The dog …

Since this is technically ‘my journal’ and its something I want to leave to my daughter.. I should chronicle the past few hours.  The wonderful time we’ve had tonight making dinner at home, having a dear friend over for a bit, hanging out with homework done and the excitement of getting a few things tonight for a dance class she’s been wanting to take, which starts tomorrow.  But then I’d also have to jot down some thoughts on the huge blowout we just had as well.  It happens more frequently than I would like.  At ten I guess I might expect we’ll have more.  I know I did with my own mother.  But I’m hoping to minimize or eliminate or reduce there ever being a need.  Is that possible?  In the meantime, while she implodes, I’ve been working on remaining as calm and quiet as possible (which doesn’t always work), which upsets her all the more.

But, the Cowboy wanted me to write something more lighthearted tonight.

So, I’m going to talk about .. The dog.

Oe of them anyway.

The dog

I had to leave my little yellow lab with the Cowboy this past week as my return trip home didn’t go quite as planned.  I ended up flying instead of driving.  Which means, the dog is still at the ranch, for now.

And, she’s not really a great ranch dog.  Not yet anyway.  She likes to play .. and wants to play with just about anyone or anything, regardless of size.  The horses for the most part, would prefer she go play in another pasture.  I’m concerned it may take a good kick for her to get the picture.

Confused by the dog

When she’s not chasing friends ..

She’s sleeping on the Cowboys bed.  Which he’d prefer she doesn’t do.  Or, apparently, she’s eating leftovers the Cowboy and the kids thought would be good to just set out on the porch after leaving them  in the crockpot too long they burned.

I warned him.  “Don’t let the dog eat anything but her dog food.  It’s just not a good scene,” I’ve told him on several occasions as he’s used to giving his pup, any and all leftovers.

He’s quickly finding out why.  The lab doesn’t have a very resilient GI system.  And straying from one of the only dog foods I found that worked for her to ever have a solid .. well, let’s just say she needs a strict diet or things get a little ugly.  I do believe if she were a cartoon character, there would be one of those, you know.. army green clouds following her around.

And as we talked this morning, all I could do was laugh as the Cowboy repeatedly said her name.. groaned at the scene or rather, scent unfolding before him.. and went to let her out, again.

So that she could go play with the horses.

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The drop off …

Some parents would love nothing more than to hand over their kids for a few hours .. even a few days ..

Hand them over to another adult they know will take good care of them.

Sometimes another mess, another whine, another errand, another argument with you or between siblings, another load of laundry .. any or all of it can be enough to push some parents to the brink.  A few moments, a few days perhaps of solitude, is a wonderful opportunity to regroup and come back at it.

Quite honestly, even if its just a date night .. psychologists will tell you, (and I say this after the thousands of dollars of couples therapy that my ex and I went through, apparently a wee bit too late – so please let me just share one very important tidbit I learned) get a babysitter and go out.  Step away from the children for just a few hours.  It is healthy for them and for you.

Sincerely.  Once a week.  If at all possible,  do it.  Prescription straight from a marriage counselor.  Fit it into your schedule and do it.  (Just to clarify, I’m not saying like, do it do it.. but do the date night thing.  You know what I mean.  On some level though, I guess either reference would be appropriate in this context.)

Back to the point I was going to make..

Some parents would give anything for that break.  For a few days to regroup and then have their children back, feeling all refreshed and ready for the beautiful chaos that they are.

But for parents who’ve gone through or who are going through a divorce and who want more time with their children than the are told they can have, nights .. like tonight at the ranch, are brutal.

A weekend of not much of anything but hanging out and loving on each other at some point has to end.

It’s time to go back to mom.

A warm weekend indoors

It’s been almost three days now of running around inside, staying out of that cold South Dakota wind, chasing each other, playing hard and chilling out.  But the silence that starts to creep back in around 6pm every other Sunday at the ranch is almost deafening.  The stress of the drop off starts to sink in once again, with the twins and their big sister.

The Cowboy I know does his best to keep his composure as he starts helping them pack ..

Not easy because almost always, there is crying.  And there are questions.  More and more, his daughter says, ‘Why can’t we spend more time with you, daddy?”  They are words that sting deeper each time they are asked, because there is no good answer.

