Brawny Box Troll

Jameson insisted that we cannot get rid of this box. We let him nap in it on Sunday, and he actually fell asleep, so it’s a permanent fixture (at least for the foreseeable future). He was afraid we were going to get rid of it on trash day, so he told his grandma who was babysitting that she should take it to her house so it didn’t get thrown out.

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Frozen Third Birthday

I never really thought I’d get into a character-themed birthday party, but since Coraline has been obsessed with Frozen for well over a year now, it seemed like the only thing to do. It was actually simpler than I thought it would be: borrow a Frozen birthday banner and hanging spirals, blow up some balloons, get pink table cloths and themed plates and napkins. And last but not least, bake the cake and put some Frozen figurines on top.

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Her hair style is what we call “tiny tails”. We have pig tails, marshmallow tails (which are tucked up underneath in big loops), and tiny tails which are wrapped around the rubber band with a little clip. When they fall out (which they always do), they make the most wonderful spiral curls.

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I made a homemade chocolate and white cake. And I have to say, I finally gave in to the “secret” ingredient for chocolate cake: coffee. And I am sold. No coffee taste, but a rich and moist cake results. Even though I don’t like coffee, I loved this cake.

Last year, she just had a family birthday, so this year we did invite a few friends. We still kept it pretty low key. We don’t invite her class, yet. Though its a bit different for her already since she doesn’t have the “family friends” that are her age like Jameson did. All our friends had babies within a couple months of Jameson, but not so with Coraline. But his friends are her friends still and she had a wonderful time!

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Coraline insisted on buying the party hats at the store, even though no one really wore them at the party, totally worth it.

She loved being surrounded by all the love and attention. She didn’t mind people helping her open gifts, and she was delighted with everything she received. Makes me want to be a three year old!

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We got her a music mat from B. Toys that I really like. It folds up and it is fun for everyone! We also got her a Merida doll (from Brave), who has the cutest hair. And princess shirts, sparkly fake sand that makes a huge mess, and a wand. She was one lucky little girl.

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She was thrilled when Lily arrived later after the party started. She adores Lily, who likes to play dolls with her and color and craft.

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Of course, the after party was almost as fun as the actual event. Floating balloons are really very entertaining. Jameson started jumping off couches to get to his, which, poor parental judgement aside, was pretty fun to watch.

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She wasn’t really sleeping here, “just pretending Mommy”

I think that her party lived up to her every expectation, because a three year olds expectations are super simple. Friends, food, cake, presents, balloons, and bonus for favorite TV characters. And lots of love.

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Hoppy Easter!

We’ve never actually visited the Easter Bunny before, anywhere. Not a mall or park or anything other than our imaginations when we talk about the Easter Bunny after he’s hid eggs around the house. But this year there was a free activity put on by a local nature center which involved a craft too that we thought would be fun.

The Easter Bunny concerned Coraline a bit, who also turned out to be coming down with a fever we found out later. But she gave him a high five! And Jameson got right in there, he was fine with it.

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Before the Easter Bunny’s arrival, we did a bunny craft and made ears and a tail! Jameson cut the ears out all by himself, and Coraline was great at cutting outside the lines, so I gave her some assistance. She would’ve continued to cut the scraps of paper all day if we let her.

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Jameson also got to do the bunny hop dance outside, though he said he struggled to keep up because his ears kept falling off! The Easter Bunny brought carrots and celery, and Coraline was really into the celery. The kids even shared a second bag of the vegetables with ranch. There were yummy chocolate cupcakes, too. It was a fun, cute time!

Hoppy Easter!

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Martial Arts

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To eliminate some wintertime stuck indoors type behavior, we decided to sign Jameson up for one of those free trials at the local martial arts “conglomerate” (there are a lot of Asian Sun academies around us). It truly was free for 6 weeks, and Brian took Jameson twice a week for 5 of them before we started doing swimming lessons again for him.

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Jameson really enjoyed it, though it’s not as active as soccer, for example. He’d like to go back I think, but we only do one sport at a time per kid right now.

We also don’t really have the time commitment for the three day a week system that most of the other types of martial arts centers around us use. (Who has time to take a 5 year old three times a week in the evenings to a class? Two is my limit!)

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On our last day, Jameson’s friend Nathan was there for just his second time. Jameson was thrilled to show him his skills and offer his learnings. Nathan just wanted to concentrate on the teacher, haha!

It was definitely a great experience for us, and while we hoped it would help with some pushing/hitting going on at school, nothing really helped that but time I think. It seemed to be a phase he’s worked through. We were happy to be able to tell him though that fighting needed to stay on the martial arts mat, so it definitely didn’t hurt. Plus, free.

