My Sunshine

October 13, 2012 at 6:48 am | Posted in Lollipop | 14 Comments
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I have a drawing on my dresser. Magenta and violet flowers — humongous and vibrant, the kind I grow only in my dreams — turn their petaled faces toward the azure sky. The canary-yellow sun smiles down on the pastoral scene. He is wearing sunglasses.

Lollipop made it for me.

With her purple-and-candy-corn Halloween pencil, she wrote, “I love you, Mommy. Love, Lollipop” except it really looks like this: I! LOVE! YOU! MOMMY! LOVE! LOLLIPOP! because she also loves exclamation marks.


She is 6 today. (She! is! 6!)

Every day is a reminder that she is exactly like me — creative, a rule-follower, a lover of broccoli and bulletin boards. And she is nothing like me — assertive, sequin-wearing, a lollipop-and-licorice girl to the sweet, sticky core.

She keeps an apron on the towel hook in the kitchen, a daily visual reminder to me that she wants to help with dinner. Measuring, pouring, mixing, these are her favorites.

She asks questions like “What is infinity plus pi?” and “Are okapis omnivores or herbivores?” and “When are you going to wash my socks with the purple ghosts on them?”

Give her some paper, pipe cleaners, tinfoil, and yarn and she will whip up a cat mobile or a bunny cave or a pot of rainbow soup.

She is our family’s goodwill ambassador, making friends with fellow restaurant patrons, post-office customers, and the lady in the stall next to us.

She takes her cheeseburger plain, her hot dog with ketchup, and her orange juice with ice.

She wears dresses — pink, purple, plaid, velvet, ruffles, buttons, bows, tulle, jewels, flowers, butterflies, Scottie dogs, you name it — 365 days a year. And twice on Sundays. And Tuesdays. And sometimes Fridays.

She corrals her brothers into tutus. She demands that they play school or pet store or hair salon with her. She is their fairy-winged handler, and they adoringly offer her tributes of marshmallows and pink chalk-nubs.

She is exactly who she is. I feel as though I’ve known her forever — and that I’ll never fully know her.

Like the dresses lined up in her closet, she is layer upon layer of goodness and grace, sweetness and smarts, keenness and kindness.

She is my! life’s! sparkliest! sequin!

Do you marvel at who your children are and are becoming? At how they are so alike — and so different — from you? At how they possibly got to be 6 already??


Place Holders

July 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Family, Transylvania | 34 Comments
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My kitchen is organized. The pots are next to the stove, their lids cascading down the shelf in size order like giant beads of shiny mercury. The collection of found keys — silver, gold, skate, possibly to our old Ford Escort — are looped on a chain and tucked neatly in the back of the office-supply drawer. (The office-supply drawer.) And the spices? Alphabetized.

There’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

Except for me.


According to my passport, I’m home. This house is full of pictures — the two of us, smiling; then the three of us, then four, then five — so this must be home. We are here. In every room.

But if you look closely, we’re just shadows, lilting, listless, down the hallways like the year’s worth of spider webs that accumulated in our absence. We are dusty and sticky and a little bit fragile.

I’m afraid our hearts are somewhere else.

They are climbing ladders and picking cherries. They are parallel-parking two, three, five times to fit exactly right into that one open, tiny space. They are watching storks roost on the street lights. They are drinking Fanta.

They are not here, where someone wearing a red vest and a smile magically appears to bag your groceries for you. Where lawns are sprinklered and manicured. Where Target and McDonald’s and American Fireworks Factory Outlet Buy 1 Get 11 Free peddle their wares on nearly every corner.

Yes, I’m afraid our hearts are somewhere else.

Maybe they’re tucked in the 13 boxes slowly making their way to us on a jumbo truck somewhere between here and Chicago, estimated delivery July 25, pending customs clearance, absolutely no alcohol, batteries, or nail polish remover allowed.

Maybe they’re wandering the streets of Paris, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, getting their bearings and clutching their city map, just as we did not long ago.

Maybe we left tiny slivers behind with every goodbye and earnest promise to stay in touch.

