Tornado Season!

Tornado season!

Growing up in Alabama, we had tornado warnings on a regular basis. I remember lots of afternoons sitting in the hallways at school, because our area was under a tornado warning.

I also remember worrying about whether my mother knew about it or not. When I was a kid, I could find plenty to worry about. Fortunately, that all changed at some point. But I would sit in the windowless hallway at school, wondering if Mother knew she needed to take shelter in the central bathroom of our house…or maybe in the little room under the stairs. I couldn’t imagine what would happen to us if Mother were swept away in a tornado.

Today, we had a rare tornado warning in Mecklenburg County. In Alabama, I was accustomed to the kind of storms we are seeing today. I always knew schools were prepared. But today, when we had a tornado warning, I immediately started to wonder if my daughter’s school has had tornado drills. Of course, I know they are prepared. I know their primary goal is our kids’ safety. I know that, but in the same way I used to worry about my mother, I immediately thought of my child. I knew they had made all the students take shelter, because they have a plan in place, but I was relieved to receive a text from my daughter asking, “Is there a tornado at our house?” Here’s what I was seeing at that moment:

While I should have taken shelter in the central closet or bathroom of our home, I was standing at the front window, waiting to see if a funnel cloud would drop from the sky. I’ve never actually seen a tornado, but I know what to look for, and I certainly know when conditions are right…and they were right. I’ve seen lots of waterspouts form, which is fascinating, but not a tornado…yet. So when our daughter’s text came in, I responded, “I’m not sure.” The wind was howling, the rain was coming down in all different directions, and I thought I detected some rotation in the clouds.

I realized I had probably frightened her with that answer, so I immediately sent, “We are OK. Don’t worry.” And I sent her a video of the rain and wind outside our house. I asked if it looked like that where she was, and she said, “I don’t know. I can’t see outside.” Of course not. So I asked, “Can you hear the wind and rain?” She responded, “Yes.” She was huddled with lots of other students in the supply shop in the dining hall at her school.

After 45 minutes, the tornado warning ended, and we went about our lives. I got an automated call saying the warning was over, and the students were returning to class. But the whole scenario made me realize how seldom folks in North Carolina have had to deal with tornadoes. In fact, this afternoon, a teacher from her school posted on Facebook that this was her first tornado warning at school in 22 years of teaching! Wow! I feel like we spent weeks in the halls during tornado warnings at school!

So for those of you in North Carolina and other places that rarely experience tornadic activity, you can see guidelines to follow at weather.gov here. 

The main thing? Keep yourself, your loved ones, and your pets safe.

Favorite February Things

Favorite February Things.

This is the first year I have heard so many people complaining about January! Everywhere I turn, it seems like people are saying, “January has been the longest six months ever.” Or “When will January finally end?!” Well, it’s over, folks. February is here, and there are so many great things about February. Here are some of my favorites:

Sadie Hawkins Dance. We never had a Sadie Hawkins Dance at our school when I was growing up. At my daughter’s school, they refer to it as “Sadie’s.” In case you don’t know, it’s a dance to which girls invite boys as their dates. It’s fun just to see them all get dressed up. Lots of them go to dinner at a country club, restaurant, or someone’s home. This year, my daughter and her crew are taking pictures at a friend’s house and then going to Waffle House for dinner. I love it. Not familiar with Waffle House? It’s a southern thing. Check the website here. And who knew they sold merchandise on their website? You can get this awesome t-shirt for just $18!Screen_Shot_2019-07-16_at_1.13.00_PM_1024x1024@2x

Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. I wouldn’t be opposed to having ice cream for breakfast every day, but I recently discovered there is actually an official Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. This year, it’s tomorrow, February 1st. To see some lower calorie ideas to celebrate the day, click here.retina_hungry-girl-healthy-banana-split-pie-recipe-20190329-1849-16905-0283

Groundhog Day. I’ve always been a fan of Groundhog Day, February 2nd…ever since my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Ella Mae Peavy, told us about it in 1973. To a five-year-old, there’s something fascinating about an animal predicting the weather. And frankly, there’s something fascinating about groundhogs, in general. Add in the fact that I love the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, and it’s a perfect storm. You know what I’ll be watching Sunday. You can see it for a fee on Amazon Prime here.71+dMjmPLSL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_

