Since this pregnancy has progressed, graciously, to 35 weeks, I’m finding I can’t go out in public without getting comments about the baby coming. A friend told me people have an innate need to connect with others and don’t always know how to do it properly, and since most people have had kids or expect to have them, the sight of a child or a huge pregnant belly gives them an easy opportunity to try chatting with you. This makes sense to me and I’m happy to make conversation with people,  but I’ve noticed that 95% of the comments I receive from strangers are really negative. The comments like, “You must be getting really uncomfortable!” or “If you feel big now… just wait!” pale in comparison to what we heard from the person who told Aaron he could “upgrade” (to a boy) next time if I won’t let him “trade it [the girl] in.” Yikes.

Yes, I have had to leave my cart in the middle of the grocery store to use the restroom, arriving just in the nick of time. Twice in one trip.
Yes, my google search bar history includes phrases like, “best pregnancy sciatica treatments,” “risk of stillbirth after 30 weeks,” and “how to relieve swollen ankles.”
Yes, I barely sleep at night and barely stay awake during the day.
Yes, my maternity clothes are insufficient to cover my midsection and I sometimes accidentally show off some already stretch-marked baby midriff (not very attractive) while wearing compression socks (also not attractive) in public.
Yes, I weigh more than I wanted to weigh at delivery.
Yes, those famed “sweet” kicks are actually a bit painful.
Yes, there are other things I am not going to mention here…

And you know what? I’m extremely comfortable. Because I have been talking lately to so, so many friends who are waiting, and waiting, and waiting, or who have lost babies — Second trimester; Twins; Several losses in a row; Scared to love a new baby on the way; Trying not to resent a husband who changed his mind about wanting to have kids; Life-threatening ectopic pregnancy loss; Failing adoptions; Foster children sent back to dangerous biological families; Facing the probability that there will never be a “take-home baby.” I love these women and I pray for them. And I know any one of them would cut off her right arm to be in my compression socks and too-tight shoes in the height of summer. So I’m not glossing over anything: I really am extremely comfortable. I know what it is to face the hollowness of a flat (okay, flat-ish) stomach when it should be stretched to the max, and I know what it is to wait and cry and beg for answers… what I have now is a much, much better experience than those things. So I have to say I’m doing great, because there is no third trimester anywhere near as uncomfortable as the one that doesn’t happen.

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[as long as she's fine, I'm fine!]

 

 

As usual, our summer has had plenty of visitors and traveling already! A few weeks ago, Aaron’s parents visited and did amazing things like keeping my dog exercised, fixing our lawn mower, and painting trim while I napped. The following week I visited my parents, which required successfully transporting my 8-months-pregnant self and a 7-month-old dog on a 10-hour solo road trip through the midwest without losing my mind. I have been missing the ease of certain things about life in Iowa, but I must say that driving across Wisconsin is so lovely that it’s almost worth the extra time in the car compared to driving across Iowa and Illinois.

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Successful completion of this trip is due in no small part to indulging in a few of the 49 cent ice cream cones at McDonald’s.

After arriving in my hometown, a friend from high school asked if it was weird or hard for me that my sister is expecting a baby without facing any of the heartaches I battled. I can honestly say it noticeably affects how we handle certain aspects of our pregnancies, but I’m mostly glad not everyone has to suffer in the ways I did. We celebrated my daughter’s impending arrival, so I opened presents for her and spent time laughing with my extended family, full of hopes for the two girl cousins growing up having as much fun as my sisters and I have with our girl cousins.

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praising God for all five girls in this picture!

Other parts of the weekend were more sober. I stayed a little longer than I originally intended because my grandparents were both rapidly declining into very poor health, so I was able to spend extra time with them and help my mom, who bears most of the heaviness of their care right now.  Is there something ironic about uncomfortably leaning over a giant belly to wash a sink of dishes for the chemo patient you’re naming your baby after? And having inspiration about what foods might work for her to eat because you’ve also recently experienced more nausea than you ever imagined possible? I thought so. It was certainly a week of peculiar beauty.

