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Five ways to move on from an abusive relationship

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Leaving my abuser was definitely one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Like many abusers, my ex-partner was also funny, charming and adventurous. I learned through the process that ending the relationship and moving out was one step, but having to face a new and unfamiliar world on my own was also frightening. I struggled with depression, self-doubt and self-loathing in the months after I left. The reverberations of my eight years with Scott* have affected me forever. Looking back, I can see I survived the rocky road of transition by taking specific actions that helped me accept and eventually embrace the new life and freedom available to me.

1. Make yourself eat

Once I left Scott, I found myself living in a new world. It felt so unfamiliar that I wanted to go back. The morning after I left Scott, I woke up at my friend Marliss’s house alone. My heart turned to concrete when I thought of Scott and our dog Crystal waking up without me in the house we used to share. I hated myself. I picked up the phone and dialled a few numbers, then hung up.

Wait a minute, I said out loud. I have only been gone 12 hours. I made coffee. While it was brewing, I sat outside in the sun. After a while, the calm and quiet brought a sense of freedom. I knew I would have to fight certain urges to return. I knew I had to make a new set of rules for myself. I had not been eating regularly for quite some time, surviving on coffee, beer, and a candy bar now and then. I had lost 30 pounds (about 13kg) between January and March before I left Scott.

A month after I left Scott, he moved back to New Hampshire. He left with Crystal; having to leave her was the most difficult step in ending the relationship. I said goodbye to Scott and Crystal and watched them drive away. I followed them for many miles on I-40 before flicking my lights and flying off the exit at Santa Rosa. I drove home to my new living situation, a three-bedroom house that Scott and I had rented two years earlier, but now I was sharing the house with my bosses from the restaurant where I worked, Dave and Paul. I walked in the door trying not to look as though I had been crying. They popped open a Coors Light for me and we talked about the future. They were compassionate and kind, and reminded me of all that was still possible in my life, though I was 33 and now alone. They offered me dinner but I watched as they ate. For the next month, all I could ingest was coffee, beer and a couple of bites of potato salad at work. A few times each week I might have a piece of grilled bread with honey. And I wondered why I stopped menstruating.

I went to the local health food store to ask the clerk in the vitamins section for advice because I did not have a doctor or insurance at the time. She thought I might have early menopause, but I was not experiencing night sweats or hot flashes. She consulted a book she kept in her office. “What have you been eating lately?” she asked. I gave her my feeble list of coffee, beer and chocolate. She laughed out loud. “That’s exactly what this book says you should avoid. Your diet is the problem.”

The waist of my white jeans had fallen to my lower hips. As soon as I put on my black skirt, it fell straight to the floor, my hips unable to hold it. Most days I wore my faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt with a tiny embroidered pink rose at the neck. And boots. I always wore my black boots, even in the summer. The boots anchored me; they made me feel as though the wind would not pick me up and carry me away like the tumbleweeds along the highway. Every day I woke up, drove to work, tried to eat a little bit, then went home and watched movies with Paul. Every day I tried to make myself eat a little more: a bite of chicken or brisket at the end of a shift. I tried to create a new normal for myself that included some happiness. I would visit my favourite stores in Santa Fe and drive to Ghost Ranch to hike alone on the trails Georgia O’Keeffe once followed. And then one day, without even thinking about it, I went to the kitchen and made oatmeal. Standing at the back windows of the house, staring out onto Santa Clara reservation and Black Mesa, I spooned warm clumps of goo into my mouth. The gluey oats coated my insides like a thick skin. And, like my boots, held me solid to the earth.

2. You are not required to respond

The first phone call I received from Scott after he moved back east was to inform me that he and Crystal had made it back to his mother’s house in New Hampshire. The phone lines carried his yelling and complaining as he blamed me for everything that had gone wrong. The truck had lost its transmission on I-81 in the hills of Pennsylvania. I stopped listening at that point because all I could envision was Crystal and the hair on her back standing straight up, her eyes lowering, trying like I had for so many years to make herself invisible, to become as small as she could so he would not notice her until his rage passed. I am sure Scott’s throat was raw from screaming as he attempted to manoeuvre his truck up the steep hills near Hazelton and then Port Jervis in New York State. After Scott promised me that Crystal was doing fine, I hung up the phone. I was laughing with relief. I knew I had made the right decision. I was no longer the brunt of his anger or the punching bag for his threats and fists. I no longer had to watch over my shoulder or monitor the tone of every word I said.

