Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Before the Frost

Before the first frost
     lilies continue to bloom
     like Solomon’s robes.

                           ~ CK


Photos: The last blooms of the season - Lillies at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Ala.
             (in early November)
Credit: Charles Kinnaird

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Music: "Thanksgiving" by George Winston

"Thanksgiving" first appeared on George Winston's December album (Windham Hill). My first time to hear this was on the Windham Hill 1984 Sampler.That album remains one of my favorites, and George Winston has continued to display and artistic, emotive touch on the keyboard in his subsequent recordings.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Distant Memory

 Fallen autumn leaves
      soften the ancient pathways
      of wartime wagons.

                                    ~ CK


Photo: Wooded trail at Tannehill State Park, site of Tannehill Ironworks, a major supplier of ordnance for the Confederacy during the Civil War
Credit: Charles Kinnaird

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK

John F. Kennedy
Official White House portrait
Many are sharing their thoughts and memories of JFK on this 50th anniversary of his tragic assassination. Many of you have your own memories of that day. These are my thoughts and memories of what I knew as a child growing up during those times. 

Has There Ever Been a Time Like This?

I was six years old when John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address that cold January in 1961. I remember watching it on TV with my family. I could tell from the adults in the room that this was an important event. I think I even remember hearing those words, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” but I may be remembering clips of that speech that have been aired so many times and in so many venues since that day. I must have picked up on the excitement of that period because I can recall asking my parents, “Did we have a president before President Kennedy?” That question resulted in a mini, age-appropriate civics lesson about our country. I now realize that my question about whether there was a president before JFK was emblematic of the times. John F. Kennedy, with his energy and charisma, sparked a widespread interest in both knowing how the country works and in giving back in public service. Thinking about a child’s heart and the way a six-year-old views the world, another way to ask my question would have been, “Has there ever been a time like this?”

Dark Days as Well

There were troubled times as well during JFK’s 1,000 days. I was a second grader when the Cuban missile crisis was in play in October of 1962, and I can remember those days. We talked about it at school, though we spoke as the seven-year-olds that we were, reflecting what we picked up at home. There was worry about the Russians and fear of war. One of my classmates said, “They have a bomb so big it will blow up everybody.” That did not make sense to me, but my friend assured me, “That bomb could kill everybody – even YOU!” Fortunately, that crisis was resolved and we were soon carefree school kids again.

Another factor to the times was that there was an anti-Kennedy sentiment in the rural Protestant South where I grew up. Some of that suspicion, I suppose, arose from the President being Catholic, but most of the animosity, I am sure, arose from moves to implement Brown vs. the Board of Education.  Racial integration was being resisted; our own Governor campaigned on segregation and famously stood in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in June of 1963 to prevent the registration of black students.  Everyone knew the times were changing, virtually no one was admitting it.

I often heard classmates scorn President Kennedy. I wasn’t sure why they were expressing such disdain because I liked what I saw of him on television. As a child, of course, I grasped little of the politics but I always liked the image the president projected. At the time, school milk cartons carried the faces of American presidents along with a short biography. Some of the kids cut them out and collected them. Occasionally, someone would find a milk carton with JFK’s picture on it and ceremoniously stomp it into the ground. This was reflective of the animosity felt in the South toward Kennedy.

Then Came that Day

On that fateful day, shortly after the lunch period at school while we were in recess out on the playground, someone came with the news that the President had been shot. The initial reaction of some was to think it was a joke. I saw kids dancing and celebrating, thinking they were acting out that same old ceremony of stomping a milk carton into the ground. Then when we realized that it was no joke – this was actual fact, a somber and fearful mood settled over our third grade class.

