2020 Emmy Voting

This year has affected a lot of us, health-wise, financially, socially, and politically. For me, my plans and ideas to promote my new novel have been disrupted, as well as my hopes to have a few more exploratory road trips. However, I know that I have still been in a better position than many others on this planet. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, I have been more aware of how much this year has affected the entertainment industry, upending television production for new broadcast and streaming shows during a time when people are looking for comfort in isolation. It also slightly affected the process and timeline for the nomination and voting for the 2020 Emmy Awards. The announcement of this year’s official nominations came out in late July and the online viewing platform for the nominated programs opened up in mid-August, creating a tighter timeline for viewing and voting, since the voting deadline was August 31. The rules for voting require Academy members to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. In the end, I had time to view and vote for the top four categories.

In the Outstanding Television Movie category, there were five nominees this year, all of them basically within the 90 minute to 2 hour range that I feel fit within a standard television movie length. HBO’s only nominee was Bad Education, a historical drama based on the true story of an embezzlement scandal of taxpayer money in a Long Island school system in the early 2000s. The other four nominees were all from Netflix with two of the nominees being post series wrap-ups, with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie providing a rough escape thriller from the AMC drama series, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend providing the comedy series with a comic wedding and rescue fun ending. Netflix’s third nominee, Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones, was another country-style heart-tugger in the same style of previous Dolly Parton network special stories. The final Netflix nominee, American Son, was an interesting adaption of a play which takes place in one location in a basically extended single scene, a police station waiting area late at night where a recently separated mixed race couple is desperate to find out about the event in which their eighteen-year-old son was involved during a police interaction. Even as the agonizing argumentative interaction between the characters and eventual surprising unveiling of truth provide a much more complex grey perspective, the story’s theme still touches on the current social conflict on policing and race, which encouraged me to give this nominee my vote.

The Outstanding Limited Series category also had five nominees this year from Hulu, Netflix, FX Networks, and HBO. The two Netflix series both centered on a young woman within an unequal power situation. In Unbelievable, a young teenage girl is unfairly pressured by police and friends to admit that her claim of being raped was a lie. In Unorthodox, a young woman seeks to escape the Hassidic Jewish culture and a forced marriage in New York City, secretly flying off to Berlin. In both series, the thematic perspective is subtly presented. In Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere, the complex perspectives of trying to resolve racial and wealth inequality subtly powers the story line. In a more historical tale, FX Networks’ Mrs. America delves into Phyllis Schlafly and her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s. All four of these nominees have very important themes and issues behind their storylines, but HBO’s Watchmen with its DC comic universe background to present its racial and political conflict perspective more powerfully attracts its audience, encouraging me to give it my vote.

Eight nominees landed in the Outstanding Comedy Series category, but NBC’s The Good Place was the only broadcast network series to get a nomination, a continuing sign of the way that streaming era has upended the electronic video entertainment universe. Even more telling is this was the final season of The Good Place which gained this nomination. Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek was also nominated for its final season, while FX Networks’ What We Do In The Shadows also provided a boost to basic cable programming. HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Insecure demonstrated how premium cable programming seeks to produce comedy without sexual or language restrictions, making it edgier. Netflix’s Dead To Me and The Kominsky Method provided more balance to its comic storytelling, but once again, Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was still stronger in providing a more balanced positive view of comic perception, which is why it received my vote.

For the Outstanding Drama Series, there were also eight nominees, but only one was new to the nominee list, Disney+’s The Mandalorian, a series that impressively brought Star Wars action and thrills, even though each episode was only a half hour long. Dark themes continued to play within AMC’s Better Call Saul, BBC America’s Killing Eve, HBO’s Succession, and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, whereas Netflix’s three nominees found a little better balance: The Crown with its strong historical perspective, Ozark with a slightly lighter touch in its criminal theme, and Stranger Things which continued to maintain its sci-fi fantasy balance with its young protagonists in the retro 80s, even with its darker end to its third season. Stranger Things pulled in my vote for this year.

It has definitely been a trying time for the entertainment industry this year, so it will be interesting to see how my votes match up with my fellow Television Academy members this year, when the Primetime Emmy recipients are announced at a more pandemic virtual Emmy Awards Show airing on ABC, Sunday, September 20.

Update: It was an interesting pandemic awards ceremony on ABC, Sunday, September 20, with host Jimmy Kimmel standing alone in the main theater while nominees and other guests connected in from home or other locations, a most interesting virtual show. The awards for three of the categories I voted in were presented during this show, while another category award was presented on the last night of five Creative Emmy Awards shows, which aired on FXX on Saturday, September 19. The Outstanding Television Movie Emmy, presented during the Creative Emmy Awards show, went to Bad Education. During the main Emmy Awards Show, the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy went to Schitt’s Creek, and the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy went to Succession. The only Emmy Award winner that matched my vote was in the Outstanding Limited Series category, in which the Emmy went to Watchmen.

 

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Big Bend Road Trip during a Pandemic Time

Last year was a busy year, but also a frugal year as I held off taking a vacation road trip like in previous years. The major road trip that I postponed was a Midwest road trip around Lake Michigan in order to visit the two states I have never visited and the one state left in which I had only visited by changing planes in a major airport within the state. When I had created my initial plan for this trip, there was also two national parks included in the trip, but since then, a national lakeshore had been re-designated as a national park, adding it to the travel plan. I currently have this trip planned for the summer, but since I missed taking a trip last year, I decided to check out doing a quick spring break trip to another national park still on my list to visit, Big Bend National Park.

