Keep on the Sunny Side

Corruption at city hall. Police brutality. Looting. The coronavirus. Whether local, national, or international, there’s a lot of bad news out there. It would be easy to spend all day moaning about what’s wrong with the world.

But I’m choosing not to. At least for today, I’m focusing on the sunny side of life. After all, it’s summer, the sunniest season of all, right?

Here in my hometown of Rocky Mount, the state audit of the city government has finally been completed and released. One of the most scathing discoveries is that a councilman has received “free” utilities to the tune of more than $47,000.  Rather than admit he’s bilked the City and resign, he’s dug in his heels, denying the truth of the state auditor’s report and instead claiming he’s a victim of racism.

What?? I know. Crazy. Crazy enough that many reasonable, utility-paying citizens don’t want to live within the city limits anymore and be subjected to such shenanigans. There’s talk about moving.

I could leave this corruption behind myself. But I love my Rocky Mount home. I love my neighbors, my neighborhood, and my five-minute drive to Harris Teeter.

And I love my mature yard with this special tree that my young grandsons enjoy climbing.

up a tree

A weekend trip to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, helped me stay on the sunny side of life. Gone was the Covid-19 flashing message I saw a few weeks ago telling me to quarantine myself for 14 days if I was just arriving. Instead, I was greeted by “Welcome back, summer residents and guests.”

And the rhododendron, the mountain’s version of the azalea, was in bloom.


What’s a happier sight than a boy and a dog posing in a mountain backyard?

boy with dog

North Carolina is a “variety vacationland,” to quote an old state marketing slogan, and from the mountains to the coast, I’ve been finding the good in life. For example, look at all the shibumis on the beach at Emerald Isle.

Never heard of a shibumi? Here’s the story. Two brothers and a best friend grew up visiting Emerald Isle. The one drawback to their otherwise wonderful beach trips, they’ve said, was having to deal with flimsy beach umbrellas and heavy tents. So now as young adults, they’ve invented the shibumi. American entrepreneurship in action!

They’re selling a lot of these pricey but oh so worth it beach shades all over the United States. I think it’s safe to say Emerald Isle, the beach that inspired them, is definitely a strong market.

shabumi city

“Well, there’s a dark and a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and a sunny side too.
But if you meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view.
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.”

I often remind myself of these lyrics from “Keep on the Sunny Side” by the country singers the White family. You might recall the song from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

My three-year-old grandson looks as though he already sees the “dark and troubled side of life” as he gazes out on the Atlantic Ocean. But since he’s wearing Christmas pajamas while eating watermelon, I like to think he too is choosing the bright and sunny side.

eating watermelon


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School’s Out for the Summer

Can you hear me cheering? Today, Friday, May 15, is the last day of the 2019-2020 academic year for Rocky Mount Academy. Which means, drum roll here, Grandma Patsy’s School for a Displaced Third Grader is over!

Working with grandson Charlie, I’ve had an up close and personal look at third grade over the last seven weeks, at least in a private school. And I’m here to tell you, the curriculum is not for the faint of heart.

Did you have this many books in third grade? I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

Tons of Books

Back in the Dark Ages (1963-64, to be exact), Miss Annie Mears issued all of her public school third graders a reading book, a math book, and…that’s all I remember.

Did we do grammar, social studies, and science in third grade? I recall learning the multiplication tables and how to spell what I thought was a really hard word, “vacation.” Did we start cursive? Or was that fourth grade?

Examples of Handwriting Styles | Handwriting styles, Cursive ...

Like me, Charlie has learned his multiplication tables in third grade. And he has mastered a list of spelling words each week. Cursive is being taught, which I’ve heard isn’t happening in most public schools anymore.

But he’s also had some major grammar, science, and social studies lessons. Concepts like the difference between “its” and “it’s,” types of clouds, and branches of the government. Things that a lot of adults don’t know. (I was a little rusty on the clouds myself.)

There were times when he was a bit overwhelmed. For example, he insisted that his simple, across-the-board answer of “Works” for the “What” question in this chart was sufficient. And yes, he had the legislative and judicial branches mixed up, but at least he put the President in the White House!

