The World Golf Hall of Fame and IMAX Theatre

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the World Golf Hall of Fame and IMAX Theatre. It is in a beautiful setting just two miles of I-95 in St. Augustine, Florida. It is less than fifteen miles from wonderful beaches. It is a golfer’s paradise, with golf-ready housing nearby and ample opportunity to play in various settings.  The golf-centered development is enhanced by various ponds and outlying woods, giving it a pastoral flavor unique to professional sports hall of fame complexes.

The Hall of Fame is quite large, but not overwhelming. And it has plenty for the non-golf enthusiast. There is an interesting Bob Hope display with plenty of samples of his unique humor.  It greets you as you begin your tour.

There are also two opportunities to try your hand at putting, and even a simulator for driving. I actually lost my ball during my try, which figures………….

The HOF combines both modern and historical interests, and is sufficiently spread out so that you can breathe. There is far too much to take it on one visit.  Surprisingly, the gift shop connected to HOF is rather small. This has a positive dimension, in that they have avoided excessive commercialism.

Next door to the HOF is an IMAX Theatre and an 18 hole putting course. You can opt for these as part of your ticket package. I would. Even better is the year IMAX pass for locals. The screen is huge and the help is friendly.

I would recommend this to almost anyone simply because of the peaceful setting and tasteful development. There are plenty of golf highlights to watch if you are not into trivia and paraphernalia.

All in all, it adds up to a very nice relaxing and informative day, hopefully capped off by an IMAX feature and a friendly game of refined miniature golf. Fore!

The phone number is 904-940-4133. The website is worldgallhalloffame.org.

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St. Joseph, The Holy Family, Art, and Spirituality: Book Reviews

I am in the process of reviewing a series of titles published by Saint Joseph’s University Press on the subject of St. Joseph, the Holy Family, and devotional art and spirituality. In reviewing these titles I have been overwhelmed by the erudition and eloquence of the authors.  Writing in an accessible manner is not second nature to most academics, but in this case I find their style sufficiently intelligible to the non-specialist, providing that they are willing to take their time.

I would like to recommend the following titles:

The Holy Family as Prototype of the Civilization of Love (edited by Fr. Joseph F. Chorpenning, O.S.F.S.).

Inspired by an art exhibition co-sponsored by Saint Joseph’s University, these contain informative articles on topics addressed by the exhibition. The artwork is exquisite, and the accompanying articles are very detailed and specific. The footnotes are extensive and helpful for clarifying important points within the article. This is primarily a book for specialists, but as exhibit catalogs go, it is quite accessible to the layperson. The cover is a stunning color painting of the Holy Family from Peru.

St. Joseph in Italian Renaissance Society and Art: New Directions and Interpretations (Carolyn C. Wilson).

This is perhaps the most highly academic study of the books I reviewed. It focuses primarily on artistic and historical considerations rather than devotional ones. This hard bound book has outstanding b/w and color pictures, with copious footnotes. I enjoyed it because of its knowledgeable and confident tone. It does not read as polemical, yet it freely disagrees with other authorities. This book may be for enthusiasts only, but the writing is sufficiently clear for laypersons to at least enjoy the pictures and selectively read parts of the book that are perhaps more practical in orientation, specifically with respect to historical considerations. As the subtitle indicates, it goes into the minutiae with a passion.

A look at the background of Dr. Wilson perhaps helps explain its erudition and finesse. She is a graduate of the Shipley School and Wellesley College, with a Ph.D. From NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. My personal bias, which i cannot substantiate empirically or objectively, is that learned female art critics from from private liberal arts colleges bring a unique sensitivity to their commentary. Another outstanding art professor who has produced two programs for The Learning Company, Dr. Catherine Scallen, also comes to mind in this regards.

I don’t know enough about the subject to be coherent, but I do know that I sense some differences in the way the sexes approach art, but I would not divide it neatly between analytical and aesthetic approaches. In my opinion, women bring an interesting aesthetic appreciation to art criticism. Dr. Wilson’s style is down-to-earth and approachable, despite being erudite, but I don’t think I would dispute any of her conclusions in class! It is nice to read a book where the critic’s love for the art comes through along with her understanding of it.

