Valentine’s prices

My dear friend Camille gave me a great idea for a Valentine’s post; actually she said, “Write this story in your blog.”

Because I cakelove her and because it’s Valentine’s Day, I took her advice. She was visiting her sister in the hospital yesterday. While in the elevator a man looked at her a bit embarrassed because he was holding a cheap brand of chocolates in his hands.

“You want one?” the man said, jokingly.

“No thanks!” she replied, laughing.

“I know it’s kinda cheap,” he said in a downtrodden tone.

As they both headed out of the elevator, Camille’s wisdom shined. “You know, the best thing is not the cost of the candy, it’s being there.”

For Valentine’s Day or any other day, the gift IS in the giver. In the unconditional sense, it is the purest, most priceless, precious gift beyond compare, a kiss of faith that imprints us with a promise of tomorrow.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

true Christian faith

touched by an angel

Peace Prayers

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6

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Peace, solitude, tranquility

Peace, solitude, tranquility, regardless what you call it, I believe the best way to offset any turbulence in life is to become a homing pigeon led to a space that may not necessarily be your physical home, but present an undisturbed place of respite.

Over these last thirty years, one of my refuges is Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Brookfield, Connecticut.

Whether I am in praise, joy, anguish, exhaustion or discourse, I come here to realign my thoughts and spirit and awaken my soul.I have never witnessed a burning bush experience, magically cured an ailment or miraculously transformed in some way. But I am always removed from the stressful boom of the secular. Humbled, I feel peace at my core, and I am ready to return my higher self to the world. That is, the selfless self that can stop ruminating about ME, turning the “M” into a “W” and forming the word “WE” and actually giving completely of myself to someone else.

Though the grotto is as solitary as its brick edifice, I have never come here without being overwhelmed by the sense of union that I feel as I kneel before the candles, religious statues and personal mementos that others have left, and I discover. This is another way that I get unstuck from my own navel gazing and feel part of a larger whole.

Oddly, over these many years, why others don’t flock here like they would a rock concert, I can’t figure out. Rarely, have I seen one other person visit the grotto while I was there.The grotto is off a busy road, buzzing with motorists that accelerate a good ten miles over the set speed limit. I always think how ironic that these motorists don’t see “it.”

Upon leaving, I always want to call to them.“Eureka!” I want to shout. “Look what’s here!”

But that is like asking a stranger to take a road without surface or form.That would be like something akin to faith.

That would be like saying to the passing motorists, “Come feel how small you are and how little true control you have.”

Most of them would likely rather attend a rock concert.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

touched by an angel

touched by an angel

How to be a prayer warrior, one line at a time

Effective Prayer

The prayer of the day

Yesterday, I hope you joined me in a spiritual journey when we began meditating on one line of prayer a day.

We are using the second part of the long version of the Serenity Prayer, which breaks down to 6 lines * of thought for 6 easy, but effective, days of prayer.

We are not moving in chronological order, so please join us as we continue.

Line 2, Day 2 is:

 “Enjoying one moment at a time.”

During a time of loss, crisis or hardship, balance is key. His love can help ease the scale when it is tipped to one side from the heavy-laden burden, cumbered with hurtful emotion.

It’s okay even for a few seconds to feel something other than pain. God’s joy abounds; always evident in the simplest form in this complex, modern world. Whether it is hearing the peepers sing outside at night at the first sign of spring or meeting the kind eyes of a stranger who stops to say “hello” amidst the day’s bustle.

“Enjoying one moment at a time” brings a few things to mind in my own personal life:

  • My friend who asks, “How are you?” And really means it. Someone who is willing to listen and provide a sounding board without judgment or advice.
  • Another friend in my life to whom I can purge my secrets to without threat, the one I would have never known had it not been for a crisis. The one I have reinvented myself with. The one I have learned to live a “new normal” with.
  • Colleagues who reach out to me after I lost my job because they actually like my authentic self, because a job role ended doesn’t annihilate the human roles we play.
  • So many decades of feeling like the invisible phantom scribe and receiving a text in the morning from a dear friend telling me how instrumental my blog post was in her life
  • People I know who pray for me, as I do for them even if it is in a simple one-line prayer.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

Correction from the last blog post. The second half of the long version of the Serenity Prayer breaks down to 6 lines of thought, not 10.

