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My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

27 Jan

What sort of red-blooded American woman has a recipe blog without a chocolate chip cookie recipe??

Oh, oh…

Oh dear.

How did this happen? Once again I fell into that trap of thinking, “Oh that’s too simple. People know how to make that.” And that’s true, but hey, who knows? Every method has its own little tricks and quirks to it. In fact, what started this was my husband showing me this image from Handle the Heat that’s been floating around social media:

Now there’s science I can get behind! Why didn’t I do this as my science experiment for PJAS in grade school?

Joe asked about the chocolate chip cookies I make, and I told him that my recipe was a combination of several of those variables, except that I rarely chilled the dough for a whole day. Maybe he was just trying to get a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but he asked me to try it out of curiosity.

I did, and the flavor was amazing, but found that the first batch didn’t spread out as much as I’d prefer. So for the next go-round, I rolled the soft dough into a log, wrapped it in parchment, and then chilled it. Instead of rolling or dropping/flattening the cookies, I cut half-inch slices off of the dough log, ensuring even thickness and less spreading.

And lo, it was the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I doubt the ingredients are much different than yours, but I think the method here makes all the difference.

CCL’s Most Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer, combine the sugars and melted butter and beat until well mixed and slightly thickened. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla to this mixture and beat until thick (2-3 minutes).

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until combined.

Mix in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the soft dough onto a large piece of parchment paper and form it into a 12-13 in. log. Roll the dough up in the parchment and refrigerate for 24 hours.

To bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and then use a sharp knife (those chocolate chips are chilled and hard now) to cut the dough log into 1/2 in. slices. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined sheet pan about 2 in. apart and bake for 16 minutes or until golden around the edges.


They’ll bake more evenly, no spreading, no fuss. Just delicious chocolate chip cookies. Now stop reading and get baking!


A Note on Norman Scribner

23 Mar

The “Tuba Mirum” section from Mozart’s Requiem begins with a series of solos, with tenor and alto solos back-to-back. A little too timidly, I explained that I wanted to audition for both vocal parts. Norman Scribner raised his eyebrow at me looking unconvinced, but prepared to play the passage I’d marked.

Norman at the piano.

Norman at the piano.

I was in the hall at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, auditioning for the Choral Arts Society of Washington. After finishing grad school, I finally had some free time in the evenings after work, and wanted to get back to singing in some way. I missed singing with other people. I hadn’t auditioned for anything since college and felt completely out of practice. I’d torn our townhouse apart looking for sheet music and cursed myself for having no idea where any of it had gone. The Requiem was the only appropriate piece of music I even had in my possession to use for a choral audition.

Maestro Scribner gave me a few bars to get a sense of the pace he was playing, and offered another lift of his eyebrow to cue me in. Fortunately the tenor solo came first, giving me a chance to ease into my voice and calm my heart rate. I made a quick jump at the end of the tenor solo into the alto part, and I knew I’d won him over as a rather sly grin made its way across his face.

He laughed when I finished. “Well that’s just fantastic,” he said. We did some scales and rhythm exercises (the latter I totally bombed), then he told me there were still several weeks of auditions, so I probably wouldn’t hear anything for a few weeks. I thanked him for the opportunity and went on my way.

A few days later, I headed to Pittsburgh to visit my family. I got a phone call, and when I picked up, it was Norman. “Is this Christina?”


“Hi, Norman Scribner from Choral Arts. Is this a good time?”


“I keep thinking about your audition. I just think, I think you have something really special. You have a really unique voice. I’ve never heard anything like it. I don’t need any altos right now, but would you join Choral Arts as a tenor? I’d really like to have you.”

All I know is that I said yes, and that he thanked me. My brain almost went blank for the rest of the conversation. He was so utterly confident in my voice and that I’d be a good fit for the sound of the choir. It was beautifully humbling.


Suited up for my first concert. The whole “being a tenor” thing helped me dodge buying a long blue choir dress and jacket.

Over the next ten months, I spent a great deal of time working with, and learning from Norman. He guided us through rehearsals for Orff’s Carmina Burana, an “Homage to Modern Classics” concert featuring Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, and Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, a Christmas concert full of Russian carols, the annual “Living the Dream…Singing the Dream” Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute concert, and finally Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem.

A photo of the choir, orchestra, and Maestro Scribner at Brahms "Ein Deutches Requiem."

A photo of the choir, orchestra, and Maestro Scribner at Brahms “Ein Deutches Requiem.”

He guided a smaller group of us who volunteered through rehearsals to sing with Andrea Bocelli as his back-up choir when he came to perform at the Verizon Center in DC. Oh, how patient he was as we attempted to not mangle the “Triumphal March” from Aida, which seemed to split into about a million parts.

