Friday, December 30, 2011

Homeward bound

Headed down south to the land of the pines...
I'm thumbin' my way into North Caroline

Coming up for me, tonight: a belated North Carolina Christmas, with some New Year's festivity thrown in for good measure. 

Europe is grand and all, but as we know, there's just no place like home.

Happy, Happy New Year to you all... I'll catch you on the flip side, with all the fresh excitement of a new [letterpress] calendar.


Thursday, December 29, 2011


After three days in Paris, we spent five (plus two mostly-travel) days in Austria. As amazing as our time in Paris was, we were beyond excited to hang out with T's sister and brother-in-law in the place they call home for eight months of the year. You might remember that Alex plays hockey in the Austrian league - yep, this is one hockey-loving family that I joined. He and T were actually goalies together in college, which is a whole other story. At any rate, we get to see Avery and Alex in their summer apartment in Boston and during summer family gatherings in Connecticut, but without ever having been to their home in Linz, we always felt a little too far removed from the primary part of their year.

Now, we're officially in the know. When Avery tells stories about the rest of the folks in their Melrose Place-style Austrian hockey commune, we know exactly who's who. Instead of just noticing whether Alex's team won or lost, we're now looking at every player's stats. More than that, though, we got to see them in a place they've come to love, a place where they're building roots, and there's nothing more worthwhile than that.

I didn't take as many pictures as I should have in Austria. We were around so many more people that my photographer's instinct slipped away. So not pictured in this slideshow are hilariously fun evenings of hanging out with A&A and the rest of the team and their corresponding "WAGs" (that's "Wives and Girlfriends," by the way... and yes, the term is actually used), which may or may not have ended with the Linz police breaking up the fun, pictures of Alex's awesome cooking, or pictures of many, many rounds of Catch Phrase and Telestrations. But I do have photos of picturesque Linz and Salzburg (despite the not-so-picturesque weather), the three of us drinking a tad too much strong German beer or "hot wine" in the stands during an away and a home game, and adorable things like dogs on ice.

A few teasers:

Without further adieu, the full slideshow:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Oh, Paris.

You are my new favorite.

Your small streets and your little moments... those are the things that stole my heart.

Your wow moments are pretty heart-stopping, too.

And if you'll indulge me, I have to say that being in love in your city is a special kind of magic.

There's more, much more... and I'm counting down until the day we can return. Enjoy our slideshow!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen!

I'm taking advantage of what I expect may be my last clearly thinking moment until I step on the plane to bid adieu for the holidays. While we'll miss our stateside holiday traditions this year - and of course the familiar faces that come with them - we're thrilled to do something just for us this year. Seeing the world a little bit this Christmas just feels right, especially since some other familiar faces are involved.

As my parting gift, I offer our 2011 holiday card, which makes me embarrassingly happy. Our house portrait was done by the lovely Rebekka Seale (whose blog is also lovely), and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. Even better, after our cards are all sent away in the mail, we have a portrait ready for framing that we can enjoy each day of the year. Best. Card Idea. Ever.

Thanks for the fun and the conversation we've shared over the year, friends. I hope each of you has your merriest holiday season yet!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ramen obsession

My current excuse regarding near-constant cravings for Toki Underground is that ramen is good for my cold. But really, I don't need to justify my obsession with this stuff.

The kimchi hakata is pretty much all I want to eat these days. Look at that stuff... can you blame me?

While we're on the subject of ramen, if you didn't get a chance to read the debut issue of Lucky Peach when it launched this summer, try to find yourself a copy. The issue is entirely focused on ramen, and is as hunger-inducing as it is giggle-inducing. Good writing through and through, especially if you find boys' clubs more charming than obnoxious. (Personally, I waver... but this boys' club pulls it off.)

Mmmmm... ramen.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Scrambled Brain (not a recipe post)

I turned on my television tonight for the first time in what feels like a century. Lunch today was the first time this week I read the newspaper. I visited Twitter, Facebook, and Reader, too - the real things, not just the mobile versions. Here's a sign of how hectic things are right now: my astrology app (yes, I have this) (even though I have sworn off psychics) (a story I may tell in 2012) told me that December would be my biggest career month of the year. I thought that was sort of impossible, since I'll be on vacation for half of December... but I think the damn app might be on to something. Since job-blogging is for the birds - very, very dimwitted birds - we'll skip over that currently enormous portion of my life and just say that things are swell.

