An unlikely partnership – revisited

partnership remixThe original post on our partnership went up almost exactly one year ago (July 14, 2016), but I thought an update and some reflections might be interesting. While Laura and I first “met” (via the magic of the internet) in the summer of 2013, we didn’t meet IRL (in real life) until the summer of 2016. This summer of 2017 marks another milestone for our partnership. My family has relocated to Florida, as my husband has accepted a new job at The Geneva School.

In the craziness of moving our family 1100 miles, and unpacking over 100 boxes, time to write a new blog post has been severely limited. I hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane as I reflect on my partnership with Laura. 

A stay-at-home mom and a business executive walk into a bar… Okay, so maybe Laura and I wouldn’t walk into a bar together, but it is an odd pairing — an unlikely partnership indeed. Just what does a mom of two young children have in common with a retirement-age recruiting contractor? More than either of us might have thought, as we would soon find out.

Let me back up a few years to explain.

Summer 2013 – The Partnership Begins

My husband had just signed a contract to teach at a classical school outside of Philadelphia, and we were preparing to move from Richmond, Virginia, to a start this new adventure. The cost of living in South Jersey is definitely higher than in Richmond, and private schools aren’t known for their extravagant salaries, so I found myself looking at options for earning some extra money.

It just so happened that my lovely aunt contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in some part-time work-from-home hours. She had been working as a virtual assistant for Laura, but was transitioning to full-time employment. So she was searching for someone to replace her. After Laura and I spoke on the phone, I took the reins from my aunt. Since I am wired to enjoy administration, the job fit snugly with personality: answering email, scheduling appointments, managing her calendar, and partnering with her to assist her in executive recruiting.

Summer 2015 – The Partnership Evolves

In May, Laura called and told me that she wanted to take some time off from executive recruiting in order to focus more on her artwork. Little did I know how that shift in focus would transform our partnership! As we continued to talk and explore, “I want more time to paint” became questions about how to market and sell art online, the creation of a website, development of an e-store and selling on other e-commerce sites, a blog… Things have just been accelerating since then.

grateful partnership

I am a linear thinker and a Type-A personality — some might say I border on OCD (but in a good way, I’m sure). Laura… well… she’s an artist. When it comes to her art, she just creates. She inuits things; she emotes. I am the left brain while she is the right brain. While it might sometimes feel as though we are talking past each other, we’ve learned to accommodate each other. Laura endures my countless emails, complete with bulleted lists, enumerated questions, and attached spreadsheets. I’ve learned to be patient and flexible as she requests another color change or forgets to set a price for a piece of art. She makes me a better communicator. I think she would say the same of me.

The Partnership Continues

What is it that makes us work so well together? In fact, with just one of us, this art blogging adventure would look very different. Despite our differences, we share a common foundation and a common goal. Both our lives our anchored in Jesus Christ and His Word. Both of us love art, love people and want to encourage them. Because of the gospel, we are united, and because of Laura’s art and my writing, we have this blog.

I know the past few weeks have shown a lot of division in our society, and where we go seems unclear to so many people. But for those of us who follow Christ, we have a message of hope and of unity to give to a world that so desperately needs it. Who in your life needs to hear that? Who are the people in your life that are different from you, but enrich your life as a result? Tell them how grateful you are for your unlikely partnership.

I’m excited that this new chapter means we will be closer to one another, and I look forward to seeing her more often and enjoying the partnership in the Gospel that we share.

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My daughter the unwitting celebrity

I have a “famous” daughter. My children are an endless source of inspiration and I love to write about them. In fact, I just did a quick search on my own blog and found more than ten examples of posts where I mention my girls. We take them on trips to art museums, we expose them to local artisans, we encourage their own creativity, and we delight to see them embracing, appreciating, and contributing art.

