Archive | December, 2012


31 Dec

school of bartending

After many trips of carrying 25-pound containers of ice up flights of stairs for a fellow co-worker, I decided I had had enough. This would be my last day.

I hate quitting — the very act implies failure and defeat, which my stubborn self doesn’t usually allow. There are only a couple jobs that I haven’t followed through with, and each time I have to tell my boss that it isn’t working out, the sting just seems to grow.

As a senior in high school, I started a job while also heavily involved in cross country. When I found out that my varsity season was going to continue longer than I had thought, there was a distinct choice I had to make. Working with books or spending my last season running with my team. The sport easily won out, but telling my boss that it wasn’t going to work out was pretty hard.

A few years ago, I became an organizer for a presidential campaign. It included a very strenuous vetting process, and I believe I got on staff only because one of my recommenders was the president of a state university. Now, this is embarrassing — I didn’t even last a week. The 80-100 hour work week didn’t freak me out — I had done that in the past with two separate part-time jobs. It was the amount of cold calling, begging for favors, and pushy behavior that I knew I did not want to be a part of. That was probably the most nerve-wracking of my quitting experiences – I had pulled a lot of strings to get the position, and after all that, I did not want it. There were a few regrets with not going further, yet, I really did not want a career in politics – in any capacity.

New York City hasn’t been as easy to break into as I had previously thought (everyone, please roll your eyes). I have sent hundreds of resumes and cover letters with no responses received. There have been a couple interviews at temping agencies that promise jobs, yet they never call. So I thought I had a big break when a concession company called me in for an interview as a bartender. I would be able to work on Broadway, catering to the show attendees.

It didn’t promise tons of money, but there was the hope of massive tips. Yet, working at a musical geared towards kids definitely didn’t ensure that. Sure, a couple parents or young adults would buy a glass of wine, but I was mostly selling candy and expensive sodas for exact change. (Which is totally understandable, as a kid I wouldn’t have shelled out 7 bucks for a soda and also expect to give the cashier a tip. Inconceivable.)

Commuting across the Hudson River hasn’t been super easy since the hurricane, either. More than a couple of times, I found myself waiting in line at 2 a.m. at the Port Authority for a bus to take me home. And, due to the fact that I was going home for Thanksgiving, the company decided it was best for me to be at coat check – where I might make two bucks in tips if I were lucky. Finally, after helping a co-worker set up her bar a couple times while making her some substantial tippage, I had had enough. When I told the company, one of the heads asked me to think about it and give him an answer after my holiday break. I didn’t understand why – my decision would become more finite after a few days away.

Even though I was earning very little money working many hours, the idea of quitting still sucked. It was a big relief, yet I had only been there for a few weeks and I didn’t have another job lined up.

I am not adverse to working as a barista or a bartender – both are worthwhile jobs that I have performed in the past for years at a time. No, I just had to admit that this job wasn’t worth the effort – at all.

The act of quitting isn’t easy for anyone. It may give a sense of relief or accomplishment at the beginning, yet the question of “What now?” still exists. Or perhaps it were a perfect position, but for someone else. Quitting provides a mixed bag of emotions. And while this time it was definitely the right decision for me, I wonder greatly about the future. Where money will come from, what kind of job I will apply for next, etc., etc.

If my track record proves correct, hopefully I will be at the next job for much, much longer. Hopefully.


If this were your last day …

30 Dec

Although I will be writing a blog post tomorrow, New Year’s Eve, I just don’t  know if I will be writing a resolution-themed piece. So here is a column written last year that dealt with that very topic. I will be writing some more humorous or story-based blogs very soon and will take a break from all of this sappiness!


New Year’s resolutions. We all make at least one, whether we like it or not. “I’m going to exercise more” or “I’m going to finally take that trip.” The first day of January has a certain crispness about it, a freshness that is different from the rest. It’s the time to say such things, to plan something new.

It reminds me a bit of Catholic reconciliation. Confess your sins to the priest and a load lifts off your shoulders. Start anew. But in either case, the planning and release is great and all, but means nothing if you aren’t willing to change and put effort into it. You can plan and plan and plan to lose 5 pounds, but I doubt it will come off if you don’t get off that couch and put down that bag of chips. You can confess your sins to whomever you choose, but if you don’t stop doing whatever is so bad, you aren’t going to be any better of a person (or more worthy in God’s eyes). So that first day, that first confession is just that. The beginning.

