Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

So this week is officially the half-way mark in our summer.  In five weeks, the kids are back in some sort of school ~ all of them.  

Here is what we have done so far.  I don't think the second half will be as exciting, so this may well be the list for the whole summer: 

  1. We visited my mother-in-law for the first time in three years.

  2. We all rode on a ferry with grandma.

  3. We went to the Boeing Museum of Flight on the free night only to find out it was closed for a private party. To save the night, we headed north to the University of Washington to the Museum of Natural History. The boys are finally old enough to enjoy museums!!!!

  4. The Good Guy and I survived two two-day trips in the car with all five of our children

  5. The Musician is enjoying a 6 week stint at a nearby university for a high school summer school program.

  6. The Thinker went for a week long camp at the Grand Canyon.

  7. The Engineer and the Comedian went on their first overnight camp outs without their folks.

  8. Princess Pat and I saw Toy Story 3. She cried the entire way home. Teddy bears and baby dolls should not be villains!!  

  9. The Engineer, the Comedian and I went to see the Karate Kid. It was so much better than the original.

  10. We have gone to the neighborhood pool once as a family, though the younger three boys have gone quite a few other times.

  11. We signed up for Netflix and canceled cable. I love it. The kids hate it. Oh well.

  12. The Engineer's front right tooth got hit in just the right way so it died! We are awaiting insurance approval for a root canal and filling. Poor kid!

  13. We ended physical therapy for the Comedian. Get this. So we have him on growth hormone, right? His thigh bones grew so fast that his muscles couldn't keep up. His hamstrings were so tight that he couldn't extend his legs all the way, so he was squatting enough as he ran/played/whatever that he strained his ACL. Yup. Life is just one thing after another around here!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lemon Blueberry Pie

About ten days ago, I got a graham cracker crust out of the pantry, intending to make some kind of summery no-bake pie.  That darned pie crust just sat there and the longer I didn't make a pie, the more it mocked me.  I would clear off the counter and there it would be, "Hi Kristen, remember me?  You were going to make a pie for your family.  You haven't made anything all week.  Don't you feel horrible?!"  You have never felt guilt until a store bought pie crust has mocked you.

I finally decided enough was enough.  I opened the freezer and there was some lemonade.  I haven't ever made a lemonade pie, but I know you can.  I looked up a couple of recipes, but they all took cool whip and I only had whipping cream.   Because of my secret fear that my whipped cream will become butter, I never seem to whip it quite enough, so I knew any pie with a cool whip base wouldn't work with my sadly droopy whipped cream. (What I really need is one of those cream whipper gun type things with the cartridges!)

So, after finding a recipe that took lemon juice, not lemonade and heavy cream, not cool whip, I tweaked it and got this pie.  It practically throws itself together in about 15 minutes, but plan ahead; it needs to be refrigerated for a few hours before serving. 


Lemon Blueberry Pie:(adapted from a Taste of Home recipe)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 9 inch graham cracker crust
1 can blueberry pie filling
In a bowl, combine the condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla.  Stir for a few minutes until well combined.  In a separate bowl, beat the cream until thick.  Fold into the lemon juice mixture and pour into the pie crust.  Refrigerate for about 10 minutes and then spoon the pie filling on top.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or more and then serve.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Homemade Cream Soups: Make Your Own Monday #25

It is my belief that all convenience foods are based on something that used to be homemade.  Frozen waffles, boxed cookies, fully-cooked entrees; once upon a time, a home cook made them from scratch.  Cream soups have been in the grocery stores since 1934 when the Campbell's company introduced Cream of Mushroom soup to the masses.  What on earth did Suzie Homemaker do before that fateful year?  I'll tell you.  She made a bechamel sauce like this one.

Realistically, we don't always have time to whip up a sauce from scratch, but if we still want to use something we have made, there are some solutions.

