Blueberries and Other Things

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This is the summer I can’t hardly abide being at home.  And home is my favorite place in the whole wide world!  But go out, we must, and go out, we do.  We have access to two libraries, both of which have fun summer reading programs and lots of attendant performances by folks with varying degrees of talent.  One week, we saw a show by a pair called Impossible Magic.  It was a great show!  The next week, we saw a different magic show by Mr. Moustache.  Even the two year old was disappointed.  Silly gimmicks don’t impress us; we want to see some real magic!  Last week, we saw a fun folk storyteller and a strange little puppet show. It’s hit-or-miss, but it’s a free Something To Do, and the children are enjoying it.

(Did you know my dad could rub an eagle through a quarter?  Or turn three sticks into rocks?  I was a rock collector, so that was a handy trick, and he always made the best rocks.  I particularly recall a nice, smooth, pink one.)

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Blueberry picking is one of our regular summer activities.  We pick a whole year’s worth in about an hour, and then go home for blueberry pancakes.  These photos were taken toward the end our picking time, and Delaney was taking a break by throwing blueberries at me.  She said she was aiming for my pail, but I am doubtful, as most hit me right in the chest.

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Boo needed a break, too, so while I nursed the baby, he snacked on his pickings.  I got scolded for snacking on mine, but, fortunately, Delaney threw enough at me that I didn’t suffer too much.

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Big kids and outings. I have found that to be one of the hardest things about them growing up. I want them to come, too, but one or the other is always out! I’m sorry to say I’ve given up. I just put things on my schedule and go with anyone who is available and interested. The little ones and I are having much more fun this way. 

How are you spending your summer? Reading? Traveling? Library programs? 

Ordinary, Everyday Images

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This last one, my two sleepers, this is my favorite.

You know, I’ve started and quit a Project 365 several times now.  I just couldn’t maintain enough interest to go for more than a couple of weeks.  Why am I doing this, I’d ask myself.  I had no motivation, no reason to keep going with it, no purpose in the daily struggle to find something image-worthy.  But I think I’ve finally found my 365 style, a look and a way of seeing that speaks to something deep within me, and, hopefully, to other people, too.  I’m no longer looking for anything special; I’m looking for the most ordinary things, and that’s where most of our lives are lived, right in the midst of the ordinary.

Now, I’m not saying I’m actually doing a year-long photography project or anything, but I am looking for an image every day, one that strikes me as both artistic and real, and almost every day, I find one.  This is something I want to keep doing.  This is something that matters to me.

Domestic Lizards and Michelle’s Strawberry Pie

Three different people – none of them me, of course – have spied a lizard in my bedroom. It is green with red stripes, and Evie is calling it “Spiky”. I’m pretty happy the little guy is in there, actually, because I’m pretty sure lizards eat spiders, and we have a lot of spiders at this time of year. I’d rather have a lizard under my bed than a wolf spider. On the other hand, I don’t know what it says about my housekeeping abilities at this point in time.

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In other, tastier news, Michelle mentioned strawberry pie in a comment the other day and sent a link to a recipe very like the one she uses. I’ve never had or made a strawberry pie, but it sounded delicious. Since it was the summer solstice, and the full “strawberry” moon, and the berries were on sale anyway, I made two for dessert, and they were absolutely wonderful. Just the right thing for a hot summer evening.

The original recipe called for one quart of strawberries, but my 9″ pie pan is fairly deep, and one quart was not quite enough. I also had to pay my strawberry hullers – in berries, of course. The recipe did not call for slicing the berries, either, but mine were pretty big, so I halved or quartered them, depending on size. Michelle says she uses extra cream cheese, and it is a very good foil to the sweet berry sauce. I made two pies, so I used half of an 8 oz package in the bottom of each, but you can use more, if you like. Happy summer!

Strawberry Pie

1 8- or 9 inch pie crust of your choice, baked and cooled
1 to 1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries
1 c. water, divided
3/4 c. sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4-6 oz cream cheese, softened

Wash, drain and hull the strawberries. Save some of the prettier ones for garnishing later, if you like. Cut smaller berries in half, and quarter the larger ones. In a medium saucepan, simmer one cup of the berries (measured loosely in a regular dry scoop) and 2/3 of a cup of the water for 3 minutes. Mix together the sugar and the cornstarch, then stir that and the remaining 1/3 cup of water into the sauce. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly, till the milky color turns a pretty berry-red. Let it cool.

