Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crazy Google Searches That Have Led To My Blog

From my Analytics account:

"Deviated septum causing honking sound sleep."

"Toddler poop interrupts naptime."

"Daddy's nude pictures." (This one is a weeee bit disturbing.)

Reviewed: Some Homeschooling Books

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense
by David Guterson

This is probably the most persuasive book I've read about homeschooling. The title threw me a bit-- images of the afore-mentioned buck-toothed fundamentalists began dancing in my head--but it came highly recommended by my brother Scott, so I gave it a go.

In Family Matters, Guterson-- a high school teacher who homeschools his four children-- addresses everything from the ubiquitous "but what about socialization?" to the question of whether a public education is an essential component of life in a democracy. He argues that homeschooling-- done properly-- is a better choice educationally, emotionally, and socially for children.

Guterson's basic premise is that parents-- who know their children's learning style, interests, personalities, and needs better than anyone else-- should be at the center of their child's education, and he cites a substantial amount of data to show that this is a superior approach. He also includes personal descriptions of the life his sons are experiencing as they grow up outside of the public education system.

The book also contains a fascinating history of the American public shools.

Guterson's approach to homeschooling is well thought-out and practical. I appreciate that he is neither absolutely rigid about a home curriculum nor completely given over to the concept of allowing kids to just learn whenever and whatever they please.

So anyway. I give this book two thumbs up. If you are at all considering educating your kids at home (or are homeschooling your kids but would like to build your defense arsenal), this is a book I recommend you read.

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
by Grace Llellewyn

I found The Teenage Liberation Handbook to be less persuasive in terms of why I should homeschool my children (it was very idealistic and flitty, fraught with the idea that children should never be made to do things they don't want to do) but surprisingly, personally inspirational. I read this book and wanted to develop my own educational curriculum, apprentice myself to a potter, start a political discussion group, and exchange poetry with my friends. I loaned it to my thirteen-year-old niece, Arielle, who is just the sort of person who would actually do these sorts of things.

A Sense of Self: Listening toHomeschooled Adolescent Girls
by Susannah Sheffer

Susannah Sheffer was on the staff of Growing Without Schooling magazine back in its heyday. This book grew from a series of interviews-- some in person, some written--she did with several homeschooled girls who responded to a notice she published in the magazine. The general conclusion of the book was that homeschooled girls (vs public-schooled) have a tendency to be more confident in themselves and their opinions, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, plans, and interests. This is probably true, but it's really difficult to draw any really definite conclusions from the book because of the sampling of adolescent girls from which Sheffer drew (girls who (1) were from families that cared enough to subscribe to a magazine about homeschooling (2) cared enough about homeschooling to read the magazine and see the notice, (3) were interested enough in expressing their opinions about homeschooling that they would contact Sheffer (4) were gregarious enough to initiate contact and participate in the interviews.

As I was reading A Sense of Self, I remember thinking, "Wow! This is rocking my world! This is changing everything! Yeah! I've got to homeschool my kids!" But now I can hardly remember what it was that I found so wildly persuasive. I blame this phenomenon on my brain, which has been slowly and completely fried by motherhood. So, yeah, read it. It will probably change your life. Hopefully for longer than it changed mine.

5 More Things About Abraham

16. Abraham doesn't have a dream career. He's never had something he just absolutely had to be. Nevertheless....a man has to work for a living, and he has found a good match for his personality in librarianship, so he's currently working on a master's degree in the field.

17. Abe loves to shop. Loves it. He loves it way more than I will ever love it. He shops online, he shops in stores, he peruses ads for great deals. A typical date night for us is a huge platter of nachos at Garcia's and a trip to the mall.

18. Abe worked on a Christmas Tree farm for seven years. A Christmas Tree Farm is not the magical holiday wonderland it sounds like. With less-than-savory co-workers, Abe planted, clipped, sheared, weeded, shaped, cut, and baled conifers for a mean, old, tight-fisted New-Englander who paid him $3.75/hour.

19. Abraham was once hit by a car. By his father, who was apparently backing up at an extraordinary clip without looking to see where he was going. The back bumper hit 18-year-old Abe in both shins, throwing him back about ten feet. Abe, who drank an extraordinary amount of milk growing up, didn't even suffer a fracture. He just got up, slid into the passenger's seat, and said, "Da-ad, you just hit me." His Dad's reply: "Oh, was that you?"

