Life in Italy

Never Say Never

by admin on November 18, 2011

100ml bottles
For those of you who followed our journey in Italy, you will remember the crazy Italian glass distributor that I met in Certaldo. Well, for months after my return to the States, Mr. Cervantes and I tried to work together to import the 100ml bottle that stole my heart. Time passed, things got busier and I decided to shelve the project. I gradually lost touch with Mr. Cervantes, and all that remained of the memory was this really sleek, sexy 100ml bottle that was the baby to our 375ml. [click to continue…]

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Looking back….

by admin on December 26, 2009

When our plane touched ground in San Francisco, I had feelings of great anticipation.  I was energized and had a plethora of ideas for my company and myself.  I was sure that I had brought life in Italy back with me and was determined to infuse it into all that I did.

The plane pulled up to the gate and I looked outside…at a view I had seen many times before…South San Francisco.   There were no old buildings…outlines of farms…. olive trees.  There was a lot of cement…. a lot of …well kind of a lot of blah.  The girls and I glanced at each other and I said, “well, we are home…. welcome home!” I said with a forced smile.  They both looked at me with the same expression…”ya, welcome home.”

As we stood in line at customs, we were reveling in the ease of life in our own language…. “Almost seems boring to understand everything”,  Emily snickers.  I smiled and continued to try to take it all in.   It wasn’t long before we were summoned to a customs agent.  He diligently checked our documents and asked us if we had a good stay in Italy.  “Yes!” the girls blurted out as he passed back our documents, smiled and said, “Welcome back to the United States”.  We smiled politely and softly murmured “thank you”.    We then made our way out of the restricted area….in silence.

As we approached the luggage carousel, the girls spotted their dad.  In a flash, I was alone…. watching for our luggage…staring at the carousel…trying desperately to escape this sense of loss.  My head slowly began to drop when I felt a soft tap on my shoulder…it was Chris…my other half….it had been months since I had seen him.  Immediately, a sense of relief enveloped my being and my smile was good to be back…yes I was sure…it was good to be back.

The girls went home with their dad from the airport.  After six months of being together, we were suddenly apart…in what felt at the moment like a foreign land.  Chris began to fill me in on the happenings in the Napa Valley but my mind began to wander…..”everything is so dry here…so colorless……this is weird….even the sight of the City is not stirring my soul…wow..this is not good…I need to snap out of this. ”  No matter how good the Napa Valley scoop was, I could not help but think about our friends in Firenze…what time it would be there and what they might be doing…. or what we would have been doing at that time.  I felt myself slipping into silence…and Chris did the same.

As we approached the Napa Valley, my soul began to stir.  I looked around at familiar sites and began to breathe again.  My anticipation grew as we passed Yountville and Oakville….and Rutherford…there it was..the store…still standing…looking good….and there it went.  Chris was not about to let me check in quite yet.  As we approached St. Helena,  I became genuinely excited…to see our dogs, our family and our friends…and to resume life….back home.

The next several months were spent adjusting.  Walking everywhere didn’t last long…. the journals were soon put to rest…and books went unopened on the bedside stand.  Work had become a center of my existence once again.  I was consumed with learning everything about the beauty industry as I developed our new concept, Napa Valley Bath Co.  I developed over 30 bath related products, re-packaged some of our food products and became obsessed with the weck jar.  I created new blogs, hired writers, and visualized what was to come.  I re-set both stores, turned over 50% of my staff, and had the strongest holiday season ever.  I was on a roll…and running fast to stay in control.

My strongest revelation during our journey in Italy was that I was not in control…and how beautiful that was…and yet here I was now…a world away from where I was five months ago and right back where I was a year ago…in control….in control, tired, and sick…pneumonia this time.  Forced bed rest always gets me to slow least for a bit…and this was no exception.  So I laid in bed…with not much to do except contemplate my fate….and it came to me quite clearly… I had to get back…to that place where I was last July.

On December 26, I packed my bags and antibiotics and we boarded a plane bound for Firenze.   The girls were excited to be back in our flat, see old friends and visit old haunts.  I was eager to ge back to find me…the one I left behind…and bring her back…for good this time.

