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Well this is definitely the time of year I feel compelled to write. It’s been two years since I lost my husband to brain cancer. Looking back on some of my previous postings, I realize I don’t come out and write these words very often. I skirt around them; I allude to them and paint a water coloured landscape where things are vague and it’s more about big-picture ideas than detailed events. This is how I have liked it up to this point.

As this anniversary approached I had a few friends ask me if it’s gotten easier now that a bit more time has passed…now that there’s been two whole years between me and that other reality I was living.

Time – that old cure-all.

The easy answer – and the one that everyone is looking for is yes… of course time has helped. I have had two years of experiencing people and places and events, between me and that other world in which my husband was battling for his life. Time helps get over any traumatic experience. It dulls the edges.

Well this is what I thought – that the edges were supposed to get duller. The sharp blade of loss wearing down slowly. Maybe I had heard it somewhere once? Maybe it just seems logical; the general consensus.  I don’t know. But after having more that a few people ask me if it’s gotten easier, I started to think about it. 

And here’s the thing – for me, time has proved invaluable in that it gives me longer stretches of relief. I think about Kevin every day and I smile. He was so f*&king funny. He just had this way about him, and he shared it with everyone. I don’t need to tell those of you who knew him. I swear he had this sort of smirk behind his eyes – like he knew something you didn’t and it was hilarious. He brought people together. A lot of the time he was just ridiculous. Most of the time, really. To me he was the best friend in the world. We were lucky like that.

So now when it hits hard, it still hits just as hard. I could use the word emptiness, and although it’s strikingly painful, it’s usually fleeting. It comes less often now, and I can pull myself out of it pretty fast. I just think about how much it would hurt him to see me like that and then I pick myself up.

If you’re reading this and you were lucky enough to know Kevin, please think of the best and most funny moment you shared with him… maybe it involved minotaurs? nerd capes? some sort of limerick?

If you didn’t know Kevin, but have had loss in your life, then remember the people you’ve loved and all of their lovable qualities. If you haven’t had loss in your lives, then hug the people around you tightly, and start laughing.

Something that makes me feel better? Realizing that Kevin did, indeed, know something we don’t. Let’s hope it’s hilarious.

Theme Song, One of Kevin’s favourites:

We all know that Christmas is a special time of year. Family, friends, wining, dining, and gifts. Yeah, it’s special, no doubt. There’s the flip side to consider, as well. Stress and all that mumbo jumbo….so-busy-bad-weather-unexpected-expenses-hard-to-buy-for-too-much-to-drink-to-eat-to-wrap….yadda. Yadda. Blah blah.

Bah.

My advice? Start watching the chaos and find humour. Just give yourself a little extra time and sit back and watch the insanity ensue. You can’t change the crazies that come out of the wood work and emerge in droves at your local shopping venues. Instead of getting annoyed at the person who takes eight minutes and a nine-point turn in order to back into a parking spot, give these people a break. Everyone shops this time of year (with exception of those overly down-to-earth types who have found the true meaning and all that..or the really crafty types that are so prevalent here on the west coast). So it falls to reason that unskilled shoppers come out at this time of year. This makes it that much more adventurous for the rest of us!

Actually, I think I’ve over simplified these characters. They aren’t unskilled at shopping – they are more-or-less unskilled at basic social interactions and sometimes even logic in general.

Watch the person in front of you try to explain a specific book to the lady at the cash register – while not knowing the title, the author, or even the genre of book they’re in such dire need of. Take note as she get more animated and frustrated, starting to lash out …. “nobody in this bloody store knows anything about literature!” She storms off feeling vindicated knowing she is better-read than anyone else in the shop and also that it’s run by illiterate morons. Now instead of letting their negativity rub off on you and your retail experience, just take a moment – realize you’re just very lucky not to be that person. Smile at the cashier. A knowing glance can do wonders. Now you can feel vindicated in your own right – and the camaraderie of like-minded, socially-adjusted people is exactly what this season is about.

Love thy neighbour… and your local customer service associate.

