Sunday, December 31, 2006

This year in first lines

Huh. I could have sworn Erin did this recently, and that that was where I got the idea. But I just combed back through two months of her posts (and that includes NaBloPoMo) and I got nothing. So maybe it was somebody else. Update: Aha! It was The Teacher. I guess I mixed them up because they use the same template.

But I know that Charlotte just did it today, so I guess she'll get the credit for inspiring me.

Anyway, this year-end review dredges back up the first line of the first post of each month of 2006. Whee!

Alex's facial hair (like Alex himself??) comes and goes.
- Eye of the beholder, January 9, 2006

Julia: What are you doing, Mommy?
- I agree, although perhaps for different reasons, February 2, 2006

She would like it to be known that she ran out of S magnets, so the Z at the end is really an S.
- Supar job, March 3, 2006

Sheryl at Paper Napkin invites her readers to blog the minutiae of an entire day on the 6th of each month.
- What I did SERIOUS detail, April 6, 2006

I mean, I already knew it was a holiday because the kids didn't have school and the gym was on a different schedule.
- How I know today is a holiday, May 1, 2006

I've described myself as news-averse.
- News, June 1, 2006

On the fly...
- Party photos, July 1, 2006

Oh, hi.
- ...What?...who?'m on? Already?, August 17, 2006

I was so hungry tonight.
- Hick/Chic, September 4, 2006

Julia [showing me her shoes]: Are they on the right feet?
- Semantics, October 1, 2006

There's this one little drawback to dyeing fabric.
- Gimme a break, I'm dyeing here, November 1, 2006

We're shooting for an earlier overall conk-out than last year, but just how successful that will be remains to be seen.
- Long day? You might say that., December 1, 2006

Well, since you ask

Charlotte expressed interest in the fudge recipe, and it got a little bulky for the comments window, so we'll just make it a post of its own. Probably easier to print that way too, if you're so inclined.

Not having made much fudge, I don't know how this stacks up against other recipes, but it's very easy and we all like it!


Combine the following in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly:

2 Tbsp butter or margarine
2/3 Cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 Cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Remove from heat and stir in:

2 Cups (4 oz) mini marshmallows
2 Cups (11.5 oz package) milk chocolate chips
1/3 Cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir mixture until completely melted. Pour into foil-lined 8x8 or 9x9 pan and chill until firm.


Hmmm. I just realized I forgot the vanilla in yesterday's fudge. Oh well.

One thing for us international chefs: in my experience, not all marshmallows are created equal. Here in Costa Rica, the local kind are cheaper than imported ones, but they are denser than what the author of this recipe had in mind, and are artificially flavored and colored to boot.

Both the heavier texture and the artificial fruit flavoring came through in the fudge when I used them, so I'd suggest plain marshmallows if you have a choice, and check the weight on the package so you're somewhere near the 4 oz called for, in case your local kind are either denser or lighter than the US Standard Marshmallow Unit.

The recipe obviously calls for mini marshmallows because they melt faster, but you can use the regular kind too. You can cut them up with scissors if you want, or just be a little more patient when melting. When mine didn't seem to want to melt all the way down yesterday, I set the pan back on the burner, which was still warm, and they melted the rest of the way very nicely.

One other idea: I sometimes add the peanut butter in last, after everything else is melted, and just stir it once or twice, leaving noticeable streaks of peanut butter through the fudge.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Nine is enough

At least, I hope it is. Alex suggested buying bottles of wine or liquor to give to our neighbors. I suggested plates of cookies instead, thinking it would be less expensive. Then I figured, if I'm going to make all those cookies, I'll double the recipes and give plates to my friends as well.

That was all well and good, but it didn't end up being all that much less expensive once I bought all the chocolate and peanut butter and stuff. Granted, now we're giving to twice as many people, so I guess it is cheaper, in a way.

Anyway, I made double batches of four recipes, and a third batch of one (I tried something that didn't work out so well, and then I burned that tray anyway.)

I have to say, I really expected more volume. These are two batches of fudge (in the round pans), two pans of chocolate chip blondies (one on the cutting board and one still in the pan), a double recipe of butter balls (foreground) and two batches of peanut butter bites (on the place mats).

