May 9, 2014

Profiles in Vigilante Living: When in Doubt, Move to France

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Entrepreneur Jennifer Hill, today’s featured Profile in Vigilante Living, looks like an international Bond girl but is actually a JD/MBA who’d crush 007 in any meeting of the minds. In short, Ms. Hill is as capable as she is gorgeous. She is also a sucker for Europe. So it did not surprise me when this New Yorker ditched her high-powered legal career to launch the language startup www.sixtyvocab.com. Sixty Vocab (named by Forbes as “One of the Top 5 Startups to Watch in 2014”) is a smart new online (soon-to-be-mobile) foreign language vocab building tool that gives flashcards a facelift to get users conversational faster. The site is already hot in education, volun-tourism, and with travelers. And who do you suppose is walking the walk, living in Strasbourg, speaking French, while she builds this business? Oh yes she is.

As capable & skilled as Jennifer Hill is, one might expect this working mother who (1) just launched a startup, and (2) whose New York City condo is being gutted (3) all while she is pregnant to be a wee bit daunted by the amount on her plate. Hell no! Why? She moved to Strasbourg in the middle of all the flux: “I wanted to change everything at once,” explained Jennifer. “Work, house, commitments .” “So…. we moved to France!” The family took a flat in Strasbourg temporarily, and employing the flexibility of the internet, Jennifer manages her duties as Co-Founder and CEO and keeps tabs of the remodel all from her computer overlooking a sunny courtyard outside her Strasbourg home office whilst her son plays and learns French. “The goal was to reduce stress while I was pregnant,” Jennifer says, “so getting out of New York, and my day-job, pursuing my dreams, and not micro-managing the remodel was how we solved for that. I know, it’s counter intuitive!”

Everyone who remodels says to not live through the experience. But they don’t usually suggest leaving the country. How Vigilante is that? LEAVE the country while your contractor rebuilds your home. “It forced me not to monitor the project too closely and choose a contractor who was communicative and savvy with technology.” Jennifer explains. “Leaving everything created more focus. My husband and I are each living out of a single suitcase. Life is so much simpler! I look better every day because I brought only a few nice things.” It’s a lesson in editing: living with less can make you happier. Letting go of control can keep you more focused. Less is more.

And France, as it turns out, is a perfect place for Jennifer to be more focused. Away from her positions on tech company and non-profit Advisory Boards in New York, and a bustling social life, it’s a more serene existence. She walks to the local Strasbourg markets, takes her son to neighborhood parks, and sits in cafes admiring the historic architecture. There was more to be gained by letting go and gaining some perspective. “I’m building my company and using the product every day. I’m trusting that our home will be done in time, and just savoring these moments with my son. I have a sitter and work when he sleeps. “You can change your life!” says Jennifer. ” Press a button and you can have a whole new life.” Sometimes we forget that we are capable of dramatic change. Thanks for reminding us, Jennifer, to let go a little and have an adventure. A very Vigilante notion, non?

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Jennifer co-founded Sixty Vocab in 2013. One year later, Forbes named it “one of the top 5 start-ups to watch in 2014.”

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France agrees with her, non?

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A selfie with her son this winter in Strasbourg.

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Cafe Berlin

Cafe Berlin, a favorite spot in Jennifer’s new adopted city.

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Minimalist living in their Strasbourg flat. Roaming toehead toddler at bottom.

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Cafe life.

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Strasbourg Bateax Mouche

 