20. Abe's family has its own time zone. When Abe was on his mission, his mother wrote to say: "I've decided I am no longer going to participate in Daylight Saving's Time." And they have done so ever since. Visiting is very confusing, because I find myself constantly calculating. "So it's 10:00 AM Skousen Time, which means that it's 11:00 AM in the rest of New Hampshire, which means that it's 9:00 AM in Idaho, so I guess now would be a good time to call home..."

21. Abraham once rode a greyhound bus from Utah to New Hampshire. He describes this time as being his three days in the belly of the whale. He spent a good portion of this time with his nose buried in the window air-conditioner, drawing pictures with his face grease on the window, trying desperately not to breathe in the odor of the man sitting next to him, whom Abe suspects had maybe never showered ever.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Let's hear it for the Oxford Comma!

I am a big fan of the Oxford Comma (alias the Harvard Comma or Serial Comma).

What's that, you say? You don't know what the Oxford Comma even is? That is okay. I recognize that we can't all be grammar freaks, so I will tell you that the Oxford comma is the comma that is inserted before a conjunction in a list containing three or more items.

For example: I went to the park with my kids, Briar, and Hillary.

See that little comma there after the "Briar"? That comma is important. Do you see what would happen if we removed the comma from this sentence? It would become this:

I went to the park with my kids, Briar and Hillary. And -- poof! -- like that, I've suddenly gone from walking to the park with my two little boys and their two live-in aunts to walking to the park with my two grown female children. How did I get so old so fast?

Or how about this example:

I like the following kinds of pizza: Pepperoni and Cheese, Green Pepper and Olive, Anchovie and Onion, and Canadian Bacon and Pineapple.

This sentence is perfectly clear, but what happens when I remove the final comma? This happens:

I like the following kinds of pizza: Pepperoni and Cheese, Green Pepper and Olive, Anchovie and Onion and Canadian Bacon and Pineapple.

So do I like three kinds of pizza (Pepperoni/Cheese, Green Pepper/Olive, and Anchovie/Onion/Canadian Bacon/Pineapple) or do I like four kinds of pizza (Pepperoni/Cheese, Green Pepper/Olive, Anchovie/Onion, and Canadian Bacon/Pineapple)? Without the Oxford comma firmly holding down the boundaries between pizza toppings, the answer to this question is anyone's guess. And that is a travesty.

I will admit that the oxford comma is not always a necessary component of a clearly understood sentence. The following sentence, for example, is simple enough to understand:

I like to eat, drink and be merry.

However, the Oxford comma creates a more accurate visual representaiton of the way lists sound when spoken aloud: One generally says "I like to eat (pause), drink (pause), and be merry," not "I like to eat (pause), drink and be merry." That would sound foolish.

Hence, the Oxford comma should always be used. It's simple and straightforward, eliminates ambiguity, and creates a more aesthetic sentence structure. Why wouldn't everyone consistently use the Oxford comma?

The unfortunate thing is that, sadly, not everyone sees it that way. People omit the Oxford Comma all the time. In fact, the entire Associated Press has completely turned its back on the Oxford Comma. This is just plain wrong and it needs to be changed, so now that I've explained to you why this is so important, and you are fired up about the essential nature of this very special comma, I'm going to encourage you to write to your local newspaper and beg them to bring back the Oxford comma. One periodical at a time, we can bring clarity and reason back into the press.

Soren's First Prayer

So Soren actually volunteered to say the prayer over dinner last night.

We were standing in a little semi-circle in the kitchen-- Abe, Briar, Soren, Liam and I-- and Soren kept on saying, "Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ." Abraham thought he was just being profane, but I understood that he wanted to say the prayer, so we gave him the floor.

And this is how it went:

"Dear Heavenwee Father, Thankooforthisday"...at this, Soren wandered off into the front room with his little head still bowed and started playing with his train, mumbling more prayer talk all the while. We encouraged him to come back into the kitchen, and when he arrived he finally said his little bit about Jesus Christ and then, after some encouragement, yelled out "Amen."

