Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 - It's a Wrap!

2013 - It's about to be a wrap.  The urban dictionary defines "it's a wrap" as a successful task or something that's over.  For me, the best way to recount the year is to do it in my accounting speak - by the numbers - and it feels really good to check these items off.  So here we go, Panoply's year in review:

January 6th was my very first blog post (this recap is my 75th).  Serendipity would have the first one be on the feast of the Epiphany.  Here's a link to that post:  Into the Land of the Blogosphere.  I simply cannot go without acknowledging all the help I have received, as well as new friendships struck, while blogging in this first year.  Five different bloggers even featured different posts of mine, and three magazines (Romantic Homes, Cottages & Bungalows, and Flea Market Style) noted various submittals of mine, with relatively little invested energy on my part, merely comment and email interaction.  The power of social media is incredibly rewarding - it just depends on the amount of energy one chooses to invest.  To date, my blog is ad free - it is my avocation (hobby), not vocation.

Throughout the year, I managed ten major projects (see link for post beneath each photo below, where applicable):
My chaise lounge finally got a neutral slipcover and readers met the amazing, 88-year old Doris Dilly in the process. Apparently, folks are still learning some great tips, as this post still gets continuous viewership.
The Masters - Taking a Lesson (No, Not Golf!)
I planned and hosted both a wedding shower (August) and a casual, homemade wedding (October) for my younger daughter, with the help of my older daughter and one of my two antiquing sisters, M.
The Wedding Planners
An Affair to Remember - a Homemade Wedding
 Several projects around home and garden were completed, including a plumbing upgrade in the guest bath...
Post-Plumbing Project Reveal
....our brick porch, landscape walkways and walls were professionally powerwashed....
Before and After Brick Maintenance - a Transformation!
....and our landscape trees were all pruned....
That Never-Ending Autumn List
....and our sunroom was re-caulked (it's all glass, and was beginning to leak).....

and the landscape was treated to new, coated steel edging after being cleaned up in Fall.

Once the wedding was over and the outdoor projects were completed, I then planned and hosted another wedding shower (mid-November), this time a virtual one via Skype for my niece in Texas.
Hosting a Virtual Shower - Via Skype!
And from that point, I shifted right into Christmas planning, which is a huge project for me.  I decorated the entire house and some in the garden, planned and hosted a buffet dinner party for all family who were in town. This year was a smaller than usual crowd of twenty-one (!!)  Shopping and wrapping pale in comparison to my prep work in decorating for and hosting Christmas Eve.
Christmas Present - a Home and Garden Tour
But wait!  There's more!  

In 2013, I completed eight Federal tax returns, nine State returns, and two FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) applications.  Blah.  Let's not even count all the paper and Panoply inventory organization that goes along with the finished products of submitted forms.

I logged more than 250 hours with Panoply in 2013, styling and/or overhauling and fluffing our booth spaces at the antique mall with my sister, M.  That total doesn't include the hours spent on our buying trips: five out of town destinations, thirteen estate sales (two of which were private), eight additional private purchases, and two public auctions (all styling/buying excludes curbside pickups and other freebies, which usually demand time spent in cleaning up and/or refurbishing).  In addition, my two antiquing sisters and I also each prepared (individually) our own items for a local yard sale, purging both Panoply items as well as household things.  My Panoply hours does not include my hours spent blogging, which I would conservatively estimate at least 100 hours in this first year, which involved a bit of a learning curve.

Other activities in 2013 included attending my oldest daughter's graduation from Florida State University in Tallahassee May 4th....
Celebrate in Achieving Goals
....and the entire family (two daughters and their husband & fiance, as well as Mr. P.) immediately flew out to our paradise destination the next day (Grand Cayman), for a week of much needed rest, relaxation and scuba diving.....
Paradise Found and Treasured
Upon my return from paradise, I jumped right into gardening mode (after an earlier jump start in April and a very bad case poison ivy). Still, my garden holds a very special place in my heart, and I always look forward to the birds and blooms the entire year, but especially in late Spring, early Summer.  I plant several annual containers, stake two very large groups of  hibiscus perennials, and prune and deadhead blooms throughout the summer months.  Watering was a lesser task this year with all the rain we had (but proved to be more work for Mr. P., who cuts the lawn), but it was still a necessary chore from early June through September - for my containers and annual beds.  
Here's What's Blooming in My Garden
I love piddling in my garden after all the work of the May-June growth spurt is complete. This year, I had a bumper crop of lavender, and I even crafted with it, providing a tutorial for a lavender wand.  I have help in putting the garden to bed in Fall, which took three men three full days of work.
Crafts & Recipes Using Harvested Lavender
From Easter through Labor Day, I have traditionally always planned and hosted buffet-style dinners/cookouts for my husband's family, and this year I hosted three:  Easter, July 4th and Labor Day.  I always like to have some tried-and-true foods, and will typically do my experimenting with desserts.  There were several good ones this year, and I posted some of my winning recipes.
5-Star Collected Recipes for a Crowd (Or Not!)

