Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Doodle Test

Yoshiko croppedRecently I attended an introductory workshop on graphology given by my friend Yoshiko Inagaki. Yoshiko is one of the nation’s top graphologists and is also a certified life coach. She has examined more than 1,000 handwriting samples for Fortune 100 companies and individual clients, and in her life coaching practice she uses handwriting analysis to help her clients achieve deeper self-awareness.

One of the activities during the seminar was the Doodle Test, which I found fascinating. For graphologists, doodles have meaning. They are “like the  brain’s DNA,” says Andrea NcNichols. “They can unlock great insights into yourself and those around you.” For example, arrows can mean that the doodler is ambitious; cubes, which are quite common, suggest that the person is looking at the picture from all angles. One who draws houses may be yearning for a strong emotional center. Meaningless scratches indicate that the doodler feels directionless. Weapons are bad news. See other warning signs at “What your doodles say about you” at

Yoshiko explained that the test is a serious psychological analysis tool that has been administered to thousands of people. It consists of two preprinted sheets of paper with six squares on each sheet. Each square (with one exception) has one or more lines already drawn inside it. The test-taker is told to draw doodles that elaborate on the starting lines already provided. We learned afterwards that the doodles in each of the twelve squares represent how we  see some aspect of our lives–for example, home, parents, friends, sexuality, and so on. A few days ago Yoshiko honored me with an hour of her time to talk about her interpretation of the second part of my test.

In general, my doodles tended to be abstract, she said, suggesting that I’m comfortable with abstract thinking and don’t feel the need to have everything spelled out for me. She also saw that several of my squares reflected a strong creative side – a tendency to do things differently or march to a different drummer. Her conclusion fits with the description of my Enneagram type, which is Four. When it came to the square that shows an empty tic-tac-toe grid, I took my creativity to the extreme. Doodle tic-tac-toe smallThis doodle was supposed to reflect my attitude toward competition. Yoshiko was looking for choices of X’s and O’s and the patterns they formed. Instead, I filled all the cells with smiley faces. She took this to mean that I am independent and create my own rules. By not playing the game, at a deeper level, I’m rejecting the “duality-based mentality of this society that automatically creates the dynamic of the win-lose proposition.” While I like to win, I don’t want it to be at the expense of others. Life is about cooperation. She added: “By making everyone appear identical – and a with a smile – there’s a sense of happiness in oneness.”

Another interesting square had a hair-like arc in the center. I chose to draw a girl’s head below it and a hat covered in fancy curlicues on her head. Yoshiko told me that doodles in this square correspond to my social self-image. She thought the hat might be a jeweled tiara Doodle tiaraand the thought balloon, my thoughts about the future of the book I have just published. We decided that the doodle reflects my positive feelings in relation to my growing readership and the rewarding feedback I have been receiving about the book .

The test was a very interesting experience for me. I learned a lot about myself, and a couple of the doodles (not reported here) clearly pointed to some deep psychological issues. In those cases, Yoshiko guided me through them gently and helped me to not over-interpret what they meant.

Yoshiko will be celebrating National Handwriting Day this coming January 23 with a repeat of her workshop. For more information, you can contact her at


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My dogs

S&S cut-outMy twin Maltese Shi-Tzu pups, Sunshine and Snow, have been keeping me entertained for eight years now. It seems like yesterday when they came into my life. I had taken my friend Eric with me to a breeder with the intention of looking at a Schnoodle, the kind of dog I thought I wanted. The Schnoodle turned out to be quite sickly and I was about to leave when a litter of three adorable pups – a brother and two sisters – stole my heart. The boy was brown and white, but the two girls were almost all white, and one of them was very friendly and wanted to be cuddled. The other one was shaking in a corner and didn’t want to be touched. I knew immediately that the strong and friendly one would be a good companion, but the other one was incredibly cute and I felt certain that I could bring her out of her shell. As I was trying to decide between them, Eric said “Why don’t you take them both?” And the rest is history, as the saying goes. I don’t know whether the thought would have occurred to me if he hadn’t mentioned it, but I take full responsibility for my decision. I named the strong and healthy one “Sunshine,” which fit her personality perfectly, and the other one, “Snow,” as she reminded me of the soft white mysteries.Arrival (E)

Snow was miserable on the ride home, and when we arrived, she didn’t want to get out of the crate. Sunshine clambered out first, explored their new home, and finally persuaded her sister to venture forth. Soon they were chasing each other around, turning somersaults, and falling on top of each other.