Orchestra/choir backstage pass at the Verizon Center! SO COOL.

Orchestra/choir backstage pass at the Verizon Center! SO COOL.

There were also the numerous “Tenor and Bass Only” rehearsals during Carmina Burana where we’d fly through “In Taberna” over and over and over again until we stopped tripping over our tongues. Norman always had a moment to laugh with us during what could have been a redundant chore, but just as quickly, it was back to business.

I introduced him to my parents when they came to see one of our concerts and he repeated to my mother what a “unique treasure” of a voice I had. Every time he stood before us in The Kennedy Center and waited patiently for us to calm the chatter (oh come on, over 100 singers on one stage fidgeting around at dress rehearsal is a haven for good conversation), I felt the presence of something very special.

He drew sound out of us with his baton, and launched it across the walls of the Kennedy Center like a brilliant painter. He brought confidence and joy back into my voice when I wasn’t so sure I still “had it” anymore.

norman 1

Norman guiding his choir magnificently.

I am so utterly grateful to have known Norman Scribner. When I heard of his passing today, I could only hug my husband close to me, and cry for the loss of this heart and soul full of song. I feel blessed to have known him, blessed to remember that phone call, and in awe of his service to Choral Arts and music as a whole.

This article was published shortly before the last concert Norman conducted as Choral Arts’ director. It says more about his legacy in Washington, nationally, and abroad than I can possibly say. I know his spirit will live on in the lives of every person he shared time and music with, and am glad to be counted as one of his students.

norman 3

Norman Scribner, founder and Artistic Director Emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington. February 25, 1936 – March 22, 2015

May you be at peace, Norman. Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Down with Disease! An Art Auction for Sara’s Family

5 Mar

Eight Julys ago, I met an incredible woman while studying abroad in England. Sara is the kind of person whose presence just makes you feel better when you walk into a room–instantly friendly and welcoming. She emits positive, joyful energy from her very core. We knew each other for barely a week before I knew I’d met a true friend. With our friend Beth, we spent a weekend in London seeing shows in the West End, visiting the Tower of London, British Museum, Buckingham Palace, the Salvador Dali museum, the Globe Theatre, and Westminster Abbey. We even found a hole in the wall called The Laughing Halibut to get our first fix of real fish n’ chips.

Back on campus in Cambridge, we admired a good-looking Hamlet over glasses of wine at an outdoor production, played countless rounds of trivial pursuit in the college pub, made friendship rings out of gummy candy, and generally just LAUGHED. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole summer.

She even flew across the country later that year to visit me in Boston.


On top of all of that, Sara is a WARRIOR. A few years after we studied abroad together, Sara was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. She beat it. It came back. She beat it again.

Now Sara is battling Hodgkins Lymphoma for the 3rd time, and is pretty much so awesome that we all know she’s going to take it down. BUT! She needs a bone marrow transplant and treatment in Kansas City. (Fortunately, her sister is a donor match, which means a much lower risk of rejection.)

A silent art auction has been organized to raise funds to provide her husband, Brandon and son, Jazz with a place to stay in Kansas City and to provide them with some basic living expenses while Sara is away from work, so that she can have the family support she needs the most during her 100 days of treatment away from home. Please take a few minutes to browse through and consider bidding on one of the beautiful pieces found here. You have until March 21st:

The website includes instructions for out-of-state bidders. Even if you can’t make a bid yourself, please share this link and spread the word. It would mean a great deal to me, and I know that your positive vibrations will lift Sara up and give her strength.

Visit Sara’s blog at to learn more about her journey.
UPDATE 3/17: Here is a link to donate directly:Click here to lend your support to: Down With Disease!  Funding for the Johnson Family. and make a donation at !
Shanti om,

Satisfy My Soul: Sweet Potato, Chickpea, and Collard Greens Stew

14 Jan

Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt remember the “Mystery Food” series. For a couple of summers, I participated in Community Supported Agriculture programs in the NoVA area. Basically, it’s like buying stock…only more delicious. You pay a lump sum to a local farm at the beginning of the growing season, and once a week receive a box full of whatever has been harvested that week.

What I miss the most about it is that it forced me out of my comfort zone. I had to plan meals around whatever appeared in that box—and during some times of the year that meant figuring out what to do with massive quantities of squash, apples, or greens. Kale must grow really well around here, because boy-howdy did I eat a lot of kale those summers.

So when my friend Heather tipped me off to a special deal on Relay Foods, a grocery delivery service that sources from local stores, restaurants, and farms, I was excited to find they had their own version of this CSA-type share called a Bounty Box. Cha-ching! Time for vegetable roulette. I ordered one and anxiously anticipated what might appear on the porch.

