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Archive for July, 2008

I know I sound like a broken down recorder, but… thank you again. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. for all your thoughts, and words. Even though I did not “see” anyone of you on July 29, I felt surrounded by warmth, concern and love.

And I just want to let fellow deadbabymamas know, that I am glad I know you. That we have to meet through our blogs like this, because our babies died, is sad indeed, but I don’t know how else we will cross paths, given how spread all over we are? (Thank goodness for the Internet, I say.) The thing is, even though we are bereaved mothers, we are also more than that. Truly, when I come and read on your blog, I do not think “deadbabymama“; I can see the person that is larger than that. Each of you have a different voice, and offers a different angle and take on things. In this way, I have enjoyed getting to know you in small ways. Through your blogs, I have participated in your lives, somehow, uninvited. I sit and bite my nails as I watch you on your arduous journeys to bring a new life into your families; I weep as you release butterflies for your little one; I take sneak peeks into your closet; shake fists at those rude and idiotic comments you get on your blog; I pound my heart with you and I gape as you allow strange men into your home to rip away half of the house; sometimes during my day I smile, sometimes even laugh, when something funny you said cross my mind. Maybe we will never meet; never sit at the same table or even be in the same city- ever- but your story, all its versions, have touched me, in all ways. I just want you to know that I do not just think of you as a fellow bereaved.

And as for my real friends whom I physically meet and touch, thank you, for your support and understanding this past year. Thank you for honoring this grief journey, and for holding the space so respectfully. It means the world to me.

Last night I laid and thought of many lines that cross and then diverge. That is how friends are, how life is. People come, people go. I have gained, and lost friends through Ferdinand’s death. But that was not the only time. Friends have come and gone when I changed schools, studied overseas, or moved overseas. Friends came and gone as values changed, lifestyle changed, jobs changed, blah blah blah… and so it is. Right now, I am content with how it is. I do not ask for more. Thank you for being in my life, and allowing me to be in yours, even if I’ve been a somewhat sucky friend.

Now the dirty scoop: the hardest parts of yesterday…. … it was not 1205, when he was born. It was when dusk fell. Something about the fading of light; something about how light seamlessly blended with the dark, that made me realize that I have no control, made me gasped and weeped. The notion that the day is almost gone, brought on associations of things that had gone… …The second hardest part was when I frosted the cake with whipped cream. Yes, it was hard partly because the cake is rather delicate, which made the frosting job challenging, which made me afraid that I will screw up and there will be a really ugly cake. What made me bawl was the reality sinking in again. The third hardest part: singing the birthday song; watching the candle flame flickering, moving my eyes from one face to the next… …

Yet, no matter how hard it was, I know that I was lucky. I had the luxury to have the time to myself, to grieve, to write, to cry. I thought of bereaved mothers who never had the support; who had to swallow and bury their grief and bring them to their graves alone. I thought of mothers who did not even have a moment to be by themselves to grieve, and to remember. I remember stories of old grandmothers blurting out at the end of their days, how they missed those little ones they lost… but that no one wanted to talk about it. My heart aches for all these women. I hope, mothers never have to be alone again in their grief.

These cards came in the mail, made by our friend Margaret (who lives barely 10 minutes away) and her sweet children. I totally bawled.

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When I was young, a few weeks before my birthday I will be asked, what cake do you want? Meaning, do I want it in the shape of Mickey Mouse? Or perhaps Batman, or Strawberry Shortcake? There were three flavors to choose from: vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.

In R’s family, a few weeks before one’s birthday, they get asked by my mother-in-law, what cake do you want? Meaning, a traditional rum cake? Or an authentic German Blackforest? Or perhaps, a jedertorte? (German Hunter’s cake, with hazelnuts, egg liquer, chocolate, all kinds of stuff. Complicated. Time-consuming. It’s one of R’s favorite cakes.) Only the best of ingredients would be used. My mother-in-law is one hell of a baker. One year she made me my favorite cake- the Blackforest. I can still taste it in my mouth, it was pure heaven. Her kitchen is nothing fancy; her equipment not the latest shiny-spanking ones and her oven is just so antique you need some special technique to know how to open and close it. But she turns out the most scrumptious cakes. Simply the best. From then on I knew what a good cake should taste like.

