Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Diet Is ON: A Recipe for Taco Pie

I am OFFICIALLY SERIOUSLY DIETING.   I have been for about two weeks.   Like I did twelve years ago, I am using the Richard Simmons Food Mover program.   Except for the exercise videos.   I just can't.   I'm walking and exercising at home, instead.   The diet counts American Diabetic Association exchanges and you can eat from all food groups, just in proper amounts and portion sizes.   It's more about lifestyle changes. It worked before.   Here's a recap of my food/weight history in this previous post.   It's not Richard's fault I'm having to diet again.  Your prayers are appreciated!

The program revolves around this daily counter.   Based on you current weight, you insert a calorie card with the healthy amount of calories a person your weight should consume in a day.   Each of those little squares has a little door that slides down.   For each serving, you close the window.   Although, I just said door didn't I?   Anyway, when your windows/doors are all closed, you're done eating for the day.

Tonight I made this old dieting favorite: Taco Pie.   The kids loved it and it was a nice change from the delicious- but-getting-old-fast roasted chicken breasts I've been making!   It can be easily doubled or tripled.   Plus, it's economical, especially if you have a coupon for the crescent rolls.  


1 lb. ground lean turkey (93/7)
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pkg. reduced sodium taco seasoning
1 can tomato paste
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pkg. refrigerated reduced fat crescent rolls

Brown turkey in skillet, with onion, bell pepper and garlic until meat is browned and vegetables are tender.

Add taco seasoning and tomato paste and stir until heated thoroughly.

Place turkey mixture in bottom of an 8 inch brownie pan.   Sprinkle cheese on top.   Cover with 1/2 roll of crescent roll dough, pressing the seams together.   You can save the rest of the dough or use it to make rolls to go alongside the meal.   

Bake 18-20 minutes until dough is lightly browned and baked through.   

Serve by placing each piece atop shredded lettuce, shredded carrots.   Top with salsa and sour cream (optional--not included in exchanges below).

6 servings: Each serving is 1 starch, 1 protein, 1 fat (probably not a full one, but just to be safe)

Part II of The Hostess Series: Strategic Cleaning

This is the second post in The Hostess Series.   This post is about hosting parties and scheduled gatherings, not about having people over for things like play dates, movie nights, book clubs, or a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.  

I had a real break-through moment a few years ago after one of our family celebrations.   One of our friends commented, "Terri, you always work so hard for these get-togethers and then you never get to enjoy them because you're busy the whole time."

It really gave my pause to think about how I did things.   I thought back to memories of Mama with guests and remembered her spending most of her time visiting with them.   I was also a regular viewer of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa series at that time.   Ina spoke frequently about how to make your guests comfortable and welcome in your home.  They aren't going to feel comfortable is you're standing there flustered, sweating, and acting as if the event--and their appearance--is a source of stress for you.   You don't want to make people feel guilty for being there.

So, I began to focus less on my menus and to focus more on what should be the first thought of a host or hostess: the guests, whether that be family gathered for a birthday party or friends gathered for a dinner party.   Below are some of things I learned about cleaning and preparing my home for guests.

Cleaning is the part of entertaining that is the least fun.   In my first years of marriage, I would focus on my menu and cooking when I planned to have company.   The cleaning was a necessary action that got in the way of my cooking fun.   It was usually both a secondary thought and action for me.   Over the years, though, I've learned some strategies for cleaning before guests arrive.   I'm still learning, but at least I have more of a plan and focus now.

1.   Think like a guest.   This will only take once in your home and then you'll have this information.   It may even be helpful to keep a Hostess Journal where you can record your observations and keep it as a checklist for future events.   Go through your public spaces like a guest would.   Start with the front door and enter go through your home like a guest would.   For example, stand in your doorway and notice the space in your line of vision.   I *try* to keep this space presentable and when I know someone is stopping by just to drop something off, I quickly straighten up this area since I know it will be visible.    Sit on your living room furniture and notice what you see when you look around.   Spider webs in the fireplace?   Dust along the floorboards? 

2.   Prioritize.   The spaces that need deep cleaning are bathrooms and the kitchen.   Messy is one thing; reasonable people expect some messiness, but not dirtiness.   Bedrooms should be tiny, but people won't feel uncomfortable eating food from your kitchen just because your child's room isn't showroom-ready.