The Holy Family in Art and Devotion (edited by Fr. Joseph F. Chorpenning, O.S.F.S.).

This contains outstanding articles on the subject by highly respected scholars. These were published on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the inclusion of the feast of the Holy Family in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

I am a big fan of compendiums of articles because there is usually very little verbiage present. The word count limitations won’t allow it. However, authors usually have sufficient space to make and argue their point coherently, without delving excessively into minutiae that would be beyond the comprehension and interest of laypersons. In this case the articles are rock solid and make the book more like a concise compendium. While some of the topics may be highly specialized, the writing remains accessible.

Joseph of Nazareth Through the Centuries (edited by Fr. Joseph F. Chorpenning, O.S.F.S.).

This is a comprehensive historical survey of different aspects of Joseph’s personality, role, and the devotion that evolved. Authors of various disciplines are engaged, making this like somewhat of an amalgamated college course, a literary “best of”, so to speak. In any event, this 7 x 10 inch, 356 page textbook contains not only outstanding articles, but interesting footnotes and helpful bibliographies. Color and b/w pictures are interspersed tastefully throughout.

Why do I find the books to be consistently excellent? The editor is a master of the subject who writes well, is well-connected and well-read in the field, and is willing to produce books that  are aesthetically as well as intellectually pleasing, even at significant cost.

Imprints often bear the distinctive mark of their publisher. Fr. Joseph Chorpenning is an elite scholar on the subject who has a passion for it as well. Most important, he doesn’t allow the books to become so academic that they are incomprehensible to the informed non-specialist. Since he is a member of a Salesian order, whose patron is the patron saint of writers and (unofficially) laypersons,  St. Frances de Sales, himself a lucid and accessible writer, this is not surprising.]

What I found most commendable and unusual for such a collection is the lack of overlap and duplication. Even though similar topics are treated, you don’t get the impression of a rehashing of material. Each of the articles and books are sufficiently distinct, even when the individual topics are similar. These really are textbooks that can also be used for private reading. Given the quality of the editing, scholarship, and presentation, I can unhesitatingly recommend all of them.

If I went into specifics on each book, given all the angles and aspects addressed, I am afraid that the average reader would get “blogged down.”  I would much rather you check these out of the library, most likely through inter-library loan, or order them from Saint Joseph’s University Press so that you can see for yourself. You will likely find, as I did, that the books are a bit overwhelming — so much content to accompany the artwork, but worthwhile material that stretches both the mind and the aesthetic sense.

As mentioned in a previous review, I suggest the use of the reading practice of lectio divina with these. Read a short section, stop when a concept, image, or application touches you, and mull over it. Like the great classics of antiquity, there is enough to nibble on in order to get the flavor of the whole. Savor those parts that speak to you, and skim over the rest. You can’t digest it all in one sitting, but through prudent reading you can focus on the topics of greatest interest and find ample food for thought.

The books can be purchased from The Saint Joseph’s University Press, website sjupress.com, telephone number (610) 660-3402.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Just Man, Husband of Mary, Guardian of Christ

Some books that you review can be intimidating and diverting if you let them. There is so much in them that you can forget what your primary purpose is in exploring them, at least initially. “Just Man, husband of Mary, Guardian of Christ: An Anthology of Readings from Jeronimo Gracian’s Summary of the Excellencies of St. Joseph (1597)”, translated and edited with an introductory essay and commentary by Fr. Joseph F. Chorpenning, O.S.F.S., is just such a work. This book could take you a year to go through and you still wouldn’t have exhausted its riches.

Once again Saint Joseph’s University Press continues its tradition of making their books easy on the eyes. Here the font size of the print is larger than some of the art books, and there is considerable white space surrounding the text. The printing is double-spaced, which helps for a content-rich book like this. It makes it easier to digest, and inscribe notes.

I was sold on the book just by reading the Introduction and the Table of Contents. I put a lot of stock in the latter, because it gives me an overview of the book. It tells me if it will touch on points of interest. It offers a sense of the book’s breadth and depth.

