Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

One of the most unexpected effects of last summer’s flood is how many of our neighbors have moved away. Some sold their houses not wanting to go though the process of filing insurance claims and restoring their houses (can’t blame them for that!). These houses have only recently been bought and work is just now beginning. One gutted their house and is trying to sell it now. Others restored their houses but are selling and moving.

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Our Street Flooded

This is happening all over the city. There is such a strange buying\selling situation where somehow everyone is coming out ahead. Contractors are buying flooded houses with cash and then restoring them and selling at market value. Minus the amount of time this is all taking (we are coming up on one year from the flood), ultimately this process should help stabilize our neighborhood. It’s fun seeing everyone getting new doors and windows, like we’re all getting face lifts.

Driving around the block now is disorienting, though. Some houses were quickly restored, have families living in them with beautifully landscaped yards. Others are sitting, gutted and abandoned, yards killed by piles of debris. Houses like ours fall somewhere in between. This past week, when we went to get our mail from the house, the kids and I noticed a neighbor’s FEMA trailer was taken out of their back yard. We all cheered for these neighbors we didn’t know but long to imitate — moving back into their house and getting out of sight of FEMA.

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Contractor and Real Estate Signs

We bought our house almost five years ago. Only recently did we stick our heads out and meet any neighbors, however. It didn’t take long to learn to always wear a bra (you just never know). Checking your mail on our street was a social occasion; a quick trip down the driveway to put the trash at the curb could become an unexpected, delightful 15 minute conversation with a neighbor.  Our girls found friends up and down the street to play with, which is really a gift for everyone, and they ran back and forth across the street. We knew which dogs to pet and which to leave be. From a cantankerous engine revving bright and early on a Saturday morning to the buzz of a drone in the evening after supper, we could hear the neighbors out and about, their lives overlapping our own in these small ways.  Our little block struck a comfortable balance of being both quiet and unimposing but also comforting and safe. Some of our neighbors were in their houses since they were built in the late 70’s, some not as long, but all of them had been there longer than us. Our neighbors were established and knew the history.  This was especially valuable last August when a neighbor from across the street knocked on our door, umbrella in hand, and asked “y’all know we’re going to flood?”

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Our House Waiting For the Water to Recede.

And now our little section on the street is dispersing. New cars come and go, new pets in and out. We are nervous, excited and anxious. Who will our neighbors be? Will they have kids? Will they take four years to say hello? Already there are new faces around when we go to work on the house. We haven’t stopped to introduce ourselves yet. I’m not sure I’ve seen the same new face twice; it’s unclear if they are the new homeowners or contractors. As the inside of our house becomes more familiar and inviting, outside the street feels foreign and deserted.

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Our Ever-More Inviting House

Our kids love to play outside, we don’t make a lot of noise, and, when we get chickens again, we can lend you eggs. Will you be our neighbor?

Quarterly Reading Report June 2017 Edition

This year’s motivation has become about goals: short, annual and life-long. Maybe being out of control of fixing our house has made me over-eager to feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe I just like lists. Either way, goals are being set and met!

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I’ve been ticking away at the Better World Books reading challenge.  Since March, I’ve crossed off these 6 categories:

I have 6 out of 25 left: Based on a Fairy Tale, National Book Award Winner, Travel Romance, Banned Book, Book of Poetry, About Immigrants and Translated. I am currently knee deep in The Brother’s Karamazov (more on that later!) which is, obviously, a translation. I have C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Poems and The World According to Garp by John Irving which will fulfill poetry and National Book Award respectively.  I have nothing in mind for the others. Any suggestions?

As for life-long goals I have new and old ones. I am currently 350 pages away from meeting a long-standing reading goal: read and understand a famous Russian novel. I have been chipping away at The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky since the middle of May. I’m trying to strike a balance between taking my time and not losing momentum. The book is broken into 7 parts, each roughly 100 pages. Between each part I allow myself a “treat” book. Nothing too long, I don’t want to break my interest, but I also want to give my brain a little break. This tome takes more energy and concentration that most books I’ve read recently. So far this system is working; I’m halfway through the third part and I am still interested and understanding!! Midsummer’s Night Dream was my last brain-break book and now I’m committed to another 130 Russian pages before my next break.

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I dreamed up a new life-long reading goal this year : read a book set in each country in the world. I am focusing on Europe this year and so far I’ve crossed off France, Greece, Montenegro, Spain, England and Scotland. I have also added Pakistan and China. I would really love to read a book *from* each country but I vacillate between what’s ideal and what’s practical. Certainly, I stand to learn a great deal more reading a book from each country but I’m limited by only knowing English. This presents some translation concerns. Not to mention, there are a whole lot of countries, even just in Europe, that I’ve never heard of much less have a working knowledge of their notable literature. Which is more probable: finding books *set* in Slovakia or finding books *from* Slovakia translated into English? Which goal would you set?