 

Effective prayer made easy

onedayatatime

Spiritual Transformation

Need short prayer help?

I invite you to take a spiritual journey with me and meditate on one line of prayer a day.

A good tool is the long version of the Serenity Prayer. The second part of the long version of the Serenity Prayer breaks down to 10 lines for 10 easy, but effective days of prayer.

Line 1, Day 1 begins:

“Living one day at a time.”

Is this an overwhelming thought? For those living with personal loss and crisis, getting out of bed can be a victory.  Break down a 24-hour day into minutes; minutes into seconds. Can you live a second at a time? Can you wrap your head around one second? In other words, living in the now? Being mindful?

Here’s an example of the one-second-at-a-time lifestyle.

Bing! Bing! (alarm rings!)

  • Action: You switch the alarm off. Self-talk: I am now turning off the alarm.
  • Action: Feet hit bedroom floor. Self-talk: I am now getting out of bed.
  • Action: Head to bathroom. Self-talk: I am now on route to the bathroom.

 Easy, huh?

  • Action: I am reading my computer screen.
  • Self-talk: I am now reading a terrific blog called, WTF (Where’s the faith?). It is a post about prayer, and I think it might just help me change my life for the better.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

How to pray short-shorts

Healing prayer

Healing prayer

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.

When we live through loss or crisis, sometimes the foxhole prayer, when you turn to God in times of extreme trials, for example, “God Help ME!” is one of the most valuable assets we have.

I gravitate towards succinct foxhole prayers. To me, when those dark days pin you down under what feels like a tomb’s weight, lightening the day’s agenda, including in the prayer department, can help give you a sense of relief and control. Rather than not praying, condensing your prayer is a good option. Don’t get stuck on thinking that prayer has to be long, formal and dogmatic.

Take the Serenity Prayer. You can break it down to four words:

  • God
  • Serenity
  • Courage
  • Wisdom

Here’s an example of how we can use short prayer daily. Each day, reciting even a handful of words makes repetition easy, thereby providing us a channel of meditative prayer.

  • Day 1: “God, serenity.”
  • Day 2: “God, courage.”
  • Day 3: “God, wisdom.”
  • Day 4: “Wisdom, God.”
  • Day 5: “Serenity & courage, God.”
  • Day 6: “Courage & wisdom, God.”
  • Day 7: “God! God! God!”

These are just examples of “short-shorts,” but these few words can be a form of powerful prayers that work. What they lack in length they make up for by stamping out the negative thought process with a substitution of words of devotion. Ideally, these simple words can act as mind armor and help guard you as you navigate and tackle the complexities of the circumstances you face.

By incorporating a word or more into your day, you will likely be surprised to see how a powerhouse of prayer can be built on sturdy resolve, not rigid mindsets.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

Strive to be happy

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 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hears be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
There is a very special non-denominational chapel at High Watch Recovery Center in Kent Connecticut where I spent a good deal of my younger years. In that very place, a mishmash of everything religious and spiritual, for the very first time in my life, a life filled with pain, desperation and sadness, I felt true faith because it came from within. One of the things that influenced me so much was what was printed on the wall…”Desiderata….Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” desiderata_by_striveforpeace
I left High Watch on a venture; to sing my unique song fully as my heart cried in despair; to fail in the eye of defeat—get up, fail again; to love without reserve, on an uncertain, sometimes unsteady path, step up, trudge forward, head up, eyes fixated on a mustard seed of hope.thCAHUMSUY
Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!
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Mind Confusion: Good for you?

dance_school-1280x1024 (2)Body confusion sounds bad but is good. As my yoga coach explained, when your exercise routine becomes routine, your muscles get bored and slack off. You can schedule the same exercise routine every week, but after awhile it becomes old hat, and your body does not benefit from the workout. In other words, you have to challenge—shuffle things around; in essence, confuse the body to keep it at its best. Challenges and new moves keep you in healthy grooves!

