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Five steps to leaving an abusive relationship

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For much of my life, shame rendered me silent. In the eight years I lived with an abusive man, I had no idea I was a “victim of domestic violence”. I had never heard of “Domestic Violence Awareness Month”. I believed that telling my story would bring dishonour and disgrace to myself and my family. I had convinced myself the abuse was my fault; therefore, I was sure everyone around me would blame me, too.

It has taken me years to speak up, speak out and write about my experiences in the hope that other people suffering in silence and shame might be inspired or find the strength to give voice to their own stories.

Statistics are important in understanding the degree of the problem, but statistics do not change lives. Hearing the story of how someone escaped an abusive relationship can change a life. Sometimes we simply need to see how someone else was successful. Sometimes that story is enough to motivate a person to take the first difficult step to safety.

1. Forget the pros and cons list

I had many friends during my years with my abuser, Scott*, who suggested the P and C list. I cannot tell you how many journals I filled with those lists. How many walks in the woods or arroyos I took to find a quiet spot to rest, to remember, to recalibrate. To do whatever I had to in order to make my list of love heavier and more numerous than my column of doubts and deceits. I never found the proper balance, because love and disappointment can’t be equated. They can’t be weighed on a scale like apples or gold. Emotion is not a mathematical theorem.

Before Scott and I moved to New Mexico, we lived in Sunapee, New Hampshire, across a dirt road from a lake. We barely spoke to each other that winter. I waitressed as often as I could just to get out of the house. I woke up early in the mornings leaving Scott asleep in bed. My pockets filled with fruit and dog treats, I would take our dog Crystal out for long walks in the woods and on the frozen lake. I had a broken pencil, a penknife and a miniature red composition notebook that I kept zipped in an inside pocket of my winter jacket.

When we got really cold, but were not ready to go back home, I would lead Crystal into one of the unlocked, unheated cabins across from our house. We would lay together on a bed that faced a big window overlooking Lake Sunapee. I spent hours staring at the white horizon, hugging Crystal close, and writing my worries and hopes in my tiny notebook. I believed my answers would come if I continued to trust in the words. Every now and then I looked back over previous entries. I left no mark of happy memories. The blue lines were filled with complaints, injustices, fears and dreams of freedom.

One day I returned from a lunch shift at the restaurant and Scott threw the tiny notebook at me. “What the hell is this?!?” he screamed. My stomach fell to the floor. My secrets flew around the room like a genie you cannot get back into a bottle. “If you have something to say, tell it to my face,” he yelled, his fist waving in the air. But I knew better. And I learned that day not to write anything down. No pros and cons lists, no complaints and no dreams of a future without him. Anything I had to say, I wrote on the inside of my skin with invisible ink.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

2. Be aware of signs

Some people say the universe will stop sending signs if you continually ignore them, so I looked for signs everywhere I went. I used animal cards every day for guidance. I asked for answers from my Tarot deck, the runes, and the I Ching. I tried to determine the significance when a huge turkey flew into my windshield or when a deer bone showed up on the train tracks. Dead deer: Was that me if I did not leave Scott? I felt so alone most of the time I lived with Scott, so I looked to nature and divination tools for answers and direction.

When Scott and I began talking about moving to New Mexico, I searched for signs everywhere. We hiked once with friends on the back side of Mount Sunapee near Newbury. I was bringing up the rear because I wanted to be alone. I had asked the universe to present me with an omen of some sort regarding our intended move west. I was feeling desperate on our way down the mountain. I decided to walk away from the group and stood in a copse of trees. I closed my eyes and said a prayer. When I opened my eyes and looked down, a gold feather shone in the leaves between my feet. I walked back to the rocky outcrop where my friends stood. A golden eagle flew from behind us, circled over us, then headed southwest. I knew I had to move. I did not know what would happen there. Could we start over? Would I end up alone? The uncertainty scared me, but I knew that whatever the outcome, the universe was signalling me to go.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

After we had lived in New Mexico and the initial allure of being in a new place wore off, it was clear that Scott was not going to keep the promises he made. He continued to gamble large amounts of money and refused to look for work. Every month I became more discouraged. Tensions mounted, his fists flew more often. I started looking for signs again to help me through my confusion. Could I continue on as we were? Would Scott ever become the man I believed he could be? One day I visited my favourite Santa Fe bookstore alone. I walked into the self-help section and was drawn to a book called The Skeptical Feminist. I held the book in my hands and asked for guidance. I opened to a page that said: “If a man hits you once, leave. You can count on it happening again.” I closed the book and walked to the car. Of all the books in that store, all the sentences in that book that I could have chosen, it was clear to me I was being offered assistance. I had my answer. Scott had been violent with me for several years. That was not going to stop. The next step would have to be up to me.