When we first came to the US, we drove around trying to get to know our town, and to find out where to buy stuff. One day we drove by Food City. It looked crowded, which we took as a very good sign. We went in and saw the bakery section. Heaps of sugary frosting, and in psychedelic colors too. We bought a piece to try. I do not even remember if it had a taste. Then we went to Fry’s bakery section. More neon colored cakes. I almost wanted to pack up and leave.

Until we finally found AJ’s Fine Foods, we were sure that there is no decent way to eat a cake here except to make our own.

I started to figure out how to bake a cake. With real stuff. Preferably with spectacular results and moan-ful responses, like when my mother-in-law bakes. Well, I am not there yet, but at least neon colored store-bought cakes no longer have to be an option. We will never be that desperate to go that route.

So, a few weeks before someone in my family has a birthday, I ask: what cake do you want?

R likes the traditional German stuff. Val loves anything chocolate, though this year she surprised me by asking for a mango cake. Sophia is a die-hard chocolate addict, so no surprises there yet. (Although I have heard her telling her sister that this year maybe she would go for a blueberry cake.) For R, the real stuff is important. Real egg liquer, real cherry liquer, real farmer’s cheese. (The last item will never be found here.) For the girls, sometimes the form is of priority. A cake in the shape of the number four. A cake that is a castle. A cake that is a kitty cat. A cake that has wispy ghosts on it.

I enjoy this. I love baking and I like a good cooking challenge. For me it is a labor of love. And it has become some sort of a birthday ritual in the family. To produce the desired cake, and watch them enjoy it. (I do have a tastebud issue in such circumstances. After spending a lot of time baking and assembling a cake, i can’t really taste it. I always have to rely on R to tell me if it truly is good. And, he is brutally honest in this respect. will mince no words, and gives no sympathy points for effort spent.) It is fun browsing through baking books, drooling over photos of mile-high cakes swathed in miles of chocolate; or plump luscious berries glistening over an entire cake. I do not like fondant though. That wedding cake category I cannot stand. yuck. Have you ever tasted fondant? Ewe. yuck. It will keep a cake moist though. But who wants to wait to eat a cake?

After Ferdinand died, i did not bake for a long time. Just did not have the heart. No energy. could care less. to hell with everything. While I used to bake goodies for snacking, for the last year when the girls got hungry between meals, I asked if they would like to nibble on my fingers a bit- it could stave off the hunger. It takes a lot to bake- ingredients, time, energy, heart. It still is a challenge.

This entire month the girls have been asking, “What cake will Ferdinand have?” I have no idea. They inquired with urgency, “What cake do you think Ferdinand will like?” And I told them, “Probably something chocolate.” can’t go wrong with chocolate.

But in the end I picked out this recipe. Something new. Uses almond flour and coconut flour. But it uses white chocolate for frosting. I do NOT like white chocolate. Urgh. NO WAY. Over my dead body. So instead, I opted for obscene amounts of fresh whipped cream, and tons of sliced strawberries for the filling. And made a few tweaks as I went along… …

So, making this birthday cake involved:

  • a muttering to the kitchen gods to have mercy
  • 10 eggs
  • a sprinkling of sorrow
  • 1 tablespoon of rum (I may have accidentally added more)
  • about 1.5 cups sugar
  • cartloads of love folded in
  • 4 cups of heavy cream (whipped with 3 small packets of vanilla-bourbon sugar; one of my mil’s dirty little secrets)
  • 1.75 cups of almond flour
  • the girls’ happy shrieking swirled in
  • 3 Tbsp of coconut flour
  • tons of memories
  • 1 tsp of coconut extract
  • loads of care, thoughts and love from friends that held my hands steady
  • 4 cups of sliced organic strawberries
  • generous helping of tiny chocolate chunks pressed to bottom half of cake

And… … to be able to watch you smear the cream all over your face, and fling the cake to the whirling fan, and to stuff your nostrils with strawberries; if only I could see all these, Ferdinand: Priceless.

