Bits and Pieces

I went to a dear friend’s wedding in New York this past weekend and have just arrived at my home in Richmond to pack up our belongings. I walked through the door exhausted from the red-eye flight and walked into my house as I have never once done before…alone. I have left the boys and Husband in LA to clean up and clear out our stuff this week and as I entered the quiet, clean, calm space, I started to cry. The tears slowly, but effortlessly, began to creschendo to sobs, and I wailed and wailed for a good long while.

I don’t want to rent my house. In fact, it’s not the renting of the house or even the use of my space that I am reacting to; it’s the knowledge that I have carefully placed all my random crap in random drawers throughout this house and I know where, and why, it all is where it is. Each drawer has a meaning to me, and each item has been chosen by me, to stay and form the magpie pile it has become. All through our three rentals thus far I have managed to keep that in tact. Until now.

Ms. Model, whom I am hoping is actually going to be sweet and honest, is moving in and wants my stuff outta here. And if I had to move the furnishings and that was it, I probably would have cried, but not wailed. But emptying drawers and corners and hidden piles into boxes that we all know will be absolutely ages before we open again, is grabbing my heart right now and making me very sad.

Money. Security. Alleviating stress. Important reasons to go through this self-inflicted torture. ‘Things’ don’t matter; England is in me, always, as a friend pointed out, no matter where we lay our hat. Friends opening their homes to us for the summer; new adventures to be had. It can all be exciting once I decide, and I know it’s going to have to be a conscious thing, decide to let go, let the brown boxes house our belongings for a bit and accept that we are not detaching from life in London; we are simply making some money on our house.

It’s incredible how awful I can feel when I’m tired. And awaiting my period. Not a good combo. Husband is actually in Toronto for 24 hours and during our three minute conversation on the phone, he said that he looks upon this week in London for me as a great opportunity to see friends, have some ‘me’ time in our home; I should enjoy myself. “It’ll only take you, what, like a half a day to pack it all up?” he remarks with seriousness. Men…they really are that clueless sometimes.

Well, I’m going to wallow for a bit longer. Eventually I will walk down the lane and see this decision as the right one. Not sure it’ll be until well after I hand over the keys and am staring at the Pacific once more, but perhaps I should buy something with the rent money to mark this occasion? I’m sure that’s what Husband meant about enjoying myself.

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These Four Walls

I have let time lapse between posts. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. The good news is I had a great friend come and stay from London and I was able to bridge my two worlds during her 10 day stay. ‘ A week in the life of’, she wanted. Day one had her sitting next to famous celeb singing a kum-ba-ya song with my little one practically in her lap and by the end of the week – after wine tasting in the St Ynez valley in Santa Barbara and filling our minds and bellies with delicious Californian grapes, she was having lunch on Abbott Kinney, mani/pedi in Santa Monica, dinner at the Soho House in Beverly Hills and of course 3-2-1 basketball knock out game with my boys.

We got scrubbed Korean style at a spa in Hollywood that leaves you slightly out of body, having bore every inch of skin to Korean therapists wearing black lace panties and bras. Nothing I could have prepared her for…the first look on her face along with the first gasp of ‘Oh’ as they began scrubbing was a priceless giggle for me. Her stay reminded me of the differences between my two worlds. I spend my time holding onto how they are my two equal halves that make me whole, never favouring one over the other as if I’d end up feeling like a guilty, cheating lover. So to just share the best of the West was a complete pleasure.

It was an exceptional trip which left me wanting the circle to remain complete. Bringing both worlds together is something that rarely happens for me, which is why when she arrived I burst into tears for the reality of the trip she had chosen to make, for me. Girlfriends, and sisters, are powerful people in one’s life. I am blessed for sure, and I think I nurture my relationships so much because these women are always my emotional touchstones.

This past week Husband has been gone and we got an offer of rental for our English house…for two years. Clear everything out and rent it for the asking price, an offer that sounds fantastic to a rational, business mind. But my house is my home and although we only stay there for holidays at this point, those weeks are sacred and not for sale! And yet, financial security and logic dictated the other argument made against my emotional plea of ‘I don’t want to’. What am I holding onto?? We can stay in a flat, or a hotel, or with friends. We can still spend holidays there, just not in our house.

