Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ripped From The Archives: Stumbling Into A Memory

This post first appeared in October of 2014. 

Here's the final post from the Creatavita Birthday Party Contest.  Jackie Lacinski asked for a travel story, and I believe I have a winner.  Travel with me back to June of 2006 and to the wonderful land of Turkey.

The sun rose on Day #2 of our Turkish Adventure and so did we, with a hot air balloon ride over the Cappadocia region. This was my first ride in a balloon. The world looks so different from that vantage point, especially the world of Cappadocia.

How can I describe Cappadocia? I'll start with some history. Humans have been living here since 1800 BCE. Which means they've been fighting and conquering and hiding out here as well. The hiding out started around 400 AD, initially by Christians escaping persecution. Those early folk were clever. Because of the unusual geography of Cappadocia, extensive underground cities were developed, as well as some way up in the tops of the striking geological formations.

Yes, those squares are windows, and yes, that was someone's house.  Might still be someone's house.  Talk about getting away from it all.

One really gets a sense of how small and inconsequential we are when riding in a hot air balloon. The immense beauty of nature stands out, at least to me.

Back on the ground, the clouds rolled in. Our planned visit to the Ihlara Valley was cut short by heavy showers. No, let's make that a rainstorm. We ate lunch in a charmingly rustic restaurant next to a river swollen with the fresh rain.  Disappointed, we began to make our way back to our very cool cave hotel in Urgup.

And that's when the adventure really began. On a back road in the middle of Turkey. I noticed a number of women walking along the side of the road, all wearing shalvar made out of the same fabric. Then we passed a one-story cement-block building, constructed into the side of a hill, with at least one hundred people milling around, and even on top of the building.

In unision, we all shouted.“What's that?” to our excellent guide, Yunus Ozdemir.

“I don't know”, came the reply, “but I'm going to find out”.

And that's how we ended up stumbling into a memory. We had happened onto a traditional Turkish bride's party.  Think bridal shower on steroids.  

Like wedding celebrations everywhere, we could figure out that family and friends had gathered for a big celebration.  Some wore traditional clothing.  

Some wore Western clothing (which was most of what we saw people wearing in Turkey). There was ice cream for the kids and huge doses of happiness, laughter, joy and dancing.

Being concerned that I might commit a cultural offense, I turned to Yunus to ask if I could take a photo. “No, he sternly replied, “because you're going to dance!” and then with a big laugh, pushed me into the middle of the crowd.

As you can see, a couple of the guys were extremely inviting. Yunnus assumed these gentlemen had spent some time living in Europe, possibly Germany, hence their ease around foreigners.

The children were delightful, proudly posing for photos while eating as much ice cream as they could stuff into their faces.

I have always loved this photo. What a face. What a smile.

My lifelong fascination with textiles was indulged as I started to notice the beaded edges on the womens' headscarves.  I'll only make you look at one.  But each scarf had a different edging.  Rather creatavita, don't you think?

Midway through our crash, I remembered being told by a Canadian we had met in Ankara that it is a tradition to pin money on the bride in Turkey. The couple uses this money to start their lives together. I enlisted Yunus to help me find a pin.

I can vividly recall that moment. The wonderment in that young bride's eyes, her stunned looked at me as I pinned what was about $20 US dollars to her. My joy at being able to cross all the ridiculous political and cultural barriers to give another woman a gift, a gift from five Americans who love to travel the world, meeting real people and having real experiences.

Our crash lasted no more than an hour.  We drove away, totally thrilled by the spontaneity, by the experience, the ability to show a different side of Americans.

The next day, Yunus and Ayhan (our excellent driver) paused for this photo with Nick. It has always been one of my favorite photos. When I look at it, I see the face of the world. Three men, all young, all different in temperament and life experiences, all a part of the vast, wonderful sea of humanity.

I've surprised myself in writing this post.  I'm not one to pour over the photos and memorabilia I keep from my travels.  Yet, when I pulled out these photos and looked at our very sparse travel journal, I could feel that day come pouring back into my blood and soul.  It felt great.

Thanks Jackie.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Wasting Time

Lately, I've been practicing wasting time, inspired by that article written by Alan Lightman.