So there you go. Maybe he's not a little heathen after all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why I should never Tweet.

So I recently rekindled my on-again, off-again relationship with Facebook, and let me tell you: the sparks are flying. But here's the problem-- you know the status bar thing? The little slot where you fill in the blank after your name to describe what you're thinking about or doing? I've developed a mild obsession with it. I love coming up with things to enter into my status bar. In fact, it's gotten to the point where my whole life has been reduced to little third-person snippets that I develop in my brain throughout the day and rate according to wittiness and likeliness to elicit a response. These are the sorts of things that I churn around in my mind:

Rachel is going to say it: I like a capella music and I'm not ashamed!

Rachel got ready this morning single-handedly, as her baby, who weighs the same as a big sack of flour, was not feeling well and required holding at all times.

Rachel wants to take the world in a love embrace!

Rachel hates everyone who has ever lived. Ever.

Rachel thinks that Abraham is perhaps the most hilarious human being alive.

Rachel and Soren just made a fort behind the chair and cooked some pretend pizza and a batch of invisible cupcakes, which we shared with a rather ravenous stuffed bee.

Rachel is so grateful for her little sunbeam baby. He's such a little bright light!

Rachel wishes that Abraham would take up swearing. It can be such a charming habit--and he would be so good at it.

Rachel loves Friday night pizza night!

Rachel thinks that eggnog is the nectar of the gods.

Rachel is excited that it's the weekend because now she gets to do laundry and take care of her sick children! Oh, wait....

Rachel wants everyone to pay attention to her. Right now!

So anyway, while entertaining and mildly delightful, I kind of feel that there's something unhealthy about this habit, like I'm so focused on verbalizing my life experiences in a snappy way that I forget about letting go and just living life. And Twitter? Twitter is like a Facebook status on steroids. I can totally see myself spending the entire day describing my life in 140 characters or less and popping out witty responses to everyone else's 140 character snippets. With my habit of doing everything with a sort of feverish vim, Twitter would quickly descend into an obsession. And, you know, I've got a life to live. So it is because of this that...

Rachel should really probably not sign up for Twitter.

Soren: 34 Months

Dear Soren,

It's been another exciting couple of months with you. When your daddy and I got married, my parents kept telling him, "Life will never be boring for you ever again." I didn't realize that this prophecy would extend to me in the form of offspring!

I wish I could write something really long and prosy, but I don't have time this month, so I'm just going to make a couple of quick lists and be done with it:

-Kisses. You give the most adorable little kisses. Your cousins-- especially Calysta--always ask you for kisses on first one cheek, then the next. And you (usually) hand them out willingly. Sometimes when you kiss me good-bye in the morning, you kiss my lips, then my cheeks, then my chin, then my eyelids. So sweet.

-Grandma and Grandpa. You spend some time at Grandma and Grandpa's almost every single day of the week. Grandpa has taken you fishing a couple of times-- you LOVE this-- and also spent some time helping you practice your fishing skills at home by reeling in a toy four-wheeler. Grandma sat down with you on her lap and played the piano while she and grandpa sang you primary songs. You enjoyed this very much and put your hands on hers while she played.

-Speaking of pianos....your new punishment for being naughty in sacrament meeting is that you are taken out and planted on top of the piano until you beg to be taken back into the chapel. I hope that this doesn't turn you into a hater of both pianos and God.

-You like to sleep with a blanket on your head. I did this as a little kid, too. It made me feel safe; I think your motivation is similar.

-You continue to struggle with the whole poop-smearing thing I've addressed elsewhere on this blog. I noticed recently that your father had taken pictures of some of this poop smearing. I suspect he's saving them to show to me should I ever suggest having another baby.

-One night after family prayers you mentioned that you wanted to "Do Beenet." After a ridiculous amount of scrambling and charades on the part of Hillary, Daddy, and I, followed by you directing all the adults to sit on a blanket and point in a random direction, we finally figured out that you wanted us to "Be Obedient." Must have been a nursery lesson you'd had recently.

