Friday, April 18, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 18)


I’ll finish this letter while I have some peace and quiet. JoAnna and the boys went to the health club tonight. She’ll exercise while the boys play around in the pool. 

Andy’s team lost their soccer game, 7-0, against a team that took first place in the fall league. The sun was shining during the first half, which kept the parents, standing along the sidelines, from feeling the full effects of a fairly strong breeze. A dome of clouds appeared during the second half and blocked out the sun’s rays. Suddenly it felt like early March. We were all very eager for the game to end, a sentiment we didn’t share with our sons, of course. 

During the afternoon and early evening, JoAnna was at the annual Democratic Party Leadership Conference in Merrimac, about 30 miles north of Middleton, where she conducted a couple of workshops. A friend of Andy’s, Rex Johnson, spent most of the afternoon here, most of their time challenging each other to various Playstation games. I didn’t have a particularly productive day. I finished reading a book (Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley, a very funny spoof on Washington and the politics of UFO’s) and continued the yard work on the south side of the house. Saturday evening JoAnna and Andy went to the health club. I sat at the kitchen table and watched a movie on TV (Airplane, which had me laughing uproariously at times). Eddie was setting a mini-Lego world on the top of the bookcase next to my desk. During the commercials, I’d check out his progress. 




We went to 9 o’clock mass this morning and then stopped at Scott’s Bakery, usually referred to by us as “The Donut Shop”, on the way home. I went grocery shopping after JoAnna and Andy had completed a menu plan for the week. At quarter to 12, I drove Andy to the high school for the Babe Ruth League baseball tryouts. I didn’t stick around to watch the kids to through their paces. When I returned to give Andy a ride home, though, I heard reports from both Rex’s and Meaghan’s dads that Andy was sure to make the team. Andy, too, felt very confident about his chances. He said he did well in the various hitting, pitching, throwing, and batting drills the coaches ran them through. 

The weather today has been overcast and cool, with intermittent rain showers, so I postponed cleaning the windows. I had even considered putting up the screens in the family room when it looked as though the sky was clearing during the middle of the afternoon. That turned out to be a false promise of pleasant weather. Instead I went through my closet and filled up a large plastic bag that was distributed at the end of church today with old clothes -- shirts and pants and sweatshirts that Eddie has outgrown and shirts that I haven’t worn in over a year. The clothes will be dropped off next week at church for St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic charitable organization. 

Eddie played in a soccer scrimmage at 4:30 today. I wore my windbreaker and still felt chilled. Unlike most of his teammates, Eddie wore only his jersey, nothing warmer underneath, although I thought I had brought along a long-sleeve shirt for him. I found it on the kitchen table when we returned home. He had brought along his windbreaker, which he wore when he was on the sidelines, but didn’t seem to be bothered by the cold when he played. JoAnna brought along an umbrella since the intermittent sprinkles had returned when we left the house. The Sailfish played two quarters against a 3rd grade team and lost by a score of something like 7-2. Eddie scored a goal to give his team a short-lived lead. 

Dinner took ten minutes to get ready once we were back home. A beef roast had been cooking in the crockpot all day, with red potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery. Biscuits and corn completed the menu. Great meal for an unseasonably cold spring day. 

It was a rewarding weekend for those of us who love to hate the Yankees. They got swept by the lowly Tigers, getting outscored 16-3 in the three-game series. Your Mets aren’t doing too bad, Mom, although I see they lost today. Eddie’s scout troop scheduled a Brewer outing for the first Sunday in May, but that is when the boys have their first communion. Larry, Alice, and Cindy will be spending the weekend with us. Larry and Alice, by the way, should be back in Wisconsin within the next week or so. 

So much for now. We send you our love.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 17)


Yesterday was report card day. JoAnna and I have been a little concerned about Andy’s schoolwork. Last week he brought home a “Math Progress Report” for the third quarter. 

