A Force to be Reckoned With

When I was in junior high, I had the opportunity to take part in an accelerated language arts program. This meant that I was able to handle a bigger workload and take on more responsibility. The teacher was a plump man with a round face, facial hair, and a ponytail that went down to the middle of his back. He looked like the type of guy who loved books.

No, I love books.

I mean, LOOOOVES books.

The first assignment he gave us on the very first day of school (really, who does that!) was to read Fahrenheit 451 within the first two weeks of school. As I shockingly gazed at the thickness of the book, along with the “further required reading” list that accompanied the book. I knew that this class wasn’t for me.

I went to my counselor.

So my counselor took me out of the program and placed me in one of the regular classes. I walked into the class and gave the transfer sheet to the teacher. This was no ordinary teacher, this was a woman — a black woman, which was weird because I had only ever once encountered a black female teacher throughout my academic career (at that point).

She took the slip from me.

“Mmmmm-hmm. You can sit over there.”

I sat — still in shock.

She had a personality that was bigger than life, she had a loud, booming voice, she had a slight southern twang to her voice, and she did not take shit from anyone.

…and I mean anyone.

To tell the truth, I was scared of this woman for the first quarter of the school year. Every time she asked for a volunteer, I sank a little lower in my seat. When she wanted one of the students to diagram a sentence, I would stare directly at my paper, trying my damnedest not to make eye contact. When it was time to go, I would hurriedly get my shit together and get the hell out of that room.

One day, everything changed. That day, I did not get my shit together fast enough.

“How come you never give the answer?”

She smiled.

Oh, shit.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you have the answer. I know you came from the accelerated class. You need to start answering the questions in class. Don’t hide your genius.”

I was confused as hell. Although I have been trying to avoid her, she has been paying attention to me.

“Tell your mom and your sister, I said hello.”

Fuck.

From that moment on, she would push me academically and personally. She would be one of the most influential people in my life — often giving me lessons not only on being a man but a black man as well. She would teach me about responsibility, she would teach me about perseverance, and she would also teach me about respect for myself and for others. I had a mother at home, and I had a mother at school.

What started out as a teacher to student relationship would years later become a relationship as colleagues as I was hired in the same district that I grew up in, and that she still taught in. What I did not know was that she was always looking out for me and doing what she could to give me every opportunity to succeed.

Sixteen years after I sat in her classroom, moved to another state, and started a family, I embarked on a mission to attain my doctoral degree. In the orientation class, we were tasked with writing a letter of appreciation to the person who got you to this point. To tell the truth, many helped me along the way. But there was one person who took it upon herself to not only discuss just how successful I could be but to hold me to a higher standard based on that potential.

I found out that Mrs. Francine Jackson passed away on May 11th.  I never knew if she received that letter in particular, but I think she knew the impact that she would have on my life and the lives of countless students in our area. I can only hope that I am living my life in a way that would do her memory justice.

Return on Investment

In the financial world, return on investment refers to the ratio between net profit (over a period) and cost of investment (resulting from an investment of some resources at a point in time). A high return on investment means the investment’s gains compare favorably to its cost. As a performance measure, return on investment is used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare the efficiencies of several different investments.
Recently my wife and I have come to terms with the fact that, because we have kids, we will not:
a) live forever. As a matter of fact, we think the “kids make you live longer” research is bullshit,
b) never get enough sleep,
c) never have the nest egg in our bank account that we desire.
So, we both figured. Fuck it, maybe we should throw caution to the wind a little and invest in our kids’ experiences. Perhaps we should show them some things that might be in the history books instead of them being told about it in school. We did set parameters:
We will not clear out our bank account;
We will not spend any of our retirement;
We will not borrow money from anyone or any entity.
We scrounged up the little money we had in investments from when I was younger, budgeted the funds that we had, and picked up some odds-and-ends jobs. But, most importantly, we had to redefine what an investment meant.
When I was younger, with not much money, I started to dabble in things such as ETFs, bonds, and futures, I loved looking at ways that I could grow my wealth. I would read the prospectus of different companies (who the hell actually reads those), look through the tickers on all of the financial networks, and check out the financial history of prospective companies that I could invest in. I was really hardcore!
But as I got older, I started to question how long I would hold these investments. I began to wonder what an investment really was. Especially after having our first child and needing a bigger house, a more dependable car, and diapers. God! Diapers!
Is a child an investment? In what? Futures?
What is the rate of return? When do I start to account for profit or loss?
How will I know if the current rate is running in the positive or negative?
The answer: You don’t, and you never will.
A child is a super heavy, crazy large investment. One that is hard to analyze or compute your return on that investment. Sure, it is all nice and dandy to say, “Every child is a gift that will last a lifetime,” but it is really freaking hard to keep telling yourself that when your rate of return is rolling their eyes when you have a simple request. Or, when your precious investment breaks a different investment because they won’t stop bouncing the damn ball in the house as you told them not to do 100. But, I am not angry.
Not that angry…
okay, angry.
Now that we have decided to invest in family, what does that look like?

