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Readers Advisory

Oct 29 2013

Jack-o’-lanterns!

by Jesse M

There are a lot of things to love about Halloween: the haunted houses, the costumes, the candy! But perhaps my favorite aspect of Halloween is one I observe every year, even when I don’t elect to dress up or decorate much, and that is pumpkin carving.

Extreme pumpkin carving coverThe origin of pumpkin carving is uncertain. In the United States, the first jack-o-lantern associated with Halloween was recorded in 1866, although carved pumpkins were first associated with the harvest season in general long before they became emblematic of Halloween.

Freakishly cool pumpkins coverThese days, the art of pumpkin carving has evolved into a complex affair, with numerous contests showcasing elaborate and inventive works of art that most of us couldn’t hope to equal. Yet there are resources available through DCPL that can help you create the jack-o-lantern of your dreams (or perhaps nightmares?), such as How to Carve Freakishly Cool Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkin Carving. Other good resources for techniques and ideas are available online.

Did you carve an awesome jack-o’-lantern this year? Snap a picture and share a link to it in the comments! Here is one I’m particularly impressed by: R2D2 of Star Wars fame, carved just yesterday by my girlfriend. Below photos courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

Photo courtesy of Amy E.

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Sep 20 2013

Tech detox. Could you? Would you?

by Dea Anne M

I recently came across an article published this summer in the New York Times that profiles Camp Grounded in Navarro, CA, a three-day summer camp for adults. Campers relinquish their phones, computers, tablets and watches. There is no television. Furthermore, campers are not allowed to discuss their work or ages and each camper has a “camp name.” Camp diet is gluten-free and vegan. Camp Grounded is a creation of Digital Detox an Oakland based group that offers tech-free retreats. Their motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”

There’s something to be said for taking a tech break now and then in order to recharge. I know that part of what I find so profoundly relaxing about a vacation at the beach is that I wind up spending very little time in front of a screen and don’t pay attention to the clock. Instead, I read, walk, cook and just watch the water. Many experts today suggest creating a tech-free zone in one’s home. This may not be desirable to everyone, or even possible for some, but it’s certainly something to think about.

A recent article by Jay Turner of Georgia Public Libraries Continuing Education and Training discusses a keynote address delivered by Stacey Aldrich who is the Deputy Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Education Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Among the areas of future technology that libraries may be involved with,  Aldrich suggests that libraries may soon provide not only access to all sorts of technology but also to tech-free areas in which users will engage in “self-reflection or face-to-face communication with others.” And a  2011 article from American Libraries magazine discusses the possibility of libraries offering gadget-free zones and whether or not library patrons would use and appreciate these.

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Where do you stand on the tech-free question? Do you provide yourself with “digital breaks” or do you like to stay wired?

If you’d like to do some reading on the effects and future of digital culture, try these titles available from DCPL.

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Sep 16 2013

Inspirations for a healthier life

by Jesse M

Reading Glenda’s post from last month about losing weight got me thinking about books I’ve read over the years that have inspired me to alter my diet or exercise habits. These are not diet or exercise books though. Rather, these books inspire lifestyle changes by providing information that challenges the reader to think about their everyday behaviors in a different way.

Stuffed and starved coverStuffed and starved: markets, power, and the hidden battle for the world’s food system by Raj Patel

In this eye-opening book, author Raj Patel takes readers on a journey through the global food system, demonstrating how both the problems of malnourishment and obesity are both symptomatic of the worldwide corporate food monopoly. Well sourced and argued, this book may make you think twice about alternatives when considering your next trip to the supermarket.

Born to run coverBorn to run: a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher McDougall

An epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? Part investigation of the biomechanics of running, part examination of ultra-marathons and their enthusiasts, McDougall takes readers into Mexico’s Copper Canyons to meet and learn from the Tarahumara Indians, who have honed the ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury utilizing only the simplest footwear. By the end of this book you’ll want to get up and go for a run yourself.

