So Much to Say ~ by Sam

After seeing how well the photo-heavy post worked last week, I decided to do another this week.  Perhaps, I will just keep posting that way, just to keep posting something.  Shane has promised to post about the computer he is building ~ oh, the trials and tribulations of the Great Computer Build of 2016! ~ when he has time, but he is, as usual, working several jobs at once, so it might be some time before he gets to that.  Well, he is not working several jobs at the moment.  At this particular moment, he is sleeping, as he should, after a much-needed night out for just the two of us at Cheesecake Factory (and, yes, there are things I can eat there ~ there is a Vegan Cobb Salad, in fact, that is quite good, and almost as large as I, to boot, so I will be eating that for days) and a very heavy work week.  Kaia is at a friend’s Bat Mitzvah, and the other kids are still asleep, because it is Saturday morning, so they can sleep in.  Me?  I was up to get the kid to the early Bat Mitzvah, and now I am drinking coffee, writing, and neglecting chores.  Three of my favourite pastimes!

I decided to do another photo-post this week, because I enjoyed looking back on my week.  Sometimes, I feel like the days and weeks and months all bleed together, and I find myself gasping for air and thinking, “Wait!  Stop!  What??  It’s April?!!  When did that happen??  Where were January, February, March???  Didn’t we celebrate Christmas???!!!!  Slow down already!!!”  It is my hope that, by taking time to make a regualr “Week in Review” post, I will remember to pause and appreciate all of the moments, big and small, that make up our lives.  As Social Distortion told me: “Life goes by so fast!  You only want to do what you think is right.  Close your eyes and it’s past.”  Yeah, that certainly is the “Story of My Life,” too.  So, I am pausing to think, and I am letting you in, if you want to come along for the ride.  Here it is, then, my week in review:

We went to see The Tempest at the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival (find more info here: Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival
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I had a lot of busy days, but am trying really hard to remember to make healthy choices.  I don’t like much fruit, but I know it’s good for me.  The medication I am on impairs my appetite somewhat, and can, in combination with another medication I must take, cause dehydration, so I have to be very careful to make sure I:
a) REMEMBER TO EAT (trust me, this is not as easy as it sounds ~ and yes, I realize how ridiculous that is), and
b) STAY HYDRATED
Because I practically live in my car, I have to eat there, sometimes, too; but I am trying to make healthy choices when I do.  Pears I can stand.  They are an acceptable fruit.  Coconut water is very hydrating.  Violets are always a winner.

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Right.  That thing about being healthy.  I just said that, and now, I am gonna post poptarts.  It’s true, I made poptarts.  I made them because it’s all good and well to be healthy, but you have to also eat delicious things and have fun, too, and homemade poptarts are really the best poptarts.  You can make your own crust, or just use store bought piecrust (I make my own, because I prefer it, and it’s really pretty simple, using an oil pastry recipe my mom gave me) and you can fill them with jam or, as I did, brown sugar & cinnamon mixed w/ a little almond meal, butter and pinch of salt.  Okay, so they are still a little bit healthy and kind of nerdy, as compared to regular poptarts.  Being a little bit healthy and kind of nerdy, myself, I can live with that.

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I added a few little touches to the Alice Garden, including teacup & saucer birdfeeders I made using pieces purchased from a thrift store; and while I wouldn’t call it “finished,” by any stretch of the imagination (and I don’t think I ever will), I do think it is looking quite “Alice-y,” indeed.

Shane brought me a tiny bouquet of flowers; and I picked up two magazines about two pretty amazing people, but I haven’t had time to start reading either of them yet.

I continue to walk and use the free equipment at the local park 2-3 times/week.  I keep thinking about signing up for a gym membership or the YMCA, and I might just do it when it gets too cold for me to be outdoors, but, for now, this is my gym:

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Saw yet another positively glorious North Hollywood sunset.  I got to enjoy it with my kids, thanks to a phone call from Shane, to give us a heads-up from our homework and chores.  I love that we do this for each other.  Any one of the five of us will call or text to say, “You have to go outside and see (the Moon/sunset/rainbow,etc.).”  It’s just one of the things that makes us who we are.  I hope we always do that.  As usual, the pictures just don’t do it justice.  The sun was glowing deep red.  I did the best I could to capture it with my little phone camera, but you’ll just have to trust me, it was roughly 8,000x more glorious.

We celebrated Gene Kelly’s birthday by watching a bunch of his best dance numbers (which pretty much means all of them ~ they were all his best).