5-Star Collected Recipes for a Crowd (Or Not!)

5-Star Collected Recipes for a Crowd (Or Not!)
Cajun Chicken Pasta Feeds a Crowd!
It's been a great year for me, and with no health issues to have to deal with, I feel very blessed.  And very accomplished.  I challenged myself with learning how to create a blog, and in doing so have added yet another dimension to my adventures in antiquing, gardening and making a home.  I also created several photo books through Shutterfly, learning the ins and outs of design layout.  I'd like to overhaul my blog design, and need to assess whether I'll tackle that on my own or enlist help to accomplish it.  

I plan to keep pushing myself in 2014, but I don't engage in setting resolutions.  I just want to remain active - physically, mentally and spiritually.  Mr. P. and I estimate that we logged nearly 1,000 miles walking in 2013, and we hope to continue that - it's a great time to talk and decompress - together.  In the past, we've ballroom danced, kayaked, bicycled, and worked out at our local gym, but I've been fortunate my entire life in my ability to maintain my weight, so walking has proven to be enough, even if I don't do more than that. There's no doubt in my mind that moving furniture and gardening really do have exercise benefits, too.  And I honestly think my mental energy must burn a lot of calories also, because sometimes I feel like I'm racing - with myself - and cannot turn it off.  Nonetheless, my first project at the start of each year is always to get organized - clean up loose ends from the prior year in order to have a clean slate for what's to come.  That starts with paperwork, but  I'd really like to purge more personal effects, as well as more slow-moving Panoply items. So, another yard sale or two may be in the cards.  Gardening will be a definite activity, as will antique booth space buying and styling.  

Looking back on 2013, I have to sigh a big sense of relief in the fact that I am mostly retired - I can't imagine getting all these projects done while working full-time.  I still work part-time with Mr. P. in his consulting business, but I still have plenty of time to do all these activities I enjoy.  All in all, Life is Good!  And that's a wrap!

Happy New Year to all of my readers!  That's me, the little one at the end with eyes closed, and this is my family in 1960. 
And here we are now (sans parents)....
My, how we've changed!  But change is good.  May 2014 be all the change you hope for!

I'll be sharing with:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cajun Chicken Pasta Feeds A Crowd!

What's on my Christmas Eve menu?  Among other family favorites, Cajun Chicken Pasta will be one of the main dishes served, and it's ALWAYS a crowd favorite.  It's easy to make, it feeds a crowd, can be made ahead of your event, and it reheats to taste even better than when served just cooked.  

This recipe has been passed to various family members numerous times, and has become a favorite throughout with their own families.  One sister-in-law even freezes it, and says it reheats great that way, too. When serving as I do, in a buffet style, I can fit two of the half-sized foiled containers (11 3/4" x 9 3/8" x 2 3/16" - steam table pans from Sam's, as shown above) right into my chafing dish, and cleanup is a breeze - just toss the foil liners!

It's not too late to run out and get the ingredients for this crowd pleaser!  Recipe takes approximately 1 hr from start to finish:  15 minutes prep, 45 minutes simmering.