Spread softened cream cheese over the bottom of the cooled pie shell. Arrange 2 1/2 cups of berries atop the cream cheese, then pour the cooled sauce over all. (Or, if you’re impatient like me, just pour the not-boiling-but-definitely-not-cool sauce over all.) Refrigerate for at least two hours. To serve, top with whipped cream and those garnish berries.

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Baked Oatmeal (A Recipe)

We’ve got most of this large family’s household chores nicely distributed according to aptitude and interest, if possible, and Delaney is the one who usually makes breakfast.  For the past year, though, she’s had a class away from home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which kind of left me holding the bag.  (I’m not sure why we weren’t able to flex that to another child; a training gap, I guess!)  Because I had to be out in the barn milking cows, taking care of Evie – and now Henry, too – and making breakfast in the same time slot, I’ve favored dishes I can prep sometime the day before, refrigerate, and just pop into the oven in the morning.  I’m usually able to get Delaney fed before she has to leave, and then the meal can wait in a low temperature oven until the rest of the family wakes.  (Oh, that’s why!  She needed to be fed a whole hour before the rest of the family, and I’m the only one awake!)

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Baked oatmeal is one of our favorites.  It comes out creamier than the stove-top version, and you can vary the fruits by season and preference.  The other day, I made an apple-cranberry version that was our favorite so far!  Today, it’s peach-walnut, using canned peaches, because I have a bunch I want to use up.  It mixes up quickly, so you don’t have to mix it the night before, but it’s kind of nice to have it all ready to go.

4 cups rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
4 cups milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2-3 cups chopped fruit and/or nuts, any combination

Mix together the oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar. (I like to use my hands. I tell curious onlookers that I’m breaking up the brown sugar clumps, but I really just like how it feels.) Add the honey, milk, eggs, and vanilla and stir thoroughly. (I use a spoon for this part. Sometimes.) Stir in your choice of fruits and nuts. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 casserole pan, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, take the oatmeal out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Bake for 40 minutes in a 375° oven. Serve warm with your choice of traditional oatmeal toppings. Cream and a little drizzle of extra honey are always nice.

Down With Food Waste!

“I fixed the refrigerator,” I announced.

“What was wrong with it?” a daughter asked.

“Well, you know how we buy more vegetables than we can fit in the drawers, and so we put them on the shelf, but then they kind of start getting pushed to the back where we can’t see them or reach them, and then, after a while, they turn into this disgusting puddle of smelly brown goo?”

“Yes,” said another. “I’m well acquainted with what happens to vegetables in the back of the refrigerator.”

“So,” said the first, “we need to get rid of the back of the refrigerator!”

“Yes, ” I replied, ignoring her sarcastic tone.  “Exactly.  I got rid of the back of the refrigerator.”

They both looked at me skeptically, until I explained my solution: two more “drawers” to put the veggies in!

That bottom shelf cracked ages ago, under the weight of milk jars, I think.  Eight gallons of milk in glass jars is heavy!  The crack makes that one drawer hard to open.

That bottom shelf cracked ages ago, under the weight of milk jars, I think. Eight gallons of milk in glass jars is heavy! The crack makes that one drawer hard to open.

See?  Two extra drawers!  The one on the left is for greens and things, the one on the right for other sundry soft and quickly-turns-to-goo veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, and mushrooms.  The built in drawers are for root vegetables on the left and, on the right, sturdier veggies, like cabbage and peppers.  Because you have to pull the whole basket out to access the veggies, there is no longer a back-of-the-refrigerator.  At least not on this shelf.  So, presumably, the vegetables will get used instead of lost, cutting down on my frustration level when I can’t find something I know is in there.  I mean, cutting down on food waste.

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In other news, I made chicken broth in my crock pot this morning.  I made roasted chicken last night, because my friend Barbara said she had trouble getting hers to brown in her roaster oven.  Mine were browning all right (at 350°) but I had them too crowded, so I had to cut them apart and finish them in the oven.  Next time, I’ll cook them directly in the roaster pan instead of wedging them in a casserole.  We eat three chickens at a time and I think they’ll be okay if they aren’t touching.  The rotisserie on the grill, though, is faster, even if you do have to watch it the whole time.  And I could cook six at a time, if I wanted!  Which I don’t, usually, but you never know.  It’s good to have a plan.

Anyway, I was surprised that those three carcasses, plus two uneaten leg quarters, actually fit in the crock pot!  It’s an 8-quart model, which is bigger than I thought; there was even room for the appropriate broth-making veggies and a gallon of water.  And it tastes great.  So, more unwasted food.

Now, if I could only figure out how to keep the bread from going moldy atop the fridge, I’d be all set.

How about you?  Any kitchen wins at your house this week?