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In addition to reading the six books listed above this past quarter, I went on a Hemingway rant and read A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises. Added to For Whom the Bell Tolls which I read earlier this year, these books have given me a favorable impression of Hemingway and now I want to jump over to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read The Great Gatsby but I wonder if I’d enjoy a biography better. Who is a Fitzgerald fan? What would you recommend?

It is rare these days (read: when J.K. Rowling doesn’t publish anything) that I read a book the year it comes out. When I noticed Paula Hawkins, of Girl on the Train, fame published a new book, however, I put a hold for it at the library (sorry Paula) and practically inhaled it. I enjoyed Girl on the Train a great deal. While this second book, Into the Water, may not be quite as profound as it’s predecessor, it is a great read. I was a little disappointed with the ultimate reveal, but the story itself was certainly compelling and exciting.

Do you have any auspicious summer reading goals, or are you looking for anything that can be read on a beach? Do you like to keep reading lists or set new goals or do you like to go wherever your whim may take you? Hopefully I’ll have more to update on after the summer than just Karamazov. Even if that’s all I accomplish,though, I’ll be proud of it!

 

 

 

Evacuation Academy Floats on Alright

We did it! It is done! We finished our first year of homeschooling.  Evangeline finished Kindergarten and is ready to be a first grader!

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To say I am proud of this accomplishment would be a huge understatement. Homeschooling for the first year in and of itself is challenging. Everything is theory until you jump in and try to actually teach your child something. Sure it’s fun to read about different theories and curriculum but when the rubber meets the road it means routine lesson plans and making school time in every busy keep-the-kids-alive day. Add to that being displaced by the flood, juggling the physical and mental needs of 4 kids and 2 adults in new and traumatic surroundings and the task seemed near impossible. Evangeline’s desire to learn and my refusal to fail saw us through the year.

(Minus December which we totally took off because holidays are distracting.)

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When we first started seriously considering homeschooling two years ago, I harbored a secret fear that I would not be able to teach my children to read. How could I? Obviously I learned how to read somehow but I have no training in teaching. People make entire careers out of teaching kids to read. I prepared myself for the possibility that Evangeline would go to first grade not knowing how to read and needing traditional education.

Then she learned to spell her name, and I was on cloud nine.

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We’d done it! I taught her, and she learned one of those big milestone things! She could spell her name. There was no stopping us after that.

I have our full curriculum listed out on our homeschooling tab. Hooked on Phonics definitely worked for us. I plan to use it again with Felicity. We both loved our history lessons. We went through Bede first to get an understanding of time and history, then the History Pockets to learn specifically about Ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. I worked in some geography with this too.

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We’ve used the science book for two years, repeating some lessons. They are fun each time. For Christmas, Evangeline racked up on National Geographic and Smithsonian project kits. This took the place of the science book for the rest of the year 😉 . She also got an Encyclopedia for her birthday in October which we used to look up more about the experiments she was doing.

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We stuck with Saxon math, and Evangeline did well with it. However she moved faster than the lessons did. She’s a quick study and the lessons became short and unfulfilling. I’m planning to stay with Saxon next year but I hope second grade math will be more on the right level.

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I am so pleased with our accomplishments this year. I am proud of both of us for sticking with it and getting through as much material as we did. Evangeline gets frustrated so easily when she encounters something she does not already know. The week she learned “doubles” she couldn’t remember 8+8 and refused to do a math lesson for almost two weeks. As a mother this is frustrating to deal with. It took a lot of discipline to keep on the teacher hat and help her work through her frustration. That is no easy task but such a rewarding one. Seeing her work through a math concept she struggled with is a victory for both of us!

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Mostly I am proud to see my daughter love learning. Her encyclopedia is her favorite book, she walks through the library looking for new things to read and she is constantly identifying things in the world around her. Any question she has, she knows how to go about finding an answer.

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It also makes my reader’s heart proud to hear her say she’s most looking forward to summer because she can read whatever she wants now. We’ve already read through two Magic Treehouse books and she’s set a goal to read all the Fancy Nancy’s at the library. You go girl.

