Growing older; Friends and Pirates edition

November 18, 2012 | Posted in Childhood, Family, humor, Parenting, Weekly Round-up, Writing | By

Just call them "the boys"

Last night my son had a friend here for a sleepover. They are “old” friends, these two. They’ve know each other since they were very small boys, too small to play together in any formal sense.

This friend moved away a year ago. It was sad when he left, although truthfully I thought the friendship would gradually fade into the periphery of my son’s consciousness and then dissolve entirely. But the boys still ask for one another; they still love one another. They do things my son doesn’t always do with his other friends – they rough and tumble and fight and play make believe and run around until they are exhausted and they – in their words –  “Settle things like men!”

Apparently, “real men” settle disputes by grabbing each other around the waist and roll on the ground like puppies. 

These boys sweat and they yell, and stop only for cookies. They build forts and climb trees, and drink gallons of milk and spill gallons of milk and use my very best pillow case to wipe up the mess.

Next time they are sleeping at his house.

Here are some other things that happened this week:

I read this at GoGoZen this week. I know this frame in time; I was there with my daughter a short eight years ago, and Kelly is right to hang on to these fleeting days. Because one day you are reading in bed together, and then before you know it you are crying in the maxi-pad aisle at the drugstore buying items for a daughter who can now wear your shoes in an non-ironic way, and you’re doing clock math to see if you can get to the liquor store from here before they close.

And as if going to Ikea wasn’t worth the $2.99 meatball lunch special alone, this week I learned another reason to shop there, courtesy of a tweet from Annie at PhD in Parenting. Ikea is teaming up with UNICEF and Save the Children by donating one dollar from every soft toy sold to support the charities and their child education initiatives. My kids love the soft toys from Ikea, especially the tiny collection of mice. They have them in all colours: Brown (they call him “Cocoa,”) White (they call him “Snowball,”) and Grey (you guessed it… “Gary.”)

This article in Salon about Racism/Obama presidency  made me sad. And mad.

IT MADE ME SO SMAD.

It made me think about things I’ve read on Facebook from people I know, people I maybe even went to high school with. People I might have let kiss me on the mouth, or shared a beer with, or spent an afternoon together, all the time never knowing what was truly in their hearts. This article was an excellent reminder to speak to my children yet again of the power of words, and that following up vitriolic, racist statements with “But that’s just what I think” does not eliminate or lessen the inherent hatred behind them.

Ugh.

Let’s finish with some funny, shall we?

I wrote at Mampop.com again this week, about Octomom and why she kinda deserves our pity but also needs to get a job at Target.

Over at iVillage I am talking about grandparents. My Gramma joined the Air Force after the Blitz Bombing in London, where she lived at the time. She also joined because “girls were allowed to wear pants in the Air Force.” That explains in one sentence a lot about why I love this woman.

She is having eye surgery on Monday – her 89th birthday. In light of the eye patch she’ll have to wear for a few days, her party will be “Pirate” themed.

Arrrr! Raise a frosty grog to the wench, won’t ya? Have a great week, matey!

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Some Things

November 11, 2012 | Posted in Education, Family, humor, University, Weekly Round-up | By

Lady Bug Baby

I swear this was yesterday

But THIS was yesterday…

I’ve been thinking about how quickly time goes. I found out this week that my daughter will likely need braces, and while I wonder how I’m going to cover that, I also thought about how lucky she is that she will get them. I needed them also, but it didn’t happen for me.

My teeth aren’t horrible; I can smile without being self-concious, but I could use them and my dentist has recommended it on a few occasions. But do I want braces at 39? Is there enough time left to make it worth it? When does the time come that you just say “Screw it. I’m not paying for anything with an expiry date that could possibly exceed the time I have left.”

But then I take my Gramma shopping and she buys yogourt, so maybe this never happens?

Today is November 11, which is Remembrance Day in Canada. Last year I wrote about my Grandpa who was a tailgunner in WWII. When I call my Gramma today we will talk about him and we both might cry a little a bit. (We totally will.)

I miss him more the older I get. It makes me sad for my children, who don’t have a relationship with their own grandfather. But, so it goes.

