Sunday, November 30, 2003

Well, we're back from our snowboarding adventure! I don't think I've ever been this tired after a vacation. I know I've never been this bruised and battered after one.

We got up bright and early Thursday morning (Thanksgiving) and headed off for our first day on the slopes. The morning was total chaos, as there were lift tickets to buy and equipment to rent. Mike and I had found a bargain in boots at the PX in Garmisch (25 bucks!!), so we had our own, but we still had to get Fred and Annabelle fitted for boots and then we all had to get measured for boards. We had a moment of panic when we thought Annabelle might not get to snowboard, as they had no short boards at the top ski depot. Fortunately, the clerk called down to a shop lower on the mountain, and I was able to take the cable car back down to get her board.

After lunch we had our first lesson. Fred and Mike took to it fairly quickly, but Annabelle was easily frustrated and I just stink at most sports. Our instructor wound up focusing on the guys while Annabelle and I played around in the snow. We did practice some though, and naturally she did much better than I.

Friday morning was tough. The weather had been sunny and relatively warm the day before, but that day was very snowy and very cold. Annabelle was disgruntled when Fred and Mike got to go up to the top of the mountain while she and I were stuck at the bottom with another instructor, working on all the things the boys did the day before. We worked really hard though, and after lunch we got in yet another cable car and went up, up, up.

We made it down what was supposed to be the bunny slope but what I swear was really Mt. Everest. I apparently aspire to be the Ginger Rogers of snowboarding--I do everything Fred does, only I do it backwards and on my toes.

Quick snowboarding lesson here: Basically, if your back is to the mountain, and your board is side-to-side, and you're sliding down on that back edge, that's riding backside. I can't do that. I appear to be missing the backside gene, and let's not even talk about my complete inability to get into a standing position when I'm looking downhill. I can, however, do frontside, which is where you face the mountain and slide down on your toe edge. I'm good for about 10 feet, at which time I fall on my knees. Fall on your knees enough times in any given day, and it starts to hurt--even if you are applying ice with each fall!

The worst part though was when we got to the bottom of the bunny slope and discovered that we absolutely could not master the tow rope back UP the hill. We tried a few times, wiped out an equal number of times, and decided that walking back up the hill was our only hope. Our instructor was a really good sport about it, although he did say he had never had to walk up the hill before.

On Saturday, Annabelle and I opted to forego the snowboarding, as we felt we had suffered enough. The weather was beautiful again, so while Fred and Mike took off to conquer the mountain, she and I took the cable car to the top and explored the panorama tunnel. The tunnel itself is nothing much, but the view at the end is breathtaking:

We spent much of the remainder of the day camping out in the cafeteria. Annabelle played her Gameboy while I knitted and sipped hot chocolate. Towards the end of the day, she did agree to put on her boots and board once more so I could get some videotape of both the kids doing their thing. Then we turned in all the equipment and bought a couple of cheap toboggans and let the kids slide around on the lower slopes until it was time to take the 15-minute cable-car trip back down the mountain.

If you think I'm exaggerating about how physically punishing snowboarding is, you should see my bruises. And now through the miracle of modern technology, you CAN see my bruises! (Remember that I'm not putting these photos on the front page, so if you click on the links, you have nobody but yourself to blame!) I've got a bruise on my right leg and one on my left leg. I also hurt my tailbone, but I'm not posting those pictures! (Just kidding, Mom--there are no such pictures!!!)

Here are a couple of others you might like though. Here's Mike with a friend from the slopes:

And here's the snow octopus that Annabelle made for me:

All in all, it was a wonderful trip! We're glad we did it, but we're happy to be home again. And we're so very, very thankful that none of us are on crutches or sporting plaster accessories. Maybe for Christmas . . .