So what are we left with, then? We're left with a still-unplanned trip to Europe. The logic there is that because our goals consist not of Louvre sightings but instead of belly fillage and sensory overload, planning isn't really required. I'd simply like to step off the plane and be swept away in a Paris whirlwind, with my favorite partner in crime there to help me pronounce things. This is me, simplifying.

We're also left with a Christmas tree-less house. You all were right that it would've been worth it to get one. And if I could've cloned myself to get a tree and decorate it that very day, I would have. But a week went by without a chance to breathe, and suddenly we'd only have a week with said tree before leaving it, and oh by the way where is that clone again, because the next three nights were already booked solid, and then we have only a few days with the tree. So yeah. There's been some minimal holiday decorating around la casa, but that's it. And it's the best that I can do this year... I am accepting that reality. This is me, simplifying.

A funny thing about simplifying is that I forget how much better I am at it when I'm really busy than when I'm not. My head does a better job of balancing when it has more things to sort. When I'm not busy enough, too many little items sit in my head in a mess, twisted and tangled and hopeless. Being busy is the great prioritizer of my head space. It's like the mental conditioner that turns my tangles into shiny, manageable thoughts.

It's also possible that I've been working from home a little too much for a little too long, so this change has been good. Meetings and people and reading books on the train and lunches away from my home office desk are good things. Back to Basics at its best. I still love my home office and its perks, but I think I love having the option of multiple workplaces even better. It takes one to appreciate the other.

This might just be me in a past-midnight sort of mood, but I swear this photo I took of eggs from my sister's chickens looks exactly the way I want my mental space to look. Okay, maybe there are still a lot of eggs in there. But it's me... Ms. More Is More, after all. In this picture, mental conditioner is flowing. Do you see how calm those eggs look, how they're full and lively in that pie pan but not too crowded, how there is a quiet yet charmingly irregular semblance of order?

I'm calling it right now: my resolution for 2012 is for my brain to embody this photograph. Or to start some sort of mental clarity hair product line.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our family tree

We might do things late around here, but I like to think that we also do them right. Take our first wedding anniversary, by the way - the "paper" anniversary. Those who know me might have guessed a paper anniversary would be right up my alley, but in truth I couldn't quite figure out a paper gift that T would love as much as I did. Somewhere along the way, the idea of creating a family tree took hold of us, with our wedding date as the center. And since he hadn't thought of a gift for me either, we decided that a family tree would be our collective first anniversary gift to each other. There was something harmonious about the way that gift-giving moment paralleled what the tree represented, and when I found My Tree And Me, I knew I'd struck gold.  

Our stumbling block wasn't what kind of tree to order, then, but the genealogy needed to fill out the tree.  I had lots of my family's information - with a few holes - but T's family didn't have much at all. I've long been fascinated with genealogy, so for the next year, I delved into with all my might. For any of you history-lovers, I'd really recommend digging into your own family background - it's such a treasure trove! For me I found it really interesting to research both of our families at once.

My family are as a whole settlers - they came across the pond from England, and with only one exception went straight to eastern North Carolina, then stayed there generation through generation. That kind of tradition amazes me, as someone who's had a hard time staying put herself. In this respect my mom and dad's families are absolutely intertwined. Ancestors on both sides founded a church together, sold land to each other, lived next door to each other, and were buried together. They even married each other. (Yep - my parents are in fact distantly related. Two sisters married my parents' great-grandfathers in the 1800s. They think it's hilarious. Which is really the only way to react, in my mind.) Combing through my family records was fascinating for me. I got to know people like Hezekiah and Grizelle and Hepsebeth. I was able to trace lines of my family back to Wales in the 1500s - completely new history for us.

