Review: Parade’s End (Episodes 2 to 4)

If you decided to stick with Parade’s End two hour long showing last night on HBO, you might feel worn out (I’m right there with you), and despite the end of the second episode being more interesting, you might want to give up. Don’t. Things actually pick up!

To recap, the second episode gave us a better peek into the social & cultural obligations surrounding Christopher and Sylvia when they get back together (like Sylvia’s mom saying a public outing is necessary or Sylvia dressing inappropriately at the funeral), but their marriage is really for public show only, something made painfully clear when he goes to talk to his wife in the bath and freaks out seeing her naked for all of four seconds. Christopher still refuses to divorce her so they continue with their separate lives.

Sylvia was a little less brash and insane, trying to be chaste in hopes of winning her husband back. I did feel bad when she excitedly hopes it is Christopher who has returned on New Years, only to find out it’s the maid and then frantically tries to hide her disappointment and embarrassment. She also buys the perfect painting for him (to “annoy him” she claims) and the moment she shows it to him, she looks truly happy, like she realized what she’s missed all the years. I was finally able to believe that maybe she really does love and care for him. It became clearer to me why the way she was/is: Women hate her for her man stealing ways and still hate her when she doesn’t want their husbands. She’s sort of forced to continue to be someone who is cruel, unloving and flirtatious–what’s left for her to be?

Christopher quits his job and goes off to fight for the place he loves so dearly, while everyone is oblivious to the war–a huge step for him! In a weird way, him telling Sylvia he’s off for war sort of brings their relationship a bit closer, or at the very least makes it more real for Sylvia. The thought of losing him causes her to be extra needy then lash out in an attempt for some sort of emotion or sign that he loves her too. But, he still decides to be miserable and refuses to let his wife into his life in any way (and when he does try, he seems shocked when she freezes him out), and refuses to act on his feelings for Valentine but he FINALLY starts to act more human!

So, what can you look forward to in episodes 3 and 4, besides more amazing sets, props and costumes?

-A few more deaths occur, throwing more gossip and social expectations into Christopher and Sylvia’s lives. You finally start to see where Parade’s End is trying to go, and you’re actually interested to see how things play out and how the characters have grown.

-What it’s like to be in Christopher’s family, his relationship with his brother & father and exactly what being a Tietjens means: all those social rules and his obsession with honor are actually explored!

-What Christopher means to the two ladies in his life, Sylvia and Valentine: he’s caught between his old life in London where the high society have thrown him out of their circles, but he still kind of wants to be part of their group (making Sylvia realize how much she loves him, despite her going back to some of her old habits) and becoming a new “modern man” who has seen war and has a chance at a life that might hold actual happiness for him.

-What war does to a country: most of the characters (except the brilliant Christopher of course) are in total denial of the war happening, and never saw it coming, so when it does hit, it hits them hard. But, instead of showing us how much it’s changed their lives, Parade’s End takes a unique view and kind of brushes over the war, almost ignoring it to a certain degree, focusing instead on character development (a very wise move in my mind).

-Valentine continues to add a bit of fresh air and life into the plot. She’s no longer “just a suffragette,” but still modern and crazy enough to show the stark contrast between the old ways and their current life. I love the job she ends up with, it really suits her!


Review: Parade’s End (Episode One)

Downton Abbey is done for the season, and the wait for Sherlock is slowly ticking by (at least I think it is…), leaving me wanting some sort of British drama to fill my time. Sure, I have a few I’m watching, but they weren’t cutting it, so when I saw Parade’s End would be debuting in the UK in August (it starts tonight on HBO for US viewers and runs through Thursday night), it seemed it would easily fill my need for a British drama and lack of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Based on the novels by Ford Maddox Ford, the five-part series focuses on a love triangle between Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch), his wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) and a suffragette named Valentine (Adelaide Clemens). Adding to the drama and confusion, everyone is coping with World War 1 and an ever-changing Europe for both the wealthy and poor. Sounds promising, right? After watching the first episode, I can’t decide if I like it or not, or what is possibly “wrong” with it, but it was clear it didn’t really fill the Downton hole and lacked the wit and insanity I love in Sherlock.

