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Santa’s Favorite Story

Santa's Favorite Story

I love looking for a new Christmas story each year to share with my family. It’s one way we welcome the season in. I had such a lovely hour at the BYU Store looking through Christmas books!

Santa’s Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas is not a new story, just new to me. I love the illustrations in soft watercolors as well as the message shared. I don’t have many books about Santa, because I love focusing on the Savior more, but this was a nice balance, and I could imagine myself reading this with grandchildren someday. So that was the clincher.

You can hear the whole story read here.

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144 tiny Finnish gingerbread cookies

Finnish gingerbread cookies

It’s my niece’s bridal shower tonight, and so I was baking Finnish gingerbread cookies this morning. Ah, the smell of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon baking! Heavenly!

This recipe is so easy to make. With one batch, I can make 12 dozen (144) tiny ginger men and women (the cookies are about 1 1/2″ tall and about 1″ wide). That being said, you can eat 10 cookies, in about 2 minutes flat! So keep that in mind…

I love to give the little ginger men and women cookie cutters as part of my wedding gifts, as a reminder that women and men are different. But God created us that way! So it is both a celebration and a learning curve. I tell the young couples that if they ever start to feel any kind of frustration with those differences, to read The Family: A Proclamation to the World, remember that marriage is ordained of God, and make cookies together.

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25 ways. 25 days.

Today our family begins participating in this #LIGHTtheWORLD service advent calendar. We will watch the video and read a related scripture each morning at breakfast/scripture study and discuss how we can serve like the Savior that day. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS!

I was thrilled to see that there was a hockey LEGO advent calendar this year for our first year hockey player.

I was thrilled to see that there was a hockey LEGO advent calendar this year for our first year hockey player.

We still have our advent calendars–the one that is hanging on the door and the LEGO ones that our two youngest children worked to earn (First year for a real LEGO advent calendar! They are very excited!)–but we are inviting each of our children to serve before they put their day on the calendar or put together the LEGO piece. There is a FREE downloadable/printable advent calendar that I printed out and and cutting up the little squares to put into our door advent calendar for the coming years when we do this again.

Today we begin on Day 1! Please join us in this awesome Christmas celebration to light the world!

Each of the days is on our phone Gospel Library app, which makes accessing it really easy.

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Click on the image to go to iTunes to download the free app and free library.

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A tree of knowledge

Raising Amazing Children LogoI’ve been thinking lately about social media, the purpose of my blog, biology and sharing goodness. As I was contemplating what I wrote about yesterday, my mind went back to my birthday in 2006, when I first had the idea for this blog.

It was my birthday morning, and Lane was taking care of the children so I could think and study and write. Julia came bursting into my room with a concern over a disagreement she’d had with a sibling. As she related her story, I could see that she could only see her story through the lens of blaming the other person. In hearing her story, I could see that both children had clearly contributed to the contention. I prayed about what to say to help her, and an idea came: have her write down all the things that happened, step-by-step. Then I had her mark the parts that were only her behavior. Then I had her draw a line through all the parts that weren’t her and said those were the other person’s responsibility. We talked about her behavior: was there anything she had done that wasn’t Christlike? Even at the age of 9, Julia could discern what she had done wrong. The spirit of understanding came to us both as she began to see what she needed to do to repent. She needed to apologize for what she had done wrong and try not to do it again. We ended on a much calmer and happier note than when we began!

Julia left, and I marveled at how the Spirit had answered my prayers and helped me out. I wondered: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us mothers could share those answers to prayers that help us in teaching our children? Then we could help each other solve our problems–simply by sharing!

Fast forward 10 years. So much has happened since then, both in my own life and in the social media world in general. Many people didn’t even know what a blog was in 2006. Now there are so many “Mom Blogs” in the blogosphere that I can’t even count them.

