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I really wish I could have been in Florida today, not because it’s cold here but because today was Grandparents Day at Finley’s school.  The kids dictated notes to their grandparents which were then typed by their teacher.   The letters were read aloud in class today. I am so, so, happy to have received this video today of all days! 

This is the BEST Valentine ever!  Finley Ray has my heart, there’s no denying it.  

Finley Ray

Finley Ray

 

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Several weeks ago I received a message from Emily, informing me that my dear but distant friend, Heide was going to be visiting in New York.  Emily thought it would be wonderful to surprise Heide with a get-together with the four of us.  I whole-heartedly agreed and only had a few twinges of wondering why Heide herself didn’t let me know she was coming to New York.  I made a plan with Emily to meet for brunch on the day after we returned home from Florida.

We decided that brunch on Sunday would work if I could find a place within walking distance of Grand Central as they would be coming in from Westchester.  Cibo was the perfect choice!  I made the reservations and communicated the details to Emily through Facebook.

As it turned out, the night after Christmas Heide sent me an email telling me of her presence in town and hoping we could get together.  I didn’t see this email until we were on the train heading home.  Of course I never read it on Boxing Day because if you’ve been reading this blog you know that night turned out to be a major game night in Florida.  I thought about writing back and making up a story like we could be available Sunday evening and thereby throwing her off from any suspicion.  Emily had told her that they were going to have brunch with friends of hers but wouldn’t say who it was.  Peter advised me not to reply at all so I just ignored her email.

Peter and I arrived early at Cibo and picked out a large booth where  I knew we would be able to chat away with some privacy.  I was so excited, I hadn’t seen Heide in a couple of years and missed her.  When she lived in Ocean Grove, it was so easy to just drop by her house or have her over.  We had this great European tradition whereby if she ate with us and I sent something home with her, I could expect the dish or container returned with something special that she had cooked.  And vice versa!  

The hours flew by at the restaurant, some spent catching up and just picking up where we left off;  Time and distance does not affect true friendship.   Thank you Emily for sharing your visit with Heide with us, we loved seeing you both.

I understand I have a faithful follower who lives in California and Belgium and so this one’s for you, Heide!!

Heide and Emily

Heide and Emily

New Year - Old Friends  Brunch at Cibo

New Year – Old Friends
Brunch at Cibo

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PART I

What a difference a roomette makes!  We left Florida on Friday afternoon at about 1:00pm, not exactly looking forward to the trip but hoping that with the guarantee of a berth in a roomette we would find the trip more pleasant than the one down.  As soon as we got on the train, the conductor informed us that lunch was being served.  Seemed like a good way to start the trip.  Sitting in the Dining Car is really cool.  The tables are large and the food is quite good.  We were in high spirits, ordered our food and watched the scenery go by.  It’s very pleasant sitting in a large open area with white-clothed tables, civilized in fact.  One of the waiters who might have been the head waiter was the one we got and he left much to be desired.  Who knows maybe they don’t make that much money but somehow I think with the steady work, health care, vacation and probably unionized, he could have been much better.  First of all he had this habit of starting to take your order and then either walking away while you were still talking or jumping across the aisle to take the newly-arrived guests.   I ordered tea with my meal and he never asked me what I wanted.  So of course he brought me tea – I said, “Did I tell you what kind of tea I wanted”?  I guess it did sound a little snotty but it wasn’t delivered in that manner.  He looked at me and said,”What do you want”? “Herbal”.  “What kind”? “What do you have”?  Finally I settled on Apple Spice only to be told upon his return that they were out of Apple Spice. “OK, orange”.  Tea was only the beginning of what they would be out of!

After lunch, we went to our tiny roomette and figured out how we and our luggage were going to live and sleep in this 5′ by 6′ cubicle.  Let’s see now, if I put this bag here and the suitcase there and Peter puts his suitcase over there…well honestly it was going to be really tight in here and I need to stretch out my legs a little.

