Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Fun Part

...is having your work shared. Follow the link and find my most recent essay for BuddhaChick Magazine. This is the third one I've had the pleasure of seeing "published" online and I hope for many more. When you're done with this, look through the entire issue. There are some pretty amazing writers and women's voices contained within.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For: Sleepaway Camp Revelations

We all survived Harry Potter Camp. It was the girls' first attempt at a sleepaway camp and I would not be exaggerating if I said it caused us all some anxiety. Back in March, when I signed Eva and Lola up for this week-long YMCA-sponsored camp, it was easy to be excited. The girls were thrilled at the prospect of getting to immerse themselves in all things Harry Potter for a week - trying their hand at quidditch, potion-making, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and escaping from Azkaban. Bubba and I could hardly contain our glee at the idea of getting an entire week at home without having to arrange for a babysitter if we wanted to go to the movies or dinner. I vowed not to cook or do dishes for the entire week and told Bubba if he scheduled a business trip I would wring his neck like a Thanksgiving turkey.

And then the week approached. We checked items off of the packing list and pretended not to be nervous around each other. Lola broke first.

"I'm gonna miss you guys a lot," she turned her eyes down to the tablecloth, avoiding eye contact. I felt a little tear in my resolve.

"I'm going to miss you, too. But I think you're going to be so busy every day that you won't even remember to miss me very much."

Two days before we dropped the girls off, Bubba told me he had to go to California for two days the next week. Before I could wrap my fingers around his thick, stocky neck he reared back, "Come with me! The girls won't know. I'll get a nicer hotel than I normally stay in. You can bring your laptop and hang out by the pool and we can go out at night." Again, it sounded great.

I imagined myself as one of those mothers who could say I'd been away with my husband on a fabulous trip without the kids. I've always aspired to join that group, but have balked at leaving the girls behind. The truth is, I like spending time with them and traveling is a great way to have new and different adventures with them. But this, well. They were leaving us, right?

The camp counselors had the drop-off down to a science. Get everyone out of the car at the lagoon at the bottom of the hill, give hugs good-bye and load the kids into waiting paddle-boats for a trip across the lagoon. The kids were excited about a boat ride, unsure whether this was the "real" good-bye, and the parents had to climb back into the cars and drive the sleeping bags and suitcases up the hill to the cabins. Busy the parents checking their kids in, have them drop the gear in the cabin to which their child was assigned, and send them on their way.

WHAT? Oh. I guess we said good-bye. I will admit feigning a full bladder so I could use the restroom next to the campfire before driving away. This way, I got to catch a quick glimpse of Eve and Lola fully immersed in campfire chants with Ginny, Hermione, Dumbledore and Mrs. Weasley.

I didn't cry. Bubba and I didn't look at each other and made nervous, chattering conversation for the hour and a half back home. We checked the movie listings, went to "Planet of the Apes," and got to have sushi without ordering a veggie roll. By the time we got home, we could pretend that the girls were just on sleepovers at friends' houses. On a Sunday night.

Monday, Bubba got to go to work. I pretended it was a school day, blissfully free of lunch-packing and prodding Eve to get out of her snug bed. I went to yoga with a friend, had coffee with another friend and drove downtown to have dinner with Bubba at a fancy restaurant.

Tuesday morning I cried. Tuesday morning I panicked. What if Lola, true to her balls-out nature, flung herself out of a tree and broke another bone? What if Eve got some food that wasn't gluten-free and her stomach was in agony? And I blithely went to California, a two hour plane ride and a two hour drive away? Bubba managed to talk me off the edge and call his sister to ensure that she could dash to camp and get the girls if something horrible happened.

And, yet again, I was thankful for the dichotomy in our parenting relationship. As the parent who stays home with the girls, I have built my life around them. Any activities I do are scheduled during the hours when I know they don't need me. And if they do need me during those hours, the activities don't rest on my participation. I can leave to go get a vomiting child. I can skip a day of volunteering if Lola has a teacher inservice. I can reschedule my appointment if Eve is running a cross-country race one day.

