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My March Madness

March 12, 2014

What is up, my doges?

First of all, I’m super sorry about the lack of new posts around here. Why has it been so quiet? Two reasons:

  1. I’m going to be the keynote speaker at Gear Up days at the University of Texas – Pan American’s FESTIBA conference! This is pretty much what I’ve dreamed about since I became a writer: the chance to go back to my hometown (well, Edinburg; close enough) and talk to a bunch of high school kids about my life and my experiences. I AM SO EXCITED, YOU GUYS. (A little scared, too. But mostly excited.) I don’t think it’s open to the public, but if there’s a video of the presentation available afterward, I’ll post it. Unless I trip or fart or something awesome like that.
  2. I’m going to speak at Testify again! Come hear me talk about my brief but unforgettable career in social services and emergency management. My presentation’s working title: “Rock Me Like A Hurricane.” The show will be on Friday, March 28. Doors open at 7, show starts at 8 (location currently TBA update: it’s at the Spider House Ballroom).

Don’t worry; I’ll be back in full effect starting in April. And, yes, Book II in the Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy is still on target to be published later this year. Huzzah!

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

New Year — And A New Book!

January 13, 2014

I wanted to write one of those year-in-review posts for 2013. I wanted to revisit some of my favorite posts, share new pictures from my various adventures, and close with a look toward 2014.

Then I realized that, while that would be fun, I’d much rather look toward the future than take one more backward glance at the past.

But I will say this about 2013: it had a lot of dark and challenging points, but it also was the year I did something fantastic and terrifying and ultimately wonderful. Something I’d never done before. It was the year I published my first book — a book that continues to gather praise from readers and critics alike.

I’m excited to officially announce my plans to publish my second book later this year. The first draft was finished last fall, and I’m well into the revising stages right now. Below is the cover in an exclusive sneak peek for my blog readers.

Coming this fall: Book II in the Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy!

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Coming in 2014. Copyright Sarah Rodriguez Pratt.

Coming in 2014!

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Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

More Reasons To Celebrate

December 23, 2013

I know Christmas is almost upon us, and everyone’s running around doing last-minute shopping and cooking for all their partridges in pear trees. So I’ll make this quick:

Not only am I still super psyched about Choose Your Weapon being named one of Kirkus Reviews‘ Best Indie Books of 2013 (see the full list here and my blog post about it here), but I also received word that the book was named a Notable Teen Book in Shelf Unbound magazine’s Competition for Best Indie Book — AND the cover was named one of “Our Favorite Book Covers”! (The Notable Teen Books start on page 60, and the book cover mention is on page 42.)

I’m so delighted and honored about these awards. The last three years have been a real roller coaster ride, but to receive all these awards and keep hearing fantastic reader feedback has made the whole process of self-publishing my book totally worthwhile.

And in the spirit of the season, I also wanted to give all my blog readers a Christmas gift. I hate most Christmas music, but there are a few tunes I can tolerate…and, okay, even a few I enjoy. Behold the following Spotify playlist, which has all the Christmas music that I don’t hate (except “A Colbert Christmas” and “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics,” neither of which were on Spotify, but oh well; maybe next year).

Enjoy. And may all your days, through Christmas and beyond, be merry and bright.

Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

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Mama Never Said There’ll Be Days Like This

December 18, 2013

A lot happened on Monday.

  • Harvard, my alma mater, had a bomb threat, so I totally freaked out with worry and panic for my friends there.
  • I saw the news about the bomb threat while at a doctor’s appointment, where I learned I’d need two MRIs within the span of one week. (DON’T PANIC. It’s nothing serious; just a sore shoulder because doofus here injured herself bringing all the plants into the garage last week. But all that’s a story for another time.)
  • The shower in the just-redone bathroom sprung a lil’ leak. When a friend tried to fix it, it erupted into a gusher, losing about a gallon every 10 minutes. I put a pitcher under the faucet and fed the plants until the plumber came over in the early evening and fixed it.
  • And — just to cap the day off — about ten minutes after the plumber left, the downstairs toilet flooded.

But once the bomb threat was revealed to be a hoax, I tried not to let the shoulder news and plumbing emergencies get me down, because I’d also received some pretty wonderful news that morning:

My book was selected as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Indie Books of 2013!

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Screenshot from KirkusReviews.com.