1. Make a pantry mix ahead of time.  This can be stored in an airtight container for a few months.  Here is a recipe from the cookbook, Marlene's Magic with Food Storage by Marlene Peterson:
Cream Soup Mix:
2 cups nonfat powdered milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 Tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp pepper
Combine all ingredients.  To make: use 1/3 cup mix and 1 1/4 cups water in a blender.  Mix until smooth, then transfer to a saucepan and heat, stirring constantly until thickened.  Add sauteed mushrooms, cooked chicken or sauteed celery to get the desired flavor.

2. Bottle your own soup.  I did a post last year on Home Canned Cream of Mushroom soup. I have since used all of the pints I bottled and am looking for a good deal on mushrooms so I can make another batch.
To make cream of chicken or celery soup, use chicken stock instead of beef, add chicken or celery for the mushrooms.

3. You can make a bunch of  White Sauce Butter Balls and freeze them.  Then, when you need some cream of _____ soup, you can make some up quickly.

 Simply combine 2 cups of flour, 2 cups butter, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp basil.  When the mixture is completely combined, use a small ice cream scoop to scoop out tablespoon sized heaps onto a cookie sheet.  Freeze until solid and then put into a sealing plastic bag or other container.

To use, heat up about 2-4 balls (depending on how thick you want it) with 1 1/3 cups milk (or 2/3 cup milk and 2/3 cup broth), cooked mushrooms, chicken or cooked celery.  Cook and stir until thick and bubbly.

There.  If you want cream of broccoli or cream of asparagus or whatever other cream of's there are available,   use your imagination and substitute.

I am not going to tell you that I don't have a case of cream soups in my pantry.  They are just too convenient not to use.  I am just giving you some homemade alternatives that I have used and think are pretty nifty.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday Stories: My Great Great Grandmother

Grandma Sophie (pronounced So-fye in our family) was born in the 1860s in upstate New York.  She came from a long Dutch line, originating in New Holland with the original settlers in th 1600s.  She had five brothers and sisters.

She married my great-great grandfather when she was 19.  The next year, she had the first of her four children.  My great grandfather was her second child.  Her husband was a horse trader.  He was an expert in recognizing good horse flesh.  People would call  him in  as a consultant in their equine deals.  He was also an alcoholic.  Just about all the money he made went to alcohol.  He would often go out onto the nearby Iroquois Indian Reservation to drink with them.  One day, she came home from buying groceries to feed the boarders she took in to find that the kitchen stove was gone.  Her husband had sold it to buy booze.  She didn't miss a beat, and continued on.  Somehow she got another stove (or maybe even the one that had been hers) and kept her family fed.

Sophie was always doing something for others.  Perhaps that is how she dealt with the disappointment of her harried life.  She crocheted beautiful doilies.  She also quilted.  Weddings, births of children, even special birthdays merited a quilt from Grandma.  My mom was given a quilt top with a blue pinwheel pattern when she was born.  Mamie didn't do anything with it, but saved it for Mom.  Mom made it into cushions for an antique rocker and a large table cloth.  (Now, she regrets cutting it up, but hindsight doesn't count for much.)

She was a great cook.  Bumpa used to remark about how clean Sophie's kitchen always was.  As she cooked, she cleaned up after herself so that there was never a pile left when she was done making the food.  Her daughter, Vina, was the same way.  Mom remembers her being a very gentle, tidy woman.

For her 90th birthday, the family had a big reunion for Sophie's party at a park so there would be enough room to hold all of them.  It was a day of fun with sack races and other games for the children, lots of food and gentle laughter amongst the adults.  When asked what she wanted for her 90th birthday, she asked to go sliding down hill in the winter (her birthday was in the summertime, so the family took her later that winter).  She was still full of vim and vigor even at that age.  She lived to be 93.

I think it is so wonderful that there is still someone who remembers this remarkable woman.  Now that I have gotten these memories recorded, those of us who were born decades after she died can still learn from her example.  She had it tough, but she was tougher.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grilled Steak Kabobs

Recently, I went to dinner at some friends house and the man of the house grilled a marinated tri-tip roast.  It was about the best thing I have had in ages.  Since then, I have been looking at marinades, trying to see what I could come up with to simulate that other one.  Instead of experimenting on full sized roasts, however, I have used much smaller pieces of meat.

