Thursday, June 30, 2011

Back to the Beach!

The morning after I returned home from the Grant Trip, we backed up and headed to the beach for a few hours.   We hadn't been since before David and Laura got married, so I'm sure the pups were itching to run in the sand and waves. 

The seaweed bloom is still not gone, so that's a bit annoying, but we chose to ignore it and we ran and jumped and swam the morning away.  Both dogs went out deeper than they ever had before, so we've got to get them both life vests so we don't have submarine dogs instead of floating dogs!  We just love watching them run and play and enjoy themselves-together!-at the beach.  Yay for shared bonds!

Teaching American History Grant: Summer Field Study

Yes, I realize I've been home almost a week and that my posts about my trip are just now being published.  I still had work on Monday, so I spent a bit of Tuesday and most of yesterday organizing photos and finishing up posts about the three crazy wonderful weeks that began my summer.  We worked our tails off on this trip, but I learned so much and enjoyed 99.9% of it.  Here are the links to the posts to make it easier to find them.

View of the White House from the top of the Washington Monument

Friday, June 24, 2011

Niagara Falls

Our last night and full day of the grant were spent exploring Niagara Falls.  We weren't allowed to cross the border to Canada since we were funded with federal dollars, but the American side is stunning and offers plenty of activities.

Thursday night we walked along the Niagara River and took pictures in front of the Falls.  I know Niagara isn't the biggest waterfall in the world, but it's absolutely beautiful!  Next to Niagara are two other falls called Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls.  After dinner at Hard Rock, we went back to the Falls to take pictures of them lit up with colored lights from the Canadian shores of the river.  So pretty.  It reminded me of the water shows in the evenings at Opryland Hotel.

Niagara River

This morning we had dreary weather, but it was perfect because the tourists didn't care to venture out to the Falls.  We didn't care because we knew we were going to get wet whether from the Falls or the sky!  We first road Maid in the Mist to be able to see the Falls from the front instead of the side.  The boat also took us to Horseshoe Falls.  The mist at Horseshoe was so thick that we didn't see much of anything.  It's amazing to me how much the landscape reminded me of the west coast of Ireland.
About to set sail from the dock on Maid of the Mist.

Niagara in all her glory.

 After our boat ride we experienced Cave of the Wind which took us into a cave behind Niagara and Bridal Veil Falls and out to the side of them.  Each Spring platforms are built so that visitors can walk out within in inches of the rushing water as it roars over the cliff.  It's fabulous to be near such power and know that God's power is even greater.  His creation is just amazing.
Small section of Bridal Veil Falls

Yep, I stuck my foot into the Falls while I was on the platforms.  :)

We explored a bit of the State Park, taking many more photos before wrapping up our day at the IMAX film about the Falls.  I'm so glad we ended our trip at such a peaceful place.
Rainbow at the base of Horseshoe

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cooperstown and Seneca Falls

We've gone from Baseball to Women's Rights in about 36 hours, but there were a few overlaps in thought!

Wednesday was spent at Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Yes, the plaques about each of the Hall of Famers are cool, but the museum is spectacular!  The entire history of baseball, from the mid-1800s until today, is chronicled in the museum.  Hours can easily be spent getting lost in the love of the game.  Growing up living, eating, and breathing baseball with my brother made this a special place for me.  We also had a workshop where we were allowed to handle artifacts from baseball's history.  It was a dream!
In a AAGBBL uniform from late 1940s.
Playing pretend.  :)

Most valuable baseball card in the world: Honus Wagner.
Thursday took us to Seneca Falls where we looked at the beginnings of the Women's Rights Movement.  We toured the museum and visited Elizabeth Cady Stanton's home.  Seneca Falls is a beautiful little town.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hyde Park, NY

Last night we drove to Poughkeepsie, NY near Hyde Park where Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent most of his life.  We toured Top Cottage, high on a hill with the Hudson River in the background.  He built this home as a quiet, secluded, comfortable place to bring friends, family, and dignitaries alike to escape the hustle and bustle of both DC and NYC.  King George and Queen Elizabeth had a hot dog picnic with FDR at Top Cottage at the cusp of the outbreak of WWII. 
Sitting at FDR's desk at Top Cottage

