Tag Archive for family intimacy

A Little “Self-Nudge” Goes a Long Way

Have you heard of the “Quarantine 15”? Maybe you have even gained it. I know I’ve gained a good part of it. Overall, the pandemic has changed our routines, our activities, and our eating habits. It has impacted our moods, our emotions, and our relationships. We are home more, out less, and stressed more. One response to all this stress and inactivity could be choosing what is most comfortable, enjoyable, and attractive in the short run instead of choosing what’s best for us in the long run. The result? Weight gain. Binging our favorite TV shows while neglecting other important duties. Strained family relationships.

There is a way to help avoid this though. Self-nudging. Yes, self-nudging is a behavioral science term (Using self-nudging to make better choices). It describes a way of designing and structuring our environments to make it easier for us to make healthier choices. Although science refers to it as “self-nudging,” I believe we can also practice it within the loving support of our marriages and our families. When we do, it will strengthen our marriages and our families as well. Here are some ways to practice “self-nudging” in your family to promote healthier living and healthier families.

  • Use reminders and prompts. Reminders and prompts can encourage you to make healthier choices on a personal level and on a family level. For instance, putting reminders of your spouse’s birthday, your anniversary, and your children’s birthdays in your phone can prevent those important dates from “slipping your mind.” Leaving notes for your spouse or children to find that remind them of your love for them is another way to use reminders to strengthen your family. A picture in your suitcase can encourage faithfulness while on one of the many business trips you might have to make. The list goes on. Reminders and prompts can help build an environment that nudges you toward intimacy with your family.
  • Practice putting decisions into a different frame that reveals priorities. We often think of choices in light of what we want and find pleasurable in the moment. However, the choice between sitting down to play a video game or talking to my wife about childcare becomes more difficult in this frame. Perhaps, when it comes to our family, we need to frame our choices in terms of how to express love and build relationship. I want to play video games and relax. But talking to my wife about childcare expresses my love and concern for her. It allows us time together to build relationship. Or, I want to sit down and rest but taking my child to their friend’s house expresses love and allows us to have uninterrupted time to talk and build relationship. The choice becomes a little easier when we remember that higher priority of love and relationship.
  • Make the healthy things more accessible than the unhealthy. This self-nudging technique is obvious when it comes to food. For instance, keep more fruit and healthy snacks in your house than sweets and “not-so-healthy” snacks. But what about family? Not subscribing to channels that provide temptations or putting the computer in a common area of the house make unhealthy viewing less accessible. Charging children’s phones in a common area overnight rather than in their bedroom removes the temptation to stay up all night texting friends or surfing the net. Creating an environment in which your family knows you are accessible and available limits their need to turn to other people for their connection, sense of value, and desire for guidance. Keeping yourself available nudges the family toward health.
  • Build positive relationships. Support one another. Be accountability to one another. Use encouraging words to nudge one another toward health. Gentle guidance nudges families toward health. Clear, consistent rules and boundaries enforced with loving discipline will make healthy choices easier to make. Open communication and acceptance will encourage healthy choices.

These four points offers only “the tip of the iceberg” in describing what you can do in each area to “nudge” you and your family toward healthier choices. Get your family together and talk about each area. Let the whole family come up with ideas for “self-nudging” your family toward health. Write them down…and enjoy a healthy, growing family.

10 Daily Activities to Bond with Your Child

A strong parent-child relationship is associated with children who have better school performance, fewer behavior problems, and healthier peer social interactions. The positive parent-child relationship contributing to these outcomes is based on trust and connection within the relationship. Fortunately, parents can nurture this trusting parent-child relationship through small, daily interactions. Here are 10 daily actions you can take to build a great parent-child relationship of trust and connection.

