Elegant Ladies of the Desert

I live in a valley in the California desert – home of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, R.C. Gorman sunsets, and palm trees. Areas of the valley’s desert may be unspoiled and unpopulated or highly groomed with burgeoning populations. Whatever its state, palm trees are part of the landscape.

The palms may be ornamental, architectural, or utilitarian. They may be wild and untended as nature planned. I’m intrigued by their unique identity and power to survive the extremes of temperature and high-velocity winds. I’m amazed at their mystery, rising from scrub and sand. They exude a sense of wisdom and agelessness, with a touch of timeless beauty. They inspire a small tribute . . .


elegant ladies
dress in their high couture skirts 
to waltz with the wind 

                                                                                                                                                                      Carol Mann 2018



Desert Oasis by artist Naomi Brown

Version 2

Waiting for Coachella – photo by Carol Mann

Thank you for stopping by. Feel free to add your thoughts, perhaps a haiku . . .


Posted in Creativity, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Father’s Autograph

We didn’t have yearbooks in elementary school. When the “big kids” were signing each other’s yearbooks at the end of the year, we young kids looked on longingly. But we were resourceful. We each had small autograph books which we circulated near the end of the school year. One day I realized the other kids were having not only their friends sign but their families, too. The object became who could collect the most autographs.

In an effort to increase my numbers, I asked my father to sign my book. Little did I realize his autograph would be the one I would remember long after I’d forgotten the others. This is what he wrote:

As you sail down the stream of life
In your little birch canoe,
May you have a jolly time,
And room enough for two.

As I read this autograph now, I’m moved by the wish for a happy life for me. He also told me I could be anything I wanted to be … as long as it was legal.


My dad, born in 1900, at age 23.

He left other words for me, not in an autograph book, but in advice. When I heard the words as a young person, I probably rolled my eyes or shrugged in typical daughter fashion. But he’d be happy to know I heard them and still carry them with me.

Take care of your car and your car will take care of you.

 Never buy the best house on the block.

Never buy on the edge of a development.

 Look after your money and your money will look after you.

Always keep learning.

He illustrated the “always keep learning” mantra with behavior more than with words. He was an active reader of literature and how-to journals and magazines. He was a letter writer to newspaper editors, city, state, and national leaders. He took correspondence courses. He reinvented himself a number of times … from banking, to accountant, to entrepreneur, to real estate broker. He was the source of my own “reinvention gene.”

IMG_1264 2

My dad, pictured in the middle with his brothers, was the oldest of six – three boys and three girls. When I see his intense look, I can’t help thinking he’s channeling actor William Holden or writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Mostly, my dad valued being of good character and impressed that on me. Born in the province of Ontario, Canada, the eldest son of a successful farmer and cattle drover, my father entered the workforce at 16 … in banking. Below are excerpts from a letter he wrote to the manager of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in 1991, when a call came out in a local newspaper for information on the history of the bank. I think character comes through. (I’ve omitted paragraphs naming all the managers and employees and a description of the structure.)

Early in 1916 I became an employee of the Imperial Bank of Canada, Humberstone Branch. About two years later I was transferred to the Port Colborne branch.

My starting salary at age 16 was $300.00 per year. Each additional year of employment would be accompanied by a $100.00 raise. A condition of my employment was that my father and my uncle each provide Imperial Bank a bond of $7,000.00 covering me.

A short time after Mr. Rolph, manager at the Port Colborne Branch, also became manager of the Humberstone Branch where I worked, an event occurred that involved both branches. The bank safe in Humberstone, which had a time clock combination, failed to open on a Monday morning following the bank’s closing the previous Friday afternoon. It had been set mistakenly to open Monday evening. The situation was explained early by phone to Mr. Rolph at home, as soon as the first employee arrived and discovered the problem.

Mr. Rolph quickly arrived at the Humberstone Branch and went into action,  immediately inquiring who had locked the safe the previous Friday. One of the bookkeepers said he did. Mr. Rolph gave said bookkeeper a short but blistering dressing down about his responsibilities and the position into which he had placed the bank. Mr. Rolph then told me to arm myself with the bank’s revolver, get on my bicycle, and go pick up a package wrapped in newspaper from the Imperial Bank – Port Colborne Branch, strap it onto the luggage carrier of the bicycle, and get back as quickly as possible. I carried out my instructions, and the Humberstone Branch opened on time with money ready for its customers – as if nothing had happened.