We, as a school community, celebrate both the visual and performing artistic endeavors of our students in grades K through 12 every spring. The students perform a variety of musical numbers for their adoring fans.  We also have a chance to view many of their art projects on display. Students are invited to submit original artwork to grace the cover of the program for the evening’s festivities.

daughter art 2

My oldest daughter labored for days on getting her design just right. She wanted to find the perfect illustration for this year’s theme of “summer”. In the end, the teachers recognized her hard work by granting her the privilege of having her artwork on the program’s cover. She became an instant celebrity on campus the day it was announced. I arrived to pick her up at the end of the day, and as we lingered on campus, every student who passed us called out their congratulations.

daughter art

Proud daughter, proud mama

I was so proud of my daughter for having her artwork recognized. Our students were so gracious to acknowledge their classmate’s success, and to be genuinely proud of her accomplishment. My daughter was definitely excited to have won, but she was also humble. I know that she does not like to be in the spotlight and was even a bit embarrassed at all the attention. She was also extremely worried about being publicly acknowledged during the night’s program. Her fears were relieved when she was simply recognized verbally that evening.

Now, I don’t know whether or not my children will ever have artwork on display in a gallery or a museum. But I do know that they love to create. Their minds of full of countless ideas, and art is one way in which they can express that imagination. I want to encourage them to be creative. We want them to enter contests, to take risks, to face their fears. I’m delighted that their school and their art provide them with opportunities to do so.

daughter art 1

What about you? Are there risks you can take? What art do you have to create? We all have something to share. Let’s also be the ones to cheer others on in their successes. And remember, if you should see artwork by A. Keller in your local museum, you saw her here first!

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A Gala, Grace, and Goodbye

A wise bear once said, ““How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. If that is true, then I am indeed lucky, blessed in fact.

Two years ago, my family moved to the Austin, Texas area because my husband had accepted a teaching position at a classical school in Georgetown. This summer finds us packing up our home, saying “goodbye”, and moving yet again. I am excited to start a new adventure at a new school. However, I am finding the saying of “goodbye” to be incredibly difficult.

Recently, Laura blogged about a new painting she was finishing up for a benefit auction for our current school, Grace Academy. When I had originally asked Laura if she’d be willing to paint a landscape of our campus for the auction, I did not know we would be leaving the school. And so I found myself on a Friday night, surrounded by people who love the school and were excited to contribute their funds towards the furtherance of Grace Academy’s mission. Among the items up for bid was Laura’s painting.

goodbye to grace

Unexpectedly, I found myself anxious over it’s sale. Not because I didn’t think it would be popular, but because I was worried over who might get the painting. Would it be someone I know? Someone who loves art? A family who loves Grace Academy? Even though I didn’t create the beautiful landscape, saying “goodbye” to it felt a bit intimidating; it was also a “goodbye” to the school I’d come to love.

The auction was a silent auction, so I wasn’t aware of how the bidding was going. A friend of mine promised me that she’d let me know who purchased the painting once all the dust of the gala auction had settled. The next morning, I received a text from a dear friend that said, “guess what I have?!” and this picture:

grace goodbye 2

Not quite goodbye….yet

I found myself relieved that she was the one who purchased “Sunrise at Grace”. I told her that I was glad it was going to a good home; having it with her felt like it was still “in the family”.But I was also sad as the realization hit that she would be one of the hardest people to bid goodbye. She also texted me, “And now with y’all moving it holds another special place for me because I wouldn’t have the painting without your connection to Laura. So thank you! I will treasure it always. And always think of your and your family as well as the school we love so much!”

I have joked with her in the past that she is my muse when I have nothing to write about. On at least one occasion, she was the direct inspiration for my post of the week. I can think of countless other friends that I have met as a result of our time at Grace Academy who have so clearly influenced who I am as a person.

