September 30, 2012

31 Trips In California: Convict & Mono Lakes

Welcome to 31 Days of Trips in my native state of California.  Throughout October, I'll be joining up with The Nester's 31 Day series, showcasing some of my favorite destinations and road trips my family has visited in recent years.

I love any kind of travel, but especially a good road trip. I'm never so happy as when we're pulling out of our driveway, our car full of suitcases and road snacks, bound on another adventure. Whether or not you live in California, I hope my road trip memories will inspire you with dreams of new places to explore, or even just remind you of your own good times from past vacations.

So grab some of your favorite road snacks (me, I love Dr. Pepper and Cheetos), and join me on my journeys throughout the Golden State. Please follow along each day by "Liking" my Facebook page.
Coming up first on Monday: a trip to the Mammoth area and two beautiful but very different lakes: Convict Lake and Mono Lake.

Below are the links to all 31 trips, beginning with Day 1, on October 1st.  

Day 1: Convict Lake & Mono Lake
Day 2: The Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens
Day 3: Lily Goes To Hollywood  
Day 4: The Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Day 5: Big Sur  
Day 6: The Salton Sea 
Day 7: Legoland

September 28, 2012

31 Days of California: Come Along With Me

Beginning next Monday, October 1st, things will look a little bit different around here. I'm going to be joining up with an epic blog link-up hosted by The Nester.  I don't know how many visitors will be hopping on over here from the link party -- I think there's something like A THOUSAND other blogs linking up with her -- and my link will be just one little button out of many, many other buttons that her readers can click on.

The purpose of the 31 Days link-up is to challenge yourself to write for 31 days (that's um, like every day of the month) about one particular subject. And since I need a challenge, and a kick in the pants, and to just finish something, I'm a-gonna do it.  But what to write about ALL MONTH LONG, that I, and especially my five devoted readers, would find compelling enough?

First, I was going to write about books, since this is The Reading Nest, and reading and books are so dear to my heart.  Each day, I was going to share one of the 31 (mostly obscure) books that I love.  Upon further mulling, though, I decided my 31 obscure titles would just be a little too...specific and niche-y for this project.  Also, my Reading posts always take the longest to write, and if I'm going to do this thing for 31 days, I need to get-in-and-get-out with creating my content.

SO. What else do I love passionately? What else am I a total, obnoxious know-it-all about?  Of course: California and road trips, and travelling with my family.  Specifically, I'm going to feature 31 places I love in the great Golden State. Most places will be new here to the blog, but some might be familiar. (Spoiler: one is going to be Disneyland, and y'all know how we love the Magic Kingdom in this house.) But if nothing else, the photos and information I share will be new.   

I hope you'll join me!  And now, here are some old photographs (actually, scans of slides) of me with my mom & dad, on one of our many roadtrips within California.   Camping and road-tripping up and down the state are some of my fondest and earliest memories, and are certainly the reason that I still love to throw myself into the car and head off to Anyplace But Here.

Somewhere in Northern California, circa 1974-ish.  Now excuse me, because I'm all awash in old memories and can just about hear that old John Denver 8-track playing in my ears.

Come back on Monday for Day 1 of my 31-Day Series: a beautiful place the husband and I visited before we had kids, and haven't been back to, since. 

September 24, 2012


Alternate title for this post: "Looking WAY Up At the Park," in reference to my other posts about "looking up" inside the Disney parks.

The kids had the day off on Friday -- one of those district "work furlough" days, which basically translates to "the state of California didn't budget for the school to be open today." My husband, a huge space geek (he was quite misty over the successful Mars Rover landing in August), took the day off of work and we all drove out to Anaheim to catch a glimpse of the space shuttle Endeavor as it made its farewell flight around our state, before landing at LAX. 

One of the many iconic California spots the Endeavor flew over on Friday (including the Golden Gate Bridge, Griffith Observatory, the Santa Monica pier, etc.) was Disneyland.  At just over an hour away, Disney was the closest spot for us to try to see it. 

We parked and strolled through Downtown Disney, the strip of shops and restaurants adjacent to the parks, which is where we saw Lego Prince Charming fighting off the Lego dragon from Sleeping Beauty:
We warned the kids repeatedly that we were NOT going into the park -- but of course, once we were standing right outside the gates, it was hard for them not to get a little whiny.  It was hard for me, too. But I've put in an early request to Santa that all I want for Christmas this year is to have our Disney Annual Passes again, so maybe it won't be too long until we return.  (The price of the passes has gone through the roof, by the way.)