The original recipe came from  I substituted.  I tweaked.  You're used to it, right?

Grilled Steak Kabobs:
3 steaks ( I used petite sirloin...because that's what I had)
2 peppers, any color
1 onion
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup coconut oil (use whatever you want here)
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp chervil (it's a parsley cousin, use parsley if that's what you have)
1 tsp white pepper (it's milder than black; use 1/2 if you use black)
Cut the meat into chunks.  Combine marinade ingredients pour over meat in a glass container.  Let marinate in the fridge for a few hours (although, if you use mostly frozen meat, like I did, you can afford to let it marinate on the counter for the last 45 minutes). While the meat is marinating, soak your wooden skewers in water. Cut the peppers into 16 square, each.  Cut the onion into 8 wedges (halve it, quarter it, eighth it).    Arrange the peppers, onion and meat on the skewers in any artistic manner you choose.  Alternate colors or veggies or whatever.

Carry them out to your preheated grill (I use a gas one, so I have absolutely no instructions for a charcoal one)  Cook on low for about 15 minutes for medium and 20 minutes for well done meat.  Test by pressing down on the meat....if the juice is clear, it's well done....usually.  I imagine a grill pro could give you better instructions.  I grill, like I cook.  I often wing it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Potatoes, Brats & Green Beans

I had some leftover brats.  Not enough to feed the entire gang, but enough to fill us if I sliced them up.  I also had something new to try out; some Tropical Traditions coconut oil.  I will be fiddling with it a lot this week and then next week, I will be hosting a giveaway, so you can try out this yummy stuff, too.

Anyway, this skillet meal is a fabulous way to use up those few extra brats that may be left after a barbecue.

Brat Potato Skillet:
(adjust your quantity to suit your family size; this served 8)
5 cooked brats, sliced thickly (about 5 slices per brat)
10 redskin potatoes
2 cans green beans, drained well
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 onion, diced
2 Tbsp oil (I used coconut, but you could use any)
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt & pepper
Quarter the red potatoes and boil until just done.  Drain completely.  Saute the onion in the oil.  Add the rosemary to the onion before it's completely cooked to release the flavors of the herb.  Toss in the green beans and bacon, warming through.  Add the potatoes and toss again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homemade Egg McMuffins: Make Your Own Monday #24

These are one of my family's favorite breakfasts; whether they are homemade or bought on a car trip.  The nice things about making them homemade is that you can make up a bunch of them and then freeze them.  Frozen eggs aren't the best all by themselves, but with the bread, cheese and meat, they are just fine.

To keep the eggs the same size as the English muffins, either use a small can with both ends removed or a pancake form.  You can see I used both.

For a really quick meal, use precooked sausage patties available in the frozen section of Walmart or Sam's Club.  Canadian bacon is also precooked, so it goes together quickly if  you opt for that kind of meat.    I also use a big griddle to cook 10 at a time.  You could always use a frying pan or an electric frying pan.

Homemade Egg McMuffins:
1 package English Muffins (6-10 usually)
As many of the following as you have muffins:
Cheese sliced (we like cheddar, but you could use any flavor)
Breakfast Meat (Canadian bacon, sausage, ham or bacon)
Heat or cook the meat. Remove to a plate where the meat can drain if necessary.  Beat each egg and pour it into a form to cook.  Meanwhile, lightly toast the English muffins.  As soon as the eggs are cooked, build the McMuffins by layering the egg, then the cheese, then the meat.

If you are going to freeze them, wrap them individually in waxed paper, foil or plastic wrap.  Put them into a bigger ziplock bag or storage container and freeze. To eat, you can defrost them overnight in the fridge or microwave them from the frozen state.  If they are defrosted, you can put them in the oven to heat up: 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Watch them so they don't burn!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Stories: Our Very Own Dennis the Menace

In honor's of Father's Day, I thought I would tell you a few tales of my father's youth.  He grew up in a small farm town in upstate New York.  He was the youngest child and only boy in his family.  He was also full of fun; a prankster of the first water.

