Friday, July 17, 2015

Five Things Friday: Toe-Dipping Activities. . .

























This photo, which I took yesterday at dusk, captures some of what I've been feeling lately: a sense of, to use my big words, liminal plenitude. An almost paradisical fullness here, beauty and comfort abounding, nothing demanded of me, a husband who enjoys paddling to town daily to pick up groceries, is happy to prepare most meals.  In the summer, quite honestly, it seems almost folly to leave this place with its beach, garden, pleasant breeze, A stack of books I want to read, a pretty little island to run around in the morning, yoga classes only a boat ride away, babies and dear little girls who come by occasionally for snuggles. . .  But there's also that sense of liminality, of impending change, of threshholds at the ready. And my own rising restlessness. It's not quite boredom, but lately there's been just the hint of that along with just a breath of melancholy.

I've always believed, though, that a bit of boredom is ultimately productive, and that it perhaps need to be nurtured a bit, to be allowed to ripen. I remember feeling it, as a kid, towards the end of summer, and it made the return to school welcome each September. I did my best to keep my own four's summers free enough that they could play around within their own rhythms, find how much boredom they could tolerate, and see what they might do to alleviate it when it became uncomfortable. And my husband has always used his own restlessness as a benchmark of a good vacation, needing to reach that point of boredom so that returning to work always reminded him that his job was a happy choice.

As for me, right now, with a whole Sea of Retirement stretching out ahead of me, I'm still enjoying the option of sinking back into the teak chaise longue or the leather armchair with a book. But increasingly, I'm looking around and finding or imagining new landmarks I might want to set out for.
I know I want a bit more structure in my days, but I don't want to impose it too early. What I do want, much as I have enjoyed being able to respond freely to any and all invitations or requests from family over these last few months, is to be able to know, and to say, what makes me happy. I want to be confident I'm making my own choices rather than simply being reactive to others. I saw both my mother and my mother-in-law lose that knowledge and confidence in their last 20 years, and it put much of the responsibility for their happiness on family -- an impossible burden, really.

So.

Early days, yet, and all kinds of time to figure this out, especially with a lovely big trip to France and Italy only several weeks out.

But I've taken some steps this week to organize space and time around me to explore what I want to do while I'm home. As wonderful and fulfilling and engaging as Travel can be, it won't work indefinitely as a solution to boredom, especially as age inevitably exerts its influence.

Five things, then, that I've been doing lately, that Make Me Happy:

1. Photography. I'm very pleased that I've already made some progress on the goal that I set when I began thinking concretely towards my retirement.  This photo, for example, which I delayed my run for yesterday, darting back in the house for my camera when I spotted Nature's Botanical Sculpture in the sunlight

























2. Sketching and Painting. As you know, this is a continuation of something I've been playing with, off and on, ever since I took my girlfriend's wonderful weekend course on Journal Illustration (If you're interested in following my progress, such as it's been, you might click on the subject label at the bottom of this post.)

What's new, though, is that as part of re-organizing my home office as a response to clearing out my campus one, I've taken some steps toward making my art supplies more quickly grabbable. I've also managed to draw and/or paint something in my sketchbook at least three times a week for the last while. Yesterday, I even painted a card and popped it in the mail to two-year-old Hattie with a few words for her to read someday. . . Again, something I've been meaning to do for ages and finally got to. Very satisfying.

3. Cooking and Baking. Yes, I'm working my way back into our kitchen which has mostly been in Pater's charge the last few years. Again, this has been at least partly prompted by some long delayed organization: I finally had time to sort through the pantry cupboard and have big plans to shift my baking supplies and spice drawer closer back to the way I once had them. When someone is doing almost all of the grocery-shopping and meal preparation, the one who is NOT doing those things has no right to suggest they be done in the kind of kitchen the NOT-doer prefers. And if the Not-doer hasn't time nor energy, because of her work, to maintain the kitchen her way, she learns to zip it. But now, I'm judiciously taking steps toward a sharing of joys and duties in the kitchen. Recent recipes I've put on the table have included Stuffed Squashblossoms, Beet-Chèvre Millefeuille, my favourite go-to grain-based salad, plus a blackberry pie, chocolate-chip-peanut butter-pretzel cookies, and banana bread. I'm beginning to browse my cookbooks and favourite foodie blogs again, and remembering the rhythm that's necessary to having ingredients on hand when the urge or the need for something special hits.