Recently, a former writer for “Saturday Night Live” tragically died. In his last blog post, Joe Bodolai asks in the title, “If This Was Your Last Day Alive What Would You Do?” In the post, he listed personal items under “Things I Think Will Happen Next Year,” “Stuff I Would Like to Have Seen in My Life,” “Things I Regret” and “Things I am Proud Of.” While the man definitely had made some mistakes in his life, he had a long list of accomplishments. It’s heartbreakingly sad to see such a person’s life laid out in such a way. But reality was right there on the computer screen. And like the ton of bricks it was, it hit me pretty hard. This life isn’t going to go on forever – and I won’t know how much time is allotted for me on this earth. Andy from “The Shawshank Redemption” said it best: Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Death, an uncomfortable topic. But it’s real and when it happens to someone close to us, it takes our breath away. You ask all the questions in your head, without ever saying them out loud. Was that person happy at this point in their life? Was there something they wish they had done, or something they had pressing inside that they wish they had said? Would they have done something differently?

No one likes talking about that stuff. Because that stuff is politely supposed to be shoved back in some dark corner, never to be brought up again.

But what if we lived our lives a bit more like that? Asking those questions of ourselves, no matter how difficult it may be. What do I regret? What are some of things I have enjoyed most? And what do I want to accomplish in the future? Not to dwell on the past or to covet something that will never happen. But to find out what is really there inside, your deepest desires and fears.

So what if this was your last day on earth? Or if 2012 was your last year to live? What if we start our resolutions like that?

We can list, plan and wish upon a star for various things on Jan. 1. Or we could start putting some plans into action. We will always have regrets in this lifetime, that is assured. But regretting never trying is something that no one wants to live with.

This year, act on those goals or ideas. Don’t just say, but do; it’s almost guaranteed that there will be mistakes, defeats and disappointments. But there will also be a chance for something good. For change.

Every man dies. Not every man really lives. – William Wallace

The perfect gift

24 Dec


Before leaving New York City last week, I spent a hefty amount of time searching for perfect gifts for family. Each time I asked them for some advice, the answer would be “something from New York.” A lot of help. So I scoured lower, mid and upper Manhattan, hoping to come near something that could give me that “A Ha! Moment”. Nothing ever did. I looked in the small shops near Bryant Park. Too kitschy. FAO Schwartz. Too expensive. I went to boutiques, huge department stores, and even street vendors in search of said presents. I either found generic items that could be found anywhere or beautiful things that would unload my savings account. Nothing was perfect.

I had imagined that my first year away from family and friends would be spent sending back fun and cool items that couldn’t be found anywhere else. Need a baby gift? Bam, in the mail it goes. An engagement gift? Here you go, a one-of-a-kind item. While I do find interesting stuff that I had never seen before or clothing styles that are much different than my own — I have yet to find something that can’t be purchased in some form on the Internet. (As of this writing, I am still in search for the perfect NYC wedding gift for a good friend that had her wedding in September! I am now thinking that a gift card will soon be in the mail.)

After such a shopping overload and nothing yet wrapped to go in my luggage, I kind of gave up. My mom had been calling me for gift ideas of my own and I couldn’t even give an answer to that. I sat in my local park (no, not Central Park) and thought about all of this hoopla for awhile. I wanted everything to be perfect – gifts and whatnot – and most likely for selfish reasons. I wanted to come home. In all of this frenzied shopping, all I really wanted was to be near my family and for the time to be perfect for all of us. And honestly, I didn’t want any gifts. I just wanted a plane ticket home.

I have walked the street in front of Macy’s. We have spent time skating at Bryant Park and seeing the giant tree at Rockefeller Center. NYC is a beautiful, exciting place at this time of year. And yet, in all of it’s majestic glory, I just wanted the quiet of small town Iowa.

It was after this moment of clarity that I realized my gifts didn’t have to be perfect. More likely than not, my own family wanted me home too (well, hopefully).