There were some glorious pink lady apples, a jug of fresh apple cider, a nice fat little tomato, some white potatoes, watercress, curly kale, an enormous pile of collard greens, and several very hefty sweet potatoes. I was definitely pleased with the haul, but a little thrown for a loop. Confession time: I never buy sweet potatoes or collards. I have nothing against them, but I just never buy them or cook with them.


Nothing like a mystery box to let your mouth know what it’s been missing! Seasonal food is awesome, because it’s exactly what the earth has to offer at that moment—and wherever you are, it’s probably exactly what your body is asking for too. Think about it: Collards packed with vitamin c, k, and soluble fiber (not to mention factors that regulate immune function) and sweet potatoes full of fiber, beta carotene, vitamin c, vitamin b-6, and potassium. Yep, mother earth definitely knows you need some protection against flu season. And nothing says yummy winter food like a stew…

Sweet Potato, Chickpea, and Collard Greens Stew

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • 3-4 cups collard greens, large ribs removed, roughly chopped
  • 1 15.4 oz. can of no salted added chickpeas, drained, or 2 cups of dried chickpeas soaked overnight
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (approximately 1 lb.), peeled and diced
  • 2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by heating the olive oil, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, and coriander seeds  in a large pot over medium heat. Heat for about one minute, and then add the chickpeas and stir to combine. Cook the chickpeas until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. Remove, and set aside.
20140109_171922Add the onions to the pot and cook until soft and somewhat translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute more, stirring frequently so that the spices don’t burn.

Add the diced sweet potatoes to the pot and cook for 10 minutes.
20140109_173252Once the sweet potatoes have softened slightly, add enough vegetable or chicken stock to the pot to just cover them. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are very tender.
Remove the pot from the heat and blend or mash the soup until you like the consistency. I like to leave some chunks of sweet potato, rather than making this smooth like bisque.
Return the pot to the stove over medium heat and add the collard greens and chickpeas. Simmer the soup for 10-15 minutes or until the greens are tender.
20140109_191507Serve hot, garnished with some roasted chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds for some crunch.
Nothing like a bowl of something hearty to warm your body and soul on a cold January evening. And a reminder that sometimes being thrown out of your regular routine leads to a whole new experience of comfort, ease, and culinary satisfaction.

Ciao for now,


Dreamy Creamy Greens: Vegan Broccoli and Spinach Bisque

12 Jan

Happy New Year, dear readers! I am so grateful to all of you who visit and spend some of your time perusing the blog. I can’t believe that Neen’s Notes celebrates its SIXTH birthday this year. Here’s to another year of sharing and cooking wonderful things together.

Like many, I find myself reflecting at the start of a new year on the goals I did or didn’t accomplish, what brought joy or sadness, and even how I changed on a physical and spiritual level. 2013 forced me to re-evaluate myself in the deepest, most raw way. Losing the “definition” of who I was when I lost my job forced me to acknowledge that I was defining me by an occupation that could change at any moment. Gently, I let it tug me toward finally making the leap to start yoga teacher training, let myself go deeper and find a better sense of self and how I connect and interact with everything and everyone else. And I guess it’s pretty obvious that it has been a powerful and eye-opening experience thus far.
I enter 2014 stronger, more flexible (in mind and body), and eager to learn.

Though I don’t make new year’s resolutions, a general mantra of adding more good to life and causing less harm overall has been at the forefront of my mind. And for me, part of causing less harm and adding more good to my culinary life means less meat and more plants. Even as a conscious omnivore who sources animal proteins from local, sustainable sources as best she can, I can’t deny that eating animal protein is an indulgent choice. It has a greater impact on the environment, is less economical than producing plant protein, and is cruelty toward a sentient being. So rather than beat myself up for not going full vegetarian or vegan, I’m simply focused on adding more good to life, learning more plant-based recipes and techniques, and eating more plant-based meals. Taking and wasting less overall is something that would make me feel like a better citizen of the planet.

And of course, anything worth cooking is worth making delicious. This week, I’m sharing a soup that hits all the right notes: It’s creamy, comforting, rich, and earthy, is loaded with health benefits and cleansing ingredients, and is free of most common allergens (gluten, nuts, and dairy). It might not cure whatever influenza plague seems to cling to most cities in the winter months, but I’d call this the best tasting preventative medicine I’ve ever had.