I was the one who broke the news to my own father. He came to pick me up after school. My dad had been running errands and did not have the radio on. Furthermore, in those days of vacuum tubes, most people didn’t keep the television set on all during the day. As we were walking to the car, I asked him if he had heard that the president had been shot. He didn't know; my dad heard the news first from my mouth.  In the 50 years since that day, I don’t think I have stopped to consider this until now, but the moment is clear in my memory. What does it mean for a boy to be the one to tell his father that the President has been shot? I think what I wanted most was to let the news rest in my father’s capable hands so I wouldn’t have to worry. What followed at our house was just what was happening across the country. We turned on the TV and kept it on to find out as much as we could.

Unlike any time in our memory, television coverage continued nonstop over the course of the next few days. My brothers and I turned on the TV on Saturday morning expecting to watch cartoons. Instead, there was continuing news coverage. News was not supposed to be on TV on Saturday morning. We kept watching, hoping that we would eventually see our cartoons return, but instead we saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot down on live television.

Making Our Way

We watched the president’s funeral on television – the President who was first to take advantage of the television medium and use it to his advantage was now the center of a televised national mourning. After the grief, we had to learn to move on. We had to learn to live with ordinary leaders and lack-luster times as we proceeded through the cold war, civil rights, the Viet Nam War, student unrest and racial strife.  

As we have moved on, we have lived with the nagging thoughts of what might have been. In the process, we have understandably given John F. Kennedy a hero’s status. We have held up what we see as his strengths: a space program, a quest for peace, the directive for racial equality, the call for a higher national purpose. The most important thing that I take away from the Kennedy phenomenon is that however he may or may not have embodied these ideals, these are the values that we as a people insist upon holding up as the national ideal. That has been encouraging to me though the years: that however we have lived up to or fallen short of those ideals, when we ascribe traits to our presidential hero, these are the values we insist upon. For that very reason, there is hope that we can make it, because these are indeed our values. We can make it, as JFK said about the mission to the moon, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” 


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dylan the Welder

Dylan the Welder*

Bob Dylan is a welder
Taking words
That have been scattered
And misused
And putting them through the fires
Of humanity’s forge.

It takes a hot pen
To bind mythic thoughts to modern ways;
And a fiery riff
To weld common chords to forsaken phrases,
Fashioning a memorable song of love or theft or ruin.

It takes a spark that was lit by subterranean fires
To ignite the passions
Of a restless generation
Until they gather on the streets
Or courthouse lawns
Or the National Mall
To sing of how many roads.

It takes the fire of human consciousness
Erupting without summons or awareness
To fashion songs that can
Shake a tambourine
Survey a watchtower
Foretell a hard rain
Or catch a slow train.

It takes old embers
To join hands with
Blind Willie
Hattie Carroll
And the sad-eyed lady.

It takes new fire
To speak to the hopes of a young woman
In a world that is spinning
Or the dreams of an old man
When shadows are falling.

Bob Dylan is a welder
Fashioning new gates
From worn-out words,
Burning old hopes
Onto new frames.

It takes ancient fire
To fashion timeless tales
Of joy and struggle,
And a luminous eye
To forge a song that is true.

                              ~ Charles Kinnaird

*The inspiration for this poem came from an online article telling about how Bob Dylan keeps welding supplies at his home in Malibu where he creates iron gates from scrap pieces of metal. Some of his welding work is now on display at London’s Halcyon Gallery.

(photos by John Shearer via Daily Mail)


Monday, November 18, 2013

Hilda of Whitby

The ruins of Whitby Abby, founded by St. Hilda

Hilda of Whitby, born in 614 in Northumbria, was a spiritual leader, abbess at the monastery at Whitby, and advisor to kings and commoners. Her preferred practice was centered in Celtic Christianity, though she brokered a peaceful transition when at the Council of Whitby, King Oswy decided to bring Northubria in line with Roman tradition. She also nurtured and encouraged a stable hand named Caedmon to sing his songs in his native Anglo-Saxon, thus she assisted in bringing forth the first English poet.

St. Hilda’s feast day is November 17 in the Roman Catholic Church, but in the Episcopal Church her day is celebrated on my birthday, November 18 – which is why on this day I am more Anglican than Catholic. I take some time on this day to honor the Celtic heritage, feminine leadership, and the poetic voice.