Kitchen counters need to be clean and neat.  Your landing or desk area should be tidied up, but you don't have to remove it all.   Don't forget the edges and overhangs of your counter tops.   If people like to gather in your kitchen, they're going to hold on to the counter tops or grip the edges.  Try to keep the sink empty.   No one wants to fill his plates or glasses from a buffet next to a sink full of dirty dishes.   Also, one of the first things I try to do is make sure my dishwasher will be empty, or nearly, so before company arrives.  The floors need to be clean.   In my kitchen, I try to sit at the bar and look around to see what things look like from that vantage.   I clean the controls panels of the appliances and make sure the handles are clean.  Then, there's the refrigerator.   There's a chance someone will open your refrigerator, or in my case, since two doors open, one facing the dining room and one facing the bar and breakfast area, there's a good chance    guests will get a glimpse inside.   Make sure they aren't horrified. 

In the bathroom, make sure the mirrors and counter tops are clean.   You're usually rewarded with a nice shiny surface.   Clean the faucet and the handles on the sink.   This is especially important when little ones are in the house!   Clean not only the toilet bowl, but also the handle, seat, and well, all the surfaces.   Now, this may sound funny, but sit on the toilet and look around to see what needs cleaning.   It's the one place where guests may have more time to ...er...focus their attentions.  Our bathroom for guests is also the one our children use.   I rarely use that bathroom, so I have to check things closely.   Amazing what they can do in there!   Make sure the hand towels are clean and placed in a place easy for guests to see and access.   Oh, and for those of us with little ones, clean the doorknobs, also!   Ugh.

3.  Grunt work first.   I'm relying heavily on this at present, since my house has not been in its normal state for the past year.   I have to work a little harder to get things ready.   Clean the floors, scrub the stove, etc. first.   Dusting and vacuuming (in theory) aren't as strenuous as scrubbing and deep cleaning.    I do all of this and then I shower and dress afterward.   Then, I can just focus on food and arranging decorations and such.   Since I love preparing food, it's like an incentive to get all the hard cleaning done before I get to start cooking.

I hope that people feel that I want them in my home.   I hope they can sense that I  enjoy visiting with them and feeding them.   A strategy and plan for what's important and what you can let slide will help reduce stress, for you and your guests!   

After writing this, I am convicted about the way I show hospitality to my own family.   Do my kids get the idea that I'm glad to join them at the table or do they just sense that their hunger and expectation for three meals a day is just stress and aggravation for me?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Downton Abbey: Knowing Our Place

Spoiler Alert: Season 3, Episode 4

Last night, Downton Abbey brought the plot back to the beginning of its first story-line and to one of the central themes of modernity: Man versus Nature.    It was especially poignant to me in the wake of last week's anniversary of Roe-v-Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States, as I thought about how we, as Catholics, defend the sanctity of all human life.

In the very first episode of Season One, the family and staff  have learned of the tragic news of the Titanic sinking.    There was the grief over loss of human life on such a large scale, the horror of what the last moments were like for the victims, the faces of personal friends and families called to mind when reading the list of the dead.

Then, there was the shock.   It was the shock of the time for those who heard the news.   It is the shock we still feel when watching news clips of flooded cities or plane crash wreckage.   Today, in this day, and age, how could such a thing still happen?   The Titanic was a marvel of modern engineering, marking the height of all man could do, yet it was felled by an iceberg.

It was a moment for fear, for insecurity and doubt that would foreshadow the complete loss of innocence brought about by the Great War.   It was an innocence whose existence would continue to live on primarily in movies, music, and aging memories, relegated to Nostagia, rather than Real Time.

Episode Four of Season Three put the truth of Man versus Nature on full display again when it aired last night on PBS Masterpiece Theater.   As the beautiful Lady Sybil, young and full of hope, lay seized and gasping for final breaths, we were left wondering and shocked, our thoughts echoed in the lines of Matthew as he declared that surely in this day and age, something could be done.   But, two doctors were left at the end of the bed, only to shake their heads and admit that there was nothing to be done.   It would be almost thirty years before researchers learned that Magnesium Sulfate could prevent seizure convulsion and manage toxemia.   Sometimes, other steps are necessary and eclampsia is still a situation that can be life-threatening, with emergency deliveries always a necessary step.

