Tag Archives: Melissa McPherson

Worry Free Home Decor

My husband and I bought our first house in 2009. It was really exciting. The place was definitely a fixer upper; I had all these wonderful ideas about how I would decorate and how beautiful it was going to be. I was going to have a house fit for a magazine. I think everyone feels this way the first time they move into their own space. However, most of us come to the realization that what we have in our head and what we can afford are two different things. We also find out that those DIY projects are not as easy as the home depot commercials make them look.

My husband and I have now lived in this house for about four and a half years, and we are still working on various projects. This is because we don’t want to go into debt fixing up the house, so my husband takes on one or two projects a year. I obviously cannot help with these projects, but I do my best to make sure my house has that homey feel by adding small touches here and there.

One company that I have discovered along my decorating way is Scentsy. Scentsy is a company that sells electric, wickless, candles for your home. I am going to be honest, with a dog, four cats, one husband and my tendency for setting of the smoke alarm, my house can get a little smelly and stuffy, especially during the winter when we are all cooped up inside. Candles are a great way to help keep your house smelling nice, they also give your house a cozy feel. But lets face it, open flames and Cerebral Palsy are not the best combination. Open flames and cats are even worse.

Scentsy products are great because they use these beautiful ceramic warmers to melt a non-toxic scented wax that will fill your room with one of many wonderful scents. The wax gets warm, but not hot, so you won’t get burned if you spill it. I have even had wax spilled on my kitchen floor, it was quick and easy to clean. The burners come in several sizes and can either be plugged directly into the wall like a nightlight, or set on a table.

The main reason I love Scentsy is that I can select a fragrance, turn it on and not worry about it. I can leave the room, or even the house, and not worry that something is going to catch on fire. I also don’t have to spend 45 minute rummaging for a lighter.

One word of warning: Scentsy is awesome and you might feel like you don’t need those candles anymore, but make sure to keep a few on hand, and know where they are. Scentsy might be safer than a candle, but they won’t work during a power outage; you really don’t want to forage for candles to light your living room in the dark, trust me on that.

Home Alone? Tips on Staying Safe and Sane.

My husband is an avid outdoorsman. He likes to hunt, fish, camp, and go for long walks in the woods. A few times a year, he goes on what I call a “man-cation.” I call it this because, generally, women are not welcome on these trips. Not that I want to be invited. Spending a few days cooped up in a cabin with no access to running water and sleeping in close proximity to a bunch of snoring men does not sound like my idea of a good time.

He really enjoys these trips; getting some time away from the daily grind in good for him. However, this also means that I lose my primary source of transportation while he is gone; which means we have to plan for what I will do while he is away.

Generally, I try to plan my own trip, or have a friend come stay with me while my husband is away. This is as much for boredom as it is for peace of mind. But if the timing doesn’t work out and I do have to spend a chunk of time alone, I always make sure that my family knows when he is leaving and when he will return. My Mom and in-laws are just minutes away in case of an emergency. Additionally, I like to set up a “check –in” schedule with them; this way we can check in with each other once a day, and if I cannot be reached they come over to the house. This might seem like a silly thing for an adult to do, but because I don’t use an aid, this is very important in case of a bad fall or something similar.

Besides making sure that I have someone on hand in case of an emergency, I also like to stock up on easy meals. Spending half an hour to an hour cooking for one just seems silly to me. I like to buy frozen skillet meals, because they taste better than the microwavable ones and I usually end up with left-overs. Also they are really simple to cook, with no chopping or measuring; just put in the pan for seven minutes and you are good to go.

The last thing I do when facing a week alone is make sure that I have a project and a nice long book to keep me entertained. I have just started the Game of Thrones series which I heard from a friend is “epically long.” Of course, I love Stephen King, but his novels tend to not be the best when home alone, though some of his less scary work would be a good choice. My favorites include Heart of Atlantis, The Green Mile and The Long Walk. My project of choice is of course sewing, but being without my husband for a few days is also a great reason to get some organizing done, or trying a DIY project seen on Pinterest. The best part? No one is around to her you swear.


Garlic Lovers, Rejoice!