It was crazy crazy hot on Friday, but we stood for at least half an hour with a big crowd of other expectant shuttle-watchers.  We'd left our water back in the car, so it was hot and THIRSTY and I worried about heat stroke, with our unprotected heads roasting under the noon sun. The kids were surprisingly patient -- or maybe they were just dulled speechless in the heat.
Photo taken before the crowd began to gather.
Finally, finally, the plane carrying the Endeavor was spotted off in the northwest sky, and everyone started cheering and yelling and the belly of the jet flew right over our heads, at an angle that made it fairly impossible to actually see the shuttle itself -- just its wings sticking out.  Cheering, cheering, and then....gone.

Immediately after, the husband & I agreed that if we'd known it would be so fleeting, and at such a bad angle, we'd probably wouldn't have wasted the time and gas to drive out.  But after we found some shade and got some cold drinks inside us, we reflected that it was still pretty cool to have been there, to have been part of the crowd and the excitement and the sense of history. 
And someday when my children grow up and look back on it, they'll tell their own kids about that time when they had the day off from school, and their parents took them right up to the gates of the Disney parks, but wouldn't let them go inside.

September 20, 2012

Curly Mama

I'm getting my hair dyed today -- long overdue, which it always is. I can't afford to get my grays covered every five to six weeks as recommended, not at my stylist's rates.
My dad had prematurely gray hair -- by the time he was my age, he was almost completely gray.  By the time I was in high school, his hair was silver.  And so thanks to him, I found my very first gray hairs before I turned twenty.  By age thirty I had a "skunk stripe" of gray near my front part, which my husband found sexy. I didn't agree. (My stylist tells me that Native Americans call them "spirit stripes," and they supposedly convey wisdom.)  (As does a gap in your front teeth, and I have that too, which I guess pretty much makes me Buddha.)

My old skunk stripe is where my very first gray hairs appeared -- and since that's my Grey Hair Ground Zero,  that same area is now the most resistant to hair dye. The hair in that stripe is now not just gray, but an alarming shade of snowy white. Barn owl white.

I wear my hair parted so that, even when I'm overdue for a touch-up, you can't easily see the stripe. But when I look for it -- yikes! There it is.  Not going anywhere, honey.   Finding my very first gray hairs didn't make me feel old -- not when I was still too young to buy alcohol.  But hearing my stylist tell me that she now needs to whip up a special small batch of heavy-duty dye for my color-resistant stripe: yes, that makes me feel old.  Also: when she tells me that my natural hair is now almost 40% gray. What?

But what I really want to talk about with my stylist today as she's applying that heavy-duty dye, is my cut.  Forget about the gray hairs. Right now, my haircut is making me feel old. 

It's worth a whole other post, how I came to cut my curly hair short, how a lovely woman I saw one night three years ago led me on a quest to copy her chic, short, adorable cut.  Because when you get me going on the subject of my impossibly thick, coarse, very curly hair, I have a lot to say.  A lifetime of stories and experiences and humiliations to share.

So let's just say this: I used to wear my hair long-ish. Below my shoulders, anyway. It was heavy and droopy and hid my face and I wore it up in a headache-inducing topknot much of the time.  Also: the frizz.

Three years ago, I started cutting it quite short. At first, I loved it. And now, I don't.  Here's what I look like now:
Taken at my aunt's pool party on Labor Day. (That's pool water on my shirt, not sweat. Really.)

But with the wiry little gray hairs springing up from my scalp, the days of recent high humidity, and the doldrums of my short cut, this is how I feel:
Yeah. Like Mama.  And don't forget, I also wear glasses 75% of the time. 

My gray hairs will disappear (for a few, fleeting weeks) after today. Growing out my hair will take much, much longer. I hope to discuss with my stylist, who is trained in the "Deva" technique of dry-cutting curly hair, how we'll work together to avoid my hair getting so heavy and weighted down that I feel, instead, like this guy on my bad days:
Weird Al and his lovely locks.
Wish me luck!