I'm doing okay with this practice. Better than I expected. Of course it is the end of August, a time of the year I enjoy. A time of year when my body and soul seem to encourage me to live more deeply. Not necessarily slower, but deeply. High summer to me.

It is unlikely I would have taken on this practice if the idea hadn't come from Alan Lightman. After all, he's a physicist (at MIT, no less) and an accomplished writer (I love his Einstein's Dreams). If Alan Lightman wastes time, perhaps I should try it as well.

I waste time in my backyard. That is particularly joyful in the night, when I can listen to the chirping insects and watch the stars.

Saw this while I was wasting time last week.

I waste time on my walks, allowing myself to slow down and look at a tree, a flower or to say hello to another human.

I waste time laying in bed in the morning, contemplating all the abundance I have in my life.

Wasted time with friends on a boat last weekend and found this.

I waste time reading and talking to Beloved. Sometimes we sit on our porch and watch the rain.

Will I be able to keep this practice in my life? I'm not sure. I'll let you know.

Anybody else wasting time?

Friday, August 31, 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Guiding Star Check In: Words Matter

I recently made a change to my Guiding Star Slogan.

I started the year with this Slogan: Embrace magnificent abundance and navigate gracefully.

Six words. For me, they were powerful.

By April, this happened: Open to divine abundance.

Four words. Even more powerful.

Another morph occurred by August: Tune into divine abundance.

Still four words. Fresh and powerful.

Peering into the Temple of Heaven

Who cares? Me. I care. You should too.

Why? Because the words we say to ourselves matter. We hear those words and we live those words.

My original Slogan was a holdover from last year, when it worked magnificently. I was reminded to not only accept, but to also embrace all of the wonders life was giving me on a daily basis.

As 2018 has progressed, that Slogan wasn't working the same level of magnificence. So I thought about it. I discussed it with my Buddy. I pondered it while on my morning walks.

I needed to stay open. I could feel myself starting to shut down. I also needed to remind myself that abundance comes from someone or something bigger than me. In that regard, I view it as being divine. I do not have to apologize for this abundance, even though the little Midwestern girl inside of me still struggles with accepting all of the wonders I have been given in this life.

As I continued walking, I realized I was open to the abundance that surrounded me. I also realized I often let the abundance go right by. I didn't pay attention. I needed to pay attention, or, as I determined was best for me, to tune in.

So I changed my Slogan. It's powerful, it's divine, it's mine.

What's yours?

Gazing on the Temple of Heaven

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Yoyogi Park, Chapter 2

The Empress fished here long ago.

Her loyal dog, Kuri, right by her side.
Dark blue kimono, hair piled high.

Wearing tiny sandals, carrying a simple pole.
Here she could fish, all alone.

Here was all she needed.
Here was all she had.

The Empress fished here long ago.
Chapter 2

What photo can I take that will show the essence, the beauty, the serenity of this place?

None. There's no one photo that can capture all this place offers me.. To be here, fully present as the meditators say, meandering the paths, listening to the city locked in its prison, thriving in my kingdom of green, that is what I must do. So simple, so difficult.

I give in. I put down the phone. My healing process is well on its way. I am content to do nothing but look and see. The sky, the trees, the branches, the leaves, the bird, the precious little bird.

Nothing is particularly remarkable about this creature. No flash of brilliant color, no enticing song. Merely a precious little bird, perched on a branch close enough to be seen. She dares me to notice her. She dares me to smile at her.

And then she speaks. The little bird speaks.

I am astonished.

And then I realize the bird and I are not alone.

Another woman has also heard the bird speak.

We smile at each other and then at the bird.

Silent together, we watch the bird.

The moment passes. We begin to speak. Both here for work, both from very different lands. She is from Myanmar; I am from the US. Both have come here today in search of green and serenity. Both amazed at the miracle of the little bird.

The bird chatters a bit again. We are entranced.

There's not much else to say. We choose instead to experience the charm of the little bird. Together. 

This moment feels exquisite. Here, in this green oasis in the center of a city, far away from both of our homes, together, all we can do is take in the moment. With a fellow traveler.