I am going to share a bit about me that isn’t a secret; I love garlic. I am Italian on my father’s side, I blame this obsession entirely on those roots.  I love garlic the way my husband loves catsup, I put it in almost everything I eat. Whenever there is a chip, potato, sauce, dip, or bread that has garlic in it, I am first in line to try it. I love only two foods more, cheese and wine. Wine is food right?

One thing I don’t like about garlic is the preparation. I know I am not alone in this, plenty of people have complaints about prepping garlic; but having cerebral palsy, where fine motor skills are not a strong point, I find the peeling, chopping and the mincing utterly infuriating. Before you mention it, I know there is pre-minced garlic in stores, but I just can’t do it. I am sure it is perfectly fine, but I personally find those jars of pre-minced garlic to be a little off putting. I prefer to used fresh garlic.

So what is a garlic loving ceep to do? You buy a garlic zoom and a garlic peeler of course! These two tiny gadgets are proof that big things really do come in small packages. They completely changed my life. The Garlic Zoom is my favorite kitchen appliance of all time. It was given to me by one of my favorite people, and fellow garlic lover, as a wedding shower gift. She showed me how to use it and my mind was blown. You just put your peeled clove in the zoom and then roll it on the counter like you’re back in kindergarten with the matchbox cars (Get it? garlic zoom!)

I love it. I can’t live without it. In fact, when my husband accidently destroyed  the first one in the garbage disposal, then tried in vain to piece it back together, I went out and bought a new one the same day. After all, how was I to make dinner?

Of course you still have to peel the garlic. And that is where a garlic peeler comes in handy. I know it doesn’t look like much, but this garlic peeler works similarly to the Garlic Zoom. You simply place the garlic inside and roll it on the counter. You will hear a crackle when the skin separates, then you just slide the now naked clove out of the peeler and into your garlic zoom.

Or course, if you want to peel a whole head of the stuff, the bowl method is the way to go, not only can you peel a whole head of garlic in ten seconds, you can also release a day’s worth of frustration.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d3oc24fD-c&w=560&h=315]

The best part about these two products, other than the fact that they are budget friendly, is that they are not just for people with disabilities. Anyone can benefit from these time saving gadgets, plus they are safe for children to use, which is great if you have a kid that loves to help out in the kitchen.

So, what’s for dinner?

A Great Piece of Technology

My husband’s grandmother hates technology. She complains all the time, “They got all these fancy gadgets and half the time they don’t work!” She will bemoan, complaining about her cell phone battery because it has only lasted her about ten years. (Which, if you asked anyone else, is quite a long time for one battery to last.) While I do agree that technology can be a pain, and that it is changing the very fabric of our society in some not so great ways, I am glad to be able to take advantage of the technology available today. I can only imagine how difficult my life would have been without power wheelchairs, speech to text software and laptops. In fact, I am a bit disappointed that the technology available today was not available when I was in college. The tablet I am typing on now would have been a life saver.

I bought my tablet just before I started my new job. I had been considering buying one for quite some time, but I was having a hard time justifying the purchase; after all, they are expensive and I already have a laptop and a smart phone. However, my laptop is heavy and the battery doesn’t last more than a few hours before needing to be plugged in again, which makes it less convenient for using outside of the house. I can’t even try to imagine typing for long periods on my smart phone. I finally took the plunge when my friend sent me a link to Groupon for an Asus tablet with keyboard dock for just under $300.

The tablet had everything I needed except for Microsoft Office, but it did have a word processing program as well as a spreadsheet program. So far, my tablet has been a life saver. Especially on Tuesdays when, because of transportation, I am at work six hours before my shift starts.

Thanks to my tablet, I am able to spend that time working on my writing and blog posts, checking email, relaxing on the internet, playing a game or reading a book without lugging around multiple devices or worrying about finding a place to plug in. It has also been helpful at work since I am able to record meetings while taking minutes, so I don’t miss anything important.

I use the detachable keyboard for most of my word processing, but I find the ‘swipe text’ feature really helpful when not using the keyboard; it makes typing on a touchscreen so much easier. Other great accessibility features would be the touch and hold delay for those of us with fine motor issues, optional enlarged text, easy zoom in and out, text to speech for those of us with difficulty speaking and TalkBack for those of us who are visually impaired.

I have to admit, I don’t always love technology, especially when it doesn’t work the way it should. But I will not deny that these tablets, and their smartphone cousins, have been a great help for me and many people I know with disabilities.

