Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like....

Christmas?!

Really????   Already??????


As far as the weather is concerned here in Central Texas, it still doesn't LOOK like Christmas, but the lights, the sounds, the songs and the shoppers all tell us that it certainly IS that time again!

Even though I grew up in Texas, I spent many Christmases in Indiana visiting family, so I am not unfamiliar with winter weather.

I love snow.  I love how magical it is, when out of the corner of your eye the first few little flakes begin to quietly fall from the sky.  And then little by little the world turns into a larger-than-life snowglobe!

Standing on my parents' back porch out in the country... listening as it falls... yes, there are sounds in the snow.  Whispers of beauty... whispers straight from heaven, as each snowflake gently lands on the tree branches, slowly but surely covering the ground like a blanket laid out by the angels.


One year - I can't remember exactly how many years back... 6 or 7 maybe - we were spending Christmas here in Texas.  I was determined, however, to have some winter wonderland in my house!  I pulled out scissors and white paper and coffee filters.  I sat the kids down at the table.  We folded paper.  We cut.  And magically our dining table became covered in a blanket of beautiful paper snowflakes.  It was only last year that I finally took down those snowflakes from the window.  One of my boys still has his window filled with them.

Memories...so sweet and never too far away to remember the happiness felt in those simple moments together.  And I think it might be time for us to pull out the scissors and paper and make all new ones.  It doesn't matter that they are all teenagers now.


Now, if you don't cherish the thought of trying to pick up a million-billion-gadzillion little pieces of paper (ok, I exaggerate), you can go here and cut a "virtual" snowflake.  It takes a little getting used to how to wield the scissors, but it is so fun...and addicting.  So go....go create a little magic of your own!  Let me know how you like it!

Oh, and for those of you who really would like to try the paper version, here are some instructions to get you started.

Put on some Christmas music, gather around the table, and let the memories begin!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's a Family Tradition

I seem to have gotten a bit off-track on my proposed “Things November” series. Honestly, there are some days in November that, for centuries, have just been… well… boring – plain and simple. Today is one of those.

So, with the holiday season in full swing and families starting to gather all around the country, I started thinking about traditions – particularly those that kick off Christmas. Most families have at least one tradition that gets passed from generation to generation – sometimes quite on purpose and sometimes it is just such a part of who we are, we don’t even know any different.

Here are a few traditions that I have either personally taken part of, or have wished I could!
 
I grew up an only child, so needless to say there were lots of presents…just for me. My mom was always too excited to wait until Christmas for me to open them, so beginning on or around the first of December, I was allowed to open a present a day – HER choosing of course! Amazingly, there were still a ton of presents under the tree on Christmas morning. I compromised on this little tradition with my own kids. They are allowed to open ONE present on Christmas Eve, but nothing else until Christmas morning!

My parents’ respective families all lived very far away from us, so we often ended up traveling long distances to visit over the holidays. There was one particular set of aunt/uncle/cousins that we visited where every year they made holiday cookies with colored cookie dough – red, white and green. They were in many different shapes – candy canes, wreaths, etc. They all tasted the same but I think it was just how festive they looked that made me completely fall in love with them. And of course, we were always sent home with a tin!

When I was a freshman in college, I dated a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Polish boy from Syracuse, New York. One of his family’s traditions was the making of pierogis, and let me tell you…he brought me back some frozen ones that he had saved for me…oh, myyyyyy…if they were that good frozen, what in the world must they have tasted like fresh?? Apparently it was quite the production, as everyone in the house was put to work to help make them!

