November 2010


Writer’s block isn’t so much a problem of words as it is a problem of ideas. I have no trouble writing words. What I sometimes have difficulty with is getting an idea to write some words about. It is that problem – no ideas – that is the bane of all writers.

At a loss for words

I’ve been playing around on my writing forum again. MWC (My Writers Circle) is based out of England but has participants from around the world. I was once very prolific over there and then found I was wasting more time than I had to spare. I gave myself a time out and retreated from the site for a couple months.

I got finished with several projects I had set for myself at home and once again found myself with time to spare. But it was also once again November. November, for you non-writers, is NaNo month. National Novel Writing Month is supposed to spur writers into completing a novel within a month – hence the name.

Several of the MWC inhabitants take part in this endeavor. They will post word counts daily and are supposed to get 50,000 words written during the month of November. That is the goal. Just write. In December you can edit and spruce up the work. But first you must get a rough draft down on electrons and saved to wherever you save your work.

According to the website, more than 2.5 billion words have been written by participants in this year’s NaNo. The site does not tell me how many people writing furiously have been involved in this, just the number of words produced. I don’t know if they will eventually tell how many of those who wrote their 50,000 words in November got them published somewhere down the line. I have never participated in this so I don’t know enough about it.

But in the MWC Bar, a place where MWCers congregate and talk about any and every thing there is to talk about, someone said if a frequent poster had totaled up all his writing this month on MWC, he may have had enough words for a NaNo prize.

But you see, there is a difference here. Writing on a forum where some of the posts are as little as one word and some of the posts are entire short stories is far different than writing a book. I can write flash fiction and short, short stories with wild abandon. I can write vignettes with a vengeance. What I can’t do is plan and execute the plan to create a book. This is an entirely different type of writing.

When writing a flash fiction piece, everything is contained in a story of less than so many words. It can be as much as 1,000 words to as little as 100 words. Hemingway wrote an entire story in six words. I don’t know if I’m permitted to quote it or not. But he wrote, “Baby shoes for sale. Never used.” And that tells an entire story. Not a lot of plot or character development, but it is an entire story.

I’m good when I don’t have to do a lot of plot or character development. Where a scene is painted in large brush strokes without having to add lots of detail. I’m good with something short and sweet and then out the door.

But to write an entire book is a totally different thing. My possible books on my computer are not novels. So they aren’t in this same category. Little Bits of History is not a continuous story, but rather 366 short tales, based in reality, quotes extra. There is no need for me to make up anything. More often than not, my problem has been taking a large idea and distilling it down into only four paragraphs.

Most of my writing is this shorter variety. Even my novella is simply short stories threaded together. Maybe that is what a novel is, as well. Lots of scenes or short stories threaded together. But I didn’t start out to write a novel or even a novella, I was just playing around with ideas from The Station – a game over at MWC.

Writer’s block isn’t that we don’t know how to write. Writers do know how to write. There are all different levels and abilities among those who call themselves writers and some write far better than others. But still, when you decide to become a writer, it is because you love words and so have an arsenal of them at your disposal.

Writer’s block is that sickening feeling when you look at a blank page (or screen) and think to yourself, “I don’t have a clue as to what I should talk about here.” Writers don’t say to themselves, “I should get out a dictionary and learn some new words.” Words are not our problem. Topics are our problem.

Smoking is a worldwide recipient of hate and scorn. It is a scourge and those who partake of the habit should be scourged as well. Right? Well, really … what are we talking about here. First, let me say I have never smoked. I tried it and couldn’t manage to not get sick. Both my parents smoked. My son smoked – and not only Marlboros. But I have never smoked.

The evil weed

The World Health Organization just released a study showing that 600,000 people die each year from passive smoking. This is a worldwide figure. So if there are 6.5 billion people on the planet, that means 0.09% (or 0.0009 people for every 100 folks or 9 for every 100,000 people) are so affected.

Let’s compare that 600,000 figure with some other figures. Let’s first consider starvation. People are not sure how many starve to death (which would seem much easier to count than passive smoking deaths), but agree that somewhere between 23,000 and 25,000 people starve to death each day. Worldwide figures for death by starvation lie between 8.5 and 12 million per year.