In all seriousness, I’ve really had to embrace being back in the real world for this time of year. My battle is not with the general public, but with my memories. I thought I had it all figured out – I got a job at the ski resort in order to fully wrap myself up in winter. Being up on the heavily snow-covered hill, surrounded by people who love being outside – it’s the perfect way to get through the long dark winter. Yes…all figured out – I knew this sort of job would ensure I worked through Christmas and I could slog through this very emotional holiday by working hard and feeling exhausted enough to sleep through the night. I could avoid Christmas… again! What luck.

Luck comes in oh, so many forms. I truly believe that each one of us is lucky, it’s just a matter of perspective.

So I guess I was one of the lucky ones – my schedule gave me both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. As I was about to volunteer to take my coworkers’ shifts, I held my tongue and thought about the opportunity at hand. This could be exactly what I need. I’ve stated before: some of the best outcomes have been from situations that are difficult and way, way, way easier to avoid. It dawned on me that I need to face the holidays; the traditions, the ups and downs that come hand in hand with this time of year.

It’s been pretty sweet so far, and even with a few tears there is some sense of accomplishment.

I can’t even begin to count the ways in which I’ve been lucky. Life happens, sh*t happens, some of it’s heavy and bad and life-altering, but we do our best to pick ourselves up, and when we do – whether it’s luck, or determination or sheer grit, we, hopefully, can look around and begin to see the love surrounding us.

My love and thanks to everyone who has been part of my life these last few years. I have met so many special people. I have travelled with each and everyone of you whether it’s through airports and foreign countries, written word, or shared memories.

We’ve arrived here …right now. It’s pretty good, isn’t it?

Keep each other laughing. Share music. Hug to stay warm.

Merry Christmas.

The Alaska Highway

As I write this, I sit on the side of the Alaska Highway. I’ve just driven through the small town of Dawson Creek and glimpsed the “Mile Zero” post that marks the beginning of the epic highway built during WWII.

I’ve filled the car with inexpensive Albertan gas from the last Shell I passed. Engaged in pleasant smalltalk with the gas station attendant – as he removed bugs from my windscreen – I inquired as to where I could get a nice cup of coffee. He paused a moment, looked contemplative, and then earnestly suggested the place down the road. I’m now enjoying the suggested brew and can’t help smiling to myself. Esso gas station coffee isn’t necessarily “nice” but it does the trick. I guess. It was kind of the fellow to point out that the coffee at the competing station is way better than their own.

Yeah, you know, when in Rome….??
Well, I am listening to classic rock…
although I do draw the line at country music.

Up here in the northern reaches of Alberta and British Columbia, life is simple and pleasant – straightforward, if you will. The coffee is served two ways: black, or double double. Easy.

Moose Crossing

Bullwinkle...with a twinkle in his eye, he's about to make moves to cross the highway

Crossing Moose

I’ve pulled over, on this straight stretch of pavement because I wanted to get a picture of the “Moose Crossing” sign on the side of the highway. Doesn’t this image just scream Canada? A stark contrast to the “Wombat Crossing” sign I took pictures of, oh so many moons ago. On my way back to the car I glanced over to the side of the road and guess what? There, amongst the trees, stood a real moose!! Wow, are these signs accurate!

He wasn’t exactly crossing the road, but he had that look about him that suggested he was ready to travel.  He was eying up the south side of the highway, and it wasn’t lost on me: he had plans to make moves.

Anyway, I’ve also pulled over, on this straight stretch of pavement, because I’m having a moment. That kind of moment I find myself having every so often, where I have trouble wrapping my head around exactly where I am. I can’t begin to count the number of times I wake up and don’t know, often for many long minutes, where I am. Sometimes this happens in broad daylight as well…like now.  A hazard of travel, I reckon! Its not so much that I don’t know where I am, it’s just hard to absorb that I was somewhere so very different and so very far away only a few weeks ago.

On the other hand, it kinda feels like I never left.

Well this is another part of the adventure, isn’t it? I can’t imagine I would be drinking coffee from Esso and taking pics of moose in any other country besides here….
Home.

I’m back, and it’s going to be a fantastic summer!

Jill at Beaver Lodge

...

You know those moments when you feel like everything is as it should be? That all the good, the bad, the confusing, the funny, the in-between moments – that it’s all happened – is happening – in the just the perfect ratio? Like all the happenings have led to this point. Good and bad and neutral…it’s brought you to the exact spot you’re in, and that spot is exactly where you’re supposed to be?