We agreed to stay in touch, so I sent him a short note a week after our phone call. He replied with a letter stating that he had no interest in the weather in New Mexico. But I did not have anything else I wanted to write to him about. He asked for details: who was I dating, what was I doing, when was I moving back east. Just reading his letter I found myself recoiling. His words felt like cobra strikes. My solution was to not write back. Ever. I closed the post office box I had shared with him and did not leave a forwarding address.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

That summer I flew back east to visit family. While I was there, I called Scott at his mother’s house. I wanted to see Crystal, to see with my own eyes that she was doing well. I asked my brother to drive me to New Hampshire and stay with me while I visited Crystal and Scott for an afternoon. We all drove to get sandwiches for a picnic. Scott was on his best behaviour, and it was easy, after several months without him, to see how forced and phoney his actions were. But Crystal looked beautiful and it was clear she was happy. Her black fur was shiny and she jumped all over me with excitement. While I watched as Scott tried to win me back, I felt a strength inside me. I knew I could handle him. I knew he could never hurt me again. And I knew this would be the last time I ever saw him and Crystal. To continue to visit her would cause too much confusion. She had adjusted well to her new life. I could live with that.

3. Go for long rides with the radio on

I was accosted, asphyxiated, by cobwebs of Scott’s gambling debts, of fights, of his knuckles, of tiptoeing in the morning, of rising in the dark our first winter in New Mexico to drive to a bookkeeping job I hated. All the shame and blame and dread I had carried while I was with Scott started to wrap around me after he was gone. Memories were as heavy as drapes. The walls around me crept closer; the ceilings descended. I could not stay in the house for one more minute.

Whenever I was not working, I drove all over northern New Mexico. I went up the steep hill to the Evergreen Restaurant and Hyde Park; up to the Jemez Mountains where I hiked, sat in hot springs and gazed over the Caldera Valley. I drove the High Road to Taos to walk on ski trails and to sample margaritas in the many restaurants of Taos Plaza. I drove the Enchanted Circle from Questa to Eagle Nest, basking in the topographical changes from high desert to mountain peaks.

If I was not driving, I would spend time with friends at different clubs in Santa Fe. Marliss and I frequented Rodeo Nites to dance and drink beer or we would go to Legends to shoot pool. We were good at it and everyone thought we were sisters: two tall blondes in cowboy boots and short skirts. Driving, singing, hiking, dancing all made me happy, made me forget missing Crystal and the fun parts of life with Scott. As long as I did not stop to think or feel too much, I was fine. But in my hours off, alone, I struggled. Sitting with the pain was not easy. Even though my new life was certainly an improvement, the transition from what was familiar to what was available hit me hard. I did not yet like who I was. I still saw myself as the cowardly woman who purposely broke the hearts of her boyfriend and dog. I was not sure I would ever be able to forgive myself for causing that kind of pain.

So, I would go out, into the car, into the world with music blaring until I forgot the past and could focus for a bit on the new life I hoped to create. My best driving buddy was Tom Petty. I played my new CD with my new favourite song on repeat: Learning to Fly. I felt he had written the song just for me. “I’ve started out for God knows where, I guess I’ll know when I get there … I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings. Coming down is the hardest thing.” That is exactly what I tried to avoid: coming down. The act of moving, of driving of watching the world recede in my rearview mirror helped me find possibility again. Driving into the mountains and the deserts, into the national forests and the magic orange cliffs of Abiquiu, I was able to recognise the thrill of the diversity of the land and eventually the diversity in myself. I was more than the wooden figure that Scott had carved me into. Mile by mile I trusted that the stone-hard parts of me would soften into clay, into a substance I could use to rediscover and reshape myself.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

4. See a therapist

I decided to contact a therapist a couple of weeks after I left Scott. I kept having non-stop fantasies of receiving news that he had died, painlessly and quickly. In my daydreams Scott was dead and I could grieve him and go on. When the therapist asked why I had come to see her, I explained this. She responded by saying, “Oh, that’s a common response when people end relationships.” I stared at her for a second then said, “Good. That’s a relief.” I stood up to leave. I am done here, I thought. But she chuckled and asked me to sit back down. Because I was convinced I did not need her help now, I humoured her. I decided to be honest when she asked me what my relationship with Scott had been like.

I told her about the physical abuse, about how long it took to leave, about how I missed Crystal. I could not look her in the eye. She noticed this. She asked why I thought I had not been able to leave earlier. Offhandedly I joked, “Oh, I don’t know. Childhood abuse, dead brother.” Then I looked her square in the eye. We both knew in that moment that I was right where I needed to be. In the presence of someone who would not judge me. Someone who could help me gather the scattered pieces. The therapist made me see in that first meeting that my relationship with Scott was a symptom of a larger, lifelong issue. And that if I did not start working on the abusive uncle, the grief, the dead brother and the violent ex-boyfriend, I was never going to move forward into healthier relationships. Everything I did would be lateral.

