Friday, August 30, 2013

Carry It Forward Giveaway!

Thank you so much for the comments on my little skirts! I really enjoyed making them. They were easy and fun to make. I hope you'll try making some too. Please leave a link if you do!

Now I have very exciting news to share. I had the great fortune to win a very special giveaway a few weeks ago. Janine, of the lovely blog Simple Things, held a Carry It Forward giveaway and I was the winner chosen at random! This is a unique giveaway because it requires the winner to make something special to give away to someone else. The winner, in turn, makes something for the next recipient, hence the name Carry It Forward. I had been watching this giveaway since before I had my own blog, as it was carried forward by two other delightful blogs I enjoy reading: Jelly Jam and HenHouse, so I was honored and thrilled to win the giveaway myself and have the opportunity to carry it forward too! Janine's package arrived in the mail last week, and we were all very excited to open it. She had wrapped it in pretty tissue paper and tied it with string, which is how I often package gifts too.

Janine lives in the UK, and her card has an adorable heart-shaped Union Jack on the front. I love the folk-art look to the card. And in a weird coincidence, the card arrived the day after I made that little felt heart ornament I shared recently. We must be on a wavelength! Janine wrote a very sweet message inside, letting us know that she and her kids took the time to look up our city on a map. We did the same thing with their hometown! It's nice to know that blogging has also given our families a lot of interesting learning experiences; my small Bears were overjoyed, hyper even, to receive a package from another country.

We opened the package and found wonderful things inside. Janine's giveaway had an owl theme, the giveaways that I observed before Janine's had Christmas and Valentine's Day themes, respectively. I was so excited to find such pretty handmade things and other lovely trinkets in Janine's package.

Janine sent me a gorgeous crocheted owl ornament and crocheted rose brooch, both of which contain my favorite color, purple. She didn't know this, of course, but it was very fortuitous. She also included two tea light candles, an adorable wooden owl ornament with the word "special" on the owl's tummy (it is special!), some pretty rosy clothespins and an assortment of beautiful wooden buttons, some with roses and others with hearts and daisies, in two sizes. Everything is pretty and just my style. Thank you so much, Janine and family. We all love this package of goodies and we are glad we (I) participated in your giveaway and we (I) have had the opportunity to connect with you in Blogland. I hope my readers will stop by and say hello to Janine and check out her lovely blog. She is a wonderful lady.

As the winner of Janine's giveaway, I am obliged to carry it forward! See how it works? I was so excited about winning Janine's giveaway that I got right to work on my own giveaway package because I wanted it to be something special that one of my own lovely readers would like to receive. Here's what I've come up with:

My giveaway has an autumn theme. Autumn is just around the corner and I don't know about you, but I like to be ready. Here's what you'll receive if you win my giveaway: two autumn-scented votive candles, two different kinds of buttons (apples and small green flowers), a set of "jewel" stickers (perfect for scrapbooking) and a hand-appliqued tea towel. Yes, I've branched out to housewares with my applique-mania. It was the next logical step!

Here's a closer look at the applique work on the tea towel. I've been practicing my embroidery skills and I think I'm starting to improve. It's my own design, just trying to be creative. The pumpkin, stem and leaves are cotton calico fabric, affixed with Heat N Bond. The hand-stitching is done with all-cotton embroidery floss. The tea towel itself is simple white cotton and probably should be handwashed, to protect the appliques and stitching. I really enjoyed doing the tea towel and I hope it will be a nice addition to someone's fall decor.

To win this giveaway, you must be willing to carry it forward, meaning that you, in turn, offer a giveaway on your own blog which includes something you make for the winner. It doesn't have to all be handmade, though that's certainly an option if you would like to do it that way. I know that giveaways with "strings" attached tend to be less popular, but I believe that I have one of the kindest, friendliest readerships in all of Blogland and I know that many of you would love to participate in a giveaway like this. So pleeeeease play along! You won't be sorry. You'll have the pleasure of receiving something handmade by me (I put lots of love into it!), and the added pleasure of making an item for the next person.