                                                   Unit 7 Unit 8 Unit 9 
Daily assignment average (60%)         48       84       63 
Test average (40%)                            82       96       81 
Overall unit score                              62       89       70 

Unit 7 covered coordinates, area & circles. Unit 8, algebra concepts & skills. Unit 9, fractions & ratios. His final grade for the quarter: 74. For some reason, he fell down on his homework during the 7th and 9th units. In fact, midway through the quarter, Mrs. Ball, Andy’s teacher, telephoned me to express her concerns about Andy’s suddenly cavalier attitude toward his school responsibilities. He wasn’t noting down his homework each day in his assignment notebook. Consequently, he wasn’t handing his homework in on time. I started to get suspicious before this incident, when Andy always answered my question, “Did you do your homework?” with “I don’t have any.” The three of us – JoAnna unable to get away from her office in the middle of the afternoon -- met a few days later and that seemed to be all the incentive Andy needed to dump his bad attitude. 

So anyway, we knew that Andy was getting at least one “C” on his report card. JoAnna and I prepared ourselves for the worst. 

Yesterday Andy called me at the library as soon as he returned home from school. He was very eager to share the results of his latest report card. Even though I was working at the reference desk during a busy part of the day, I told him, “Well, tell me how you did.” 

No wonder he was pleased with himself. 

His other grades include: 
  • Reading B+ 
  • Spelling A- 
  • Language Arts B- 
  • Social Studies A 
  • Science A-

He even read me the note that his teacher had written: Andy has made a real effort to apply himself and organize materials, finish work on time and use class time for assignments the last part of the quarter. Keeping working, Andy! Andy had an ulterior motive for his call, of course. 

“Dad, can I have my Playstation back?”, he asked with proper deference. 

“That’s a family decision, Andy,” I responded. “We’ll talk about that later today when Mom is home.” 

I’m perceived as the easier touch, so the boys are never too happy when Mom is added to a decision-making equation. If you recall, Andy’s punishment for his temporarily poor attitude at school was to be denied the aforementioned electronic game and the possibility of any sleepovers. Last night we negotiated the following terms: the Playstation will be available from Friday afternoon (as long as all homework is completed) through 6 p.m. on Sunday. I’ve been keeping the Playstation equipment in my office at the library. In that way, Andy can’t “cheat” and use it when he and Eddie are home alone after school. 

Eddie also brought home a good report card. His teachers are very pleased with his progress in reading and language arts, where he is in a modified, i.e. special education, program. In a “Project Read Assessment”, an attachment to his standard report card, he received achievement grades of mostly S’s, for Secure (child can apply the skill or concept correctly and independently.) In the two areas where he is graded on his regular classwork – Science/Health and Social Studies, Eddie received the highest grade possible: S+. In the Individual Development section of his report card, most of his evaluations are S (for satisfactory). His one problem area is a result of his perfectionism, “accepts constructive suggestions.” For the first quarter, he received an “N” (for needs improvement); then an “I” (inconsistent) for the second quarter; and now a “P” (progress shown) for the most recent grading period. At least he’s making steady improvement here! 

As I noted in my journal yesterday, Madison must have hosted a joint conference of the American Meteorological Society and NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Snow? What snow? The feel and sounds of spring were in the air yesterday. I started to clear away some of the debris in our expansive bed of perennials along the south side of the house, serenaded by the constant buzz of lawn mowers in the distance. Although it was overcast through most of the day, the clouds had dissipated by the late afternoon so that I needed my sunglasses when I drove Eddie (west, into a blinding sun) to his soccer practice. 

Right now it’s time for me to get out of my sweaty exercise clothes and into the shower. Andy plays his first soccer game of the season this morning and needs to be on the field in 45 minutes. Later today I may decide to start my semi-annual window-cleaning chore – and that’s the best word for it, although listening to a book on tape helps the time pass quickly -- since there is only a slight chance of rain showers predicted for later today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 15)



It’s awfully quiet around here right now. Andy is stretched out on the couch playing with his Game Boy. Boxer is studying the back yard through the sliding glass door, probably on the lookout for some rabbit or squirrel. Eddie and JoAnna are attending the final Cub Scout pack meeting of the year, one of two conflicting events on Eddie’s calendar. The other is a reception for students in the Middleton-Cross Plains school district who have entries in the annual art show. I stopped at Elm Lawn school, where the pack meeting was being held, to see if Eddie might want to attend the final 15 minutes of the reception, but he was too involved in some craft project all the boys were working on. I didn’t even ask him if he wanted to leave.

