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It’s that time of the year again.  It’s the time of the year where you are assured of getting at least one music post from me.  I love listening to music and absorbing it and spitting out pretty well informed judgments about it. I have not been as astutely tuned in as I usually am when it comes to music this year.  Thankfully, not paying attention doesn’t mean my taste has suffered.  For the most part, other top album lists will agree with me.  I’m not going to rank these albums, but I will give more attention to the ones to which I’ve paid the most attention.  For a while, I was determined to give you my top 10 albums of the year, but I don’t want to give praise where praise is not due, nor do I want to endorse an album I have largely ignored, but sounds good at first listen.  I’m so diplomatic.

Kishi BashiKishi Bashi – 151a: I stumbled onto Kishi Bashi when I went to a concert for which he was the opener for Tinariwen.  I knew I wanted to see Tinariwen, but what I didn’t know was that I really wanted to see Kishi Bashi.  Listening to his album does not really do this artist justice.  He simply must be seen live.  The man is a classically trained violinist, a human beat box, and a wiz with a looping machine.  He was touring with the banjo virtuoso Tall Tall Trees.  Together they basically floored us.  It may have been one of the best concerts I have ever seen (and I’ve been to a few). I was an instant Kishi Bashi fan, and picked up his all white vinyl with free digital downloads. The album itself is hard to find on other “best of 2012” lists, because his strength is live music.  However, having seen the live music side of Kishi Bashi, I am equally charmed by his album.  Also, there is a tiger on the front.  I’m sure once he will be blowing up everywhere in no time.  While the aesthetic is decidedly hopeful, joyous and lively, “I am the Antichrist to You” is super emo and a delicious depressed-day hit.

lordhuroncoverLord Huron – Lonesome Dreams: I fell into the lap of Lord Huron in mid November, and while it’s not my most listened-to album of the year, it has made it’s mark.  Some reviewers have given Ben Schneider a hard time for sounding a lot like Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket, but let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to listen to something that sounds like bands they already love but also distinctively itself.  I think the majority of people didn’t give this album the time of day because it was heavily influenced by other bands.  I think Lord Huron will hit their stride in album two or three, in terms of pleasing the indie-choirboy gods.  For me, though, this was an entirely pleasant way to accompany an after working through paper work or writing a blog.  It’s good music and it’s pretty majestic.  You can turn it way up and let it wash over you.  Described as “lush and haunting” in one review, I can’t begin to tell you how the combination of ghostly and full begins to describe this album.  Let’s call it a sleeper hit and move on.  I mean, listen to it, then move on.

kendricklamarcoverKendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city: It’s nice to hear a hip hop album that is by a new guy who is really talented and really likable.  Kendrick Lamar is sort of a rap genius.  When I think about my favorite artists in this genre, they come across to me as endlessly creative, pulling lyrics and themes and beats from a depth I can barely conceive of.  Lamar is blasting his way to top of the list of brilliant rappers in my mind.  It’s smart and it’s genuine; it speaks to faith issues and social issues. I would list out the songs I like best (Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Backseat Freestyle, etc.) but then I’d end up listing basically almost the entire album.  If you like to listen to hip hop and like to have your limits pushed a little, you will love this album.  It’s equally good for engaged listening, work listening (on headphones, lyrics aren’t exactly SFW), or sitting around doing whatever listening. The album tells a story, as any good album should, and there is the tension of a good film or novel as you move through the songs. Multi-layered goodness. Straight outa Compton.

altjcover

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave:  I find this album really surprising.  Sometimes it sounds like hip hop beats, sometimes it sounds like Moby, sometimes it sounds like Radiohead.  It’s electronic, but also charmingly crafted.  It’s referred to as “art rock” and the primary single from the album, “Tessellate” hit the top charts in the U.K. and has been played over here in the States as well.  In “Tessellate”, the lyrics mention a triangle being the speaker’s favorite shape.  Evidently this is related in some way to the name of the band. The Alt-J  keyboard combination will make a delta symbol, or triangle, on any Mac computer.  Alt-J = ∆.  So that’s a nice tidbit for you tidbit whores. My favorite song from the album is probably “Breezeblocks”.  (Based on the names alone, this could be a Radiohead album, sheesh.)  Part of me is always surprised when “Dissolve Me” comes on, because it has an upbeat, almost Toto-like, sound to it. So much for being the next Radiohead; Radiohead is never THIS upbeat.  Being Art Rock, though, to appreciate this album, you will need to give it a close listen before idly playing it in the background.