3. Keep a poem in your pocket

The last few months with Scott, before I knew for sure I was going to leave him, were nearly unbearable. I could not look at him. I worked seven days a week so I could escape his roller coaster of apathy, anger and aggression. I would have paid my bosses to let me work. When I was at home, I either listened to music or read a book. One day I was looking through my poetry collection for some words of solace. I came upon a poem by Rilke from his Sonnets to Orpheus. The piece begins: “Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were/ behind you, like the winter that has just gone by./ For among those winters there is one so endlessly winter/ that only by wintering through it will your heart survive.” After I read those words, I covered myself in quilts and sobbed. I didn’t know how I would leave. I didn’t know when I would leave. But I knew this poem held the advice I needed to hear. I knew it was only a matter of time before I walked out the front door forever. This poem was teaching me how I would survive.

I took the book of poetry with me everywhere I went. A butterfly bookmark my mother had given me marked the page. I turned to it when I was driving, when I took Crystal on a walk, and before I entered the house after work each day. I reread the passage while I was between customers at work, when my heart would ache from knowing what was to come. Whenever I was on the verge of breaking out in sobs, I would go to the book, open to the page and read the poem to myself. I repeated the opening phrase like a mantra over and over: Be ahead of all parting … Be ahead of all parting. The poem taught me to be at my best no matter what the circumstances. A line from the second stanza said: “Be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.” I made every effort to be kind to customers even though a part of me was extremely irritated to have to be waiting on so many people, when all I wanted was someone to take care of me.

At this point, I did everything I could to not prompt or engage in a fight. I agreed with everything. If Scott was angry I had not brought food home for him after a shift, I would simply say, “I’m sorry” and go to bed. If he yelled because I had not made much in tips, I would offer to pick up another shift and keep walking. The poem taught me to stop arguing, to move through my days peacefully. Fighting was not going to make or break the relationship. It was just going to make me miserable. Looking for my way out is what I needed to do. Reminding myself to act as Rilke’s poem suggested helped me stay centred as I figured out my next move.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

4. Trust the body, not the mind

I remember the exact moment when I knew for sure I absolutely had to leave Scott. Every cell in my body rose up, vibrated intensely, and told me to pay attention, the time was now. It was 3am on a Saturday morning. With Scott’s “permission”, I had been out to a club with a girlfriend. I had warned him I probably would not be home until 2:30am. He told me it was not a problem. However, when I arrived home five minutes late, at 2:35am, he flipped. We began arguing. He called me names and eventually I told him to leave me alone and I walked out of the room. He came after me, pushing me to the ground, pulling my hair and kicking me. I knew I had not done anything wrong. In fact, in that moment as I tried to protect my body from his boots, I knew I had never done anything to cause him to hit me.

Anger fuelled me as I stood up and yelled back. He retreated to the doorway, backlit by the kitchen light, looking more like a menacing shadow than a living human being. I walked towards him taking big steps. I was shouting about how unfair he had been to me all these years. He advanced until he was standing in full light. He lifted his right hand and flicked his fingers twice in a “c’mon” gesture. I instantly froze in place. My cells shook as my body screamed: “He will kill you if you let him”. I realised he had been waiting for this moment for a very long time. He was dying to have a justifiable reason to attack me for good. My body was on full alert like it had never been before. This is what it must feel like when you face death head-on, I thought. Though every inch of me was quivering, I turned and walked away. “I’m going to bed,” I said.

Somehow that saved me. That enabled me to gather the courage to leave. I did not leave that night; I was too petrified. I did not want to provoke Scott any further and I was not comfortable knocking on a friend’s door at that hour. Scott locked me out of the bedroom, so I grabbed all the winter coats from the closet and covered myself as I slept on the living room floor. I was too stunned to cry. I could see that the abuse had never been my fault. There was no way I could remain in the relationship. With recognition came a flood of betrayal. He had convinced me for years that I caused him to become violent, yet he knew all along he was at fault. He conned me into believing him. My body wanted to fight back but I knew the only safe way was to create an escape plan.

