Stars and dot stickers


This week I cried at an article about a cross country runner from a little neighboring town, McCool Junction. I shared it on Facebook and my friend and fellow songwriter, Ken Hall, suggested there was good vittles in there for a song. He was right and I was itching to write something anyway so I wrote the song based on the article. You can read it here:

And now it’s been viewed over 5,000 times- way more than my earlier biggest hit, “I Write.” Pretty cool. It goes to show that you never know what’s going to strike a chord or resonate with people. You never know what people’s hearts are craving and it reminded me to keep showing up, write what you feel called to write, be the biggest brightest version of yourself as you can be and God will put you where he needs you.

Then, another songwriting friend, Andrew Dunn, joined in and together we’re working on cleaning up the first draft and making the song even better. That feels like a surprise blessing and, to have a co-worker equally invested in the song to make it the best it can be, is energizing and super cool. I should find co-workers more often.

Then I drove to Omaha with some girlfriends, first through the drive thru and then to the valet parking we accidentally bought with our Jen Hatmaker event tickets and now I never want to park by myself like a sucker ever again.

It was an evening of laughter and reflection and beautiful music and unexpected love that I’m so thankful for.

God will show you beautiful things and loving people and generous hearts even while hurricanes and tsunamis destroy coastlines and legacies. Even while fighting and division declare whose with us and whose against us and more and more we’re tempted to believe it.

There’s this book by Max Lucado called, “You are Special” and it tells the story of the Wemmicks, wooden people carved by the maker and how they spend all their day sticking stars and black dots on each other. Stars and dots, stars and dots all day long like it’s their duty to stamp “good” or “bad” on everything they see as if the maker himself didn’t know one way or the other.

One particularly sad Wemmick covered in black dots meets a fellow wooden creature with nothing on her at all. She’s free of the good stars and the bad black dots. Asking her how she did it she answers the sad Wemmick by saying, “Once you get to know the maker the stars and dots don’t stick.”


That story makes me cry every time. To the point that when I read it at bedtime, my boys always couldn’t understand why mama was crying at the end every time (Just like “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”).

You know why the cross country runner is so inspiring? Because the stars and dots don’t stick on him and it’s magical. Same for the writer of the article, Jay Slagle- he was just writing with his heart the story he wanted to tell. You know why I feel thankful for writing that song? Because I wrote it at a moment when the stars and dots were the furthest thing from my mind. That’s when the magic happens. When we look past the grading scale, the paycheck, and the appearances and we do it anyway like we’ve got the audacity to believe we can act in the freedom of a love poured out to us by a our maker who knows exactly what he’s doing.

That’s cool. Now go throw away those stars and dots and go be awesome.



On a scale from one to Trump it was a 1.5

A close friend of mine got into a twitter fight yesterday. I’ve never known anyone to get into a twitter fight before (and on a scale from one to Trump this was like a 1.5 on the Twitter richter scale). I’ve watched them, but never had a horse in the race. Yesterday I was cheering on my friend arguing with a stranger. It’s a weird world we live in. Suffice it to say, things are tough everywhere and life is hard even if you do have a steady paycheck and thousands of twitter followers. They can’t follow you all the time, ya know?

On a scale from one to Trump, my yesterday started at a peaceful “green means go” type of level but then ramped up to the emotional equivalent of that time suburban college kids were camping in tents on government property to prove a point about the one percent (if my shoddy 6am Friday brain serves me right). Kind of serious, but still from a place of great privilege. Like a four, maybe. Because when you’re working through your outlook on money with your therapist, you know things are going pretty well overall.

The thing is that at the beginning of the day I was really in a good head space where I was practicing wholeness, I was allowing myself to give myself complements and remember that I don’t suck at everything, that I’m kind of OK maybe on some things and trying to rest in my imperfect but beloved personhood. This is new for me. Green and peaceful like Psalm 23. A new place of existing where I tell myself I don’t have to try so hard or worry so much. I can just walk through the world like I’m allowed to take up some space.

But then, oh then my own stupid brain starting freaking out like, “Hang on. We didn’t vote for this. We voted for power in the form of worthlessness as stated in our mental and emotional constitution! Get her out of here. Someone get her out of here.” And then the rest of my brain starts shouting, “Lock her up! Lock her up!”

So my whole self got a little scared yesterday. My whole, complete, resting self ran and hid and I was left with my “you should make yourself small and worry that no one loves you unless you keep your mouth shut” self who promptly took over and by the time it was lights out, I was confused and lost. Like a waitress getting a text alert from the federal government on her cell phone in the middle of the lunch rush.

I’m joking and telling the truth at the same time mostly.

So it’s a new day. Post twitter war, post Kavanaugh, post crisis of confidence and it’s Friday. I’m back to practicing my New Adam identity with lists of things I have completed and people who are cheering for me to help me stay focused and encouraged. On a scale of one to Trump I’m like at a Hope Dunbar- kinda crazy, bad at twitter, but resting in the grace of our God. HIgh five.



It feels good to write a song just because it makes you happy

Sam, Jesse and I went to see Dawes in Lincoln last Tuesday. It was awesome.

Sam, Jesse and I went to see Dawes in Lincoln last Tuesday. It was awesome.

It feels good to write a song just because it makes you happy. It’s funny to think about how creating something that serve no other purpose than to remember when you were fascinated by a movie poster of a movie you have no intention of seeing.

I reflected to my husband the other day that it feels good to be alive on the days when I feel like I don’t have to try so hard. Those days when you give yourself a break and not fret over what’s not getting done or what you’ve still got on your plate that needs your attention before the sun goes down. I’d love to find that place where I live somewhere in between the responsibility and the freedom of just being. I know it’s out there because there are days when I feel it. The problem is that is can feel so foreign on the days when I’m weighed down by all my shortcomings and imperfections.

So I wrote this dumb song about a dumb movie poster. And I recorded and posted it on Facebook because it’s part of my method. For me, it’s an act of raising my hand and saying, “Here!” I looked back on the video and I have bedhead and an ugly/tired looking face, but that’s part of it. I post it for roll call even when I think I look bad. That’s the point. It’s to say, “I’m allowed to be here even when I’m not presentable.” It’s an act of wholeness.

Wholeness. The idea that there’s nothing I can add to my worth or take away from my worth no matter what my days look like, no matter how I look at myself or how the world looks at me. Not goodness, but wholeness.