A day or two later Mr. Rolph told me that the bookkeeper’s mistake could have happened to almost any of the bank’s employees. He confessed it had once happened to him. He said the reason he was so emphatic with the bookkeeper was to impress him so much it would not happen again. I knew he was also telling me something important.

The Humberstone Branch had a sub-branch at Marshville, Ontario, open one day a week.  To me the weekly trip with the manager to Marshville was a semi-holiday. It provided a break from the ordinary routine. The manager was a careful driver. If the road was muddy, wet or slippery, he would go slowly. But if the road was dry, the speed limit to him was the top speed the bank’s Ford could make – 40 mph. At this speed, the touring car’s top would billow out and a rolling mound of dust would follow the car and make quite a show. He often allowed me to drive.

About the time of the Imperial Bank’s safe locking episode, an event of my own causing happened. It happened one busy Friday when a customer walked in and shoved a check for $400.00 in the teller’s cage wicket and said, “All in twenty dollar bills, please.” He seemed to be in a hurry. I checked by referring to one of the bank’s ledgers that there were ample funds in the account to cover the check. I then discovered the packet containing twenties was nearly empty and that I would have to open a new packet. After this, I counted out 30 twenty dollar bills and shoved them out the wicket to the customer with the remark that he could, if he liked, check it before leaving the bank. He said, “No time now, but if it’s wrong, you’ll hear from me.” He then walked out.

After the bank closed for the weekend, I attempted to balance the cash and found out it was $200.00 short. After further checking, I discovered my error of giving the customer six hundred rather than four hundred dollars. I reported the mistake to the manager. He told me to call the customer. I called the man’s office but was told he was not in. I was told by my manager to call that office again Monday first thing.

Monday morning arrived, but before I could call the customer, he walked in the bank, said good morning and told me he had some money for me. I told him I hoped it was two hundred dollars. It was all there. I thanked him profusely and praised him for his honesty. He assured me anyone could make a mistake – it’s part of learning – and walked out.

I regard the two years with Imperial Bank a real college course in business.

My dad wrote the next few words in a separate note to me:


I wasn’t going to include the portion about the two hundred dollar overpayment, but without it, the letter seemed to make me some sort of a hero of Imperial Bank.

Thank you,



My dad at 97 in 1997.

Thank you, to you Dad, for teaching me valuable words and imparting to me the value of character and behavior. I’ll close with Happy Father’s Day to you!

I know you can hear me.

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The Art of Writing and Speaking the English Language – 1903

At one time I was a partner in a retail antique shop on the Balboa peninsula in Newport Beach, California. My business associate and I were both in education, running the store in the summer during the height of the tourist season and having an employee manage the store during the winter months when it was open fewer hours.

We acquired antiques and collectibles from all over the country: estate sales, shipments we brought in from the midwest, buying expeditions, people bringing items into the store to sell, and doing estate appraisals. One day this little set of books arrived in a trunk of items. They immediately went to an interested party – me.


I was especially interested in the one titled “Composition.” These books are small in size, each measuring 4″ x 5 ½“.

Just who was Sherwin Cody? I quickly checked Wikipedia to learn he was born in 1868 in Michigan and went by his middle name Sherwin. (With the first name of Alpheus, he appears to have made a good choice. Sherwin does seem a bit more literary than, say, the nickname Al.) His active writing life spanned from 1893 to 1950. From Wikipedia,

“Sherwin Cody worked at the Chicago Tribune just as correspondence education was being initiated at the University of Chicago, and he was assigned to write a home study course for the Tribune. In 1903 Cody produced a version of his course in pocket sized book form as The Art of Writing and Speaking the English Language.” 



Published with some backup from academia.

I imagine Cody would be quite amazed at the growth of correspondence education and  what is now available via the internet and online from universities. He could definitely say he was in on the ground floor.

