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This week for Mission: Appliances, we were finally able to use one of our newest appliances, our deep fat fryer. While not an appliance we think we should use too often (um, ya, not too healthy people), we have always wanted one for special meals. So, without further adieu, let’s get out the deep fat fryer!

mission-appliances2

We own the Presto 05466 ProFry Stainless-Steel Dual-Basket Immersion-Element 12-Cup Deep Fryer (now that’s a mouthful). We asked for it for Christmas and have not had the opportunity to use it yet—that is, until now.

While I like to keep battering and frying foods down to a minimum, I do think that occasionally it’s fun to do. And in our case, we really wanted an easier way to prepare certain foods we were already frying, just in a skillet (talk about a mess!). Enter the deep fat fryer.

Deep Fat Fryer Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Presto
  • Average Price: $70
  • Power: 1800 watt immersion element
  • Size: 16 X 15 X 11 inches; 12 pounds
  • Features: Adjustable thermostat; oil-ready indicator light; cover acts as a spatter shield
  • Complexity: Easy to use
  • Versatility: Deep fat fries just about anything
  • Cleaning: A little involved to clean
  • Storage: Unit is pretty large, so needs a bit more room than most appliances in order to store
  • Safety Tips: Heating elements get very hot; oil and steam can both be extremely hot
  • Pre-series Location: On the top shelf of a hall closet
  • Pre-series Use Level: Brand new, never used before

deep-fat-fryer

Project Deep Fat Fryer

When we asked for a deep fat fryer for Christmas, we actually picked a particular model out. It was highly reviewed and seemed like a good choice. After taking it out the box, we prepared it by cleaning it out fully and purchasing a 5 quart jug of canola oil.

deep-fat-fryer-canola-oil

One of the meals we had wanted to cook with a deep fat fryer was egg rolls, or more specifically, Lumpia. Our friends make it all the time and also recently started using a deep fat fryer. We thought it seemed like a good idea since frying the little egg rolls in a skillet was difficult and messy.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 lb ground hamburger
3 carrots, minced
8 oz jar of water chestnuts, drained and minced
1 egg
¼ cup soy sauce
Ground pepper and garlic powder to taste
2 TBS lemon juice

1 lb package egg roll wrappers (~20 wrappers)
1 TBS flour + 1 TBS water mixture

Directions:

1. Mix the hamburger, carrots, water chestnuts, egg, soy sauce, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.
2. Take 3 small spoonfuls of meat mixture and place them along the long edge of an egg roll wrapper. Gently roll the wrapper until it is almost rolled up. Apply some flour/water mixture to the end and finish rolling (seals the egg roll shut).
3. Cut each long egg roll into 3 sections. Continue to repeat steps 2 and 3 until you’ve used up all the meat mixture.
4. Fry the egg rolls in oil until the meat is fully cooked inside and the egg roll wrappers are crispy.

deep-fat-fryer-egg-rolls

Here’s what we did with step 4, using our deep fat fryer: We pre-heated the oil for 20 minutes to 375 degrees F. Then we placed egg rolls at the bottom of each of the two baskets, submerging the baskets into the hot oil. After 2-3 minutes, the egg rolls were done. We continued to do this until all the egg rolls were fried.

deep-fat-fryer-egg-rolls-cooked

There were a few complications we encountered, but were able to work through by the end. First, we were not sure if we would have been able to place more uncooked egg rolls in the baskets at one time. We were afraid they would stick to one another and cook together as one big glob. So we played it safe and only placed one layer of egg rolls in each basket, making sure there was enough space between each egg roll to prevent touching.

The second issue we had was with the egg rolls sticking to the bottom of the basket. We read in the instruction manual that this could be a problem. We eventually realized that if we coated the baskets with hot oil first before adding the egg rolls and if we shook the baskets a few times while the egg rolls were submerged, the egg rolls did not stick too much.

The Verdict

The lumpia was quite yummy! It was great to be able to fry them so quickly (2-3 minutes) and have them evenly cooked. That was definitely a problem I had with frying them previously in a skillet. They were nice and crispy and tasted great coming out of the deep fat fryer. Clean-up was a little more involved than with most appliances, but it was to be expected. We plan to reuse the oil several times before discarding it. Overall, we love the deep fat fryer!

