On aging

We all do it, hopefully. Age, that is. The goal is to go from infancy to old age without too many hiccups. Isn’t it funny, though, how our culture reveres youth, even when we say things like “He died too young!” and “She went before her time!” How do you even DO that- go before your time? Isn’t it Your Time to Go, when you go?

anyway…I’m not meaning to write about that sort of thing. What started this train of thought is a pain in my left thumb. It’s pretty painful, too. I don’t know how knuckles are numbered (help me on this, Dad. You can leave it in the comments section), but it’s that one closest to the end. It’s sharp and hurts whenever I bend it. It makes it difficult to grab things though I’m adapting.

That’s what we do, adapt, that is. We find ways around the pains and difficulties. There’s a whole industry based on that, ranging from orthopedic shoes to wheelchairs to hearing aids. Alarm clocks have volume settings, computers have ways to…what do you call it (see, even the internet has ways of looking up words when you can’t think of one so when people read what you’ve written they think you’re eloquent when all you really are is savvy enough to look up synonyms.) I still can’t think of the word…increase the size…I know there’s a word in there…oh heck. you know what I mean. Make the images and letters bigger so you can see them. It’s like increasing the volume only for your eyes.  Dammit.

The Good Dr. H., when queried about the loss of words (I was concerned that 25 years of neuroleptic medication had fried part of my brain), told me it wasn’t the medication, but instead it was The Menopause, and many women lost their words at this stage. That didn’t help much but at least I still know what I’m trying to say, even if I have to dance around it with 200 words instead of saying that one precise word. People are patient with me, because I have grey hair and a cane with which to kneecap them if they’re disrespectful.

I hear another sign of aging is the need for less sleep. I know that’s true. I woke up with an itch on my leg at 4:00am this morning. I scratched it a little bit, and laid there thinking about a piece of beautiful green wool flannel I bought a couple of years ago, and what kind of dress did I want to make from it, and maybe I had enough for a dress *and* a skirt, but I can’t remember (memory issues happen, as you age, plus that was a couple of years ago and a lot has happened since then) if I bought 3 yards or 5. By 4:30 I felt awake enough (and, dare I say it, even cheerful) to get on up, even though I knew the coffee pot wouldn’t turn on until 5. All this after going to bed at 10. I’m an early riser (early-ish anyway- 6:00 is more typical even though I wake up at 5, laying in the comfortable bed, listening to George Winston play piano interpretations of old hymns is an exceedingly pleasant way to start the day) anyway, but waking up at 4:00am is Amish Dairy Farmer early, and not Staring At Old Age early, but I do love going to bed early….I’m rambling. Also a privilege of Old Age.

One of the delights of living in The Deep South, is that people still feel (I lost a word again…it’s not “urge”…hm…) COMPELLED (I found it!! I found the word!!) to be courteous to women and older people, and especially older women. This means if I start rambling in a conversation with a younger person (common now, what with school and a church full of younger people), they won’t be rude and say things like “WhatEVER” and leave. They’ll stand there with a tight smile, nod and make appropriate comments while shifting uncomfortably. Unless they’re my own kids, and those ones will look at me and say  “You’re rambling. Get to the point.” or make fun of me. Which is deserved because I make fun of them a lot.  Honestly I try not to do it, but sometimes when you can’t think of a suitable word you simply HAVE to ramble around the lexicon until you hit on something approximating it.

The house I’m building will accommodate the changes that come with age. The doorways are wide enough for a wheelchair, and the layout is one that will be easy to maneuver. There is a place that a ramp can be easily installed, and the showers will have grab bars built in, and be big enough for a chair, should one ever be needed.  If I should ever need live-in help, there is an area with 2 bedrooms and a bathroom that will close off and has it’s own door out.  All of this is intentional, as I hope this will be the last house I ever live in. Which is an old person thought, if ever there was one. I had the same thoughts with some furniture I recently purchased…that this would be the last stuff I ever buy so make it good quality and easy to get in and out of.  That’s an interesting and novel train of thought- that this is the last (anything)…and I’m ok with it. Honestly, Himself passing away has made the whole concept of mortality one that is much easier to swallow. The process of aging is (hopefully, though obviously not…lost a word…definite{not the word but close enough}) somewhat inevitable, so I might as well embrace it and recognize that it has it’s issues.