My parents had some neighbors for many, many years who really liked to par-tay! They were well known for their big bashes, which always seemed to involve the host and hostess becoming what my mother called “schnockered”. And it’s no wonder…every year they would send us over a box of homemade bourbon balls and all I can says is WHOA! They must have used a whole bottle in the recipe. They were actually fun, sweet, delightful people who were very giving. I remember them fondly, although I have to admit I think I remember the smell of them first. ;-)

The one tradition that I started with my own kids and have carried through the years is what we call “special ornament shopping”. Every year, within a day or two of having set up our tree, we venture out to several stores in search of the perfect ornament for each of us to add to the tree for that year. The purpose behind this is so that when each child leaves home, they will have a full box of ornaments to decorate their own tree. Plus each ornament has special meaning to them. It’s really sweet to see almost-grown kids choosing carefully – sometimes painstakingly – their ornament.

What traditions do you and your family share that make the season memorable?


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Everyday Miracles


My pastor began preaching a sermon series on Miracles today, and as usual his words have had a profound impact on my thinking.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”.

An EXTRAORDINARY event.
A DIVINE intervention in human affairs.

Personally, every day of my life has what I consider to be “extraordinary” events. Yes, I know that extraordinary means unusual or out of the ordinary. But is there really anything just plain ordinary? If I’m thinking on the level of “divine intervention in human affairs”, certainly not. Divinity is anything BUT ordinary.

In a 24 hour period, the world spins on its axis and we have day and night.




Extraordinary. 



The sun rises and the sun sets.



Extraordinary.


Each morning, we wake up. We take in breath. Life.





Although some of us do not experience all of our senses, we each are still blessed with at least some, if not all.
Seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, tasting.
Experiencing God’s world.
His presence.
Extraordinary.

So many miracles. Every day. And I fear we have become numb to them.


We take them for granted like spoiled children.


Or if we don’t receive them when and how we think we should, we stomp and pout and point our fingers in accusation…toward others…toward God.


In rebellion we close our eyes, shake our heads, turn our backs. And then…


Miracles pass us right on by.

The very breath I breathe in and out is a miracle.


My heart that beats in the center of my chest – in the center of my very soul – THAT is a miracle.

The fact that food is put on the table every night, that I am blessed with shelter, clothing, and the One Great God who loves me…totally all miracles.

Family, friends, kind strangers (even the not-so-kind ones can be blessings if you look a little deeper) – miracles.

Why do I call all of these seemingly ordinary things miracles? Because I believe that every single one of them is presented to me through divine intervention.

Every.
Single.
One.

I may not always treat these gifts as the miracles they are. As a matter of fact, I am guilty of taking for granted many of these at any given time. And ashamedly, there are times when I’ve just tossed some of them aside like garbage.
 
Funny thing is, though…God is in the business of picking up what we throw out as garbage and turning it back around into something gorgeous.

 

“and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”
Isaiah 61:3

What miracles have you missed because of your stubborn ways?

What miracles are staring you in the face and you aren’t even recognizing them?

Don't let them pass you by.



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things November: Nov. 16, 2010

November 16th is International Day for Tolerance


The International Day for Tolerance is set aside to teach about respecting and recognizing the rights and beliefs of others. It is a time of reflection and sometimes even debate on the negative effects of intolerance. Live discussions and debates take place throughout our planet on this day, focusing on the negative impact that different forms of injustice, oppression, racism and unfair discrimination have on society.

This day is also an opportunity taken by many human rights activists to speak out on human rights laws, and in some workplaces, special programs, talks, or messages from leaders about the importance of tolerance are presented.  More information can be found at the United Nations web page.

In the past, the word “tolerance” has had a negative connotation to me. As illustrated in the definitions below, it seems to indicate more of an attitude of just “putting up” with something or someone, rather than “acceptance”.

Tolerance -

1. to endure (or in my own terms: to put up with)
2. sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own

Accept (root of acceptance) -

1. to receive willingly
2. to give approval to

I have come to the conclusion, however, that tolerance is not a negative word, but rather the context in which we use it is either negative or positive. Tolerance is not the same as accepting all practices or views as equal. More accurately, it is developing a higher awareness of and respect for many different universal human rights and basic freedoms.