  1. Keep mornings positive. Be aware of what your children need in the morning to start the day well. They may prefer a quiet morning or a morning with music. They may want a big breakfast or just a small one. Graciously provide those things that promote a good start to their positive day. Smile. Stay calm. If you go to work or your children go to school, hug them and tell them you love them as you go your separate ways. You can Start Your Children’s Day with a Memory Boost by simply promoting a positive mood.
  2. Play with your children 20 minutes every day. Follow their lead as you play. You might play a board game or a card game, catch a ball, play basketball, go for a walk…any type of play your children enjoy. If you need a prescription for play, here it is.
  3. “Catch your children being good” and acknowledge it out loud with a simple description of what you see (“You’re playing so nicely with your brother.”) or a “Thank you.” Catch the Little Rascals Red-Handed doing good at least three times a day.
  4. Eat dinner together. Make dinner time a time of friendly conversation, talking about the day or dreams of the future. Keep  the conversation friendly and save the “debates” for another time. And remember, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned at Dinner.
  5. Read to your children. Snuggle up and read a book together. As they learn to read, let them read to you. When they’ve “outgrown” the snuggle-and-read-together time (if we ever do), share information and discussion about the books you are both reading.
  6. Sing. Sing to your young child. Sing with your child. Sing along with the radio. Make up a song. Just “sing, sing a song, Sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things not bad. Sing of happy not sad. Sing, sing a song, Make it simple, to last your whole life long Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song.” (Sorry, got carried away.)
  7. Allow 10-15 minutes at bedtime for your child to talk about their day and all its “ups and downs,” joys and struggles. Give them your full attention as they tell you about the feelings and activities of their day.
  8. Provide a way for your children to contribute to the home every day. This may be as simple as matching socks. Or it may involve setting the table, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms—anything they have the ability to do alone, or with you and still a significant contribution to your home life. Put Your Children to Work for Goodness’ Sake.
  9. Show physical affection to your children every day. Give a hug, a high-five, a “side-hug,” or a playful, gentle slap on the shoulder. Share healthy physical affection multiple times a day.
  10. Pray with your children. Ask them how you can pray for them and let them hear you do so. Tell them how they can pray for you. You might even write down your prayers and review them every month to see how God is working in response to your prayers.

Ten ways to strengthen your relationship with your children. Build them into your daily life and watch your relationship to your child grow. You’ll be glad you did.

The Anger is Real…Don’t Let It Ruin Your Family

Anger…. There is a lot to be angry about today. I don’t need to list it all for you. You know what arouses the anger of so many people today. Just watch the news and you will see angry people. Scroll through social media and you will find angry people. Have a conversation and you might experience angry people. You might even be angry yourself. I know I am. An article recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion discusses how news media has become “increasingly negative and polarizing” between 1979 and 2010. (Just imagine how much greater the media polarization has become since 2010.) The article focuses on the impact this has had on public health and offers a solution that calls, in part, for a commitment from those reporting the news to report at least one positive story for every three negative stories and a commitment from viewers to support those news venues that do offer those positive stories. But that is not really what I want to address. My focus is family…and anger is toxic in the family.

The polarization and anger witnessed in our society has crept into many homes. Ironically, it isn’t even that people are angry with their family. They are just angry and that anger bleeds into their home. And, as I said earlier, anger is toxic for families. Anger traps families in their pain. It undermines fun by intruding with constant debate and clarification. It erects walls of guardedness that diminish intimacy as well as opportunities to develop intimacy. It blinds us to the things we admire about our family members as well as their perspectives and simple endearing qualities. We end up arguing and debating, agitated, when all we really want is intimacy and connection with our family members.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for anger and a beneficial way to express anger. But when it sneaks into the family, it becomes an undercurrent of toxic emotion, it is not beneficial. It is toxic. So, what can we do? Here are some tips to help us rise above the anger and build love and connection in our families.