I baked a darned good gluten-free apple pie, if I do say so myself (I do, by the way)!  I didn’t intend for it to be gluten-free, but discovered, after I had already started peeling apples, that I didn’t have enough regular flour to make pie crust.  I did, however, happen to have some gluten-free flour left over from a baking project Kaia had done for her Girl Scout troop, so I decided to just go ahead and make a gluten-free pie crust.  Turned out great, so, should the need arise, I now know I can do this.  Also, I got to have pie for breakfast one day.  Oh, we totally had pie for dinner.  It has fruit, see, and fruit is good for us.

Justice brought home a huge bouquet of sunflowers!  Thank you!

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Kaia did her homework outside one day; and it was accidentally left outside.  The next morning, at 5:00 a.m., the sprinklers went off.  Later that morning, as she was getting ready to leave for school, she couldn’t find her homework. I’ll bet you can guess where it was.  Yeah.  We used a hairdryer set on low to dry it.  Only one finished math equation was completely washed away.  Her teachers were very understanding about its rumpled condition.

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I FINALLY started painting the detail above the shower in the kids’ bathroom.  I know.  It still looks pretty shoddy here.  Give me some time.  And look with your hearts. The Fox taught me that is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye!  (I’ll post more pics when it’s done.)

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Last, but not least, I played my banjo.  I am getting used to the new banjo.  She looks, feels and plays different than the old banjo.  I will still play both, but, for now, I am just playing the new one, because…well, the old one is a little easier to play, I guess; so I feel like I need to work with the new one until I get used to her.  The new banjo is so much heavier!  I feel like I am lifting a small child (or a medium-sized child…who is carrying a small dog).  I love her.  I mean, she’s beautiful, so it was kind of love at first sight, if you believe in that sort of thing.  Have you met her?  Her name is Babe.  Ain’t she a beaut?

 

 

Microwave Chocolate-Peanut-Butter Fudge

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Okay, so this is not real, traditionally-made fudge, but, sometimes, you just need a quick fix, and this really does satisfy my craving for chocolate-peanut butter fudge.  It makes up quickly, taste delicious, and, although the texture (straight out of the fridge) is maybe a little bit crumbly, I decided to count it a success and share it.  So, if you are in a hurry for a chocolatey, peanut-buttery treat, this just might fit the bill.

Here’s what you need:

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup butter or margarine
8 oz. semisweet chocolate (morsels, or baking chocolate squares, roughly cut or broken)
pinch or two of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 – 3 cups confectioner’s sugar

Here’s what you do:

Place butter and peanut butter in a microwave safe bowl.  Cook on high, 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each run, until butter is melted and the two are smoothly combined.  Mine took about 1 1/2 minutes, I believe.

Add chocolate, and cook again, 20 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and thoroughly combined.  (DO NOT OVERCOOK!  After the first 20 seconds, you might want to cook in even smaller time increments.  You do not want to cook your mixture ~ just melt the chocolate enough to stir it in.)

Stir in salt and vanilla, then, 1/2 cup at a time, using a fork, stir in confectioner’s sugar.  Continue adding sugar and stirring until the mixture begins to look like very thick frosting.  It should start to pull away from the sides of the bowl and be able to be pulled together like dough, rather than being a looser mixture, like typical frosting or batter.

Place the fudge in a container (I used a rectangular food storage container I had, but you could probably use a cake pan or pie plate, too.  Spread the mixture evenly.  This might be difficult, because as the fudge cools, it will become stiffer and more difficult to spread.  I used the back of a spoon and worked quickly.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Cover, and place in the fridge for at least an hour before cutting in to small squares and enjoying your tasty treat.

Mine made 45 little squares of fudge, but I probably cut them a little small for some people’s taste.

I have been keeping it in the fridge, because it is warm here, so I am not sure how it would hold up outside the fridge.  remember, this isn’t a true fudge, so it might not be as creamy and perfect as real fudge, but I think it’s a pretty good impostor.

Homemade Dairy-Free Coffee Creamer — by Sam

Recently, a friend was asking about homemade coffee creamers.  I have made some over the years, but it’s never really been a thing I did on a regular basis.  I am not sure why, to be honest.  I prefer making my own food, because I want to know what’s in it, I am allergic to milk protein (which is an ingredient in so-called “non-dairy” creamers), and I am not all that fond of commercially available soy-, almond- or coconut-based creamers.  So, why not make my own?

Today, I decided to do it.

I started with my favourite brand of almond milk.