She wanted to teach me to value myself. She taught me to speak up for myself. I always felt a little taller after each session. I had been raised to deal with problems on my own. So part of me, the part I wanted to change, was ashamed I had sought assistance from a therapist. However, I found myself telling people, anyway. It felt good not to be holding onto so many secrets.

I worked with this therapist for two years. The pieces of my life began to fit. I focused on the past, on the childhood abuse and my brother’s death. Scott receded to the background. It would be another year or two before I dove deep into the eight years I had spent with him. But my healing began right there in her office that first time we met. It was a turning point, a new direction. Like driving endlessly, it gave me hope. Working with a therapist was the real beginning of moving on. The beginning of new love: self-love.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

5. If you cannot ‘be’ it, dream it

I was in college when I first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like everyone else, I showed up with toast and toilet paper. But after the movie, what I walked away with, at the age of 19, was a line from one of the songs: “Don’t dream it; be it.” I cannot think of more potent words for a college student on the cusp of graduation.

But after I left Scott, I was not ready to “be” anybody. I had long forgotten who I was or what my goals were. I knew I wanted to be a writer once, but that desire had burrowed underground and then evaporated during the Scott years. So I had to dream my future first. I had to be patient with myself until the fears and inhibitions diminished. I had lived in a shell of myself for so many years with Scott. Over time I had had to shrink my personality because the “real” me, was too much for him. He enjoyed my excitableness and optimism, but not every day, just now and then when he was in the mood. So I learned to stay quiet, keep my thoughts to myself, basically to revert to my teenage behaviour, that shy quiet girl who avoided interaction as much as possible. As a result, most of my previous friendships dropped away. In my new life without Scott, it took time to feel natural having new friends. It took time before I realised I was free to be the true me. I had to go back to writing in my journal to find myself.

One day I was in Taos and decided to drive to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge north of town. I parked my car and walked to the middle of the bridge. Looking over the edge, at the thin ribbon of river and the solid peaks of the canyon, I imagined my body floating down and down, landing on the rocks. It would be a peaceful end to the misery I was feeling. I remember as I stood there, the wind at my back, hair blowing in my face, that I had had a similar notion the first winter Scott and I lived in New Mexico. I was on my way to work as a bookkeeper in Santa Fe. It was early morning and still dark. I was extremely depressed because of the monotony of my job and the fact that my hours each day were so long that I did not see daylight. My office had no windows; my whole workday was balancing numbers. Scott made no effort to find a job and we were barely making ends meet on my $5 per hour. That particular morning, I did not want to face the darkness of my daily life any more. On the hills north of Santa Fe, I revved my engine and steered my truck toward a canyon at the side of the road. I slammed on the brake to stop myself from flying over the edge. I did not want to die, I realised. I just wanted my life to be different. I looked at the shifting knob that Crystal had chewed when she was a puppy. I imagined her back home, warm in bed. I did not want to disappear out of her life. If nothing else, she needed me. That realisation was enough to get me back on the highway and into work.

As I stood above the Rio Grande Gorge, I acknowledged that I did not have a dog in my life to save me. If I wanted to live, if I wanted to create a different life, I was going to have to save myself. I was going to have to decide that I, just me, was worth the effort. I walked back to my car and pulled out my journal. I wrote for two hours. During that time a silenced voice arose. I thought that part of me was gone, but who I really was deep inside never died. She was forced to hide to survive. I did not have to use tiny notebooks and hide them in zipped pockets any more. I began writing in my journal every day. Before I knew it, I was not chronicling bad memories or injustices; now I was imagining a future where I travelled and met new friends; where I wrote novels and children’s books; where I dated nice guys and fell in love again. I thought the optimistic part of myself was gone forever, but writing helped bring my dreams back to the surface, back to where I could work on becoming them.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

It took time for me to become comfortable with my new sense of self and my newly resurrected dreams. A couple of months after Scott left, I planned a trip to see a friend in Boulder. I drove all the backroads from Santa Fe to Denver. Through the twisted horseshoe turns in Southern Colorado, I glowed with a feeling of complete freedom. No fears plagued me. I was not worried about disappointing anybody. I had no concerns about doing or saying something wrong and being punished for it.

I stopped my car at a pullout and looked over the vast canyons and valleys below. I had not smiled this wide or felt this happy and hopeful since the drive with Scott to New Mexico three years earlier. My life had changed in many unexpected ways. The world lay at my feet. My dreams were lined up in a row on a path before me. Every new step I took led me closer to what I always wanted. I was prepared for the challenges, prepared to meet my future. I remembered the Rilke poem that had sustained me during the darkest of times with Scott. “Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were behind you.” The parting was behind me now. I had wintered through the difficulty and my heart had survived. I twirled in a circle until I felt dizzy. I raised my arms to the sky. I saw a girl holding a pen in the clouds above me as I listened to the scrub jays and magpies that squawked in the trees all around.

*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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