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The Adventures of Flat Stacey

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The daughter of a long time friend sent a envelope to me with a small cut-out of a little girl. Her school had a project/contest in which students get friends, like me, to take pictures with the little cut-out and return them. I decided to take my little “Flat Stacey” on an adventure around Oxford. Here it goes:

Stacey arrived at my flat, #8 Marriott Close, through the mail slot.


We had some tea and then hopped on a bike and headed down to the City Centre of Oxford to do some sight seeing.

IMG_1994We parked our bike next to the Radcliffe Camera (part of Oxford’s library system).

I showed Stacey some of the old Cathedrals in town.


We thought about taking a tour on one of the open-top, double-decker buses.

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Stacey decided that she was too excited to just sit on a bus. Little girls (and boys) have a hard time sitting still when they are excited. I asked Stacey if she ever read Alice in Wonderland. I told her that it had been written here in Oxford and that Alice was a real little girl (Alice Liddell) whose father worked at one of the Oxford colleges named Christ Church. I took her to see where Alice lived.

This is the door to Alice’s home:


Here is a statue of her father, Henry Liddell


These are the places where Alice would have run around as a little girl.


From there, we decided to go to the old Oxford Castle. I let Stacey see some medieval punishments: the stocks and debtor’s prison!


IMG_2023She wanted to see what the town looked like, so I took her to a hillside to take a picture of the skyline.


Next I showed her the oldest building in Oxford: St. Michael’s at the North Gate. This building was built in 1040, making it almost 1,000 years old. Stacey was impressed.


It was getting chilly, so we decided to do some indoor activities. I took Stacey to see the Ashmolean Museum.

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We got in a little trouble with these next two shots. Children, you shouldn’t touch the exhibits. The museum worker told us that it was not an appropriate way to treat the artifacts.IMG_2026 IMG_2029

So let this be a lesson, if you see an Egyptian ram on display, don’t try to ride it! It is a quick way to end a trip to the museum 🙂

Finally, it was time to go home. After a brief rest, it was time for Stacey to return to Idaho. This is Stacey waving, “Bye” before she hops into the British mail box!IMG_2031

I had a great time with Stacey. I hope some of our pictures win a prize!

Thanks for a really cute idea, 2nd Grade Reading Group and Mrs. Dupey.


Boxing Day

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Boxing Day is another English Christmas tradition that we get to experience for the first time.  I asked two different Britons what “Boxing Day” meant and I got two different answers.  One told me that it harkens back to a time when apprentices would save up their earnings in a box all year, and the day after Christmas they would open the box and use the money to do with whatever they pleased.  The other said that it goes back to when servants would have to work on Christmas Day and were given the next day off to spend for themselves.  The lords would give them gifts (boxes) on that day to show their appreciation.

Apparently there are many different versions of where the term came from.  Here’s what I got from “trusty” ol’ Wikipedia:

Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts from their superiors.

The exact etymology of the term “boxing” is unclear. There are several competing theories, none of which is definitive.[1] The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen,[2] which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.[3] This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys‘ diary entry for 19 December 1663.[4] This custom is linked to an older English tradition: Since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.

Now-a-days, Boxing Day is reminiscent of the USA’s Black Friday after Thanksgiving.  Stores will begin their after Christmas sales and many will go shopping.  It’s also a big day for sport, including rugby, football, horse racing, and mounted fox hunts.  I think most people use it as a day of relaxation after the hubbub of Christmas.  We all slept late and are enjoying a lazy day of playing with our Christmas gifts and having nothing to do.  One of us probably needs to head out to the store for some milk, though 😉

A Very English Christmas

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Are you wondering how an English Christmas differs from an American one?  Because I’ve got some answers for you!

In England, mulled wine and mince pies are traditional Christmas fare.  Mulled wine is hot red wine with added spices, sugar and is really good when prepared with orange slices.  Mince pies are miniature pies with minced fruit filling.  I really like them; they remind me of apple pie or pecan pie.  Very Christmassy.

Christmas pudding is also (astonishingly!) traditional.  It is a very rich, dense cake in a rounded shape (kind of like a little bundt cake without the hole) and the best thing I can compare it to is a fruit cake, because it is quite fruity.  I think it has a lot of fig in it, because when I had it, that’s what it tasted like to me.  It is served with a white cream sauce.

