Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Ambitious, Yet Vague

Special education classrooms (shown here at th...

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My mother bought my sister and I memory books that corresponded with each year of school. We diligently filled them out each fall with the start of the new school year. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Each year it changed. When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a ballerina. It didn’t seem to matter that I had never taken a dancing lesson in my life and had no idea what that really entailed. In second grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I think that ended when the Challenger blew up later that school year.

In third grade, I got really ambitious. I wanted to be a millionaire. I have no idea how I was going to make this million dollars, but that didn’t seem to matter. In fourth grade I upped the ante and wanted to be a billionaire. In fifth grade, yes, a trillionaire.

For the next few years, I don’t remember having any specific employment goal. I did well in my classes, but there wasn’t anything in particular that I was drawn to. I enjoyed band the most, but never seriously considered that as a profession. I was good, but not that good.

When I was 15, things changed. I was in marching band with a rather intimidating band director. It wasn’t that he was mean, he just had high expectations and didn’t have patience for those who didn’t live up to their potential. As a sophomore new to the band, I was nervous around him. However, I found the courage to ask if I could move from the 10th grade band to the Junior/Senior band because there were too many saxophones in the lower group. At first he said no, but a few days later, he told me to talk to my guidance counselor to see if I could change my schedule. He gave me the boost of confidence that I needed and the idea of being a music educator was planted.

I actually applied to Penn State School of Music with the idea that I would become an instrumental music teacher. A number of things over the fall of my senior year forced me to pull my application and reapply to the Division of Undergraduate Studies, aka, The I-Have-No-Idea-What-I-Want-To-Major-In Major. I ended up a theatre major, but I by the time I had done academic theatre for four years, I had no desire to do it as a career.

The turning point was really when I opted to serve two years in AmeriCorps. I was assigned to a position at my old high school, working with students with moderate to severe disabilities, training them to work in the student store to set them up for future employment.  I wasn’t there for more than two weeks before I realized that I wanted to be in the classroom. I really could help young people by being a teacher.

I found a grad school that combined my theatre major and English minor into a dual certification program. I taught Special Education English for two years (New York City was so desperate for teachers that you didn’t have to be endorsed in Special Education to teach a specific content), general education English for two years in a different state, and then opted to go back to school to get my Special Education certification. This is my second year teaching full Special Education in a middle school and I love it.

Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised that I ended up where I did – there were definitely signs along the way that should have made my trajectory obvious. I had volunteered multiple times with students with special needs, from the time I was 10 through college. Nothing I have done is as satisfying, and I am glad I ended up where I did.

 

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Sousa and Ice Cream and Fireworks!!

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I love the idea of the Fourth of July.  Growing up, we never had big celebrations as a family. Usually we would pick up some fireworks and set them off in our street along with the neighbors. The joy of growing up next to an Indian Reservation, there were some doozies around! We’d usually spend the day playing in our wading pool, have a barbeque for dinner, and then wait until dark. Being north of Seattle, this didn’t usually happen until nearly 10pm.

As I got into high school and moved to PA, the 4th took on a different meaning. Living in a smaller town, we had a more community based celebration. I was somehow involved in the party almost every year I lived there in a variety of different ways.

Just after my high school graduation, our jazz band played a concert at the Central PA 4th Fest. We were getting ready to leave for our European tour the next week and this gave us a great opportunity to practice. It was the first time that I realized what a big celebration this was. It rivaled Penn State Tailgating, which is saying something. It all led up to the big fireworks celebration, rumored to be on of the top ten displays in the country. Each Independence Day, the State College Municipal Band performed “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Phillip Sousa. This classic patriotic song gets stuck in my head pretty much every year.

A few years later, I volunteered/was volunteered to help scoop ice cream at the 4h Fest as part of a fundraiser for our community theatre. The Penn State Creamery is known for their ice cream (they taught Ben and Jerry how to do it!) and they set up stands for community groups to man. They supplied the ice cream and a supervisor, we supplied the man power. For four hours straight, I scooped out Death by Chocolate, Peachy Paterno, and Keeney Beany Vanilla. We found our groove pretty quickly and worked like a well-oiled machine, dishing it our for the never ending line in 90 degree weather. While this had the potential for becoming a miserable experience, it really was a lot of fun with a great group of people and made a lot of money for our community playhouse.