  • Ask yourself a few key questions. Do you love your family? Is it more important that you “convince them” of your point of view or that you show them you love them? How do you want them to remember you? How do you want your family to think of you, as an agitated person or a loving person? A person of self-control or a person prone to angry outbursts? Do you want to be remembered as a person who remained calm and shared love or a person who got lost in emotion and snapped out at even the little things?
  • Ask other family members questions…AND listen. In these times we really want to understand one another. Take the time to ask question but take more time to listen. Ask them what it is like for them during these times? How are they managing the stress of the day? Ask what you can do to help them. If they want to discuss issues of the day, ask how you might discuss these issues without it becoming an argument and arousing anger. Let them know you love them no matter what.
  • Give no advice. Simply practice awareness. Too often we give unsolicited advice (I know I do). Giving unsolicited advice sends an implicit message that they aren’t good enough or smart enough to figure things out on their own. Instead of being helpful, our unsolicited advice become rocks thrown at a person’s head. They don’t build relationship. They promote defensiveness. They even hurt. So, rather than give unsolicited advice, practice awareness. Become aware of your family members’ emotions, intent, and perspective. Learn about their priorities and their fears. Become aware of how they express themselves, what irritates them, and what soothes them.
  • Play. Play relieves stress. Play pulls people together. Play builds intimacy. Play washes away the troubles of the day…at least for the moment. Play helps us gain perspective. Engage your family in play.
  • Create “issue free” and “positive news only” zones.  You and your family will benefit from creating times or spaces in which the “issues” of the day are not discussed. In these times you can talk about other things like things you have enjoyed during the day, future family activities, or positive news you have heard. You can talk about a story you are reading, a song you enjoy, or things for which you are grateful.  The possibilities are endless. Just enjoy a time of conversation that can bring joy and connection into your family.

Yes, anger is real. Anger can be legitimate. It can motivate us to create change in positive ways. However, anger can also take over the family. It can be toxic. It can destroy your family. Don’t let anger pull your family apart. Practice these tips and enjoy a loving family.

Spread an Emotional Contagion that Builds Relationship

Emotional contagion describes when one person’s emotions and related behaviors trigger similar emotions in another person. Our emotions can trigger other people’s emotions and vice versa because People mimic the facial expressions and body language of other people during social interactions and “catch” their emotions. You have probably experienced the impact of emotional contagion in your family. Someone (mom, dad, teen) comes home in a bad mood and suddenly everyone’s mood takes a turn for the worse. On the other hand, the same person comes home with a smile on their face and a bounce in their step and everyone feels better.

A smile on their face…that reminds me. Ka-shing Woo and Bobbie Chan conducted a study (2019) focusing on the impact of different types of smiles and nodding on warmth and friendliness between people. They found that a fake smile did NOT pass along good feelings. However, a genuine smile did pass along good feelings. They also found that slow, vertical head nodding communicates supportiveness and indicates the listener is paying attention. When the study participants combined a genuine smile with a slow, vertical head nod, they found a “potent emotional contagion” expressing warmth and friendliness that also served as a catalyst for reciprocal feelings of warmth and friendliness. In other words, genuine smiling and attentive nodding spreads warmth and friendliness, it draws people together in positive emotions, it builds intimacy…it is an emotional contagion of warmth and friendliness.

Interesting, isn’t it? A genuine smile combined with a nod of interest conveys a warmth and friendliness that is “catchy.”  Now that is a contagion I would like to spread through my family. That is a contagion I would like to see spread through my family to the community as well. So, let’s start spreading that contagion today. Pass along a genuine smile and a nod of interest every chance you get.

Easter While “Sheltered at Home”?

Many families have very active Easter weekend full of social gatherings and celebrations: Good Friday services, preparation for family gatherings, Sunrise services, Easter services, and large extended gatherings with family and friends. For Christians, this is am especially meaningful time of the year, a true “holy-day.” This year, however, is going to feel different. But don’t let those differences ruin your Easter. Don’t let Easter slip away without recalling what makes Easter such a special day for us. Be creative and make this Easter special, even as you “shelter-at-home.” Here are some tips to help us all remember the celebration of Easter.