Read more at:


Monday Music: Beware of Darkness

Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone claims that "Beware of Darkness" may be the best song on George Harrison's  All Things Must Pass, commenting on its "enigmatic" music and the combination of "warning" and "affirmation" in its lyrics.(from Wikipedia). Here is a stellar performance by Eric Clapton from the Concert for George.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Canada Geese

Mighty travelers
     who ride the wind and weather
     glide with quiet grace.

                            ~ CK


Photos: Canada geese relaxing at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama
Credit: Charles Kinnaird  


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It Was Worse than Making Bears Use Charmin

A Rat Named Percy

We have this pet rat named Percy. It’s interesting how we came by this wonderful pet. When my daughter was in college, she had a couple of pet rats – both female. She named them Aamina and Lulu. Through her experience, my wife and I learned about the joys of rats. My wife says they are like kittens that never grow up – they remain cute, playful, and inquisitive.

Aamina, a hooded rat
Lulu, a Russian Blue Dumbo ear

Rats only live two to three years, and after my daughter’s rats had died, we thought about the possibility of acquiring another one. Soon the opportunity presented itself when we learned of a rat who needed a home due to his owner’s impending move. The rat’s name was Percy, and a fine rodent he turned out to be!

Social Time
Rats are social animals and require at least 20 minutes of hands-on interaction every day. Percy seemed more accustomed to men, so from the time we acquired him, it fell to me to be his “handler.” It was not a difficult daily task. From the moment Percy was delivered to us, I could see that he was fine animal with a healthy sense of being. When they live together, rats spend time grooming each other, so I began to take some time each day giving Percy some comforting strokes. We had learned from our daughter’s experience that when holding a rat in one’s lap, it helps to have a cloth bag that they can run into for security. She had had a denim bag that she kept treats in for her rats when they took refuge there. My wife bought a cloth bag specifically for rat handling (its original purpose had been for a sewing bag).

It didn’t take long for Percy to learn to relax in his bag when I took him out of his cage. I held the bag in my lap where I would pet Percy (always after I was finished walking the dogs at night). Sometimes Percy will eat a few treats, then poke his head out for some strokes from my fingers. Other times he settles down right away and enjoys being held and petted. Often he will close his eyes and drift off to sleep, sometimes even rolling over on his side. After a time of quiet cuddling, he will come out of his bag to look around. Usually he will sit up and groom himself for a while before roaming about on my lap and looking out at the room.

And Then the Potty Training

When my daughter had her rats, she had them trained to use a little litter box, which was a small ceramic dish with gravel in it. They didn’t use the litter box exclusively, but most of their droppings would end up there. When we first got Percy, I put the little ceramic litter dish in the cage, but he gave it no notice. My daughter advised that I should give it some time and see what part of the cage Percy preferred to “do his business” in, then try the litter pan again.

Months passed, and with my weekly cleaning of Percy’s cage, I noted that most of his droppings were in the right rear corner near the exercise wheel. A couple of weeks ago I decided to give the litter pan idea another try. When I cleaned the cage, I carefully placed the ceramic dish with special potty litter in the right rear corner that had become Percy’s favored doodle spot. Instead of taking advantage of my homemaking improvement, however, Percy was quite confused as to why there was this obstacle right where he was accustomed to doing bathroom business. He got busy pushing the aspen bedding that covered the floor of the cage this way and that. He made mounds of aspen shreds underneath the ladder to his bedroom; he fashioned drifts on the other side of his exercise wheel. He looked for new places to doodle since his usual spot was now occupied with a ceramic dish. His whole world was disrupted!

I told my daughter the next time she called home that Percy just wasn’t getting the litter pan concept. “Oh, just put some of his droppings in there, he’ll eventually start using it – it may take a year to get him used to it.”