Turquoise-socked footies

Turquoise-socked footies

For a while, we sat across from one another and tried putting our legs off to the side while we read.  I am SO HAPPY that I brought a John Grisham novel because it held my attention for hours during this trip.  There was the small tray table you could pull up and out of a slot by the window and opened up between the two of us.  Neat, it had a checkerboard stenciled on it.  I propped up my computer and although there was no Wi-Fi, I worked on writing a blog in the Word program so I could upload it when I got home.  And the afternoon slipped by.  However, at some point I had to pee (no surprise there) and I asked Peter if he had seen a restroom.  No, he hadn’t so I went out and down one aisle and into the next car and then back to the car behind us and saw nothing.  I can’t remember now if Peter left to go ask a conductor or whether someone informed him that the toilet was in the roomette!  Really?! Yes really!  The before picture is above and you see my TOWN bag sitting on a shelf.  Here is the after photo.

I'm a toilet, I'm a shelf

I’m a toilet, I’m a shelf

Now it should be clear as to what the first half of this blog title is all about! Intimacy is mandatory. Above the toilet is a sink with real running water and a mirror above it.  The sink pulls down from the wall, the faucets are there and there are drain holes in the back of the sink so when you pick it up to return it, the water runs out.  Just amazing design and use of space.

Wash up, brush your teeth and you're ON a train!

Wash up, brush your teeth and you’re ON a train!

Well once we discovered the facilities we had to work out some plans to use them.  Not going into a lot of detail here, truly it would be TMI!

To while away the late afternoon, we watched a movie on my computer and it was a great way to watch one of the old Preston Sturgess movies Peter had packed.  We made reservations for an 8:00 dinner leaving Peter enough time to make a martini in our little room first.  I had packed a very cute little plastic shaker and we had brought along some gin.  There was ice down the hall (just like a hotel) and so he enjoyed his pre-dinner cocktail just as if we were home.  We had already spent so much time on trains in the past few days that the train was beginning to feel like a getaway home to us.  Dinner was delicious;  We had steak and a baked potato and uh oh,  no vegetable medley.  They were out so they substituted roasted corn with tomato or roasted red peppers , couldn’t quite discern!  It was all good and by the way, meals are included in the fare for the roomette,

All afternoon as I sat in my seat reading, wrapped in a shawl, I kept complaining about how cold it was.  We thought we  could adjust the temp and although there was a thermostat I think it was only for heat because nothing changed.  I should have known this would be a problem at night.  As we were eating dinner, Thomas, our compartment attendant made up our beds and when we returned it looked mighty cosy.  Peter opted for the top bunk as he was agile and I had no intention of climbing down every time I had to pee.  We sat up reading for some time and then I realized just how cold I was going to be all night.  I slept in my sweat pants and a tee shirt, I had the shawl, I put socks on my feet and tried blocking the vents with a towel but that kept blowing off.  It was a very fitful night for me while Peter slept comfortably up above and about 5:30am I realized I should block the vents with one of the pillows.  Awake again by 6:30am, I finally gave up the idea of sleep.  We brushed our teeth, splashed water on our faces and headed to the Dining Car for breakfast.

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Many, many years ago I was invited to a neighbor’s house to celebrate Boxing Day.  I thought this was a bit odd since I wasn’t a servant and I didn’t have any servants.  I was soon introduced to an Americanized version of Boxing Day.  The premise here was to bring a gift all wrapped up that was actually something you had previously received as a gift and either a) you didn’t want it because b) it was ugly or useless.  Oh there were really some strange and odious gifts exchanged that day.  The gift-giving was done in the manner of a Yankee Swap;  You picked a gift and you kept it or traded it.  Well, anyway that’s how that Boxing day went down.

This is how we began Boxing Day this year!  We were all tired from the late night of Christmas Eve and the long day of Christmas night so everyone slept just a little bit later on Thursday morning.  But right after breakfast without any formal plan set, it just began to unfold….The day after Christmas could only mean one thing!  We MUST CLEAN!  Perhaps it is some genetic pre-disposition or familial personality disorder, whatever it is, this is what happened.