Days like this I didn’t know whether to laugh or tear my hair out!

Charlie's answers

The biggest difference between Charlie’s third grade experience and mine is the use of technology. Boys and girls, I know it’s hard to believe, but there were no computers for third graders back in 1963, and zoom meant to fly in a speedy manner.

Of course, until seven weeks ago, there was no Zoom classroom experience for today’s third graders either.


In my opinion, Zoom didn’t come close to replacing the brick and mortar experience of school, but it did provide some sort of connection to teachers and classmates who, in happier times, were a big part of my third grader’s world.

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Bustin’ Out

I went to the beach this past weekend, and I’m here to tell you, spring is not the only thing bustin’ out all over. It wasn’t a Fourth of July crowd, but there were plenty of folks soaking up some sun and trying to have some fun.


I know, I know. I’m supposed to be on the coronavirus lockdown. I admit my beach house is not my primary residence. The address there is not the one on my driver’s license. But a contractor my husband and I hired back in the fall is finally making repairs to our house caused by Hurricane Florence what, 18 months ago. We felt we needed to go check on the new windows that have been installed and the painting that’s been done.

And I admit I wanted a change of scenery. I wanted to see the ocean. I wanted to eat some seafood. So we temporarily scrapped quarantine.

We weren’t on the coast by ourselves.

Right or wrong and days ahead of our North Carolina governor, evidently quite a few of us have decided to use our own common sense to get out and do at least some of the things we used to enjoy. I guess the desire for our old life outweighs our fear of the virus.

I wasn’t on a wild spring break like the college kids caught on the news back in March. And the beach I saw wasn’t packed like some I’ve seen reports of in Florida and Texas.

To re-emphasize, I wasn’t in the middle of any kind of crowd. And neither were these folks in the above picture I took of the Emerald Isle Beach on Sunday afternoon. People looked pretty spaced out to me.

On Saturday, my husband and I rode a dozen miles down the coast to Salter Path to get a shrimp burger at the legendary Big Oak. The small parking lot was jammed, but everyone in line pretty much observed the social 6-foot distance. Some people had masks; most did not. The line moved like clockwork.  Maybe I’m living in denial, but as I waited for my food, I felt more in danger of getting a sunburn than the coronavirus.

Big Oak

Just like at home, some businesses are thriving while others aren’t. Restaurants that have always done take-out, like the Big Oak, I would guess haven’t missed a beat. Others aren’t so fortunate. The doors were locked and the lights off at the eatery below.

NC Open

What I call the “Unwelcome Sign” flashes at the bottom of the bridge that takes me from Emerald Isle back to the mainland. “STAY HOME” all ye who have dared to enter! That’s the official line; many of the merchants no doubt feel differently (see above OPEN NC sign).

Unwelcome sign

Right or wrong, whether for essential business or pure pleasure, the bumper to bumper traffic on Sunday afternoon showed a lot of us have chosen not to stay home.


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It’s the Little Things These Days

Stuck at home now for days on end, I’ve found time for the little things in life. Yep, one thing this coronavirus “shelter in place” deal has done for me is provide the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. In my case, the tea roses that are beginning to bloom at my house.


Strolling around the yard as I often do these fine spring days, I’ve noticed other first blooms. My traveling rose campion has lovely small, hot pink blossoms. I describe it as “traveling” because this prolific plant has skipped around my yard. Several years ago, I transplanted my initial rose campion to a bed in the backyard. The picture below is of one growing around the corner next to the driveway. A garden club friend told me the plant has little black seeds easily transported by the wind.

Rose campion is an old-timey flower. Mine is the offspring of one my grandmother had years and years ago. I love that I can look in my yard and see something from hers.

first bloom

With all the coronavirus downtime, a chore I’ve requested for a while has finally been done.

Two years ago, I enjoyed watching a mama bird go in and out of my hanging pink bird house. Last year, I thought maybe she’d return or I’d have another tenant, but I guess birds want new nests.