And then the bird flies away, her work done here.

If I hadn’t put down the phone, if the bird hadn't spoken, if we hadn't said hello, this moment of humanity would never have happened.

This is life.

In case you missed it: Yoyogi Park, Chapter 1

Friday, August 17, 2018

Photo Friday Number 20

There's always hurdles. So I just keep moving, just constantly redefining myself. That's how you stay in the race. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My Favorite Things: Hummingbirds

Ah, the dog days of summer.

This is my time of the year. The sun lingers in the evening sky, Rita's is still open, my shoes are not on my feet, the tomatoes are coming in and the hummingbirds are in full buzz.

Did you know:

- Hummingbirds fly over the Gulf of Mexico without taking a break? That's 500 miles and over 20 hours of flying!

- Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards?

- The male hummingbird is not involved in raising young, and will often find another mate after the young are hatched. Hmmm...

I'll stop now with the fun facts. There are more right here.

About six years ago, I started to notice hummers in my backyard. It is very possible that they were there before and I was oblivious. This has happened before. The oblivious part.

Anyway, Beloved got us a feeder and we opened our first hummingbird restaurant. They didn't like that feeder, but they love the one my Michigan Sister  sent. So we open our restaurant annually now, mid-May to mid-September. They even buzz at the kitchen window when they're back in town.

As I've said before, a feeder, some water, some sugar, a little patience and you have yourself hours of entertainment.

I find them fascinating, the way they hum around, their wings moving unbelievably quickly. One night a few weeks ago, I saw one dance with the water from our whirligig sprinkler. As good as Broadway.

What's it like, I wonder, to be a hummingbird? What's it like to live on sugar water? Does that sugar water taste as good to a hummer as it does to me? What's it like to fly nonstop in the tiniest of bodies over the Gulf of Mexico?

Hummingbirds. This week's Favorite Thing.

Have a favorite thing that makes life easier? Tell me about it here. If I use it in a future post, I'll send you a present.

The Susquehanna. From the annual walk in the woods with my BFF.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Yoyogi Park, Chapter 1


Monday, November 6, 2017

In need of green, I set out, all alone, on a quest. To find green in the heart of one of the planet's largest metropolises. Tokyo.

I board the subway for the short ride from my hotel to Yoyogi Park. Next to the subway stop and across the street from the trendy, always energetic Harajuku section of Tokyo, the park beckons visitors to step in and succumb to the quiet green.

I walk down the wide path, acutely aware that I am entering a different sphere. I take a left down a smaller path. Here I see a bench. Here I sit. Here I breathe.

This is abnormal behavior for me. Usually I would have an agenda, a map, a mental list of all I must see and do. Usually I would walk first and sit later. But today is different. Today I stop at the first bench I see. I sit. I watch. I breathe. I settle into the green.

The irony is not lost on me that I am in Japan, the home of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku). My intention today was not to partake in forest bathing. Yet that is what I find myself doing. Is it being in Japan that leads me to this action? Is it too many months on the road? Is it the cavalcade of exciting, yet foreign cultures? Is it working with strangers, all of us thrown together by forces out of our control? I don't know. Whatever has led me here has spoken with clarity and force. I have been drawn on this quest today by an invisible, magnetic force.

I leave the bench to begin the quest for the unknown. The first stop is obligatory, the shrine. It does little for me. I have seen too many temples, too many shrines in the past seven months.

I leave quickly, turn down a small path to the right and stumble onto the Inner Garden. Here, for the small fee of 500 yen ($5.00), is the possibility of serenity presented in green.  After all the stretching and compromising of the past months, 500 yen seems a miniscule amount. I happily hand over my yen and walk down an even smaller path.  The scent of cool, the color of air, the sight of wind dance around me. I recognize my investment has paid off. I have found the deepest part of the bath. The deep cleansing begins.

My senses take over:

Joyful chattering sparrows

Warm melting energy of the sun

City clatter to my left

Luscious forest buffering the clatter

Gleeful laughter to my right

Clean serene pond

An urge to jump in

Eternally cawing crows behind me

Occasional crunch on the gravel path

Other seekers traversing the gravel path.