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Kindergarten Registration

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Attended kindergarten registration last week! Jameson doesn’t have his screening for another few weeks yet.

We’ve started to make our plans for next year when our daily life for 5 years changes from daycare drop off, work, daycare pick up, playtime, dinner, bedtime.

Right now, the plan is to try and avoid morning care and let him get on the bus at our house, so he only will need afternoon care. We plan to use the same daycare for that rather than the city-run before and after program since we have Coraline attending there still. One pick up is better than two!

There’s still significant money savings, and part of my excitement is for that, I won’t deny it. But I know I’m going to miss simple homework-free evenings and simple mornings where breakfast is packed to eat at daycare instead of the earlier rising we’ll need to do to prepare for school.

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Rain Boot Weather

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Lately it’s been feeling like spring! Kids have rain boots on for sloshing around a muddy yard. We still don’t have our toys out yet for the season, so we’ve mostly just been playing on the swingset, and in puddles.

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Jameson told me a couple days ago that the frothy yellow looking puddle that is standing water in the rocks in our neighbor’s yard is “dinosaur puke”. He’s developing imagination is very boy-typical.

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Flinging her rain boots off when I’m pushing Coraline is a new favorite. She was disappointed when I told her she was too big for the baby swing this year, but she’s gotten over it pretty quick.

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Snow Play

The winter has been relatively mild, so much so that I’ve been able to continue training for a half marathon with long runs outside at least once a week. I wasn’t sure if we’d get the snow the kids have been asking for, but we finally did have a couple weeks with some snow on the ground!

Most of their playtime was in the evenings. I think we played outside every evening for 3 or 4 days in a row. The kids loved it! It’s too bad it gets dark quickly. Jameson would stay out all evening. Contrary to last year, Coraline actually really enjoyed it too! She loves the shovel most of all, while Jameson prefers to go all in with his hands.

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Brian got a “fat bike” so he could continue to bike ride over the winter. He has also been disappointed at the light winter snow.

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We managed to get in regular snow play, sledding, and snow angles. The one things we haven’t been able to do this winter is make a snowman! The snow melted too quickly on the warmer days for us. I feel bad sometimes that they miss out on some things like this when we are working, but I don’t think they feel the lack since they know no different. The best we did was this fairly loose snowball, which I laboriously made and Jameson jumped on.

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On one evening we were throwing snowballs at each other, and Brian brought me down into the snow! Coraline declared when I finally got back up clumsily that I had made a “beautiful snow angel” and wanted to lay in my impression. It was adorable, but I definitely know I was not waving my arms around in a snow angel manner.

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I got a new wide angle lens which I have really been enjoying testing out on my favorite subjects, the kids. The trick with the lens to get them in the middle so their faces aren’t warped. The edges and background of photos are beautiful in their extremes. It was my first time making a big purchase on ebay, but it was definitely worth it.

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One weekend day, we did get out to Grandma and Poppa’s house for some proper sled riding! Last year, Coraline was not a fan. This year, she loved it! Jameson went by himself and raced everyone. Coraline rode with each of us. Eventually she started covering her face with her hands to avoid snow blowing back into her face! But still she requested to go again and again.

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I am not great at stopping, but I did keep the snow out of her face!

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Brian let her go herself at the very bottom of the hill, and she was so excited!

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We hit most of the snow playtime highlights for the kids, and now they are asking when it gets warmer. Soon!

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Italy Finale: Venice, Part 2

On our last day in Venice and final day of our vacation (I don’t think leaving the next morning counts as a day of vacation), we had a special tour planned at the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). I booked us for a behind the scenes tour called the Secret Itineraries tour, and it was a lot of fun. Not to mention, our tour guide spoke excellent English so that we could really appreciate and enjoy what she was speaking about.

This tour takes you through secret rooms in the palace, and to where the infamous Casanova was held. Afterwards, we had time to visit the main rooms of the museum.

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This is the Giants’ Staircase leading into the courtyard, where we met for our tour. We learned about the politics of Venice and who really ran things (not really the Doge). The position had a very modest office, surprisingly.

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I bet you can guess what this room was for.

We saw a number of cells for the upper class (lower class prisons were elsewhere part of the main museum) and got to go in a couple. They were stark, dark, and had low ceilings. The doors on some of these were super small.

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Coming out of the cells and prisons of the upper class, came out a secret door to view a room in the main area of the palace, and then finally came out to actually visit the rest of the grand rooms of the palace.

A lot of the rooms have been refinished, so only 3 rooms have original flooring, once of which is below.

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This is a secret message slot in the wall.