Starting the night after the ice cream experience and continuing for several years after that, I had fantastic seats to view the huge fireworks display.  I mean great seats – the type where you feel each concussion hit you at the same time as you see the lights.  Most years we had great weather – still warm and dry. However, one year in particular, the weather was decidedly not great. It had been raining off and on all day and we were hoping it would clear up by dusk. No such luck. I remember standing there, looking up at the fireworks with the rain hitting my face. Fortunately it wasn’t too heavy at that point. However, as soon as the fireworks were done, the skies opened up and it poured. My friends and I had opted to walk to the festivities so we didn’t have to deal with parking. It didn’t really matter at this point because we were already soaked. I distinctly remember walking through the rainy traffic, jumping in puddles, being toasted by a party on the front porch of a house, and singing all the way home. We got back to the house, stripped off the wet clothes (changing into something dry, of course) and throwing everything we’d been wearing into the drier so we could wear it home. It wasn’t the ideal 4th celebration, but to this day it is one of my most memorable and one of my favorites.

And now I leave you with a little Stars and Stripes ala Muppets…

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Summer Flashlight Tag

I’ve been inspired by everyone’s delightful, nostalgic summer memories posts from a few weeks ago. I’m also home on the East Coast this week, spending some of my time in my hometown at my parent’s house in State College, so I’m reminded of many past summers. We had some good ones! Summers here, after all the students go home for break are wonderful. It’s so green this time of year, and the trees are sparkling with fireflies, just as Samantha described. The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts has always been a highlight of the summer and simpler fond memories include eating dinner on the screen porch, picking fresh vegetables from the garden, building fires in the backyard fire pit and playing catch with my dad in the field.

My favorite summer was the year we played flashlight tag every night. We had about seven kids in my neighborhood, all within three grades of each other. We grew up riding bikes and roller blades on our street, playing tag and many variations of hide and seek around the neighborhood. When we were old enough though, middle school to early high school, we started to play flashlight tag after dark. All of us, and more if anyone had friends or family staying with them, would meet each night after dinner and play flashlight tag until midnight! The rules were simple – set the boundaries of the playing field. For example: the creek to the street and one yard boundary to the fourth yard boundary. One flashlight with the seeker and all the others had a minute or two to hide. The first person to be found with the flashlight was the seeker for the next round. So, naturally, we got very good at this – dressing in warm dark clothes, moving stealthily in various alliances, not using the flashlight until we’d spotted someone. It was great fun with good friends. This group of kids were all really good sports, so we played every single night one summer and sporadically for the next several summers.

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The Summer I Was 16

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I have always loved summer. I remember from an early point of my childhood making elaborate summer plans.  I’d leave my house early in the morning and romp through the woods, not returning until dinner, and then turning around and heading back out until sunset.

However, there is one summer that really stands out in my minds as one of the best I ever had. It was the summer of 1995 and I was just shy of 17. At the end of the previous summer, my family had moved from the Seattle area to State College, PA, home of Penn State University and where my dad’s family was from.  The transition from Grungeland to Pennsyltucky was eye-opening, but rather uneventful for me. I’d had a good year and made some friends. I was definitely looking forward to my senior year and especially whatever came after high school. However, there was one last summer before the end of high school and I planned to make the most of it.

The first major choice I made was to go to Jazz Camp. This is what music nerds do during the summer. I spent a week learning to play jazz from the Penn State music staff.  It was the first time I ever stayed in the dorms and gave me a taste of what college could be like. We worked hard, but we had a lot of freedom and it was a fantastic experience.