Malaria kills about 3 million people each year. So five times more people die from malaria and twenty times more from starvation. Just so we have something to work with here, I’m presenting some other numbers.

DDT could wipe out more mosquitoes and we could halt the spread of malaria, but DDT is bad and can’t be used because it affects bird eggs. Starvation could be wiped out easily – all we need to do is spend all the money we waste on wars around the world, as well as that spent on building up armament systems, and we could easily feed the world. We don’t even need all the money spent on war, just a small portion. What we need to do is stop destroying arable land and actually let people live in peace long enough to harvest their crops.

But even that isn’t my point. I’ve tried to grasp the method used for calculating these numbers.

I’m quoting from Food Consumer because they had more figures than I found in general news outlets.

Passive smoking causes 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 deaths from lower respiratory infections, 36,900 deaths from asthma and 21,400 lung cancer deaths.

In poor countries like those in Africa, more children die from passive smoking than adults, 43,375 children versus 9,514 adults, whereas in high income European countries fewer children die from secondhand smoke than adults, 71 children versus 35,388 adults.

What I can’t find is how they figured this out. I mean, how do you know passive smoke from cigarettes and not the cook stove caused these health issues – if you are living in squalor in Africa and using a wood fire for cooking. Or if you are in America, how do you know it isn’t the smog or the miasma of car/truck/bus exhaust – which kills trees along roadsides so would be able to affect people inhaling this crap. I know when a bus passes me, I’m choked by the diesel exhaust and have learned to hold my breath until I am past the trail.

Lower respiratory infections do kill many children and old people because they haven’t got the reserves to fight the infection. How was it determined that passive smoke was the initial cause? I know for at least a time, I’m not sure if it is still a factor, anyone in the United States who died of lung cancer was part of the statistics of smoking deaths. So I guess if you didn’t actually smoke yourself, you are part of the passive smoking deaths. But really, is cigarette smoke the only pollutant we have in this country? Did we somehow get rid of all manufacturing with its noxious fumes as well as all motorized travel with the exhaust issue?

And heart disease. In essence, we all die of heart disease. We all die because our hearts stop beating. And smoking does cause vasoconstriction or narrowing of blood vessels. So does eating too much fat and having plaque build up on the interior of vessel walls. Actually, aging causes this too. What methodology was used to determine the cause of death was to be laid at the altar of smoking?

While I agree that smoking is stinky, so are skunks. I agree that some things are much nicer to smell, like incense or scented candles. I have no idea what the smoke from those items is doing to my lungs, but I light candles and incense often.

When I worked in surgery, they told us to be farther away than three feet from the plume of smoke from the electrocautery device. A Bovie is used to control bleeding by searing the bleeders closed. It is highly effective, but it makes smoke. However, smoke from three feet away – or arm’s length – doesn’t harm doctors and nurses. So how does all this smoke harm all these people? It is a conundrum.

I don’t think it is wise to take up smoking. My mother called them “coffin nails” when I was a small child – before the warnings on the cigarette packages. There is little doubt that cigarettes are not health inducing. But they are not the scourge of the world, either. Maybe instead of spending so much time and energy as well as resources on this, we could eradicate some mosquitoes or feed a few people. Or we could stop warring. All of these are the real killers worldwide.

 

Retirement is looming in our future. Not mine. Thank goodness I have a job and will continue to work – at least for a while. But my dear, sweet, darling husband of 37 years is thinking of retiring. I hope we can survive it.

Dick worked on Monday. It was slow for him and there was a noticeable lack of outside people working. Tuesday and Wednesday weren’t looking much better. No one seemed to be scheduled for working and that meant that Dick couldn’t really get anything done, either. So he took the rest of the week off.

He played golf on Tuesday and Wednesday. I worked on Tuesday and Wednesday. Admittedly, I didn’t work very hard. There wasn’t much to do which makes working take forever and makes even a five hour day drag on to eternity.

The deal here is that I don’t cook on Sundays. I thought we would go out to dinner once I stopped cooking on Sunday, but instead, Dick cooks on Sunday. He does a really good job. Although we have steak cooked on the grill way more often than recipe rotation might call for. We never have steak cooked on the grill when I’m cooking, so it isn’t all bad.