*I’ve been reading this book, which didn’t exactly include the basket-drawer idea, but it did inspire to me to think about our food losses and how I might reduce those.  It’s a pretty good book, and one I might add to our homemaking library.  I borrowed my copy from the library.

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

{pretty}

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We got new patio furniture last week.  We’ve been squeezing around one table meant for four, and, well, we stopped fitting there years ago.  I’d been looking for two rectangular tables, but couldn’t find anything in the material I wanted that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  One day, I stopped in at Walmart to see if they had anything.  Nope!  Nothing.  So I sat down to nurse the baby, and as I was looking around, I spied these up on a shelf.  Excitedly, I sped across the garden center, nursing baby and all, just to make sure.  Sure enough, they were exactly what we wanted!  Well, except for being round.  They didn’t have any on the floor, and there wasn’t a price, so, Walmart employees being notoriously unhelpful, I went home to check.  The price was too good to pass up, so round is what we’ve got!

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This furniture is made of a powder-coated metal mesh, and they are indestructible.  We’ve had our old set for 10ish years, our swing and two other chairs for eighteen, and they have just a little rust where parts rub.  A fresh coat of paint would completely solve whatever minor problems they have after all those years and multiple moves, some international!  We thought about going with something cheaper, just to save some cash, but when you factor in how long these will actually last, the price is just unbeatable.

This isn’t their final home, though.

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This is.  We have high hopes that it will be done soon.  (We had a minor setback regarding concrete and are now switching to paving stones.  Stay tuned!)

{happy}

bread

I just tried baking my go-to quick-and-easy bread on my favorite bread pan in my new roaster oven, and it worked great! The bread came out even better than it does in the oven, crustier on the outside, and more tender on the inside. If you try it, there’s no need to add any hot water to the roaster pan; the roaster holds in moisture so well that the bread itself makes its own steam, producing a most wonderful crust. I’ve only had my roaster a few days and I’ve used it to cook breakfast casseroles and bake potatoes, too.  Everything has turned out even better than in the oven.  It’s big enough to hold a regular 9×13 baking pan, or two loaf pans, so very versatile! I’m loving it.

{real}

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I’m especially loving it because that roaster pan means I don’t have to cook inside. If you’re cheap like me, that means less heat in the house, and less chance of succumbing to the allure of the air conditioner.  The AC consumes vast quantities of discretionary monies, which, of course, I’d rather spend on books.

{funny}

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Speaking of which, this is where I’ve been hanging out most of the time since Henry’s been born. It’s actually looking pretty good today. Usually, the book piles are higher. There are also often pens, notebooks, and glasses of water scattered about. But there are always books.

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These are my current and just-finished reads.  The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston I just finished reading aloud to the kids – simultaneously, though that wasn’t my intention.  See, I started the Green Ember one night, and as I’d already read it myself, I thought I’d start The Black Star.  Well, I was reading them both from the Kindle, and they were both on Chapter 2, and they are both about rabbits with swords, so the next night, I was several chapters into Black Star before I thought to wonder aloud, “What happened to Heather and Picket?!”  And that’s when I realized my mistake.  We were already hooked, though, so I read them both.  Now we’re reading On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and I’m not sure how I feel about this one.  Too many made up words, but silly made up words.  I like my humor a little more sophisticated, and so do the kids. (They take after me.)

I’m mostly reading Moby Dick on the Kindle, though I have a hard copy someplace.  I’ve got all the kids reading it, too.  (Actually, I bribed them.  Melville was inspired by this real life event, which is now a movie starring Chris Hemsworth, and who doesn’t like Chris Hemsworth? I’m just saying.) Also, Ishmael kinda cracks me up.  I’ve shown up in the girls’ bedroom in tears to read them a passage I found too hilarious to keep to myself!  But I have commitment troubles, and so I’m also reading After the Prophet, The Waste Free Kitchen (from the library) and The Living Page (thanks to Anne).  All are good.

See you over at Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {p,h,f,r}!

All black and white images are part of my Real Life series, and you can see more by scrolling down the homepage.  The patio sets can be found here (several people have asked already, so I’m linking for your convenience!) and this is my huge roaster.  I’m also using an 8-quart slow cooker, though not as often.  It is sufficiently huge to feed this family of eleven, though!

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What Morning Brings

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“Where’s Evie?” I asked in sudden alarm. I was nursing the baby on the couch, but I heard the tractor right outside the window, and some shouted directions, and a very loud, very distressing crunch. Delaney jumped up to find her, safe and sound upstairs, and then we watched the deck pull slowly away from the house and collapse to the ground in surprisingly slow motion. No one even came close to getting injured, which is another surprise, albeit a happy one.