Will we ever be whole again, if we gave our hearts away?

One day soon I’ll probably find them, tucked into the giant garbage bag of European Legos or pressed between the creased pages of Romanian/English: A Dictionary. I’ll dust them off and dole them out. We’ll smile and throw our hands up in the air, like we finally found that missing earring that had been mashed in the carpet right there all along.

Maybe then, this house will feel like home. Dryer sheets and heavy-duty aluminum foil won’t be odd curiosities anymore. And these laughs will sound like ours.

Then, maybe then, our memories will be enough.

How do you cope with tough transitions? Has home ever not felt like home for you? And are your spices alphabetized?


May 28, 2012 at 11:40 am | Posted in Giggles, Transylvania | 21 Comments
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Prague. Krakow. Poprad.

And a Slovakian emergency room.

In the last hours of our two-week Eastern European vacation, that’s where we ended up. We had planned to relax in the bubbly warmth of an indoor waterpark before packing our bags and searching under hotel beds for lost trains, coins, and crayons.


But somewhere around 7 p.m, Giggles tumbled off the park’s playscape and landed on his elbow. His elbow. He screamed.

I’ll remember that sound for the rest of my days. And nights.

My husband ran to him and scooped him up. Before I could push my heart back down into my chest, he had Giggles in a sling and a porter on the way to lead us to the hospital.

Somehow, we changed clothes. Matched up socks and shoes. Navigated wet hallways, exit turnstiles, and escalators. Located car keys.

We left Lollipop and Bun with my in-laws, who by the grace of God or good planning or straight-up luck, were traveling with us. Somehow, somebody called a taxi to take them to the hotel. Somehow, we made it to the ER. Somehow, Giggles had X-rays taken within an hour of falling.

The doctor’s report sounded eerily familiar. Broken. Surgery. Pins. Damn.

Four hours later, somewhere around midnight, they wheeled him into the operating room. I stopped outside the doors and promised him I would stay right there — right there — until he came back. He screamed for me. My heart screamed for him. The thick metal doors slammed shut.

The hallway was quiet and dark. I sat down in a blue chair. I was surprised to find it comfortable.

I waited. I don’t know how long. There was no clock and I had no phone, but I sat and waited and worried.

Two surgery nurses rushed out of the operating room a few minutes apart, the heavy doors booming shut behind them. One went into a supply closet across from me. A dragon tattoo peeked out from the collar of his green scrubs. The other ran down a flight of stairs. A few minutes later, she ran back up. Neither nurse looked at me.

I imagined all the things going wrong. Of course I did.

I imagined them again and again and again even though I tried making my brain count the chipped, faded tangerine floor tiles. 1, 2, 3, blood transfusion, 4, 5, oh, my God, do they test for AIDS in Eastern Europe? 6, 7, 8, it’s his heart, please, please, please, not his heart, 9, 10, 11, they don’t have pins small enough for him, I knew it, 12, 13, 14, I was wrong about when he last ate, shit, I was wrong and he’s aspirating, 15, 16, they can’t fix it, 17, 18, it’s worse than they thought, 19, 20, something is wrong, 21, 22, 23, something is really wrong, 24, 25, 26, oh, God, what is wrong!?

And then another nurse walked out. He looked at me. He looked at me.

“Okay?” I asked, not sure if he spoke English and quite certain I spoke not a word of Slovak.

“Okay,” he said. “The doctor is finishing up, and then he will come talk to you.”

He rushed down the hall. I counted tiles. 27, 28, 29 … And then he came back wearing a black-and-white warm-up suit … 30, 31, 32 … He pushed the elevator button and shuffled his sneakers … 33, 34, 35 … He waved as the doors opened and took him out of the hospital and back into his real life, where maybe he was headed home for a cup of tea or an Aerosmith marathon on MTV Czech.

Only then did I think everything might be okay. He waved. He’s going home. He’s wearing rayon and headphones. It’s going to be all right.

He’s wearing rayon, so it’s got to be all right.

They wheeled Giggles out a few minutes later. All I could see was his blond hair, flushed cheeks, and closed eyes. He looked so very small.

