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Happy Two Year Blogaversary to Me!

24 May
Female Baltimore Oriole, Cat bird, fuzzy Orchard Oriole

Female Baltimore Oriole, Cat bird, fuzzy Orchard Oriole

Two years ago today I posted my first blog post! Every single Tuesday since then I have posted something, “Tuesdays with Gretchen” being my goal. 🙂 I have posted occasionally on other days as well – for a total of 155 posts, almost 23,000 views, a Freshly Pressed honor, and a perpetual sense of guilt because I haven’t looked at all the other blogs I ought to be looking at. I have not worked very well at building my blog presence, and I alternate between resignation, guilt, frustration, and contentment about that fact. Today I am feeling okay about it. I have three children who are far more important, a husband whom I have loved (and been loved by) for 17 years, and a house which is in sore need of some serious cleaning attention, not to mention a manuscript that I have written, edited, and am attempting to sell. And so the blog gets pushed to the back burner…except for a few hours every Tuesday.

Thanks for coming along for the ride! I’m so glad to be a part of your world. I leave you with a few bird photos – it’s what’s going on in my yard this week!

Orchard two friends in the background.

Orchard Oriole…plus two friends in the background.

Goldfinch, looking gorgeous.

Goldfinch, looking gorgeous.


Cat bird.  They make the craziest sounds.

Cat bird. They make the craziest sounds.

Mrs. Baltimore Oriole

Mrs. Baltimore Oriole

Mr. Baltimore Oriole.

Mr. Baltimore Oriole.



I love these guys.

I love these guys.


Suddenly Everything Seems Possible + Ice Storm Photos

23 Apr
This is what we woke up to the morning after the lights went out.  All the following ice photos are from that first day - all taken through our windows.   The snow photos were the second day, mostly also from our windows.  Finally, on the third day, we went outside as a family and saw the damage first hand.

This is what we woke up to the morning after the lights went out. All the following ice photos are from that first day – all taken through our windows. The snow photos were the second day, mostly also from our windows. Finally, on the third day, we went outside as a family and saw the damage first hand.













The climbing tree, broken branches frozen to the ground

The climbing tree, broken branches frozen to the ground

Surveying the backyard.

Surveying the backyard.





The pine trees were like Narnia - only the bad, evil witch part of Narnia.

The pine trees were like Narnia – only the bad, evil witch part of Narnia.




A few shots around town.

A few shots around town.




The golf course.

The golf course.

Not exactly a safe place to play right now.

Not exactly a safe place to play right now. I have heard many reports of eye injuries as people clean up the branches all over town.


Yes, this is a power pole.  Or should I say, was.

Yes, this is a power pole. Or should I say, was.


Nothing but splintered remains and criss-crossed lines.

Nothing but splintered remains and criss-crossed lines.





Our saviors from Wadena.

Our saviors from Wadena.

And so the clean up begins.

And so the clean up begins.

I apologize for not posting these photos sooner…I couldn’t look at them without feeling ill. Seriously. I had to avoid them for a few days to get a little perspective.

The following is what I wrote on Wednesday morning, after the lights came on the night before. Allow me add that the power was back out on Wednesday night for a few hours, but that was because of a tremendous thunderstorm and lightning hitting a transformer…just what we all needed, right? It is Monday night now, almost one week later, and again we’re having snow and wind like crazy. It has been a wild couple of weeks that I really don’t want to re-live. On the good side, people were safe and there were very few injuries – mostly the injuries came later with damage to eyes when people were out cleaning up fallen branches. There are some streets that look like tunnels, the piles of branches are so huge. This will take weeks to clean up…months, perhaps. And years to get back our trees.


So many switches were on in our house, and that’s how I knew the power had come back on because there were suddenly lights!

We’ve put away the flashlights. The dishes are gently rocking on the Anti-Bacterial setting in my dishwasher. A load of towels is “cooking” on high heat. I turned on my electric blanket last night, just because I could.

But the TV? You know, I kinda didn’t mind not having the TV on. Not having the internet bummed me out, I admit. But I really don’t have to compulsively check Facebook every half hour in order to be happy.