Bubba has the option of separating himself a bit more. He knows he isn't what I call the "primary parent." He knows that he won't be called upon unless it is an extreme emergency. He goes to work knowing that very few things have the potential to derail his day. And while this has prompted some resentment on my part over the years, it also affords him a different perspective. He is able to see things in a more global way and come to decisions about how to deal with tricky situations more quickly than I. I used to think that this was because I am more emotionally-driven than he, but I'm not so sure anymore.

My relationship with the kids is more need-based than his. From the beginning, they learned that I was the repository of all food, comfort, physical relief, and crisis management. For me, that set up a constant state of readiness. Even when the girls went off to school, I knew that I had to have my cell phone at the ready and not be too far away in case someone needed something. While that often made me frustrated at the restrictions it placed on me, I realize that I came to rely on it. When you learn that coloring inside the lines is important, you begin to respect the lines. Count on them.

With the girls away for a week, in a place with adults I trust to take care of them, and the likelihood that they would need me for something very slim, my lines are gone. I'm free. Like that tame bird whose cage door stands wide open, I'm a little afraid to venture outside of what I know.

In the end, the girls came home from camp filthy and exhausted and full of tales from Hogwarts. Who knew wizards could have belly-flop competitions? Who knew you could go to the Yule Ball in August? They made their own wands, were sorted into houses (Eve in Ravenclaw and Lola and Hufflepuff), and were sad to leave. They slept for two days when they got home, taking breaks only to spill tales of adventures at camp like machine gun fire.

And me? I learned that there is life beyond parenting. And it's pretty good. Thank goodness I have several more years to figure it out.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To Glee or Not to Glee

My girls have reached the "musical" stage of their childhood. Eve got to go see "Oliver!" last year with her class and she came home singing all of the songs and begged me to get the music. Lola's music teacher taught them most of the songs from "The Sound of Music" last year and she went around singing them until I thought I'd throw up. Repetition aside (or maybe repetition-inspired), I decided to expand their repertoire by finding some more musical soundtracks to introduce them to.

"Annie?" Check.
"Mamma Mia?" Check.
"Grease?" Triple check.

I loved that movie. It came out in 1978 and I must have been too young to see it in the theater, but I watched it a dozen times as an adolescent (we weren't delineated into teens and tweens back then, of course). I saved my money and bought the album as soon as I could and I listened to it over and over again. In fact, I'm fairly certain that green cover with the photo of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta sat empty in my cupboard for a long time since the record rarely came off of my record player. Twenty-five years later I still remember all of the words to all of the songs and just hearing them conjures up images of Frenchie's pink hair and Rizzo dancing in her underwear at the slumber party as she sang "Sandra Dee."

My girls quickly fell in love with the music to "Grease" too. And it wasn't long before they began asking to watch the movie.


Eva is nearly twelve and Lola just turned nine. Are they too young? I don't honestly remember how old I was when I first saw "Grease," but I know that some of the concepts are pretty grown up. Even some of the song lyrics are a little edgy - "...I'm Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity." (Mom, what's 'virginity?' I can imagine Lola asking.) The boys singing "Greased Lightning" and talking about the girls "creaming their pants." Hmmm.

I don't recall my reaction when I heard lines like that in the movie. I know there isn't any sex or nudity and, other than the sexual inferences and stereotypical bad behavior from teens, I don't think there is anything objectionable. But do I want to be responsible for my girls learning concepts like "creaming your pants?" Of course, the cat's out of the bag for a lot of it if they slow down and really listen to the song lyrics. And they already listen to a lot of music with words I don't allow them to say - heck, even the Indigo Girls drop the f-bomb here and there.

I'm stuck wondering whether I want to let them see me squirm and, thus, set them up to pay closer attention to the movie, wondering what it is that I'm worried about. Maybe they will watch the movie, absorb the parts they care about and are developmentally able to, and chuck the rest, only realizing what was really going on sometime about the age of 20.

Eve has been pressuring me to let her watch "Glee" since most of her friends and classmates watch it and love it. It's not that I won't let her, but it isn't a show I watch, so it doesn't occur to me to record it and even see if it is okay. And then there is the logistical issue of how to let Eve watch something that Lola isn't allowed to. Don't get me started on that.

I suppose the worst that could happen is that they bump up against a concept they are unfamiliar with or one that makes them uncomfortable and we have to talk about it. I'm more than happy to do that, although Lola has been teasing me lately about giving her "too much information." In my defense, the questions she asks are getting more complex. "What's a foster home?" "Why are there so many homeless people?" "Why is Eve so cranky all the time?"