Super Bowl. There’s a lot of fun at the beginning of the month this year, since Super Bowl Sunday also falls on Groundhog Day. It’s like double the fun! It’s no secret that I love football, and even though I don’t “have a dog in the fight” this year, I will still enjoy watching it. And the commercials! To see some Hungry Girl recipes for some fun Super Bowl food, click here.photo-1566577739112-5180d4bf9390

Valentine’s Day. Some people think Valentine’s Day is just torture for single people, but I’ve never looked at it that way. Single? Go out and buy yourself some candy! Who says someone else needs to give you flowers and candy? I love Louis Sherry chocolates so much that I wrote a piece about them last year. You can see it here. My husband always sends me some flowers or candies for Valentine’s Day, but there’s no rule that says I can’t order a little something for myself too! I love Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes, and I always recommend them as a special treat for friends and family. They’re bite-sized, so the portions are perfect. Order themhere. And if you just want to run to your local Target, you can always grab some Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts…I know this, because I’ve been eating them for weeks.

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Presidents Day. A long weekend? Yes, please! Of course, we all need to remember the reason we have this long weekend is to honor the folks who have lead our great country. We also need to remember there are some great sales going on during that long weekend! Don’t judge! If I were playing Match Game right now and the clue was “Presidents Day _______,” I would answer “sale”! Not gonna lie!

Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday. This is not a big deal everywhere, but in some parts of the country, Mardi Gras is a big event. Mobile, Alabama? You bet they’re partying! New Orleans, Louisiana? It’s on! Fat Tuesday this year, also known as Mardi Gras Day, is February 25. In Mobile, folks will be catching Moon Pies and other trinkets all day, and there will be parades all day in New Orleans too. In fact, Mobile area schools will have that whole week off! If you’d like a little taste of Mardi Gras in Charlotte, you can visit Cajun Yard Dog in the Arboretum for a slice of King Cake. Or you can order them from Haydel’s in New Orleans here. Or even from Edgar’s Bakery in Birmingham, Alabama, here.Strawberry-King-Cake-5-2-MP-1536x935

Leap Day. Yes, this is a Leap Year, so we get an extra day of February! When I was a little girl, I had a friend whose brother was born on February 29, and I was so jealous, because everyone made a big deal about it. 

February is a fun month. With so much going on, and a long weekend thrown in there too, it might just be one of my favorites.

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

All my friends know it, because they’ve heard it from me for years…since 2006…November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. What does that mean? To some folks it means nothing. To me, it means a lot. My daddy died eight months after he was diagnosed with this terrible disease. He had been suffering for months, though, without a diagnosis…I’ll get to that in a minute.

When I was in my thirties, I had heard very little about pancreatic cancer. I knew nothing about it…nothing. In 2006, I had been married for six years, and I had a two-year-old daughter. Life was moving along swimmingly, and then my daddy got sick. And it was bad. He was 67 years old when he was diagnosed on February 9, and he died on October 2, three weeks after his 68th birthday…the birthday he declared his happiest ever, because all his family members were there to celebrate with him.

Without getting into the details of his illness, let me tell you this…it never occurred to us he would get pancreatic cancer. There was no history of it in his family, except one aunt, and she was considerably older when she was diagnosed, so we tend to think “we’re all going to die of something.” But when Daddy was diagnosed, it hit us like a ton of bricks. The survival rate is terrible, and after doing some research, we were fully aware of his prognosis, but like Alex Trebek, we tried to have a positive outlook. Without hope, what do you have?!?

Detecting pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult, and that is, in part, why the survival rate is low. My daddy was having symptoms for some time before he was diagnosed, but sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees. When he was finally diagnosed, it was too late to do much about it. I’m hoping research funding will help find better, easier ways of detecting it.