I wondered about the contents of the Composition book. Would I find anything of interest, contradictory, illuminating? I found the chapter titles intriguing.


He advised to study the masters.

Cody called his course practical, outlining three goals on page 15 of the above volume:

  1. “Form the habit of observing the meaning and values of words, the structure of sentences, of paragraphs, and of the entire compositions as we read standard literature.”
    I relate. As I read, I seem to read on two concurrent levels. On one I’m engrossed in the story. On the other I’m observing and analyzing what the author is doing and how he’s achieving it. E.g. structure, word choice. My two-level process seems to happen simultaneously.
  2. “Practice in the imitation of selections from master writers, in every case fixing our attention on the rhetorical element each particular writer best illustrates.”
    I’ve done this, knowingly trying to incorporate a scene description rich in symbolism a la John Steinbeck (The Pearl), a story mood a la Erich Maria Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front), and suspense and tension a la Edgar Allan Poe (The Masque of the Red Death).
  3. “Make independent compositions for ourselves with a view to studying and expressing the stock of ideas which we have to express. This will involve a study of the people on whom we wish to impress our ideas.”
    This is where we as writers sit down, tie ourselves to a chair if necessary, and write, keeping in mind how we can – with our word choices, structure, characters, plot, etc. – have the reader see, feel, and understand, and come away caring about what they’ve read; how we can touch the reader. In other words, consider the audience.

Some say writers should write what they like, write for themselves, just put their work out in circulation, and see what happens. I say write what you like, know, and don’t know. Do your research. The choices are infinite. But I add, know your niche or category and market. If you want to be read, keep your reader in mind.

I can’t say I saw anything new or saw anything in my quick scan with which I disagreed. Cody seemed thorough, obviously dated in style and examples. I’d like to know the authors Cody would choose today to illustrate his thoughts.

An aside – My dad was a great one for correspondence courses and always advised me to keep learning. I’m sure if he’d been interested in writing per se he would have tried one of Cody’s courses. (My dad, more interested in business and law, did work assiduously on one particular correspondence course called The Blackstone School of Law. In my mind, I can still see him pouring over the critiques given of his arguments.)

I found these little books quite user friendly, easily slipped into a pocket or purse. I imagine whenever a potential writer sat down with one of these, school was in session.


When you collect antiques, this type of setup just happens … a vintage school desk and bells, and Cody’s The Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language.

Final advice from Sherwin Cody? “Write what you know—so go out and know something.” I think I would have enjoyed meeting this guy.

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A Writer’s Really Bad Day

Some days should never happen, like those days fate conspires to reek havoc with your plans. Enter May 5, 2018. I was on my way to a Volunteer Recognition Luncheon for the Palm Springs Writers Guild. From there I would go to the Guild’s monthly meeting where I was on the agenda to give awards to three contest winners, and do a reading of a winning memoir piece of 3500 words. The Guild was also recognizing high school essay winners and the Guild”s Monthly story winner. I was running early, ready for a leisurely drive to a nice event.

About five miles from home on this so-called relaxed drive, a red light appeared on the dash of my Jeep – not the Tire Pressure Monitoring system, not the Seatbelt Reminder Light, not the Oil Pressure Warning Light, but the Engine Temperature Warning Light. My heart stopped, well almost. I’d once continued driving a vehicle while its red dash light warned me the car was overheating, thinking I could get to a gas station. I did major damage to the engine.


The culprit was the gauge on the right. I watched the indicator drift farther and farther toward the “H.” (Image courtesy of offroadvegan.com)


I pulled over immediately, close to an intersection and in the bicycle lane. After rummaging through my purse, I found my wallet and dug out the AAA card. Hallelujah.
I grabbed my cell and placed the call. A female voice and I connected. The first thing the voice asked was, “Are you safe?” I told her I was. Fortunately, I hadn’t stalled in the middle of the road or something worse. I didn’t add, that although I was safe, I was ticked and uncomfortable and hungry, anticipating lunch. Ah, poor me.

I told her my Jeep needed water. It was overheating. She informed me that the AAA does not take care of that but she’d be happy to send a tow, to arrive in about 45 minutes. I live in the desert. Sitting in the car, in the sun, with no air conditioning, and the car overheating is the stuff of nightmares. I mumbled something and she determined my location.

