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This article has been buried for a long time. I thought maybe it was time to resurrect it with the holidays coming on. Don’t let yourself be intimidated to make a gingerbread house from scratch! I taught myself and every year we’ve had a smashing success. :) Maybe this year, I’ll update this one with some new pictures and creations – can’t believe this is already 7 years old! Where’d the time go?
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I’ve used several gingerbread recipes over the years but this one is my favorite and I use it for everything gingerbread:

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
5 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt

I found it in my Taste of Home magazine and it’s just plain awesome. It needs to sit in the fridge for a half hour to hour to make the dough more workable (less sticky) so leave some time for that. You can do it without that step, (I’ve done it before) but it requires the use of more flour and it was harder to get smooth without the chill time. However if you ask my 5 year old (he’s 12 now!!) it didn’t alter the taste one bit! In short, you just mix the first 4 ingredients together until creamy, mix the dry ingredients together first in a separate bowl and then slowly add it to the mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until edges are firm.

Troubleshooting:

  • if your dough is too crumbly then add a little water in small amounts (like a teaspoon at a time)
  • if your dough is too sticky/gooey then add a little flour in small amounts (like a tablespoon at a time)
  • if you are short 1/4-1/2 C of molasses, pour that much water into the jar and swirl it around until the jar is mostly clean and water is slightly thickened and flavored, pour it into your dough.

The next step is rolling out the dough. You need a flat surface lightly coated with flour and a big rolling pin. Most recipes suggest a thickness of about 1/4 inch. For cookies I like to leave the dough a little thicker (remember it will rise as it cooks) because it keeps the cookies softer. But for houses I roll mine a little thinner so it’s not so heavy and will dry faster. Remember to coat your rolling pin with some flour too to keep the dough from sticking and wrapping around it.

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Once the dough is rolled out to the desired thickness you cut your patterns. If you’re doing cookies any cookie cutter will work. For houses I make my own pattern. You only need three basic pieces for a simple house: a front and back that is a square with a triangle top, a side that is a rectangle or square that matches the height of the front/back square, and a roof that is just a little larger than the side. Cut two of each and you have the makings for your house.

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If you’re a little uncertain, just construct your house with paper first to make sure your pieces fit/work together. The roof needs to be a good 1/2 inch larger on all sides than the sides to ensure coverage once the pieces are put together. Last year I made my own pattern for a church and this year I made a taller two story style home. I just played with basic paper patterns to try new things. A house is a simple pattern of squares, rectangles and triangles. Put a triangle top one a square and cut out two to make the end pieces, and 4 rectangles for the sides and roof. The image below shows you what the pattern pieces look like. The walls have windows cut out and the small triangles glue together to make a little chimney.

I cut my patterns out and then transfer them onto a cookie sheet. If you get easily frustrated moving the pieces then I suggest rolling the dough out on a piece of wax of foil paper so you can just lift the entire thing or even flip it over to drop the pieces onto a cooking sheet. When the pieces come out they will be puffy from cooking. If you’re a perfectionist you may want to use a sharp knife to cut around the edges making them straight. Between you and me, that’s the whole point of the frosting at all the seams and I rarely bother with it unless something really got distorted during cooking. You can cut out doors and windows both before and/or after baking. Just make sure if you do it after baking you do it while the dough is still warm. Additionally, you can make small marks/outlines with a butter knife for windows or doors if freehand isn’t your thing. Then you can just trace over the marks with the icing.

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The gingerbread needs to be hard enough to stand without bending before you put the houses together. I’ve never had any fall apart but I’ve heard from plenty of people that experienced a cave in. Depending on thickness that can take a few hours to a full day. This year I cooked mine on Sunday and put them up Monday night. Last year I’m pretty sure I cooked them in the morning and put them together that same night. After they’ve cooled on a wire cooling rack I place them on foil face down allowing more drying through the backsides.

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Another fun thing was to make stained glass windows. Simply break a hard candy or sucker into small pieces and put it in the cutout window section. Heat it in the oven for a few minutes – just until the candy melts. The pieces melt into a beautiful stained glass form. I put it on some foil for easy removal once it cools. I’ve also made gingerbread evergreen trees. This year’s pictures show both styles. One used 2-3 sizes of star cookies rotated and placed on top of one another to form a tree. The other I used a tree cookie cutter making two. I cut the second one down the middle before cooking. Then I iced the two half pieces to either side of the full tree and it looked like a 3D tree.