April 9, 2014

Profiles in Vigilante Living: Jeff Atkinson of Shaggo Skateboards

Jeff Atkinson_PVLPlace in a blender: a skateboard, 1970s shag carpet, color-saturated Pantone color, and the grit of a former Olympian. Blend until the you’ve created the most Vigilante sports company in recent memory, Shaggo Skateboards, the world’s first shag carpet-embedded deck mini-cruiser. Today in Profiles in Vigilante Living, we feature Jeff Atkinson, whose company Shaggo offers a funky, unconventional take on a traditional skateboard. I personally have not ridden one yet, but I’m tempted to buy one to just hang in my living room — Shaggo boards look like the love child of Eva Hesse and Stacy Peralta. Jeff himself is a Stanford-educated former Olympic runner (Seoul 1988) who grew up surfing and skating as a byproduct of his Manhattan Beach sunny-weather sport upbringing. “Lots of people made a shag board when I was a kid,” he explains. But when Jeff started making carpeted skateboards for his own kids and their friends, people started asking him to make them one. Soon it became evident that the seed of a business lay in this hobby. He tinkered with the design, enlisting several fabricator until the Shaggo could be made with the carpet embedded into the wood deck itself. In fall of 2013 Shaggo launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, and now –boom— the company is alive, kicking, and showing up all over the skate scene.

Skateboarding itself is rebel sport. Remember the iconic bumper sticker “Skateboarding is Not a Crime”? Skateboarding’s eau de parfum is Rebellion. Ever since little kids began shredding in empty pools in backyard suburban houses, it has been a sport of risk takers. But what is supremely Vigilante to me about about Jeff’s invention of Shaggo Skateboards is the whimsical, “go barefoot”, be wacky and happy vibe of Shaggo. This seems to fly in the face of skateboarding’s hardcore persona. Meanwhile, the Shaggo is constructed as a serious piece of sporting equipment with all the elements a skater would look for. Atkinson explains the sensation of riding a Shaggo as very smooth. Shaggo’s “cushy shag treated decks actually reduce vibration and road noise, are plush under foot, and provide an ultra-fluid glide.” I mean, who needs a safety-pinned earlobe? I’d prefer my unconventional rebellion to provide some comfort. And in a loud color. And beckon me to stay barefoot all day.

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Jeff Atkinson Shaggo founder

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Photos via Shaggo.com and Bo Bridges Photography


March 28, 2014

Profiles in Vigilante Living: Sami the Avant-Garde Suburbanite

Sami_Young_Profiles in Vigilante LivingProfiles in Vigilante Living introduces us this week to Sami Young, a beautiful Chicago twenty-something who recently made a rather Vigilante move: she packed up her city apartment in Wicker Park and moved to the suburbs. Quite in opposition to the tidal wave of hipsters streaming from the suburban periphery into the Big City, Sami and her boyfriend Brian are emblematic of the Vigilante idea of “living life on your own terms.” In their case, the rebellion was seeking a rural-suburban community in which to shack up cozily. To be avant-garde suburbanites. Sami, a make-up artist with Chicago’s premier make-up studio Sonia Roselli, loved living in Chicago, but craved more open space to walk her dog, and square footage to hold weekend parties (something that was significantly harder to do in the city.) “We were always eating out.” she says of living in the city. Overall, it’s been a hugely positive change: Sami still gets to see shows on a regular basis (she and Brian are deep into the Chicago music scene), they are geographically closer to their families, and lastly, because Sami’s work takes her to Chicago nearly every day, she doesn’t really miss urban life. What’s best about living in the suburbs? “Oh! The peace and quiet. Birds! Trees!” says Sami. “Not to mention our pets who enjoy a significantly improved quality of life out in nature.”

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So, in their new suburban life, will you find Sami and Brian out on an evening stroll in matching track suits? Well, maybe as a joke! But Sami is not afraid to rock an entirely original dog-walking outfit — she typically throws on her grandma’s full length fur coat to walk the dog, paired with huge Jackie O sunglasses. “I probably look 70 years old” she jokes. Sami’s style is utterly original. When I first met her, my first impression was that of a petite Brigitte Bardot (all lashes and 60s hair) combined with the freshest-face full of sweetness and freckles. Her everyday fashion sense is Vigilante too. She’s not afraid to shop at Target, pair a simple teeny-bopper dress with authentic 1940s vintage jackets and home-made jewelry. Sami loves thrifting and finds that her new suburban digs offer many untapped opportunities for vintage shopping where the stores are not insanely picked-over. “Some of Chicago’s suburbs are really cute little villages. Little gems. People in the city would never know about them.” Sami’s lack of snobbery so irresistibly refreshing. Sami embodies the idea that YOU are where the cool is. Your neighborhood is not your street cred. YOU are  your street cred. And when Sami moved to the suburbs, guess what? That’s where the house party is now: “Nearly every weekend we entertain.” Sami giggles. “We barbeque, we have cocktails, we play our music and hangout. It’s awesome!”