I wrestle with it all the time, but I want to lean into it more as I move forward. I want to lean into the freedom I have of realizing who I am completely without a grade from someone else, or a grade from myself. Just be me.

Jesse turned 13. I think a “Let’s Party” hat would help center me in wholeness every day. I should borrow it from him.

Jesse turned 13. I think a “Let’s Party” hat would help center me in wholeness every day. I should borrow it from him.

I know people around me who are really good at it. I see them and admire them and wonder at their freedom. I’d like to try and practice it too.

So I wrote a dumb song and posted it on social media because I’m allowed to. I probably should’ve gone on a run, but instead, I dinked around on a guitar. Now what are you putting off and trading in favor of some chore you think is better or more worthy?

There’s a balance between responsibility and freedom. It’s somewhere out there. We can find it together and shine more brightly when we do. Have a great week!



Banana Moon/ Where my girls at?


I like this song even though it seems to be objectifying a loved one and threatening reliatory behavior against a suspected admirer of the protagonist’s boyfriend/husband. It’s probably her husband because it sounds like she really means it.

But it’s a good jam and I like the firebird dancers.

I closed my eyes earlier this week to practice checking in with myself. I’ve never done this before. In week two of my online coaching class, we’re focusing on the mental/emotional game and we might as well be playing Monopoly in the summer time with my older brother and I’m eight because I suck at this.

When I checked in I realized my head felt fuzzy, the area around my heart felt cagey and my right hand was tingling. Then, we were asked to close our eyes and find the feeling/circumstance you’re most afraid of, conjure it up, get riled up with the intent of putting your feelings under a microscope asking, “Why do I feel like this? Where does this come from? What’s really going on here?”

And you know what I discovered? I’m not afraid of rejection or humiliation or abandonment. Turns out I’m afraid of happiness, contentment and love.

What a loser.

Cuz here’s the thing: How can I realize a dream that makes me happy if I don’t believe in happy?

See, I believe in micro-happiness, just not macro-happiness. I love exact change, peanut butter sandwiches, hot tubs, coffee and flip flops. But if you asked me if I was happy. I’d get really non-committal with my answer. I believe in acts of love and kindness, just not across the board, for sure love no matter what kind of love.

This isn’t exactly news. It’s just zeroing in on an articulation of how I live better than I have before.

When you realize you have to rewrite your whole life’s script it can feel a little scary. When you realize that the only way to get to where you want to go means scooping out the bad stuff like the guts from a pumpkin, your initial response is to run back into your cave, throw up and hide under a blanket.

So where my girls at? I could use your help. I don’t want to get together to go beat up someone flirting with my husband. I’d just like to get together to encourage one another and help each other work through the hard stuff. This feels like hard stuff. Sometimes the to do list feels like the only thing there is, but then there comes a moment when you follow the problems with your to do list all the way back to your head and your heart and it turns out your fight isn’t against your mailing list at all. It’s against your own brain. Well, you’re not alone. And we can do it together, I hope. Now play the song, dance in your kitchen, and stay cool forever.



Music Money


FACT: I don’t have a great relationship with money. I never have.

FACT: Folk music is half feelings and half joking about how there’s no money anywhere for anyone and you might as well get used to it. Or quit. Just quit because money’s never going to be part of the deal.

FACT: This past week I’ve been doing a lot of internal work regarding purpose, dreams, self-talk and how I want to fashion plate out my next best self and it finally dawned on me that me and Money have some work to do.

Money and I have to call a truce. We have to start working together instead of distrusting one another. We have to walk over to Music and say, “Hey man, I think there’s a way we can all go into business together and not lose sight of the real goal.”


“ Keeping a day job is how you free up the music to just be what it wants to be instead of adding the pressure of a paycheck on top of songwriting because songwriting has enough problems and pressures to begin with.”

“It can’t be about the money. Simply because there isn’t any. Get used to it. If you feel like a beggar then you know it’s working. Join the club, sweetheart.”

“Getting paid feels great. Every once in a while you’ll get that feeling. Most of the time, it’s catch as catch can.”

“The new model doesn’t value art. The 21st century isn’t interested in paying for your work. I don’t care how long it took you to write that song. People pay for coffee and netflix and sports. No one pays for art.”


If all I ever do is resent my day job and wish like heck I could just be a musician, if my real dream is being a full time singer/songwriter, then step one feels like throwing the beggar out the window, and rethinking how I see money.

And that’s coming clear for the very first time. So clear and so great.

Why? Because it feels like something I can actually do. I can’t, of my own strength, get bigger artists to book me as their opener (if you know how to strongarm the cool kids into letting you sing while people get to their seats, let me know), but I can look at the numbers, see how they need to play out and start making a plan to do business just like if I were a hair dresser or a mechanic or a waitress.

We joke about the lack of money in music. Some of us even tell others of us to give up. There’s no such thing as “making it” in 2018.

But with a little bit here and a little bit there, some commissions here and commissions there, I think I can hobble together a living. It’s what I want. So I don’t think I have time for the jokes about being broke anymore. They served their purpose, but they’ve run out of steam and now I need a new idea.

Music and money. Tough stuff. In honor of the hard working musicians pouring their hearts out in between shifts so that someone somewhere can feel not so alone, here’s a song by musical warrior, Jana Pochop. She’s a friend of mine and all ‘round rockstar.

“Martyrs don’t walk through their own open doors.”



Afraid much?


My new life coaching class is giving me lots to think about. I bought a new notebook and I’m filling that notebook full of notes and questions and ideas to consider. In my free time I flip through the notebook and review the ideas and questions I wrote down hoping something cool will occur to me and then I’ll write that down too.

Afraid much? Oh yes.

My future self is being invited to respond to my current self predicaments and the two women don’t see the world the same way. That’s weird. One of these women I know very well and the other is new to the party wearing nice clothes and unapologetically declaring what she wants. That’s weird, right? My current self is wearing old clothes, has bad hair and feels bad that she’s walking around all 41 because it’s offensive to men who like women younger than that.

And yet my current self is calling that sassy future self the enemy. How is that possible? How is the self-confident one who knows what she wants a problem?

So I look through my little notebook to find the things that will topple my own brain’s argument.

Things like:

Dominant thought+dominant feeling+dominant action = RESULT.

That’s true. I need new thoughts, new feelings and new actions to create a new result.