I’m not talking about the physical spot either; I’m speaking more about one’s state-of-mind. I’m talking about growth and I’m talking about experience.

You know?

Some may call it wisdom – although I’m not feeling overly wise – definitely not.  But I’m feeling like I’ve come to a point where I am okay with myself and my feelings and I’m proud of the journey I’ve been on and it’s okay to be proud.

And although I’m not necessarily speaking in physical terms, the physical journey is not to be ignored. It’s been astounding! I’ve seen a whole heck of a lot of Australia and New Zealand. I’ve made my way through South East Asia and some of the South Pacific. I’ve even stopped off in Canada for a visit! This is some substantial travel. Considering my original trip was planned as six weeks in Oz and two in NZ, I think flying by the seat of my pants is an understatement. What an opportunity, and a gift.

I’ve kept my head on straight (or as straight as it’s ever been…this is all relative.. it’s a sliding scale). So many ups and downs; SO so so many decisions to make everyday. No routine means I can’t turn my brain off too much. Maybe this isn’t true, but I’m using my brain in very different ways than I did when I lived in a house, went to work everyday, and came home to a husband and cat. All these decisions I’ve been making have led to this spot. All my interactions, on the road and at home, have helped to bring me to this head space. And you know what? I can honestly say, for the first time in many, many moons, that it’s a good head space. The galaxy in my mind is good. It’s accepting and filled with positive ions. I’ve disproved dark energy…no antimatter here! (oh, oh…now I’m on an astronomy analogy tangent….this can’t be good for anyone…it could be never-ending..doppler effect…escape velocity….let’s change the subject, the trajectory, if you will).

Someone wise once said that we are never given more than we can handle (this is actually based on a passage from the bible [Corinthians 10:13] but I didn’t know that until I just looked it up). I heard this a long time ago, probably when I was a teenager, and it was one of those ideas that made sense to me at the time, but its poignancy was fleeting and quickly vanished into the aether. Well this small piece of wisdom was brought back into my life, by someone I love, when Kevin and I were battling that insidious f*#ker we call brain cancer. Kevin and I latched onto this idea; we embraced it whole-heartedly and it kept us going, especially through some of the tougher moments. I still think about it and I believe it and I hope that it brings some sort of peace to people going through something difficult. We, as humans, are tough and capable. I feel tough and capable.

I also have a headache, but I guess that’s to be expected. Gamma-ray bursts and supernovae have that effect.

“We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on the mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege.”
~ Pierre Elliott Trudeau

There’s a funny thing that happens when you travel through small rural communities in Australia…you’re actually, usually, mistaken for a local! I know we’d each like to think we’d stick out ; what, with our pulled-together looks, radiating charm, and big-city confidence?… but really we’re all the same.

So the locals assume you’re with them. Either that or, on the off-chance you really are that put together, they can spot the foreigner a mile away. Luckily, due to my wardrobe – or lack there of (I’ve spent months upon months wearing the same stuff and I can’t wait to burn most of them).. I don’t think I stick out much at all. Well, at least until I open my mouth. I will admit there’s something really nice about chatting to a checkout clerk and being told I have a lovely accent.

..a lovely Irish accent. Is it cold in Ireland? Right.

It’s nice not to stick out; to blend in. But then it’s always nice to be able to use your nationality as an excuse to decline unwanted solicitation. Example: While walking on any street, at anytime of day, in any part of Vietnam, one must have quick answers to questions that resemble, but are not limited to: “Where you going lady?”….”Cheap price for you?”…”You buy now?..Yes? Now? …Lady…big sizes lady…cheap for you, you buy?”  In most cases a simple direct “no thank you” doesn’t suffice. They stalk on. Shaking your head, waving your hands down to the ground; stern but passive, dead look in the eyes…this works sometimes (in Australian bars as well, but that’s another story). Now, when these street vendors and moto-drivers we speak of realize they’re not getting through with they’re promises of high quality good n’ services at dirt-cheap prices, the smart ones will pull out the big guns.

Their next question, as they follow beside you on the street: “Where you from lady?”

I can’t speak for everyone, but I grew up knowing that it’s only polite to answer when someone asks you a direct question about your native country…especially when you’re from such rad place – it’s like bragging. What’s the harm?

”Uh, Canada.”