For Better or Worse, Come Hell or High Water : Eight Years of Marriage

Four years ago I wrote 4 Down 96 to Go…or Happy Anniversary to Us. As yesterday was our 8th anniversary, I thought this post could use a little update. I used to day dream of calmer years and routine. Now I am just begging for a working second toilet

29485_429193835398_686920398_5875683_7633647_nFirst Year: We set up our first home in the townhouse. As the year closed, I think the day before our anniversary in fact, Ryan graduated LSU and I entered the second trimester of my first pregnancy. We planned to bring home baby to the townhouse, but when the complex hiked their prices and things outside our doors started disappearing, we decided it was time to find somewhere else.

 

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Second Year: We lived in the barn until finding a house to rent. Ryan sold Rainbow vacuums (and anything else that would fetch a fair price) to support me and my growing belly until beginning work at Catholic High. We welcomed Evangeline Lily into our family and survived the first school year by the skin of our teeth.

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Third Year: Actually was calmer. Ryan worked his second year at Catholic teaching the same classes. We lived in the same rent house, ignoring the ick factor and enjoying the great location. Just before our anniversary, we brought home sweet Felicity Iris to join our family. Our actual anniversary was spent back in the hospital while I received treatment for postpartum pre-ecclampsia.

 

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Fourth year: This was the year we finally were going to settle down. Instead, we bought our first home and moved in after two and a half months living with my parents. Just weeks before our anniversary we brought home another sweet Carruth bundle of joy, Reuben Benedict (for those of you keeping score at home, yes, I’ve been pregnant every year of our marriage thus far). And Ryan began working on his Master’s degree in Theology, commuting to New Orleans and back each Saturday.

015Fifth Year: You guessed it! Another baby, our fourth was born June 2014 Genevieve Rose. We lived in the same house, making room in a corner of the master bedroom for the new baby. We worried about affording a vehicle to accommodate our growing family, but God took away all doubt when our Tuscon was totaled and we were forced to buy a mini-van. Ryan continued working on his Master’s Degree…

2014-06-10 14.38.49 (1)Sixth Year: We were able to enjoy our house fully. We made a splash park in the backyard, season craft walls in the dining room and made small changes around the house to make it more our own. This was also the year chickens suddenly came into our lives. A bold step into homesteading we all came to enjoy. This was also the first year we got a vacation together as a couple since our honeymoon. Ryan continued working on his Master’s…..

12247096_10105176282789825_7269548078356078359_nSeventh Year: Thus began our first tiptoe into homeschooling. I began Hooked on Phonics with Evangeline and she got her first taste of reading. The years after Genna was born are mostly a blur, or more precisely, four fast moving, loud, hungry blurs. We made some more changes to the house making more and more our own comfortable home. Ryan continued working on his Master’s…….

Eighth Year: This year will forever be remembered as that year from hell. It started off well with Ryan completing all requirements for a Master’s degree in Theology from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. This felt like a huge accomplishment for all of us. A lot of team work went into that degree. We enjoyed the summer with no classes, no tests and no studying. Then as we prepared for Ryan’s 7th year at Catholic High and Evangeline’s first full year of homeschooling, our house flooded. We have been out of our house since August. In our marriage we’ve lived in a townhouse, barn, rent house and guest room. This year we added game-day condo and FEMA trailer to the list. We’ve survived a summer of unemployment, four kids under 3 and a half, pre-ecclampsia, post-partum depression and still this year takes the cake for most trying year of our marriage.

This next year, though, is bound to look up. It will be the year we get back into our (remodeled) house. The year we have steady homeschooling, holidays and parties in our own home again. Maybe this will be the year Ryan begins work on a PhD…but you didn’t hear that from me.

As trying as times have been over the years, our marriage is truly blessed. We’ve drawn closer together through our adversity and strengthened the foundation of our family. We’ve passed good times and bad, holidays and lazy Sundays with our extended family and watched our friends’ families grew. We’ve seen our children become people of their own and we are guiding them toward happiness the best way we know how. The future looks bright for the Carruths, as long as we are together.

Having more than one working toilet would be great too.

Just saying.

 

60 % From Home

There is no place like home

There is no place like home

Especially when you’re living in a government issued trailer during spring storm season

We are so ready to be back in our house, back to our home and our space. Of course right now the house is unlivable, at least for the kids. Ryan and I would be there in a tent if we could. We need money to finish the house, but we have to finish the house to get money from the mortgage company.

Yesterday a mortgage company inspector came by our house. This was our first inspection since beginning work on the house last summer. We hoped to be marked officially 50% done so that the mortgage company would eek out some of our insurance payout.

We have gutted, cleaned and disinfected the house, insulated the walls and hung drywall throughout, had the drywall taped, floated and textured and had the tile floor cleaned.