“A year?” I thought. “That’s half the poor fellow’s life!” I told my wife I thought I would just go back to our usual rat cage arrangement and let the aspen bedding take care of things. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep up the litter pan project. “Why get into that power struggle?” my wife asked.

Picking Your Battles

Why indeed? Yes, my wife was right. After all, who knows what problems might arise over potty training issues? Some say that Hitler’s problem was that his mother potty trained him too early. That was it; I would no longer entertain any thoughts of trying to control where Percy went to the potty. That would be worse than making those bears use Charmin.

And what about those bears on TV? From time immemorial, bears would always squat in the woods. We even have a smart-alecky response in our language based upon that fact. Then along comes a toilet paper company making a decision that bears really need to use sophisticated paper products for their daily dumps. Well, those bears may look cute on television commercials, but why do we make such domesticated demands upon wild creatures? We should have known there would be consequences to such power issues. You may have heard about the recent phenomenon of bears breaking into people’s cars and shredding the interior. Well, there you go. We did not see such passive-aggressive destructive behavior from bears before Charmin’s humiliating attempt at making bears live with our notions of proper toileting habits.

So now Percy is once again living a harmonious life, true to his rat nature. He sleeps in the daytime, gets up for meals of lettuce, fruit, seeds and food pellets. He chews his sticks, roams around at night and runs on his exercise wheel. He enjoys cuddle time with his human friends in the evening, and he doodles where he chooses. Life is good.

Percy looks out upon the world
Percy awakes

Oh, and if you don't believe the part about bears trashing cars, take a look at this video. That's one bear I would not want to sit down with to watch a Charmin commercial.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Music: Gabriel's Oboe

The Mission is definitely on my top ten list of all time favorite films.  Ennio Morricone composed the soundtrack, and "Gabriel's Oboe," is the main theme for that 1986 film. Here it is performed by Yo Yo Ma from his 2004 album, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Ducks

Their security
     is in groups. Their comfort zone
     is on the water.

                            ~ CK

 Photo: A flock of ducks on Roupes Creek, Tannehill State Park near Bessemer, Alabama
Credit: Charles Kinnaird


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Recommended Recipes: Moroccan Stew

I tried a great new recipe this weekend. It was a Moroccan chicken stew with tomatoes and eggplant. With autumn weather coming on, it's the season for stews, and this is a great one to try. I made a few alterations in the recipe. I didn't have fennel seeds or slivered almonds, so I didn't worry about those. The most notable difference was that I used white meat instead of dark and I used a crock pot. The recipe took pains to point out that dark meat is traditionally used because it is more moist. I chose to use white meat instead and figured that the crock pot would be a good way to ensure that the meat was moist. I found thin sliced chicken breast fillets on sale, and they worked out just right! The sauce was prepared on the stove top as directed by the recipe, then the chicken along with the sauce was placed in the crock pot and cooked on "high" for three and a half hours. The eggplant was also prepared according to the recipe and added to the crock pot during the last 30 minutes, turning the temperature setting down to "low" for that last bit of cooking (total crock pot time: 4 hours). When it was ready to serve, I stirred it with a large spoon and the tender chicken fillets broke up into beautiful pieces for a lovely presentation. It was served over white basmati rice and the meal was absolutely primo! The recipe comes from  Bon Appétit magazine and was found at

Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Almonds
From Bon Appétit, February 2004
Yield: makes 8 servings

This version of a tagine, the classic Moroccan stew, calls for dark meat because it stays moist when braised. If you prefer white meat, reduce the cooking time by 15 minutes.

Bon Appetit photo by Noel Barnhurst
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cups sliced onions
6 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 ½ teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups drained canned diced tomatoes (from 28-ounce can)
1 cup water
3 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
8 chicken thighs with bones, skinned
8 chicken drumsticks, skinned
1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
½ cup whole blanched almonds or slivered almonds, toasted
Chopped fresh cilantro


Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large wide pot over medium heat.