I tended to him through the night. He begged for water. He thrashed his legs. He cried. He cried in his sleep.

I smoothed his hair. I held his hand. I shushed and soothed and said everything was going to be okay. Occasionally, I slept, my forehead touching his temple on the impossibly flat, impossibly scratchy hospital pillow we shared.

Two days later, we carefully loaded him into the car and drove eight hours home to Romania.

He’s got 2 pins, 12 stitches, a soft cast, and a fear of everything.

But his eyes are finally his eyes again, glittery and gorgeous. His laugh is finally his laugh, thick and real and warm, like butter melting on pancakes. His elbow is in pieces, but he’s not.

And he’s what’s keeping me together.

Have you ever noticed the fragile smallness of your child? Ever found your own strength through his? Ever heard him laugh and somehow known everything would be okay?

How I Met My Mother

May 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Family, Guest Posts, Me, Transylvania | 14 Comments
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Mother’s Day is Sunday. Only I forgot. Because they don’t celebrate it in Romania, and I didn’t have the Target card aisle to remind me.

So instead of cute little potted plant and a box of her favorite tea, I gave my mom 10 questions. And this space to answer them in.

Mom and me

Because every time I practically beg my children to find their other shoe fortheloveofPetenow, I wonder: What the heck am I doing wrong? My mom never yelled at me. My mom never made me eat my peas. My mom never frowned. How did she do it??

She’s about to tell us. And really?

It’s not so much a gift for her as it is a gift for me. And you.


You left the onions and olives and other icky things out of casseroles when I was younger because I didn’t like the consistency. How did you have the patience?
I do not see it as having extra patience. When I was young, I never really liked onions or olives either … so I could empathize. Also, you never disliked anything I loved. For example, if you had not liked cheese, we would have had a problem! Besides, in the big picture, battling over onions was something I chose not to do.

PS: You can chop up onions really, really fine … and no one knows they are there. 🙂

You never made me clean my plate … or my room. And I turned out okay. How did that happen?
Do you remember our old neighbors? The father would make his son sit at the table for HOURS if that is what it took to clean his plate. I just thought that was cruel and unusual. And wrong. Because of that, I might have been more lenient than normal, but I had faith that you would eat when you were hungry. There was always the next meal.

As for cleaning your room, I have a very odd theory on that one. When I was growing up, my mother never made us clean our rooms. She always did it for us. Having a clean, orderly room was an expected standard of living. When I grew up and moved out on my own, I still wanted everything to be orderly, so I did it myself.

I feel like I raise my voice or sigh in exasperation at my kiddos at least 23 times a day. I don’t recall you ever doing this. How did you manage it?
OH, NO … you just don’t remember! I felt like I often raised my voice. Well, maybe not raised my voice exactly, but I distinctly remember often using the “evil eye” and snapping my fingers. Being exasperated is part of being a mother. And is perfectly normal. Only mothers on TV never lose their cool! I just always tried to minimize letting off steam and tried to remember you were learning and growing and I needed to learn and grow along with you.

Mom and Bun

How is it different being a grandparent? How is it easier? Harder?
Being a grandparent is FUN because there is no responsibility! I get to be a little kid again and just enjoying playing with the grandwidgets. Blowing bubbles, coloring, watching cartoons … you name it; a grandparent gets to do it all and feel absolutely no guilt. You have the heavy job of installing values, setting goals and expectations, and all that important parental stuff.

In my book, there is nothing hard about being a grandparent! Well, other than living a long distance away … That is the hard part.

How is it watching your child play the role of parent? How often do you bite your tongue when you have a wise nugget to offer?
You and Josh are great parents, so it is very rewarding watching you. As for biting my tongue … First, I hate being told how to do something, so I would never, ever do that to you. These are your children to raise as you see fit, not as I see fit. Second, I know I can always express my opinion and you would be willing to listen. But at the end of the day, you are the parent.