Man, with all his intelligence and skill always has to face the truth of his not being all-knowing or all-capable.   That harsh realization puts us all at a spiritual crossroads.   Upon hearing the news of Lady Sybil's death, Mr. Bates proclaims that if he believed in anything, this news would shake that belief.

For me, though, in my spiritual journey, the crossroads have not been a matter of keeping or losing the faith.   It was a matter of how I would live and share that faith.   It especially affected the way I would think of and interact with those who took a different turn at the crossroads.   Too often, as a Christian, it is easy to express complete inability to understand how anyone could think differently from us.   I think it is a sign of spiritual immaturity, not always a lack of knowledge or charity.   Watching the death of a young mother from childbirth would not have been as shocking for someone in the 1920s, or especially all the years before, as it was to our modern eyes.   Death was much more a part of life for those who came before us.   Is it not then, possible to understand in the matter of abortion and contraception that there would have been tender, broken hearts open to what was billed as a possible solution to end the horrors that were often associated with child-bearing?  And that much further a leap to see how this viewpoint could be handed down through generations?

It is not just the likes of haughty nobility, inventors, or businesspeople whose foundations are revealed to be shaky when they realize they are not the controllers of the universe.   Those of us who call ourselves Catholics must realize our limits.   We must realize that we stand gifted with grace and knowledge of Theology of the Body, encyclicals, and the examples of the Saints.   We are not superior to those whose stance is opposite ours.   We are gifted beyond what we deserve or could ever earn.  And unless we humbly speak and act with love, we will sink or be left gasping shallow spiritual breaths on our own, only to realize it is God alone who is All-Knowing, All-Capable.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