AlmondMilk

It’s local, and the only ingredients are filtered water and almonds.  I am sure I could make my own almond milk at home, and maybe, someday, I will try it.  For now, this works for me.  I like the creaminess and the texture of almond milk, and love that it contains a healthy dose of calcium, which my bones desperately need, as well as Vitamin E.  You can use another type of milk, if you prefer.  In fact, I am pretty sure you could use whole milk, if you’re not allergic to it, but I’ve never tried it that way.  Naturally, you can use your favourite brand.

I decided to sweeten with honey, because it is one of my favourite sweeteners.  I happened to have some raw honey, which I thought fit the bill nicely.  Next, I added vanilla.  I whisked the whole thing together, and it tasted great.  The I decided to add some cocoa, because I love iced mochas.  After cooking, tasting, and adjusting the sweetener a tad, I sort of wish I had a) stuck with the vanilla, and b) not added more sweetener to compensate for the cocoa.  However, it’s not bad, and I think it’s a little better than the commercially available dairy-free options I have tried.  It does have a rather pronounced almond flavour, which I don’t mind.   Nevertheless, I think I might experiment with a coconut milk beverage as the base for this recipe in the future.  It does not taste like the usual “non-dairy” creamers that come in so many fabulous flavours, but actually contain milk protein (I am still confused about their “non-dairy” status), but I think it is a good jumping-off point, so I decided to share it.  Next time, I will make vanilla.  I am thinking about making a variety sweetened with brown sugar, too.  I’ll keep you posted, and share the best recipes.  For now, if you are looking for a quick, easy, homemade option, give this a shot.

Vanilla Creamer:
2 cups almond milk
1/4 cup honey*
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
dash salt

Chocolate Creamer:
2 cups almond milk
1/4 cup + 2 TBS honey*
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
dash salt

Whichever recipe you choose, proceed as follows:

In a small saucepot, whisk together all ingredients over low heat.  Continue to cook, whisking often, until the mixture boils.  Cook over low heat for 5-7 minutes, whisking constantly, then allow to cool completely before pouring in to a jar or bottle. (I used an old creamer bottle I had saved)  Store in the refrigerator.

* After tasting the chocolate creamer in my iced coffee, I felt it could easily have been less sweet.  You might want to start with less sweetener, if you don’t like your coffee sweet.

The purpose of boiling the mixture is to reduce the amount of liquid, so it is more concentrated, like commercial flavoured creamers.  I noticed that, after I added the cocoa, it tasted like a really good hot chocolate.  If I had just turned it off as soon as it was hot and added it to a cup of hot coffee, I think it would have made an excellent hot mocha.  On this hot day, however, I chose to enjoy it iced ~ just a tiny glass, to make sure it was palatable.  It’s not half bad.

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That’s all.  I’m  off to chase away the stuck-in-my-house-with-a-bum-foot-on-a-hot-day blues with a tiny iced mocha and some banjo picking.  Just thinking about it makes me feel better.

T-shirt to Dress Re-Fashion – by Sam

A few days ago, I saw a tutorial online for a cute maxi-dress made out of 4 t-shirts. I fell in love with the idea. A few days later, I happened upon a t-shirt sale at Walgreens ~ 4 for $10. I only found 3 colours I liked, so I got them for $3 apiece, which wasn’t quite as good a deal, I thought, as I could have gotten. Then, I remembered that I had recently picked up a t-shirt at the 99-cents store. So, in the end, I got my 4 t-shirts for $10, anyway.

I thought about using the tutorial, but, you know, I am kind of lazy, and that would have involved actually reading and paying attention to directions. So, instead I just lay out the shirts on my bed, like this:

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Then, to be sure it would fit me, I threw a dress of which I like the general shape on top, and sort of cut around it, using the line of the dress’ skirt as a guideline, and gradually tapering it to roughly meet the sides of the top t-shirt (the one that would form the bodice of the dress.

I sewed the three panels of the skirt front together, with right sides together. Then, I did the same with the skirt back. Next, I pinned the skirt back to the skirt front, right sides together, and stitched up the sides.

I cut the top t-shirt at about my natural waist. Then, right sides together, I stitched the top of the skirt to the bottom of the bodice.

That’s it.

Done.

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I love it!

Is it worth it? Probably.

It would have been so much easier (and cooler) to order pizza for dinner this evening, rather than make our own; but we had the cheese, we had the sauce, we had all the ingredients to make the crust, we had toppings… It seemed silly (and wasteful) to buy it when we already had everything we needed. So, I started making the dough. I am tired. I am hot. I have a headache. I have had a frustrating week. And now I have to go finish making pizza that I probably won’t even eat. It’s okay. I’m sure I will feel better after a few minutes of kneading dough; the kids will get a slightly less junky dinner than they might have; and I will save us the cost of having a pizza delivered. That’s good, right?