I once spilled a jar of rubber cement all over the carpet. It never came out, yet I was not sent to kid jail. Explain.
Ha! This is truly one of those memories that will last forever! You did not go to kid jail because it was an accident, and accidents happen. Also, what good would it have done to browbeat you with the memory repeatedly? Or made you never touch a bottle of glue again? How productive would that have been? We all learned a valuable lesson that day: Rubber cement is to be used at the table … and not sitting on the floor.

I never had a curfew. Explain.
This one is easy. You never wanted to do anything that went beyond what I thought was acceptable, so there was never the need to set a curfew. Perhaps if you had wanted to stay out all hours of the night with people I did not like, it would have been different. But all your friends were very responsible so I was never anxious about when or where you went. Also, more often than not, you would have people over to the house rather than going anywhere, so other parents had to worry about curfews. I didn’t!

Mom and the Gang

When my high-school boyfriend moved two hours away, you let me drive there on weekends. And I didn’t notice any gray hairs. How did you not worry yourself sick?
Did you ever notice I always highlighted my hair during this time!!? Actually, I did worry myself sick during the drive time. Until you got there and called to say you had made it safely, I was a nervous wreck!

But I believe one of a parent’s main goals is to instill a sense of confidence in her child that any and all goals are achievable. That meant I had to keep a lid on my fear, provide you with the skills to accomplish your goal, and then step back and let you use them. I think I did pretty good in this department.

I do admit to total failure when it came to insects, though. I instilled my fear in you. I wish I could get a do-over on that one! Bugs can be your friends. 🙂

What’s your proudest parenting moment? Your craziest?
A parent’s real pride is not only in her child’s accomplishments but also in seeing the choices her child makes. And I am proud of you every single day.

My craziest parenting moment? Hmmm, must have something to do with volunteering at band camp, being a band chaperone, or working the concession stands at football games. Crazy, but loads of fun!

Describe what went through your mind when I told you we were moving to Romania. (Tell the truth.) How has this year been for you?
Having talked about keeping a lid on fear … this was a very big lid to keep on. It was not that I was afraid of you moving to Romania, just that I could not jump in the car and get there if there was an emergency. That is one of the biggest fears a parent can have — not being able to get to her child when she is needed.

Even though I was scared, I knew it was going to be a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience for you all. So I just started counting down the time till you came home!

Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day! And I’ll see you in less than two months!


What questions would you like to ask your mom (or mine)? Do you remember things you were allowed to do as a child that freak you out as a parent? And what’s the worst thing you ever spilled on the carpet?

My Waterloo

May 9, 2012 at 10:29 am | Posted in Bun, Transylvania | 21 Comments
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I can’t write this post. I just can’t.

I sit. I check the laundry and the celebrity headlines. I stare at the cursor. Blink, blink, blink. No words come pouring out, as they usually (eventually) do. And with every hypnotizing pulse — blink, blink, blink — I talk myself out of a nap I desperately need.

Because today you are two.

And I want to write this. For you, for me, for all those future girlfriends (or boyfriends) I’m going to embarrass you in front of and (let’s be honest) never consider good enough.

I want to write this because I’m your mom. And you’re my baby. My perfect baby.

The one who takes the batteries out of my alarm clock.

The one we call Napoleon because you’re short and demanding. And because you make nasally, guttural growling sounds, just as le petit caporal must have done when his troops flanked left instead of right.

The one who scuttles about with your pacifier hanging out the corner of your mouth like a soggy, half-smoked stogie.

The one who throws stuff. Lidless markers. Tonka trucks. Cartons of mints from grocery store shelves. Rocks, socks, books, pants, cups, caps. All of it.

The one who turns the oven on and off and on and off and on and off when I’m not looking.

The one who eats no pasta. Or bread. Or beans. Or cheese. Or carrots. Or meat. Unless it’s called a McNugget and contains your recommended daily allowance of yuck.

The one who carries around a nub of blue chalk for hours and hours until you turn into a Smurf.

The one who charms the şosete off all the little old Romanian ladies waiting for the 35 bus on Calea Turzii.

The one who poops more than any other child I’ve ever known.