Anthology is the word for this book. Comprehensive. Learned but accessible. In fact, on reading it, a passage found in Volume 2 of William Barclay’s Daily Celebration journal came to mind:

“It is never wise to make things too easy for anyone. If you make things too easy for a person, you just unfit him to face the real test. It is never wise to make the task of a child or of a student too easy. It only leads to trouble in the long run.” (May 10th entry.)

This is what comes to mind with recent publishing trends, and sadly as reflected in Catholic circles as well. Accessibility is everything. In the process, we have run afoul of Einstein’s proverb “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

To the contrary, this book, and so many of the titles I have been surveying from Saint Joseph’s University Press, actually make you slow down and think. Speed reading is out. Reflective reading is in. Yet, this is done without academic jargon and obtuse language that so often characterizes scholarly writing.

Fr. Joseph’s translation is eminently readable and stylish, reflecting the original, but it is also economic. Few extraneous words. This is true of the best writers. They make their point efficiently so that you don’t get bogged down in the verbiage.

This book has so much substance that it must be approached with a reading plan. If you read it too fast, you’ll miss a lot. It is absolutely essential that you begin with the introduction. Jeronimo Gracian is not well known outside of the scholarly world, but after reading this you will agree that he should be.

This is a book that approaches the level of a spiritual classic. It is solid writing and speculation on St. Joseph by credible persons. It goes beyond the biblical accounts but does not contradict them. It fleshes out the Bible’s portrait of Joseph, and helps us to discover just who he was, and how he bears on our life. The writing is a bit flowery, reflecting the age, but you will get used to it.

This is a book that makes us appreciate St. Joseph more, and hopefully emulate him.

It is available from Saint Joseph University’s Press in Philadelphia. Their website is http://www.sjupress.com. Their phone number is (61) 660-3400.

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Book Review: Patron Saint of the New World: Spanish American Colonial Images of St. Joseph

In 1992, Saint Joseph’s University Press published an intriguing art book entitled “Patron Saint of the New World: Spanish American Colonial Images of Saint Joseph.” The pictures are in black and white.

As interesting and well presented as the pictures are, I found the accompanying text to be even more interesting. Frankly, even without the pictures the book would be well worth reading. Issued in conjunction with an art exhibition presented at Saint Joseph’s University in 1992, after which the book is named, it offers an outstanding portrayal of devotion to Saint Joseph and its post-Renaissance evolution in Europe, and particularly Spain and France.

Several excellent essays are included, including one by the editor, Fr. Joseph Chorpenning, O.S.F.S. Fr. Joseph did his doctoral work in Hispanic Studies, and offers a treasure trove of insights into both St. Joseph and the evolution of devotion to him. Fans of St. Teresa of Avila will find this must reading, which is not surprising given her enthusiasm for St. Joseph.

The book has a wonderful color cover photo of an eighteenth century Peruvian painting of St. Joseph and the Christ Child.

Although the print font used in the book is small, reading is made easier by the generous and judicious use of “white space.” That is, the words, and thereby the reader, have room to breathe.

This is a book not only to enjoy for the fine art it portrays but also to study. Read it and learn about the fruits of St. Teresa’s and St. Francis deSales’ devotion to and promotion of St. Joseph. Perhaps do lectio divina both on the text and the pictures. In any event, take your time with it, for it was carefully composed and artfully presented. It is available from Saint Joseph’s University Press, in Philadephia. Their  phone number is (610) 660-3400 and their website is http://www.sjupress.com.

 

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Saint Joseph’s University Press

A Philadelphia Press

Normally, I review books within my area of expertise. Now I would like to review a publisher, Saint Joseph’s University Press. Their website is www.sjupress.com.  Rather than duplicate information from there, I will offer concise observations and reflections. This will be one of a series of reviews of their list. This initial post will be an overview.

A bit of history. And, I admit, a smidgeon of bias too. Saint Joseph’s University is located in a section of Philadelphia I am familiar with: Overbrook. It is near St. Charles Seminary, where I took courses and attended seminars over the years. It is a beautiful campus and a good source of Catholic education. They have had an excellent faculty over the years. By the way, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain hailed from Overbrook.

