exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

christmas sky

by Jen at 7:22 pm on 16.12.2007Comments Off
filed under: holidaze, londonlife, photo

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

from “christmas” – John Betjeman

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you swore the spirit couldn’t be found

by Jen at 10:23 pm on 12.12.2007 | 2 Comments
filed under: holidaze, photo

one of the first things i brought over when i knew i would be living in the u.k. long-term, was my collection of christmas ornaments. i’ve collected them ever since i was a little girl – i can trace the history of my childhood christmases through them. when i got old enough to earn an allowance, i would buy an ornament for the family tree each year – one of those metal plated ones that you get engraved in wonky script, the surname always spelled wrong. decorating the tree every year was a trip down memory lane, with the emergence of each ornament from the box – heavy plaster of paris handprints done in school, pasted paper and foil angels made in church, hand knitted decorations a gift from grandma. each one given a year marker, each one given a special place on the tree. it’s a tradition i have carried on for myself since buying my own first tree.

which basically means poor little “woodstock” is about to topple over from the weight of them.






eels – everything’s gonna be cool this christmas

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sleigh bells in the air, beauty everywhere

by Jen at 9:50 pm on 11.12.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: holidaze

i’ve not really gotten into the christmas spirit yet this year – i am spiritless. in fact, thinking about christmas brings a vague, uncomfortable sense of anxiety – a tightening of the stomach and heaviness of the chest which is totally unfamiliar to me. i’ve always loved christmas, and looked forward to it with anticipation.

i think i need a tree to cheer me up.

vince guaraldi trio – christmas time is here

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wish list

by Jen at 10:56 pm on 5.12.2007 | 2 Comments
filed under: holidaze

christmas is fast approaching – and though j and i won’t be doing xmas gifts (as we’ve got a big ski holiday in vancouver booked for feb.) it *is* still my birthday. so i thought i’d put together a list, just in case anyone happens to be reading )

i totally covet this molecule jewelery. the choker is divine, but i’d settle for the “peace” necklace.


i’ve also really wanted this brilliant tripod ever since getting my new camera a few months ago


this marc jacobs perfume used to be my signature scent… until i ran out. and that was more than a year ago now. they say it’s “a modern take on the classic scent of gardenia, counterpointed by the sensuality of creamy musk”. all i know is that it smells like heaven.


for anyone in the states who wishes to gift me, you could make me a very happy camper by sending me some l’oreal feria copper shimmer hair dye. i’ve been using it for years, and now they’ve stopped selling in the u.k. ( so i’m stockpiling all i can.

copper shimmer

this mca snow portfolio ipod case, which i have loved so much that i wore out the snap on it. i originally bought it from the apple store, but it’s out of stock there now ( i could attach it to my camelbak for running or my messenger bag for commuting, i could charge my ipod without taking it out, flip it down to use the clickwheel without taking it off – it was fantastic.

ipod case

and there you have it. i’m easy to please, and i don’t really need anything, so in spite of appearances, this is not an attempt to milk the whole birthday thing. i’m just trying to help those people who *insist* on buying me something, purely as a public service, mind you )


no leftovers

by Jen at 8:15 pm on 23.11.2007 | 3 Comments
filed under: family and friends, holidaze, photo

yesterday’s feast was a big success! clean plates all around. a few photos.

k and t




was i more alive than i am now? i happily have to disagree

by Jen at 9:10 am on 22.11.2007 | 4 Comments
filed under: holidaze, londonlife

happy thanksgiving!

hand turkey

thanksgiving is traditionally a day to reflect on those people in your life who mean the most to you. which is why it can be such a difficult holiday for an expat – not only are we far from our families, but we live in a country which doesn’t recognise or understand the deeply emotional significance of the day. the longing to be close to those we love, to share food, to share time with the people who make our lives rich.

