Life interruptus; it happens

After an embarrassingly long absence that I will attribute to technical difficulties – as in my lungs were not working so well – I have turned a corner.  These days,  I can breathe.

Almost Every. Single. Day.  That is huge.

Until about two years ago, breathing was that automatic but quite necessary function that I assumed would cooperate when I needed. Which is pretty much all the time. When breathing became less reliable, I began a round of doctor visits that took me through most medical specialties in a quest to solve a mystery. read more

Stopping to smell roses: 13 acres of beauty

A honeybee, her pollen baskets full, works the open blossom of Carrousel at the Park of Roses. (Cindy Decker photo)

Columbus’ Park of Roses isn’t just a glorious romp of color and fragrance with 12,000 rosebushes on its 13 acres.

The park is also a memorial to many, an homage to others.

Walking the wide paths, I spend almost as much time wondering about the people named on the rectangular green plaques as I do about the flowers themselves. Every person honored had a story, someone who loved him or her.

After my father died in 1998, I adopted a rose bed in honor of my parents. My mother, who had died years earlier, loved roses, and I still remember the names of ones she grew.

Peace, the yellow hybrid tea with a blush of pink on its petals, exudes a heavenly, sweet fragrance. Dr. W. Van Fleet is a climber with pale pink roses that have a light scent. Blaze is a red climber that bloomed far longer than the usual few weeks in June.

A Crimson Glory rose opens at the Park of Roses. Although the rose, which is not a climber is not as deep red as my parents’, it offers the same fragrance. (Cindy Decker photo)

But the rose I most associate with my mother is the climbing variety of Crimson Glory. The rose has a deep red, velvety blossom that carries a heady, lasting fragrance. It goes from a beautiful bud to a lovely, well-formed flower when opened. As a child, I liked to pet its soft petals, which probably wasn’t so good for the flower but which delighted me.

Peace and Crimson Glory often decorated our kitchen table in summer, scenting the entire room as a light summer breeze came in open windows.

A whiff of either still transports me home.

Both those varieties can be found in a pocket of the Park of Roses dedicated to older varieties. I like that enclave because the roses there have proved their lasting power.

Every year when my dedication renewal comes up, I ask whether either Peace or Crimson Glory is available. So far, they haven’t been.

My current bed is planted with Carrousel, a red rose that has a nice scent but is no Crimson Glory. It’s at least my third rose variety since adopting a bed, two earlier varieties having underperformed and been replaced.

My Carrousel bed was looking a bit sad on a recent visit and some replanting is planned. If the foundation that manages the park chooses a new rose, I hope it is red and one with scent.

Most of the 329 rose beds available for dedication in the park have been claimed, with just eight available late last week. Those dedicating a bed pay $200 initially and a $40 maintenance fee yearly. The cost of dedicating a tree is $300 and an engraved stone, $200.

For more information on dedicating a rose bed or other item, contact the Park of Roses Foundation at 614-645-3391.

Conclusion: The Park of Roses is worth a visit any time of the year. Beyond the roses, it has well-tended perennial and herb gardens.

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Visiting the parks: Blacklick an urban retreat

Native wildflowers attract bees and butterflies to Blacklick Woods Metro Park.

Just like the citizens of central Ohio, Metro Parks are a wide-ranging lot, offering everything from herb gardens to strenuous hikes for the 8 million people who visit them annually.

In its 19 parks, Metro Parks boasts 200 miles of trails on more than 27,000 acres of land in seven counties.

But people tend to have their favorite parks, the ones that draw them for afternoons out. (My favorite is Highbanks, but more on that another day.)

Realizing that I’ve explored only eight of the Metro Parks, I put visiting all of them on my list of goals.

First up was Blacklick Woods Metro Park, 643 acres with woods, meadows and vernal pools in Reynoldsburg. This pocket of nature just off I-70 is a place to escape, and even on a Thursday afternoon, a number of visitors walked and biked the paths.

The park’s Nature Center is one of the modern variety, encouraging visitors to stop and observe nature rather than merely study static displays. Large windows overlook feeders and a pond, where a duck decoy tries to lure waterfowl.