Reader Reflection

Do you own a deep fat fryer? What is your favorite thing to fry?

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This week for Mission: Appliances, I’d like to feature an appliance that I wish I had dusted off long ago…the smoothie maker. Why? Well, I find myself using it regularly now that I’ve discovered how cool it is!

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We own the Back to Basics SJR1X Smoothie Blast smoothie maker. My husband got it before we were married and as I said above, I only recently discovered its potential.

You see, my husband’s grandparents have a HUGE garden. And every year they supply us with copious amounts of frozen fruit, like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and apples. I certainly have used this fruit to make desserts in the past, but now with this smoothie maker, I can use the fruit in lots of new ways (and the fact that the fruit is frozen is a bonus!). Let’s see how great this smoothie maker really is.

Smoothie Maker Vital Statistics

  • Brand: Back to Basics
  • Average Price: $40
  • Power: 350 watt motor
  • Size:32 ounce container, 6 x 16 x 7 inches, 8 pounds
  • Features: Dispenser valve serves smoothies without a mess
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Marketed for smoothies, but can blend just about anything a normal blender would blend
  • Cleaning: Easy to clean
  • Storage: Unit breaks down into parts that fit well inside a cupboard
  • Safety Tips: Blending blades are sharp
  • Pre-series Location: Inside a high cupboard that can be reached without a chair
  • Pre-series Use Level: My husband used it a couple of times before we were married, but I never had until now

smoothie-maker

Project Smoothie Maker

A few weeks ago when we used our blender to make milkshakes, we also decided to bring out the smoothie maker too. I searched recipes online, never having made a smoothie before, and came up with this:

Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie
8 frozen strawberries
3 ice cubes
½ cup milk
½ cup plain yogurt
2 TBS white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

We added the ingredients to the container and immediately noticed a feature with this smoothie maker that was going to make it better than our blender: a stirring stick you can use to stir the ingredients while they are blending so you don’t have to keep turning the unit on and off to mix the solids around.

smoothie-maker-ingredients

After everything blended, we used the handy little spout to pour the smoothies into our glasses. Yum! Now this first time we used a recipe, but since then, we’ve invented all sorts of different smoothies. For example, my husband loves to combine frozen pineapple chunks, yogurt, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla extract. I for one love strawberries as my base, but I’ve been adding blueberries, cran-raspberry juice, and sometimes ice cream instead of yogurt if I’m feeling naughty. It’s actually quite fun to try different combinations to see what you can come up with!

smoothie-maker-smoothie

I want to mention here also as a side note that we were also able to borrow another kind of smoothie maker from a family member this month, called the Magic Bullet.  This smoothie maker uses a smaller blender unit and the container you use to blend your ingredients in is the same container you use to drink out of later.  I really like that concept because there’s less to clean.  It’s definitely a nifty little gadget, but our smoothie maker also gets the job done.

The Verdict

We love our smoothie maker! It blends better than our blender (thanks to the stirring stick) and we’ve had a lot of fun inventing smoothie recipes. I know we’ll keep using this appliance regularly and I’m glad we have it!

Reader Reflection

Do you own a smoothie maker? What is your favorite kind of smoothie?

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Last week when I introduced my new series, Mission: Appliances, I found myself getting very excited! I can’t wait to wipe the dust off my nifty kitchen gadgets and find creative ways to use them. This first week was no exception.

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I decided to kick off the series with one of my simpler appliances, a small food chopper. The one I own is officially the Proctor Silex Food Chopper. It is quite compact, not to mention pretty inexpensive. This particular appliance is one I married into and we think my mother-in-law bought it for my husband as a gift.

