Thankful thoughts

Addie and I were snuggling under the covers at bedtime last night singing songs about her favorite show, movie and book characters. It went something like this:

“Mickeeeeeeeey, Mickeeeeeeeey, Mickeeeeeeey…”
“Peter Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit…”
Then, a nod to Puss ‘n’ Boots, the feisty feline from the Shrek movies, almost caused me to fall out of the tiny little twin bed.
“Boooooooze…. ohhhh Booooooze… is a cat.”

And as I’m wiping away tears of laughter and snorting like a lady, she holds my face in her hands and looks at me very, very seriously.

“I eat you up, you love me so.”

And then Scott and I switch rooms and I go to lay down next to the Z-Man, prepping myself for the ritual routine of “Stay in bed. Stay in your room. Please don’t open your door.”
But he’s already dozing!
His eyes are so heavy and he’s barely even sucking on the thumb in his mouth.
He opens one eye, mouthes “Momma,” and he’s out with a smile. I pet his hair a few times and listen as his breathing goes to that sleeping place.

The ‘babies,’ though I still call them that, rarely let me have the baby moments now. They’re stubborn and strong-willed and independent in so many ways and I love that. But I miss the quiet moments, the singing, the giggles at bedtime. I miss being the last thing they see before a good nights’ rest.

In this time of gratitude, I am so thankful for them.
And the huge spectrum of moments they bring to my world. The good, the frustrating, the emotional, the pulling-my-hair-out ones. I wouldn’t trade a single one in, for they are part of the bigger picture of being blessed to just be their Momma.

To wake up and fight off sleep and reach clumsily for coffee while simultaneously urging a four-year-old that he can not wear only a diaper and boots to school while his little sister puts her Cheerios in a sand bucket and shouts to no one in particular something about a dragon stealing her amulet.

I’m grateful for Scott and his hard work, for allowing me to stay at home and fulfill some dreams for a while. Dreams of photography and these moments with the “babies.” I’m grateful for so many loved ones who reach out when I need a “right smack bottom” (It’s a Shrek thing) or need to vent to someone; to the family and friends who love me more than I think I deserve sometimes; and the ones traveling to be with us for a belated Thanksgiving celebration this week.

But of all the things in my life, I’m so very thankful to me — to the woman who, in rare beautiful moments, forgets fears and ignores the mess on the dining room floor and remembers to live THIS moment, be the Momma they need and I want to be and still not lose sight of the things that make me me.

Those moments — singing and giggling and whispering secrets to a sleeping blonde boy — I swear it’s for those moments that I am alive. I swear it’s those moments I feel most alive.

Be thankful. For the moments you have. Stop and smell the coffee, or at least see if you can get to the Keurig machine with a smile on your face. Start there, pause, look around, and voila. Your thankfulness lies in front of you.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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Under all that blue fur

My Momma Heart melted a bit again today.

It does this now and then — just lets loose and opens up and all the worrying and holding my breath and doubting myself laughs as the giggles and happy tears and smiley-round-the-mouth wrinkles spew from my heart.

Zack had his Halloween parade this morning at school.
I was hardly expecting it to be a crucial moment in his childhood. In fact, I was just counting it as a plus that the Cookie Monster hat was on his head for a solid ten minutes before school. Progress for a family that learns that sensory issues creep up out of nowhere, especially around a holiday geared towards itchy outfits and overwhelming sounds and feelings. He hopped on the bus and was holding hands with a SpiderMan when I waved good-bye.

So I chugged some coffee while picking up tufts of blue fur on the kitchen floor, scooped up Addie (who the night before had thrown her Elmo head into the garbage, causing Momma to search for an hour last night and some this morning before she just told me where it was. It’s been cleaned and is drying on a ceiling fan.) and off went our family of three (bonus Happy Momma points for Scott getting out of work super early today!) to Zack’s school just a few miles away.

There were dozens of parents and grandparents and siblings spaced along a downhill driveway’s fence on the property, phones out, cameras out, leaning further and further onto the concrete as 10 a.m. neared and most definitely ignoring at least half of what one administrator was saying before the parade.

And then, a commotion that can only come from 30 pre-school-age kiddos in costume attempting a single-file line outside of their building and routine.