Hungry Planet coverHungry planet: what the world eats by Faith D’Aluisio

This award-winning book profiles 30 families from around the world and offers detailed descriptions of weekly food purchases; photographs of the families at home, at market, and in their communities; and a portrait of each family surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries. The photography is the real star of this book, especially the images of each family with one week of food. The disparity from country to country (and in some cases, across different regions of the same country) is often startling, and may cause readers to take a closer look at how much they themselves are consuming.

Stumbling on happiness coverStumbling on happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Written for a lay audience by Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, the central thesis of this book is that, through perception and cognitive biases, people imagine the future poorly, in particular what will make them happy. Gilbert discusses these issues and suggests ways that we can more accurately predict our future feelings and motivations. A major takeaway for me from this book was that if I wasn’t feeling motivated to do something now, it isn’t likely I’ll be miraculously more motivated later. This applies to all sorts of things in my life I have a tendency to procrastinate on, such as exercising, doing laundry, or starting a diet.

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Collage of my front porch garden

Any little corner of the world can be transformed into a personal and unique work of art.  Every change that we make to our world and environment changes all of us just a little bit.  Flowers and plants, like books, are among my best friends in the world.  They are quiet and dynamic, and the depth of their being touches my heart.

I became a home-owner for the first time just three years ago this month.  My favorite type of house is the Craftsman bungalow.  While my house is not a 1930’s artisanal gem, it is a renovated small 1950’s ranch with a large front porch add-on.  A front porch is an architectural hug, an invitation, a welcoming embrace.  I fell in love with my house because of the porch with its columns, ceiling fan, and large front window.  I immediately sketched out in my mind the containers overflowing with luxuriant plants, flowers, and herbs that would adorn the biggest room in my house!

A porch can be an oasis...

While trained as a visual artist and painter, gardening affords me a multi-dimensional experience, artistically speaking.  The plants have color, texture, aromas, form.  As living beings, the plants interact with one another, and they attract a world of what most would consider to be pests.  In any case, as I stated above—plants are dynamic, and they act on the environment around them.  My basil has introduced miniature snails to my front porch.  Tiny bees hum, darting in and out of the blooming oregano, while moths find shade and shelter during daylight hours under the leaves of flowering plants.  A salamander enjoys frolicking around my geraniums.  Zippered webs with juicy lemon yellow and black garden spiders have haunted my columns and rosemary.  Birds, chipmunks, and squirrels peck around in the soil and mulch, searching for succulent treats, scattering debris in their wake.

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Jul 26 2013

ShareReads: Adventures with the Classics

by Dea Anne M

sharereads_intro_2013

When I was 14, I went into the school library and checked out a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Later that day, my English teacher saw me carrying annait in the hallway. She raised an eyebrow and said, voice dripping with scepticism.

“Don’t you think that’s a little bit much?”

Well, that just made me more determined than ever to read the whole book. What I didn’t admit to myself (or to anyone else) was that as interested as I was in the book, I was even more interested in being seen carrying it around. Trying to impress others with my reading choices was a youthful bit of vanity that it took an unfortunately long time to shake. Anyway, I finally finished the novel though I had no real idea of what I had read. Not that I would have let anyone know that.

High school had its required reading as did college but none of the assigned northangertexts, though interesting enough, inspired me to take up reading classics in my leisure time. The change occurred in my Romantic Literature class when the professor assigned us to choose one of two novels and write a paper about it. I think the only reason I picked Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was because I just didn’t want to read the Last of the Mohicans. I was only a few pages into the book, however, before I realized that I’d fallen in love. Since then, I’ve read all of Austen’s work and have happily reread most of them as well – notably my two favorites – Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

In the years since that first delightful experience with Jane Austen, I’ve brothersexplored classic novels sporadically. I went through a Dostoevsky phase which was pretty heavy going but overall worthwhile (favorite novel – The Brothers Karamazov). After that, I experienced a year long flirtation with the works of Henry James of which (and I’m a little embarassed to admit this) I like most the shortest namely The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller. Thomas Mann followed Henry James then came James Joyce and after that I stopped setting myself the “project” of trying to read any author’s entire body of work.