twinshadowcoverTwin Shadow – Confess: This is probably the most understated of my picks.  George Lewis Jr stays pretty solidly in the 80’s for his influences.  You might listen to this album and think, “Did I accidentally put Prince on?” It’s easy listening and the lyrics are not super challenging, even though they do make Lewis come out like a bit of a bad guy (Just ’cause he chases you doesn’t mean he really likes you). All the songs are self-recorded and self-edited. So, if you have a thing about people who take a name for their “band” when their band is just them and a synthesizer, this is the band for you to love/hate. I like to put Twin Shadow on when I’m working, mostly because I like to listen to obscure independent while I’m working so my coworkers don’t know what to think.  When I was reading reviews of this album on other sites, people called it 80’s New Wave Synth-Pop or slick, dapper Pop-Rock, or lustful Funk-Pop, if that helps any.  Basically, you are going to have to listen to it and make you own decisions about the genre and the motivations of the singer.

frankoceancoverFrank Ocean – Channel Orange: Even if I didn’t like this album, I would feel almost 100% required to include it in this list because Frank Ocean has almost single handed-ly ripped the closet door off it’s hinges in hip hop circles.  Not only did this golden orange album come out this year, Frank himself came out and basically told the “no homo” past of hip hop to suck it. Brave and talented man. Anyways, the album is pretty amazing, social issues aside, and it goes down so smoothly you could pretend to not notice you were listening to a modern masterpiece. Channel Orange is so honest, genuine and substantial, it doesn’t even need to hype to speak for it. This is his first album, but he’s was a founding member of Odd Future and has already collaborated with such hip hop giants as Kanye West and Jay-Z. And you all know how I feel about an album being more than the sum of it’s parts.  This album works seamlessly as a whole, even though I’m sure at least one more single will be carved from it’s depths.  I will warn you, therefore, that if you are going to start listening to this album, you should set aside time to listen to the whole thing at once.

dirtyprojectorscoverDirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan: This was, without a doubt, my most listened to and sung along with album of the year.  I made Kristl crazy by singing and playing it non-stop during the summer. This is definitely the best music to come from the Dirty Projectors and definitely the best thing to come out of American independent rock this year. (In my humble opinion, they sound a bit like Canadian independent rock, as if all Canadian music has a certain sound to it.) You need to listen to this album with the volume up, or you will miss the beginning of the first song.  There are claps and vocals and a forceful bass drum groove.  There’s some acapella singing, electric guitars, an acoustic section, you are gonna get everything from the Dirty Projectors. The melodies are contagious and complex. The lyrics are a little odd, but there’s a message there.  Oh who cares if there’s a message, this is really interesting music to listen to.  Listen to the first three songs three times through and then tell me you didn’t have one of the melodies floating around in your head for days afterward. (I’m feeling defensive about this, but I really thought more writers would have put this album in the top ten of their choices.) Listen to it already, gosh.

Well that’s it.  I could only decide on 7 albums and others I could not feel comfortable recommending because I either didn’t listen to them enough or didn’t think they were all that great.  I also liked Shields by Grizzly Bear, the new Fiona Apple, and Blunderbuss by Jack White.  Other people liked the new Beach House, Japandroids, Tame Impala, Passion Pit, and Hot Chip.

I hope to put together my favorite videos from 2012, but you know how it goes when I PROMISE I’m going to write a blog post (it never happens).  Happy New Years and here’s to even more delightful music in 2013!

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Way back in January of this year, Kristl and I were discussing ways we could help fund our trip to the national GALA choir conference in June. We were very much new to fundraising and we didn’t really know where to start. Kickstarter seemed a little out of our scope of fundraising, but we came across Pledgie.com as a feasible alternative. We emailed our friends and posted on facebook and were able to raise about $1000 towards our trip. As part of our message to our donors, we promised to do one hour of service for every $10 we raised. We were hoping to start that service early in 2012 and complete our pledge by the end of the year, but as it often does, life got in the way. Today, finally we were able to start our “paying it forward” so to speak. Out of 100 hours of pledged service, we are 4 down, 96 to go! Woo!