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Icing & Gluing:

Some people make special sugar syrup mixtures for gluing their gingerbread house pieces together. I’m too lazy. *snort* I just make simple royal icing. That’s just powdered sugar with a little water. I mix the two until it turns into a thick consistency. It holds and sets quickly and I’ve never had a problem with anything falling apart.

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I use disposable icing bags that you can buy in bulk at a craft store. Just cut the ends a drop the tip you want in, push it into place and fill the bag. One helpful tip in filling the bag is to fold it over your hand while holding the base as it will make it easier and keep frosting from getting all over the edge of the bag. The only two tips you need for a gingerbread house are a star tip for ruffles and stars and a round tip for piping and gluing.

For decorating, the plain royal icing needs modification. Otherwise it will be too stiff and won’t hold a shape resulting in a great deal of frustration. Just add some shortening and flavoring (like vanilla or butter) and it will fix that. I use about 1 C of shortening, 1 tsp of flavor (optional), 4 C powdered sugar and a little water. Your elevation has so much to do with the consistency that I’d start with a couple tablespoons of water and add more slowly until you reach the desired consistency. On this last round I just added some shortening and flavor to my royal icing until I got the consistency I could work with.

I weave my star tip back and forth to make a ruffle pattern along all the seams. You can do stars too – whatever suits you. Adding candy is the final step and by far the most fun. *smile*

This year I doubled the batch of gingerbread and it made the three houses. 1 1/2 bags (2LB size) of powdered sugar did frosting for everything and I had plenty left over too.

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Why is it so easy to question yourself, to second guess simple things? Today I caught myself doing it again. I’d had a thought a few weeks ago to reach out to someone. It wasn’t anything big, just a simple hello but I talked myself out of it thinking I was just being silly. The thought returned a couple more times and I’ve dismissed it. Then yesterday I forced myself to do at least one thing I’ve been putting off. I sat down and wrote a response letter to mail to a dear friend who had written me a congratulation note for our miracle baby. It felt SO good! In fact, I wrote another letter to someone else right after. Feeling confidence, I remembered that thought to reach out and I did it. I may never know why, but it doesn’t matter. It was a good thing to do and I’m glad I did it.

I am struck by how easy it is to deflect positive thoughts, especially when a service or helping hand is involved. I once heard the advice to “act on every worthy thought”, that only good could come from it. You never know what good you can do, what heavy hand could be lifted or who’s prayer you could help answer.

In no place is this lesson more powerful to me than within the walls of my own home. The smiles and warmth that radiates from acting on those worthy thoughts…no matter how small…are little nuggets of happiness. Isn’t that what it’s all about?! This past weekend we spontaneously decided to go to the cabin with the kids. We focused on saying yes instead of no. As a result we have new memories of building a fire in the stove, taking a nature walk, playing spoons, buying souvenirs in West Yellowstone and taking a break from daily technologies and routines. It was wonderful! I hope to remember and build on this simple life lesson, it’s so worth it!

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Ups and Downs

Life seems to be full of roller coaster moments, lots of ups and downs. I guess you can’t know the ups without the downs, but I much prefer the ups.

Four months ago I was in the hospital on bed rest. Three and a half months ago I had a c-section. Two and half weeks ago I was in the hospital again for surgery. The medical downs of the last four months for me have been a little on the high side. I was just coming back up from the c-section surgery when I found a breast lump. The month of August was spent treating it. Sadly, it didn’t respond to the two rounds of antibiotics, nor the needle aspiration (that was fun – NOT). After the surgery we learned why: it was so deep the doc said he had to go almost to the chest wall, nearly 5 cm deep. The cultures defined a staff infection (grateful it wasn’t a cancer or something worse), and the treatment after surgery has been drainage which means daily trips to the hospital PT clinic for wound packing/dressing changes (also NOT fun). It’s taken two and a half weeks, but the wound is finally on the fast track for healing, even had a record breaking gain of .6 cm in only two days this week bringing the depth up to 2.9 cm. Today’s gain was only to a 2.8, but I get tomorrow off as well as both Sat and Sun after Friday’s appointment. I’m hopeful that Monday the doctor will say we’re in the home stretch and can seal it up and be done. I suppose this is attributed to mastitis per breastfeeding, although I never had any signs or symptoms of any infection – just found a lump one day that wouldn’t go away and kept growing. Everyone keeps telling me how rare it is, to which I reply “yeah, ’cause I’m a stranger to rare?!” I’ve tried to joke that Jaimee just doesn’t want me to miss out on anything, but I’d do it a million times again for her.