“Would you please remove the bottom of my bird house and clean out the nest so another feathered friend can move in?” I’d asked my husband. (On more than one occasion and maybe not quite so nicely.)

Along with my grandson, who loved the drilling part of this project, he picked a sunny afternoon to grant my request. My birdhouse was disassembled, cleaned out, and reassembled. I hope to see new activity soon.

charlie drillingbird house

The square bird nest they removed, which fit the square bottom of the bird house, is the stuff of “show and tell.”

bird nest

Usually when I have bananas that get soft, I pitch them. Or if I have a minute, take them outside to add to my mulch bed. Since I now have lots of minutes, this week I made banana bread. Did you know most banana bread recipes call for three very ripe bananas? I had to do a little googling to find one that called for the two I had. I don’t need the calories, but the bread has been a treat.

banana bread

I’ve been cleaning out closets (see last post) and came across a dress I made and wore when I was fifteen (1969, the year I learned to sew in ninth grade home economics). Hard to believe that was more than a half century ago!

What’s even harder to believe is my granddaughter wants to wear this dress. It fits her and she thinks it’s in style. The only problem is the dress spent decades in my parents’ attic and thus has some discoloration.

With time on my hands, I’ve been researching home remedies to remove brown spots from clothing. I used a concoction of lemon juice and salt to soak the affected areas and then dried the dress in the sun. This procedure has helped quite a bit, but the dress isn’t yet perfect. I plan to try cream of tartar and white vinegar next.

dress on rack

The yard, the kitchen, the laundry. It’s the little things that fill up my “shelter in place” coronavirus days.



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Cleaning and Cooking Corona-Style

I can’t go to church, the dentist, book club, the hairdresser, writers’ group, Talbots, or out to eat. Like a lot of other people stuck at home, I have a lot of time on my hands. So I’m cleaning and purging, and feeling very frugal about it.

Yesterday’s project was the closet in my office. This narrow space, filled with shelves, started as a place to keep important papers. You know, files full of old bank statements, insurance policies, retirement information. Somehow over the last 14 years, though, the closet became a catchall for gift wrap paper, various knickknacks, and random craft supplies for grandchildren.

It was so junky, I was afraid of losing some of those important papers in the piles of bows and empty shoe boxes (kids love these for various projects).

junky closet

It would go against my naturally frugal nature to throw away perfectly good bows and paper that can be used again, so I decided to pull out all the gift wrap stuff and find another location for it.

I boxed up my youngest daughter’s middle and high school trophies, which were in another downstairs closet, and relocated them to the attic. I put the gift wrap supplies in the freed-up space in that closet.

If it sounds like I just moved stuff from one location to another, well, yeah, I did. But I also threw away quite a few tissue rolls and egg cartons (more kid craft supplies) and some squashed bows and wrinkled paper. Here’s how the office closet looked after I finished.

clean closet

Wow, some bare space. The craft supplies are better organized in shoe boxes on the floor. It’s not perfect–I still need to work on the files–but I was rather proud of my morning project.

Also, while in the attic putting away the box of trophies, I found these lamps. I think they were my husband’s grandmother’s, at least the ones with the delicate green flowers. I’m saving them for my middle daughter, who’s soon to move into her renovated bungalow in Charlotte. Like me, she’s a fan of restoring and reusing.


Another area I’ve been cleaning out is the freezer. Finding no hamburger in the grocery stores on at least a couple of occasions now has sent me digging in the bottom of the refrigerator, where my freezer contains various dabs of leftovers. I have a waste not, want not nature, so I probably save food others would throw out.

Take this leftover frozen spaghetti sauce. Not much, but thawed, reheated, and dumped on some just-cooked pasta, it was last night’s dinner.

spaghetti sauce

I may have the Coronavirus Pandemic mixed up with the Great Depression. Every fall, my husband’s uncle brings us a huge bag of potatoes he buys on his annual trip to Maine. Usually by the spring, I throw away the last of the bag, potatoes that have grown a little soft and sprouted.