Handmade Helpers

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just cannot find that perfect solution to an everyday problem, from a store. This is especially true when you have a disability and want an item that most people wouldn’t even think of needing. When that happens, it helps to have some crafty skills; or at the very least have crafty friends and family who can help you make the items you want but can’t find in any store.

Currently, I own three such items which either I made, or were made for me, that I find invaluable in my daily life. “That’s great,” you’re thinking, “but how does that help me?” Fear not, my loyal readers; not only am I going to tell you about these wonderful items, but I will provide you with the patterns to make them yourself.

The first item is an oversized pot holder. This is essential if, like me, you can only use one hand to retrieve hot items from your oven. Normally, I use an oven mitt for this task, but mine recently stopped working as well as it used to. Additionally, my pot holders are all too small to use safely with one hand. Since I couldn’t get to the store before I needed to get some cooking done, I decided to whip up a quick potholder that would be big enough to protect my hand.

I used this pattern to make my potholder, with a few slight modifications. I replaced the 8×8 inch squares with 9.5×12.5 inch rectangles. I also chose to use insulated batting instead of old towels for the middle because I did not think a towel would be enough protection. (The person who wrote this tutorial said they’ve tested them safe for 450 degrees, so if you want to use a towel, you are probably safe to do so.)

I used left over fabric from other projects, giving my potholder a scrappy feel, and quilted the whole thing on my machine for fun. It works great and I saved myself a trip out in the cold.

The second item is the knitted booties that were given to me by a family friend. For years, I struggled to find slippers that would stay on my feet, up until now nothing worked. During the winter months our hardwood and tile floors get cold enough that I need two pairs of sock to keep my feet from going numb; this is partially due to the cold floor and partially due to my poor circulation. Then I received these knitted booties as a Christmas present. They are wonderful. They stay on my feet and are so warm. If you are a knitter or you know one, you have to try these booties. You can find the pattern here.

The last item is something my sister made for me. It is a vest for my dog Taden. She made it while I was seriously considering using Taden as an official service dog. She started by following thispattern to make it, and added a handle so that Taden could assist me in getting off the couch or out of a chair. It is a little more complicated than the other two, but if you really want one for your pup; head on over to Keirabelle Designs and my lovely sister will whip one up for you.


These handmade solutions are only some of my favorites, not just because they solve some pretty major problems in my life, but because I have an extra appreciation for the amount of love and effort that went into making them.

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

This weekend, Michigan’s weather forecast predicted a pretty bad storm. Heavy rains, high winds and even possible tornadoes. Most of us paid little attention to the forecast.  After all, Michigan weathermen cry ‘bad storms’ more than Peter cried wolf. This time, however, the weatherman wasn’t kidding. This storm was a doozie, mostly because of the wind. There was plenty of damage done during the storm, and many people lost power for days afterwards.

Our power flickered a few times and then finally went out for good at eight o’clock on Sunday night. It didn’t come back on for 26 hours. How did I survive? With the help of a good blanket, a good book, some wine and my husband’s baseball cap.

The wine and the blanket kept me warm. Though, to be honest, the wine had the dual purpose of drowning out another type of whine coming from other members of the household. My husband and my cats simply cannot tolerate a power outage; especially when, “the house three doors down has lights, why don’t we?” The book kept the hours ticking away at a steady pace; but that hat was the real key to my survival.

I am sure you are asking yourself, “How can a mere baseball cap help one survive a power outage?” Well, this is no ordinary hat. This is an ingenious hat. A hat designed for lazy people; and we all know that those kinds of inventions are usually quite helpful for people with disabilities.

This brilliant hat is a lighted baseball cap. The bill of this hat discreetly houses a set of small, L.E.D. lights, along with a little wired button for turning it on and off. Not only was I able to read my book with ease, but when I inevitably got up to use the bathroom (I was drinking wine, after all), I didn’t have to juggle a flashlight, or worse, a hot candle. The beam of light from this hat is not obnoxious either; it won’t blind your pets or your people. It gives just enough light to comfortably see by.

Granted, this is not the first time I have used my husband’s baseball cap. When there isn’t a power outage, I have used it to conveniently create a little more light while I am hand sewing on couch. I also use it when I want to read in bed and my husband is asleep.