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I was walking to the doctor’s office that morning when I saw the “Best Of” e-mail, but it wouldn’t load on my phone. I called David and begged him to look it up on the website for me. He saw it and told me, and I started crying on the walkway to Texas Orthopedics as a man in the parking lot stared at me and grackles called all around.

I can barely find the words for how stunned and thrilled I am, seriously. This was the Little Book That Could, and I’m so honored that people have loved it so much. (Did I mention that two different 11-year-olds said it was “better than Harry Potter”? Because they totally did!)

The book is still available for only $0.99 for the Kindle, the Nook, and iTunes. It’s also available in paperback form at Austin’s own BookPeople, and at South Padre Island’s Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard.

And fret not, loyal readers: progress steadily continues on Book II. I’m targeting to have it published in fall of 2014, and Book III in mid-2015.

Thank you, all of you, for your support and love. The book couldn’t have gotten this far without you.

Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

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Screenshot from KirkusReviews.com.

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Book (And Bathroom) Updates

November 23, 2013

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Toilet humor. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

A chicken in every pot and a toilet in every study!

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This is what’s going on in my house right now.

Amazingly, the bathroom renovations are the least stressful construction endeavors currently in my life. There’s a serious tearing apart of things and late-night humming machines running 24/7 in my neighborhood. But a sewage pump is no longer operating right outside of my bedroom (!), so things have vastly improved. And once all the Caterpillar trucks outside and the power tools upstairs have done their jobs and gone on their way, things will be blissfully back to normal. Until something else breaks, of course.

But you’re not here to hear me kvetch about sewage pipes. You’re here for the exciting book updates, aren’t you?

  • Choose Your Weapon is now available at Austin’s own BookPeople, the biggest independent bookstore in Texas! When I heard they’d approved my book for sale, I was delighted. When they sold out of copies in the first week, I was ecstatic. Go by their YA Fantasy section (second floor, behind the staircase) and support both me and your local independent bookstore by buying a paperback copy of Choose Your Weapon. It’s on the bottom shelf (under Pratt), even though we all know it’s a top shelf book. And hey, it’s right beside Terry Pratchett! How cool is that?

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"Choose Your Weapon" at BookPeople. November 7, 2013. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

OMG SO AWESOME.

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  • Story Circle Book Reviews gave Choose Your Weapon a wonderful review, dubbing it “A satisfying story for both teens and adults.” It’s a neat site with a great mission (sharing and celebrating women’s stories), and I was really happy to see this review.
  • My book didn’t win the Shelf Unbound Writing Competition for Best Indie Book — but it will be listed as one of 12 Notable Books in the Teen Books category! This is the first year they’re honoring notable books as well as the winner, and I’m delighted to be included. I’ll post a link to the issue as soon as it’s released in December.

So yes. There is much to be thankful for this year.

I hope all of y’all have a very happy Thanksgiving holiday. Stay safe and bring me leftovers.

Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

Be Brave, Not Beige

November 15, 2013

(Note: I wanted my first post after the Texas Book Festival to be a review of the books I bought at said festival. However, I’m still working my way through them. But renovations are about to start on the guest bathroom — a project six years in the making — so it seemed like a good time to write up a home beautification post. I’ve wanted to write this post for months [as evidenced in the fact that most of the photos were taken in March]. Hope you enjoy it. Even though it’s now November.)

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In The Beginning

Six years ago this month, David and I closed on the house now known as Casa Prattdriguez. The house was further away from downtown than David’s old house; but it also had a garage, a fenced-in backyard, and more than one toilet, so I loved it at first sight. It was also flipped, with many purty modern touches. Granite kitchen countertops! Pedestal sinks! Tasteful beige walls!

After a few months, though, the modern touches revealed themselves to be cheap patch-ups. The granite countertop was really made of granite tiles, with a caulk between them that stubbornly hung onto every single crumb. Pedestal sinks may be nice-looking, but they have zero storage. And somehow, we bought the house without noticing the kitchen completely lacked baseboards. We discovered this after a foster dog squeezed under the counters and ate a piece of ancient Halloween candy (yes, he was fine — after an expensive emergency vet visit).