Afraid much? Oh heck yes.

That’s what I’m doing over here. My present self is fighting with my future self and I’m trying to let my future self win. But it’s a slog, man. It’s a “redirect every thought and impulse” type of game. It’s a “refer to the notebook every five minutes” type of game. It’s a ”maybe if I had stronger meds this would be easier” type deal.

So here’s the question: What would life feel like if you were completely safe? If the notion of feeling certain feelings didn’t shake you, if you really were rooted in the unconditional love of the God who made you, if you were taken up to the high mountain and told to go for it? Then what?

We get glimpses of that freedom every once in a while. Now the mission is to act from that place on a regular basis. THat’s the mission. That’s the quest. Life coaching can really give you lots to think about. Good things to think about. It’s crazy to think that good things can feel like the enemy because we’re so accustomed to working in the world of the defeated and down-trodden. But not anymore, friends. That’s boring and tired and the world needs us for other stuff. Let’s go do it. Love, Hope



To "Graduate from needing someone's stamp of approval"


Still not writing songs for so many reasons. I'm afraid the songs won't be that good. I'm afraid they won't sound the way the previous songs sound. I'm afraid of writing new songs when I've got so many songs waiting in the wings from past projects.

1. I'm afraid the songs won't be that good. I'm always afraid of that before I write a song. These days I feel like I don't know where to start. Like my ears need something new and I need more time alone. Are those excuses? Yes and no. If I really wanted to, I could crank out something in 20 minutes and then make myself crank out something else in the meantime. But I'm not doing that either. Ok, fine. I'll crank something out. There's no shame in a bad, finished song if it leads to a better finished song.

2. I'm afraid they won't sound like the previous songs of mine. And that's very likely. Different days, different thoughts, different place in life all lend themselves to different work. But people liked the old work. What if they don't like it when I go "electric"? (That's just a turn of phrase. I'm not going electric.)

3. I can't write new songs because I've got this back log of old songs that need my attention. Now this one feels kinda true also. You guys, I have a HUGE back log of songs. Do I let them disappear? Do I pick my first string players and let the rest be working material never meant for public performance? If I let them sit around long enough then I've made my decision. They'll fade away and be gone. If I take a minute to go through the stacks and find the keepers and clean up the rough ones, I'll be saving some of them forever. But looking back feels like a cop out.

Which reminds me of the other breakthrough I had in my "Next Best Self" group a couple of weeks ago.

In an effort to try and articulate what my problem is, I finally said, "I need to graduate from needing someone else's stamp of approval." 

And it's totally true. Even when it comes to writing songs. 

Like a dog begging for scraps I sit right beside the table where the cool kids are all gathered and pray they might send something good my way. Song contests, showcases, elder statesmen, concert series, radio DJs, music publications, I am just sitting here desperately hoping someone will tell me I'm good enough. I've spent all those years patiently toiling and praying I get my card stamped with just the right thing to give me assurance that I'm permitted to continue. 

Dudes, that is a losing battle and the best thing I can think of is taking my toys and going home. Who isn't playing that game? Who isn't exhausted by trying to get validation from peers and friends and colleagues that will put an end to the bad thoughts, the negative self-talk, the doubts that creep in right after all those likes and shares and playlists start to fade away?

And the only person who can give me that diploma is me. The only person who can burn all the gold stars and temporary stamps of approval is me. That's what I'd like to do. I'd like to write whatever I want to write, say whatever I want to say, build this half-assed, hobbling, hopeful music career however I want and stop looking around for someone cooler or more connected to talk to in the lobby of Folk Alliance. 

So tomorrow I'm starting a life coaching course. I feel unworthy and unprepared, but I'm jumping in anyway. Today I'm going for a run and waiting tables and I'm going to pray on this idea of boldly doing what I feel called to do. If my next album comes out of Duluth, MN or Alliance, NE or wherever, it's gonna be cool because I know it to be. Not because it's wearing the right clothes or living in the right town or thanking the right people in the liner notes.

Fudge that sugar. You can't be a beggar and a badass at the same time. You just can't. Or at least I can't. So I will very imperfectly and poorly cobble together something cool. Like in "Pretty in Pink" when Molly Ringwald makes a stunner of a prom dress out of two old second hand prom dresses. Only it'll take longer and I can't sew. That's what I got, my friends. Be excellent to each other. Love, Hope






The ideas are getting beat up like street punks


I have lots of ideas. I sweep floors at work and daydream, I roll silverware and daydream, I fill up ice machines with scoop after scoop of ice and I daydream and I come up with lots of ideas.

Paint your kitchen! Rip out all the carpet in your basement since you hate it so much! Declutter your house a bag at a time! Scroll Pinterest for backyard landscaping ideas! Go on a retreat, go to Nashville, carve out an office space in your house where you can really get some good work done! Invite people over for dinner for no reason! Turn all those apples and pears into crisps and pies and sauces! Get the word out about your shows and ask your friends to come! Lose the weight why don'tcha?

So many ideas. So many things that I keep up there twirling around while I clean up and vacuum. So many things I wish I could do if I just had the time, the money, the motivation. There are books to read, albums to listen to, shows to go to, blogs to write, pictures to order, thank you notes to write and closets to clean. You'd think I'd be a machine. 

But I'm not. Because after rolling all that silverware and sweeping all those floors. After getting first verses written on runs down dirt roads, I walk back through my front door and the neon sign in my head starts flashing, "That's stupid. You're stupid. That's stupid."

The ideas are getting beat up like street punks and I'm the one kicking their asses. 

Why is that? Why can't my ideas just be cool and why can't I be cool with them instead of turn traitor and it comes to blows? 

That blows.

On my more rational days I say, "OK, Hopie. Not all of this can happen, but some of it can. Let's order your dreams from one to ten and have at it." 

But I've been trained pretty good in the "That's stupid/ you're stupid" method (Side note: That'll either be my next band name or the title of my autobiography) and for so long that even when I want to try a new approach, my brain is trained to respond to dreams accordingly.

In the sage words of Emily White, "Your brain is your body's worst enemy." And, in my case, it's totally true.