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Thursday, November 27, 2003

Quickie post here from Austria to say happy Thanksgiving to everybody out there. The hotel is great, and the area is gorgeous. I'll post more when I'm home and not using hotel dial-up to connect. In the meantime, here's a shot of Mike and Annabelle getting ready to go out on the slopes today:

I'm sure I'll have many humorous things to say about snowboarding after we get home to Mannheim. Right now all I can say is "Ow! That is some brutal punishment!" Once again, I'm the slow kid in class and am having flashbacks to grade-school PE.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Once again, we had a very pleasant day. This morning Amy and I took the kids to the PX at the artillery kaserne, where I got us set for our upcoming snowboard adventure: hats, goggles, etc.

After lunch in the hotel room, we headed off for the iceskating rink. Here are Mike, Annabelle, and Rebecca posing with Annabelle's best iceskating friend:

Later in the afternoon, I took the kids downtown so Mike could get the hat he has been lusting after ever since we saw it in a store window yesterday morning:

Here are a couple of miscellaneous pictures. First of all, Annabelle wants me to add her new friend Genevieve to the blog:

And here is a shot off our hotel balcony this morning. We don't even have the "good" view, but it's still pretty nice:

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Monday, November 24, 2003

Guess what?! There are no phone charges for calling AOL from our hotel room--I remain free to blog! For the next 2 days, anyway. Who knows what the story will be in Austria.

Have you ever heard of beaujolais nouveau? Apparently, it's quite the thing over here. This year's crop is supposed to be an especially big deal. Apparently, with the horrendous weather over the last year (icy blizzards followed by blazing drought), only the very best grapes survived. Therefore, this year's vintage is supposed to be one of the best ever. Sort of wine evolution, I suppose. Survival of the fittest, baby.

This afternoon my friend Amy and I took our kids exploring around Garmisch, and we found a grocery store advertising this famous beaujoloais nouveau for only 4 euros plus change. So of course we had to buy a bottle, didn't we?

After supper (prime rib buffet in the Patton Hotel--yum!), we left the guys downstairs hanging out with their JAG buddies and left the kids watching movies in my room. Then Amy and I took this prized bottle of wine to her room. I'm no huge fan of dry wines, though I will say that the bottom half of the bottle seemed much more palatable than the top half.

So now I'm back in my room, and we're all ready for bed, but I can't stop giggling about the following sign, which is posted on our bathroom wall:

Are you concerned about the environment? In step with the Armed Forces Environmental Awareness Policies and concern about the world we will leave future generations, AFRC hotels would like to ask our guests if they wish to reuse their bath towels. Please decide: Towels left on floor means "New towels, please." Towels hung on rack means "I will use my towels once more."

What is this--the secret language of towels?! Why must towels be a special medium for communication? I picture myself artfully arranging towels around the room to convey some sort of message full of symbolism to the housekeeping staff: "It's a bit chilly in the evening. Might we have a couple more blankets?" I imagine forensic detectives deciphering the meaning of the towels at a crime scene: "Look here. The sick bastard left a towel draped across this chair!" I propose as an alternative:

Hey, let's save water! Hang up your towels to get more than one use out of them. Or, if you must, just toss them on the floor, and we will somewhat grudgingly replace them.

'Cause that's what they really mean, you know.

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Greetings from Garmisch! We had a great time on the drive over yesterday. Instead of going all the way to Munich before heading south, we opted to drop south at Ulm. We went down into Austria towards Innsbruck before heading north again. The kids were utterly amazed when they saw the high mountains with the snow on top.

Wish a happy birthday today to my father, Mike Boyd. Happy birthday, Daddy/Papa!!!

I don't know if I'll be blogging again this week--I'll have to check later and see what this phone connection cost me. In case I don't make it on before Thanksgiving, I just wanted to make sure that the following photo gets posted in time (thanks to my invisible friend Meagan for sending it to me). Happy Thanksgiving!!

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Saturday, November 22, 2003

We're off on another adventure tomorrow! Fred has a work boondoggle in Garmisch, and we are going to take a few days off from school and go with him. We're staying at the Armed Forces Recreation Center, which is where Fred and I spent our first Christmas together back in 1989.

We'll be in Garmisch until Wednesday, and then we're taking off to Austria for a ski vacation. We'll be spending the Thanksgiving weekend at the Hotel Badhaus. I've promised the kids that I will try snowboarding, so wish me luck.