Boxer escaped from the house early Tuesday afternoon while I was bringing some groceries into the house. I chased him around the yard for a half hour, but he refused to respond to my entreaties. In fact, he hissed ferociously at me and would have probably sliced me to ribbons if he hadn’t been declawed. Have it your way, I said finally, and returned to work, feeling a little guilty, though, about leaving our cat to the elements. What am I going to tell JoAnna, I wondered, if Boxer takes off or I find him as road kill? Actually, it was a beautiful day – lots of sunshine with a temperature in the mid-60s, and Boxer never ventured too far from the house. Eddie was able to lure him from under one of our cedar trees along the driveway when he returned home from school. I think that Kitty Meowsers had come to the conclusion that he was a house cat, although he’d probably enjoy occasional outdoor privileges based on the amount of time he spends looking out our windows.

Both boys have a few soccer practices under their belts. Andy has his first game Saturday morning, but the weather might not cooperate. Rain and snow and predicted for tomorrow. JoAnna thought she heard anywhere from 1 to 4 inches. No way, I said. It’s not gonna happen! Just when our daffodils and tulips are starting to bloom. (The bunnies got to our crocuses – curse those furry little pests.) The lousy weather is expected to last through the weekend, which will affect the Babe Ruth Bambino baseball tryouts on Sunday. If the weather improves, Andy will spend the early afternoon at the high school baseball diamond. Otherwise, he and the other 11 and 12 year olds trying out will be in the gym. If Andy makes the team, which is very likely since he was on the traveling team last year, I’m not sure how he’s going to juggle soccer and baseball through the end of May.

Eddie plays his first game on Tuesday. I’ll probably have to miss it since that is my night to work. I better check the schedule since I think that’s the game Eddie is supposed to bring a treat. And, of course, forgetting to bring a treat is a very serious crime!

I did a little yard work Wednesday evening, clearing dead growth and dried leaves from the hostas and other perennials in the front yard, removing the first of the season’s weeds, picking up the silver maple debris – such messy trees – littering the front lawn. I’m looking forward to getting our yard back in shape between now and the Memorial Day weekend.

JoAnna and I were in bed at 9 o’clock last night, but not because we were tired. Wednesday evening is our time to watch back-to-back episodes of Law & Order, our favorite TV show. We caught a new episode on NBC, followed by a rerun from what JoAnna figured was probably the first season, based on the cast, on A&E. Her folks got her hooked on the show last December, and she got me hooked a couple months ago. Jerry Orbach, who played Harry McGraw on a few episodes of Murder She Wrote, plays one of the police detectives in his typical loose, wisecracking style. Sam Waterston, one of JoAnna’s favorite actors, plays a district attorney. Neither can be considered the star of the show. That would be New York City, since all of the exterior scenes are shot on location. All around, it’s very an extremely well-made program, currently the best on TV as far as I’m concerned. But then, what do I know? I don’t really watch anything else on a regular basis.

Monday, April 14, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (April 15)


This letter will be the last that I send to you in Arizona. JoAnna says that you’ll be back in Two Rivers by the end of the month. Back to reality!

We’ve been experiencing a lot of April showers lately. We had a couple periods of rain during the week, including a soaking downpour that started late Thursday evening and lasted throughout the night. Yesterday we had beautiful weather through the late afternoon when a bank of gray clouds darkened the western horizon. It has been raining on and off ever since, which makes today a good time to stay inside and tackle some cleaning projects or just take it easy. JoAnna’s doing the latter right now. She’s sacked out on the couch watching a biography of Cher on VH1.

“I can barely keep my eyes opened,” she told me a few minutes ago.

The boys are on the other side of the house waiting for a friend to come over, someone who lives just a block away from us.

JoAnna and I started our spring cleaning yesterday. The house was begging for our attention. We started out with the living room/dining area/study, covering every surface from ceiling to floor. The cabinets and buffet were cleared out and cleaned, and then the contents were more efficiently organized. We also tackled the kitchen, again from top to bottom. We didn’t have to clean all the cabinets since JoAnna had rearranged some of them to accommodate the new dishes and glasses we got at Christmas. While I was cleaning the kitchen countertops, JoAnna tidied up the hallway between the kitchen and garage and then removed all the Abrahamson campaign clutter that had accumulated around the computer during the past three months. I’m so glad this election is over. Shirley was easily re-elected to the Supreme Court, beating her opponent handily, by a 63-37 margin. Sharryn Rose couldn’t even win Brown County, her home base.