Tolerance is intended to show respect. Respect for people, not necessarily for their actions. I do not have to accept another person’s actions as right, but I do need to respect that person’s right to their viewpoint. I do not have the right to degrade or look down upon anyone because of their views. But that does not mean I have accepted those views.

Does that mean I am not going to stand up for what I believe in? That I am just going to roll over and play dead when someone does or says something that I believe is morally or ethically wrong? No, not at all. It means that I will respectfully, openly approach that person in an attitude of humility. I will make the environment such that they do not feel threatened. I will welcome rebuttal and feedback, and expect to receive the same – all in love and the need to understand. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignorance leads to prejudice and hate.

That’s not the kind of world I want to live in, nor to hand over to my children when the time comes.


"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."
Ephesians 4:2

Monday, November 15, 2010

Things November: Nov. 15, 2010

November 15th is America Recycles Day

This is the one day out of the year that is officially dedicated to the promotion of recycling programs here in the US. Since 1997, there have been celebrations in communities across the country to inform, educate and encourage people to recycle. You can go to the Keep America Beautiful site for more information.

I know for my family personally, for the longest time we didn’t recycle because it was just too difficult to know what you could or could not recycle – you could recycle plastic, but only certain kinds; you could recycle paper, but only certain kinds. It was very frustrating. Now our city has a program where many different items can be put in one large bin that they will pick up curb-side, and they do the sorting. There are still some do’s and do not’s, but overall it is MUCH easier!

Not sure where to take some of those “not-so-easy-to-recycle” items, such as oil, paint, computers, etc.? At Earth911.com, you can enter the type of item you want to recycle and the city/state or area code and you will get a list of places that will accept your items.  Really nifty little gadget!!

 Ok now, listen up...


Did you know that it takes up to 4,000 years for glass to decompose in a landfill, but that glass can be RECYCLED indefinitely?



Did you know that the plastic bottles that our water comes in is made of oil? The same oil that makes gasoline? The same oil that is in high demand and is NOT an unlimited resource? Good reason to recycle those plastic bottles, don’t you think?


Did you know that to produce an average run of Sunday papers, 500,000 trees must be cut down? Just imagine how many trees could be saved if we recycled all of our newspaper instead of putting it in a landfill!



Oh, and those Hershey’s kisses we all love so much? Wrapped in aluminum foil – 80,000,000 of them each day - EACH DAY PEOPLE!!! All aluminum is recyclable – even itty bitty pieces.




If you haven't started recycling, won't you consider it?  We've only been given one earth!


Psalm 8:3-8
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas."



Friday, November 12, 2010

Things November: Nov. 12, 2010

On November 12, 1980, the NASA space probe Voyager I made its closest approach to Saturn and took the first images of its rings.


Simply stunning.

I gaze at this in awe and wonderment...

...ponder the beauty.


How could this possibly be anything other than an amazing creation?  My mind cannot even imagine how anyone could think that this is just an "accident".



No, this is MADE. 

Lovingly...
thoughtfully...
by God's hands. 

I imagine it.



He cups his hands, as if forming a snowball.  Slowly he brings his hands up to his mouth...he softly breathes into them, opens his hands and in utter delight lets float this breathtaking sphere of G0d-breath.




He sprinkles all around it layer upon layer of texture and color and places it among his beautiful collection of other God-breathed creations.


Shhhhh...can you hear it?  The soft whisper of him, as he moves throughout the universe, placing one treasure after another just where he wants them to be? 

Shhhhh...listen.  He's there.


"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
Genesis 1:1

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November Things: Nov. 11, 2010

Because this is an important day...
A solemn and celebratory day all in one...

Because freedom isn't FREE...

Today I simply say
THANK YOU
to all those veterans of our military who have served us well, and have served bravely.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things November: Nov. 10, 2010

Life is full of surprises, and today I received a very nice one.  I am the iFellowship "featured friend" over on Seeds of Faith Women today!  I don't remember exactly how I stumbled across it, but I'm telling you...I could spend all day over there getting dose after dose of encouragement from my Christian sisters!  Please do go check it out (just click the button below)!