2012 Jeep Liberty Arctic

I love my Jeep, even though it decided to have a bad day. I tried to think of snow as I sat in the hot sun. (Image courtesy of digital dealer.com)


I developed a plan. I’d have the vehicle towed to Jeep in Cathedral City, Uber from there to the Fisherman’s Restaurant in Rancho Mirage, grab a ride to the meeting, and then Uber home. With any luck, I’d make the luncheon, at least dessert. I quickly installed the Uber App on my phone. With a plan ready, I soon saw the tow truck on the other side of the road. It did a u-turn and pulled in behind me. The driver listened to my scheme and smiled. “It’s Saturday,” he said. “The car’s only going to sit on the lot in the hot sun the rest of the weekend.”

Nothing left to do but tow the ailing Jeep home, garage it, and deal with its problem(s) on Monday. Holy c__p. While the tow truck driver put the car up on the flatbed, I arranged with Uber for a home pick-up, and called the restaurant, asking to speak with someone, anyone, in the Writers’ Guild. I wouldn’t make it to the luncheon. If things rolled smoothly and quickly, I’d make the meeting.  I seemed to be placed on terminal hold. I stared at the cell phone, willing things to get moving. I didn’t want to let my associates in the Guild down. It takes about 25 minutes to read 3500 words, which would leave a gap in the program.


Well, I missed the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon … (Image courtesy of Taste of Summer Rancho Mirage)

A friendly female voice I recognized finally came on the phone and, after I explained, she said, “No problem. I’ll come pick you up.” What? That’s a trip from Rancho Mirage to the outback of La Quinta and back again. “I’ll pick you up at your house,” the voice repeated. “Forget Uber,” she added.

All right. Great! At least I had a chance of getting to the meeting in time to do the reading. I pulled myself up the high steps into the truck cab. As I fell in, grace and aplomb evidently left the building. The driver took one look at me and said, “No worries. I got this.”

But now I had another problem. I had to cancel Uber. A lucky break, finally. Because I was such a novice with the app and, while I thought I’d arranged for a pickup, I hadn’t completed the process. No Uber driver was ever engaged. Whew!

The story had a happy ending. My friend picked me up, I did what I had to do, and she brought me home from the meeting. On the following Monday, I had the car towed to Crystal Chrysler Jeep to learn the vehicle needed a water pump. (I wouldn’t recognize one if I met one.) Fortunately, things were soon squared away. I didn’t realize writing and its special events could be so traumatic. Many thanks, Danielle, for picking me up! (I took her flowers the next day.)


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Coffee and a Muffin

It was a Tuesday morning. I’d just left my writers’ critique group which meets in our local La Quinta Library, thinking about all the SLJ’s I had to do when I got home. i.e. change the bed, do some wash, pay the bills. Given this scenario, I wasn’t exactly of a mind to rush back to the abode.

Plus, I was freezing. The temperature this day in the conference room where we hold our meetings made a meat locker seem like a Florida beach. I had to put on a long sweater and a scarf, a la Nanook of the North, for the duration of our two hour meeting from 10 to 12 pm. Outside, the desert weather was sunny and warm, but pleasantly so, a brief break from the high temperatures late April and early May can bring. This day was the kind that sells desert real estate.

In my cold and bundled up condition, and not feeling particularly chatty, I drove over to Old Town Coffee located near the library. I needed something to warm up. I claimed an outdoor table before going into the shoppe for a cinnamon muffin and a latte – decaf, nonfat, single shot. Around me people wearing shorts, cotton tops, flip-flops and sandals were busy enjoying the food and coffee that make this local establishment popular.

The place smelled like fresh bakery and hot, dark Sumatra. The barista attempted to banter with me, but no luck. I wasn’t feeling chatty. Another customer, a woman, pointed to the black plastic knives and forks hiding in plain sight by the napkin dispenser. I was lured into a brief exchange about trying to juggle a coffee, a muffin in a basket, a purse, utensils, and napkins.