Like most beginnings, the first episode is kind of dull, filled with introductions and a lot of backstory, which jumps around a few times, and flashes up some fractured image of various scenes that looks like a shattered mirror more times than it needs to (I got the symbolism there, Mr. Director).

Christopher is a no nonsense, very smart man, who unfortunately is also bound by the “old, proper ways.” He meets socialite Sylvia on a train, they have a brief encounter and ultimately she ends up pregnant. Sylvia is a party girl (I’m pretty sure will flirt and sleep with any man around), and while she’s not sure Christopher is the father, she manipulates him into marrying her. Sylvia’s cheating continues as the years go by (she admits she only does it to get some sort of emotion out of her husband), but Christopher refuses to divorce her, making their already weak and miserable marriage worse. She runs away with her new love, only to cruelly point out to him that she doesn’t love him one bit and will be returning to her husband. While she’s away, Christopher goes on vacation with a friend and meets the lovely, young and wonderful suffragette Valentine, and falls for her. However, his honor to his wife and their life together prevents him from starting anything with her.

I must admit Cumberbatch and Hall do a wonderful job of being an awfully mismatched pair who still decide to be together for whatever reason (Social? Personal?).  After a while though, their messy relationship and outbursts wear on you, and kind of make the plot as a whole feel very sluggish. There were many moments where I didn’t even truly care where the story was going, or what the characters were supposed to be feeling. I haven’t read the books, but like most adaptations, I suspect they are much better and explain the tumultuous relationship more clearly than the miniseries will.

Watching Christopher with his son (or “son”) was an interesting moment. He gets up to soothe the child after he wakes up with a nightmare and later considers the child when deciding if he should take Sylvia back. Usually, the mothers, or more commonly the staff and nursemaids were the ones worried about the children in a similar manner. At the same time, this caring nature is such a shocking contrast of how Christopher acts the rest of the time: very straight and narrow, sticking to the rules and overthinking everything in his life (in one scene he’s actually correcting entries in the encyclopedia). It was kind of tiring and annoying to watch, making him feel more like a prop for such grand sets and costumes. Heck, most of the time I wasn’t quite sure why he was so…antisocial. It’s possible in today’s world, meeting such a man who would put up with a wife like Sylvia and be applauded and reminded of his honor and duty is a foreign concept, making it that much harder for me to understand in general, let alone in the drama. It might also help if I knew WHY these things were so darn important to Christopher, or to his family name–maybe this will appear in a later episode.

I love most of the actors in this series. I’ve seen them in other things and know they can act, and they are the main reason I feel like soldiering on through Parade’s End. Well, at least until the second episode.

Turkey Gobblers For Nova

Last week I had half a roll of ground turkey left over from our dinner and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I thought about saving it for another recipe, but I couldn’t think of another recipe that used such a small amount of turkey so I went back to my cookbooks, kept searching and found my answer in the Three Dog Bakery Cookbook. It was Nova’s lucky day.

I ended up altering the recipe because our cornmeal was expired, but she seemed to love them regardless. I even added a bit of cheese on top to some larger cookies, and mixed in about a teaspoon’s worth of cheese when I rerolled the dough. She got a few in her birthday box and I froze the rest for later.

Turkey Gobblers (adapted from Three Dog Bakery Cookbook)

-1 C ground turkey
-2 C white flour
-1/2 C quick oats
-1/2 C whole wheat flour
-1 egg
-3 T vegetable oil
-3/4 C water
-2 t parsley, fresh or dried

  • Preheat the oven to 375.
  • In a frying pan, cook the ground turkey, crumble into small pieces. Set aside on a paper towel to drain.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flours and oatmeal; in a small bowl, beat the egg, oil and water, then add the parsley.Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Fold in the ground turkey and mix well again. If the dough seems a bit too dry, add a few tablespoons of water (I added about two).
  • Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead until thoroughly mixed together. Roll out dough to 1/2-inch thick and cut out into shapes.
  • Placed on greased cookie sheets (or sheets lined with parchment) and bake for about 15 minutes, or until firm (reduce time if  your cookies are smaller). Cool, then serve. Store any leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge for up to one week, or freeze.

Nova got four cookies in her birthday box; the rest are in the freezer…

Happy Birthday Nova!