Food Chopper Vital Statistics

food-chopper

  • Brand: Proctor-Silex
  • Average Price: $16
  • Capacity: 1.5 cups
  • Size: 8 X 5 X 4 inches
  • Weight: 2 lbs
  • Complexity: Very easy to use
  • Versatility: Can chop bread, crackers, cookies, nuts, veggies, fruits, and herbs
  • Cleaning: Very easy to clean, also dishwasher safe
  • Storage: Stores easily on a shelf or can be left out on the counter
  • Safety Tips: Chopping blade is very sharp
  • Pre-series Location: High cupboard (requires a chair to reach)
  • Pre-series Use Level: Never used

Project Food Chopper

One of the reasons I decided to start with the food chopper was because I had a meal planned last week that required a fair amount of chopping: onions, roasted red peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes. I started with the onions.

food-chopper-onion

Unfortunately you can’t just throw the entire onion in there because it is just too small. The instruction manual said to chop it up into 1-inch pieces. I still consider that a fair amount of leg work on my part, but the chopper did chop A LOT more finely than I ever would.

food-chopper-peppers

These particular red peppers come packaged in a glass bottle because they are roasted and packed in oil. Therefore, you can just throw the whole pieces right into the chopper. I found that the end result would be great for a sauce or even a dip, because the peppers became pretty minced. However, many recipes would probably prefer slightly larger pieces.

food-chopper-tomato

The sun-dried tomatoes were by far the selling point for me. I took them out of the package, threw them in the chopper and after 5 seconds I had a perfect little pile of pieces. In the past, cutting up sun-dried tomatoes was very tedious and slow because of the texture. But the food chopper came through and did a great job!

The Verdict

I really liked using the food chopper overall! It’s small, VERY fast, and easy to clean. I’ve decided to leave it out on the counter for now since putting it on a cupboard shelf only accessible by standing on a chair just means I may never use it. I’m a big stickler when it comes to cluttered kitchen counter tops, but this device is small enough that it doesn’t seem to have an impact on space. My hope is to use it more regularly in the future.

Reader Reflection

Do you own a food chopper? How often do you use it?

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It’s now November and there’s no denying that Christmas is just around the corner! Perhaps you decided to get going on your Christmas list-making & shopping early this year to get a head start and avoid the rush. Or maybe you’re putting off thinking about what you could possibly buy your dear grandmother or your Uncle Bob because you know how stressful and expensive it can be to go Christmas shopping! No matter where you are in your Christmas planning, I’d like to offer a simple solution for you to consider this year: homemade gifts!

christmas-tree-lights

But aren’t homemade gifts just a lot of work?

Not feeling very creative? Or are you recalling a messy glue incident with your child’s last school craft project? Don’t worry, even though homemade gifts take some effort, there are several reasons why going homemade for certain gifts this year will only benefit you:

  • Homemade gifts are usually cheaper. Let’s get the obvious out the way here: homemade gifts have the potential to be so much cheaper than gifts you have to buy. While there is of course some cost involved in making gifts (materials, time, etc.), it is significantly lower and will result in your holiday budget retaining a little extra cash.
  • Homemade gifts are often more meaningful. Do you think your mom really wants yet another knick knack to put in her cabinet? Maybe, but consider how much more she would love a meaningful gift from the heart…something that shows her how you feel about her and how grateful you are for her years of service to you as your mother. That’s not to say that a store-bought gift cannot achieve the same goal, but it’s true more often than not that homemade gifts offer you a better chance to show the recipient how much you care.
  • Homemade gifts are less stressful. Avoid the crowded department stores and create your gifts from the quiet (or sometimes quiet) of your own home. Stop aimlessly wandering through shop after shop to find the ‘perfect’ gift that doesn’t exist and instead make them something you know they’ll love. Christmas is stressful enough already so you should do what you can to reduce any unnecessary stress.
  • Homemade gifts are fun! Even if you don’t consider yourself to be particularly creative, most people usually find some enjoyment in making something. And if you are the creative type, then homemade gifts will be perfect for you—not only will you enjoy the three benefits outlined directly above, but you’ll have a lot of fun in the process!

I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas

Every Thursday until Christmas, this fun series will provide useful homemade gift ideas within the following six categories: photos (11/13), arts & crafts (11/20), plants (11/27), food (12/4), words (12/11), and services (12/18). Each week I’ll spotlight a gift idea I’ve successfully used in the past. Then I’ll list a couple other alternative ideas within the category to give you more concepts to work with. Finally I’ll wrap it up with further related homemade gift ideas from around the web. Hopefully each week you’ll be able to find something that suits your style!