Joel got the vacuum cleaner out and he began vacuuming  the rugs, I took out the swifter and did the kitchen floor and the hallways and the foyer.  I used about 6 swifter pads;  There has been a horde of people going inside and out, through the garage, in from the pool and all about.  The house was recently renovated and all the floors  are now a white-washed wood and the swifter did its thing over and over again.  I left piles for Joel to swoop up with the vacuum.   Meanwhile, Chiara packed up gifts and swept up pine needles.  I tackled the stairs next and was quite pleased to see the white of the treads re-appear.  Elsewhere, dishes were washed, clothes washed and folded and the dishwasher emptied.  It was a glorious morning, the house had been reclaimed and restored to its pristine beauty and we had taken on Boxing Day and given it an Italian twist.

There would be a Yankee Swap later that night after dinner.  But first we had to do some preparing for tonight’s party. Oh yes, there WOULD be a party tonight, albeit not quite so large as yesterday but this one would be here!  Only 15 adults and 6 kids.  Chiara decided to make several baking dishes of Eggplant Parmesan, we would serve the pork loin left over from Christmas Eve and make a big salad and a bowl of quinoa.

Susan and JR were coming for dinner with their 3 boys, the youngest is Hunter who is a classmate of Finley’s.  Susan brought a huge spiral cut ham and it’s a darn good thing she did since the pork loin did not cook through and we couldn’t serve it pink and cool.  This party spread itself out through the house!  We had kids (big and little) watching Elf and a couple other Christmas movies, adults out on the veranda, a couple of us in the dining room dishing on everything and everybody, Finley and a couple of the boys had a bow and arrows and were shooting at the front door and lots of wine drunk in all the rooms.

JR took the boys home, eventually both the girls went to bed and the die-hard game players gathered round in the living room to play some games.  Joel had gone out with Chiara in the afternoon to buy some new games.  Tonight we were going to play Quelf and Loaded Questions.  We are hardcore, laughing, yelling, arguing and all the time playing to win!  The wine kept flowing, there was some other mind-altering substances and as they say, “Let the games begin”!  Quelf was hysterical as we watched Joel stand and try not to bend his arms and legs, Dennis had to sit on his hands, Justin did the color for a basketball game in the voice of a parrot as well as mind-bending tasks, some which were subject to group analysis.  Overall one might observe it as familial blood-letting!

Loaded Questions is an adventure in delving into your fellow players psyche.  Since I’ve already portrayed our family as the crazy bunch they truly are, you can only imagine how this game was played!  I’d love to tell you about it but like the New York Times only all the news that’s fit to print.  And on that note I think it’s time to close the chapter on Boxing Day with the Bertis/Clarks/Presses and Pucci’s came to an end.

Except for the Yankee Swap which was wildly funny as the swapping, trading, stealing took place.  Those that participated seemed to have a grand time and I think perhaps the $50 bill was the prize of the evening!

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

English: Gift ideas for men – wrapping paper example. Please source http://www.giftideasformen.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Christmas in the post-War United States

Christmas in the post-War United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me clear up something from Christmas Eve.  I thought Laura and Jim and their two girls were coming to dinner, however, I was wrong.  Last night’s open house also included Laura’s sister Sarah and Jeff, Laura’s friend Sarah and Jim’s parents, Jim and Jenny.  And then, as the evening wore on, a couple came bearing champagne and children but they stayed just long enough to say hello and good-bye. Then two more couples came and about that time, Peter and I had finished washing all the platters and were working through the glasses and so we beat a retreat upstairs where the silence was blessed.

I‘m mentioning the number of people because I assumed that on Christmas Day we would be with Laura and Jim and their family, as we knew it.   Turns out we were going to a huge house and a lot of family and friends.   Supposed to be there at 3:15 and transporting everyone actually required 2 cars and 4 trips.  It does sound bizarre doesn’t it?  You know what the real problem is? CAR SEATS!  If you’re a follower of this blog, then you know about my misadventures in October with the black tractor-trailer they call their car.  The thing is enormous but in actuality only the driver and two adults can ride in the car!  3 kids = 3 car seats.

 Laura and Jim’s house should only be described in superlatives!  First we passed the Guest House and the gardener who was vacuuming up leaves. (I thought seeing the gardener on Christmas Day was unusual).  It was stunning with a wide-open floor plan and a chef’s dream kitchen.  Later I learned that the gardener comes every day and not only cleans up the yard, he also restocks the bar refrigerator and anything else that needs attention.