Yesterday, Nova said goodbye to her puppyhood and celebrated her first birthday. Like other parents, I wish I could keep her that way forever, but it is nice she’s old enough to be more “free” in the house without me watching over her every single second and to see her more adult coat coming in. I will certainly miss some things though, like her puppy breath (it sounds crazy, I know, but dog parents know what I’m talking about) and her chubby, all ears body.

Since it was her special day, we bought a few decorations and of course, I had to take some pictures. Gonna be honest, I’m quite impressed since I was taking these pictures alone that I was able to get one of her wearing that hat that wasn’t some blurry blob.

nova table banner







I thought she needed to look her best, which gave me a chance to try her new sweater on her. I will confess, the sole reason I bought it is because the model dog was also a Corgi and it looked soooo cute, I was sold that Nova would look equally cute. It was also a good way to see how she would tolerate something other than a jacket, giving me hope I could dress her up for Halloween. 

And since she was looking so spiffy, I thought it was the perfect time for a group picture!

nova bday shot

Nova’s favorite bits of her birthday were definitely food related (although it also snowed and she loved romping around in it). Instead of her usual dry dog food, she got some Grandma Lucy’s for breakfast and some lean ground beef (which meant some for me as well–yaaay) with rice for dinner. But the highlight: finally getting another carrot peanut butter cupcake I had made a few weeks before. This time, I cored the cupcake and filled it with crunchy peanut butter, then frosted it with a mix of peanut butter and honey, garnished with an apple heart.

Unlike the last cupcake, eaten so daintily, she inhaled this one. The apple heart was the last thing to be eaten, and I suppose I can’t blame her on that….She also got a small box coarboard filled with some of her favorite things: homemade turkey cookies, some leftover paper towel tubes filled with small treats and a new toy. She decided to eat all the goodies, then shredded the paper towel tubes and finally the box (the cheapest toy evvvver). She ignored the toy for a few hours then rediscovered it, and is happily squeaking it to death by the patio window.

Nova has changed quite a bit as she’s gotten older, both in size and maturity. It’s been fun to watch her understand more of what’s expected of her and look at some things, including toys she’s had since she was a baby in a different light. I can’t wait to see what kind of things she’ll learn, as well as how much mischief she will get into over the next year!



Nova’s First Snow

It’s odd to be posting pictures of snow and writing about it when almost all of our snow in Nebraska has melted. Not that I’m totally complaining, mind you. It’s been kinda nice to not have to seriously bundle up to go outside, but I’m sure winter will have its revenge and we’ll get a blizzard before spring hits.

I spent Christmas up in Minnesota with my family, and when I left Nebraska, we still hadn’t gotten any snow to speak of, just a light dusting. I was mainly disappointed because I really wanted to see Nova run around in the snow. Well, I got my wish in Minnesota….

Just before we visited, they had gotten a huuuuge snowstorm (about 18 inches at the house), and despite a rainstorm, there was still plenty left. I got to see Nova run around in the snow A LOT. The first time I just went out with mittens, hat and my coat. Big mistake. Nova wanted to play like a child plays in the snow, with full on enthusiasm, leaping into drifts taller than her, then jumping up on me. I ended up having to buy some winter boots and dug my snowpants from middle school out of storage (I am just shocked they still actually fit). She also got some nice winter gear: a coat and a great pair of boots. I know she’s a dog and doesn’t need them, but I also knew she would probably play out there all day and wouldn’t realize her feet were freezing. We borrowed a pair one of my other dogs used; she quickly lost in bounding through a snowdrift in the park (couldn’t find it before we left for Nebraska either!). I spent a long time looking for a decent pair that would stay on after that, and ended up buying her Ultra Paws Durable dog boots in small. I liked the double velcro straps and the foam inside the boots that helped prevent her paws from slipping out. They did a nice job of helping her not slip around on icy spots and kept her paws pretty dry. The first few minutes watching her try to walk in them was hilarious, but she adjusted very quickly. I made them seem like extra fun because as soon as they were on we went out to play, and once she was out, the forgot all about them!