Five years ago, I had planned to visit Big Bend with five other national parks on a road trip from Los Angeles to Colorado, a trip I wrote about in an earlier post on my site. Unfortunately, Big Bend was just too far off the path for me to visit on my limited timeline, so it became an outlier for any potential future trips. When I considered adding a second trip for this year, I researched whether I could do a quick trip covering Big Bend with a visit to the Alamo in San Antonio and a quick tour of Louisiana, a state I had driven through once with no stops. However, it became obvious that it would take longer to travel to all three of these locations in just a week, so I pared down the trip to just Big Bend National Park. As a road trip, I determined that it would take two days to drive down to a location near the park, one day to visit the park, and two days to drive back home. In my planning, I noted the potential to stop in Roswell, New Mexico, to check out the UFO sites on my way down and to possibly visit Bandelier National Monument near Santa Fe, New Mexico, on my way back. However, as I looked to finalize my plans, the specter of the current COVID-19 outbreak began to rise up.

When spring break week arrived, the coronavirus information was just recommendations of social distancing. I considered that since I would be driving alone within my car and traveling to a more remote section of the country, I should be fine. I went online and discovered that motel options in Marathon, a small town nearest to Big Bend, were booked up, but I found a motel in another close-by town, Alpine, to the west that had a direct road connecting it to the western entrance to the park. I booked a room for the two nights, then booked a room in Roswell for a night on the way down to Alpine. The next morning, I took off.

I reached Roswell by late afternoon, which gave me time to check out the International UFO Museum in the downtown area. The admission price was inexpensive, and the museum was an interesting display of photos, artwork, and presentations in a large hallway. It didn’t take long to experience the displays, which were interesting, regardless of one’s opinions regarding extraterrestrial visitation. My motel also took advantage of the ET reputation, projecting a space alien welcoming all earthlings. I enjoyed my night, but woke up to find the area surrounded by fog. I wondered if I had uncovered an omen.

I drove south out of the fog and made it to Alpine by mid-afternoon. I was alerted by the motel manager about potential closures at Big Bend, so I went online to check the conditions of the park. All visitor centers were being closed, but the park entrances were still open. The next day, I headed down to Big Bend. When I got down to the entrance, I discovered that rangers were not manning the gates, meaning that my annual pass was unnecessary, as entry was now free for all visitors.

Mule Ears Formation, Big Bend NP

Mule Ears Formation, Big Bend NP

Big Bend was a wonderful southwest ecosystem of desert and mountains with flat areas of cacti and yucca around buttes and rock formations. My exploration took me down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to where the Rio Grande exits out of the St. Elena Canyon. It gave me a chance to walk down to the edge the Rio Grande and look across to the cliff wall on the Mexico side of the river. Viewing the park during the opening of spring proved to be a most comfortable time as the outside temperature was in the comfortable 70s, which is probably why this was the park’s prime visitation period, since people would want to avoid the desert hot days of summer. It was a good day to discover this bend region of Texas.

Rio Grande at St. Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP

Rio Grande at St. Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP

When I got back to my motel after my day in Big Bend, I stopped in for dinner at a nearby diner where I had enjoyed dinner and breakfast earlier before going into the park, only I noticed that now every other stool at the bar had been covered to create distancing between guests. Concern that the diner would have to close in a couple of days was prevalent between the cook and waitress. Back at the motel room, I went online and booked a room in Santa Fe for the next night. I drove up the next day and discovered that I was just one of a few guests in the Santa Fe hotel. The hotel had to close their small dining room and was supplying the booking’s promised morning breakfast as a grab and go bag. Restaurants in the city had already closed down per government distancing rules, forcing me to get dinner through a fast food drive-thru. I also discovered that nearby Bandelier National Monument was now closed, so this stop was now dropped from the trip. The next day as I finished the drive home, I discovered that gas station marts along the way had needed to close their public restrooms as visitors had been stealing soap. I also noticed attendants at the gas stations were taking time to go out and spray disinfectant cleaner onto the gas pumps. I made it home from a very enjoyable quickie road trip to deal with stay at home orders and depleted grocery shelves. I hope to survive this pandemic concern and get an opportunity to take my bigger Midwest road trip in the summer.

 

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2019 – A Year of Reviewing Indie Books

With the ringing in of the New Year, a calendar decade has ended and a new one has begun. Last year was a busy year for me, as I continued on in my position of president of my HOA board which dealt with many resignations during the year. At the same time, I completed my second novel and selected Outskirts Press to handle the self-publishing process. Disappeared and Found was officially published and released in November. In addition, the length of time that my first novel, Legacy Discovered, has been available as a solo published work has led to more decreasing connections with fellow indie authors on social media. It is probably for this reason that I only read and reviewed twelve indie books this past year. None of the books I read was rated at 5 stars, but most of them were rated at 4 stars, and only one had a rating of 2 stars. I enjoyed the group of books I read this year.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

My main method of selecting the books that I review come from the fellow indie authors who retweet my key tweets promoting my book, but last year two of the books I read were direct requests from two fellow indie authors asking me to be a beta reader for their new works. One of these works, Bump Time, was a start of a new series from Doug J Cooper, who wrote the marvelous 5 star four novel sci-fi Crystal series. When he informed me that the new series was a multi-universe time travel series, I warned him that I am tougher with time travel concepts. His plot was very innovative and imaginative, backed by his excellent writing skills, but I was not distracted enough to avoid seeing the basic time travel contradictions, so I gave it 4 stars. He did inform me that he will address the contradictions in the second book of the series.

The second book I was asked to beta read was from another indie author that I had provided high reviews for a couple of his previous books. However, this book was a different genre from the previous works, so he was publishing it under another name. I noted and commented on some plot issues in his suspense action thriller, issues that I found that he had addressed when I purchased the published version later. The hyper action in this political thriller does walk the line at times which is why I only gave it 4 stars, but it was still a very entertaining and suspenseful tale.

The other five books that received 4 stars from me included a post-WW1 historical fiction action thriller, a very graphic abusive relationship drama at the high school age level, a dark young adult horror tale, and two action detective mysteries with one having a psychic element. All were very engaging with only minor issues that held them back from the 5 star level.

Only one novel fell to a 2 star level in my opinion, as the sci-fi tale of a complicated relationship between a woman celebrity and a couple of males from an extraterrestrial alien refugee community on earth had just a few too many complex contradictions in the character mythos to overcome in the tightly written thriller.