The one who barters hugs for crisps of cereal or chunks of pistachio and then adds an “Ohhhhhh! Love you!” to sweeten the deal.

The one who could stay in the bath all day long, filling and dumping and filling and dumping and filling and dumping your little yellow cup.

The one who climbs on the kitchen table so often that I forget to be surprised when I see you there, unwinding a roll of Scotch tape or poking leftover muffin crumbs with your toes.

Those perfect toes. My perfect baby.

Growl on, my little Napoleon. Growl on.

Happy 2, Bun! Want to read his birth story? And my husband’s take on it?

The Lady of Letters

April 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Posted in Guest Posts, Haiku Friday | 11 Comments
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Today? It’s a Small
World chez Fluffy Bunnies. E.’s
Our grand finale.

And she’s the real deal.
She’s got three letters after
Her name: M. F. A.

She’s got three kids, too:
O., N., and L. (That E., she
Does love her letters.)

This week? O.’s seven.
Teeth and his love for trains … gone.
Get out your hankies.


Haiku for Seven by E.
for O.

Tomorrow, seven!
A big kid; it’s official.
How did this happen?

First boy of my heart,
whose newborn wails echo when
springtime windows open,

I miss morning nests
on the couch, reading Harry
and nursing, nursing.

I miss your backhoes,
trains, trucks, tractors, balls, and cranes.
Teach your brother soon.

Now when no kids wake
at night, it’s worry keeps me
up in the wee hours.

Thinking of you out
in the world, braving your way
on paths I won’t know.

This, the year you left
dinos for Pokemon, glad
animals still rule.

Fan of your break dance,
sibling kindness, fearless joy
on two wheels of bike.

I love your magic,
pranks and all; Tae kwon do moves;
your Tiger Cub hat.

Not so your fart jokes,
back talking, button pushing,
all that growing up.

Nighttime snuggles still
are needed for hours, it seems.
When patience is thin.

Not room for two there,
You flop and never settle.
“One more minute please?”

“How does coffee taste?
What makes a hearing aid work?
Why is some skin brown?”

Then you ask the one
all kids find their way to, and
answer for yourself.

“L. is the baby,
and N. is your girl, but
I made you a mom.”


Don’t forget …
Comment in haiku
And you could win something cool …

From Transylvania!

Knits and Pearls

April 26, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Family, Giggles, Lollipop, Me | 21 Comments
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This sweater is old.
It’s an odd mottle of colors, like the dollops of paint my son swirls around and around.
It’s Kraft-cheese stripes are an accidental hybrid of funk and tang.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.

This sweater has been places.
I bought it, cheap, on the beach in France. Hundreds of flip-flopped tourists.
I was the cold one.
When I slip my arms through, I hear the wailing wind as it leaps from the Cliffs of Moher.
The whispers in the Sistine Chapel.
The sizzle of frying calamari at that tapas bar in Madrid.

This sweater reminds me.
My mom. Rocking, rocking. The worn springs strumming a lullaby — woom, woom, woom.
My forehead burrowed in the brown-sugar knits and purls of the sweater she wore, always.
The one that smells like her. Like buttercups and post-its and cherry tomatoes and safety.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.

This sweater will remind them.
I hold them. I listen to their tales: timeouts, worksheets, noodle soup, ladybugs.
I drink them in. Their longness and leanness. The freckle on her shoulder. His eyelashes.
My God, his eyelashes.
Their synapses churn out data, imprinting this, all of this, onto the endless RAM of childhood.
They will remember.
I hope they will remember.

This sweater is old.
This sweater has been places.
This sweater is time, memory, instinct, life.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.


Today’s Five for Five topic is age. Join in at Momalom.

Birds, Bees, and Bunnies

April 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Posted in Guest Posts, Haiku Friday | 4 Comments
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Today, Rachel’s here.
She ferments. And eats road kill.
And grows stuff. Green stuff!

She shares 800
Feet with her man Dan and her
Two kiddos. She’s brave.

Her poem? “Bee”ware.
It’s rated PG-13.
You’ll snort your coffee.