Dad's best friend was named Jerry.  Together, they created all sorts of mayhem in their neighborhood.  Often it was Dad who thought of the pranks, but it was usually Jerry whom the neighbors blamed.  Sometimes, Dad went solo and found himself getting into trouble all by himself.

The road seemed to hold a particular fascination for the little boys.  They figured out that they could attach an apple to a short string at the end of a pole and then hurl it almost one hundred yards.  That gave them plenty of distance to hide from their intended victims.  Sometimes they would hurl them at passing trucks.  When no traffic appeared, they used the neighbors' roofs as targets.   On other occasions, they would tie strings to noise poppers and fix them between trees across the road at tire level.  When the vehicles hit the string just right, it would sound like a tire blowout.  Another of the boys' favorite ways to torment drivers was to attach a rag mop to fishing line, place it in the middle of the road and then pull it off the road after a car hit it.  Accompanying that, one of the boys would yelp like a wounded dog.  The cars inevitably stopped and the driver would get out to investigate.  While the boys held in their giggles, the victim would walk around looking for the poor animal. 

When Dad was about nine or ten, he got a chemistry set for Christmas.  Being the clever boy that he was, he didn't limit his experiments to the innocuous suggestions in the accompanying pamphlet.  He soon was combining sulfur with wax and then putting it in the fire burning furnace in the cellar.  The entire house would then smell like a stink bomb.   A few years later, Dad and Jerry created small pipe bombs and throw them in the neighbor's burn barrels when no one was around.  Garbage and ashes would go all over the place.  

In an effort to get Granny, Dad's mom, to quit smoking, Dad purchased a few additives for her cigarettes.  When her cigarette started going off like a mini firecracker, she knew it was Dad and he got a spanking.  He changed his tactics and used a different product next time.  This one made the cigarette taste bad.  Granny took the cigarette out of her mouth and looked it over and said it tasted like dog poop. (She would have been a bit more descriptive in her wordage, though).  He was able to use those "additives" a few more times without being caught.

One summer, there was an outbreak of rabies in the local wildlife population.  All of the kids had been sufficiently warned by their parents to create a healthy spirit of fear.  One evening, Dad went over to get his friend Jerry to play.  He hid just out of view from the door after he knocked.  When Jerry came out, Dad growled like a rabid dog.  Jerry yelped and ran back inside while Dad doubled over laughing. 

Dad didn't limit his pranks to the outside.  One day in the school cafeteria, he and a few friends discovered that if they dipped peas in gravy, they could shoot them through straws and cause them to stick to the ceiling like little stalactites.  They covered the entire ceiling during lunch and then went out to play.  The principal came out to talk to the boys and asked who had decorated the cafeteria ceiling.  Dad, always honest, confessed that he and his friends had done it.  As punishment, they had to go inside and stand on tall ladders and clean it up while the next group of students ate lunch....the high schoolers.  The older kids laughed at the naughty little boys who had gotten caught.  It was humiliating enough to put a damper on anymore vandalism on school property.

Although Dad was full of mischief, he was never mean spirited.  He owned up to his mistakes and took his punishment with a good attitude.  He never blamed anyone else or made excuses.  Of course, he didn't get caught most of the time and the few times he did, weren't enough to completely tame his rascally ways.  To this day, he still enjoys pulling a good prank.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Grilled Salmon

Grilled salmon is one of the things I have to eat when I visit the Northwest.  Like rain, it just has to happen.  My in-laws introduced me to this delight just a few weeks after I married The Good Guy.  We spent our first summer living with them while he interned at Microsoft.  My father-in-law was the barbecue king.  

While we were visiting the family last week, my sister-in-law brought home a fresh from the boat salmon.  It was so fresh that there was no fishy smell.  It was wonderful!  And if you can lay your hands on some fresh fish, it's a really easy thing to make.