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Life after Florence

by admin on August 19, 2009

Thank you all for your interest in our transition home.   You could probably infer by the lack of my blogging that it has been..hmm…a bit overwheming?  I came right back into our busy season with a million ideas and inspirations.  There are so many stories I could tell about the adjustment of the last month but I will let them surface as they may.  I can tell you that things are different….we are different…..we walk a lot more…..we spend more time with our friends and family…our priorities are different….yes, even the kids.  My girls have asked to cook more then they ever have in the past….they complain about ingredients….lack of flavor….expense….they don’t generate as much laundry….ha….we will see how long that lasts!  Although they have hit the ground running, there is this new bond between us…a knowing…that life is good…life is precious….and life is finite….therefore, simply LIVE.

I have to admit that I was a bit anxious returning home.  I was excited to see everyone but wondered how I would possibly replace a lifestyle that aligned beautifully with my soul.   In reflection,  I realized that our days in Italy were focused on food and family…and the people we met were passionate about their life….whether it was farming olives, owning restaurants, making wine, holding cooking classes, retailing produce….these people were inspiring… they added energy and joy to our journey.   The lifestyle was definitely in alignment with my soul…..but really,  the experience aligned my soul…and my soul would come home with me.

I learned that we all have the ability to live peacefully.  Places and people may make it more simple or more complex…but in the end, we can find peace anywhere and with anyone as long as it is within us…and although I previously had never lived in Florence nor have any Italian heritage, my journey truly felt like a trip home….I suppose it was because it led me back to my self….ergo I conclude…..home is wherever YOU are.

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Until We Meet Again………

by admin on June 22, 2009

I Love This Man...

I Love This Man...June 22, 2009

I cannot believe it is over….our six months….it ends tomorrow.

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote you to tell you that we were leaving…on this adventure to Florence. I can picture myself at my computer at home…exactly where I was sitting….I can see myself typing frantically as I had many things to do to get prepared to leave the next day. I remember my feelings….of excitement…and of fear….anxiety. I did not know that the economy was going to take the dive that it did…I was having problems with our normal first quarter financing….sales were weakening….and I was leaving. I was following my be with my girls….on an adventure of a lifetime. I stayed focus on the purpose….and I held onto my faith. I knew in my heart this was the right thing to do…but how it would all work out….I had no idea.

There were many challenges when we first arrived as you know. We jumped through many hoops….and there was one day in particular, I remember, that I woke up and had the desire to pull the down comforter over my head…and hide from the world. Although our financial situation was the same that it had always been, we were not getting any financing. We normally lose around $30k in the first quarter so the financing is pretty critical. I have no trust fund or anything of the sort to dig into so we were incredibly vulnerable. I held onto my faith….my belief that if you follow your heart … it will guide you …and everything will be as it should. It may not always be as you planned or as you would like, but it will be as it should be. I micro managed our cash flow…daily….and we had the biggest January in the history of the Company. Hmm….how does that happen when the economy is crashing? I’d love to take the credit but we simply worked as hard as we normally do…..and the stores stayed really strong.

I pulled back on product, worked with my vendors, and became very close to my bank manager. I became very tight with myself….and God. I had to find ways every day to stay strong….keep my faith….so I could appreciate the moments of this journey with my girls. I fought hard against doubt and negativity….I kept my head up high and a smile on my face. I believed. I remember the moment that I truly let go….I was sitting in my favorite church where I went to meditate….and I put it all on the table. I said….ok…..take it….I get it….it’s all yours. Whatever happens, I am ready and will deal with it…..I know that I have the strength and courage to handle what may come so bring it on. I know that whatever is in store for me is what is suppose to be….and that I am not alone. I handed my life over….and He took it. I began to cry….not in sadness….but in joy….in relief. My load was lifted and the real journey began.

I couldn’t possibly go into all the details but I can summarize it all by saying that this has been the most incredible experience of my life. The personal growth of myself, my girls, and everyone who has come to visit has been magical….beyond anything that I could have imagined. I am in awe….and have been every day….amidst the chaos and uncertainty of life…..I’ve been at peace. I have had so many moments of pure contentment…I remember the first time I was sitting on a bench overlooking Florence…it was hidden in the trees so no one was around. I was going to do some reading but I found myself in a daze..staring out at the City. A peaceful feeling enveloped my being…unlike anything I had felt before. I felt so happy…..and a sense of knowing that I was in a state of pure contentment. It was then that I knew where this journey was really taking me.