My friend sent a wonderful thank you note to Laura in regards to the painting:

I am writing to let you know that my family now has your beautiful painting of the Grace Academy landscape on our mantle! It is just beautiful!!! It will always hold a special place in my heart. Our two boys (currently 10th and 8th graders) started attending school at Grace in third and first grade. I can so clearly remember the first time my husband and I drove onto campus. The property is beautiful and just has a feeling of peace and joy. Even 8 years later I think of that first time I entered campus and how peaceful it was almost every single day that I drive onto the property. So thank you Laura! Thank you for your selfless donation of time and talent to our school. We will treasure it always. May God richly bless you in your artistic endeavors!

goodbye

This school will always hold a special place in our hearts as well. Even as I am writing this, I am a substitute teacher in the Upper School. I was just told by a roomful of eighth graders that I am their favorite sub, as I passed out their difficult Logic test. We will miss the students, we will miss the teachers, we will miss the parents. We are lucky indeed, for it is quite hard to say goodbye.

 

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Rest and Recharge to Charge Ahead!

sunrise at grace rest
© Laura Gabel, “Sunrise at Grace”. Oil on canvas, 24″x48″. $850.

I’m taking a bit of a rest because I’ve just completed a 2 foot by 4 foot painting that will be at a benefit auction for Grace Academy in Georgetown, just outside of Austin, Texas. It’s a sizeable painting and I am excited to be able to share it with all of you!

Here are a few progress shots from the painting “Sunrise at Grace”:

Grace sunrise rest

Sunrise at Grace rest

When I start, get in the middle, and finish a painting like this one, there is a lot of planning involved to make sure the composition works out well. The overall effect that I want to portray must be in my head before I ever take paint to canvas.

Something else happens when I paint. I go through many emotional moments: concern, joy when a certain section turns out really well, despair when I think I’ve blown it, self doubt, and exhilaration. Finally, I come to the moment when I say “it’s done” in my head. But I’d still like to have another month with it. 

Sunrise Grace progress 7

Sunrise at Grace progress 8

Then the last feeling for me is a jumble of being happy, sad, and exhausted.

Some paintings are all consuming, for me. I often find that means I have a hard time stopping. I think, dream, and have it floating around in my head a lot! This was one of those paintings.

I can tell when my battery is low and I need to recharge so I can move forward. Moving forward means digesting what I’ve learned from this painting and clearing my heart and mind. I need to make room for my next painting, which more than likely, will be entirely different.

How do I recharge? I actively rest! Huh? It sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t.

First, a couple of questions for you about rest:

  • When you think of the word “rest” in a natural sense what does it mean to you?
  • What does the word “rest” mean to you in a spiritual sense?
  • Do you find that you try to “rest” in the Lord only when you’ve explored all your other options, or hit rock bottom?

Now that you’ve taken a little inventory, here are a couple of things I’ve learned about rest that have helped me. Hopefully these will give you a different perspective on rest.

Rest is fruitful

Our minds can be refreshed and our strength renewed when we slow down and allow our minds and emotions to enjoy quiet times. Try it; watch what happens when you take a walk, go to the beach, meditate on just one scripture or turn off the cell phone and tv.

Rest is an activity

I admit this really doesn’t make sense but if you schedule a time-out for yourself you are halfway there. Being intentional about resting doesn’t mean you strive or struggle. It means you can be determined to take that break whether it be for 10 minutes, a day, or a weekend. Rest takes practice. Exodus 23:12 reminds us that “on the seventh day you shall rest;…that [you] may be refreshed.”

Rest is a choice

When you choose to recharge your batteries, you have decided to go against the world’s wisdom that counsels that we should run faster and harder. Choosing to take some of your time and dedicate it to slowing down is the best way to partner and collaborate with Christ. He promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Here is my simple way to practice rest: by deciding to climb into His loving arms to be held, behold Him and be loved! 

How do you recharge your batteries? Has this article has given you the encouragement you need to practice resting? If so, let me know.

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Give a man a fish….paint a man a fish?

There’s an oft-quoted saying that says “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” But what happens if you paint a man a fish?

My daughters attend a classical school where we talk a lot about Truth, Goodness and Beauty. So when Christmas rolls around and I’m thinking about teacher gifts, I try to think along those lines. Food, candles, and lotion seem to be hot teacher gifts every year, and this year I wanted to think “outside the box” and look for gifts that were true, good and beautiful.

My oldest daughter is in fourth grade and this year in science, they are studying sea creatures. Laura’s first acrylic painting was a jellyfish.