Saint Joseph’s University Press focuses on four primary areas:

1) “Early Modern Catholicism and the Visual Arts”

2) Jesuit Studies

3) Regional Studies [Philadelphia and the environs]

4) The university’s titular patron, St. Joseph, and the Holy Family.

The university sponsors an annual St. Joseph Lecture, whose origin and focus Fr. Joseph Chorpenning, O.S.F.S., explains in the Introduction to  the book Joseph of Nazareth Through the Centuries. They publish some of those monographs as well, most notably an address by renowned scholar Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J. entitled “Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel”, which is also included in the aforementioned book.

A recently canonized saint, Brother Andre Bessette of the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal, helped inspire a research center at the Oratory that published a scholarly journal on St. Joseph (Cahiers de Josephologie), as well as books (most in French, a few in English). They terminated publications several years ago.

The center was spearheaded by renowned authority on St. Joseph, the late Father Roland Gauthier, C.S.C.

Another prominent literary proponent of St. Joseph is a center sponsored by the Discalced Carmelite Friars in Valladolid (Spain).  It publishes the scholarly journal Estudios Josefnos and books on St. Joseph in Spanish. There are of course other excellent sources on St. Joseph and of course a number of religious communities under his patronage.

While on a lectio tour in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to give a talk on lectio divina and the Holy Family at a Carmelite Monastery in the diocese of Christ Church. I was invited to speak privately to the sisters afterwards, and that was quite a conversation. They really impressed me as women full of life, humor, humility, and enthusiasm. One of the subjects we discussed was the Beatles, who actually had an indirect and obviously remote role in the conversion of one of the sisters. Their ears perked up when I discussed St. Joseph, who was a favorite of both St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese Lisieux. The former is arguably the foremost proponent of St. Joseph within the Catholic tradition. It is difficult to match her eloquent enthusiasm about her revered patron. Accordingly, Carmelites are usually well-informed on and dedicated to this silent saint.

Over the next few weeks, or most likely months, I will be reviewing various books in Saint Joseph University Press’ catalog on St. Joseph and the Holy Family. My last book was on the Holy Family as a model of lectio divina. The book I am currently working on is on St. Joseph. There is a lot to say about this saint who apparently didn’t have much to say. His actions spoke loudly.

Down the road, I hope to review their works on St. Francis de Sales and theology of the body.

I am particularly interested in Saint Joseph’s University Press because their works are not only for academics, but also for informed laypersons. They are not overly abstract or remote from real life, as academic publications can be. One of the positive traits of most Catholic academic presses is that they still focus on quality rather than marketability. Many mainstream Catholic and Christian presses are so marketing driven that it is obvious that their commitment to topical excellence is compromised. Author platform is becoming as important to Catholic presses as it is to secular ones, which is unfortunate —- hence a decline in the substance of publications.

My initial review of Saint Joseph University Press titles indicates that they have walked the fine line between academic / topical integrity and accessibility. They don’t get carried away with abstractions or endless footnotes and theories. We will see if my opinion changes as we go along, but I very much doubt it.

For now, while I get cracking on my review work, please visit their website,  www.sjupress.com, and find out for yourself the sort of titles they publish. They are manageable for the non-academic because they stay within preordained topic areas: a necessity for most academic presses in order to preserve distinctiveness, literary consistency, and academic credibility. You can be sure that their titles are written by recognized experts who are able to communicate their knowledge in a comprehensible fashion. I can’t wait to get to theology of the body and St. Francis de Sales, but I am resigned to my next few months being spent with Joseph and the Holy Family. That is hardly boring company, of course.

Thank you for your interest.

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An Outstanding Commentary on the Daily Lectionary

The Liturgical Press recently published an excellent commentary on the daily lectionary by a retired bishop and noted Scripture scholar, Richard J. Sklba. Bishop Sklba was active in biblical ministry both locally and nationally during his time as auxiliary bishop of the Milwaukee diocese. It is obvious that he can move between exegetical and practical issues with deftness and confidence.

Entitled “Fire Starters: Igniting the Holy in the Weekday Homily“, it is designed for the preacher but is equally suited to the listener. It is not overly academic or technical, although it reveals nuances in the text that are normally unavailable to the non-specialist.