I bought a pack of oval plastic plates to put them on, and they're a bit bigger than your standard plastic dinner ware - I hope they don't end up looking skimpy when I divide all this stuff by ten (and pull out at least three or four of each thing for us to try). There are 80 peanut butter bites, 60 of the brownie-like things, and I haven't counted the butter balls - there are obviously a lot, but they're not very big. I had planned to leave the fudge in a single slab on each plate, but I may need to cut it into bite sized pieces so it takes up more space.

I'm glad we don't have an ant problem.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A song I bet you didn't know was part of the Muppets' repertoire

Before bed this evening my children watched an episode of the Muppet Show featuring this timeless classic:

Oh, and if you liked that one, you'll surely enjoy this as well:

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas pictures

Robin with the grown-up-looking rings from her stocking

Checking to see if Santa ate the cookies.

This in a household that has always explained that Santa is a story, but where we were reminded eleventy-six times to leave cookies for Santa, and not to eat them ourselves.

When we did, and we didn't, and the cookies were still there in the morning, they told each other "He must have been full from eating cookies at all those other houses."

This is the nativity scene that Alex won in a silent auction at the girls' school. The kids in Robin's class all helped make and paint the different figures.

There were lots of other crafts for sale, and a few up for auction, but this set was the piece de resistance. The sale was to raise funds for the end-of-year trip.

I didn't even know Alex had placed a bid until they announced that he had won it. His bid was for about $15.

I had my doubts at first, but the little guys grew on me once we got them home. I especially like the bug-eyed wise man on the right. He may get a special portrait taken before the season is out.

Julia with her frog & piggy puppets. My favorite part is the way the t-shirt (which is mine) puddles around her and makes it look like she's just kind of sprouted up out of the floor tile.

Self portrait while talking to Lisa

EvilDemonicBabyDoll is impressive, but I'm still not sure it rivals The Gloria (TM) Happy Hour Play Set of 2004.

My Holiday wish to you: May each of you have someone in your life who will give you such a gift as this [or its equivalent if you're one of those non-chocolate people]. Thanks Mom!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Did Alex like his present?

Oh my, yes. Yes indeed.



(I like it too.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

On probation

Just so you know, when your super industrial-sized barrel of garlic powder (from the local super industrial-sized warehouse store) finally succumbs to relative humidity and forms large chunks inside the cannister, there may well be effective counter-measures; said measures, however, most emphatically do not include microwaving the chunks. At least not just a few of them as an experiment, and not for 1.5 minutes, sitting on a paper napkin.

My license to microwave may actually be revoked, despite the fact that the experiment was conducted with full disclosure and in consultation with the other Adult Presence in the household. And despite the fact that he microwaved the whole damn cannister last week and the only adverse result was a greenhouse effect that resulted in one large clump instead of multiple small ones.

In case you were wondering, on-the-verge-of-flaming garlic powder smells emphatically worse than actually-flaming microwave popcorn. And continues smoking for considerably longer. No need to try this at home, kids.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Things I found

...while sorting through boxes of photos that have yet to make it into a scrapbook:

Twelve boarding passes
Eleven dozen negatives
Ten passport photos
Nine free photo albums
Eight APS cartridges
Seven restaurant menus
Six unsent Christmas cards
Five million things
Four outdated calendars
Three baby teeth
Two umbilical cords
And a flattened-out U.S. penny

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Talked myself into it

So, Julie wants to know about my five favorite carols.

I almost begged off this one because I don't really think of myself as having favorite carols, and my Christmas CD collection has become kind of eclectic - to the point that I don't really even know what's what anymore. I generally just pick three discs to put in the stereo and hope for the best. Half the time I don't even know the title of the song I'm hearing.

Also? I'm a bit of a musical ignoramus and there's Julie over there talking about meter and alto lines and whatnot.'s all Bulgarian to me.

But then, when I begrudgingly gave it a little bit of thought, I did actually come up with some answers, so I guess I'll play after all.

  1. Carol I always loved as a kid (and still enjoy today): Little Drummer Boy

  2. Favorite children's Christmas carol: Frosty the Snowman (or is this my favorite children's Christmas special? Maybe both.)