In 2007, a woman I very much admire spoke about the influence of mothers today. She said, “Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world” (Julie B. Beck, “Mothers Who Know,” October 2007). I remember, upon hearing that line, that this was a serious challenge she had just extended us. To be the best homemakers, the best nurturers in the world? That could make you feel depressed right then if you didn’t know three things:

  1. The gift of the Holy Ghost is incomparable. With the help of inspiration, we can accomplish miraculous things!
  2. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have significant knowledge not held by the vast majority of women around the world. That knowledge makes all the difference in how we live our lives! We have the knowledge of how to create happy homes despite the challenges all around us!
  3. We have been saved for this time to live up to the divine nature within us. We have the technological tools, the premortal training, and the gifts and education to do it. With all the “members of the body”–both men and women–who have specialized in developing their own unique gifts and with our ability to share so easily via the internet, we can conquer our challenges. Together we can do anything!*

I have come across some really helpful resources in the last 22 years of being a mother. Now that my blog is organized into the categories that matter most to me–and hopefully simple enough to navigate easily–I am going to try to share more of the goodness I have found in books, experiences, and from other women and what they are sharing online. I am going to group these women (or men) and their specific talents and knowledge into these categories. I hope that as I “train” this tree of knowledge that I am nurturing here, its branches and the fruit hanging on them will be helpful to mothers and nurturers of children who visit here. There is SO much good in the world! Together we really CAN do anything–anything that God needs and wants us to do!

If you have any ideas of how this blog can be more helpful to you as a mother, please contact me! DM me on Instagram (link on sidebar, top) or email me at liz{@}raisingamazingchildren{.}com.

*Kay Marshall and her sister taught me this saying. They have weathered many storms of life together. Kay is one of those women I want to be like when I grow up!

http://www.kathleenpetersonart.com

http://www.kathleenpetersonart.com

P.S. Don’t you love knowing that Eve was the first to partake of the tree of knowledge? She sought inspiration and acted upon her understanding. She was trying to be exactly obedient and gained experience in the process. She paved the way for each of us to be able to come to earth to join her family and gain the same knowledge that she did. I love Eve!

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4 steps to simplifying

Mommy and Baby Rebecca

What matters most? People. I need to remember that as I spend time fretting over stuff. Aren’t some of the sweetest moments in life when get to hold those we love in our arms? And babies are just the BEST. Sweet Baby Rebecca is pictured here.

Two weeks ago I got to attend a presentation by Barbara of SimplifyDays.com. She came to our church building and presented during our Relief Society monthly meeting. She did a great job! What an impressive young mother!

I loved her 4 steps to simplifying:

  1. Minimize.
  2. Digitize.
  3. Organize.
  4. Prioritize.

I left her presentation feeling encouraged and validated in my efforts to minimize. It refueled my efforts! Having a big family and being involved in some community projects over the last 6 years has really slowed my effforts to keep stuff from piling up. It’s so easy to accumulate!

I have had to make a very deliberate, focused effort to try to prevent piles. This effort has created in me a desire to minimize the stuff in my life so that I can spend my time on other more important things. I want to simplify my home, simplify my time, simplify my goals, simplify my blog. Haha. How’s that for all-encompassing?!

I’m excited about minimizing and focusing my energy on what really matter to me. (Maybe even a tincey bit obsessed.)

One of the easiest ways I minimize my physical space is to remove the contents from a given space, such as a drawer or cupboard. (I’ve been doing that regularly these days). Then I clean the space and only put back what we need and use on a very regular basis. Each item that goes back into the space needs to have a purpose that fulfills a goal in our lives.

That is the simplest way I know to minimize something.

The implications of minimizing the stuff in our lives are far-reaching. I ask myself, What do I carry physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally that I do not need or want? What is simply excess and causing a burden? What can I let go of?

To learn more about simplifying, visit Barbara’s website!

I’m looking forward to learning more from her, including seeing how she organizes her receipts…

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4 essentials

When I was pondering Elder Perry’s talk “Let Him Do It with Simplicity” again this week, I had a thought: this is how we grow.

Let me explain.