For some reason, this hat is only marketed for men, so the color selections sucks; but I am willing to forgo fashion for practicality. Especially during a power outage when no one can see me anyway.

Finding a Job that Works for You

Growing up is a little scary for everyone. The idea of being on your own, having a job, a career, owning a house and starting a family of your own can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. If you have a disability, gaining the independence that comes along with adulthood has its own set of unique challenges. How will you manage your care? What will you do for transportation? What kind of work can you do and who will hire you? That last question is one that I heard a lot while working for people with disabilities; and one that I heard in my own head after I was laid off from my job of seven and a half years in April.

I am not going to lie, finding a job in today’s economy is hard work. I applied for at least one hundred jobs while I was out of work and got exactly three interviews; two of which never got past the initial phone interview stage. Finding a job might have been a bit easier if I did nott have a disability to consider; not only did I have to find a job that I had the skills for, but I also had to consider my transportation options, as well as whether or not the job would be able to accommodate my disability.

At first, I tried working from home, figuring that that would be the easiest solution. I had some success in that. I found a few writing gigs that I enjoyed, (ODesk is a great site if you have writing, editing, graphic design, or translation skills.) but they were not enough to pay the bills. Additionally, my attempts to sell on etsy did not yield much in the way of income either.

Ultimately, I was able to find a job that was perfect for me. I was not able to work from home, but I was able to work part time. My experience searching for a job was enlightening and I learned a few valuable lessons I would like to share.

  • Don’t waste your time applying for jobs that you know won’t meet your needs. Sure, you want to apply to as many jobs as possible, but applying for jobs you know you can’t get to, or preform, is a waste of everyone’s time.
  • Don’t get too caught up in what people might think about your disability. Once you land an interview, it is easy to get worked up over how you might explain away your disability. The simple answer is don’t. You got the interview based on your skills. Skills that have nothing to do with your disability. Your interview is less about you and more about what you can do for the company, focus on that and you’ll be fine.
  • Take rejection in stride. Just because you didn’t land one job, does not mean that you are hopelessly unemployable. Keep trying, learn from those failures and eventually you will find something that works for you.
  • Use the services offered to you. There are several ways to get help during your employment search, and most of them are free. These services can help you write a resume, identify your skills and even help you figure out what your limitations are and how to accommodate them. Contact your local Center for Independent Living, or unemployment office to find out the types of resources available.

By keeping the above points in mind, the search for a job should seem less daunting and overwhelming. Just remember that everyone has obstacles to overcome when applying for jobs, regardless of their abilities.

Simple Exercise Solutions

Exercise is a very important part of living an Unlimited life. Exercise will keep your body and your mind healthy, which will help maintain your independence. When you have a disability, exercise can be a challenge. For me, getting exercise during the cold, snowy months here in Michigan is really difficult. The snow makes it difficult to get around easily and the cold makes my muscles really tight. This makes it hard, not to mention sometimes painful, to move.

Over the years, I have discovered a few things that make getting year round exercise easier; especially during those cold, winter months when getting any outdoor exercise, or traveling to the gym, is difficult.

For strength training, I prefer resistance bands. Free weights are great, but they only allow you to work on your upper body. If you want to work on both your upper and lower body, resistance bands are a great choice. Plus, they are lightweight and easy to take with you, so when that spring weather finally arrives you can take your workout outside. There are plenty of exercise video and routines for resistance bands online, so you should be able to find some exercises that work for you. The resistance bands I listed above come with a book which feature exercises for your arms, legs and core.

Working out my core has always been a challenge for me. No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot execute a proper crunch from a flat surface. I have found that by placing something under the small of my back, I can execute crunches in a way that is effective. I found that a mini exercise ball works best for me, but you could also try a small pillow if you think you might need extra support.

A workout is not complete without cardio. Finding a cardio workout that was effective and allowed me to use only my upper body was a challenge for me. I tried a lot of different “chair” routines, but most spend three quarters of the tape on stretching and leg exercises, this did not raise my heart rate to the level it needed to be. After much searching, I found this chair boxing DVD. This video uses boxing to create an effective, aerobic workout that you can do either from a chair, or standing. (Sometimes I do the exercises while kneeling.) This DVD uses only your arms and core muscles. It gets my heart rate up but it also allows me to work on my balance, which is something that most aerobic exercise does not help with.