The second major thing I chose to do was to join the apprentice program at the State College Community Theatre. This theatre group worked out of a converted 19th century barn. The talent was pretty much all local and gave people a great starting place in theatre. I was a tech intern – I did costuming, lighting and stage crew. I learned a lot that summer and went into the fall much more confident in my abilities. In fact, that may have been the point at which I seriously considered majoring in theatre in college.

I also got my wisdom teeth out that summer, but I’d rather not talk about that. 🙂

Finally, the most memorable part of the summer was something that most people, especially those on the East Coast, take for granted. I was sitting out on the back porch of the theatre as the last of the sunlight slipped from the sky. Sprinkled through the tree line at the edge of the property were thousands of fireflies. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest and only visiting PA in May and November, I had never seen fireflies before. I sat there, entranced, as they twinkled in the warm night air. It was an amazing sight that I feel so fortunate to have seen and really epitomizes that summer for me.

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Our View From Here is doing our second virtual book club the week of June 20th-24th. This time we are reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Read along with us as we “discuss” this great book and are joined by guest blogger Erin!

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Summer memories

Some of my most enjoyable summer memories occurred somewhere in the 1987-1991 range. In 1987 (I think) we moved to a new house. The neighborhood was still being built and many of the other lots had yet to be cleared and developed. Fortunately for my sister and me, there was a house a bit down the road that already had a family living there by the time we moved in. The family had a daughter my sister’s age and a son my age. They also had a younger daughter but we didn’t really know what to do with her. We became fast friends with this family and concocted many zany childhood adventures over the course of the next several years.

Without question the first summer we lived in that house was the best. The lot across the street from us and adjacent to them was still covered in the forest that had once covered the entire area. We spent hours playing in this “forest” and had it divided into several distinct “forts.” The first was the main fort. If you told the others to “meet you at the fort” this is where you would go. It was closest to the street and spanned toward the other family’s house. Here is where we would hang out, talk and come up with the rest of our games. There was also the “playground” fort, so called because there were two logs running perpendicular to one another, forming a see saw, and a branch hanging out of a tree that you could flip around like the bars on a playground. There was also the “triangle” fort, which got its name from the three logs that had fallen in the shape of a triangle (we were very creative children, as you can deduce from our naming abilities). We spent hours through our forts coming up with all sorts of imaginary games. I have vague memories about a witch and maybe something about outer space? It’s all a little fuzzy now. I think we were all devastated when the contractors were ready to start clearing the lots for the other houses, thus destroying our fort.

The other great thing about our surrounds was a giant hill that ran from the main fort to the cul-de-sac below, where our friends’ house was. In reality, it really wasn’t that giant – 20 feet long maybe? My diminutive size at the time skews my impression of the hill. It was grass covered and somewhere along the way we got the brilliant idea to slide down it. Being the kids we were, we plopped right down and scooted down the hill on our rear ends. Another neighbor saw this and suggested we get some cardboard to use as a sort of sled. I think he may have even brought some over for us. The introduction of cardboard was revolutionary. Soon we were flying down the hill. We used small pieces of cardboard for single rides, larger pieces for pairs and I think on a few occasions we got all 5 of us on one piece. That was a bit anticlimactic though since we were so heavy and spanned half the hill before we even got started. I think at one point in the heat of the summer we ended up putting a tarp down and ran a hose to it to make a sort of water slide, but I can’t say for sure. We also had fun sledding down our hill in the winter. It really was an all season kind of hill.

Each year that passed we played a bit less. We stayed good friends while we were neighbors, but as the other houses were built and more kids were introduced in the neighborhood, the relationships changed a bit. No longer were we the only kids on the block, and some of the camaraderie that had been built over the previous summer had eroded. We also got a bit older. I think my sister and the older girl from the other family started middle school our last year in the neighborhood and sort of outgrew a lot of the play that we had done in previous years. Nevertheless, I still look back at that time as the quintessential summer childhood experience, and the memories still bring a smile to my face.