As much as I complain about the cold and hate having to bundle it, I must admit it was so much fun to play outdoors with Nova. I don’t think I’ve actually played in the snow since I was in elementary school….Granted, I couldn’t/didn’t want to stay out nearly as long as when I was little, and tumbling down to the ground hurt a lot more now, but I actually started to look forward to going out with her. I had a blast throwing snowballs at Nova and watching her frantically dig through the snow to find it, and she had a great time barreling through the snowman I made. I even bought a cheap snow saucer sled, thinking she would love to slide down with me (I saw pictures of someone on Pinterest doing it with their dog). Wrong. The sound of the sled scraping against the snow freaked her out so she refused to ride on it, but she did like chasing me when I went down the hill and using it like a big Frisbee.

If you have a pet, I encourage you to go out and actually play in the snow with them. It’s fun to see how they react to the snow and it’s a great way for everyone to get out of the house and get some exercise!

Nova enjoying the dusting of snow in NE

Nova’s first real experience with snow in MN

If you look closely, you’ll see she’s trying to catch a snowball

Nova wearing the borrowed boots; her paws were drenched, but she still had fun

Ah, nothing like running free through lots of snow


Nova resting after leaping in the snow with her new boots

Birthday Cake For Nova

I was already having enough trouble coping with it being mid-January when I realized that also meant Nova’s first birthday was coming up. I couldn’t believe she was going to be a year old already….It felt like a few months ago she was still a tiny puppy, curious about the world and all chubby. Then, while I’m having a precious flashback moment, she does something naughty like steal socks from the laundry and her late teen attitude quickly reminds me otherwise while I chase her down for the sock.

Birthdays mean three things: a party with loved ones, gifts and food. Dog or not, Nova was going to have all three. It seemed only fair since my other two dogs always have parties of their own. The party would be small, probably just Mike and I, letting Nova do all her favorite things (chasing balls in the basement or cuddling on the couch) but if the weather wasn’t too bad, maybe a trip to the dog park on the weekend to celebrate with her dog park friends. Gifts were easy, too: some new treats, a toy and a chewable of some sort, either an antler or a Himalyan dog chew (if your dog is a power chewer, these are your best bets: they last for months) and a Flexi leash. But what to do about food?

Nova loves all types of foods and I love any excuse to bake so I thought it would be fun to make her a dog birthday cake. I did some searching and found one I knew she’d love: carrot peanut butter cake. I decided to bake a batch now so if they failed or weren’t any good, I still had time to try again.

I didn’t have a six cup cupcake tin so I improvised and used a standard 12 cup tin; I ended up with nine. One of the corners of a cupcake broke off and I decided to eat it. They were in desperate need of sugar to make them tasty for people, but the cake itself was nice and moist and the mix of carrot and peanut butter tasted much better than it sounded. I frosted one cupcake with a mix of cream cheese and chunky peanut butter and topped it with a chunk of apple before serving it to a very impatient Nova.

Cooling muffins

Nova sat in front of the counter the whole time they cooled, hoping I might give her one early

Cupcakes up close

Can I eat it now?!

“Foods? For me? Can I eat it now?”

To my surprise, Nova didn’t inhale it like I figured she would. Instead she licked off most of the frosting (more proof she is my puppy), then stared at it, puzzled at what to do next. I ended up cutting it into wedges for her.


Much easier to eat in wedges: nomnomnom!

Licked clean

Licking up every last crumb

In a matter of minutes, she had devoured the cupcake and licked the plate clean, which she then shoved my way and gave me a look that said, “why is my plate empty?” I told her they were all gone, but she is smart and her nose told her otherwise. I wrapped the leftovers in foil and stashed them in the freezer, clearly marking the bag “cupcakes for Nova” so Mike didn’t think I had made him muffins and have an…interesting surprise when he ate one at work. If she’s just as crazy about them on her birthday, I might make another batch in a mini muffin tin and keep them on hand when she deserves an extra yummy reward or more incentive to do something (ie: bath time).

“Mom, you liiiied, there are more cupcakes!”

Carrot Peanut Butter Doggie Cupcake (adapted from ROMP Italian Greyhound Rescue)

1 large egg
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12 cup cupcake tin with cupcake papers, or lightly grease each cup. Combine the egg, peanut butter, oil, and honey in a large bowl. Add in the carrots and stir to combine.