So while other people may have spent money on lavish gifts from expensive stores in midtown, I went to a Times Square gift shop for some tacky items. To Century 21, a crazy cheap discount store, for clothing that is technically from NYC. And to Target and for some gifts that would be shipped directly to Iowa. And while they aren’t the “perfect” gifts, they are presents that I am sure my family will enjoy. And whatever gifts come under the tree for me, I am glad to receive them. But my perfect gift has already arrived. From baking and cooking to watching movies while eating Chinese food — spending time with my siblings, parents, niece have made for the best Christmas present I could possibly ask for.

Merry Christmas!

Quiet simplicity: A Christmas story

20 Dec

When did you first understand the meaning of love? I was once asked this question … here was my answer.

EP05 Red Apple on Cutting Board 16x20

My grandmother could peel an apple. It wasn’t haphazardly cored — the way I do it. Instead, the process was in long curling strips into the kitchen sink, never ending until the entire skin was removed in one swift step. Effortless is perhaps the best word to describe it.

But that was Grandma Mary. It didn’t seem that she had to try. When she knitted a blanket, she carried on conversations as if she wasn’t working the needles. Rolling out pasta seemed to be a small task, quickly accomplished. And patience was never an issue, as she listened to a loved one’s problems with full attention.

She was a hard-working Iowa farm wife. She diligently performed each and every task, and provided nourishment to all who needed it.

During our college years, my cousin Jennifer and I looked forward to noon on Mondays. That day we’d travel to our grandparents’ home for a feast, of sorts. The kitchen table would be heaped with everything a hungry farmer would ever want — a roast, simmering vegetables, baked bread, cheeses, a fresh dessert and more. We’d sit, relaying stories of school, while Grandma watched us, amused, laughing with this slight lilt. We’d walk out the door, an hour later, hardly able to keep our eyes open due to the food overload we had experienced.

A few years later, I found myself living in a new city, away from family. Life had gotten in the way — romantic relationships, finances, the normal worries of adulthood. Everything constantly surrounding me seemed of dire importance — and during that chaotic mess was when I received the phone call. My mother called me with startling news, one September day, that would cause my concentration to lapse. “Your grandmother’s cancer is back.”

“Well, she’s going to get better again, right?”

“Not this time.”

She had been diagnosed with uterine cancer a few years back, but had succeeded in fighting the battle.

But this time, it had spread. All over.

That day was a blur. I’m not sure how I got back to my apartment, after driving through rush-hour traffic. I wasn’t thinking of anything besides the rotting feeling that had settled in my stomach cavity.

She had a half a year at the most, doctors said.

Three months passed, and Christmas-time was fast approaching. I looked forward to spending time with my family in central Iowa. A perfect place for spending the holidays — fields blanked with snow, fireplaces, blankets and hot chocolate waiting inside to provide warmth.

Grandma had been in and out of the hospital recently. Sick with the ailments that come along with cancer. She had gone into the local hospital on Dec. 22, but we were assured that she would come home soon. Grandpa was quite worried — knowing that this was likely to be the last holiday he’d spend with his wife.  On Christmas Eve, I came into her hospital room with a small-lighted tree, to bring some cheer to the blank atmosphere. She was asleep, peaceful, and very pale in her bed. I couldn’t bear to wake her as she lay with a slight smile on her face. That moment, I realized how vulnerable she was — how I was.

The next morning, while opening up presents with my family, the phone rang. It was the hospital — and we were advised to hurry. We dressed quickly, and arrived to find our large extended family gathering in the lobby. The end was coming soon for Grandma Mary, as the cancer had entered her brain. A day or two left, the doctors said. A priest came to give her last rites, and we knew then that the tough stuff had come.

She stayed for a day. Then two. Three, and finally four. While there, she laughed and talked with family — relaying stories of the past we had never heard. We enjoyed her company and she enjoyed ours.

But there was something missing in this hospital room. My younger sister Emily. Oh, she was at the hospital  — more than most, in fact. But she hadn’t set foot in Grandma’s room since Christmas Day. She had her reasons.