Like aches, weird thumb pain, waking up at Amish Dairy Farmer early, and a comfort-before-style sensibility. And pizza causing heartburn. That one bugs me more than anything else. Thankfully coffee is still ok.

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Skool iz Kool

So far so good. School is a week into the semester and I haven’t punted anyone into the hallway for being childish. Go me. I’m taking 2 “hard courses” and 2 “soft courses”. By hard I mean the ones where Things Are Done rather than Things Are Talked About (the soft courses) (these are my own definitions and I think they make sense.)

The Hard Courses are both office things. One is a spreadsheets/Excel and already it’s taking all my concentration because it’s so procedural and you have to remember what order and which button does what and in the end you get something so beautifully orderly (if you do it right), it’s glorious to behold. I can’t wait to be using this thing for real!  The other course is Office Procedure and it’s basically How To Work Good. Fairly straightforward and sensible stuff like courtesy and and all, but later on it gets into how to work those phones with all the buttons and not accidentally hanging up on the district manager. I think there’s also a How To Work A Copy Machine which to be honest should be an entire course all by itself. Have you seen them? They’re like something out of a 1980 Sci-Fi movie and I hear they can occasionally rupture and blow toner everywhere. I suppose that’s to make sure you keep up to date with the latest incarnation.

The Office Procedure course is strictly on-line, but several of the people taking it are also in the spreadsheets class, so I know the face along with the names.

The cool thing about such a small school is the overlapping of people, and seeing them in different classes, developing relationships. Of course, everyone takes the classes in their own order, so some of them are finishing up this semester, and others are just starting out. Some are midway through, like me.

I am, finally and with great reluctance, taking The Dreaded Math. Now, this time around it’s Remedial Math, meaning every single person in there is as bad at it as I am, which is comforting. The instructor is chirpy and enthusiastic, and we do get to use a calculator. however, it’s not the simple version I grew up with, but apparently does all sorts of calculations of the sort I don’t even understand. hopefully at the end of the semester I will have a stronger grasp of The Dreaded Math, and may even have developed less of an adversarial relationship, and something more along the lines of “ok, I can see why you’re useful” sort of one.  At least we get to use a calculator and aren’t expected to find square roots by hand or memory. I also think The Dreaded Math is somewhat procedural, with earlier lessons building on the later ones.

There’s a whole lot of homework, but that’s ok. I know people at The Big University generally take 15-18 hours a semester, and ones at the little community tech school (where I’m at) think the 13 hours I’m taking is a MASSIVE LOAD, and so it would be, if I were working full time like many of my classmates. The school is designed to educate people who are grownups with regular jobs.  I am continually thankful that I am able to do school instead of work right now.

I am, howsomever (that’s a family word for “however-sometimes”) going to look for Resume’ Fodder. Upon the advice of a very sensible friend, I’ll look for a very part time job (possibly work-study), and/or volunteer opportunities that will include a bit of office work.  Soon. It’s scary. But not that scary. I can do this. If I can step out and do school after 30 years, I can find some work after 28. By golly, if I can raise 4 children and not accidentally kill or maim any of them, I should be able to find some work alphabetizing invoices.

work computer office desk nopetopus

 

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Well, that’s one way to do it.

Anyone who’s ever bought a college textbook knows there’s a couple of ways of going about it. You can buy a new one (after selling a kidney), or a used one (much cheaper but probably all marked up with highlighter, but then for 1/4 the price one can tolerate someone else’s idea of what’s important).

*oo…thunder! Summer in the South… (also, easily distracted.)*

But then, textbook companies know this and to get around it, they put half their stuff online, and you have to have an access code which can only be used one time in order to get to the stuff. So, if you buy a used book, you can’t get to half the stuff, which in my case includes things like case studies and stuff about which the instructor will ask on the tests