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This unbelievable work of art is in one of the largest rooms in Europe and actually the longest canvas painting in the world, Il Paradiso.

I love capturing beautiful ceilings.

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Last we visited the final area in the palace, and crossed the Bridge of Sighs. The name supposedly refers to the sighs of prisoners who see their last view freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon through the window.

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Also located along the Piazza San Marco, next door to the Doge’s Palace is also St Mark’s Basilica. You can pay to gain entry around a certain time, which we chose to do. It isn’t advertised really, but between 11:30 to 12:30, the ceiling of the church is illuminated in all it’s gold glory.

We had the opportunity to see the illumination for the first 15 minutes or so of our visit, and the difference was simply indescribable. From the bright gold to a dim ceiling. St. Mark is buried here beneath the altar and you can see it behind glass and bars.

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After our last scheduled stops of the day, we did some shopping. We stopped at a store recommended by our hotel as having true Venetian glass (this is a sketchy industry in Venice, and we didn’t have the opportunity to visit the traditional glass blowing island off the coast).

I am still not certain that is the case for the jewelry we bought, but at least some of the glass in his shop was hand blown, as he was working right there as we shopped (and happily gave me permission to take his photo).

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Another Venetian specialty is apparently squid ink pasta. I got some for lunch, and mine came complete with parts of the squid. It’s best to get this in season rather than a re-hydrated form of the sauce, and I was in luck. It was definitely an experience. I was okay with the sauce (particularly with closed eyes), but the squid itself was pretty touch and chewy and not super enjoyable.

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We also visited Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. We visited most any church that was along our way and open, though most of the churches in Venice cost money to view. Several Doges were buried here.

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Our final item on our wishlist included a traditional gondola ride. Say what you will about the tourist factor, we chatted our gondolier up after about 5 minutes into the ride and he warmed up likewise and it turned into a very enjoyable ride. We took some side canals, and I enjoyed seeing the view from the water. He even took a very good photos of us when we were done!

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After another dinner at our new favorite spot, we wandered for the rest of the evening. We walked from what seemed the northern most edge of Venice to the south. We ended our night and our vacation in St Mark’s Square with gelato, of course.

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Our travels from Venice to the airport were simple, though paying the hotel the day prior was not since their credit card machine broke and mom had to visit two separate ATMs to withdraw enough cash to pay them. That part was uncomfortable enough that it was almost not worth the prime location and price of our stay.

We hopped aboard the boat that goes directly to the airport with the tickets we bought the previous day, and we were on our way! Getting relieved of our luggage at the airport was quite nice after hauling it around during our trip. We didn’t travel like my college self would have, but we also didn’t travel in style, so that luggage definitely got heavier over time without any strong arms to help us! We did okay though, and while I would’ve loved one more day to see the Venetian islands, I didn’t feel like we left the city, or any of the cities, with missed opportunities. We saw all of the things we wanted to see, and did everything we really wanted to do. We ate well, walked a lot, and finished our long days with a bottle of wine.

Arrivederci, Italia!

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Italy: Venice, Part 1

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since our big trip to Italy! Also hard to believe it’s taken me this long to finish recapping the experience. Today we’re going to go back to Venice. But before that, we stopped at San Marco in Florence. San Marco is famous in part for the paintings by Fra Angelico in the rooms of the old rooms of the Dominicans.

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My favorite part though was the old manuscripts, because this was the first place I had seen that allowed photography. I am knowledgeable enough to know that you should never use flash when dealing with old, decaying paper or works of art, but even still, most places do not let you take any photographs.

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It was definitely worth the final stop before our train to Venice, and we were also happy that the skies were clearing up from the rain and clouds the days prior. Our first impression of Venice was two fold: confusing, but also amazing. Here we were, no intimidating traffic!

I had been really nervous about Venice, and had researched where we needed to go outside the train station and which boat to board (Vaparetto), so of all the cities, I was the most prepared for this one. Even still, it took a little while to find our hotel San Salvador whose entrance was hidden down a little alleyway.

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We chose the hotel because it was close to the heart of the city without being too expensive, but that also meant traveling a bit further with our luggage in hand.And because of that, we were also dealing with crowds and bridges. Bonus: we got to share a bed. ha!

But we made it, and we did find ourselves really acclimating to this city more so than the others within a day of being there. We were much more relaxed about getting lost once we didn’t have our luggage dragging behind us!

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After unloading and getting information about places to eat, we headed out to the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco. It’s the only “plaza” in Venice, with all other areas called Campos or “squares”.

We had tickets for the inside of Basilica di San Marco in a couple days, but we viewed the outside and around the plaza, and decided to go ahead and line up for the Campanile. There’s no stairs for this tower, just a cramped elevator. The skies were cloudy and it was cold, so we figured this would be the shortest line we’d see during our stay (and we were right!).