While my grandmother and I had a strong connection, as most of my cousins did — the one bond that stuck out was the one she shared with Emily. They had nicknames for each other and daily card games to play. Instead of coming right home after school during our younger years, Emily would stop over at our grandparents’ instead. For cookies and punch, she’d say. In reality, it was for the conversation and the jokes they’d share. My sister couldn’t, or didn’t, want to say goodbye. So after three days of avoiding her grandmother’s hospital room, it was time. Well that was what my mother and aunts said. Emily didn’t think so. She sat stubbornly in the waiting room, arms folded, as my aunts coaxed her to the room. At first it was “I’m fine, thanks anyway,” to “No, I’m not going. Stop.” But she failed against the defiant aunts. Arm in arm, the two led her toward my sleeping grandma. She stayed in the doorway of the hospital room for a while, afraid. A gentle push from behind made her enter the room, to reality. Emily sat slowly next to the bed. Her face immobile. Frigidly still as she gradually looked at grandma’s closed eyes. Finally, an uncle gently took her hand and placed it into the frail embrace of my grandmother’s. That was all it took. These heaving sobs started coming out of Emily — her whole body shaking as she grasped onto my grandmother’s body with all her might. She couldn’t stop and wouldn’t let go. I stood in the doorway watching the situation. All who were in the room began to cry, touched by the situation. Seconds became minutes, before Emily, red-faced and spent, left the room.

It was then and there that I first knew what true love was. It wasn’t my first kiss, or hearing my boyfriend say, “I love you.” Romantic love couldn’t compare. It was watching my sister grieving over her dying grandmother, her friend. She didn’t want to say goodbye, didn’t want to believe it was true. But it was. The next morning Grandma left us, as we knew she eventually would. She left as she had lived — effortlessly.

Her favorite song “Claire de Lune” was played at the funeral. A tune known for it’s quiet simplicity, something that grandma knew something about.

That was six years ago — and I still look at that night at the hospital as one of the most beautiful, yet sad, moments of my life.

My grandmother loved, and we loved her back. And for that, I am extremely blessed.

Seize the day – the snow day, that is

19 Dec

In honor of the snow blizzard expected in Iowa on Thursday, here is a reprint of an original column that I wrote for Dec. 9, 2009. Enjoy!


“Carpe diem.” – Horace

Wake up. Giddy excitement. Underneath the piles upon piles of blankets. And you wait. Eventually, someone would lumber up the steps to be the bearer of news (hopefully good). And every once and awhile it came — a snow day.

The possibilities were endless. Sleep in? No, too wound up. Would there be an Indiana Jones marathon? Or perhaps outdoors I would venture, for a neighborhood snowball fight. Maybe I’d help Mom make some cookies or perhaps I would read another of my Sweet Valley Twins books.

Sure, I might have to shovel some sidewalks and there might be chores, and, sigh, there might be a make-up day at the end of the year. But it was worth it. For the pure delirious sensation that resulted from a normal, everyday kind of day, which was in fact not.

It was instead an awesome day.

My neighborhood would bustle with kids waiting to experience the day with one another. To spread our fervor with a frenzied commotion. Usually an igloo was started and soon forgotten. The boys would start a snowball fight. We’d end up with wet hair, bodies sweaty throughout our snow suits as we grappled with the white stuff through our enormous gloves. It usually ended with either me or my cousin Elizabeth getting smacked in the face with a snowball. The hot tears would smatter across our faces while we ran back into the house.

Although the hours passed by quickly, as hot chocolate-stained sweatshirts and the bleeps of a Super Nintendo game ensued, the day seemed to last forever. No thoughts were given to the following school day. Life was good and we knew it.

So why does the idea of a bit of snow, or a lot, or maybe epic proportions of snow freak us adults out? Fine, there are accidents. And yes, most jobs don’t accept the snow day excuse. And the shoveling. The snow blowing. The streets. And the kids … and the …

It’s hard to remember that gleam of hope one would get at the thought of a few inches of snow. Instead snow brings painful thoughts of sore backs and numbing weather.

So as we fight the crowds at the grocery store, or while we wait for our cars to start and get warm, perhaps we should try to carry that little piece of snow-day-childhood with us. To remember what the snow used to be about. Not an excuse to complain. Nor another topic to vent our frustrations through.

But instead as a piece of wonderment. The day we kids could declare our Independence Day. Nay to pencils and papers and calculators. Hello to muddy snow pants, boots and a day of complete enchantment.

For Peter Pan said, “Forget them, Wendy. Forget them all. Come with me where you’ll never, never have to worry about grown up things again.”