Thus, I have  choice…buy a new one, with all the online resources (even Spiral bound! Or even the whole thing is online for about 1/2 the price but I don’t learn well that way and too much reading on a computer gives me a headache because I was raised reading paper books under a tree, taking notes on a slate with a chunk of charcoal fished out of a defunct fire, while holding onto the lizard I planned on roasting for lunch) (or something). So, because I need Old Skool Book-Larnin’ things, I have to cough up the chunk of change for the textbooks to the tune of about $450 per semester, and that’s just for business school. I know for a solid fact the science and engineering studies are double that, or more. Business texts=1 kidney. Engineering= 1 kidney, a liver lobe, and regular visits to the sperm bank, which is probably why there’s more men in engineering than women. (or so I am theorizing) (I mean, it makes sense to me.) (though hopefully #2 has found an alternative way to finance his engineering textbooks.) (That doesn’t involve a bunch of my grandchildren wandering around completely unbeknownst to me) Anyway. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Books. I like that many of them are coming spiral bound now. It’s much easier to do the computer related assignments with the textbook open next to me, not weighed down with a can of diced tomatoes to keep it from flipping closed. (true story.) (no seriously. I did that). The whole computer thing is nice, really (please don’t tell my kids I said that, because I am always harping on the benefits of schooling from 40 years ago). I like having the videos that supplement a chapter, and the quizzes I can practice on, and the ability to have a discussion with the other members of the class without having to put on pants or brush my hair. (theoretically. I probably almost always wear pants.) (most of the time).

I had my first day of my first class today. As with Spring semester (and I am learning as is typical of a small community technical school), it is a mixed bag of students, ranging from fresh-out-of-high school to old geezers more seasoned individuals with real world life experience. The instructor is one I had last semester, and he warned the others to watch themselves, as I will call them out for bad behavior or stupidity. (NOT the same as ignorance or inexperience. People can’t help that.But if they’re sitting there during the class fiddling on their phones, I WILL say something. It’s so rude.)

I noticed that the building wasn’t as cold as it had been. Previously the thermostat had been set on MeatLocker, and a sweater, long pants, an under-the-desk heater (seriously), a hot drink (I have coffee), and a bowl of steaming mashed potatoes was required to even function. I heard it theorized that people think better when it’s cold and maybe that’s true, but all I could think about was getting outside and warming up in the sleet. But, today it was warmer. Maybe it was all the bodies, all those fresh young faces of people apparently eager to do whatever they were doing. Maybe it was because all the computers were up and running, or maybe the New Administration (there was a Changing of the Guard over the Summer) recognized the financial benefits of setting the thermostat on a very reasonable 72F.  Maybe the people in the HVAC program got through to Whomever, that the ideal temperature differential is <20F between outside and inside. Or maybe someone just had a brainfart and forgot to turn it down, and I will need to keep a snowsuit in the car after all. Also insulated gloves, earmuffs, and the wool blanket my Grandmother knit for me about 20 years ago (it’s a beautiful cable knit thing and O so warm!)

So I’m taking 4 courses this semester and theoretically 3 of them are classroom, but upon further investigation and some consultation with a person who’d taken the class, one of those is practically online as the instructor rarely shows up. Which is fine I can figure out polynomials with the help of #4 though I wonder about the people who are not so fortunate as to have a built in tutor. I intend to maintain my overachiever reputation because it’s fun and I feel like it’s sort of making up for the straight-C status I maintained through grade school. Not that it matters anywhere except in my own head, but still. I am still unsure of what will be done with all this small town community college tech school education, but I figure that door will open up when it opens up. For now, it’s the path of edumication I’m on, and edumicated I will be, eventually.

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Sometime in late April, I was whining to an instructor about the school’s requirement for algebra, and how I’d not used it in 30 years, and was I really going to need it or was this an arbitrary nod toward “education”. He proceeded to spend 10  minutes explaining an assortment of algebraic (whatever they’re called…functions?) thingies that are regularly used in business practices.  He wrote them on the board, showing what each variable meant and how it was used and why. Then he went to an Excel spreadsheet and carried on with the explanation. FINALLY! A real reason WHY I needed to know this stuff and not just a vague “well, because I said so” from an administrator. Why can’t they do this from the start?

transparent practice

Later on, I complained to my brother (a mechanical engineer who does Big Math all the time) and to my son (an electrical engineering student who also does Big Math all the time), and was lectured (politely, not aggressively) about how algebra is a foundational building block upon which all higher math is built, and if you plan to do anything more complicated than an Excel spreadsheet, it is vital to know this. Just like it is really important to know which way the grain lies on a fabric in order to properly construct a garment. (that’s my own personal analogy, because I love those things)