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Thank you all, for remembering with me today. Your notes, your virtual hugs, your thoughts, your hands on your hearts, all mean so much to me. And I love how you are joining me on the laundry line. I loved reading all those responses. I am also thinking of you all today, especially those who walk the same path as I do.

Dear Ferdinand,

a year out, and I am still in shock, and disbelief. As I re-play last year’s event in my head, I just can not reconcile that memory with my reality. Really, that was a part of my history? Really, I lived through that (somehow)? Really, things like that happen to someone on the street, just like that? Well, I guess it is. Really.

This month had been a busy one. Every day we head out for some kind of camp or activity for your sisters. And the time I get behind the wheel is the time I get to think about you. I can quietly shed a few tears without your sisters noticing. It is not that I do not cry in-front of them. I just don’t want to do too much of that. You know what bothers me? That one day when they are grown up they are going to write something like this: I remember my mom being sad. There was a time when she was just crying, always having a sad face. She did not feel like mom then. I am afraid because once your older sister asked me, when I was in a children’s museum with them, “Why do you have an upside down face, mom? Is it because Ferdinand died?”

I don’t want memories like that for them. Perhaps it is inevitable. Yes, it is inevitable, but I do not want it to be a major item in their memory. You understand?

This has been a month with lots of clouds down in mortal realm. All forms of clouds. Some we can easily name, others not so. There are some that look like careless blobs of white on the blue palette of the sky. Then there are those that look like someone took the clouds and did some crazy somersaults with them. Sometimes, the clouds form what looks like a barricade, or a wall in the sky. Sometimes they form a big forbidding block, with peeks of light peering through them. When I see them, I think of you. Like clouds, we know you are there, but we can never touch you. We see the clouds, white and fluffy but how do we touch them? When they melt from the sky in the form of rain, or snow, we can touch them. I can only find other ways to touch you, to connect with you.

This month, very intensely, every time I sit behind the wheel, I have the surreal feeling that I am going to drive through unseen walls that will break me into a different dimension. This life I lead now is not real to me. Not something I ever imagined; nor is it something I have learned to live with gracefully. I keep thinking I am in the wrong space. Everything feels wrong. I feel, if I break through to the other side, and go to the other dimension, I will find you. And all will be right again.

But that is not true, right? Here is here, is where I am now; is where I live and have to learn my lessons while here. That’s so crappy. I know that this is my chance, this life, to gain some wisdom, yet I do so grudgingly, muttering and complaining all the time. I know, lots of room for improvement.

Last Sunday, July 27, was a day I dreaded. On the one hand, I wanted it to come, so it can go. I don’t want to just forget about the whole thing; it is just not possible. I know that even though every year this time will suck it will get better. At least, I can hope. In the beginning, the entire month will be like a ride through hell. Then the week before, then the day… someone said her deceased son’s birthday had become an upbeat event. That thought is just out of my reach right now. I cannot imagine that. Laughing and rejoicing on your birthday? I don’t know.

But anyways, so on Sunday we made a fire. You know your sister Valerie just luuuuurrrrrrvvvvvees to have us make a fire when we’re at our cabin. It has to be at the fire ring that she had made. She will work hard, carrying rocks, sticks, newspapers, whatever is needed, so we get those flickering orange flames leaping and dancing into the sky. She put the first flame to the papers. The wood smoked a little at first, and then a fire came into being. Val and Sophia took turns putting their drawings and cards into the fire for you. They are sure the smoke will rise high and bring you those messages of love.

Then, Valerie sang you a birthday song- in three languages: English, Chinese and German. Your father helped her sing the German version. I know it must have ravaged his heart but he did it. I did not sing. I could not. I just kept choking.

Sophia asked, “Mom, I have a question… … why is it that during the day I can still see the moon?” I told her, “The moon is always there, love. It’s just that during the day the sun is so bright we cannot see the moon.” And she insisted, “But I can see the moon, because it is Ferdinand. I can see Ferdinand, mom.”