but for me, this day reminds me that i am extraordinarily lucky to have such people on *both* sides of the atlantic – people who make my life full to overflowing. friends and family and friends-who-are-family… i truly want for nothing in this world.

so thank you to all those near and far who are so important to me. on this day, may you all feel as lucky as i do.

peter bjorn and john – objects of my affection

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all i want is food and creative love

by Jen at 6:45 pm on 21.11.2007 | 5 Comments
filed under: holidaze, londonlife

elbow deep in preparations for tomorrow’s feast. amity and i have decided to combine forces (”wonder-twin powers activate! form of a turkey dinner!”) and friends once again for a big festive meal. the traditional menu:

sausage stuffing with apples and cranberries
homemade gravy
mashed potatoes
green bean casserole with shallots, mushrooms and almonds
roasted butternut squash
pumpkin pie
apple pie

brits are a bit fuzzy on this thanksgiving thing – thinking there must be gifts involved, or some sort of commercial aspect, as there is with so many other american holidays.

but that’s the beauty of thanksgiving – it’s remained relatively pure of marketing influence even after all these years. it’s not even particularly religious, in spite of the whole “giving thanks” theme. and sure, there are decorations and cards you can buy, but by and large, it’s still all about the three “f” elements: family, food, and football.

you don’t get much more american than that.

rusted root – food & creative love

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screw you very much, tescos.

by Jen at 12:30 pm on 10.11.2007 | 6 Comments
filed under: holidaze, rant and rage

j went to the local tesco express to get some bread and milk this morning. he came home and told me that they actually have chocolate *easter bunnies* out already, displayed right next to the xmas chocolates.

one holiday bleeding into another before the first has even arrived yet…fuck it man, let’s just do away with the calendar altogether! it can just be holiday free-for-all, all the time! anarchy, woo hoo!

what is wrong with people!!??!


all hallow’s eve

by Jen at 7:24 am on 31.10.2007 | 4 Comments
filed under: holidaze

happy halloween! happy samhain!

it’s that time of year again – time for the british media to run sensationalistic articles about how halloween fosters crime and anti-social behaviour. time for people to overreact to a few bad eggs. time for paranoid shopkeepers to crack down on flour sales. time for police to don the head cams.

i know i go on about this every year, but halloween in the uk is a dispiriting affair. rather than reprise my annual bitchfest, here’s a great piece from the guardian about how halloween in the uk should go down. take note britain:

It’s a treat, not a trick

If the British version of Halloween has become a violent, ugly, month-long spree, don’t blame me

Sarah Churchwell
Monday October 29, 2007
The Guardian

Last week, I was accosted by children in a restaurant demanding I give them money. I told the little thugs that I would give them a piece of chocolate if they came to my house in costume in 10 days’ time and said “trick or treat”, but there would be no shakedown tonight.

For eight years, I have watched in dismay as a vile, distorted version of “Halloween” has taken hold in England – and Americans have been blamed for it. Last year, police handed out signs to homeowners saying “No trick or treaters”, and warned children not to scare residents by ringing their doorbells.

To Americans, this is farcical: Halloween is not scary, unless they reside in the inner city of Washington, in which case every night is scary. I know Americans who won’t travel on October 31 because they don’t want to miss the little kids in their adorable costumes.

So, for British people wondering how this ought to work, I offer the rules of what is a highly ritualised, charming custom. Doubtless it has altered since I was little, and it varies regionally; but I went trick-or-treating with my three-year-old nephew a couple of years ago and it seemed unchanged.

Rule one: Halloween only happens on October 31. Demanding offerings on other days is like asking for presents on December 13.

Rule two: In its current American incarnation, Halloween is for small children – say three to 10 years old – and those who love them. Older children sometimes engage in rowdier pursuits, some even violent and dangerous, but most harmless pranks. This is hardly at the centre of the tradition, and teenagers on a tear are just as likely to get arrested as any other day.