Add onions and garlic. Cover and cook until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add paprika, salt, turmeric, coriander, fennel, pepper, cumin, and ginger; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes, 1 cup water, and 3 tablespoons lemon juice; bring to boil. Arrange all chicken in single layer in pot; spoon some sauce over. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Turn chicken over, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F. Brush large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Place eggplant and remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil in large bowl; toss to coat. Spread eggplant out on prepared baking sheet and bake until soft and brown, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. (Chicken and eggplant can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate separately until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated.)
Stir eggplant and marjoram into chicken. Simmer uncovered 10 minutes to heat through and blend flavors. Season stew to taste with more lemon juice, if desired, and salt and pepper. Transfer chicken to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with almonds and cilantro.

This is how mine turned out

Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday Music: Blind Willie McTell (The Band)

Blind Willie McTell had a foundational role in the formation of  American blues music*. Bob Dylan wrote this song  to commemorate that singer and his role. While celebrating McTell’s talent, Dylan artfully captures the milieu in which the blues arose with such phrases as, “ghosts of slavery ships” and “Hear the cracking of the whips / Smell that sweet magnolia blooming.” The Band does an excellent job with the song. You can also hear Dylan’s recording of the song here

* "Blind Willie McTell" from a blog post of mine from January, 2012.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Autumn Woods

  A burst of beauty
       followed by a letting go –
       the faith of autumn.

                                ~ CK


Photos: Deciduous forest, Oak Mountain near Birmingham, Alabama
Credit: Charles Kinnaird

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Souls' Day: A Time of Remembrance

All Saints’ Day is a day to commemorate the saints. Traditionally, during the All Saints' Day  service,  names of those who have died in within the past year are called out in anticipation of All Souls' Day on November 2.   All Souls' Day has been set aside to remember our fellow pilgrims who have crossed over to that “undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.” These are the "thin times," days in which we can easily move into those "thin places" where according to Celtic spirituality the other world lies incredibly close. 

With each passing year, there are significant sojourners who have parted from the present company of friends and family; people who have heretofore shared an earthly path.  And thus we grieve, “but not as those who have no hope.”

This year I have twice stopped my usual activities to mourn the deaths of friends within my own age group. It is yet a further reminder that there are no guarantees about tomorrow. I would like to take this time as we approach All Souls' day to call to remembrance two friends who have died.  Whether or not you take the time to read my own remembrances, please take some time to remember those within your own circle who have died this year. Take the time to get quiet, call to mind your loved ones who have died. Be still and enter in to that sacred thin space where extraordinary communion is possible.

*   *   *

Carlton Bartlett was just a year and a half older than I. In high school we were in the same youth group and he was quite talented musically. I can still recall with delight the best high school assembly program that I ever witnessed at Dadeville High. It was the day that the FFA string band performed for the entire hour. Carlton was lead guitarist as well as lead vocal. He brought the house down with his rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” The band further electrified the audience with “Wipeout” in which Jimmy Evers held his own with a magnificent drum solo. I think I was in the tenth grade at the time. Carlton was a gentle fellow and a good friend. He is the one who gave me the only formal guitar lessons I ever received. It was in college that I began to make real progress on the instrument, but it was Carlton’s foundational instruction that allowed me to master the instrument. From that day to this, I often think of Carlton when I pick up my guitar to play a few chords. I saw him only on a few occasions after I left for college, but I always remembered Carlton fondly and was saddened to learn of his passing at the age of 60.  His was the gift of music.

*   *   *

Dan Cookson was a year younger than I. He was from Hannibal, Missouri. We met in Mill Valley, California where we were both students at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Dan was an easy going fellow with a ready smile. He was one of those people who elicited a positive response from everyone he encountered. We were friends throughout seminary and roommates for a brief time. We had some classes together, went on choir tour in the Northwest together, explored the rocky Northern California coastline and one day hiked to a place called Mount Vision north of Mill Valley. We both served on mission overseas, he in Okinawa and I in Hong Kong. One week he visited in Hong Kong and we saw some sights and ate snake soup at a little shop on a quaint street in an old section of the city where no one spoke English.