After dinner, we had papaya for dessert. No cake until Tuesday, the 29th. Val had brought along a tealight from home. She said it will be like a birthday candle. Your father lit it for her and she insisted that we all sing a birthday song for you, all over again. I just could not do it. The papaya felt bitter in my mouth; my nose felt like someone just punched me real hard and tears were just threatening to pour out in raging floods. So Val sang. She sang those familiar words, loud and clear, and with pure joy. I was sad. Sad that you were not sitting at the table, all a-dripping with drool and stinking to high hell with a five-hour diaper. But I was also happy and proud, that your big sister is doing what she is doing. She sang like you were just there with us. Not in some unknown mysterious place. Not lost. Not gone. She sang like she had lived with you every day and knew you well and loved you with all her heart. She sang with the pure joy that you are indeed celebrating your first birthday and that was such a wonderful thing. That was beauty to me, you know? This crazy girl of mine, showing me how to demonstrate one’s love; showing me how to live life. She lived the purity of that moment. She sang with a big smile on her face, her joy showing that she was so happy to be able to sing you your birthday song, so happy that you are being celebrated just like all of us should be, on our birthdays.

I was unable to do that. So I put down my bowl and walked away; to the dark living room, crouched into a ball and sobbed quietly. Val came to ask, “Don’t you want to help blow out the candle?” And I said no. She looked at me and said, “You look unwell. You are missing Ferdinand. Right?”

We went out, all of us, stood on the road and craned our necks to look at the sea of stars, frozen in the black canvas of night. My heart let go a little bit. And then we saw a big shooting star. A really big one, right overhead of us, that left a long bright trail. “Everyone make a wish, every body make your own wish!!” your crazy sister yelled.

Then she checked with each one– did you make a wish? did you make wish?! I nodded.

I lied.

I thought that one day if I really, really would have a wish that could come true- you know, like when a genie jumps right out before me when I am scrubbing the toilet bowl or something… … that I would wish for you to come alive. But then, that is not right. You are not really dead. You are such a loud presence in our lives. It’s crazy, but you are alive. Not in a conventional sense. But you are not dead. Well, you are, but then… not.

I am not going to look at your memory box today. That reminds me of images of you that I do not like to think of. I’ll imagine you as the beautiful, spectacular sunset. That swirl of dust. That smoke meandering away from the fire. That flimsy-looking but indeed rather strong spider web. The dirt. The hot breeze that greets us when we step out of the car.

You are loved, you are remembered. Happy birthday, my brave little voyager!

mama

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laundry line

Not too long ago a friend asked how was I doing?

Hanging in there, I replied. Adding that:

“I feel like a pair of stretched-out thread-bare big, white underwear, hanging on a line. ha.”

Not to be outdone, and in true spirit of comradeship, she replied:

“I’ll be the sagging bra with the broken underwire flapping in the breeze beside you.”

You’re welcomed to join us on the line, flapping in the breeze. What will you be?

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My relationship with my in-laws have always been polite and pleasant. They treat me well, and with respect. They are open-minded, good-hearted folks who loves to try new things and to travel. They are mostly supportive of us. But, we live on different continents and do not communicate much. I mean, me and them. (R calls them maybe once a month and they’ll talk for about an hour, catching up and all.) They do emails but not very often, and mostly they are busy with work in their own yard (keeping sheep, chickens and having lots of vegetables and fruit trees. My MIL makes fruit jams from their harvest and they are just the best stuff) so we do not talk much, especially this past year. Below is an email I sent them this morning:

Dear D, dear L,

I hope all is well with you and all in Lotte. R told me you recently went for your vacation at the castle, I hope you had a fantastic time and we look forward to hearing about it.

I am not sure if you remember… but we are fast approaching Ferdinand’s first anniversary. This month has been very hard for me, not just because of the heat and having to drive the girls some place (Chinese camp, or gym class or swim class) every day of the week; I also have a translation assignment (tough one) to work on, while grappling with memories and emotions that are just brutal to deal with. By now, most people have forgotten, expecting us to “move on”, to have forgotten the shock, the hurt, and the grieving. But, how can we ever forget?

One thing a fellow bereaved mum said struck a chord with me- she said she did not want to become a smaller person because her son died. She wants to become a bigger person.

Sometimes, it is easy to become that “smaller” person, as we feel angry, hurt and being treated unfairly. Sometimes it is not just the hurt that Ferdinand’s death occurred, but also the reactions of people around us, the things people have said, the things people have done. Yet, it will be so unfair and silly to become a smaller person because our children died.