As a recovering city planner (my career prior to Vigilante Paper and illustration) this is sacrilege, to applaud a city-dweller’s move to the suburbs. But what I have learned is that one cannot judge another for the decisions that make them happy. And that the suburbs can be places of poetry and mischief just like the city. It’s much more Vigilante to be like the beautiful Sami and, with open arms, embrace the unpopular thing — and with a full heart and irrepressible sense of optimism, make it your own.


March 11, 2014

Profiles in Vigilante Living: Angelo Garro’s Artful, Salty World

angelo_profiles_v2I once had the sublime opportunity to play hookie from work to pick grapes with Angelo Garro. It was a memorable day. At dawn we gathered at The Renaissance Forge, Angelo’s blacksmithing studio-and-gourmet-kitchen housed in an historic industrial space in San Francisco’s SOMA district, for a coffee before our caravans left for Napa. Angelo had arranged for us to glean the vines where the winery had already finished harvesting. Fifteen or so of us picked grapes with gardening clippers for a few hours, picnicked on a hill with blankets spread out while Angelo passed around plates of pasta and home-made wine that he’d had brought along. A simple, heavenly meal – paired perfectly with our sweaty brows from the grape-picking and buzz from the midday vino. Then we drove back to the Forge to crush the grapes in a giant contraption he’d set up out in the alley. I thought I’d died and had landed in a Gourmet Magazine photo shoot. But no, this is just how Angelo takes advantage of a typical autumn day: with friends, outside celebrating nature’s gifts, and then preparing and eating these gifts. In his native Sicily, which he left behind as a teen, these traditions are based on seasonal customs. Nature informs your annual habits; but it is Angelo himself who is a Vigilante for keeping these traditions alive here in the USA.

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The Forge. Photograph by Laurie Frankel

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Angelo in his kitchen at The Forge.

You may have heard of Angelo – he was the badass Italian who Michael Pollan featured prominently in the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, referring to him his “foraging Virgil.” If you recall from the book, Angelo invited Pollan on a wild boar hunt (an exhausting, laborious sport.) What sets Angelo apart from a typical hunter is that he is also an expert in what to do after you kill the animal. Angelo can outline exactly how to butcher and prepare the entirety of the pig to turn it into many varieties of sumptuous dishes. It’s all part of his repertoire. And naturally, no part of the animal was wasted. He is master of the hunt, the kill, the butchering, the curing, and finally the cooking and celebrating. Not to mention the community-creating.

Perhaps what strikes me as most Vigilante about Angelo is how much of his life is genuinely cinematic by virtue of it’s gusto — he blasts his opera at dangerous decibels, he offers big bear hugs for “Hello”, he stands on a hillside picking grapes in his straw hat, he is a sure shot with a wild boar… One might think, “God, if only a documentarian could capture this original man” — BUT WAIT, one did. Angelo’s buddy Werner Herzog (of Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man fame) has recently done so. Herzog filmed a movie about Angelo, The Story of Omnivore Salt in celebration of Angelo’s most recent project — a gourmet salt company. With Omnivore Salt, Angelo attempts to bring to people inspiration for cooking with his same sense of passion and connectedness to the earth.

“I have been making my Omnivore Salt for many years”, Angelo explains. “My grandmother taught me the family recipe when I was a young boy in Sicily. This salt blend works on everything – meat, vegetables and fish; just a pinch unlocks the deepest flavors of your food. Many of my friends are chefs, restauranteurs, and artists, and for years I have been giving my salt to them. They loved it and urged me to share it with the community and with food lovers everywhere.”

Is there not an aura about this man that makes you want to slow down, put away your iPhone, pour youself and your friends a glass of wine, converse, and enjoy your sweet existence? Sign me UP! Angelo is a poster child for Vigilante Living: his life itself is a work of art. There is no artificial separation between his work and his play. It’s all one cohesive project called Living Well. Signore, please pass me some of that salt.