There are patterns in nature that help us organize and simplify our lives.

When anything in nature grows, it begins from a small cell. That cell divides into two, and then those cells divide into four, then eight, and so on. In a human body, the cells which were once identical begin to differentiate and eventually grow into major organs and parts of the body: the spinal cord, the brain, the heart. Then the differentiation and complex specialization continues until the baby’s intrauterine growth is completely, and the child is born. The development doesn’t ever stop, though: we keep growing until we are adults, then aging, and then we die.

With all of that specialization, there are still those major organs upon which our body relies to survive. While we want our nails to look beautiful, it is probably a bigger priority to make sure we have food, sleep and exercise to keep our heart pumping and our brain functioning, right?

This pattern of development provides us a way to look at what we need to focus on in life, to simplify all the stuff that we are supposed to think about and do for our family. (This may seem like a strange application of biology, but it’s fascinating to me!)

First, look at the whole body. All that complexity is stored in one whole: you. My body reminds me that the most basic focus of life is who we are: we are children of God. Knowing this is step one. So that is the first thing we would want to help our children understand. Like the single cell is the most fundamental unit of creation, gaining this knowledge is the most fundamental place to begin.

Second, we consider our relationship to Christ and to the children of God around us. We look outside of ourselves to see others and we learn how God wants us to treat others. We learn that Heavenly Father loves each of his children, and so we need to treat others with the same kindness with which God treats us. We need to know that God will help us with everything we need to know on earth, including how to strengthen and create eternal families.

Third, after we know who we are, we can begin to learn the basics of survival and happiness within that context: we need to learn how to feed and clothe ourselves and provide shelter and fuel for ourselves. We need to know that God will help us learn how to take care of ourselves, and He will help provide what we cannot do for ourselves, because we are His children and because He loves us.

This process of our knowledge dividing and growing reminds me of the first part of development.

Once we know that and we have reached adulthood and are ready to form a family, we can marry. Two people, a man and a woman, married by proper authority, begin that family. This reminds me of the next step in development, in which the cells differentiate and begin together to form the different major parts of the body.

Interestingly, as a couple, we have to learn those same 3 steps over again. In this new setting, we are trying to treat that second person as a child of God and strengthening that eternal family unit. We have to learn to work together to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and fueled, relying on God.

Once we have a child, our family “body” has grown to three, and the pattern repeats. Now together we are responsible to teach that child, beginning again at teaching the child who they are, what their relationship is to God, Christ, and others, and then moving on to food, clothing, shelter and fuel, all in the context of their relationship to God. As we add children into a family, it reminds me of the specialization that takes place in the further development of the organs. That reminds me of the scripture in 1 Corinthians 12:14, which says, “For the body is not one member, but many.” And Paul goes on to describe how each body part is essential to the rest of the body.

All the knowledge we gain can essentially be divided up into those four categories of basic gospel knowledge and then food, clothing, shelter and fuel. (According to Elder Perry, you can also group gospel knowledge under fuel). After that, our learning just becomes more and more specialized, the more we learn and the greater experience we gain.

So with these categories from Thoreau and Perry, I have reorganized my “Teach ‘Em” tab. To find those posts that relate to some specific knowledge of teaching, such as teaching children music, look under one of the four tabs. You’ll find those pages that used to be in a very long list under the tab are now divided into one of the four categories: to take care of their body, to get dressed, to provide shelter, and to obtain fuel.

I hope that this reorganization helps me remember that when life gets overwhelming and just feels too complex, just go back to the basics: who we are, why we are here, and what is essential in the context of love and faith.

To read a far more inspiring article on nature and what is essential, read or watch “What Matters Most” by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. 

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Pumpkin Pie

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Caught! Isn’t PIE the highlight of the meal? Last year I ate less dinner because I wanted to try every pie–which you can see I did!  