But I really thought since I was working and he was playing golf, he might volunteer to cook on Tuesday or Wednesday. Okay, I thought he might volunteer both nights. But instead, I got home from work, we walked together (which was fun) and then I made dinner while he relaxed in front of the TV.

What Dick's ideal man cave would look like. I don't watch TV.

We went out to dinner on Thursday since it was Thanksgiving. And we had a really good time. The dinner was nice, the company was great, and the atmosphere was superb. So we spent lots of time together and had lots of fun. When we got home, we each retreated to our isolation. He watched TV; I computed.

Friday we spent getting some decorations for the house. We decided to get rid of the shedding, dying, nasty ferns on either side of the front door. We got two four foot high potted fir trees and will decorate them monthly around the year. We got Christmas decorations and dolled the trees up and set them out.

Dick wanted a Christmas palm tree for the lanai, and so we got that and made the house look very festive outside, where it doesn’t bother my sense of clutter and make me nervous. It was a fairly fun day. Then we retreated to our isolation – TV and computer.

Yesterday we went to my boss’s wedding. Dick played golf in the morning, the wedding was at three and we were home before six. It was a lovely ceremony and great food. It was held outdoors and I was smart enough to wear a light sweater under a jacket and then my winter cape. I was still quite cold before we left. We got home and each went … well, I’m sure you get the picture.

Today I need to go to AC Moore and get stuff for my scrapbook making. Each son gets a year in review scrapbook full of the best pictures I took all year long, along with my charming and funny commentary. They are lots of fun to look at, and I need the supplies to make them. So I need to get myself to the craft store.

I’m sure this evening, like every evening, will be spent with him in front of the TV and me in front of the computer. And this is what is scaring me.

We have been conservative in our spending all our married lives. We have not taken elaborate vacations on a yearly basis. We haven’t purchased the largest houses the banks said we could afford. We have not bought the fanciest cars on the market. We have lived not only within our means, but have managed to save a fair bit of money.

We are economically able to retire, barring catastrophic events. We should be able to live long lives and not have to resort to cat food dinners. However … there are still issues.

Dick has traveled for his job for at least the last twenty years. I’m not used to having him home every evening, let alone all day every day. The last few years he has worked out of the house, but he has still traveled extensively. We still have had lots of time apart and I’ve grown used to my alone time. I like having a day when I can decide to have cereal for dinner or hot buttered noodles is a meal.

I like playing my music loudly and dancing in the living room without someone coming through and smirking at me. HE dances like some frog in a blender, done badly. I love to dance around and it is not only fun, it is exercise.

I don’t know how much I’m getting on his nerves at the end of his six days off, but I can tell you he is getting on mine. My routines are not working out the way they do when there isn’t outside interference. Things he does to help me end up irritating me because they aren’t done the way I would have done them. I’m irritable because my pattern has been disrupted.

And that is only after six days. Retirement scares me.

Homeowner’s Associations (HOAs) are simply ways for more people to garner a bit of power over their fellow citizens. They serve no true purpose. They claim they exist in order to keep property values up. But in the current housing market when housing values dropping precipitously, they did not fulfill their promises. Houses located within HOAs also lost value and commensurate with the housing market at large.

My HOA is run by a company from Daniel Island and has little Hitleresque types elected to help with the management of the unwilling citizenry. The management company has lost our paperwork repeatedly and the little High and Mighty Lords Who Have Control Over the Worthless Minions have driven me to near distraction as well as near tears.

The one large problem I had, living next to a house with a disintegrating foundation, was beyond the scope of the HOA. All I wanted was cosmetic fixes while the builders decided what to do with the house, but the HOA had no control over these powerful entities. I called the builder myself and explained that I was tired of looking at their mess and they could clean it up or I would call whomever I needed to get the building condemned. The mess was cleaned up.

We are not permitted to put For Sale signs in our yards because the HOA said so. They said it would lower the property values of all our homes if people knew which houses were actually for sale. You can have a small thing at the curb by your mailbox that is to be filled with flyers. But that’s it. And good luck keeping it full of flyers.

I personally will be displaying a decorative flag (these are permissible) saying HOME for SALE when I choose to opt out of this Paradise Run by Fools neighborhood. I will see if I can’t find it to match the colors of whatever realty office I am using to sell the house.