I won't require you to follow my blog to join the giveaway, but would be pleased if you did, so that we can get to know each other better. I do ask that you be serious about following through with the CIF aspect of the giveaway if you enter; it would be a shame to have this happy chain of giving be broken by someone who didn't carry it forward. You need to have your own blog as well, so that you can offer your package to the next lucky winner. There's no time limit, you create your package as you're able. If you would like to be included in my giveaway, please leave a comment on this post. The entry period will be open for one week; I will close it on September 6, drawing a name at random and announcing the winner soon after that.  The giveaway is open internationally. Good luck! Thanks for participating.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Little skirts

A few weeks ago, I made this pile of skirts for the GB. I'm always looking for simple sewing ideas for little girls' clothes and I found a wonderful tutorial on a blog called Punkin Patterns; they're called Easy-Peasy Skirts and they are exactly that. We love the way they turned out, but we are waiting until it gets a bit cooler before she wears them. This tutorial made the process very simple and quick; I have slightly better than moderate sewing skills and each skirt took about half an hour for me to make, following the tutorial exactly as written. As with other tutorials I blog about, I won't rewrite Punkin Patterns' excellent how-to, but I'll show you some of the process, which I photographed as I went.

I used 21-wale (also called "pinwale" or "pincord") corduroy for all four skirts. Corduroy is categorized by the number of wales, or cords, per inch. 21-wale is the finest type. It's not an especially heavy material, but I wanted the skirts to be a little bit warm for fall and winter; the GB wears tights or leggings under her dresses and skirts in cold weather, but as a worrywart, I like to make sure she is plenty warm, especially when she's on the playground at preschool. She's good about zipping her coat and remembering her hat and mittens but I always fear her little legs getting cold. These skirts will provide an extra bit of insulation. The skirts can, of course, be made with basic cotton material too, and I might do a few like that for next spring and summer.

All but the aqua corduroy is by Robert Kaufman, I think from the Cool Cords line. The aqua is by Valori Wells, from her Nest line. I bought them all from; they have an excellent selection of lightweight corduroy. Each skirt required half a yard of fabric. The width of the skirt should be twice the waist measurement, to allow the fabric to gather once the elastic has been put in. With corduroy, the lines (wales) run up and down perpendicular to the width; on the bolt, they'll look like they're going sideways.

I'm a big believer in having lots of thread - even if you don't use a color very often, it's nice to have it. Thread is cheap and easy to store. For these skirts, I only purchased one color - that neon green you see near the center of the photo. It was a shot in the dark, because I didn't have the fabric with me when I bought it, but it ended up being almost perfect, well worth the $1.50 it cost. You'll want to make sure you have the right elastic too; I used 1" no-roll elastic to keep the waistbands nice and flat when she wears them. I often buy my elastic from too; they sell it by the 1/2 yard, just like their fabrics, and the prices are great.

Easy-peasy, indeed. Sew the ends together, hem the bottom, make a tunnel for the waistband elastic. It was quick, quick, quick, back and forth between ironing board and sewing machine a few times. There were minor episodes of measuring and pinning, but nothing too strenuous.

I deliberately left the fabric a bit long; Punkin Patterns suggested having the skirts fall just below the knee and I added another inch or so beyond that. This is mostly for longevity of use; the waists are very stretchy and she's a very skinny little thing, small for her age. I figure that with the extra bit of length, she will be able to wear her skirts for at least a couple of years. We're not fanatical about modesty in this house; I'm just happy to let her be comfy for a long time to come. A longer skirt means easier playing.

 This one is my favorite. I love sweet little birdies on girls' clothes and the colors are so pretty.

This one is the GB's favorite. She likes the "hot pink and hot green" flowers, she says.

 The owls are really cute and we're big owl fans around here in general, so why not wear them too?

This brown paisley pattern is so pretty. It's nice that brown is a girls' color again.

I really enjoy making clothing for my daughter. I wish it were more economical to sew clothing, like it used to be. I'm dedicated to bargain-hunting and rarely splurge on anything expensive for the kids (well, or anyone else, really), so I tend to buy most of their clothing second-hand. Sewing clothing at home is enjoyable and satisfying, but it doesn't always save money. These skirts were very thrifty, though; I bought the corduroy when it was discounted so each half-yard cost about $3, plus the cost of the elastic (about 50 cents per skirt). A cute $3-4 skirt is pretty hard to beat, second-hand or otherwise, so I feel they were a very good value.