September 17, 2012

Big Ikea Plans

On Sunday, we did some epic shopping. Mostly window-shopping, but how often do you tackle Ikea, The Container Store and an outdoor mall in one afternoon?  At least we stopped in between for some lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, but I was good and didn't order any actual cheesecake. But I was sorely tempted, and in retrospect, should have just went for it.  

I'm excited because we bought two pieces of Ikea furniture that will hopefully solve the issues with two of the problematic areas of my house: the entryway, and my master bedroom.

For a refresher, here's my entryway wall as it looked around this time last year:
And here's what its looked like since February, when I took down the shelves:
The husband has since patched up & re-painted over all the holes, but you get the idea. I have a short little Lack table sitting there currently, serving as a landing place for sunglasses and mail, etc.

Yesterday at Ikea, I bought a small white Malm dresser for the space.  I know, another piece of Ikea in my house (rolls eyes). But.  But, I purposely bought a Malm, because I'm really excited to try some Overlays designs on it.  I'm not sure yet if I'll paint the Overlays or not (and what color?), but they are definitely going to happen.

Some ideas, from one of my Pinterest boards:

And here's a gold-painted version:

(I'm very interested in finding out how 2 of the above Malm's pictured appear to have legs. Maybe they left off the bottom board during assembly? Must investigate, because it looks great.)

And then, also inspired by my Pinterest boards, we bought the Vittsjo shelving unit, for the Great Wall of Greyness in my bedroom:
i'm really excited to buy some brass spray paint and turn the flat, black metal unit into this:

Between the Malm and the Vittsjo unit, there will be a lot of surfaces for me to style and dress up all purty-like.  I'm itching to get to these projects.  Updates soon!

September 13, 2012

The Homework Drawers

Nothing makes me feel that terrible combination of frustration, anger and bad-mom guilt more than when my kids can't find a  pencil at homework time.  Or when they claim that they can't find a single sheet of paper to write upon.

I mean, are you kidding me? At the start of each new school year, I buy packs of quality #2 pencils and two packs of of wide-ruled paper.  Last year, we bought a good quality electrical pencil-sharpener for the play room.  There is no good reason why my children should be so stymied by the lack of basic supplies at 4:30 each afternoon, when they sit down to do their homework. (They get out of school at 3:20, and I let them chill out for an hour before homework time.)

With a 5th grader and a 2nd grader, I'm not exactly a newbie at this school-organization thing.  And yet.  And yet by the end of each school year, their drawers are horrible, disorganized messes.  No paper, pencils, working erasers or rulers in sight. 

A few years ago, I dedicated four drawers on the front of our kitchen island to kid supplies: 2 narrow drawers are intended solely for homework, and the 2 deeper drawers just beneath are for arts & crafts supplies and a bazillion broken crayons.  The drawers were created with noble, good intentions on my part: we will be an organized and efficient family!  Too often, that isn't the case, but darn I can try. 
Anyway.  Last week I sat down and thoroughly emptied out their homework drawers.  I didn't stop to take "Before" shots.  Like a lot of kid-junk cleaning, it took longer than I intended, and I also had to work fast, before my little devils got home from school and my little hoarder devil started voicing his opinions on what to throw out. (In his view: NOTHING. EVERRRR.) 
Just look at the drawers above, and picture a jumble of random papers, notes, school forms and broken erasers, and no sharpened pencils. One of my best recent purchases have been those narrow trays (from Target) at the front of each drawer.  Before, I had large plastic pencil boxes that they always sell alongside the school supplies (seen below in the craft drawer), but they're too big for the job.

I'm hoping that this year, the drawers stay neater & more organized. At the ages of nearly 8 and 10 1/2, my kids are definitely old enough to take some ownership over their homework drawers. 

I didn't intend to organize by gender-stereotype colors, but there you have it.
The craft/coloring/art drawer. I threw away stacks of finished coloring books, abandoned art projects, and many, many broken crayons and dried-up markers.

It's a really small slice of my world in the grand scheme of things, but when my kids sit down with their homework and the pencils, erasers and rulers are all right there, it makes me feel like I have my act together in the mom department. And when they sit down in those chairs and I actually have dinner plans for what will go on the same table a while later...I feel like a rock star!
Each Thursday I'm linking up with Jules as part of her 2012 William Morris project.