-Other than that, though, you seem to be quite Godless. You dislike church and refuse to participate in prayers at home. You must have gotten that from your father. ;)

The following are your cute words/phrases of note from the past month or so:

"Mommy be safe for me?" (Will you keep me safe, Mommy?)
"Peapock" (Peacock)
"Smilk" (Smoke)
"Geared" (Scared-- and you are OFTEN "geared." It's your new favorite emotion.)
"Hauntie" (Auntie)
"Hairpane" (Airplane)

You are my sweet little boy and I adore you.

Love, Mommy

You felt that you needed to participate at a recent Mary Kay party I threw at our house. I don't think you're ready for your own make-up consulting practice yet.

You actually asked to have your mouth taped shut. We certainly weren't going to argue.

I put you down for a nap in a tidy bedroom wearing normal clothes. When I came in to wake you up, your room was trashed and you were attired in size 0-3 month pants without a diaper and a pumpkin shirt. Must have been evil elves.

You must have heard that in a past life, before I had children, I made hats out of yarn. You asked for one and this is what you got.

Sometimes you like to wear Mommy's clothes.

You still sometimes like to be wrapped up like a burrito.

Abraham, items 11-15.

11. The man doesn't like potatoes. In fact, he hates them. This is something I thought I could change after we got married. I thought he just hadn't had them prepared properly. That perhaps he'd been raised on Maine potatoes and didn't know what a real Idaho spud could do for someone. I was wrong. Had I known how deeply rooted (ha!) was Abe's distaste for my home state's pride and joy, I may have reconsidered that whole time-and-all-eternity commitment thing.

12. Abe loves spiders. We do not kill spiders in our home. Generally what happens is that Abe will see an arachnid and say something like, "Oh, how cute! It's scurrying across the ceiling! Can you imagine what it would be like to hang upside down like that?" And we'll let it keep on keeping on. If it appears as though the spider may interfere with family life in some way, we'll very gently scoop it into a wad of toilet paper and free it into the wild.

13. Abe just came and peeked over my shoulder and read item #12. His comment: "But I love snakes more." And that is true. He is a sucker for snakes. I thought this was creepy at first, but I've come to see that snakes do have their charms.

13. Because of his work with juvenile delinquents at an inpatient drug-and-alcohol facility, I will occasionally have cute little teenage boys come up to me and say, "Are you Mr. Skousen's wife? Your husband's the best. Tell him 'hi' for me." On a date at Barnes and Noble recently, we spent quite a bit of time chatting with one of his former clients, a kid whom you could tell had a lot of love/respect for Mr. Skousen. That makes me happy.

14. Abe got such a bad sunburn on our honeymoon that we had to take an emergency mid-night trip to the emergency room in The Middle of Nowhere, Oregon. They prescribed him pain and anti-itch medications that knocked him into a haze of idiocy for the final two days of our first vacation together.

15. Abraham is one of the most well-read people I know. He (who earned his degree in Philosophy) has read way more classics than I (who earned my degree in English.) Despite this, the man has a taste for some really crappy literature--the Tarzan books, for example.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

5 More Things About Abraham

....continued from here.....

6. Abe's best friends come from the over-fifty crowd. He's like an old man himself--which is good, because I like old men--but much more virile--which is even better, because I really like virile men.

7. Abe isn't ashamed that he has a huge man crush on Hugh Jackman. He openly admits that he went to see Wolverine just for Hugh. And yet he is oh-so-very straight.

8. Abraham is not a big fan of the sharing of food. A word to the wise: don't just go taking food from Abe's plate without asking. You might end up with a fork in the back of your hand.

9. We suspect that Abe has a deviated septum, as it seems he is perpetually stuffed up. I can always tell Abe's awake in the morning because of the loud goose-like honking sound he emits while clearing out his nose first thing.

10. Abe cares deeply about politics and actually goes to the effort to write letters to his representatives about issues that matter to him.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: Raising Your Spirited Child

Raising Your Spirited Child
by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka

According to Kurchinka, the spirited child is "...more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than other children." Or, in other words, Soren.

"Because they are 'more,'" says Kurchinka, "much of the advice that works for parenting other children is ineffective with spirited kids. To ignore your child's tantrums is ridiculous. He can rage for an hour because you opened the door when he was expecting to do it himself. Sent him to his room for a 'time out' and he is liable to tear it apart. There is no distracting him from something that he wants. Even if the stereo is off limits, he'll climb over, under, or around the barriers to return to the shiny dials. Aa a result you can feel crazy, wondering what you are doing wrong and thinking that you are the only parent in the world with a kid who acts this way."