Death has been a regular visitor this year too. In 3 months time, my dad, uncle and a couple friends have passed away. It’s a stark contrast to the blessings of new little spirits coming to the world. In the same time frame both myself and baby sister have had babies. Additionally, more than one family member and friend have received sad news about cancer conditions in varying degrees, while others have announced good news in their lives. I’m constantly in awe of the pendulum swing.

On the upside, I have to report on all good things in my little family. Jaimee is an absolute joy and we all love spoiling her. Grandparents, friends, siblings and cousins all wait for the chance to love on her. She is such a miracle and we all celebrate that every day we’re with her.

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She is such an amazing little baby! She’s so peaceful, so happy and such a good little thing. She’s been so flexible and adapts to everything effortlessly. She’s hit some big milestones recently, like sleeping longer stretches at night for which mommy and daddy are oh so grateful! Is there anything more awesome than a sleeping baby?!

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She has the most kissable little cheeks ever! She’s learning to grab things, has enjoyed sitting up in her bumbo chair, has found her fist for sucking and absolutely loves to smile at you. Daddy’s even gotten the cutest starts of a giggle from her. She loves playing and can maneuver a basic roll over almost completely on her own.

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She’s so good that yesterday we knew something was wrong. We took her to the doctor and sure enough she has her first little stomach bug, a gastro intestinal virus that had her little bowels gurgling and cramping like crazy. Yet, even with that, she only had two fits of inconsolable crying in the first half of the day and both lasted less than 10 minutes. She responded to the pedialite substitution for milk without missing a beat and has just been her happy self since yesterday afternoon. I mean, does this look like the face of a baby with a tummy bug?

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Wish I could be that happy when I’m battling a virus! This is just 12 lbs 12 oz of lovable joy. I am overwhelmed at the blessing to be her mommy.  She was so worth the 22 year wait. At my six week checkup the doctor asked us what form of birth control we were going to use. This is a question we’ve never had to answer. Does lightening strike twice? If it does is it supposed to? I don’t have any answers. I just look at this little miracle and know she’s here exactly when she’s suppose to be for her and no matter how hard the last four months for me have been physically I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Nursing through the month of August with the growing lump was difficult and painful, especially after the needle biopsy. On top of that, it was probably the cause for the infection in the first place, yet I felt an unexpected sadness to have it end with the surgery. I’m grateful for the pumping I’d done previously as we worked through her dairy sensitivity. The range of emotions and experiences has truly been full of ups and downs. I often reflect on how it’s possible to experience so many things that seem opposed yet magically connect to one another, it’s an odd phenomenon to me and I know I’m doing a terrible job trying to explain it. It’s just crazy to see how love conquers logic.

In the meantime, the kids continue to grow. Homework still has to be done. Meals still have to be cooked and dishes still have to be done.

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That’s what it’s all about, life keeps moving. At the end of the day, I’ll take those miserable downs because the ups are absolutely incredible! I truly am blessed beyond measure.

More To Me

 

 

I’ve known for a few months now that I need to sit and write this. I need to record my thoughts about this man that was more than a man to me – he was my dad. I know I can’t do my feelings justice but I have to start somewhere.

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From the time he cradled me in his arms, to the time he gave me away in marriage, to the times he cradled my kids, he was a constant in my life. He was always there. 

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He taught us to cradle each other, especially when hearts were heavy.

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I miss him. 

As a young girl, he was a giant to me. He’d rough house and let me crawl all over him in play, he’d let me help him in the garden and around the motel. He taught me the value of hard work, and the joy in a hobby like his trains. His large hands and strong arms waited to sweep me up in a giant bear hug when he’d come home. For five years, I was the boy he wanted and thoroughly enjoyed playing the role of ‘Tom Boy’. I was his shadow, taking in every moment he allowed me to follow him around. How I loved the hours he spent with me, and how I cherish those when it was just me and my dad.

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He loved his grandkids just as much and found such joy in spending time with them. There aren’t enough pages to record the photos and memories of this chapter in his life, but it lives strong in my mind. Especially, his last moments with little Jaimee.

His last ride was epic, and oh so fitting. My heart was not prepared for the moment that old red pickup tried to turn over for that final drive. Every putter and eventual rev of the engine brought back a flood of memories for me. I let every one wash over me in waves and smiled through the tears they produced. This was how he’d have liked to go out, this was dad.