4. Social Activities. This has been my challenge as I seem to roll from an overly busy week into one which sees me laying low. I find it very easy to stay home for a week at a time, only going out for runs or a walk around the island: because I get up quite early (between 5 and 5:30), run 8 to 10 kilometres after playing in blogland, my desire for a bit more social stimulation doesn't generally hit until midday at which point it's hot and I'm drowsy and the idea of a nap followed by a swim appeals much more than a trip to town. But the desire for more company and conversation surfaces again late afternoon. I'm noticing a rut now, as we sit down in front of something Netflix with our dinner each evening, and I've realized that I need to take a more systematic approach here as well.  So I've written a couple of yoga classes a week on our calendars and I've booked a few lunches with friends -- one this past week, two next week, all three solo outings for me, lessening any potential dependence on Pater. Watch this space to see if I'm commenting here about being fatigued again or complaining about another cold sore. Developing a rhythm that works to support a balanced lifestyle is taking me a while, but I think I'm at least beginning to see what's needed.

5. Playing the Piano Again.  Last night, though, I was really tempted toward grumpiness and despondency. A third episode (Strange Empire, a great, feminist Western TV series which, sadly, didn't get renewed past his first season despite widespread critical acclaim)  seemed important to resist as a tipping point toward some long downward slide, and much as I was enjoying my novel (the 2nd in Elana Ferrante's marvelous Neapolitan novels), I didn't feel like reading. I felt restless --and, truth be told, irrationally tempted to blame Pater (a particularly egregious temptation as he'd just arranged a lakeside restaurant lunch for us the day before -- and we have tickets for a house concert tonight).  Fortunately, instead of giving in to my Inner Whiner (oh, she's allowed out Far Too Often, don't worry!), I decided to clean out yet another corner, this time the shelves holding a lifetime's collection of sheet music. The day before, Beth had posted a shot of some notes my fingers instantly began playing, I recognized the Gigue from one of Bach's French Suites, but couldn't find my own copy, despite recalling precisely its Peters Edition soft green cover.

A photo posted by Beth (@cassandra.beth) on

Somehow, that was exactly the incentive I needed, and not only did I push past my grumpy temptation to melancholy last night, but I found the Gigue and then moved on to a Chopin Nocturne I love. My fingers are too stiff to play anything satisfactorily, but I've sorted a good stack of my once-upon-a-time repertoire and I expect I'll be whiling away some hours at my sweet old Kawai over some upcoming evenings.


It's happening, in other words. One or two or even Five Things at a time, I'm beginning to sort out a schedule that might work for me, and I'm figuring out for myself what will make and keep me happy (including, for sure, time and activities with Pater and the rest of the family). Rereading what I've written here, it seems that rhythm and balance and a modicum of organization are key. Does any of this resonate at all? Have you been rejigging your own schedule to accommodate changes of one sort or another? Have you found yourself reacting to other people's plans and emotions and activities rather than sorting out your own? Do you have a really clear sense of what activities make you happy or do you find that sense can be obscured by fatigue or depression or simply by being too caught up in responsibility? If so, how do you find your way back?

Or just ignore those questions as simply too weighty for a Friday afternoon, and I'll wish you a wonderful weekend! 

37 comments:

  1. I love the consciousness with which you approach your new life rhythms. I'm sure you'll strike a good balance, and then re-strike as needed. I envy the freedom and time to pursue interests, but also have that same need for structure and purpose. Balancing those competing needs/wants must be one of the main challenges of retirement. Cooking...ah yes, I remember cooking. Hope to get back to it someday.

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  2. Kind of you to say you like my conscious approach to retirement, Sue. I can easily imagine that my self-reflexiveness might appear irritating. Oh, just get on with it, can't she?! ;-) But it seems such an abrupt putting on of the brakes after going so fast for so long that one had stopped doing anything but driving. . .
    And yes, I think striking a balance will be something I'll get to work at more than once, and I wish you the opportunity to join me in the enterprise before too very long.

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  3. Only fools rush in.... I say that only because this is my third attempt at an all too wordy message. I love your thoughtfulness here, the beauty of the opening image, and the way you allow yourself room to experience your own liminal spaces. Finding that balance between the need for structure and time for open-ended pursuit of some dream or interest seems to be something that is never fully settled, and there are constantly new corners, new acts of rebalancing required. Increasingly though I think the advantage of retirement is giving oneself the time to act rather than just react at those junctures.