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Good Old Fashion Fun

Summers growing up were filled with going to summer camp, Girl Scout Camp, and then a vacation with the family. Now that I’m older my summer tends to be made up of work and weekend get-away’s. Rarely do I take a week long vacation where I go away and play tourist for a week. Sometimes my vacations may involve traveling to visit a far away friend for a few days. There are some tourist spots usually involved but it’s mostly hanging with friends. There is one Summer activity that my family and I always make a point to plan. Our almost Annual trek to Knoebels Grove up in Elysburg, PA.

Knoebels is located very close to where my father grew up. He spent many Summer days there as a kid. As far back as I can remember we try to make at least one trip to Knoebels a year. When I was younger we would go camping in their campsites or stay with relatives and make it a long visit. When she was alive we’d go visit my great Aunt and she’d sneak me and my sister some money to use at the park. My dad would insist it wasn’t necessary. Being the matriarch she was she told him to shush and that she’d give us money if she wanted.

Apple with Warm Caramel, Whipped Cream, and Peanuts. So tasty!

The best thing about this park is it grows and changes where needed but certain classic aspects never change. Parking is always free. There is no fee to enter you just pay for what you ride. You can bring a picnic or buy their fantastic food.

(Seriously they win awards every year for their food).

There’s the old covered bridge that goes over the creek that will regularly flood the park. There are signs everywhere showing high water marks going back almost 50 years. There’s The Alamo restaurant where we always get Chicken and waffles. The Grand Carousel where you can actually reach for a brass ring. Growing up that’s was one of the main goals. To finally be big enough to reach the arm that dispensed the rings. I always get teary when I see a kid who has FINALLY reached out and plucked a ring from the arm. The look of joy and accomplishment. You never forget it (I’m a sap, I know).

The first hill of the Pheonix. you are required to wave to your friends waiting in the benches below.

This park is the home of my absolute favorite roller coaster…The Phoenix (This is the smoothest video I could find). A classic wooden coaster that’s gotten a bit rougher over the years but I still love it. It was resurrected from a closed park in Texas (Click here for the full story). I’m sure there’s a bit of nostalgic love that makes it my favorite but I know I’m not the only one. Once I think my back is up for it, this will be the first coaster I ride.

It used to be the home of my 2 favorite roller coasters. They had a fun compact steel coaster called the Jet Star. My sister and I loved that ride. We could ride it endlessly. One day we did. Like I said before, you pay for each ride. Except on hand stamp days. Weekdays you can pay a flat rate for a hand stamp for unlimited rides all day. One year we were camping at the park so we could stay until close. My parents were both completely tuckered out but my sister and I had energy to spare. Since it was later in the day there was no line to the Jet Star! We ran up with our hand stamps and hopped right on. Our parents settled into a bench ride adjacent and do the traditional wave as we scaled the first hill. Once the ride was done we ran off and immediately asked our parents if we could go again (“Please there’s NO line!”). They were tired and agreed. 27 rides later (I kid you not. We counted. Ask my sister) our parents declared it was time to go. I think we both nearly cried the year we came to the park and it was gone but at least we have that memory.

Over the years I have taken various friends along for the annual trek to Pennsylvania coal country. It is one of my favorite places to be and I love when I can share it. Thinking of it always makes me smile. I get a whiff of mechanics grease anywhere and I think of the smell of the older rides. I get a good whiff of that sugary smell that is always in the air at fairs and carnivals and mentally I’m suddenly at Knoebels.

For me Summer feels incomplete if I don’t make it to Knoebels. That reminds me. I need to find out when we’re going this year.

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A Musical Journey

Music has always been a big part of my life. At one point, I seriously considered being a music major with the idea of teaching instrumental music in a secondary school. A number of things happened that caused me to consider another path, but it’s easy to see the mark music has made on my life. If it hadn’t been for music, I wouldn’t have gone into theatre and been so successful, especially when it came to musicals.