Cajun Chicken Pasta

Fast Method
1 box Fettucine noodles (16 oz)
Total 1 lb fast chicken strips, grilled (Louis Rich, Tyson’s, or any other brand, usually in 6 oz pkg, so 3 pkgs)
1 large (32 oz) can diced, petite tomatoes
1 bottle Chef Prudhomme’s Poultry Seasoning
1 Quart Heavy Whipping Cream

Photo below shows ingredients enough for 1.5X the recipe ingredients above - see Notes below for more.
In skillet, pour 2-3 Tbsp olive oil.  Add grilled chicken strips (cut in 1 in pcs), toss with approx 1/3 to ½ bottle of poultry seasoning.  Heat on med for 3 minutes or so, tossing so chicken covers with seasoning.  
Add tomatoes to skillet so that most of the spice will later pour into large boiling pan once noodles are cooked.
Cook fettucine according to pkg.  Drain, and place noodles back into large boiling pan.  Pour skillet of chicken with tomatoes into pan with noodles.  Add whipping cream, rest of poultry seasoning, stir and let simmer (med-low heat) about 45 min (until cream is mostly absorbed by noodles).  Stay with the stirring so the mixture won’t stick to the bottom of pan.
Serve with fresh, diced tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and green onions as garnish, if desired.

This dish can easily be placed into a 13 x 9 x 2 aluminum pan, coated with spray oil (or the half-size pans if using a chafing dish as I do), refrigerated, and re-heated at 350 for approx 45-60 min (covered with foil).  If texture appears dry, you can add some whipping cream and stir, but let it heat up first.  Like any other pasta, it gets better the next day.  This dish can also be frozen and re-heated in 350 – check and stir, may take longer than 60 min. 
Feeds 8-10.
You can 1.5 times the dish by adding another 6 oz pkg of fast chicken, a 14-16 oz can of diced tomatoes, and another pint of whipping cream.  You will also need another half jar of the Prudhomme’s spice.  This makes the 8-10 servings well suited for pigging out.

Slow method calls for fresh chicken strips, cooked in olive oil, tossed with the poultry spice.  Cook 3-4 minutes each side.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

I Won 2nd Place!

I just opened a Christmas present!
That's me, above, with three of my eight siblings, and I just opened a Christmas present!  I just found out I won 2nd place in the Frontgate® Inspire Holiday Pinterest Challenge!

Many thanks to all of you who may have voted for my board - whether just once, or many times (like the one sister above, second from right). :)  My heart and home are happy, filled with anticipation for Christmas Eve and sharing good food, a white elephant gift exchange, and [hopefully] lots of good family time together.

Now, back to kitchen, and baking.  Here's what I did last night - Oreo truffles.
I have a list a mile long to cover, as do many of you.  My daughter makes fun of me, but here's what I do each year (this is last year's, but I save them, and update each year, since 2006):
I chart out the week prior to the big day, including weather & percent chance of rain (it impacts whether I have to prepare the welcome bags and candles!).  I note my chores, and even chart out oven-time sequencing for Christmas Eve final prep.  You see, we go to my husband's sister's home for Christmas Eve Day, so I have to be totally ready when I get home around 5pm - and make my assembly line in time for a 7pm buffet.  I like my to-do list for Christmas Day best of all. ;)

I know, it's crazy, it's OCD, but it's me.  A girl who loves her list, and loves checking it off even more. Organized insanity.

Happy Weekend!  Hope you get to cross off lots of things on your lists!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

So Excited!

My Girls, 1990, on Christmas Eve - so excited!
So excited - yes, I am!

A couple weeks ago I entered a Frontgate® Inspire Holiday Challenge 2013 by creating a Pinterest board of my most inspired holiday, using my own photos along with Frontgate product pins (the latter was required), and a few miscellaneous pins. I based my board on how I love hosting my family on Christmas Eve, using Frontgate® products I already own or would like to own if I won. 

Well, guess what? My board was chosen as 1 of the top 10 for a voting contest that will award shopping sprees of varying values to the winners!  The winner will be decided by highest number of votes cast between now and 12/19/13.
If you would be inclined to go to this link and decide to vote for my board, I would be honored (Rita C.). You can vote 1X per day between now and 12/19/13.  Some have told me they were able to vote numerous times.  I'm not sure if the contest can figure that out and void those or if there’s a glitch in their program. I can no longer find the contest details anywhere on the Frontgate website once the contest closed (12/11/13). If you're not inclined to vote for me, that's okay too. There are some nice boards, and it appears the interpretation of the guidelines was very loose (again - no rules can be found).  If you do vote, please go back and vote each day!
All you have to do to vote is click on the VOTE button (I'm the 3rd one on the top row, Rita C.).  You then type in a number or word verification (they just want to make sure robots are not voting, but rather a real person - no email or personal info is required).  Here’s the link:

The page should look like this (I've drawn an arrow over my board thumbnail in the top row):

Your support will be greatly appreciated!  I love Christmas, and I'm excited!