    The sheet music really struck a chord as I came dangerously close to renting a piano this spring. It is something I still want to do, and know now that I will do, even though I was only a beginning player. But I also realized that I was rushing into to fill a void, a void caused by ignoring all the things that are here that I wasn't facing yet. Yes, I will play, but not yet. And I still have not found my sheet music although I have finally almost finished unpacking everything upstairs n the studio.

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    1. Thanks so much, Mardel.I do think the balance-finding is continuous (thank goodness, really, right?)
      I've always owned a piano (or two, for a few years), and mine was sitting quite reproachfully silent. But I can so relate to your near-rental impulse and I'm impressed that you restrained it. I've done too much of this acquisition that, in retrospect was void-filling-- not having the time, before retirement, for things I wanted to do or thought I wanted to, I was buying material place-markers -- which now I'm having to sort through, work through, cull with some guilt. . . I'm trying now to learn the shape of voids instead. We'll see. . . (btw, when you unpack you're sheet music again, I'm guessing you'll experience some of the unfurling of decades as I did the other night . . . )

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  4. I thought about this all the time of my blog break, writing my next Saturday post in my head. So yes, I have thoughts, and I'll just have to hope that Saturday morning is long enough to think them fully, write them, organize the chaos, and rewrite them:). You're already way ahead of where I was right after I stopped working:).

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    1. I'll be reading you in a few hours, then. Looking forward to how beautifully I know you'll articulate some aspects of this that will surely overlap with -- and definitely illuminate! -- my experience...

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  5. This all sounds rather splendid and enjoyable. I am still at the stage where I am very clear about what I do NOT like, rather than what I want to do. I need to find a new job this summer but while I know what I do not want to do, the future remains a question mark. Half way there. And on we go.

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    1. Yes! Can you imagine anyone getting whiny or melancholy about the richness I'm surrounded by. All this time! I do hope you find your way to the privilege of my current situation. Lolling about in buckets of time, I assure you, has many more benefits than my petty little complaints might suggest. ;-)

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  6. This is my first time posting in your comments. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I live in Richmond, BC. Of all things this is what catches my eye....would you share your recipe for chocolate chip peanut butter and pretzel cookies?

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    1. Welcome, Paula, and thanks not only for commenting today but for that lovely chuckle you've given me at what motivates us. Chocolate chip-peanut butter-pretzel for the win! The recipe I used wasn't the one I'd originally found, then, lost, and I wasn't thrilled with the results: http://www.food.com/recipe/chocolate-peanut-butter-chip-pretzel-cookies-472717 I've since gone back and tracked down the one that caught my eye in the first place and I'm going to try it this week. It's at Cup of Jo: http://cupofjo.com/2014/12/chocolate-dipped-peanut-butter-cookies-with-pretzels/ Let me know what you think if you try either. Happy Baking!

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    2. Thanks for the recipes. I remember you posting about the cookies on cup of joe. Instead I made Best of Bridge pb cookies and added in choc chips, skor pieces and crushed (not too fine) pretzels. Turned out really well. I just wanted to mix together and bake. No other fussing.

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  7. Rediscovering (or re-opening to?) previous joys is such a great part of retirement, as well as the exploration of sloth, tasting new things, etc. Looking forward to hearing of your next adventures.

    Ceci

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  8. It is great to follow your decision making and thinking process,thank you to share with us! I think that you are on a very good path. But,don't hurry,summer is always time to take a break,enjoy a bit of idleness,slowly "cooking" new ideas,deciding what to do next (in your case) or how to arrange your life!
    You've done a lot in those areas,for a witness/reader,even if you don't see it for now
    I like to be organized and have a frame,than I can be creative ( paradoxically,I know, but I'm more free when organized)
    It is very interesting to be with you during your search
    Dottoressa

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Dottoressa. And yes to the frame! I always think of Wordsworth's "Nuns Fret Not" sonnet with its celebration of the comfort and expanse to be found within structure. A wonderful paradox!
      But for now, my challenge is to tolerate as little structure as I can until I know what might suit me for the next bit of the road. . .