  • Celebrate the Holy Week with creative calendars marking the events of each day during the Holy Week. Here’s one idea for doing a creative calendar.
  • Make resurrection cookies on Saturday night. It is a wonderful way to teach our children about the crucifixion & resurrection while having fun. And, you can enjoy the cookies on Easter Sunday.
  • Sit down with your family and watch the live streaming of your congregation’s Good Friday service and Easter morning service. If your congregation does not have a live stream, watch the live stream of another congregation’s service.
  • Read the story of Aslan’s resurrection in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Or, watch the movie (link).  Although we have a little bit of Peter, Susan, and Lucy in all of us, talk about how we are all like Edmund as well. Enjoy the realization of what Aslan’s sacrifice meant for Edmund…and what Jesus’ sacrifice means for us.
  • Watch The Passion of Christ by Mel Gibson. Use caution in watching this movie as a family though. It is very graphic. Consider if your children are ready for such a graphic depiction of the events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • Have a family Easter egg hunt. Easter is still a celebration of new life and the finding of peace and joy in the work of God in Christ.
  • Enjoy a family Easter meal. Easter allows us to become part of the family of God. Celebrate family with a meal. Make it a feast of celebration.
  • As you enjoy your day together, play some classic Easter music in the background. Handel’s Messiah and hymns such as Christ the Lord is Risen Today come to mind. To help out, here is one playlist of Easter songs from YouTube you might like. Easter Songs and Hymns Playlist (Resurrection Theme)
  • I almost forgot….How could I? My daughters would kill me. Watch this video of “It’s Friday But Sunday’s Coming.”

Don’t let the differences of this year take away your Easter joy. Celebrate. Enjoy your Easter.

What are some of the creative ways you are celebrating Easter this year?

Daily Questions to Strengthen Your Marriage & Family

Building a stronger, more intimate marriage is as simple as asking the right questions…and then responding to the answers you’re given. Asking the right questions can also build a stronger family. With that in mind, let me share 10 questions you can ask your spouse, children, or parents to strengthen your family and marriage today.

  1. How can I help you today?
  2. What can I do to serve you today?
  3. What can I do to help you right now?
  4. How can I show my spouse (child, parent) love today?
  5. What can I do to bring joy into my spouse’s (child’s, parent’s) life today?
  6. What can I tell my spouse (child, parent) ‘thank you’ for today?
  7. What can I do or say today so my spouse (child, parent) will know how much I adore them?
  8. Is there anything for which I need to apologize to my spouse (child, parent) today?
  9. What can I say to make my spouse (child, parent) feel special today?
  10. And last, but not least… How can I pray for you?

Survival Tips for Your Family During Corona Virus

The corona virus pandemic has brought major changes to our families. Children are home from school. Some parents are home from work while others have jobs that require them to continue working and take great precautions to not “catch the virus.” Having everyone home 24/7 is a new experience for many families. Family members may have different approaches to risk and anxiety of the corona virus. They may also have different tolerance levels for being “sheltered in place,” the resulting changes in activity level, and mandate of physical distance. With these things in mind, I’d like to suggest 7 survival tips for your family during the corona virus pandemic.

  1. Maintain as many routines as possible and develop new routines as needed. Being “sheltered in place” has disrupted many of our typical routines. You may experience changes in meal routines, morning routines, and routines that involve going out as well as others. Take time to assess your individual and family routines. Which ones can you keep in place? Where do you need to add new routines? This may prove an excellent time to begin a few routines you’ve been wanting to start. (You can even Add Meaning to Life by Building Routine.)
  2. Negotiate differences. Family members may have different needs for togetherness versus alone time. They may worry differently and have different tolerance levels around reduced activity or the mandate of physical distance. Accept your differences. Talk about those differences and determine how you will manage those differences. It may take some compromise so talk about your needs. Anything you can talk about you can resolve…and you can talk about anything.
  3. Enjoy some family time. Yes, some family members may require some alone time. Allow them that freedom. However, we all need family time and family support as well. So, develop some family times. Some great opportunities for family time may include meals, an evening movie, a family game, or reading in the same room. (A great family time involves The Lost Art of Family Meals.)
  4. Intentionally seek ways to serve one another. These are trying times. Workloads change with everyone home. So, notice what needs done and help. Take the opportunity to do something kind for your spouse, your children, your parent, or the whole family.  Send some cards to friends. Do an extra chore. Help cook a meal. Let the possibilities grow. Serve one another.
  5. Remain polite. Everyone is a little “edgy” being “stuck in the house” with their routines disrupted and typical activities curtailed. You can take the edge off with simple politeness. “Please.” “Excuse me.” “You’re welcome.” “Would you be able to…?” Simple politeness will go a long way in keeping the family secure through this time.
  6. Express gratitude. Just like politeness, gratitude is a powerful tool for building and maintaining relationships. Make it a point to thank your family members for the little things they do…even if it’s something they’re “supposed to do.”
  7. Laugh a little. Don’t let humor disappear amidst the stress. Tell a joke. Play a game. Be silly. Have fun. Laughter is great medicine.