This is exactly what I meant when I said that most of life bears witness to the old funeral text: In the midst of life, we are in death. There is tension, there is heartache, there is so much joy and so much awareness that everything’s a little askew. Because I want my baby to know personally how sweet my Grandma is and how special it is that we have this same middle name that keeps passing down for all the girls, and I don’t know if that will happen. I would have loved if we hadn’t lost the babies before her so she would “just” have hand-me-downs from older siblings instead of fancy new duds from a big baby shower. It’s not a sign of discontent to acknowledge that things are messed up and you wish it could be different.

But at the same time, I am so thankful that anything that ever holds together is evidence of grace. We see so much of it right now.

max in lake michigan

little max in lake michigan at sunset.

 

A contented heart looks to and … sees the wisdom of God in everything. In his submission, he sees His sovereignty; but what makes him take pleasure in God’s wisdom? It is this: the Lord knows how to order things better than I. I only see things at present, but the Lord sees a great while from now. …I know that the love of God may as well stand with an afflicted condition as with a prosperous condition.”
-Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Available for free on Kindle!)

In the midst of the moving preparations last fall, we talked a lot about something we’ve been dreaming of for years: a little lab puppy. Aaron grew up with dogs and still misses the black lab, Abe, that he raised from a puppy while he was younger, and we’ve always known that we would have a string of Labrador Retrievers when we “grew up.” The original plan was to get a puppy in between our first and second children, since we wanted our kids to grow up with a dog and we might as well just make that a very intense toddler/puppy/baby season and get it over with. As I’ve mentioned before, “original plans” are kind of a joke for us at this point. The baby thing got complicated and then every time we looked at our open back yard and white carpet, we knew the Iowa house wasn’t the place for a dog. Some of our friends had a fabulous chocolate lab that we loved, and we talked about adopting one of his puppies sometime around when Aaron graduated. As it happens, they had a litter due the week after Aaron’s PhD defense and the puppies were conveniently located just north of our new hometown in the Twin Cities. It seemed like an ideal situation, so we allocated the proceeds from the sale of our chickens towards our hoped-for puppy. We looked for houses with fenced back yards, and “passed” on several fabulous options that weren’t dog-friendly. We ended up buying one in a quiet neighborhood with a doggie door already installed.

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On Veteran’s Day, we got the text message that puppies had arrived! Less than two weeks later, I handed a positive pregnancy test to Aaron and said something like, “Well, I don’t know how this happened, and if it works out, we can’t afford to get a dog anymore… but I will probably die if something happens to this one and I don’t have my puppy.” Wanting both a dog and a baby very badly, we decided that it wasn’t worth panicking about the finances after making gazillions of sacrifices for the sake of “financial responsibility” during the past five years, and that we wouldn’t regret having both together in the end. We sent in the deposit for our puppy the next day. I showed pictures of “my puppy” to all my piano students and asked for their choice between my two favorite names (“Sam” and “Scout,” neither of which was a big hit with Aaron). One little boy suggested I name him after a composer… “Just not J.S. Bach, because people would think you were pretending to be a chicken if you yelled, ‘Bach! Bach! Bach!’ out the back door.” I felt this was a very astute observation.

max on lap

After we brought the puppy to our new (and unpacked) house in Minnesota, Aaron made a few other name suggestions and we tried them all out on the pup for a few days before settling on Max, which came from three of Aaron’s favorite movies — The Grinch, The Great Race, and Get Smart. I was the one who told Aaron he was definitely a “Max,” but warned our family that if this was any indication, we would have to rely on Jewish traditions that don’t announce a baby’s name until the 8th day of it’s life. (We managed to get settled there with relative ease.) Today, this little guy is seven months old! Though our couches are looking significantly worse and I have to do tons of laundry because he drools all over us, we have loved the hilarity, play times, and strict exercise regiment he has brought to our life. (Walking twice a day during the Polar Vortex was still a better option than having a brand new house demolished by a young dog.) This year has been full of almost as many big, stressful life events as you could pack into a 12-month period for people of our age, and I’m grateful we’ve had the joy of a happy, licky, waggy, too-jumpy puppy to bring so many smiles to our faces in it all. family

We took Max on his inaugural canoe ride this weekend, which went better than expected with NO TIPPING during his impromptu dives off the side. That night we laid in bed with lots of extra pillows for my pained hip, laughing at the snores of the dog we wanted, marveling at the impending arrival of a child we have really, really, really, really, really wanted, and expressed our joy to finally live near water, which we have both missed so much. It’s not how we thought this would all come together, but it seems to be coming together just the same.