On Christmas Day, everyone goes to church, no matter if it is Sunday or not.  In my experience, one would only go to church if Christmas is on a Sunday, but here one always goes, regardless of the day of the week.  There are also a plethora of carol services, crib services (special services where children dress up and act out the nativity), and candlelight services to attend leading up to Christmas.  Scott and I were happy to be a part of the “choir” at our church’s carol service.  The choir only sang two songs that the rest of the congregation didn’t sing and we actually already knew them (sort of).

Will was a Wise Man in the church nativity play

Will was a Wise Man in the church nativity play

Claire was an angel

Claire was an angel

Speaking of carols, surprisingly there are some differences.  “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Away in a Manger” have different tunes (great tunes!), and there are a few that we knew the tunes for (same as certain hymns, etc) but not the words.  Then there were some that we altogether new and different.  Along with the carol service, we also caroled at a nearby nursing home and up and down the streets near the church.  That was a fun experience because the people actually came out of their houses and joined in the caroling and one woman brought out cookies!  Oh, and we had an accordion to accompany us…fun times 🙂

I love that people carol here…we’ve been down in city centre several times in the last few weeks and there are always carolers (sometimes dressed up all Victorian-like, sometimes not), a group of school children, or a lone sousaphonist making music.  It adds a bit of magic to the air.

Santa Claus is traditionally known as Father Christmas in England, but the name “Santa” is much more prevalent now than it once was.  Alas, Americanization has taken over.  You can visit Santa’s “grotto” (for a small fee), have his undivided attention for a few minutes, and if you’re lucky, receive a little gift!  Santa doesn’t hang out in malls (they don’t have them here) or department stores.  I had to go online and search him out.  Thankfully, I found out that he was going to be at Town Hall one Saturday.  Also, there are no “pictures with Santa” unless you take them yourself 😉  I’m glad that the Santa we visited had a real beard and looked the part.  I heard that lots of Santas around here are really unrealistic.

Claire talking to Santa/Father Christmas at Town Hall.  She told him she wanted a teddy bear!

Claire talking to Santa/Father Christmas at Town Hall. She told him she wanted a teddy bear!

Will didn't know what to tell Santa he wanted for Christmas!

Will didn’t know what to tell Santa he wanted for Christmas!

I posted on facebook a few days back that the song “Silver Bells” has new meaning to me now because of my experience in Oxford.  Here are the lyrics, in case you haven’t heard it 20,000 times this holiday season:

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks,
Dressed in holiday style.
In the air, there’s a feeling
of Christmas

Children laughing, people passing,
Meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you’ll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells!
It’s Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring!
Soon it will be Christmas day.

Strings of street lights,
Even stop lights,
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush

home with their treasures.

Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch,

This is Santa’s big scene.
And above all this bustle, you’ll hear:
Silver bells, silver bells!
It’s Christmas time in the city.

Ring-a-ling, hear them ring!

Soon it will be Christmas day.

Now, while I haven’t actually heard any silver bells, or seen any snow (well, not enough to build up and crunch, anyway), the rest of the song is very indicative of Christmas-time here.  City Centre is always busy with shoppers, but at Christmas, it’s even busier.  The stores are laid out very differently here, too.  You don’t have any huge stores like Target or Walmart to shop in with their wide aisles and big shopping carts.  Here you have stores that are on two or three levels of a building and wrap around in weird ways.  There are almost no aisles to speak of, you have to carry all your intended purchases in your arms or a hand-basket, and you are always in someone’s way, no matter how hard you try not to be.  Then, remember, you have to carry your packages home because there aren’t any cars with huge trunks or hatch-backs in which to put them.  So, there is a definite hustle and bustle, but it’s also very merry.

One of the big trees in Oxford; this is on Broad Street.  I think it's Balliol College in the background.

One of the big trees in Oxford; this is on Broad Street. I think it’s Balliol College in the background.

Turkeys hanging up at the butcher shop in the covered market

Turkeys hanging up at the butcher shop in the covered market

The butcher shop in the covered market...just hangin' around...

The butcher shop in the covered market…just hangin’ around…

Trees for sale in the covered market (quite pricey!)

Trees for sale in the covered market (quite pricey!)

In the morning, we’ll open presents and then get ready and go to church.  Afterward, we’ll go to the home of friends for Christmas dinner.  They are an English family so I am looking forward to traditional English fare!  We’ve been so blessed by so many wonderful people here in England and we’ve had a great start to our adventure here.