In this same vein, if the body slacks off, wouldn’t the mind do this also? Not to minimize the impact of a life crisis, but one thing it does do is shake you up and orbit you to unfamiliar places that may feel foreign and scary at the beginning, but later as the journey unfolds, recharges the imagination and ignites the creative problem-solving juices.

For instance, before our family’s personal crisis in 2010, I could have continued to hide under some fifty extra pounds of weight and allow myself to fade into the buttermilk color walls of my house, vaporizing behind my then husband’s emotional tailspins.

Instead, nearly four years later, “mind confusion” has kicked me into over drive. Tons of new challenges undertaken…daunting jobs, grubby courtrooms, and a longtime friend who threw me under the bus just when I was about to get my bearings! With the challenges, new joys have also unfolded…dating again since 1989, the last time I had a date; neighborhood kids who come to the door with shovels during a blizzard and a late-life love who surprises me with a kiss that transplanted me back to feel sixteen again when my high school’s gym class cheered me on as I did a tap dance atop the trampoline.

Thanks to the element of surprise, total mind confusion, I not only shed the pounds, okay, some of them, but I have also had a love affair—with my femininity, my individuality, my sometimes tragic, miserable, highly interesting, amazing life, and I learned that courage doesn’t come to me naturally, but that I have to have faith and work at it…not face danger and freak out and bolt, but face danger, freak out and stare it down—a little bit longer at each new perilous zone.

In the end, I still have “the bad” confusion in my life and I struggle as a single mom. It remains an everyday challenge to be stable and balanced, especially when the mortgage due date draws closer, every month, and my mind becomes a 24-hour melee in which I must battle it out with beasts that can and will flex their muscles to frightening proportions. Then there are those days when my body joints tell me I have been squeezed out of so much youth.

Through it all, I have learned to get my shine on and dance through life as if my experience on this earth has been a skip through a meadow of wildflowers and not a plunge into an abominable pit of hot coals, employing grace and dignity at all times when tears mar the vision, but faith carries me forward through the downpour.

Watching Crouton earn his new set of wings

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.

MOM 004[1] (2)Crouton&ME1“You understand, your family is the worst possible choice for Crouton to go home with, you understand, don’t you?”

The animal shelter’s volunteer conveyed to me in confidence after my two children and I had been shown an apricot toy poodle at PAWS, “Pet Animal Welfare Society,” a nonprofit “no-kill” organization in Norwalk, CT, following my 8-year-old daughter’s discovery of him the night before on petfinder.com.

The memory is so branded on my mind that I still remember the woman’s name, Noreen. While my daughter and her brother waited in a separate room, I had nodded, but inwardly was relieved. At the time, we had two cats at home, and my then husband did not have the slightest notion that we were spending our day at the local shelter just looking.

Yes, of course, I understood, I told Noreen. The other two families, also in line with high hopes to bring a new two-year-old poodle home, were much better suited. One had only a twosome, a mom and her young daughter, and no pets at home. The other five-member family looked responsible enough.

I alone, I reasoned, would make a terrible dog owner. I always had cats. The only dog I had was a dachshund for a day. My older brother Paul had brought him home when I was eight years old as a surprise. Unfortunately, we had to bring him back to the shelter because my parents did not want to shoulder the burden of the extra responsibilities of an animal. After the dachshund’s return, my brother and his girlfriend at the time had bought me a banana split. I ate the whole thing, but my sorrow persisted along with a belly ache too. From then on, I vowed I would have a dog of my own one day and keep it forever.

Keep dreaming, that was my motto! When the kids were toddlers, one of our weekly visits was to a local pet shop where we would spend the time as speculators to some pretty fancy poodle cuts on some impressive show dogs by a groomer who rented space in the store. She herself owned five poodle show dogs. There, we learned everything there ever was about a poodle, and once you learn the innermost workings of a poodle, there is no other recourse but to fall in love; and so I was, head over heels, or tails, in this case, however, at a distance. Who, after all, was I, a mom/freelance writer with limited funds to own the most perfect dog that cost upwards to thousands upon thousands of dollars?