September 10, 2012

Cambria, And Where Next?

I have a pet peeve about locals who complain about the hot weather in September. It's supposed to be hot right now. It happens every year. No surprise. Still. It's hot! And humid. So humid, at least for Southern California. 

Last night around midnight it started to rain, and there was distant thunder and it was all very atmospheric and sexy and I could've pretended like it was a scene from The Big Easy, but the husband was sound asleep so...yeah.

Speaking of the husband and uh, lost opportunities, I'm itching to plan a little weekend getaway for just the two of us. I don't see that happening anytime soon though, mostly because both kids are playing recreational soccer, and have games every Saturday through early November. Blurgh.
And yes, I realize that I've been a little travel spoiled this summer: there was Palm Springs with my sis in June, our first-ever cruise in July, and then the jaunt up to Morro Bay in late August.  True, but none of those were romantic escapes with just me and my love, alone. Alone, with no relatives, no interrupting children, no sibling squabbles to shush and no scolding for manners at restaurants. 
All the photos in this post were taken in Cambria, an artsy little village up on the Central Coast. This was a little side trip of our Morro Bay excursion, prompted mostly by my mother-in-law, who was lucky enough to to have grown up in the area.

Cambria is near the sea, but the village proper is inland a bit, and protected from the coast by low hills that are covered in pines and coastal oaks. So it's a little of the best of both worlds: easy coastal access and restaurants with ocean views, combined with the lush hills and trees that give you a cozy forest-feeling, especially when it gets foggy. 
It's the kind of place that has lots of quaint B&B's and inns, all advertising romantic fireplaces in the rooms. Frankly it seemed just a tad too sleepy for my taste, but then we didn't get to explore much beyond the main drag. There do seem to be lots of tantalizing hikes and trails to explore, and Cambria is the first-choice romantic getaway for my uncle and his wife, both of whom are quite active and like to hike.
But since it's a good five hour drive north from home, Cambria isn't on my short-list for a quick romantic escape right now.

On my list of possibilities: Ojai, or the local mountains. Or even just a quick over-nighter in the OC. We historically go to Palm Springs, but that doesn't appeal at all right now. Right now, I'm craving cool breezes and a chilly evening that requires a sweater. A sweater! Now there's a concept. 

September 7, 2012

L.A. Music: Linda Ronstadt & Country Rock

I want to buy a denim jacket this fall.  Gap or Levis make the best ones, but I want one that's a little faded and broken in, so some thrift shopping is in my future. I'm feeling a pull toward some of the fashions I loved when I was 13 and 14. 

My birthday is in December, and I won't tell you how old I'll be, but let's just say that junior high was a long, long time ago. Like, I can remember my friend Kathy's excitement when her art teacher showed her class the new full-length "Thriller" video.  And while my peers were all excited about M.J. and Duran Duran and Adam Ant (and Styx? I recall lots of "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto" on the school yard), I was deep, deep in the thrall of the sounds and fashions of early '70s music.

Hence my junior high quasi-uniform of a denim jacket and big hoop earrings. I wanted to be Linda Ronstadt and date one of the Eagles, but I also wanted to be an Eagle myself: a cool young dude in a band hanging out in the desert with his buddies drinking tequila and wearing denim jackets.
Image via.
Photo by the legendary Henry Diltz, via here.

Imagine how dated that Eagles photo looked to teenagers in 1982. But doesn't it feel awfully contemporary now in 2012?  Weird, how time and fashion work their magic. 

I grew up listening to my parents' copy of Ronstandt's first Greatest Hits compilation. I knew every song note for note, and still do. I warbled away at full-volume to this, much the way Lily does now with Adele. 
This was the only Ronstadt album we owned, but my aunt had a couple more, and I dug deeper into the catalog myself once I was old enough to buy my own music.  I'm not sure why I was so wrapped up in these artists, when my peers were embracing Madonna and MTV (the lucky ones who had cable, anyway). Armchair pyschology might say I was turning to something familiar and longstanding in my life, during a time of terrible upheavals in my family. Maybe. But back then it also felt like a deliberate rejection of pop culture, my embracing the totally uncool world of '70s country-rock.  I dunno.