Or maybe none of these things is that complicated. Maybe I'm just seeing it that way through my complicated-colored glasses.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pro-Life Politicians More Concerned With Controlling Women's Health and Forcing Their Own Morality Than Anything Else.

Yup, that's right. And I'm hopping mad. This past week, all but two of the Planned Parenthood offices in Arizona were forced to stop providing abortion services. The two that remain are in the biggest urban areas in the state, leaving the majority of women in Arizona out of possibilities that are safe and convenient.

The Arizona Court of Appeals has upheld a 2009 pro-life state law that, in part, requires the mother to be informed of abortion risks and alternatives at an in-person doctor visit the day before getting an abortion, requires notarized parental consent for abortion on a minor child, and includes right of conscience religious provisions.
You can bet that this sort of law would never apply to, say, vasectomies, or a prescription for Viagra. No flipping way. The reason that the rural PP offices were forced to stop offering abortion was because their services were provided by nurse practitioners and, thus, don't fulfill the "in-person doctor visit" portion of the law. I call bullsh*t.
The reason this law was enacted was to force women into other alternatives besides abortion. There has been much debate, and I think we can all agree that abortion is not a desired outcome for anyone, pro-life or pro-choice. But if our true intention is to decrease the number of abortions, than we ought to be aiming our arrows at preventing unwanted pregnancies and offering early prenatal care to avoid life-threatening conditions that could prompt abortions in desired pregnancies. Instead, lawmakers are defunding one of the best-known agencies that provides both of those services - Planned Parenthood. This law was aimed directly and unyeildingly at abortion service providers and the women who access them.
Some politicians say they are simply trying to make abortions safer. Bullsh*t again. Abortions are as safe as any other in-office surgical procedure. Most of them occur without any sort of intravenous or general anesthesia, which cannot be said for other surgeries such as many plastic surgeries, tubal ligations, and trauma repair that occur in-office these days. As with any other procedure, getting an abortion requires informed consent. Clearly, the woman seeking those services has to speak with her provider and get the information necessary to agree to this procedure. So what's the deal?
Here is where abortion is different. It is a decision that must be made within a certain, specific time period or the decision is effectively made for you. A man seeking a vasectomy can wait a few weeks after seeing a physician to make his decision. He can either abstain from sexual activity or use some form of birth control in the meantime. A woman seeking an abortion is already pregnant. She doesn't have much time to consider her options.
The man is also not subjected to picketers judging him and showing him graphic photos of his surgery. I'm willing to bet that most men, should they see 11x14 full-color posters of their testicles exposed, painted with Betadine, and a surgeon's hand with the scalpel at the ready, would run for the nearest bush, vomit violently, and pass out.
These laws are not aimed at preventing unwanted or risky pregnancies. They are not aimed at protecting women. They are not aimed at improving the quality of the healthcare that women receive. They are designed to limit access to a safe, viable, legal surgical procedure that some lawmakers disagree with morally. The fact that they feel the need to lie about their intentions is a warning bell. Like I tell my kids, "If you feel like you need to hide what you're doing, it's probably not the right thing to do."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Books. Beautiful Books.

For those of you who don't know about Michelle O'Neil, let me introduce you. She is a beautiful soul, mother of two children, wife to a darling man, and brilliant writer. She is many more things than that, but I'll let you find her blog if you so desire. The purpose of this particular post is to draw your attention to her new book. She has written a deeply touching, funny memoir that anyone who enjoys memoir ought to read. Just in case you're looking for a book to wind down the dog days of summer, I suggest you head right to Amazon via the link above and buy this book.

The other link I found today, completely by accident, will be of great interest to those of you who love photography. Especially if you take gorgeous pictures and aren't much of a Crafty McScrapbooker (like me - I'm hopeless at it). If this sounds like you, or if you just have a few minutes on your hands, please go check out Blurb. They will help you put together a book (yes, actually bound) of your photos or artwork, add some text, and ship as many copies to you as you want for less than $3 each. You can sell them, give them away, line the chicken coop with them - whatever you want. What a cool gift that would be for a wedding party or a sweet sixteen or a 50th anniversary....Wait! Hmmm, I've got one of those coming up. Gotta go!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

That's Why This Song Has Been Rattling Around in My Head for Days...