One of the boys lies on the floor .. lifeless, with tears streaming down his cheeks saying he doesn’t want to go.  The other ambles along through the house this weekend as if nothing is happening.  Usually he’s the one clinging to dad screaming.

“The drop off sucks,” says the Cowboy.  “Especially because it is essentially two weeks now until I get any more real time with them…”

Let me just say this.

No matter how much any child loves a mom or dad, leaving one to go home to the other can be heartbreaking, especially when they’re young.  It does go both ways, for those who think the kids only have a hard time on their particular end.  The Cowboy knows this.  Still, it is hard.

Hot cocoa

They don’t understand.  I’m fairly certain they feel guilt leaving one parent for the other.  And if they don’t feel it, they feel like they should.  So they act accordingly.  That is just my own observation.  Take that for what its worth.  But from everything I have witnessed and heard, with my own daughter, with friends, with other family and the Cowboy, kids feel torn leaving either parent.

I don’t know what a child truly feels however, because I was not put through that hell when I was a child.  I feared it.  My parents struggled just like everyone else.  But I was blessed in that they stuck it out.  After 36 years it was cancer that finally tore them apart.  Its crazy to think of how rare divorce was back when we were kids compared to now.  In 2012, its more rare a child’s parents are still together.

Marriage is never easy.  Divorce is just as hard.  And its incredibly tough on kids.

There are ways to minimize the pain.  Experts will tell you, avoid direct parent-to-parent drop offs if at all possible.  That helps the kids.  School for instance, is a great way to do that.  Whoever has them for the weekend will usually drop them off at school/daycare the following Monday.  The other parent them picks them up.  Voila.

I’m not just saying this because it might help the Cowboy and his kiddos.  I’m saying it because I’ve seen it work.  And, because my ex and I were asked to do the same .. after both of us grew increasingly concerned, I think, that someone might call the cops thinking one of us was abducting our own daughter during direct drop-offs.  Her blood curdling screams and crying tore our hearts out.

The rub here is.. both parents have to be willing.  Willing and able to remember through the muddy hate filled haze that can be divorce, to always try and do what’s in the best interest of the kids.  Thankfully, no matter how tough my own divorce was, my ex and I tried our best to frame each situation with, ‘What is best for our daughter?’

Too many of us know that can’t always happen.  Or if it does, its down the road and so much damage has already been done.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to write about this today.  It’s not a fun topic.  And the Cowboy worries its a bit too heavy.  He wants me to write about something a bit more lighthearted tomorrow, if that’s ok.

But its just what struck me as important to talk about.  Because so many of us face this moment.  The moment we say goodbye to our kids .. and wish with everything we have, that we had more time with them.  Each day.  Each week.  The good, the bad, the arguments, the accomplishments .. even the mundane.

Back to moms

While time alone to regroup is a gift – to come back at parenting refreshed, renewed and ready to tackle anything a 4, 7 or 10 year old could throw at us (literally and figuratively) ..

How we would give anything for the frustrations of the everyday.    

(p.s.  Don’t think I don’t know – some of you right now are saying, then you should have stuck it out in your marriage.  I wish it were that simple an answer.)

“Not much” …

“Never do I close my door behind me without being conscious that I am carrying out an act of charity towards myself.” – Peter Hoeg

“What are you all up to,” I ask.. as the Cowboy and I and all the kiddos are talking early Saturday via the videophone.

“Not much,” he says.

“The kids are watching a movie.  We had some of those clementines you bought earlier this week, they love ’em.. they really do.  I can’t believe we’ve never had them before.. they’re so much easier to peel than .. a regular orange.  I think we’ll have to start buying them.  They’ve had four each this morning!”

I love clementines.

Because the Cowboy and the kids are so rarely at the house for any length of time, he hates buying perishable food.  So I bought them tons of fruit earlier this week, in part because I wanted it for myself while there.  He fussed at me a bit for it.  But I want them all to be healthy as .. well, a horse.  Use whatever analogy there you’d like.  All I know is fresh fruit does the body better than say, ice cream or chips, for a snack.  And the kiddos are all sick right now with nasty colds.  I’m happy to hear they’ve discovered the awesomeness of clementines.

Lazy day

“What do you have planned for the day?”