However, music also defines different periods in my life.  Certain artists or songs bring me back to particular moments in time. So come with me on my musical journey…

John Denver's Greatest Hits

First stop, at some point before 5 years old:

My mom gave me a little old yellow-green record player and a collection of 45s that I would play non-stop. I could often be found in front of my mirrored closet doors, hairbrush in hand, singing my heart out to Credence Clearwater Revival, Willie Nelson, and my personal favorite, John Denver

Around 5 years old:

My first memory of anything related to pop culture was a big one – Michale Jackson‘s Thriller album was released the year I started Kindergarten. I didn’t really understand what the big deal was, and the dancing zombies both fascinated me a freaked me out…

Around 10:

Fast forward a few years – I don’t seem to have any memory of anything music related until I was in 5th grade. My best friend Jill and I would spend hours listening to the Bangles Everything album, even using it to practice our square dancing to (we were going to camp that spring)…

Junior High:

I was fortunate to grow up in the Pacific Northwest during an incredible time for music. The birth of grunge led to everyone having their own garage band. I had more flannels than I care to admit, and I was truly a grunge chick.  While I was really more of a Pearl Jam girl than Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit was the original anthem for this whole genre:

High School:

From grunge to angry chick rock, Alanis Morrisette hit big my senior year. I missed her concert, but I remember buying the album and listening to it over and over…

College:

Besides the fight song and alma mater that I still know almost all of the words to, college was defined by music.  I’ll spare you the Musical Theatre, but one of the artists that unfortunately defined my early college experience was none other than the British Pop Import Spice Girls. I blame my first roommate for this one (yes you, Mike!)

Okay, college gets two videos.  Late college was more defined by modern rock. I especially remember a particular 4th of July, walking home from the fireworks in the pouring rain, drenched to the bone, singing this one with my friends. I have no idea why…

Grad School/Early Professional:

I moved to NYC for grad school, and while there is a plethora of New York songs, that’s not what I think of when I think of my time there. During this time, my friends and I gathered annually to catch up. This song featured prominently in at least one of those reunions…

Thus ends our musical journey through my life.  Now I’m back in the PNW and I don’t know what song I could use to define the last couple years. I think I need some distance to figure that out. Also, this list skips some major players – notably Barenaked Ladies and Pearl Jam – but I think it gives a good overall view of my musical evolution.

The week of April 25, Our View From Here will be holding its first virtual book club!  We will all be reading, and commenting on, the book Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen.  Read along with us!
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Whatever Happened to Theme Songs?

Something struck me while compiling last week’s post on our favorite childhood television. While looking for a YouTube link to the Smurfs I got lost in listening to themes from my other favorite cartoons and I got slightly forlorn. They just don’t make theme songs like they used to. Even the sitcoms of the 80s had fun catchy theme songs (I’ll get in to those some other week….maybe not). I have MP3’s of many of my favorites. I remember the theme song would come on before my favorite cartoons and I would get actually excited to see what the episode had to offer. Some of these songs I can sing to this day. Other’s there are snippets that linger in my brain. I decided last week that this free week would be dedicated to showing my appreciation for these theme songs. Oddly enough, Many of my favorite themes are from the great Disney cartoons that came out in the late 80s and 90s. I truly think it was a golden era of Disney Television Animation.

First up is the song that ran through my head while doing dishes last week while I tried to think of which show to write about.”Ddddanger lurks behind you. There’s a stranger out to find you! What to do just grab on to some DuckTales! Woohoo!”

The next one I randomly find myself singing. In the car, wandering around the house, when I go hiking. Eating one of my favorite candy treats.

How awesome is that french horn?! (I think it’s a french horn.) I always imagined that Gummi Berry Juice tasted like Ikea’s Lingonberry juice. No idea why, it’s just what my child brain decided.

Shortly after Ducktales,  Disney released a couple other weekday afternoon cartoons with awesome theme songs that continue to pop up in my brain. “Spin It! Let’s begin it.”

“These two. Gum Shoes. Are picking up the slack!”

It wasn’t just the Disney cartoons that had great themes. The Muppets and Muppet babies themes still lives in my MP3 list. Samantha played them for you last week. Warner Brothers got in on the act and have their own theme ingrained in my brain. “In this cartooney they’re invading your TV.”