Lately, I’ve become interested in exploring the classics again though this timedavid I want to take a less studied approach and select books with an eye toward sheer reading pleasure. Remembering how much I enjoyed Great Expectations, I recently checked out Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. I couldn’t put it down! It’s a very long book so it took me a good while to get through and I’m sure that the inmates of my house became less than charmed with my nightly cries of “Poor David!” and “I hate Uriah Heap!” but I really found it that engaging a novel. I followed Dickens with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I’m happy to report that experience as every bit as enjoyable. I suppose I’ve finally learned that I don’t janehave to  read a classic work of literature in order to “improve” myself or (cringe) in order to impress other people. I can just relax and relish the reading experience. As Italo Calvino reminds us in his book of essays The Uses of Literature, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

If you’re interested in dipping into the classics but don’t know quite where to start, check out the “Best Classic Literature Ever” list on the Goodreads website. You can get more ideas from Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels” list. This last is actually two lists in one – the board’s list which is dominated by classics and the reader’s list which leans more toward genre fiction and includes more science fiction and dark fantasy.

What’s next on my reading list of classics? Middlemarch by George Eliot. Then, who knows, maybe I’ll tackle Anna Karenina again!

What are some of your favorite classics? How do you define a classic?

 PS – This is the last ShareReads post. Hope you had fun with us, and don’t forget to submit your reading and activities completed on our Adult Summer Reading page. Click here to see all of our ShareReads posts this year.

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Jul 10 2013

Rediscovered treasures

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog know that I am an avid reader of what I might term “culinary literature,” and I suspect that I am not alone with this fondness. Given the huge success of such books as Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, julieKitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, it appears as though many people are interested in reading well-written books that touch on the ways that food intersects with life. Indeed, it seems that every week there’s a new culinary memoir or collection of essays on gastronomy that appears on the publishing horizon and that trend shows no current signs of stopping.

But what about the older treasures?   There is much pleasure in discovering, or rediscovering, the wonderful food writing of the past. This was brought home lambto me recently after reading (I might even say devouring) The Supper of the Lamb: a culinary reflection by Robert Farrar Capon. Ostensibly a cookbook, this literary gem is also about what it means to be human and fully in the world. Capon, an Episcopal priest combines theological and culinary insights in a quirky yet completely readable fashion. Yes, there are recipes here (and they look like good ones) but what truly captivates is Capon’s obvious joy in creation and his love of simple pleasures. First  published in 1969 and reprinted as part of the excellent Modern Library Food series, the book is as strange, moving, funny, and gorgeous today as it must have seemed when it first appeared. Highly recommended.

Samuel Chamberlain and his family lived an idyllic existence in France prior to WWII. When war appeared inevitable, Chamberlain’s company called him home to the small town of Marblehead, MA. Accompanying the family, was Clementine, the magically resourceful cook who had come to work for them. First published in 1943 under the nom de plume Phineas Beck, Clementine In the Kitchen is a charming and funny portrait  of the Chamberlain’s culinary adventures in France and the U.S. courtesy of the indomitable and always interesting Clementine.

I have long been an fervent admirer of the writing of M. F. K. Fisher and A Stew or a Story:  an assortment of short works contains some of her best stewpieces. I particularly enjoyed “Love In a Dish” and “Little Meals With Great Implications,” but all the essays in the collection display Fisher’s trademark wit and beautiful use of the language. Also, included are some of Fisher’s short fiction and travel articles. All in all, the book provides a fine introduction to one of the best writers America has ever produced.