But signs are an abomination before at least man and possibly God Himself. They are heinous, distracting, and horrifying. All the empty houses sitting forlorn after they have been foreclosed upon apparently have no impact on property values. Thank goodness for that because we have lots of them. I live near the Air Force Base and lots of Air Families bought here, were transferred out and were unable to sell their houses during this market downturn. “But don’t worry your pretty little heads about that,” claims the HOA.

A few years ago, to foster a sense of community, they voted for the prettiest yard each summer month. These beautifully landscaped yards were then featured nowhere, but would have been if their monthly, quarterly, yearly newsletter had it actually been published. Neighbors would know who won because the yard would get to display a SIGN. That’s right. NO SIGNS does not mean any actually sponsored by the HOA, just For Sale signs or political signs, or someone is working on your house and wants to advertise while they are there signs.

When I pointed out the ludicrous nature of this, I was told I was a crank. Thanks for noticing. I am a crank, but at least I’m not a stupid crank. Horrible signage can’t make a pretty yard nice. Really. And it wasn’t even a pretty sign.

But now, we have different signs. We have these signs at each and every entry point to Wescott Plantation. There are several different ways to get into the development and during my walks, I see them all. And all have these lovely signs. There is also one at the entrance to the pool/play area. (This is a whole different discussion – this crappy play area – so look for it at some later date.)

Apparently these signs will improve something. I believe they were put up by the City of North Charleston. They come in English:

Sign in English, letting everyone know how great it is to live here.

And Spanish:

Same sign in Spanish. Please note, no one has stolen the signs.

Now, who wouldn’t want to purchase a home in an area where they have to have signs like this. These signs have been up for a couple months now. There have been several meetings of the Board and apparently no one seems to have noticed that we are telling people we live in a HIGH CRIME area. This is really quite odd, because I don’t believe we are in a high crime area. People were not locking their cars and leaving valuable things in them. The cars were broken into.

See? I told you these people were stupid.

Know thyself. That’s the adage and it works really well. I know I am not going to give up my special foods no matter what sort of diet I adopt. I have been on a c-food diet for as long as I can remember: chips, chocolate, and coffee.

I’m not all that adamant about chips, but I really get a taste for them from time to time. I have cut way back on my coffee consumption. That isn’t strictly true. I have cut back tremendously on my caffeine intake, but I have been drinking half-caf coffee or decaf coffee to satisfy my taste buds. And keep me hydrated.

But chocolate. The blissful, seductive, delicious, necessary food – chocolate. I love chocolate. I have chocolate around me nearly all the time. If not immediately at hand, it is very close by or could be at the drop of dollar.

In my house, I have bowls of chocolate sitting out. I’m still losing weight. Because I don’t have to eat a lot of chocolate to make me happy. I just need to have some. One little Bliss bite (six are a serving) can make me happy. One Ghirardelli square can keep me happy (three are a serving). One (maybe two) almond M&Ms can keep me happy (1/4 cup is a serving).

But what I really like is nice creamy smooth melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. I bought a bunch of $2-4 candy bars, each of which were 2-3 servings. In the last month, I’ve eaten five of them. I’m on my sixth one. I opened it up last night. It is the first time I’ve been disappointed with my choice.

The candy in question - wrapper saved from the garbage for the simple purpose of writing this blog.

The bar is made by Scharffen Berger. Apparently the company is out of Burbank, California. On the package it says it is Extra Rich Milk Fine Artisan Chocolate. It actually says those very words. I could not make such good copy up on the fly like this.

It is 41% cacao and sounded like it would be really great, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. Since I’m writing about this, we can assume I’m not entirely happy with the product.

First of all, it is scored funny. The bar was meant to be two servings, according to the nutrition information. It did break in half nicely. Good start. Then each half was four triangles. Now, I need my candy to last a while. I can eat an entire candy bar in a matter of seconds, but that’s why I got too fat in the first place.

If I want to enjoy my chocolate, I need to savor my chocolate. I do this by having small bites throughout my evening and doing that whole melt-in-the-mouth thing. I make my chocolate last.

This broke up into small pieces, all oddly shaped. That’s not an insurmountable problem, but it didn’t help with my satisfaction quotient at all. There is no need to make your product less easy to eat. I’m not sure if anyone who produces the bar thought about this, but I’m really weird and I did think about it. And I disapproved.

