Word of the Year

Time to reflect on my 2020 Word of the Year

At the end of the year, I love to take time to reflect on my word of the year, which for 2020 was Courage. Who knew how appropriate this word would be given the challenges 2020 has brought. And that I had to dig as deep as I have this year in every aspect of my life, not just my writing.

Finding Courage to stay upbeat. Strength & Courage to keep working when headlines were distracting. Courage to live life completely differently. And Courage to figure out new ways of doing things. Courage to be strong and encouraging for others. And Courage to search for and celebrate the little things, daily.

taking time to reflect on my 2020 word of the year, courage

When I selected this word, I had thought of my writing. To push myself past my comfort zone so I could finish my book. And the courage to say no to things that would interfere with that.

Here’s the prayer I wrote on January 2, 2020:

Lord, help me to have the courage in 2020 to move out of my static comfort zones so I may create with you and have an impact for you with my work and my words. Lead me, guide me, and nudge me to follow you. Comfort me in the uncomfortableness.

Prayer by Denise M. Colby

And for the most part, I did. But there were many other things I did this year, and it’s important to write them down so I may see all the ways I showed courage both in my writing and my life. By keeping track, it also shows I was purposeful (my word in 2019) in utilizing my word to help motivate and encourage myself throughout the year.

Vincent Van Gogh Quote about courage with cursive writing in the background
I chose courage this year to push me out of my comfort zone

Reflection for 2020 Word of the Year, Courage

  • Shared my book and writing goals with my husband on many of the nightly walks we took. He challenged me back in to stay focused.
  • Set an editing goal and stuck to it for most of the year.
  • Shared my entire manuscript with a writing friend and read through the feedback and made edits.
  • Grew in my writing and editing through practice and consistency.
  • Created new blog posts for A Slice of Orange and my own website, including the topic of courage to be thankful and journaling through tough times.
  • Entered another contest to gain feedback for my new opening.
  • Started a newsletter for Marketing for Authors and kept it up every month.
  • Taught several classes on brand or SEO to other authors via email and virtual conferences.
  • Pushed past my comfort zone with Instagram in learning how to create better content and post things I’ve had foundering around on my heart for a while. Moments of Encouragement

There were many ways I found courage personally as well.

  • Courage to read my Bible every morning before I climbed out of bed.
  • Finding creative ways to encourage my family and keep us sane and healthy, while still disciplining as necessary.
  • Courage to focus on my marriage and my family.
  • Taking the lead to set up zoom calls with extended family.
  • Reaching out to others (via technology), when it would’ve been easy to stay in my own space.
  • Courage to reach out and ask for help.
  • Participating in tough conversations.
  • Making phone calls that I’ve been putting off.
  • Courage to do what God asks of me.
  • Sharing my heart and beliefs.
  • And so on.

Something I wrote in my early notes: Courage is a choice we make many times in one day. 1000’s of choices daily where we live in courage or comfort.

As the year unfolded, I found courage to be a good word to focus on. I have really enjoyed this word. The quotes I’ve found. The Bible Verses to encourage me. Even the definition of the word.

Sometimes the daily reminder just writing my word, “courage”, kept me on track

It reminded me to be strong and have courage during days that were hard. It enabled me to share my courage with others. And I found that I really liked what the word courage meant and represented. 

I’m always sad to say goodbye to my word and feel like I want to spend more time with it. Find more quotes, post more about it, etc…

Just like every year, I will be sad to say goodbye to #my2020word, courage, but I have found, just like other words, that it will always be a part of me and something I will refer back to at times. In fact, I created a page of courage highlights from all I collected this year on the word, courage. It was fun to put everything into one place.

I’m now researching next years word and figuring out how it fits in stretching and teaching me in 2021. I can’t wait to share it with you!

Faith, Hope, & Love

Introducing Moments of Encouragement

There are moments, and then there are MOMENTS. Those moments when something is made crystal clear and you have two choices. Pay attention or don’t. 

Blog Header Titled Moments of Encouragement by Denise M. Colby where she talks about her crystal clear moment

What this blog post is all about is one of those moments for me.

I want to encourage others. To share what’s on my heart. I want to…do something. And this is what I hear the Lord saying to me over and over again. 