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so we are going to be making pies today. We will need the oven space to roast the turkey on Thursday, and besides, it’s going to be more fun that way. If Eliza will just let us help…

Our favorite pumpkin pie recipe comes from my mom, and it’s simple: it’s the recipe on the back of a Libby’s Pumpkin can–with the spices doubled.

That’s it!

And we’ve got a fabulous pecan and apple pie recipe as well! (And other delicious pies, like peanut butter [banana cream] pie…)

This year, we’re going to try a pear cranberry pie from Cooks Illustrated (or Cooks’ Country?) magazine (we take both, which is what happens when you have a chef in the house–and I’m not the chef!). I am trying to persuade Eliza to let me make my French apple tart instead of the deep-dish or brown bag apple. We’ll see who wins…or if we make both!

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Milk and toast

lactose-free milk
Yesterday ended up being such a surprise, that I felt a follow-up post is in order.

After posting about depression, I literally felt a little weight lift in my heart and some happiness take it’s place. I felt like smiling–in earnest. It was like a glimmer of hope in that moment. Then Lane came home for lunch, and we started heating up some soup and making sandwiches, and the happiness started to grow. By the end of our lunch and as the day carried on, I felt such a lifting of my spirits that I was so surprised. I decided to just keep smiling and moving through my day. I made it happily through the rest of the day, interacting with my family and others as if I felt completely normal, and indeed, I felt so close to normal! It was fabulous!

All day we needed groceries. I was trying to get up the gumption to go. Sometimes it’s the little things that loom so dauntingly when dealing with depression. It was pouring rain and cold and getting later by the minute. But I had to pick up Anna from playing at a friend’s home, and we really needed some fruit for the morning, so I took her with me at that late hour to the store, and we ended up getting a cart full–all of the things we needed for the week with everyone coming home. And Lane picked up a few things at Costco for us at the same time. I felt so thankful!

We made it through the check-out lane and were just about to finish the transaction when I noticed that the young man behind us had a carton of lactose-free milk in his groceries. “Rats!” I said out loud, “I forgot to get Lactose-free milk!”

That UVU boy offered without missing a beat, “I’ll go get some for you!” And so he did. He ran to the back of the store and brought me back two. It was, along with all of the other tender mercies of the day, icing on the cake.

Not to be excluded is Anna, who held her umbrella over the groceries, helped load them in that pouring rain, and took the cart back for me! We chatted and laughed together as we shopped, loaded, and drove home.

Kneader's pumpkin breadI walked in the door with our groceries to see a Kneader’s loaf of pumpkin bread on my counter from my visiting teachers. I hadn’t said anything to them. That loaf was a wonderful addition to our dinner (it was our FHE treat).

chicken fiesta We ate a delicious meal (Chicken Fiesta, thanks to Eliza’s help) and had a cozy FHE together in front of the fire. I told them children how the Savior had helped me and what a miracle the day had been: to wake up completely depressed and go to bed feeling almost totally normal! Honestly, I felt so loved by heaven and others.

This morning I woke up at 1:55 am and couldn’t get back to sleep until about 3 hours later, when I slept for 15 minutes and then woke up hungry. Lane brought me a piece of toast and I was able to fall back asleep right away, sleeping for another almost 3 hours–which means I got almost 7 hours total instead of almost 4. Talk about grateful!

toast

And just as I was writing this, not knowing what I was writing about on my computer, one of my daughters brought me a piece of toast.

See what I mean? I am surrounded by angels: a whole family and community of them.

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So what does it feel like to be depressed?

agony_in_the_garden_by_frans_schwartz_1898

“Agony In the Garden” by Frans Schwartz is one of my favorite paintings of an angel attending the Savior during his atonement. You can view it online here. You can purchase this print from the BYU Museum of Art Store website.

Here is what feeling depressed feels like to me today:

I wanted to stay in bed and sleep until I could wake up and feel energetic and excited to meet the day.

But I got up at 5:30 am anyway to exercise with my husband.

I wanted to complain and cry and speak angrily or negatively.

But I said positive words and phrases aloud to encourage myself, my husband and my children.