© Laura Gabel, “Jellyfish Dance”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.
© Laura Gabel, “Jellyfish Dance”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.

I thought it would be fantastic if we were able to purchase that painting for her teacher. I first spoke with my daughter to see if she liked the idea. She was exuberant in her approval. So we contacted the other parents, who were also enthusiastic and quickly donated towards the purchase.

We were all amazed when Laura surprised us by painting a companion painting to our jellyfish. This incredible Austin Blue Crab:

© Laura Gabel, “Austin Blue Crab”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.
© Laura Gabel, “Austin Blue Crab”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.

When the paintings arrived, I contacted the parents and we arranged a private art viewing from the back of my car after school one afternoon. It was difficult to tell who was more excited – the parents or the students. I spoke with our art teacher, who has guest blogged for us previously, and she agreed to take some time during the students’s art class to allow the students to sign the backs of the paintings for their teacher. They were thrilled!

give a fish

Finally, the last day of school before Christmas arrived. When I walked in the classroom during the party with a large wrapped present, the students all started jumping up and down in excitement and grabbed their teacher to open the present. They crowded around her so much that it was difficult to get a picture. She was astounded at the gift.

give a fish

The students are so proud our “their” paintings and take great pride in having real art, real personal art in their classroom. Not only do they have something beautiful adorning their classroom, they have a visual representation of the truth of what they are studying in science, and they experience the joy of giving a good gift to their teacher.

paint a fish

What will you give?

I know we are past the gift giving season of the year. How many of us received gifts that were true, good and beautiful? How many of us gave such gifts? Or did we, on occasion, buy a gift because we felt “obligated” or we rushed and grabbed something that was just available in our budget? Did you receive gifts that felt a bit like the giver didn’t really put much effort into the gift?

Let me encourage you to think about truth, goodness and beauty when you give a gift. Give some art! Yes, it can be expensive; can you perhaps give a group gift? What about you and your siblings getting a portrait of the grandchildren painted for your parents?

Let’s give gifts that nourish both the giver and the receiver. Painting a fish may not feed the stomach of my daughter’s teacher, but it is feeding her mind and soul for a lifetime. And her students will be fed as well.

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What are you waiting for?

waiting of advent
The Annunciation by Leonardo DaVinci

Waiting…..it feels like we as a culture have lost patience with waiting. Our smart phones give us immediate access to anyone and anything we could want; our microwaves allow us to provide sustenance to ourselves (and our households) without the time it takes for a home cooked meal to be prepared. We have “self check out” lines in stores so we don’t even have to wait for a cashier.

My youngest daughter is enamored with the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. One of her favorites (and mine too, honestly) is called Waiting is Not Easy. In this book, Piggie wants to surprise her friend Gerald (the Elephant), but Gerald hates waiting. His moans and groans during his forced waiting are hilarious. In the end (I won’t spoil it all), Gerald finds out that Piggie’s surprise was more than worth the wait. In fact, it couldn’t even be enjoyed without the wait. Try as we may to eliminate waiting from our lives, sometimes it is absolutely necessary.

When it comes to art, waiting is often essential. Great works of art are not created in a brief moment. Appreciating art doesn’t happen in a fly by glance. We need time to create, time to enjoy, time to ponder.

The waiting of Advent

We are currently in the season of Advent, traditionally observed by the church universal as a time of waiting – waiting for the coming of the Messiah, of Jesus the Christ. First, as a celebration of His coming at Christmas, but also as a looking forward to His second coming at the end of time. I find it interesting that in a culture so obsessed with NOT waiting, the observation of Advent has fallen out of favor in many churches and families.

waiting of advent

Here in our family, we do observe Advent. We started our advent wreath this past Sunday. And we begin our advent calendar on December 1st. We try to combine a countdown of fun activities with decorations for a small Christmas tree in my daughters’ room and a nightly devotional reading.

waiting of advent

The wreath, the calendar, the decorations, the lights, all the visual trimmings that go along with this season bring a sense of wonder and beauty to our world. Children in particular are easily engaged through these tangible representations and through both the visual symbols and the devotional readings, we want to cultivate in our family a deep sense of delight in the waiting. The waiting will be worth it when the celebration of Christmas arrives. Not for the gifts, not even for the family that will be gathered in our home. The real joy will be found in the True Gift, the baby in a manger. That same baby who is our one day returning King. The waiting will be worth it.

waiting of advent

Are you waiting?