At the Base of a Tree

The first major cold front finally blew into our area.   It offered us relief from unseasonably warm temperatures that followed our seasonably hot summer.    Along with a welcome change in weather, Autumn has brought back memories of that season on our small farm in Louisiana.
The pecan harvest fell to women and children on our farm.   My father commuted thirty miles to the university where he taught and when he was home, any work he did was related to the cattle.   I would pick pecans after school, but for me, the real work —and the real memories—belonged to Saturdays.   On those mornings, I woke early and dressed in my warmest, oldest clothes.    Blue jeans that could take wet, grass stained knees and a too-large coat–previously the property of my parents or older sister– were basics in my pecan picking- ensemble.     A quick breakfast and then I headed outdoors, grabbed a bucket and prepared to hit my knees.
When I tell people about picking up pecans,   they sometimes share their own stories of spreading sheets on the ground and shaking trees to capture the nuts in their linen traps or of using long-handled, curved-spring devices to gather small numbers of pecans.   Our method was a little different and my adult mind can appreciate the lessons I learned at the bases of those majestic trees which canopied my childhood.
1. Just start at the beginning.    Mama usually picked pecans all week with her friend, Carmel.   Mrs. Carmel had six children, so on any given Saturday, you could find as many as nine people picking pecans on our farm.    The method was simple.   We lined up, at the base of the tree, with about two feet between each person.   Then, we dropped to our knees and began to search for pecans amidst the grass and leaves.   We picked in circles around the tree.
2. Make your own way while leaving a path to guide the way for others.   As we circled the tree, we would rake the leaves out of our way, leaving neat piles that formed concentric circles.   As the day progressed, those leaf circles made an extremely satisfying sight.    The leaves left a clear mark for the person beside you so that he could keep his path and know exactly how far to look for pecans in either direction.   Not only was I responsible for picking my area, but my work affected the path of the people on either side.    Only if we all kept to our path were we assured the ground beneath the tree had been cleanly picked.
3. Patience and deliberate action will eventually lead to harvest and bounty  As we made our way around the tree in ordered fashion, we eyed little piles of pecans waiting to be gathered with no work needed to discover them.   After we had scavenged for single pecans scattered under leaves, the  discovery of those beautiful piles was always a little bit of pleasure in our day.    Our usual method of pushing leaves aside had to be altered when we picked pecans in our pastures, instead of the yard.    Our cattle were grass fed, which meant we planted ryegrass for the winter months.   Ryegrass is extremely delicate, so we had to gingerly feel for and lift pecans from their tangled snare so the grass for which we had paid and labored to plant would not be ripped from its roots.
At dusk on Saturday afternoon, we would drive thirty miles to sell our pecans at a fruit market.   There were two markets and we called to find out which one was offering the best price per pound.   Then, we poured all our pecans into sturdy burlap sacks which still smelled of cottonseed meal for our cattle’s vitamin/mineral mix.   Mrs. Carmel and Mama used that money for Christmas presents, so we reaped a concrete  reward on Christmas morning.   It always made Mama proud that she never touched money in the bank accounts to pay for Christmas presents, decorations, and foods.
4. Natural surroundings offer a peaceful environment for conversation, silence, work, and thought.
I always enjoyed being included in adult conversation.   It seemed to occur so naturally as we were joined in solidarity on our knees beneath the pecan trees.   I also learned so much about my mother and what it meant to be a woman from the conversations between her and Mrs. Carmel.   In addition to group picking, I was also required to pick up a half-gallon ice cream bucket of pecans after school.   That solitary time spent with my hands focused on a repetitive task gave me a chance to allow my mind to ponder and my imagination to wander.    The idea of seasons in my life was clear to me at an early age due to my life on the farm.   Over the year, I watched the cycle of the trees.   Bare grey, winter branches gave way to green leaves and tiny buds in the spring.   Over the summer, those buds would develop into bright green hull-encased nuts.   Finally, fall brought the browning of the hulls, as the pecans became visible and eventually fell to the ground.    As I grew older, God’s hand in the seasons of my own life became more real as I compared the cycle of nature with that of my faith.   In the silence of those fall afternoons created by God, I became comfortable with silence.    That silence would foster my longings for Him and His voice as I grew older.
Pecan picking was not a task I looked forward to –or appreciated –at the time.   Such is usually the case in our lives!   Looking back, memories of cool breezes, hot chocolate breaks, and the smell of bean suppers simmering on the stove take pride of place over annoyance at my time not being my own and my Saturday being filled with work instead of play.   Time tends to do that.   Mama never sat down and consciously planned pecan- picking as a formative activity for me.   It was an organic activity of our farm life.   As mothers, we provide opportunities for life lessons without even realizing it.   Everything doesn’t have to be planned and picture-worthy.    Simple truths can be learned in the most simple of tasks.  As a child, my heart and mind were being prepared for God while circling the base of a pecan tree on my knees.    Later, I would hear the voice of God as I knelt at the base of a reminder of the tree of our salvation: the crucifix.
Dear Lord,
May I approach the mundane and simple with a heart open to You and Your voice.   May I take the extra time to involve my children in household tasks.   May I be an example to them of approaching work with a grateful heart.   May we experience Your presence in the glories of Your creation and in simple silence.    May we always remember that we join our motherly tasks with those of Holy Mother Church to teach our children about God and help them to listen for His voice in their lives.   Amen.
-- My latest post at CatholicMom.com

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Gumbo Weather: A Soul-Stirring Cajun Recipe

My latest post at Bourbon and Boots is all about gumbo.   I share a reflection on this favorite food and then my recipe for Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.

...The roux is earthy--in color, scent and taste--and so it offers the perfect culinary representation of south Louisiana.   Quotes from southern authors fill my head, along with visions of Spanish moss draped over limbs of live oaks, with all these roux-induced hallucinations helped on by the musical accompaniment of lively or mournful Cajun music as I stir...

Read more at:


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Recent Viewing

I've been making up for lost time when it comes to television and cinema.   Here are a few of the works I've enjoyed recently.

Silver Linings Playbook

Last week, I watched a Thomas Kinkade movie on Netflix.   I wanted to watch a Christmas movie that the kids could also watch.   It was painful to watch, from the script to the acting.   I kept expecting Kirk Cameron to show up.   Topics of family, faith, hope, love, community, etc...can all be explored without being relegated to an artificial, superficial, sanitized environment.   People will be more affected when they can recognize elements of beauty and truth amidst reality that is familiar to them.   They can relate to it and are more likely to seek those things in their own very real worlds.   After watching The Christmas Lodge, I was ready for something real and something well-done.