  3. Favorite non-traditional Christmas music: Mannheim Steamroller. Hmm, I'll have to dig around for that one. I just realized I haven't heard them yet this year, probably because I have it on cassette tape and not CD. (Huh. Thought I had it, but I guess not.)

  4. Most movingest Christmas music: Mary's Song

  5. Guilty pleasure Christmas music: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Special bonus answer: "Once a year is plenty, thanks" Christmas music: Jingle Cats (which, needless to say, has become the definitive Yuletide experience for the girls.)

Oh, and speaking of cats? And of pets dismantling holiday decor? Yikes.

Baker's Report

Well, the oatmeal cookies came out...fine. That's it, just fine. The recipe I chose had five out of five stars, based on a total of 868 reviews, so I really expected a bit more, but I am prepared to blame my Costa Rican ingredients, just this once.

Brown sugar isn't, I guess, the most common staple in local food preparation, but you usually can get it, even at the little Mom & Pop store near my house. Recently there have even been two or three different brands to choose from. But last week when I went to buy brown sugar in preparation for the Cookie Extravaganza that was yesterday, there wasn't any at all. I debated a bit, then bought a bag of ground-up tapa de dulce. It's dried, unrefined, unbleached, naturally evaporated sugar cane juice that is normally molded into a brick-hard cylinder or cone shape. [The cone is set in a pan of boiling water and some melts off to form a syrup. The syrup is used for general sweetening and, especially, to prepare a hot drink aptly named agua dulce or "sweet water."] The ground-up dulce I bought is, in fact, sugar, and it is brown. It's maybe a little bit coarser than what I'm used to and I know the flavor isn't exactly like regular brown sugar but, in the bag, it looked, felt and smelled pretty close to brown sugar.

But there might be some kind of difference that affected the cookies. They're not bad at all, they're just...fine. And I anticipated something a little better than "fine" based on 868 reviews averaging five out of five stars.

Anyway, when the first tray came out and didn't seem to be ruined, I went ahead and mixed up the peanut butter cookies, which also call for brown sugar. I haven't baked them yet because the dough had to chill, but the batter smells and tastes very good, so I'm optimistic about those.

As for the other thing...."The cornstarch, she is a mystery" is more of a one-liner than a punchline - there's not much story there.

All it is, is, when Lisa and I were making her wedding cake, we wanted to put cherry filling inside each of the three layers, but we were worried about it leaking through the white frosting, so we decided to thicken it. We understood the science of cornstarch, but were a little iffy on the actual application of it and ended up having to add more than we thought. And more. And more. (Yes, we dissolved it in cold water before adding it to the sauce. Yes, we brought it to a boil.)

And, well, that's pretty much it. The sauce did eventually thicken enough to use. The cake turned out fine. There were no leaks (we built a pretty significant wall of icing around the edges).

And the cornstarch line was born so, I'm thinking, win-win-win.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Doing my part

Because it wouldn't be Christmas without a few "Pet Dismantles Holiday Decor" pictures on the Internet.

For those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure, please meet Loren, the Red-Lored Amazon parrot. Grab a peanut and come on over to say hi. Seriously, don't even think about approaching this bird unless you have a peanut.

The cornstarch, she is a mystery

Somebody gave me a jar of peanut butter recently and rather than just feeding it to the kids, I decided to make peanut butter cookies. I went online and found a recipe for "The Whole Jar of Peanut Butter" cookies, which sounded about right.

I haven't made them yet.

Alex heard about the impending cookies and said kind of wistfully that he likes oatmeal cookies, you know. So fine. It's Christmas. I'll make those too. Now it turns out that he also likes Mom's apple crisp. I'm still trying to convince him that Red Delicious apples aren't really the way to go with that, but it's an uphill battle because we have a bunch of them already--and got them for free--making it hard for him to understand why we might need to buy even more apples to make the crisp.


Yesterday we were at the store and did manage to come home with the key ingredient tying all of these various endeavors together: lots and lots of flour.