Falling leavesI fed them a rich diet of specialty canned foods and real cooked meat, and they grew quickly. Before long, they were getting into mischief. They attended weekly puppy play sessions at the vet’s, where they learned some basic commands and I learned “gentling” techniques. From a checklist, I gradually exposed them to a variety of substrates, loud noises, and people of all sizes and different kinds of clothing. Kindergarten was followed by more training courses, all based on positive reinforcement, and they eventually mastered their basic and In Eric's lap (E)intermediate skills.

“Maltese Shish-Tzu” is actually the name of a lesser-known breed, but I suspect that my little “designer mutts” were the result of an intentional first-generation coupling. They grew to weigh 20 and 22 pounds, respectively, or more than twice the size of either a Maltese or a Shih-Tzu. Sunshine has the sunny disposition of a Shih-Tzu, and Snow has many characteristics of a Maltese. She had a few behavior problems, but thankfully most of them are behind us. They now see a holistic vet and are treated with Chinese herbs and therapeutic massage.

In future posts, I will write about some of their adventures.


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How did you do it all?

Cover - thumbnailToday I had my first real conversation with a person who had read my book and wanted to talk about it. My friend Laurie had a mental list of questions she wanted to ask me. One of them was: “How did you find the time to do all that you did?” Others have asked me the same question, but I didn’t give the answer much thought until today. I simply believed that I was doing what I had to do as I churned out translations for my full-time job, numerous term papers in school, a 578-page thesis, and many technical articles in its wake, and as I took on unending responsibilities, including my job, teaching, correcting papers, moonlighting, attending classes and studying, working with my husband on a research grant, and later, caring for my elderly mother and aunt. My husband memorialized my schedule in our 1977 Christmas card:

1977 Christmas card reduced w border

I gave Laurie a quick response, but then I got to thinking about it and I realized that there are answers at several levels.

To begin with, there were more available hours in my day. I cheated myself on sleep and structured my life so there was very little nonproductive time. My commutes were short: 10 minutes to get to they office and 15 minutes to get to school, and while I was driving, the radio was silent so I could think about my projects. I even thought about them in the bathtub. I spent almost no time on housekeeping or cooking: I had a cleaning lady and I ate fast food or TV dinners at my desk.

But more to the point, life was very different in the 1970s and 1980s. There was no e-mail: people wrote letters—or didn’t, in my case. No Internet: if you wanted to know something, you could look  it up in a dictionary, encyclopedia, almanac, or some other resource, but more often than not you simply left your curiosity unrewarded. No word processing: if you made a mistake, you covered it with paper tape if it was serious and delivered a copy rather than the original, or you settled for something less than the perfect mot juste. Dithering and obsessing weren’t an option. No cell phones: you weren’t at the beck and call of every Tom, Dick, or Harry at all times of day and night. And there was no Facebook or texting or tweeting or blogging(!): people didn’t need to report everything that was going on in their lives, and if they did, there probably wouldn’t have been an audience, at least among my cohorts: I was older than the me-generation. Also, I didn’t watch television. Our entertainment, when we took time off, was reading, listening to music on the stereo, having a good conversation, going to a show, eating out, or doing something outdoors. The beauty of it was that these leisure activities weren’t  interrupted. Looking back at how my life has changed has been a wake-up call. More than ever, I see that now much of my time gets frittered away on media of different kinds. I know I’m not alone in this.

When I mentioned to Laurie that I also felt I had to do all the things I was doing, she quickly pointed out that I had had the choice not to do them.  In some cases, I passionately loved what I was doing, and that gave me extra enegry.  In other cases, I was fulfilling obligations, and I think that’s another way in which people have changed. It seems to me that our sense of obligation has eroded in the last 30 years.  For my part, I have become a hedonist. While I’m quick to do the things I want to do, it’s almost painful to do the things I’m supposed to do, like pay my bills, drink 8 glasses of water a day, or floss my teeth.