Our time with friends today did not disappoint!  J & B made a delicious meal complete with turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, and veg.  We experienced our first Christmas crackers–a fun tradition: you and your neighbor at the table each pull one end of the cracker (which does actually make a cracking sound when broken), and whoever gets the larger end of the cracker wins the prize inside (a small item like a key chain or puzzle, a paper crown, and a “rubbish” joke).  We took a break before eating mince pie, jam tarts, meringues, and having a cuppa.  At 3:00 PM, the telly was turned on to watch the Queen’s Speech: a Christmas greeting/message and sort of a year in review, including performances by the Paraorchestra and Military Wives Choir.  Very cool!  We had a great time.

We wish you all a very “Happy Christmas” and a blessed new year.  Cheers!

Merry Christmas from "Across the Pond!"

Merry Christmas from “Across the Pond!”

O Christmas Tree

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…how lovely are your branches!

We were so excited to go and cut down our own Christmas tree this year!  We went with some friends and made a whole afternoon/evening of it, complete with hot chocolate and mulled wine (for the grown-ups) afterward.  Our tree is not the most perfect Christmas tree I’ve ever seen, but I love it!  Most of the ornaments (with the exception of a few my parents mailed to us from home) are homemade.  I’d say it’s one of my favorite trees ever!  Thanks, M & E, for the Clark-Griswold-esque tree adventure!! 😉

Will in the tree field

Will in the tree field

Claire in the field.  It was cold that day, and quite muddy!  It was a good thing we wore our wellies!

Claire in the field. It was cold that day, and quite muddy! It was a good thing we wore our wellies!

Our tree!

Our tree!

Heading back from the field with our trees

Heading back from the field with our trees

Strapping the tree onto the car

Strapping the tree onto the car

All decorated and ready for Christmas morning!

All decorated and ready for Christmas morning!

Russian doll (babushka, matryoshka...whichever you prefer)

Russian doll (babushka, matryoshka…whichever you prefer)

Scott said this looked like the Twitter bird ;)

Scott said this looked like the Twitter bird 😉

Poinsettia and snowflake

Poinsettia and snowflake

I used lower branches that we pulled off to make a wreath for the door...I never did get around to adding anything to it though!

I used lower branches that we pulled off to make a wreath for the door…I never did get around to adding anything to it though!

I used one of the lower branches to make a mini tree for my kitchen window

I used one of the lower branches to make a mini tree for my kitchen window

The Return of the…Queen?

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No, this post isn’t about Queen Elizabeth.  I was just trying to be creative with the title of my post after my LONG absence from the blogosphere.  That was my attempt to reference LOTR.  I’m sorry {shakes head in shame}

On with the show.  I’m sure you have questions about my lack of enticing information and witty quips about life here in England.

Q:  Where have you been?

A:  Nowhere.  I’ve been nowhere.  I have no good excuse for not writing anything.

Q:  Were you ill?

A:  Not really.  I did have another coughing flare up a couple of weeks ago, and then last week I wrenched my knee while slipping into a seat on the bus (literally).

Q:  Do you have anything exciting to share with us now that you’re back?

A:  Not especially.  But I will try to delight you with what I DO have 😉

All kidding aside, I am really sorry (again) for being absent on my blog.  I’ve had a bad case of writer’s block and felt that I didn’t have anything worth sharing.

Have you ever written a thank you note to someone and totally forgot to send it?  And then you find it weeks and weeks or months later and felt like if you sent it, it would be more embarrassing to send it so late than to have not sent it at all?  That’s kind of how I felt here.  I knew I was falling down on my job, but I felt like I was so far behind that I could never catch up, and I was feeling guilty about letting you guys down. 😦  So, I have decided to buckle down and have something to say!!  I also must say “thank you!” to my amazing husband who stepped in twice to fill the void.  You rock, Scott.

So, what have we done since last I (really) wrote?  On 11 November, the United Kingdom recognizes Remembrance Day (like Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day in the United States).  Here is the text directly from Wikipedia:

Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” in accordance with the Armistice, signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. (“At the 11th hour” refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 a.m.) World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. [1]

The day was specifically dedicated by King George V on 7 November 1919 as a day of remembrance for members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I. This was possibly done upon the suggestion of Edward George Honey to Wellesley Tudor Pole, who established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917.[2]

The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields“. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.

I absolutely loved seeing how the Britons remember their fallen soldiers.  Many many people wore poppies in their lapels or on their shirts as a sign of remembrance in the days leading up to the 11th.  On Remembrance Sunday (the second Sunday in November; the main observance day), poppy wreaths were laid on the local war memorials and two minutes of silence are observed at 11:00 AM.