As always, getting ready to go out of town is a real thrill. There's so much to do--laundry to wash, Krispie treats to make, etc. We had to make arrangements to have somebody come in once a day and take care of Eddie, our cat. And, of course, the kids have to make plans for the care and feeding of their Neopets. Yes, that's right--there's not enough to do around this joint just making sure that the living, breathing organisms are properly fed and housed; we have to take care of invisible, digital creatures as well.

Annabelle was upset because she had only enough Neopoints (the currency of Neopia) to put her 'pets up in the Cockroach Towers. Mike was kind enough to play some action games on her account and rack up sufficient points to put them in a nice, clean facility AND provide them with daily food. Then Annabelle took almost all of her Neopoints and bought a scratch-off lottery card. I didn't think it wise to risk gambling yourself down to nothing, but what do I know? She hit the jackpot, and now her 'pets will be in a hotel at least as nice as ours.

If you find the idea of Neopets intriguing and you don't have enough ratholes to pour your time into, check out the webpage that Annabelle and I made together last week. Sign up for a Neopet through the link on that page, and Annabelle will earn Neopoints. (Ew, I feel like such a Neopimp or perhaps a Neopusher.)

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Friday, November 21, 2003

Everywhere we've lived, I've gotten attached to a particular feature of the local paper. In Charlottesville and Springfield, it was the Style section of the Sunday Post. In Hawaii, it was Lee Cataluna's column. In San Antonio, it was the comic strip "Pickles."

I spent some time today browsing around on comics.com today and caught up on a month's worth of "Pickles." Here's one for the refrigerator door:

I've definitely got the best of both worlds!

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Monday, November 17, 2003

Time for the rest of the pics from Paris!! In these first two, Mike and Annabelle obviously have Paris on their minds:

Here's August Comte with a traffic cone on his mind. And lipstick on his lips, though it's not so easy to see that part in these photos.

Mike and Annabelle wrote their post cards from the top of the Samaritaine department store:

Here's one of the kids in front of the Eiffel Tower and another of just the tower:

I like this one of gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame:

Here's one from inside the cathedral:

After climbing to the top of Notre Dame, I was too tired to do much more than sit on the floor at Invalides. I did have a great view of the ceiling though:

In this one, Mike and Annabelle are relaxing in front of the pyramid at the Louvre:

And here's Annabelle relaxing by herself inside the Louvre. Notice her boots--how cool are they?!

And now a moment of silence in memory of the shot that got away: As we were walking along the Seine from the Louvre our first night in Paris, I looked across the river and there was Samaritaine all lit up in pink lights. Hanging in the sky just beside it was a huge full moon. I propped my elbows on the edge of the wall to minimize movement. I even took 3 shots to maximize my chances of at least one coming out good. I lost. Blurry, blurry, and blurry. Rats.

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The Paris pictures are here! The Paris pictures are here!! I have about a dozen to post, but we're on our way out the door, so I'll just post a couple for right now and leave you wanting more.

Here's our 95-euro-a-night hotel room:

And here are a couple of deep thinkers:

Stay tuned for more pictures to appear later!

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Friday, November 14, 2003

Remember the hummingbird that came to visit my pansies? Well, he's not a hummingbird at all; he's (she's?) a HUMMINGBIRD MOTH!!! Who even knew such a critter existed? Here's a picture of my new friend:

Note the antennae--birds don't have those.

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Thursday, November 13, 2003

What a day! This afternoon Mike discovered that his skateboard helmet was stolen from our carport sometime between his Scout meeting last night and lunch today. You may recall that he had one lifted off his bike at the streetcar stop shortly after we got here. This seems so much more personal to him though.

This evening Fred and I were all set to go to an office dinner up at the castle in Schriesheim. Instead we got to find our way to the emergency room in Heidelberg when Mike got a fish bone stuck in the back of his throat. Apparently it dislodged at some point, as the xrays failed to turn up anything.

On a happier note, Nemo has been found:

(Thanks to my sister-in-law Teresa for sending me this little gem!)