In fact, I believe that at bottom I have always been a hedonist. When I was younger, various forces pulled me in different directions and I did what I thought I had to do in order to survive, financially, emotionally, and in society. It’s possible that that frenzy contributed to my cancer. I was a driven woman, and I ended up getting sick. Getting well again is the subject of my book. Nowadays, I’m much more in touch with my true nature.

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Roberto Burle Marx

Roberto croppedIn my introductory post on landscape design, I mentioned that Roberto Burle Marx was my inspiration for studying the subject. In the following piece I tell about the day I spent with Roberto in 1980, along with some of his personal  history and a bit of background about his country place, or sitio as they call it in Brazil, outside Rio de Janeiro.

My friends Erica Valladares and her husband Clarival had graciously invited me to stay with them in Rio, and they were considering various sights to show me. “Let’s go see Roberto!” Erica said, suggesting that we visit the eminent artist, architect, landscape designer, and botanist Roberto Burle Marx at his place in the country. Clarival had been intending for some time to photograph the colonial chapel on the property for a book he was writing. It was a sunny Sunday morning in early fall, and the adventure sounded exciting, but I had no idea what an amazing and unforgettable experience was in store for me. We went by car, riding along the shore for almost an hour, the ocean on one side and hills lush with tropical vegetation on the other.

I was told that Roberto had purchased his small colonial estate in the hills at the edge of a mangrove ecosystem near Guaratiba, west of Rio, some 30 years earlier. It was located just off a road first traveled by Portuguese settlers. One of the  early owners in the 1600s had named it “Santo Antonio da Bica,” and this saint was commemorated in a small Benedictine chapel that was still standing when Roberto bought the place. The main house, however, had been largely destroyed. He took on the challenge of building his home and restoring the chapel with great reverence, doing much of the work with his own hands. For the next 24 years, the sitio was to be his weekend occupation while he continued to reside and maintain his offices in Rio. In 1973 he moved there and made it his home.

A cheerful stocky white-haired man, Roberto greeted us effusively when we arrived. He was enthusiastic about everything. First he wanted toRoberto chapel show us what he was cooking. The meal smelled delicious. It was simmering in enormous pots. No servants were in sight. He appeared to be doing everything himself, with boundless energy. Next, he took us to see his greenhouses and showed us his latest botanical projects. His words tumbled out one on top of the next. While Clarival and Erica set up their gear  to photograph the chapel, Roberto took me around to see more of his amazing paradise, as if he had nothing else to do. I believe he was especially kind to me because he had known my husband Sylvio, who had died the year before.

While the sitio didn’t give a hint of the grand public spaces Roberto has designed throughout the world, it was a perfect showcase of his more intimate accomplishments. At the time he purchased the property, he was just beginning to get into landscape design. He became interested in plants as a young man studying in Germany, where his family had roots. (His father was from Trier and was a distant relative of Karl Marx, whose shared DNA could be seen in Roberto’s face.) When the young Roberto visited a botanical museum in Germany, he was struck by an exotic collection of Brazilian plants. His first thought was that these plants should be being valued and used in gardens in their native setting. At the time, gardens in Brazil were formal and tended to invoke styles dating back to the Empire; the plants were mainly species imported from Europe. On returning to Brazil, Roberto continued to study art under the famous Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari, and his mentor in architecture was his childhood friend Lúcio Costa (my husband’s mentor as well). But botany increasingly became a passion.

His main reason for acquiring the 100-acre sitio was to have room to collect and organize native Brazilian plants, especially from the area around Rio: bromeliads, palms, giant ferns, and other tropicals. He arranged them in groups not only according to their cultivation needs but also to create designs. His collection eventually grew to over 3,500 species, including examples from Asia and Africa as well as Brazil. As time passed, he became the first to identify several Brazilian species himself. About 30 plants have been named for him. On the day of my visit, he showed us folios of original gouache illustrations by the British botanical artist Margaret Mee, many of them  plants that bore his name.