Friday evening we hosted a card party here. Sheepshead, of course. We started at 7:00 and played until nearly 11:00. Nobody was really into the game. It was the first time this year that the group has gotten together for cards and we were more interested in talking and joking. JoAnna made hot tamales, and our guests brought various snacks – chips and cookies, mostly. Jon Erpenbach brought along Joey and Amy, his two children, so the boys had someone to play with. Amy is just crazy about Boxer, but, unfortunately, the feeling is not mutual. Amy is much too rough with him. Boxer was a basket case by the end of the evening. When we were saying goodbye to our guests, I held him so he wouldn’t make a dash for the open door. He bit me rather forcefully on my left index finger, the little runtski. He was all wound up after having been chased around the house by four wild kids for much of the evening.

JoAnna decided we’d go to church this morning since she didn’t want to get cleaned up for church after our housecleaning and then get all grubby again during the workout at the health club. Andy accompanied her and played basketball while she went through her routine. Eddie and I stayed home. I finished writing a letter to Mom, and Eddie watched TV. Mom, by the way, is doing fine. Dad had become such a burden, the Parkinson’s completely immobilizing him during the last couple weeks of his life. Both JoAnna and I were surprised, almost shocked, by her appearance at Christmas. She had lost so much weight. Some of it is attributable to an overactive thyroid, a diagnosis made by her doctor earlier in the year. I’m convinced that an equal part was a result of the ongoing stress of taking care of Dad. Mom was determined to keep him at home and, fortunately, Hospice was there during his last days so he could die peacefully and with dignity. Now Mom can get back to having a life of her own. 

The boys and I had a nice visit in Warren for a portion of the last week in March, during the boys’ spring break from school. We went shopping a couple times, once to the Jamestown (New York) mall, once to the Warren mall. We took Mom and Barb out to lunch one day. Otherwise we just hung out. Our evening meals lasted for three hours, with the family, including Larry and Kim, who always joined us at this time of the day, gathered around the dining room table for food and conversation.

The boys and I spent April Fool’s Day on the road. We stayed at a motel in Hammond, Indiana, just outside of Chicago. The boys spent most of the evening in the pool. I joined them for awhile, but then wrote a note to Mom while they continued to splash around. We had a great time in Chicago. On Friday, we visited the planetarium, walked through Grant Park to the Art Institute (not a very big hit with the boys, but they did enjoy the arms & armor exhibit) and the Museum of Broadcast Communications (featuring oldtime TV and radio memorabilia), and then walked back to the car – over an hour of walking altogether, which resulted in a few complaints from the boys during our return trip. It was a beautiful day for walking, though.

Around 3:00, we checked into our motel, the Best Western River North, located a few blocks north of the Chicago River and six blocks west of Michigan Avenue. We thought we’d be able to get in a swim before supper, but the pool was closed for repairs. Fortunately, a Nintendo game was attached to the TV in our room. That evening, we saw the Chicago Bulls make history, losing to Orlando by the largest margin in the team’s 33-year history. On Saturday, we went to Lou Mitchell’s, one of my favorite restaurants, for breakfast, took a trip to the Skydeck of the Sears Building, and wandered around the Lincoln Park Zoo. We returned to the United Center that evening to watch a hockey game, the Chicago Black Hawks vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hawks won in the final minute of the game, 2-1. It was, admittedly, an expensive weekend, but I don’t think I went over budget. I have to wait until I get my next Mastercard statement for the final verdict. The boys and I are determined that Mom will accompany us on our next trip to Chicago.

It looks like JoAnna has fallen asleep. I thought we were going to continue with our spring cleaning today, clean the bathrooms, specifically. I should attend to a couple areas I overlooked yesterday – the closet next to the front entrance and the cabinets next to the dishwasher. There’s also a couple loads of laundry to do, and I should go through my closet and chest of drawers and bag up a donation of castoffs to Goodwill. I also need to finish filling out our tax forms. JoAnna has me feeling lazy, though. Maybe I’ll just stretch out on the living room couch and continue reading the book I started yesterday, Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley, a very funny novel about a George Will-type commentator who becomes convinced that he was abducted by aliens. Buckley deliciously spoofs the pomposities of Washington.