I look back at the last 15 years and I can now see the path…that brought me here…to me. I didn’t know that I was even lost until I was found….ha……and I am so grateful. Everything is so much clearer now….I know what I want…for the business and for my life. I’ve always had a sense but now I know. And I also have learned how to stay on my path….as I’ve told the girls, life is designed to keep you from following your heart…people and things are put in your way…to distract you and cause you to doubt yourself. Everyday you have to wake up and be aware….not paranoid…but aware that there may be traps in your day. You have to be mindful….of every decision that you make and every path that you choose…..stay in alignment with your being. And listen….you have to listen to your heart…it is your guidance….and to hear it you must slow down. All such simple things that we forget because we are too busy….running too fast…thinking we are in control….working to achieve happiness…..ironic.

So now I really know….my purpose…which I’ve really known all along….just have never been sure. Our body is sacred…..we need to take care of our body, mind and soul in order to achieve pure contentment. It’s really that simple. We need to detach ourselves from the things and people who and that are not condusive to this “end”….it’s nothing new or earth shattering….taught all the time….but now I see my part. So, I will continue, with even more passion, to inspire you…remind you….help you….achieve this.

St. Helena Olive Oil Co. will continue to inspire you to eat well…commune and celebrate around food. We will focus more on awareness…of how food affects your body, mind and soul. We will continue to provide you with amazing ingredients and provide you with information so you can make good choices.

Napa Valley Bath Co. is going to ramp up organically and first and foremost, get you up to speed on the cosmetics/beauty world…and what to look for to ensure you are putting something on your body that feeds it….and it will continue to provide you with products that will give you a sense of well being…and inspiration that will bring peace into your day.

And Peggy OKelly……well I hope to inspire you to go after your dreams… your heart……have faith…..and live your best life…..every day.

Thank you…..for all of your support…..for feeding my body, mind and soul. Your emails kept me going…kept me believing. I am aware of every gesture and every purchase that you have made….I appreciate it more then you will ever know. I value your support and want more then ever to provide you with products that will be good for you….corpo mente e anima.

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When I had my lunch in Certaldo, Alicia had asked me if I had ever eaten Panzanella. I knew what it was but I never had the desire to order it. She was shocked…oh you must have Panzanella…it is a very traditional dish….you must have….we went on to talk about the place of Tuscan bread in their cuisine…..unsalted bread that is….a tradition of Tuscany which I’ve discussed before. Alicia talked about her grandmother..and how she ate everything with bread….even that big fruit…it is pink….you eat it…ah watermelon? Yes, she even ate watermelon with bread! Her story of her grandmother was wrapped around the recipe of Panzanella….a recipe that she told me in Italian….and I understood her…which for some reason made it take on even more meaning. Hmm…Panzanella….a simple dish…that I will try to prepare in the style of her grandmother.

Weeks went by and the story of Panzanella faded….until one day…it was time. I walked into Elisabetta’s and told her I was going to make Panzanella! Ah…she said…a very traditional Tuscan dish. It is very simple. But let’s go to the book to see how he does it. This has become our new routine…ever since the ricotta fritto. Elisabetta pulls out the CUISINETOSCANA book and looks for the recipe….we go over it…she translates it…tells me what she does different and then loads my bag with the groceries that I need. This cookbook is worn…tattered cover and simply disheveled…but the pictures are beautiful and the recipes amazing…and it is authored by one of the “best chefs in Tuscany” who owns one of the “best restaurants in Tuscany”. I’m always so focused on what Elisabetta is saying that I don’t ever absorb the chef’s name but I will…because I must get this book….it holds so many memories now.