Elizabeth David was an elegant and marvelous writer and though DCPL does not own her fine collection of magazine writing, An Omelet and a Glass of Wine, you will find her Elizabeth David Classics: Mediterranean Food, French country cooking, Summer cooking which collects in one volume three of her best known cookbooks: A Book of Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, and Summer Cooking. Though this is a book of recipes, there is a wealth of David’s wonderful writing contained within, particularly in the prefaces to the chapters. David’s brief treatise on garlic in the French country cooking section alone is worth checking out this wonderful book. You probably won’t actually cook much from Elizabeth David Classics (David was notoriously inexact both in measurements and instruction) but it makes for marvelous reading.

A bit dated, the Compleat I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken still makes for entertaining reading. Ruth Eleanor “Peg” Bracken published the first I Hate to Cook Book in 1960 and it was an instant sensation. Heavy reliance on cans, packaged products, and short cuts goes against today’s  general belief that good cooking must always use the freshest, highest quality ingredients and preferably be a bit (or very) labor intensive. You’ll find no handmade pasta here and you certainly won’t learn how to remove the bones from a chicken without breaking the skin, but if you’re a beginning cook you’ll actually find some usable recipes. Everyone else can enjoy the witty writing, Bracken’s sly sense of the absurd and vintage illustrations by Hilary Knight. Knight is famous for illustrating Kay Thompson’s Eloise.

What are some of your rediscovered treasures?

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Jun 21 2013

ShareReads: I don’t read that!

by Heather S

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outliersI’ve always been one of those folks who claims to never read non-fiction books, but, as I started thinking about what to write about and reviewed the list of books I’ve read in the past few months, I realized that I honestly cannot make that claim.  I have read on average a nonfiction book a month this year.  The one title that has resonated and remained with me the most is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

In this short, quick reading book (also available from the library as an eBook, which is actually how I read it), Gladwell examines why the outrageously successful, those that he calls outliers are so successful.  As old adages say, success is due in part to passion, persistence and preparation. Bill Gates and the Beatles perfected their crafts with over 10,000 hours of practice. However, it is also due to a fair amount of luck, such as being born at the right time and in the right place.  For example, he explains why many professional hockey players are born in January, February and March.   He also uses generational legacies, such as those that benefited the Robber Barons or certain corporate lawyers in the 1950s.

The book is not the most academic, and I can see how many could argue against Gladwell’s claims.  I found it to be an interesting and entertaining read, as well as one that continues to come up in conversations.  Perhaps this is why I find myself reading nonfiction, despite my self-professed dislike for it; I often find it engaging and relevant in ways that linger.

So, dear readers, share!  Are there genres or categories of books that you do not think you read, but you do?  What are books that have continued to reappear in thoughts or dialogues?

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Jun 12 2013

Happy at home…any problems with that?

by Dea Anne M

In recent years there’s been a movement growing in this country and elsewhere that centers around ideas of self-sufficiency, re-learning traditional skills, and reducing one’s “footprint” so to speak. Long time readers of this blog know that this is an area of special interest to me for example this post and this one. If these topics interest you too than DCPL has plenty of resources to aid you in your pursuit. Want to learn about urban farming? Check out  Your Farm In the City: an urban dweller’s guide to growing food and raising livestock by Lisa Taylor. Are you interested in homesteading and old skills? Don’t miss Jenna Woginrich’s fine memoir Made From Scratch: discovering the pleasures of a handmade life. Maybe you’re fascinated with the “tiny house” movement. If so, you might want to start with the book that many people agree launched the phenomenon, The Not So Big House: a blueprint for the way we really live by Sarah Susanka.