And Wendy replied, “Never is an awfully long time.”

Let us, at least for a moment, live as Peter Pan does and forget that we have real lives and responsibilities. Take a whiff of the cold air, taste a snowflake and live like you once did before.

Innocence lost

16 Dec


Clouds — large, fluffy ones. As they meandered across the blue sky, they changed shape. From a castle to a dinosaur, I was entranced by the magic that danced before my eyes. I was lying barefoot in the grass outside of my childhood home, moving my arms and legs this way and that through the blades — making grass angels. It was summertime and I could smell the fragrance of freshly laundered sheets that swayed on the neighbor’s clothesline.

I couldn’t have been more than 6 when this memory was created; and while it felt as if hours had gone by, I bet it was mere minutes. That was why childhood was so amazing. Time was immeasurable. It didn’t matter what was happening that day, it could last forever. And why not? There was nothing to worry about, and if there was, it was whether a game of tag would be played that day or if mac ‘n’ cheese would be on the lunch menu. That is all. Adults did the rest of the worrying for us. Life was carefree, exciting, and all-around happy.

That memory sticks vividly in my head on days when I want to go back to my childhood — back when all I wanted was to become an adult. That is when I realize how lucky I am. I had a wonderful childhood, something I can look back on and wish to revisit.

It hasn’t been a full two days yet since 20 children had their precious time on earth taken away. They won’t be able to make memories with their families and loved ones. No more endless days catching fireflies or playing in the park. Their parents won’t be able to watch them become the adults they had so wished to be at a young age. It is absolutely senseless.

A numbness has spread through me as I have continued to be haunted by the very thought, as many others are. I picture those wrapped presents sitting underneath the decorated tree. The family Christmas photos already in the mail. A half-finished gingerbread house on the table. I don’t know what their families are going through, nor can I ever imagine the grief that has stricken the households in Newton, Conn.

So I sit here, staring into the lights of my tree. Remembering what I cherished at their ages and the memories I built at that time. A time of complete and utter innocence. On the days that I feel bad, I can wish with all my might to go back to the age of 6 where time seemed to stop. That opportunity is lost for them. And while those experiences won’t happen — I am sure with every day that passes, their families will also ask why they weren’t allowed to have that chance.

This looks familiar, vaguely familiar, Almost unreal, yet, it’s too soon to feel yet. Close to my soul, and yet so far away. I’m going to go back there someday.

Sun rises, night falls, sometimes the sky calls. Is that a song there, and do I belong there? I’ve never been there, but I know the way. I’m going to go back there someday.

– lyrics from “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday” by Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams from The Muppet Movie

Christmas: A few of my favorite things

12 Dec

We all can think of a couple of items that make the Christmas season so special to each of us. Perhaps it is a movie, carol, or distinct memory that makes us relish the holiday.

Well, here are just a few of my favorite things about this exciting time — in no particular order.


This iconic movie ranks top on my list of Christmas movies.

This iconic movie ranks top on my list of Christmas movies.

This is hard. There are so many classics: The Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, It’s A Wonderful Life, Elf, Home Alone, the list goes on and on. For me, myself and I, there are two movies that have to watched during the month of December — Little Women and Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland is iconic and absolutely wonderful, singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” That movie just makes me clasp my hands to the side of my head and sigh. Little Women, well I know that isn’t really considered a “Christmas” movie. Yet, with all of the winter moments and the scene signifying Christmas miracles – it gets me into the holiday spirit. It might also have to do with the fact that my late grandmother owned a copy of the 1949 version that I watched over and over, and it makes me feel a bit closer to her during the holidays.


I did not understand Pee Wee's more irreverent humor until later years. This is a definitely a holiday gem.

I did not understand Pee Wee’s more irreverent humor until later years. This is a definitely a holiday gem.

Movies and specials aren’t in the same category for me. Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Claymation’s Christmas, Muppet Christmas, there are so many amazing 30 minute to hour television extravaganzas that enliven childhood memories of supreme happiness. The one that I have to catch each year, with no fail, is “Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special.” It is so late ’80s, it’s not even funny. No, it is super funny. From the King of Cartoons to the Magic Screen, each and every character from the beloved children show unite with stars of the time to create a Christmas spectacular. As in Pee Wee’s words, “Feliz Navi’blah!”