The other day, rather than face the germy grocery store, I found myself using a few of these potatoes. Peeled and cooked, they worked just fine in my Easter potato salad for two.


Still, even I admit these spuds are a little sad looking. I’ll put “small bag of white potatoes” on my list for the weekly grocery trip. I’m betting they’ll be easier to find than toilet paper.

Maybe I should recycle the old ones by planting them. I wonder how much yard space is needed to grow a patch of potatoes.

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Report Card from Grandma Patsy’s School for a Displaced Third Grader

Does banging out the same song over and over and over on the piano count for music class? It does in Grandma Patsy’s School for a Displaced Third Grader. I’m close to the point of anything goes.

music lesson

We’ve just finished our second full week of home schooling, this eight-year-old grandson and I. It’s been a roller coaster ride as I try to keep the attention of a boy who’d much rather be playing Fortnite than doing worksheets.

In a former life, I taught English in the community college. To adults. I was the mother of three girls who liked to read and usually did their homework without too much prompting. Teaching a third grade boy who prefers fishing and computer games has been, let us say, an adjustment.

I’m pulling out every trick I can think of. He enjoys striking a match to light a candle each morning before we start the day’s work. (Boys like fire, I’ve learned.) I dug up an old Beanie Baby for him to squeeze when he feels frustrated or finds his attention wandering (which happens like, every other minute). We ask Alexa to play songs, taking turns. I don’t know whether to be impressed or alarmed when he picks Black Sabbath.

And I let him put his head down, something I’m pretty sure isn’t allowed at school. I pick my battles. Besides, I feel like putting my head down too.

head down

Even though he’s not a big reader, I’ve learned he’s a decent speller. And he can whip through some math. While I was still poring over the textbook, he was already converting liters into milliliters (or is it the other way around?).

The day before we did centimeters and meters, and another day we worked with grams and kilograms. Just take me out and shoot me.third grade math

I do try to make learning interesting. A STEM (whatever that is) project involved going outside and collecting leaves. I picked a pretty morning, grabbed a sandwich bag, and we toured the yard. He plucked leaves for a while before I lost him to tree climbing. Oh well, I decided that counted for P.E.

charlie in the tree

Back inside, I did manage to get him to tape the leaves onto a sheet of paper as I quizzed him about the names of the different trees.

STEM project

Truth be told, he was more interested in pricking himself with the holly leaf than in learning the difference between the crape myrtle leaf and wax myrtle leaf.

Still, we’d gone outside and enjoyed nature. The dogwoods and azaleas aren’t affected by a virus that’s virtually shut down our country and thrown our children out of school. This year, their blooms seem especially pretty.


Charlie and I will make it somehow, some way.


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I Go Out Walking

As part of my new social-distancing, sheltering-at-home routine, I take a walk every afternoon. Getting outside helps me burn a few calories and, even more important, keeps me from going absolutely stir-crazy.

Most days, I walk around the neighborhood, greeting at a safe distance any fellow exiles who are also strolling. But on Sunday afternoon, I took a road trip to get in my walk on a piece of land in Edgecombe County. It’s roughly 250 acres of fields and woods that my husband has hunted since he was a boy. He served as my guide so I didn’t have to drop bread crumbs to find my way out.


my guide

We parked the jeep just beyond this dilapidated barn. I ventured inside, hoping to find one of those big old tobacco baskets like I remember from my granddaddy’s pack house (if you were ever involved in grading tobacco, you know what I’m talking about and understand the tobacco jargon I just used; if not, just keep reading).

No luck. Just a bunch of junk. As it’s falling down, though, this barn speaks to me of days gone by.

the barn

We walked past fields that will soon be planted. Right now they’ve been fertilized with chicken manure. I’m glad you can’t smell through the printed word. Let’s just say passing by was the least enjoyable part of my walk.


Soon we came to a path in the woods. Robert Frost popped in my head: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….”

I know: there’s only one road and it’s not autumn. Still, there’s something about a road in the woods, isn’t there? You just have to follow it.

the path

And follow it we did. For almost four miles. We passed all kinds of cool nature stuff, like these fungi growing on a log. Notice the symmetry here in the two groupings of three. How did that happen?