So today I'm home alone, having read all my favorite blogs, and figure it would be nice to go ahead and make one of the various planned confections. I got an oatmeal cookie recipe online ( will never fail you) and headed down to the kitchen.

This recipe happens to include ground cloves, which is not a normal part of our life, but which Alex bought yesterday on a whim, saying he wanted to put it in his coffee. Uh, whatever.

I printed out the recipe and got out the ingredients, but couldn't find the cloves. I knew I'd seen them someplace strange after we got home yesterday, but a search of the kitchen (all the way down to the bottom of the massive, impractical plastic bucket that serves as our pantry), Alex's office and even the bedroom turned up nothing. I had just dialed the last digit of Alex's cell phone number when I saw the flat little packet in the very spot it had been sitting yesterday when it first imprinted itself on my subconscious: under the coffee table in the living room.

Of course.

As for the title of this post, while not particularly relevant to the story here, it is about cooking and trying new recipes, and it will make Lisa laugh. So that makes it a good title.

Monday, December 18, 2006

And speaking of Julia

Today we had the parent-teacher conference with Julia's teacher. She's just finished her last pre-K year, and goes on to Kindergarten in February.

Her report doesn't have number grades, but instead uses qualifiers like Excellent ("Exc") and Very Good ("MB" - for Muy Bien) and...well, I suppose there were probably others, but those are the only ones we got to see.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Payback time

It occurs to me that I have now published two photos of Lisa that she considers less than flattering. Or less than ideally so, at any rate.

Now, it's hard to know what a person considers a good picture of herself, so I hesitate to remedy the situation by posting more pictures of her. She's been a good sport, but there may be limits.

So I figured I'd make it up to her by posting some excellent pictures not of her, but by her. Please enjoy The Many Faces of Julia, as captured by Lisa in 2003, the year Julia turned two. (Obviously, a Robin series will follow.)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

All bolds mine

New York Times, December 16, 2006:

Immigrant families scrambled yesterday to find detained relatives, arrange care for children of deported parents and recover from the loss of work as a result of raids this week by immigration authorities at meat-packing plants in six states.

[...] In all, 1,282 legal and illegal immigrants were arrested, and in most cases the plants, all operated by Swift & Company of Greeley, Colo., were the largest employer around.

Star Tribune (Mineapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota) December 13, 2006:

...[I]n Worthington, a city of 12,000 in the state's southwestern corner, the raid spread panic in homes and schools, where about 39 percent of the students are Hispanic and many are children of Swift workers.


Schools Superintendent Steve Joel said the parents of 1,100 students work at the meatpacking plant, and the effect on the children is potentially huge.

Washington Post December 15, 2006:

Both Swift and its employees -- who bore the brunt of the punishment -- are caught in an economic bind far bigger than themselves. Meat processing is dirty and dangerous. Fewer and fewer members of the increasingly educated American workforce are interested in the jobs.

As a result, although it now pays an average of $13 an hour, or $25,000 a year, the industry increasingly relies on foreign workers, not because they're cheap -- $25,000 a year is what trained paramedics and college-educated kindergarten teachers make in meatpacking states such as Iowa and Kansas -- but simply because they'll do the work. If immigrants weren't available, companies such as Swift would have to close, and both meatpacking and the agriculture that depends on it -- cattle and hog producers -- would eventually move to other countries.

Not only that, but U.S. law makes the bind much worse for both employers and employees. Despite the meatpacking industry's well-known need for foreign labor, the United States offers virtually no way for these workers to enter the country legally. Every year the economy as a whole creates some 500,000 more unskilled jobs than Americans want to do, yet we issue only 5,000 year-round visas for the immigrants who might fill them. For companies such as Swift and its workers, there's no good answer, and it's not surprising that many break the law.

(You be the judge of how relevant these final clips may be.)

Halliburton website, press release dated January 24, 2006:

The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs. The contingency support contract provides for planning and, if required, initiation of specific engineering, construction and logistics support tasks to establish, operate and maintain one or more expansion facilities.

Wikipedia on Habeas Corpus:

The November 13, 2001 Presidential Military Order gave the President of the United States the power to detain non-citizens suspected of connection to terrorists or terrorism as an enemy combatant. As such, that person could be held indefinitely, without charges being filed against him or her, without a court hearing, and without entitlement to a legal consultant.