Thankfully, Tiny Toons was so successful Warner Brothers released another afternoon cartoon show that was just fantastic. I am proud to admit I have three of the music cds they released from the show.

To this day, I love Wakko’s song of the state’s and all their capitols. I can never remember all the words. “Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Indianapolis, Indiana and Columbus is the capitol of Ohio.” That’s all I can remember….not so impressive.

Ah well. I hope you’ve enjoyed reminiscing with me and now some of these songs are trapped in your head like they have been in mine all week. They just don’t make them like this anymore. Granted, I don’t watch the cartoons they make now so maybe they do have catchy, fun-to-sing themes like we were blessed with back in the 80s but I highly doubt it.

PS- This is how Wakko’s state song should go after the Indianapolis bit. I never remember that Alabama comes next.

“Oh I’m soo sorry. You failed to put your response in the form of a question.'” HA! Man I loved that show. Where’s my ipod? I’ve got more reminiscing to do.

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It’s the Muppet Show!

The Muppet Show

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Okay, so going on the last day of the week sometimes has its downsides.  I, too, am a lover of the Smurfs and Fraggle Rock.  I was sitting at my sister’s side as she watched She-Ra. The Cosby Show was one of the greatest sitcoms ever.  But I can’t believe that no one mentioned the greatest television show ever made…

I have always been a Muppet Fan.  One of my favorite pictures from  my childhood shows me hanging onto the edge of my playpen, staring up at the TV and I am clearly watching the original Muppet Show.  My favorite all time guest was Elton John, especially when he did “”Crocodile Rock.”

I always loved the fantastic characters, especially the on and off romance of Miss Piggy and Kermit. I always felt bad for Fozzie, too, especially when Stadler and Waldorf (aka the two old guys in the balcony) were making fun of him. But mostly I just loved the general silliness yet high quality production.

I was also a big fan of their anamated spin-off, Muppet Babies!

How is it I still know all the lyrics to this song??  Anyway, I thought it was funny that we never saw more than Nanny’s stripped legs and maybe a hand.  I loved all of the parodies of various stories like “Raiders of the Lost Muppet,” Star Trek, and “Snow White and the Seven Muppets.”  This show simply made me happy.

In the immortal words of Baby Animal, “Go bye bye!!”

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The Little Folks That are 3 Apples Tall

This was not an easy decision for me. All my life I’ve watched too much TV. I admit it. I’ve battled my TV addiction all through my adult life. When I was young I had my Saturday morning line up all set. Fortunately many times my mother would come inside and declare it is far too nice a day to be cooped up inside. To this day, I feel guilty if the sun is shining and I’m “cooped up inside.” This isn’t always such a good thing when I have indoor chores to finish and the bright sun is calling me out.

Anyway back to the matter at hand. If you didn’t figure it out from the title one of my favorite cartoons from childhood was The Smurfs. They had such fun adventures in the forests trying to stay out of Gargamel’s clutches. Always helping people in need that they happened upon in their travels. All the while everything was Smurfy, or smurftastic. It seemed the word smurf could be replaced for anything.

I will admit I was always a little disappointed that Smurfette was the only female in the village of the toadstool houses (another thing I thought was so cool). I also didn’t appreciate that she fairly often seemed to be somewhat helpless, unless it came to prettying herself, but there would be other female characters that would pop in here and there. Besides how could you not love Papa Smurf? He always knew just what to do and just the right things to say. Like any other cartoon there was a plethora of Smurf merchandise. the pride of my collection was my Smurf sheet set. The pictures told a fun little story and I just thought they were the coolest thing on the planet. Crazy comfortable too. I had some little plastic Smurf toys and a little stuffed Smurf doll.

The Smurf was just one of my many favorites from my childhood. Thinking back I really feel like cartoon today just don’t compare. In all fairness I’m never in a situation where I am watching cartoon from today but the random times I’ve happened upon them I’ve been disappointed. As you may have seen they are coming out with a new Smurf movie. I am very fearful this will ruin my memories of my dear Smurfs. Thank goodness for YouTube.

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