All I know for sure is that I have to reign myself in, because there's so much more I want to say about Linda Rondstadt and her place in my heart.  My obsession with Stevie Nicks came a few years later, but except for Broadway and Rogers & Hammerstein soundtracks, Linda was first in my heart.  Like me, she's a mix of Mexican-American and German and I didn't fail to notice how she looked like she might have been related to me.  (Even now, decades and quite a few pounds later, Rondstadt in her late middle-age resembles some of my older family members.)  And there was a period in the late '80s when her Canciones de mi Padre album of traditional Mexican ballads was played loudly at every family backyard barbecue and casual get-together

When I'm out thrift-shopping for my denim jacket and replacements for my killer old turquoise hoop earrings, I'll also pop into the vintage record store and look for a couple of early Ronstadt albums. I haven't heard them in years, and I miss them so much. And I'll still know every note.
It took me forever to sort through which song to feature today, but I've narrowed it down, appropriately enough, to this: Linda singing with The Eagles as her band. I love this!

Happy Friday! And have a country-rockin' weekend.

P.S.: I also featured a great video clip of Linda in my first-ever L.A. Music post, about session player Waddy Wachtel. 

September 6, 2012

Blinded By the Light

After a long and unintended hiatus, it's time to dig back into the nesting around here.  Prior to summer, I was linking up with Jules and her William Morris posts nearly every week.  Jules kept her series going through the summer months, but I took a break -- it was hard enough to keep my house clean(ish) with the kids home on vacation, let alone tackle new decor or organization projects.  

But now it's September and I'm back. With gusto. 

The first new improvement we've done is buying and installing bamboo blinds for the living room windows. Back in May, I pulled down the old blue drapes in a fit of frustration. You might remember that from this long post, when I rearranged the bookshelves & living room.   But to save you from clicking over, here's a shot of what the room looked like with the drapes:
 And here's what it looked like, immediately post-drapes:  Very bright!
The drapes came down at the end of May, and that's how the windows remained, until the beginning of August.  We had mild, breezy weather for most of June and July, with temperatures staying under 90 degrees.  The living room, which faces south/southwest, got mighty bright and warm by late afternoon, but it wasn't too much of a comfort problem.

But when the weatherman forecasted a big warm-up for the first weekend of August, I knew it was time to get some blinds installed.  Off we trekked, first to Wal-Mart, where I could swear on my first-born that I've seen bamboo blinds before -- and I could also swear I've read of other bloggers and designers referencing the Wal-Mart option. But there was nothing even close in their aisles.

Then off to Home Depot, where the only bamboo blinds were off in the tiny section of "outdoor blinds."  They had some that might have worked, but they were too big, and cutting them down wasn't an option.

Finally, at Lowes, I found what I needed.  They were by Levelor, and too big, but the Lowes employee was able to put them in the nifty computerized machine that saws the blinds, still in the box, down to your specifications.

We brought them home, the Husband installed them in about half an hour, and voila:

I'm really pleased with how the color and texture of the blinds change the room.  It felt airy before with just the white sheers, but now it feels somehow more intentionally airy and casual. A big change from the heavy stodginess of  the navy drapes. (Not to mention, they do a great job of blocking out the intense bright sunlight and heat in these dog-day afternoons.)

Also new are the two faux-flokati pillows on the sofa. I'd been looking for plain, modern-looking white pillows off and on, and finally found these last week at Home Goods.
I brought them home, and that very day read a design blogger's post linking to these pillows from Crate & Barrel:

Notice the price: $89.95.  My Home Goods pillows are not luxurious Mongolian lamb's fur, but then they were only $12.95 each.  (And they're plenty soft enough: when Lily gets home from school every day, she plops on the couch and immediately proceeds to grab a pillow and start molesting the thing.)

My living room is not "done."  I still want to re-paint the window wall a deep navy blue, and eliminate the dusky blue from the other walls. (I believe the current color is Faded Denim, by Behr.)  Also, I intend to switch out the thin sheers for a more substantial, thicker white linen.  (Changing out the carpeting for wood floors would be awesome, but that's not in the works or the budget.)

Here are a couple of shots from my Pinterest home board, to give you the idea:

But as the year tumbles down into the busy new school year and the holidays, that project will have to wait until next year. For now, I'm very happy with this space, and I know I'll have fun "autumn-izing" and changing out the beach-y accessories. 
What passes for "autumn" around here should arrive just in time for me to bust out the Halloween decorations.  