How do I save the ideas? How do I let them live or at least loiter in the corner without smothering them with a pillow? I'm like a CIA operative. I'm like the Jason Bourne of thinking. I just go after the enemy (in this case ideas of new things) with stealth precision and snuff out the threat somewhere along the Thames or under the Eiffel Tower while talking into an earpiece I didn't even know I was wearing until a British voice tells me to karate chop the hell out the suspect code name: Build window boxes to plant flowers in. 

Sometimes I turn to others. I ask for help or encouragement. But most of the time my brain says, "Everyone is dealing with this crap and no one has time for you to unload or ask for a pep talk." Keeping it to myself is a really important part of the "That's stupid/you're stupid" life plan.

And here's the thing. I'm currently doing a group project where I've been chosen as a "Change Maker." A change maker is someone in the community who is trying new things and doing stuff. The struggle is real. The flip side to beating up my ideas is that I have stuff that actually needs to get done and so the production line can't stop altogether. I know this. You know this. I think we understand one another.

So the best I can do is reach out to my enemy, help the ideas get back on their feet and use whatever strength I have left to get something done. One box of clutter, one song just to say I wrote something, one crappy workout and a piece of fruit and hpe tomorrow goes better.

Some might say I need to really grow outmy horribleness. Some might say I just have to figure out how to survive alongside all my bad habits. Some might say this CIA operative should hang up her ways, go to her high school reunion and discover her own humanity by rekindling a romance she left broken with the local indie radio DJ (no, wait, that's Grosse Pointe Blank).

I don't know, you guys. Seriously. I don't know. The message of hope I have learned through all of it is to not wait around for my brain to right itself before getting work. That's the good news. On the days when the "That's stupid/you're stupid" impulse isn't as strong then I'm gonna do what I can. And every time I drop a few coins into the ideas bucket or wave the white flag of surrender instead of ambushing them with fisticuffs, then it'll get easier the next time we meet in a dark alley. 

So your broken self still has some fight in it. Just stop kicking your own ass so much and turn your attention to stuff you wanna get done. That's what I'm over here praying to do. I love you guys. Peace.





I should be like that girl

I had an amazing summer. St. Louis, Nashville, Arkansas, Kerrville, New York City, Chicago, Amsterdam and Germany. I sang my songs, people bought my record, I drove miles and miles with my boys in the passenger seat. We listened to everything in the FM dial and then we played our favorite songs and listened to podcasts to pass the hours. 

I knew I had it good. I knew I was having adventures way above my paygrade. A woman like me shouldn't get to have a summer like that. But I did.

Kerrville Folk Festival 2018

Kerrville Folk Festival 2018

New York City, Central Park July 2018

New York City, Central Park July 2018

A Canal in Amsterdam July 2018

A Canal in Amsterdam July 2018

And so as not to get carried away or get too comfortable I gave myself a job. I told myself that all these days, all these places and experiences were to help me consider one big question:

"What does my next best self look like?"

I brought a journal. I wrote it in faithfully and reflected on the people I was meeting, the places I was seeing, the feelings I had and the discoveries I was making in hopes of discerning clues and footsteps that would get me where I need to go. That place just around the corner that I can't see yet.


This is what my current self looks like. Not great, not terrible, just self.  She just got off work, she just went for groceries, she's thinking about what to cook for dinner. She washed the floors at work, her own house needs some attention. She's worried about how much screen time the kids are getting, how much housework there is to do, how many thank you notes she hasn't written, loads of laundry she hasn't done, how beauty standards are really messing with her head and is getting comfortable in your own aging, flabby skin a sign of power or a sign of weakness? I guess it depends on the day.

So I wrote about it all. I wrote about the gigs, the camping, the fun, the laughter, the service, the connections and the beauty of this terrible, wonderful world and I looked for signs and notions to help me along.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Verden, Germany

Verden, Germany

Verden concert July 30, 2018

Verden concert July 30, 2018

There must be a reason that a girl like me gets a summer like this and it must tell me something about the kind of work I need to do next.

But here I am. Afraid of all of it. Afraid to embrace what I was given, afraid to entertain the notion of something better, afraid to question whether it's OK to let four more years float by while waiting tables and washing clothes.

Seriously, you guys. My next best self is hiding under a blanket somewhere and my current self isn't doing a darn thing about it. 

But here's what I know. I've been in this state before. I'll get out of it again, for sure. I don't like being here where I feel powerless and fearful, but I do know there's this other side of me that can show up and do crazy, interesting, brave things. 

I think she's planning on making an appearance this evening somewhere near Elkhorn, NE. She looks more like my next best self than I do at the moment and maybe that's the clue I need to notice. There's a tug of war that goes on within us all between our better and weaker selves. Our sinners and our saints. We've just got to find out how to give more power to the new creation and less to the old Adam that died years and years ago, but who's ghost still thinks its got a shot at taking over for good.

That picture of that lady in this post? That's me. Best and worst and everything in between all at the same time. She clocks out smelling like french fries and then she writes about it like she's got a right to, then goes sings it in front of stranger. I should be like that girl.That girl hopes you see her doing crazy things and that you feel like you've got permission to become the next best you. Love, Hope





Moving Forward is the name of the game

Pennsylvania goes on forever.  So does Illinois. There are tolls to pay so I kept a sandwich bag of change next to me and some crisp one dollars I got out from the bank before I left.

We had a bag full of snacks to get us from here to there.

And we came home and we left again and we came home and then we left and now we're back with backpacks on and our hair cut short and it's the first day of school.

Behind us are the weddings and the purple cone flowers and the camping by the lake. The long day drives and the overnight flights and the trips back and forth to the pool. It's time for setting the alarm clock and heading out the door, it's the schedule back again after a summer of everything. 

Kerrville New Folk, Boy Scout camp, New York City, Oklahoma, Kansas, The Netherlands and Germany, a quick stop at Oma's house in Indiana to swim in the lake and that one time the girls and I went kayaking just outside of Hastings. It was a very busy summer.

I've been home less than a week and we hit the ground running. I've been running. And I keep waking up with my left foot hurting. But then I walk it off.

The news is reporting on the first state execution in Nebraska since 1997. The high school boys are out in full football gear practicing in the afternoons and there are a few windows broken out in the library and 5th/6th grade classroom from last week's hail storm. 

And I'm over here half winning and half losing. On Monday I was useless, on Tuesday I kinda pulled myself together, and today I'm making cookies for school before 9am. (Because I didn't do it last night because I realized we had no eggs)

Last night the five of us went out to dinner. We bought our supplies last minute and filled our backpacks to be kinda ready or today. 