They're going to look really cute with her winter school shoes. They're beige leather with appliqued peacocks on them. Lucky girl. I'd like to find grown-up shoes featuring peacocks. She loves her new skirts and she's excited to wear them. We can pair them with long-sleeved tees and sweaters, with tights or leggings. She's starting to pick her own outfits now and she's surprisingly adept at this. She also likes to pile on three or four necklaces at a time, which is fine except for when she has ballet class. I try not to place much importance on looks or wardrobe but it's interesting to watch her develop her sense of self: she knows what makes her feel good.

In the age-old tradition, full skirts inevitably lead to spinning. Swirly, twirly, girly Bear.


I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your kind words on my last post, about feeling discouraged. It just seemed like some things were changing in Blogland and I felt concerned. I think people are correct about other social media taking over. I'm not really into any of that myself, though. I started my blog because it seemed like fun, and also because I love to make things and enjoy sharing them, but was left feeling like other social media venues weren't right for it. People can be surprisingly harsh. Blogging seemed a better choice for me. Then I realized that a blog could be an excellent place to record daily life "stuff" and I've loved doing that too. I'm proud of my simple, satisfying life at home; we've worked hard to have a life that we truly enjoy. It's a blessing to have a place like this to discuss and share with like-minded people. I try not to pay attention to stats or followers but of course I am thrilled to know that people are reading my blog and coming back for more, and that I have even inspired a few people. These interactions are some of the most fulfilling parts of blogging. So thank you for being here and for being supportive and inspiring!

Monday, August 26, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - 34/52

Joining in with Jen, here are four happy photos from my week.

I derive great pleasure from making simple, happy things for my home. I made this little stuffed heart ornament from felt, a scrap of calico, a button and a bit of ribbon. I was feeling restless and needed something to do with my hands one afternoon during the week. I wasn't in the mood to crochet. I just wanted a quick, satisfying little project. The small Bears and I decided to hang it on our homeschool cart, from one of the cabinet doorknobs. It goes with my nearby strawberry-themed kitchen. And of course, it's fitting because we all "heart" school.

These are freshly-picked grapes, which we all enjoyed eating. A neighbor up the street has grapevines growing wild behind his garden wall, on the arroyo side. The Bear likes to take the kids walking along the arroyo (there's a walking trail, deliberately left a bit wild so there is a lot of interesting flora and fauna to see back there). They noticed the grapes and asked the neighbor if they could try one and he said they could pick them all if they wanted to. All summer, they've been taking one or two as they ripen and finally they were all ready to harvest so they picked a bagful to take home. The grapes were tart and very juicy. We liked eating wild fruit for a few days.

I've managed to pare down the number of books I'm reading at the moment, which has felt oddly relieving. I love to read and have a degree in literature, and have been a teacher of the subject. You'd think I'd be happy to roll in a pile of books, but I've been feeling overwhelmed by them lately, just the sheer numbers I've been attempting to juggle. This book has been a wonderful escape for me. If you like Kaffe Fassett's quilts and other textiles, you'll love this beautiful book. He's a really interesting person too; I knew very little about him before I borrowed this book from the library. For example, he's American! I had no idea. I was sure he was English, but he isn't. He's a California native. And a fascinating, friendly guy, it seems.

Finally, we've turned a page in our lives, as of this past week. The Bear and I now have every other Friday morning alone together while both children are in school (it's the first year they've both had school on Fridays). This will continue indefinitely, unless his work schedule changes (which isn't likely). He has every other Friday off from work because of the way his hours are accrued (it's a 9/80 schedule - he works 80 hours over nine days and the tenth is a day off); this also means that every other weekend is a three-day one, which is really nice.

This past Friday was our first "private Friday" (as he says; I think it sounds kind of shady). After dropping the kids at their schools, we had coffee, then we went to a local furniture and home-decor store that specializes in contemporary and Scandinavian designs. We saw lots of beautiful things and we also bought something for me that I've been wanting for a long time (I'll share it soon). Then we went to a kitschy old sandwich shop for lunch, where I had a delicious club sandwich with chips and a pickle. Soon, it was time to pick up the small Bears and head home. We really enjoyed our kid-free time together; I'm so glad we will now have this opportunity for a morning "date" every two weeks. I was especially glad for it the next day, when I spent all afternoon with him at Urgent Care, after he dropped a razor-sharp chisel in the workshop and it badly cut his leg, requiring stitches. Frustrating and stressful, but we're a good team.