The same path I walk. The same path we all walk.

This is when I have my first realization: I need green. I need fresh air. I need to bathe in green, preferably alone, but not necessarily. This is what I crave, this helps me thrive. It's one trait I humbly admit I was given by my mother.

I try to lift the camera, knowing my friends will want photos. I can't. The need to completely immerse myself in this pure, fresh, clean, green experience takes over. I sit. I breathe. I listen.

The fallen leaves around my feet

Soaking in the lovely late-autumn warmth of the sun’s radiant heat

Storing the heat in my soul for the coming winter

The second realization: my body and brain have been on high alert for months. Work. New environments. New cultures. Over-stimulated as a performer, a tourist, a traveler, a woman, an American (it is the age of Trump, after all), a middle-aged human. Now I can feel myself floating back to my core. This is what living in perpetual uncertainty does to me.

I look at my watch. I left the hotel one hour and twenty-five minutes ago.

My third realization: Serenity is closer than I realize. I always expect shredding the flaky dross of life will take hours, days, weeks, so I often don't even bother to try. Time and again I am proven wrong.

Don't let the sad one sway you. 
Hold her hand.
Take her along.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Ripped From The Archives: Being Stuck

Recently, I've been thinking about being stuck.  You know what I mean - we get stuck in habits that don't serve us or our dreams, we get stuck in all kinds of relationships - friends, professional, lovers - that we allow to keep us from the light, and the worst -  stuck in an unfulfilling job.

When I get stuck, I immediately assume I am the only one who is stuck.  That others might get stuck temporarily, but they can recognize their stuck-ness and climb right out with no collateral damage.  Of course that isn't true.  Of course others are as stuck as I am.  Of course others struggle with being stuck.

And then I stumbled onto this post from the most-excellent Brainpickings blog:

Now, I must give you some background information. Willa Cather is one of my favorite authors.  I like to think that I have much in common with Willa.  Willa grew up in Nebraska; I grew up in Wisconsin.  Willa left the Midwest to settle in New York; I left the Midwest to settle in Philadelphia.  Willa wrestled her entire life trying to merge her creative spirit with the practical nature of the Midwest; me too.  Here's my favorite quote from Willa:

"...that shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion that I have never been able to shake.  It has been the happiness and the curse of my life."

It's not Nebraska, but it is the Midwest and it is a prairie.

If you're a creative spirit who struggles with "fitting in", you MUST read Cather's Song of the Lark.

Back to the Brainpickings piece about Cather.  Until reading this piece, I had no idea that Willa had struggled so fiercely with the tug between commerce and creativity.  I had no idea that she, just like you and me, had to step out of her comfort zone and take some risks.  She had to leave the well-paying, secure corporate job.  The one that was sucking her soul.  This led me to wonder - what if she hadn't taken that single step?

The world would have never had her beautiful, deeply human stories and words.

What if you're the next Willa Cather?  It's possible.  Willa didn't know what possibilities lay inside of her when she left her cushy job.  I imagine she dreamed that she would be a successful writer, but she didn't know for certain that would happen.  Right?  None of us ever know.

Be like Willa.  Find a way.  Take that first step.  Perhaps it will be difficult.  No, scratch that.  I'm sure it will be difficult.  I'm also sure it will transform your life.

Not the Midwest, but it is a cornfield and an amazing old barn.

This post was originally published January 19, 2016

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Book Report: Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover

There have been only three books in my life that I have read in one day - The Crown of Columbus by Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and this book, Educated by Tara Westover.

Tara Westover was raised in a Morman survivalist household in Idaho. Her father, with the assistance of the entire family, ran a junk yard. Tara's mother managed the household and eventually started a successful essential oils company. Homeschooling, distrust of major institutions (in particular the medical profession and government), self-determination, nature and mental health are all forces that swirl together to create an almost-unbelievable story. An almost-unbelievable story about a girl who recognizes the conflict between her personal strengths and her family, a girl who lives in that conflict and somehow transforms herself into a thriving young woman.

Like Allison Bechdel does with Fun Home,Tara Westover tells her story with honesty, grace and compassion. Both woman are testaments to the resiliency of the human spirit.