T's family are for the most part explorers. They came to the U.S. from England, Scotland, Germany, and France. They followed their own paths - for some of them, their professional lives meant they traveled in and out of the country regularly. They went West when it was Indian territory, living in Oklahoma, Iowa, New Mexico, and California. One line even went South, becoming part of Charleston history. A few of them stayed in the Northeast, but what's interesting about T's family is that even for those who didn't, Connecticut always called them back. T's father now lives in a town where completely unknown to him, his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother was buried in 1675. For a man who was raised in California, that sort of connection is eerily fascinating. I found a kindred spirit in T's family history, too - a pioneer woman named Mae who I feel sure I would've adored had I been able to meet her.

What I found by researching our families in tandem is that despite our opposing settler/explorer natures, we both have our fair share of rogues. I love having rogues in the family. We have the upstanding citizen types too, of course... but the twinkle in our eyes when T and I laugh at each other seems to me to come directly from our ancestors who fled the military and caused mischief and married a farmhand instead of a planter. There's a restlessness that we each have that I like to think was passed down to us.

After all this history I've laid out here, it's probably implied that our little genealogy project took on a life of its own for me. We needed just five generations to fill out our tree, and so I finally pressed pause on my research to have it made. We designed a custom colorway that's just gorgeous, and perfect for our dining room. Here it is framed on the wall... a first anniversary gift that came a year and a half late.

Thanks to My Tree And Me for making something we'll treasure forever. If you're in the market for a tree of your own, I highly recommend working with them. The designs are fresh and modern, and the quality is fantastic - fitting for a piece that will tell a thousand stories.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catching my breath

I'm getting the feeling that every moment between now and boarding our flight to Europe is going to feel like one long work meeting. Did anyone else pull that unfortunate professional card over the holidays? Sigh.

Work stress is definitely affecting my desire to decorate for the holidays. Mostly because I have zero time or mental capacity right now. I'm even questioning whether we should get a Christmas tree, given how long we'll be away for our trip and how adventurous the cats may be while we're away. The pet sitters did not sign up to re-rig a knocked-over tree or sweep up broken ornaments every day. This is a dilemma for me. I love Christmas trees. I've been dreaming about our first tree in our first house since forever, yet here I am feeling like we just might not get to it this year. Sigh.

Other elements working against my holiday spirit: the weather. It's been positively spring-like in DC, and it's getting on my nerves. It hasn't been cold enough for a fire since we had our chimney inspection a month ago - another thing I'd been really excited about. Our new fireplace accessories are sitting there mocking us. Sigh.

I really shouldn't be complaining. A slew of amazing things happened over the weekend.

First, my oldest friend Allie had a little girl. Here I am with the mama-to-be at her baby shower in Virginia Beach last month. I can't wait to meet little Miss L! She was born with a full head of hair, which is my all-time favorite baby quality.

Second, I'm still recovering from Thanksgivings #2 and #3. Soooo much fun!

Here's Liam and Lucas at our neighborhood park:

And the food! Thanksgiving #2 featured a fantastic dinner, but I think the dessert was my favorite (and I never say that). Lisa and I made a salted caramel pie, and it was utterly delicious. Impossible not to make embarrassing sounds while eating it. Just perfection. I'm sharing this recipe soon - it's too good not to!

Thanksgiving #3 involved lots of furniture-moving, space-planning, and picture-hanging... my parents' home renovation is coming along beautifully. We drove down to NC with all of our leftovers from Thanksgiving #2 to reheat Friday night, then had a brand-new Thanksgiving #3 on Saturday. The spread was downhome Southern deliciousness. My favorites were the oysters and the ribs:

My other favorite had to be my niece Taylor. Too smart, this one! (And apparently my competition in future dinners where deviled eggs are involved. I think I found my match!)

So that's life over here. What's new on your end?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgivings 1-3

Last weekend, Thanksgiving #1 in Connecticut with T's family. Here's their traditional champagne cocktail... as you might imagine, ridiculous fun and laughter are implied.