Rule three: Costumes are the sine qua non of Halloween. I can’t imagine anyone in America would dream of giving a treat to children who were not in costume. Try marching up to someone in your street clothes and demanding money, and see what happens. We don’t call that Halloween – we call it mugging.

Rule four: Halloween occurs primarily in residential areas with children. It does not happen in public places. Houses signal they are participating with a jack-o-lantern on the porch or in the window, rendering police signs supererogatory.

Rule five: “Trick or treat” translates today as “I’d like some sweets, please”. It’s not a free for all. Although historically the phrase indicated a threat to commit a prank on a house that refused you a treat, no one refuses, so it’s not an issue. The “trick” part has been pretty much lost. If you don’t want to give them a treat, you don’t answer the door. There is no reprisal; the kids move on to the next house.

Rule six: When you say “trick or treat”, nice people give you a bitesize piece of chocolate they have ready and compliment you on your costume. No cash changes hands. Some annoying people give you apples. I remember one old lady handing out toothbrushes.

And that’s it. On October 31, for a couple of hours, small children dress up in costume, go out with their parents to knock on the doors of the neighbours’ houses that have jack-o-lanterns, say “trick or treat”, and are given chocolate or sweets. If older children or teenagers misbehave, they get into trouble. I can see why the UK wants to pass laws outlawing this sinister practice.

There is a great deal of resentment toward “American cultural imports”, the myriad ways in which we are contaminating your demi-paradise with our corrupt practices. I hate to break it to you, but in the case of Halloween, you are the ones bastardising our culture. If your version is a violent, threatening and ugly spree across the month of October, don’t blame America, blame yourselves.


dead kennedys – halloween

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i was feeling part of the scenery

by Jen at 8:35 am on 11.09.2007 | 3 Comments
filed under: holidaze, mutterings and musings

something has awakened inside me on this visit. a sense of belonging that i haven’t felt in years – didn’t know i could still feel. the feeling of having a place in the world which matches how i feel inside. all the more astounding given how much the world has changed me – have i come full circle?

i was driving to a friend’s house for dinner the other day – she now lives in the ‘hood just down the road from where i used to live, four years and a lifetime ago. i missed my exit off the highway, and so had to take the next offramp. and i found myself in the middle of someplace simultaneously familiar and foreign. i thought about trying to double back to the highway, but decided instead to just keep going and see where my instinct lead me. i let my subconscious take over the driving, the steering wheel guided by muscle memory. turn here, straight through these lights, down this sidestreet – until i found myself surprised, at her front door, as if by magic.

i still know this place – there is an intimacy here, a roadmap of scars and memories.

on this trip, i have reconnected with friends i thought were lost to me forever, revisited old stomping grounds, settled the score with a few errant ghosts. though at times i’ve denied it, i have always carried a piece of this place with me, close to my heart.

and for once, it feels like a happy piece. a happy peace.

peter gabriel – solsbury hill

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where the streets have no name

by Jen at 1:38 am on 8.09.2007Comments Off
filed under: holidaze, mundane mayhem

it’s near midnight. the watery light of a full moon filters through a scrim of clouds, casting the border of trees into black silhouette against the black sky. the asphalt unfurls quietly beneath me in two flowing lines, curling, rising, then falling away again into nothingness beyond. a familiar refrain begins – delicately at first, then intensifying in a confidently smooth ascent. the music swells, lifting me along on its wave, and i feel the pedal being instinctively pulled, the highway rushing up to meet the insistent pulse, the building crescendo, the chest-thumping bass line, the driving crash of sound. suddenly i’m flying as sure as if i have wings, soaring into the night, being lifted heavenward, transported in a sublime confluence of melody and speed.

damn, i love driving.

u2 – where the streets have no name

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raised on promises

by Jen at 1:18 pm on 4.07.2007Comments Off
filed under: holidaze

happy 4th of july to everyone back in the u.s. of a.!