***************
And now for today's fun facts for November 10th:

The Few, The Proud…
The US Marine Corps celebrates its birthday on November 10th each year. This year in particular the Corps is celebrating its 235th! Hoo-Rah!



MS Windows released
Although it wouldn’t actually ship until 1985, Microsoft Corporation unveiled MS Windows on Nov. 10, 1983. Our lives haven't been the same, don't you agree?




Sunny Day, Everything’s A-OK!
In 1969, Sesame Street premiered on public broadcasting stations. If you think about it, this was pre-school teaching before pre-school was cool! My favorite character is, of course, Big Bird. He is big and lovable and always kind. Who's your favorite character? (Below is a picture of the original cast!)


Famous Birthdays: Martin Luther, Miranda Lambert (my personal favorite female Country singer!)

****************
I love traditional Thanksgiving foods, but sometimes it's fun to just mix it up a little bit.  Here is a recipe for a Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake that I made a couple years back for a party at work.  I like this one because you don't need a springform pan. Yum-O! (Photo borrowed from Kraft Kitchens, since we have long ago eaten ours!)

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake


1-1/2 cups crushed ginger snaps 
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1-1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
HEAT oven to 325°F

MIX crumbs, nuts and butter; press onto bottom only of 13x9-inch pan.

BEAT cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar and vanilla with mixer until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each just until blended. Remove 1-1/2 cups batter. Stir remaining sugar, pumpkin and spices into remaining batter.

SPOON half the pumpkin batter into crust; top with spoonfuls of half the plain batter. Repeat layers; swirl with knife.

BAKE 45 min. or until center is almost set. Cool completely. Refrigerate 4 hours.

I cut this into approximately 1" squares and put them in mini cupcake liners to make it more festive looking.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Things November: Nov. 9, 2010

Here are a few little nuggets I gathered for today. Enjoy!

Felix the Cat!
The Wonderful, Wonderful Cat!
In 1919, this amazing little kitty first appeared in a series of film shorts called “Feline Follies”. I can’t tell you how many afternoons I spent after school having a snack and watching this cartoon! Ahhh, good memories! He must be why I love black cats so much!

The Wall Came Tumblin', Tumblin
On this day in 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened. Built in 1961, it stood as a stark symbol of the Cold War. Subsequently, the tearing down of the wall has come to represent the collapse of Communism in East Europe.

Talk about ironic…
In 1998, Florida was hit by ten tornadoes while celebrating Hazardous Weather Awareness Week.



Beautiful and frightening all at once!









Monday, November 8, 2010

Things November: Nov. 8, 2010

On November 8, 1889, Montana became the 41st state of the United States.

 
Random?  Yep!

But it brings back a childhood memory that makes me smile a little.  I was in 4th grade and our teacher assigned us each a state to research.  We had to draw the state on a large piece of poster board, color it in, label it's capital, and...well, I don't remember what else.  Then on parent open house night, we all paraded through the cafeteria/auditorium proudly displaying our respective states.  I remember that I colored mine a light orange and that I totally loved the name of the capital - Helena.  It sounds so romantic!

I think I would like to visit someday...isn't it pretty?
********
Another little known fact about November 8th is that it is World Urbanism Day, also known as World Town Planning Day.

I know - who'da thought, right?  A whole day - a whole organization even - dedicated to the study of urban space and design!  The day was founded in 1949 and is celebrated in 30 countries.  For more information, click here.

I knew somewhere in the back of my head that there are city planning departments (I work in the construction industry, so yeah).  But I never put any thought into the fact that there are people who actually study and come up with ideas on how to create attractive, livable spaces in our urban areas. 

I actually just found out that I live in what is known as a "planned city".  A planned city is defined as one that follows a particular design from inception to use.  According to this article in Wikipedia, there are a minimum of approximately 86 so-called planned cities in the United States, including Austin, TX; Indianapolis, IN; Mystic Island, NJ; Salt Lake City, UT; and Washington, DC.