So, on Monday I start with the first math class since 1983. It is a remedial (“we don’t call it that because it has uncomfortable connotations for many of our students”) algebra, because in spite of all attempts via Great Courses (which helped) and Khan Academy and some tutoring by the resident post-many-algebra-classes student, my desiccated math lobe is rejecting all attempts to revive it. I am worried for my flawless GPA, but also know that it isn’t the determining factor in my ability to be a productive member of society. I do, however, want to know this stuff should I ever have to write grant proposals and be able to prove the need for X amount of funds to keep Y-non-profit’s head above Z water.

computer monkey working laptop typing

This semester, the business administration rubber is hitting the educational road. The last 2 were kind of (what I think of) *soft* courses. Sitting in the classroom discussing stuff was pretty much what happened. This time, it’s the Hard Stuff. I’m taking an Excel course- which I sort of kind of know how to do a spreadsheet, but this will get into the nitty gritty of it, with all the fancy bells and whistles you can do with the magical spreadsheet program. Also, an Office Procedures course, not sure what that covers but the textbook came yesterday and I’m eyeing with with some suspicion because it looks fairly technical. For fun, and because I need a soft course upon which to lay my math-weary head, there’s a Leadership class, which is another Applied Psychology sort of thing.  I blew that last applied course clean out of the water and enjoyed the heck out of it, so hopefully this one will be equally interesting.

While technically my “major” (can you call it that in a 2 year program? It’s not a Bachelor’s degree) is Business Management, I’m taking all my electives in Administration stuff like the Excel  and the Procedures courses. I want to take the Quickbooks and the Documents classes and might also take the independent Photoshop class (a 3 day thing in the evening), because you can’t know too much and if I can say I’m proficient in all these things that can only be good. I’d like to work either for a small business or a non-profit, so being able to manage and administrate would be helpful.

So here goes. Math. Computer stuff (I’m ok with a computer, but need hand-holding for more complicated stuff. On the other hand, I can rock the 5-D embroidery program which is every bit as complicated as the Excel thing, but it gives me something pretty when I’m done. I guess I’ll need to learn to find satisfaction with columns and rows working out.)

Dear Himself, I miss you. I miss the days when the hard decisions were tempered by someone else’s input and when life got heavy you helped me carry the load. It’s ok, though. I’m doing fine and it’s kind of like missing the days when I was a kid and the most complicated decision was whether or not to put a slice of salami on my tomato sandwich.

Love, Rootietoot

 

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Bits and pieces

Life feels like a rocking boat- not violently like a storm, but sort of like a canoe on a lake, with the occasional speed boat roaring past and making an uncomfortable wake. One of the things people do, and I understand why they do it, is to look at me when they complain about something and apologize, sort of implying they shouldn’t complain around someone who’s problems are so much worse than theirs. How silly is that! Sure, Himself dying was pretty awful, but a person’s problems are a person’s problems. If you’re having issues with a child giving you heartache, it can be pretty painful, and just because I went through what I did, doesn’t mean your issues are any less painful to you. I get that. I’m not thinking in my head “what’s she whining about? MY problems are WAY WORSE!” because to you, they’re really rough.

Though to be honest, if someone is complaining about their husband forgetting to pick up milk on the way home even after reminded in a text message, I do kind of think it…like “I wish I had someone to forget the milk…” but only briefly because I remember the frustration Mom felt when she sent Dad out for milk and bread and he came back with a pecan pie and a bottle of cold duck. (true story)..but now it makes a good story and all the women can nod and tell of something their husbands did like that.

Earlier today a friend pondered if our troubles in life get more difficult as we go along. I think so, and here’s how: it’s all about perspective.  23 years ago something enormous happened to me- I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Now, that threw my whole life into a tailspin but eventually I got my feet back underneath me and carried on, feeling stronger for the ordeal.  Then I dealt with teenagers, which was also pretty difficult, even more so because there were 3 of them, and not just me. Also something of a tailspin but instead of lasting 6 months it lasted several years. But, we all survived and seem to be the better (and stronger) for it. Himself’s work, once we moved here, was kind of a nightmare for both of us…so hard, but…we learned how to deal and were (and are) stronger for it.  Now, when Himself died, I knew, because those other circumstances were all survived and strengthened me, that I’d be ok. Yes, it sucks and is the kind of thing I’d not wish on anyone, but…like all the other stuff…I’m stronger for it.