The four works that landed in between with 3 stars dealt with an erotic romance thriller of Greek gods in modern day culture, a relationship road journey in the hippie generation 1970s, a serial murder mystery with a psychic consultant, and a very short 40 page novella of a prison drama that mainly plays out as an introduction to a potential series.

It was a light year of reading, but still a good year. I now have two self-published novels, and I hope readers feel they live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. If avid readers do check out Legacy Discovered and Disappeared and Found and decide to purchase and read either or both of them, I hope they decide to let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

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Disappeared and Found: A New Novel

Over seven years ago, I took a story idea and wrote my first novel, using the new process of self-publishing to put it out to reading community. Legacy Discovered received wonderful support from my friends and family, and generated a fair amount of good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. However, as an independently published work, it has been a tough road to market this work among the millions of books that have been self-published during this time. Yet, I will not give up in promoting this act of creativity, which is why a close friend recently challenged me to try again by writing a new book. Soon after his challenge, I was watching a couple of new episodes from two cable reality docuseries that I enjoy when I had a creative story idea that arose by the combination of these shows’ premises. I wrote up an outline, got input from several friends, and then started out writing a new fiction novel. This new creative journey is about to cross the finish line as independent self-publisher, Outskirts Press, is within days of releasing it for sale through available outlets. The new novel is called Disappeared and Found.

The story is about a young woman, Dorothy, who inadvertently discovers that parents that raised her could not be her biological parents, which leads her to overhear her father tell a neighbor about his fear of her finding out that she was adopted. Dorothy had already faced dealing with the death of the mother who had raise her several years back, so when she faces her father, he tells her that they kept the adoption a secret from her in order to keep her love toward them as real parents, especially as his wife dealt with the cancer that led to her death. Dorothy tries to deal with the confession, but she wants to understand why and who had put her up for adoption, so she reaches out on her own to a cable reality show whose hosts help adopted individuals and biological parents to reconnect. The DNA test the show has Dorothy take seems to match closely with another person in the database, a potentially biological brother close match. The host reaches out by phone to this brother match for confirmation. Yet the young man, Scott, who answers the phone tells the host shockingly that he did not have a sister who was put up for adoption, but rather his mother took his sister out for a walk nineteen years earlier and disappeared, a cold case that is still open. In fact, Scott had just finished an interview with another investigative reality show that focuses on mysterious missing person cases, and the potential break in the case energizes their current production, as well as the local and federal agencies involved. What is the truth about how a missing baby girl wound up being raised by another couple in another state, and what happened to the missing mother?

The story is a much more direct mystery, a genre that I have a long love for. Yet, I am also drawn to the inner conflicts over family and uncovered hidden lies that the main character, Dorothy, has to struggle through. As I wrote the story, I had to empathize deeply with the dark mixed feelings all of our characters were feeling, and I hope that readers can feel and work their way through these conflicts while uncovering the answers to the mystery in a satisfactory way. I hope readers are intrigued to read it and find an enjoyable read in the journey.

 

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2019 Emmy Voting

Wow, another year has passed, and voting for this year’s Emmy Awards has just ended. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, once again it was an honor for me to be able to vote in certain categories for the 2019 Emmy Awards for outstanding television programming. The online viewing site for the nominated programs opened up at the beginning of August, and online voting opened up during the last weeks of August, closing down on the last Thursday of August. The rules for voting require Academy members to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. Despite some HOA issues and a special project which I will be announcing shortly, this year I was able to set aside one week to view and vote for nominees for six categories.

In the Structured Reality Program category, there were six nominees of programs which provide an informed host or production to guide common folks or known celebrities on a specific issue or journey. Among the six, Antiques Roadshow on PBS is a standard bearer that has been airing for decades, although the last time I had actually seen an episode before this year, I recalled that the antique experts were set up in a single plain studio room to provide background and value to the antiques brought into the show. I was impressed, although not surprised, to see current technology provided a broader range of outdoor and indoor onsite background locations for the experts to interact with the antique owners. The two Netflix nominees, Queer Eye and Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, were focused on a home and personal life expert or group of experts providing assistance to an individual needing it. Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives featured a foodie expert introducing the viewing audience to fantastic small restaurants across the United States. ABC’s Shark Tank was presenting another season of hopeful startup entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to a small group of competing investors. However, TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are? featured a celebrity taking a journey to discover ancestry and history of the family tree. Even though the focus was on a known celebrity, the understanding of the history that was uncovered brought about a broader perspective to the viewing audience, which is why I voted for this nominee.

For the Outstanding Reality Competition category, five of the six nominees were re-nominations from last year’s list, The Amazing Race, American Ninja Warrior, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Top Chef, and The Voice. John Legend was a new competing judge and coach on The Voice this year, but this was the only variation among the five series from last year. The new nominee for this year was Netflix’s Nailed It!, which was more of a satirical cooking competition as the competitors were more incompetent with their cooking skills. In the end, The Amazing Race is still an admitted favorite of mine, providing a global cultural lesson and perspective to the viewing audience, and therefore receiving my vote.

For Outstanding Television Movie, there were only five nominees again this year, including another NetFlix Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch. At least this year, the Black Mirror episode was longer, coming closer to the hour and a half normal television movie length. The theme of Bandersnatch was more personally internal as an early 80s computer game programmer runs across several yes/no options in the course of a day and the viewer is shown in computer game style the consequences of both options in parallel time. Amazon Prime Video nominee, King Lear, was interesting in presenting Shakespeare’s tragedy in a modern setting; however, the dialogue is still from Shakespeare which doesn’t match with army tanks and urban alleys for the average viewer. HBO nabbed three nominees with Deadwood, My Dinner With Hervé, and Brexit. The one fictional nominee of the three, Deadwood, was a return to the HBO drama series with a dark Western genre flair in a late 1800s South Dakota town. The other two were non-fictional accounts, one about a reporter’s interview dinner and night with the Fantasy Island celeb days before he committed suicide, and the other a behind-the-scenes view of the opposing campaigns leading up to the British referendum on Great Britain exiting the EU. The personal celeb tragedy was dark and very introspective, but I was deeply intrigued by the historical lessons behind the rise of Brexit, which won my vote.