I sat at the table on the far left. Of course, at the time it was unoccupied … Image courtesy of TripAdvisor                    

After I sat at my patio table, I realized two things: the air felt balmy, clear, and inviting, and … I needed to shed my scarf and sweater, which I did. I sat in the sun, feeling a slight breeze. A sparrow patrolling the cement, moving in its jerky, halting manner, scavenged for food, its tan, gray, and brownish/black feathers glossy in the light. He came very close to my foot. I found myself studying his techniques.

A female duck strolled near me, also scavenging, making a friendly cheeping sound, not bothered by people. A dove joined the sparrow. I had a regular aviary at my feet. They didn’t seem to mind my scrutiny.

A large brown dog appeared on the patio, leading its owner. The birds I’d been watching  literally took a walk. The woman smiled. I found myself chatting with her about her dog’s human qualities, the comfort he gives, and my Great Dane, Davidson, rest his soul, who would have been right at home. The dog exerted an extra hard pull and the woman laughed and moved on.

As the sun warmed my shoulders, I realized I felt quite at peace. The muffin seemed to have become the best I’d tasted in a long time. The latte slipped ever so gently down my throat, also the best I’d tasted in a long time. People were pleasant and thoughtful. Several sighs escaped my lips. The world seemed to be moving slower, feeling less daunting, less mundane.

At some point, I put my head back, allowing the sun to warm my face. I knew two things. I could easily sit here all day, at peace, and just let life happen. Or even, better, I could just fall asleep. There I was … warm, fed, and cocooned in a feeling of well-being.

But. All good things come to an end. I glanced at my watch. I took my time walking to my Jeep to then make the 20 minute drive home. But life was good and, somehow, the SLJ’s didn’t seem like much of a problem at all. I just needed a moment to “reset.”

Of course, life’s problems may be way more daunting than not feeling like doing the necessary chores associated with daily life, as described in the above, and that “boo-hoo, poor me” thing we all get sometimes, whatever the reason. Sometimes it’s way more than that. May is Mental Health Month. Here are some thoughts on mental health as reported on the Skimm .

Thanks for stopping by. Just a little post to remind ourselves to take the time to do a “reset.” It’s a good thing.



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An Odd Purchase at the Museum Store

A local museum sent out a mailer announcing a Native American pottery show.  It looked enticing plus I’d wanted to own a pottery piece for some time. I find the artwork calming and soothing, intricate and pleasing. I like its tradition, history, and connection to nature. For my first purchase I pictured a vase or a pot or a bowl with a pleasing design, modest in size and price. One day I’d graduate to a piece by the well-known artists at Mata Ortiz.


Mata Ortiz Pottery – this piece by Nancy Hera de Martinez

My husband and I arrived at the show to find several artists at work, painting designs  with intricate strokes aided by fine-bristled brushes, patiently forming curved lines, straight lines, geometric shapes, and animal images. Painstaking work and very beautiful.

We were only there a few minutes when the piece below leapt into my hand like it was drawn to me and vice versa. Obviously a strange looking vase. Obviously, the farthest from my thoughts was a turtle. What was going on? I came to buy a vase, but I knew this turtle was going home with me.

Version 2

My first purchase of Native American art pottery 

What could possibly be the rationale for buying this sweet turtle? As I thought about it later, only one connection came to mind. It brought back a memory of being with my father. This was important because I don’t have too many father-based images from when I was a little girl. He worked, little kids were seen not heard, I played outside. I don’t recall my father being that much of a participant in my upbringing. As an adult we shared quite a few memories and experiences, but as a little girl, no.

He did teach me to roller skate and ride a bike. He put books in my hands. He took me ice skating once. I was given an American Flyer sled and a toboggan. But our experiences together were not numerous.

One day when I was about eight I did go with my father while he checked on a work site. He owned a plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning business and ran a small fleet of trucks with a number of employees. I loved to go with him, to be with my dad. But I always had to remember, he was working on these trips and rather engrossed.

One day we were driving along a rural road on the way to a custom home site. The road was wooded on each side, a creek not too far away. Suddenly he stopped the truck.

“Look, Carol.”