Do this.

Don’t think about it. And Don’t discount the idea. Just do it.

So, I am.

I’m calling it Moments. Using the M in my name to represent what this is about.

The M is for…Moments of Encouragement.

I want these moments of encouragement messages to be short. 

To take but a moment to read. 

But in that moment, I want it to have an impact. 

Make a difference in someone’s life.

Little Moments of Encouragement to get you through your day.

Just like I glean encouragement from others.

Graphic with the words Denise M. Colby, the M is for...Moments of Encouragement for the blog post talking about crystal clear moments

So here’s a Moment of Encouragement

I don’t remember where I saw this, but I wrote it down and put it on my board by my desk.

Do what God is telling you to do and He will unfold it in His way. Let Him.

This is something I’ve been trying to do myself. Having courage to do, really. That when I feel a nudge. Don’t overthink it. And don’t try and figure out every single step in the process. Just do the one thing that I feel nudged to do. It is amazing how the next steps become a little more clearer because I’ve taken the first step.

I encourage you to take that first step. In whatever you feel God nudging you to do.

Hugs,

Denise

If you’d like to learn more about me, take a look at my home page and the different areas on my website. I plan to share more of these small Moments of Encouragement on my social media. You can follow along with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

Marketing for Authors

Using Your Brand to Generate Blog Topic Ideas

Blog Header Titled Using Brand to Generate Blog Topic Ideas by Denise M. Colby, Marketing for Authors with a photo of a desk and keyboard behind.

Month to month it never failed. It was time to sit down and write my blog post and I had no idea what to write. And then I flushed out my author brand, and a whole new slew of blog topic ideas came to life.

If you struggle with figuring out how to have a variety of solid blog post topics, maybe it’s time for you to flush out your brand too. And here’s why:

YOUR BLOG POSTS SHOULD BE WRITTEN WITH YOUR BRAND IN MIND

Denise M. Colby

When I teach my classes, I always do a brand brainstorm. This is to help think outside the box to see elements that can be a part of your brand. I have found several things can be done with the items on this list, including write more interesting blog posts.  

I love this topic so much that I want to share some of the ideas from my own brainstorm list that might help you generate your own ideas with what to write about.

What are two of the blog topic ideas that came from my list?

THEME TOPICS

My theme of my first novel is about trust and God’s plan for our lives. Other ones I’ve outlined have this same theme in it as well. I find trusting God and letting go of control something in my own life I struggle with.

What came to light in my brainstorm is that I can write about these struggles and tie them back to my story theme. I’m sharing something about myself, I’m relating to my audience, and I can connect it to my novel.

Here is one post to show this example: Category (writing)/Tag (story themes)

Example of theme topic idea for a blog post that ties into brand by Denise M. Colby

FUN TOPICS

A Disney fan, I’ve created a “for fun” category and have been sharing my Disney fun. It’s a way for me to share a little part of myself, and is fun!

Here’s some posts for this Category (for fun)/Tag (Disney):

Example of Disney for fun topic idea for a blog post that ties into brand by Denise M. Colby
Another Example of Disney for fun topic idea for a blog post that ties into brand by Denise M. Colby
Another Example of Disney for fun blog post; this one titled Dating Lessons from Wall-E by Denise M. Colby

More on Brand and Blog Posts

I’ve also written additional articles related to Author Brand and Blog Post Topics and Why It’s Important to Have a Blog on A Slice of Orange blog.

If you are interested in learning more about building your author brand, sign up for my Marketing for Authors Newsletter.

Do you have topics you write about that fit your brand? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below!

Marketing for Authors

Making Decisions for Your Author Brand

I wrote a blog post this month on Developing Strong Decision Making Skills as a Writer. You need to develop the same skills when it comes to making decisions for your author brand.

Blog Post Header with the title Making Decisions for Your Author Brand by Denise M. Colby, Marketing for Authors

But how do you know what types of decisions to make for your brand when you are just starting out as an author?

When starting out, there are many decisions for your author brand to consider.

What genre will you write in?

Will you write in only one genre or multiple?

Do you want to have a pen name or use your own?

Should you include your middle initial or not?

What colors, taglines, and graphics do you want to use for your website?