I could not put this book down. The personal story is compelling. At the same time, Ms. Westover respectfully addresses social forces that currently threaten our democratic society.

You really should read this book.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Photo Friday Number 18

Rarely of late has the stillness, nature alone, so appealed to me. Sometimes it's precisely those spots where one no longer feels anything of what's known as the civilized world and has definitely left all that behind - sometimes it's precisely those spots that one needs to achieve calm.

Photo: Kepner Creek, Norristown Farm Park, Norristown, PA

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

My Favorite Things: Google Tasks

I've been a keeper of lists since I was in college (and that was, as my friend and mentor Maddie D. likes to say, "before electricity").

Over the decades, I have often found myself with too many lists - the general to-do list, the 5-years-down-the-road list, the if-I-ruled-the-world list. Which meant I would end up managing my lists and never get to do anything on the list. That didn't work out well.

Currently, I use one main list for all of my tasks (personal, business, household). One list allows me to see everything at one glance. I gave up on the if-I-ruled-the-world list years ago. It was exhausting.

My current favorite list app is Google Tasks. I like Google products (which was a hassle when I was in China last year, but apparently has improved this year), and while Tasks isn't Google's greatest product, it works for me.

Here's a screenshot of my list from 2 weeks ago. I know it is small, but I hope you can zoom in, since you're probably on your phone. 

Notice how:

- I remind myself of small tasks, like getting in touch with someone. Otherwise, that info floats around my brain, gets lost, reappears in the middle of the night and generally distracts me and makes me even crazier than I usually am.

- the Guiding Star Goals are scattered throughout. THAT'S part of my success at making those happen.

- there are simple tasks that rove. As an example, take a look at "PDF last month's calendar" on July 1. It sits on the first of the month. Once I've completed the task, I simply move it to the first of the next month.

Google Tasks sits nicely next to and inside of my Google Calendar when I'm on my computer.

I know that looks like way too many tasks for any given day. I don't really do all of those tasks on one day. I throw them in my calendar as I remember them. Then, early in the week, I'll review all the tasks for the coming week and determine which ones must be done and which ones can be moved. FYI, if I move a task two or three times without taking action, I stop and live with it. I ask myself why I'm not taking action. We can talk about that strategy later. Back to Google Tasks.

On my phone I use the Tasks Free app, but it appears to be dead, so on my tablet I have this GTasks app.

However! While researching for this post, I found that Google released a Tasks app in April. Yup, just installed it on my phone. It looks like this:

I'll let you know how this one works.

Finally, a photo that has nothing to do with lists or tasks or accomplishments. Because...

It was hot, and the Phillies lost, 17-7.
Still, the sunset was magnificent.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Photo Friday Number 17

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star
Joe Darion

Photo: The only copy of the Declaration of Independence printed on vellum, currently on display at the Museum of the American Revolution.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Guiding Star Check In: 5 Quick Ways to Accomplish YOUR Goals

If you haven't taken a look at your Guiding Star goals recently, swallow your "oh gees, I haven't thought about those since February" and pull them out. I've got some quick tips.

We're looking at how to finish goals today, not how to set them.

Whose masterpiece is this? A bunch of college students.
This is the backstage floor of the Leedy Theatre at Lebanon Valley College.
Beauty everywhere. We just have to keep looking.

1. Change - Got some goals that overwhelm you or just aren't as interesting as they were when you created your plan? Permission granted to change or even delete those goals. Do check in with your Buddy before you do this to make sure you aren't giving up or avoiding a goal that has meaning in your life.

2. One Step - Most of us get hung up looking at the big picture. We forget that success is a series of small actions. Try this approach - look for one step towards the goal you can take this week. Then take that one step and see where you are led.

3. Ask for Help - This one is always tough for me. I like to think of myself as completely competent and independent. But look. We all could use a little help. Reach out to your Buddy (or to me) if you're feeling stuck. Sometimes my Buddy and I text each other for a week about one step in one goal. Sometimes that's all I need.

4. Challenge - I've never tried this. You do it and let me know how it works. Set up this challenge: If I don't finish this part of a specific goal by July 31, I will donate $20 to a cause I do not believe in.