Zack was one of the first ones, standing next to another Cookie Monster (doh!) and holding the hands of one of the school’s aides.

The hat was on… SUCCESS!, I thought.

And almost predictable, our quiet, observing boy came closer. One hand was fidgeting with the strap on the hat under his chin. And then, a wipe of the nose (classy, boy!) and you could almost see him pull his shoulders up with a mental pep talk as he trudged along, looking at the crazy cheering adults along his path.

And then he spotted us.
Oh, the smile he had. It was like everything changed. The hand at his face went down. The smile stayed. He was about five feet past us when he turned around, nearly dragging his aide down, and said “Hi, DaDa!” and waved.

The families were gathered by corresponding class outside at the playground (quite the feat when you have a two-year-old sibling antsy to try out the slide) while the students were nestled inside with a Dora episode and a special treat.

When we got inside, Zack was near the front, sitting on a little stool with an aide rubbing his back and helping him with his drink. The hat was off, I noticed, but more than that, I was able to just observe.

He was a bit antsy but stayed in his seat the entire time as the teachers and aides took turns helping him out and talking to him here and there.
He was a good boy, I saw. Happy Momma.
He needed a lot of one-on-one help. Sad Momma.
He’s happy. Happy Momma.
They love him, you can see it. Happy Momma.

We watched for a while and then had the chance to meet two of the aides, who just raved about The Dude (I bet you tell that to all the Halloween Parade parents, I thought) and then, a great conversation with his teacher, Ms. Joanie.

Joanie told us things like “great speech” and “so smart” and “I can tell you have worked so hard” and I had to look away because these tears just welled up inside of my throat and I had to concentrate on the paper cup in my hand and Zack’s soft Cookie Monster fur to keep from falling apart in her arms with “Thank yous” and “you don’t know what this means to us.”

Under all that blue fur is one-third of my family. One-half of my children. 50 percent of the best thing I’ve ever created. Under all that blue fur are so many of my worries and so very many of my smiles. The calm, sweet, huggy boy that makes everyone in a room chin up and cheer up with a single unsolicited smooch.

I stressed the most during our move about finding the right school for Zack. And I have no doubt, after just an hour stolen from their days and days of hard work, that we found the perfect place. He has grown in so many ways just in the seven or so weeks of bus rides and letter show-and-tells and notes on yellow-lined paper back and forth.

If it’s just for that hour or for the rest of today or this week or every time I think about my little Cookie Monster or for the rest of our school year or the rest of our lives, they have given us hope and knowledge and tools and love.

I speak often about “Welcome to Holland” as the greatest analogy for having a child with Down Syndrome. And every now and then, I am so grateful that all the tulips and windmills and Rembrandts came our way. Because under all that blue fur today, is my son, struggling with all of the very real issues any mom of any four-year-old deals with — tantrums and nap times and diapers and not sharing with his sister. And under all that blue fur are the many lessons he has brought to me and the many ways he has made me a better person.

Under all that blue fur today is an incredible love that I wish everyone could experience and understand. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever known.

Tomorrow is the last day of Down Syndrome Awareness Month. But knowledge must always continue. Questions can be sent directly to me or you can visit the pros at http://www.ndss.org, one of the best sources of information out there.

Consider a donation to help The National Down Syndrome Society continue their incredible work for research and advocacy or stop by their website every now and then just to learn a little more.

And I feel the need to say a might thank-you to the many people who love our Zack and our Addie and bring us warmth and support and kindness.

I am so grateful for our little world, currently lined with blue and red tufts of fur. And a heck of a lot of love.

Snippets — On “new”

There’s a lot of “new” among us nowadays.
We spent a lot of time in our “old” planning for this New but really, we had no idea and yes, yes it was worth every minute of excruciating, stressful waiting.

Here’s a peek.

On Our Home
I love this place.
I could end the blurb right there, but let me tell you — I love it so much and for a thousand reasons.
This place is our home already, not just a house. I have such a large kitchen that I am constantly feeling like I get a workout walking from the stove to the sink and back to the stove. It’s just a terrible problem to have, geesh. But seriously, it’s exciting to cook dinners here and bake desserts. It’s the location of our back door, so the hubby walks through it every night just as the kids are getting on my last tiny, itty-bitty nerve and only milliseconds after I have somehow managed to put the house back together again after we’ve spent all day tearing it apart together.