I've got a head full of stories I haven't told yet. I've got a list to do that's a mile long. I've got time to think about it and figure out what I want to say, but for now I'll say half winning and half losing isn't the ideal, but it still makes moving forward possible. 

And moving forward is the name of the game.



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The puddle who once was a person

Cobblestone street with puddle and leaves by Armando Repetto

Cobblestone street with puddle and leaves by Armando Repetto

It's Saturday morning. Outside is foggy and still. The little boy's up and I can see Jon on the couch reading his notes on a sermon that's still just bones and nails and whisper. 

I slept hard last night night. I walked into my front door yesterday more like a puddle than a person because sometimes when you go off to slay the dragon you come back with nothing and the dragon's still breathing and the mountain you climbed is still standing and the score isn't even and you're tired. I'm tired.

It must have been all that driving. I listened to my jams and I cried. I went to see Mary Bragg in New York and watched her kick ass and own the room and pour our her art and her heart and her beauty for all of us mortals and I wondered if that could be me. I look in the mirror and the reality of forty one keeps laughing and pointing and tells me I'll disappear. When you're closer to a puddle than a person, the voices get louder, the doubts start taking over, the villagers with shovels and torches come closer and when the news comes that you lost the gig, that you're broke and that the soar on your foot's not getting better it all feels too big to battle. 

Back when I was a person, there was this moment in Corona, last week, when I felt like I shone. In a basement room with no air, in front of kids I don't know, singing songs that I wrote and we all sang together. We were sweating and smiling and playing and living and I knew what I was doing and I felt good about it. I smiled to myself. I said, "You're good at this." I tried locking it in my head to hold onto in case the world got darker and it got hard to see.


I'm going to Chicago on Monday with my oldest son. We're getting on a plane for Germany. I lived there for a year once. He was born there. 

Back when I was fifteen I left home to go live in Paraguay. In college it was Granada, Spain, then Madrid and then Germany. Never have I felt lighter than when I left American soil. Darrell Scott has a song that says, "Colorado, I need healing from this sorrow I've been feeling." My song would be something like, "Germany, I need fleeing from the life that I've been leading."

So today I should be working, but instead I'll be thinking. I should be re-packing, but instead I'll pick up my sad, broken guitar held together by duct tape (the hardware inside it starting falling out mid-music in that Corona basement one day) and write whatever. Whatever I want. I'm going to sing whatever feels true to me and I'll probably cry. And then maybe I'll write another one. It'll be whatever I want it to be, it'll be as true as I can make it and if I cry, so what?

And I'll turn the puddle back into person. I'll remember how great I can be in basements of churches singing songs that I wrote and letting go, closing my eyes and being bold enough to believe that even a disappearing woman who eats too many carbs and has no gym membership is allowed to climb up mountains to go slay dragons and, when she fails, she's allowed to cry all the way back down, before resting up and trying all over again.



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My next best self or "What I did yesterday"

old girl scouts.jpg

I think it's time to start journalling again. 

For my confirmation party in 1993, my cousin gifted me a simple journal. Itook it with me three months later to Paraguay and used it to capture every moment, every story, every thought and feeling for the next ten years, probably. All through high school and college I wrote almost daily, sometimes twice a day to capture everything no matter how small.

When I got married, I brought all those journals with me and kept it up pretty well until the birth of my first son. The writing wasn't habitual anymore, the journal sat, abandoned on my bedside table for days.

I remember living in Olathe, KS and feeling particularly low one day. I remember seeing the stack of journals on the up high shelf in my closet and thinking that girl was stupid and needed to be erased from the present so I took a black garbage bag and filled it with all those journals capturing all those days and years and moments and I gathered them up and threw them in a dumpster and that was that. No more journalling.

That was 14 years ago and it still hurts to think about how much I lost on the day I threw it all out.

But now I think I need to start again. 

Yesterday, I sat in a room with a group of women all being asked the same questions, "What does your best self look like?"

Together, we're on an eighteen month journey as a group to create Individual Development Plans that are instrinsically motivated, we're given a stipend to go learn, go do, go explore in a manner that energizes us, renews our commitment to creativity and innovation and helps us become our next best self. We'll meet six times together as a group to talk about the journey, encourage one another, create space to ponder and discern where we go from here and I can't wait.

When I left the house yesterday morning to drive to the meeting, my mind wasn't in a place of possibility and potential. It was in a place of fear and worry.

Within the first hour of our meeting together, I realized I had been weighted down by lots of "shoulds." I was full of should without considering the options. To advance my career, I should do this or that. To get better at music I should take a course on this or find an expert in that. Until, like a lightning bolt, my brain said, "But if you don't want to do that stuff, maybe you'll become your best self by bowing out and finding something you really want instead."


Don't get me wrong, I still have to go to work, clean the house, do the things. But I don't have to do all the things. And  I said earlier, it's time to start journalling, I'll also say, it's time to start re-evaluating where my time goes and what I give up in exchange for stuff I don't really want to do.

So there it is. Eighteen months of pondering the question, "Where do you want to go and how do you want to get there?" Not, "Where must you be seen and by whom?" nor "What do people want you to do?" NOPE. Not that either.

So consider. The world is wide open. Ya know that wood working project you always dream of, but never get to do? You know that backpacking trip into Yosemite that's too indulgent? You know that dance class you secretly wish you could take but are afraid people will find out? Well, my friend. The world is wide open and the invitation has been extended. Get a journal and keep a record. That's what I'll be doing.



That time I lost my wallet or "Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn"

Jon and the boys left Kerrville early on Monday morning and I stayed until the following Friday.

As we were packing up on Monday morning, I commented to Jon that I didn't see my credit card right a way and that, if he discovered it on the way home he should tell me. 

And then I went to Song School and fell head first into song critiques and singer's warm ups and stories about writing songs and hearing people sing songs and completely forgot about the credit card.

It was around lunch time on Tuesday that I happened to glance at my phone to see that three messages had been left to me by strangers. They had found my credit card on the festival grounds Sunday evening and turned it in to Lost and Found. 

Three days it was gone, three days I had no idea, and three days later I was rescued by strangers and all was right with the world without my even knowing it was wrong to begin with.