I met Steve and Amy who are the Captain and crew for Jim’s 106 ‘ boat.  Steve was saying how the boat would leave shortly for the Caribbean where it would remain for the winter months and the family would fly down for some long weekends.  At one point I thought he said something about the boat being out of water for several months and so I asked him who else did he captain for and his response was “No one, Amy and I only work for Jim”.  Welllllll ok then.

 I spotted two men dressed in black and sure enough they were servers and very efficient too.  Some day I’m going to throw a party where someone else serves the food and cleans up. My Trifle was a big hit but I think the pumpkin chocolate tiramisu needed more sugar.

 I walked to the edge of the property backing up to the Intercostal Water Way where yet another of Jim’s boats was stored out of the water.  Across the canal was an extremely wide stretch of property; If this was New York, you would only wonder when will they build a high rise?  This being Florida, chances are they won’t build a hi-rise apartment building but they could build a few houses.  Jim bought the property and has guaranteed his privacy and his view!

 It was getting dark and all of a sudden a parade of naked little girls streamed into the pool  (which is kind of an infinity pool).  They had a blast – who wouldn’t running naked in and out of a pool, shrieking and splashing.   Watching them enjoy themselves is proof you can take pleasure in another person’s fun.

Time to head home.  Try to visualize Ed carrying Fletcher in cradle seat, Chiara, Finley and Frankie in second seat with Juanita driving, Linda seating on the console and me in the passenger seat (which I ‘m supposed to share with Linda).  Our very own clown car la famiglia style!  Getting everybody in was a feat in itself but backing out of a narrow curving driveway that had trees and rock islands proved to be an exercise in misdirection and miscommunication!  Dennis was directing from the front, Joel was in the back guiding us past the rocks and when I looked out the window and saw we were headed towards the rocks, I screamed!  Poor Juanita, everyone was shouting directives…. Dennis, the I’ll take charge guy told Juanita to get out and he would back out.  Mind you the car does have the back up map displayed as well as a beeping system that warns you as you are backing up into an object.

 If you thought that was the end of the evening, you don’t know the Berti’s.  Led by my daughter Chiara, fueled by my nephew Justin and instructed by my son, Joel, we all settled into the living room to play a game.  Well, not everyone-the little girls were put to bed, some of the adults opted for TV and the rest of us (the competitors) delved into Cards Against Humanity.  A modern day board game that involves picking an answer to some really sick questions, which meant the answers were sometimes quite disgusting.  The game is self-described as:   Unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends. HO, HO HO, I remember when after Christmas dinner we would all sit down and play Monopoly.  I know what you’re thinking…how dull, times have changed.  HA HA HA, you never played Monopoly with the Berti’s!!

 

 

 

 

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God, I hope not!  It is still really dark outside and I hear the pitter patter of little feet approaching my room.  You know even without opening your eyes that there is someone in your presence;  Sure enough, Francesca is looking at me!  I say, “What are you doing up? Is the owl green?” She just looks at me…There is an owl light in the girl’s bedroom and all night the light is yellow but it’s set for 7am and the rule is you don’t get up until the owl is green!  (of course you can get up but you have to stay in your room till 7am) So I suggest that it’s quite possible that since it’s still dark,  Santa might be still putting presents downstairs under the tree.  Still no response just an adorable smile which is hard to see because it IS still dark.  I look at my phone and it’s 6:30. “Frankie, c’mon I’ll take you back to your room and then in a little while we can go downstairs”

I figured we had maybe another 15 minutes to rest before Christmas mayhem began.  I had been hoping to give the girls some of their presents on Christmas Eve so they wouldn’t be lost in the mound of treasures  left by Santa, but that didn’t work out.  Finley can read and we thought it would nice if she distributed gifts.  That lasted about 2 minutes and then the mad cap ripping began with me periodically shouting, “Check the name on the box first”.  That was followed with “How come she gets two books?  How come she has gel pens and I don’t ?”