Some other things that made me think this week:

  • On Friday I wrote about how my week hadn’t been a particularly good week. But no sooner than I hit “publish” I got some good news, and things turned around, at least halfway. They turned around enough that I could breathe again. So hey, if anyone needs a wish granted, let me know and I will take it to the WordPress gods. MAI BLOG IS A MAGICAL 8-BALL.
  • School is in full swing for the kids and I have to say, we’re lucky here in regards to homework. My daughter in grade eight has a manageable amount, and less than an hour or two a few times a week. It’s appropriately challenging, so far no one has cried yet. She is normally finishes her math and French at school and this is a good thing because I doesn’t do the math or Francias, cuz I ams a English majer. I read a funny blog post about homework this week by Alice Bradley (Finslippy.) It was excellent because – like the best humour – it is true. I had my kids read it and they agreed wholeheartedly. Thank you, Alice.
  • We’re in week two of Movember, and some twitter friends and I created emoticons to celebrate: highly irritable twitter

jackstrawlane twitterJennifer Lang TwitterAre We Married Twitter

Are you participating, or supporting someone who is? It’s not too late. When it comes to facial hair, it’s NEVER TOO LATE.

  • This coming week I am having lunch with some new friends, who I met despite that fact that adults don’t make friends as easily as 5 year-olds do. Ann at Ann’s Rants had me smiling all week thinking about what it would be like if we did. She is totally getting invited to my birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.
  • If this post seems disjointed, blame these:Salted-Caramel

Seven of them in a sitting will give you the shakes, heybutchaknowhat? I don’t care.

This week I also wrote at MamaPop.com about the crazy-but-lovable-wait-no-they’re-horrible Jackson family, and I also have an article at iVillage.ca about one of the worst parts of being a divorced parent.

Have a great week. Or at least one that doesn’t suck.

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Sunday Wayback Machine

September 9, 2012 | Posted in Childhood, Family, Parenting, Writing | By

My daughter was the easiest infant ever. She cried rarely, demanded little, slept often, ate well, and many other baby-related nouns followed by positive qualifying adjectives.

My son.

He scared people. I lost friends. And I mean I lost them because they ran screaming into the Ontario wilderness to escape his noises and they’ve never been seen again. When he was an infant, I took him with me to Ikea once, and I asked my 80 year-old Gramma if she’d like to come along.

My grandmother is a gentle soul who loves without reservation both babies AND Swedish do-it-yourself furniture, so this seemed like a logical pairing. But on the way home she demanded that I ”Stop this !#&*ing car!” and that she was going to “@#&%ing well walk home!” despite the fact that we were 20 kilometers from home (U.S. conversion: 1500 miles.)

She should be back any minute.

This is what he does to people. He weeds out the weak with terroristic tactics and then uses his cuteness to make you feel bad about disliking him.

He’s substantially more pleasant to be around now, almost nine years in. I thought I was handling the past stress pretty well physically , but I happened upon some old photos this weekend while updating my files with this summer’s snapshots.

I’m now converting his University/bail fund into my botox one.

2004

2012

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The one where you tell me everything will be fine

February 15, 2012 | Posted in Family, Health, Holidays, Irritation Level: High, University, Writing | By

This had better be my youth

Yesterday was my birthday, and I turned an age that ended in a “9.”

To celebrate carrying me this far, my body launched all sorts of surprises: my fingers are stiff, there’s a new wrinkle on my forehead, and my neck is starting to look like a party streamer.

My birthday included a bowl of soup and an afternoon nap on the couch, and I was totally cool with that.

One morning, not so long ago, I was getting my breakfast in the kitchen wearing only my nightgown. We were running late and I hadn’t done anything to myself other than get out of bed. My son looked at me and commented, “Your boobs hang pretty low. It’s like they’re really sad.”

This is the beginning of the end of my youth, isn’t it?

I have high blood pressure, and my last visit with the doctor (a doctor who is 6 years YOUNGER than me) included talk of support stockings and cholesterol testing. My hearing isn’t the greatest due to Nirvana, the 1990′s and something called a “Walkman.” I’ve even worn – completely by coincidence - the same outfit as my 88-year-old grandmother at least twice this year.

