Places to Go - Encore Stage & Studio's Production of the Hobbit

Logo1 By Laury Sendek

On Saturday, back when Sandy was just a glimmer in our bright sunny sky, I ventured out with all three kids (plus one) to see Encore Stage & Studio's Production of the Hobbit. I don't find it exactly easy to take four children to a play, especially when one is only 3 years old, but luckily the thrill of dragons, goblins, dwarfs, and wizards kept them entertained. The play has some slow moments (the cave scenes could move a LOT faster) and some actors are better than others (though considering nobody on stage has graduated high school yet, the over-all quality of acting is always impressive), but all in all my kids seemed to feel the magic. The scenery and lighting were exceptionally good, especially the Hobbit's house, which appeared so realistic that I wanted to stop in for a visit.

Regarding theater-going with a 3 year old (the play is actually recommended for children 4 and up, so I knew I was taking a risk), T lost some enthusiasm during the first half ("but I'm so tired of sitting in this chair, mom. I DON'T WANT TO SIT" - a trip to the lobby soon followed), but gladly returned for the second half, anxiously inquiring "when is the dragon coming? WHEN?" I became a little nervous when the actual dragon appeared, whose costume came across as a little more "cute" then "evil", but T couldn't wait for the head dwarf's sword to kill the beast. Apparently dragon sympathy is not something my son possesses.

I wish I could give you a more detailed account of the girls' reactions, but T occupied most of my attention. Afterwards, when asked for their reviews, P proclaimed it "great", especially the end "when they get lots of treasure." P's best friend, L, said she "liked everything about it." Whereas F's review was a little more balanced - calling it "okay, but not amazing." Her favorite part was the beginning because she found it funny when all the dwarfs overtook Bilbo's house (I too, agree, that this was where the play truly shined). F thought the end could have been either more dramatic or that it should have ended with the Hobbit's return home (both good suggestions).

After the play, all of the actors lined up in the lobby so that theater-goers could meet them in person. The sight of real-life "stars" caused my kids to alternate between jumping up and down with excitement and hiding behind my legs out of shyness. All three girls ran to have their programs signed by Brandi Moore, the Elven Queen, who, as always, put on a fabulous performance. After meeting Ms. Moore, the kids slowly approached other actors, collecting signatures, a little awed by the whole experience (and now I have several signed programs, which I've been tasked with keeping "forever").

All in all a nice afternoon and a great play for this Halloween season. The show runs through next weekend with the following performance times:

Friday November 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday November 3 at 11 a.m.
Saturday November 3 at 3 p.m.
Sunday November 4 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children. Check it out if you have a chance.


Things to Make - Decorate Your Own Trick-Or-Treat Bag


A few weeks ago, AC Moore had a $1 sale on plain tote bags, so I bought some for the kids, figuring they could decorate their own Halloween bags with fabric markers. On the upside, everyone loved this cheap, easy project, but F was the only kid who wanted to decorate for the holiday, as P insisted that rainbows and flowers are necessary for every occasion ("who likes scary stuff anyways?" - P). F eventually caved and turned over her jack-o-lantern drawing for a butterfly.

Oh well, now the bags work for multiple occasions. I hoped to take some better pictures of the final project, but then this hurricane got in my way. Stay safe and dry everyone!! Hopefully there will still be costume wearing tomorrow.

If you're interested in trying a similar project, this kit from Oriental Trading looks fun.



Places to Go - Mt Vernon Fall Harvest Family Days (Alexandria, VA)


This weekend, Mt Vernon hosts their annual Fall Harvest Family Day Festival and if you haven't visited the estate yet, this is the perfect opportunity to tour the plantation of our first president. We went last year and all the kids loved it - free roasted apples, wagon rides (though the lines can get long), a hay bale maze, lots of charactor actors, and (of course) all the gorgeous fall foliage in the background. Plus, Potomac River site-seeing is offering half-priced cruises from George's dock.

All activities are included in regular admission price: adults, $15.00; children ages 6-11, $7.00; and children under 5 are admitted free. (And don't forget, season passes only cost $25 for adults and $10 for kids, a really great deal).