Realistically, my own pursuits are hobbies that I spend time on with pleasure. Becoming completely self-sufficient involves a commitment of time and energy that I homeward prefer to spend elsewhere. Some people though are making that commitment and an interesting new book explores this rising phenomenon. Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: why women are embracing the new domesticity delves deeply into what Matchar does indeed call the “New Domesticity” and presents a balanced view of both its appeal and some of its dangers. This is domesticity as rebellion – young women (and some men as well) are taking up knitting, sewing, gardening and baking. Some are even leaving careers and fully embracing a life centered on the home. They are homeschooling, homesteading, and starting their own businesses on Etsy. Matchar interviewed many of these people and the  book is filled with these well-educated women and men explaining their passion for this style of life. It is very easy to fall sway to the romance and appeal of these life choices but Matchar is an exceptionally clear-eyed writer and thinker. She points out, throughout the book that it’s only in recent history that this way of life has been a “choice” for most people – it was the way you had to live if you and your family were going to survive. Matchar does a good job too in analysing some tenets of the movement that are dubious or just plain wrong. For example she very smartly refutes the popular idea that feminism is what drove women out of the kitchen and into the work force leaving them no time or inclination to cook proper meals. In fact, it was post World War II market forces that shaped and drove the success of the processed food industry along with the overwhelming popularity of such cookbooks as Peg Bracken’s legendary The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. That volume, by the way, was an enormous hit with, you guess it, stay-at-home wives and mothers. This linking of feminism with the rise of the fast and processed food industry has been promoted by everyone from controversial lightning-rod Caitlin Flanagan to Slow Food advocate Michael Pollan who really ought to know better (and I’m one of his many fans!). Finally, I appreciated Matchar’s thoughtful exploration of some of the potential dangers involved in some of the passionately held and promoted beliefs in the movement. What effect on “herd immunity” does a wide spread choice of parents not to have their children vaccinated? What happens to social ideals such as affordable day care and quality public schools if more and more people opt out of the culture?

shop classWhat do you think? Regardless of where you stand on these questions or even if you’ve not considered them at all I think that you’ll find a lot to interest you in Matcher’s provocative book.

For a masculine focus on some of the same questions, check out Shop Class As Soulcraft: an inquiry into the value of work by Matthew B. Crawford.

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May 8 2013

Let the flames begin!

by Dea Anne M

The month of May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month as well as Older Americans Month and DCPL will be celebrating both with many exciting special programs and presentations. What you may not know, is that May is also National Barbecue Month. I am by no means what you’d call the “outdoor type” but each year when spring arrives I feel myself irresistably drawn to cooking on the grill. Now I don’t know that it’s true that everything tastes better outdoors. A piping hot bowl of chili , for example, probably doesn’t gain in appeal when consumed in 90-plus heat but I do believe that there are certain delicious flavors that grilling enhances. There are the standards, of course, such as steaks, chicken, and burgers but I also favor vegetables like zuchinni, eggplant and peppers cooked to carmelized perfection. I like to grill slices of pineapple and serve them on vanilla ice cream. I’ve even grilled pizzas – a production to be sure and the pies never come out perfectly round – but the result is delicious and the heat of the grill produces a crust redolent of char and crispiness to rival that produced by a professional pizza oven.

Do you like to grill when the weather starts to warm up? Do you favor gas or charcoal? (Believe me, that’s a more than lively debate inbible some circles). What’s your favorite food to cook on the grill? Do you need ideas and inspiration? As always, DCPL can help.

Culinary writer Steve Raichlen is widely acknowledged as an authority on grilling and his book The  Barbecue! Bible is a 500 page plus guide to everything grilled. Raichlen provides recipes from around the globe for grilled dishes and their accompaniments. Grilled Snails might be a hard sell around my house but I suspect that Pancetta Grilled Figs followed by Lamb and Eggplant Kebabs would be met with enthusiasm.myron

The world of competition barbecue is certainly hot these days and throughout the country teams with names like “Squeal of Approval” and “Albert Einswine” vie for money, trophies, and glory at barbecue “opens” and on reality television. One of the best known names on the circuits is Myron Mixon and his book Smokin’ With Myron Mixon: recipes made simple from the winningest man in barbecue could be a good introduction to those who are new to grilling and barbecuing. Mixon’s motto is “keep it simple” and he follows through with clear cut instructions and techniques that will help anyone from grilling tyro to barbecue wizard turn out succulent ‘cue.vegan