[Puppy Anecdote: Max knew it was bedtime on Monday, and crawled under our bed in hopes that we would forget to put him in his kennel overnight. Whenever this happens, he doesn't know that his tail still sticks out from under the bed skirt. It's pretty cute as he wags it s-l-o-w-l-y with anxious excitement, though he's still naughty to do it. I tried to grab his haunches to pull him out, but he scooted further under the bed to the other side, where Aaron was standing. Max belly crawled along under the edge of the bed, which we watched as the bed skirt swayed, and finally stuck his tongue out far enough to lick Aaron's toes. Then he looked surprised that we "figured out" where he was hiding. Ha!]

I would look for a smart and touching quote to include at the end of this post, but Max is simultaneously barking at the FedEx guy and drinking out of the toilet. See ya!

 

Happy Friday! This week held a very noteworthy celebration: The first “real” piano student sign up of my Minnesota piano studio! We toasted this occasion with the most despicable-tasting sparkling cider available in the Target clearance aisle. (Seriously. It was awful. We both said something like, “We should have just had champagne. I think pregnant ladies in Europe drink sometimes and their kids are okay…”)
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Here are some reading suggestions for the start of a beautiful weekend…

[One] You guys, it’s been legitimately sort of HOT this week. We haven’t turned on the AC yet (we rebel against that sort of thing for a while), but it’s toasty enough to reschedule Max’s mid-afternoon walk so we can go to the basement for downstairs chores and naps instead. I have been really happy with my strategic door-and-window opening plan, which was inspired by this old post about “Living without A/C and Liking It!” from Like Mother, Like Daughter. We actually don’t know if the air conditioning unit works in this house, so we’ll get it cleaned out and hope for the best when it starts getting hotter! (I keep thinking… if you can’t make it until June for a/c when you live in Minnesota, you’re in serious trouble.)

[Two] I’ll probably whack out a whole post about how ridiculous the “mommy wars” are, especially in evangelical Christian subculture, but this post from Jen Wilkinson was particularly encouraging as I gear up for being a part-time working mom.

[Three] This look at the stairway to wisdom from David Brooks includes some great thoughts about the personal stories behind statistics, especially in relation to teen pregnancy.

[Four] I’ve seen this post about homeschooling popping around among friends quite a bit. I’m not going to deny that if I wrote an article about homeschooling (as someone who was homeschooled, has worked closely in tutoring other homeschool families in upper grades, is married to someone who was homeschooled, and will need to make some decisions about educating my own kid in the future) it would say the exact opposite of this one. In general, my opinion is that 85% of homeschool families need a more serious attitude about academics and a lot less restrictions for everything else. But it’s worth reading and reflecting critically whether you agree with it or not!

[Five] I love these thoughts on “scruffy hospitality” and welcoming people into life as you are!  Good, good words from Jack King.

“Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests ‘come as you are,’ perhaps we should tell ourselves ‘host as you are.’ …Friendship isn’t about always being ‘excellent’ with one another. Friendship is about preparing a space for authentic conversation. And sometimes authenticity happens when everything is a bit scruffy.”

[Six] Two different friends have recommended the “Hillsdale Dialogues” series to me for combating intellectual decay. These lectures on literature have provided some mental stimulation lately, so they are worth checking out even if you’re a little intimidated (or not immediately interested) in hearing about The Illiad or Sir Gawain.