Thanksgiving #2 begins tonight, when we're joined by my sister and brother-in-law and these two handsome guys:

If the last time we got together in DC is any indication, we're going to have a great couple of days. Because we didn't want to be turkey-ed out this year, we decided not to make turkey at all for Thanksgiving #2, or to make any uber-traditional dish we may have eaten at Thanksgiving #1 or will eat at Thanksgiving #3, for that matter. Here's our menu:

Not-Terribly-Traditional Thanksgiving #2 Menu

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts
Seared Duck Breasts with Red Wine and Figs

My sister's territory... she's going to surprise us.

For Thanksgiving #3, we're headed down to NC to check on my parents' home renovation and to rendezvous with these pretty people:

My family has done so much beach-time this year, between the Outer Banks and my brother's wedding farther south, that I feel like I was barely home in the Triangle at all in 2011. This trip, then, is long overdue for me.

Three Thanksgivings... an embarrassment of riches, no? I'm feeling pretty lucky.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Potato Leek Gratin, and Liam

Hey, Liam, what do you think about having a potato and leek gratin with Thanksgiving dinner at my house?

Okay, great! I've experimented with this recipe a few times and finally have it down-pat. It gets a little weird when I use a turkey baster to limit the runniness and increase the flavor, but just trust me. What do you think?

Alright, settled then! I promise that it's one of the tastiest, coziest dishes you can imagine for fall. So I'll see you and your brother Lucas tomorrow night... and we'll cook up a storm together on Thursday. How does that sound?

Potato Leek Gratin
Liberally adapted from The Beekman Boys

I've added and subtracted some ingredients from the original incarnation of this recipe, which was too soupy. Rather than reducing the amount of cream and milk - because oh how they add so much deliciousness - I've employed a basting method at the end that takes liquid from the bottom of the dish and spreads it back on top. Complicated, maybe - but absolutely delicious, I assure you. This reheats like a dream for leftovers.

  • 3 pounds small potatoes (such as red russet or Yukon gold), sliced 1/6-inch thick
  • 5 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced to 1/8-inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for buttering dish
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2-cup panko, plus more for dusting
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4-cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Salt
  • I use my food processor to make quick work of the potatoes and leeks, using the widest slicer setting for the potatoes and one two notches lower for the leeks.
  • Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large pot of salted boiling water, parboil the sliced potatoes for 5 minutes. Drain potatoes well and set aside.
  • In a large skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Saute leeks and garlic until leeks are tender, about 7 minutes. Set aside and combine with the panko.
  • In a buttered 9x13-inch baking dish, arrange half of reserved potatoes in an overlapping pattern. Pour 1 cup cream and 1/2 cup milk over top and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Top with the reserved leek mixture and arrange the remaining potatoes.
  • Pour remaining cream and milk over potatoes and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Dust the top with few sprinkles of panko.
  • Bake until potatoes are tender and the top of the gratin is golden brown, about 60 minutes.
  • Take the dish out of the oven, and if you see obvious amounts of liquid on the bottom and on the sides of the gratin (I always do), carefully tip it to one side so that the remaining cream and milk gathers on one end. Use a turkey baster to gather the liquid and spread it back on top of the gratin. Cook for another 10 minutes, until the liquids are completely absorbed.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Butterfly map WINNER!

I'm uber-excited about the winner of my 2nd blogiversary giveaway. She's one of my dearest friends - aren't the folks over at smart?

Drumroll please... the winner of a Bug Under Glass butterfly map is....

Yay! Kate, I'll hook you up with Kevin for your map asap... enjoy!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Office politics

This week is kicking my tail. In lieu of a real post, please enjoy this video of Switters bathing Fanny on my office desk (the leaves on that tree out the window have since turned a vivid orange and disappeared, by the way). Some weeks, it's cat videos or bust. Please also enjoy the public radio broadcast in the background. It's just the way we roll in the home office.

And don't forget... my blogiversary giveaway is live! You can enter all week long.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank you, with butterflies

I forgot my blogiversary this year. It was July, and I was traveling like a madwoman and hosting visitors like a madwoman, and so it slipped through the cracks. But I love celebrating milestones, even if I'm a half-year late. The second year of my blog was very much about the concept of home - what it means to look for one, and what it takes to make one. And so a home-related blogiversary giveaway - however late - seemed a fitting end to a week of house renovation report-backs, where you humored my discussions of paint colors and construction projects.