If you would like to see my 2013 Holiday Home Tour, you can do that here.  If you would like to read more about my candle lights in my windows (from Frontgate®), along with some other lighting I use, you can do that here.

Happy Holidays, Y'all!

Friday, December 13, 2013

These 'Little Lites' of Mine....

Truth be told, there's probably a little bit of Clark Griswold in each of us, so I'm sharing some great lights I found this year, an alternative to the electric lights.  This is NOT a paid post, but if either of these companies (or the battery makers) want to fund my holiday, now's your chance.

The first is 'Little Lites' (from Big Lots).  These are just as the label states:  battery-operated, LED warm white light set (not those laser beam blue lights).  They have a built-in timer with a push button to turn on for six hours, then they go off for eighteen, and repeat each day.  The battery pack even has two different hooks so you can hang it - a teacup c-shape hook, and/or a snap-on clip so you can hang it over a wire shelf or wood as much as a half inch thick or so.  At $5 a pop, I bought a six, knowing they'd come in handy, maybe even after the holidays.  They take two D batteries (which aren't cheap), but a friend who has used these lights swears the batteries last a good five months.  Sold!
I have several two tall shelving units in my TV / family room which flank our big screen TV.
I used one strand of the 'Little Lites' for my nativity scene on one shelf on one unit.  There are also electrical outlets on my wall units, and built in lights for the cabinets, but I don't use those regularly.  These 'Little Lites' add just that little oomph to the shelves in a low-maintenance way.
I used a second strand on another shelf that would normally hold tealight candles to uplight the word JOY in this vignette on the other shelf unit.  Real flames were out of the question here, and the battery operated tealights are a bit of a nuisance to turn on and off each time I want the glow.  'Little Lites' were a great alternative.
I have a third strand of the lights on otherwise unused wine rack over a wet bar, where I hung a wreath that was without lights.  There are no electrical outlets near this area, so the 'Little Lites' were perfect.  I was able to clip the battery pack on the rack in the back, out of sight.
The other MAJOR time saver I took the plunge on this year was investing in Frontgate's Luminara® flameless dream window candles for our 22 house windows.  I read customer reviews, which were overwhelmingly positive, took advantage of a special offer, and got a good price on these back in early October.  Good thing, because they seem to sell out quickly (I couldn't even find the link on their website to show them here, but my link does show a video of the lights and how they work - a very realistic, flickering flame).
The lights I had worked just fine, and for the last two years I kept telling myself to leave it alone.  But when Mr. P. kept asking if I couldn't get timers for the outlets last year, I thought, "the cords are ugly enough and I am NOT going to make it worse, or invest $ with timers".  My bet said they most likely wouldn't ever be synchronized to turn on and off to suit me either.  Instead, we'd be looking like the Waltons saying goodnight to each other, with every window going dark at different times every night.
Mr. P. helped me turn all the switches on the new candles that first night to synchronize timing, and they've worked like a charm ever since - on for five hours, off for nineteen.  They can also be turned on continuously (two switches).  After the first few nights of perfect synchronicity of on/off, I am happy to say the electric lights are now segregated from my official Christmas decor, and will be purged.  Mr. P. urged me to buy a few extra just as insurance, but I didn't, so I'll still have the electric lights until either Frontgate restocks or I find another source with a good deal.  The batteries are supposed to last 500 hours, which should easily get us through the holidays.

While on the subject of lights, one other big lighting task I self-impose have at Christmastime is welcome lighting for the outside parking when we host.  I also place small lantern lights on my stairway, just inside the main front entry.  Here's what that workshop looks like, in progress (in my dining room, from last year):
For the welcome lights, I use (and re-use) white bags, with pineapple cut-out inserts with the small, battery-operated tealights (as on the wooden chest on the right in the photo above).  You can see an assembled one with the tealight reflecting inside the bag, standing upright near the table's center, above.  I assemble 24 of these - 12 for each side - to mark parking on our river lots.  And I never get a photo of it because my SIL usually places them for me, while I'm in the kitchen doing fifteen other things.