"All this time believing love meant someone's leaving..." Edie Carey in Easy Now from her album Bring the Sea

I have abandonment issues. Not the ones you might think, though. I would actually prefer to be abandoned a hundred times over than think that I might be the one responsible for leaving someone else high and dry. The truth is, while the notion of being left behind is sad and a little lonely, I've been there before and I know I can handle it. There is a strong sense of power and control and core competency that shows itself when I imagine being abandoned. Almost a righteousness - "See? I don't need you. You weren't smart enough to recognize how much I add to your life and how much you ought to be here with me. Your loss."

No, I am afraid of being the abandoner. From the day my dear Eva was born and I realized the magnitude of my responsibility for her, I have been plagued with occasional moments of panic when I thought I might not be able to rise to the occasion. When Lola came along and Bubba started getting sick, I insulated the ties with my girls by adding layers of steel. Something might happen to him, but I would be damned if I was leaving my girls all alone. No way! I wasn't going to go away and let them grow up thinking I had abandoned them.

Even in the midst of my greatest depression, it was the stark reality of caring for the girls that kept me going day after day. The knowledge of what a sudden loss can do to a child. How they internalize the reasons, rational or not, and come to believe that they somehow caused this person to leave.

Two days ago Bubba and I drove the girls two hours away to a sleepover camp where they will stay for a week. They were excited, if a little nervous since this marks the first time either of them has been away from home for that long. Each of them invited a close friend to join them, and I know that Eve and Lola will take comfort in knowing that the other is there (although not sharing the same cabin, "Thank goodness!") and our good-byes were blessedly free of tears or clinging.

Three months ago when I signed the girls up for this camp I was thrilled. The notion of having both girls away in a safe place for a week in the summertime left me with all sorts of possibilities for ways Bubba and I could enjoy time alone together. I threatened him with a thorough neck-wringing if he scheduled a business trip during this one, precious week.

He did.

In his defense, it is a very necessary trip to visit a very important client.
In his defense, it is only for two nights and he invited me to come along.

So I am.

And I sailed over the first hurdle quite cleanly, thank you. When Bubba asked me what our contingency plan was should the camp call with news that someone is sick or Lola has broken a(nother) bone, I replied that we would have their aunt go pick them up and I would immediately fly home and everything would be fine.

This second hurdle is a bitch. Last night it occurred to me that it was possible that something might happen to Bubba and I. I chose not to tell the girls that we would be away for two nights while they were gone because I knew it would only stress them out. (Who will take care of the animals? What if I need you?) So, whether it is that karma coming back to bite me in the ass, or simply the imaginings of an over-enmeshed mother, I don't know, but images of plane crashes and earthquakes kept slicing through my thoughts last night.

I grabbed Bubba and made him promise to call his sister this morning and tell her to get the kids and bring them home if something happened to us. I contemplated writing them long letters full of love and hope and promise "just in case." I began envisioning their utter confusion giving way to hurt as they realized we had lied to them and left home.

And the friendly angel on my other shoulder keeps whispering in my ear that I am no more likely to get hurt away from home than I am at home. She strokes my head and says that there is no law or moral code that says I have to stay home alone and hold down the fort just because they are away. It is really no different than them being at school all day or on an overnight at a friend's house. Why should I have to stay here?

Logically, that makes sense and I love this little sweetie for telling me. But what I keep bumping up against is this: I was okay when the girls left because I don't mind being left, but the thought that I might be the one doing the leaving is nearly unbearable. If I stay home, I'm not "leaving" anyone behind. If I go with Bubba, especially without telling the girls, I'm the one doing the leaving. And if I don't come back for some reason, it's my fault. I have abandoned them. And if there is anything I have ever been more frightened of in my life, I can't name it. I cannot abide the thought that I might be responsible for abandoning someone who needs me. Period.

Clearly, I have more work to do here. And, fortunately or unfortunately, I think the first step is to pack my stuff, get on that airplane and head out with Bubba, if only to prove to myself that my fears are mere clouds of black smoke. There is some small kernel inside that truly believes everything will be fine and I will arrive home well before the girls, relaxed and happy to have had this time with my husband. 'Scuse me while I go nurture that seed...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do I Deserve This?