That’s right. I’m badass.

I think the reason it seems stuff gets harder as we go along is because the stuff that’s not harder is, by comparison, not really a Problem. Think of it like this. You go to the gym to work out, right? You don’t start with the 100 pound weights and work your way down, because that would be silly and you’d end up throwing the weights everywhere. You start with the small weights and they seem heavy, then they feel doable so you move up to the heavier ones, and so it continues. Then, by the time you’re doing the 100 pound weights, those 10 pounders that seemed so heavy when you started don’t feel like a thing at all. Same with life. The stuff that used to seem so all-fired important, isn’t so much anymore. Think about when you were 16 and how incredibly critical to everything it was, that you have the right (insert what was important like haircut, clothes, or something) and now, at (insert your adult age, I’m 50…I mean…51) the haircut is nice but it isn’t the end of your entire social life if it isn’t perfect. Because experience tells you what’s important now.

am I making any sense?

Anyway, the sorts of things that internal perspective tells me *should* be very important, aren’t really. I mean, yes, kind of, but in the grand scheme of things, the pressure isn’t there. For instance, I made a 4.0 the last 2 semesters (the crowd cheers!). Now, I worked, but not super hard. Kind of hard, but not really hard. My attitude is “cool, I made good grades.” but it’s not any more important (in my mind) than have a really productive Sweet 100 tomato plant. So far, I’ve gotten more out of the tomato than I have out of the education. The upcoming semester may be more difficult, and making a 4.0 would be a bigger accomplishment, but even so, I won’t starve if I don’t, my children won’t be homeless if I don’t. And this is because the thing that happened 17 months ago is more enormous than anything that has ever happened, and by comparison, everything  that has ever happened pales in comparison. So a 4.0 and many pints of tiny tomatoes and building a house, while all wonderful, aren’t that awe-inspiring.  They’re just kind of cool.

not mine, an image I stole from here

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Another first day

Today is #4’s first day of his last year of secondary education. That’s right. My baby is a senior in high school. What a great person he has turned into! He has his opinions, and knows how to follow the letter of the law while thumbing his nose at the spirit of it. Here’s how he’s doing it today: There is a school rule that says “no mustaches or beards”, and the intention is “no facial hair”, however, it does not SAY that, so he spent the Summer growing an admirable set of Greg Allman style mutton chops. He also grew a mustache but that came off…I think…(checking pictures)…yes, it did.  The remarkably unflappable headmaster of the school, when queried by #4 regarding the legality of the mutton chops, told him that he would permit them but reluctantly. Which was good enough for #4. He’s also very blonde, so the said chops don’t really show up.

For having gone through such a rough time, losing his father, with whom he was so close, (no, really. I know people say that about sons who lose their fathers, but they were peas in a proverbial pod), he has such a sunny outlook on life. He knows things suck sometimes, and don’t always go the way they’re planned, but his hearty Calvinist education has taught him that Sh!t Happens, and God planned it that way for our good and His glory, so getting angry and whining about it doesn’t really accomplish much. He (#4) has been a massive comfort to me through this Post-Himself journey, as well as a source of wisdom-beyond-his-years.

He isn’t really sure what the post-high school years hold, other than not going to college immediately. I encourage that, taking a year or two, or three, before college. He needs time to figure out exactly what to do, breathe after 12 years of constant education, go to technical school and get a certificate or two. It seems very prudent to grow up some before embarking on something as major as a college education. He hasn’t decided if he’s moving to Alabama with me, or staying here. There is a fine technical school and a university that has excellent science and engineering programs in this town, as well as many people we know, who would be pleased to keep an eye on him or even rent him a room. He has friends here as well. While I would love for him to move with me, he is an adult and needs to chart his own way.  Currently he’s thinking of  welding certifications (there’s always jobs for good welders), and then a chemistry degree, following in his father’s footsteps. That, of course, can change, but he do love him some chemistry.