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  9. You have very similar rhythms to me. Up at 5:00, reading blogs, coffee and early walk. My husband does not eat the same food as me so we seldom eat together. Cooking a few meals that we could share is one of my goals. I need to spend more time with that as my travel days become fewer. After four years, household organization and passing on of my personal possessions is ongoing. I don't have grand babies but Thursday we got a puppy. My writing seems to have taken a back seat lately and I do slip quite often into a sadness that I can not explain. My mother is still a part of my life and I spend 2-3 days with her each week. Those last years do involve a loss in confidence (not sure that my mother was ever independent of my dad) and it is important to me to build and strengthen interests that will sustain me into those years. Netflix seems to be our couples activity right now and I think that a walk after dinner once the puppy is big enough would be a healthier choice. Exploration is an important aspect of retirement.

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    1. We've had to work toward each other's dietary centres as well, and that's ongoing. Paul's a great cook but I need more veggies and less fat than he would naturally go for. . . Puppy! So exciting!
      As for the sadness, I think that any bright person might regularly find reasons for it, especially at this transitional stage of life . . . . You seem to be tackling it in really wise ways.

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  10. I really enjoy reading about your approach to this new life phase and I think it is only right to enjoy the gorgeous place you call home while it's at its ripest and most glorious. That's what I'm doing here. I almost said "that's what I'm trying to do here" but I caught myself. It IS actually what I'm doing. At this stage of my life (with all the chaos I've been experiencing and, trust me, there's so much going on that I don't talk about), I finally realize that those calm moments on the patio of my local, drinking a glass of ripasso and eating something fresh and lovely, are THE moments. That's what life is about. That's the fleeting pleasure and I'd better recognize and allow myself to be enveloped because, like everything else, it will pass. I actually feel gratitude, rather than sadness, at this realization. It's something my younger self could not embrace as she ran around always searching out the next thing. These days, the thing in which I find pleasure is all-encompassing.

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    1. This is important, K, and thank you! I had trouble with this all through my teaching years as well -- if there was one weekend with no marking, I'd feel agitated even as I was enjoying activities I knew I wouldn't have a chance to for the rest of term. I had to consciously remind myself that these moments are fleeting and must be lived in fully with gratitude. Having to trust to that all over again, which is an interesting surprise. I'm happy you're getting a head start on that wisdom -- enjoy that glass! ;-)

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  11. A lovely post Frances. No we do NOT want you to "just get on with it." I love to read how you are navigating retirement... it's really helpful. I find myself stressing a bit about how I am crafting my time... perfectionsim, romanticism, whatever-ism rearing its head. Reminds me of a book my mum gave me years ago called Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. In it was a primer for meditation which I used to help manage stress. The author cautioned that meditation was all about practice, not about achieving, not about getting it right. Love what you said about enforced boredom...exactly what I would do in the last week of summer before school started each year. By then I would be SOOO glad to go back to work.

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    1. It's a complicated luxury, this time. Your mom sounds just lovely, and very wise. I'd say the author of the book she gave you might even extend that observation about so many processes where "getting it right" isn't the point. Certainly, I'd say that of my sketching and painting, my piano-playing, my cooking (although clearly, those I feed probably hope I get pretty close to some kind of "right"!).

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  12. Great post and thanks so much for your thoughts. They are extremely valuable to me in my life stage :)
    PS: you might find this website interesting for your keyboard project http://imslp.org

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    1. You're very welcome and thank you for the link to that website. Cool! What a wealth there!

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  13. Wonderful post, Frances. I know that I will be re-reading these when I (much older than you) get to the retirement stage (many years from now, I hope).

    Your photos are beautiful! I especially love the yellow furled flower.

    I would like to see your drawings. I enjoyed the one you posted a few months ago. But I can't figure out what to click on?

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    1. Thanks, Marie -- and that's a squash flower. Isn't it wonderful?!
      Sorry -- I forgot to add the "journal illustration" label at the bottom of the post which is why you can't figure out where to click. It's there now, just at the bottom of the post. Let me know if you're still having problems (and thanks for your interest in my drawing progress, such as it is).

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    2. I love your drawing posts - most of them are from before I found your blog so they are new to me. I was thinking about the Italian drawings that it must intensify the way you see the scenes to try so hard to capture them.

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    3. That's exactly right, Marie. It really makes me observant in a different way than photography (which I also love and am grateful for). The time spent trying to capture impressions visually also allows for the other senses to pay attention, so that when I look back through my travel journals I can remember sounds and smells and breezes. . .

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  14. Edging one's way back into society after a long break can be daunting , so it's a good idea not to let go entirely if possible .
    You're doing very well , in fact .... must be the yoga !