It's rather intriguing, don't you think?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Things November: Nov. 6, 2010

Here in Texas, the November days are becoming quite beautiful. Warm sunshine and soft breezes were our delight today. The downtown Austin area was bustling and alive with people everywhere! It is good to be alive in the world at this time in history, in this place we call America.

Our forefathers weren't quite so fortunate when they landed here and it always amazes me that, according to stories I've read, many still considered themselves blessed, despite the harsh conditions in which they lived.


The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.
- H. U. Westermayer

********************

Can you imagine boarding a ship with hundreds of other people, traveling in all manner of weather conditions for months, enduring sickness, death and overcrowded conditions - then landing in a foreign, wild land without even a place to lay your head? In my opinion, what the early settlers did is epically heroic.

What must their lives have been like in their home country for them to completely uproot themselves from everything that was familiar to them and endure the hardships they did?

I’m not an historian. I can’t quote you facts or dates. I can’t tell you who the leaders of the time were. I can only imagine from the point of view of humanity.

I close my eyes and try to picture how they might have felt. Maybe there was a sense of adventure, heading off to a new place - a place that held unimaginable potential for freedom. On the other hand, there had to be some trepidation in their hearts as well. Leaving behind family, friends and familiarity must have struck a certain amount of fear in their very soul.

How did they find thankfulness and gratitude among the illness; among the native attacks; amidst the harsh, cold winter; in the knowing that they are burying more than building? How?

Makes me feel pretty petty and selfish.

I look around me at everything I have – every material possession, every freedom – and often I still find myself  with something to complain about.

Is this what our forefathers envisioned for us? In some ways I suppose yes. We have freedoms that likely go far beyond anything they wished for. And yet, that seems to be our downfall as well. Freedom taken to extremes.

Even so, I am eternally grateful for those who braved the unknown so that many generations to come would develop and have those freedoms.  Their choices and actions set into motion the building of this country.  Even with it's many imperfections, it is still a wondrous place to be.

And like those in times before us, every action we take - every INaction - has consequences.  I urge you to be thoughtful about the choices you make.  Those choices are NOT yours alone.  Those choices will have an impact on many people, for many generations to come.

What unfamiliar territory are YOU willing to venture into so that future generations will benefit from it?  What legacy will you leave for them to carry on? 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things November: Nov. 5, 2010

I find it interesting all the things that have happened in Novembers past that I've taken for granted because they've always just "been there". I've never bothered to inquire of their origin.  Not that they are earth-shattering, but they are interesting all the same.

 For instance, in 1492 Christopher Columbus learned of maize (corn) from the Indians of Cuba. 


And in 1935, the ever classic board game Monopoly was introduced by Parker Brothers.









Are you ready for some football?

Yes folks, that’s right…on this day in 1959, the National Football League was formed with the following 8 teams: Houston Oilers, New York Titans, Buffalo Bills, Boston Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Texans, Oakland Raiders, and Denver Broncos!

Famous birthdays for Nov. 5th:  Roy Rogers, Vivien Leigh and Art Garfunkel

********************
For some reason – today in particular – I am so very grateful that I am no longer the person I used to be. I am not claiming perfection, and my life is still messy…


A Beautiful Mess


This past summer, my off-to-college daughter decided she wanted to redecorate her bedroom here at home. I gave her my blessing, and off she went to purchase supplies and paint at the local do-it-yourself big box store. She was so excited to have all she needed to get started including a couple cans of beautiful, bright pink paint (think fuschia).

As she painted, it didn't go as well as we had hoped. The dark paint was splotchy and streaky, and wasn’t covering the stenciled border I had painted when the house was brand new. We tried to cover the stencil with a medium gray primer that the genius gentleman at the local do-it-yourself big box store told us we needed. Let’s just say at this point, the room is a disaster and we are both disappointed and frustrated.