So, fast-forward from this point, and there I was at Paws with Noreen telling me that we were not suitable dog owners and—presto—a blue leash hit the palm of my hand like a surprise snake.

“What?” I asked, shocked as she let go of the leash.

“And even though you seem like the least likely family to adopt Crouton, I am giving you the dog, because your children were the ones who interacted with the dog the best.”

By now, I knew if I hadn’t manipulated or initiated a situation’s outcome, God was at his handiwork. So who was I to argue with the big honcho?

In hindsight, I always say give a rescue dog a 90-day trial before you make a final decision. You see, even though my husband did not bat an eye when we brought Crouton home, and the cats realized after a day with their “new master” who was in charge, it wasn’t until the 91th day that Crouton stopped piddling all over the couch and soiling the rug! In fact, if my then husband did not have a snag at work, we had decided that morning that he would come home in the afternoon on that 90th day of owning Crouton to bring him back to PAWS!

So call it another God thing, but that darn messy dog turned into an angel during his third month with us and as my son pointed out, became a part of our pack of which I was the top wolf. Although he was supposed to be my daughter’s dog, Velcro he was to me, and I learned about loyalty and the kind of unconditional love where if I really did jump off a bridge, guess who would shadow me in an instant?

Soon after those initial 90 days, the common denominator in my life was that “everyone made mistakes, but not “Crouty,” because he was perfect, an angel, my angel dog. Life without him did not and could not enter my thoughts…not for many years…..

Until  that awful morning when our groomer uncovered a growth on Crouton’s hind leg. After the biopsy a few days later, I received the word on August 16, 2013; our little angel dog had a tumor, an aggressive tumor. Without recapping the horrific details, our vet felt it was a reasonable decision on my part that I decided against surgery.

Basically, for the last six weeks, I have watched Crouton die with the latest vet run this past Monday.

During this time, I realized it is not just about the person or pet you are losing. It’s about our own death on a different scale and how each passing day will sooner or later change the face of things forever. I look back about ten years ago when we first brought Crouty home, and out of the many vivid memories, I picture my son, in the middle of a snowy winter, sliding Crouton down our cul-de-sac buckled into a “dog sled,” his genius invention for a fourth-grade project. I see my daughter in her young innocence sprinting with Crouton on an early spring day, who in his dog days, could run miles; my daughter’s blonde hair reminiscent of his ears flopping in the wind. I see him too in his Cujo alter ego, as the kid’s so often referenced, with him playing attack with our dear departed Rob, my son’s best friend; head to head, nose to nose, to the secret delight of us all.

One of my best memories was on a Sunday morning eavesdropping on Crouton, my then husband and two young kids roughhousing on our queen-sized bed, wanting to pinch myself because no greater could the joy have been than at that time at those moments.

The face of any death reminds us of the sunset of our youth; our children growing and going; it is about how temporary life is and how even in its most tormented moments, if looked at closely enough, how beauty still resonates if we have the grace to dive deep below the surface.

In 2010, with the dissolution of our family, when our world, the one we knew, collapsed, I took a downward plunge and sat in the playroom alone, seriously considering the unthinkable…plotting…over thinking…while seeing images of the car’s exhaust in a closed off garage. Immobilized, not knowing what to do, or not do, in this case, a pair of indigo eyes came at me.

“Damn dog,” I said out loud to him. “Damn, angel dog.”

I called my dearest friend Pat, 24/7 savior in our family, and said crying, “I can’t do anything drastic. Crouton would die if I did anything rash.” She, as always, was at my side in human form.

So, I made a promise to Crouton, I would survive. Ironically, a few weeks later, Crouton was savagely attacked by our neighbor’s German Sheppard. Pat, who was with Crouton at the time of the incident, rushed the mangled poodle to the vet.