Crisis and rescue. Satety and distress. Ignorance and wonder and panic and relief all happening at the same time. I know brides who are counting down to their wedding days in the throws of excitement, beauty and love. I know people mourning graveside for loved ones lost too soon. I myself am coming home just to do some laundry, hit a couple meetings, then get back out there again and afraid time is slipping away while presently, the news talks exclusively of tragedy, injustice, conflict and the price of doing business.

Here, right here I have little boys playing in the yard, I'm sending up a prayer of thanksgiving for rain for our gardens, plans to tell little kids about God's love, sons getting ready for scout camp and neighbors dropping off coffee cake and rhubarb dessert just because. Also, right here,  I have neighbors fighting like mad to stay alive to see their kids grow up, neighbors whose lives are falling apart as they experience first hand how love can turn to contempt. Dads getting laid off, hungry kids wishing school could start so they can eat every day, and a big brother walks his little sisters to the pool for swimming lessons. 

It's all there. It always is. A lost wallet, a found wallet, a legend talking about songs and how his dad died a month before his first record came out. 

Babies born, grandmas passing away, jail time and parole, one gun shot victim dies, the other lives on. I think I am telling myself all this to remember not to let the lack of love and mercy in this world keep me from showing mercy. If a child smiles at me in the park, I'll wave and smile back. I'll call my elected official, I'll give money, but I do hope I'll rejoice with those rejoice just as much as I mourn with those who mourn and sometimes those two things happen on the very same day.




That time I brought my family with me to New Folk

Not pictured: Sam, and me and lots of other stuff at Kerrville.

Not pictured: Sam, and me and lots of other stuff at Kerrville.

Kerrville, Texas. Home of the Kerrville Folk Festival. Home of the New Folk Competition. Home of the most magic all in one place like I've never felt before. 

This year I was lucky enough to be part of the New Folk Class of 2018 and all the wonder that goes with it. THe morning songs, the ever changing circles of conversation, the late night circles, the early morning risers, the twinkle lights adding to the magic. The pep talk from Dalis back stage before the show did, in fact, make me cry just like I thought it would. The show shirt I brought was infinitely more travel hardy that the dress I thought I might wear and I worried about my hair (again, camping and competitions aren't great bed fellows).

The punch line is that I didn't win, but that's OK. I felt sad for about 10 minutes on the evening of the announcement. I felt slightly defeated the following day for about 10 minutes and then that's it. I feel really happy to have been there, to have shared in the magic, to have brought my family with me so they can see it too.

New Folk 2018 feels like a turning point. I don't really know to what, but it feels like an opening up, an expansion of the world, the heart, the imagination and I think that has everything to do with my family being there with me for the weekend.

More than the competition, I was worried about the Dunbars I was bringing with me into a world I've worked to keep separate from home life. 

A mom and a musician. The mom feels guilty she's a musician. The musician feels trepidation to confess she's a mom. What's she doing leaving her family to go play shows? Why in the world would she bring her children along on a work trip? Moms take care of people. They think about them and worry if they're OK.  But the musician, going to a gig, has to get ready for the show in order to take care of the audience. They have to take a break from caregiving for their family for a minute to find a quiet place and get their head in the game in order to be for the audience. The mom. The musician. Both in the room at the same time. 

And that was the turning point. I walked into a world as both and felt permission to be both even after years of trying to be two separate people in two separate worlds. My family embraced Kerrville in a way I could not imagine. And Kerrville, in perfect Kerrville fashion, welcomed them home like they always do. 



My eldest son went to song circles for the first time, stole away on his own in the middle of the night, wrote his first song, and went back to the circle to play it. Jon listened to every one of the morning songs. More songwriter songs than he's ever heard in his life and then remarked how much more enjoyable those small morning shows were to him than the stage shows in the evenings. 

My two younger boys loved helping keep the camp tidy, helping fetch and unload the supplies for Lindsey. Jesse picked up the ukulele and sat in the song circle carefully listening and being a part of it. Joey took it all in from a camp chair and declared that we all need to come back next year.

There's so much more to tell. The songs, the songwriters, the song school, the inspiration, the new friends I've made, the heat and the sweating, the laughter and comraderie that came from being the dregs of the New Folk camp in the middle of the week after everyone had cleared out.

But this time I just want to tell you about that time I went to New Folk and brought my family with me and about how, thanks to the magic of songs and community built around music, I came home with a feeling of wholeness that had been missing for some time. 





Nashville to New Folk

Kerrville 2015. Wes Collins, Emily White, Katie Dahl and Hope Dunbar

Kerrville 2015. Wes Collins, Emily White, Katie Dahl and Hope Dunbar

Nashville to New Folk.

First you need the van. Then you need to fill the van with instruments and camping gear and my whole family. You need travel mugs and guitars and books for reading and maybe a wordsearch and gas in the tank.

Then you need a stop at an old friend's house to get started. After a day of driving, you need to arrive to a city that was once your home. You catch up with friends and reacquaint them with your boys. You need to smile at the being together and give thanks for all those years and all those moves and all those things we've all been through and still we're friends and it feels like we were just together but days ago.

And then a little more driving further south until you see that sign that reads "Nashville." And you have to think of all the friends you know live who here, but are on the road, you wonder which ones are in town and which ones are driving elsewhere down a different road than this one. You pray to see a familiar face. You park the car, you stretch your legs. You wonder at the different plants and trees and flowers in the front yards that grow so green. The beads of sweat remind you how far south you are and, in the stillness of the heat, you miss the prairie wind that most days you curse. 

In Nashville you imagine what it would be like to call this place home. There's a buzz, there's something romantic in the air calling dreamers from all over to come here and carve out a space. Nashville. You say, "Maybe. Maybe I could be a part of this place too." And in the next instant you say, "This is where your heart gets broken. This is where dreamers turn into drinkers, so best keep it at arm's distance."

In Nashville there's a little place called "The Bluebird Cafe." You go play the early show. Your family's in the audience. What you chose to wear doesn't ever feel like the right thing to wear, but no matter. You're there to play your songs. You play your songs. 

Then the ride ends and they shuffle you out the door.

And as you drive away, you daydream about being from Nashville. One voice is louder than the other and wouldn't it be lovely?

Then it's Arkansas, a campsite with a Coleman stove and playing catch with a football after a dip in the lake. Then it's westward and onward until the "Welcome to Texas" and then just a little further until the land rolls into hills and the brushy beauty of Kerrville welcomes you home.