The little lanterns are what I use on the stairway (pictured on the treads in the photo below). The tealights and candles are much cheaper now, but were not when I started using them years ago.   Each of these candles takes one of those flat, nickel-sized batteries you see pictured on the workshop table.  I remove of those batteries each year, and place them in my silver chest, not touching each other, to try extending the battery life.
I only use these the battery-operated tealights and candles for company, and now you can see why - a bit of a pain to set in motion.  I suppose I'll look for more efficient replacements sometime, but for now, it's like the window candles - I keep telling myself to leave it alone - they still do the job.  Or maybe I can find a way to string the 'Little Lites' through the garland without the battery packs weighing them down.  Sometimes I'm just penny wise, but pound foolish.  Or a cheapskate.  Are you ever either, or both?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Present 2013: Home & Garden Tour

(Thank you to Dwellings  and A Stroll Thru Life for featuring this post!)
I've spent the last week or so leisurely decorating my home and garden for Christmas and, although I'd be considered late to the party in terms of bloggers' home tours, you're nonetheless cordially invited to stop in for my Christmas Present 2013 Home and Garden tour.  If you'd like to re-visit my Christmas Past (2012) Home & Garden Tour, you will find it here.

I switched things up a bit this year, mostly through use of different textiles and tabletop vignettes.  This post is heavy on visuals, light on most descriptions, but all of the photos are new.
I was able to catch the house in the glow of the blue light of dusk this year.
Although I wasn't able to capture a good view of the windows on the side of the house, there is a candle in every window - all 22 of them.  This year, we replaced the electric plug-in, on/off switch candles with Frontgate's dream candles - battery operated, built-in timer with life-like flickering flames.  They are all synchronized perfectly, and I'm very happy not to have turn switches on/off  every evening.
If you've followed me long enough, you know the only kind of goose I prefer is a dead (or wooden) one. This (wooden) one is in my entry.
Our living room is used very little, so the decor touches are understated - an Amish-made cloth angel sits on the chair, and the ceramic tree and Santa are vintage.  Red is used as an accent.
The garland on the stairway was from Michael's ten years ago.  I connected seven 6-foot swags to trim the staircase.  I made the bows that trim the rail, and also wrapped ribbon around the garland in one, continuous motion.  I am very meticulous in my holiday decor organization, so much so I photographed and wrote instructions for the method of trimming this staircase so I would not have to re-invent the wheel each year - it saves me a lot of time and effort.  Packing meticulously has kept the bows in really good shape from year to year also.
Our dining room is also somewhat understated in Christmas decor, more in natural tones.  I will add linens as it gets closer to Christmas.  Almost everything in the room (other than the dining room table, chairs and dhurrie rug) have been collected since Mr. P. and I joined households.
The bar cart, hotel silver and various other items are all vintage finds.
I love this print.  I purchased it from a retired Presbyterian minister's estate.  It is Solario's "Madonna with the Green Cushion".
I found this little vintage picture postcard from a local Etsy dealer - perfect for wintertime display.   It sits on a fork-turned-easel on the table beside the wingback chair.
This corner is totally collected over time from auctions, estate sales and from other collectors.
The table's centerpiece, and the general decor theme in the dining room, is orbs.  This platter, situated directly under the chandelier which has vintage glass balls dangling from it, holds a preserved boxwood orb, along with fragrant clove balls and silver metal balls.