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

We just got home from our weekend in Paris, and my head is spinning. I wish I had been able to blog periodically while we were there. There's just so much to remember now.

First of all, while I was excited about going on a trip, I wasn't especially excited that we were going to Paris. I felt a sense of obligation to show the kids Paris and was looking forward to scratching it off my list of Places to Visit. Well, it was just awesome! I kept walking around thinking, "So THIS is what it's like to have fun in Paris!" It was like falling in love with somebody you used to consider a grade-A jerkface.

The hotel

On Saturday, we took the morning train to Paris and went straight to our hotel. We chose to stay at the Hotel Marignan, which is located in the Latin Quarter. It's a small 1-star hotel and is not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. It was absolutely perfect for us though! The walls of the foyer were papered with posters (in English!) giving information about the different attractions, how to get to them, how to save money at them, etc.

We were able to stay together in one room for 95 euros a night. That included breakfast each morning of French bread with butter and jam or cheese spread, a cup of fruit cocktail, and a choice of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. The staff was very friendly and helpful and even fixed breakfast trays last night for us to enjoy this morning before we left to catch our early train home.

We opted to save 25 euros a night take a room without a private shower. The shower was right next door though and was very clean. Given that the 4 of us took a grand total of 6 showers in Paris, it would have been hardly worth almost $100 for the privilege of having the shower in the room. I can think of better ways to spend a hundred bucks in Paris. Eating, for example.

The food

The food was excellent but EXPENSIVE!!!!! For a typical lunch, Mike and I ate croque monsiers, which are basically open-faced grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches, Fred ate a cold sandwich (plus Mike's untouched salad), and Annabelle ate spaghetti. Everybody but Annabelle left feeling hungry, and it always cost at least 35 euros.

We ate all of our suppers in the Latin Quarter. The first night we stopped at a Thai/Chinese restaurant that was quite tasty. Our big excitement for that meal was ordering and sharing 1-liter bottles of Evian water for only 4 euros. Much cheaper than the two 12-ounce Cokes we shared at lunch--to the tune of almost $10!

On the second night, we went to a fondue restaurant. We enjoyed the first pot of melted cheese so much that we ordered a second pot. Actually, 75 percent of us enjoyed the cheese; the other 25 percent (whose name is Annabelle) ate nothing but chunks of bread, a slice of ham, and water.

We had turned the kids on to the wonder of crepes (filled with Nutella, of course) at various crepe stands around Paris. So last night we decided to have our last Parisian meal at a creperie. The dinner crepes were good although perhaps not quite as good as the hame and cheese crepe we had near Invalides earlier that afternoon. The dessert crepes, however, were delicious. The kids went with their standard Nutella variety, Fred had one with strawberry jam, and I had one with Nutella, sliced banana, and whipped cream. Yum!

The first day

After we checked into our hotel, we walked a few blocks north and found ourselves standing in front of Notre Dame. The lines to get into the tower and the cathedral itself were pretty long though, so we walked on across the river in search of lunch. From there we continued north toward the Pompidou Center in search of a street performer.

Why, you might ask, were we searching for a street performer? I had devised a scavenger hunt to keep the kids on their toes and amused over the weekend. They had 20 items to find and photograph with their disposable cameras: a tower, an arch, a gargoyle, a farm animal, a street performer, a sundial, a Roman ruin, a dog, a toilet, an American flag, a famous grave, a carousel, a naked statue, a famous painting, a boat, a Metro sign, a puppet, a pyramid, a garden, a French flag.

We didn't find our street performer at the Pompidou. From there we moseyed over to the Louvre. We took the typical American tourist tour of the Louvre--"Look, kids! Mona Lisa! Winged Victory!"--and bang! we were out of there. Mike was upset that they closed the museum down before we were able to see the Venus de Milo, which he had been counting on to provide his naked statue for the scavenger hunt. But we reassured him that Paris is full of naked statues and headed back upriver to the Latin Quarter, our first supper in Paris, and ultimately our beds. The others passed out early, and even I lasted until only 9:30.