New Folk. For the second time. The first time you didn't understand, but now you do. You get a second chance to honor what you had. Now you know. And this time, when Dalis invites you to feel at home, you will. Because this time you know what you been given and you know that it's precious and you know that, no matter if you win or not, the whole darn thing is more than you deserve and you do your freaking best.

Because you never know what'll happen next. Nashville to New Folk.

I'll see you out there.



Graduation, Spring and Possibility

MVHS Class of 1995. Billy, Dad, me, Matt, Ryoko (AFS, Japan)

MVHS Class of 1995. Billy, Dad, me, Matt, Ryoko (AFS, Japan)

My kids love graduation weekend. Of course they do. It means a party crawl from one punch bowl to the next, from one roaster of cheesy potatoes to the next with a side of cupcakes and candy and accolades, baby pictures of the graduate and guest books to sign. Where I grew up there was no such thing as the graduation open house. There was just cake and dinner and then you reported to the football field with cap and gown and your 3x5 card with your name clearly printed so the administrator knew who you were amongst the hundreds of other kids. And it was either Michael W. Smith's "My Place in this World" or "Friends are Friends forever" while the seniors cried or wondered why they weren't crying during this last choir anthem of the year.

The sun went down, the pots of marigolds lined the rows of chairs, the parents and friend filled the bleachers and by the time the night sky was up the field filled with well-wishers and moms with cameras and people arm in arm smiling and crying and snapping photos. And it was good.

It was a chilly weekend this time around and I felt for the lovely girls in their thin summer dresses welcoming guests and shaking hands at the edge of their drive ways, garages, social halls and shops repeating over and again which school they were going to and what their summer plans were while the rest of us visited and shook our heads at how time flies. 

Spring is finally here even if it felt more like Cambridge, England than Nebraska over the past few days. The grass is green. The trees are out, the gardens are coming back to life. I walk the grounds anxious to see the bloom of the irises but not yet. They're not here yet.

What is here? The feeling that maybe, just maybe I can pull it off. Maybe just maybe I've got what it takes to slowly inch my toes toward the scary future that part of me is tempted to escape. But no. I think I'm going to go forward and make it happen no matter what. 

That's cryptic. It doesn't have to be. What I mean is that I'm going to produce a big show in Seward, NE. It means I've got to stretch myself and entertain that it's big, but not impossible and it's the thing I need to get to the next place. Standing still just isn't going to cut it. 

It means that I had great conversations over the weekend with friends and mentors who offered encouragement, guidance and wisdom. In this day and age lots of people have great things to say and to offer as far as advice and insight, but also, we live in a "watch it from the car window" type of culture where we can see it, admire it, and easily not let it in. Just stay the same. However, I hear a little voice in my head whisper, "I think you should let it in. I think you should let it challenge you and change you because treading water gets you nowhere."

So there I was. Walking down the dirt road on Mother's Day by myself listening to "The Greatest Showman" soundtrack in my earbuds in my tennis shoes and clearance rack workout pants smiling at the notion of possibility. Like it's possible to make the circle bigger, to manifest inspiration first through crazy ideas, and then through the incremental execution of those ideas until one day you're where you wanted to be all along. 

It feels good. Spring, graduation, possibility. It's the season of newness, of moving forward, of dreaming big. And I know that, for me, that feeling doesn't last. It gets overpowered by darker notions, but in this moment I'm not afraid of the darker notions. I know I can't get rid of them completely, but I can take hold of this lightness and inspiration and try to make it so big and undeniable that the darkness couldn't possibly destroy it once it comes around. 

Right? Right.





What does your next best self look like?


A few weeks ago I walked through the door on a Sunday evening, put my bags down, hugged my family hello and started the turn around from road, to home, to back to work. It's always a quick turn around.

As we were finishing dinner that night, my phone rang and, the conversation that followed was completely out of the blue and full of wonder. It centered around this question,

"What does your next best self look like?"

What does it look like? And what if you were invited to a join a group of change-makers who were going to help you answer that question while giving you access to help and guidance that otherwise would be out of reach?

So there I was, under the gun to get laundry in the wash, unpack, regroup, tidy up and then, there I was pondering where I was in the right here and right now and consider where it is I'd like to go. And not just where I'd like to go by following the days from work to home to work again, but really, where do I want to go and what do I want to look like in 18 months?

Your next best self. Not just your inevitable next self, but your next BEST self. It requires me to assess which parts of my life are intentional and which are more like a treadmill. The treadmill will always be there, but it shouldn't take over. It should be set in its rightful place.

What's working well and what's not working? What do I want more of and what could I do without? 

I thought about it and thought about it. I talked with my family about it, my friends about it and I still think about it while sweeping up at the cafe and refilling the ice machine. And this is one of the realizations I came to:

There wasn't anything keeping me from asking that very question on my own to myself the day before the phone call came. The more I think about it, the less it has to do with a pile of money and more to do with creating a culture close to home that is creative, artistic, encouraging and catching. The funny thing is that I've had permission to pursue my next best self this whole time, I just didn't think I was deserving.

Then a friend calls me up, tells me she wants to include me in a project involving change makers and says we're going to give you some seed money, we're going to meet up occasionally to help each other along and together, we're going to work on our next incarnation of transformation- in all its shapes and sizes. And I'm in.

And you're in too. Think about it. What does your next best self look like? What do you want in your life that's not there yet? What do you want more of and what do you want less of? How would allowing yourself to become the person God called you to be create a chain reaction of inspiration within your community?

That's what I'm thinking about. For me it's got something to do with music, with bringing home that which I now venture out to go find, with challenge and doing scary things. And a podcast, perhaps. 

Now you think about it. Because it can't just be one of us or some of us. We need those called to hospitality, to charity, to bravery. We need people called to activism, to prayer, to adventure, to skill of all sorts. We need real world examples of gospel freedom by those inspired by the love of God. Do it. I'm going to try and do it. In a very imperfect, stumbly bumbly manner. But I'm going to do it.




Now who's the sexist?

I have terribly negative self-talk habits. I've had them since forever and I know that about myself. I am thankful that I'm cognicent of this fact because it helps me fight against such a habit on good days. On bad days habit just takes over.

On good days I think, "Well, I'm gonna work with what I've got and so be it." or "I know I'm terrible, but I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway."