Roberto veranda 4It was a warm day with a gentle breeze coming up the hill from the ocean. Guests began to arrive, and the house, with doors opening onto the wide veranda, began to come alive with excited conversations. We filled our plates from the buffet and settled down. It was like a turn-of-the-century European salon, with people chatting in small groups, discussing deep topics in several different languages. Roberto himself was a polyglot and transitioned smoothly from group to group, joining them in Portuguese, German, English, or French.

After lunch, he invited me to explore the rest of the house. I saw family photographs and works by prominent artists. There were also indigenous artifacts, and of course his own paintings and sculptures, as well as fascinating pieces of jewelry that he had designed. I felt caught up in his swirls and waves and sinuous repeating lines, which were everywhere – in his watercolors, oils, and pen-and-ink drawings, in his jewelry and sculptures, and, finally, echoed in the walkways around the house and its surrounding gardens. I told Erica how excited I was about his work, and she whispered confidentially: “You might be able to buy something to take home with you.”

The next thing I knew, Roberto was beckoning me to join him in his studio at the back, where he had a number of paintings on display. I told him I couldn’t afford to buy a painting, but I wondered if he had any drawings to sell. He pulled out a sheaf of large pen-and-ink abstracts on rough handmade paper and showed them to me one by one, telling me a little about each. One of them held a special attraction, Burle Marx drawing enhanced dark and I asked if I could buy it. We closed the deal. He signed it and went to look for materials to pack it so I could take it home on the plane.Signature closeup enhanced lighterI felt very proud to be carrying home a souvenir of this wonderful experience – to own a piece of it for the rest of my life.

By that time people were calling for him to come and play the piano. For the rest of the afternoon this many-talented genius entertained us with a classical concert.

I think what impressed me most was that he was constantly on the move, talking at the same time, and he appeared to do everything himself. He was good at everything he did and never stopped “doing.” He was affable and kind, and he was enthusiastic about everything he could take in with his senses.

Roberto died in 1994 at the age of 85. The sitio is now a national monument, supported by a foundation and donations from visiting tourists. The website (in Portuguese) is at There is a very short BBC video at and  a photomontage at A search for [“Burle Marx” + sitio] will reveal many more photos and information in English on visiting the property.

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“Getting Down to Brass Tacks”

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

I have become good friends over the Internet with Amy Duncan, who published her autobiography last September under the title Getting Down to Brass Tacks: My Adventures in the World of Jazz, Rio, and Beyond. It was initially released as in e-book format, but while I was dithering over what kind of electronic reader to buy, it also came out in a softcover edition. It already has eleven 5-star reviews on The reviewers offer enthusiastic comments like: “With grace and humility, she creates a vivid picture of a life full of music, love, loss, struggle, and triumph.” “She has lived it all and we experience it right along with her and can easily relate!! My hope is that there is a sequel to this fascinating life story.” “A great read – I am ready for MORE from Amy H. Duncan!”

I loved the book and related to all the reviewers’ comments. Here’s the review I recently posted on under the title “A compelling, insightful story”:

“It’s true. Other reviewers have said they couldn’t put this book down, and I had the same problem. Amy’s deft story-telling keeps the reader hungry for more. The author’s writing is at turns poignant and suspenseful, and always emotionally honest. Her vivid settings are palpable; you feel as if you were right there with her.

“I was deeply touched by the stories from her childhood and her portrayal of her parents, each walling themselves off from their special creative daughter in their own way–her mother with a business-like façade that covered up her feelings, and her father with an alcoholic haze that excused him from being engaged. Amy was left to figure things out on her own, and that she did. Jazz piano became her life, and she was already playing gigs when her cohorts were starting to date boys.

“For jazz fans, the book is a cornucopia of fascinating tales about the icons and the not-so-great. For lovers of Brazil and its music, there are unique glimpses inside the samba schools, where she played percussion. She didn’t say, but I doubt that any other American woman has regularly rehearsed with the passistas for the big Carnival parades.

“One empathizes with Amy at each step as she made her way in the world. Those of us who know alcoholics will resonate with her ambivalence as she tried to connect with her father. Single mothers will see themselves in the challenges she faced to support and care for her two daughters. All readers will appreciate her insights into the human condition.