For my oh-so-belated blogiversary, I'd like to give one Freckled Citizen reader a little something from the (figurative) walls of my dining room, which make me smile daily. I'm referring, of course, to our fantastic butterfly maps, which highlight our respective journeys toward the place we now call home together. 

Top row: North Carolina, New York City, Connecticut
Bottom row: Boston, New Mexico, Dallas

I had a great experience working with Bug Under Glass to develop this collection. Bug Under Glass is run by Kevin Clarke, and is one of the few green-certified insect display businesses in the country. Kevin really loves what he does, and it shows - his proud status as an insect nerd is firmly on display in this recent San Francisco Chronicle article about his business. Nerds doing what they love are among my favorite kinds of people (hellooo, Amtrak poster in the office and streetcar paintings in the dining room!).

From my little home on the web to your actual home, I'd love to give away one of Bug Under Glass' gorgeous U.S. state maps with a native butterfly. Maybe you have a little corner of your home calling out for something special... or maybe someone on your holiday wish list does. Here's how to win:

Freckled Citizen Belated Blogiversary Butterfly Map Giveaway
(how many times can you say that quickly?)

  • Leave me a comment telling me which state map you'll have Bug Under Glass make for you, and why. (As always, make sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner. I say this every time, and every time I get anonymous entries.)
  • For a second entry, you can tweet about the giveaway and mention me, @magmaeA. If you do this, leave me another comment telling me that you did so.
  • I'll accept entries through next Thursday at midnight and use to select a winner, then announce the winner on Friday, November 19.

Good luck - I hope you're as excited about having a butterfly map on your wall as I am!

The fine print, FCC-style: This is not a sponsored post. I just really like Bug Under Glass. I'm providing this prize with my own money.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The First Six Months: Backyard... and done!

In lieu of a true backyard update in the style of my other First Six Months posts, I'll just refer you back to this post from the summer. Our weird backyard is the same today, save for dead plants and lots of leaves that need to be swept up. Here's my birds-eye home office view today, through the screen:

And with that... we're done! Thanks for tagging along for the "tour" this week, everyone. And if you detest home renovation chatter, my apologies, truly. Tomorrow I have a fun surprise for you guys - and you don't have to like DIY renovations to enjoy it. Oh, and next week? I promise not to talk about the house even once. Deal?

The First Six Months: Guest Bedroom

While we've done a little more in the guest bedroom than our own bedroom, you'll see that this room is still very bare-bones. The big challenge will be replacing the ugly old built-in closets, given that we'll probably take on the master bedroom closets that are the backside of these at the same. I love this soothing paint color, but still need to do another coat - and you can see under the weird desk area that I still have a big patch of the previous yellow to cover. Oops. Let's pretend that pile of stuff in the way is just my attempt at camoflauge.

Guest Bedroom, Done
  • Painted (well, most of it, anyway)
Guest Bedroom, To Do
  • Finish decorating
  • Replace old built-in closets
  • Remove recessed lighting
  • Replace overhead light/fan
Guest Bedroom, Paint
  • Primary Color: Benjamin Moore Classic Gray, color-matched to no-VOC Mythic Paint
  • Trim and Door: Mythic Bright White

Note: For this week's First Six Month Series, I'm using the realtor photos that advertised our house as the "Move-in" photo, and my own images for "6 months later."

The First Six Months: Master Bedroom and Basement

Well. We have the Master Bedroom and Basement at Move-In.

And we have the Six Months Later version:

We've done a whole lot of nothing in these two areas. Imagine piles of clothes in the bedroom and old furniture thrown into place - nothing even on the wall yet! - and you have the bedroom. I have plans and some prints to frame, but that's it. And in the basement, we have boxes and piles marked Goodwill. It isn't pretty. So let's just check back on these two at the one year anniversary, why don't we?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The First Six Months: Home Office

My office has the only original paint color in the house that I actually like. I need to hang a few more things on the wall in here, which will involve taking all the books off the bookcases and moving them down toward the wall. As you might imagine, it's an easy task to postpone.