Alas, that only brings us to 40% done.

We are in a difficult spot being at the end of the school year and having to meet numerous requirements from the mortgage company to get materials or work done. There is a huge toss up between doing work ourselves — in stolen hours here and there — and jumping through hoops to hire more expensive workers our mortgage company approves and will pay for. Neither is going to get us home this week.

We preparing to install doors ourselves, order flooring to DIY install and find someone to install our trim work. Once those things are done (with exceptions in the kitchen/dining room), we can have the walls and ceilings painted. All of this work should put us comfortably over 50%. Once we are there, we should get half of the remaining money from our insurance settlement which can be used to finish the kitchen and bathrooms.

While this is a major priority, we also have hopes of getting back into the house as soon as we can and live there while work continues. The trailer shrinks one square foot a day. For this to happen, our priority switches to bathroom cabinets and sinks to make the house livable. We need money from our insurance settlement to start work there.

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You can see the catch 22. If we were independently wealthy this would be easier. Then, I imagine many things would be easier with self-sufficient funds (affording a house not in a flood zone, for instance)

So, once again we find ourselves at a cross roads trying to decide which way will get us home quickest. If the heavens align and the clouds part in just the right way, we can make some real progress this month. I won’t speculate about a move-in date; I’ll just say if I’m still in that tin can during the heat of the summer, it may be best for everyone to just leave me alone.

 

 

Where the books come from

396129_10101552560124095_1020976303_nEvery time we move (which has been more often than expected in our 8 years of marriage), I get stuck packing the books. Ryan has to lift them, but I have to pack them.

Every time we move and I pack the books into dozens of heavy boxes, I wonder if the minimalists aren’t on to something.

But then every time we move and I un-pack the books, I recall warm memories and angry reactions I had reading each of them. I delight in filling our shelves with all the feelings, stories, and knowledge we’ve accumulated. I decorate every room with boos and feel grounded by their place in our family.

That is why we aren’t minimalists.

We probably should be though; we have way too many books. They’re everywhere — all over the place in rows and stacks, organized by subject, author and intention to read. Falling stacks of books are a real threat and a great catastrophe. We’ve been in a tiny temporary FEMA trailer while we re-build our house. In our room alone, we have over three shelves of books. That does not include the crate of homeschool books, basket of library books or box of children’s books. I don’t even want to know what Ryan has riding around with him in the car.

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On the one hand, you could praise our devotion to reading, to continue even in the face of adversity. On the other hand, you could judge us for our lack of self-control and ability to just stop buying books.

I get it.

This all begs the question: where do all the books come from?!

Glad you asked.

We have a few favorite haunts for finding books.

The first is the library. It seems counter intuitive because we own so many books, but we check-out a fair amount of what we read. We just read a lot. We like to use the library like trying on clothes before buying. Check out a book, read a few chapters and feel it out to decide if it’s worth spending money on. More often than not though, we check out a book, read it and decide “that was good, but I’ll never read it again” and thus carry on our merry way saving our book buying money. In the last few years, I’ve also embraced the audiobook. I have yet to spend money on one because I check them out for free from the library. They just take up virtual space.

When the book justifies it’s purchase, we prefer the cheapest available copy (with notable exceptions). We have brick and mortar as well as online options.

Cottonwood Books. This local favorite has been around over 30 years. The current owner has invested in a diverse collection of new, used and rare books. It is exactly what you think of when you imagine getting lost in a dusty used book shop. That smell! Stacks to the ceiling and covering all but what is necessary of the floor. It is one of the happiest places on earth to just get lost for a while. Each purchase comes with a bookmark.

Amazon. It’s not original but Amazon.com is good at what it does. Especially since we have a Prime account and don’t have to pay shipping, it’s a great go-to to find cheaper copies of new books.

Better World Books. I can’t remember now how I came across this site but I’ve been ordering from them for years. At first I liked that each purchase went to help literacy funds. As the years have gone on, I’ve found so much more to appreciate. In so many ways, Better World Books is trying to help make, well, a better world. In addition to literacy fund raising and programs, they make great strides to keep books from landfills. They sell books discarded from libraries which is a great service; their national reach makes a large impact. Just because the people walking in and out of a local library branch don’t have any interest in the Southeast United States Farmer’s Almanac 1986-1987, doesn’t mean no one does. Better World Books helps match up obscure books with obscure people and keep both out of the trash. If all of that isn’t enough to entice you to check out their website, BWB also offers free shipping and monthly sales. So yeah, we get a lot of books from them.

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Where do you like to get books from? Do you spend a lot of time in your library or lost in used book stores?