Next, I sat down and took one of my oddly shaped pieces of chocolate and put it in my mouth and waited for the delectable melting process to begin. I waited some more. Not much melting going on. I’m not always completely mindful while eating. In fact, I’ve been listening to a Great Courses presentation and crocheting while eating. So I wasn’t thinking hard enough to keep from my next bad choice.

I bit into the chocolate.

This makes chocolate disappear all too quickly. My next move is then to take another piece of chocolate. This, too, is how I got too fat in the first place.

If one is patient enough for long enough, the chocolate does eventually melt. But even then it isn’t the best of the types of bars I’ve tried so far. It isn’t the worst candy I’ve ever had. But I wouldn’t walk far out of my way to get another one of these bars. I will finish this one, but I sure hope there isn’t a second one lurking in my stack of chocolate bars hiding in the pantry.

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PS I wrote this on Monday. The first half of the bar lasted three days and I’m on the second half (as pictured above). It will last at last through this evening and maybe tomorrow. This is about how long I can make these last because I really do savor the small pieces of chocolate. I’ve forgotten twice so far and when it didn’t melt fast enough, I’ve bit into the stuff. I wouldn’t agree with the packaging verbiage. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t really great.

Like all Americans, I’m thankful. Especially today. This is the day to give thanks for all the blessings afforded to the fortunate souls living here in a free country.

I’m thankful for my family and my health. Everyone should be so lucky and everyone should be grateful to all the powers on heaven and on earth for these routine blessings.

But I thought I would figure out what else I’m thankful for.

1. I’m thankful I live in an age with both electricity and indoor plumbing. Washington’s first day of thanksgiving and prayer was a one off and it didn’t become a national holiday until Lincoln made it so. During those first years, electricity and indoor plumbing weren’t even a dream in someone’s eye. Everything was much harder to do. Everything. Think about no power to run the stove or light the kitchen. Think about no water to cook with. Having to go and fetch water and light smoky oil lamps in the cold dark.

2. I’m thankful for the days of rapid transportation. Back in the days of the Oregon Trail, when family moved westward past the Mississippi River, they were mostly gone. Even before that, if someone left the safety of the Eastern Seaboard, that was probably the last you saw of them. Travel was too difficult, too slow. My sister moved to Arizona two and a half years ago. I’ve been there three times. We drove across the country and made it in just a few days rather than months. I’ve flown out there twice since. I’ve gotten to see my niece and nephew and my great-niece and great-nephew. All the way across the country, okay, most of the way across the country.

3. I’m thankful for little things that make my days better. Simple things like mascara that doesn’t flake and lipstick that stays on all day. I’m thankful for the incense and candles that help to make my house a home. I’m thankful for the library and all the books at my fingertips. I’m thankful for the abundant variety of food (since I’m not one of those local food snobs). I’m thankful for pens rather than quills. I’m thankful for soft clothing easily cleaned. This list could be endless. Modern conveniences have enabled me to live a fuller life.

4. I’m thankful for all the technology I have at my disposal. I have laptop, netbook, and DVD player sitting next to my favorite chair. I have my cell phone and digital phone both right there at hand. I have a digital camera giving me instant gratification and ability to manipulate pictures as soon as I snap the button. I have my MP3 player to come with me on solitary expeditions. As you can see, I don’t even have all the best and greatest gadgets. I’m still thinking about that Droid phone and the Kindle.

5. I’m also thankful for being me. I can’t imagine being anyone else. There are times when I would like me to be a bit different. I would like to be thinner, and I’m working toward that goal. I’m thrilled that my brain works the way it does. I love being able to read and write – and in equal measure. I love being able to do math, enough to get all the number things I want done anyway. I am grateful for my ability to look at issues from different perspectives and sometimes finding a solution to a difficult problem; sometimes seeing the answer to some easy issue. I’m also thankful for the momentary delights that take me by surprise.

Google's logo today, something that delighted me.

6. I’m thankful for laughter. I’m even thankful for tears. Without tears, would the laughter be as sweet? I know my sense of humor is a bit odd. I’ve lived too long and seen too many different things to be a cookie cutter person with cookie cutter humor. I would imagine this is true of most people over the age of [I don’t know what number to put in here – teens? twenties? some place where we start to differentiate our selves, our personality, from the family of origin.] So I guess this is a continuation of number five, but I wanted to give laughter and tears their own spot because I think they are so important.