I have my own (giant) laundry room with two brand-new appliances that sing songs when they’re done with a cycle and calculate via a little Robot Dance how dirty those clothes really are — it’s the little things, I tell you.

When I was in the house those first few days cleaning and prepping for boxes and furniture, I CONSTANTLY got lost upstairs. No, seriously. I would walk out of Addie’s room and turn left when I should turn right. And at least twice I nearly toppled down the stairs after a wrong turn.

So what that both bathrooms are set up in such a way that you have to sit sideways on the toilet when you pee so your knees don’t hit radiators — we have two full bathrooms!

I have an office to work out of, even if it’s become the last room to unpack. I may or may not be typing this with my feet propped up on a box of Mary Kay products.

Since Zack has begun school, Addie and I have started a routine of waiting for his bus on our enclosed front porch. I sip my coffee or guzzle some water, she reads her Elmo book in her Dora chair and a light breeze comes through the windows as I gaze about our street, taking in the neighbors and cars and houses and all that.

I even like our tiny yard and am grateful for the tiny amount of time it takes to mow now — and am so, so grateful there are no hills or steep slopes. I am planning next year’s herb garden and am on the hunt for some Autumn mums for our front.

There are New House cards on the counter, a new welcome mat with our last name leading out to the front porch and new coffee K-cups in the cupboard. Thanks, y’all.

Pat the Neighbor

On the night of our official move in to the house, we thought our cat Rocky got out of the house somehow. I was so upset and was trying so hard to not let it put a damper on such a special day. Scott and dog Izzie and I finally took off on a dusk walk around the neighborhood. About three houses up the one street, and a pleasant middle-aged, hard-working-and-you-can-tell-by-looking-at-him man named Pat introduced himself to us, helped look for the cat (which turned up inside the house, hmrph!) and spent several minutes talking to Scott about the neighborhood and neighbors and his time (35-plus years) here.
A night or two later while returning from the nearby park with the kids and there was Pat, waving to us and saying hello to us by name.
I was struggling with an old-school push mower my Dad gave us the other afternoon and Pat came out in his Steelers jersey, shook his head and wheeled his personal mower down to me.
“This will be easier,” he said. “Game’s on; I gotta go.”

For being only a few miles down the highway from Wilkes-Barre, a relatively large city in Northeastern PA, we feel like we are in quiet suburbia. Dogs are walked and kids go to the park and bicycles whizz past the house and the mailman walks down the street and makes sure your front door is latched every time she drops off a package. It’s relatively quiet and our location is incredibly convenient. We’ve discovered a handful of parks and attractions and events and are so excited to continue our exploration of the area.

Zack’s (second) First Day and Addie’s Still Crazy
Z-Man started at his new school this week and of course, did not disappoint with his adaptability and strength. He gets picked up in front of the house in a van with anywhere from four to eight other kids already on board and gets whisked away to his school, only a five-minute drive from our house. His school is a reverse inclusion classroom-type program (half special needs children and half “typical” children) and is the perfect blend of the two programs he was in last year. There are therapists on site, a new sensory program, focus on his IEP and a foundation based off of Montessori teachings.
On his second day, he grabbed his backpack on the front porch and said, “Momma, school bus!” and we marched to the white vehicle. I opened the door and he hugged my legs for just a few seconds, looked up at me with a smile and hopped inside with his friends. When he came home, I asked how school was and he kept saying the words “happy” and “friends.”

His time at school gives me and Addie some “Girl Time” and I am enjoying that, too. She’s talking so much and coming up with the most hysterical comebacks and responses. She just keeps me laughing so much of the time. And shaking my head.

We can’t keep her hair looking good for the life of us. She’s always rolling and running and braids fall out and ponytails sink down and bangs are constantly in her face. She makes a face when I put her in a dress and yet sprints to the nearest person and says, “Look, ___, Addie so pretty!”

She requests “Elmo” (Sesame Street) almost daily now, and happy to relive my childhood, happily DVR episodes for her. Every time, she points at the TV during the credits and yells “Where Elmo go?” even though she knows very well he rides in on his tricycle about ten seconds later.