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Courtesy of The Selby

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Courtesy of The Daily Meal

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Meat bring cured neatly in the back of the Forge.

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The blacksmithing studio is adjacent to his open kitchen.

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Blacksmithing tools.

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Angelo Garro’s newest endeavour, Omnivore Salt.

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March 3, 2014

Profiles in Vigilante Living: Sexy Tennyson-quoting Wine Passionista Renee Kuo

ReneeKuo_Vigilante ProfileIf there is one thing that Vigilante Living is about, it’s listening to that little voice in your head. And then taking action. This is the story of Renee Kuo, a young, accomplished, female Managing Director in Bonds at several premier Wall Street banks (Banc of America Securities, Citadel Securities) who seemed to have it all professionally — the business school degree, the rolodex of happy clients, a fast track trajectory in a highly competitive field, glamorous evenings out in New York’s best restaurants. All seemed ironed-out, but for the little voice in her head that whispered….. “I love wine.”

When she first began her career in finance, Renee Kuo knew nothing about wine; her boss insisted that she study-up on basic wine literacy : “Renee,” she’d say, “if you order the Two Buck Chuck with a client, I’ll kill you.” Soon enough, however, she could confidently navigate the wine list, and made friends with several notable New York City and LA sommeliers. Meanwhile, this high-powered finance expert (her specialty was bond sales) got promoted further and further up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the Managing Director of the newly formed Citadel Securities. Happily, she referred to herself as bonafide “Bond Girl”. In her spare time, however, Renee dove into the world of wine, making it her hobby. She enrolled in a course after work at the local farmer’s market where she would take a series of Wine & Cheese classes, which she credits for training her palate and educating her about the different wine-growing regions of the world. Which led her to France: she travelled with a group of wine enthusiasts to the Bordeaux region in France for a holiday. And as Renee describes it, it was a life-changing trip in terms of solidifying her passion for viticulture, but ended up concluding that it was not sensible to leave her career in finance to follow her passion for wine as a profession. It just seemed too far a leap. As Renee wryly describes it, in her blog From Wall Street to Wine, she just dove deeper into collecting wine to consume : “Carrie Bradshaw had a closet full of shoes. I had a closet full of wine.”

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Wine Internship

But this tenacious Stanford grad found herself looking for more depth to her hobby, and in Vigilante fashion, took things a step further by enrolling in the UC Davis certificate in Viticulture.  So, while still rocking her finance gig all day long, Renee would retreat to her wine studies at night, and pick grapes with friends in Santa Barbara on weekends for fun. She’d been so natural in her successes in banking, and it seemed the most logical path. But when she looked honestly at herself, she noted that “it was really that I just didn’t find banking fulfilling anymore. I realized I had very little to lose if I left, as I wasn’t in the same situation as 99.9% of my colleagues (male) who had wives who didn’t work and children all ready for college. I knew if I didn’t take the chance, I’d be living a life of regret.” Renee puts it eloquently: “The saying usually goes Life is too Short but for me, life was WAY too long to do something I didn’t want to do!”  In a tale that reads like a screenplay, fate then sent Renee directly toward her new career, step-by-serendipitous-step. She experienced a series of miraculous & fateful encounters: a run-in with one of Bordeaux’s most famous wine-makers, Christian Moueix, while both were in New York; a chance wine-bar dinner where she ended up seated next to Don Ross, a prominent Napa Valley vintner and wine collector, and lastly, while hiking in Santa Barbara, literally bumping into Garon and Shari Staglinwho HAPPEN to own Staglin Family Vineyards in Napa Valley — where she landed her first internship in Napa. At each of these junctures, Renee made it known that she wanted to work in the wine industry – and of course being charming, smart and hot did not hurt either. But that was all it took.