When I found out, I cried, traumatized. I begged God to save him. Miracles of miracles, the Lord heard my prayer and the vet’s staff called my little angel “Brave Boy” throughout the ordeal.

A lot has happened since those first few crisis-filled autumn months of 2010. For the first time in my life, I took up jogging with Crouton. He was my inspiration behind every single run. We ran in the same pack, and after all that we had been through, we felt invincible.

In the spring of 2010, me, hairspray queen, started to open up the sunroof and all the windows in my BMW, allowing for the first time my hair to run savage wild, and bolted down our little town’s rural roads with Crouton in the passenger seat, listening to Johnny Cash.stoplights 018 stoplights 0111

“I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,

Yeah, I’m going to Jackson,

Look out Jackson town.”stoplights 012

Soon thereafter, I took an outside job, and Crouton, momma’s boy that he was, was not amused. In fact, he was pretty darn angry at me in the morning and would stall doing his morning business, but by the time I got home, I knew I was totally forgiven, since he could not stop jumping for glee the moment I pulled into the driveway.

Now, going into our third year of our “new normal,” I am able to let him go, slowly, gently, lovingly. Three years ago, I was too broken to lose him. I was gifted three more years of having him; my strength always.

The vow I made to myself so long ago, to have my own dog one day and to keep forever, I accomplished. You see, I have faith that long after Crouton’s final rest, he, like my other memories, will live in me forever until I cruise down that final country road, wind messing up my hair, where my angel dog and all the other angels will await to celebrate a party that has no end time, only operates on dog time.stairway_heaven

We rescued Crouty and he rescued us!

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

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To Robert Smuniewski, heaven’s angel at 21

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. stairway-to-heaven-at-morning-time

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Unforgettable he was. He was my son’s best friend and like my own son. He didn’t do what was hip, cool, or mimic the latest media blitz. He didn’t do pop culture. He did “his” culture. He didn’t do what was appropriate; he did what was “Rob,” which meant he was filled with piss an’ vinegar. He possessed his own creative, unique style; a spontaneous jokester, who could impersonate most anyone or anything like, for example, our toy poodle. The minute Rob’s lanky figure, typically wearing well-worn sneakers crusty with mud, appeared at our door, both of them, dog and kid, were on all fours, lunging at each other in a barking match.

Sometimes he provoked me, but I couldn’t stay mad at him for long. He was so damn sincere. He had a quick wit, a mechanical, dare-devilish mind; a hellion on wheels. When Rob was around ten, for instance, after we had a new pedestal bowl-like sink installed in our remodeled bathroom, he persisted to turn the single-spout faucet on and off and kept fiddling underneath the contraption to try and comprehend how the pipes worked.

I’d hear the stream, or should I say geyser, of water coming from the bathroom. “Rob-bbbbb! Get out of there,” I’d shout.

“Awwwww. Ms. Max (that is what he called me), I’m just washing my hands….”

“Rob-bbbbb!”

One night, my now ex-husband and I went out for dinner. Upon returning home, I staggered when I heard what sounded like Niagara Falls on the other side of the bathroom door.

“Rob-bbbbb….”

After witnessing the scene of the crime, he swore to me again he was only washing his hands at the sink, which, laying on the floor, we could only shut off that night at the main water line. The next day, when the plumber came to repair the damage, we discovered that Rob wasn’t solely responsible for making the sink go pa-Boom. The bathroom floor did not lay straight and its uneven surface had contributed to the sink plunging on the floor…so we installed a more practical, Rob-proof sink.

Unblushing he was. If he came around, man, be prepared for 214 questions about a collector’s plate or funky light fixture or anything that was distinctive. While other kids were chatterboxes on a tailspin about the latest sneakers or video game crazes, Rob would be zeroing in on things like our antique toy tractor that we stored in our garage, asking a million and one questions like, ‘Is this the original blue color, man?’ Rob may not have been a book scholar, but he was a life scholar.