5. Celebrate - When I finish this goal, I will celebrate by....find some activity you enjoy that feels celebratory. For me it would be going on a walk in a new place or sitting with a glass of wine. Sometimes, sharing the completion with a friend (or, you guessed it, my Buddy) is enough. NOTE: if your goal is diet-related, make the celebration non-food-based.

I'd truly love to hear where you're at with your Guiding Star goals. Comment here on Creatavita or wherever you see this post on social media. Talk to me!

This path.
Follow this path.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Photo Friday Number 16

What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more,     
to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks    
where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes,     
or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that     
tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!  

Photo: Park At Governor Dick, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ripped From The Archives: Ten Minutes

Originally posted on July 2, 2012. 

If you are like me, life is too short. When you look in your dictionary, you cannot find the word bored, as in “I'm bored”. You can find the words distracts, as in “Everything I should be doing distracts me from the things I want to be doing” or frustrated as in “I am so frustrated that I can't find enough time for my – you fill in the word -”. I fill the blank in with a variety of words, including music, relationships, writing, and especially, self.

Too many projects and not enough time to get to them, or so it seems. This is a common theme. Never fear, Creatavita is here to help.

First of all, the time has come for some good ol' attitude adjustment. This is particularly true if you have ever seriously studied an art form in your life. You learned early on in your study, that an hour a day was required to progress. Anything less was, at least for some of us, total and absolute failure. That's why we would meet each other in the hallways of our college music departments at ridiculous hours of the day, say 6:00 am or 10:30 pm, or my personal favorite time, 7:00 pm on a Friday night. I'd go to happy hour with my friends at 3:00, eat the free food (okay, I'd have a drink or two. But remember, the legal drinking age was 18 back then) and then I would, honest to God, go back to the practice rooms.

That worked in college and graduate school. But guess what. We're all grown up now, with our fancy-pants lives and the rent is due tomorrow. Gone is the luxury of hours on end spent daily communing with your favorite composer, painter or author. In order to get some artistic joy back into our lives, we're going to have to rework this outdated model.

Secondly, I hereby give you permission to lower the bar. Oh boy, I bet you weren't expecting that one. I stand by my original statement, Your Honor, lower the bar. Try this little exercise. Say to yourself, “Self, I bet you I could find 30 minutes a day to work on my novel.” If Self tightens your gut and your heart starts to race, then you have the bar too high. Lower that number until you find the number of minutes to which Self's response is: “Are you crazy? Of course I can find [X] minutes in a day to work on my children's book!”.

To give you courage, let me tell you that I am currently at 10 minutes a day. There have been times in my life when I've been at 20 and times when I've been as low as 5. By the way, the end of the road is 5 minutes. Any number lower than 5 minutes is not trying. We might have lowered the bar, but we are still trying.

Thirdly, use tools. Like a timer. Yes, you heard me, a timer. Here's the link to one online.
Use it. Some days your minutes will fly by and you'll be astonished when the timer goes off. Some days you will swear the timer is broken. Use it.

Now I know some of you are out there thinking this will never work. Gathering your materials to work for a small amount of time is pointless. You know what, if you write one good sentence, if you play one good phrase, if you sketch one tiny corner, you will have succeeded. And don't forget that being creative is a habit. Maybe today's work will be awful, but that means you'll be one day closer to the great work.

Finally, give yourself a chance. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will this new habit. You will have to tussle with yourself, as the Musts and Shoulds rear their ugly heads. This tussle could be epic, lasting as long as one month. Stick with it. I'm pretty certain there's a day in your future when you will surprise yourself with how easily you were able to find the time for your favorite creative pursuit.

By the way, you can also use this approach for problem-solving. Let's say you are stymied by a work project or you need to finally choose a dissertation topic. How about focusing on the, ahem, situation, for a chosen amount of time daily and then forgetting about it? I know, I know, difficult to forget about it. Oftentimes, the solution appears when we're not thinking about the conundrum. Deal with the situation for, let's say, 15 minutes a day and then drop it like an old flame for the rest of the day.

Gotta go. Time for bed.

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