Exercise is an important part of staying healthy. Exercise is possible no matter what disability you have. Everything I have listed, the resistance bands, the exercise ball and even the video, can be adapted to virtually any disability or fitness level. All it takes is a little creativity and will power.

Training Your Dog to be a Service Animal

photo credit: Ben Fletcher Photography

Service dogs are awesome companions and helpers for people with a variety of disabilities. There are many organizations that raise and train service dogs to assist individuals who are deaf/ hard of hearing, blind/ visually impaired, and physically or emotionally disabled. But did you know it is also possible to train your own dog to be a service animal?

My dog Taden is a black lab/golden retriever mix; she was given to me by a family friend when she was about a year old. I quickly discovered that she was very smart and eager to please, so I thought I might be able to train her to do a few things around the house for me.

The first thing I taught her was to pick up an object I had dropped and bring it to me. This was helpful because I have a hard time bending over to retrieve things. She learned to do the task in just an hour! I was amazed. That’s when I decided to look into what it would take to train her to be a service dog.

What I found out was very surprising. Training your own service dog is easy! In most states, including mine, a service dog does not need to be certified. All they need is be able to follow some basic training standards like not barking, or going to the bathroom in public areas, and perform three tasks that are specifically beneficial to your disability. For example, Taden can pick things up, help me remove my jacket and help pull me in my wheelchair. There are plenty of certification sites out there that lead you to believe you need a piece of paper stating that your dog is a service animal, but they are just looking to make a quick buck.

I decided I was going to try it and purchased two books to help guide me through the process: Teamwork 1 and Teamwork 2 by Stewart Nordensson and Lydia Kelley. These books walk you through some common tasks that service dogs should perform. The books are written by a person with a disability so all the exercises are adapted for people with disabilities. They are great books for basic training as well.

Ultimately, I decided that Taden’s personality wasn’t right to be a true service dog. She loves people and get’s so excited to be pet and have her ears scratched that she gets completely distracted. If I had gotten her as a puppy, training her to focus around a lot of people might have been easier. I could probably still do it, but I have come to love her happy, bubbly personality. She makes everyone she sees smile and I just don’t want to see that go away. She still helps me around the house, and if I ever get another dog I might try again.

If you are looking to train your dog, check out these books; and be sure to check out the rules in your state regarding certification.

My Flossing Solution

I’ve had Cerebral Palsy for my entire life. One would think that by now there wouldn’t be any surprises left; however, every once and a while, I come across a new problem that needs a solution. Last week, I was at the dentist and received the news that I have a cavity. I brush twice a day with an electric toothbrush, and have not had a cavity in years. This one creeped in at the side of my tooth and is a direct result of not flossing. It is no secret that nobody likes to floss, but when you have the fine motor issues that come with Cerebral Palsy, this dreaded task becomes more than just annoying. I have been attempting to find a solution to the complicated process of flossing for most my life. Those little one-time use pick flossers are too small for me to grip and the handle flossers have replacement heads that are really difficult to remove and replace. I was lucky for a while, my electric toothbrush seemed to be doing the job. But this last appointment proved that the flossing problem was not going away; I was going to have to find a solution. I decided to try a Waterpik. I have seen them on display when I go to my dentist; not that they ever suggested one to me, but when I looked them up online, I found that most people like them. I decided to try it out and purchased the Cordless Plus Water Flosser. This flosser is cordless and rechargeable, so I can use it anywhere and don’t have to worry about the cord being too long, too short or having to wrap it up after each use. I charged it for 24 hours and then unplugged it. The manufacturer says it can remain plugged in to charge between uses, but user reviews said this ruins the rechargeability of the device. It is easy to fill with water and comes with 4 tips: two general use, one plaque seeker, and one for braces. They snap on easily and are removed by pushing a button; which is much easier than the standard handled flossers I have tried before. The stream of water is quite powerful, even on low; and it will make a bit of a mess, so make sure that you are leaning over the sink when you use it. Also, use warm water, I used cold the first time and it was a bit painful. So far it seems to be doing the job; my teeth do feel cleaner and it leaves my gums with a tingly feeling that it not unpleasant. Obviously, I won’t know whether this product really works until I go back to the dentist in November; but I feel like even if it is not the perfect solution, it is better than not flossing at all. Plus, shelling out $40 once beats multiple trips to the dentist any day.