Ruthie Wearing Her New Silk Pajamas

Ruthie Wearing Her New Silk Pajamas

Eventually all the Hello Kitty paraphernalia  was uncovered, the American Girl dolls now had a bed of their own along with new clothes.  Best of all Frankie and Rebecca had matching pj’s and Finley and Ruthie had matching dresses with leggings.  There were books, and more princess dresses  (Really! How many Disney princesses are there?) bean bag chairs with each girl’s name and a teepee.  Well if your tent is shaped like a teepee but it is made from pale pink striped cotton duck, is it still a teepee?  I gave Frankie a book which I thought she would enjoy and she took one look at it and said, ” I don’t like this book”.  I asked her why and her answer was, “I only like Princess books”. Francesca always speaks her mind;  Earlier, the girls emptied their stockings and discovered candy cane holders filled with M&M’s.  For days, there has been MUCH discussion about healthy eating, what’s nutritious, should we cook everything in coconut oil and on and on  So Frankie wants to open her candy and eat some before we open presents.  Justin is horrified and tells her “No, no we have to breakfast first” .  Frankie states the facts as she sees them, “I LOVE CANDY”.

At about this time, in rolled the rest of the gang.  Of course our whole entourage could not fit in one house so Chiara and Tom rented a house nearby for the overflow of guests.  We’re leaving tomorrow, some are leaving on Saturday, some are staying longer and the guest room sheets have been changed every couple of days.  First to arrive for the opening of the gifts were Dennis, Brad and Tom Sr. and Lisa.  Linda and Ed were expected shortly;  They were flying in from Long Island.  

More gifts…oh no roller blades.  And who thinks that the girls should put them on right now and try them out?  Well I’ll tell you it wasn’t any of the mothers.  It was the two bachelors and Tom!  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who the kids are and who the adults are.  We got everybody back into the house and just as I thought we might have breakfast, there was open more present to be had – the girls were ushered to the garage where they came upon not a midnight clear but rather a battery-operated  car! It seats 2 and with Finley at the wheel, the girls were tooling around the yard.  Everybody thought they were so cute until Finley stepped on the speed pedal and veered toward the pool! At least 3 of the grandparents screamed.  “BREAKFAST IS SERVED”

Egg casseroles, bagels, croissants, fruit salad, and muffins and by God we are in Florida because half the people are eating outside.  The mimosas are flowing and the adults are happy.  The kids are eating whatever they want  and sitting outside in the sunshine it surely doesn’t seem like Christmas.  We are going to take it easy for awhile before we have to be at Laura’s house for Christmas dinner.

Stay tuned for Part II.

 

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Redesigned logo used from 2011-present.

Photo from Wikipedia

I promised to get up early on Tuesday so we could go to the grocery store (nothing like LAST minute shopping) and buy the ingredients needed to make desserts for Christmas Day.  We are ALL invited to Chiara’s friend Laura’s house for Christmas dinner!  When I say ALL I mean we are 13 plus 3 kids and heading to a household that presently has at least 6 adults and 2 kids of their own.  Whoooo eeeee!

Well, I didn’t get up that early at least not by Clark family standards but I was fortunate enough to get up after my nephew Justin did,  because  he made me a great high-protein breakfast which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Poached eggs, lentils and some salsa and it was delicious.   Tom suggested he go to Starbucks and was swiftly informed that was NOT happening.  Time, this was all about time!  We had to grocery shop, Justin needed to go to a store, and Chiara needed to go to Home Goods to buy a trifle bowl.  A couple of weeks ago, I suggested to Chiara if she told me what she was preparing for Christmas Eve dinner, perhaps I could bring a recipe or two and make something for her and I would tell her what to buy before I arrived. I never heard.  I did pack a few holiday recipes  (hey, you never know) .  A half hour after I arrived, Chiara informed me that we were responsible for desserts to bring to the Christmas dinner and luckily two of the recipes I had with me were for two lovely desserts.  BUT she didn’t have half the ingredients which was the main reason we had to shop TODAY, Christmas Eve – Just sayin’!

Tom, Brad and I hop into Tom’s Audi and immediately make a blood pact of omertà and head to the nearest Starbucks.  First things first.  Needless to say it was packed and we probably lost at least 15 minutes  that we were going  to have to  make up at the grocery store.  Fueled with appropriate amounts of caffeine, we headed to Publix.  Brad decided he was going to wheel the cart, I had the grocery list and we never really knew what part of the store Tom was in until perchance we met him in an aisle.