reprising my post from last year in cambodia:

there’s nothing like being an expat to make you appreciate some of the better characteristics of your country of origin. as disillusioned as i can be about my government at times, living in the u.k. has given me a greater appreciation for the freedoms enshrined in the constitution and the bill of rights. sounds corny, but it’s true. those things are guaranteed almost nowhere else in the world, and i think you take them for granted until you suddenly find yourself without them.

enjoy, y’all. i may not be patriotic, but i do understand just how very lucky i am.

tom petty – american girl

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it’s a new year, it must be a meme

by Jen at 11:44 pm on 1.01.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: holidaze, mundane mayhem

Just for the hell of it…

What did you do in 2006 that you’d never done before?
Too many things to list, so much of this year was a brand new adventure.

Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Hellz no. I leave things behind in the year past and look forward to the year to come. Anything else is a waste of time.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Vanessa, Alex, and Nicola all had babies this year – must’ve been something in the water!

Did anyone close to you die?
Thank god, no. Please not this year either. J’s grandfather died while we were away.

What places did you visit?

Well, since you asked ) … China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Costa Rica – strange lands and exotic experiences galore!

What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006?

Money. And some willpower would not go amiss.

What date from 2006 will remain etched upon your memory?

15 April – the day we got on the plane to leave. 4 Sept – the day a traumatic accident unfolded right before our eyes. 16 October – the day we got off the plane home.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Beating J for the title of “Least Likely to Get Dodgy Tummy”! I’m gonna have a plaque made and hang it in the lounge. Also, not bludgeoning my husband with a thick “Lonely Planet”. That deserves honorary mention.

What was your biggest failure?

Failing to exercise. Like, at all. I spent most of the year on hiatus. Any exercise was completely accidental.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, thank god, given my natural klutziness. I thought for sure I was gonna tumble off the Great Wall of China and land in Mongolia, and J did get a scary fever in Laos where I had visions of bundling him on a plane back to Bangkok. But the most use the first aid kit got was J dipping into the Immodium stash.

What was the best thing you bought?

My travel towel – that thing rocks.

Whose behaviour merited celebration?
J’s – for putting up with my shit, day in, day out. The boy deserves a medal.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Every fucking politician I can think of.

Where did most of your money go?

Bus tickets

What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The aforementioned RTW trip. Isn’t it obvious, given that I mention it every second sentence??

What song(s) will always remind you of 2006?

Anything Jack Johnson. In every single backpackers we stayed at.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder? Happier
Thinner or fatter? I decline to answer
Richer or poorer? Poorer in money, richer in a million other ways

What do you wish you’d done more of?
Travel. And sex. More sex is always good.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about money, and haggling. I suck at haggling.

What was the best book you read?
Goodness, I can’t remember the best, but I certainly remember a lot of bad ones. English books are scarce on the ground in China!

What did you want and get?
The trip of a lifetime. But that was through a lot of hard work.

What did you want and not get?
A winning lottery ticket.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Nothing. Really. It was a great year.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?
“Five Easy Outfits”. I wore variations of the same five things every single day of the week. High fashion takes up too much room for a rucksack.

What kept you sane?
Who says I was sane?

What political issue stirred you the most?
The midterm elections stirred me like I haven’t been stirred in a long time.

Who did you miss?
Everyone we left behind.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2006:

Wherever you go, there you are.

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alcohol = bad. couch = good.

by Jen at 6:14 pm on | 2 Comments
filed under: blurblets, holidaze

Ugh – I am dying.