Are there blog topic ideas you can write about to help build your brand?

Who is your audience and what do they want to read? How do you reach them? 

These are all questions a writer needs to ask when they are building their brand and developing a website and social media. And of course, all the fears and doubts rear their ugly head with each decision. 

If you are anything like me, it can be a little immobilizing.

Sometimes making decisions for your author brand means trying something out.

You won’t have all the answers right away. You can only make decisions with the information you do have at the time. Your decisions will change as you grow in your writing and content. So for today, make decisions based on where you are right now.

I strongly encourage you to do some research with each decision.

A few google searches for the names you are considering may help you decide what to do.

Someone else was using my name Denise Colby as a website address. I then had to decide how I wanted my name to be different. I narrowed my author name down to three choices (adding an initial (my maiden name (M) vs my middle name (C), or choosing a different name altogether), and ran it by both friends and author friends. I then started building graphics using them to see what it would look like.

Yes it’s important to know where you want to go. But you can’t build your platform all at once. You have to build it step by step, adding content to your website organically. I encourage you to make decisions based on what you have now. Then as you add content, you can change things as the need arises.

Brand building takes practice and patience.

You have to start somewhere. Why not get started today! 

Sign up for my Marketing for Authors Newsletter and receive monthly encouragement and tips related to all things author marketing – brand, SEO & content.

Courage quote All our dreams can come true, if you have the courage to pursue them by Walt Disney in front of Disneyland
I love this encouraging quote from Walt Disney
Journaling

Incorporating a Character Journal Into My Story

Blog Post Header with the words My Heroin's Character Journal Captures Her Journey by Denise M. Colby

Some writers write a character journal for their characters to help them see things from their character’s perspective. But for me, I wanted my heroine to actually have a journal in my story. Not quite sure why, but capturing her journey through a journal stuck as I brainstormed my scenes.

Do you write in a journal? 

If you do, do you ever worry about someone reading what you wrote?

My heroine gets handed a journal upon her start as a teacher.

Character Journal cover created for my story by Denise M. Colby

In it, she’s instructed to write down the events of her days to capture what happens as a female teacher who moves West to teach in small pioneer towns.

Olivia finds her journal to be a close confidant. She enjoys documenting her observances about the places she’s been and the people she meets. Given that it’s 1869 and traveling by train across the country is a new and unprecedented event, the importance in capturing the momentous occasion is not lost on her.  

She’s also very protective of her book. It never leaves her side and she would never leave it out so that someone could read it. But even if they did, she is very careful what she writes, never putting to paper her own thoughts and opinions, just in case someone else might read it and pass judgement on her. 

See judgement stings and her fear of being judged stems from…well…I don’t want to give too much away.

I write prayers in a journal almost every morning.

Some entries are one full page. Others are short paragraphs. I sometimes wonder what someone would think of my shortest entry. 

“Dear God. Help me today.” 

Yes, I admit. I have written it just like that. 

I’ve been writing down these prayers for so long, I don’t think about it anymore. It’s really between me and God, and the benefit of writing the words weighs more important than the fear of someone reading it and judging me.

And see, that’s what happens to Olivia in her character journal. Over time and with a few encouraging words from one of her pupils, Olivia’s heart slowly changes and her journal changes right along with her. It’s been exciting to flush out her journal entries so that the reader can see this change.

Olivia's Character Journal with entries from 1869 as I imagined them for my story, by Denise M. Colby

I even created a small diary in Olivia’s hand, so that I could think like her and feel what it might’ve been like all those years ago to have a small diary to write down words that could be read one hundred fifty years later. What she was doing was historic in 1869. 

Which was why I wanted to create a character journal for her.

Something that captured all these historical events – Traveling across the country, coming west to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in order to make a difference in the life of a child, and for herself as well.

I wonder, in real life, how many of them kept a journal? And if they had any idea that we would be reading what they wrote so many years later?

This is why the act of writing in a journal is so precious to me. Over at A Slice of Orange (an outside blog I write for), I wrote a blog post on how a handwritten note can be a gift, one that lasts forever. Journals can be that type of gift.

I’m excited to finish editing Olivia’s story and her journal entries. If you’re interested in learning more about my stories check out my Going West Series page.