[Seven] Maybe especially because, finally, some things are really coming together –PhDbaby, duckling, puppy… what else could we want?– we’ve been battling a lot of thoughts about hopes, both the ones we felt were dashed so many times in the last few years, and the ones we’re still not sure about for the future. There are questions about calendars and things that don’t look like we thought they should at this point, birthdays that came before all the things we wanted to do by that age were done, and uncertainty about how to redream for some of life. I loved this encouragement from Ann Voskamp:

Time can’t dictate dreams or hijack hope or determine destination. Time may have hands on the clock but it’s arms are too weak to rob anybody of hope, steal anybody’s prayers, destroy anybody’s joy. And so what if time’s got hands on a clock — it’s God who has His Hands on the universe. Every little thing is going to be okay because God is working good through every little thing. All that’s happening is just happening to make miracles. There are miracles always unfolding under the impossibles.
“Joys are always on their way to us,” writes Amy Carmichael. “They are always traveling to us through the darkness of the night. There is never a night when they are not coming.”
Because there is never a night where joys are not coming to us, there is never a road that can’t arrive at Hope.Circumstances can go ahead and run out of time — but the courageous refuse to run out of hope. We can always hope because there is always joy traveling to us down the unexpected roads.

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” – Psalm 147:11

The mosquitos are particularly nasty, but we’re hoping for another weekend of bonfires, laughter, Max adventures, and some more painting. (I can tell it’s making a big and beautiful difference in this house that needed a lot of “lipstick and rouge,” but will it ever end? I think “soft flipping” a house and getting a puppy effectively eradicated the possibility of ‘relaxing weekends’ before the baby arrives. )

(You can enjoy more quick reads at Conversion Diary!) 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago I mentioned Aaron’s childhood dream of incubating duck eggs, which fueled years of seemingly fruitless prayer, study, and excessive searching through the appropriate habitats in pursuit of a mallard hen’s laying ground. We did some massive minimalizing before moving to Minnesota, during which he finally tossed the old incubator he’d built specifically to hatch those longed-for childhood ducklings. Sometimes his sciencey nature completely baffles me, like when I peek at the detailed lab notebook he keeps every year for his garden with spreadsheets tracking how many plants germinated with what fertilizer and watering schedule, etc., and in those times it’s good for me to remember they are just the grown-up expression of everything that made that little boy hunt for duck eggs.

In the same post I also mentioned that we were not going to be raising any waterfowl at this house. You know, because Aaron works long hours and already caved on the “no-garden thing,” we now have a dog, we have no money, we’re having a baby, and even small hobby livestock is illegal in this city, among other things. (I try not to be a pessimist, but I manage to come up with a long list of reasons not to do almost everything “cool.”)

With all this in mind, it makes perfect sense that nearly 20 years after the height of the egg-hunting, Aaron went exploring with Max and discovered a lone duck egg on the shore of a small lake, which he promptly brought home and kept in a drawer while waiting for a new incubator to come in the mail. (Mama Ducks lay their eggs one-at-a-time at the water’s edge while they build their nest for a few weeks, then recollect whatever hasn’t been eaten by raccoons and start sitting on them all together, so they hibernate for a bit, and it was OK to set this one on it’s own for a couple of days.) It’s now been incubating cozily in our closet for the past few weeks, and Aaron is very proud that we can see the outline of little duckling growing when he holds it up to a flashlight.

There are many possible devastations that could yet occur with this little duckling, like a failure of our extremely low-quality incubator or the fact that we are simultaneously raising a dog with the specific breeding to instinctively put birds in his mouth. We also have no idea what we would do with it once it becomes a grown-up, since we have no backyard pond. (It’s one of those dreams we had to let go of for this house.) I’ve heard that hand-raised ducks often migrate when they see the other ducks flying south, so that might happen… We’ll see. For now, we’re just turning the egg according to schedule, and monitoring the temperature of the incubator while laughing about how birds keep showing up as tangible expressions of God’s love for us.