If it turns out pretty, maybe I will come back and post a picture. If it turns out ugly, I might come back and post a picture, purely for the comedic value of ugly pizza.

So. There you have it.

Grumpy day. I am thinking pizza might help. I have another project waiting in the wings. If it turns out pretty…

Well, you know the drill.

EDIT:

That was quick!  Okay.  I was totally right about the kneading.  It’s like meditation.  Good for the soul, and, on a purely mechanical level, good for the still rehabilitating wrist and thumb.  So.  I think it’s going to be worth the effort, as I suspected.  Of course, because i was making the stuff, it did not go as planned.  Turns out, I lied up there.  We do not have toppings, unless you count cheese.  So, 2 cheese pizzas it is!  (I was going to do one cheese, and one with other stuff, too, but that would involve having other stuff.  I offered to make canned green bean pizza, but I don’t think the kids were impressed.  I also didn’t have 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, so I had to use about a cup of whole wheat flour to make up the difference.  See?   It’s going to be WAY better for them than delivery pizza.  Right??  Ha.  Yeah.  It’s health food.  But, hey, we have homemade crust, homemade sauce, real cheese ~ that’s not so bad, really.

I used this recipe:

In a large bowl, whisk together 2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast and 1-1/3 cups warm water.  Let stand 5 minutes.

Add:

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 t0 1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar (optional)

Stir (or use electric mixer) for about one minute, until the dough kind of forms a ball.  Turn dough on to a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Oil the inside of the bowl with olive oil.  Return dough to bowl, turning once to coat all sides with oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (awesome ~ the Valley is warm) until doubled in volume, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide in half.  Roll each half into a ball, then let rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475℉.  Grease two 12-inch round pizza pans and dust them with cornmeal.

Flatten each ball into a 12-inch round.  Transfer to prepared pizza pans. press little indentations on the surface of the dough to prevent excessive bubbling, rush with olive oil, top, and bake until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Done.  You made pizza.

You see my dilemma.  This is going to take YEARS!  The pizza delivery place could have had it here in seconds.  But this will be cheaper, and better for us, and it will probably even taste better, too.

Okay.  Off to that other project!

Back again!  Here is an out of focus picture of pizza.  One more cheesy, and one less cheesy, as per kids’ request.  They seem happy.
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I mean, the kids seem happy, not the pizzas.  The pizzas seem relatively yummy.  I just had a little bite of crust with the cheese pulled off, so I cannot speak with authority.

 

Jammin’ ~ by Sam

As always happens at about this time of year, about a week ago, I realized that the school year was swiftly coming to a close, and I was going to have to come up with teacher gifts.  We don’t always give end of the year teacher gifts, but I try to, when I can.   I know how hard teachers work, and I just think it’s a nice way to let them know we appreciate them.  And this year was special.  We had one kid graduating from middle school, and another graduating from 5th grade.  The 5th grader was graduating from the same elementary school at which we had been parents for 12 consecutive years.  It seemed like an especially good year to remember our teachers.

Usually, at the holidays, I send baked goods because I happen to be making them, anyway.  At the end of the year, however, I usually find myself harried, and I end up buying small Starbucks gift cards and calling it a day.  However, since Justice had 7 teachers this year, Hallie had six, and Kaia had one, that added up to a lot of teacher gifts.  I hate to be miserly, but I was trying to think of some way to give nice gifts and not break the bank.

I had recently gotten a good deal on raspberries and blueberries, and was planning to make jam, so I got this idea.  What is I gave each teacher one jar of jam?  That would be a nice, personal gift, something they would probably enjoy, and, since I was planning on making jam, anyway, it wouldn’t really be any extra trouble.  After I had made the raspberry jam, I did some math.  If I got as many jars of blueberry as I did of raspberry, I would have just enough for each teacher…and none for us.  Well, that didn’t sound like a very good idea.  So, I decided I needed one more variety.  Marmalade!  I had always wanted to make marmalade!  Ah…but, that recipe takes a couple of days, and, about this time, Kaia and Shane got really, really sick, and I had to find a way to make more jam real quick, and still take care of sick people.  I looked through my Ball Blue Book, and found a recipe for Quick Grape Jelly, using bottled grape juice, sugar and pectin.  It seemed simple enough, and it was!  Not only was it simple, but it was delicious.  In fact, it was my favourite recipe I had tried since I started canning.  Everyone who tried it loved it.  I think Justice and Hallie ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and dinner for a couple of days.