Reader Reflection

If you have any creative gift ideas that fit into the above six categories and you’d like me to mention them my future posts, drop a link here in a comment or send me a message from my contact page.

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Today marks the beginning of an exciting new series called Houseplant Hacks that will be featured here at Lifestyles of the Organized on Mondays for the next two months. Houseplants Hacks is something I could have used two years ago when my husband and I moved into our new home and I quickly discovered that I could now own plants (prior to that I was moving around too much for it to be practical). One houseplant turned into two houseplants which turned into three houseplants, and so on. Pretty soon I had built up quite the collection and I found myself a bit overwhelmed with all the intricacies that make up being a houseplant owner.

Even if you own just one houseplant, you will quickly realize that it costs you money, takes up some of your space, and requires a little bit of your time if you want it to go on living. Add a few more plants to your collection and it becomes almost essential to have a plan in place to successfully manage them so they don’t manage you! After I rapidly accumulated all my houseplants, I needed advice. I needed organization. I needed houseplant hacks.

Why houseplants?

Perhaps you aren’t a total plant nut like me (I took botany classes in college for FUN), and you’ve always wondered why people bother to have one more thing in their homes to further complicate their lives. Here are just a few reasons why houseplants are great to have around:

  • Houseplants are pleasing. I for one will be the first to tell you that a good houseplant just brightens my day. Plants are beautiful living things and can have calming, pleasing effects on human beings, boosting morale and even productivity.
  • Houseplants add a little ‘summer’ to your home in winter. If you live in a climate like mine, you begin to miss outdoor green life when snow continues to fall month after month. Having houseplants indoors can help you get through those long winters and keep a little ‘summer’ around when you need it the most.
  • Houseplants make great decorations. Any interior decorator would tell you that a plant can be the perfect accent to a room. A beautiful houseplant adds color, interest, and even style.
  • Houseplants are healthy. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and in turn release oxygen, maintaining more healthful levels in the air we breathe. Furthermore, plants help purify air by filtering out chemicals and pollutants.
  • Houseplants are great teaching tools. There’s no better way to teach your kids (or yourself!) basic skills when it comes to caring for a living thing than with a simple houseplant. What’s more, plants also have the ability to teach their owners a bit about patience.

What to expect from Houseplant Hacks

Each installment of Houseplants Hacks will be in two parts. The first part will outline a particular topic regarding houseplant management and organization. Look for time-saving tips when it comes to care schedules, money-saving tips when it comes to buying plants & supplies, and space-saving tips when it comes to choosing plants and arranging them in your home.

The second part of each installment will spotlight an actual houseplant. I will choose houseplants that are popular, fairly easy to care for, and ideally stress-free so you can have some good ideas about which houseplants might be best for your lifestyle.

Overall I hope that Houseplant Hacks can help you enjoy your plants without any hassle. I’ll be sharing from personal experience about what worked and what didn’t work—with the ultimate goal of helping you maintain an organized lifestyle even with something as simple as the little green friend your keep on your nightstand.

Reader Reflection

If you own a houseplant or two, I’d love to hear your reasons why. Please feel free to share here.

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We’re now on the fourth day of the Organize My Wardrobe series and hopefully you’ve got some useful clothes organizing tips under your belt so far (pun intended). Today I want to switch gears slightly and offer you a few money-saving ideas when it comes time for you to buy new clothes. Maybe you need to buy new clothes, or maybe you just want to buy new clothes. No matter your reason, you shouldn’t burn a hole in your wallet doing it! While there are many creative ways to save money shopping, I’m going to focus on three practices in particular that I use regularly:

Find clearance racks

It goes without saying that you should always try to buy clothes on sale. However, to be a truly savvy shopper means you should be wary of the store that claims something is on sale, when in fact it really isn’t—technically speaking. Let me explain. I’ve been to stores where the same clothes are ALWAYS listed as being on sale. So are they truly ever on sale, then? Perhaps not.