I ask, because I know unlike most other weekends when family is around or I am around there is a lot going on.  Everyone, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends are around and want time with the four of them, because otherwise there is precious little time these days to see the kids.

“Nothing.  In fact, I’m not sure we’re going to leave the house.”  He’s got a big smile on his face.  “I’ve got homemade potato soup going already.  We’re just going to hang out together and relax.  I think they need it.”

I’m jealous.

I can hear laughter, music, the keyboard being practiced on, and a whole lot of … well, not  much going on in the background there.

Down time is a wonderful thing.  In fact, one of my colleagues did a story this week on how rarely we make room for down time in this hectic, constantly accessible, on-the-go fast paced life, and a place you can go to literally book a room in a place where all you do is be quiet.  And contemplate.  Life.  Anything.  But the goal is to just be still.

I understand the need for a place to go to find that, away from home because so often we get caught up in what else needs to get done.  Or who is stopping by.  But I also chuckle at the fact most of us can’t find a place anymore to be quiet in our own home.

I know its tough for the Cowboy and many others to believe I appreciate that, given how busy I usually am.

But I do.

It is why, since living a few years in Montana and discovering what the Big Sky does for my soul, I’ve wanted to return to the west.  The wide open spaces remind me (and often I need that) I can be as busy or as still as I want to be.  And both are good.

I called them again on our way to see old friends last night from my hometown.

“What are you all up to?” I ask.  “How is the day going?” ..

His daughter comes into view and she’s got the biggest smile on her face.  “Nothing,” they say.  She hangs out, leaning against her dad and loving watching herself on the screen.  After a few minutes as her dad and I keep talking, she runs off.  I can hear her playing the keyboard again and amidst laughter from the boys.

Here in Wisconsin ..

Grocery store run

.. we are hustling around, running to the store for something I forgot to get when I went earlier this week, going for a run, running errands, returning messages.  And that was just the morning.  The afternoon got a whole lot more busy, and fun.  Full of things to get done, friends and family.  Crazy day.  But a good one.

The Cowboy’s folks and the rest of the family he and the kids would typically be surrounded by, are at the http://www.centralstatesfair.com/stock-show/schedule/.

In fact, I think half the state is.  Everywhere we went when I was there earlier this week, the second question asked after ‘how are you, pard?’  .. was, ‘we gonna see you at the Stock Show?’  The Cowboy usually goes.  His mom I believe is doing a lot of shopping at the trade shows.  His brother is there selling a horse he’s got beautifully trained.  The whole show is a pretty big deal it seems. The Cowboy explains to me, it’s kind of like the little brother to the NFR in Vegas.  It’s busy.  It’s fun.  And we’ll probably go next year, he explains to me.

But this year, this particular weekend, he is soaking up how quiet it is, back at the ranch.

The power of being still

I just spoke with him again.  “We’ve done absolutely nothing,” he laughs as he has the best look in his eyes.  (Which is pretty cool to see across the miles – via the vid phone)

I have a feeling when we talk again later today .. I’ll hear more of the same.

There just isn’t enough time sometimes to do a whole lot of nothing.  Or three children who are willing to spend time doing nothing either.  They grow up too fast and are off in their own directions.  Weekends used to be for that, didn’t they?  Rest.  Perhaps in some households they still are.  The Cowboy has reminded me that on occasion at least, they should be.

Which is why this morning, my daughter still sleeps while I sit at the dining room table, sunlight streaming across the room at me.  The TV is off.  The sound of someone shoveling outside and the hot water heat kicking back on through the radiators is the only noise I hear.  I have my coffee.  A clementine.  The dog at my feet.  And the day ahead.  To do a whole lot of something, or a little bit of nothing ourselves.

11 Reasons Why ..

“Mom!” my daughter says…

She had just picked up the phone.  I was calling to talk as I was still in South Dakota earlier this week.

“Where are you?” she asks.  “Are you still at the Cowboy’s?”

“I am, honey!  How are you?” I replied.

“Mom..” she says, rather breathlessly .. “OK.  I have 11 reasons why I would want to move to South Dakota.. and 11 reasons why I don’t.  And .. why are you still there?  I want you to come home.”

While she loves the Cowboy, his kids, their lifestyle and I believe wants nothing more than to live on a ranch where there is every opportunity to have all the animals she’s ever desired, especially horses..