Whatever you do this weekend, have a great time - see you next week!


* This free cookbook has lots of awesome food. Click here to download the PDF.

*David Byrne's office.

*Halloween decorations Gangnam style.

*This is a GREAT list, and equally applicable to daughters.



Things to Read - New Art Books (for Kids and Adults)

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Two weekends ago, F and I spent Saturday morning at the Hirshhorn checking out the new Ai Weiwei exhibit, "According to What?" (click here to read KidFriendly DC's review). Of course, we eventually ended up in the museum shop. Usually, because I have three children with me, I do whatever it takes to avoid such an experience. But with one non-toddler child, everything seemed so accessible all of a sudden. And I could actually peruse multiple books that have been sitting on my Amazon wishlist for months. Plus, since we have a Smithsonian membership, everything is discounted by 10%, which is practically a sale, right? So I went a little crazy, here are some of the books we purchased (from top to bottom):

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1. They Draw and Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World - A cookbook with beautiful art, full of all sorts of different recipes (most of them pretty easy to duplicate) - how could you not want this book? For those of you who don't want to spend the $13, the website is also pretty wonderful.

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2. Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media-For Budding Artists of All Ages (Lab Series) - I already blogged about this book on Tuesday (click here for the post) and so far we're really enjoying it. The projects are all relatively simple (though sometimes messy), yet creative (as in "I never would have thought of that") and free-form (so kids can spend lots of time on them and use them as creative jumping off points for other projects).

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3. A Year in Art: The Activity Book - F picked this out and I just love the whole concept of it. Every day (for 365 days) a new artwork is introduced, along with a simple activity. Sometimes the book encourages kids to write a story about a painting, other times the books asks them to recognize details in the artwork or create their own artwork. It looks like so much fun that I want to "play" along. F doesn't want to begin any of the projects until January 1, so she'll complete the book in order. Hopefully she'll stick with it and learn a lot.

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4. The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science - How could you NOT want to buy a book where scientists and artists teem up to explain the world to us? Plus, it's just so so pretty.

Oh, and if you're interested in other great, temporary art exhibits to see with your children, Not-So-SAHM has the kid-friendly scoop on the National Gallery of Art's Lichtenstein retrospective (I so want to go!).


Things to Do - Contemplate Aging in Its Many Forms

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Do you remember music circa the 1980s, before spotify or youtube or rhapsody? When you'd hear of a band and have to decide, UNHEARD, whether or not to buy their music. I was in high school and somehow I suspected there was more to life than what the radio played us, just as I suspected there was more to life everywhere. But how to find it and dissect it and figure it out? Everything seemed so mysterious.

I wonder if the mystery still exists for teenagers in 2012. But maybe that doesn't matter - now they can graduate high school and move to NYC and have a new roommate and a date on match.com without ever having to stop and think. i don't know if i would have been better or worse off in such a world. i don't think i would have sexed online. but who knows what stupid decisions we all would have made? I'm still glad there are no videos of me figuring me out.

Anyways, i remember the first time i heard the Stone Roses, i checked out their tape from the library, i checked out everything from the library - from Margaret Atwood to Bukowski. i wanted to see what was out there. i read Ham on Rye and Post Office. i listened to Shoot You Down over and over. I brought it to my friends' houses. I said "I've never heard anything like it. I can't get it out of my head." We saw Radiohead in a small venue downtown, my friend lost her shoe in a mosh pit, we never found it. I drank, but not that much. I read more books about other people, other lives. I went to college. I threw up in a bar toilet. More than once. I bartended. I made hundreds of sex on the beaches (does anyone even drink those anymore?). I learned which customers wanted bud and which wanted bud light. When the bar was empty I read Dostoevsky and the Bible. I moved to CO. I went to law school. I moved again. And again.

THEN . . . I married and, luckily, I married well. I moved to the suburbs. I worked, I had a baby, I was tired. I gained weight, I wore sweatpants, I read What to Expect When You're Expecting, I tried to sleep when the baby slept, I managed to sleep when the baby slept, I was happy, my husband was happy, we had another baby 13 months after the first, we loved this baby too, I bought bigger sweatpants. I worked (I can barely remember this part).