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Oh daddy, how I miss you. How grateful I am for all the memories and life lessons you’ve given me. I will always answer to your call of “my girl”, always. You will always be more than a male figure in my life. You weren’t perfect, none of us are, but you were such a powerful influence for good in my life. You were such an example to me of steadfastness, endurance, loyalty and love. 

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And so as little Letha was captured, let us say goodbye for now. 

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I look forward to the day when we embrace again. Until then, I will continue to do my best to live in a way to make you proud; I will honor your memory. Just know you were always more than a man to me. You anchored me, gave my life stability and security, and wrapped me in the arms of your love. It feels weak to simply say thank you, but it’s all I have. Thanks daddy.

 

 

Pause

I find myself sitting here listening to the rain fall softly outside. It’s a beautiful time of year – warm enough to leave the windows open day and night. The rain has a cleansing element I truly appreciate. I should be sleeping, that’s what baby is doing and she looks so peaceful. Something about her peaceful sleep and the beauty of this wet morning go hand in hand. It’s giving me a moment to pause and reflect. I need to do that more often.

Jaimee will be 8 weeks old tomorrow. I wish I could explain how those weeks feel both extremely long and short all at the same time. I can tell you at 2:00 a.m. they feel like forever, but when I look back and consider that less than two short months ago she wasn’t even here yet, I’m amazed. Time seems to fluctuate between these two places for me. We had some beautiful family photos taken this month to celebrate Jaimee’s arrival. I wanted everything to be just right and I thought I’d done pretty well, until after the shoot I walked into the bathroom and noticed I’d neglected to finish putting my makeup on. Joke’s on me. *giggle* I will forever look at these photos with the reminder that I forgot the mascara, but I don’t mind. The pictures capture everything I was hoping for.

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I wish I had both the time and skill to share the thoughts of my heart. So much has changed, and yet the newness is swallowed up in the reality that these changes are simply built on so many things already established. Life continues, it always has and I find myself wanting to hit the pause button. I want to sit in this moment for longer than time allows. I want to breathe in every good thing in my life, to truly recognize how beautiful life is and how incredibly lucky I am. In a few moments, baby will be awake and the day will be underway with several tasks and chores but right now it’s quiet and peaceful – just like my sweet angel baby. Even the older kids are feeling it as they’ve slept in this morning too. Everything is at peace, so I’m taking a snapshot of sorts to remember this moment.

 

She Just Knew

It’s been three weeks. Three weeks since our little Jaimee joined us and every day I am still pinching myself. She is so tiny, so perfect and such a good baby! This 22 year surprise has sure been an interesting mix of complete unknowns, yet at the same time framed with so many instances where I just knew, and I knew she knew things. Like her early arrival: she knew when she had to get here to meet her grandpa before he passed. If she’d waited until her due date she’d have missed it. If they’d kept me the normal time in the hospital after a cesarean, we’d have missed the window too. She knew exactly when she needed to arrive and under what circumstances.

So backtracking to her arrival, I spent two weeks in the hospital on bed rest. I’m grateful this didn’t happen until 35 weeks! I’ve heard horror stories of much longer war stories. It started with a simple leak – literally. I’d just sent Blake and the kids off for mutual activities when I sat down to eat and noticed I’d sprung some sort of leak. It wasn’t enough to say my water broke, but it was definitely too much to be normal. At about 8:30 p.m. we headed to the hospital to get things checked out. The initial fluid tests came back negative for amniotic fluid, however the doctor’s ultrasound caused concern as he said he saw very little fluid and had some concerns about the placenta. He said he’d not be able to sleep if he sent me home; that it would be best to keep me overnight for observation. He said if it was indeed a rupture, labor would follow within the next 12 hours. The next 12 hours were long but not from labor. Being hooked up to monitors and having to pee every hour made for a long night. The next morning the ultrasound technician came and his tests showed great results, the fluid was up and all other readings were great. But the protein tests came back elevated and the blood pressure followed suit. In short, my placenta was showing signs of distress and so in the hospital we stayed until we reached the 37 week mark.