She has become our pickier eater, or perhaps Zack has just started eating so much more now, but either way, dinner is always an adventure.

Him
I’m more in love with my Scott when he’s in his Daddy Zone than any other time or place or circumstance.
He walks in the door from work and I basically shoo him into the living room to play with the kiddos. They are instantly all over him, giving hugs, offering “teapot” (Addie’s version of a tea party) and requesting books to read and wrestling together.
But it’s his bedtime rituals with the kiddos I adore most.
Last night, I hovered around a corner in the hallway, two sippie cups and two diapers in my hands, frozen. I had been coming out of the laundry room when I heard him in Addie’s room, doing a role call of all of her animals.
“And who’s this?,” he asks her.
With a giggle, she tells him.
They go back and forth like this through all eight or nine creatures.
He does this to make her feel comfortable and to let her know she is surrounded by love as she goes to sleep. But she doesn’t need any of the Guppies or the bear or even the puppy blanket. Her Daddy showers her (and Zack) with love.

Scott and I are better than ever. It’s back to basics.
Hand holding and driving adventures and silly jokes and showing the other person you care.
He’s been patient with my need-this-for-the-house list and has put up shelves, hooked up electronics and nearly singlehandedly moved large furniture.

I’m happy for where we are, literally but also this very figurative place, too.

We are in a happy place that needs no address.

A GREYt friend

I said goodbye today to a sweet, loyal companion.

Amidst the chaos of moving, packing, buying, selling, we have realized that our adopted Greyhound, Fuzz Face “Proud Man”, could not possibly make the move as well. There are many reasons for this — more out of concern for his well-being than anything having to do with us and our new home. He’s 11 years old and starting to become more and more lethargic.

No one else wanted to make the decision. It was up to me.

It was my idea to adopt a greyhound just weeks after we purchased this home. I grew up with a good friend whose family had an adopted Greyhound and I loved him and remembered him for years and years. We added Proud to our little zoo and he fit in right away.

Adopting a greyhound is an intense process. There are pages and pages of paperwork and referrals and pretty much a background check! They asked us questions about our lifestyle, current pets, future plans, house layout and favorite colors (OK, no, not really). They brought out three greyhounds that seemed to match us best on paper for a little in-person meet up. Proud was one of those three and it was immediately clear that he was the one. Even our little Yorkie Izzie liked him — she led him around the yard and showed him her favorite places to piddle. When the agency reps pulled out of our driveway, I cried and told Scott that our dog was in that car.

And soon he was ours.

Proud (Originally Fuzz Face Proud of the Fuzz Face racing family) was unique in how long he raced for — much longer than the average greyhound — and how good he was — finishing almost at the very top level and winning about one-quarter of all races he entered. What we will never know is his how badly he was treated. He likely was kept in a small crate with no food or water while not on the racetrack. And judging from his skittish personality, he was probably either abused or neglected or both.

 

On one of our first nights with him, I watched Scott try to teach Proud to sit on command for nearly an hour while I perused a new Greyhound manual book. Suddenly, Chapter Five told me that the hip structure on greyhounds prevented them from sitting.

“STOP!” I screamed at Scott, who by now was doing funky aerobics with the dog in his attempt to train him. We still laugh about that.

 

If you’ve never seen a greyhound run, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen magic in motion, at least as far as animals are concerned. We found a large old, fenced-in tennis court nearby on a walk one day and brought Izzie and Proud in to run freely. It was the closest to feeling like a proud Momma I ever felt before my kids were born. Proud just ran back and forth for the longest time. All legs up in the air, a graceful posture and quick turnaround, his jowls pushed back into a funny grin. He was joyful.

 

Proud’s previous neglect took years to undo. First there was the need to put on some weight. His ribs were all visible when we first adopted him. That was the easy fix. There’s no such thing as a thin animal in our house.

The emotional scars took much more time. It’s only been in the last year or so that he has spent time with us at the same time downstairs or on the same floor. Previously, he would go upstairs when we came downstairs or vice versa. He would eat his dinner when we went to bed. But recently, he’s been so close. He lays on a blanket on the living room floor at the foot of the couch while we watch TV or read books with the kids. He tolerates their random, sometimes-rough hugs and their running around in circles.