I tell you what does make me happy, though. Three men from Wadena, Minnesota – a town about 5 hours north of here – who restored our power last night, just two hours shy of one week exactly from when it went out. (The oven clock came back on and read 9:06 – it picked up right where it had left – almost as if time itself had stopped. As if the past week never happened.)

I looked up Wadena on my newly-restored internet and discovered that this town of 4,000ish suffered a terrible E-F 4 tornado three years ago. In other words, these men know what it is to suffer at the hand of nature. They know what it’s like to need help from others. They came down to my town so that they could give back what they received.

I told them, “Thanks for leaving your homes and your families to come down and lend us a hand.” They shrugged and mumbled and waved for my camera.

I am not usually given to dancing. But I danced last night.

Suddenly everything seems possible.

THANK YOU, Mr. Electric Man

16 Apr

Still no electricity. Furnace is acting up because it doesn’t like the generator. The cost of a storm like this is in more than just dollars. It’s in sanity.

Here’s some statistics I heard this morning. I know there are more and perhaps better ones, but this gives you an idea. (I appologize if these numbers are incorrect – this is what I’ve heard as of Tuesday morning.)

One hardware store in this town of 12,000 people has sold $177,000.00 in chainsaws and generators over the past week. That’s just one of the half a dozen or so hardware stores in town.

As of Tuesday morning 991 homes are still without power.

2,000 power poles snapped or otherwise are unusable.

120 linemen have come to help us out, from across Minnesota and even, I believe, from South Dakota. The hotel parking lots (at night only!) are solid with power trucks. The image of all those trucks made me cry. We are so thankful for all that is being done to get us back into the 21st century!

I know, I know – we can live without electricity. We’ve proven that this week. But it sure is nice.

Here’s my daughter’s take on the storm – in her exact words:

Electricity. A necessity we take for granted. The power has been out for 6 days and it still is.

We had a HUGE ICE STORM. Plus we had a SNOWSTORM after that!

There are MANY trees down, all over the place.

Having the power out is scary. Mr. Al Oberloh [the mayor of Worthington] said, “Worthington will never look the same again.” I agree.

I live in the country, so we didn’t have rolling blackouts [as they had in town]. We just had no electricity at all. Our power lines are [broken down] and buried underneath lots of snow.

I believe that the electricity people are pretty AWESOME. They worked for like 24 hours straight to get power back on [for those in town].

The power went out at like 9:00 Tuesday night. It’s still out. Oh well. They have to get other pepole before us.

I think that I will remember this forever.


By Katie O’Donnell. Age 11

Ice, Snow, Devastation, and a Kazoo Band

13 Apr

There are moments in your life that you never forget. When I am old and wrinkled and more gray even than I am now, I will remember this week with tears, with smiles, and, possibly, with laughter.

My son asked me if, like with hurricanes, they name Midwestern Ice Storms. I told him that we didn’t rate that high on the weatherman’s scale.

“But it’s so bad!” he pointed out.

“Yes, it is,” I replied with a wry smile.

It really is so bad.

April usually is a time to anticipate bulbs poking out of the earth, to dig out asparagus recipes, to watch the daily progression of the leaves on the trees, the birds returning to the upper Midwest.

Not this year.

For those who don’t know, Tuesday night, April 9th, 2013, Worthington, Minnesota and the surrounding area experienced a terrible ice storm which left about 1.5 inches of ice on the trees, followed by 8+ inches of snow on Wednesday night. I live out in the country on ten acres of trees and stream and farmland. We lost electricity Tuesday night. Still don’t have it back as of Saturday afternoon. We have a generator – a reliable one – as of Friday night. The one we had, which came with our house 8 years ago, had never been put to the test before. Sure, we’d used it a few times for a few hours – but nothing like this.

It failed the test.

So finally, last night, my husband forked over $700 for a brand-new (and much quieter) one, so that we can have heat and toilets that flush and food that won’t give us food poisoning.

Can’t wash our clothes. Can’t run the dishwasher. No internet. No TV. (My son’s comment on these terrible facts: “Mom, what did you and Dad DO all day when you were kids?”)

But all of that pales in comparison with what’s happened outside of our windows.

Total tree devastation. It’s a war zone, a bombing site, an unrecognizable horizon.

And no, I have no photos for you yet – not until I get power back and can download all of my photos onto my PC. I’m in town right now, at my favorite hang-out, BenLees Café. It’s a refuge here from the sadness out my window.