mallard

Come on, little duckling! We are rooting for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Memorial Day weekend has been fabulous so far. The excellent weather at last (!!) is a great treat. We’ve been working like mad on the inside and outside of the house, playing with the dog, and enjoying time with friends. We have paint in our hair and the smell of bonfire smoke in our clothes. I have a steady stream of cold lemonade in the fridge and fresh strawberries on the counter. (It’s too early for a local crop so they’re probably from Belize or something, but who cares?)  We’re relaxing and celebrating. But when you know what it means to lay down your life for your country, even when you’re one of the lucky ones who got to pick it back up, there’s a somber side to these celebrations, too.
I cry a little bit every year on Memorial Day weekend. I’ve overbrewed coffee, burned eggs, and even excused myself from church services because of this. I have a list of friends I contact every year on Sunday or Monday, and I have to send my love and words honor for their fallen loved ones electronically because I’m usually not composed enough to speak to them above a whisper without hiccuping or entirely losing it. We share the history of sending people we loved to war, but I got a homecoming where they had funerals.
One friend sets a plate for her cousin at every family dinner. He volunteered for a mission while in Afghanistan, which his buddies said he did often. Thanks to sniper fire and a kevlar vest that shifted just the right (wrong) amount while he dove for cover, that seat stays empty.
Another lost her brother several years ago. “It ripped my entire family apart,” she said, “and after a few years, just when it started to feel like God might be real again, I almost died from complications after delivering my premature baby, who was stillborn.” Tolkien was indeed right to say that “the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them.”
Those of us who had the homecoming have our own sets of adjustment challenges, to be certain. The rates for divorce, addiction, debilitating anxiety/depression, and suicide skyrocket for veterans in the first 5 years after a combat deployment. (I believe the risk goes down a little bit after that, but always remains significantly higher than average.) In addition to a host of other things I won’t go into now, I’m not sure Aaron slept or laughed between his homecoming in 2007 and some point in 2012. A person once confessed to me that her uncle killed himself shortly after returning from a deployment, but they tell everyone he didn’t come home because it’s easier to explain. I think the story they tell is closer to the truth than they realize. Facing combat always results in mortal or moral injury, and I see exactly what it means that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” (I think Plato said that. The internet is not always the best way to track those things.)
As a Christian I don’t have lots of good answers about war. Sometimes I dabble in pacificism, since it’s better to turn the other cheek and all that.  There is a part of me that reflects on the horror of war and says we should never, ever, in a million years, even think about doing anything like that in any form, at any time, in any place. But I also read of horrible things in this world, where bad guys systematically oppress an entire group of people, raping, burning, overpowering, ethnic and religious groups living under constant threat of death or torture. I have watched old recordings from World War II, with Nazi SS officers gunning down Jews in Poland and publicly dancing on their bodies. And I wonder how anyone could call themselves human while allowing such atrocities to continue, even if it takes combative interference. There are no easy answers; war is hell. 
Honestly, I think most scripture passages are extremely confusing on this topic; the Bible does not always shed the light I wish would come here. War is good. War is bad. War is God’s will. War is not God’s will. I think you can twist various verses to say anything you want about war.
“Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty; The Lord, mighty in battle.” (Psalm 24:8)
“His name shall be called… the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9)
“He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.” (2 Samuel 22:35)
“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.” (Psalm 46)
We have to look at it all together instead of playing verse roulette on this one. These conflicts all stem from the original conflict in the fall. War exists primarily as the result of the first war: mankind setting itself against God in the earliest days. God’s response to the Fall explains the enmity that causes all these wars, and the eventual everlasting victory of his promised Messiah.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

The solution to the problems of does not come in ignoring the cost of injustice, regulation or deregulation of arms, or the promises of politicians for new foreign policy. (Not that those things don’t matter, or that I don’t have opinions about them. But a quick glance of history shows various groups have unsuccessfully tried to eradicate war since the beginning of time. It hasn’t happened and it will not, no matter how excellent our government.) Instead, it comes individually for now: “He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and destroyed the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) It will come corporately when all is made right, when the 46th Psalm is fulfilled: “He makes wars cease.”
This weekend we can celebrate Memorial Day, which honors those who died in military service, because many were defending the cause of the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17), they were acting in obedience to their civil leaders (1 Peter 2:13), and they cared more about the interests of others than themselves (Philippians 2:4). We can mourn with those who have lost someone dear. We can try to emulate those virtues in our own lives. And most of all, we can rest in the truth that war (and the resulting horrors and lost lives) does not have the “final say” in anything.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15)

at last!