The second day

Our perfect weather on Saturday was not destined to last for Sunday. When we got up, it was grey and drizzly, but we decided to make the best of it.

We headed off to the Cluny Museum, which was just a couple blocks away from our hotel. The Cluny is built on the remains of a Roman bathhouse, and the kids and I enjoyed seeing this, as we have been studying the ancient Romans. They Cluny's other claim to fame is its collection of unicorn tapestries. We enjoyed reading the (English!) guidesheet that analyzed the tapestries and looking for the various elements in them.

From the Cluny, we walked over the the Seine and caught a bus on our way to the Arc de Triomphe. We took the bus instead of the Metro, because we wanted to stay above ground and see the sights. We got turned around though when we got off the bus and walked at least a half mile in the wrong direction before realizing our error and turning around. By the time we reached our destinate, we were quite worn out, but we still managed to climb to the top and look around.

After the Arc we walked down the Champs Elysees. We stopped for lunch at a cafe and then headed down George V Boulevard to find the American cathedral. From there we crossed back over the river and wandered (and wandered and wandered) over to Invalides. We just admired it from the outside and made plans to return the next day to go inside. We went across the street from Invalides to the Rodin museum so the kids could get the naked statue on their scavenger hunt: The Thinker. We hopped on the metro at the Varenne station and were whisked back to the Latin Quarter for our fondue supper and another early bedtime.

The third day

The weather on Monday was unbelievably beautiful. At times we even wound up carrying our jackets, which is very rare indeed over here in November.

Our first stop was the tour of the tower at Notre Dame. The hike to the top was brutal, but getting to come face to face with the amazing gargoyles made it worth the hike. After the tower, we toured the inside of the cathedral and then strolled over to Saint Chapelle to see the famous stained glass windows.

In preparation for our trip to Paris, we had checked out a travel video by Rick Steves from the post library. Rick Steves suggests going to the top of the Samaritaine department store for the view and the (relatively) inexpensive cafe. So Mike was adamant that we add Samaritaine to our list of things to do. We enjoyed sitting up on top of the city in the glorious weather and eating our (ha ha! NOT) cheap lunch. The kids even took advantage of the down time to dash off a few postcards.

We got on the Metro in the basement of Samaritaine and high-tailed it back across the river to Invalides again. This time we went inside and saw Napoleon's tomb. His dog (dead and stuffed, of course) is there in the museum, so we went in search of that. We had expected that Napoleon to have owned a small yippy-type dog, but we were wrong. Here's a picture I found on the internet:

From Invalides we walked (and walked and walked) over to the Eiffel Tower. We had timed it to be there when the sun went down and the lights went on, and I'm glad we did. It's truly a stunning scene at night. I wish weather hadn't been quite as hazy so the view from the top would have been better, but I really can't complain. The kids had fun taking the elevator ride, though it made me a little queasy. The only real downside was the long wait in line at the second floor to catch the elevator that continues the journey to the top. The wind was really cold up there!

The tower was the final big scene of our Paris trip. Once we got back on the ground, we took the bus back to the Latin Quarter. On the hike back to the hotel, we found a man playing a piano on the sidewalk, so the kids were able to get their sidewalk-performer photograph for the scavenger hunt. I think the only picture we were not able to get was one of a puppet, and that's only because we didn't have time to visit Luxembourg Gardens.

Having finished my magazine the night before, I borrowed a Paris guidebook from the hotel lobby and read it in bed. We ran so fast from one sight to another and had such an amazing time, but I was struck by all the things we had missed: we didn't go through the first garden; we didn't see Sacre Coeur or Montmartre; and we didn't make it to the Pantheon. We would have loved to have seen Versailles, but there just wasn't enough room in our schedule. So we're already starting to think ahead for what we'll do on our NEXT trip to Paris. Pretty amazing turnabout for somebody who went to Paris out of a sense of obligation, eh?

Lessons learned (for those of you who were counting on us to "take notes" for you to use in planning YOUR trip to Paris)

(1) Save the money; skip the shower. I can be a total weenie about this sort of thing, and it honestly was no big deal. We took one pair of shower shoes (Fred's, of course, because how on earth would he fit into Annabelle's?!) and took turns with them. Wear your jammies in and wear your jammies out; save the actual getting dressed for the room. Your clothes will stay dry that way.