That being said, this pledge to do service together to pay back by proxy our generous donors is not to meant to be an end all be all. The goal, really, is to start a tradition and a pattern of service in our household. We want to donate our time and our talents to organizations that we believe in and who need a couple extra hands every once in while. I have always admired those volunteers who were regulars in their organization. They were clearly there often enough to know the staff and patrons. They were established and invaluable. I want the spirit of service to be that ingrained in my life; that it is as much a part of my vocation as the work I do for money. It’s a long and lonely life to live for only your own gain. Serving others or working with others towards a common goals is the stuff the good life is made of. So, Kristl and I are committed to finding that part of the good life; to creating it and cultivating within our times of service.

We started our journey tonight by doing data entry for Equality Illinois. We are gay and hope to be married someday, hopefully in the United States, specifically in Illinois. So this issue is near and dear to our hearts. Data entry hardly has the immediate emotional payoff that, say, making a meal for the homeless does, but the whole time I had our goal in mind. The best part of the evening, aside from the pizza and the silly jokes of the coordinator, was the content of some of the data cards. They, of course, included contact information from individuals supporting marriage equality in Illinois, pretty standard stuff. At the bottom of the card was the payoff. People were given an option to explain why they supported marriage equality. Some were very simple and straightforward, like “I am a gay male,” or “We have a civil union, but want the same rights as everyone else.” Some were more personal, like “my brother should be able to marry his partner” or “my grandchild should be able to marry whomever she loves” or “our child should be able to see her parents legally married.” Some were a little funny, like “it’s not that bad” or “everyone should have equal rights no matter how they sex”. But most were moving and simply stated that they saw it as a matter of civil rights, equality, and at the base, fairness. The best part for me was that the majority of the cards we were entering were from Central and Southern Illinois, which are known to be much more conservative parts of the state. Honestly, if the question of gay marriage were put up to Chicago right now, I could assure you the measure would be passed. To change the law of a whole state, however, it will take a lot more movement and explaining, campaigning and changing minds.

As I was sitting there typing, I realized that I would do as much as was possible for me to do to make this a reality. Not only for myself, or for other gay couples in Illinois, but as an act of social justice. The comments on the cards made it clear to me that the people who support gay marriage are not merely making a concession; they see it as a necessary stop on the course of history. It is a destination on the arc of justice Dr. King envisioned. People should be set aside because of who they are or how they were born. I want to believe that even if I weren’t gay I would see this as a matter of justice and not misconstrue it as a matter of religion.

My mom always bristles when I tell her about one friend of mine or another who doesn’t get married in the church or doesn’t have a pastor do the ceremony. She very clearly sees the institution of marriage as a Christian institution. I hope that she is willing to open her mind to the reality of marriage as a civil institution outside of the church. I have no doubt that I would be able to find a pastor to marry Kristl and me, but for that marriage to come along with some real rights, we need to have the law of the land behind us. I grew up feeling like I would never be able to get married because I kinda already knew I was gay. Every straight child can spend their childhood dreaming in some way about their fabulous wedding day; gay children should also have that option. The goal Equality Illinois is working towards has been realized in other states and none of those states have dissolved. It’s going to happen and when the work is done, the solution is going to be relatively painless. In the mean time, we will continue to do the work. I am totally willing to head back to EQIL and do more data entry, or whatever they need me to do. If you are interested in helping too, I will include the contact info for the organization below.

One final note, we are going to start a separate blog to keep track of our volunteering activities. Please keep an eye out for when we create that blog and switch over so you add it to your reader and subscribe. Both Kristl and I will be posting on the service blog. The only holdup right now is deciding on the best name for the blog. Nothing has really jumped out at us yet. More updates soon! Lakeview Pantry is next! Thanks for reading!