Native plants including coneflowers and milkweed bloom in the gardens outside, and a small area allows children (and any adult who might be so inclined) to play off-trail in the woods.

On a cold day, the center would be a great place to while away an hour or so watching birds and squirrels at the feeders.

But on a glorious July afternoon, the six trails of the park beckoned.

A friend and I pursued all the shady paths, which take visitors through a beech-maple forest and past a wetland still holding water after recent rains. A pair of vocal blue jays flitted about in the understory and other birds could be heard in the canopy.

The tree-sheltered trails were a way to undertake outdoor activity without too much sweat on a day with temperatures nearing 90 degrees. But in spring, the woodlands would be dotted with wildflowers.   In summer, they were green and lush, with fungi sprouting on fallen logs.

I missed seeing one of Blacklick’s most notable features, the buttonbush, a wetlands shrub that sports stunning white starbursts of flowers. I don’t know whether I was too early or too late for the bloom, but it’s one worth seeing, I’m told.

Because of the unforgiving sun, my friend and I found the 4-mile multipurpose trail less inviting than the shaded paths even though the longer trail passes a pretty meadow awash in summer blooms such as the native bee balm.

We walked part of the path to enjoy a few of the butterflies, bees and blossoms but opted not to follow it to its end lest we bake to a crisp.

Because of its location, a visitor to Blacklick won’t forget she is in the city. The noise of traffic is never far, and the interstate passes over part of the trail. I thought the loss of silence was a trade-off equal to the convenience of having a park  convenient to so many residents.

But my husband, who grew up in Columbus,  pointed out that when Blacklick was formed in 1949,  the area was well outside the city.

And I-70 wasn’t built until the late 1960s. The population of central Ohio has grown around Blacklick, helping it morph into an urban retreat.

All six of park’s trails are rated “easy” and are accessible to those with disabilities. The park also has a golf course.

For more information on Blacklick, visit www.metroparks.net/parks-and-trails/blacklick-woods.

Conclusion: I will return to see the buttonbush in bloom.

The native bee balm is a soft lavender and attracts both bees and butterflies.
Interstate 70 runs over part of the park.
A natural play area was created outside the Nature Center.

 

 

 

 

 

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Playing with kitties: A great way to relax

Blake, the cat almost renamed Crush, climbs into one of the cat trees.
Key recorded blackmail evidence that I must hide from my own cats.

My friend Key and I decided three things after a visit to Eat, Purr, Love, central Ohio’s first cat cafe.

No. 1. An hour really is long enough to play with kittens and cats.

No. 2. If you find a cat that you might want to take home, don’t dally with your decision. The cat might be adopted before you act, even if you have picked out a really cool name.

No. 3. The coffee and tea might be a little expensive, but the money goes to a good cause.

The cafe on Indianola Avenue in Clintonville is open six days a week, letting visitors meet cats from the Capital Area Humane Society that are available for adoption.   (The cafe is closed Mondays because, according to the website, “Cats do their laundry and get pedis on Mondays.”)

Passing pedestrians are likely to see cats in the wide storefront window sleeping on pillowy beds or watching  birds in the trees across the street.

The felines are a contented lot, living in a space outfitted especially for them. They have places to hide, things to climb, toys to bat and soft spots to sleep. They even have an exercise wheel where they can work off those stubborn extra ounces.

Human guests to the Cat Lounge pay $10 to spend an hour with the animals, after signing a waiver that should make a person ponder whether she is going to meet domestic felines or rampaging tigers.

When I booked our visit, I wondered whether an hour was long enough to get to know the dozen animals at the cafe. It was.

Just because I love cats didn’t mean I clicked with all of them. I made three friends quickly, including Keeper, one of the resident cats who is definitely NOT up for adoption. Keeper played fiercely and energetically, jumping and running until near collapse as he chased his feather on a stick.

Along with him was a gray and white kitten about 9 months old who joined in the play.

Neither of the cats had any interest in being petted. They were barrels of energy ready to move. The kitten was a bit skittish, as if not used to being that close to strangers. Still, all the cats were more social around strangers than either of my own would be. My cats vanish.