There are two things I want you to take away from this…

  • Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, but the funding for its research doesn’t match up. There are lots of ways to help. You can donate directly to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) here. You can host a fundraiser for the organization too. You can walk in a Purple Stride event in your town. You can purchase purple (the color for pancreatic cancer awareness) gear through PanCan here. You can wear purple in memory of someone you know…and tell people why you’re wearing it. You can write to your representatives in Congress, asking them to do more to fund the fight against pancreatic cancer. I recently hosted a fundraiser for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network on Facebook, and I am grateful to all who donated. I was thrilled that so many people donated, and I was overwhelmed by their generosity.
  • Live your life. We never know what will happen. My daddy was always telling us, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” He encouraged us to live our lives to the fullest…enjoy time with friends and family, see places and things we want to see, give back to the community, etc. Soon after I turned 50, I told my mother (who has since passed away), “I probably only have 20 more years that I can move around really well.” I was looking ahead and thinking it might not be as easy for me to travel when I’m over 70. She looked at me with a sweet smile on her face and said, “When your daddy was your age, he didn’t have that long. [When he was 50, he only had 18 more years ahead of him.] Do the things you want to do.” Perspective. She was right. And so that’s what I’m encouraging you to do. It doesn’t mean you have to go into debt taking a gigantic whirlwind trip, but get busy ticking things off your bucket list.

And while you’re ticking things off your bucket list, wear purple every now and then.

FYI: World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day is November 21, 2019. Please wear purple and support the fight.

Favorite College Care Packages

I had lunch recently with a friend from college. She has lived just about 45 minutes from me for years, and we didn’t even realize it till about three years ago. Last month, we finally went to lunch after talking about it for a long time, and now, we’ve decided to make it a monthly thing. She has four children, and her oldest is a freshman in college. She told me she is putting together a Halloween-themed care package to send him, including lots of his favorite little treats, and it reminded me of care packages my own mother used to send me…over thirty years ago, when I was in college. She was really good about sending boxes of fun, silly things, and sometimes, she would just send something as simple as a sweatshirt or a pair of fuzzy socks, but it always made me smile.

These days, it’s easier than ever to send care packages, and I’ll get into the easy ones later, but Mother used to send me things she had bundled herself, and those care packages were hard to beat. Don’t all college students love to get mail and packages? Sometimes, she would send small packages just for me, and sometimes, she would send a bigger bundle for me and a roommate. Here are a few examples of things she did:

  • Halloween Care Package in October. It included silly Halloween socks, the kind you get in the Dollar Spot at Target; my favorite Halloween candies; a few favorite snacks (chips, cereal bars, etc); plastic spiders; rubber snakes; glow-in-the dark plastic teeth; wax teeth; Halloween hair ties; Halloween t-shirt (you can get some pretty inexpensive ones in Walmart and Target); and if she were sending it now, she would have definitely included some gift cards to local eateries.Exam Care Package. At the end of November, she would send a big box as a care package for final exams. She would include lots of favorite snacks: Toastchee Crackers,Microwave Popcorn, Chips, Breakfast Bars, and some favorite candy. She might also include a MadLibs book…great stress-relieve entertainment for silly college students. A couple of People and Us Magazines were good for taking a break from studying. And she might have included some silly childhood toys like YoYos, Jacks, a Gyro-Wheel, an Etch A Sketch, and even a Wooly Willy…see below. Oh…and temporary tattoos…always fun. Squirt guns were a big hit! Childhood toys were always fun, because they were good for a laugh. Friends from all over the hall would take study breaks and come to my room to play with those silly toys.
  • Winter Care Package. In late January, she would send a Winter Care Package that included cheap gloves for me and my roommate, warm socks for both of us, cheap sock hats, a warm sweatshirt for each of us, packages of powdered hot chocolate, cheap ear muffs, and maybe some travel magazines that showed sunny destinations.

You get the picture. As the year progressed, she tried to put together thoughtful bundles. Sometimes they were all very similar, but she would include just one or two special items for a holiday….like those packages of Valentines you get in elementary school…she knew it would be fun for us to tape those on the doors of friends on our hall.