We’re (and by saying ‘we’, I mean ‘she’ .. ) very stressed at the moment, about what might be happening later this year and where we might be going to school.

My daughter is 10.

She met the Cowboy before I even had a chance to introduce the two this past summer.  The scene:  we were out at the barn where we keep our horse.  The owner, thrilled to have someone around who really spoke her language (horses), she  swooped him up for almost an hour, showing him around while I went and rode.  I came back to where everyone was standing after a brief ride.. and my daughter was hamming it up.   As soon as he started talking to another person standing with us all, she grabbed me by the arm and whispered loudly, “Mom.. He’s so nice!  He’s cuuuuuute!  And, he’s a real cowboy, Mom!”

She’s told me herself on many occasions over the past 8 months, since the Cowboy and I met, that she thinks he’s the one, if there ever were another one for me.  She adores him and she knows I do as well.  (Understatement of the year)  But, if we do take life and this love a step further, what does that mean?

How do we all live together, us, the kids, the ex’s?  Same geographic area, I’m speaking?  OR do we not?  Do we keep two separate homes in two separate states and keep driving between?  Or do we find what we want somehow, and that is time, all together, everyday.  If so, where would we live?  Where would she go to school?  Would she get her own room and her own horse?  That’s what she wants to know.


But she also wants me to know as one of the 11 reasons she doesn’t want to move to South Dakota, that she’ll never consider the Cowboy family.  (Mind you this comes within months of saying she can’t wait to have brothers and a sister and the Cowboy would make a great step-dad and asking if we could please move there because the west ‘is where her heart just is‘.  She can’t describe it, she used to tell me.  I get that, I really do.)

Until now, my ex and I have stayed put, not wanting to ever have this discussion.  I’m not sure either of us does now.  But life and I truly feel God’s plans for me/us are bringing it all to a head.  How do parents make these decisions?  These….. gut wrenching, heart breaking, tough, life altering decisions?  Seriously?  We can’t all regroup and fall in love again in the exact same location we often feel trapped by divorce.

I am feeling like a horrible mother for even thinking – what if there is a split in the coming year or years between states.  Her father has despised his time in Wisconsin since the day he moved here and would love nothing more than to leave.  But, he’s not interested in South Dakota, he’s told me.  What if, she spends summers with one and the school year with another?  How awful will it feel to be the one left with less time to love her in person, raise her, guide her and be present?  Or, will she be okay either way?

My daughter would be going to a new school in her current district this next school year anyway, but she’d still be with the friends she’s made the past few years.  She is petrified we might send her to a new school within if not the district, another town or even a new state.

I keep saying that to her, please don’t worry right now .. there isn’t one of us adults at the moment, certain of what is to come.  What we do know, is we love her.  And we are all working toward the best possible solutions with that in mind.  And in the meantime, we pray.

Maybe I need to make a list myself…

11 reasons why it will all work out.  Somehow…..

The gym…

We really need to figure out how to make the back and forth between SD and WI work a little better.  Only because, well, because we’d prefer to be in the same place.  But also because its taking a toll I’m pretty sure, on both our waistlines.

The Cowboy and I have individually been on the go, non-stop it seems .. like many of you.  Since before the holidays, we have been eating poorly … (well, worse than we might otherwise, with a steady diet of coffee & red bull for the long drives, cheese, crackers, some fruit thrown in for good measure and for me, chocolate.  Gotta have chocolate.  Just a little bit everyday.  And a good microbrew when its appropriate.  True.  I love good beer.) not getting enough sleep … (well, that’s what everyone keeps telling me but I’ve never slept much) and definitely, not enough exercise.

Until I met the Cowboy… I was kind of an exercise fiend.  Not like, over-the-top about it. And not uber competitive.  But the gym was on my calendar at least twice a week along with running 4-5 days.  And, I would pick a few races each year and train for something.

I just like to be fit.  Feel fit if nothing else.


In need these days of a tune-up

So does the Cowboy.

Despite the fact we try and run a few times a week and I’m comfortable looking like a fool out on the streets in the neighborhood doing lunges, side steps, pushups and the like, don’t think either of us are ‘feelin’ it at the moment.

So today I forced myself, despite having only 20 minutes to get in and out and change somewhere in there into my workout clothes.. to go to the gym.