I made my way around the room, petting or talking to animals curled on couches and sitting on sinks. I moved along from most quickly.

Then I spotted a big orange tiger resting behind a sofa. As I sat at the adjacent table to pet him, he did something unusual for a cat: He climbed into my lap for more.

The  nearly 2-year-old male named Blake was sweet, loving and beautiful. He was lithe and athletic, muscular and trim.

As I had with some of the other cats, I wondered how Blake had come to be in a shelter; he obviously had been loved and cared for. But the cafe didn’t have the backstories on the animals, and people have many reasons for surrendering an animal.

Key, who adopted her own orange tiger last year, was enchanted by Blake but unsure whether lady Clementine would be willing to share her home with some big bossy guy her mom had just picked up.

By the end of the hour, I was ready to go. Blake had had enough petting, and my playful friends had crashed and were sitting quietly. The remaining cats were being entertained by eight other human visitors.

Talking to the other guests, I found that none of us had come expressly to adopt an animal. One family was in town from Alabama and simply killing an hour. One couple was merely satisfying their cat craving, unable to bring a pet into their rented apartment.

Over the next few days, Key talked to Clementine about a possible stepbrother but the tiny cat gave no clear response.   In a week, though, Key had decided Blake should be rechristened  Crush, as in the soda Orange Crush,  to keep with his coloring and her love of food-themed names. But when she called the cafe to make adoption plans, she found that Blake had been spoken for.

Clementine was probably relieved.

Although many cats at the cafe are several years old and the kittens tend to be teenagers, they are adopted quickly, a staffer said.

T   o arrange a visit at Eat Purr Love or for more information, visit eatpurrlovecatcafe.com.

Kitschy decor accents the lobby.
A bulletin board shows cats up for adoption.

Conclusion: Cats bring happiness.   I will return.

A cat takes a moment to catch its breath.

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Learning to breathe: Under water and above

Humans tend to take a lot of things for granted. Breathing, for instance.

The past few months, I’ve spent a lot of my free time visiting doctors because I developed breathing difficulties after bouts of bronchitis this winter.  I apparently waited till my 50s to become asthmatic. Or at least that is the current theory.

So forgive my blog’s absence. All my writing time went to staying alive.

Still, I still have been busy knocking things off my list. I just haven’t had time to write about the experiences.

But  one experience seems particularly ironic, considering the reason for my absence.  It is all about breathing.

In April, I took scuba classes, trying to fulfill a lifelong dream of exploring oceans and reefs at a depth I can’t see by snorkel alone.

The 12 hours of course work, held at my health club over four weeks, incorporated both classroom time  and water time. My fellow students were an interesting mix: a father and son learning together; a sixtyish woman who had diving on her bucket list; a high-school student preparing for a class trip; and a man in his 30s planning a vacation in Jamaica.

Although the classroom work is important, we were eager to get busy doing.  Surely practicing the skills would be more interesting than simply talking about them.

But before one straps on a tank to breathe underwater, she needs to understand the science of this unnatural act. Knowing how pressure affects the body is essential to staying alive.

In the pool, we learned skills that should have scared away anyone with a case of nerves. Although never stated so boldly, all the  skills centered on the idea: Learn this or you could die.

Each was a reminder that 40 feet under the surface of the ocean, you are reliant on your equipment to breathe. In any failure, you must know how to respond.

What do you do if your regulator (the device that delivers air) is knocked from your mouth?

What do you do if you run out of air? What do you do if you run out of air and your partner isn’t close?

How do you ditch your weight belt if you need to make a quicker ascent?

How do you remove (and put back on) your vest should you become entangled in underwater debris?

Mastering skills in a 10-foot pool is reassuring. The confines offer security. There is no real risk involved.  If anyone felt uncomfortable, she could make a quick trip to the surface.

But in the ocean, one can’t simply surface on a whim. Ascension must be   taken at an appropriate speed to prevent complications.

I finished my scuba course just a few days before my bronchitis reappeared, which has put me in limbo.

I can’t complete the open water dives needed for certification while my lungs are compromised.

So I wait. I’d really like to breathe well again, whether above water or under.