Top Cottage
Our workshop for the morning was held while sitting in the rocking chair on the porch at Top Cottage.  Serene! Then we hiked down the hill to Val-Kill.
We also toured Eleanor’s home, Val-Kill, where she enjoyed entertaining friends away from her mother-in-law’s influence.  Eleanor loved Sarah, but she wanted to be able to dictate her own home without constantly seeking approval from the family matriarch.  I learned the Eleanor was Theodore Roosevelt’s niece.  Teddy even gave her away at her wedding since Eleanor’s father died when she was ten.
Franklin’s presidential library was the only library to be used by a president while still in office.  It’s therefore built at Springwood, the family home, and it’s just beautiful.  Only a few miles from the Vanderbilt Mansion, both home have stunning views of the Hudson River from hill tops. 
Erica and me at Summerwood.
Gorgeous Vanderbilt Mansion...Rhubarb tours claims that the Vanderbilts really  made their  fortune from the goats on the property...
Fala was the Roosevelts’ Scottie made famous when politicians and reporters tried to defame Roosevelt by creating a story that Fala had been left in Alaska and that a Navy ship had been sent to fetch him at taxpayer expense.  Fala was apparently furious that he was attacked so viciously by the public.  Poor Fala. 

This area is just gorgeous!  Hills and green are everywhere, which is so different from home right now with the drought.  Such a treat!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Day in the Park(s)

This morning we also toured Union Park and Gramercy Square.  They were pretty, but dirty and smelly too, in spite of the wealth in the area.  Go figure.

Central Park is one of NYC’s saving graces.  I think after 3 days in the city, we were all getting a bit tired of the concrete, and the Park is such a breath of fresh air!  It’s also fabulous for people watching.  Ask me about that in person, if you want to know.  The park is so green and lush, and I recognized many places from various movies.  It’s more than little ironic to go from skyscrapers and zipping vehicles to quiet ponds and geese.  Strawberry Fields is beautiful, and I liked the winding paths up and down the hills.  

This just screams, "Home Alone 2: Lost in NY"
Of course the best part of the day was the impromptu Rhubarb tours conducted by our own Katy Rendon.  We had gone on enough so-so Big Onion tours that Katy began her own narrations for us.  It might take weeks for my ribs/sides to stop aching from all of the laughing!
Katy giving a Rhubarb Tour in Central Park.
Before the bus left to take us Upstate, some of us stopped in Macy's to ride the original wooden escalators from the basement to floor 9.  It was pretty cool.  :)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

NYC Days 1 and 2

New York City is the stinkiest place I’ve ever been.  The whole city reeks of trash, even in the nicer parts of town, such as 5th Avenue.  I’ve been shocked and disappointed at the filth that permeates the entire city.  Such a shame that New Yorkers are ok giving off the air that they don't care about their city.

Germs have not kept us from learning, however.  Yesterday we took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and then on to Ellis Island for a workshop.  Ellis Island is fascinating!  I have many ancestors who came from Ireland and at least one some odd numbered great-grandmother from Germany, but I don’t know if any of them came through Ellis Island.  From school, I was under the impression that Ellis Island was just a horrid crowd of people waiting and waiting and waiting to see if they would be allowed admittance into the USA.  While the crowding was very much a reality, the immigrants were fed and cared for as much as possible considering something like 5,000 folks a day walked in and then out of the doors of Ellis Island.  An immigrant had to have at least $25 in cash to prove they wouldn’t become a ward of the state.  Amazing times in American history.
The waiting hall in the main building on Ellis Island.
After Ellis Island, we watched Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones preparing to film scenes of Men in Black 3.  We had seen them setting up early yesterday morning on our way to the dock, so it was cool to see them still at it hours later.  My camera didn’t get any good pictures, but a few people did, so I’m hoping to get one or two.