Elizabeth Aquino, a fellow blogger, lit a fire under my butt today with her blog post. You can read her post by clicking on her name, or I can give you the Cliff Notes version. Open-minded, open-hearted person that she is, she occasionally checks out blog posts from folks whose political leanings are vastly different from her own. In doing so recently, she came across one blogger who presented the notion that individuals who rely on social assistance for food, money, healthcare, etc. ought to be ashamed to do so as well as humble and thankful for the assistance. There was clearly some judgment about whether certain individuals deserve public assistance or if it is simply an enormous scam that a large portion of the population is taking advantage of.

Elizabeth had her own (very gracious) thoughts and ponderings on the subject and she asked for input from her readers. I started to comment and then realized this was going to be a looooong reply, so I had probably better put it on my blog instead. Here goes:

The notion of taxes was created in order to centralize a way to pay for things that we all, as citizens of a country or city or state, utilize to some degree. There have been many discussions about how to make this fair over the centuries, but ultimately, I think we can all agree that, even though we grumble about the amount of taxes we pay, we all enjoy some benefits from this system. I certainly sleep better at night knowing that if my smoke alarm goes off at 2AM, all I have to do is get my family out of the house and call 911. Ditto for the police officers in my neighborhood and the roads I use to get to school and work and the grocery store. I am grateful for the state employees that manage the public library and the DMV and the ones who maintain the sewer lines, among others. I don't feel as though I need to apologize to them for using these services. Nor do I feel as though I ought to sneak around and pretend I don't use them.

Sure, there are folks who use various services more often than I - the ones who drive everywhere all the time or sit at the library for hours on end job hunting or using the computers. I'm certain there are also those people who use them less often than I do, and I'm okay with that. Social services are the same as far as I am concerned. By the grace of God, may I never have to apply for food stamps or Medicaid. But if I do, it is a comfort knowing that they exist. And I don't begrudge those folks who do use these services. I am certain that there are individuals who abuse these systems, but do I believe that everyone does? Nope. Do I think that just because there are some scammers playing the system, we should brand everyone using the system with the same iron? Nope.

I honestly believe that until we, as citizens, can shift our mindset away from our "individual freedoms" and toward a "collective consciousness," we will remain separate from each other and some of the best solutions available. As Americans, this notion of individuality is centrally important to our identity but it only goes so far. And when it begins to damage our notion of what it means to be part of a team, acknowledging everyone's strengths and weaknesses and working with them to create a better whole, rather than shaming individuals for things that are largely out of their control, we are all harmed.

I no more believe that it is shameful to access and utilize social services than to ride my Trek down the local paved bike path. Those things exist as a testament to what we can do together and for equal use by those who need it when they need it. So the next time you need a police officer or a firefighter, by all means, thank them, and then remember that these things, these lifesaving things, are a gift to us all from us all.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Family Gathering

Family is such fertile ground. I feel as though, even though the same crops are grown there over and over again, generation by generation, there is enough rotation to keep the soil rich enough to produce hearty stock.

I grew up knowing that my mother's side of the family was a matriarchy. Yes, there were boys and men, but their numbers were far fewer (and their voices much less boisterous) than the women and girls. I suppose there were times when we females abused our power, but more often we reveled in it - celebrated it. We cooked and laughed and played hard. We spent summers on the beach, kicking up sand and surf, playing volleyball and scraping the tar from the soles of our feet with turpentine-soaked rags. We collapsed in heaps at the end of the day, our bellies full of barbecued chicken and baked beans, and snickered as we listened to the adults pour more wine and raise their voices to be heard over each other.

Returning to this nest for my cousin's wedding last weekend, I was excited for another generation to experience what I knew as a kid: this family is all about family. Eve and Lola found their second and third cousins and, within minutes were devising games and giggling and chasing each other around the room. Now that my mom and her siblings are the oldest generation, they have slowed down a bit and from time to time they seemed acutely aware of their status as the elders. They have tightened their ranks around each other a little more as the vulnerabilities of age creep in, leaving no doubt that this is one group that will look out for each other.