I am holding onto the four walls; the life inside those walls that hold our English memories. My boys love their rooms, their rhythm and routine around that house and their identity there. Yes we could all find an identity elsewhere, I know that whatever I present to them they will accept if I do. But I don’t feel ready to shift into another gear and take our family home and turn it into a rental. Not yet. Not now.

The other side of the argument stares at me with disbelief and even a little disdain as I dig my heels in harder. I think I’m scared. I am scared of losing too much of our English identity at a time when the boys need fueling and consistency in their British lives. I am scared to let go of a house that has weathered all of my ups and downs and helped me remain calm, peaceful and present when I am there. It’s more than this rental opportunity, it’s what is will translate to mean. Maybe nothing; but maybe just that slightest bit more disconnected when I am desperate for all of us to remain connected. I have spent their life times going back and forth and round and round and have made maintaining their dual cultural lives, and mine, the uppermost priority, above all other expenses and desires. I’m scared of losing that, any of that.

Not sure if the tenant’s offer still stands, considering our counter. And if it does, I will readjust my mind, sell the story to my boys like it’s a great idea and use the money wisely. We will find ourselves our own rental and have a different type of English holiday. And it will all be fine. It’s just perspective. Holding onto these two lives isn’t always easy, I could write the book on it. I suppose these blog entries are the words on how confusing it can be and the reality behind what and why we hold things so dear. My wish for myself is that I can always really feel a part of both; like a full circle.

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Starbucks to Staples

I was standing in Staples the other day staring at the clerk behind the counter. She was asking me a question and I couldn’t hear her. My mind was so loud that her words flew past me like the wind. ‘Are you okay?’ I finally registered from her voice as we remained staring at each other. I wanted to tell her how much this moment meant, this silly little postcard we were designing together; that making 500 copies of it was tangible evidence I was starting something that began months ago.

But I spared her my monologue and paid the deposit and left – of course not before buying fifty number 2 pencils and colored pens and scatch ‘n sniff stickers that we never need. I sat in my car and called Rory. Rory is a dear friend that started a writing class called Write to be You over a year ago and now she deals with a wait list each month. I encouraged her to take the plunge with her intention of this class and now she has pushed me to get Yurtime pregnancy classes – my doula driven course for pregnant ladies – out there in the Universe. I started dreaming about it, literally, which she said was the final sign that I need to just bloody do it!

I find it incredible how long I can procrastinate about something that I really want to do. From London to LA and back again, I can organize my boys’ routines within an inch of their lives and yet when it comes to me, my work, filling the fridge and the cupboards and the boys’ schedules becomes necessary even when it’s not, and takes away all the time in each day. It must be fear; my fear of trying to create an environment that I know is worthy but having to translate what’s inside my head into a successful class structure. Why bother to do the class, why care? Because I do.

None of my friends, or any of their friends, are pregnant. When you surround yourself with people in roughly the same age group, it’s as if none of you age. Until something like finding a pregnant lady enters the game and no one knows any!! Are we all on the other side??? When the heck did that happen? Personally Husband would have us having another and I suppose I love him for saying it; keeps us young, or thinking we are young. Babies in your forties make you younger even though our bodies would disagree. It’s having that newborn energy in the house that makes the family focus on the simple joys all over again, like smiling and the first funny fart, instead of the terrifying teenage angst and puberty and beyond.

So I find myself in Starbucks staring at pregnant women and wanting to walk up to them and tell them about my class; or follow them around the corner and see where they are hanging out so I’ll know where to place my fliers; as if they are alien creatures living on the Pregnancy Planet and hold the secrets to where all the pregnant women are hanging out. I want to put myself out there without having to sell myself. My own self, it feels like, my personal self. Why the hell am I doing this again???

Oh yeah, because it’s fair to say I know a lot about having a baby and want to try and make a tiny difference in a woman’s life by giving her support and a safe place to be during her pregnancy. And breathe. Off to Staples tomorrow to pick up the fliers.