Here’s a picture of my beautiful grape jelly:

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So then I got to thinking.  If I could make grape jelly with bottled juice, could I make other jellies with bottled juice?  Apple, perhaps?  I did some searching on the internet.  Some people said, “yes;” others said, “no.”  In the end, I decided I had nothing to lose but the cost of a bottle of juice.  I picked up a bottle of organic apple juice at fresh & easy.  I think it cost $4.69.  After reading through a couple of different recipes online, I decided to see if I could work out one that would work for us.  In fact, it turned out so well that now I am not sure which I like better, apple or grape.  Luckily, it is really quick and easy to make, so I can make sure we always have plenty.  Here is the recipe I came up with:

Simple Apple Jelly

5 cups organic 100% apple juice

6.5 TBS Ball Classic Pectin

5.5 cups organic sugar

 

In a large saucepot, whisk together pectin and 1 cup of juice until thoroughly combined (no lumps).  Whisk in remaining juice . (It may help to do this a cup at a time.)

Add sugar, one cup at a time, whisking until dissolved.

Bring to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping of pectin.

Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and perform spoon test or plate test* to determine if your jelly will set to the consistency you prefer.  If it is not thick enough, whisk in more pectin (I would add no more than 1/2 TBS at a time), bring to a boil, boil for one minute, and test again.

Ladle in to clean, hot half pint jars.  Top with 2-piece canning lids (lid and ring), and process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.**

Turn off heat, remove lid,  and let stand for 5 minutes, then carefully remove jars using a jar lifter and place on a heat proof surface.  Do not tighten rings.  Allow jars to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours.

* Please consult your canning book or a reliable online source to learn how to perform the spoon and plate tests.  I am having trouble sharing links, but will try to add one later.

** Please refer to your canner manual or another reliable source (I find Ball’s Blue Book indispensable) for complete canning instructions.

It was so pretty while it was cooking that I couldn’t resist taking pictures.

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Isn’t that a gorgeous colour?

There was a little more than I had half-pint jars for, so I put the leftover bit in a pint-sized jar and put it right in the fridge for our immediate use:

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And here it is all nicely processed and ready to give:

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I have a LOT of jam pictures, because I had a lot of fun making jam, but I will just share one last one here, of all the jars, labelled and ready to package up with freshly made biscuits.

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I am pleased to say the teachers all liked their gifts, and there was plenty left over for us (though kids gobbled up the remaining biscuits pretty quickly).

Homemade Glitter Playdough ~ by Sam

The other day, we were bored, so we decided to make something.  We weren’t exactly sure what to make, so we sat down and looked at all of the crafty, science-y and/or cooking ideas we had “pinned” or bookmarked for later reference.  We settled on this:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Galaxy-Playdough/

It’s sparkly homemade playdough ~ fun to make, and fun to use!  Now, you might be thinking that some of the kids (aged 10,14 & 16) might be too old for playdough, but, I assure you, one is never too old for playdough ~ especially if it has glitter.  The truth is, it’s good for your brain, hand-eye coordination, imagination and creativity, and manual dexterity to mold with clay.  Also, I have learned a couple of tricks that make playing with playdough even more therapeutic and beneficial.  So, if it’s been a few years since you’ve played with playdough, I highly recommend you revisit the idea.  There’s also something strangely satisfying about the idea of creating masterpiece after masterpiece, each for its own sake, enjoying each for a moment, and then squishing it to make something new.  And the glitter?  Well, everything is better with glitter.

We couldn’t find any black food dye, so we decided to just wing it.

Kaia made a beautiful deep purplish-blue, using a combination of blue and violet.  Image

Hallie made a gorgeous deep teal using green and blue:Image

Here are a couple of tips:

* Use baby oil or sweet almond oil in place of cooking oil, and your playdough will soften your hands while you play.
* Add a few drops of essential oil (or a blend of several) to make playing an aromatherapeutic experience.  
           Kaia added Rose Absolute (in jojoba oil)
           Hallie added a blend called “Anxiety Release” + a few drops of grapefruit essential oil
* Years ago, we invested in several large plastic trays that have become known as “art trays” in our home.  I found ours at IKEA, I think.  For this purpose, I prefer large trays with a fairly high rim around the edge.  Using these trays makes clean-up after projects involving glue, paint, glitter, paper cutting, and other small pieces an absolute breeze.  
* The easiest (and most fun) way to mix in the glitter is to sprinkle it on the tray, and then knead it in to the dough.  
* Store your playdough in a sealed plastic bag, being careful to remove as much air as possible, so it doesn’t dry.  We divided ours, storing half of each colour in a sandwich bag, and then storing all 4 sandwich bags inside a gallon-sized ziplock storage bag.
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