I understand that I am still “young” relatively speaking, but it’s not about the number, it’s about the feeling. I realized the other day that no clerks have called me “Hun” in quite some time. I’m now at the age my dad was when I no longer thought of him as “young.” Maybe I need to start hanging out at the senior’s centre, so I can be the youthful one again.

The other day a professor called me “Ma’am.”

I feel sad because both my kids can tie their own shoes, read, tell time, buckle their seatbelts, and wipe their own asses. It’s like all of those fun parenting duties are behind me.

I’m now officially a part of the pre-menopausal generation but I can’t stay up to watch the “Nightline” special about it because it’s on after 10pm. I’ve cut my hair to a “respectable” length and sometimes I have to ask people to speak s-l-o-w-e-r and more loudly.

The other day a professor called me “Ma’am.” Did I say that already?

I’m begging you, please- tell me this is a just a plateau and I’m really still just climbing the mountain. I can’t be at the halfway point because I still haven’t seen a Led Zeppelin reunion concert.

To put thing is perspective, I will close with this:

Recently I lingered at a clothing rack displaying polyester pull-on pants and considered.

Seriously considered.

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Sock Puppet

April 4, 2011 | Posted in Family, I'm a horrible person, Irritation Level: High | By

I met a girlfriend for coffee a few weeks ago, and after a few minutes of small talk our chat turned serious. We discussed the things that concern modern women and mothers like us:  pervasive patriarchal colonialist ideology in contemporary western literature, the cost of living, and why the hell “Cake Boss” continues to be on television.  (A cake that’s an exact replica of a toilet? That flushes? I…I just don’t…is this appropriate in any circumstance?)

I was getting pretty riled up about cakes you could poop in, and people were starting to point. I’m used to it, but my more delicate friend is not, and so steered our talk in a different direction. She is recently single but dating, and told me some of her dating horror stories. She feels bad about some of the break ups she initiated, but at this point in her life she is not prepared to settle. I agreed. Some things are just non-negotiable in a relationship.

So I told her how I broke up with a guy because of his socks.  Every time I saw him – I mean every single time – he was wearing hideous grey socks.

DEAL-BREAKER.

Who wears only grey socks? I became obsessed with it. Why grey? It’s a depressing colour. Grey is the colour of exhaust stained snow and boredom. Grey is lost opportunities and your grandmother’s basement. Why didn’t he switch it up once in a while? Try some black or white? Brown or beige, even. I’m not saying he should go all out and start wearing paisley toe socks or rib knit fluorescent knee highs, but what does it say about a person’s personality if they show zero creativity in their footwear?  

Furthermore, how could I be sure that his socks were not white originally? Was the grey colour a reflection of his hygienic practices? Worse yet, what if he owned only one pair of socks, and wore them every single day?  They were horrible socks. They were mottled and patchy as though bleach had been poured on them haphazardly in a misguided attempt to brighten them up.

I cannot be with someone who pours bleach haphazardly.

Those socks depressed me. If they could talk, they would have said, “If you stay with this guy, your future involves making mayonnaise-based macaroni salads, haggling for melted 1970’sTupperware at garage sales and sweeping dead pine needles off an Astroturf covered deck while an unshaven man wearing only grey socks shouts, “Get me a cold beer, woman.”

I cannot be with someone who eats macaroni salads.

I knew I couldn’t look at those socks for one minute longer. Summer was a long way off and even then, he didn’t seem like the flip-flop kinda guy anyw…oh, sweet Lord. What if he was a socks and sandals kind of guy? I’d be looking at those things for 12 months a year. I might as well get us matching “I heart San Antonio” fanny packs and walking tour maps RIGHT NOW.

I found myself spending way too much time thinking about his choice of foot casing. So I did what I had to do, and broke up with him. Plus he was an unemployed misogynistic jerk with a plastic tarp for a window in his car, and he smelled like melted crayons and rusty urine.

But mostly it was the sock thing. 

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Judging you since 1973

February 16, 2011 | Posted in Family, Holidays, Parenting | By

*Note: This was written a few days ago and I’m in no mood to change it to past tense. Shhh…go with it.