Conclusion:  Satisfaction delayed. To Be Continued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Following the gorge: Awash in wildflowers

The Little Miami River flows through a narrows at Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve. (Cindy Decker photo)

Ohio’s early wildflowers often make seekers scour the forest floor to find them.

But after a long winter, nature lovers will delight when they spot a minuscule harbinger of spring (also known as salt and pepper), which bears clusters of flowers only a quarter-inch wide.

As spring progresses, the flowers become more more showy.   People walking in the woods won’t have to look as hard to enjoy the variety of plants in bloom.

Indeed, the question might be where to look first, with so many blossoms vying for attention.

Such was the case Easter weekend at Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, near Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Although the forest floor is sadly overrun with invasive plants near the trailhead, the farther along the path, the more pristine the landscape.

Invasive plants are a  threat to Ohio’s most beloved wildflowers. Honeysuckle, privet, burning bush and other imports to the United States have escaped the garden bed and are crowding out delicate wildflowers that are no match for the invading bullies.

Bush honeysuckle, for example, is the first to leaf out in spring and the last to lose leaves in fall. That keeps other plants on the forest floor from receiving the water and light they need to thrive. And if that weren’t enough, honeysuckle is alleopathic; it produces a chemical that  can prevent other seeds from germinating.

The blossoms of merrybells hang. (Cindy Decker photo)

Honeysuckle and similar berry-producing invaders spread with the help of birds, which ingest the fruits and deposit the seeds later, far from the mother plant.

A visit to a preserve like Clifton Gorge can reinforce why so many of us battle invasive plants, even though it requires repeated eradication efforts.

Clifton Gorge is one of those “That can’t be Ohio” bits of geography, a dolomite and limestone gorge formed by glaciers eons ago. The Little Miami River rushes through the gorge, which has narrows and rapids and giant boulders left behind by the receding ice.

Spring wildflowers at the 268-acre preserve are phenomenal. My hiking companion Karen and I missed the spring beauties and harbingers of spring, but many other plants were in bloom.

I was excited to see a single clump of merrybells growing near the path; it was the first time I’d seen this native plant in its natural home.

But that one clump of hanging bells was overshadowed a bit farther along by a veritable blanket of the mellow yellow flowers.

Dutchman’s-breeches, wild blue phlox, Virginia bluebells and trilliums flanked both sides of the trail.

A few wat

The large-flowered trillium is in bloom at Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve.

erfalls tumbled over the side of the cliffs, fed by recent rains. And  the sound of the rushing river followed us most places along the trail.

The trail is not difficult, but it is probably wise to be sure-footed. Tree roots and rocks protrude from parts, making tripping or twisting an ankle a real possibility.

The trail leads from Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve into John Bryan State Park, another great place to explore.

But we left that for another day.

Conclusion:  Clifton Gorge is worth a walk any time of year, but it is especially appealing in spring with so many flowers in bloom.

Toadshade trilliums bear an unusual flower. (Cindy Decker photo)
Wild blue phox is one of the more colorful spring blossoms. (Cindy Decker photo)
The yellow violet is not a fast spreader. (Cindy Decker photo)
Dutchman’s-breeches are so named because the blossoms resemble pantaloons on a clothesline. (Cindy Decker photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Big band sounds: A lesson in social norms

Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra gets ready to perform. (Cindy Decker)

What I expected to be a simple night out a few weeks ago – a one-and-done kind of activity – took an unexpected turn into discussions of audience behavior, expectations, and, well, what constitutes fun.

 

The performance by Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra at the Clintonville Women’s Club fell into the category of “things I didn’t know that I don’t know” (which is a large category indeed).

Evidently, I went into the event with one gigantic misconception.

I thought that because the orchestra performs weekly in a social club   – an event that has been going on 20 years – the atmosphere would be somewhat casual. Food is served, and guests may bring in alcoholic drinks. I expected the music to be dominant, of course, but I also expected talking, laughing and perhaps even some dancing.

I thought my friend was kidding when he texted before the event, “NO DANCING!!!!” (Caps and exclamation points all his.)

The extremely talented 22-member orchestra plays fun big band pieces, prompting toe-tapping and wriggling in one’s seat. I couldn’t complain about the quality of the music.