Some time ago a priest contacted me asking for this type of resource, which has been very uncommon due in part of the breadth of the lectionary. Thankfully, The Liturgical Press has made this available and filled this void.

The publisher’s website description is effective in communicating the thrust of the book and its author:

“Though daily Mass is held most frequently, resources for daily homilies can be in short supply. In this book, Bishop Sklba offers a rich collection of ideas — fire starters — for preparing brief, spiritually nourishing homilies for daily Eucharist. Like building a campfire, where one ignites the logs with more easily flammable paper, these “fire starters” are intended to provide the spark for weekday homilies. God’s Spirit provides the flame.

Each day, the biblical citations and summary phrases for the reading and the gospel plus the refrain from the psalm are provided. After each citation, Bishop Sklba offers a series of meaningful insights from his expertise as a Scripture scholar, prayerful study of Scripture, and many years of preaching and pastoral experience. These brief entries provide knowledge and inspiration that will stimulate personal prayer and spark homily possibilities for the preacher every day.

Fire Starters will support anyone privileged to be called to leadership at weekday celebrations of the Eucharist to prepare for the important ministry of preaching.

Bishop Richard J. Sklba served as auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee for over thirty years. He is a well-known biblical scholar, completing the licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He is a member and former president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. He has served on many committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, chairing its subcommittee on the Review of Scripture Translations from 1991 to 2001. In 1988, he received the Catholic Theological Society of America’s John Courtney Murray Award for achievement in theology.”

This book will remain on my nightstand. It also serves the practical purpose of making it easier to follow the daily lectionary, which is not as straightforward and intuitive as the Sunday and Holy Day lectionary. It gives us easy access to the daily readings and helps us to practice a lectio continua, or ongoing, sequential reading of the lectionary, in a prudent manner.

I don’t feel the need to say much about the book because the topic, author, and obvious need for the book speak loudly. Available in both print and ebook format, this is a must have for any serious Catholic reader of the Bible, and especially those who attend daily mass. Bishop Sklba is accessible to the non-specialist while also being stimulating to the informed reader. This is not a common trait among biblical spirituality writers and exegetes (interpreters).

Bishop Sklba studied under noted scholar and deceased Church leader and lectio divina advocate Cardinal Carlo Martini, S.J., to whom he dedicates the book. He reflects well on the late spiritual master. This in itself is testimony to the work, available from The Liturgical Press: litpress.org, 1-800-858-5450. This book is of excellent quality, is a great value, and comes highly recommended. It is worth your investment on several levels. Any serious reader of the Bible will want to expose themselves to Bishop Sklba’s insights and apply them to their life. I would welcome a Sunday lectionary companion.

 

 

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A Series that matters on Spirituality

In recent years the Liturgical Press has been publishing a series of books on practical contemplative spirituality by a well known and respected spiritual guide, Sr. Meg Funk, a Benedictine nun. I had the opportunity to hear her speak in Pittsburgh in a workshop sponsored by the Contemplative Outreach and found her refreshing.

The titles in  these “Matters” series include Tools, Thoughts, Discernment, Humility, and Lectio. There are several unique and interesting attributes of this series that makes it worthy of serious consideration.

First, Sr. Meg is a very fine writer, and it is nice when a publisher showcases an author in this matter. Another outstanding writer whose work has been exclusively published by The Liturgical Press is Fr. Donald X. Burt, an Augustinian monk and retired philosopher professor. I have all his books, and fine them to be superb. There is something to be said for having the opportunity to follow an author’s train of thought and evolution over numerous works. You almost feel like you are beginning to know them, and you soon recognize their dominant themes.

Authors with multiple books on the same subject tend to write the same book in different ways, but if their message is good and their skills supple they can usually pull it off. An example of that is popular writer Fr. Henry Nouwen. His books have a recognizable flavor and style, but because his spirituality is dynamic and evolving you can grow along with him. Sr. Meg is in this vein, but because she ranges extensively in the topics she treats, you don’t feel like you are getting the same material over and over. Rather you feel like you are in an ongoing dialogue with a spiritual friend.