Um, yes.

While reading this book, I was frequently overwhelmed with the desire to throw my head back, laugh maniacally, and scream, "I'M NOT ALONE! I'M NOT ALONE!" Everything she said about spirited children, everything she said about the way parents of spirited children feel-- it all just absolutely resonated. It was such a relief to find this book.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Twenty-five Things About My Husband: Part 1

A while ago Abraham commented that "our" blog should be "Rach-n-Kids" rather than "Rach-n-Abe," as he rarely makes an appearance in my posts. This is true. But it shouldn't be, because Abe's the best, so I was trying to think of a way to do a special post just about Abe when I came across a blog in which someone was doing one of those "Twenty-Five Things About Me," memes. I should do that about Abe, I thought to myself. And so I am. And, in keeping with my resolution to keep my blog posts shorter and sweeter, I'm going to break it down into a five part series.

So here it goes: Numbers 1-5.

1. Abraham loves technology. I mean, he really loves it. One of Abe's greatest pleasures is shopping for a new electronic gadget: he'll spend hours perusing websites, reading reviews, and comparison shopping until he's positive he's found the best product for the best price. Right now he has a slightly out-of-control passion for "smart phones," particularly Verizon's Droid. The wallpaper on his desktop computer is currently a jumbo picture of the Droid; he has also recently downloaded a Droid simulator. He checks all of his geek blogs every day to get any updates on what's happenign with the Droid. He is a man obsessed.

2. Abe has never, ever, ever uttered a cuss word. Ever. I know, right?

3. Abe is number two in a family of eleven children. This means he spent a lot of time rocking babies to sleep while he was growing up.

4. One of Abe's greatest mentors and role-models growing up was his Grandpa Forbes. When Grandpa taught Abe a lesson, he listened. Grandpa Forbes helped instill in Abraham a strong work ethic, the desire to do things well, the ability to fix almost anything. He died shortly before Abraham left on his mission, so I never got to meet him, but I am grateful that he was there for Abe's first ninteen years.

5. Abraham was once interrogated by the FBI because he was suspected of committing a hate crime. (But he didn't do it! Well, he did....but it wasn't a hate crime. He helped another elder on his mission burn a suit to mark the end of his mission. They did it in the church parking lot and I guess that didn't look so good.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: Animal Dreams

by Barbara Kingsolver

I liked it. It didn't rock my world or anything, but Barbara Kingsolver writes solid stuff. You can't go wrong picking up any of her novels: gorgeous writing, multi-dimensional characters, meaningful plot, oppression, minorities, communication breakdowns, all that good stuff. Also, the male lead in Animal Dreams is adorable. As in, heck yes I would take him home with me.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Liam: 8 Months

My Littlest Angel,

Since I last wrote, you have:

1) Grown three teeth (two on the bottom; one on the top).
2) Finally learned how to roll over!
3) Spent a lot of time rocking yourself in your carseat on the kitchen floor.
4) Started to allow us to feed you very small amounts of solid foods.
5) Inconceivably, become even more sweet and fat and adorable.

You are precious beyond words.



Here are some pictures from the last couple of months:

Even your feet are fat!

Having a nap on Uncle Scott. If naps are good, you say, naps on someone are even better.

Having a good time with Auntie Hillary, whom you adore.

Drinking a bottle in a Boppy.

I'm not sure if this was Soren's doing...or your father's.

Sometimes you fall asleep while playing. Such a thing has never been witnessed before in our household.

At six months, contrasted with your two-week-old cousin, Benjamin.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Another failed holiday.

We don't seem to have the best luck with holidays. Some of you may remember the Halloween Fiasco of 2008. Or perhaps you recall the Christmas Diasaster of 2007.

Let's just say that this Halloween 2009 was no better than Halloween 2008.

So I was trying to make some chili for the ward trunk-or-treat. Soren and Liam were both dressed up as Tigger. All was well. We would soon be off. And then, oh then, all hell broke loose.