I’m thankful for so many things, most of them so pervasive I rarely think of them. My family and my health are with me always and I rarely take the time to think about that unless something is amiss. My lifestyle is so usual, so ordinary, that I rarely think of all the blessings of living in the here and now. And yet, these are the things I should be the most thankful for. And I am.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I’m frugal. Maybe I’m parsimonious. Okay, I’m cheap. Every time I see an article listing Ten Things To Do To Save Thousands Of Dollars Each Year, I can’t save a penny because I already do the stuff on the list.

One thing always mentioned on these lists is to pack your own lunches. I have always packed my own lunches. Not just because I’m frugal, okay cheap, but because I don’t much care for fast food. If someone told me I had to eat a dry pretend-to-be-a-hamburger squished amid a really cheap, nasty, crappy, soggy bun – I would simply have to sit in a corner and begin sobbing.

Where I am employed, there are myriad eateries located within one block. Anything from a really great Italian place where two guys immigrated from Italy to come over here and create delicious meals for me (I’ve actually eaten here twice and it was great) to a place called Perfectly Frank’s which serves all manner of hot dogs.

It is possible to go for weeks eating at a different place each day and not have to walk farther than my daily trip around the block.

I don’t eat normal lunches. I am not much of a fan of sandwiches. I eat them occasionally, but I have no desire to eat a sandwich every day for lunch. I like cheese and crackers for lunch, or soup and crackers, or maybe leftovers from dinner. I like to eat at my desk or computer without a lot of mess involved, too. Some days my lunch is not nearly as neatly presented as that, but it is what I prefer.

On Monday, for the first time since I started working fourteen months ago, I made a conscious decision to buy my lunch. Single Smile Café is located in the same building as our office. They are on the first floor and in the northeast corner. They have really good food. I’ve had it before and was pleased.

They have something called a trio choice. I could get chicken salad, tuna salad, and shrimp salad on a bed of lettuce with some fruit on the side. Each of the salads is about a cup scoop of delicious stuff filled with the chicken, tuna, or shrimp. It isn’t running in mayonnaise. It is delightfully spiced. It is way more food than I need to eat for one lunch.

Ah, there’s another reason I don’t eat out. This is not something new or different, but I’ve always been aware of the calorie count in a McMeal even if it isn’t actually from McDonald’s but from some other fast food place. I don’t usually need or even want several hundred calories for a simple lunch.

But on Monday morning I just couldn’t find anything in my house that appealed to me. I had my favorite tomato basil soup here, but I didn’t feel like that. I had some really good flatbread crackers to go with it or with cheese, which I also had. I didn’t want that. I decided I wanted the trio for Single Smile Café.

I called the café to place my order and was told they were out of meat. There was no chicken, tuna, or shrimp salad. They could make a BLT, but that wasn’t what I was hoping for. My plan was to buy the trio and eat all week. I even brought two little containers to store the two salads I wasn’t going to eat on Monday to have them ready for lunch for Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to be set for the week.

Earlier, I vacillated in the kitchen and Dick said to just buy the lunch and treat myself. But it was not to be. There wasn’t anything there to buy for lunch and now I didn’t have my tomato soup or cheese and crackers with me, either. I had no lunch. I might miss a meal. Surely this would be the end of civilization as we know it.

Obviously the menu names have changed over time.

I walked around the block. I stopped in at Frank’s, a place I had never stepped foot in before. I asked for a menu to take with me. I got back to my office. I asked the bosses if they were interested in ordering from Frank’s. They weren’t.

Now Frank’s is a cute idea. They have about twenty different ways to serve hot dogs and there is a simple Frank and then there are all sorts of famous Franks named with a description of what that type of hot dog would be. Frank Lloyd Wright, Franklin D. Roosevelt, etc. And each one was a bit different with different toppings.

I called Frank’s, got a Frank and sweet potato fries. I walked back over there and picked it up. I ate the entire hot dog and it was really a good hot dog and I ate only some of the fries. I brought most home and we ate them with our dinner of baked salmon and sautéed asparagus and mushrooms. Made a great meal.

I have to think of something to pack for lunch today.

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