Elisabetta begins with the emphasis on the bread…it MUST be a traditional bread of Tuscany….senza sale…and it must be old…at least a day old….but again it has to be the Traditional bread only…..and a day old for sure. Capito. You then take the onion…and she loads one in my bag…I grimace inside because my GERD does not do well with onions….but I can’t eliminate it…it’s the tradition….it wouldn’t be authentic….I have to sacrifice my esophagus just this once….and stop by the pharmacy for antacids on my way back. You chop the onion into small pieces….you then do the same with the cetriolo….ah how do you say that in english…the green vegetable…cucumber I say immediately….yes cuu cumber she says. I love the way she pronounces some english words. I really think we should change some of our emphasis on some words as it sounds so much better…cuuuuu cumber with a emphasis on the ber. (You know you just did that outloud!). Then of course, pomodori….lots of chopped pomodori.

You also take basil and add it to the rest….then you take the bread out of the water and you spremere….how you say in english as she is motioning with her hands what looks like a squeeze….squeeze I said and she quickly responds yes a squeeza you squeeza the bread til all of the water is outa…and then you add it to the salad. When is all “prepare ed “(another great word I love to here her say) then you drizzle with olio and sale….of coursa…..and then you put in the cooler (refrigerator:)) …for an hour….it is very important that it goes in the cooler for an hour before you serva.

I have to digress a bit and say I am not making fun of her accent in the least bit….quite the opposite. When I attempt to speak Italian I feel as if I’ve butchered…no slaughtered their beautiful language….when she speaks english, it becomes even more beautiful….how fair is that?

So..I’m excited…a bit worried about the onion but excited. I love that I just heard the recipe from two very local people and it was identical…and it was all about the bread. So, I bid my ciaos et al and off I went…back home…with the usual stop by Christian’s to grab our fresh pasta. As I wait for him to prepare and cut the pasta, I notice the bread sitting on the bench…it must be Thursday. Is that traditional Tuscan bread? I ask. OH YES…he exclaims. Senza sale? I say (like an idiot because everyone knows traditional bread is senza sale). Si..senza sale. All traditional bread is without salt he says…which I knew but I just wanted to make sure that I don’t make any errors in my preparation of Panzanella. Would this be the bread I use for Panzanella? Panzanella?! Si….it is the proper bread…and then he breaks into the his story of Panzanella. I smiled to myself as I knew I was fully prepared…..but still…I listened. It is important the kind of bread that you use….this is right….you take this bread and you must leave it for at least a day…..and then you MUST soak it overnight….overnight? Did Elisabetta say overnight? I couldn’t remember….that adds another day onto the process! So, I buy it today…soak it tomorrow….and then make it on the third day? Bummer…I was really craving it now. I asked Christian again….you soak it over night? He said yes…his mother always would soak it over night….very important. He was involved in food…is Italian…can’t remember what Elisabetta said…and I know Alicia didn’t speak to the time aspect….so I decided to go with it…overnight it will be. The rest of his recipe followed suit with Elisabetta…except the cooler part….he did not say it MUST go in the cooler for an hour. I liked that idea though and trust Elisabetta so I decided to keep that step in the recipe.

I was craving white wine for a change so Christian gave me a bottle of the white wine produced from their organic farm. It had Trebbiano and Chardonnay grapes…mostly Trebbiano….very light and crisp….slightly fruity. You can tell he knows his wine as well. He said the Trebbiano is very typical of Tuscany. That confused me because they make Balsamic Vin out of a Trebbiano varietal…in Modena and Reggio Emilia….yes Balsamic is made out of a white grape.

Christian was startled a bit when I asked him about that as most Italians seem to be when you know anything about their real traditions…and said yes, it is the same varietal…and then told me the story about the evolution of the Trebbiano varietal in Tuscany…as it used to be a big part of Chianti…and that is why they planted it. Then something wiped it out at some point so they didn’t have as much for the Chianti….they realized that the Chianti was heartier and more full bodied without it so they decreased the percentage that went into Chianti and now use it for white wine. Now remember this is all hearsay and it’s been translated to me who is then trying to remember the details to translate it to you….so it you are interested I would suggest that you “google it”.