It felt good.  And as I called the Cowboy quick on my way in the door, he says to me, “Honey, that’s great you’re going.  I’ve got to start being more consistent with working out, too.  I know we’ve been running, but I’ve got to do more.”

Both of us do, I’m thinking to myself.

I didn’t tell him as I was about to hang up.. I was finishing off half a Snickers bar, feeling famished not having had any lunch yet.

I’ve got to keep going to the gym.

Gathering dust

We all say that, don’t we?  Hoping we find a way to stick to it.  It may be one more thing on the to-do list each day.. but probably one of the most important things that just needs to get put back on the schedule.    And who needs sleep anyway…..

“I’d love to argue with you later”.. she says, laughing.

The Cowboy and I are still chuckling a bit over my last conversation of the day yesterday at the South Dakota statehouse.. with the likes of Ms. Joni Cutler http://tiny.cc/l2x37.

Now, I don’t want to do anything to ruffle anyone’s feathers.  We are all entitled to our own opinions.  And if I am ever looking for work in South Dakota, I need to watch inserting my opinions anywhere.

However..

What is fair to share with you, is the exchange.

Ms. Cutler was one of the last to come out of the Senate Chambers yesterday afternoon ..  Fortunately, we were still there, waiting on the House to dismiss.

Far from the ranch

We were scheduled to talk with one of Senate Bill 60’s strongest supporters, Representative Melissa Magstadt.

The Cowboy was off talking with Rep. Mitch Fargen.

Others, who had been making sure we talked with everyone possible where it might make a difference .. knew I wanted to speak with Cutler despite the fact she is adamantly opposed to any update/advance in shared parenting legislation.

They said, there she is.  And then they bolted.

I watched as she leisurely stopped and talked with various colleagues on her way out the door .. often stopping, turning back around, joking with a few folks, and taking a few steps back toward the door.

Finally she walked out.

I said, “Ms. Cutler, my name is ….  I am here with a gentleman by the name of .. (the Cowboy) today.”  She smiled and said, “Nice to meet you.”  She seemed quite relaxed and in no hurry.

“We’re here today to talk about Senate Bill 60 and the need for improved shared parenting legislation,” I said.

She cut me off, saying “I’m not interested.”

“I understand that,” I explained.  I made sure to be looking her in the eye when I said, “I’m just curious if you can explain to me why.”

She stopped, searching, I believe for the right words.  Any words actually.  And then she replied, “We feel judges should have all of the information and room possible to make the best decision and not mandate them to have to give couples in a divorce equal custody.”

“Why wouldn’t SB60 allow them that same room for judgement?” I asked.

“If it would, why wouldn’t it already be in place?” she replied loudly.  “Ask yourself that..”

“I have,” I said.  “And that is why we are here today to talk with you and some others.”

I probably said it with a smirk, I have to admit, but that’s what I said, very calmly.  Because at this point, she had gathered herself up and was walking away.  Which is what I had expected.

As she rounded the corner and was about out of sight.. she threw in, laughing, “I’d love to argue with you later, but I have to go.”

I replied “I’m not sure we need to argue, but I was hoping we might discuss.”

Arguing is currently, I hate to say it, what the current law fosters.  And there is nothing more detrimental to a family, children especially of parents who can’t get along, than arguing and being at each others throats through the lengthy, very sad process that is often divorce.

But it is a process currently, that any family law attorney such as Ms. Cutler and the State Bar … now I’m only guessing here … would stand to benefit from, as parents who argue over anything through a divorce and custody battle, typically argue through an attorney.  Sorry, just thinking out loud as to why Ms. Cutler might support the status quo in this situation.

Senate Bill 60, we believe, will bring families back to a middle ground where everyone is encouraged to get along for the sake of the children.  And when there is conflict, an unobjective third party is brought in to help with resolution.  Can someone please explain to me why this is a bad idea?  That is all I was hoping Cutler might help explain to me.  Why she feels this is such a bad idea.

For those of you wanting more on SB60 and why the Cowboy and I were there yesterday,  if you can glance at yesterday’s post, it’ll give you an idea.