Oh! CANADA!?! Canada: vvvvvery nnnnnice! Canada beeaaauuuutttiffffullll.” Their wide-eyed awe is hard to hide: they’ve been so very fortunate to have met someone from Europe!

The politeness continues, you can’t help but feel flattered at the reverie. ”Um, yeah…you been?”…

Oh shit. You’re in a conversation. What?!

Sneaky.

Well, after a few rounds of these blindsided attack on one’s good senses, it’s easy enough to avoid. You just make stuff up. It’s not hard. Take the name of your favourite animal or food and add -ville or Island. There you have it: a new country! Eggs Island (also in Europe). Unicornicopia is a favourite.

Oh, Unicornicopia? So verrry nicccce there….”

So it doesn’t actually work, but at least it’s amusing.

Anyway, I digress. I was going to write about Australia. I’m not going to write about Australia now though. There’s time for that. I have another couple of weeks here before I head to the Land of the Long White Cloud. I’m starting to get nostalgic for my year in Oz and I haven’t even left yet. Ridiculous.

I had to wonder if the mild numbness in my face had anything to do with taking my first anti-malarial tablet….or maybe it was the snake wine I had with lunch?  It’s so hard to know.

Even after reading through the former’s possible side-effects (numbness is, indeed, on the list) my vote stands strong with the latter.

Perfect for Pickling

Perfect for Pickling

You’ve got to imagine there is still venom in there somewhere….rumour states that the toxins are deactivated by the rice wine-pickling, but really – the entire snake is coiled up in the bottle, fangs and all.  It smiles at you from the cloudy jar… a gaping “last laugh” smile…incisors prominently displayed.  I’ve seen the same mocking grin on spiders and crocodiles (we’ve all been warned of crocodile tears, but crocodile smiles warrant even more caution; you never want to think a crocodile knows more than you).

Smiling, to be sure!

Smiling, to be sure!

As the numbness spread down through my neck and chest I cautiously asked how Kim was feeling… not wanting to raise alarm bells unnecessarily. She and I had shared a dollop of the light amber liquid and she said she was just fine, her tone questioning…?   I laughed nervously and said I was just tired.  When we spoke of it a few days later she admitted that she had also experienced some numbness but didn’t want to worry me. Aren’t we so good to each other?

.. side-effects of snake, to be sure.  The numbness – not the kindness.

Snake wine is supposed to enhance vigor and cure whatever ails you (if the thing that ails you in sobriety then you are in luck!).  It’s sold all over the place; packaged in small bottles with small snakes – perfect for tourists to take home as souvenirs.  Many times a small scorpion accompanies the reptile for good measure.  Pretty and potent.

Our Version: Not as Pretty!

Our Version: Not as Pretty!

The snake wine we had was of an entirely different variety. We had stopped in a small village a few hours out of Saigon. It was so hot and so muggy and we had ordered soup (traditional pho is quite addictive even when its 35C outside).  We had a cold soda and couldn’t help but notice the dusty liquor cabinet, perched grandma-style, at the edge of the room.  Amongst ambiguous Vietnamese liquor and ancient bottles of rum, there sat a large plastic bucket.  In all its anonymous glory, it was anything but pretty.  The snake was incredibly big.  It beckoned.  Anti-malarials have nothing on this stuff.

Snake Wine Instructions

Snake Wine Instructions

This particular concoction tasted of mild rice wine with hints of brandy, vodka, and venom.  The scaly skin doesn’t offer much taste but surely enhances consistency.  One would never know it was anything but fantastic.  A bonus: no more lower back pain.  And I’m sure my problem with ‘sweat of limbs’ has drastically subsided.…  pretty, potent and practical!

This was definitely one of those moments that wouldn’t have been the same had I been travelling solo.  I was so happy to share in both the horrors and the glory of snake wine with my incredible travel companion.  Thank you Kim, for the great couple of weeks together – I haven’t laughed so much in a long time!

Theme Songs of the Day:

Dog Days are OverFlorence & the Machine

Home for a Rest – Spirit of the West

*(My first choice was: Kimberly Austin – Porno for Pyros… but, alas, no good version  on the internet)

Theme Songs of the Day:

Eyes Wider than BeforeScott Matthews

Else Built to Spill


The Empress Hotel, Victoria BC

The Empress Hotel, Victoria BC

So a new adventure…the perfect opportunity to get re-inspired.  My short visit home provided a lot of opportunity for visiting friends and re-connecting with the beauty that is the west coast of Canada.  Although I continued writing while I was back home, I wasn’t as inclined to share as I have been on the road…everything was too concentrated – to upfront and real….raw; a personal journey that was better left between myself and my word processor.