So, there is an initiative out there to perform “acts of kindness” in memory of our lost little ones. To do kind things in honor of them, in remembering them.

I received some money from a recent translation assignment and I donated 10% of it to an education fund in Singapore, as well as an organization that is dedicated to saving wildlife. I donated these in Ferdinand’s name. I did ask R if we would make a donation to an organization here in the US but he said we do not have the budget. It is ok. I know we handle things in different ways. When I asked him if he has any ideas what to do on Ferdinand’s birthday, he was reluctant to talk about it, saying he is not sure he wants to “re-live the trauma.” I can understand. Only I feel in shying away from pain, we make it worse. Moreover, the two girls remember Ferdinand very much, misses him very much. I do not want to let July 29 pass by in silence, as if he did not exist. Indeed he still exists, only it is in our hearts.

We’ll be up at the cabin this weekend. Sunday, July 27, was the day we found out he had died in my womb. We will remember him. We will make a fire and burn the drawings that the girls have made for him. Since yesterday, I started a 40-day meditation** that is supposed to bring healing to myself, and to all those who need it. I hope in doing this meditation, I am also performing an act of kindness- to myself and to others. I also hope, in doing this meditation, I initiate healing in myself, and in others who need it. I have a large box of paper cranes that friends made for us last year, after Ferdinand died. I would like to do something with them- string them up with beads and give them to the local hospital to hang in the memorial garden. But right now, I do not have the strength and energy to do this, but I hope to complete this project by year’s end.

If you like, please think about this idea of “acts of kindness” in the coming days, and remember Ferdinand with us. It need not involve money. Even just being kind to yourself, and to people around you, is good enough, if you are thinking of Ferdinand.

Regards to everyone in Germany, especially to Horst, please send our warmest wishes of recovery to him.

Janis”

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I can tell you one thing for now: peace attracts demons, of all sorts.

** This meditation I am doing is known as the Ra Ma Da Sa meditation. I have done it several times before but never truly realized its significance. Right now I do it following the CD by Snatam Kaur. I knew about her when I accidentally heard a song sung by her. It brought tears to my eyes, the purity of her voice and how she interpreted the song. I really like the power of her voice in this meditation. If you go to her website you can hear the meditation being sung as well. More about the meditation here.

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home

Home.

Where. is. Home?

This space outside of our body, made of drywall and goodness-knows-what-else, set on a foundation saturated with pesticides, that we try our best to decorate, mend, bend, and imbue with love. A place we come back to, after grocery runs in 112F heat. — “Where are we going next, mom?”

“Home.”

“Yay! I can’t wait to be back in our cool home. Can I have a fruit squeezer when we get home?”

“Sure.” (And I’ll have two.)

Some older celebrity woman declares while lounging on some chaise in some expensive resort- “I finally feel at home with my body.”

What dat means??

Finally surrendering, and accepting, perhaps? Be it droopy breasts that hang to the belly button, crow’s feet at the corners of one’s eyes, or the cellulite that peeks out from the lacy bikini.

Where is home? What is home?

I mean, the ultimate one. You know?

There is this yoga DVD I have, where towards the end I can finally lay on my back, in Corpse pose, to relax. And the master he says, “Relax… let go… … go home now, where you and your essence never really left…”

Mostly I would be half-snoring through that, but sometimes I am alert enough and my brain starts to process what master said. And a little voice will pipe up, “But where is that home?”

Exactly. Where? On a star? In the next galaxy? Or… as the answer often is in Zen- right here. Don’t search without, look within.

I gaze at my belly button.

Hmph. It’s droopy. (“Mommy why does your belly button look like that?” The answer, my girl, is childbirth. Or perhaps, bad genes.)

Another little voice asked, “Is Ferdinand home? Where is his home? Do we all have the same home?”

Silence. Do not seek without, look within.