Good God. Did colours other than brown, green and orange even exist when I was a child?

It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s also my birthday, the sad one where I turn 38 years old. I was handling it pretty well until my 87 year-old Gramma told me she can’t believe I’m “that old.” I called her at 8:30 pm because I hadn’t heard from her and that was unusual on my birthday. I was thinking that she had fallen and couldn’t get up but it turns out she’s just busy hanging out with the cool kids watching “The Big Bang Theory” and laughing about how old her granddaughter is.   

On top of all this, I was home with the most pathetic of all creatures – a sick 6 year-old boy. If someone pukes on you and it’s your birthday, I hope it’s a rock star, and not a kid with a stomach full of chocolate Valentine balls and gummy worms. But he was feeling a bit better by dinner time, so we decided to chance it and go out for  dinner. (We’re CRAZY like that.) I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to eat for free. Especially not at a restaurant whose advertising poster promotes their “chocolate-flavoured dessert fountain and readily accessible defibrillator machine.”

When he threw up in the parking lot I just told concerned onlookers that he’d had one too many Whiskey Sours, and that he’d better learn his limits, wasn’t that right, little fella? Now go find a car with keys in the ignition and we’ll be right there.

After talking to my Gramma I did a quick Google search for “things of 1973.” It wasn’t pretty. As far as I can tell, about the only good thing to come out of 1973 was Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” and even that wasn’t their best work. All foods seem to be suspended in Jell-O and everyone looks like they’re sticky. I’m pretty sure my whole first decade smelled like old Tupperware and wet basement carpeting. I looked through my photo albums to see if I could affirm this.

It was grim. I made a face like this:

This is one of my favorite pictures, because I still make this face every day. I keep it in a frame on my desk and often wonder what I was thinking when it was taken. Maybe I’m pondering something important, like the US/Iranian hostage release deal, or how to best escape parental notice so that I can stay up late enough to watch “Fantasy Island” from my Dad’s pleather Laz-E-Boy.  

Nah, I’m probably judging you.

There is something clearly more interesting going on for my sister.

 But then after seeing these and other photos of my childhood, I’m pretty sure I was thinking, “What the hell were these people smoking when they chose the wallpaper?”  

 

You can see my hair issues started early.

 

Ahh...the 1970's. Check out the ashtray AT MY FEET.

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Tiny Dancer

February 25, 2010 | Posted in Childhood, Family, Parenting, Writing | By

In 1978 I was five years old.

I was mousy and plain, but I could read and I could change records on the record player. I also could dance, which was handy since I knew that it was my destiny to become a ballerina.

I also knew that I wanted to marry Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce from M*A*S*H even though I wasn’t sure what “marry” meant; that I shouldn’t put eggs, sugar, milk and instant coffee into a plastic margarine container and try to cook it on the stove for breakfast, and that the host on ”Romper Room” was never ever going to call my name. I know she saw me; I was there every week. Plus I have the name given to 79.3% of girls born between 1971 and 1975. You’re telling me there were kids out there actually named “Hofstadter Gumple” or “Beetroot Finklestein?”  What up, Miss Mary Ann?  

You had thousands of Jennifers and Jasons perched on the edges of orange paisley sofas, waiting for the shout out; sweaty bread dough handed children, breath bated with lustful anticipation, and YOU KNEW IT.  You were positively DRUNK with power. ADMIT IT!

Deep breath. Ok. Focus.

Oh, it was pretty clear early on that I was going to be a star. And I wasn’t having none of that supporting dancer crap either. No. I was going to be out front, large and in charge, zipping and twirling around the stage, being thrown in the air by muscled, leotard clad partners. I was going to have roses thrown at my feet every night by crowds of fur coat swathed fans positively sick with longing for merely a second of my attention. I was going to be “the shizz” before “the shizz” was even invented.

Everyone around me knew my plan. My Gramma didn’t even pause when I told her what I was going to be.  Instead she designed and sewed a real tutu, and gave it to me with real ballet shoes. It was then that I knew I had arrived.  This was it! I had the proper suit! And it was pink! And purple! And the skirt stuck out like a prima ballerina’s!