Thank you so much for your kind and supportive comments about our old friend, Angus. I liked reading about your pets too. Does anyone else find it a little strange that we have creatures living in our houses with us, becoming such important parts of our families? I wonder if people have always had pets, from early history. I can see why they started. I appreciate the feedback about having a small pet in the future; I think that's very likely for us and I know our kids would enjoy it and learn a great deal from the experience.

I'd also like to say thanks for being here. I have noticed some unrest in the blogging community lately and I've been feeling a bit discouraged myself. My reaction is to keep doing what I'm doing: I'm blogging for me, first and foremost. I also love to share my world with whomever is willing to stop by and visit. I've made wonderful connections through blogging. I greatly appreciate everyone who takes time for me.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Old friend

2012, in his final months.

2003, about two months old.

2005, two years old with me (I was pregnant with the LB).

2007, with 16-month-old LB.

2008, playing.

2009, with GB (6 months) and LB (3.5 years).

A year ago today, we lost our faithful friend, Angus. He was going on ten years old and had developed tumors in his lungs. He was very sick. He would no longer eat or drink and had great difficulty breathing. Surgeries and medications were offered, but we declined. We wanted him to let us know when it was time, and he did. When the time came, we all went to the veterinarian's office with him and said goodbye.

He was our first "baby." We got him a year after we were married, and we took him everywhere with us. He loved to camp, hike and play in water. He was not always well-behaved. Actually, he was a pain in the neck. He was active and athletic and loved to run and run - the Forrest Gump of dogs. Sometimes he ran away, getting free of the house or yard, and tearing off down the street. The Bear or I would march around holding his leash, calling for him while he played hide-and-seek; he would see us, wait expectantly, then bolt away. He would do this over and over, every time we got close. Finally, he'd give up and walk to us. Reluctantly, he'd allow himself to be leashed and dragged home. He loved it here but sometimes he got other ideas about how he should be living.

I named him myself. He was part of a litter of 13, born to a shepherd-collie mix mother and a black Labrador father. He was a rescue; we got him from the owners of his mother, who were planning to send all the puppies to the pound. His father was enormous, about 90 pounds, and our puppy was the only all-black one in the litter. I presumed he'd be huge like his father, and given his blackness, I thought Angus was a good name for him. Big and black, like a bull. But he never got very big, and his fuzzy puppy hair remained, very unlike his father's sleek, glossy coat. As an adult, Angus weighed barely 40 pounds, and stood about 32 inches on all fours. We were actually very glad he stayed so small; we realized that his activeness would have been a lot more annoying, and probably destructive, if he'd been much bigger.

Angus was very good with the children. When we brought the LB home from the hospital, he was a little concerned, partly because we'd left him an unexpectedly long time, having neighbors come to feed and walk him. Sometimes the Bear went home too. I'd needed to be there for nearly a week, which we hadn't known before we went. By the time we came home, he was really missing us. And we had a bizarre new creature in tow, which was confusing. But Angus did okay; he smelled the baby before he saw him, standing next to the bassinet which was just a little too tall for him to look into. We put the baby on the floor and he sniffed him, butted him gently with his nose and then stood over him, watching intently. Later, he behaved similarly with the newborn GB. As the kids grew, he was very patient with them, allowing them to climb and crawl on him. Angus was always gentle and sweet with them both.

We miss him a lot. But I don't think we want a new dog, at least not now. There's a lot of freedom in not having a pet. Money-savings, too. I loved having him around the house; in his later years, he enjoyed staying near me as I worked around the house. He loved my crochet hobby; as blankets grew, he'd nestle underneath them at my feet. But a dog is a big commitment and we're getting busier all the time. We're beginning to think about possibly having a small pet, probably a guinea pig, because it would provide valuable lessons in responsibility for the children. We're also considering adopting a pair of chickens and have been researching that pretty heavily. We all love animals and enjoy having them around, but we want to be able to give animals everything they need.