This thing has been a thorn in our sides since we moved in, and has become too terrifyingly rotted to even consider stepping on. It was also built over a downstairs window, effectively blocking most of the light into what is already a fairly dark room. None of us shall miss it! Eventually, we’ll replace the door with a window. There’s another family not far away who’ve had a similar doorway to nowhere that we’ve been laughing at since we moved here seven years ago. They got it replaced with a window this year, and it looks great. I’m not sure, but we might be able to get the job done a little faster. We’ll see.

Messy Life

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For some reason, I feel very much like capturing all the messiness of real life lately. I love the photographs that completely and cleverly crop out all the disaster surrounding the subject, but, right now, I’m also loving the ones in which the disaster is the subject. Because the laundry isn’t always folded, the kitchen isn’t always clean, the flowers on the table aren’t always fresh, and the baby isn’t always happy. But that’s life. Real life, in all its messy glory. I kind of want the kids to remember that a little bit, so that when they’re going through those inevitable seasons when they don’t have their acts together, they’ll remember that it’s okay.

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Also, I think it’s important to remember that, when one has a baby, one should expect to just take the next three months off. It will save a lot of angst to know that if you get the laundry done and dinner on the table, you are a rock star mom.

On Fire

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I set my alarm for five o’clock this morning, as per yesterday’s discussion, but it did not turn out to be a quiet or peaceful morning at all. First, I forgot to reschedule the coffee pot, so I had to wait for my morning cuppa. (Oh, the horrors!) Then, the baby woke for a nursing shortly after I rolled out of bed, but before the coffee finished percolating. So it was that I found myself awake, but uncaffeinated, tending to a baby at 5:30ish in the morning, which is when I heard the siren. The local fire station was calling in her volunteer fire fighters, and a few minutes later, I heard the sirens of the trucks rolling out – and heading our way. When I got the baby back to bed, I grabbed a cup of coffee and stepped outside to see if I could tell where it was coming from. We have lots of friends and acquaintances within range of those sirens. At first, I didn’t see anything, but then I caught a glimpse of red taillights through the trees. I headed up the driveway for a better look, and sure enough, the trucks were parked at a neighbor’s house two doors down! I watched smoke pouring from the far side of the house, and I watched the smoke become flames licking through the roof. I listened to more sirens coming out from town and I saw another truck come in from another tiny station nearby. Then I had to go back inside to cook breakfast for a large family with places to go today. I was able to find the family that belongs to that house later in the morning. They weren’t home at the time of the fire, and don’t know what happened, and they haven’t had a chance to evaluate their needs just yet. The Red Cross is going to take care of them tonight. The house is a total loss, but nobody was hurt. That’s a comfort, but it’s a sad thing to lose all those little treasures a family accumulates: the photographs, the Christmas ornaments made by kindergartners, the china handed down from a grandmother, the birth certificates… It’s just hard.

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I have some experience with a house fire and all the trauma and drama, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer some helpful reminders:

1. Make sure you have working smoke alarms throughout the house. They only work if you’re home to hear them, but they do work. Change the batteries twice a year, whether they need it or not. You can reuse the batteries in other, non-critical devices, like alarm clocks.

2. Make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher, though I’d recommend one for each floor of your home. If you can swing a big, quality one, great, but even a $10 disposable model from Walmart is better than nothing. Make sure it’s an ABC extinguisher that can squelch all kinds of fires. If you’re able to catch the fire when it’s still small, you might be able to save your home.  Also, make sure it’s in an obvious location.  I know they aren’t very decorative, but if people can’t find them, they can’t use them.

3. Invest in a fire safe. You can keep your important documents in here, and maybe film negatives or backups, so that you don’t completely lose vital information and precious memories. They usually come with keys, but don’t lock it. The fire protective qualities work just as well locked or unlocked, but if you get robbed, a thief can rifle through an open safe and see that it’s just paperwork. If it’s locked, he may run off with it to open later at his convenience. We have found ours to hold moisture, though, so add a desiccant. You can get a container in the closet storage department at Walmart.

4. If you have kids and no easy way out of second story windows, you might want to get a fire ladder, too. Better safe than sorry, no? Like insurance, it seems like wasted money all those times you don’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.