(2) The map makes everything look REALLY close. Whatever it is, it's farther away than you think. When we used the bus or metro system, we used point-to-point tickets. They're cheaper (only one euro each) if you buy them in sets of 10 (called a carnet--say "gar-NAY"). You can also get day and week passes that turn out to be a better bargain. I wish we had either gotten a 3-day pass or used the double-decker tourbus that runs past all the major attractions. You buy a 2-day ticket for something like 22 euros and you can hop on and off the bus as you like. It's more expensive than using the Paris mass transit system but also a lot more convenient.

(3) Even if your hotel takes a credit card to reserve your room, this doesn't mean they will necessarily let you pay for your room with a credit card. Ask in advance, or else you too can wander the neighborhood looking for an ATM when all you really want is a restaurant and your bed.

(4) Water--carry your own whenever you can for drinking along the way. We bought a couple of bottles for only one euro each at a little grocery store, but that stuff is EXPENSIVE in restaurants. We tried to get tap water in one cafe but wound up with Vittel. An elderly French gentleman sat at the next table enjoying a carafe of tap water, but he spoke French and therefore probably knew how to ask for it. I'm afraid my international signal for turning the tap was misconstrued as the similar international symbol for unscrewing a cap.

(5) We could have saved a ton of money if we had eaten out of grocery stores. Then again, it would have taken time, which we did not have in great abundance. Also, sometimes it was worth the money just to get in from the cold for a little while.

(6) You can buy a pass for admission to a bazillion different museums. Do this. We bought the 1-day pass, but we should have done the 2-day pass. Also, there are places covered by this pass (like Invalides!) that are not listed in the brochure.

(7) If you take the train in, you'll have an easier time of it if you confine your luggage to one backpack per person. We did see people on the train with more and larger luggage (and even a cello!), but it does hamper one's ability to fit comfortably in the space allotted, not to mention your movement on the metro to and from your hotel. We were glad that we had just the 4 backpacks and a small totebag of snacks.

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Thursday, November 06, 2003

We're gearing up for yet another grand adventure. Saturday morning we're taking the train to Paris where we will spend the next 3 nights.

I'm a little nervous about staying so long--I spent a week in Paris one day many years ago. I fear the language barrier, although my cousin Julie has taught me how to say a few choice obscenities in French.

I have borrowed a phrasebook from my nextdoor neighbor and hope it works for us. I passed up another interesting phrasebook at the PX the other day: Wicked French, which teaches you how to say things like "Back off, cretins! I already purchased a plastic Eiffel tower yesterday!" and "Oh! Your husband!"

Here's another interesting phrasebook I won't be taking on this trip: French for Cats: All the French Your Cat Will Ever Need. Hopefully I won't need to say "But I don't wish to be neutered" or "I am going to cough up a hairball. Here it comes now . . . Voilà !" Not this weekend anyway.

Annabelle is unconcerned about the language barrier. After all, she points out, she already knows how to say bon jour. And oy.

"Oy?" I ask.

"That's how they say yes," she answers with great confidence.

Are we ready for this trip? Oy.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

We're having a beautiful day here. It started out cold, but it has warmed up a lot, and there isn't a cloud to be seen. The leaves that are left on the trees are all varying degrees of gold, and it's just a lovely fall day.

I left the kids here this morning doing some schoolwork and went out with my friends Amy and Sharna. We walked along the paths that cut through the fields behind my house and went to a little cafe for cake and coffee (OK, so some of us had hot chocolate instead). Now the kids and I are on our way over to the skatepark so that Mike can get in some time on the ramps. He likes to go during the school day, as after school hours the skatepark is full of big, scary teenagers.

After the skatepark, we plan on walking over to the elementary school. They're having their Scholastic bookfair, so we're going to go do a little shopping. Then we're going to stop by Walmart to pick up some photos. Hopefully I'll have some new photos posted soon.

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