And after I graduated from college and moved to Atlanta, she would still send me care packages. My favorite was one she sent to me and my roommate in December. It was an Advent calendar in a box. The days weren’t on it, but there were two of the same wrapped gifts for every day of Advent, and she had the gifts numbered. I wish I could remember everything she sent. On the first day of Advent, we opened Christmas stockings. We didn’t have a fireplace, so I think we just hung them on the bar. The next day, we likely opened…you guessed it…socks. Big fat candy canes might have been day 3. Light-up antlers might have been day 4. Lights to hang in our apartment could have been day 5. You get the picture. She wrapped anything Christmas-themed she could find and put it into the box. 

Nowadays, though, if you don’t want to take the time to put together a care package, you can simply order online and have them shipped to your student. Simply go to Amazon.com and find regular care packages, but if you want themed packages, simply input what you’re looking for. I entered “Halloween Care Package” on the Amazon search, and I got several options. You can see them here. Another option is a monthly subscription to care packages through College Care Packages…see their options here. I have also found a fun company called Hip Kits that puts together care packages for college students, and they are a little different than the ones on Amazon. See Hip Kits here. 

And for some other unique care package ideas, go to Etsy.com and enter “care packages,” and you’ll get lots of unique results. Click here to see some of the options.

Also, don’t forget restaurant gift cards make great surprises for college students. Sometimes, too, I’ll just Venmo a little money to college students I know, and when I do, I say it’s for WAM (walking around money) and I add the emoji of the person walking plus the emoji showing a bag of money.

 

When I was in college and in my 20s, any time I left my parents’ house, Daddy would give me some “walking around money,” which we also called “WAM.” If you aren’t familiar with the Venmo app, it’s time to get with the program. It’s super easy to send money to friends/family with Venmo. If my daughter picks up the tab for her friend at Starbucks, the friend will send her $5 via Venmo. Get it?

But no matter what little happy surprise you choose to send your child…or someone else’s…they will be grateful. College is fun, but it can be stressful, and it’s always fun to receive a package or some walking around money.

Don’t Make Me Get My Voodoo Doll

I’ve been volunteering at my daughter’s school since she enrolled there in 2008. It’s a TK-12 school, and she is in tenth grade. It’s a fabulous school, and we are very fortunate to have a large volunteer base…lots of moms, dads, and grandparents who pitch in all the time to help make sure everything runs smoothly.

I’ve volunteered in lots of different ways…helping with art classes in elementary school; helping make costumes in lower school; helping with various events; helping coordinate volunteers for admissions; working with the music department; volunteering in the library; volunteering as room mom or team mom; taking tickets at carnivals; recruiting other volunteers…lots of different things that I have enjoyed. And while I’m doing whatever job I might be doing, I take it seriously.

I take it seriously, but I still have fun, and I always remember we are support for the system. We are supposed to support the school, the administrators, and the teachers in what they want us to do. We don’t run the place. I do things the way I think the people for whom I am working want it done.

Do I think it’s important to volunteer? Yes, for any number of reasons, the first being that I can volunteer. I am able. I have time. Another reason? I feel it’s important for my daughter to see that I think her education is important enough for me to invest my time. And another reason is that I know the school needs volunteers. Many hands make light work! I am one of those 20 percent of the people who do 80 percent of the work.

And even though I feel it’s important, it’s not the most important thing in my life. It’s not even near the top of the list. I enjoy it, and I want to do it, but I don’t place it above everything else I do. Want to know why?

I realized a long time ago that the work I do for free falls in far behind the stuff I need to do for my family and for myself. I have a small immediate family…just me, my husband, and our daughter…but doing for them comes ahead of doing for everyone else. Do I let myself get stressed out about volunteer work? Heck no! It’s supposed to be fun! I’m working for free, for Pete’s sake! And when someone tries to make it stressful for me, I pluck a strand of their hair to take home with me for making a voodoo doll. That’s all it takes…one strand of hair attached to a voodoo doll.