I got f**ing old. But still, when I listen to the Stone Roses, I remember that feeling - like the door is going to open. There are worlds and worlds out there and so much to discover.

Is that how teenagers still feel or did facebook take it away? And does it even matter? Maybe they'll feel something less ambiguous. Maybe they'll know who they are. Or, maybe they'll just read more Bukowski. Either way, listening to Stone Roses takes me back. Do you know what I mean?


Things to Make - Leaf Prints with Watercolor


A few weeks ago, I bought the fabulous book - Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media-For Budding Artists of All Ages (Lab Series). Leaf prints with watercolor is included in the book as Activity 28. Since we just bought new watercolor paints and the leaves outside are plentiful - this seemed like the perfect fall craft.

Here's the scoop:

1. The kids painted designs on thick watercolor paper.

2. While their paintings dried, we walked around the neighborhood, collecting LOTS and LOTS of different fall leaves.

3. We then squirted black paint onto a paper plate and rubbed it smooth using a sponge paint roller.

4. We placed the leaves in the paint, trying to make it as even as possible.

5. Finally, we pressed the painted leaves onto our watercolor prints.

This was a messy messy process, but the kids really seemed to enjoy it (though next time, we may move OUTSIDE for this project, as I sort of panicked when the table started turning black). Anyways, a really fun use for all those fall leaves. Though in the future, I'll probably make the paint even thinner on the plates, for better prints.

Happy Tuesday Everyone!



For T, it all turned into finger-painting at the end.


Places to Go - American Trail at the National Zoo (Washington DC)


A few weeks ago, when my mom visited, we took the kids to the NEW American Trail exhibit at the National Zoo. The exhibit begins right at the end of the Elephant Trail walkway (though there are various other points of entry throughout the bottom of the hill), which means that you now have a reason for following the footprints down to the elephant yard, even when no tusks or trunks are there to greet you.

On the American Trail, first along the path come the river otters and beavers (I think beavers are nocturnal, so they're not the best at making themselves known throughout the day), the bald eagle and grey wolves soon follow - the poor bald eagle can't really fly that well, so visiting him seems a little depressing, and grey wolves are also nocturnal, which made wildlife siting somewhat scarce during our first few stops.

Luckily, life became pretty exciting when we came across the incredibly social seals and sea lions. The seals couldn't stop swimming next to the large glass enclosure, which proved better than any movie. Large groups of children squealed in delight each time they circled past. When you couple the seals with the zoo's new small spray park happy children are almost guaranteed. Further, the plants and fauna among the trail are gorgeous, lots of brilliant yellow flowers fill the spaces in between the animal enclosures. And if you look up you may see a gibbon or two, hanging on the fence overhead.

Best of all the exhibit ends at one of my favorite places at the National Zoo - Amazonia - full of big fish, stingrays, and a real imitation rain forest. When we visited a small black monkey jumped on the bannister in front of a crowd of people - most of us all hopped back a few feet, but some of the braver patrons tried to lure him/her closer (it didn't work, he soon returned to the trees).

Anyways, a great way to spend a morning, especially on a crisp fall day.

Happy Monday everyone!!



Things to Do - Grateful List (September 2012)

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F and P's art - (A lion going to school, the tower of happiness, and the people of grump)

*Watching Homeland, Season 1 (the end was cheesy as hell, but the first half of the season was great TV)
*Watching The Queen of Versailles (fascinating portrait of the financial crisis through the lens of the mega-wealthy)
*Listening to the new Stars, Cat Power, and Dylan albums
*Reading Salman Rushdies' article in the New Yorker
*Reading JJ Keith's Huffington Post article on advice to parents
*F's love of Highlights' Secret Adventurer Club
*Listening to Monsters Calling Home (over and over again)
*Reading Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life


*Baking sea salt chocolate chip cookies with T to surprise the girls when they came home from school
*File crockpot gumbo
*Grilled chicken with tomato/onion sauce and mozzarella
*The arugula explosion in our backyard
*Jalapeno baked fish with tomatoes and potatoes (from Mexican Everyday)
*Banana "soft serve" (frozen bananas + a little water + a blender = yum)
*Brioche french toast at William Jeffrey's Tavern.