I think fondly of my old friend. He wasn't perfect and neither were we; he could have used some formal training. But he was mostly a very good boy. We will always remember him as a part of our family.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


This summer has seen us making some minor home improvements. We started in July with the carpeting in our family room. This was meant to be a very simple project - just removing the old carpet and padding and putting down new - but it became a bit more complicated, as these things often do. We also did a little uplifting decorative work here and there, which is much more my forte. Grab a hot drink, put your feet up and settle in for a long-winded detailed tour. Maybe also consider making a sandwich.

Here is the family room as it looked before. It's difficult to tell from this photo what the old carpeting was really like, but it was pretty dingy. We had it professionally cleaned, to little avail, and we were constantly spot-treating old stains as we found them. This is a Berber-style carpet with a sculpted geometric design. We have the same carpeting in three of the bedrooms, but it's in much better condition there. I wouldn't necessarily choose this particular carpeting, but it came with the house and most of it is too good to rip out for a few more years. The family room carpet needed to go, however. We ordered new carpeting and set a date for installation.

The Bear volunteered to remove the old carpet and padding himself, because he wanted to seal the concrete floor. We were having a lot of degraded concrete, in the form of powdery gray dust, make its way through the surface of the carpet, which was messy and annoying. The Bear spent most of a day on the carpet removal and discovered two things: the floor was very un-level (a tunnel had been made for the security-system wiring) and there was a suspicious moldy patch on the baseboard of the wall which adjoins our master bathroom (the left side of the room in this photo). Sigh...a simple job suddenly became a much more complicated one.

The first step was to open the wall where the watery/moldy patch was spotted. The small boy is provided for scale in this photo. In actuality, the opened space grew to be twice as wide when all was said and done, after it was discovered that both the hot- and cold-water pipes (they go to our master bath shower) were leaking inside the wall, causing water to run down the pipes and accumulate on the slab sill and the baseboard, hence the mold. It was obvious that the leaks were due to the way the pipes had previously been repaired; the welded joins were done poorly and were probably leaking since they were newly done.

Nice, right? The pipes were very corroded and the wood and backer-board were moldy and damp, as were most of the wood parts. We tied towels around the pipes to absorb water, set up a huge fan to blow directly into the open space and then wiped everything down with anti-freeze (this is a really useful way to help dry out wet wood and kill the mold - we've been around the block with this sort of thing before). Then we called a plumber.

Meanwhile, the house was a disaster for several days. We had moved all the family room furniture into the living room and our kitchen counters were stacked with tools and building materials. The foyer was lined with the kids' bookcase and toy-storage cubicles. I've been fortunate not to have had many experiences of living in a construction zone; I can only imagine how aggravating it would be to live this way for months, like some people do when they have major renovations going on. A little less than a week was more than enough for me; I felt like I was going to lose my mind a few times, but the thought of new carpeting helped me through.

We couldn't do much in the family room until the plumbers came, so we went ahead with the floor leveling. This photo shows the newly-laid leveling compound on the floor. The lowest part of the floor was a full half-inch lower than the highest part so this was a necessary step. As it turned out, though, the carpet installer said we didn't need to seal the floor, as originally planned. He assured us that the new padding would help keep the dust from rising up. It seems to be true so far, and at that point, we had bigger fish to fry anyway, so we skipped the sealer.

The plumbers came and fixed the pipes and the carpet was installed. The small Bears loved the soft plushness of the new carpet and treated the empty room like a gymnasium for a couple of days. The hole in the wall still needed to be fixed; luckily, our carpet installer is also a general contractor in business with his brothers, who are professional drywall installers. He was able to schedule them to come over three consecutive days to fix the wall.

We had moved the furniture back into the room by now, but had to keep the couch away from the wall. The drywall guys were excellent, I have to say. They fit us in around several larger jobs they were in the midst of doing when their brother enlisted them to help us. They were efficient and very professional. If you're local, I'd love to recommend them for your home renovation needs; shoot me an email if you'd like more information.

We repainted the wall where the repair was done (we'd only done this room two years ago, but it was necessary to touch it up), replaced the baseboard we'd had to discard because of the water damage, and moved the couch back. The carpet is so much nicer now. It's also a Berber-style carpet but a richer color (to hopefully hide dirt better) and a less-busy look to the weave. Eventually, we will change the other rooms with the old carpet too, but it's not urgent. And we're a bit tired after this one room, needless to say.