What about you? Do you dread the busy-ness of the holiday season. Maybe you’ve lost a family member and celebrating Christmas without them just doesn’t even seem doable this year. Maybe you just do Santa but don’t want to be bothered with all the “Jesus” stuff. Perhaps you celebrate Hannukah or Yule or nothing. Can I boldly challenge you to try one of the devotionals I linked to earlier? I know it may be WAY outside of your comfort zone. It may even make you angry that I would suggest it. But in this time of waiting, there is hope to be found. There is comfort and joy in abundance for the Lord is indeed come.

What are you waiting for?

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Pure Moments and Visual Speaking

This week, we’re pleased to have a guest blogger with us. Robin McLaurin holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Early Childhood Education from Daemen College, a Master’s degree in Art Education from Texas Women’s University, and an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Art. She has earned numerous distinctions as an artist including winner of the Red Poppy Festival Art Exhibit Grand Prize and being selected as the artist in residence at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. Ms. McLaurin has been an art teacher for over 15 years and has taught at all levels from lower elementary to undergraduate college students. She has taught at Grace Academy in Georgetown, Texas, since 2010 and inspires students to pursue the True, the Good, and the Beautiful as they both enjoy and create art. 

As a photographer I work to capture pure moments.  These pure moments for me are glimpses into heaven here on earth.  To recognize pure moments, I continue to train my eyes to see, my ears to hear and my heart to listen; and to be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  My days are filled with the expectation of seeing and capturing pure moments.  My hope is to share these captured God moments with those around me.

pure moments
photo credit, Robin McLaurin

This past year, these pure moments have come often and when least expected, usually when my camera is not with me.  This has frustrated me.  One such moment was on the highway crossing over a creek sheltered by tall oak trees.  I looked to my right and bam.  What I saw was a beautiful sunset with brilliant oranges and deep yellows glistening off the water.  I began to lament that I did not have my camera with me when it occurred to me that this was such a pure moment that to capture it would decrease the purity and sanctity of it.  God had meant it just for me.  In exposing these pure moments to me I am entrusted with passing on His evidence of His faithfulness.

pure moments
photo credit, Robin McLaurin
Pure moments, pure materials

I transfer these pure moments into my process with the use of pure materials.  My most recent body of work is anthrotypes.  This is a historical photographic practice where chlorophyll is extracted from the petals of flowers.  Once extracted the emulsion (liquid from the petals) is painted onto paper.  The flowers I used to create the emulsion, is the same flower you will see on each photograph.  They are photographs made from plant matter.  The image on the paper is created through photosynthesis.  These images were made while I lived on the Cayman Islands last summer.

pure moments
photo credit, Robin, McLaurin

As we head into Thanksgiving and Christmas, I pray that you will expect to see these pure moments each day.  Pure moments are visual messages from God confirming His love for us. Pure moments serve as affirmation that He is with us always. They are visual messages from God sent specifically to you.

pure moments
photo credit, Robin McLaurin

Enjoying the pure moments,

Robin McLaurin

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Beauty in Organization – an oxymoron?

Is there beauty in organizing? Super-organized people are often chided for being “uptight” or “OCD,” but I want to suggest that they see art and beauty in things others might miss. If you tend to be a bit less structured, hang in there with me for a moment.