If this is nature’s way of reminding us how bad alcohol is for one’s body, why on earth make it so yummy in the first place?!? Surely it would make much more evolutionary sense for alcohol to taste like the vile toxin it is, rather than like delicious liquid sunshine in a bottle…


happy new year, 2007

by Jen at 5:47 pm on 31.12.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: holidaze, mutterings and musings

another year gone – 2006 has been so amazing, that i’m sad to see it go. so many dreams came true, how can 2007 possibly live up to it?

i don’t do new year’s resolutions. instead, i write down those things which i wish to leave behind, and then burn them and let the ashes fly away with the breezes of the new year. i find it much more satisfying than a handful of half-kept promises recycled every 365 days.

still, there are things i want more of in the year to come. i don’t see these as goals, but rather as an open desire to invite these into my life through continuing to grow and change.

travel – lots more travel. that’s unlikely to happen in the next twelve months, but i want to plan and dream of new places yet unseen. there’s still so much more world out there.

friends – more time spent with more friends.

more writing. more creativity.

more running. i’d really love to do another marathon, if my knees will let me. but at least, continue with the running i’ve been doing. it makes me feel so much more alive.

more acceptance – more peace, more calm. more exploration of buddhism.

more family time. more visits.

more love. more love. always more love.

and if i can invite even a little more love into my life, 2007 will be a huge success, no matter what else happens.

wishing you and yours more love in the coming year…


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reason number 9923 why i love my husband

by Jen at 4:12 pm on 25.12.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: holidaze, now *that's* love

i am posting this from my shiny, beautiful new laptop!!


# Intel Core Duo T2050 Processor 1.6GHz
# 667MHz FSB
# 2MB Cache
# 1024MB RAM
# 80GB Hard Drive
# Dual Layer DVD ReWriter MultiDrive
# 15.4″ Widescreen TFT Display
# 128MB Intel UMA Integrated Graphics
# Intel Pro/Wireless 3945abg

and many other things I do not understand. (since j and I only did very small Xmas gifts this year, he thought he could cheat by calling it a birthday present!! cheeky monkey!)

It is a thing of beauty, and I have named it Zippy. Is it pathetic that I’m actually sad to be saying goodbye to my old computer? (anthropomorphise much jen?)

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merry happy

by Jen at 12:10 am on | 2 Comments
filed under: holidaze

merry christmas to all!

xmas tree

and happy birthday to me!

birthday candles


for my mother, on christmas

by Jen at 3:48 pm on 24.12.2006 | 2 Comments
filed under: holidaze, mutterings and musings

more than anything else, christmas makes me think of my mother.

all my best memories of christmas are intertwined with the love and effort she put into making the holiday special. a lot of that was because she loved it so much herself – and in an effort to prolong it, the christmas season in our household lasted nearly three months. the annual buildup began in october, with all the kids helping to make the giant batches of christmas pudding from a great-grandmother’s well-worn recipe. come december, there were international holidays to celebrate – like st. lucia’s day with the special saffron buns and the procession with candles, and st. nicholas’ day where we left out our shoes to be filled with chocolates and small toys. there was baking of misshapen sugar cookies for friends and neighbours. there was selecting the tree, and decorating it with years of accumulated ornaments – each one evoking a remembrance of a particular place or time, from our kindergarten years to adulthood. my mom remembered them all. there were the radio oldies which permeated the house for weeks on end from her favourite stations. there was skating on the snowy frogpond of the boston common under the lighted trees. there was carolling the wards in the hospital my dad worked at. there was wrapping hundreds of pairs of tube socks to distribute at the homeless shelter. there was piling in the car and driving around town to see the lights of the best bedecked houses. there were popcorn strings and colourful paper chains made to festoon the mantle. there were paper snowflakes and cherry winks and gingerbread houses. there were wreaths and mistletoe and pumpkin breads. but mostly there was my mother – decorating and baking and humming. always the scent of something in the oven. always my mother full of the joy of the season.

christmas eve was all about traditions. with my family’s multicultural heritage, my mom would cook a giant christmas eve smorgasboard with a dish representing each country – england, ireland, italy, yugoslavia, wales, scotland, portugal, puerto rico. after stuffing ourselves, we’d read “twas the night before christmas” together on the couch, and leave out cookies and milk for santa. when we were little and still believers in the magic, we’d lay awake in bed waiting to hear santa’s distinctive “ho ho ho” in the wee hours of the morning. when we were older, we’d go to midnight mass at our church and bring bundles of jingle bells to ring during the carol of the bells. my mother always turned to me during “the first noel” and told me it was my song. and during the mass there were inevitably old family friends who came up to me and wished me happy birthday, reminiscing about the year my mother was in labour with me during christmas eve. i felt both embarrassed and special for the attention.