RIP Dan Fogelberg

This is super hard. From Perry Como to Ella Fitzgerald to Louis Armstrong, the classics always reign supreme. But (oh, there’s a but) I have to listen to two songs on repeat from Thanksgiving to well after the holiday season is over: Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” I’m not depressed, no, these are just original pieces from true songwriters. Fogelberg’s songs are seriously like opening up his soul to the masses. I love when music used to tell a story — one that was relatable and truly sentimental and from the heart. Both of those songs can bring me to moments in my life that I cherish and hold dear.

FAVORITE ALBUM (in its entirety):

I heart "Grown-Up Christmas List" and "Emmanuel, God With Us" so much.

I heart “Grown-Up Christmas List” and “Emmanuel, God With Us” so much.

Again, a toughy. I have to listen to at least three Mannheim Steamroller albums through December, as well as the iconic Mariah Carey “Merry Christmas” CD. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” will get me dancing in a matter of seconds and makes me feel like a middle schooler again. Yet, this honor is bestowed on “The Christmas Collection” by Amy Grant. I’m not a huge fan of hers outside of the holiday season, but it contains all of her Christmas classics. My mom and I would listen to her songs over and over during shopping trips and drives to craft fairs. Her music is the nostalgia that I require while gazing at the lights on my tree. “Breath of Heaven” is seriously one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.


I'm sorry that I'm not sorry for this. I'm just sorry that you are so bitter, Suki.

I’m sorry that I’m not sorry for this. I’m just sorry that you are so bitter, Suki.

This honor is bestowed on dressing up animals in crazy costumes. My parents’ poor cat Suki is known to be the brunt of our humor (don’t feel sorry for her, she is treated like the most spoiled of princesses at their house). She is one of those animals that has a very distinct personality — meaning, she either doesn’t want to be around you, doesn’t want you to touch her, and actually just wants you to leave her alone. So when the Mrs. Claus outfit or reindeer antlers comes out — there is a distinct cringe. She falls to the ground dramatically, and doesn’t move as if she was stricken suddenly by some tropic disease. Drama cat is hilarious, for sure.



For me, it is Christmas Eve. It hasn’t changed with our family for more than 20 years. I spend a great deal of time during the day with my mom making homemade chili and oyster stew. We frost sugar cookies, listen to Christmas music, and talk. The entire family will go to 4 p.m. Mass at our local Catholic church. Honestly, Mass on Christmas Eve is one of the most beautiful experiences. Incense, songs, rituals — I enjoy it immensely. This is about nostalgia, as well. I spent a great deal of time during my childhood’s winter months practicing music as we prepared for the children’s choir Mass on Christmas Eve. This meant pretty dresses, pretty tights, and fighting to the death for the best solos. Anyways, we will go home, eat our big feast, play games, tell jokes, watch a Christmas movie, and open a few presents. It is one of those truly special times that I look forward to all year round.


Opening these little windows each day was such a relief for my OCD self. I need one of these now, STAT.

Opening these little windows each day was such a relief for my OCD self. I need one of these now, STAT.

The anticipation. The letdown afterwards is awful. Instead, I love to surround myself with anything Christmas and get excited for the parties, fun, and experiences that will be had. As a child, we always had an Advent calendar. It was great for me, because I could see exactly how many days were left until Christmas. Each morning, I would beg my mom to let it be my turn to open the little window on the paper calendar. It was almost better than opening up presents (almost). Being out-of-state, that feeling of childlike anticipation has somewhat returned. I am anxious and thrilled, counting down the days until I’m back with family.


Of course, there would be a giant cat in the nativity scene. It just makes sense.

Of course, there would be a giant cat in the nativity scene. It just makes sense.

That’s easy: Family. We are a quirky, quick-witted, hearty bunch of people. For example, this is the nativity scene that is set up at my parents’ house during the holiday season. Something look wrong with it? Yeah, my mom did that. She thinks it’s funny, and we do too. If the cat was left out of the manger, it just wouldn’t make sense to us at all. Every nativity scene needs a giant white cat, truly. I look forward to coming home next week and spending time with them. Christmas in Iowa – the best gift for this girl.

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