As I walk to our flat, I have to remember that I am not eating panzanella tonight….I keep getting excited for the flavors and then remember ….oh yea…’s TWO days! I get home, unload the groceries and get the same cheers from the crowd….what did you get?…..what are you making for dinner?….are you making Panzanella? I quickly explained that I have to let the bread become stale and then soak it overnight…so we were looking at three dinners from now….the crowd was not pleased. At dinner I told the girls about my journey into Panzanella….I said it amazed me that a young dude….like Christian….would not only know the recipe for Panzanella but be very happy to give his version…..which is of course, is the right way! Emily wasn’t impressed…she said mom, he works in the food industry…of course he knows about food. No…I don’t think so Em….I think everyone knows how to cook in this country…..she dismissed me…as a good 14 year old would.

Fast forward to next day….bread aging in the warm air…..and our new internet router being installed. We finally got internet in our flat so we don’t have to leave our security door open to pirate the other waves. The man who came to install it was very pleasant…..didn’t speak much english….probably my age…..hard worker…..typical of someone who might install your internet cable…..whatever that is. I’m sitting in my familiar chair reading an article from Bene, an American Italian magazine….it is an article about sweaters and asking a bunch of different Italians which sweater they like best and why. It showed pictures of each one in the sweater they chose….kind of lame but actually entertaining….

….the internet man, Antonio, interrupted me…. I looked up and answered….looked back down at the article…..looked back up at the Antonio…..tried to stop myself from potential embarrasment….but couldn’t help myself…..and I asked “sapete come fare panzanella?” Emily looked at me in sheer horror….she could not believe that I just asked the internet repairman how to make Panzanella….she looked right back down at her computer….trying to pretend that she was not present.

Antonio, on the other hand, stopped…..turned around with a gleam in his eye and he said, “Panzanella?!” Si!….suddenly the birds began to sing and the angels began to blow their horns…..and Antonio….began to speak VERY good english. The more he spoke, the more the kids relaxed…and listened…and smiled. was all the same….he didn’t require an overnight soak…only several hours….and he did not say to “dress” it. I asked…don’t you put olio e sale on it? He looked at me aghast and said ….but of course….he laughed…and looked at me with disdain…but of course you put olio e sale…he mumbled as he went about his wiring duties.

Antonio would work for a bit and then want to talk about Panzanella…work…Panzanella….at one point he launched into the “history”….he said it originated in Jills….I said Jills….and he said yes…Jills….I said where is Jills? He said you know Jills. I said no….where is it…..he looked at me totally disgusted….Jills you know…..preesons. Emily yells Jails mom Jails……geez mom….what is your problem? You’ve got to love 14. Yes he said that in Jills they only ate bread and water….they decided they needed more so they came up with this dish. I asked, really? I think I had a “yea right” look on my face because he got a bit embarrassed and said…..well I don’t know if that is true but that is what they say….Antonio hooked everything thing up….we bid a fond ciao….now bonded in Panzanella….and went along with our day.

I was now totally inspired to ask every Italian this question…and get a broad spectrum of stories….I will ask as I am inspired. It’s mainly for my own entertainment as I get such joy listening to the locals talk about their culture….the information is so interesting…but I believe that is only a piece of it. It is an effort and a definite challenge to communicate when neither is sure nor secure in the others language….it creates a beautiful exchange no matter what the words hold….and it leaves you feeling as if you have truly connected with someone on a deeper level….not sure why….but if you’ve done it… know and if you haven’t….do it…and you will see.

Ah…so here are some pictures….you got the recipe….that’s all it is…..everyone has warned me that people will add things to this but if you want to prepare it in the traditional Tuscan way….you will only include…..drum roll please……onions, cucumber, tomato, basil, and bread….now you probably won’t have access to bread without salt so maybe use a Ciabatta…..leave it over night….then soak it over another night…(actually I checked back with Elisabetta and she was adament about one hour)….but I did it overnight and it was good….and then add it to the chopped ingredients…dress with one of our Napa Valley extra virgin olive oils…because you need that bitterness and heat from those oils….and sea salt…folks…please use sea salt! Leave it in your frig for an hour and then toss a bit and serve.

I have to say that is was amazing! I know why they emphasize the bread…it makes the dish. The onion was so sweet…it was a “torpedo” onion…amazing….and no side effects!! The kids loved it…..just a great spring/summer salad with a bit more substance….and the best part is to remember all of the stories when you are preparing and eating it….share them with your family….friends….and make a memory!!