My kids have named all of their favorite trees. There’s the Hosanna Tree, so named because its leaves resemble the palm fronds on Palm Sunday. (I think it will survive.) There’s the Shady Tree aka the Climbing Tree. It’s our favorite. My girls and I cried yesterday when we stood in front of it. I don’t think there’s any way it will survive. And then there’s Mr. and Mrs. Maple Tree – Mrs. Tree is doomed. Mr. Tree might make it – but it looks like he got a terrible hair cut.

And then there are 100 more trees – give or take – which have suffered the indignities of a very angry giant stomping through our yard and tearing twigs and branches off and throwing them willy-nilly all over the yard.

At least that’s what it feels like.

And sounded like.

Oy, vey, the sounds of the crackling ice when you stood outside in the silence of zero electricity. It was almost like running water, only then you realized that everything was frozen and it was just the constant crack of ice on trees as they blew in the wind.

And the sounds indoors: nothing. Utter, unimaginable, silence.

Until the generator goes on!

But there have also been sounds of laughter. Of a fire in the grate, of games played, of a Kazoo Band, and of 30 year old cassettes wallowing on my 30 year old tape player. (“Turn it off, Mom! It’s creepy!”)

And then there was the sound of tree limbs tearing, of thunder smashing right overhead, of a little girl learning to tie her shoes, running to tell Daddy when he walked in the door and his exclamations of pride.

Yes, I will look back on this with tears and smiles someday.


PS – I will have photos for you – probably more than you could ever hope for – as soon as I can. I’m sure I’ll write more about it, too. There is so much to process – to think through and put into words – I know I’m not yet finished.

A Marvelous “reblog” for You!

4 Apr

Ok, I have to “reblog” this post because it is so marvelous. “Clyde of Mankato” is a fellow-Minnesotan. This post about a chaplain visit he made to a nursing home is full of humor, pathos, and humanity. I practically began weeping in the café as I read it. Luckily no one looked at me weirdly as my eyes were full, that’s for sure. Please read this and experience it with me. – Gretchen

A Mixed Bag

19 Mar

I’ve got a mixed bag for you today – the first is because something happened a year ago today that I can’t ignore and the second is a lovely recognition which I have been far too slow to acknowledge.

So…first off: Happy first birthday to our kittens! After several visits from the neighboring tom cat up the road, it became pretty obvious to me that the cat who had adopted us in the fall of 2011 was getting rounder by the day. Our kids even noticed. “Wow, Purny is sure getting fat!” “Hmmm…,” I responded, not sharing my suspicions, “she sure is.”

Purny – short for Copernicus – was dumped near our house by her previous owners. We know because she had a collar when she first showed up, and she was terribly skinny. It was also fairly clear that she’d recently had kittens. So the people who had her decided they didn’t want her any more when they had her little kittens to adore.

She began hanging around our house and we bought her some food because clearly, she needed it. She started to let us pet her. Soon it was clear that she was there to stay. Then, six months later, three kittens joined the family.

Mama and babies.

Mama and babies.

They were, of course, adorable. For about 8 weeks we loved them and played with them and knew, in our hearts, that we couldn’t keep them all. We prepared the kids. We found two lovely homes for them. But still, when it came time to give them away, it broke our hearts – and not just the kid’s hearts.

The only thing that made it better was the smile on the wee girl’s face when we handed her her new kitten, which she had already named, “Carlos”…aka “Carwos” in her three-year-old way of speaking. Carlos has become one of their family – he is incredibly patient and friendly and his family is hoping for more little Carloses in the future!

We gave the other kitten, Cali, to some friends who have a wonderful conglomeration of animals at their house: an enormous, black, friendly dog, many cats (but they wanted more females), a couple of peacocks, several sheep and quite a few chickens. Cali was lonely for a few days, adjusting to her new circumstances, but then she became her master’s best little outdoor friend, jumping up on his work table, butting into everything, and earning her nickname, “Trouble”.
Trouble was, “Trouble” was too friendly. She crossed the street to visit some fishermen at the nearby public fishing access. They petted her and exclaimed over her, and the next thing “Trouble’s” owners knew, the fishermen stole her.
Life is full of good and bad stories, isn’t it? I have never seen my ten-year-old daughter cry as much as she did the day we told her.