Home Office, Done
  • Nothing... plug and play with this one.
Home Office, To Do
  • Push bookcases toward the window for more wall space to hang art
  • Install blinds
  • Replace light/fan
Home Office, Paint
  • Primary Color: Unidentified light blue from previous homeowners
  • Trim and Door: not Mythic Bright White

Note: For this week's First Six Month Series, I'm using the realtor photos that advertised our house as the "Move-in" photo, and my own images for "6 months later."

    The First Six Months: Full Bath

    Our bathroom was one of the first projects we took on once we moved in. Aren't bathrooms perfect for that? A small contained space that you can start and finish... so reassuring in the midst of a house full of waiting repairs. Our wedding-tablecloth-turned-shower-curtain makes me smile on a regular basis.

    Full Bath, Done
    • Painted (walls, wainscoting, trim, door)
    • Switched out towel racks for towel hooks
    • Replaced all hardware
    • Gave our bathroom window a little modesty
    Full Bath, To Do
    • Install the fancy new light/fan combo we bought after we get someone over here to vent the ceiling for us
    Full Bath, Paint
    • Primary Color: Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue, color-matched to no-VOC Mythic Paint
    • Wainscoting, Trim, Door: Mythic Bright White

    Note: For this week's First Six Month Series, I'm using the realtor photos that advertised our house as the "Move-in" photo, and my own images for "6 months later."

    The First Six Months: Stairs and Upstairs Hallway

    Our stairs were my first big (and solo) project in La Casa, and every time I walk in the door, I'm reminded again that all that time inhaling fumes was worth it.

    Stairs, Done
    • Sanded
    • Stained
    • Painted
    Stairs, To Do
    • Because of the stairs' age, there are a few spots where we could use wood putty to fill in some cracks. You know, when we're done with every other chore in the house and just looking for work to do.
    Stairs, Paint
    • Wall Color: Benjamin Moore Chestertown Buff, color-matched to no-VOC Mythic Paint
    • Trim and Stair Risers: Mythic Bright White
    • Stairs: Minwax Dark Walnut

    Some of my favorite art is hanging in our upstairs hallway. But the floor is still... wait for it... linoleum! Painful kitchen reminder - ahhhh! The original floor is still underneath (for real this time), and now that we are experts at pulling this stuff up, the real work should be in cleaning and restoring the wood. The other big issue up here is the horrid lighting. A simple set of pendants will be a vast improvement. One day. And I sometimes want to either re-stain the bannister or paint it something exciting. That's on the eventual (I hope) "I'm bored" list. The realtor didn't take any photos up here, so I just have the current state for you. (Please note how the terrible lighting makes it impossible to take a good photo.)

    Upstairs Hallway, Done
    • Painted walls, trim, doors
    Upstairs Hallway, To Do
    • Remove linoleum
    • Restore original floors
    • Replace lighting with something... anything
    Upstairs Hallway, Paint
    • Stairway-side Wall Color: Benjamin Moore Chestertown Buff, color-matched to no-VOC Mythic Paint
    • Opposite-side Wall Color: Benjamin Moore Cream Fleece, color-matched to no-VOC Mythic Paint
    • Trim and Doors: Mythic Bright White

      Tuesday, November 8, 2011

      The First Six Months: Half Bath

      I'm loving the way this room has come together, thanks to our collection of sea-themed newsprint images. I'd really love to take it to the next level with a great wow-factor pendant light... and oh, do I have bookmarks. Barring that plan, we'll replace the existing light at the least, and update all the hardware, too.

      Half Bath, Done
      • Painted
      • New floors and quarter-round moulding
      • New (old, reclaimed) mirror
      • New art to go with old shells
      Half Bath, To Do
      • Remove light
      • Add either a new pendant light (first choice), or barring that, a new over-the-mirror light
      • Add a vented fan
      • Switch out hardware to oil-rubbed bronze (including sink faucet)
      Half Bath, Paint
      • Primary Color: Benjamin Moore Galapagos Turquoise
      • Trim and Door: Mythic Bright White

      Note: For this week's First Six Month Series, I'm using the realtor photos that advertised our house as the "Move-in" photo, and my own images for "6 months later."
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