Lest anyone brand me as biased toward meat, let me steer you toward Grilling Vegan Style: 125 fired-up recipes to turn every bite into a backyard barbecue by John Schlimm. Packed with recipes and color photographs, Schlimm’s book is definitely not just for vegans. I don’t know about you but Grilled Vegetables and Foccacia and Flame Kissed Eggplant with Hoisin Sauce sound absolutely scrumptious. For more great vegetable-centric recipes and techniques, be sure to check out The Gardener and the Grill: the bounty of the garden meets the sizzle of the grill by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig.pizza

Finally, you might want to give grilling pizza a whirl this spring and summer (I recommend that you do). Be sure to check out Pizza On the Grill: 100 fiesty fire-roasted recipes for pizza & more by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer. Filled with gorgeous photographs, the book includes a concise, and very useful, chapter on basic techniques and equipment. Many of the pizza bear names like “Magic Mushroom Medley” and “Lucy in the Sky with Pizza”, just in case that’s your thing. Even if it isn’t t you’ll find enough alluring recipes for pizza and the “go-withs” to keep you happily grilling for months to come.

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Mar 20 2013

Sew it up!

by Dea Anne M

During the summers, up until I turned 14 and my family moved to south Georgia, my brother and I spent most of our school vacation in the custody of our grandparents. Of course, I would never have thought of it in such terms up until the year I turned 12. Daydreaming and sullen by turns, I wanted to spend all my time either reading (and being left alone) or being taken to the mall. It couldn’t have been fun or easy for my grandmother to have me around the house all day every day for the 2 months I was there and I am impressed in retrospect by how cheerfully she put up with my adolescent nonsense. My grandmother was an amazing seamstress who made me many wonderful outfits, and that summer she offered to teach me to sew.

“Come on, honey. It’ll be fun!”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Thanks anyway.”

Oh the years that I regretted that youthful choice! Never say never though. Recently, I acquired a sewing machine and I am determined now to finally learn how to sew. There are numerous places near where I live that offer lessons and that is certainly an option that I’d like to pursue but some self teaching is certainly in order as well. Luckily for me, and you too if you want to learn, DCPL has plenty of resources to help.chic

It makes sense that simple projects are a good way to start learning the basics. Improv Sewing: 101 fast, fun, and fearless projects by Nicole Blum and Debra Immergut provides a number of fun looking projects, some promising to be finished in less than a day. Projects include dresses, shirts, and skirts, none of which require pattern cutting skills, as well as scarves, pillows, curtains and more, many embellished with fun stitching. Chic On a Shoestring: simple to sew vintage-style accessories by Mary Jane Baxter provides plenty of inspiration for simple yet original projects with a particular emphasis on using “upcycled” material.

Once you’re ready to move on to more advanced projects, you might want to check out Sweat Shop Paris: lessons  from a sewing cafe by Martena Duss. The Paris Sweat Shop was (it closed last summer) a crafting space/cafe set up to provide space and equipment for DIYers to produce alternatives to store-bought clothing and its often accompanying questionable labor practices. You’ll find herethreads ideas for really unique and fun garments. If you are ready to take a bold step forward,  Teach Yourself Visually: Fashion Sewing by Carole Ann Camp will provide detailed instruction in all aspects of garment construction from pleats, to darts, to facings.

Finally, for a complete sewing reference book, you could hardly do better than Threads Sewing Guide: a complete reference from America’s best-loved sewing  magazine edited by Carol Fresia.

I realize that I’ve highlighted here resources devoted primarily to sewing items of apparel and that’s only because that’s where my immediate sewing interests lie. Do know that there’s a wealth of material at DCPL to assist you in home decor projects and to lead you through the wonderful world of quilting.

How about you? Are you a sewer or would you like to learn? Where would you love to direct your sewing energies: quilting or clothes?

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