With all fertile ground, some weeds creep in. There are decades-old hurts that rub like sandpaper on tender flesh and some new issues that require a delicate touch. There are stories that have grown with each re-telling and some of them have thin walls that bulge out like aneurisms ready to burst. On the flight home, I was reading "Waiting for Snow in Heaven" and when I came to the following quote, I had to catch my breath, "Loss and gain are Siamese twins, joined at the heart. So are death and life, hell and paradise." And so, in this family, on this special occasion when one of us was getting married and the rest were coming together in celebration, we felt the losses as acutely as the love. My grandfather, a larger-than-life personality if there ever was one, was sorely missed, but attached to that sadness (joined at the heart) is the gratitude that comes from being among these people who know us so well and love us anyway.
I wrote once before about the notion that the abrasive nature of emotional pain, while uncomfortable, may be simply a way to open up more space for love and joy. I may decide I like that metaphor better than Carlos Eire's metaphor of Siamese twins. But for now, I am content to acknowledge that the two are part and parcel of each other and turn my face more toward the light.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Seeing in a Different Light

I was helping out a friend. And, if I’m being totally honest, I have to say I was intrigued. I can’t imagine being able to justify hiring a Life Coach, either to myself or Bubba. It seems like such a frivolous, privileged thing to do, and my life is pretty damn good. But the notion that someone could look at my life objectively and help me figure out where to go from here is pretty tempting. I am a person who likes a road map. Give me some expectations and I will deliver the goods. Give me some vague idea of a goal and trust me to figure out the details by myself and I’m scared. What if I don’t do it right? What if I make a mistake along the way? What if I waste precious time mucking about and learning things other people already know?

So when my yoga instructor announced that she needed to complete ten hours of Life Coaching in order to get her certification, I leaped at the chance. You know, to help her out and all….

At our first meeting she explained that she was there to help me with whatever I wanted – solidifying career objectives, clarifying personal relationships, creating emotional health, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, etc. And so I began by talking about what is nearest and dearest to my heart – writing. I talked about my need to create balance in my life so that I can have time to write consistently in the midst of parenting and managing the household. I talked about my first book project and how the research and writing lit me absolutely on fire but the agent-querying/selling/marketing portion gave me the creeps.

It took her all of five minutes to break it down. She asked some insightful questions, many of which I have answered before for prospective agents and publishers. She wanted to know why I wrote the book and what my ultimate goal was for it. I explained that I write primarily to create dialogue around difficult issues. My purpose is to offer the reader a perspective that seems unique at first but becomes universal. I want to get people thinking about their own lives and how they relate to others and prompt them to talk to others about those situations. Being able to make money is so far down the list of priorities (Bubba is cringing right now, poor guy). It makes me feel almost dirty to look at creative ways to convince people that they ought to pay me to write like this.

I know that money is how we express worth in this culture and, if I’m being pragmatic, I spend a lot of my valuable time writing and thinking about writing and engaging in dialogue with others. The thing is, doing so is part of what makes my life so full. I believe that, in this currency of worth, I deserve to be paid for my time and efforts. It is just that asking for that feels skeevy. I was the girl who felt bad hawking Girl Scout Cookies to my neighbors. I felt as though I was intruding on their lives in order to make money (even if the money didn’t necessarily go to me, personally). If they came to me and asked, I’d gladly sell them as many boxes as they wanted. But going to them always made me wonder if they truly wanted the cookies or if they felt coerced. This could be part and parcel of the fact that I have a tremendously difficult time saying no to little entrepreneurs attempting to sell me things.

In any case, Jen was able to re-frame the entire situation for me. She fully accepted my discomfort with “selling” the book to an agent or publisher. She asked how committed I was to “sharing” my work with the world and I assured her I was. I fervently believe that this subject is one that desperately needs the spotlight of dialogue in American society and would be thrilled if my book could help spark that.

“What if you changed the focus from ‘selling’ to ‘sharing’?”

It took a moment to sink in, but when it did, it was like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water. The notion spread out and filled up the space. Yeah. In effect, selling my manuscript would achieve the goal of sharing the message. If I hone in on my desire to spread the word and see selling the book as a means to that end, it suddenly feels much less smarmy. And even, dare I say it, exciting.

I’m so glad I could help her out.

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