Basically, it looks like us saying yes to a bunch of expenses that we would normally say no to. It looks like we are going to spend our money on experiences rather than things, which is good, because it allows me to go into the house and announce, “Okay, we are getting rid of your shit! We are minimizing! Round up the stuff you plan to donate!

My wife says, “You will need someone to push that wheelchair to the home, you know?” I hope that is true. Yes, I hope they are good people. Yes, I hope they give me grandkids, but I would be lying if I did not admit that I would love it if they would place me in a charming home and come visit me every now and then.

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It is not you, it is me… Promise.

Where have I been? Yes, I know, I have not written a post for a while.
I took a break this summer. I took some “me” time. I did this for one primary reason:
I am selfish.
I don’t feel ashamed.
I don’t owe anybody an apology.
I needed time.
I am a husband, I am a father, I am a coach of many disciplines, an educator, a doctoral student, I am a school board member, a committee member, a writer, and a very active community member – I wear a lot of hats.
I do it gladly – I love being busy, I love having projects, and I love giving myself to others.
But, unfortunately, I burned out.
I found out that I was pulling myself in too many directions, which made me less effective in all other aspects; but most importantly, I was not an effective father or husband. And that is not okay.
So I put all of my responsibilities aside. I walked away from everything.
Except for family.
Family is essential, and we must place emphasis on spending as much time with them as possible. Kids grow up, parents work, significant others get busy. It is too easy to let the time fly by due to everyday “business of life.”
I refused to let that happen. So, I made a conscious decision:
I traveled with family.

 

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If you have not been to Folklorama, you are really missing out.

I explored.

 

 

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Canadian Museum of Human Rights – Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I lived with reckless abandon.

 

 

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I did not get a hole-in-one, but I did split a golf ball in half.

I learned a lot about my kids’ lives.

 

 

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Never too young for a checkers beat-down.

And…
I reconnected with my wife.

 

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It was awesome.
The moral of this story? We all get super busy with life. Make sure you take the time to see what is around you; not just what is in front of you. We are constantly reminded that we do not have very many years on this earth. Make sure you take the time to reflect on what is essential and what is sacred. If there is something that you want to do; someplace you wish to see; someone that you want to spend time with – do it!
I know what you are going to say, “Not everyone has the time and/or resources to cast responsibility aside…”
…And I will gladly call bullshit on that statement… mostly because it is the easy answer.
Yes, we only have 16 hours in our day. A good portion of that day is taken up with employment. But that still leaves us time to practice the things to which I am speaking – we just have to make it a priority.
Just make sure you fill your own bucket first.

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Bucket List

So, I started writing my bucket list.

  • Watch the Ball Drop in New York City.
  • Watch ‘Ol Faithful
  • Play basketball vs. NBA player
  • Attend the NBA or WNBA All-Star Games
  • Go to Disneyland…

Correction, I have always had a bucket list, but I started to actually write it down.

  • Get my Masters
  • Start a Foundation/Company (Non-Profit)
  • See Mount McKinley
  • Compete a Bodybuilding Competition
  • See the Iditarod…
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Las Vegas Hotel

I first started to write down the things that I have always wanted to do and completed.

  • Stay in a 4-star hotel
  • Eat at a top of the Line restaurant
  • See the MLK Memorial
  • Get a passport
  • Fly an airplane…

Then I realized that I have had a pretty good life with a ton of positive experiences.

  • Go to Hawaii
  • Watch a Cirque du Soleil show
  • Buy a tailored suit
  • Walk across the Edmund/Pettus Bridge
  • Go to an ethnic festival…
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Chatterbox Pub. You play classic board/video games and eat good food. Let that sink in for a minute…

Experiences that many people live their entire life and never have the opportunity to do.

  • Get into a Hall of Fame
  • See MLK Church
  • Go on a Civil Rights Trip
  • Stand in the spot that MLK gave “I Have a Dream” Speech
  • Hike a Mountain…

But then, I realized that my list kept growing as I got older and had access to more was of funding my adventures.