History

Harriet Bishop, First Public School Teacher in 1847

I love history and in my one-room schoolhouse and schoolteacher research for my book, I found an article titled Harriet Bishop, Frontier Teacher by Zylpha S. Morton through the Minnesota Historical Society. Harriet traveled by herself to Minnesota in 1847, leaving her family to go live in a community smaller and more rural than anything she’d ever lived in, all to become a teacher.

Blog Title with the words Harriet Bishop , one of the first public school teachers; 1847; History; Writer's Research by Denise M. Colby

Men were teachers of choice in the East, but as the West expanded the opportunity arose for women.

She was sent by a board, that actively sought ought opportunities to bring women teachers to these rural areas. The thought was women would have a greater impact on their students.

This board, National Popular Education, was organized in Cleveland on April 7, 1847. The aim of the board was to “advance the cause of Popular, Christian Education in our country” by encouraging well-qualified “Female teachers” to take positions in the remote West.

Their first class of twenty-six young women, received prep training in New York State before being sent out to parts unknown. This prep training school was led by Catherine Beecher (sister of Harriet Beecher-Stowe)—the teacher whom I reference in my novel (I’ll share more about her in a future post). Harriet Bishop was from the first graduating class of this organization.

Harriet Bishop was also one of the first to volunteer to go to a small settlement outside of what we now know as St. Paul, Minnesota.

A place that had five stores, a dozen families, and about 36 children.

Room and board was furnished by one family who had four children in return for free tuition. She had to bring her own schoolbooks, as the nearest bookstore was over three hundred miles away.

According to Morton, Harriet’s preparation included “a review of the common school subjects, in addition to lectures on domestic economy, health of children, punctuality, truth and honesty in the schoolroom, diet, how to avoid sectarian jealousy, how to deal with party politics, and how to meet petty gossip”.

The last item in the training course was considered necessary because it was said that as soon as a young woman set foot in the new West, some man would promptly woo her from her profession and make her his wife. It seemed to help because by 1858 (10 years later), the board had sent 481 teachers to the West and only 75 had married.

Another tidbit from this article — it turns out the pupils who attended the schools were the ones who entered into matrimony. They made the claim that school and the lessons they learned in running a household helped them find a mate.

I’ve used some of this history in my story.

My heroine, Olivia Carmichael, goes west to teach through one of these organizations. She just happens to go way further west…all the way to California.

She too has to live with families of students for her room and board, and learn how to live in a more remote area.

But more on that later—this post is about Harriet and to acknowledge what she was known for — the first public school teacher in the area.

Old black and white photo of Harriet Bishop one of the first public school teachers in 1847
This photo can be found in the Wikipedia entry on Harriet Bishop

She had a lot of courage to leave her family behind (with the mindset of never seeing them again). In digging around further, I’ve learned she stayed in the St. Paul area for the rest of her life and was instrumental in starting many charities and fundraisers. She married, divorced, and petitioned to get back her legal maiden name successfully. She also wrote a few books, too.

She made an impact on her community and her students.

Like all the teachers I know today.

For Fun

Sharing My Disney Mugs to Spread Some Joy

Blog Post Title Graphic with 8 Disney Mugs in the background and a bow in front with the words #disneymugs = joy by denise m. colby

Who knew I had that many Disney mugs in my cupboard and it would be so much fun to post a different one each day? And did you know #Disneymugs was an actual thing?

The idea came from a friend, who had posted about her morning coffee, her missing Disneyland and her mugs from her trip. I had one similar and joined in with her that morning. And then something clicked. 

With us all homebound, I saw how people were sad to not go to Disneyland or not be able to go anywhere for that matter. I pulled out a mug I hadn’t used in a long time, put my tea in it, then took a picture of it and posted it. People commented and fun interaction ensued. The next day I choose a different one and I knew I wanted to keep sharing. It seems so small, but in that first post, I found something that added much needed cheer to my day. And it seemed to do the same for others.

And as it turned out, I had way more Disney mugs than I thought! And I wasn’t using them!

When I picked the hashtags, I didn’t know #Disneymugs was a thing. Nor did I know #mugshots was, either. It was just something I thought would be fun, especially with all of us home self-quarantining ourselves. A little way to be creative and change up the routine each day.