The problem lay with the Lady Fingers.  I hunted through the store asking clerks where might they be.  The bakery area was all out but why didn’t I check Aisle 11 and sure enough there was something  passing itself off as  lady fingers when really all they looked like were small tube-like sugared cookies.  I had to make do with these, we were running out of time.  And because we were sort of rushing, I realized as I was checking out that I hadn’t brought in the canvas shopping bags – going green and all that jazz.  So we just  put the groceries in the cart, a few plastic bags had already been filled and I would repack the cloth bags in the parking lot.  In the 85 degree heat, that didn’t make a lot of sense and  was quite a sight.

Next stop, Walmart, we still need to buy ice and a cooler and just maybe Walmart might have the right Lady Fingers.  Naturally they did not.  I wasn’t surprised because when we were in Publix and I asked 3 different employees about where might I find the marscapone cheese, they looked at me like “What?”  That and the fact that the store didn’t  carry Ziti, did not carry DeCeco brand pasta, very little Barilla and a lot of Muellers, I knew I was in Florida!

We got the cooler and the ice that Chiara had ordered and somehow on the conveyer belt 3 yoga mats and a soccer ball  – uh huh, Tom!

Back at the house as I’m unloading groceries in a fury and trying to rearrange the refrigerator for the third time to make room (consolidate, consolidate), Dennis is chopping lemons and limes, Juanita is working on something and Belle is making quinoa.

I have Chocolate Pumpkin Tiramisu and a Cranberry Trifle to whip up.  I start with the tiramisu and discover there ‘s  no Confectioner’s sugar in the house!  Now I have to send someone out to the grocery store again and maybe they’ll even find the correct lady fingers.  In the meantime in case they don’t, I assign Peter to figuring out how to slice these  cracker-like cookies in half lengthwise.  I try one knife, Dennis suggests another knife because they are crumbling as they are being cut.  Peter to the rescue!  He goes into the garage and comes back with a hacksaw.  We all looked at him aghast!  However, the saw precisely cut the cookies and they laid in wait to see if the others would show up.

Meantime two bags of cranberries were bubbling on the stove and hopefully popping open.  Teamwork prevailed and Peter took out the big Sunbeam mix master because there wasn’t a working hand mixer in the house and he whipped the marscapone and heavy cream.  I thought I could put the trifle together forgetting that the cranberry filling actually had to be cool, so that get’s shoved into the refrigerator. So now everything has come to a screeching HALT!  No sugar, no tiamisu, no trifle really underway.  And I still had the baked ziti to make.

By the time Laura, Jim, Addie and Collins arrive, we have put together apps, dessert, tableware, pork loin, cooked the brussels sprouts and chopped the lettuce.  They brought so much food: sausage and peppers, Meatballs in gravy, and a lasagna and some Italian desserts.  I baked the ziti and put it in the refrigerator lol.

People came, people left, beer pong was played, the music never stopped, glass piled up and it was time to do some clean up. Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you that the dishwasher was not working!  This afternoon it was in cycle and Tom opened the door and that was that. It wouldn’t drain, it wouldn’t reset, it wouldn’t make a sound.  All the Dads tried to fix it, Tom called the 800 number to see if we could get service – uh  really now, it’s Christmas Eve!  So all the dishes were taken out and washed by hand and tonight even though we ate on disposable plates, there were platters and bowls and pots to wash well into the evening.  

JUST before we were about to pack the little ones off to bed, Finley is stricken  with the thought that OMG we didn’t make the cookies to leave out for Santa! That did it, NOBODY was going to bed till we baked cookies.  Laura’s mother-in-law stepped in and supervised the slice and bake process and soon we had a batch of peanut butter cookies topped with M&M’s.  OK now, it’s time for all good little girls to go to bed with admonitions that nobody is to get up and go downstairs till we all get up.  

Personally I couldn’t wait to snuggle in bed and have sugar plums dance in my head.

Merry Christmas to all to all a good night!

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