Smart Train Travel

Traveling is stressful for everyone, but when you have the added complications that come with a disability, it can be even more of a headache. I travel a lot. Because I cannot yet drive, and I am terrified of airplanes, I do most of my traveling by train. Over the years I have taken dozens of trips by myself; most to Illinois and Indiana, but also all the way to Colorado. Over time I have learned how to make my trips as painless as possible; below is a list of things that I have found helpful when traveling by train.

  •  Book your tickets online, if possible. I know this seems backwards. Wouldn’t you want to talk to a real person so you can make sure necessary accommodations will be made? In theory, that makes perfect sense. In reality, humans make mistakes. I cannot tell you how many times I have booked an accessible ticket over the phone, only to get to the station and have the people at the counter scrambling because my reservation didn’t state that I used a wheelchair and needed the lift. Ever since Amtrak has implemented a way for passengers with disabilities to book online, this is no longer an issue because I am personally checking all the boxes, not relying on someone else to do it for me.
  • Get there early. This is crucial. If you want to have a successful trip, you should always plan for the worst and hope for the best. I always get to the train station about a half an hour early, minimal. I let the employees know that I have arrived, that I will need the lift as well as staff assistance when the train comes in. The staff at the train station will be incredibly busy when that train rolls in, so establishing your needs early ensures you don’t get lost in the shuffle.
  • Bring your own drinks and snacks. Long distance trains often have snack cars that sell drinks and snacks to passengers, but you are much better off bringing your own. This is true for two reasons. First, you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a soda; and second, although the snack car should technically be accessible for you, the aisles on a train are just big enough for a wheelchair. This makes it awkward when you have people trying to get back to their seats. The conductor will sometimes stop by and ask if you need anything, but that doesn’t happen very often. If you bring your own snacks, you can avoid a traffic jam and a growling stomach.

These are just a few things I do to make traveling easier. Obviously, you will want to be sure that the form of transport you chose can accommodate your needs. Accessibility information for these services can be found on their webpages. Amtrak is a great service, they offer many accommodations and even discounted ticket prices to passengers with disabilities, but not every station is accessible, so make sure to do some research before you book your trip.

My UNlimiters Challenge: Learning to Drive

Transportation is one area of my life where I do not have the independence I wish I had. My husband and I live in a rural area, where buses and other public transportation are not available. Therefore, when I want to go anywhere, I have to ask my husband, my parents or my friends to drive me. This really inhibits my ability to do what I want, when I want.

Physically, I am capable of driving, but learning to drive has been a huge challenge for me, a challenge that I have struggled to overcome for the last 15 years. I have worked with almost every agency available to reach this goal, but it has never worked out. Every agency has wanted me to accomplish my goal in a certain amount of time, and when I couldn’t do that; I was told that I couldn’t do it at all.

For a while, I accepted that. Then one day, I decided it was crap, and so were all the agencies I had been working with. Legally, I didn’t need them to learn to drive, so I decided I was going to do it one my own.

I took and passed driver’s education in high school, so in June, for my birthday, I went to the secretary of state and applied for my driver’s permit, for the fifth and what I hoped would be the last time. Then I purchased some temporary hand controls, my husband put them in the car and I was one my way.

Learning to drive on my own has been a lot harder than I expected. I need to practice, a lot. In order to do that, I need people to take me driving. My husband, kind of sucked at it at first, he would freak out at the slightest mistake, and his yelling would make me so nervous and stress me out so bad that I would end up crying when I finally parked the car. He didn’t mean to yell, or upset me; I knew that, but I still took it personally. I started to hate driving.

For while, I tried to drive with other people; but schedules limited my ability to practice. So my husband and I tried again. He has gotten much better and I am starting to improve as well. I still lack the confidence it take to drive well. I wish I could buy that online. Unfortunately, I am told that it will only come with time and practice.

I am probably going to have to apply for that permit at least one more time; it expires in December. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be at this point, and I can’t help but feel a little discouraged. I do not want to fail at this, so I can’t give up. I have to keep trying. No matter how long it takes me, I want to have the independence that driving can bring me. I want to go where I want, when I want and to live my life unlimited.

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