The corona virus pandemic may change our daily routines and structure for a time. But it will pass. Your family will last well beyond the current situation. Doing these 7 things will help you draw your family closer during this time of crisis.

7 Things You Can Do to Raise a Healthy Adult

Life is filled with risk factors and protective factors.  Children, in particular, are susceptible to these risk factors and protective factors. In fact, you may have heard talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they impact our children even into adulthood. Specifically, ACEs include abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), and household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, incarcerated relative, substance abuse, or abuse). The more ACEs a child experiences, the greater the risk that child will suffer from depression or poor mental health. In addition, the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they will struggle in developing social emotional supports as an adult. In other words, these childhood traumas impact an adult’s level of life satisfaction and functioning. That’s bad news.

BUT…there is good news. Children can experience protective factors as well. These Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) also have an impact on our adult lives. Recent research identified 7 Positive Childhood Experiences and their impact on adult life by surveying over 6,000 men and women over the age of 18. (Read another review here.) The seven PCEs included:

  1. Having the opportunity to talk with family members about their feelings.
  2. Feeling that their family stood by them during difficult times.
  3. Enjoying participation in community traditions and activities.
  4. Feeling a sense of belonging in high school.
  5. Feeling supported by friends.
  6. Having at least two non-parent adults who take a genuine interest in them.
  7. Feeling safe and protected by an adult in their home.

An adult who had experienced 6 or 7 of these as a child had a 72% lower chance of reporting depression or other mental health concerns than someone who experienced 0 to 2 of these PCEs.   If they experienced 3 to 5 PCEs, they had a 50% lower chance of depression or other mental health concerns. In addition, those experiencing 6 or 7 PCEs reported “always” 3.53 times more often when asked about receiving social and emotional support as an adult than those who received only 0 to 2 PCEs. The most amazing discovery: the positive impact of PCE’s remained true even after accounting for Adverse Childhood Experiences.  

What’s the takeaway? Children are more likely to have better mental health, less depression, and healthier relationships in adulthood if they experience these 7 positive childhood experiences. You can build these positive experiences right into the fabric of your family.

  1. Accept the expression of feelings.  Weep with your children when they weep. Rejoice when they rejoice. Share their anger and celebrate their joys.
  2. Difficult times will arise, anything from their first broken heart to the loss of a pet to the loss of a friend from death. Stand by them. Comfort them. Let them feel your presence.
  3. Participate in community traditions. This may include community fireworks, scouting, sports, or weekly worship. Get involved.
  4. Remain involved in your child’s education. Visit the school. Volunteer to help with whatever club they join. Talk to their teachers. Do what you can to help them feel a sense of belonging in their school.
  5. Encourage your children to invite friends to your house. Have snacks available. Allow your child to take a friend on an outing. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Ask about your children’s friends.
  6. Get to know the adults in your child’s life and encourage their relationship with those you trust. They may connect with a coach, a family friend, an aunt or uncle, a minister. Encourage these positive connections. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
  7. Help your child feel safe and protected in the home. The first step in this process is developing a secure, loving relationship with their other parent. Work on your marriage. Keep it strong.

Build these 7 positive childhood experiences into the fabric of your family. You’ll love the results. And your children will reap the benefits for their entire life!

To Live the Dream of Emotional Closeness

It’s like a dream, isn’t it? A family in which your spouse and your children come to you to talk about their joys and their sorrows, their accomplishments and their failures, their courageous moments and their greatest fears. But this doesn’t come easy; it doesn’t happen in our sleep. It takes work. It begins with our own willingness to risk the vulnerability of talking to our spouse and children in the same open way we hope they talk to us. That, in itself, represents a significant challenge for me. As we learn to take that risk ourselves, there are other things we can do to promote the emotional safety in our family that will encourage open communication and emotional closeness.