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Two weeks of hospital walls can make you a little crazy. But I’m happy to report that my experience was truly made doable by the amazing staff of nurses and doctors caring for me and baby. Everyone knew our story, our Cinderella baby they called her. As a result, everyone wanted in on the action. The care was top notch, everyone was so nice and I developed many wonderful friendships as a result. Many conversations kept me in awe of how the Lord works. I relived our adoption stories, found amazing connections as a result and just kept shaking my head at how the Lord knows how to help our paths cross with others to provide help.

The first week was uneventful with the exception of Saturday night when contractions began. For 13 hours they went from 7-10 minutes apart to and hour of 2-3 minutes apart, then back to a few hours of 7-10 minutes. By morning I was exhausted but she was still so high the contractions had done nothing to prepare for birth, just worn out mom. Pain meds the next day got mom calling the doctor her friend and by afternoon all went back to a calm status. The second week brought a little stability to the numbers and they opted to induce labor Tuesday night. After another long night of no sleep we learned only half of my body had cooperated; the cervix was ready but I hadn’t dilated. So door number two was taken and Jaimee arrived via c-section at 9:36 am, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. She was 5 lbs, 15 oz and 19 inches long – and absolutely adorable.

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Cidnie and Taylor couldn’t wait to meet their new little sister!

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The first night I kept looking over to see daddy and baby sleeping soundly. Each time I couldn’t believe it was really happening, that our baby was here and sound asleep just next to my bed.

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Daddy says he feels 20 years younger! Mom says Jaimee is so cute she can’t stand it.

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Thanks to the previous two week hospital stay, the doctor took mercy on us and let us come home a day early. Friday afternoon we arrived home. We went over to mom and dad’s first so dad could see mom and baby. It turns out this was the perfect and limited window for their meeting, by Sunday he was in a medicated state where he stayed until he passed away a week later. You can’t tell me this little one didn’t know. She knew. She knew exactly when she needed to be here.

It’s now been three weeks. Our little miracle is growing strong. She dropped to 5 lbs 3 oz by her 4 day check up, and had made it up to 5 lb 7.5 oz at her two week check up. Monday she weighed in at 6 lb 1 oz. Way to go Jaimee! She’s as perfect and wonderful as can be. She’s so calm and peaceful and we all feel it when we’re around her. Here’s a quick photo wrap up of the past three weeks:

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Because everyone loves pictures…here’s some of her newborn photo shoot:

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And just for kicks and giggles. Here’s a collage of newborn photos. On the left we have dad and mom, Jaimee is on the right. I think she fits right in!!

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If there were marathons for heart growth and work outs, I’m certain I’d be on in it. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of extreme heart stretching experiences. I watched my daughter (now pushing the threshold of 17 years old), get her own car and start her own job; been on bed rest getting our newest miracle baby here, got our miracle baby here on June 4th at 9:36 a.m., been smitten by all the awe of a newborn and the first time experiencing conception, pregnancy and delivery; tried to balance life for my 11 year old son who’s been a real trooper with all the disruption and changes in the past few weeks, and come home in time to see my dad enter the final stages of his life. Yes, I believe this qualifies as a routine worthy of the title calisthenics of the heart. As my friend said yesterday, 2014 is proving to be a miracle year. I agree completely, and she should know, she’s come back from the brink of death after being hit by a car 4 months ago! Miracles do happen every day, to those who believe in them.

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Dad has held on long enough to meet little Jaimee in person. Friday, when we got home he was in good spirits and so happy to meet her:

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Saturday afternoon his brothers came for a visit. Sunday his sisters came. Saturday was good, but Sunday he turned fast. He’s been in bed on high doses of pain meds keeping him comfortable since Sunday morning. Monday’s dialysis was out of the question, and that means the end is here. He continues to be made comfortable in his bed with his family surrounding him. Deniene is flying in today and with any luck she’ll get to say goodbye before he goes. Today his lungs are filling with fluid, and we know there’s not much left. Yesterday I took little Jaimee back over for some love:

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I think she was coaching him on the process of crossing the veil. We have talked in recent days about my two week hospital stay to get her here, and we’re thinking she had such a long line of people to get through to send her off that it took those two weeks to get passed off through the line up. Now, she’s helping grandpa get ready for the same receiving line. I can’t explain the process or the spiritual feelings and emotions that have been experienced. I can just reiterate, it’s been a marathon workout for this mommy’s heart.

Next week, I’ll get some details posted about Jaimee’s arrival. She is a perfect, petite little thing. She weighed in at 5 lb 15 oz , 19″ long and bless her heart spent no time in the NICU. She’s a miracle. Life is a miracle.

 

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