And my friends liked it and joined in.

Who knew I could get so much joy out of selecting a new mug to use every morning. And taking a picture to share. And then having it sit on my desk all day and make me smile every time I looked at it.

Oh the joy that comes from the little things, right?

Some of our mugs are really old. To the point I have no idea where or when we got them. With others, the memory is burned into my brain because of how we came to acquire it, whether it was on a special trip or to celebrate a specific event.

Whatever the occasion, it’s been fun to reach way back into my cupboard and actually use all of them.

So without further ado…

…here is our family’s collection of Disney mugs: 

Do you have any of these? or see a favorite?

Our current favorite is the Baby Yoda one, which is a brand new addition. We gave that one to my husband for his birthday.

Hope this gives you a little bit a cheer, much like the cheer I’ve felt in putting it all together.

Blessings,

Denise

Word of the Year

Courage To Be Thankful During Difficult Times

blog post header titled Courage to Be Thankful During Difficult Times by Denise M. Colby

This blog post is about thankfulness. Several blog posts right now are covering the topic of COVID-19 and the Coronavirus. I myself have found it challenging to write something without addressing the elephant in the room. And thus, why I decided to share how I’m trying to focus on finding ways to be thankful (and the one phrase that started all this!)

When the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, thankfulness overflows. Even in the darkest of times, we can praise God for his love, his sovereignty, and his promise to be near us when we call.  

Author Unknown

So let’s get started! The other day something struck me that I wanted to share.

I was really thankful we had three bathrooms for the five adults in our house.

And then my mind went to: I was thankful that the other four in my house were boys and not girls, and thus we used less toilet paper.

Oh, the silly things our minds go to, right?

But it got me thinking…what else am I thankful for in these challenging times? I found I could rattle off quite a bit of things.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1

 

Here’s my list:

Family dinners every night.

That my family likes each other enough to want to hang out together, even after being around only each other for longer than three weeks.

Technology to connect with others outside our family unit.

The grace and caring I’ve seen from all my kids’ teachers.

The nurses and doctors and first responders who brave this new virus every day.

The hugs and prayers I’m seeing in texts, Facebook, and other social media.

Finding 80% of the items on my list at the grocery store.

For all the workers who ensure that those items are on the shelves at the store (that includes those that make, package, deliver)

The price of gas dropping significantly. $2.49 the last time I gassed up and that’s LOW for California.

I can find and order what I need online.

Daily walks with my husband.

Journals to write down my thoughts and feelings and observances (see my previous post Journaling Through Challenging Times – Ideas, Questions, & Encouragement)

Finding something new to learn and having mental capacity to try it out.

Getting to projects at home, that I haven’t had time for.

Watching the creative content such as the SGN network (Some Good News) by John Krasinski. 

I love seeing the creativity that builds because of limitations. Sometimes we are too busy to think out of the box and that can limit us as well.

Eleanor Roosevelt Quote about strength, courage and confidence over a wooden crate background by Denise M. Colby

My word this year is courage.

I chose it to have more courage in my writing. To take risks. To say no to things that would interrupt me finishing my book. But I also felt courage was a good word for my faith, to open myself to God more with  Bible reading and prayer.

Who knew that this word would be so applicable to what we are facing right now. Courage to trust God. Courage to adapt and adjust to this new normal.

I found these other verses fit with the thankfulness in my heart.

 

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 106:1

and

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

and

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

What is something that you are thankful for that is new during these difficult times?

I’d love to hear it.

Journaling

Journaling Through Challenging Times – Ideas, Questions, & Encouragement

Blog Title Graphic Journaling Through Challenging Times- Ideas, questions, and encouragement with photo of person writing in journal while sitting outside

I have found it challenging to sit and relax over the last week or so. I haven’t been interested in reading a book (which is rare for me), nor have I had ideas for writing topics floating in my head like I usually do. So when I picked up my prayer journal this morning I realized I had not written in it for over a week, and my thoughts and feelings had been cooped up inside of me and I needed to get them out. 

So I took a moment to write an entry. It wasn’t long, it wasn’t poetic by any means, but it helped me focus and a few things became clear to me:

Journaling our feelings, thoughts, and fears can be helpful for several reasons.