We didn't have much time to linger at the 9/11 Memorial, but some of us made sure we made the trek from Battery Park to Ground Zero before our Broadway show.  Freedom Tower is under construction, so there isn't much to see without visiting Trinity Church, but we did the best we could with a limited time budget.  It's a moving and touching place to visit and deserves more time than we gave it.
Last night was incredible!  Mamma Mia was a hoot!  Fifteen of us wanted to go to Broadway together, and Wicked had been our first pick.  Sadly, the date was sold out except for the super expensive seats, which few of us could actually afford.  I was not sad at all that Mamma Mia ended up being our destination as I have lots of memories of my family and singing and dancing to ABBA as a small girl.  The movie adaption is great, and I was excited to finally get to see the inspiration for the film.  I’m not sure the two can be compared though.  A musical can have more numbers than a film, and yet a film can provide better sets and effects.  Phantom of the Opera is a perfect example of this in my opinion.  The fifteen ladies took up an entire row of seats, and we laughed and laughed throughout the night.  And yes, we did a bit of singing as well. :)  After the show we headed to Sardie's for 'supper'.  We didn't manage to run into anyone famous, but our food was excellent.  Of course we thought we were special dinning in a restaurant that's served the rich and famous of the City for over 100 years.  It was a great end to a wonderful day.
Inside Winter Gardens.  It's a beautiful theater!
Walking through Time Square on our way to Sardie's.

The girls at Sardie's

Today we toured the Tenement Museum and went on a walking tour of the historical immigrant neighborhoods of the Lower East Side.  The Tenement Museum was impressive.  A tenement had been built at 92 Orchard St and grew into the quintessential tenement community.  A bar was in the basement, and the families were so tight knit that when the building’s owner finally refused to update the building to meet code in the mid-30s, they all moved to a new building together.  One tenement (in Texas, we call these apartments, in case you’re wondering) was restored to how it looked in the 1880s: no electricity, no windows in any room except for the front, no running water, and no bathroom.  Another was restored to how it look in 1928.  The three rooms had windows in the walls so that air and light could travel from the front window throughout the tenement, and running water and electricity had been installed.  At the time, there only had to be one toilet for every 20 building in the building.  Whoa.  
92 orchard Street, where the marquis is hanging in front.
The afternoon was spent exploring 5th Avenue, Tiffany’s, FAO Schwarz.  Miss Tightwad of course didn’t purchase anything, but it was fun to see the fancy buildings as we walked past the Russian Tea Room and Carnegie Hall.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Off to NYC

I think it's great that modern technology means that I can blog on a netbook while riding a bus from D.C. to NYC.  :)

We were scheduled to visit Arlington National Cemetery this morning and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns after the noon changing of the guard, but a vehicle with a suspicious package at the Pentagon left us unsure of what we would manage to accomplish.  Luckily, Arlington wasn't closed, just the roads around it, and we used the Metro this week.  We toured the Custis Lee House, visited the Kennedy Family graves, the Challenger and Columbia memorials, and of course the amphitheater and Tomb of the Unknowns.

JFK and Jackie's graves with the Custis Lee House
Our wreath at Tomb of the Unknowns.

We had to be on the bus to leave for NYC at 4:00, but I wasn't leaving DC without visiting Mei Xiang and Tai Shan.  Both were mostly inside; I guess 90ish is warmer than they care to get.  It was lunch time when we arrived, and pandas have some great facial expressions when they munch.
Tai Shan waiting to go inside for his lunch.

Mei Xiang enjoying lunch.
 Bound for NYC!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Washington, D.C.

Except for the 3 AM wake up call to get to the airport on Tuesday morning, the DC part of the Teaching American History Grant has been phenomenal!  The weather has been cool and breezy with some rain.  Houstonians have forgotten about rain!  
We weren't given time to think about how tired we were when we landed in Baltimore.  We were loaded onto the bus for the quick drive to D.C., and then had lunch near the Mall.  It was a gorgeous day, only about 82, and we were in awe!  After we ate, we headed to the National Archives for a workshop.  I have great primary sources to use with my kids!  Love it!  We also got to see the Constitution,  Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Magna Carta.  Woohoo!
Lisa, Sarah, me, Diane, Michelle, and Greg were chosen to be archivists for our workshop at the National Archives.  It was very interesting!
A sign any teacher can appreciate: hands on knowledge=lasting knowledge