I have seen over the years that many women leave and return to their abuser a number of times before they are finally able to exit their relationships completely. I did not want to be the person who kept going back, because I was afraid the resulting punishment would be overwhelming. The process of leaving a difficult relationship is different for everybody. Some people need to test it, to give the leaving process a trial run and see how that feels, see if it changes anything. In my case, I knew I had to wait until I was absolutely sure I would never want to go back. I wanted a “once and for all” clean break.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

5. Pick a day; on that day, go

There is no right or wrong way to leave an abusive relationship. There is just the matter of answering how and when. About one week after the night I finally knew I had to leave Scott, I was home between my lunch and dinner shifts when my best friend Jesse called from her house in Georgia. Scott was outside playing with Crystal. I shut the bedroom door for privacy anyway. When Jesse asked how I was, for the first time I told her the truth. And that was key: I told her Scott had hit me. Jesse was furious. In the course of the conversation, I admitted it was not the first time. To my shock and surprise, she did not ask, “What did you do to make him hit you?” or “Why do you provoke him all the time?” or “Why can’t you just keep your mouth shut more often?” I had spent years thinking all my friends would understand why Scott hit me, that they would blame me for not being “compliant” enough. But Jesse did not accuse me of anything. She already knew there was no good reason to begin with.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked. “You know how this works. He probably won’t hit you again for a while, right? Are you just going to stay there and wait until he hits you again?”

“I have no idea how to leave,” I whispered. And that was a fact. No one teaches us this part. Just then the bedroom door swung open. “Who are you talking to?” Scott asked accusingly. I told him it was Jesse and he walked away but left the door open.

“This is what you’re going to do,” Jesse said. “When we get off the phone, you’re going to get your calendar and you’re going to pick a day. It can’t be too soon because you need time to make arrangements for a new living space. But it can’t be so long that he gets violent again. Can you find a place in a week or two?” “Yes,” I whispered, scared out of my mind. “Ok, go to the calendar as soon as we say goodbye. Pick a day in your mind. Don’t circle it. Don’t give anything away. But hold it in your mind. And on that day, go.”

I hung up the phone and walked to the kitchen, passing Scott as he was watching TV. It was late February. I turned the calendar to March. I gave myself two weeks. I circled March 10 in bright red crayon in my mind, and on that day, I left.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

Waiting those two weeks was both difficult and helpful. Every time I looked at Crystal, my heart broke. I knew I could not take her. Even though she and I were best friends, Scott would never allow it. I barely had the energy to move out myself. I knew I would be causing pain to both of them. But during the two weeks, I was able to make the necessary arrangements to find a new living space. I told my one female friend in New Mexico and I told my bosses at work. I had full understanding and support from these friends. However, I learned the hard way that you must be very careful with whom you share such news.

The restaurant bosses and I were buddies with three men who owned and ran a deli restaurant in town. Often we would visit each other’s restaurants after work or we would trade food. Three nights before my scheduled departure from Scott, my bosses and I stopped into our friends’ deli. We were having fun drinking and eating and talking about a camping trip one of them had made in the Sangre de Cristo mountains outside town earlier that month. When the story ended, one of my bosses said, “Joyce has news.” I looked at him and shook my head no. Because he was sincerely happy for me, he ignored me and proceeded to tell the restaurant friends that I was leaving my abusive boyfriend in a few days. The room went instantly silent. The three restaurant owners stared at me, sternly. Then the leader stood up and pointed at me, shouting, “What the hell is wrong with you? You don’t plan it. Only a b**** does that. You wait until the heat of an argument. Oh my god, I can’t believe this.”

He continued ranting, walking around the room. I was mentally gone. I had stopped hearing what he was saying. In fact, I was up on the ceiling looking down at everybody. Dissociating during panicked situations was a habit I had developed as a child. When I was too afraid or shocked by circumstances, my consciousness flew above my body and hovered, watching the scene below as if it was happening to someone else. I saw Dave, my boss, stand up and gesture wildly with his hands. He was trying to explain my situation; I could tell he was defending me. But the other restaurant owners were clearing our plates and shaking their heads. I walked out of the restaurant in a daze, my bosses trailing behind me. I was back in my body when I felt the cold wind of early March on my face. I started crying. “They’re right,” I said. “I am a b****. I’m a coward.” Dave and Paul repeated that I was doing what I had to, that planning an escape was the only safe way for me to leave that relationship unharmed. But I carried the name-calling inside my head even after I left Scott.

I never regretted the plan I made to leave. Jesse’s instructions to me were a gift, the way out. And as a result, I did not go back. I made arrangements to visit Crystal and to retrieve some belongings. But I was out for good. I did not fall into any more of Scott’s traps. In fact, March 10 has become a day of celebration for me; it is my own personal Independence Day.

*Name was changed to protect the privacy of the abuser’s family.

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World

All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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