Info for Equality Illinois:

Equality Illinois

Address: 3318 N. Halsted – Chicago 60657

Phone: 773-477-7173

Website: www.equalityilllinois.org

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/equalityillinois

Twitter: @EqualityILL

Friends, sorry to leave you for so long.  I got tired of my paragraphs a day approach way before the end date, and really, knowing myself, it was a bit of a stretch to keep it going for that long.  I don’t have a short attention span; it wasn’t really going anywhere.  Thinking of the future though, I’m thinking of making myself write long-form; competently and often.  I would love to write a book.  I think I need to write a book.  Rilke says in his “Letters to a Young Poet”, that no one should  be a writer unless they cannot avoid it.  You should only write if you try not to and are still compelled to do so.  Don’t just do it because it sounds nice.  Don’t do because of the inherent romance of being an “author”.  There needs to be substance behind the ambition.

What is my proposed “substance”?  Well, I have recently come out to my parents and I have been reading through some of the recently published literature and memoirs about Christians and LGBT folks.  So far the ones I’ve read have been published by men.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of similarities between gay men and gay women, but it never hurts to have more female voices in the fray.  There are misconceptions about the differences between female sexuality and male sexuality.  There are many incorrect assumptions about how Christians “become” gays and then somehow aren’t real Christians anymore after that. I went to a decidedly Christian liberal arts college, and my experiences there helped me understand the difference between folks who are being merely homosocial and those who are gay.  I could shed light to a little corner of the universe where gays are pretty much assumed to not really exist (conservative Lutheranism).  A lot of truly loving people are in some deep denial about LGBT people and issues.  A lot of young people are still alienated from their faith because the current issues with gays are pretty much ignored by church officials.  Parents of young gay Christians don’t know how to react to their children when they come out.  They’ve been taught to react with revulsion and “we’ll get you help”, but love and acceptance aren’t really near the top of the list.  To be honest, these issues are not unique to Christians, but we get the bad rep for them.  Christians need to ease up on sex and sexuality. I’m not going to go into the stats on here, but it seems to me that the sexual repression taught in Christian churches and schools does a lot to hinder the sexual  expression and maturity of Christians when they hit adulthood.

Anyways, that’s a book I would like to write.  It would require some serious research, just to make sure I get the facts right.  I would have to probably talk about the Bible a little bit, but mostly I would want it to come across as memoir.  Memoirs are easy to defend; it’s your pure subjective experience. You can only tell the story the way you see it, and that in itself is valuable.  All this is to say, I might try out some of the meat of that manuscript on this here blog and see what you think.  Sound good?

I would also like to write a follow up memoir about my life from the perspective of someone who didn’t like certain parts of her body for a while.  Honestly, I’ve got nothing in terms of heart wrenching stories on the topic of body acceptance (or nonacceptance given the current society), but I’m discovering a pretty strong passion on the subject.  Maybe I will name it something edgy to get people’s attention.  Anyways, this is a second book idea.  I also think something about food would be cool, like a personal trip through my food history and examining the way I think about food.  I don’t have a lot of natural talents, but I have an uncanny food memory.  I can remember cities by the food I ate there.  It’s helpful when traveling, well, hungry and traveling.

Basically, I want to write books about everything that effects me intimately.  I hope y’all can get down with that.  Right now, I’m savoring a tart cabernet savignon which has some bright raspberry notes in it.  It’s a beautiful end to a relaxing weekend.  Today, Kristl and I went to a learn to curl class at the Chicago Curling Club in Northbrook, IL.  It was fascinating, but not really because of the game itself.  It’s a tiny subculture that has it’s own lexicon, social events, and community.  We might be going to a comedy show or hanging out at a new bar, and these people are curling and drinking beer in this clubhouse on the outskirts of Chicago.  Maybe that would be a good book to write, a collection of essays on subcultures in Midwestern culture.  Community choir, club sports, activism groups, knitters; they all have their own subculture.  It’s fantastic to watch. I love participating in a handful of subcultures and keeping things diverse for myself, but there are clearly people who become obsessed with their subculture.  It becomes their whole life. Sure they have jobs, but they live for curling, frisbee golf, hydroponic farming, etc.

I’ve got a lot of ideas, obviously, I need to get writing.  You all have access to my blog, what would you like to see me write more on? I’m certainly open to suggestions.  I’ll look forward to hearing from you, in the comments or at schipmoney@gmail.com.