I know this physical part, with all its flaws and scars, will be useless. Will rot, fall away, or just burnt, but as I’ve speculated, this physical part, even if reduced to dust, will still be swirling around this planet, this galaxy, long after I am “gone”. But, what about the soul? Yes, I believe in the soul, and the spirit. I guess because I believe in reincarnation. So, is there a place where souls and spirits get “processed”? Who is in-charge of what to do with these souls and spirits that have come again, in search of their next journey? Who decides? Do I get to decide?

This is what I think: it doesn’t matter. Home in this sense can be anywhere, as long as the mind/consciousness is at peace. Our soul, our spirit, is far more wise than what our brains can fathom or grasp or control. When this life ceases, my soul will know what to do; my spirit will guide me to where home is. Home is everywhere, and can be anywhere, once I find peace, and let go and let be. I look forward, to that day, when I’ll go where the wind blows.

At least, today, this is how I am feeling. Tiny moments of being at peace.

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thank you

Thank you for your kind comments on my post about my popo. I just feel, I cannot receive so much from her and not let the world know.

And you know, the funny thing is, she will never think she needs to be thanked for. I have heard her tell people several times about me– “What a hard life. She did not grow up with proper parents.” But she did not understand, it might have been worse for me had I grew up with my parents, with all the arguments, money woes, fights. She also did not realize that my arrival in her house had created more work for her. Seven years after she gave birth to her last child, she once again had to get up in the middle of the night; once again had to change and wash diapers (I don’t think disposables were “invented” then? I am not sure.); she had one more mouth to feed and one more child to worry over. But “trouble” never crossed her mind.

I thank her, and I thank her children, my aunts and my uncles, who took care of me, who made space for me.

I thank the Internet, I thank all my friends- IRL and virtual, for your presence; for walking along; for sharing your thoughts; for your words, here and on your own blogs. I thank you for knowing, and not pretending to know. This, here, is my little world where I escape to, for comfort, laughs and sighs.

Thank you for thinking of me as I walk towards July 29. I so appreciate that. I am bolstered with strength, comforted, and buoyed, by you all; you have no idea. I can even sleep through that day with peace, with what you have said to me. It seems that is what I need. Just quiet and stillness. Thank you. And know that you are always in my thoughts too.

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Every so often, a catalog from Shambahla will come in the mail. For me.

It’s a small, thin catalog that bursts with enticements of enlightenment, promises of joy, lurings of peace. I always pore over it with my eyes wide and my eyeballs almost falling out; my drool threatening to pour out from the corners of my mouth, that I try not to let gape; and I can hear voices and echoes that ask me to take out that credit card and go make a purchase. Read. Devour. Attain enlightenment.

Yeah, right. Enlightenment via credit card. (And Bliss via Chocolates, what kind of life is this?!)

But, can you resist titles like “This moment is the Perfect Teacher” or “Haiku Humor” or “It’s up to you” or “Each Moment is the Universe”? … … Well, ok, maybe you can. Not everyone is a sucker like I am.

Then, I spotted this book by Zen Master Seung Sahn. If memory serves me right, he is also master of that lady who did that 100-day solitary retreat. Remember that story of a mouse peeking up from rolling in human shit, in glee? Hey, Master Seung Sahn may have been her master but now anyone can have access to his wit and wisdom. The title of this compilation of dialogues, talks and teaching stories about this beloved Zen Master is this: “Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake

I knew it. I. Just. Knew. It.

It is always like that- do not want. Be. Do not seek. Be. Do not look outside. It is inside, dumbo. Look deep. Within.

Well, I do intend to get the book. That photo of the Master with a jovial smile on the cover is pretty enticing. There was a quote next to the book: “Don’t make ‘difficult.’ Don’t make ‘easy.’ Don’t make anything. From moment to moment, just do it!

I repeated that…. don’t make difficult, don’t make easy… just do it.

A bit familiar…. Nike slogan?

But seriously… simple words like these… … always easy to understand, hard to do. ok, ok, don’t make “hard”, just do it.

Master, that is not easy, these three little words, “just. do. it.” It requires that the mind is empty. No judgments. No criteria. No past, no future. Just the present. Just do it.

Dang, it’s hard!

I’ll start with reading first, I guess. And one day I’ll try…. to, just do it.

Do you just do it? Or do you make difficult? Or do you make easy??

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