and when christmas morning dawned, there were other traditions as well. officially, we were allowed to collect our stockings from the fireplace at 7 am. in reality, we snuck down the creaky stairs long before first light, muffling the bells sewn to the toes of the overstuffed stockings, clutching them to our chest until we were safely back upstairs. once my parents awoke, my mother warmed a loaf of freshly baked christmas bread and made some cocoa and we passed around one gift at a time, taking turns opening the presents. we paused to attend church services, and upon return my mother would put the turkey in the oven while we all opened the last few gifts – then immediately began arguing and fighting over them for the rest of the day.

evening was devoted to celebrating my birthday. after our big dinner, my mum always made a special “man’s cake” by my request (a yellow cake made with coffee and walnuts) and there were birthday presents and cards and singing. and my mum always waxed nostalgic about my birth, never failing to mention how i’d been born in a jewish hospital and never got to be wrapped in a stocking like the other christmas babies.

and long after christmas, my mother continued celebrating. we celebrated until ephiphany – the day the wise men finally arrived in nazareth, twelve days after christmas. the tree stayed up long into the new year, christmas goodies and puddings and eggnog were consumed for weeks. it was always with great reluctance that things were finally packed up and put away for next year. my mother hated to see it all come to an end.

and so when i think of christmas, i think of my mother – and i’m thinking of her now, with my tree lit, and carols playing in the background. i will think of her this evening when i’m at midnight mass, singing hymns and revelling in the profound peace that descends in the stillness of night. i will think of her, thinking of me – remembering her anticipation, the weight of labour and quickening amidst pealing bells and voices rising in harmony. the joy of the holiday mingling with her joy. the significance of the celebrated birth taking on new meaning for a new mother.

merry christmas, mum.

(and thanks for the birthday flowers!)



christmas countdown

by Jen at 3:40 pm on 22.12.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: holidaze

It’s that time of year again – when everything grinds to a halt in anticipation of Christmas. Work is left idle as people skive off milling about, eating chocolates and chattering about holiday plans. The supermarket cupboards are bare of anything except the essentials as people stock their trolleys with fixings, sweets and wine. Even the drugstores are picked clean of stocking stuffers and greeting cards. the whole country prepares for 11 days of national vacation, and not a lick of anything will get done until after the new year. i’m at work from the 27th to the 29th, but the office will be a veritable ghosttown.

it’s kind of nice, this collective break – where everyone agrees to take things easy, relax into family time, and allow daily stresses to fall by the wayside. it’s a bit like snowdays from school – everything non-essential is cancelled and people snuggle in for the duration.

adding to the feeling of luxurious indolence has been the fog of the past few days. I love fog -it makes the city more peaceful, more intimate. it softens the edges and envelops you in a cocoon of romantic mist like something from a victorian novel. and for the past 3 days it has been as thick as cotton wool, but with a cold bite to it – the snap in the air finally makes it feel wintry and christmassy.

the clinging clouds combined with the creeping slowdown of city life sets the atmosphere for the coming holiday. moods lighten and anticipation hangs in the air with the thickening fog. and with the weekend fast approaching, let the festivities begin!

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christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat

by Jen at 10:31 pm on 21.12.2006 | 1 Comment
filed under: holidaze, photo

a few photos from the neighbourhod when I ventured out shopping last weekend

and a sunrise from the window of our flat

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santa’s little helper

by Jen at 6:23 pm on 20.12.2006Comments Off
filed under: family and friends, holidaze, photo

i want to eat her up with a spoon!

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