Combine the flour and baking soda in a small bowl and add to the carrot mixture. Stir until fully incorporated. Divide among prepared cupcake tins. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs on it. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. If desired, frost tops with a little peanut butter, a mix of softened cream cheese and peanut butter, melted carob, low fat cottage cheese, wet dog food, etc.

How Merlin Lost Its Magic

WARNING: I know how much I hate spoilers for programs I love, so if you haven’t seen all but one episode of season 5 of Merlin yet (which is most of America), STOP READING NOW. When you’ve seen all of the season, please feel free to come back and let me know what you think. I normally wouldn’t discuss something that will air soon in the U.S. (it’s been painful to keep silent regarding Downton Abbey), but I’m making an exception.

The BBC makes amazing programs and I’m hooked on most of them (like I needed more reasons to be obsessed and in love with Britain). I normally stumble across the programs on my own or Twitter, but I discovered Merlin through a friend (thank you Tiffany!). I binge watched the first few seasons on Netflix and finished just in time for season 4 to start.

Like the title suggests, Merlin is loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and Camelot, but instead of seeing Merlin at his mightiest, we see him at his beginnings, where he’s just a servant to Arthur, and must hide his magic since it’s been outlawed by the King.

Each season has been better than the last, mainly because it’s been awesome to see Merlin learn more about his powers and just how powerful he really is. My other favorite part would have to be the interaction between Merlin and Arthur. They have a serious bromance going on, which actor Bradley James, who plays Arthur, acknowledged:

Ahh, the famous bromance...

When I saw this article, “Why Merlin’s 5th and Final Season is the ‘Most Extreme Yet,'” my heart sank. Season five could have been the best–key words could have been. The first few episodes were tightly written and all hinting at Morgana and Merlin finally meeting face to face as magic rivals. I couldn’t wait for the next episode and pondering just how crazy their meet up was going to be.

Out of the blue, it was announced Merlin was going to be cancelled. I was sooooooo bummed. It’s always tough to hear about a program you love ending, but when the producers and writers promised the series would end with everything fans had waited for (Merlin taking down Morgana) I was relieved. Unlike many other programs I’ve loved over the years, Merlin had a chance to actually end instead of being a cliffhanger forever, and I’d get some closure. Even more exciting: it was a two part finale. In my mind, two parts meant more time to wrap things up nicely (YAY!).

Well, we did get an ending, but the only “extreme” thing was how poorly it ended and how extremely disappointed I was. Like my friend Tiffany put it, “stupid Merlin, being all awesome and addicting, and then sucking right at the end.”

Fans had been waiting for eons to see the massive battle between Morgana and Merlin, as well as the moment when Morgana finds out who Emrys is. What we got was maybe three minutes of battle that felt nothing like a final showdown.

It’s beyond obvious the cancellation caught everyone off guard. I felt like the writing became very choppy and skipped around a lot. For example, Arthur doesn’t notice the love of his life, Gwen is acting all weird for like, two episodes, then suddenly he notices and is all upset? Really? But, the worst evidence of this is seen in the first episode (Arthur’s Bane, Part 1″) when we see the prophecy. That’s right, they showed it to us and then totally screwed it up. Arthur should not have died due to a part of the blade breaking off in his stomach and working its way to his heart–both blades were forged from dragon’s breath and should be incredibly strong and up for some major clashing and spectacular choreographed fighting. I know and am okay with it happening since it’s the way the legend goes, but man, what a horribly weak, unepic (that’s right, it’s so bad I’m making up words) way for him to go out against Mordred, who is also a huge part of Arthurian legend. Mordred’s death wasn’t well done either. Throughout his time in the series, you were set up to distrust and hate him, especially by episode 11 where he goes full on evil, and in all honesty, I wanted to see him go doowwwwwn after a crazy, skilled fight.

I can’t even discuss the bit with Dragon and getting him to the water. How infuriating! Why did Merlin wait until the last second to call Dragon? He’s called him to help when time is short tons of times before–why think carrying Arthur to the water is better? I would even be willing to be “okay” with Arthur dying if Dragon had carried him to the water and he died at the edge. At least the urgency would have been there!