Today, we are grateful for this homecoming and especially honor those who did not get one. (Also we look like babies.) 

 

red tulip

[One] It’s hard to shake off the joy that creeps up along with the new blades of grass each spring. Did you know one of the oldest notated English songs celebrates this very fact? It’s true. Sumer is Icumen In!



[Two] Earlier this week, my younger sister (also a homeowner and expectant mama) and I chatted about our yards, which feels incredibly grown up. We’re both trying to cultivate beauty and order in houses that were poorly neglected by previous owners with the intention of turning a profit by selling in a few years. I’m not even sure what we used to talk about, but now it’s the merits (and resale value) of investing in grass seed, pavers, mulch, walkways, and firepits. So with that in mind, I really appreciated this article about how the primary work of man — that is, tilling the soil — makes nature more beautiful, and how much benefit there is to subduing the wilderness. My favorite quote? “If farming is the Martha of man’s relationship with nature, gardening is the Mary.” [Get Out of the Wilderness and Into the Garden.]

[Three] Ever wonder what you should really know about American History? Here’s a five-minute clip from David McCullough to assist in your quest for greater knowledge (or just a higher level of cultural literacy.)
[Four] If you’re looking for an hour-long podcast, we thought this interview in defense of genetic modification of plants was extremely interesting. Even if you are skeptical (or disagree) with the practices, this discusses the history of plant breeding AND some other common methods of modern plant breeding that are, in my opinion, infinitely  more concerning than mainstream cis- and trans-genic modifications. (Seriously. Should we be eating plants that came from parent plants blasted by radiation in order to produce the desired mutation? Or should we use precise technology to get the exact mutation we want and avoid the unknown effects of radiation or other changes? If you are lost in this part of the discussion, you need to study further before “taking a stand” on the GMO debate.) Furthermore, I thought his points about how your worldview shapes everything you believe were very insightful, especially in regards to the lack of “inherent virtue” in nature. (Maybe this relates a little bit to the necessity of man tilling the soil after the fall? Nature alone isn’t going to fully sustain anymore and scientific progress is going to have to improve things? Much to think on here.)
[Six] Poor Max has his first ear infection. Dogs have deep, crooked ear canals and those things can get nasty. I won’t link to this, but a cursory glance of Google search offerings about caring for a dog’s ear infection before you can get in to the vet uncovered another world of crazy. Not only are there major “mommy wars” about food, medical care, and vaccinations, but also “doggy wars” about those things, too. I mean, if some tincture of coconut oil, raw unfiltered with-the-mother apple cider vinegar, leftover organic red quinoa water and a splash of sriracha (I don’t know what that is, but I’ve seen it on pinterest too many times for it to not be the next big item in your naturopathic remedies) makes your dog feel better, great… but I kept finding people saying things like, “I tried this natural remedy for four months and his eardrum finally ruptured – now he feels great!” It disturbed me. I hope they aren’t doing that to their kids, too. I’m pretty confident this is the result of some trapped water leftover from his weekend swim and some combination of anti-fungal and antibiotics should solve the problem.
SAD EYES
[Seven] I could (and probably will) just write a whole post about how much we have loved (and learned) in having a dog for almost six months. In the meantime, several of the points from this list are really hitting home for me. (Also, there are whole lists of videos on YouTube where military service-members reunite with their dogs. I accidentally watched one of them right before Bible study a few weeks ago and was late because I had to go downstairs and redo all my makeup afterwards. Then I cried when I put Max in the kennel and he looked at me with the sad eyes. It was rough.)
happy max
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! We are hoping to enjoy some time in the sunshine with Max, evening bonfires, and have hopes of getting LOTS of painting done inside and outside the house. (It’s about time!)
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