I loved the way the cold silky fabric slid over my rounded belly when I put it on. The way the scratchy inner seams pressed against my sides was a giddy pleasure. Anytime now that I wear a fancy or formal dress, I always think back to the way my tutu felt.

Unfortunately, like many treasures of childhood, it was lost in a move, or shoved into a plastic grocery bag and given away to someone smaller or younger when we either grew tired of it or realized it’s impractibility.

Not a whole has changed since 1978. I still buy my undies large, prefer my necklaces to be candy on elastic string over diamond drops on golden chain, and my bologna skin white thighs still touch.  

But I know now what “marry” means. And I’d do it with Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce in a heartbeat.

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Bedtime Story

September 2, 2009 | Posted in Childhood, Family, Parenting, Writing | By

My first bed, not unlike many children, was a crib.

It was painted white with thick lead paint that dripped and formed puddles at the base of each spindle like dried muffin batter on a baking pan. Bunny rabbit adhesive decals adorned the boards at each end. They were similar pictures; one bunny’s fur was pink and the other blue. The bunnies were a strange combination of caricature and realism, so that they floated in the desolate space of things that cannot be described, but only felt and recognized by those who have touched them. They were terrifying and sad and I loved them.

Later I shared a bunk bed with my sister. She slept below me on the lower bunk.  She was small and blond, and needed a guard rail to keep her from tumbling out. I was plain, and slept 6 feet off the ground. I could climb the ladder and had no guard.

We lived in a basement apartment below my grandparent’s bungalow. The top bunk where I slept reached almost to the ceiling. The room was long and low, like a tipped over saltine box. A pipe ran above my bunk. It was painted white to match the ceiling tiles in an effort to disguise it. Someone had cared enough to paint it to match, but not enough to remove a paper tag that dangled from it.

The tag was strung on a thin wire, and each night I twisted the wire to watch the tag flutter and spin like a moth against the ceiling light. It had something written on it, but they were words that my 3 year old brain did not understand. I worried about the tag and hoped I would never break it. If I broke it, something bad would happen. But still every night I played with it. It was like a scab on my knee that I knew should be left alone, but couldn’t help but scratch. The tag was itchy, and needed to be scratched and twisted.

When we moved, circumstances provided my next bed. It was an black iron trundle bed with a hair stuffed mattress. That bed needed 4 grown men to move it, and it was so heavy that it left permanent dents in the hardwood floor of the bedroom where it sat. It came from my stepmother’s childhood home from Northeastern Ontario, and had the sad, sour odour of  old work horses. I always felt like many children had cried themselves to sleep in that bed.

The bedroom where it was housed was set up very tidily, by a woman who required order. Everything stood at right angles – a table next to the bed, the neat desk and plain chair by the closet, the dresser pushed tight against the wall by the door. The woman dyed the simple curtain panels and bedspread to match, but the washer had done it unevenly and there was a spot in the middle of the bed that was darker than the rest, making it look like I had a perpetually wet bed. I tried to cover the spot with a throw blanket and some stuffed toys, but they didn’t sit at right angles and were removed by women who liked order.

We had a visitor once who worked in the prison system as an officer. When she was shown my bedroom she remarked flatly, “It’s set up just  like a jail cell.”

That heavy bed disappeared when the woman did.

One day my father came home with another discarded mattress. The fabric’s pink, blue and purple paisley design immediately revealed its age. The filling was solid foam core and it held the distinct and permanent shape of the obese person who had slept in it before me. I didn’t ask where he got it. I could feel that they were dead.

I would lie awake at night in that bed, embalmed in the scent of a fat king’s sarcophagus,  imagining all of the horrifying sweaty and adult activities that had surely taken place in it.  I slept in this bed until I married, and until I would have to partake in sweaty and adult activities.  When my husband and I flipped it over to take it to the dump, mold was growing on underside.

To our new marriage my new husband brought an old mattress. It had belonged to a family member of his, and they had owned it for twenty years. It was yellow, hard, and spicy smelling. I slept 7 months of an 8 month  pregnancy on that bed. I could tell you exactly how many springs were in it; I counted them as they pushed into my increasingly weighted back. When my doctor told me I had high blood pressure and I would need to spend the remainder of my pregnancy in the hospital, I cried. For joy.