September 4, 2012

Graphic Novels, and Alison Bechdel

Graphic novels have been slowly creeping into our house.  I'm not very hip, so I've been slow and skeptical (and mostly just ignorant) of all the wonderful titles out there.  And I'm not talking about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, although Lily has enjoyed them all.  (I don't quite consider them true graphic novels, in the comic panel-by-panel sense.)

I mean, years ago I saw the movie Ghost World, based on Daniel Clowes book, but it didn't quite inspire me to pick up his works.  And before that, I'd long been peripherally aware of the praise for the Maus books, but again wasn't inspired to pick them up.  Blame it on some clueless English-major snobbery on my part.  But last year, after reading great reviews,  I finally got my hands on my library's copy of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, and enjoyed it immensely. (Unfortunately I haven't yet gotten my hands on the sequel.)

Earlier this year, Lily picked up the young adult graphic novel, Smile, and she read it in about one and half sittings. It's fast and funny and addictive (and horrifying: all that dental work, from one bad fall!).  I know, because I picked it up and read it, too. And of course I'm a huge fan of Maira Kalman, though I don't regard her works as graphic novels, but more as works of illustrative art. 

It occurs to me as I list these books that they're all memoirs, or in the case of Kalman, rooted deeply in memory.

Which brings me to the two books I recently finished, both memoirs, both graphic novels, both by Alison Bechdel.  I'd read an excerpt from Bechdel's first book, Fun Home, when it was included in a Best American Non-Required Reading anthology a few years ago.  I remembered liking it, so when I saw the full-length book at the library I grabbed it right away, along with its sequel, Are You My Mother?

And I found that I could hardly put either of them down. 
Fun Home, as the subtitle says, really is a tragicomedy.  It opens with the suicide of her father when Bechdel is away at college, but dwells mostly in Bechdel's childhood, growing up with her fussy, irritable father, who was a closeted gay man living in the small town where he grew up.  Bechdel's humor, and her adult awareness, make it amusing to read about her father's fussing over the restoration of their historic gothic house and its flower gardens that were his chief obsession when she was a child.

There are also darker notes: the "fun home" in the title refers to the funeral home that Bechdel's father ran part-time (inherited from his father's business), and thus Bechdel and her two brothers grow up with a certain casualness toward death and dying (which proves a problem when her own father is laid out dead). Also hinting at darkness is the strained relationship between her parents, and the tension she feels at showing any affection toward her father and how wrong and embarrassing it feels, the few times she witnesses any physical affection between her parents.  More hints of darkness come from the young men whom her father dotes on, many of whom he meets in his job as a high-school English teacher.  And against all of this backdrop is Bechdel's own growing awareness that she's a lesbian.

The pull of the past, the pull toward truth, after a childhood with a father whose life was a carefully constructed lie, is the heart of Fun Home.

The sequel to Fun Home is Are You My Mother? which was published earlier this year.  This book is not as easy and entertaining (for lack of a better word) as Fun Home, but it's deeper and more thoughtful. Here, Bechdel attempts to answer questions about her mother, who is still very much alive: who was she before her marriage, and why, as a beautiful, smart young theater actress, did she agree to marry Bechdel's father, and stay with him through years of deceit and anger? Why did her mother stop giving nightly kisses to young Alison as a child, and cease showing her affection in general?
Bechdel also discusses her qualms about writing a memoir -- in fact, much of the book deals with the time when she was working on her first book, and hoping to avoid her mother's anger and disappointment by revealing so many long-buried and uncomfortable family truths.  (Something that I, with my own stalled-in-progress memoir, can relate to all too well.)  There is also quite a lot of time spent discussing therapy and psychoanalysis -- both Bechdel's own experiences, plus the history and theories of one ground-breaking children's development theorist.  Add this in with plenty of references to Viriginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, and it makes for a thought-provoking, if slower, reading experience.
But one that I enjoyed very, very much.

In the course of writing this post, I re-discovered the name of Lynda Barry, and her books Cruddy and One!Hundred!Demons!, both of which have a huge fan base, and have been on the backburner of my "must read" list for a long time.  So obviously, my forays into the world of graphic novels are just beginning.  I have a lot of catching up to do. 
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