First Quarter Book Report

This is my second post for National Library Week! What is the primary purpose of a library? Is it a capitalist institution satiating the desires of the majority? Is it a social program giving needed information and internet access to the underprivileged? Is it a museum to knowledge for knowledge’s sake?

Well that’s a bit in dispute. As it happens, I am writing this blog at the library because we don’t have internet at our trailer but what we use the library primarily for is … reading! I know, we’re trailblazers. I like each year to track and challenge my reading goals and then write blog posts about it. Thank you for being a part of this.

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As it would happen, we are one quarter the way through the year and I am one quarter through my reading challenge. I think they call that being on track 😉 I have set out this year to read 42 books and complete a 25-point reading challenge.

The tally as of March 31 is 13 books!

  1. Saint Odd (series finale!)
  2. Around the World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly
  3. The Black Mountain (Nero Wolfe #24)*
  4. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and other stories)
  5. I Am Malala*
  6. For Whom the Bells Toll
  7. Neverwhere*
  8. Their Eyes Were Watching God
  9. The King’s Speech*
  10. American Gods*
  11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy*
  12. The Monarch of the Glen
  13. The King in Yellow*

*Audiobooks – while I am proud of my list thus far, I don’t want to mislead you, reader, in thinking I have all this time to sit down and read-read.

As for the Better World Book Reading Challenge, I’ve fulfilled the following:

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  • Fantasy Novel (Odd Thomas)
  • Short Stories (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
  • Color in Title (Black Mountain)
  • 100+ Years Old (Around the World in 72 Days)
  • Set in a Place You Want to Visit (Monarch of the Glen ((Scotland)))
  • Over 400 Pages (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
  • Colored Author (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
  • Female Author (I Am Malala)
  • About A Historical Event (The King’s Speech)
  • Adapted Into A Movie (Hitchhiker’s Guide)

 

Nellie Bly is kick ass and there’s just no other way to give her justice. I’ve written on her before and I won’t belabor the point. Her newspaper career began after she submitted a response to a gentleman’s bitter letter-to-the-Editor of what is to be done with daughters who will not marry. Bly’s response, support a society in which it is safe for women to work and make a living wage, ruffled a few 1880’s New England feathers. The newspaper hired her on the spot.  Of her works, I enjoyed the undercover jaunts, Ten Days in a Madhouse and The Girls Who Make Boxes, best. In both stories, she brings to light the real conditions in which turn of the century women were living and exposes injustice therein.

Speaking of turn of the century, The King in Yellow was a surprise! I downloaded the audiobook one evening having forgotten what it was about or why I was interested in it. Written by Robert Chambers, The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories all centering around a fictitious devil-book of the same name. These memorable stories are in the delightful spooky gothic style of Shirley Jackson and make me smile even now to think of.

And speaking of ruffling feathers, Truman Capote.  As a persona, he puts a bad taste in my mouth but I freely admit Capote is a fantastic writer. I enjoyed each of the stories in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the title story being my favorite. I like Audrey Hepburn as much as the next person, provided the next person thinks she’s all right but no Julie Andrews. I have never liked the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s however (sorry Selene). I found it dark and long and confusing. I just remember the cat and the rain and not knowing what was going on. Isn’t that the one where she does that weird snapping dance thing in a club? I digress. The short-story, by comparison, is richer than I remember the movie. Holly Golightly, in text, is vibrant, exciting and a little frightening. In just 100 short pages you come to love, hate and love-to-hate her in the most delightful way.

I did not enjoy all my early year reads however. The King’s Speech by Mark Logue was a huge disappointment. I didn’t realize until starting it that this book was written after the movie was made. Apparently, the makers of the movie sparked Logue’s interest in his own family and he wrote this johnny-come-lately book from stuff that didn’t make it into the movie. It’s like the most boring “special features” on a DVD.

I am Malala as a book was a bit dull. Her story and life are fascinating and I’m glad to have read it; it broadened my world-view. However, the book itself reads a bit like a report for school. While learning Pakistan’s history helped explain the state of the country the day Malala was shot, it got hard to read after a while. I do not mean for my critique to detract from her story or her history, both are rich and important for modern Westerners to understand. I recommend it highly, just with that small caveat.

As always with these reading reports, I must stop before I ramble too long. If you want my opinion on the others, don’t hesitate to ask and I won’t hesitate to answer profusely.

I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read so far and I’ve got another stack ready to go. Let’s see if I remember to update again in June!

Remember the best place to try a new book is at the Library! You aren’t out any money on duds and any gems you find are easy to share! What have you checked out lately?

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