When I look really hard at him, past the mutton chops and hairy legs, I still see the sweet faced little boy who pushed Tonka trucks around and ordered chicken fingers every time we ate out. I see the nearly limitless collection of Legos, and Matchbox cars. I wonder where the overalls and little hiking boots went, and when did he decide to branch out and eat something other than chicken fingers (usually hot wings now. The hotter the better.). When did he start gathering up such an interesting crowd of friends, all polite like he is, and all interesting and quirky, just like him.

IMG_20160714_170351041

In his natural habitat, the computer desk.

He does such..I don’t know…Non-typical things for a 17 year old boy-man. A while back, I left him here and went out of town (older brothers on call if needed). He phoned and asked if he could make some spaghetti sauce. Sure, I replied. How does one complain when one’s son wants to make a meal? The next day he called, to apologetically inform me that the spaghetti had turned into a full-blown dinner party with 3 friends. I’m thinking…well. Ok. So you cooked a gourmet (for his sauce surely is that, with fresh herbs and red wine and all the good things) meal and had friends over. Knowing his friends, there was a properly set table with cloth napkins and intellectual conversation occasionally spiced up with 16 yr old’s boner jokes. They’d cleaned up the kitchen, properly packaged up the leftover teaspoon of sauce, and carried on. I’m not about to complain about that.

Earlier this Summer I’d noticed that his friends (the ones who were capable of it, that is) were sporting luscious facial hair. One had a whole Mountain Man thing going, another had groomed it into a proper Van Dyke, complete with waxed mustache. When I commented that it was unfortunate they’d have to lose it before school started, I was quickly informed they were wearing it until admonished by the administrators and told to shave. The Van Dyke was so awesome it would be a shame, even an affront to God’s Handiwork, to lose the thing. Is there anyone more proud of their facial hair than a young man? Perhaps this is why hipster men do the beards, as they are generally young. Hm.

Anyway. My baby is in his last year of school. Next year it is likely he won’t be living in the same house as I am. I will be in a completely different house soon after he graduates. Next year he’s going to Europe for a couple of weeks. He has a car. He has something resembling a plan for his future. He wears Hawaiian shirts as a uniform (also skirting the dress code, as it implies plain shirts but never comes out and says it). His Senior Project (which is teaching a 45 minute class on any subject he wants) involves chemistry and fire and smoke. He’s an excellent cook, has a job, old women love him, and I am proud as punch of him. I know Himself is looking down on him and smiling.

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Blue haired old lady

Ok maybe not so old because I hear 50 is the new 40 and here in the Deep South, women count backwards when they hit 40 so that would make me 29. Nice, right? I didn’t like 29 very much the first time around so getting to do it again is a bonus.

Anyway, ever since this Unnatural Hair Color went (sort of) mainstream I’ve kind of wanted a blue streak. Not BLOOOOOOO, but something pretty that’s not so noticeable until you get in the sun. And, I have a friend who’s a very skilled hairperson, and we were in Savannah the other day where she buys her professional supply stuff. I picked out a blue I liked, and last night she took the silver bit in the front of my head and dyed it a subtle soft blue. Perfect!

I have always told anyone who asked (or even didn’t, as I’m never stingy with advice or opinions) (and Himself said the same thing) that if you’re going to experiment with the hair, do it when you’re in school because chances are once you’re in The Real World, experimentation won’t be as easy.  Of course, these days with the full sleeve tattoos and nose rings and such, unnaturally colored hair isn’t really a thing that’s frowned upon in many places.

I was discussing stuff in the HR class last semester, and things like discrimination came up, and how tattoos and piercings and the like were not a reason to eliminate someone from consideration, unless maybe it was a face tattoo that read Heil Hitler, because that would call into question a person’s decision making abilities.

So, I’m grooving on the blue streak- kind of almost a periwinkle blue when combined with my steel grey. And that’s another thing…Did you know young people are dyeing their hair steel grey? That it’s a thing to have Aunt Edna’s hair color? How cool is that! For once in my life I’m On Fleek and without even trying!

ANYWAY…Want to see it? Click on this…

I know Himself would like it, he always smiled when I did something Different.

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