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Here’s a reprint of a story I wrote back in 2007. It’s called:

The Very Long Tale of How I Burned Down My Mother-In-Law’s House

It was September of 1996, and my sister was getting married in New Jersey, so we made the journey from Colorado Springs to be there. Brenna was only six months old then, so we were still a small enough family to stay with relatives without causing too much inconvenience. So it was that we pulled into my mother-in-law’s driveway one bright, clear morning, full of excitement at seeing our far distant loved ones again. My dear mother-in-law gallantly gave up the master bedroom for our planned week-long stay and bid us make ourselves to home, and we did. Little did any of us know that things were going to take a terrible turn before too long.

Now David is not one to see the value in rising early if one does not have to be at work at oh-dark-thirty. The in-laws had already left for work, and so it was that Brenna and I were the only ones awake in the house at a quarter to seven. Well, not quite. There was a fat bunny, too. The fat bunny was permitted to hop about the house as he pleased and, as anyone who knows anything about bunnies knows, left many, many presents all over the carpet. The residents of the house and owners of the bunny seemed not to mind this situation and were quite adept at walking around this bounty, but I, the new mother of a small baby, found this to be absolutely intolerable. So I vacuumed up the multiple gifts, laid a sheet on the floor which I did not consider to be anywhere near clean, and set Brenna upon it with a few toys.

At seven in the morning, having already done all this work just to get up, I was more than ready for a cup of coffee, so I left the vacuum where it was, went into the adjacent kitchen and began the brewing process. By now, it was slightly after seven, and it was the day the bride was due to arrive, so I called my mother to hear the latest wedding news. The coffee still wasn’t done when I hung up, so I took the opportunity to use the powder room. It was, after all, first thing in the morning. For an instant, I considered brushing my teeth, too, but, providentially, I did not.

Now the bathroom opened off of a tiny alcove, along with the two other bedrooms, adjacent to the living room where Brenna was still playing. As I stepped out of the bathroom and into the alcove, I smelled something. Something hot, like a curling iron, perhaps. For another instant, I thought to check the two bedrooms for the source of the smell, but decided to look in on Brenna first. ‘Twas a good thing, too, for my little angel was sitting on the floor, playing happily with those ubiquitous Fisher Price keys, in front of a burning couch!

It’s funny what adrenaline does to you. It seems like everything is happening in slow motion, like you have all the time in the world to make decisions and take action. To an observer, though, it would all seem to happen so quickly! So it was that I assessed the situation, scooped up the baby, kicked in the bedroom door like some sort of Hollywood action star, yelled, “Fire!” at my sleeping husband, and twirled around to grab the phone. It was beautiful, really, efficient and graceful. One of my shining moments! I dialed 911 and watched David hop out of the bedroom and into his pants. He, too, assessed the situation, and decided it called for a comforter. He dragged one off of the bed and threw it onto the couch in an effort to smother the fire before it spread. He did well; in just a moment the couch was out, but, unfortunately, the wall had caught. We decided it was now a good time to leave, so we headed out the back door.

As we came around the side of the house, I noticed with surprise that the electric company was already out there. Then we stood on the front lawn, milling about, wondering what to do while we waited. David moved the bunny hutch away from the house. Then he suggested I call my father to come pick us up, as our car keys were currently inside melting away. After a while, the police came and blocked off the street, and let us wait in the back of one of the cars. The volunteer fire department got to work shortly thereafter. My dad sweet-talked his way through the road blocks to collect Brenna and me. David stayed with the house and the car and waited for his mother to arrive. He knew she’d need him.

Now the other funny thing about adrenaline is the absence of fear. Although you can see and understand the danger plainly, you are detached from it, almost like it is happening to someone else. Until, that is, the danger is past. Then it all comes down on you like a ton of bricks, and the what-ifs are staggering. I spent the rest of the day feeling completely and utterly helpless, holding Brenna and wishing I could hold David, too. That night, though, when I lay down beside them, all of us safe and together, I realized that I knew for certain something I’d hoped was true: My love was strong enough that I’d willingly brave death for them.

Of course, my sister, the bride, arrived that same afternoon. I was her Matron of Honor, which made David mad for some reason, but eleven (now 20!) years later, I still don’t know why. We moved his parents into a temporary house, and the surrounding communities were very generous in furnishing and provisioning it. The fire inspector declared it an electrical fire, which I have always attributed to the vacuum cleaner. Eventually, the in-laws bought their own home, a big step after all those years of renting. The bunny lived to a ripe old age, and was succeeded by more and bigger bunnies, and a cat. David went on to serve his year in Korea, managing to create another child during mid-tour leave. He is now the father of six healthy, happy children. And I, the chronicler of this misadventure, have always since owned at least one fire extinguisher, planned out every fire escape situation imaginable, and refused to vacuum other people’s houses.

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