On that note – I think a pinnacle turning moment for sharing occurred on my stopover in the LA airport.  As I sat in one of the only two restaurants in the terminal, taking extra care in reading every available menu item and then ordering very slowly, one thing at a time; an attempt at killing six hours… I naturally began to notice the patrons at the surrounding tables.  Airports are a special kind of transit purgatory- it really does take all kinds.   I liken the mix of people one finds at airports, to the crowds found in malls as Christmas approaches.  Even the strangest and most anti-social people both travel, and give gifts during the holidays.  This creates a nice healthy mix of folks and forms the perfect breeding ground for an experiment in sociology.

Anyway, I was enthralled by this man beside me.  He looked homeless at first glance, but then the costly watch around his wrist peaks out from his ratty cuff–and his satchel is weathered, but made of good quality leather.  He orders a glass of champagne.  Just as I’m reminding myself not to judge a book by its cover, I notice him dipping his hands into his satchel. He’s intermittently sneaking goldfish crackers from his duffle bag and scooping tuna from a can into his mouth with his fingers. As he notices me noticing him, he scowls.  This is the moment I realize I have entered the realm of professional people-watcher…oh, and also that people in LA are crazy.

Englishman River Falls...home

Englishman River Falls

So unbeknownst to me, my flight from LA was to stop briefly in Samoa before heading south to Tonga.  The first I heard of this was as I strapped myself into my seat and we were heading out onto the runway.  My panic was brief but VERY real as the pilot told us the information for our flight to Samoa.  My neighbour assured me that the plane continued to Tonga but I couldn’t help feeling as though the communication was a little lacking.  I had read about this…that things are a little more relaxed in the South Pacific. My feeling is that the mild chaos is marketed as “laid-back…

Although I’m fairly organized, I let a lot of this go when travelling. I am more content having a broad outline as opposed to too many set plans…  this impromptu stop in Samoa allowed me to see another beautiful South Pacific Island, at least briefly, and also allowed for a good laugh.

Never being one who is able to sleep on planes with any regularity, I get that funny over-tired-alternative-reality thing on long haul flights. It was about 5am local time and it was quiet in the one-roomed Samoan airport.  Abruptly this man stared to yell and bash the wall.  He was yelling into the cafe/bar which was locked and looked closed.  …no one could figure out what he was doing, although I wouldn’t blame him if he was just extremely eager to get a coffee.  I thought I might just get up and join him – a flat white would have been divine – but just then a dazed looking man suddenly popped up from behind the bar. He gave his head a wild shake and slid open the grate.  Within moments he served his first patron, all the while wiping drool from his chin.  So this is the laid-back South Pacific.  I love it already!

After our touch-down in Tongatapu I was escorted to the pre-paid shuttle that would take me to my guest house.  It was warm and sunny.  The palms and strikingly beautiful abundance of lush green were enough to wake me up a little.  I had made it!  I was somewhere completely different than I’d been before.  The infrastructure for tourism is hit-and-miss, but everyone is so helpful!  As I looked at the throng of locals and visitors at the tiny airport with a dopey grin on my face I realized I had arrived in paradise.

Outside the Guesthouse in Nukuálofa

Outside the Guesthouse in Nukuálofa

I was quickly brought back to reality as this beautiful young woman called out my name over and over – scanning the crowd with an out-of-place frantic, wide-eyed sense of loss. After a bit of confusion (relaxed-chaos) it was realized she was my shuttle driver…the other van driver was trying to scoop some cash off me by dropping me off but making me pay again.  Oh right…the helpfulness may, at times, have ulterior motives.  No one is trying to be dishonest, it’s just that, in general, if a Tongan doesn’t understand you he will just answer yes. This is the shuttle to my guest house, it’s paid already?yes

But never mind, I didn’t mind much at all…between the sleepiness and the happiness, I had my south-pacific-attitude down to an art.  I can make a go of ‘laid-back’

This was going to be fun.