Wow..this was a long one….I really try to make these stories as concise as possible….it’s hard to do when you are trying to capture and pass on just a tad of what you experience….ouch…my hands hurt….time for pictures!



The bread squeezing was such a cool feeling that I had each girl take a turn….just like preschool……they loved it!



The bread was very light and fluffy almost….right after you squeezed it..almost like bread crumbs.


One cucumber, one onion and a lot of pomodori!


The infamous “torpedo?” onion. Safe for those suffering from GERD. 🙂


With olio d’olivo, sale and an hour of being in the “cooler”!


Buon Appetito!

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by admin on May 19, 2009

Right now my mind is like an L.A. freeway….not quite at a standstill…but close. There are so many thoughts stacked up that there is little movement. Every time a thought starts to move, another cuts it off. Every thought wants to go….but no “one” can…there is no path.

Is it because I’m sitting on the couch?…ah….my familiar chair…much better. It’s become a ritual to me…to sit in this chair to write. Hmm…will I have to ship it home with me? Oh no…we are moving in a week to a new pad around the corner (ok they are beginning to cut eachother off again)..where will I sit there?

Ok….wait….I need to make an outline and tackle all of these things one by one. This is why procrastination killed the cat….or was that curiosity? Anyway, I’m screwed because I haven’t written…I’ve been selfish and have absorbed all these amazing experiences and have not shared….and now the chickens have come home to roost. Good thing the cat is gone.

Now…let’s be mature….the outline please…….

1. DID WE EVER GET IN? How the kids and I got in the house on that perfect day….Judi is waiting anxiously! 🙂
2. HOT ITALIAN TRAINERS INCREASE GYM TRAFFIC. We joined a gym…girls have never been so anxious to workout.
3. HOW MANY ITALIANS DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE PANZANELLA? Perfect Panzanella after accumulating recipes from everyone from the glass sales person to the man who hooked up our internet.
4. LIVE TO TELL. OH…the gas leak….I’ve been sick in the morning….very lethargic….turns out we have had a gas leak in my bedroom since day one…thank God for the internet man who found it!
5. SOCIAL MEDIA INSANITY. With your encouragement, I’ve diven…or is it dove….deep into the world of social media. It’s the largest ocean I’ve ever been in and at times can’t see my way out…I’m still suffering from vertigo from the recent rapid ascent.
6. THE LAUNCH OF OUR NEW BATH CO AND BLOG, ETC…want your input on our blog before it goes to the masses…you will be directed to it in a second. Make sure you learn your Italian word and soak in the beauty for the day!
7. COOKING CLASS WENT UP IN FLAMES. I finally took a cooking class…….met Sharon through Elisabetta’s….cooked an eggplant for the first time in my life!
8. PLEASE RSS FEED…TWIT…FACEBOOK….ME or something so I don’t have to keep paying my email service…my savings equates to your savings…I was a hold out too but we can do this…change is good.

AH…we are finally moving…slowly but the thoughts are beginning to move and make way for clear passage. So stay tuned as I begin to unravel…..

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A Perfect Day

May 8, 2009

As I stare out the window of the train, I notice a smile on my face….one that I cannot erase. There is no where to start or end the description of this day to do it justice…it was a perfect day…aside from the octopus in my pasta that is…it was a perfect day. I take […]

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What's not to love?

April 24, 2009

Looking out from the duomo… MORE ON THE WAY………

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Ricotta Fritta (Fried Ricotta)

April 24, 2009

Elizabetta’s was a nice respite from the rain…..we bid our usual ciaos and I announced my hope for the evening…..I wanted to make Ricotta Fritta (Fried Ricotta). I had found a recipe as I always do but SO look forward to Elizabetta’s spin. Today, she had a perplexed look and said ah yes….we make this […]

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Falling in love…

April 23, 2009

How could you not fall in love with this..…. Yesterday it was warm but there were dark clouds in the sky…..I knew the dry time was limited so I set out to do some of my daily tasks early….as I was walking my normal route to Elizabetta’s, I came across a small boutique that I […]

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