So, off to the store I went again, this time in pursuit of plain white primer. Just beautiful, pristine white to cover up the awful mess we had made.

Lo and behold, as I put on layers of white primer, the mess is beginning to disappear.

Tonight as I was painting, I reflected on how parts of my past are ugly and splotchy and streaky. How there are layers of colors-on-top-of-colors that I tried to use to cover up the mess - or maybe make the mess look better on the outside - yet the harder I tried, it just became messier.

Then one day, the vessel that held all that ugliness fell to the ground and everything in it spilled out. There was nothing left in there…it was empty…

Nothing left in me…I was empty...

And that was the perfect place for transformation to begin. That was when God sat the vessel back upright and filled it with Himself…

when He gave me the gift of His Son Jesus as my Savior…

when He began to slowly, gently “prime” that ugly surface
with His loving Word.

Every day He lovingly brushes on another beautiful, fresh layer of Himself over my mess…over me. But rather than just covering over the mess, God is making me new. Bit by bit, the canvas that is me becomes less me and more Him.

Pure
       Clean
                Bright
                          White
                                    Lovely…

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Things November: Nov. 4, 2010

I simply couldn’t find any interesting facts regarding this day in November, so I leave you with a poem and a recipe today. I hope you enjoy both!


********************


November
by Elizabeth Coatsworth

November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.

With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.

********************

If you are looking for healthier alternatives to traditional Thanksgiving foods, there are plenty of recipes out there. Thanksgiving does not have to be heavy-laden with fatty foods to be enjoyable.

Here is a really simple recipe for green beans that my family loves (my kids actually taught me how to make these). These are a wonderful, tasty replacement for the beloved green bean casserole many of us grew up with.
Sauteed Green Beans
1 ½ pounds fresh green beans
1 large red bell pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pat of butter (about 1/4" thick slice)
1 large lemon
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt & course ground pepper to taste

Snap ends only of the green beans off and wash (you want to leave the beans long). Slice the red bell pepper into long slices about ¼ inch wide.

In a large skillet heat the olive oil and butter, and then add the green beans and red bell pepper. Sprinkle in the seasonings and saute until the vegetables are tender-crisp (usually no more than about 5 minutes).

When vegetables are finished cooking, turn off the heat and squeeze the juice of one lemon over them. Lightly toss, and place in a serving dish.


Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Things November: Nov. 3, 2010



Ok, y’all…I’m an Austin, Texas girl and I am very happy to say that November 3rd is the birthday of none other than...






Stephen F. Austin
(aka, the Father of Texas)!








 ~~~Yee-haw! No…for real…yeee-hawww!~~~


Ok, whew...now that I've got that out of my system, here are some more November facts for you:


 November’s birthstone is the Topaz.Topaz is often associated with the sun, and the most well-known color Topaz stone is golden yellow.
Topaz occurs naturally in other colors as well including pink, orange and blue. It is believed that wearing topaz allows you to have clearer thought and foresight (vision).

~~~~~ 
Did you know that November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month? Somewhere in the range of 5-7 percent of the teenage population under the age of 18 are homeless each year. That's about 1-1.5 million young people who are forced to live on the streets, are likely to drop out of school, and face an increased risk of experiencing sexual abuse and the very real danger of human trafficking.


Click { here } to visit one of many websites where you can find more information and
how you can help.

********************

And that, my friends, leads me to what I am thankful for today.

A roof over my head, warm clothes on my body, plentiful food for my tummy.

Many of us take these things for granted, but there are also many who would trade places with us in a heartbeat, even just for one night.

It hurts my heart to know that there are children out there in the world – the same age as my own – who have none of these things. Some of them don’t even have a family. They are lost and vulnerable.



This is somebody's baby, y'all.  Somebody's baby....

But you and I - we have the ability to change that.
What will you do?

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
 ~Anne Frank


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