Of course, I’m kidding (or am I?), but seriously, there have been times I’ve wanted to make some voodoo dolls. Not gonna lie. And usually, it’s because someone takes themselves way too seriously. Or maybe someone has a high anxiety personality…something I don’t jibe with. Maybe someone is just downright disagreeable…or thinks they know everything…or they create drama…or can’t smile. Yep…I have actually given up volunteer positions because someone I was working with couldn’t smile. Girl, I’m funny…if you aren’t laughing when you’re with me, you are a hopeless, unhappy creature. As I’ve heard someone say somewhere: Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s how I look at it. I volunteer at school when it works for me and my family. I enjoy it, and I take it seriously. Do I think anyone is going to remember what I’ve done ten or twenty years from now? Heck no! They aren’t even going to remember my name! After my daughter goes off to college, I will run into folks in the grocery store who will think I might look familiar from school, but they won’t be sure…and that’s one thing I know for sure. That is not my legacy!

So, I will continue to volunteer at my daughter’s school. And I will continue to laugh and be happy while I do it. And I hope everyone else is too! But don’t make me get my voodoo doll!

***You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.***

To order your own voodoo dolls, you can find them on Amazon.com here.

Louis Sherry Chocolates

This past weekend, I was in New York, celebrating some upcoming birthdays for family members. I’m funny about where I stay. The crowds in Times Square are a little too much for my brain, so I have always enjoyed staying around Central Park. This past weekend, we opted to stay at The Sherry-Netherland Hotel, a place I had stayed before and loved…and we loved it even more this time! In 2016, it was voted the number one hotel in America by TripAdvisor.

There are lots of reasons we love the hotel: the location, directly across the street from the main entrance to Central Park; great service; warm, friendly staff; large rooms and gigantic suites; gorgeous lobby frescoes; room service from Harry Cipriani; attention to detail; elevator operators; fresh flowers; individually decorated suites and rooms; and last but not least…Louis Sherry Chocolates.media-0002

I research hotels. I don’t just make reservations all willy-nilly, unless I’m traveling for my daughter’s sports team…then it’s all about convenience. But when I’m traveling for “leisure,” I do my homework. I research everything: the reviews on TripAdvisor; the location; the square footage of the rooms; the outdoor spaces; room service; rooms with views; special rates and packages; and any other amenities. I like to enjoy my stay to its fullest, and I’ve found that spending a little extra time checking reviews and specials is time well spent. And when I first researched The Sherry-Netherland, besides the outstanding reviews the hotel had, I noticed they put Louis Sherry Chocolates in every room. Sold! Chocolate waiting for me every day? You don’t have to tell me twice! I booked it right then! In all seriousness…the TripAdvisor reviews were glowing, and after reading more about the hotel’s history in Forbes Magazine (see it here), I was intrigued. I read more about the hotel’s celebrity history at gothamist.com (David Bowie, Diana Ross, Barbra Streissand, and more), and you can see that here. You can see the website for The Sherry-Netherland Hotel here.

So yes, we love The Sherry-Netherland Hotel (it was outside this very hotel where I once ran into one of the original Charlie’s Angels!), but we also love the chocolates.

If you’ve never had Louis Sherry Chocolates, you’re missing a treat. In the rooms at the hotel, they’ve always left small tins of chocolate almonds. They’re fantastic…chocolatey but not too sweet…a perfect treat after coming in from a night out. But since that first stay in 2018, I’ve sent Louis Sherry candies to friends on different occasions. You can order them from Neiman Marcus here, or you can order directly through the Louis Sherry website here.

The chocolates are of excellent quality, no doubt. But you know what I really love? The beautiful tins! They come in tins of 2, 12, or 24, and there are lots of tins from which to choose. Their original tins are offered in various solid with gold edges…beautiful and understated. But they also offer designer tins, with designs by interior designer Miles Redd, painter Harrison Howard, decoupage artist John Derrian, and more. My personal favorites of the designer tins are the Cubist design by Redd (see below), and the pink Orchid design. The original solid-color tins are gorgeous too. They’re all so beautiful, though, that it can be difficult to decide which one is most fitting for a friend when sending a gift. Make sure you have plenty of time to look through all the designs when you sit down to order.

Need a new idea for hostess gifts? The Louis Sherry Chocolates would be loved by any hostess! If you know you have some parties coming up, it might be a good idea to stock up on a few different designs. I’m placing my order now for a few hostesses I know.

And make sure you order one for yourself. I recommend the 12-piece tin.

 

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

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