The trailer for Silver Linings Playbook drew me in after a friend recommended it and then I found out that the director is David O. Russell, who also directed the wonderful movie, The Fighter.   Not only did Russell direct this movie, but he also wrote the screenplay, adapted from the novel by the same name.   This movie hits every mark: acting, screenplay, and editing.   Bradley Cooper is Pat, a substitute teacher who has just been released from an 8-month stay in a mental hospital.   His sentence was part of a plea bargain after he attacked a man with whom is wife was having an affair.   After his return home, he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who challenges him and ends up being a part of his healing strategy.   Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver play Pat's parents beautifully.   This is some of De Niro's finest work.   He plays a role that requires such authenticity in a subtle manner.

Like The Fighter, this movie is set in a working class community and it is real.   Russell based the character, Pat, on his own son and manages to portray a family dealing with issues such as OCD and bi-polar disorder with compassion and truth.   This is a real family, with real issues and dysfunction, yet they still manage to find a way to function.   I didn't want to leave them when the movie ended.   There is still love.   And at the end of this movie, there is hope, a silver lining.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Months ago, British actor Tom Hiddleston began praising this movie on Twitter.   He used words like "poetic" and "beautiful" to describe it and encouraged everyone to see it.   Last week, blogger Elizabeth Duffy called Beasts the best movie of 2012 and could only say that it was unlike anything she'd seen before and that it was hard to describe.   I have to agree completely with both of these people, whose opinions about things literary and cinematic I greatly respect.

It is labeled Fantasy, but even that is hard to explain, as it almost seems to need its own unique genre.   It is set in the low-lighing bayou community called The Bathtub, located outside of the levy system that protects the city dwellers.   This fictional community is clearly of a Louisiana flavor, from the music, to the accents and the foods.   The fantastical setting feels like home to me.

The story centers around a little girl named Hushpuppy, beautifully portrayed by Quvenzhane Wallis, a Louisiana native who made her film debut with this role.   Hushpuppy is so in tune with the universe and its inhabitants that she can see its elements and all the connections formed between.   You fall in love with this spunky girl, even though spunky is too ordinary--too cliched-- a term for her.   The director said that after her audition, he tweaked the script to fit her and we are the beneficiaries of that effort.   I will never look at a basketball jersey the same way.

Furthermore, as a Louisiana native, I enjoyed seeing amongst the staff in the credits the title: Nutria Expert.   That's just awesomeness, cher.   I suspect this is a movie which will inspire pendulum reactions: you will either love it or walk away, scratching your head, wondering what others saw.   Give it a chance, though, and allow yourself to float away, along with Hushpuppy, into her fantastical, albeit harsh, environment.

Battle of Britain

This is a documentary produced for BBC Television.   It features actor Ewan McGregor and his brother, retired Royal Air Force pilot, Colin McGregor.   The brothers follow events of the crucial air battles with the Germans in 1940.   Surviving heroes from those events are interviewed and it is amazing to see how humble these men are about their actions.   Colin also trains to fly an original Spitfire, the major plane Britain used in the war.   It was a boyhood dream and it was beautiful to see the genuine, boyish excitement on the face of an RAF pilot as he flew the antique military plane.

This is a well-done documentary that the whole family can enjoy.   It is an important part of our history, too, as those brave British pilots kept the Nazis from invading Britain, in an effort that still seems totally impossible on paper.

Battle of Britain is available on Netflix Instant Streaming and for purchase on Amazon.com.

Homeschooling: One Wise Move

I could write many posts about mistakes we made whilst homeschooling, but I do know of one thing we did that was correct.   When we had to decide grade placement for our children, we followed the public school's snapshot date for school entry.   We did this with purpose for several reasons.   One, we knew from our backgrounds in education that those dates are not determined in a random manner.   They are based on research and experience.   Two, we had our own personal experience with seeing patterns of "early birthdays" and "late birthdays" in relation to performance and readiness in our classrooms.   Three, and our foremost practical reason: we knew that anything could happen.   What if one of us was in a horrible accident, or worse, died?   An even worse scenario: what if one of our children were seriously ill and required hospital stays or lengthy treatments?    We would not be able to continue homeschooling in those circumstances and we would need to enroll them in school, even if it were a temporary arrangement.   The schools wouldn't care as to which grade we thought our children belonged.   They would still (or should if the registrar does his/her job correctly) base enrollment on their birthdate.   Why risk confusion or even humiliation if they were "knocked down" a grade?