  • First, welcome the expression of emotion. When your child comes to you crying, accept their sorrow. When your spouse comes to you in anger about a coworker, accept their anger. Don’t try to minimize their emotion. Don’t tell them to “calm down.” Simply welcome their emotion. Accept it. Acknowledge it.
  • Second, join them in their emotion. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” in your family. If you spouse is angry about the way a coworker was treated, be angry in the moment with them. When your child is brokenhearted after breaking up with their boyfriend of 2 months, be brokenhearted with them. They are likely overwhelmed by those emotions. They need you to share that emotion with them, to share the burden of the emotion and so make it more manageable.
  • Third, hold their emotion. This involves empathizing and “sitting” with them in the emotion, whether it be joy or pain, happiness or sadness. Join them and hold their pain with them. Let them know that you are strong enough to sit with them and their emotions. Their emotions do not overwhelm you. Instead, you can feel those emotions with them, share the pain, and so share the burden of that emotion as you manage it together.

There is a scene in the movie Shadowlands (watch it here) in which CS Lewis sits with a young boy in front of the wardrobe of the boy’s recently deceased mother and CS Lewis’s wife.  Together they talk about their doubts and their overwhelming sorrow. CS Lewis welcomes the young boy’s sorrow and doubt. He joins the young boy in his pain. He shares the burden of that emotion. Then, CS Lewis starts to cry. The young boy also starts to cry. They sit together hugging one another as they cry and grieve their loss together. They hold this emotion together. They share the pain.

It is in sharing emotion that we overcome. And, it is in sharing emotion that we grow more intimate with one another. It is in the vulnerability of sharing emotion that we draw nearer to the dream of a home in which emotional safety allows us to stand before one another to reveal our deepest selves and know we have found unconditional love and acceptance.

Make a Little Christmas Hygge

Last Christmas I receive The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. I love it. It describes one of the things we seek most in life, hygge.  “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down” (page 6). I love hygge. I’d like more of it in my life. I work to bring it into my family. And Christmas is one of the best times to create some hygge. In fact, Christmas is one of the most hygge times of the year. Christmas is the one time a year in which “hygge is the ultimate goal of an entire month” (page 218). To make Christmas truly hyggelig takes intentional planning, thought, and effort. But it’s worth the effort because everybody wants a hyggelig Christmas. So, here are a few ideas to make your Christmas an extra hygge Christmas as well.

  • Fire and candles. Hygge is always greater with the natural light of flickering candles or a glowing fireplace. The natural warmth and the dancing flame that cast shadows upon all those gathered to share the Christmas season is truly hygge. So, if you have a fireplace, light it up. If not, put some candles around the room and bask in the dancing shadows of their flickering light while sharing conversation with family and friends.
  • Food and drink. Food is important to hygge and Christmas is a great time for food. Enjoy your Christmas dinner along with Christmas cookies and pies. You might even enjoy some special beverages like eggnog, wassail, hot chocolate, or some other family drink tradition. You can share cookies with friends and neighbors, swapping your favorites with one another. The important thing about Christmas, hygge, and food is to enjoy it all together. Share food, company, and conversation to let the hygge flow.
  • Comfy clothes. No need to dress up or put on uncomfortable clothes. You’re with friends and family. Put on some comfy clothes for relaxing. Your company is much more important than your dress when it comes to hygge. The interaction and the shared experience are the key ingredients of joy, not the fancy clothes. So, hang up the tie and the put away the high heels. Put on the comfy clothes and enjoy one another’s company.
  • Music. Music always adds to hygge. Play some music in the background. Share your favorite songs. If you enjoy playing or singing, have a sing-along. Take it on the road and do some caroling. Of course, when you finish caroling, enjoy some hot chocolate, eggnog, or some hot buttered rum as you talk about your caroling adventure in the light of candles.
  • Company: Friends and Family. You may have noticed how often company, friends, and family were mentioned in the above ingredients. Hygge just isn’t hygge without our loved ones around us. Enjoy your time together. Put away the phones and the I-Pads. Forget the video games and PlayStations. Pull out a board game instead. Enjoy a game of cards or “salad bowl.” Talk. Reminisce. Dream. Laugh. Enjoy one another’s company. You know it doesn’t get any more hygge than this!

Have a very merry Christmas this year, a Christmas filled with hygge, family, and friends.

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