BUT…we still have the third kitten, Zephyr, so named because a “zephyr” is a calm breeze, and he was the calmest of the kittens and is still a lovely, purry, friendly cat and we are so happy to have him in our family. Yes, he and his mama fight some…but they also will touch noses – something I haven’t been able to capture on film yet – and we’re convinced that is proof that they like each other.

OKAY…now for the second thing in this mixed bag:

I have been very kindly nominated for the “Liebster Award” – isn’t that lovely?!

So…I will try to obey all (most) of the rules of the nomination.

1) Add the award icon to your blog! Ok. Done.

liebster award

2) Link to your nominator to say thank you.
I was nominated by Deb Dundas over at Midway. Deb writes about a variety of things, including book reviews – which I always enjoy! The link to her blog is to a somewhat sad story about a guy she knew once who is now down on his luck. It’s a good story to make you appreciate what you have and to not be stupid about your choices in life.

3) Answer the questions the tagger has set for you, give 11 random facts about yourself, & create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.

Deb’s questions:
What’s your favorite book? How can I ever choose just one?! Ok. Fine. Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger.
Who’s your favorite author? Again, impossible to choose! Let’s just say H. A. Rey and leave it at that.
Skiing or snowboarding? Neither.
Cultural or “shake and bake” vacation? Totally cultural.
Favorite place? Orcas Island, Washington.
Air conditioning or au naturel? Air all the way.
City dweller, suburban, or rural? Rural…though city life has its appeal, too.
The most exotic place you’ve ever been swimming? I don’t swim, but I suppose Hawaii in the 8th grade. I got sun poisoning and spent the rest of the vacation covered up.
Who is your hero? Any old lady who is kind and patient and wrinkled.
Which musical instrument do you play (or wish you could)? Piano – badly.
The last live musical performance you saw? My middle school children’s band concert.

1. I love salads but I don’t like making them.
2. I collect cookbooks. Sometimes I use them.
3. I can’t tell a joke to save my life.
4. I lived in Germany for 2 years but I can’t speak German. I studied French for 2 years but I can’t speak French. I took one term of Russian and finally admitted that I’m not cut out to speak a foreign language.
5. I dislike wine. This didn’t go over too well in France.
6. I used to dress funky. Now I excel at the busy mom look. Not nearly so impressive.
7. I like attention. Hence the funky dress code of my pre-mom years.
8. I do not understand how anyone can possibly enjoy beets.
9. I cannot draw to save my life. If someone was like, “Draw a fabulous picture or die,” I’d say, “Ok, Jesus, here I come!” (See “Who is your hero?” above!)
10. I overdosed on Hazelnut Creamer right after college. A lot better than od-ing on a few other things I can think of, but to this day I can’t abide the stuff…but it is a bummer when my favorite café is out of French Vanilla.
11. I dislike Monopoly. There. I said it.

3. Choose 11 up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers, go to their blog, and tell them about the award.
I don’t have 11. I decided instead to stick with Minnesota/near Minnesota bloggers that I haven’t mentioned before…

That left me with three.

And here are my 11 questions for my nominated bloggers to answer:
1. French Vanilla or Hazelnut?
2. Tennis shoes or heels?
3. Flying or driving?
4. Chocolate or Vanilla?
5. Small towns or large cities?
6. Summer or winter?
7. Movie or a book?
8. Soup and salad or meat and potatoes?
9. Music or silence?
10. SUV or bicycle?
11. Skiing or swimming?

What’s a Little Ice When You’ve Got Angels on Your Side?

5 Mar

After 19 years of living in the Mid West, I think I’m beginning to belong.

I have joined the ranks of Minnesotans who say, “If we stayed home at the least little bit of nasty weather, we’d never go anywhere for six months.”

I have survived two horrid driving events in the past month and a half, and I am alive to tell about it, with my untainted driving record still in place.

Lest you think I am bragging, let me hasten to assure you that I know – I KNOW – that God has at least one angel on perpetual “Keep Gretchen Safe While She’s Driving” duty – so it’s not to my credit that I’m alive…it’s to His.

I don’t know why He has chosen to protect me in this way. All I can think is that He must still have some plans that involve me and it’s just not my time yet. Which is fine with me.