Having persevered through an English degree at a small Christian, liberal arts college, I believe myself to be a competent writer.  I took only one class designed as a writing course, but most of my courses required me to write quickly, intelligently and concisely.  I went directly into graduate school after I graduated, and my master’s program in higher education teased even more writing out of me. Then I entered the workforce and suddenly the preponderance of my writing became very condensed and technical (see: cover letters) or long-winded and informal (see: blogging). The type of writing I was accustomed to producing dropped off very steeply.  Part of the reason I started this blog, specifically, was to make myself write more and write better.  However, that’s entirely a matter of self-policing and my audience.  Some of my readers love more academic/serious writing.  Some of my readers don’t mind a more casual, daily bread sort of approach. Acknowledging that academic streak in myself is why I clicked on this link about “Zombie Nouns” (OooooOOooooOOOh!) this morning (from a fellow former English major’s Facebook page). I think I manage to avoid this zombie noun trap (basically the idea is that people turn other types of speech into nouns to beef-up the fanciness of their writing.) Zombie nouns are created by adding add a suffix like itytion or ism (e.g. zombiality, zombination, zombiism). Fancy, right? While I think the “Zombie Nouns” title is pretty new, the fact of nominalization (which is a nominalization itself, bitches!), has been around since the language was created.  All this is to say, try to avoid it because zombie nouns make your writing really hard to slog through. If you are also into writing, this test site will tell you how fit your writing is. Drop in a writing sample and it will give you a fitness test. (I happen to use the “be” verbs far too often.)  Writer’s Diet wants me to use more complex verbs.  Blah, blah, I can use whatever words I want, thank you very much! When I drop this post in the test I get a “Fit & Trim” rating over all, but those gosh darn “be” verbs make my verb score a “needs toning”. We all have something to work on, I guess.

Last sin, y’all.  Let’s press on to pride.  Oh, Pride, you are so misunderstood.  I’m sure a lot of conservatives hear about gay pride parades and chuckle to themselves about how truly and unwittingly depraved we are. In real life, pride has a handful of definitions.  Let’s go through them and find the sin! Sound fun? I thought so. First up, definition one: inordinate self-esteem, related: conceit. Alright, that sounds like what sinful sinners who sin are talking about.  Are you an arrogant asshole? This sin is for you! Also under definition one: a reasonable or justifiable self-respect. i.e. you should be proud of yourself/have some pride in your achievements. Doesn’t sound too bad. Definition one part three: delight or elation arising from some act, possession,  relationship.  This is mom and pop pride, also the pride you have in your brand new car.  But don’t take it too far, tiger. Next definition: disdainful behavior or treatment. What is disdain? Contempt or scorn.  Wow, I wouldn’t call that pride, but I guess it does make sense that it would be related. If you are looking down your nose at someone, you really must think you yourself are something. Definition three: an ostentatious display/highest pitch/prime. I’m not as familiar with this usage, so I’m going to leave it alone.  Merriam-Webster sure didn’t put a sample sentence under it.  Definition four: a source of pride – the best in a group or a class.  This is like, the show choir is the pride of the arts program.  Not a sin, usually. Definition five: a company of lions. Roar. Definition six: a showy or impressive group. Oddly, I feel like five and six are pretty closely related. Lions are known for their show of strength and general feline sassiness.  Although, I’ve not seen definition six in action, I may be compelled to pick it up.  Clearly, definition one is the winner; there’s the sin.  Going back to definition one, with it’s super sneaky three different sub-definitions, 1.b is the best possible, 1.a is the worst. Gay pride is usually 1.b and asshole pride is 1.a.  Glad we figured that out.  So, what to say about pride? You gotta have a little, but too much is the surest way to a downfall.  I’m pretty sure there’s at least two Shakespearian tragedies that follow that moral. Confidence is one thing, arrogance is quite another.  I guess this is sort of what I’ve learned through this little project on the seven deadly sins, these are the extremes. Lust is the extreme of desire, gluttony is the extreme of a healthy hunger, greed is the extreme of providing for yourself and your loved ones, etc.  Sinful pride is the extreme of justified pride.  Which brings me to the conclusion that I reached a few years ago, maturity is in balance.  Living a full and joyful life is achieved by  recognizing the point at which healthy feelings and compulsions become destructive and stopping before you get there. It’s a challenge for every human. We’ve all got work to do. For now, though, I’m done with deadly sins.  Thanks for indulging me.

