrity of two houses—one built on sand, the other on rock. It’s a parable that pictures how important it is to build our lives on truth (Matthew 7:24-28).

What does the mention of rain conjure in your mind? Perhaps you experienced the spring floods in western Canada this year and rain has become a symbol of terror and destruction. Or maybe your experience is of a dry climate where rain is welcomed with dancing and celebration.

This month, I invite you to write about rain.

You might want to create a fictional piece where where rain plays a haunting part in the setting (like W. Somerset Maugham did in the short story “Rain”).

Maybe you’ll write about your feelings for or against rain, or what rain symbolizes to you physically, emotionally, or spiritually in a poem.

Or you might want to write about a true life experience when rain saved—or wrecked—the day.

pit, pit, pit, pat, pat, pit, pat…

No, that’s not rain. It’s the sound of my fingers on the keyboard, dancing up some literary rain!

July prompt: flowers

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Jesus, teaching about flowers - Artist unknown

Jesus, teaching about flowers – Artist unknown

It’s July and the season of flowers where I live. One look through my photo collection will show you how much I like them (maybe it’s because I’m named after a flower!).

Not many flowers are mentioned in the Bible, though, but there are a few.. For example:

  • The shape of almond blossoms was to be part of the decoration hammered into the golden lampstand of the tabernacle – Exodus 25:31-36.
  • Grape blossoms and pomegranate buds are part of the sensuous imagery of the Song of Solomon – Song of Solomon 7:12.
  • Mallow and broom are mentioned in Job 30:4.
  • Several Bible writers mention the flower of the grass  and flower of the field as reminders of how brief and fragile our life is (1 Peter 1:24-25; James 1:10-11).
  • And finally, we have the lily. Lots of lilies:

– The lily shape was to be the inspiration of the design of the Sea (a huge ceremonial basin that was part of the temple furnishings – 2 Chronicles 4:5).
– A scented lily, dripping “liquid myrrh” was the image the Shulamite used of her beloved (Song of Solomon 5:13).
– A growing lily was the example Hosea used of what Israel would be like after returning to God from her backsliding (Hosea 14:5).
– Jesus referred to lilies as examples of life lived completely free of self-care and dependent on God’s care (Matthew 6:28-30; Luke 12:27-28).

This month let flowers prompt your writing.

Perhaps your main character will be named after a flower, or your story will be set in a garden. That doesn’t mean it has to be a story of sweet innocence. Lots of nefarious things can happen with only flowers looking on.

Perhaps your essay will tell of flower-growing memories, or of how your black thumb makes you feel snubbed by flowers.

Perhaps your poem will take its inspiration from a specific flower becoming an ode to that flower, will make that flower iconic of other things,  or will expand on a flower painting or photograph.

Let the flowers of the Bible and July inspire you and your writing. Happy blooming!

(Check out my Pinterest board of Bible flowers)

Joni & Ken (review)

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Joni & Ken: An Untold Love StoryJoni & Ken: An Untold Love Story by Ken Tada

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joni & Ken is the story of the relationship of Joni Eareckson Tada, the famous author, quadriplegic, and champion of the disabled, and her husband of 30 years, Ken Tada. Based on primary documents (articles, messages, blogs, interview, emails, radio transcript, out-of-print books of Joni’s are all listed in the “Acknowledgments” chapter) the story is told in third person, orchestrated by co-author Larry Libby. The telling goes back and forth between Ken’s and Joni’s points of view, making us privy to aspects of the events that the other person would not necessarily have been aware of at the time they happened.

The book skips around a bit chronologically but there’s no danger of confusion because each section is dated. The ten chapters deal with different periods in Joni and Ken’s relationship, and are titled descriptively (e.g. “At the Altar,” “The Testing Years,” “Reflecting on the Journey”). There is a middle section of colored photos.

This is a frank and touching love story. It shows this public couple who, from outward appearances may seem to live above the fray, to be human, vulnerable, brave, and above all committed and obedient Christ-followers.