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The views are nice, but while we were up there, the bells began to ring. It was loud. And startling.

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That evening, we started what became a nightly routine of meandering around the city at night, though this first night, we were just searching for a place to eat dinner! We had decided to try Pizzareia Casa Mia, and we didn’t realize how popular this restaurant is.

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We got lucky and arrived early enough to snag a table and split a bottle of wine. I ate a sea food dinner and my shrimps had eyes. After dinner we returned to the Piazza to look at it at night.

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This is the infamous Bridge of Sighs, which I explained to mom that we’d be learning more about in the coming days.

The next morning, we woke early to watch the start of the Vogalonga! I didn’t know about this event until after we booked our vacation, but we were excited to be able to watch a local event like this. There are two boat races in Venice, the more famous one later in the year.

This one started with a protest of the motor boats that have overtaken Venice. While I appreciated being able to travel as needed to and from the city, within it’s bounds, mom and I didn’t need the motor boats and walked everywhere. So, I could understand why they wanted those quieter waters back, especially this day when all the motor transportation are shut down for the race.

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The best places to watch the Vogalonga are the beginning at the Piazza, and several hours later at Cannaregio, a section of Venice to the north where the boats funnel through a narrower canal on their way to the finish.

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The waters were very still. We wandered the city for the most part. Because it was Sunday, a lot of churches were closed for visitation, so there were only a few things on our to do list for the day. The forced slowness of the day was a little annoying for me, but it didn’t bother mom. It did help set the tone of our more relaxed visit to Venice than the other cities during our travels.

We had breakfast at a place that doesn’t much deserve the name and moved on from there quickly. We definitely missed the breakfast buffets at the previous hotels.

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We walked to a south east end of the city to Santa Maria della Salute, which we were able to go inside. It was cool to walk to the very tip of the city outside the church here, standing at the edge of Venice and looking back at the Piazza.

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We walked from south to north, the entire stretch of the city, to watch some more of the race later that day. This was more fun than the early morning launch because of the cheering, excitement, and the bells that Venetians rang from their windows.

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We had a few other stops after the race, including the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

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Also, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

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The ceiling of the church of San Stefano was too amazing to not photograph, though we were not supposed to. I avoided flash and didn’t photograph any of the alcoves or other sacred spaces in the church, but I simply had capture this amazing intricate ceiling.

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We even managed to find the spiral staircase all on our own. It was definitely off the beaten path and difficult to find around the narrow alleyways and vague directions we had.

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All in all, it was a day of exploration of the city of Venice. We started to feel comfortable wandering around without being entirely certain where it would lead. We started to enjoy it when we were actually away from the crowds of people in the more distant parts of the city.

For dinner, we chanced upon Bacaro Osteria Barababao, and we loved it so much that we returned there for dinner again the very next night. We spent the evening wandering Venice, feeling very comfortable in this city lacking cars. Of course, I’m certain there is crime, but the lack of a big nightlife scene and the fact that many visitors only come for the day meant the nights seemed much quieter and felt very safe.

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If you haven’t guessed yet, Venice was my favorite city to visit, and a wonderful way to conclude our trip. I have one more full day in Venice to share with you before we boarded our flight for home.

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Happy 2016

It’s February, I know. Happy 2016 anyway!

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We celebrated with our usual family friends, and spent the night there again this year. It was a blast! We’ve been over a couple times since, and Coraline keeps asking about sleeping over. It was a huge success to have her sleeping in a sleeping bag, albeit on a cot.

Instead of Christmas gifts, we exchanged books this year. Coraline was in love with her Daniel Tiger Nutcracker book, and it was perfect because she has started ballet at school, now that she is in a preschool room.

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Jameson is still in to paper airplanes and tried showing Jonathan how to fold them.

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Meanwhile, Coraline literally ate almost the entire evening.

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We tried to get photos of the kids in front of the tree, but you can guess how this ended:

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Lisa got a selfie stick so we did take some photos including us adults, and the boys tried it out too.

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The kids rang in the New Year with noiseless party favors, and watched a countdown with the Care Bears. We don’t have the kids stay up til midnight with us yet. Someday soon I’m sure they’ll catch on.

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The boys all slept in Jonathan’s room, while Coraline slept with Brian and I. I think she was a bit jealous because she insisted on coming back out of her room just to hear the bedtime story. She didn’t really understand why she couldn’t sleep in there but she was amiable enough since she was so tired, I’m sure. Meanwhile, the adults rang in the new year with a game of Cards Against Humanity. It was a good night!

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