Presidential Military Order, November 13, 2001:

The term "individual subject to this order" shall mean any individual who is not a United States citizen with respect to whom I determine from time to time in writing that:

(1) there is reason to believe that such individual, at the relevant times,

(i) is or was a member of the organization known as al Qaida;
(ii) has engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit, acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation therefor, that have caused, threaten to cause, or have as their aim to cause, injury to or adverse effects on the United States, its citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy; or
(iii) has knowingly harbored one or more individuals described in subparagraphs (i) or (ii) of subsection 2(a)(1) of this order; and

(2) it is in the interest of the United States that such individual be subject to this order.

My point in including the text of the Order was actually to point out that the individuals to whom it applies are, quite literally, anyone to whom George W. Bush says it applies, and that "harm to the economy" (taking American jobs?) is among the justifications.

However, given the economics of immigrant labor in the United States, it's also true that the raids themselves - if they succeed in removing illegal immigrant labor from the workforce, will inevitably have "adverse effects" on the United States economy - see particularly the Washington Post article linked above, and consider what would happen to food and construction prices if willing suppliers of cheap labor were no longer available.

Of course, it would be ludicrous to suggest that the immigrants taken in the raids have any connection to or intent to harm the economy through an "act of international terrorism," which is why I imagine many people would consider these last clips irrelevant to the immigration raids.

I mean, it's not like the immigrants have weapons of mass destruction or anything.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Alex took the girls to pick out a tree yesterday. I left them to it, specifying only that I'd prefer an isosceles tree to last year's equilateral one.

They did fine, choosing what Alex says was a large tree compared to the others, but which seems a little puny, what with our cavernous living room and cellular memory of the 2005 behemoth.

I've wrapped the bucket in shiny fabric and will be applying a little creative redistribution at some point (adult eye-level is a little scanty).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hair I've Grown: A Retrospective

[See previous post for why]

The baby book says "Eyes: Blue. Hair: Lots!"

Once walking and talking were under control, we apparently got down to business with The Growing of The Hair:

Now we take an involuntary giant leap, because I don't have access to the scrapbooks from the grade school years. But I do have the one I made of the Middle School trip to France. Other than that, you'll just have to take my word for it that this? Right here? This is me at any given point throughout my school years:

With the notable exception of the Bingo Period:

There were, of course, minor variations - bangs made an appearance, and if I'm not mistaken there was a Curling Iron Phase (not pictured) in conjunction with them:

When my friends and I started planning for Senior Dress Up Day, it was really just a matter of picking a theme. There was no question who would be which character:

Why did I do it? I have no idea. In fact, I had forgotten I even had, but here's the proof. Some time after Senior Dress Up Day, but before graduation and prom, I took the plunge. High school graduation day, 1987 (that's non-alcoholic champaign, by the way):

By the end of Freshman year, I was headed back to normal, despite at least one trim (sitting on the floor of my dorm room, when my sister came to visit):

Sophomore year of college, spent in Kenya:

And, from behind:

Summer break after Sophomore year - unless I'm gravely mistaken, those are the remains of the bangs from the Graduation Haircut:

Christmas break, Senior year, following three semesters in Costa Rica. (Yeah, I'm sure you never made a questionable fashion choice in college):

Just a couple weeks later, minus the braids. Alex (in the green) and I met on this trip to the beach - looks like he's OK with the hair:

And then? It happened again (please to be noticing the tail.) This was after college graduation, probably about 1992 or so:

An inch or so down the road (sans tail - I woke up one night to find the cat methodically chewing it off):

This is the picture Dad sent me - it's the remains of the post-college cut, not the high school graduation one after all. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was about this time that I realized bangs were probably not the way to go, given my haircut maintenance skills:

Sing it with me and The Kinks now:
And then it's back where you started, here we go 'round again ('round again)...:

Another Christmas - I'm thinking this must be 13 years ago:

Our wedding day, 12.5 years ago:

And two hours before Robin was born, which makes this eight years ago:

And I don't think it's been cut since then - possibly not even once, but in truth I have no idea.