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This past week took me by surprise. We arrived home late Sunday and I got the call that my client was being induced. She was over 42 weeks pregnant and I really thought that I was going to miss the birth. I awoke before sunrise and drove the 50 miles to be with her and her fiance. When I walked into the room, she looked up at me and sighed relief and we embraced for a long time. She was exhausted from no sleep and lots of pain and was confused about how to deal with the next stage of labour.

The look in her eyes is why I love being a doula. I understand the emotions but am distanced enough from them to see things more clearly. And let’s face it, I’m not the one in pain. Creating a supportive environment filled with love and security for a woman during childbirth is beyond important; I wish every woman had that comfort. In a hospital you can’t help but feel so much is at risk, it’s so clinical and harsh. Staying in the zone, her zone, was our focus and she was incredibly brave and strong.

After 28 hours of labour, 16 of which I was there for, she was nearly ready to start pushing, and I had to make a choice. Husband was on the other end of the phone encouraging me to come home, that it was too late to drive so far and I was in jet-lag hell. I wanted so much to stay, to help with the final birthing and see this new spirit arrive. That is the honey of the job and leaving felt wrong. But then, so did staying. My client and her partner were more than connected and in the zone together. To stay would mean to sleep in their grandparent’s guest room nearby and to take away some of the focus at hand. Attention was beginning to shift to my exhaustion and that felt counter-productive to me. So I left. Left her in great hands, left a room that was harmonized and magical. Left because I physically had to, and the job of doula was complete.

Driving home I had to get it all straight in my head; being sensible and selfless meant leaving but feeling complete meant staying. Birth is pure and the emotions one takes away from a day in that sacred room are simple and absolute. What I walk away with every time is the essence of everything I believe in; love, life, unadulterated joy – being there moments that last a lifetime. Missing their baby arrive, I realized, didn’t change any of that because his mom and dad had what they needed by the time I left. And that is the job. That is why I do what I do. And sometimes if you do the job properly, you don’t get to taste the honey.

I arrived home and collapsed. Husband didn’t know what to make of me at first and I had no desire to share the extraordinary emotions I was feeling. I needed to be quiet and take a shower and have a bit of a cry to try and release all that I had just been a part of. Maybe there’s a reason why being a doula has come back into my life right now; perhaps it’s because I’m coming to the realization that even with Husband’s desires to have another, I’m probably not going to. Or, perhaps I have found a hat to wear that fits very comfortably. Whatever it is, my life is filled with goodness because of it.

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New Year’s Eve. It’s pouring here. Apparently the wettest year on record. It doesn’t really stop us from doing anything, even our neighbors were bbq’ing yesterday. I’m stranded in the house today waiting for the plumber and without a car. My little one has reconnected with his first friend from aged 2 and now at aged 8, I need to be around regardless. They are so funny with their reunion. My boy is quite tactile and keeps touching his little friend’s cheek and shoulder and the other boy has become very English and isn’t too sure about all the touchy-feely stuff. I feed them all the good UK crap that’s in the cupboards: Quavers, Digestives, Whatsits and cheesy strings. We’re so excited to have our English versions of all our junk food that I buy everything while we’re here and I bet our little visitor thinks he hit the junk food jackpot with his Hamm lunch, adding Cadbury fingers for dessert.

It’s our third week here and true to form, we are all finally really here. The first week is full of jet lag and anxiety, with an overwhelming desire to settle. The second week is in fact settling and our family rhythm is found and by the third week, we have stopped visiting our lives and started living them. And now it’s the last day of the year, and no matter where anyone is in the world of December 31st, it is the same feeling for all…the great Marker Day.

What will next year bring? What happened this year? How the heck did it go by so fast! We celebrate en familie at Sophie’s every year with a careless abandon of real reflection and a lot of boogying. The boys get suitably embarrassed by my dancing and I wiggle at them from across the room with no apprehension whatsoever. It is always good fun and usually ridiculously funny.

Husband and I have managed to reconnect from all the time spent away from each other and have brought the whole emotional ride into one look from across the room; ‘I love you’ my eyes say, he returns with an ‘I need you’ from his stare. We write this story together.