Unstoppable he was. And like a gassed up Chevy, he always took the highroad and never, ever stopped, no matter how jarring the bumps were, cruising through life. He innately knew life was for the living, and he was going to lap up every single iota. Wow, did he put those miles on the odometer! It made sense the kid loved cars—anything that moved—really. Without trying to schmooze anyone, he made the most skilled mechanic’s jaw drop at the fountain of his knowledge. Get him talking about a Ferrari, and his ecstasy was that of a natural kind variety!

Once, when the boys were shy of 15, I was driving home turning on our road with my son in the passenger seat, and spotted a familiar SUV in front of us.

“Isn’t that funny…looks like Mr. Smuniewski’s car…looks like…oh no, don’t tell me… Rob-bbbbbbbbbb. What are you doing driving your dad’s car? Do you know you can get arrested? Are you kidding me?”

There he was in my driveway, jumping out from behind the driver’s wheel of the SUV like a kid who just swallowed the natural happy pill.  He begged me not to tell his parents. Softy that I am, I died from worry, until I got the call that he had arrived home safely in the SUV.

Unblinking he was. Nothing would thwart his true, unique self and it shined no matter where he went or who he was with; whether he played golf with the high school golf club at the Redding (Connecticut) Country Club or was the only white kid in attendance at an all-black church service where he occasionally went with one of his best friends who was about 50 years older than he was or when he worked moving rocks for his employer/friend who owned a construction company. In other words, you couldn’t take him anywhere because he would never compromise his distinct voice, and you never knew what he would say or do, but, man, you wanted to take him everywhere because he had never lost his self-value. He had courage, spunk, a sense of humor that reached out infinitely to everyone, and I mean to everyone; compassion and an intuition too. In 2010, when things took a turn in my household, and I knew a divorce was imminent between myself and my husband, but dared not say too much, Rob phoned me out of the blue.

“Rob?” I asked a bit surprised since he did not ask to speak to my son.

“Yeah,” he answered, only for us to wait through a pregnant pause.

“What is it Rob?”

“Ms. Max…”

“Yeah…” totally bewildered, I probed.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, Rob, I am. Hey Rob…”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“Okay, Ms. Max. Gotta go!”

Unbelievable he was. Random acts of kindness were just an everyday occurrence to Rob. I always told him, “I can’t wait to watch you grow up Rob.”

Today, I imagine he would be on his way to owning an excavation empire; but far more important than that, he would have been on his unwavering mission to mend hearts, spread hope and make everyone he met believe that life was so worth whatever fare you had to pay for the trip!

Unspeakably, during a blizzard on January 8, 2011, close to his home, while pushing his disabled all-terrain vehicle on one of our main roads in our small town, Rob was struck and killed around midnight by a car.10874016-paradise-road-stair-leads-to-the-sky

Over the years, I have lost a brother, a father, and lots of good friends, but I never hollered and wailed on my knees when I heard the news. I certainly know I was not alone in my grief. None of us will ever be the same; certainly not his mom or his twin sister, celebrating her 21st birthday today also, or his older sister or friends; not our community or teachers or bus drivers or the many people from all walks of life that he befriended and inspired to go forward gallantly and without regret. We will be looking for him until our own last days.

And, today, on September 25, 2013, the day that would have marked his 21st birthday, ironically enough, my own dad’s birthday who is also in heaven, I salute you Rob. I salute you Rob with a glass of courage you can’t bottle and sell; the kind to die for that so many of us want and dream about, but so few of us acquire, so deep and far into our comfy little zones to reach out and grasp for.

I think, though, with his passing, among his sky’s-the-limit quantity of inspiration, his legacy consists in our realizing that we have to have faith and believe that we are so much more than cool, so much more than conforming and, instead, just us, foibles and all, unabridged, unpolished, unabashed, unwilling to accept the mundane, every day rigmarole, and always take the effort to wear our best dress attire as Rob did, and step into the day like it is not a dress rehearsal, but our moment of glory, always conscientious that the curtain could close at any random moment.

thCAH47HPZ

Robert Smuniewski

September 25, 1992 – January 8, 2011

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