“I highly recommend this book.”

Amy’s blog is at: You can “like” her book on Facebook at:

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The Enneagram

Enneagram my colorsAnother important area of my life is studying the Enneagram, a set of understandings that enables us to know ourselves better and have compassion and appreciation for others. I discovered this system when I was going through a rough patch in 2005-2006, and it put me on a fast track to releasing judgment, both of myself and of the person I felt had “wronged” me. For the past six years I have been hosting a monthly meeting of people from various religious, spiritual, and even agnostic backgrounds who are using the Enneagram to support their personal growth.

The prefix ennea- comes from the Greek word for ‘nine’. The system, which dates back to ancient times, considers that people behave according to nine different patterns, based on their relative reliance on the gut, the heart, and the mind. Ideally, all three should be in balance and we should be able to release our fixation to our dominant pattern, but that only happens in fairy tales.

While the Enneagram has religious roots, it has morphed over the centuries. Today it is used not only by spiritual counselors but also by therapists, teachers, anthropologists, business managers, lawyers, politicians, and those of any faith or belief system who are interested in self-knowledge.

One of the first approximations to today’s Enneagram is found in the writings of the fourth century Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus, who described “eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs.” [1] This summary description of eight ways of being in the world, a compilation of centuries of research by the Desert Fathers in Egypt, was intended to help devotees understand and deal with the process of temptation by being aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. His list  later became the basis for the Seven Deadly Sins (in which two of the types are conflated) and also the Enneagram (with a ninth type added) as it made its way through history and developed into its present form, now used for a variety of purposes.

Over and over again, I see that the descriptions of the types, even in the words of Evagrius,  are uncannily accurate.They draw their  accuracy from centuries of observation by both religious and lay researchers. The system  has great predictive power.  In other words, if a person’s type is known, it is often possible to predict how he or she will respond to a problem or challenge. Each type has characteristic mannerisms, sayings, and forms of expression. We go through life trying to figure out the people we meet– and usually failing. The Enneagram teaches us to recognize nine universal types and understand what leads the people of these types to do what they do. This knowledge opens us up to accepting people just as they are without the need to impose our own perspective. We become free to value them without criticism or unrealistic expectations. Better yet, it wakes us up to our own shortcomings. We have to recognize what we do (not as easy as it sounds) before we can change it, and sometimes simply being aware of the pattern allows the change to happen.

Our group meets every second Tuesday of the month. This coming Tuesday, the program is geared to beginners. We offer a basic program every third month. The core process group meets twice in between, and  members take turns proposing topics and facilitating the discussion.


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Landscape design

While my book is very exciting right now, and while translation is my joyful source of livelihood, I also have an abiding passion for landscape design. The image shows a design I did for a client in 2011.

Snow Front yard - colors only cropped small

Landscape design and studies. I have always loved plants, but I first discovered I had a passion for turning them into designs when I spent a day with Roberto Burle Marx, the Brazilian artist/architect/horticulturalist/landscape designer, during a visit to Brazil in 1980. My interest was further confirmed when I later visited Monet’s gardens at Giverny and saw how the artist had used plants and their natural colors to create “paintings.”

I decided to study the subject seriously in 2007, and from then through the fall of 2011 I took courses at local community colleges, one or two a semester,  in drafting, manual and computer-aided design, xeriscape, plant recognition (annuals, perennials, vines, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees), urban forestry, and irrigation.

Pidgeonberry closeup

I’ve done 15 designs, one of which was selected as the best in a competition of 20 or so, and I’ve had three clients. Last year I designed a bed along the rear entryway to my house. (Beds can be complicated!) All the species have relatively low water requirements and are evergreen here in California. The colors and shapes of the foliage form a pattern. From spring through fall they bloom in shades of purple, blue, white, and yellow. The main attraction is a Duranta repens (pidgeonberry) trained as a patio tree, which has a long season of light purple blooms (see photo), followed by yellow berries in winter. It’s dramatic! I’ve had lots of compliments from neighbors. I will post more pictures when it starts to bloom again.