In the Outstanding Limited Series category, only one of the five nominees, HBO’s Sharp Objects, was adapted from fiction, as Amy Adams is a reporter who is sent back to her hometown to cover a murder case, while she has her own personal demons to deal with. The other four nominees are based on actual events. FX’s Fosse/Verdon delves into the historical life of classic power entertainment couple Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. HBO’s other nominee, Chernobyl, looks into what caused the nuclear disaster event and its consequences. Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora unveils the underpinnings that lead to a notorious prison escape. However, Netflix’s When They See Us, which was directed by Ava DuVernay, really affected me deeply with the actions of injustice and coercion towards a group of boys called The Central Park Five, which is why it got my vote.

For the Outstanding Comedy Series, only two of the seven nominees, HBO’s Barry and Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, are repeat nominees from last year, but this is only because the nominee with the most previous wins across all categories, Veep, took a year off last year. NBC’s The Good Place also has received a nomination in a previous year, but does not have a win. Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek has been around for a few seasons and has received comments that it should have been nominated in earlier years, but this season is the first time it has been nominated. The two new series that received nominations were Amazon Prime Video’s Fleabag and Netflix’s Russian Doll. Most of the nominees appear to try and find its comic elements in darker areas and characters, from Barry’s murder for hire main character seeking to become an actor and Veep’s backroom tales of political manipulations, to Fleabag’s non empathetic family members and Russian Doll’s main character’s foul language response to her odd time loop situation. I prefer a more balanced positive view of comic perception, which I find a bit more in the wacky characters of Schitt’s Creek and the odd redemptive purgatory of The Good Place, but is still stronger in the journey of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which received my vote again.

In the Outstanding Drama Series, only two of the eight nominees, HBO’s Game of Thrones and NBC’s This Is Us, are repeat nominees from last year, but AMC’s Better Call Saul has been nominated in a previous year. Even though two series, BBC America’s Killing Eve and Netflix’s Ozark has had nominations in specific categories in previous seasons, this is the first year they have received the main drama category. The last three nominees, Netflix’s Bodyguard, FX’s Pose, and HBO’s Succession, are in their first season, which makes their nominations impressive. However, many of these nominees work within a theme of competition between power characters. The acting in all of these series are powerful, but despite my past concern about the reality stretch of This Is Us, it was the one series this year that was more introspective with more empathetically normal characters, so it received my vote this year.

Last year, one of the nominees in the four categories for which I voted wound up winning the Emmy, so it will be interesting to see how well I match up with my fellow Television Academy members this year. The winners will be announced this year on Sunday, September 22 at the awards ceremony, airing 9pm ET on FOX.

Update: As announced at the 71st Emmy Awards that aired September 22 on Fox, the following Emmy Awards were presented: Structured Reality Program was awarded to Queer Eye, Reality Competition Program was awarded to RuPaul’s Drag Race, Outstanding Television Movie was awarded to Bandersnatch (Black Mirror), Outstanding Limited Series was awarded to Chernobyl, Outstanding Comedy Series was awarded to Fleabag, and Outstanding Drama Series was awarded to Game of Thrones. None of my votes matched with the eventual winners this year.

 

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The Politics of a Homeowners Association

This has been a most interesting year so far. I had planned on it being a low key year, and in some ways, it has been as I have had to postpone my scheduled road trip for this year to next year. However, my responsibilities have increased. I realize that it has been over seven months since I posted on my website blog, but in the opening paragraph of that previous post, I noted that an interesting event had occurred in the previous year, having the position of president of the board of my homeowners association being dropped into my lap. The responsibility has been an interesting learning curve.

The concept of a homeowners association can be varied due to the type and number of homes in a neighborhood where an association can be formed. A homeowners association formed among a group of single family homes on individual lots is more of a collective oversight of the general neighborhood with more individual responsibility of private property. However, when the homes are townhomes or condominiums sharing one or more buildings in the community, more responsibility is placed on the legally controlled association to maintain the community, and individual homeowners are required to provide a monthly fee to cover the oversight and maintenance of the shared areas of the community. A covenant limited board of owners from the full group of homeowners are formed to handle the oversight. When I lived in Los Angeles, I owned a townhome in a building of six units, a small number that basically put every owner on the board. Under this situation, our association was more like a tight knit clique that handled the management of our building simply on our own. Yet, my current townhome is one of over one hundred units spread within a small neighborhood community which requires a professional property management company to handle the maintenance of building exteriors, landscape areas, and roadways, as well as the enforcement of the rules from board decisions and oversight of the association founding covenants. Due to the small size of the community, being on the board as an elected representative of the community is basically a volunteer duty, mainly consisting of attending a once-a-month meeting to handle community decisions. However, good board members realize that the responsibility of members are not limited to just the monthly meeting.

Community issues rise up quite often, which require the property management company to seek input from the board members. Some property management companies try to respond to individual owner complaints and requests on their own with very little reporting back to the board members, but other property management companies seek to maintain transparency with the board by keeping them informed of the communications as they come in. The property management company in my association falls into the latter category, which helps the board make more informed decisions when needed. In a way, it also helps the board members to get to know their fellow owners and neighbors, especially in regards to their concerns and needs. It is amazing how this fast-paced digital-oriented modern society has disconnected people from others living next door within communities. However, it is also amazing how this disconnect has created separate perspectives that have formed splits in the views within the community, a smaller version of what is visible in the political discord within and between countries on a global scale. In my position on the board, I have a front row perspective of this subtle division.