Outside the National Archives.  Documents are cool!
Tuesday evening was spent on a "Twilight" tour of the National Monuments.  We drove by the Thomas Jefferson Monument on the basin/Potmac, and then walked through the FDR Memorial.  That is a beautiful place!  Then we were on monument overload with the Washington and Lincoln monuments, and WWII, Korean, and Vietnam memorials.  Phew!  I had experienced that part of D.C. before, but it was a treat to see them again.  This time, we traveled to the top of the Washington Monument.  D.C. is a gorgeous city from 555 feet, but San Jacinto is taller....
"Twilight" Monument Tour with WWII Memorial and Washington Monument.  It wasn't quite sunset yet.
Yesterday morning was on our own, so several of us decided to tour the Museum of American Indians.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I got more than I bargained for when I agreed to tag along with my friends.  The building itself is new and flows like sand in the wind.  Everything is made to look natural, and various ecosystems were recreated around the building's exterior.  Inside, peoples from both North and South America were represented.  I was very impressed, and I learned a lot too.
The Museum of American Indians blew my expectations out of the water.
After lunch, we had a workshop at the Newseum, and then we toured the building.  That's one cool place!  It's fun to see how the headlines are affected by the culture of a region or a time period.  Ethics for journalism have also changed over time, and I was intrigued to learn just how many places in our world have government controlled media.  It really is pretty pathetic.
Yes, the Canadian Embassy blocks a full view of the Capitol from the Newseum Balcony.
Today began early with a tour of the Spy Museum.  Let's just say as a classic James Bond junky, it was cool to see how espionage is really performed!  We met with a former CIA agent, but she didn't tell us much.  I don't think she couldn't tell us, but didn't want to tell us so we'd be enticed to purchase her book.  Guess who didn't buy her book...?

This afternoon was a mad dash of the Natural History and American History museums.  Both were amazing, but overwhelming to tired ladies sick of wild children not being properly supervised.  We did visit Julia Child's kitchen, found one of Minnie Pearl's hats, paid our respects to the original Star Spangled Banner, watched butterflies hatch, stare in awe at the Hope Diamond, and visit a few of the animals made even more famous in "Night of the Museum".

Monday, June 13, 2011

Justice Delayed Is Not Justice Denied

For two years, I've been a part of CCISD's Teaching American History Grant.  We meet each month for workshops, and during the summer, we travel to meet people who have first hand knowledge of the events we've studied.  I love the grant; it makes me a much better teacher!

Tuesday through Saturday 30 of us from the Grant went to Alabama to study the Civil Rights Movement.  We traveled to Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, and Tuskegee to walk in the footsteps of those who worked so hard to create a society where all people are treated humanely and where all citizens of America are ensured the rights granted to them by the Constitution.

This trip was emotionally draining.  To read stories and see pictures of the violence and hatred that White America held against their Black neighbors makes my stomach churn.  That was not how God wants us to treat each other.  Our country was so far from "on Earth as it is in Heaven" that shame doesn't even begin to describe how they should have felt.  Then, knowing what I know from my family's experiences, I see how far we've come, but I know how far this world still has to go before human rights and human dignity will be available to all.  It's a hard lot to swallow.

I'll keep the history lessons for my classroom, but I do want to share one story.  Viola Liuzzo was a 39 year old white housewife from Detroit who heard on the radio about the nonviolent protest march that would take folks from Selma to the front steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, 53 miles away. 

Black citizens in Selma were tired of the barriers that the Alabama government allowed to keep them from voting.  They wanted to raise awareness across the Nation so that LBJ would enforce the rights the Constitution gives.  Bloody Sunday was March 7, 1965, and Viola had seen the images broadcast on ABC of the violence that ensued when police began beating and exploding tear gas as the peaceful marches came across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  She knew in her heart that what the protesters desired was right.  I don't know Viola, and I can't see her heart to know if she was a Christian, but even if she wasn't, she knew that the social norm of the time wasn't right.  I'm proud of her.  Viola had 5 children and a husband at home, but after Bloody Sunday, she drove herself from Detroit to Selma to help with the march that LBJ sanctioned and protected with the National Guard.  After the march, Viola used her car to ferry folks back home to Selma from Montgomery.  After dark, she was making another trip with a young Black man when three KKK raced up behind Viola's car.  After trying to outrun the KKK car at speeds of over 100 MPH, the car came along side hers and shot her point blank.  Viola's car sped off the highway, up the embankment, and came to a stop.  Blood was everywhere, causing the KKK to think that both Viola and her passenger was dead.  Thankfully, her passenger was uninjured, and he was able to run to Selma once the KKK members had left the scene.  The police came, but it was too late for Viola.  She gave her life fighting for something she knew was just and moral. 