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    1. Thanks SAS. I wonder if I'd ever find it daunting to edge back in. I'm a fairly social introvert, but lately my Introvert self has trumped the social. I've felt a bit too immersed in a network of people's needs, so that I'm enjoying the time-out much of the time. But I suppose that might be what happened with my mother, especially, and my mother-in-law to a lesser degree. So I'm trying to strike a balance and determined to maintain some strong social bonds that aren't all family.
      And you're right -- yoga deserves much credit!

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  15. I like the mixture of activities you are concentrating on at the moment: learning something new (photography), giving more time to something you've tried to keep up all the time (drawing) and returning to things you used to do at other times but had to give up for a while (cooking and music). I have a feeling that this combination might lead to success (meaning contentment or satifaction).
    How generous of you to share your experiences.

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    1. Thanks, Eleonore. I do feel happy with the mix at the moment. And I didn't even get to the numbers on my other hand! (Running, yoga, cycling, language lessons, writing. . . .) Life is so rich with possibilities!

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  16. clearly, you've banged down into that purgatory of transition…along with the realization that the vaunted 'retirement' is not at all like the glittering myth. add to that the loss of all the elders whose presence has been denied by death.
    after the 60th birthday, it is undeniable: you are no longer able to believe in the sense of ascending any longer. after forfeiting work in the outside world, the path offers descent into obscurity/obsolescence. the entire notion of retirement is ridiculous.
    now, there's nothing to be done but hack out a brand new life, full with all its' attendant risk. go for whatever makes you feel vulnerable and alive. something utterly different and thrilling.

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    1. surely such a powerfully expressed, strongly felt comment deserves a signature! Some interesting stuff to get at here, but it's hard to have a conversation with Anonymous, although if that's the only way you're comfortable commenting, I'm content with the choice.
      Retirement never held any glittering allure for me, and I'd hoped to continue working in a job loved until 65 at the very least, perhaps even part-time into my 70s. But the last couple of years, it became clear that my energy levels didn't allow me to meet the demands of the position AND do all the other things I wanted to, especially given how much more quickly time was passing by. I don't think I'm hacking out a brand new life, as I'm fortunate to have so much that is carried through from before retirement. And while there is not point denying the direction I'm heading, post 60, I still do find some joyous ascents ahead -- the possibilities of getting better at various chosen pursuits, and the delights of watching my grandchildren grow (although ultimately, yes, we're all heading to that ultimate obscurity and obsolescence).
      I'm curious: have you gone through this particular transition yourself? and did you truly find in it only a purgatory? Your last sentence suggests otherwise.

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  17. There is much here that resonates with me, in the comments as well as your post (acquiring too many material placemarkers in recent years, me too!). I'm now in the slightly unusual position of being a semi 'retired' freelancer in my mid fifties. As you know this is because of poor health but though my choices may be more limited than I had hoped would be the case a decade from now I still need to find my way from the very (over?) full 'before' - full time paid employment/raising four kids - to the 'after' that should be about me and my husband but currently seems to be more about juggling the needs of our parents and those grown up kids we raised. And that's not a rabbit hole I want to fall down either. Youve given me much to think about, thank you :o)

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  18. Yes, it's all juggling and rabbit holes if we're not careful enough. I suspect that the parent care plus helping our grown-up kids adjust to home ownership and new babies and all plus working a full-time job was pushing me toward poor health had I not retired when I did and I'm still reconciling that move in some ways. Giving up the work was tough, and although it was the right move, I know, I don't want it to allow for a larger giving-up of whatever is important to me. So I have to figure that out quickly, right? Nice to know how much company I have in this enterprise. . . I do wonder if being semi-retired with freelance possibilities in mid-50s might augur really well for you having it more sorted than I do by the time you're my age. . .

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  19. Thank you for sharing this. You have captured this dilemma beautifully: how to restructure without losing flexibility, how to spend more time with family without focusing life around them. I have just made the decision to back off to half-time and am already feeling anxious about how best to use these days off.

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    1. You're welcome! I hope you enjoy your switch to half-time. It seems to me that is a situation that requires careful monitoring. I like to think of financial advice I read many years ago to Pay Yourself First if you want to build Savings. It's too easy to give your time and energy away and realize there's nothing left for you...and if you get down to empty, that's no good for everyone else anyway. Be productively selfish? Just enough? I'm still working on it. Good luck!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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