I wanted to stop working, stop moving, to lay down, to sleep away the negative feelings, the heaviness in my head, body, and spirit.

But I kept pressing forward at every step as I prayed, studied my scriptures, ran for 30 minutes, made breakfast, had scriptures and prayers with the children, got children off to school, cleaned up the kitchen, showered, planned for the day, did some service, dragging myself through everything, hoping that it would feel easier.

I wanted to share how I’m feeling, so other women who suffer from depression know that they are not alone.

So I am.

Depression is an inner battle that is exhausting to fight. I fight it because it is part of my “package deal”–part of God’s personal plan for happiness for me. I fight it because it isn’t a curse, even though it feels like it sometimes. It is a challenge that comes with blessings of empathy for others and the strengthening of my will. It helps me learn to work against opposition. To press forward against what is hard.

But I don’t always press forward. Not everyday. Not all the time. It is hard. I am human. Sometimes I give in and stay in bed. Sometimes I cry. Often I cry. Sometimes I raise my voice at my family members or react harshly. Sometimes I feel too tired to be patient, to be gentle. Sometimes I say no. Sometimes I crawl into bed and wish I could go back home to heaven, to have my test be over.* Sometimes I come home from church or cancel commitments because it is too much to face people when I feel like sobbing. I don’t want to have to explain why. I just want to deal with it privately. I want to come out when I’m ready to smile, when I feel lighthearted again. Lately that doesn’t feel like very often.

I can keep going because I know that God is there. He has made me promises. I know God keeps His promises, even when they feel so far off. I know that Christ is there. I know that during his atonement, Christ suffered for me personally. He felt pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, isolation. So even though he doesn’t take this from me today, He will help me fight. And lighten my load.

You may not see angels around me, but I've got angels in my life helping me. Just as I finished writing this post, my cell phone rang. It was Rebecca, calling me from school just to say she loves me and to thank me for being there for her. Thank you, Rebecca, for illustrating what I mean by angels and tendermercies that help me make it through each day.

You may not see angels around me, but I’ve got angels in my life helping me. Just as I finished writing this post, my cell phone rang. It was Rebecca, calling me from school just to say she loves me and to thank me for being there for her. Thank you, Rebecca, for illustrating what I mean by angels and tendermercies that help me make it through each day.

And my husband is there. It is hard on him. And my family is there. It’s not easy for them either. I know they love me because they are patient with me and keep trying to help. They know it is hard.

So today I am praying for strength to keep going. I’ve made it this far. I’m praying to find a doctor who can help me find some medication that might help with the hormonal changes that fuel the depression. I’m praying for the strength to keep being able to do for my family what is my job: to plan the meals, to buy the groceries, to make the dinner. I’m praying for the courage to smile when I feel like frowning. I’m praying that at the end of the day to be able to write in my journal about the tendermercies that he gave me to help make it through my day, one hour at a time.

And I “opened the window:” I wrote about what it feels like to be depressed. And after posting this, I actually feel like smiling.

*And I’m not suicidal. I’m just describing my feelings. I know God loves me, that He is going to help me. I’ve dealt with this off and on for so long. I know it will get better.

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On pumpkin pie and appearances

pumpkin pie

Our outward appearance affects us in different ways.

Two weeks ago, we had an FHE lesson on personal appearance. I had wanted to open the lesson with a visual that my children (and I!) would remember. We had had pumpkin pie for Sunday dinner the day before, and this idea of using two pieces of the same pie, each in a different state of presentation, came to mind.

I brought the two plates over (we didn’t have any whipping cream, which would have been a bonus, both visually and culinarily) and said what my lesson was about. Immediately one of my children said, “I know where you are going with this!” 😂

When I asked my children which slice they would rather eat, all of them chose the pie that wasn’t smushed except for the children who knew what my point was, and who prefer dressing in sweats or the clothes they slept in. 😂 We all had a good laugh together about that!