I found each of the titles in this series to be worthwhile. Repetition was at a minimum, despite the familiar themes, style, and sources. Common attributes were an accessible introduction to overlooked aspects of Eastern Christianity (an invaluable contribution), a constant tension between the spiritual life and practical morality and daily living, a survey of the wisdom of St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese Lisieux and John Cassian (a noted master on the subject who is familiar mainly to scholars, but is relevant to laypersons), and a modern application of the spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers from early Christianity.

Sr. Meg avoids the pitfalls of abstraction, agenda, and ideology. She has what I consider to be a feminine monastic approach to the subject: nurturing, perceptive, subtle, and supple, without in any way introducing feminist polemical tensions that would be off-putting to those not of that mindset. Men and women do approach spirituality different according to their gifts and charisms, but there are also many commonalities, reflecting their shared humanity. Sr. Meg offers her personal and competent perspective in a dialogical manner that engages the reader in a gentle way. Whatever her philosophical perspective on contemporary gender issues, I did not find it to be obvious or a distraction. In today’s world, such balance and objectivity among spiritual writers of a progressive mindset is unusual and refreshing. When bias is not obtrusive, the message and Spirit comes through more fluidly.

Lectio divina is the topic with which I have the greatest familiarity, having written twelve books on the subject. Sr. Meg’s “Lectio Matters” was not a repeat of familiar material. I wouldn’t approach  the subject in the same way because my background and perspective is different, but I did feel her method was credible and innovative. She has good insights into the practice, and her comments are not tiresome. She really does offer a unique, somewhat eclectic approach.

Sr. Meg shares a literary practice with me that I find acceptable, though others may differ in their assessment. She digresses, in my opinion occasionally going all over the place in support of her thesis. My description may be exaggerated, but it is in no way critical. To the contrary, it has several advantages.

The spiritual and human life is not linear. Such a treatment is appropriate providing one sticks to the overall subject, which Sr. Meg does.  In fact, such movement may not only be necessary from a practical perspective but also enjoyable. Instead of drumming the same beat, she offers some variety. This can refresh the reader, because you can’t be sure what is next. The individuality of the writer almost necessitates such eclecticism. She exercises the discipline of keeping in touch with her main point, so that the reason for her digression is apparent. Linear conversations can be wearying, if not boring, so I find her flexibility to be both helpful and stimulating.

Another advantage of digression, a term that by the way she and others might feel is inexact and ill-suited, is range and versatility. She covers a lot of ground that should be covered. For example, she discusses sexual issues at several points for the simple reason that they are relevant and important. This increases the value and practicality of the book, while also enabling you to keep reading and processing.

Summary

The Liturgical Press has done us a service in publishing this series. I wish more publishers did the same with authors who are talented but not necessarily popular. Sr. Meg is well known, and thus less of a publishing risk, but there are many quality authors whose exposure is limited due to their lack of a platform and notoriety. I miss the days of not too long ago where quality and need fulfillment was of greater importance than marketability and profitability.

The books are not inexpensive, $18.95 each or $74.95 for the series, but in my judgment they are worth it. Try one and see if you like her approach. They are also available in ebook format for $14.95 each. These are the kind of books that do well on one’s nightstand. They don’t take up excessive space, are easy to handle and digest, and can be accessed randomly or sequentially. You don’t have to read them straight through in order to receive a benefit.

Finally, you don’t have to agree with a writer to benefit from them. However, good writers do not have too heavy a hand. They don’t bludgeon you with their assertions. They make them and move on. Sr. Meg falls in that category. She comes across as a sincere, well-read, competent, down-to-earth, and accessible guide with a knack for writing. I am glad to have encountered this series, and you will as well.

I suggest you contact The Liturgical Press directly if you are interested in ordering these books. They have outstanding customer service, and by ordering from them you increase the royalties allocated to the author in most cases, and cut out online mega-middle men who artificially deflate prices through incitement of incessant competition. Their website is litpress.org, and their phone number is 1-800-858-5450. If you mention this review you won’t get an additional discount, but they might ask you how you made it all the way through it.  Thanks for your attention and perseverance. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

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