But I didn’t interpret the event as being a stage performance like what I would find at the Ohio or Palace theaters. Even with the $10 cover, I interpreted it as a club, a place for fun versus a place for intense study of musical theory and arrangement.

I seem to have been in the minority on that viewpoint. I drew the stink eye from three older women when I tried to carry on a conversation with a table companion whom I had not seen in months.

From then on, I sat stoically face-forward in a kind of forced attention to the band. And that just felt wrong and truly un-fun.

The event was well-attended, and audience members enjoyed the well-executed pieces.

But I left wondering what was more typical. No talking during  the show? Or using the (very nice) music as background?

I took my question to three friends who know music well: my cousin, who plays trumpet with nine bands (and sometimes, he says, even gets paid); a pianist who performs in the Washington, D.C., area; and a friend whose father was a well-known jazz performer.

What they agreed was it all depends on the venue and audience expectations.

Ed Wiley, owner of a North Carolina restaurant that used to offer live jazz, gave the explanation that most closely dovetailed with my thoughts.

“Some places employ musicians, mostly locals, who just want to play. They are there merely to offer some background fodder. People don’t actually pay to hear their music and a radio station would suffice,” he said. “The ‘A’ house, on the other hand, is where people pay a pretty decent cover to hear touring musicians and/or recording artists, some of whom are nationally renowned. Generally, in these venues the house rule is, ‘If you must talk, please keep conversations to a whisper!’

“The thought is that jazz musicians, as the purveyors of America’s only classical music, deserve the same deference as those who perform European classical music. I have seen jazz musicians walk off the stage and refuse to return until the house cleared for the next show.

“However, there are many, many jazz musicians – of which my father was one (Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Jordan, Clark Terry, James Moody also come to mind) – who encouraged audiences to clap, click, sing along, even dance. To players like these, participation is a sign that you’re digging the show. My father believed that quiet, unresponsive crowds were often a sign that the music was too mathematical, too sterile or just plain un-fun. He felt that a musician had the responsibility to compel people to pay attention.”

The local orchestra is beloved, and the event is an affordable night out. I think I ran afoul by not understanding the social code of the particular event.

I also think my cousin identified the predictor  succinctly for future forays into the unknown:

“How dedicated are their fans?  If the band was playing for dancing … Have fun and drink and give them the stink eye back.  But, If it’s being mostly accepted by the audience as a concert performance … then talk at your own risk.”

 

Conclusion: I probably never need to go back unless the event loosens up. The staff   started snatching linens off the tables within minutes of the band’s last note, before we’d even said a goodbye to table companions.

 

 

Along I-70: Well, it was a nice day for a drive

A marker from the National Road tells the distance to Cumberland, Md., where the road began.

Seventy miles east of Columbus, the National Road & Zane Grey Museum tells the stories of the country’s first interstate and a well-known author of Westerns.

The End.

Conclusion: Always check a venue’s seasonal hours before heading out on an adventure. It might be closed until May.

Attacking weeds: Or when the weeds attack

Thorns have ripped holes in heavy gloves. And skin.

Under the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2017 is the year of the chicken or rooster.

That might well be, but for me, 2017 is the year of the thorn, and I have the scars to prove it.

Thorns are major players in my attempt to cross No. 65 off my list: Tackle invasive species in my neighborhood.

That’s what I’ve been doing since I last wrote, waging war against plants that are trying to overtake the wooded landscape.

I’ve spent hours with a bow saw and pruners the past few weeks, taking out honeysuckle, privet and multiflora rose bushes.

This is not a new battle, and it is not one that will end in a definitive victory. It will require perennial skirmishes to hold the enemy at bay.

When I left my job at The Columbus Dispatch in November, I downloaded the Wild Things columns that I had written over a 16-year period. I discovered that a good number dealt with invasive plants.

Truthfully, I was a bit of a nag on the subject.

When I first declared war on invasives, honeysuckle and garlic mustard were my main foes. They were crowding out the native wildflowers on which our animals and insects rely.

These days, I would be delighted to have other enemies that surrender as easily as those two. When young, honeysuckle can be ripped up by its roots with one hand. When older, it can be cut and the stump treated with glyphosate, which will kill it quickly.