The main issue is basically in trying to find and understand the balance, dividing line, and responsibilities between the individual and society. In our situation, the individual is the person, family, or other legal entity that purchased the defined unit within the group community. Under the concept of ownership, the individual should be free to make decisions on how to enjoy and benefit from the property purchased, but is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property. However, on the social concept of an association, the interconnection of the units and the common property which they all share put a group responsibility on the general maintenance of the buildings and land. The constant question is where the line between social and individual responsibility and ownership lie. Unfortunately, that line is not absolute, but individual perspectives always seek to find that absolute line.

The basic argument is mainly conformity versus individuality. On one side, exterior design should be standard throughout the neighborhood, whereas on the other side, an individual should be free to express themselves within the borders of their property. With townhome associations, since units are interconnected, it is understandable to have the association determine the general color and maintenance of the exterior walls, but it is amazing to see the argument regarding window design conformity. Windows are a pathway from exterior to interior, so the responsibility of maintenance and upgrading is left to the individual owner. However, since windows have an exterior side, there is a sense of design conformity that many feel the association has a right to impose on the individual owner, not just with frame color, but also with design style. Should an owner be forced to have side sliding windows over up and down sliding windows? For some, association conformity rules over individual choice, although for many, the association conformity usually must conform to their own personal view.

Another area of conflict is with landscaping. For one side, the association is there to handle plant and grass maintenance, so they have no reason to get involved with it unless the plants begin to die, which is when they send complaints to the association board about landscape contractor incompetence. However, the other side has an innate avid gardener persona that wants to create and maintain their own exterior garden area. These owners seek a space where individual flower and shrub design is created and controlled by their own views. Over-avid owners seek to impose their design views on common areas beyond their unit in order to assign their own sense of conformity throughout the community, regardless of the cost.

In the end, I see the role in which I have been placed as president of the homeowners association board is to fiscally find the best balance between these sides by listening and guiding owners to find a good level of individual freedom and social acceptance, but I am aware that this level will always change and it will never find full acceptance by all. Still, it is better than accepting one side over the other and encouraging division, something I see on a larger scale in this country and globally.

 

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2018 – A Year in Reviewing Indie Books

2019 is here, which means that I survived 2018. Last year was an interesting year. A rash of resignations on my HOA board led to me landing in the president position on the board, taking a bit more of my time. I also had fewer connects from fellow indie authors through my social media campaign. At the same time, I developed another idea for a new book that I outlined and have started to write. All of this led to a lower number of books that I read last year from previous years, only 21 novels and novellas. Going over my reviews for the year, the quality range was quite broad with most ranking at 4 stars, but an equal number of books hitting the high range of 5 stars to the number of books landing in the middle range of 3 stars. A couple of books landed at 3½ stars which stayed at that rank on LibraryThing, but rounded up into the 4 star range on GoodReads and Amazon. Then, there were three books that slid down to the 2 star range. It was an interesting mixture of reads over the past year.

Now to reiterate my review standards from the past years postings, I had to be open to all genres and not let a genre type affect the rating and review of a work. My focus was on whether the story was told well, the characters were relatable, the plot functional and understandable, and the pieces fit together. If I could follow an enjoyable tale while pushing aside the typos, grammatical errors, and historical or cultural anomalies, the book landed within the 3 star zone. If I could feel more emotional attachments to the characters and find myself drawn into the plot action with less distractions from errors, then the book was landing into the 4 star zone. When character and plot all came together nearly perfectly within the genre I was reading, and editing was well-done, it was a 5 star effort.

Of the four novels that landed in the top 5 star ratings, three of them were from two indie authors whose works I had previously reviewed. Doug J. Cooper’s Crystal Escape completed the four novel sci-fi series with the same level of storytelling as the first three, pushing me to gladly recommend the full series for sci-fi adventure fans. Western historical fiction expert John Rose Putnam’s Face of the Devil and Hang Billy Mulligan engaged me into the late nineteenth century historical adventure of the northern California gold rush days. The one 5 star novel from a new author was Beneath the Silver Rose by T.S. Adrian, which fully engaged the adventure of a medieval fantasy tale, even if it was adult-only erotica.

At the other end of the scale, the three novels that landed in the 2 star zone were basically stories that overplayed their hand, stretching plot devices and missing character connections, from a multi-year future history space fleet sci-fi tale to a couple of psychological horror stories, one with a seemingly unstoppable stalker and the other with a missing child case that upends a couple’s life.

In the 3 star range, three of the four novels were based in the sci-fi and medieval fantasy genres, showing some of the challenges in constructing a solid mythology to back up and support the plot and characters of these highly imaginative worlds, especially when erotic elements are added. The erotic element also interfered in the complicated love story of soulmates finding each other in the fourth 3 star novel. The two 3½ star novels take a step up in finding their base stories, one in a near-future zombie apocalyptic opening tale of a series and the other in an archeological high-adventure story.

The larger 4 star body of works I read had some very entertaining works, from a basic police mystery, a psychological drama of abuse, a sci-fi space flight fantasy adventure, and a graphic superhero team adventure to a family curse paranormal adventure, a 70’s English spy thriller, and a dramatic rebuilding of a shattered romance. The eighth 4 star work was actually a nonfiction how-to book for self-publishing, a book I bought directly from the author at a local book fair in Denver.

It was a good year of reading, and I hope that this year will be just as good. I will also be striving to complete this new dramatic mystery that will live up to the standards I have used to judge the works of my fellow indie authors. At the same time, I hope avid readers will check out the novels I read in 2018 and also check out my self-published novel, Legacy Discovered, and if they purchase and read it, let me know if they liked it and why through Amazon, Goodreads, and other book sharing sites. Good honest reviews are an indie author’s best friend.

My reviews can be found on my Goodreads Author page at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6491046.Kerry_Reis.