*A new outdoor sofa set and the box it came in


*T and J running through Huntley Meadows and F's wetlands scavenger hunt
*Ziplining through the trees with P a the Sandy Springs Adventure Park
*The new American Trails exhibit at the National Zoo
*Chessie's Big Backyard playground at Lee District Park (Alexandria, VA)
*Returning after 7 years away to mornings of Bikram Yoga (Arlington) and afternoons at the dogpark (Shirlington)
*The Building Museum's Big Build
*Wednesday afternoon story hour (for grade school kids) at Columbia Pike Library


*A weekend at the beach - Bethany, Delaware.

*F reading Calvin and Hobbes all the time (thank you Paras!)
*T wearing his police costume everywhere
*A good first week of school for all three kids (preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade)
*Walking into a super clean house (thanks to a wonderful cleaning lady)
*Coco - the world's most mellow dog
*P after staying home to "heal" her arm - "Mom, watching TV all day is really boring."
*P and F talking about the first week of school, F hoped there would be more social studies, P hoped there would be more recess
*P's whole class writing her get well cards
*Turning off the air conditioning
*F - "We're both stars of the school right now, everyone wants to sit by me because I have a loose tooth and everyone wants to sit by P because she has a broken arm."
*A "happy call" from F's teacher
*The kids all playing indians at the park with their cousins - collecting sticks for a "fire", pine needles for a bed, and pinecones for "pretend food". F telling T - "no we can't roast marshmallows, they haven't been invented yet."

The Kids' Lists:

F - my family, reading, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, math, school, friends, my new friend A, American Girl dolls, the back to school picnic, drawing, sketching, books, recess, Cybil Lily, our new dog, art, The Usborne Art Treasury, the beach, vacation [yes, she actually said vacation. yay!!]

P - my family, dollies, going to school, that my teacher said i'm doing a good job, meeting new friends, playing on the blacktop, recess, the back to school picnic, going on the obstacle course, eating waffles after the obstacle course, reading about george's adventures in space, cards from all my friends, my new polly pocket from P, my friends signing my cast, my cousins sleeping over, sleeping over at my cousins, the beach

- my family, dollies, school, police, that we go to the picnic, that i made a new friend, that we go to the farmers market with daddy, coco, that my cousins visit, j, q, walking coco, the beach


Things to Read - Chapter Books - George's Secret Key to the Universe

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For the past year or so our bedtime ritual has consisted of reading a few pages from a chapter book to all three kids before turning out the lights (followed by everyone's grateful lists, of course). I wish I could claim that this has been a successful endeavor, but often the kids' minds wander or they lose interest in the plot. We've had a few triumphs (click here for a one), but we've also abandoned several books before the end.

So I was pretty excited about the enthusiasm all THREE kids showed for Stephen & Lucy Hawking's adventure tale - George's Secret Key to the Universe. Each SHORT chapter ends with some sort of cliff-hanger (sort of like the The Da Vinci Code), so EVERY NIGHT the kids would beg for just a few more pages. And often I would say yes, anxious myself to learn what happened next.

The whole plot is a little preposterous, George befriends a scientist neighbor who possesses a secret computer that can whisk people into outer space - fly on a comet, drop into a black hole, etc. Of course, there are bad guys (anxious to steal the computer) and several life-saving escapades result. Scattered throughout the novel are various pictures and information about outer space, so curious kids can really dive in and learn quite a lot. Or they can just relax and enjoy the story. Either way, I highly recommend reading this book out loud with your children. And I'm glad that we finally had a success in the chapter book department (FINALLY!!).