So there you have it. Cast your votes, or modify them if anything you've seen here inspires you to do so.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I have long hair. The length of my hair is, in fact, currently equal to the length of my leg: 30 inches. That's ankle to groin for the leg, crown to ends for the hair. "Tail bone length," in the shorthand of The Long Hair Community (A friendship-based community for those with a common goal of growing and maintaining long, healthy-looking hair. [This is the Internet. Don't even pretend you're surprised that such a thing exists.])

I've had long hair most of my life for one simple reason: it never, ever even crosses my mind to go get a haircut. For some reason, the Shortening Of The Hair just never took its place in my consciousness as something that one might do on a regular basis. I've cut it short or even super-short from time to time over the years, but haircut maintenance being absent from my skill list, it grows back out again. I tell you one thing, I've learned not to go for bangs.

Obviously, I do like long hair. It's not like I would be incapable of keeping it short, if that were important to me. But long hair is comfortable for me. It's normal. It's part of my identity, and has been for the bulk of my adolescent and adult life.

Still, this is the longest I've ever had it. As much as I like it, it has crossed some kind of a threshold and is not incapable of getting in the way. I once told someone that toilet-length hair would be a deal-breaker for me. There haven't been any incidents, but the potential is there.

So while I do like it, I'm also not that attached to it - apart from in the obvious sense. I could cut it without too many regrets. I mean, it's just going to grow back out, right?

Alex wants me to cut it, more so now that it's this long than in times past. He's taken to pointing out pictures on billboards or actresses in the videos we rent. "What do you think of her hair?" Recently I came home from doing a bunch of errands and he asked if I had seen any beauty parlors I liked the looks of. (Is that what they're called? Or are they salons?...See? I don't even know the terminology.)

Now, it seems like an easy answer, right? I'm admittedly open to the idea, and it would make him happy. But here's the thing.

Tangential anecdote:

I joined the gym last March because it seemed like a healthy thing to do. My neighbor told me about it and the original thought was for us to go together, carpooling to drop off our kids at school and then going down to the gym. Then she changed jobs and ended up quitting before I even joined. But when she told me that high speed Internet was finally available on our street, I was so happy about that I figured I'd go ahead and sign up for the gym as well. My thought was, exercise is good, let's go get some exercise.

As unlikely as it sounds, I never actually considered the whole losing weight end of it but, of course, lose I did.

All of this went on while Alex was working in the States. He knew I was going to the gym and had asked if was seeing any difference. I said, not a radical one, but I think I look good. Other people had noticed I was getting in shape and I looked forward to his moving back home, by which time I had been exercising regularly for nearly six months.

I picked out a good-looking outfit when I went to pick him up at the airport. And then I waited. Wanna know what he said about my appearance as we drove out of the parking garage? He said, "Wow, you have a lot more gray hairs. Did your Mom notice them when she was here?"

First time he saw me in the stretchy workout clothes? Nothing. First time he saw me out of them? Nothing.

Fine. I didn't do this for him. I'm happy with the results and that's what matters, right? Well, I kept telling myself that, but in reality that wasn't all that mattered.

Finally (when he'd been home a week) I told him I had really hoped for some small comment. Wanna know what he said? He said, "I told you you looked good."

Well, no he didn't, but you can't tell him that.

Three months almost to the day after his return, I walked into a room and he took my hand, turned me around, looked at me and said it: You look good.
So you can see where I'm reluctant to make changes on the basis of someone else liking it.

My basic nature is inclined to cut the hair because I know he'll like it. On the other hand, well, everything I just said.

If I were an Internet rock star like Fussy or Finslippy, I would hold an election and let the Internet decide. But there are only about, what? Like ten or twelve of you out there. Still, let's put it to a vote.

Haircut: Yes or no?
If yes: How short?

Let's hear it, people. Casual visitors also welcome to weigh in!

(Oh, and one other thing. Why is it that, unless one of my parents travels to Central America and happens to photograph me from behind, nobody in my life will simply come up and tell me that I'm wearing ill-fitting jeans? This is not the first time this has happened.)

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