 

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2018 Emmy Voting

Another year has passed, and the voting has ended again. As a member of the Public Relations Peer Group of the Television Academy, I was once again honored to be able to vote in certain categories for the 2018 Emmy Awards for outstanding television programming. The online viewing site for the nominated programs opened up at the beginning of August, and online voting opened up during the last two full weeks of August, closing down on the final Monday of August. The rules for voting remained the same as last year. Academy members were required to view all nominees in a category before voting, but for series or limited series nominees, members only needed to view one episode of the six provided of each nominee in order to vote. Unfortunately, unexpected activity in my homeowners association and a couple of other projects in which I was involved kept me from being able to view nominees in as many categories as I did last year. I was restricted to voting in only four categories this year.

For the Outstanding Reality Competition category, the six nominees were the exact same nominees as last year, CBS’s The Amazing Race, NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, Lifetime’s Project Runway, VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bravo’s Top Chef, and NBC’s The Voice. Some of the nominees had some adjustments that demonstrated considered improvements. In Project Runway, the variation in the models’ sizes may have been a greater challenge to the aspiring designers, but it also showed a broader sense of diversity to the audience. In The Voice, the celebrity judges who compete with each other to get good aspiring singers to take them on as mentors in the competition were given an added button to block a fellow celebrity judge. In Top Chef, the competition took place in Colorado, my current home, and, in one episode, tested the aspiring chefs to create a tasty meal with a campfire on an overnight rugged camp-out. However, the basic concept of these reality competitions as well as RuPaul’s Drag Race focused on a specific skill, while American Ninja Warrior is a straight physical competition of speed, agility, and strength over an elevated obstacle course, but The Amazing Race, still an admitted favorite of mine, provides a global cultural lesson and perspective to the viewing audience, as they watch teams of two race around the world. My vote again went to The Amazing Race.

For Outstanding Television Movie, there were only five nominees, and like last year, one nominee still challenged my definition of a television movie. It was a new episode from the Netflix anthology series, Black Mirror, which focuses on futuristic stories centered within the digital universe. The nominated episode, USS Callister, about an inhibited corporate tech partner who generates digital genetic clones of his co-workers in a “Star Trek” like digital universe to gain superiority over them, was only a few minutes over an hour long, which does not meet my expectation for the length of a television movie. In fact, some of the Outstanding Drama Series episodes were longer than this movie nominee. In addition, unlike the uplifting twist of last year’s nominated Black Mirror episode, USS Callister was a basic good versus evil plot. Fellow HBO nominee, Fahrenheit 451, shares the sci-fi stage as an updated adaptation of the Ray Bradbury literary classic with a genetically digital climactic ending. The other three nominees find their basis connected to actual events. HBO’s The Tale, about a woman documentarian whose short story she wrote as a teenager is found by her mother and sent to her bringing up repressed memories of a sexual encounter with a mentor, begins with a disclaimer that the story is based on actual events experienced by the executive producer and creator of the film. HBO’s Paterno has Al Pacino portraying the famous Penn State head coach during the time when the sexual molestation scandal of his assistant coach reaches its zenith. Flint examines the Michigan city’s water crisis and the women advocates who uncovered the scandal and forced the city and state to take action. It was the positive story of advocacy that encouraged me to vote for Flint.

The Outstanding Comedy Series had eight nominees to view, but only four of the nominees were repeat nominees from last year. ABC’s Modern Family, the series I voted for last year, was not one of those four. The returning nominees were FX’s Atlanta, ABC’s black-ish, HBO’s Silicon Valley, and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Just like last year, Atlanta appeared to me to be more dramatic that comedic, despite its solid themes. The remaining four nominees all have a connection to the entertainment culture. HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s satirical series of Hollywood culture, may not have been nominated last year, but it has been nominated in previous years. HBO’s Barry, Netflix’s GLOW, and Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are new series, so it is an honor for them to be nominated in their premiere season. Barry, a series about a hitman who decides to join an acting class and change his career, and GLOW, a series on hopeful actresses who audition and become female wrestlers, also are based in the Hollywood culture. However, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, set in New York City in the late 50s, enthralled me with the hyper-active, take-care-of-everything young wife and mother out to help her husband become a star comic while raising their young children, who suddenly finds out that her husband was cheating on her when he walks out on them, which leads to her finding herself on a journey that shows she is the better comic talent than he ever was. I voted for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

In the Outstanding Drama Series category, five of the seven nominated series were repeat nominees from last year. However, the two nominees not on last year’s list were not new to Emmy nominations. In fact, one of these two nominees, HBO’s Game of Thrones, has been a constant nominee in past years and has the most nominations in all categories for this year. It was not nominated last year because it did not have a season last year, keeping fans guessing on which characters would survive for some time. Yet, the series hyper-power competition of fantasy medieval kingdoms is a bit too strong for me. FX’s The Americans, a series of a family of Russian spies living undercover in a Washington, DC suburb, had also been nominated in previous seasons and earned its nomination for its final season. The category’s repeat nominees were Netflix’s The Crown, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix’s Stranger Things, NBC’s This Is Us, and HBO’s Westworld. This Is Us continued its strong path of wrapping audiences within its emotional family drama twists, even if it pulled at reality in its way. The Crown still appealed with its historical foundation of the life of Queen Elizabeth. Both The Handmaid’s Tale and Westworld had turned darker in their second season, while Stranger Things still maintained its sci-fi fantasy balance in the retro 80s in its second season. I voted for the balance in Stranger Things.

Once again, my votes last year were not the eventual winners, but I still remain truthful and fair in my considerations. Maybe this year, one of my selections will wind up receiving the Emmy this year during the Primetime Emmy Awards telecast on September 17 at 8pm ET on NBC.

Update: As announced during the Emmy Awards that aired on NBC on Monday, September 17, one of the shows I voted for, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for Outstanding Comedy Series, did wind up receiving the Emmy. The other three shows I voted for did not wind up receiving the Emmy. RuPaul’s Drag Race received the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, Black Mirror: USS Callister received the Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, and Game of Thrones received the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. I applaud all of the recipients of this year’s Emmys.