Grilled Salmon:
1 whole salmon (preferably deboned and cut into two halves for faster cooking)
1 fresh lemon, sliced (discard the ends)
1 package fresh dill
1/2 onion, sliced and separated into rings
Lay the fish on foil wide enough to seal.  Put the slices of lemon, onion rings and dill springs over the salmon and sprinkle liberally with pepper (see photo above).    Top with other half of fish.  Seal completely with foil.  Lay on a preheated barbecue (I use a gas grill: heat on high, cook on low) and cook for about an hour.  Check for done-ness by opening the foil and flaking with a fork.  Do this test where the fish is at its thickest; that is the place that will be done last.

It isn't really pretty, but it sure is tasty!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Peach Cake

This is a plain, old-fashioned cake.  It is best served with ice cream or whipped cream.  The recipe makes a 9X13 cake, but I made up 2 8X8s and froze one for future use.   I have been doing that  a lot lately; I hate to heat up the house in the summer.  By making two desserts during the spring and freezing one, I can have extra time to play with the kids, too.

Peach Cake: (loosely taken from a Paula Deen Apple Cake)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups oil
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups flour
1 quart peaches, drained well and chopped
Combine sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla.  Combine dry ingredients and add.  Fold in the nuts and peaches.  Pour into a greased 9 X 13 pan or 2 8X8 pans. For the big pan, bake 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees.  For the small pans, bake 45 minutes at 350.  Test with a toothpick for done-ness.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homemade Root Beer: Make Your Own Monday #23

Many years ago, one of my sons was given a root beer making kit along with a bubble gum making kit and a lollipop kit.  We had great success with the gum and candy, but the root beer, which was made with a yeast base was a complete flop.  All of the boys still talk about the horrible yeast pop.  Boy, was it baaaaaaad.

Enter our dear family friend, Ms. Genki (she is using a Japanese pseudonym here on my blog for purposes of anonymity).  She introduced us to another, more successful, more tasty version of homemade root beer using dry ice.  It restored my sons' faith in homemade beverages and finally washed away the nasty yeast taste that had lingered for 5 years.

While I was in the Seattle area, I asked Ms. Genki if she would allow me to add her recipe to my Make Your Own series.  She graciously said yes.  So, here is her recipe, which originally came from her sister, being made by the Comedian:

Homemade Root Beer:
5 gallons water
1 2 ounce bottle root beer extract
5 pound sugar
1 pound dry ice

Pour 5 gallons of cold water into a large 5 gallon beverage container or bucket.
Add the bottle of extract and stir.
Stir in the sugar until dissolved.  If you don't have a really long spoon, you may have to immerse your hand a bit....make sure it's clean. :-)
Add the dry ice, a small chunk at a time.  If you add it all at once, it will bubble over and make a huge mess.  It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to add it all.  

Leave it to bubble and steam.  When the action stops, the soda is ready.  Put the lid on the beverage cooler and serve.  It will stay fizzy for only a few hours, so don't make this too far in advance of serving.  Remember it makes 5 gallons, so make it for big crowds, or plan on adjusting the amounts.
Make It From Scratch

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday Stories: Mom Goes to College

My mom was the only surviving child of four.  Not surprisingly, she was very sheltered and protected.  Her naturally shy nature was compounded by not being allowed to do much and also by living on a busy highway with relatively few neighbors.  On top of that, my grandfather was very opinionated; and loudly so.  He wrote letters to the editors, he went to town meetings and he let the school board know of his notions.
Because of some of Bumpa's "campaigns,"  mom was literally not allowed to be part of the student council or to become a cheerleader.  

Mom was very smart, however.  In the state of New York, there was (and probably still is) a very good educational system.  Mom did well enough on the regent tests to get a full scholarship to a prestigious private university.  Off she went; a small town girl to mingle with rich girls who had attended prep schools, who had summer "cottages" in the Hamptons, who lived in the big cities.  And she succeeded!  

Mom forced herself out of her shell.  She talked to her professors, she joined clubs, she made friends.  She even became the president of her sorority.  Her roommate and she called each other "Rooms."  When I was little, I didn't even know that gal had a different name.  Together, Rooms and my mom had a ball.  