Packing awaits me at the end of this week and I will do so with a heavy heart. It’ll be six months before I can bring everyone back again and it’s a wrench in our hearts. Our neighbors announced they are moving – got an offer too good to refuse for their house. It was like they told us someone was dying. We all nearly wept, we were so upset. We live on a lane that faces a golf course and is too narrow for cars to fit down. The six houses that face the lane are special. They live two doors down and have done so since we moved here 12 years ago. Our kids have grown up together. We have no leg to stand on with our declarations of disapproval as we are the ones who left for LA. But we always come back to the lane, and their presence has been key in our life feeling fulfilled and at ease here.

Change; it’s inevitable most of the time and uncomfortable. My family have been masters at it but it still can make us feel scared. The best way to deal with it is to embrace it. So here we go, 2013 upon us without a map yet of what it’s going to look like, where we’re going to be, as always. It’s not the usual set up, but it works. And for that, I am very, very grateful.

Happy New Year.

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Back Home

I’m sitting in LAX awaiting our flight back to our other home in London. We have taken over an entire row in the waiting area with our carry-ons. I am always amazed at how my boys travel with such ease. They could no more take the bus down Sunset Blvd two miles without getting lost, but they can fly across the world with neck pillows, gadgets, food and foreign money and know how to check in and where to place all their stuff.

There’s a somberness to the beginning of this holiday season with the horrific events in Connecticut. I look at my seven year old sitting across from me without a care in the world, and can only take a pause and recognize the blessing of his safety. The random act of violence is a heavier destruction because nothing is fair, and simply believing in the life that remains after that becomes the greatest challenge you face. I pray for the families and for strength to embody them.

My friend, Heather, and I discussed talking to our boys about the tragedy and finding appropriate words. We both felt that especially during a time when Hanukkah was bringing present after present and Christmas is on its way, the boys needed to be mindful of what also happens in our world and how to pray for others, not just ourselves. It’s a tall order for a kid to understand that there is life outside of his four walls and surely it’s our job to broaden their awareness. I’m not saying we need to frighten them and make them watch CNN to feel lucky, but equally what happened is real and they need to understand that when we ask them to be safe when they go out, what to do when strangers approach, whatever, there is a real reason for it.

Up up and away. The same prayer every time we fly. Husband awaits at our arrival and it’s crazy to think there’s a prayer to be said to get there. But there is and we board with an assumption of safety but with a prayer as well.

The arrival to our house is always incredibly weird. In my mind, nothing has changed but for the seasons. I am always exhausted when we open the front door as the night flight lingers in my body, and my longingness for getting under my duvet is set against my boys energy at rediscovering their lives here. They race to their rooms and scream around the house; they run down the lane to the neighbors to declare their arrival; they run and run and run. Meanwhile, I become obsessed with unpacking their clothes and getting some order before I collapse.

We all shower – Husband’s phobia about germs from the flight. Even though I spent ridiculous money on my blow dry that made me look like I had hair extensions, I wash my hair like everyone else. Bed feels like the Twilight Zone where once under, strange dreams occur and I awake mid afternoon not knowing which room I’m in, which country,

In my mind I think I know what is behind every cupboard in the house but when I open them, I am jolted back to the memory of clearing everything out for rentals. My office is filled with boxes rather than buddahs and the whole thing makes me a little uncomfortable. I want my house back and yet need to keep it somewhat empty for the chance of renting again. It’s like I can’t invest in the small things for the house here because we might have to clear it all out again, and so it forces me to detach, which I don’t like.

It’s raining here and people are a bit anxious because of the holidays. Getting settled in is always hard and the best bit of advice I have is to try and not judge anything or anyone for a while. Husband is trying to wrap up the year end with work which can be like watching a crazy man try and stay sane, and Lord knows Santa is on his way! I need my heart to stop racing so for now, I’m going to wrap some presents and make a bolognese…because everyone knows a bolognese can always save the day.

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Doula Days

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being an active birth doula again. The couple had a truly gorgeous little boy, born healthy and strong. Wearing the doula hat again felt wildly good. I trained in the UK years and years ago, and then retrained here in LA. It’s a strange one; having a baby in the UK is much more about birth plans and female intuition than it is about medical intervention and clinical analysis. Even in a hospital, unless there’s a significant problem, your midwife delivers your baby and you’ve met the entire nursing team a few times before the big day.