And while we are talking about dragons, I’m disappointed about Aithusa’s exit. She appeared then disappeared. I really wanted Merlin to take her under his wing and help her learn to talk (I think she’s still a baby by the last episode). I mean, it seemed fitting since Merlin hatched her by giving her a name and her being a white dragon meant a good omen for Merlin and Arthur’s destiny. It would have been wonderful to see Aithusa try to carry Arthur’s body to the water, but in her weakened state, not make it. If there had been another season, I would love to think we would have learned more about Aithusa; for a dragon meant to be such a positive force, I wondered why she had such a close bond with Morgana and chose to save her. Did she save her out of pity, or was Aithusa not as innocent and good as I thought?

Having watched the finale again, part of me feels like I would have been happier to see the series end just before Mordred reveals he knows who Emrys is. Yes, it would have left fans hanging BUT if they did a movie like has been rumored, fans and the producers/writers would have gotten the ending Merlin truly deserved. I give the producers, writers and crew credit for doing their best to wrap up everything on such short notice. I’m sure it was very hard to cut storylines and intriguing pieces to make sure all the main parts were taken care of, but there were many issues I felt as a fan, I didn’t get any closure.

Despite it being a let down for me, there were some memorable moments that made watching worthwhile and hinted at what made the program so wonderful:

-Merlin in Crystal Cave: Ah, the birthplace of magic….These scenes in the cave were one of my favorite parts of the finale. Why? They had all the care and attention to details that I wanted from the final episode. Yes, it’s crazy Morgana not only left him in the only place in the world he could get his powers back and didn’t kill him, but seeing Merlin talk with his father was lovely. The lines where he notes Merlin himself IS magic and can’t ever truly lose who he is were the best moments of the whole episode. It reminded viewers just how utterly strong Merlin is and why his destiny would be so influential for Camelot. I knew they wouldn’t kill him off, or really take his magic away, but seeing the butterfly flutter out of his hands sure made me feel a lot better.

-Merlin being badass: I really don’t know how else to say that. Watching Merlin/Emrys use his magic on the Saxons, turning Aithusa away and taking care of Morgana was exactly what I wanted to see in the finale episode, I just wish there had been much, much more of it. My dream moment would have been between him and Morgana, where he unleashed such magic she had a chance for it to sink in just how much more powerful he was before she died, similar to Harry Potter fighting Voldemort, spells flying around them and both of them yelling out spells.

-Gaius seeing Merlin at his best: When Gwen asked who that man on the hill was and if Gaius knew him, I really appreciated the expression on Gaius’ face. He saw how much Merlin had struggled with hiding the fact he had magic, and being overwhelmed with knowing what to do; you could see how proud he was of Merlin and how in awe he was of his magic. Gaius has always been a fun character, and I’ve enjoyed seeing him treat Merlin like his son and while he didn’t have a huge role to play in the finale, I’m glad he had that scene.

-Arthur learning the truth: Well, thank goodness they let Arthur know Merlin had magic. Granted, it wasn’t nearly as long as it needed to be, but it would have been a mistake to leave it out. I can’t blame Arthur for having trouble coming to terms with Merlin not only having magic but using it many times to save his life. It is a pretty big shock, especially when in his mind Merlin is a bumbling servant who can’t have any talents, but it confuses me that he accepted the dream he had wasn’t actually a dream, but can’t get accept Merlin has magic (even after that awesome display in the fire in the woods–how can you ignore that?!). My friend Tiffany reminded me of something crucial though: Arthur has always blamed the sorcerer who couldn’t save his father, Uther; Merlin was that sorcerer. She points out this should have been discussed and dealt with before Arthur could come to terms with Merlin’s magic. At the very least, it should have been mentioned before he dies. I had totally forgotten this part and she’s absolutely right and remembering it makes Arthur’s death feel even worse.

There have been lots of rumors about rebooting the whole program, doing a movie, doing a spinoff….What would you like to see if Merlin comes back? Any actors, writers you’d love (or hate) to see? If they picked up where this version of Merlin left off, I hope they’d give us some sort of hint as to what Gwen did after Arthur’s death, and how the kingdom managed without their king as well as what on earth Merlin has been up to. It’s too early for me to decide what I’d like to see in a reboot or a movie; I need time to get over this version first.

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