I loved cream of broccoli soup growing up, but always bogged down with milk and cheese. Nothing quite like a rich, salty, cheesy bisque surrounding little florets of broccoli. And while there’s nothing wrong with fat in your diet, I thought “we can do better!” Let’s give the body a break–digesting dairy is difficult. In fact, a whole lot of people lack the lactase enzyme almost entirely. Instead, our friend light coconut milk comes in here and brings the creaminess to the party, while simultaneously raising HDL levels and helping improve the blood cholesterol profile. Broccoli helps to modulate the body’s immune response because it’s loaded with vitamin c and and iron, and the addition of spinach brings even more iron, vitamin a, folate, b vitamins, calcium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids (talk about a super-food). Ginger adds a special spiciness to the blend, and can also soothe an upset stomach and act as a mild anticoagulant and improve blood circulation. Finally, the soup is simmered with a piece of kombu, an edible sea vegetable that contains a large amount of glutamic acid, which brings that savory, umami taste to the pot. Kombu is a great way to achieve an earthy flavor and body in soups without adding animal protein. It’s also rich in iodine that helps regulate the thyroid, which in turn, helps you stay hormonally balanced and healthy. Why aren’t you eating this yet??

Oh…my bad. Here’s how to get it:

Creamy Broccoli and Spinach Bisque

1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 in. coins (discard dark green parts for use in stocks or broths)
1 in. piece of ginger, chopped
3 cups broccoli, rough chopped
3 cups spinach, rough chopped
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock (or water)
1 piece kombu
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and leek to the pan and cook until mostly translucent, but not browned, 5-7 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook one minute more.
20140112_101930Add the spinach and broccoli to the pot and mix well.
Add the broth and spices, raise the heat to high and allow the soup to come to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
Add the kombu to the pot and simmer until the broccoli is tender, about 10-15 minutes.

20140112_102729Remove the pot from the heat, discard the stick of kombu, and puree the soup in a blender (working in batches to avoid splatters), or using an immersion blender. Add the coconut milk and return the soup to the stove over low heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
20140112_104033Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs.

20140112_12094520140112_121018Treating yourself to this soup is a gift in so many ways. Not only does it taste rich and velvety, it feels like it was meant for comfort on a cold winter day, and all those health benefits are a present for your body. And because it’s free of animal products, gluten, and nuts, it’s something you can share with a great majority of folks. And you know, I think food almost always tastes better when shared.
Ciao for now,

The Trance Dance

13 Dec

Initially, I saw the words “trance dance” on the syllabus for yoga teacher training and felt an anxious curiosity rise up through my stomach. The self-conscious person does not easily become uninhibited, especially one who is hyper-aware of her body within space. Even nearly a decade removed from being obese, I am still constantly aware of how much space I am taking up when I am in crowds of people.

And it’s not exactly an easy thing to define, because like most things in yoga, how it’s defined and what it is depends on the lineage being studied, the perspective of the practitioner, the geographic region, the group of people….and so on and so forth. The best description I found online was this one from Kiara Boch Yoga:

We are creative, rhythmic, fluid beings. It’s in our cells. We are made mostly of water, which is always flowing, moving and changing. When rivers in nature are contaminated, it prohibits life from flourishing and it becomes stagnant, dis-eased, even toxic. The physical, mental and emotional rivers of our body act the same way. When people are fearful, repressed, they freeze and hold still, rejecting the life force from moving through the self. Yoga Trance Dance is all about taking back your power and reclaiming your natural harmonized state of being. It’s about exploring the eternal flow of natural spontaneous movement through yoga and ecstatic free-form movement. When the rivers are flowing and circulating, grace appears, Joy and embodied freedom ignite liberate us to move, to breathe, and to be alive!

Three weeks ago, I walked into the studio and was surrounded by the scent of sage. The yogi leading our dance explained that sage is an herb often used in purifying rituals, and since our theme for the weekend was purification, cleansing, and discipline, burning it was a way to purify the students and the space. We had a brief lecture to discuss the physical cleanse we’d be taking part in (which took place this past weekend), and then moved our blankets and notebooks aside, coming to sit in a circle. I noticed that bolsters and blankets were lining the walls.

That’s odd.

And then I saw the basket of blindfolds.  The anxious curiosity in my stomach turned sour. Not okay, not okay, not okay, a thousand times not okay. My teacher went on to explain that we would hear music from all over the world, that she and one other teacher would remain un-blindfolded in order to guide us away from any danger or help anyone who really needed to get out. But she encouraged us to stay in it, stay with the present moment, and challenged us to breathe through whatever feelings or thoughts came up. For the entire duration, we would practice a specific kind of breath—two short inhales through the nose, followed by an exhale through the mouth. No matter what changed throughout the experience, one could return to the breath at any time. It comforted me slightly. If you panic, just come back to the breath. Deep down, you know that no one in this room would ever hurt you.