Their RA was another fun loving friend.  For a month or so, my mom and her roomie collected newspapers from any source they could find.  They stored them under their beds.  When they considered that they had enough, they waited until their RA was out for an afternoon, sneaked into her room and filled it to the ceiling with wadded up newspaper.  When she returned back to the dorm and opened her door, the newspaper completely filled the small room.  

Another girl on their floor was a notorious borrower.  She would waltz into anyone's room, go over to their dressing tables and use their hairspray, makeup or perfume.  It bothered everyone, but it was Rooms and mom that put an end to it.  They simply took a spray can of starch and changed the label to hairspray.  The girl came into their room and sprayed her head with spray starch.  She got the message.

The two girls stayed friends all through their four years of college and for many years afterward.  They would reminisce about their antics and giggle like college girls all over again.  

Mom's college experiences prepared her to be an Air Force wife.  She learned about hosting events, about leading a group, about standing on her own and getting over her inherent shyness.  She loved her college years.  

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday Stories: The Old Stompin' Grounds

After living our first year of being married at college, we spent the next seventeen years in the Puget Sound area; one year in an apartment, six years in our first house and ten years in our second.  Those years brought four baby boys into our family, saw six employment changes, a completed masters degree for my husband, the arrival and departure of a dog, three cats and a myriad of goldfish and hermit crabs, multiple home improvement projects, two years of homeschooling and a lot of lessons learned.  We have had the opportunity this past week to revisit some of our old residences, see old friends and reminisce about experiences we had in the Northwest.

Our apartment was on the first floor of a cheap complex in a so-so neighborhood.  The kitchen was a tiny galley with a small pantry at one end and a little dining area at the other. The total living space was probably 700 square feet.  It seemed fine for what we needed, but the neighbors were loud, there was no place for plants and our furniture started to mildew because of the dampness of being on the concrete of the first floor.  It really wasn't a place to stay for any length of time.

We hunted for our first house for months.  We went north, we went west, we went south looking for something we could afford on the Good Guy's small salary.  In the early 1990s, the housing prices were just starting to rise steadily.  We ended up with an 1800 square foot split level house, a big yard and an hour commute for the Good Guy.    

Looking back, there was a lot I could have done to beautify our first house.  But those were in the days before HGTV had every homemaker in America painting walls and redoing bathrooms.  We kept our home improvements to painting the outside (a 2 year project), landscaping, and painting the nursery that stood empty for almost five years.  With time on my hands, I started a piano studio, learned to garden, can/freeze/dehydrate food, read books like crazy, and learned to shop for bargains.  After moving away from that house, we would manage to drive by to check on the house once a year or so.  Every time, we'd comment on the new things the owners had done.  The fence changed, some plants were replaced, but we could still tell our oldest son about the day we brought him home to that house.

Our second house was on the East Side.  That is an area east of Lake Washington that comprises four or five suburbs of Seattle.  Our house was tract housing straight out of the 1960s.  It had a complete house upstairs and a complete house in a daylight basement which we rented out for three and a half years.  After we had adopted our other three boys, we took over the entire home and started remodeling it.  Oh the lessons we learned in that five year total house redo!  We lived with walls torn down, pipes exposed and workers going in and out of our house for what seemed like forever.  We ripped up the entire yard, front and back and brought in cement trucks.  30 yards of cement later, 12 pallets of landscaping bricks later, 40 sheets of drywall later, 50 gallons of paint later, 500 square feet of tile later, a mile of electrical wire later, 15 new windows, 10 new doors later, new carpet, new appliances, new garage door, new copper pipes later, new landscaping later and many trips to the dump, we were done.  

We drove by that house a few days ago.  

I was disappointed.  

It hasn't been kept up very well.  There was a lot of stuff cluttering up the front.  All of the flowers were gone. The fruit trees were still there and were loaded with fruit, but they looked over-grown.  

But the memories are still there.  The Easter egg hunts in the yard, the Christmas mornings and birthdays celebrated, the nature walks down to the lake, the rare snowy days making two foot tall snowmen, the nights of walking crying babies, the lost teeth, the first days of school; no matter who owns the house now and what shape it is in, the experiences live on.
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