Places to Go - Long Branch Nature Center and Trail in the Early Fall (Arlington, VA)


Lately, we've been spending a lot of time at Long Branch Nature Center (previously posted here) - both inside and outside. A lovely paved walking trail meanders next to a small stream, where T can spend hours (literally hours) throwing rocks into the water. The trail also has a nice side area with stick houses that the kids enjoy playing in. And a larger nature-centered play area is currently under construction, as of last week they have a path made of tree stumps and a small sandbox (bring your own toys).

On good days we bring Coco the dog with us and eventually walk about 0.5 miles (at most) to the Glencarlyn Dog Park, which is also right off the paved path that originates by the nature center.

I love when I can exhaust the kids and the dog in one outing. Plus, once the leaves start dropping, the fall foliage is beautiful at Long Branch.

Where have you been going lately?


*I think this is my new favorite song.

*10 Contemporary Cinematographers You Should Know.

*Wake up early on Saturday morning and watch a meteor shower - this looks awesome.

*I can't wait to read this.

*10 of the weirdest/unsexiest "sexy" halloween costumes you've ever seen.


T and his friend, J, went around and around the tree stump path. Over and over again.


Things to Make - Paper Spiderwebs

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Lots of Halloween decorating going on over here. The kids keep painting and I keep cutting out spiderwebs, the front of our house sort of looks like a goblin's art studio exploded. As it should (I guess).

Anyways, how to make paper spiderwebs:


Step 1: Fold a piece of paper over to make a large triangle. Cut off the excess strip.

Step 2: Fold the triangle in half to make a smaller triangle.


Step 3: This is the tricky part. Fold the sides of the triangle over almost like a blanket, so they look like the picture on the above left.

Step 4: Cut off the bottom of the above shape, so you have a triangle.


Step 5: Draw the above design on one side of the triangle.

Step 6: Cut out the blank space.


Step 7: Unfold.

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Things to Do - Measure Your Life Through Fall Festivals


Last week, after school let out we celebrated F's 7th birthday with our close friends at Burke Nursery's Pumpkin Playground (previously reviewed in this post), which is one of our favorite fall festivals, especially on weeknights when the smaller size and toddler-scaled attractions (drive a motorcycle, ride a horse, etc.) make it less overwhelming then Cox Farms (which is also very fun, though quite large).

There's nothing like a fall festival for you to really realize how much your kids have changed, especially as most of the attractions stay somewhat consistent from year to year. This year T rode the big slide by himself - carrying his own haysack up and down the stairs. And I looked on, barely noticed in the background - free (finally) of a stroller and diaper-bag.

As always, the girls couldn't wait for the haunted hayride, though this year they proclaimed it "not scary enough", whereas two years ago all three children fought for the protection of my lap as we made our way past various ghouls and ghosts. And while all the kids had a blast - fighting imaginary bad guys on the pirate ship, flying a plane, merry go rounding, and digging for change in the money/sand pile - I suddenly realized that our fall festival days are numbered. Eventually they'll grow out of this stage. I'm just not sure I will.

When we were at the Pumpkin Playground, I saw a mom desperately trying to convince her children to take one picture together, next to the toddler-sized carousel. The oldest boy (who looked about 10) kept complaining, stating that he was "way way too old" that he couldn't even fit on one of the horses (which was true). But the mom just kept repeating "please, I just need this you guys, just one more time, take this picture for me." And even though I have a few years left to go, I knew EXACTLY how she felt.


There's real money in "money mountain" - the kids found almost 50 cents combined, practically a fortune.


A few scenes from the haunted hayride. Even if the girls disagreed, I was scared (well, a little).


Things To Do - A Box


I finally bought patio furniture for our porch. It came in a box. A large box.



*To celebrate the Kick Off of Growing Healthy Schools Week, the EatWell DC Restaurant Group is running a fundraiser for DC Greens and the DC Farm to School Network (which is a program of DC Greens) on October 15th.

Through their GiveWell DC initiative, EatWell DC will donate 15% of all purchases made between 4 pm and 10 pm at any of their 5 restaurants: Commissary, Logan Tavern, The Pig, The Heights, and Grillfish.

I'll be at the Heights at 7:30 on Monday to celebrate with some other local bloggers. Stop by and visit with us!!