And frankly, I was the one holding the blindfold. I had to choose to put it on. Years ago I had therapist named Karen. I asked her many times how I was supposed to just deal with panic. How I was supposed to just work through anger, rage, mistrust, and deep, deep darkness. Now someone was asking me to return to the darkness and it occurred to me…

You cannot purify or detoxify that which you cannot face.

And so I faced the darkness. I began the breathing pattern: In, in…ouuuut. In, in…ouuuut. Something like a dijeridoo or vuvuzela came blaring through the speakers.

I can’t do this. Please let me out.

I remembered the split-second of standing in the doorway of an airplane before I leapt forward with arms spread wide to fly toward earth. That moment that happened in less than a second—not even enough time to think—where every cell in my body resisted moving forward. Only now, my body was resisting even being within the space.

Let go.

I can’t.

You can.

I remembered the first time that I performed a synchronized swimming routine in the 12 ft. deep section of the pool. The spotlight was so bright against the black evening sky that seeing was next to impossible. The music was almost all vibration underwater, with the occasional lyric somehow finding a clear path through rows of moving bodies. “Waterproof” make-up and Knox gelatin smeared across my face, and blurred what little vision I had. In those moments, there was only trust. We could only count, breathe, and depend on our co-swimmers to reel us back toward the fold whenever one of us pin-wheeled out of control. We lived the darkness and consumed the sound, letting it fly out through limbs with no ground beneath them.

My body remembered the cold night air against my skin as we took our bows alongside the pool, and I let out an audible shudder in the studio. The dijeridoo got louder and the music unfolded into the room, spilling itself across the floor and grabbing my ankles.


At first the motion was small, only a minor sway side-to-side. I thought of the woman who led the belly-dancing class I went to in high school with my friend Audrey. She rippled her arms like a snake, making a fluid, ever-changing sideways “S” shapes. It never looked smooth when I stood doing it, judging my jiggling, floppy arms in the mirror. But, having resigned myself to doing something, I figured it was worth trying. I went by feel, seeing if I could turn my arms to liquid. You have no bones! I felt the shape and let it ripple over and over again, occasionally feeling another student brush against me or squeeze my hand in solidarity.

The wariness crept back in frequently and each time I returned to the breathing pattern. Every so often, whatever movement I was making stopped feeling right and I would stand, just swaying. My hands came to the blindfold, and each time came the temptation to tear it away and see what was happening. Maybe just a little peek to see where I was in the room.  I couldn’t understand why I just wanted to know so badly, but I did. Still, I resisted the impulse and stayed in a sea of ink and occasional sputters of kaleidoscope-colors behind my eyelids.

Every time the music changed, my body changed too. At times it felt deeply sad, slouching toward the floor and moving as though weighed down by wet, heavy clay. During some moments it was wild, like a jungle animal—I distinctly recall crouching down near the floor and imagining myself as some sleek, wild panther lurking through the darkness. Still at other moments there was a profound sense of release—at one point my mouth opened and instead of the exhale of breath came a pure, single sung note. ( I watched The Little Mermaid way too many times as a kid—it reminded me of this: And yes, at some moments there was nothing but that impulse to escape.

The sound of “oommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” came over the speakers, cueing our class to lay down and take a resting pose. Finally silence offered itself to the room and we removed the blindfolds, blinking eyes full of incredulous confusion and gratefulness. Slowly, we arranged ourselves back into the giant circle where we’d started.

I didn’t expect what happened next: I cried and couldn’t stop.

Here you are.

A whole lifetime happened in an hour and forty-five minutes. My body remembered itself throughout its history, and as I faced the darkness, I saw both all that I was unwilling to look at, and everything I wanted to see, but had somehow forgotten over a lifetime of “I should be” and “I should do.” My body had made strange shapes on the outside, but my mind felt color, breathed vibration, and warped like a funhouse mirror.

All I could do was try to thank my classmates for allowing me the safe space to have such an experience. I felt a depth of gratefulness that almost turned to guilt when I wondered how I could ever repay them for the journey. Through my tears I tried to explain that simply being there and feeling their vibrations around me made it possible to resist the panic, to not react to the fear, and to say YES to life, YES to experience, YES to being present right there just as I was.

To say YES to myself.

That night I wrung myself out more than any twisting posture has ever done. And suddenly there was space for more in my heart. This morning, my teacher said during class that the wonderful thing about yoga is that you develop the ability to have space for yourself anywhere, even on a crowded metro train. You create space within yourself for peace, and no one can steal that away. What a beautiful thing to learn.

You have peace within you, and it is yours to keep. Even in the chaos.

Ciao for now,