But I still loved the main change the flippers had made: converting the kitchen, dining room, and living room into one giant space, with vaulted ceilings over the living room. Everyone who visits loves it. They also love the beige walls, but I got over those within a couple of years. I wanted to paint them avocado green. “Look!” I’d tell David, holding up an Ikea catalogue. “It says, ‘Be Brave, Not Beige.’ That’s good advice!”

He’d ignore me and keep playing his video game. As usual.

So we settled in and moved on with our lives. I loved my butter yellow couch, but David wanted something new and shiny and recline-y. So I donated my old couch and we bought a new one. Espresso leather. From Macy’s. Very fancy. (I wrote about it a while ago.)

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Verona says farewell to the couch, September 4, 2010. Copyright Sarah at ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Verona says farewell to the old couch in 2010.

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After my grandmother passed away last year, my mother asked me if I wanted some furniture she’d been storing for about two decades (!). I became the proud, somewhat emotional owner of her old Kimball piano, a dark wood dining room table, and six velvet-seated chairs. The table has seen better days; but with a little orange oil, the deep gashes on the top blend into the dark wood finish, looking like old scars rather than open wounds. You just have to be careful when you’re sitting at it and you cross your legs. Sharp, ginormous metal staples still cling to the bottom, buried too deeply for me to easily pry them out. Oh, old furniture. You’re so delightfully quirky.

The piano, too, is pretty scarred. But unlike the table, its flaws don’t get masked by orange oil. The piano holds onto them proudly, challenging me, saying, “Yeah, I’ve got a few nicks. What are you going to do about it, chump?” (It’s a sassy piano.)

Early in 2013, I looked around the kitchen / dining / living room and realized something startling, something that had somehow completely slipped through my field of vision for several months: our entire first floor was brown. All of it. Beige walls, dark brown table, dark brown chairs, dark brown piano, espresso couch, medium brown floors. And few windows.

“I think we should change things up,” I told David. “Brown is a fine color for some furniture, but not for ALL of it.”

In February, I got a substantial freelance check. I asked David if I could put some of it toward sprucing up the house. He looked around the field of beige and brown on the first floor and agreed (though he vetoed the avocado green paint again). So I moseyed around the Internet, trying to figure out where to go for some reasonably priced home decor.

And that’s when I remembered Pier 1.

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Pier 1-Derful

Pier 1 is one of those things that’s been in the background of my life forever. I remember when they first opened a store in McAllen. My mom was SO EXCITED, YOU GUYS. We went and looked around, but I didn’t care for wicker, so I wasn’t that psyched.

Then, in college, I started buying scented candles. (Not to burn, because that was totally illegal in the dorm rooms; just to, you know, sniff and look at. Obviously.) I didn’t have a car. If I wanted to go to a store, it had to be near a subway station. My roommates and I got our groceries at the then-Star Market in Porter Square — and a Pier 1 was just across the parking lot.

If I ever had extra money and wanted to get something for my dorm room, I went to that Pier 1. I bought Oceans-scented candles. I bought Oceans-scented oil, which I tried briefly (very briefly) to wear as a perfume. I bought votive candle holders, one of which I still have almost two decades later. My senior year, I even bought a folding director’s chair on sale for $25, because the only chair in my bedroom was the desk chair. I lugged that damn thing down the insanely long escalator into the Porter Square T-station, back out of the Harvard Square T-station, down several cobblestone sidewalks, and up three flights of stairs into my dorm room. I told myself that I would keep this chair forever. That, one day, it would grace a house I owned. Not all my promises to myself have come true, but that one did.

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Pier 1 chair. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Built to last. (And if you look around it, you can see a hummingbird salt shaker and a peacock vase, both recent Pier 1 purchases, as well as some scented pillar candles that are a little older than I want to admit.)

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There are a couple of Pier 1 stores near my house, but the parking lot at the Great Hills one is always intense, so I opted for the Lakeline one instead. (I made the right choice. The employees at Lakeline are super nice, and the store’s layout is much better than the Great Hills one.) The first time I walked into that store after being absent for so many years — the moment I smelled all those familiar scents — I thought, “Oh, I have missed you SO MUCH!”

I started with a table runner: something bright and colorful that would still go with the chairs’ forest green velvet seats.

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Pier 1 table runner. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Candlesticks and bowl from wedding registry, 2008. Coasters from Napa Valley honeymoon, 2008. Dark blue votive candle holder (slightly hidden by candlestick) from Pier 1, 1998. Table runner, peacock-shaped candle snuffer, and bird-shaped candle from Pier 1, 2013.