Even prettier were these dogwood blossoms. I love a dogwood tree in the spring. Not only are its delicate white flowers a pretty sight, but there is also the legend that is of particular significance this time of the year.

The story goes that Jesus’ cross was made from the dogwood tree. As a result, God decided that the dogwood would from that time on never grow large enough to be used for a cross. Thus, the dogwood is a small tree that often grows beneath larger ones. Also, the flower of the dogwood has four petals, making the shape of the cross. Sometimes these petals are tinged with red, signifying the blood of Christ.

When you’re in the woods, you have time to remember stories like this.

dogwood blossoms

I’ve never been to the Great Dismal Swamp, that vast wetland in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, but I imagine it would look something like this swamp I passed during my walk in these Edgecombe County woods.

dismal swamp

Of course, no trip to the farm would be complete without checking out a tree stand used by my deer-hunting husband and his extended deer-hunting family. Once in a while, I do get a nice piece of venison from all that deer hunting.

tree stand

Out here in the peaceful woods and still-sleeping fields, the coronavirus seemed far, far away.

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Atlanta Has Lots of Hotspots

What was there to do in Atlanta, Georgia over a four-day trip other than watch my youngest daughter run a marathon in 2 hours, 44 minutes, and 25 seconds? Well, in addition to hanging out in Centennial Park, the site of the Olympic Marathon Trials, I visited some other Atlanta hotspots.

Atlanta History Center

I love history, especially American history, and the Atlanta History Center specializes in Civil War stuff. The Battle of Atlanta is a restored cyclorama painting that is worth the price of admission all by itself.

What is a cyclorama, you may ask? (I didn’t know either.) It’s a circular picture of a 360 degree scene. You view it standing inside. At 49 feet tall and 10,000 pounds,  The Battle of Atlanta is HUGE. Longer than a football field, it wraps around the walls. Below is just one small segment.

cyclorama scene

The story goes that Clark Gable, viewing the cyclorama, pronounced it wonderful except for the fact that he wasn’t in it. After all, he argued, he had portrayed Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, and who can forget that scene of the burning of Atlanta? So, the Atlanta power brokers of the time had Rhett Butler added to The Battle of Atlanta. So much for historical accuracy.

rhett butler

There were other attractions at the Atlanta History Center: one of the country’s largest Civil War exhibitions (lots of artifacts), an old-timey locomotive, the 1930s Swan House, and walking trails. But I must move on.

Margaret Mitchell House

The ticket we bought for the Atlanta History Center also got us into the Margaret Mitchell House, which was a few miles away but worth the trip for me, a lover of Gone with the Wind (both the book and the movie).

Actually, Margaret Mitchell and her husband didn’t live in the entire house but only an apartment within the house. Still, I got to see the exact spot where she wrote most of Gone with the Wind. Yeah, I know it’s kinda staged, but still…

MM house

Across from the house in another building were items relating to the movie. Look at this spectacular portrait of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. This is the painting that hung in Rhett Butler’s bedroom in the movie. Doesn’t he hurl his whiskey glass at it at some point?


World of Coca-Cola

As you may know, some pharmacist in Atlanta invented Coca-Cola. The city has capitalized on this fact, and a museum called the World of Coca-Cola is a popular tourist destination.

I probably would have passed on this Disney World sort of attraction, but I was in the company of a granddaughter who was keen on going. I’m not a huge lover of soft drinks (unless there’s something a little more interesting mixed in), but I did find the visit to the museum entertaining. Lots of Coke memorabilia!

coke signs

The Georgia Aquarium

Another popular Atlanta attraction I would probably have skipped is the Georgia Aquarium. I’m not a huge fish fan, and I’ve been to aquariums in other cities. But again, I had grandchildren who wanted to go.

I’m glad I went. I learned the Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the world. IN THE WORLD. Yes, I needed to visit such a place. Don’t ask me to name all the sea creatures I saw, small and large, but from seahorses to porpoises, it was pretty amazing.