I talked about how I was having a conversation with some people earlier that previous week that had led me to consider our personal appearance. I decided that I had not been the best example of always going out in public well-groomed, and that I wanted to change that. So I shared a few thoughts about our personal appearance with my family and committed to doing better at being ready for the day before going out to appointments or shopping or carpooling, as much as possible. (Doing this has been SUCH a personal gift! I feel so much better about myself when I leave home showered and ready for the day!

First, I said that our value isn’t based upon our outward appearance, but it does bless us in many ways to be well-groomed. The Lord taught us that while He doesn’t judge us by how we look, the world does:

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

I told our children that it helps us to remember that we represent not only ourselves and our family, but also the Lord and the church, and so we want to try to be clean and well-groomed. I shared this story from Susan Tanner that I have loved ever since I heard it:

“I remember well the insecurities I felt as a teenager with a bad case of acne. I tried to care for my skin properly. My parents helped me get medical attention. For years I even went without eating chocolate and all the greasy fast foods around which teens often socialize, but with no obvious healing consequences. It was difficult for me at that time to fully appreciate this body which was giving me so much grief. But my good mother taught me a higher law. Over and over she said to me, ‘You must do everything you can to make your appearance pleasing, but the minute you walk out the door, forget yourself and start concentrating on others.’

“There it was. She was teaching me the Christlike principle of selflessness. Charity, or the pure love of Christ, “envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own” (Moro. 7:45). When we become other-oriented, or selfless, we develop an inner beauty of spirit that glows in our outward appearance. This is how we make ourselves in the Lord’s image rather than the world’s and receive His image in our countenances. President Hinckley spoke of this very kind of beauty that comes as we learn to respect body, mind, and spirit. He said:

“’Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth” (“Understanding Our Divine Nature,” Liahona, Feb. 2002, 24; “Our Responsibility to Our Young Women,” Ensign, Sept. 1988, 11)” (Susan W. Tanner, “The Sanctity of the Body,” October 2005).

I also told our children how when I was a teenager, I heard Elder Perry say that our dress affects our behavior. That helped me not want to be sloppy in my appearance. I remember putting the quote from what he said on my clothing closet door. I found a quote that was similar to what I heard back in the 80’s in a more recent talk and shared it with my children:

Another basic necessity is our clothing. A simplified life that brings spiritual blessings requires the wearing of simple and modest clothing. Our dress and grooming send a message to others about who we are, and they also affect the way we act around others. When we are modestly dressed, we also invite the Spirit of the Lord to be a shield and a protection to us.

“Worldly trends in women’s fashion are always inviting extremes. With their latest styles many fashion designers appear to be trying to make two or three dresses out of the amount of fabric necessary for one. Mostly, they are taking too much off the top and too much off the bottom of women’s clothing, and occasionally they scrimp in the middle too. Men’s fashions are also adopting extreme styles. In my day they would be called sloppy and inappropriate. I believe very casual dress is almost always followed by very casual manners” (Elder L. Tom Perry, “Let Him Do It with Simplicity,” October 2008).

I mentioned that when we dress nicely, we act better, others take us more seriously, we will attract the kind of people we would want to attract (particularly if we are in a single stage of life!), we can perform better, and we feel calmer because we are ready to meet whatever comes. I shared how when I met Lane, we were both dressed nicely! I always loved that about him, that he was well-groomed but not overly trendy or calling attention to himself.

I know that taking care of my personal appearance is a blessing in my life.

Later I found this video, which would have been a great addition to this lesson:

This video clip is great because it is only the verses about being the temple of God. Super short!

paris-france-temple-rendering

I’m so excited about the Paris, France temple that will be finished and open next spring! Wish I could be there! Click on the image for the link to the article from which this artist’s rendering comes.

I love how the Lord’s temples are beautifully kept both inside and out! Are there any lovelier man-made places on earth than the temples? What a great example for helping our personal temple (our body) in the best shape we can keep it. A challenging job, but a blessing for sure.

 

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