 

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Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 4

Here it was the afternoon of the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend and the fifth day of my grand road tour of the Pacific Northwest in which I had experienced the perspective and wonder of four major national parks from Glacier NP in Montana to Washington’s diverse trio of North Cascades, Olympic, and Mount Rainier, but after I had exited Mount Rainier National Park, I had attempted to drive southward on a weather-beaten road to reach Mount St. Helens National Monument, a protected environment under the US Forest Service, which was created a few years after the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens in May of 1980 had decimated the surrounding area. However, twenty miles down this pot-holed, rocky, and gravel-roughed road, I was suddenly stopped by a sign and roadblock indicating the road beyond was still closed by winter snows. I pulled into a nearby campsite parking area and pulled out the printed computer itinerary I had created for the trip. Within the line details of the route, I noticed that I was supposed to take a southbound local road from another town to the west of the town where I had followed the road sign. The road I was on headed down the eastern side of Mount St. Helens, away from the western entrance where the informative visitor center was located. However, if I drove back up to the main road and tried to find this other unmarked local road, I realized I could find it difficult to stay on course. I could hear my friend’s voice in my head telling me that this is what a GPS app was for. Of course, I could take the main road back to Interstate 5, then drive south to the Mount St. Helens exit, then drive back east to the visitor center, but this would add a couple of hours, if not more, to the day, and it was already the mid-afternoon. I decided that I needed to pass up Mount St. Helens and move on. I had accomplished the main goal of checking off four national parks from my trip bucket list and the remainder of my itinerary was to visit a couple of national monuments on the way back to Colorado.

I put my car through the suffering of going back up the rough twenty miles to the main road and headed for Interstate 5. Once on Interstate 5, I headed south to Portland. I had thought it might be a good idea to drive through downtown Portland, but the earlier delays of the day made me decide to take the 205 bypass around Portland to connect with Interstate 84 and head east to the small town of Pendleton, where I had made my motel reservation.

The next day, Memorial Day, I got up early and headed back onto Interstate 84 towards Idaho. I had commented in part 2 of this multi-part blog post that this trip had another goal of upgrading Idaho on my bucket list. I had first visited Idaho in the spring of my first year of college when I had visited my birthplace of Burns, Oregon, and had taken the bus to Boise to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. This was before I had a decent camera to record my trips. About fifteen years ago, I had driven a half hour through a small corner of southeast Idaho on my way to Jackson, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park without stopping. On this current trip, I had driven through the upper Idaho panhandle between Montana and Washington, but I had stopped to eat dinner in a small Idaho town. Now, I was going to complete the upgrade by visiting the Craters of the Moon National Monument in eastern Idaho, taking pictures of a stark landscape.

Craters of the Moon National Monument is a small protected area of dark rocks, cone hills, and fissures along the Pioneer Mountains. To many, it may look like a stretch of moon landscape, which is how it received its name, but the landscape is really the result of past lava flows in a volcanic fissure. Its proximity to Yellowstone just to the east gave me a wonderful perspective of the volcanic activity lying below this fissure. I walked around a small trail and hiked up a nice black cone to get my pictures before driving on.

Paisley Cone, Craters of the Moon National Monument

I headed south into Utah to reach Brigham City where I had made my motel reservation. Brigham City is also next to an important historical location where east and west rails came together to form America’s first transcontinental railroad, bridging the two coasts. The final connection was done with a golden spike in a bold historical display. I had planned to make a quick stop to check it out. However, as I drove down to Brigham City, the clouds darkened overhead. Since it was getting late in the day, and I wasn’t sure how the site would look in the rain, I headed straight to the motel and checked in for the night. I figured that I would have a chance to slip over first thing in the morning before moving on. However, when I got up the next morning, the clouds were still around and threatening. I was glad to be near the important historical site, but I felt I could pass up this little side trip under the current weather conditions.

I was now on my way to my final stop before heading home, Dinosaur National Monument. The preserved environmental monument straddled over the Utah-Colorado border with most of the land being on the Colorado side. The park is mainly known for the dinosaur fossils that were discovered within the park, making it a very scientific perspective of archeology to explore, so I had planned the itinerary to visit the Colorado side on my way home. However, as I did my research on Dinosaur NM before starting the trip, I discovered that an important dinosaur gallery was on the Utah side, so I added the Utah entrance as well. Now, as I headed east on US 40 coming close to the Utah entrance, I was glad to see the dark clouds staying behind to the west. I turned onto a local road and headed up to the entrance.

I parked next to the visitor center and went in to explore. From the visitor center, a shuttle took me and other visitors up the hill to a building constructed against a quarry wall where loads of dinosaur fossils were visible within the rock. At one spot, visitors were allowed to actually feel the bones in the rock. When visitors were finished viewing the fossils and other exhibits, they had the option of taking the shuttle back or walking the outdoor trail down to the visitor center. Of course, I chose the trail which showed stretches of the geologic strata where the dinosaurs were found. Clam fossils were prevalent and a dinosaur backbone was visible on a rock wall along the way. When I reached the visitor center, I asked one of the park ranger about what fossils I would see on the Colorado side. I was surprised to discover that there were no fossils on display in Colorado. The park was mainly natural views of the canyon created by the Yampa River with recreational activities. Since there was no connecting road within the park, I would have to drive out to the main road, cross the border, and then drive back up to the Colorado entrance. I had thoroughly enjoyed the dinosaur perspective I had just immersed myself in, so I decided that I did not need to visit the Colorado side.

Dinosaur Fossils on Quarry Wall in Quarry Exhibit Hall, Dinosaur National Monument

I headed back through the Colorado Rockies on my way home. It was a glorious way to finish up this road trip. I had accomplished this trip in seven days and seen a lot to increase my perspective. It was a wonderful adventure to experience.