 

He jumps if you drop something on the floor or slam a door. And he’d rather pace for 20 minutes than deal with a cat on his blanket.

 

And he’s a lover. Pet his head and rub his long neck and you are a forever friend.

He greets you at the door and stretches those long legs in front of him, sticking his butt up in the air.

 

He has the worst breath and he’s at the perfect height to steal a good steak off of your plate, but he’s been a really, really good friend.

 

Proud got scared at the door one day while I was taking him out and pulled the leash out of my hand. He ran in all his graceful, majestic glory and in spite of the shock and fright of losing him, I couldn’t help but watch him run. He’s so beautiful when he is in motion. I always feel at peace when I watch him run.

 

So, he’s going back with one of the co-owners of the adoption agency. (Please check them out here). He may be there only temporarily or it may be his forever now home. She has a couple of other greyhounds and a large, fenced-in yard.

He can run. Often and with friends.

In that beautiful form, smiling in the breeze.

 

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Asbury Adventure

Have you noticed a theme these past couple of months?

The Zee Family has been having itself some adventures.

Adventure.

Just saying the word brings me peace and makes me think of ocean waves and warm embraces and laughs over wine and that warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart.

Adventure.

 

So all four of us (yay!) snuck away for a few days in the middle of a life upheaval (more on that later) to escape, forget and breathe. We stayed at the home of my mom’s cousin Steve and his beautiful-inside-and-out wife Melaney and another cousin Andy and were joined by my cousin (Steve’s daughter) Rachel and her daughter April, who is just a month older than Addie. We even had a visit from Uncle Bwick one night.

Steve and Melaney are saints. In a matter of minutes, their gorgeous historic home that they have renovated so beautifully was turned upside-down with a loud parade of marching toddlers traipsing around endless bags and toys brought out of the woodwork of two well-traveled SUVs. From that moment and through the temper tantrums and time-outs, the seemingly-endless screams of “Share!” and “No touch!” and the smelly diapers and long nap processes to the line of six adults scampering for showers after beach time, they remained patient and calm and so considerate and generous. We realize everywhere we go that our crazy family, no matter how much we try not to be crazy, can be overwhelming and we are so appreciative of the loved ones who allow a little craziness into their lives for a day or two.

The weather cooperated so nicely. We enjoyed a couple hours at the beach down the street our first day there, along with some great playground time. The kids almost immediately all started playing so well together. It reminded me so much of my childhood and the family gatherings where all of my cousins, all of us about the same age, just instantly bonded and played and later shared secrets and had great sibling-like fights. And it made me wish that our kids can have what our parents’ generation had, where cousins really were like siblings and knew and loved each other so well. It will take work, but I hope that my kids know and love their family so much, too.

There was the Great Raccoon Adventure during our stay, too, but it might still be too early to joke about that one. But really, I hope we can all giggle about this one in the near future. All part of the adventure!

Our second day was a near all-day beach day and the kids surpassed all of my expectations. They listened, they were in great spirits and we made it much longer than I thought.

I have so many Happy Heart moments from our days there.

I sat at the head of a long dinner table at a delicious Italian restaurant, my babies and husband on either side of me, looking down a long line of amazing people. Each with their own story and journey and so many happily-ever-afters taking place. I felt so loved and so lucky.

The same lovely reminiscing took place on that sand, too. Watching Scott and his son splashing in the water as each wave brought beautiful laughter from both of them. I thanked my lucky stars for the wonderful father Scott has become in our journey and hoped both kids realize how lucky they are, too.

We had buckets on heads, and manly men with baby dolls in their arms; we all snapped photos and shared delicious meals.

At night, I was too happy to sleep. I just laid there, after the babies had finally fallen asleep and I could hear Scott’s snoring; after the footsteps above quieted down; and I just smiled. I felt the presence of so many loved ones not with us anymore and figuratively patted us all on the back for forgetting all of the world’s stresses for a few days and making the effort for family.

I believe my family(ies) is/are a huge part of why and who I am today.

It was an adventure. A great, joyful, peaceful

Adventure.

 

 

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Snippets- Vacation Edition

We had ourselves an adventure — just me, Zack and Addie (Da-da had to work).