I looked through the windshield. What was I supposed to see? Then I saw a turtle with a shell about 8″ wide moseying along the roadside. My dad pulled to the shoulder.

“Quick,” he said. “Get the lunch out of the back.”

While my dad got out, I hopped out, reached behind the seat and grabbed the lunch my mother had packed. Were we going to have a picnic? My dad removed a sandwich from the paper bag and unwrapped it. The aroma of ham with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise escaped into the air. He removed some lettuce from the sandwich and pointed to the turtle.

“Here, give this to him.”

I looked from my dad to the turtle. Unsure, I took the lettuce and placed the piece in front of said turtle and he ate it. He seemed a gentle soul. My father joined in the feeding. The turtle soon took pieces of lettuce from our fingers. We tried some pieces of bread. The turtle ate. We tried some pieces of tomato. The turtle ate. We tried a little piece of ham. He ate that, too. We lingered with the turtle until my dad said we had to move on, minus most of a sandwich.

This happy, unexpected interlude never left me. My dad and I laughed together, watching the turtle enjoy a first class ham sandwich. I think the turtle that found my hand at the pottery show must have been an ancestor of that lucky little fella crawling along the roadside so many years ago. Whatever karma occurred, I thank a pottery turtle for reminding me of a special moment.

I did buy my new turtle a companion.


A companion piece

The museum I mentioned is not too far from my home. If you’re ever in the Palm Springs area, you’ll want to visit this unique place. It’s called Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs. It’s where I went to buy a small vase, but bought a turtle instead.

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Lucky Seven and Writers

I’d never seen the word shichifukujin until I read author Dan Brown’s thriller Digital Fortress. Granted, there are many words I haven’t seen or read, but this one intrigued me. Brown simply revealed the shichifukujin were the seven deities of good luck, although perhaps not for one of his characters named Numataka. Curious, I wanted to find out about the seven deities. I looked them up at this site: www.ancient.eu. They seem pretty happy in the picture below. Good luck is evidently good for the soul.


Shichifukujin image courtesy of ancient.eu

Just what kind of luck do these gods oversee? If these happy fellows are on your horizon, here’s what you can expect, by name:

Ebisu will bring you luck in your work. He’s depicted with a fish, suggesting bounty in the fisherman’s work. Let’s add success in a writer’s work.

Daikoku will bring you wealth and prosperity. He’s a patron of farmers, sitting atop bags of bountiful rice. Works for me.

Benten, playing a lute and the only female, is the goddess of love and reasoning.

Bishamon is the god of happiness and war, an odd combination. You can identify him easily.

Hotei is the patron of thrift and philanthropy although his big belly and laid back look are deceiving. I guess the moral is save and share.

Fukurokuju is the god of wisdom and longevity as signified by his very high forehead.

Jurojin is also a god of wisdom and longevity. He has a long white beard and wears a scholarly hat.

Having two gods of wisdom and longevity, suggesting both common sense and scholarly learning, hints at the idea that the longer we live, the wiser we become and that we can’t have or be blessed with too much wisdom. I’ll take a double dose of wisdom on any day of the week and consider myself very lucky. And I hope it carries over into my ability as a writer.


Image courtesy of Reference.com

And then we have the seven dwarfs from the fairy tale Snow White. When the Grimm Brothers wrote this story, they didn’t give the dwarfs names. It wasn’t until 1912 and a Broadway play of Snow White by Winthrop Ames that the little fellas were given names: Blick, Flick, Glick, Plick, Snick, Whick and Quee. Oxford Dictionaries.

Clever, yes, but it took Disney with his film Snow White to immortalize them with the names Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful, and Sneezy. The number seven coming to life as seven little characters brought great luck to a couple of authors, a playwright, and a filmmaker.

Let’s give these seven deities a chance to usher in good luck in the writing department as we put story on the page, and let these seven little people remind us to create characters that readers enjoy, love (or maybe hate), remember, and care about.

As a final touch, let’s add a rainbow, a classic symbol of good luck and hope, which happens to have seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue,  indigo, and violet. A pot of gold at the end certainly helps.

It’s up to us to add the work and perseverance we know it takes. Happy writing!

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