 

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Pacific Northwest Road Trip – Part 3

The first half of my Pacific Northwest road trip had already taken me to two mountain range national parks situated up against the US/Canadian border, from a quick zip into Glacier National Park in Montana to an open crossing through North Cascades National Park Complex in Washington. Now, I was on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, wondering if I should try to slip on a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula that had all of the advanced reservations booked into the afternoon or head back off the island and drive a couple of hours circling around through Seattle and come up into the peninsula from the south in order to visit one of the most diverse and popular national parks, Olympic NP. As I got up early at the motel on a Saturday morning, I decided that it would not take that much time to drive over to the ferry port and just check out my options.

The drive over to the ferry dock turned onto a two lane road that had very little traffic that early in the day. It appeared the port was coming up just to the left, but a center divider wall came up between the two lanes and a sign directed me to head straight for the ferry. About a mile up the road, a sign directed me into a roundabout that led me back to the entrance I had passed earlier. I drove up to the entrance gate and asked the attendant about the possibilities of reservation cancellations, and he informed me that even if I didn’t get on the first ferry, I would probably make the second. I paid and was directed to a center-right lane in the port waiting area behind a couple of cars. As I sat and waited in my car, I noticed more and more cars coming in and lining up in the lanes to the left of me, starting with the farthest left lane. The two farthest right lanes filled up with long vehicles. I suddenly realized that the roundabout spur was to handle a backup of vehicles that usually occurred at the entrance gate. After the ferry arrived and the vehicles in the left and far right lanes had loaded on, there was room for the cars in my lane to board as well. As I discovered, not all of the available space was covered by advance reservation, as the ferry had to leave some space for last minute arrivals. Going early put me in that last minute available space. I got out of the car and went to the top deck to take pictures of the trip over Puget Sound.

View of Puget Sound lighthouse from Port Townsend ferry

Once I drove off the ferry in Port Townsend, I headed straight for Port Angeles, the closest entrance to Olympic National Park. The park covers most of the Olympic Peninsula and is encircled by US 101. The size and diversity of the park is the reason I dedicated this day to just exploring the park at many entrances. I drove to US 101 and turned toward Port Angeles. When I arrived, I stopped at the park’s main visitor center to grab an information pamphlet and check out the gift shop. It was madness inside the center as Memorial Day visitors were lining up for hiking and camping passes, but since I didn’t need a pass, I got out of there quickly with my pamphlet and a deck of cards. Then, I headed into the park toward the Hurricane Ridge overlook, only I did not get too far. About a mile into the park, I suddenly came to the end of a line of cars waiting to move forward. Knowing that my main interest was in the rain forests on the western side and checking the pamphlet, I decided to skip the mountain ridge area and turn back. When I got back to Port Angeles, I went west on US 101 and continued around the park. US 101 entered the park boundary around the northwest corner next to Lake Crescent, where I was able to stop on a couple of overlooks and take pictures of the lake. I drove on as US 101 turned south and traveled along the western side of the park. As soon as I saw the sign to the road to the Hoh Rain Forest entrance, I turned and headed for the prime attraction of Olympic National Park. Suddenly, as I was getting close to the entrance gate, I found myself stopped in another line of cars. The line wasn’t as long as Hurricane Ridge line, but it was not moving. It turned out that the parking area was full, and the park ranger at the entrance gate could not let a car through until a car left the parking area. It took about 45 minutes before I was able to enter through the gate, but in a bit of karma, the open parking space waiting for me was the first one next to the visitor center.

Once I had made my stop at the visitor center, I went out on the short circular Hall of Mosses Trail within the forest. Olympic National Park protects the northernmost rain forests on the planet. The yearly rainfall and high humidity, even in the cooler latitude, created a forest with colorfully green ponds along the roots and hearty mosses draped over limbs. It was a relaxing beautiful hike, and I came to respect the luscious environment. One of my Facebook friends commented on my posting about visiting Olympic NP that I needed to plan more than one day there, and I could see why, but I took in what I could in the time I was there. After I completed my hike, I drove out of the rain forest, giving my parking space to the next person in line at the gate, and headed back to US 101. I had planned to slip into another rain forest entrance in the southwest corner of the park, but as I drove along US 101 up against the Pacific coastline, signs quickly informed me of something that was not evident on general maps, that much of the coastline, even though separate from the main park, was a part of Olympic National Park. I stopped at an overlook parking area at Ruby Beach and headed over to enjoy the northern Pacific coastline, another facet of the diversity of this national park. It was getting late in the day, and I realized that I didn’t need to see the other rain forest, so I headed onward to my motel in Olympia-Tumwater.

Lake Crescent, Hoh Rainforest, and Ruby Beach montage from Olympic National Park

My next day plan was to drive down on Interstate 5, then exit east to Washington’s third national park, Mount Rainier. When I had planned my itinerary, it seemed from the computer map that the southeast entrance would provide me the better views of the epic peak, so I planned to enter on that side and take in the view, then head back out and take a local road down to visit Mount St. Helens National Monument. Now, as I drove east, I passed by the road to the southwest entrance, then further passed by a sign next to a road directing me to Mount St. Helens, until I reached and turned north to the southeast entrance. After I had entered the southeast entrance gate with another car, I checked the information pamphlet I had been given and discovered that there was a road traversing the south side of the park between the two entrances. It was a no-brainer to just travel through the park on this road, observing more of the majestic views of Mount Rainier, then circle back to the road to Mount St. Helens. The views were majestic, including the visitor center midway through where visitors still had a small snow slope to sled under the view of Mount Rainier. I was impressed. I took my pictures, then headed west for the southwest entrance. I soon discovered that my decision to go to the southeast corner was sheer genius, as I passed several miles of cars waiting to enter the southwest gate on my way out.

View at Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, Mount Rainier National Park

I circled back to the sign directing me towards Mount St. Helens NM, then turned down the road south. The road had suffered severe winter damage and was full of cracks, potholes, and rough gravel. I suffered over this road for twenty miles, until I came to a sign stating that the road was closed at this point due to remaining winter snows. There was only one way to go, back over the same rocky road for twenty miles.

To be continued…

 

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