Later that same day.

I was able to check off most of the chores on my to-do list, while JoAnna continued to sack out on the couch. She must have used up all her energy at the health club last night. During the early afternoon, she did get up and prepare a round steak in the crock pot for supper and then completed the meal preparations between 5:30 and 6:00. Otherwise, she was snoozin’ or surfin’, the perfect couch potato. Eddie’s soccer practice was canceled. Andy’s lasted nearly two hours. Right now JoAnna is preparing the boys for their first communion, which takes place the first weekend of May. We hope to see you here then. We send you our love.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On This Date in 1999


I have a little bit of time before I have to drive Eddie to his Cub Scout meeting. Yesterday, on a beautiful spring evening, he had his first soccer practice, and I taxied him there and back since JoAnna had a meeting after work and didn’t get home until 7:00. Andy’s team practiced on Tuesday at a park in the Town of Middleton, about five miles west of here. JoAnna drove him there and then dropped off Eddie at the library since I had to work until 6:45, when it was time to attend a parent meeting and pick up Andy. The parent meeting was over by the time I got there since one of the coaches had given JoAnna (and others) the wrong time.

As you can deduct from the first paragraph of this letter, it didn’t take long – a day, actually -- to get back into our busy schedule.

JoAnna returned home from Pennsylvania on Monday morning about 10:00. She was beat but went to work anyway, until she couldn’t keep her head up and eyes opened. She was home at 3:00 and immediately changed into her pajamas and crawled into bed. That evening -- after getting dressed again, of course -- she spent a couple hours at the AFSME headquarters doing phone-banking for Shirley Abrahamson.

I spent Monday doing wash and getting the house back in order. I also did some grocery shopping since the milk smelled as though it was close to go sour and the bread had an about-to-mold aura about it. The boys played roller-hockey in the driveway, watched TV, and generally ignored their dad except when they were hungry. Even though I had taken the entire day off, I debated about going into work to check my mail and catch up on my email, but I saved that stuff for first thing Tuesday morning.


Today started out beautifully, but clouds began moving in during the midafternoon and now it is raining, with some muffled thunder occasionally thrown in. Looks like we’ll be getting quite a bit of precipitation this week, which will be good for the grass and the perennials that are already a couple steps beyond peeking through the ground. Our daffodils and crocuses have just started to bloom. I noticed that a cluster of crocuses I planted in a section of the front yard last fall have become bunny food. They just can’t stay away from those new plants. After the first season, I guess they’re just not tender enough.

The boys are already looking forward to their next Chicago trip. We talked about taking a day trip to Wrigley Field some weekend this summer. If Sammy Sosa is going to have another fence-busting season, we better order our tickets now. The problem is, we haven’t finalized our summer schedule yet. Considering what we already have on our calendar – the Nelson family reunion in the Twin Cities, our Bastille Day party, the Richard family reunion in Louisiana, and two or three baseball tournaments, I don’t think we’re going to have many weekends left. Maybe a night game during the week is a better idea.

Were you able to read about the first part of our Chicago adventure? I should have enclosed a magnifier. I always write so small when I use blank greeting cards as stationary. Am I trying to get my money’s worth or ruin people’s eyesight?

You might be interested to know that we were eyewitnesses to history at the Bulls game. We were there to see most of the biggest loss in the team’s 33-year history. How the mighty have fallen, as they say. Andy was ready to leave before the end of the third quarter, which gives you a clear indication of just how bad the game was, but I insisted we stay until Orlando scored 100 points, which occurred very early in the fourth quarter. As a result of our early departure from the United Center, we didn’t have to fight the crowds and quickly hailed a cab back to the motel. 

By the way, Toni Kukoc did play, Barb. He must have made a quick recovery from whatever injury he had. He was the Bulls’ leading scorer with 13 points.

I guess I was somewhat surprised that the game was sold out – the Bulls’ 558th sellout in a row. An article in the March 25th New York Times offers a reason for the team’s continued popularity.