What we are experiencing is unprecedented and uncharted. There is no normal, routines are mixed up, uncertainty is present, and each day new data points are brought to light. And we need time to process.

Journaling through challenging times allows us to capture:

  • documentation for this unique moment in our lives (this is how history will view this time),
  • identifying our emotions and how we are dealing with everything (this is to help you process what is going on),

AND

  • freeing up space in our brains to do something else.

I’m a firm believer in writing stuff down. Journals can help document, store, and be a great outlet to think. Sometimes we keep things in our head and it spins around and around in ways that prevent us from being able to focus on other tasks.

I’d been blank for what I wanted to write about for my monthly blog post. After I journaled, an idea became quite clear. I love to journal. I love to document. I love to express myself with words. And I would love to help you be able to do that do.

You can write in a journal book (any would do) or just a piece of paper. (If you are interested in sample journal pages you can download here under point #1). You can also type in a google/word doc, or your notes app in your phone. 

Question prompts for journaling during these challenging times.

Remember there is no wrong way to journal. The importance is getting your thoughts written down.

  • Describe what is happening today, right now in the world.
  • How are you specifically impacted by what’s going on?
  • How does this make you feel overall? 
  • Are your feelings changing moment by moment, day by day? What’s the range of emotions you are feeling?
  • Who are you worried about? It’s okay to write it in a paragraph or list format right there in your entry, or write it to the side or on another sheet. There is no wrong way to journal.
  • What are you most disappointed about?
  • What do you miss the most?
  • What is something you are able to do because of this, that you normally don’t do?
  • What is something new you have learned (either about yourself or skill) because of this situation?
  • How is this history in the making?
  • Where are you getting your news? What resources are you checking regularly?
  • How are you staying in touch with people? Who are you staying in touch with?
  • Are you communicating differently than normal? What exactly are you doing differently? 
  • How are these differences impacting you?
  • What is something you want to remember, so you can tell your grandchildren years from now?

You could give yourself intervals to answer these questions every three days or once a week.

Knowing that our “normal” right now will last more than a month or so, our emotions and feelings will most likely expand, change, float, and bounce around our homes. My prayer is that this is helpful for you as well as a fun exercise to document this time in your life. 

Let me know in the comments, any additional questions you might’ve come up with during your journaling time, and I can add them to the list.

Blessings,

Denise

For Fun

Dating Lessons from WALL-E

Blog Title Graphic of Wall-E and Eve Dating Lessons from Wall-E by Denise M. Colby

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I thought covering a special Disney couple would be fun. Our family loves Disney movies and WALL-E is no exception. We’ve watched it several times and this last time, several things struck me about the way WALL-E and EVE find their Happily Ever After.

So I wrote down what I observed.

Yes, they are cute and all the antics are quite entertaining, but with three teenage boys in my house, I asked myself would I want them to follow WALL-E’s path to love?

 Approach a girl and she fires at you, ignores you and then breaks your things.

Show her something beautiful and she takes it and doesn’t give it back.

 Try to teach her to dance and she throws you against the wall.

 Be romantic and get no response. Zip. Zilch. Natta.

 Try to hold her hand and get hurt in the process.

 Chase her and she’ll carry you out of your world.

 Help her save her world and lose yourself in the process

 And then finally, she rushes to save you. And when she kisses you – the spark is large enough that your old self comes back again.

I love when Eve finally sees all that WALL-E has done for her and how it changes her view of him. We all want someone to see the true us and love us for who we are. WALL-E never wavers in his caring for Eve. He loves her unconditionally. And in the end, they both grow, open their hearts and find their Happily Ever After.

Romance stories are a lot like this. Our poor characters are pushed and pulled through some rough times, but in the end they change and grow, and they and their world are a better place because of that.

I’m just not sure I want to watch my boys go through all that in real life…well, maybe if they find someone who loves them as they are and brings out the best in them and they have a happily ever after. Then, maybe I would.

Happy Valentine’s Day Blessings!
Denise

 

Parts of this post was originally published Feb. 2018 on A Slice of Orange titled with the same name: Dating Lessons from WALL-E

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