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Then…well, it kind of spiraled from there. Soon, we had:

  • Three more pillows for the seating area beside the fireplace (on top of the two I’d bought in 2007 and 2010, respectively).
  • New placemats and napkins (the old navy placemats and napkins — the washable Fiesta ones we’d registered for — didn’t really go with the new green table runner).
  • Two pairs of salt and pepper shakers (how had we lived without these?).
  • A lantern for the random hook in the living room ceiling.
  • A potpourri holder with a peacock on it (obtained at a discount because the wee peacock is missing a head feather, but the peacock doesn’t care and neither do I).
  • A vase with a peacock on it (you see a trend here).
  • Two starburst-shaped mirrors.
  • Some tealight candle holders.
  • A crapload of Easter decorations (and it’s not even my favorite holiday).
  • And my newest favorite discovery: battery-powered LED candles. No matches! No fires! No going to brunch across town and realizing two hours later that you left five candles burning in the living room, then getting stuck in traffic trying to get home to blow them out! (Everything was fine, thankfully; the living room just felt really warm.) The new LED candles have timers, so they turn on at the same time every day, stay on for five hours, then turn themselves off. They do go through batteries pretty quickly, but we bought some rechargeable batteries, and they’re working out great so far.

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Table with Pier 1 decor. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

More table stuff. (The pitcher is a famed Gurgling Cod from Shreve, Crump and Low, acquired shortly before I left Boston in 2001.)

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Pier 1 decorations. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

I got these little guys for Easter. They are even more adorable in person.

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Pier 1 decorations. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Easter parade on the windowsill.

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Pier 1 decorations. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Three words that are hard for me to resist: BIRDS IN HATS. (Three more words that are almost as hard to resist: WIND-UP BUNNY.)

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But tchotchkes only go so far. I decided we should use part of the freelance check on a rug or two, to brighten up the place. We’d just have to keep Zelda, one of our dogs, from peeing on them (which, being blind and elderly, she is doing often these days).

We went by Bassett Furniture to look at rugs. I turned the corner — and fell in love with a couch. It was apple green. It was velvet. It was a gorgeous tufted Chesterfield. And I had never loved a piece of furniture that much before. “Forget the rug,” I said. “Let’s get this instead. It’ll make the house look like a garden!”

After some negotiating, David agreed to sell the espresso couch. (I hated it by that point; I never used the reclining feature and I’d always found the seats uncomfortable, though David liked them just fine.) We took the money from the sale, saved up for a little while, and got the most beautiful piece of furniture I’ve ever owned. Even more beautiful than the yellow couch. Yes, the velvet is polyester, which can off-gas, so — and I am not exaggerating here — the couch smelled like farts for three months. But after putting some little Pier 1 odor destroyer cans around the back, the smell eventually subsided. Success!

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King Street Sofa from Bassett Furniture. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Zelda admires the new couch. Verona, meanwhile, eyes me warily from her crate.

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I got this little rug at Pier 1, too. It’s indoor / outdoor, so when the dog pees on it (which she has done a couple of times), we just take it outside, hose it down, then spray it with Simple Solution. No harm, no foul odor.

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Pier 1 rug. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Fun, funky, and washable (kind of)!

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For all my creativity and love of specific looks (especially mid-century modern detritus), decorating is usually a nightmare for me. I hate making mistakes. The idea of making a really costly mistake that I can’t afford to change, and that I have to look at every day, is almost painful. However, buying all the Pier 1 tchotchkes felt like a safe move: no one thing was too expensive, and everything was easy to move around. But deep in my heart, I suspect that if I’d had the walls painted — even avocado green — I would’ve regretted it.

Which is why I am really panicking over the upstairs bathroom.

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The Next Renovation

That bathroom is the line of demarcation left by the house flippers. That’s where they either ran out of money, or just stopped caring. They painted the walls and installed a new light fixture, then gave up. The ancient pale yellow tile is still in the shower, as are the grimy plastic shower knobs. A massive slab o’ mirror hangs on the wall, above a scratched-beyond-belief cultured marble countertop and a silver faucet with paint flecking off. Look inside the vanity and you’ll see a little pile of wooden bits that fell off from some long-ago, before-we-purchased-the-house water damage. Oh, and we still haven’t figured out which switch turns on the vent and which one turns on the heater; both make a monstrous noise and create an alarming smell.