In LA, hospitals need to adhere to insurance company’s demands and birth plans lie on pieces of paper not seen by many. They poke and prod you more often and one must work hard to create a sacred environment not flooded with fluorescent lighting. I’ve never seen a birthing bath, for example, in a LA hospital, whereas in London they offer them in nearly every ward. You would think that doulas – birth partners responsible for guiding and protecting the mother’s emotional life – would be more popular to hippy dippy LA women as opposed to the great English reserved. But I have found this profession more widely known and accepted in the UK.

With each birth I’ve been there for, the lessons run deeper and the benefits more clear. Being of service to a woman and her man requires me to leave my ego well at the door and be present for them without having any of my personal feelings getting in the way. I get yelled at and dismissed as much as I get squeezed and loved on. I represent so many different emotions in the room as the hours creep on and anxiety rises. The counting, the massaging, the pep talk, the information, the silence. In the end, the gift I get when I receive their look of complete trust from the rawest corners of their souls; the shared experience when the first cry is heard and we all cry out of love and relief and fatigue, that is what drives me to be a doula. That clarity of pure giving in the most vulnerable moment of a woman’s life – means everything to me.

I’ve tucked that day away into my memory bank and it reminds me of what is important and how many times my ego gets in the bloody way of things! A great lesson to hold onto especially with the Christmas season upon us and everyone seems a bit more emotional, no? Life is nuts right now for all of us, so let’s just enjoy the madness, together.

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Silent Space

Space. Mental space, that is. I am in Vancouver having just shot another scene for Husband’s show. My ego more in tact this time as less lines gave me the freedom to just enjoy the acting. Crazy how memorizing lines is my obstacle now; back in the day, it was the easiest part.

My nanny convinced me to stay a few extra days, so I did. It must be telling when one’s nanny thinks it a really, really good idea for you to take some time away! I had to laugh, as the alternative was, well, to cry really. Yes…I need a break from the monotony of it all and breathe in other influences. Tuesday was turning into Friday, back to Monday and on it went. I was feeling a bit stuck, and this trip and the acting job definitely came at a significant time.

It never fails that there is a moment in the process of being supportive wife where I’ve had almost enough; enough time on my own with the kids, enough running our lives by myself without Husband living any of it with us. The good news is that he feels the same and we remain on the same page. It’s not a reflection on my role as mom, it’s more of an understanding of myself that giving everything all day, every day, will also require a refueling of some kind. Funny how Life gave me this trip just when frustration was the dominant force. Yoga, late dinners, late rising and space…space to think, disconnect, dream and not watch the clock was all part of the refueling.

I’ve had a few days with no agenda and it took me a while to get my head round it. I was trying to not just fill the time but to enjoy the space it gave me. Time and space – a new frontier. I don’t read enough and Lord knows I need glasses, so that too is a simple yet exciting activity to do with my time. I used to deal with quiet quite well, and now my life is so loud that the silence is unsettling. Alone in the flat most days, I spent a lot of this new found time looking out over the marina trying to think of absolutely nothing.

It was on the plane ride home that I realized that my mind was empty, clear, settled. And oh how the silence was sweet sounding.

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Dinner Anyone?

I was asked by a friend how life was going with Husband away for so long. Was I going out? Did I have a social life outside of family and the boys? Were people not inviting me out because I was solo? Hmm. Unless I’m crazy – and I’m sure there’s an argument for that sometimes – I wasn’t ‘not’ being invited out, it’s just that people in LA don’t have parties the way they do in London. It’s shocking, actually, to think that I, we, have been invited to a handful of dinner parties since we arrived back and that’s over two years ago.

I’m excluding anything related to school because a) I’d be the most popular girl in LA with four schools and also four sets of fundraising antennae aware of me, and b) if I started to define my social life by school events I’d have to kill myself. I think the lack of dinner parties is why I pour the first glass earlier and earlier these days – and Lord help me with day light savings going as it’s dark by 5. My idea of relaxing into a social setting seems to take shape when the boys have finished their work and have eaten, and my headmistress duties are completed. We don’t have screens during the week so the next few hours involves chats, playing and some music. Most nights also, quite honestly, include loud running games where the glass gets filled one more time! I honestly don’t go out for dinner but once a week and that’s almost always with family or girlfriends. My glass of wine, as sad as this sounds, has become representational of my social life after hours…only it’s at home, with the kids and in my schlumpy clothes.