I had Scott go down to City Centre today and take some pictures of the wreaths on the main war memorial in Oxford.  One month later and they are still there.



These wooden crosses were sent to residences in Oxford and if people wanted, they could write the names of fallen soldiers on the crosses and sent them back to the city council (or church, I can’t remember) and they were then placed in the ground near the memorial.


I wrote a little about our Thanksgiving plans in my last post (Thanksgiving in the UK).  We had a lovely Thanksgiving with friends from church.  The wife is an amazing cook and we had all the traditional food: turkey (with bacon), stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn, broccoli, homemade rolls, and lots of pie.  And, because we had British folk celebrating, we had sausage, too.  Scrum-diddly-umptious.   And I must share with you the joy that is an After Eight.  Think of an extremely thin York Peppermint Pattie that is square-shaped.   So good.  I now have a box in my cupboard.


Along with cooking and eating, we also had a fun sing-along time whilst our friend played guitar and played a really fun game called Articulate.  Evidently, they have this game in the States, although I have never heard of it before (which really doesn’t mean anything).  The basic premise is a lot like Taboo, but you don’t have a list of words you can’t say.  We had a great time.

Sadly, I took no pictures that day.  I was suffering from tryptophan overload and a headache.  Must have eaten too quickly or something!

The day before our Thanksgiving celebration was what y’all in States call “Black Friday”.  We did not have shops to get to in the wee hours of the morning for door-buster sales, so the kids and I (and some friends) went to Blenheim Palace instead.  There was nothing Black about that Friday!  It was an absolutely gorgeous day, after a pretty miserable Thursday the day before.  It was a perfect day to head to Blenheim.   They dress up the palace for Christmas, so we went to see all the trees and lights.  It was beautiful!!!  But remember, those palace peeps don’t like you taking pictures inside.  So I can’t show you how awesome those ginormous trees looked in the foyer.  There were TWO giant trees that must have been 20-30 feet tall.  Maybe taller.  I don’t know.  I’m not good at height estimations.  I do have pictures of the outside, though!  Another cool thing about this visit to Blenheim: we got to see the Duke of Marlborough!  He drove his Range Rover up to the front of the palace, got out and walked inside.  We were a tiny bit starstruck.

We arrived at Blenheim around 10:30 AM; there was a beautiful fog rolling across the fields.

We arrived at Blenheim around 10:30 AM; there was a beautiful fog rolling across the fields.


There were trees lined up on both sides of the palace, plus two large ones right outside the main door

Me at Blenheim

This is the only (somewhat) decent photo I got of the kids in front of one of the trees.

In the Pleasure Gardens at Blenheim, they have a model of Woodstock (the town right outside the grounds).

They also have a pretty awesome hedge maze in the Pleasure Gardens. The kids and I got turned around. Thankfully, there are two observation decks you can climb to figure out how to get out! There were also GIANT mud puddles, and I was not wearing my wellies!


You can see the other observation deck. The middle of the maze had smaller hedges that spelled out “Blenheim.” At first Will thought this was the maze and was disappointed!


You can see some of the huge puddles in this picture, but even those are on the small side!

The Queen’s Pool. This was taken about 2:00 PM. The sun sets so early here!

We walked through Woodstock on our way back to the bus stop and I had to take a picture of the huge tree in front of the town hall!

Later that night, the kids and I met Scott in City Centre for dinner at The Eagle and Child before enjoying  Christmas Light Night.  This Oxford tradition features a parade of “300 schoolchildren” carrying lanterns they constructed at school.  This year’s theme was “Frozen Planet,” and the older students created penguins, an arctic tern and a polar bear.  There were also icicles and snowflakes carried by the younger children.  It was really pretty awesome!

A sign at The Eagle and Child

A sign at The Eagle and Child

Sign right above our heads at The Eagle and Child

This quote from C.S. Lewis was right above our table

Tea with my supper at the pub

Tea with my supper at the pub

The Ferris Wheel!
The Ferris Wheel!
Riding the Ferris Wheel

Riding the Ferris wheel!

Claire and I on the carousel
Claire and I on the carousel
Cornmarket on Light Night

Cornmarket on Light Night

Along with the parade, there were also carnival rides, food and merchant stalls, and a large stage where various entertainment acts performed.  Claire saw the Ferris wheel and wanted to ride it, so we gave in and paid an exorbitant amount for she and I to ride.  (Just this once, right?) Will was quite concerned about her going up that high, but she loved it.  She wasn’t scared a bit.  As soon as we got off the ride, the parade started right past us.  It was perfect timing.  Afterward, we rode the carousel.  We have some friends that live right across from where the festivities were taking place, so we joined them at their flat for mulled wine, mince pies, and a place to rest our weary legs.  A perfect ending to a great day!