Stores can inflate ‘list’ prices, offer you a reduced ‘sale’ price, and all of a sudden you feel like you are getting a deal. Wow that $350 jacket is 50% off! What a deal! Um, ya, since when is $175 a deal? Now, I’m not trying to be cynical, because sales most certainly can be legitimate (and maybe that jacket was imported leather or something). Just be careful not to be fooled by carefully crafted language like ‘now on sale’ or ‘50% off’ and then automatically assume you are getting a good price.

One of the better ways to ensure that you are getting a good price is to shop clearance racks. Unfortunately clearance racks can often be heavily picked over, disorganized, and full of all the wrong sizes. But they can also be gold mines. Usually in some far back corner of the store, these racks are full of clothes marked down from not only their regular price, but also their supposed ‘sale’ price. Be patient, take time to look through the mess, and you just might find a super deal.

Buy shorts in winter

Winter is cold where you live, you say? I’m not suggesting you wear shorts in winter, just that you buy them in winter. Why? Because stores need to push their inventory out season to season. At the end of each season (and often well before), stores are hurrying to move on to the next season. So when fall starts, summer clothes get pushed to clearance racks and eventually disappear. When spring arrives, winter clothes are packed away until next year.

A savvy shopper would plan ahead and try to buy winter clothes at the beginning of summer and summer clothes at the beginning of winter. It sounds backwards, but it can be a real money saver. For example, this past spring, my husband and I discovered a rack of $150 heavy-duty winter jackets marked down to $15 (that’s 90% off!). We each bought one, but had to be patient and store them for the summer. We finally pulled them out last week and recalled our amazing deal.

Stores know that most customers usually don’t buy clothes in the off-season, but they still want to clean out their inventory. Hence, they offer super clearance deals. To take advantage of this phenomenon, you just have to plan ahead and have patience—but it’s worth it!

Shop thrift stores

Leave behind those major retail chain stores or boutiques for a moment and consider a second-hand store, often lovingly called a thrift store. Now not all thrift stores are created equal…some are just plain awesome, but others can be over-priced, or worse, downright junky. If you discover a great thrift store, you’ll know it, and you’ll want to keep going back over and over. Why? Because of the prices!

If you have an issue with wearing other people’s clothes, then it’s time to get over it. When you buy clothes at a thrift store, you take them home and run them through the laundry. Now they belong to you. It’s not weird! Furthermore, I’ve often found clothes in thrift stores that still have the tags on them…that means they are brand new. Finally, we as a society need to lose this mentality that shopping at a thrift store is somehow ‘below’ us or something. There’s a Goodwill commercial on TV now where two women are ashamed to admit they shop there, but when no one is looking, they buy all sorts of things! The point is, thrift stores save you money, recycle clothing, and are good for the community as a whole.

Now I mentioned great prices. Yes, you can find some GREAT prices at thrift stores. I have another fun story to share. There’s a really nice second-hand store in my husband’s home town that I always hit up whenever we visit. A few months ago I discovered they were holding a bag sale. Never having encountered such an event, I excitedly asked the cashier how it worked. She told me to take a paper grocery bag and fill it with as many clothes items I could fit…all for just $10. Now I’ve heard of bag sales being even cheaper, but come on, $10! I victoriously rounded up 6 skirts, 6 blouses, 2 dresses, and a pair of capris, all in like-new condition (and one brand new!). If that’s not a deal, I don’t know what is.

Reader Reflection

These are just three money-saving shopping tips from among many more. Where do you find your best clothes deals?

What’s next?

Tomorrow is the last day of this special series! I’ll wrap up what we’ve learned, offer some long-term wardrobe management tips, and provide some useful links to further resources.

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Yesterday I outlined some steps you could take to do a lot of sorting and decision-making regarding controlling clutter in your clothes collection (now that’s some alliteration!). Hopefully you were able to be honest with yourself and let go of a few garments while also freeing up some closet space! Today I’m going to suggest some creative ways you can part with the clothes you decided to get rid of. No, they aren’t destined for the trash! On the other hand, they aren’t destined to get stored indefinitely in your garage or basement, either. But what can you do with them? Below is a list of creative options that range from various money-making solutions to interesting ways you can give your clothes away.