LA women say they don’t have dinner parties because keeping up with the Jones’ is one step too far for them – it’s too much of an ordeal to do it ‘right’. I retort that in London there are some that can cook so well they could open a catering business, and have, and others who can shop really well for food. No one ever cares, especially after the first glass, and most take it in turns to host. A friend of mine in LA started a grub-club (her name ironically is Jones), where four or five families rotate the house and have dinner, usually en familie, once a month on a Saturday night. It’s the only consistent dinner party I’ve heard of and I’m not even invited!

Culturally there is a difference. I see it in the micro analysis of my American family vs Husband’s British one. We eat in 9.2 minutes here, and my British family dines. My Los Angelino family has dinner as a means to an end and woofs it down whilst my Brits cook together and take time over the meal and wine and dessert and wine. It reminds me of Thanksgiving where I cook all day and then the meal is over in less than ten minutes. My LA family are amazing at Sunday dinners because for us, it involves at least 20 people. We can throw a big meal together often and the chaos is brilliant. But it’s not a dining experience, or really ever about the preparation of food. We eat together so that we can be together.

LA dinner is had early; a typical reservation is 7:30. A British dinner reservation is never earlier than 8pm. That half hour is meaningful. To me, one is about eating early because it’s healthier and you can do something afterwards or get to bed earlier; the other is about the dining part of dinner, it is your evening. Dinner parties are always the times when you get to know your friends a bit better, you have chats about what’s going on in your life and in the world and you get more insight into your friends’ male counterparts as well.

It doesn’t have to be presented perfectly, it doesn’t have to be an evening that defines you as a cook, designer, house-maker or shopper. It can just be dinner; food shared with friends that are happy to be in your home.

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Life As We Know It

I sit here on the other side of fear. We went through a scare last week where initial results from some medical tests proved curious, then concerning then frightening. Everything is fine, more than okay, now. But for those few days we lived in a parallel universe. There was a proper debate on the NHS (National Health) in the UK and what a gift it is to be protected like that. Americans have no understanding of what that actually looks like, feels like; yes, your taxes are higher and yes it has tremendous flaws; but yes it provides outstanding care for emergencies, children and those afflicted with disease. Your first thought isn’t about whether or not you’re covered or is this going to financially cripple us; you get the best care offered in the Nation for free. So if one of us is seriously ill, do we move? These were strange and uncomfortable thoughts to be having.

When we got the call that we were in the clear, I wept. It was a crescendo of emotion that had been so carefully controlled and choreographed over the last few days that releasing it came slowly with every exhale. This past weekend was also my son’s birthday so Husband’s arrival wasn’t ever questioned, in fact the boys grabbed him into their lives and didn’t let go till they went to school that Monday. There was no time for anything other than various birthday celebrations for three days – typical of our family – and that was probably a saving grace for our heart strings. After Husband left for the airport, the weeping didn’t stop. And all of last week I was incredibly depressed. I have come to realize that my mood, what I was attuning myself to, was the reality of the other phone call, the one we didn’t get.

I can only just imagine what it must feel like to have one’s life stolen in a phone call. It’s not a death sentence by any stretch, but it’s a moment when a doctor tells you that the focus of your life now is going to be about chasing the demon cells inside you. My soul shifted last week, I felt the pain of the possibility, and that alone rocked my world. To have the other phone call…to those that did…I’m humbly suffering on their behalf.

This week I am on the other side of the drama, the trauma. If you called me, you’d never know that I have a rash on either hip as big as grapefruits housing my emotions as my body tries to slowly expel them. Life as we know it is simply just that; nothing stolen, nothing changed. I can once again focus on my son’s ridiculous obsession with Minecraft and let my biggest problem be how to steer him away from video games and candy and rootbeer. I am once again free. And the gratefulness I feel is crushingly real.

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