Both of these wretched driving situations of the past few weeks have involved freezing rain. Both involved me saying, “What am I, nuts?” as I drove along the highway at speeds less than half of the 65-75 suggested miles per hour. And both found my husband out of town and my kids and I braving the elements together.

And both, I must admit, did not take me out of the house for life or death reasons.

Take last night, for example. The kids and I drove out to our pastor’s house for a book discussion with some other couples from church. I like this chance to talk about interesting stuff, and the kids like the opportunity to play with their friends. I’d seen the weather report, yes. I knew that the rain was beginning to fall as we left the house…but I’m an optimist. I figured, “Either the weather report is exaggerating and this won’t come to anything or I’ll drive home in the freezing rain and put those angels to work.”

Okay, I didn’t really think about the angels. I just hoped for the best and ignored the worst.

When we left their house two hours later I was slightly worried. As we slid on our tennis shoes across the road to our car – holding tight to each other’s hands – I was a little more worried. As I started up the car, after breaking the ice on the door handles, I was in full “praying mode”.

This was one of those, “Kids, please turn off the radio and don’t talk,” car rides. What usually takes us 13 minutes took us 35. I saw a few semi trucks pulled off the road and I wondered – not for the first time – how truck drivers do what they do.

The temperature was 26 and the rain was relentless. In the dark and the conditions, I managed to make a wrong turn. I forgot to put on the Four Wheel Drive until I was about three miles from home. The ABS brakes kicked in several times.

But, despite it all, we made it home.

When the garage door finally shut behind us, I realized I was shaking.

“I never stopped praying,” Meep, our oldest daughter said.

“I prayed a little,” our son added.

The six year old was asleep.

Yep, she’s a born Minnesotan. “Mom will get us through. What’s a little ice?”

Either that or the angels were singing her a lullaby as they kept our car on the road.


That’s What Friends Are For

26 Feb

I mentioned last week that I’m writing several articles for my local newspaper. It’s going well so far and I’m having fun! I am certain that I’ll have all sorts of epiphanies to share with you about the whole process when I’m done.

In light of my creative juices being entirely taken up by journalism right now, I have asked my blogging friend Audrey if she was willing for me to re-blog one of her lovely posts and she was! I have mentioned Audrey and her blog, “Minnesota Prairie Roots” before, though it’s been awhile. Audrey is one of those amazing people who is able to blog daily. I can barely make my once-a-week deadline!

Audrey (r) and me, in her lovely backyard last summer.

Audrey (r) and me, in her lovely backyard last summer.

Audrey writes about life in Minnesota. Every post includes relevant and often very lovely photographs. She writes about daily life, about heart-warming people, about thought-provoking issues. She writes about quirky restaurants or stores she comes across, local places of interest, Minnesota authors, Minnesota news, Minnesota life. But don’t count her out just because she’s not writing about YOUR state or country, because everything Audrey writes is, at heart, about humanity. About things people will find interesting, humorous, and important.

I met Audrey “virtually” a year ago last fall, and since then she has become a lovely and knowledgable companion in my writing journey. She and her husband even welcomed me and my family into their own home last June and served us a delicious meal. Boo, our six year old, calls Audrey, “the lady with the great backyard.”

I call her my friend.

I picked a post of Audrey’s from last November. It’s about a museum in northern Minnesota…but, mostly, it’s about one man and his amazing dream…

So…please click on my next post and find her fantastic story!



I Dream an Ocean

5 Feb

I live on the prairie, but I was born near the sea.
On rocky shores and tidepools I cut my teeth.
And it is never far from my mind.

So I give you this today – a poem, I suppose – because I can’t stop remembering.

I Imagine an Ocean

I pretend, sometimes, that the field to the east of my house is the sea. I imagine that the brown slopes are actually undulating waves; that the trees far off on the edge of the hill are trees on an island, waving their branches in a salt-scented breeze.

Not palm trees – no thank you – these are pine trees, the trees of my childhood, the trees of Puget Sound with their balsamic scent (Does that word work here? I choose to say it does.) and their sticky sap just waiting its turn to enfold unsuspecting bees which, in their amber prisons, will fascinate scientists millennia from now.
006 (2)
I imagine my prairie ocean with the most success when it’s foggy and I cannot see the dirt. Then it’s easy to see phantom many-masted ships, their sails set and their scuppers gleaming. Or, more likely in these days, scurrying speed-boats, as we used to call them, their purpose apparently nothing more than making waves and scaring seagulls.