After taking a year off to concentrate on my book, I will be resuming my studies at the end of January. I have signed up for a more advanced design class in the Ornamental Horticulture Department at Cuyamaca College. I’m looking forward to learning more about site analysis and hardscape, and I hope to refine my drafting skills. I’m excited!

Tomorrow, the Enneagram.

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Continuing with my review of 2012 and plans for 2013, once again I’m amazed at how lucky I was last year in all areas of my life. I will start to introduce the areas, in addition to my book, that will be the subject of categories in this blog.

Saint Jerome 4Translation. I am a full-time translator from Spanish and Portuguese into English. Fortunately, I have always known what I wanted to do, and I have always been happy doing it. Translation has been my driving interest since eighth grade, when I first started to learn Spanish. I studied Spanish throughout the rest of my schooling and added Portuguese to my program as an undergraduate. My skill in both languages was strengthened by traveling in the countries where they are spoken, and Portuguese became dominant after I married my Brazilian husband and started to speak the language exclusively at home. Curiosity about the underlying differences between languages led me to do graduate studies in linguistics.

December 2012 marked my 20th anniversary as a free lance. (The term free lance, by the way, comes from the concept of a knight available for hire. I much prefer it to freelancer.) Add 25-plus years as an in-house translator and editor, and the total comes to nearly half a century and at least a couple of thousand deadlines met.

The image is a depiction of Saint Jerome, or Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, the patron saint of translators, who lived from c. 347 to 420. While I do not practice a formal religion, I like to think that he watches over me and makes sure that my work is both accurate and well expressed.

Last year was one of my busiest yet, with more than 50 assignments, some of them quite long, from 12 different clients. I hope the trend will continue in 2013. The hardest part is the business end: creating invoices, sending them out promptly, and following up when they’re not paid on schedule. I’m improving gradually, and I hope to do even better in 2013. Another goal is to make friends with Windows 7—which until now has been slowing me down as I am forced to learn new ways to perform functions that I’ve been doing on auto-pilot for many years.

Tomorrow, another category!


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My book

I have spent New Year’s Day reviewing 2012 and considering plans for 2013. Though I’ve been known to fulfill resolutions that I’ve made in the past, I’m not thinking in those terms any more because I don’t want to box myself in. I find more and more that the Universe has sweeter surprises for me than I could possibly have imagined on my own. I want to stay open to whatever comes my way. This past year greatly rewarded my trust in letting go, and I found myself wishing it wouldn’t end.

The first thing I want to talk about is my book, which is the subject of this post.

Cover - for blogMy book.I did have one goal for 2012, and that was to publish my memoir, Finding My Invincible Summer, because my husband Sylvio, to whom it is dedicated, believed that even-numbered years were lucky. I managed to get it done in time for release in November, just before the holidays. Much of the book is a tribute to Sylvio and his gentle heart. I have written about his support through my first round with breast cancer and the wrenching experience of his death, then my struggle to find balance in the face of many challenges, and finally, a change in course that ultimately brought me peace and fulfillment. Turning the book into a reality that can be shared with others has been easily the most gratifying experience of my life.

As I progressed through the chapters, I found myself growing and changing. I became much more honest with my feelings—an evolution that several readers have noticed. My editorial consultant, Carolyn Allen, spurred me along the way with comments like: “I want to know how you felt when that happened. . .” She constantly urged me to go deeper. Then, when it was all over, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could actually let go of my story. I was no longer stubbornly attached in it.

Still, I wanted people to read the book, though I worried they wouldn’t like it. The feedback I’ve received has been amazing—not only two wonderful reviews on, but also many touching messages by e-mail. The response has exceeded my expectations by miles. I feel full and overflowing with gratitude.

This feedback has encouraged me to take the plunge, with some trepidation, and invest in promoting the book this year. I have contracted with a company to send e-mails to libraries and booksellers throughout the English-speaking world, and it will be displayed at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Convention in late January. In addition, I have ordered promotional business cards, bookmarks, and postcards, and I’m having a signing party on January 19. I also plan to take copies to local bookstores. Those are my plans so far. I look forward to seeing how this trajectory unfolds over the course of 2013.


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