The North Coast of Tongatapu

The North Coast of Tongatapu

So you may be asking yourselves….”what exactly has Jill been learning on this journey of self-discovery?”   Well, I now know that even if you think you’re being nice by letting an overly-helpful, partially senile old man help you with a flat tire – you should probably just take care of it yourself.   

Noosa National ParkSo Stacey and I met up last week, here in Brisbane, and we rented ourselves a Jucy Camper-van.  These are great vehicles – totally self-contained: bed, fridge, stove..we were all set.  We headed South, stopping here and there along the coast, finally to find ourselves in Byron Bay.  This is a beautiful town…gorgeous beaches, lots of surfing, cool shops to check out.  We had a swim and checked out the nightlife, and although it slowed us down the next day, we had a great time and met lots of interesting people that night. 

In the morning we continued South to a small town called Ballina.  The scenery was spectacular – lush, green, rolling hills spotted with trees full of  large, shockingly bright, purple flowers.   We ooh-ed and ahh-ed as we climbed the hills and saw the coast in the distance…. and to cap off a perfect afternoon we found a great sushi place right in the middle of the wee village.  Unexpected and Perfect.

That day we made our way back up North, past Brisbane and over to the Sunshine Coast.  Lots of driving, through rush hour, but we had some tunes and good conversation to keep us occupied.  We hit up a little town called Noosa.  This is a favourite spot of Stacey’s and I can see why!  We spent a couple of days exploring the beaches and parks. 

We headed inland to the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands and explored the many small towns in the area.  Glass House MountainsWe saw the Glass House Mountains which look beautiful, if not slightly out of place in the surrounding countyside. 

Although we had planned to camp out in the hinterlands, the ocean called to us.  We did some research and found out that even though there was a triathlon happening that weekend, there was space available at a beach-side camp ground in Mooloolaba.   Great!

As we entered the little camp ground and I made to back into our reserved spot, an older gentleman appeared out of nowhere.  He began directing me… abruptly – with no real words  (just aggressive, yet unclear, hand movements).  This relatively simple manoever  required very little driving skill, yet, somehow it took almost ten minutes.  It was hot…I had been driving for hours….I just wanted to park and head to the beach, but this man was really trying to be helpful so we continued to humour him and finally made it into the exact spot we were supposed to be in.  It, really was, a fine parking job….sigh.

Thus began our relationship with the old man.  He is a permanent resident at the park and although he’s not paid, he helps out by tidying up and directing traffic.  His wife told us that about six months ago he decided that one of the trees in the park needed pruning.  With no prompting, he climbed the tree and started to cut down the huge pine-cone-like fruit growing from the palm.  Well these fruit are, apparently, really heavy; one managed to fall on the poor guy, throwing him from said tree.  He broke his hip and was off his feet for months.  This is very sad, but I can’t help giggling to myself as I write this.  He’s trying so hard to be helpful!

The next day we realized that one of the tires was a little flat.  It was a slow leak, if anything ,so we planned to fill the tire up at the local gas station before heading out for the day.  Wouldn’t you know it:  the old man showed up again – really, as if out of nowhere, and stopped us as we were pulling out.  He pulled off the hubcap (we’re not sure why…) and started to fiddle with it.  He managed to actually break off a piece of it and then couldn’t replace it.  I got it back on and we thanked him for his ‘help’ and tried to get going.  He stopped us at the gate and told us he had a pump and would fill the tire up.  He hulled out this piece of machinery from WWI (there may have been a mouse and a wheel in there somewhere, I can’t be sure) and hooked it up to the tire.  We all stood there watching the tire deflate.  It took us a couple of minutes to convince him it wasn’t working…we unhooked the crazy generator gadget and, luckily, had enough air to make it to the gas station.  With only 6psi left – we successfully filled it up to the required 34psi and made our way inland to explore.  Drama complete.

So we had a good last few days in the area.  We made some friends, saw some crazy animals (some of them being the aforementioned new friends) and were awestruck by the beauty that surrounded us.  The Hinterlands

It was hard to give the van up yesterday, but we are flying North to the Whittsunday Coast today…off to the next leg of the adventure. 

Oh yeah….somehow the hubcap fell off and we were charged $60 by the rental company!  Maybe the laughs were worth it.

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