It all started when Soren tried to intubate Liam with a mug straw. This was followed by lots of screaming from both children and a heroic effort on Abraham's behalf to refrain from doing Soren grievous bodily harm. In the chaos, I forgot all about the chili I had put on the stove on high heat. It was perfectly black and nasty by the time I did remember it, and at that point Soren had begun throwing a tantrum about how he wanted to wear his pumpkin costume and not his tiger costume. I didn't want to reward this sort of rottenness, so we stayed home and gave away all of Soren's potty training candy to kids too old to be trick-or-treating. Abe and I were both miserable and fell asleep wishing that we had never heard of having children.

I think next year I'll just cancel Halloween.


I have been wanting for ages to do a post about homeschooling. I think about it a lot, though I'm not sure if it's something I want to do. When I first started dating Abraham (who was home-schooled), I was very sure about whether it was something I wanted to do. So strong was my opinion, in fact, that I informed Abe that I would never be able to marry him. "Why is that?" he asked.
"Because I refuse to homeschool my children," I replied.
"What makes you think I want to homeschool my kids?"
I had assumed that all homeschooled kids thought that homeschooling was the best.
"You don't?"
"I don't know. It will probably depend on a lot of things. But no, I'm not adamant about homeschooling."
"Oh." Pause. "I guess we can keep dating then."
"OK. Good."

I have many, many things to say about homeschooling. However, in the spirit of my new resolution, I am going to whittle my feelings down to their barest bones:

1) I hate the word homeschooling. It makes me think of buck-toothed backwoods Christian fundamentalists. I would much prefer home education: "We are educating our children at home and in the community," not "We're homeschoolin' our keeds to keep 'em from learnin' about EVILoution in them hell-begotten liberal schools."

2) Provided that the home environment encourages learning, an at-home education is bound to be better. For example, the following is typical of a conversation I (public schooled) will have with my husband (homeschooled):
Abe: Can you imagine what it would have been like to be there when Karkatoa erupted?
Rachel: Nope.
Abe talks for a while about the size of the rock that would have been spewed out of the ground; the way the ash would have looked falling on the ocean, etc, etc.
Rachel: Wow. That would have been something else. What was the name of that volcano again?
Abe: Karkotoa? You know, the largest natural disaster in human history? (Slaps himself in the forehead.)

3) Homeschooled kids are weird. This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor does it necessarily imply that they lack social skills or lives. However, homeschoolers are outsiders, and no matter how you cut it, homeschooled kids are going to be different from almost all their peers: their lifestyle is different, their day-to-day activities are different--therefore, their way of thinking about things is different. This will put them, to one degree or another, on the outside. This is not necessary bad, I suppose. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, "Well-behaved women rarely make history." And that is true. The people who really make an impact on the world are those who aren't afraid to stand out, to be different, to do their own dance.

4) I just happen to know a few homeschooled kids who aren't very good at doing things they don't want to do. And I'm not sure if that's the product of their educational background or if it's just a personality glitch. But I do know that if there's one thing that traditional school teaches, it's how to suck it up and do crap you don't want to do: how to trudge daily to a place you don't necessarily want to be, how to complete tasks in which you have little or no interest, how to spend time with people you may or may not like, how to priotize, how to organize your time. These are things you have to be capable of doing if you want to thrive in the economic world as an adult.

5) Homeschooling may provide more opportunities for kids to become more of who they really are, unfettered by fears of peer rejection or bad grades.

So those are some of my thoughts on homeschooling. And I believe it is now obvious that I am incapable of brevity. I am uncertain as to whether or not this was caused by my public education.

Resolved: Rachel releasing her perfectionistic tendencies will allow this blog to continue to exist.

So I've decided I need to be less perfectionistic about my blog.

I have so much to say...but I want to say it just right. And include pictures to create visual interest. And avoid boring everyone with too much talk of the kids' antics. Unfortunately, these desires often mean that I just don't post at all....which is certainly not a proven way to increase one's blog readership.


I'm going to start posting more. Little posts. That may or may not include pictures. And if you don't like it, I may have to cry myself to sleep in my huge pillow. But that's okay. 'Cause at least I'll still have my blog.


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