Our tree is, once again, situated in our TV room gathering space (do you like how Google animated it for me with the glowing lights?!  They made the snow fall on the landscape photo later in this post too.  I love it!).  The room is long, and this is just one end of the space (one chair removed for the tree placement).  I found the Pendleton blanket at a recent estate sale, so it is this year's base on the floor.  The tree takes me a very long time to decorate, somewhere near 8 hours, as most of our decorations are very small.  So many memories each time they'e unwrapped and placed......
The candy cane you see in the center of this photo is by Wallace, a hostess gift each year from one of my sisters and brother-in-law, who have been collecting the candy canes since their first issue in 1981.  We have one for every year we've been married (ten).
Travel ornaments are another collected favorite group.  These are from various beaches we've been to.  Notice the gecko with the scarf at the top and the blue stingray on the left? :)
These carolers were purchased at one of our city's annual arts and crafts fair - they're made from gourds!
The JOY banner is vintage, from a local, long-time collaborative quilting group in our area.
You may not have noticed, but the primitive rocking horse DID come home with me.  He was in our booth at the antique mall (I mentioned him here), and he needed rescued.  He sits on one side of the fireplace.  Mr. P. keeps saying he's not sure what the horse has to do with Christmas.  Obviously, he nor any of his siblings ever received one as a child for Christmas!
We don't have a mantel, but flanking the other side of the fireplace is the basket of birch logs from our fallen trees, tricked out with lights, cones and (faux) bird on a (faux) branch.
 Coffee table on other end of the long gathering space, sporting a snowman family.
Vintage papier mache carolers - an estate sale find.
The sunroom is another gathering space, with table and chairs, as well as a mix of furniture for accommodating crowds (aka my family).
The wooden bowl is full of Native American flint artifacts culled from our landscape when we renovated in 2004. They date from the Paleo-Indian time period, approximately 10,000 BC! 
Table centerpiece is naturally collected cones, deer antlers and tree branches.
An antique set of scales in the sunroom (you can catch a glimpse of it in the background of the photo just above this one) holds a bird's nest and cast metal bird on one side; the other side (pictured) holds a vintage Christmas postcard, broken angel wings, rosaries and a couple of the flint artifacts.
Another group of fallen birch logs, mixed with pinecones and lights in an olive sieve.
My favorite spot in the house, year-round, is this corner of the sunroom where my chaise lounge is situated.
The laundry / mud / powder room got decked out a little for the holiday too.  The orchard ladder was initially purchased for resale, later brought home, first to the sunroom, now here.  It's holding European grain sacks and hand towels, along with the boxwood wreaths.

These louvered shutters hide the fuse box in the laundry room, on the wall between the vanity and the appliances.  In my 2012 tour I showed my little display of scrabble whimsy on top of the appliances.
The sink holds this little resin trio who, when the candles are lit, appear to be warming themselves by drum fires.  And speaking of whimsy, does this plaque not say it all?  I have it hanging in the laundry room, where every guest who uses the loo will see it.

Just a few more things to show you upstairs before we get to the garden.
This antique cedar chest sits right outside the guest bedroom.  It's one of several I have in which I keep some of my vintage textiles and pillows.  The set of antique red books are simply a color-coordinated display for the season, placed alongside the boxwood in the vintage loving cup.
For my bath, I purchased this wreath from a local crafter because I loved the natural burlap, but also because I loved the tag at the center.  It says "Coming Home".

Another of my holiday rugs, which I seem to have collected over the years, at the foot of my desk.
Vintage tree that was my husband's prior to my coming on the scene and taking over everything Christmas.
Vintage cherub night light glows in the guest room, between a boxwood and vintage purse.

In the garden over the past week or so, we've had everything from snow to ice to 70 degrees.  These next pictures reflect a little of all of that.
Nandina (heavenly bamboo) put on a real show for the season with their red berries, as do the holly trees (not pictured here).

I kept the outdoor decor very simple - swags on every other post outside of the fence front (you can see them in the very first photo in this post), and the two lighted snowflakes with yard flag in back.
Once again, I put a scarf on my book nerd in the garden.
These are two of  the four 'seasons' in the garden - Winter and Spring.  Summer and Fall are on the other side of the yard.  I put a striped footie sock on Spring (above) and Fall (on the other side). :)
 Another shot in the blue light of dusk.  And that concludes the 2013 tour.

Thanks for letting me share my collection of Christmas decor with you.  It's probably my favorite time of year, where memories of family are foremost in my mind, and the Advent season is a constant source of hope.

I'll be preparing for Christmas Eve between now and the 24th, when we'll be hosting all in-town family for a buffet dinner and simple gift exchange.  There's still some decor involved - getting welcome lights for parking and the indoor stairway assembled - along with pressing linens, grocery shopping, baking, cooking, and organizing all the serving pieces.  And I do need to get a present or two or three wrapped and under the tree!

Here's to all of us warriors united in a common theme this busy season - trying to make new family memories, no matter what our circumstances.  Have fun and stay safe, my friends!

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