*I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but these covers are so incredible I really want to read everything listed (despite knowing nothing about their actual content).

*John Cusack surprises Peter Gabriel with a boombox. Perfect.

*Really amazing paper art.

*Thank you Apartment Therapy for including our baked apples on your slow cooker recipe list!

*Go Shannon go!



Places to Go - Family Day Open House for the Artisphere's 2nd Anniversary Weekend


On Sunday, we decided to spend the very rainy afternoon at Arlington Artisphere's free family open house (I love events where the words "free" and "family" coincide). Upon arriving at the festival, we ran out front to watch a juggler on stilts, which immediately piqued the interest of all my children. While the juggler didn't put on a performance per se, the children loved just talking with him. P, in particular, lit up when he said he liked the blue streak in her hair.


Once we entered the building, Jennifer Stephens (aka "the Bubble Faerie") mesmerized us all. Honestly, this may be one of the most impressive, yet random circus-type acts I've ever witnessed. The faerie dips her hands in the bubble solution, blows gently and creates several different floating wonders - sometimes she makes bubbles inside bubbles, other times she goes for size or quantity. It's all sort of amazing. I wonder if she does birthday parties.


Eventually we meandered upstairs to check out the Artisphere's newest installation - Beyond the Parking Lot: The Change and Re-Assessment of Our Modern Landscape. If you haven't visited the Artisphere yet, this exhibit is more than enough reason to hurry up and get there - miniature landscapes, a huge bending painting, a video piece, etc. - both the art and the display rival anything you'd see at a major museum. So wonderful to have such an amazing space in my own neighborhood.


We didn't have as much time to linger in the Parking Lot exhibit as I would have liked because F was so so excited for mural painting (or should I say "MURAL PAINTING!!"?) in the education lab. Upon arrival, each child chose their favorite paint colors from a huge rainbow of offerings and received a giant paint brush to go with his/her palette. The presentation was fabulous - the gift of color itself seemed better than any toy one could offer.

F and P set in right away decorating corners of the mural. Unfortunately, even a corner was hard to come by as the wooden mural was SMALL - cool but way too small for any real collective art to occur. Actually, the whole room was rather small - especially when you add in ACRYLIC PAINT and tons of children. Most parents tried to rally, but eventually the majority of us older folk clung to the walls, scared of the permanence of the rainbow of colors attacking everything around us.


Eventually, we made it to the black box theater to check out Emma Jaster's "Suitcase Story" performance piece. Again, the space was small for the crowd - additional chairs needed to be obtained, whereas those of us sitting on the floor were asked to squish closer and closer together. Regarding the "play" itself, at moments Jaster soared - connecting with the audience through gesture and mime, P especially loved when the paper feet became a fluttering butterfly. And F couldn't stop smiling when the paper heart bridges into the audience and Jaster had us all chorus into the sounds of a choo choo train. But all in all, the piece was a little too long and ambiguous for such a young audience - 45 minutes sitting on the floor with a toddler in your lap makes for some long viewing. Two, approximately, 10 year old girls sitting in front of us probably summed it up best - the girl asked her friend "do you like this?" and her friend replied "I don't know." "Well, then do you want to leave?" "I don't know that either."

After the Suitcase Story ended, my mom and the kids watched David London's Wandering Wonders Act as I headed upstairs to pick up the children's artwork. By this time the crowd had picked up somewhat and the art room had become claustrophobic (plus, it saddened me somewhat to see that F's hard work on the mural had already been covered up by a new group of children's paintings, as there was not enough room for everybody's contribution to remain).

Unfortunately, we never had a chance to visit the dome theatre where WSC Avent Bard was conducting free theatrical workshops. Hopefully next year.

All in all, we had a good time at this free event, but it would have been nice if the kids themselves had more room and space to create. Tables, chairs, and couches fill the lobby - had these these tables been full of art supplies, I think the staff itself would have been impressed with what our kids could come up with - maybe an entire wall of children's thoughts, ideas and inspirations. Now that would really be something.


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