For those of you who just want to be lazy and not look (which I get) .. Here’s a link to the bill.  😉  http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/Bills/SB60P.pdf

We’re not sure why there are still people out there who need to be convinced it is a child’s best interest, in most circumstances, to have both parents equally in their lives after a divorce, or for both parents to be treated and viewed equally through a divorce assuming both adults are loving, caring parents.  It seems a bit silly.  But, apparently there is a need to try and get the word out.  And having talked with countless other parents, mostly dads in South Dakota, who after years of hoping someone will listen to them and gave up, we felt it was our turn to pick up the fight.

Time with the kids - precious.

The Cowboy has been on the phone since leaving Pierre yesterday talking with family, friends and people he hasn’t heard from in ages.  Old friends who have their own story to share and who say they’ll do whatever it takes to support him.  And the bill.  And that is exactly what is needed.

http://legis.state.sd.us/who/index.aspx

This bill needs attention now.  If support isn’t strong before an upcoming hearing and testimony during the hearing, chances are it won’t even get out of committee.  It was scheduled to start this time around, in the most likely place it would get killed.  Because everyone we spoke with who’d like to see this pass is tired of working hard to see it fail, again.

One of the Cowboy’s good friends, who could lose her job for supporting this bill, is taking a stand and plans to testify.  She this morning, posted this on her fb page:

If you believe parents should have joint custody of their children, please contact your Senators and Represenative in Pierre and urge them to support Senate Bill 60. This bill will be voted on Thursday, February 9th at 7:45 a.m. during Judiciary Committee at the State Capital in Pierre… This bill is SO IMPORTANT!!! 

Even if you are not from South Dakota … (we’ve gotten emails today from folks in other state) but support moms and dads anywhere being encouraged to be good co-parents, to come to the table with equal parenting rights and responsibilities and allowing both parents to help raise their child .. especially if you are a judge, or an attorney and have seen 50/50 work.. Magstadt asked me just this morning to have you ..

Please contact either Senator Tim Begalka http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/MemberDetail.aspx?Member=151

Or, Representative Melissa Magstadt.  http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/MemberDetail.aspx?Member=159 

The Cowboy .. says thank you.  Because he doesn’t plan to walk away .. from the discussion.  Especially if it means, he might somehow get the opportunity to be more of the dad he wants to be.

Senate Bill 60…

I have been referring the past few posts to Pierre and a trip the Cowboy and I have been planning on taking to the capitol.. versus what was supposed to have been a weekend in Arizona with friends.

We stayed home because the Cowboy, devastated by the ongoing trials he is being confronted with in regard to any time with his children .. we would like to say, have to stop. But there are few resources it seems available, if any, besides an attorney. And even that, for decades, we’ve learned has gotten father’s (and some mothers) like the Cowboy, who simply want to care for, help raise, love, support and be a part of their children’s lives after divorce, nowhere. In fact, its been so disheartening, many have dropped the fight.

But could there be hope?

There is a lot of discussion right now happening around a bill scheduled to be reintroduced into the South Dakota state legislature. But perhaps not enough discussion..

http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2012/Bills/SB60P.pdf

The fight for shared parenting and legislation to support it, has gone on now for years here in the Mount Rushmore state. Judges, attorneys and the like here .. have maintained for generations that what is in the best interest of the children of divorce, is majority time with one parent, leaving the other with little to say, little time to do anything with their kids and little recourse.

But elsewhere, even in my own home state of Wisconsin where joint legal custody is the norm, the Cowboy would have had at least a chance to fight.

South Dakota’s shared parenting legislation is lagging behind approximately 38 other state’s who have long adopted the principal that parents going through divorce come to the table on even ground. That equal time with both parents is in the best interest of the child (other than in cases where there is abuse). And that the burden of proof for any arrangement otherwise lies with the parent filing for majority custody.

Somehow those ideals just don’t seem right to those representing people like the Cowboy. Or at least it seems that used to be the case. We’re hoping the times baby, they are a changin’.

South Dakota State Capitol

The Cowboy hopes by sharing his story.. legislators in his home state may finally reverse some of the pain he and his children have been put through .. and if not for them, for the other fathers (and mothers) that will inevitably follow in his footsteps.

It’s been a couple years since the Cowboy was last in Pierre. He often will rope in the Fourth of July Rodeo. And he’s won it several times.

We’re hoping today is a win too..

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