I believe Viola understood that "for in the image of God has God made mankind" (Genesis 9:6).  God didn't make just White men in his image, or just Black, or just Asian, or whatever the case may be.  We all bear God's image, so why do we judge??

While two of the three men never received punishment for Viola's death, justice did eventually come for many whose lives were taken from them as they peacefully tried to obtain what was lawfully theirs.  We met with Doug Jones who prosecuted the trials for two of the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, and his quote in 2002 was,"Justice delayed is not justice denied".

There's a legacy here that needs to be shared, taught, and told.  Each one of us that's grown up in the country and has the freedoms that the Constitution guarantees us have an obligation to pass it on to others.  Don't be a cop out; don't say you're too busy.  God won't buy it anyway.  What are you going to do to bring dignity back to humanity?

Monday, June 6, 2011


Ask my mom and she will tell you that my biggest fault is indecisiveness.  As a child (and sometimes as an adult), having to choose between two things distresses me so much I freeze up and just cry.  Part of this stems from being a people pleaser and never knowing what will make those around me most happy, but also having selfish desires.  HUGE fault.

Money can cause this issue for me in ways that nothing else on the planet can.  I worked my tail off this Spring, and will continue working my tail off until July, to earn lots of extra money from the school district.  The point and goal of this was to be able to travel to Zambia soon, potentially over Christmas.  It dawned on me Friday or Saturday that I could in theory travel this July, which put me in a panic.  Travel now or later?  Be in the state of Texas for only 3 weeks this summer, or struggle to find purposeful ways to fill summer break after I return from the history grant trip?

To make it more complicated, we were contemplating a vacation with Isaac's family in August for our anniversary.  I had it in my head that if we went, we'd use up all my extra money.  This is dumb, because it isn't my money.  It's God's money that He's given to US.  Oh, ye of little faith (ahem, ME!).  After Isaac calmed me enough to make sense of my gibberish, I was able to understand that we did have enough money from other means to pay for a vacation without hindering my ability to travel to Zambia, without jeopardizing our ability to sponsor Jessy, and without denying out tithe.  Then I had to cry because it's so unfair that we can be blessed with bonuses for a week of vacation while so many people I know, and millions that I don't know, will never have a vacation from stress, starvation, disease, and poverty.  Once Isaac prayed with me and helped me understand (for only the 68th time) that it is ok to accept blessings from the Lord when one is striving to serve and glorify Him, I gave in to the vacation.  I'm actually now quite excited about our time with Penny, Dave, Jacob, and his friend Sarah, but my goodness, the struggle to accept the trip! I try so hard to please God in each decision I make, and when I start to think I might be making a decision that displeases my Lord, I panic.

Back to Zambia: I still had to decide if I was going to travel this July, or Christmas.  I made some phone calls today, and found out that it was better for CACZ for me to travel in July.  Ok, time to rush!  However, Isaac came home at lunch and asked me a question I was not prepared to hear.  He wanted to know if I would be willing to forgo travel for this summer, keep the money I have saved specifically earmarked for Zambia, save even more the next 12 months, and go with ISAAC in June, 2012.  Boy, Howdy!  My jaw dropped to the table, I'm sure!  Yes, please!  A chance for Isaac to meet my brother Kelvin?  A chance for Isaac to fall in love with Jessy?  A chance for him to work with Abraham and teach the other boys about Christ's goodness and life skills?  A chance to possibly meet with a judge about waiving the age requirements to adopt Jessy?  A chance for us to serve together the people I love more than any other on Earth?  AMEN!

I won't lie: part of me wanted to say, "No!  I'm traveling in 3 weeks to hold my Jessy!"  Selfish desires to be with my girl are so strong right now.  At the same time, her letters beg me to bring Isaac to meet her.  How can I deny a 6 1/2 year old one of the few things in my power to grant her? 