One of my favorite times of the year is fast approaching: Back to School! It’s okay to cheer if you’re a parent longing for a bit more quiet in your day. It’s also ok to be sad if you’re in denial about how much earlier everyone needs to get out of bed, or if you’re a teacher still planning. beauty of organizationThe coming of a new school year brings with it the requisite purchasing of clothes, shoes, supplies, lunch boxes, and all the other goodies necessary to ensure our children hit their classrooms ready to absorb all the knowledge their teachers can dispense. Our school offers parents the opportunity to skip the endless running around for school supplies by purchasing a complete packet through our Parent Council. GENIUS. We’ve got a bit of time yet before school starts, but I’m ready to go as you can see — uniforms sized and hung, socks bleached (who am I kidding? new socks purchased!), lunch boxes, bags and shoes upgraded. It’s beautiful. Seriously.

Maybe the beauty of organizing is easier to see in my summer bucket list. My older daughter tends to be a bit more routine-and-schedule-focused, like me. So instead of a list of things we wanted to do over the summer, we created daily themes for the week and used multi-colored popsicle sticks to keep track of the days.

beauty of organizationNot only did we have all kinds of fun things to do over the summer, but we had a handy countdown at the same time. I find beauty in that.

I just finished up a webinar course to help me as I manage this website and blog. The course was specifically geared for artists who want to be more creative with their online presence and marketing. One of my favorite sessions was the discussion of editorial calendars — how to organize your blog posts, newsletters, and social media marketing. I spent a whole afternoon looking at options to find just the right one I wanted to use. And you know what? Yes, it’s beautiful. Not in a vibrant, colorful, thought provoking way, but in a simple, clean, organized way — think mid-century modern rather than baroque. Not to mention that it makes my life immeasurably easier!

Why do we need beauty?

Once we’re old enough to assume responsibility for something, all of us make attempts to be organized. Why not make it beautiful? Bring art and beauty into your life wherever you can. Arrange your closet by colors, use pretty dishes when serving a meal, rearrange your books on the shelf to be visually interesting. 

Basil the Great said that we all desire beauty. I would suggest that we desire beauty because the One who made us is supremely beautiful and we are made in His image. C.S. Lewis asked, “The Order of the Divine mind, embodied in the Divine Law, is beautiful. What should a man do but try to reproduce it, so far as possible, in his daily life?” Where will you find beauty in your daily life? Where will you image your Creator? Leave us a comment or a picture and display that beauty.

 

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Third Graders in Togas

hera

What scares you? What do you fear? And what do you do when faced with your fears?

My daughter is terrified of being in front of people. She attends third grade at a classical school. As part of their history studies, they have been learning about the ancient Greeks and Romans, including their mythology. They have also been able to take an elective in drama. To integrate history and drama, they recently performed three plays: Echo & Narcissus, Demeter and Persephone and Pandora’s Box.

My daughter was cast as Hera, the Queen of the gods, and she was petrified. The morning of the performance, she didn’t have butterflies fluttering in her stomach, but rather full-grown birds flapping about her insides. Nothing seemed to go right as she was getting ready for school. She waved at me nervously when I came to take my seat in the assembly room. The play started off well; she was hitting her marks and saying her lines with great emotion. But then it happened. She forgot a line. I could see it in her face, her hands covered her face, she tapped her foot anxiously. This mama prayed fervently for her to remember and not to run off stage. Then she relaxed. The line came to her, she delivered it flawlessly, and the play went on. I was so very proud of her. She faced her fear, and though she faltered for a moment, she rose above it and conquered it.

Too often we let our fears get the best of us. Sometimes when we face that crucial moment, it goes better than we imagined. But frequently we falter. My daughter faced one of those moments; she had a choice to keep going or to let her fear get the best of her. 

What do you do when confronted with your fears? I might try to come up with a quick plan to get out, around, over, away from the fear. I don’t want to pass through it or dwell in it; that’s too risky. But what joys might I miss by taking evasive action instead of facing that fear, even if it means failing?

I am convicted by the words of King David when he says “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

I don’t know what you are facing. Many of us face far greater fears that a forgotten line in a third grade play. Let me encourage you to keep facing that fear, and even should you falter, there can still be joy. Salvation is found only in the One who provides light and life in the midst of our fears, who faced the sum of all fears on a cross, whose empty tomb marked His triumph over anything that ought to ever make us afraid.

 

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