When I was small, my grandmother would sometimes trace my feet on butcher paper. The first time she did this, I thought we were going to do a craft project together, but she took the paper with her when she went shopping. She used it as a measure of my feet and bought me new shoes, because mine didn’t fit. She said that the things to spend money on were shoes and mattresses, because if you weren’t in one, you were in the other.

Once she traced my whole body on a sheet of butcher paper. I didn’t get so lucky that time.

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Hopefully It Wasn’t My Peak

August 21, 2009 | Posted in Childhood, Education, Family, School, Writing | By

Jeni7

Poet, circa 1980.

I love to write, and love to read, but I have no real deep affection for poetry. I’ve rarely come across a piece I’ve enjoyed  reading more than once, with the exception of perhaps a dirty limerick or two. Poetry is just not something I have ever felt compelled to write.

So I was surprised then, when my 86 year old Grandma recently unearthed this gem . It’s an AWARD WINNING POEM, I’ll have you know.

(I said that for gratuitous Google hits.  Here’s more: “Oprah,”  ”Porn,” and  “Health Care Reform.”)

poem3

Doesn’t it look like the teacher scribbled it while driving to work in a stick shift car with bad brakes, while smoking and simultaneously doing her make-up?

Here’s the full text:

Blue is a nightingale with her hair so fair.

Blue is a very cold day, with icicles leading your way.

Blue is when you’re crying from your loneliness.

Blue is when you turn your tears into happiness.

Blue is the smell of your mom’s blueberry pie.

Then you touch your fork and you get the feeling you’ll like it.

Then you get to taste it with that feeling again.

Blue is when the time is here to go and brush your teeth

And see how blue they are.

Then you hear your Mom calling you for bed.

 Jeni Cargill  R. 2 Gr. 3

 

“Blue is when you’re crying from you’re loneliness?” 

I WAS SEVEN.

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All in Vein…

August 15, 2009 | Posted in Beauty, Childhood, Family, Health, Irritation Level: High | By

shoes

I am not a vain woman.

I don’t ordinarily lose sleep over the fact that I am aging. At 36, I find myself comfortably snuggled in that special bracket between youth and middle age. Although I have left the 18-35 demographic, I can still be referred to as “the young one” in a crowd. My doctor, dentist, and several of my professors are years younger than me. I can still wear button fly jeans, but leather pants look pathetic. I am still understand a lot of youth culture, but am old enough to think it is stupid. (PULL UP YOUR PANTS ALREADY!) I can no longer attend a house party with my peers and shout, “Hey! Who wants to beer bong?” and appear cool. Now, well…it’s just sad.

My aging appearance is not a major concern. Gray hairs don’t freak me out, and I don’t fret over pimples. The fact that my bottom teeth look like a picket fence in a windstorm doesn’t faze me, and normally I can laugh in the face of crow’s feet. I wasn’t even that upset the day I had to move my boobs to get some change out of my pants pocket. I just don’t care that much. I do tend to avoid being photographed, but only because I know that I am one of those people who look much better in 3D. Pictures accentuate my features in such a manner that they seem to meld together in lumps, like a bowl of buttered mashed potatoes.  But hey, whatever. I have a face for radio.

Which is why I am so surprised to be THIS upset about a particular physical change I am currently experiencing. Deep breath…

I HAVE A VARICOSE VEIN, PEOPLE.

I am freaking out. I know I can get rid of it surgically, but the thought of someone plucking a vein out of my leg like it was a 5¢ chicken wing freaks me out. My legs are (were) my best feature! I feel so betrayed. My last vestige to physically beauty is vanishing - heading straight down a purple bumpy raised highway to hell.

I now have several gray hairs, remain medicated for high blood pressure, go to bed at 8:30 pm, and NOW THIS. I am turning into my grandmother. If you see me at the beach wearing a beige crocheted bathing suit and terrycloth sun visor, referring to pants as trousers, and humming Roger Miller songs, GOOD GOD, STAGE AN INTERVENTION.

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