On good days I write songs that I want to write and feel fearless. But because my bad self-talk can sneak in so easily, I've come up with some tricks to get around it. For example, I pretend I'm some other person who is unapologetic of the work they produce and then I write the song.

A few days ago I did this and I love the song I wrote. I pretended to be the lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan. I know almost nothing about him, but I've watched lots of youtube videos of his live performances and I am struck by his effortless confidence and unapologetic manner. That's what I thought of when I wrote the song.

And then I recorded the song and this is where it gets sexist. I recorded the song and gave a short introduction to the song saying how I imagine a cool male vocalist singing it. Like a Shane MacGowan and then I said something like, "A cool dude who can show us all how it's done."




What is my problem?!! If you're not clear about what an asshole I am to my own self here's what I'm thinking now that I reflect upon that unrehearsed thought:




Oh I know. I wrote the content, but really I'm just a dumb girl who doesn't have what it takes to make the song really shine. I need to hand it off to some man who can do the job better than I can. Who cares if I actually did the work and made the song kickass. It won't really be kickass until a man sings it. 

Pardon my French, but what an asshole. Me, I mean. I'm the asshole. I'm the sexist. 

So I guess this is a good day. I can see where I went wrong with my self-talk and I feel worthy enough to take the work back. Cory Branan, yes. You'd be so cool singing this song, but not as cool as me. It's mine.

It took me a few times watching the video for it to hit me. Perhaps you heard it and registered the sexism on the first go around. My apologies. Please, go be bigger than you think you deserve to be. Go be better than the boys. I know I am.

Addendum: To all the men, I know you wish me well. Thank you. It's not you, it's me. I don't even wish myself well. But I'm working on it.

Here's the video in question. It's called, "My Darling Dear."


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The road I drove on


You never know what the road will bring you when you drive on it. I drove west last week. 

When I got there I found my older brother, mom and dad. I found friends from all over all seated in a venue staring up at me while I played songs. 

I found help by the name of Richard who drove all the way back to the venue after the gig was over and all was locked up when I realized I had left my luggage in the green room.

We found mountains and sky and music in the form of I'm With Her with a sold out crowd but even so Richard found us some tickets and we enjoyed a great evening of music on a stage I had been on once. This time I was in the audience and it made me happy to be there.

We found a theatre in Arvada still playing "The Greatest Showman" that I really wanted to see on the big screen. If I had been on my own I would have cried a lot more. I loved it.

Even more I loved walking out into the daylight to find well wishes from friends upon the news being a New Folk finalist for Kerrville.


There was a visit to Red Rocks, there was a stroll in downtown Golden, there was an amazing show in Boulder featuring some incredible artists that made me think that coffee shops of America are holding treasures unseen and that if you want to find gold, go listen to an artist you've never heard of before and feel what it's like to be astounded. And I'm not talking about the $20 cover coffee shop artists. I'm talking about the playing for tips with their hearts on their sleeves songwriters so hungry you feel the impact of every word and every chord. 

As much as I loved I'm With Her and their perfect songcrafting, they would be wise to get themselves to a coffee shop and see how hungry those folks are back in the corner of crowded room and killing it no matter who is watching or how much they're making. Shanna in a dress, Paul Kimbiris and Andrew Sturtz. So so so good. I was not expecting that kind of music and I'm so glad I found it.

And then we drove home. We made it back to Nebraska and Cinderella went back to the cafe on Monday morning.

There's something else that happened on Sunday night but I'll tell you in the next post. Let's just say, we live in a world of wonder and it, for some reason, smiled on me. The funny thing is that it's smiling on you too no matter if Ed McMahon shows up with a huge fake check or not. Trust me. It's smiling on you.

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Run a bath and listen to some Enya

orinoco flow.jpg

Enya holds a real special place in my heart. I don't remember buying the Orinoco Flow cassette, but I remember having it and playing it over and over again. First, because I couldn't understand the words "Let me sail, let me sail let the Orinoco flow"- I got that part, but seriously, I couldn't understand the next three lines at all and I was pretty sure it was in another language. And second, I couldn't figure out how she made it sound like that. My 5th grade self had zero knowledge of recording anything other than pressing play on my own cassette player when my favorite song came on the radio ensuring that my kickass mix tape never included the first 5 seconds of any song back in the day, but that's it. That's all I knew of recording.

How did her voice sound like that? How many layers did she use? What instruments was I hearing? The vocal was so mesmerizing to me that I couldn't hear all the other stuff filling out the recording.

And then fast forward to freshman year in college in Indiana with a new roommate. The sting of being far from home is lessened considerably when she likes falling asleep to Enya just like you do. And she did. We'd fall asleep to Enya or Laura Pausini. Those are the ones I remember most, but there were probably more in the rotation.

And then fast forward to being a grown up and trying to make it all work. Make the work work, make the relationships work, make the schedule work, make the list work, make the food and body and spirit and small appliances and vehicles work work work. 

And that's when it hit me. My new pep talk is "Run a bath and listen to some Enya." 

It's like a trigger. How does Enya make me feel? It makes me feel like it's bedtime in college in my dorm room with my best friend. It makes me think of how I listened to her when I was twelve and soaked it all in with my eyes closed. Will I really play some Enya? Probably not unless it's a real shitstorm, but mostly the idea makes me feel peaceful.

Will I really run a bath? No, probably not. But the idea of running a bath makes me feel at ease like it's OK to step out of the work for a moment and close my eyes. Stretch goal: get one of those big bathrooms with a big bathtub like in the movies where someone went to all that trouble to light all those candles and then get in the tub. Stretch goal #2: GET A HOT TUB!!!!!

Life is hard. I'm not great at it. I look around and feel like I'm behind the eight ball most days. It's like triumph and defeat depending on when you ask me. Remember the half wall? Remember the half wall between my kitchen and living room I've been compaining about for so long? Well, we removed it last weekend. After eight years we finally got rid of it. 


That's a win. And then the days keep going and you wanna know what? I finally put out that fire, but it didn't snuff out all the other stuff. It didn't all of a sudden check all the stuff off my list. Go figure. You get a win one day, but you've gotta keep on going all the days after that.

And that's what I'm doing. That's what we're all doing. One moment at a time, one conversation and decision at a time. And when it gets hard in an instant, I'll think of Enya and running water. "Let me sail, let me sail, let the Orinoco Flow."


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