 

We crossed five states for four different visits in about 10 days and 20-plus hours of driving. There were chickey kisses and ocean waves and everything in between.

Some highlights:

 

The most relaxing, heart-warming time sitting in Chochie’s yard watching kids frolic in dirt, hide treasures in secret corners and splash to their hearts’ content in a bright blue bird bath.

 

Snuggles nightly with two tired ones. Holding them close and re-learning their breathing and sighs. Watching little hands and fingers as we all fell asleep.

 

Addie greeting me every day with, “Good morning, Momma! How did you sleep? Addie wake up!” You can’t help but start your day on a positive note with that.

 

At nighttime, I would remind the kids of what we did that day — who we saw, where we were, etc. One night after a 4th of July picnic at my Dad’s and plenty of big cousins to play with, I asked Zack what was his favorite part. Typically, he just repeats “favorite part” with a smile. That day, he grinned a huge grin and said, “Play with kids!” How sweet.

Another night, Addie interrupted me with, “I so happy, Momma.”

 

I learned all of the words to one of the songs from a DVD we brought with us for the car time.

“I’m not ready to be a princess, I don’t have what it takes…” The kids and I can rock it out. “I look bad in crowns…!”

 

Cousins Ryan and Kevin in Massachusetts always dote on Z&A. It’s so amazing to see their love for their little cousins. They introduced the kids to some of their old toys, and a baby frog and the beloved guinea pigs, which are a HUGE hit. (We actually have to tell Zack the piggies are sleeping quite often or else they get no break from their noisy visitor). Addie snatched snap peas from Becky’s garden and took charge on a walk around the neighborhood. Cousin Mark was welcomed home from work with two squealing “hewwo”s from little people. We all laughed at Addie’s love for pickles and Zack’s sweet tooth, but mostly we just laughed.

 

Seeing my Dad and Uncle “Brick” together was so great. They are two peas in a pod. I love them both so much for their humor and kindness and compassion, wrapped up in tough-guy exteriors. Crazy fun watching them drink beers and blow bubbles with the kids on our last day.

 

My friend Nicole and her man Jeff have created a beautiful life together and just seeing her, with him, in their cozy and cute home was a delight. They’re still collecting the Cheerios we left for them in every crevice imaginable. Truth or Truth with wine until 3am was simultaneously the best and worst idea we had, haha!

 

At the beach, the kiddos surprised me. Zack went straight for the water and couldn’t be removed without major coaxing and Addie was quite content to play in the sand and sprinkle water (fetched by Momma every three minutes) from her watering can onto my toes.

 

 

There were a lot of quiet moments that made every traffic jam and long walk worth it:

The ringing laughter in living rooms and on patios and in the car;

Both kids saying,  I love you, Momma.”

Having a chance to disconnect from the rest of the world and just observe. I learned much about the babies in these 10 days.

The love and hospitality of our many hosts, who dealt with difficult bedtimes and early-mornings and sometimes my need to just stop. I appreciate your open doors and open hearts.

 

 

This was an amazing adventure.

I just love adventures.

 

 

 

 

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D&D

Two of the most entertaining, spontaneous, exciting, kind, beautiful souls I’ve ever known found each other and sealed the deal with a wedding this weekend. My cousin Dan married his lovely bride Dorothy.

 

There were scorpions and Star Wars theme songs and other fun quirky moments that made it all theirs.

 

But there was family. The crazy cousins and newer baby cousins and awesome aunts and uncles and everything in between. People we met on Dan’s earlier adventures and people we hope we see again on future adventures.

 

There was breakdancing (by our son) and shrieks of “NO” when asked if anyone had any reason for them not to marry (by our daughter, who was bribed to sit still with promise of a “princess” — Dorothy did not disappoint).

 

I felt my heart smiling.

Watching big tough guys hold hands with little girls in poofy dresses, sharing laughs and memories with those we don’t see nearly enough, gathering despite extreme exhaustion in the lobby of our hotel just to be with one another a few minutes longer.

 

After all the planning, it was over in a flash and I we found ourselves in the car heading home faster than I would have liked, but we return home with plans for visits in the months to come and promises I intend to keep.

 

There was love, love, beautiful love.

My heart is still smiling.

 

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