By Rachel at 6512 and Growing

New life pops and darts
Blossoms beckon honeybees
Green grass stitches up

In our warm bright room
I lay Dan down with a kiss
Outside, insects mate

While inside, we try
not to make anything as
precious as new life


Don’t forget …
Comment in haiku
And you could win something cool …

From Transylvania!

Bringing Haiku Back

April 6, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Posted in Guest Posts, Haiku Friday | 12 Comments
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Guess what April is …
National Poetry Month!
And to celebrate?

Haiku Friday is
Back. With guest poets! Prizes!

And erudite fun!

First up is Justine,
who knows that a dead wasp can
Cure sore throats. (Really.)

She’s got two girls and
Works and writes from her home in
The Windy City.

And? Her words are as
crumptious as her rainbow chard.
Sit down and dig in!


The Epic Battle
By Justine

She kept saying, “Pink!”
I countered with “How ’bout green?”
or “What about blue?”

This? Our daily dance
between her “I want this now!”
and my “I know best.”

She is defiant;
she’s got personality.
Maybe ’cuz she’s three.

I see her folly,
and so I try to guide her,
hoping she would learn.

But there’s a fine line
’tween giving autonomy
and steering her right.

And sometimes I fail
(a lot) in finding balance;
that’s why we struggle.

Or maybe this is
how it will forever be;
my guidance, her bane.

Her will and my hope
haphazardly colliding —
friction that won’t wane.

All ’cuz she wants just
to be herself, and it’s sad
that I would want more.

How do you balance teaching your kids and letting them learn for themselves? How do you encourage independence? And do you recognize where your hope ends and their will begins?


Comment in haiku
And you could win something cool …
From Transylvania!

The Birthday Girl

March 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 25 Comments
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My birthday is this week.

Maybe it’s because I’m so very far away from my family. Or because Romania doesn’t have buttercream icing. But I’ve found myself doing a lot of self-reflection as I cross another year off the calendar. It’s like I’m sorting through my mental manila file folders (I love those!) and clearing out my collection of memories. Keep? Toss? Share?

And this question: What’s missing?

In my 34 years, I’ve birthed three children, 943 blog posts, and countless magazine articles.

I’ve sold Girl Scout cookies and magazine subscriptions. I wasn’t very good at either.

I’ve seen Yellowstone and the Parthenon and kangaroos hopping across a golf course.

I’ve stood in the middle of Dachau and been crushed by the infinite sorrow of that place.

I once walked down the Champs-Élysées alone on an August afternoon and felt my soul slip into place. Like all the pieces finally, finally fit.

I’ve ridden a roller coaster and slept in a tent. If I never did either of those things again, I’d be just fine with that. Seriously.

I’ve run a half-marathon. The whole damn thing. Every single hill.

I fell off my bike and broke my wrist when I was 9. I fell off a Vespa and broke my leg when I was 33.

I’ve cleaned puke off train tracks and My Little Ponies and stuffed ducks in the middle of the night.

I’ve avoided more conflicts than I can count, like the time I hid in the bushes outside the library to avoid telling this really sweet guy that I didn’t want to go out with him. (He’s not reading, I’m sure. But just in case, I’m so, so sorry.)

I’ve taken 8,000 pictures and used up probably that many glue sticks.

I’ve spent hours worrying. Hours and hours. About car crashes and cancer and, well, everything.

I’ve never made a diorama or gotten poison ivy.

I’ve looked my children straight in the eye and told them that, no, Mommy is not eating chocolate.

I made straight A’s my whole entire life. And now I think, who cares?

I can’t really cook or sew or grow things. But I floss my teeth every day, and I’m pretty sure that counts for something.

As I type this list, as I think my way through this birthday week, I wonder … Is this enough? What does “enough” even mean?

After the cake is gone and the wrapping paper is in shreds under my chair, what really matters? It it enough that I love my husband? That I love my kids? That I try every day to love myself?

Is that enough? Am I enough?

And how do I know?

Have you ever given yourself the gift of introspection? Did you find clarity? Peace of mind? Renewed sense of purpose? Or did you just want another piece of birthday cake?

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