I imagine I am on a tall cliff – not unlike that of my youth – and I – why not? – a lighthouse keeper, a fog-horn blaster, the sole protector of sailor’s lives. Their one and only defense against a watery grave.

Would that I had been there for the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In the autumn when combines, like ships in the night, roam the sloping shores of my imagined ocean, I sit out on the deck and savor the sight: I am in a valued port, a sheltered haven where HMS John Deere tacks back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, in her attempts to reach safe harbor. I wave and shout, “Ahoy!” but the good ship cannot hear me over the chugging of her engines and she carries on – back and forth, back and forth, until, finally, she sails away, taking her fleet with her.

And I am left on deck, with nothing but my dried-up ocean, my memory of water, the scent of salt-spray tickling at my throat.

Bonus: For those of you who don’t know my reference, The Edmund Fitzgerald was an ore ship which sank in a storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. All 29 men in the crew perished. This video link is of a great song, by Gordon Lightfoot, titled, the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The video is entirely footage of Lake Superior, the wreck itself, and with the song as the background.

Yes, I realize that I referenced a fresh-water incident in my salt-water poem…but it’s the ship which comes to mind when living in Minnesota!  In addition, I must say that I did not mean to be flippant about the wreck…it was a heart-breaking incident and remains, to this day, the largest ship ever to be lost on Lake Superior.

Ice Fishing is for Real

29 Jan
Yes, those are trucks on the ice.

Yes, those are trucks on the ice.

When I moved to Minnesota I really had no idea what I was getting in to. I grew up in the moderate climate of Washington State, on Orcas Island, a location further moderated by the ocean and the rain shadow of the mountains. In my memory at least, it rarely got above 75 in the summer or below 25 in the winter. I’m sure it does get warmer and colder than that, but as a kid who was 15 when she moved away, I never paid much attention.

Just one of the villages.

Just one of the villages.

Yep...sitting out on the ice.  Better them than me.

Yep…sitting out on the ice. Better them than me.

We moved from Orcas to Bend, Oregon, in 1985. Located in central Oregon, Bend is considered “High Desert” in that it doesn’t get much rain…but it does get a lot of snow. Eleven months spent in Bend taught me that winters do exist and driving in snow was not something I looked forward to.


When I moved to Minnesota several years later, I was glad that I had that Bend experience to prepare me a little bit for real winters.

I was not prepared, however, for ice fishing.

Awaiting the elusive fish...

Ice fishermen...doing what I will never understand...and, I assume, loving it. More power to them!


Every winter, as the cold settles in and mittens, hats and scarves lose themselves in an organized-crime sort of way, I shake my head in wonder at the ice houses that appear on the lake. Still, after 19 years in the Mid-West, I don’t entirely “get” the attraction. Yes, I understand that the houses are heated, sometimes even fancified to the point of televisions and bunkbeds, but still, I don’t get the allure of a hole in the floor of your little house. What if I don’t look where I’m going when I climb out of my lovely bunkbed and accidentally step into the lake?


When I first moved to the Mid-West, I spent a few months in Wisconsin. I will never forget the evening I first met some of the local Cheeseheads. They were talking about ice fishing and I was convinced that they were pulling my leg. I mean, really! Ice fishing? That’s for die-hard Alaska-lovers, isn’t it? No one in the 48 contiguous United States goes ice fishing! That is ridiculous!

Luckily, I kept my mouth shut because, turns out, they were completely serious about their hobby. This was no joke, no set-up to fool a greenhorn. This was real.



Yes, it’s real. And I don’t mean to make fun of it. It’s just something that I, a temperate-climate lover, don’t understand. But then again, maybe it’s a guy thing and I don’t understand it because I’m, well, a girl. I realize that I’m treading on dangerous waters here (pun intended), so I won’t lump ice fishing in with football, mustaches, a love of fire, and other manly pursuits that I don’t understand. Suffice it to say, I get a kick out of the ice villages that pop up every year on the lake…

…even if I can’t fathom why on earth they do.

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