Best Man, 1985
After we both returned to the States, Dan came to visit in Birmingham and was best man at my wedding. He went back to California where he did social ministries and then became a leader in church planting for the California Baptist State Convention. A few years ago Dan, who had never been a smoker, developed lung cancer. He went through rounds of chemotheraphy and was given the all clear. Then a couple of years later he got the chilling news that the cancer had returned. He continued his work while he underwent more rounds of treatment. Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer in April of this year. He is mourned by his wife Tammy and their three children, Danielle, KC, and Kyle. Not surprisingly, there was a huge outpouring of condolences and remembrances from the many people whose lives he had touched. I had not seen Dan since my wedding day 27 years before. We lived in different parts of the country and carried on with our respective lives, but I felt an emptiness as in a brother’s departure.

It was a two or three months after his death that I had a dream about Dan. I dreamed I received an email from him giving guidelines on how to honor those who have departed this life. Next in my dream, I was at a gathering outside in the evening near the beach. Dan was there with his bright eyes and warm smile, wearing a subdued checkered shirt and gray slacks. Apparently there had been talk at the gathering concerning the email I received from Dan about how to honor the departed. My brother-in-law was also there in my dream. He asked me how it was that my friend had an interest in honoring those who have passed. “Oh,” I quietly told him, “Dan is one who has already crossed over.” I looked back in the direction where Dan was standing with a few other people. He stood with his arms folded and he looked my way, nodded his head and smiled. With that, the dream ended. 

Later I remembered one of the last communications I received from Dan. It was when he responded to one of my blog posts in August of 2011. He referred to one night when we were students and he had me in stitches as we were going into San Francisco in his old truck (which he had been driving ever since he wrecked his little sports car). There were yellow rubber dividers between the lanes and Dan found out how flexible they were as he drove his left wheel over them as we approached the bridge.  Divider after divider went down only to immediately spring back up with a ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. It was late, hardly anyone else was on the road, and I was rolling back and forth on the passenger side, cackling with laughter. He was pushing the boundaries, so to speak. We were young, you know. 

I would like to close my remembrance with Dan’s own words to me on my blog:

It is nice hearing from you, especially your heart. It may have seasoned with age over the years but it is still the same Charlie I knew and love. In your sonnet you speak of boundaries, structure, guidance, and the paradox of metaphors. I have learned to deal with these over the years, maybe excelled too well at conforming to expectations. Getting married, starting a family, pursuing a career, all these forces shape our actions and thus have their affect on our lives and dreams. In my heart remains that Missouri country boy in his ’52 Chevy pickup truck running over the yellow tube dividers on Doyle Drive leading to the SF Golden Gate Bridge asking, “What barriers?”    I offer my poem in response to your sonnet:

 An old car!
A boy jumps in-
The sound of engine roaring.

The first soft rain!
Enough to feed the dying grass
And the Prickly Pear’s pain.

In the Moondoggie’s cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die.

No one travels
Along this way but I,
This spring evening.

In all the Sea Fog of May
there is one thing not hidden -
the bridge at
Coronado Bay.

The sun’s last beams
thoughts and loneliness;
into the ocean, flash of green.

Night appears, then clouds
and bring to lovers a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.

Sea Moon:
around the ocean beach I wander
and the night is gone.

California's child -
The car he starts & it grinds,
and gazes at the key.

No gas and no joy,
and he is standing, walking
all alone!

Won't you come and see
loneliness? Just one kiss
from the girl Mariah.

Church bells die out.
The fragrant jasmine remain.
A perfect evening!

                                ~ Dan Cookson  

Daniel Cookson, June 27, 1955 - April 30, 2013

Carleton Bartlett and Dan Cookson, two friends whose lives were shorter than any would have wished. May light perpetual shine upon them, and may peace be upon their families.

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