I’ve got more to tell you, but alas, I must get to bed.  I am up way past my bedtime!!!  Have a blessed week and I will be posting again soon!

The Guarantees of Uncertainty

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Hi, this is Scott. I’m borrowing Lauren’s blog because I found something that I thought was very worth sharing. I wish I had come up with this, but I must give credit: I got this from Michelle Cushatt through the facebook page of Jim Martin, the preacher at Crestview Church of Christ in Waco.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” —Gilda Radner


“An intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place.” Unless that doesn’t suit you, and you’d prefer the alternative definition:

“…a region on the border of hell or heaven.”

From where I sit, that last one seems a bit more like it.

I can deal with most anything, but the unknowing. Uncertainty, unanswered questions, unplotted courses, rough drafts. That kind of unfinished limbo breeds fear and worry like bunnies in the spring. It’s a barren piece of real estate outside of the peace of heaven and bumping up right next to hell.

Diagnose me Type A, a control freak, or OCD, but I like my ducks in a row and my I’s and T’s dotted and crossed. Limbo doesn’t work for me.

But life isn’t listening. Instead of giving neat edges and penned schedules, it’s serving up complication and uncertainty. An economy that can’t find it’s groove and grow. Family dynamics that could change drastically without notice. Grown children who don’t always make the choices I scripted for them. Health unknowns with unpredictable outcomes. Business questions with no clear answers.

Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty.

I know you know what I’m talking about. Some of you woke up this morning all tied up in knots. Your outlook on life looks entirely different than it did yesterday.

There’s not much you and I can do about the limbo. It’s the real estate of life, where we relate, work, move and dream, even when we try to contain and control it by trimming the shrubs and mowing the yard. Human life moves in uncertainty. We have plans, predictions and possibilities, but very few guarantees.

Still. The gift of uncertainty is how it forces us to focus on what we know. Those guarantees make far better real estate, turning uncertain lives into more of heaven and less of hell.

  • Guarantee #1: God is real, whether you believe in Him or not.
  • Guarantee #2: This life is not all there is. We’re made for eternity.
  • Guarantee #3: One of our greatest assets remains within reach: Each other.
  • Guarantee #4: This real God, who created life and prepared eternity, hasn’t abandoned us in our uncertainty. His presence is with us in it. We are not alone.

For those of you who, along with me, wrestle with the unfinished, undone, hellish places of this limbo life, let’s you and I do something different:

Let’s stop rehearsing our uncertainties and instead stand strong on our guarantees. Our world doesn’t need more negative naysayers who gripe and complain and fret about the mess we’re all in. Our world and neighbors and children need people who have the vision to see beyond the uncertainty to the guarantees. And are willing to give voice to it.

Our greatest message isn’t reminding everyone of the horrible limbo we’re all living in.

Our greatest message is our confident certainty: A real God and the Hope of Heaven.

And an eternal life with absolutely no limbo at all.

How will focusing on what you know change how you feel today? 

Thanksgiving in the UK

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Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, but in England, it’s just a normal day.  People are at work, in school, and eating regular dinners.  Scott had a seminar today and the kids and I did schoolwork.  We are looking forward to Saturday when we’ll celebrate with our friends with a traditional American feast.  Bring on the turkey and pie!!
The kids and I watched the classic “It’s Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown!” and another Peanuts special about the Mayflower.   Fun times.  I thought I’d share a few pictures I took of the kids in the fall leaves (if you’re on Facebook, you’ve already seen these and I’m sorry!), and a few of their Thanksgiving school papers.

Claire just leafin’ around.

Arrgh, Matey!


Silly siblings!

On golden pond…swans a-swimming!

I just can’t get over how beautiful it is here!

Some kind of tiny leaves in our backyard…love how they changed colors.

Roses I made out of leaves (the ones Claire is lying in the picture above).

We found this cool branch in the park and lugged it home. I hung it from the ceiling to display our pictures (I can’t hang anything on the walls because they’re made of cement!).

The outside of Will’s note to Scott. It’s a cornucopia!

The inside of the “thankful” note…so sweet 😉

“I can play video games, but a pilgrim could not.”

“I can take a warm bath, but a pilgrim could not.”

An owl I made…he’s very autumn-y!

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