A child's grade label need not limit them in terms of their homeschooling experience.   Enrichment--in any circumstance--is best when done horizontally, not vertically.   In the United States, we are guilty of seeing advancement in terms of pushing through to the next topic or level.   Instead, we should encourage further exploration and development of the topics at that grade level, especially in the elementary years.    Your child knows all of his math facts?   Great!   Now, see if he understands the various properties of those facts.   Can he use them in an algebraic manner?   Can he use them in multi-step word problems and open-ended problems?    Your child knows how to spell his spelling words?   Well done!   Now she can focus on using them in their correct context whilst constructing sentences, paragraphs, and complete compositions.   Your child knows EVERYTHING about the solar system, huh?   Well, that's just...impossible.

It's probably not the lone correct move in our homeschooling journey, but I think it was certainly our best.   Rules aren't always there to inhibit.   Sometimes they are there for the best results from the greatest number of people.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Fighting Irish

Shiny gold helmets, the Grotto, Touchdown Jesus, Lou Holtz, Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen, the Gipper, Rudy...ah, I love it all, in all of its Fighting Irish glory.

When I was a teenager, I went through various phases of posters on my wall: Duran Duran, River Phoenix, then James Dean.   But only one man's framed picture graced my bedside table: Lou Holtz, coach of the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team.   It was a black-and-white photo of Coach Holtz on the sidelines, in his classic pose, crouched down and attentively watching the action on the field.

I caught a post-game interview on television, as I wandered through the living room.  The coach on the screen was a grandfatherly man with glasses and an accent that reminded me of my midwestern relatives.   The team had just completed a great victory and Lou Holtz could only talk about the areas of play that needed improvement.   I learned more about him.   He suspended key players for what might seem to be a minor rule infraction.   He left names off jerseys to highlight the team aspect of play, rather than highlighting individuals.    He didn't brag, but just kept his mouth shut and DID.   And he loved Notre Dame.   He acted like a man living out a boyhood dream because that's exactly what he was doing.   And he always seemed grateful for the opportunity.

In my spare time, I would read histories of Notre Dame football and of the university itself.  It was a place with which many Catholic immigrants identified.   It  was America's college football team.   I scoured the newspaper for any information and kept clippings of stats from each game.   I wore my Notre Dame National Champions 1988 sweatshirt--the one with the team's season on the back--for over a decade until it became threadbare.   I even had Notre Dame canvas slip-on shoes and I wore shamrock earrings along with my sweatshirt and shoes on game days.   I also dreamed of going to the University of Notre Dame and becoming a ball girl for the football team.

Instead, I ended up attending a small college in north Louisiana, Northwestern State University.  We moved the summer before my senior year of high school so my dad could take a position as dean there. I wanted to be a teacher and they had the best undergraduate program in the state, so there was no reason to pay more to go somewhere else.   I had great professors and it was a quality program, but part of me wished I could have been in South Bend.

My mother admired Coach Holtz also, but she was a little leery of my love for a Catholic institution.   I think she always blamed my love for Notre Dame football as a gateway to my conversion to Catholicism!   It was the only chink in my anti-Catholic armor, to be sure.

I've continued my love for the Irish, even through the lean years.   In my classroom, I always had a "Play Like a Champion" sign above my door, a tribute to the one that hangs in the stadium that the players all hit before heading down to the field before each game.   So, Monday, I'll be sitting in one of the SEC's newest cities--in Aggieland--but I'll be cheering for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.   Monday morning, I'll watch RUDY to get in the spirit, which means lots of happy tears.    I'll also scour the internet for any interviews with my favorite Irish coach, Lou Holtz.   I may be in the land of maroon and white, but this southern girl's heart will be with those who wear the gold, even if a picture of my husband has replaced Lou on my bedside table.

Go Irish! 

God Bless Notre Dame!

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