During their reign, the Bulls had become the darlings of celebrities and business tycoons, a favored night-on-the-town entertainment for people from the woodsy, wealthy North Shore. But now it is possible for a man like Rick Peterson, who works for an auto parts business in the working-class south suburbs, to take his 15-year-old son to the game, without forking over the equivalent of a house payment.

Our seats, one row below the very outer ring of seats on the top tier were $22 apiece. They probably could have been scalped for five times that amount last year.


We started out Saturday at Lou Mitchell’s, a loop restaurant known far and wide for its breakfast menu. I had eaten here three times previously, twice with JoAnna, during the mid-80s. I chowed down on a huge omelet (turkey, swiss, tomato, and mushroom) and a side of hash browns, while Andy settled for a bagel and Eddie picked at a Belgian waffle. From here, we walked to the Sears Tower a few blocks away and snaked our way, along with hundreds of other sightseers, to the bank of elevators that took us to the Skydeck. Before taking the 70-second trip to the top, we saw a 15-minute film entitled “Above Chicago”, which, of course, featured only the attractive portions of the city.

Our bird’s eye view was limited due to the day’s hazy conditions. We couldn’t see much beyond a one-mile radius of the loop. Back at ground level, the boys uttered cries of “I’m hungry” so I bought them slices of pizza at a conveniently located Sbarro’s.

From here we drove a few miles north to Lincoln Park. At first I thought we weren’t going to find a place to park. Lots of other people had the same idea we did, but having a basic familiarity with the city, my nose led us to a parking lot located on the Lake Michigan side of the park just west of Lake Shore Drive. The boys rollerbladed for a while but changed back into their shoes when we learned that rollerblades were not allowed in the zoo.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is a very compact facility. We were able to make a leisurely stroll around the grounds and through the various animal houses in less than two hours. Then it was back to the motel to relax for awhile. We were denied the amenity of a swimming pool since it was undergoing a renovation. As a consolation, the boys were able to play Nintendo in our room.

We ate supper at a nearby restaurant and then took a cab to the United Center. Our driver got us there in record time, shaving $2.50 off the average fare we paid on Friday. I handed him a $10 bill for the $5.40 fare and told him to keep the change. “You are the champion,” I added. The boys seemed impressed with my generous mood, figuring that Dad will buy me that jersey (Andy) and cap (Eddie) tonight. They were right. Dad broke out the plastic. The hockey game wasn’t anywhere near a sellout. The arena seats around 21,000 and at least a quarter of the seats must have been empty. We saw a great game, a much better contest than the previous evening, the Black Hawks pulling out a 2-1 victory in the last minute of the game. Where Eddie had been lethargic through most of the basketball game, except for the halftime break, he was into this game from start to finish. Our seats, though located in the third tier, put us right on center ice, providing a panoramic view of the action. At the Bulls’ game, one of the backboards partially obscured our view since we were located in the “end zone”.

Sunday morning, after checking out of our motel, we walked around the area looking for a restaurant where we could eat breakfast. Everything didn’t open until after 11:00, it seemed. We saw some activity in front of a place we had checked out the previous evening, the Rainforest CafĂ©, when there was a 45-minute wait for a table, and of course that didn’t fit into our schedule. Here’s a description of the restaurant from its promotional brochure. 

You’ll be immersed in a tropical wonderland with dazzling special effects: cool mists that permeate through cascading waterfalls; gentle tropical rainstorms (off to the sides; the customers don’t get wet), thunder and lightning; huge mushroom canopies, animation featuring Tracy the Talking Tree, butterflies, crocodiles, snakes and frogs, trumpeting elephants and other wildlife, all moving within the surroundings of larger than life banyan trees, with the sounds and aromas of a tropical rain forest. 

The boys loved this place. Our service was very leisurely, purposely, I think, since a store is attached to the restaurant, so we ended up spending nearly two hours here. The place is designed to provide a shopping experience as much as a dining experience. Fortunately, I only had to pay for the latter. The boys didn’t even ask to buy anything. I think they already appreciated how generous Dad had been during the past week. As a result of our visit, Eddie has decided that he wants to be a city planner and live in Chicago. I wish I could pinpoint the time that he made this career choice during the weekend. Maybe he picked up on some offhanded remark I made while we looking at this scale model of the loop area while waiting for our turn to go up to the Skydeck.


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