Once she landed in Napa, it was all over: in a three-year period, Renee went from scrubbing the interior of wine tanks as an intern, working 12 hour days doing gritty behind-the-scenes work to landing a wine sales job (obtained probationally) — and of course KILLING IT by calling up her old Wall Street contacts with wine cellars –to the present: Renee now has her dream job as General Manager of Seven Stones Winery in Napa. “It’s soup to nuts” she says; “There is just one person responsible for Seven Stone’s overall business strategy… and then just one person washing glasses after the tastings. Me!” This is Vigilante Living people. Living your passion every day and not being afraid to change course when your inner voice speaks.

Renee says that this whole experience from Wall Street to Napa reminded her of the Tennyson poem, Ulysses (which is available in its entirety at the bottom of this post.) For, if it were not for Wall Street, Renee surmises, she may not have encountered her passion for wine. “I am a part of all that I have met,” writes Tennyson. “I will drink life to the lees,” he says — a sentiment that Renee has made her professional and personal mantra. Of course, explains Renee, there is the 99.9% pay cut to consider, despite living without regret in a career of her dreams. Renee sums the trade-off best: “As two of my colleagues on Wall Street said, ‘Part of us thinks you’re crazy, and the other part is really jealous.’  “Here’s to crazy!” says Renee. We could not be more in agreement, darling: with both Tennyson and you. 

Check in regularly for our Profiles in Vigilante Living series which will be posted every other week.

Wall Street to Rubber Pants

Internship at a Napa winery. Foot in the door, and 95% pay cut.

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The unglamorous job of cleaning the wine tank.

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The joie de vivre is ever-present in Renee’s approach.

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Seven Stones Winery, Napa.

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From high-rise Wall Street office to THIS officeL the grounds at Seven Stones Winery.

Kuo in her new career, as General Manager at Seven Stones Winery in Napa.

Kuo in her new career, as General Manager at Seven Stones Winery in Napa.

Ulysses

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 


February 27, 2014

Announcing Profiles in Vigilante Living

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If if you’re anything like me, you are known to go crazy in the Biography section of the bookstore. I’ve always found it a pleasurable and informative way to understand history, to rethink my own life decisions, to learn about far away cultures, and learn from others’ mistakes. It’s about time, I thought, that Vigilante Living feature regular posts about true civilian Vigilantes out in the world — individuals whose decisions and ways of living are truly unconventional — artful, considered yet a little wild, and most importantly, on their OWN terms — not those of society, cultural norms or traditions. I will be calling these posts Profiles in Vigilante Living. Look for a new one every two weeks or so. Teaser: our first post features a sexy Tennyson-quoting Napa Valley wine aficionado with a joie de vivre to match her passion for wine-making and wine-drinking. Bottom’s up, Vigilantes!


August 20, 2013

The Vigilante Way to Lose Your Hair

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This is a post about Marianna Sachse, a case study in Vigilante Style and it’s power. Marianna’s husband is my longtime childhood friend from summer camp. Even as a teen, he was an erudite, badass little Beastie Boy with big plans. He married his equal: Marianna is brainy, creative and nurturing, with street smarts and a dancer’s graceful body. She is an amazing woman with ideas and the energy to implement them. Last year, Marianna was diagnosed with cancer. This is her account of true Vigilante Living — namely, the unconventional approach she took to dealing with hair loss after chemo.

When you get kicked in the face by a cancer diagnosis, you expect that tough roads are ahead and that you will have to say goodbye to your talisman of beauty: your hair. Nine months into my cancer journey I finished chemo and lost my hair at the same time. No one told me that my hair might continue to fall out after I finished treatment. So there I was, watching my hair pile up in the drain and scatter on my pillowcase, wondering what to do about my hair post-chemo.

I was done with treatment and finally feeling better, the last thing I wanted was to look sick. I’d had enough of that, thank you. I’d beat cancer and come out the other side stronger. I needed to look like it. So what to do? Classic chemo solutions just didn’t seem my style. I didn’t want to futz with wigs and scarves. My solution: rock the ‘hawk. When cancer kicks you in the face, fight back like a punk with a Mohawk.

I admire you, Marianna. You are fierce and elegant.

You can read more about Marianna here:  www.fullydomesticated.com.

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