Gluttony is probably the deadly sin I see most “sinful” and the one I am most likely to succumb to (there is probably a correlation there). I find something I like, and I will find a way to consume it past the point of need, pleasure, or even indulgence.  I will press on until either I get sick or I run out of whatever it is I’m consuming.  I think some people confuse or clump greed and gluttony together. Yo, that’s not cool. Greed is about getting as much as you can get, gluttony is about consuming as much as possible. For example, greed would motivate collecting all the video games, and keeping them all to yourself, forever.  Gluttony would motivate playing video games instead of working, eating, sleeping, because you just can’t stop, you can’t get enough. Gluttony is why I end up gaining weight when I stop running.  Gluttony is why super-sizing works, it’s why buy-one-get-one-free deals are enticing.  Gluttony fills us too full, gluttony wastes our time, gluttony chips away at the human spirit by giving it far too much of what it needs.  Gluttony show us that, yes, there can be way too much of a good thing. When I am in the throes of gluttony, it usually involves eating, I have good food in front of me and I know I’m full.  However, I can’t stop eating.  Gluttony erodes my self-control, makes me feel like a robot instead of a human with choices. It’s a sin because it is self-destructive.  Is gluttony the gateway drug for addictions? Doubtless those are messily tied up together, but addiction has it’s own causes and concerns.  I would hesitate to say I am addicted to food (can you be addicted to something you need to survive?), but I am certainly susceptible to losing control with food. Gluttony is easily the opposite to self control.  This makes gluttony enemy number one for me.  Let’s kick gluttony out and get some self-control in here, stat.

I’m back at it, y’all.  I sort of took a week off, sorry rules. Anyways, I’m going to hammer out a few today, a few tomorrow and get right back on track.  I might be missing some days, but I will have a post for every day. You can trust my math, probably. Today, my topic is lust. Conversations concerning lust at my conservative Christian college were actually more liberal than one might think.  Conscientious young Christians would concede that lust was necessary for sex. You can’t really have sex if you aren’t aroused. How does one achieve arousal without lusting after the other person? It takes two to tango; it takes lust to copulate. You gotta want it or you aren’t gonna hit it. Such enlightened young people we were.  It was the most nuanced understanding of lust I had heard to that date. I grew up in a largely sex-absent household (which I suppose is better than an oversexed household, but that could totally be debated.) If it came up, in a book or a movie, it was time to fast forward the movie or skip that chapter. To hear anyone talk about sex abstractly was entirely new, as my high school classmates were either virgins or kinda freaked out by the sex they had already experienced. Teenagers feel lust without comprehending what is happening, they just roll with it or hate themselves for it. Adults have a more difficult task, hopefully less guilt ridden. We have to mitigate the difference between sex-addict level lust and healthy hey-lets-have-sex lust. There is definitely misplaced or pathological lust, such as the kind displayed by pedophiles and sex-addicts. But for the rest of us, a little lust is necessary for a healthy relationship.  I think demonizing the concept of lust is part of the reason we see so much pathological lust in our society.  If people were taught how to recognize and act on their lust appropriately, there would be less awkward, uncomfortable moments, maybe also fewer sex offenders. We are much freer than the previous generations, but we still freak out about sex, virginity, naked bodies, women being sexually aggressive, etc. When the seven deadly sins were laid out, I think lust was seen as a primarily male problem.  Still this myth persists that women are all about intimacy and emotions, and men are about the carnal, lusty act and getting off. I spend time with many different types of women from many different backgrounds, I can tell you without exception, they all want to get laid.  For real. Say what you will about lust, but there is no question, women are all about it. (So are Christians, for that matter, but that’s another topic for another day.) So, much like Pluto used to be planet but is now some other less exciting form of space matter, I think lust should be reclassified.  It’s not a deadly sin, it’s part of life.  Using it incorrectly is strongly immoral, but for the majority of us, lust isn’t deadly at all.  It just keeps things interesting.

(This post is part of a summer writing project I am taking on called Writing Vitamins.  The goal is to write a one-paragraph blog a day about anything (which I’m currently trying to catch up on, because of a trip last week, tsk tsk). Check out the guidelines here: https://lifebywandering.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/one-a-day-writing-vitamins/ )