Back to normal, and loving it. You can see the edge of the kitchen peninsula counter in the right side of the photo. This counter is perfect for stools and I've ordered a set of two counter stools to place there. They're being custom-built in Mexico by a furniture-import company. I don't have much Southwestern-style furniture in the home but I like to have a few simple touches. The stools are natural wood (pine, I think) and somewhat rustic. I'm excited to have them, especially now as the kids are getting older; I love the open-plan kitchen and family room and I want to maximize the usefulness of this space.

We had a large piece of carpeting left over after the installation. We decided that we wanted to have it cut into some smaller pieces and professionally bound. The installer recommended a good carpet-binder and we had two rugs made: one for the foyer near the front doors, and another to use on the floor near the fireplace hearth to protect the new carpeting from embers when we're having a fire in cold weather. The hearth rug is stored behind the couch in the living room. Again, if you're local, I'm happy to recommend the carpet-binder, so let me know if you'd like more info.

Moving away from the refreshed-but-aggravating family room, I've been trying to freshen up the bedrooms as well. None of them needed major help - all have good bedding and nice furniture at this point. But the decor was lacking and I wanted to work on that a little bit. This shelf is now hanging over our bed. I'd been seeing adorable shelf displays on a few blogs I enjoy reading and went shopping in search of a good shelf for us. I bought one and later returned it because it jutted out too far from the wall; I was afraid we'd end up hurting ourselves getting out of bed in the mornings. The Bear offered to build one for me, to my specifications, and it's just right, exactly what I wanted.

I think the shelf helps the room to be even more cozy. I wanted to display just a few little things that we like. The dia de los meurtos skull is a motif I'm always drawn to; I love the juxtaposition of the skull with the beautiful, intricate flowers, scrolling and crosses. This is a postcard that I bought on Etsy from the artist Jade Boylan, who is based in the UK. Her artwork is very colorful and pretty. I also have a matryoshka card she designed. On the shelf, I also have a faux Jadeite votive candle holder (a Martha Stewart find from years ago) and a small clay bowl made in the Navajo style, which the Bear has had since he was a child. I have since also added an old photo of me and the Bear from before we were married; we're photographed from behind as we walk down a wooded path.

The LB's room was really looking sad. His bedroom is at the end of the hallway, next to the laundry room, which leads to the garage. It occurred to me a few months ago that I wasn't making enough of an effort in his bedroom. Part of this is because we don't keep toys in the bedroom; all playing is done in the family room. Also, I just haven't bothered to do much. Mea culpa. But he's getting older and will surely want to spend more time in his room relatively soon, so I thought it might be time to fix it up a little. I've had a Pinterest board devoted to boys' bedrooms for a few months, trying to gather ideas; colorful maps as decor have been a particular interest.

Both the picture grouping and the world map are on the longest wall in his room, along the length of the bed. The picture grouping is made up of some things we've had a long time and others we acquired recently. The moon and Earth photos are old. We printed them from some website where you could download and print stock photos; we had the Earth one done in an iridescent finish, which looks pretty cool. The smaller frames hold postcards in designs he helped me choose. The sailboat and bear are from Showler & Showler; I'd seen their artwork on the Yvestown blog months ago and ordered a few designs. The penguin is from an Etsy shop called Hello Narwhal; penguins are one of the LB's favorite creatures. The world map came from, with a frame from Walmart. The whole wall cost under $25 to decorate, and it looks much better now.

The GB got a little bit of new decor in her room too. The tulip and apple are more postcards from Showler & Showler; her room has a distinct nature theme, in bright colors like pink, green, orange and yellow. The rabbit is a framed postcard I've displayed in various homes since I was a teenager. It's a (reproduced) sketch from the 16th century, by the German artist Hans Hoffman. I bought the postcard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I've made a lot of the decor in her room myself, whether hand-sewn or crocheted, because it seems easier to make things like that for a girl's room. I do have an afghan planned for the LB, as one of my upcoming winter projects. The apple and tulip, like the postcards in the LB's room, are framed in 97-cent metal frames I picked up in Walmart. They were black when I bought them; I left a few black but I painted others with Krylon ColorMaster spray paint in Ivory, about $3.

Whew, what a post. I had all these improvements to share but I didn't want to stretch it out over more than one post; too many other interesting things to blog about, right? Thanks for reading if you made it this far. We're all feeling good about our summer of sprucing-up!
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