For six years, we’ve wanted to spruce up this bathroom. SIX YEARS, MAN. I insisted on painting the beige walls dark blue, so it felt like you were outside. Instead, it had the opposite effect, giving the small space a claustrophobic feeling. See what I mean about the frustration of making decorating mistakes?

We were finally able to start seriously saving for the bathroom redo last year. Now, we have the money to make it less gross and more usable. Initially, I’d wanted to gut it and start over. Then I thought about how much landfill waste that would create, and I couldn’t bear to do it. (Also, removing and redoing shower tile is wicked expensive.) So we’re keeping the tile. And the light fixture, because I do like it. But the paint, the mirror, the countertop, the floor (which had minor cosmetic water damage a few months ago) — that’s all going. And the vanity’s getting repaired and possibly refinished. I just have to pick colors and stuff. Then I have to live with them forever. NO PRESSURE.

But we have a great new shower curtain that I’m basing the room’s color scheme around. It’s not from Pier 1, but it’s still pretty awesome. And, along with the new mirror (which is totally from Pier 1), it gives me hope that this project will end well.

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Pier 1 mirror. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Isn’t it gorgeous? (And I got it for 20% off, too!)

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The first floor of the house gives me hope, too. If I can make that space as lovely as it’s become, then surely I can pick some colors for the bathroom that I will love. And even if everything doesn’t perfectly match, David and I will still learn to love it. Because we took something and made it a little better. Because we were brave, not beige. And that alone will be worth celebrating.

Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

Just Say No To NaNoWriMo

November 1, 2013

I’m a nice person. Incredibly nice. I just want everyone to like me. So this post is a risk, because it’s probably going to annoy a lot of people. But I hope you’ll read it all the way to the bottom before you decide to hate me forever.

Here goes: NaNoWriMo is a bad idea.

YES, I KNOW I’M A HYPOCRITE. Yes, I know I’ve done NaNoWriMo before. In 2009, I wrote my first novel as a NaNoWriMo project (and I plan to revise and publish it after I finish the Helen of Hollingsworth trilogy). But these days, I hate NaNoWriMo. I hate the idea of writing for just one month a year, as if it’s some kind of holiday decoration and you can put it away the rest of the time. Plus, I never do it right. It took me two months, not one, to write my novel in 2009. So in addition to being a hypocrite, I’m also a failure. Wheee!

I didn’t realize I hated NaNoWriMo until I was chatting online with a friend earlier this week. He’s a great writer; he just doesn’t sit down and write very often. I encouraged him to send me a first draft. Then I asked if he was doing NaNoWriMo. But before he even responded, I told him not to do it. I wrote, “NaNoWriMo creates writers the way New Year’s resolutions create healthy lifestyles.”

It’s true. How many people do you know are all, “I’m gonna get healthy this year!” in January, then stop going to the gym two months later? How many people do you know swear that this is the year they’re going to lose weight, then go back to their regular eating habits within a few weeks?

Change is tough, you guys. It’s not easy to exercise, or eat right, or write every day. I didn’t write at all for a long time after college. And when I started again, I didn’t write every day. Truth be told, I don’t write every day now — just like I don’t exercise or eat healthy every day. But I do it more days than I don’t. And that consistency, that practice, is what improved my writing more than anything.

Writing a novel — to see if I could actually accomplish that — was important to me, but becoming a better writer was far more important. And that’s where I think NaNoWriMo fails. It focuses on creating first drafts, not good habits or better writing skills. Writing every day (or almost every day) is an awesome idea, however, and I wish more people would do that. If we could rename National Novel Writing Month to be National Writing Habit Starting Month instead, that would be fantastic (even though NaWriHaStaMo is a bit of a mouthful).

Look, do NaNoWriMo if you want. Like I said, it did spur a positive and life-changing shift in my writing habits, and I’m not sure I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t taken that first let’s-try-to-do-this-in-one-month step. But if you’re going to do it, I really, really hope you see it less as one crazy month and more as the start of a long-term habit.

Let’s not sprint through November, you guys. Let’s start a marathon of writing.

NaWriHaStaMo FTW!

Copyright 2013, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

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