Twelve months can be a long time, but I know God is going to fill our days with preparation (not to mention daily life!), so that the time flies and we are prepared and ready come June.  Our dates aren't finalized, but it looks like we'll leave the first full week of June and come home around July 5th.  Please be praying for us, and if you feel led to send donations we can take with us (diapers!) or wish to sponsor us, please let us know.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Last Day of School and Summer Fun

Summer is here!  I can't believe my 'little' sixth graders are now ready to move to 7th grade.  We've only had a few bumps this year; the kids have done so well!  Next year will be a bit different for me as far as teaching style, and I'm excited to to see what happens as the new year unfolds. 

Usually, I'm quite content with my little family, but the past two days my friends have been sharing all of their fun plans for their summer.  They all have kids, and it's wonderful all that they want to do with their sweet ones while we're on summer break.  This doesn't happen often, but a twinge of jealousy has certainly hit me.  Every once and a while I feel that I'm 'missing out' by not having kids to 'take and do' with.  That's absolutely ridiculous and Satan trying to tear me down, I know.  God has Isaac and me right where He wants us, and I know He'll make it clear exactly when He's ready for us to bring home a kiddo since there's nothing he and I can do about it.  This is certainly a time when I have to remind myself why I am not God and that x,y, and z aren't easy for Isaac and me because it's not God's timing.  Maybe it's a bit harder now because I can't go to Zambia this summer and love on Jessy, and I can't help from day dreaming from time to time about all I want to do with her, but...I serve a big God who never leaves His throne!  Amen! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

4 Months Old

Our puppy girl is four months old today!  I don't know how Aggie Belle has grown so fast, but at yesterday's check-up, she weighed in at 25 pounds.  Gracious!  She's two and a half Baileys now.

Aggie Belle has lost about half of her puppy teeth in the last week and a half.  She's all gums, but lots of those permanent teeth are coming in quickly.  We managed to find two of her front canines on the floor, and Isaac pulled a third tooth on Sunday night.

The sweet girl is so tall that Bailey can walk under her with lots of clearance.  It's incredible.  Aggie Belle and  Bailey are becoming closer.  Bailey officially decided Aggie Belle was a part of our family on Sunday when he barked and growled at the dogs next door when they began barking at Aggie Belle through our mutual fence.  They are the most annoying creatures, but Bailey has always chosen to ignore them in the past.  Bailey wasn't one bit fond of those dogs barking and disturbing Aggie Belle though.  Watch out mean dogs!

Aggie Belle still put everything in her mouth, doesn't care for the blow dryer, and still chases her tail in tight circles until she falls down.  She prefers to suck on her tail or have her elephant with her at bed time.  She has perfected 'sit', 'come', 'howdy', 'off', 'up', 'heel', and is working on 'stay' and 'whoop'.  :) Aggie Belle enjoys sitting on her ottoman and watching the gerbils play.  She whines until we let them out for her to lick.  She learned that from big brother.

We've learned to be careful and search the yard before letting her out.  On Thursday Aggie Belle captured a fledgling robin who had been kicked out of its nest.  We rescued it, and it was able to fly away.  On Monday, she did the same thing with a young blue jay.  Oops.  He was ok too.

We love our Aggie Belle, and we are so excited for many more fun adventures!

Memorial Day Weekend

The big highlight of our long weekend was an early morning trip to the zoo on Monday.  We haven't had much free time lately to make us of our membership, and it was time!  We stayed up when the dogs woke us (7:15) and headed on to the zoo for an easy trip of prime parking spaces and uncrowded exhibits.  Yes, the zoo is meant to be child friendly, but too many parents don't keep their children (or their strollers) from pushing the grown-ups out of the way.  It's called patiently waiting your turn, people-a great virtue!

Ok, off that soapbox.

Because we went early, we had prime viewing of the red pandas curling up for bed, breakfast for the meerkats, elephant bath time, and early morning munching for the giraffes.  We had fun miming with the chimp in the window too. 
Red Panda
Don't take my peanut!
My favorite (and the elephants)!
Me-Thai getting her morning bath.

Shanti and baby Baylor
Me-Thai, Baylor, Shanti, and Tupelo
Daddy Thai is back there.
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