The challenges Ken faced in caring for his quadriplegic wife while teaching school full-time (though he had help), are not glossed over. In the course of the book we see both him and Joni grow in maturity and love for each other.

The way Joni handled her quadriplegia, combined with her continuing siege of excruciating pain, then topped with a fight against cancer had me speechless. I’m glad God knows what He’s doing with lives that seem so unfairly burdened with tragedy. However through it all Joni is a glowing testimony first to Ken, and then to those whose lives she touches personally, in ministry, and now as readers of this book, of God’s sufficient grace.

Ken was a rock. Even through the hardest times, he was determined to keep his marriage vow. The part of the story that tells of his deepening relationship with God and how his heightened spiritual sensitivity became crucial during Joni’s fight against cancer is a heads-up to all of us. We never know when the next trial will come. If we press into God during the ordinary times (though I don’t know if you could label any of this couple’s experiences ‘ordinary’), He will prepare us for the challenges beyond.

Joni & Ken is not only an interesting and well-told story but a great unofficial guidebook for any couple. Let me leave you with some wise words from Joni herself:

“Thirty years have passed since Ken and I began our journey together, and God has used every trial—every hurt and heartache—to entwine us far more intimately than we ever dreamed on the day we married.

… nowhere else—and with no one else—will you have quite the chance to experience union with Christ than through a heard-fought-for, hard-won union with your spouse.

… If I were sitting next to you … I would say ‘Oh, please pray for your partner.’”

… It’s trials that really press you into the breast of your Savior” – Joni & Ken, pp. 177-179.

I received this book as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Reimagine Your Retirement (review)

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Reimagine Your Retirement: How to Live Life to Its Fullest and Leave a Lasting LegacyReimagine Your Retirement: How to Live Life to Its Fullest and Leave a Lasting Legacy by Joyce y Li

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you view your retirement? As a time of relaxation and indulgence? As a dreaded time of uselessness and idleness? Or as an opportunity to rediscover your passions and live them out in the years you have left?

In Reimagine Your Retirement: How to Live Life to its Fullest and Leave a Lasting Legacy, author Joyce Y. Li challenges new and soon-to-be retiring members of the baby boomer generation to tackle this phase of life with reflection and intention.

Parts One and Two of the book (“Recognize the Many Possibilities” and “Living Your Best”) provide a background to help readers consider what retirement means in North American culture, how the process of aging impacts one’s latter years, and why it’s important to approach this time with a plan.

Part Three (“Discovering Yourself”) discusses the Bible’s view of life in general and old age in particular. It includes numerous self-tests designed to help readers discover their gifts, strengths, and interests with a view to setting a course and defining goals that will give meaning and purpose to retirement years.

Parts Four and Five (“Vision and Calling” and “Put Legs to Your Plan”) lay out an action plan that challenges readers to visualize the future they want, put it into words as a mission statement, and live it out.

Li’s experience as an event planner comes through in this logically organized how-to book. She bases her findings not only on her own experience but also on the expertise of others and includes many studies and research results. Real life examples add interest and show us that retirement can be the exciting, meaningful climax of a well-lived life. Her Christian outlook focuses the reader’s attention on what will matter for eternity and is buttressed by many Bible verses and motivational quotes.

Though I read the book quickly, it contains much that invites rereading and further thought. Readers who answer all the questionnaires and complete all the analyses will come away with invaluable self-knowledge and a blueprint for going forward, designed to give direction and focus to the remaining years of life. Li’s methods will be especially attractive to the retiree who has a good amount of health, drive, and energy.

Reimagining Your Retirement would be a great read for people preparing for, or in the early stages of retirement. I can also see younger folks benefiting from its wisdom and practical advice. All in all it’s a powerful and convincing debut work authored by someone I’m sure we will hear from again.

Book trailer for Reimagine Your Retirement

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