I also got a kick out of watching my grandsons experience the sights of the aquatic world. Here’s the younger one with his mom.

the aquarium

I still have Atlanta walking tours I want to do one day to see the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King and Ebenezer Baptist Church. There are historic neighborhoods, parks, and cemeteries to explore. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is in Atlanta, too, and I’m sure that would be worth a visit.

Atlanta, I’ll see you again.

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Mother Nature Doesn’t Mind Fooling Us

Remember that TV margarine ad with the line “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”? Well, she sure doesn’t mind fooling us. I wrote a recent column for the Sunday edition of The Rocky Mount Telegram about how crazy warm our Eastern North Carolina February has been.  “Instead of a few snow days or at least the usual cold,” I penned, “we’ve had a big dose of spring. …Is winter already over?”

Two days after I clicked SEND, it snowed. Fortunately, my totally wrong forecast was only a paragraph in the middle of a piece about all the contradictions in life, but I could still picture people glancing out their windows as they read my words and asking, “Did it not snow in her part of town?”

Well, yes, it did. Looking at my beautiful backyard, I almost didn’t mind my foolish paragraph. My husband, a much better photographer than I, captured part of our winter wonderland.

our snowy yardAnticipating the snow (unlike me), my better half stocked our bird feeders before the first flakes. We enjoyed watching a variety of birds flock to the food. I love the cardinal on the feeder to the left. He matches the two on the outdoor pillow.

snow birds A few days before it snowed, I swapped out my snowflake garden flag for the “It’s five o’clock somewhere” one pictured above. Yep, Mother Nature had me fooled!

Apart from my botched column, I had one other mishap due to the snow. My daffodils! With the warm February temperatures, these early blooms had busted out big-time.presnow daffodils

Here’s what the snow did to them.

snow daffodilsAs you can see, the flowers are pretty much on the ground. Once the snow melted enough for me to check, I was relieved to see the blooms were at least still there. From my kitchen window, I had seen only stalks.

Slowly, slowly, these little beauties are raising their delicate faces to the sun again. I don’t know whether they’ll regain their former posture, though.

today's daffodilsMother Nature can be a tricky ol’ gal, that’s for sure. But I guess with hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters up her sleeve, a nice, gentle snowfall isn’t such a bad prank.

peaceful snow pic

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Invite Me to Your Book Club?

Thrilling news! (For me, anyway.) I’ve received my first invitation to talk about Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder at a book club–well, not counting the club I’m in myself whose members, of course, HAD to pick my book for our January meeting. book cover front

St. Andrews Book Club here in Rocky Mount has invited me to its March meeting. “We would love for you to join us and talk about your book,” the email read. You don’t have to ask me twice, ladies. Your wish is my command.

Why would a book club want to read Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder? some may ask. Oh, let me count the ways:

  1. It’s a fun, semi-easy read.
  2. It’s a cozy mystery (nothing rated R; the worst cussing is “hell”).
  3. The setting is a small town where everybody knows everybody.
  4. It has a feisty female protagonist (you guessed it–Ms. Dee Ann).
  5. It’s Southern fiction with quite a few eccentric characters (for example, the Chief of Police, Dee Ann’s babysitter, her landlady).
  6. It addresses late 1970s social issues such as women’s rights and race relations.
  7.  It depicts what it was like to be a young wife and mother during this time. Maybe book club members would remember the late 1970s themselves and enjoy a trip down memory lane.

1970s picture

Yes, I know, I look absolutely crazy-eyed in this picture, circa 1979. But don’t you love my curly perm?

Oh, I almost forgot: perfect for book clubs, there are discussion questions at the end of Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder. Nobody has to jump-start the conversation.


Sooo, if you are a member of a book club within roughly an hour’s drive of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and would like to have a real live author come talk about her cozy mystery set in a small town in eastern North Carolina, let me know.

Send me an email at patsy.pridgen@gmail. com. and I will be happy to accommodate your club if at all possible. Hope to hear from you!





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