Garlic mustard can be yanked out easily, and if caught before the herb sets seed, will be eradicated from an area.

Some of the plants fight back, though, which gets to my thorns.

Multiflora rose does not go quietly.

The long and supple canes of the plant latch to my gloves, shirt, hat and hair as I try to prune them back. At times, I am fully engulfed in the stuff and can’t get out.

One of the enemies: multiflora rose.

Think Harry Potter’s devil’s snare.

The older canes, the ones that have turned woody, are more dangerous still, like nail-studded medieval torture devices.

My sister turned me on to Kevlar gauntlets, which cover most of my arms; simple rose gloves hadn’t offered enough protection.

The gauntlets have at least prevented the linear scratches that caused a doctor to ask some years ago whether I was cutting myself or had particularly evil cats.

But the thorns, big and extremely sharp, rip through my gloves and clothing.   The tips break off under my skin. Earlier this year, I bore two stitches in my hand after a doctor had to remove a thorn that would not come out.

The privet I’m ripping out is almost as bad, with sharp spurs.

I will  continue to work away at ridding the community of invasives.

I’ll never be able to cross this off my list, but this year, I’ve made more progress than ever before.

Conclusion: Till next year. Or next week.

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Getting fingerprinted: To ease my travels

Procrastination is a funny thing:  Delaying a task usually lets the chore grow in my mind to unreal proportions, making it seem more annoying, boring or daunting than it would be if I just got it over with.

Such was the case with the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck application.

For several years I’d delayed signing up for PreCheck – which allows a  more orderly trip through an airport security checkpoint – because I would need to visit the local office as part of the process.  I couldn’t see how I could take two hours out of a busy workday to visit the office, a 20-minute drive in the wrong direction from my house.

Without a PreCheck designation on a boarding passes,  passengers must remove their toiletries from luggage; take off their shoes; take off their belt; remove their jacket; and pull their laptop from their suitcase.

With PreCheck, travelers can sail through the screening fully clothed and with most electronics still stowed.

I was not sold on the need for PreCheck when it began in 2013. Indeed, I mocked the idea of paying $85  for a  background check that would grant a known traveler number to those deemed trustworthy.

Removing my shoes and jacket wasn’t a big deal, I thought.

But then airlines started occasionally assigning me to PreCheck free, and $85 suddenly seemed a bargain to regain  some  civility we’d lost since 9/11.

Putting clothing, shoes, toiletries and laptops into bins for X-ray screening isn’t   a  problem. Travelers can undertake the process methodically, if quickly, in the lead-up to the machine.

It was the rush on the other side that I dreaded.

A slight panic would overtake me after I passed through the scanner.  I’d be trying to gather my things from the conveyor, repack my belongings (Everything used to fit!) put on my shoes and get out of the way before the next suitcase came crashing down the conveyor and I was in everyone’s way.

Invariably, I would – absentmindedly – stuff my boarding pass into a pocket or a purse or a  bag so I’d have two hands to tie shoes and repack as fast as possible.  I’d be searching frantically for the boarding pass five minutes later having no clue where I’d stored it.

I am clearly not alone in   this discombobulation. A huge number of items are left at TSA screening areas every year,   from coats and watches to laptops and wallets. In 2015, TSA collected more than $750,000 in loose change alone.

Last week, I went to John Glenn Columbus International Airport and met with TSA workers to finalize the application that I’d filled out online.

I had imagined a Bureau of Motor Vehicles kind of queue, but applicants were given appointments, and I was in and out in less time than it had taken me to find a parking space.

Five minutes was all that was needed for me to answer a few questions, let the workers take my fingerprints and pay my fee.

My two-year wait seemed a bit silly after that quick dispatch.

Earlier this week, I received email telling me I had been approved. I now have a known traveler number to use when I fly. I won’t always be able to go through security screenings easily; airports don’t always have a PreCheck lane active.

I’ll need to renew in five years, but I will be  less likely to delay.

If you would like more information on applying for PreCheck, visit www.tsa.gov.

Conclusion: Why did I wait?

 

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