Make money selling your clothes

Why not try to make a few bucks so you can use that money to buy new clothes? Um, ya, I’m joking. But seriously though, you spent hard-earned money on the clothes that you’ve decided to part ways with, so it’s not such a bad idea to try to sell them to someone else if they are still in good condition. Here are four possible money-making solutions:

  • Sell your clothes at a rummage sale. Hold your own rummage sale or ask a friend if you can join their sale. Rummage sales are not only good outlets for selling your clothing, they are also great ways to meet new people in your neighborhood. But be sure to recognize that rummage sales, while fun, can also be a lot of work.
  • Sell your clothes on eBay. Do you have an expensive winter jacket you don’t wear anymore because you moved to a warmer climate? Do you have a bridesmaid dress that no longer fits you? Consider trying to sell it on eBay. While eBay might not immediately jump out at you as the ideal place to sell clothes, it definitely has potential. Selling on eBay comes with its downsides, like having to create auctions, paying small fees, and dealing with shipping. However, it also has its benefits. You will probably be able to get more money than you would at a rummage sale (where people expect real bargains) and you will have a much wider audience (the whole world!).
  • Sell your clothes on Craigslist. With Craigslist you’ll reach a wider audience than your rummage sale, but perhaps not quite as wide as on eBay. However, Craigslist is quite popular, very easy to use, and totally free! People in your area who might not have come by your house to your rummage sale perhaps would find you instead on the internet.
  • Sell your clothes at a consignment store. Consignment stores are second-hand stores that give you a cut of the money for the items you donate. Clothing consignment stores, as differentiated from basic thrift stores, usually only accept higher quality clothing (like new) and sometimes they might require that the clothes be modern (i.e. made within the last few years). But the beauty of this method is that you simply bring in your clothes and they do the rest of the work! You get paid when they sell your stuff.

Donate your clothes for a good cause

In addition to trying to find ways to make money getting rid of your clothes, you should also consider donation. Giving your clothes away to someone else who needs them will not only benefit the recipient, it will also benefit you! It feels good to do good, doesn’t it?! Here are five ways you can donate your clothing:

  • Consider the hand-me-down potential of your clothes. Before you even get your clothes out the door, you should consider whether what you are getting rid of might be able to be worn by someone else in your household. This method works best for kids clothes. There’s no need to keep buying your children all new clothes over and over. Kids go through clothes so quickly that doing the hand-me-down thing is really the best solution. As far as adults go, I for one will be the first to say that when I was a teenager it was a fun day when my mom would clean out her closets: new clothes for me!
  • Give your clothes away to extended family or friends. Does your brother have younger children that could wear your children’s old clothes? Do you have a best friend who would just love your jacket? Ask around. You never know who might be interested.
  • Look for a freecycle program in your community. Freecycle is an internet organization fairly similar to Craigslist where people can list items online that they want to give away for free. Go to freecycle’s homepage to see if you have a program in your local community. If you have a bin full of winter garments or a box of baby clothes you are trying to get rid of for example, freecycle may be a great option.
  • Donate your clothes to a thrift store. Different from a consignment store, plain thrift stores accept donated clothes but do not give you a cut of the sale. But in turn they are able to offer clothes at a very low price to people in the community who are looking for deals or who may not be able to afford new clothes at full retail price. Additionally, any clothes you donate can be written off your taxes!
  • Donate your clothes to a charitable organization. Does your church accept clothes donations? How about local shelters? Also, certain charity organizations love to get donated clothes that they can then send on to disaster-stricken areas or poor third-world countries. Investigate local organizations or contact missionaries to find out how you can help.

Reader Reflection

These are only some of the ways you can creatively get rid of your clothes clutter. Have you found any interesting options you’d like to share here?

What’s next?

So far you’ve made decisions about clothes you don’t need anymore and now you are equipped with several ideas regarding how to get rid of them. Tomorrow we’ll return to your closet, see what’s left, and get it organized!

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