  • Become a Black Belt
  • Have a structure/scholarship named after me
  • Own a BMW
  • Buy a Rolex
  • Become a Pokémon Master…
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Olympic Training Center. Colorado Springs, Colorado

I also noticed that I have a shit-ton of things that I still want to do.

  • See the Great Wall of China
  • Go to Comic Con dressed up as a comic book character
  • Watch a Premier League Game
  • See the Gate of No Return
  • Drink Beer in Germany…

The older I get, the bigger the world becomes. The older I get; I have more responsibilities that derail me from checking some of these things off.

  • Walk across hot coals
  • Take the kids to Disneyland
  • Stay at the The Kakslauttanen Hotel
  • See Stonehenge
  • Go to Cuba and smoke a Cuban Cigar…
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If you know the show Double Dare, then this is also on your bucket list.

Here is my dilemma: I grew up in an environment where it was worth a celebration if you, at the age of 25:

  1. Were alive,
  2. Had no previous or current convictions,
  3. Did not have children, and
  4. Graduated with a college degree.

Yes, it sounds funny. But those are serious aspirations for a group of Americans. The problem is, once you get to the age of 25 and have met and surpassed those goals, there is a ton of confusion on what to do next. I have been so narrow-sighted about accomplishing those goals (ones that many unfortunately do not meet and/or take for granted), that I failed to see just how big the world actually is.

So, why not now? I, now that I am older and have a career, should be able to do many of the things that I want?

Not so fast.

For starters, I have children and it is damn near impossible to find someone who will care for them while I am on an excursion. Side note: There is no way in the hell that my wife will let me take a “life goal” trip while she is at home with the kids; not happening. Also, it is too damn expensive and too damn painstaking ape-shit to take our entire family on a plane. So, for now, my plans to see the world and experience different things are on hold.

For the items that require a purchase (own a BMW, own a Rolex, become a blackbelt), the older the children are, the more those things seem like they will never happen. Really?! Buy a Rolex?! I spend that same amount of money paying for travel team, camps, concessions, and equipment.

It looks like I will have to put some of these ventures on the backburner until retirement.

If there will ever be such a thing…

 

Hooked on the Digital Devil! Or, Daddy’s Last Stand

A couple of events happened to me this month that made me think twice about parenting in the age of technology:

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Would it kill her to clean up a little? I don’t dare find out…

First, I have noticed that three out of four of my children are entranced with their electronic devices. My son has found himself needing to check the status of his eggs and/or fight other creatures on a dragon game that he is playing. He is absolutely hooked. As soon as he gets home from school, he disappears. To where? Some corner of the house to be left alone until, hours later, he realizes that he has not eaten anything.

Daughter #1 is kicked back in her room watching stupid (so, so stupid) Youtube videos that challenge viewers not to laugh (I laugh) on her Ipod (Yes, an Ipod. She is the only one in her class that does not have a cell phone – and believe me, she is pissed; but that is for a different post). Meanwhile, Daughter #2 has watched every kid Netflix movie and/or show that ever created and has now started to re-watch them.

They are totally different people when those devices are in their hands. Heaven forbid their dear, loving parents ask them to do any chores. Those requests are met with tears, eyerolls, and under-breath mumbles as they begrudgingly fulfill their duties that are their only requirement to be granted sustenance, safety, and sustainability by us. I understand that there are stages of child development, but this seems like something more.

So, as a trained researcher, I take to the computer to do discover a fix. I know, How ironic — I use technology to fix the technology problem in my home. Save it. Anyway, I came across a multitude of research about both the positives and negatives of technology on children’s brains.1

So, what are you going to do about it, you ask?

I am going to take all of their devices away, at least for now. I’ll take charge of my household. I’ll show them.

Genius! On its face…

What ensues is both interesting and sad. My kids, as multi-talented as they come, had no idea what to do with themselves. Seriously! They either walked around the house like lost puppies trying to find their owner; or, they stared at us parents with those big, sad eyes that screamed, “Help us!” I did not know whether to feel sorry for them or send them to bed. Each suggestion we gave was met with wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

Luckily, by the end of the night, the drama subsided and they found marker and paper and started drawing, not well by any means, but drawing nonetheless.

The second event involved me stopping by the local hobby shop to look for a possible Christmas present for my son (Afro #3). When I walked in the store, I immediately knew that I was going to blow a lot of money. I was totally overtaken by nostalgia – remote control cars, boats, planes, slot cars, and model sets – all things that I grew up with. Things that defined my childhood!

THE THINGS THAT MADE ME THE NERD THAT I AM TODAY!

But, as I was reliving my childhood and contemplating my future credit card bill, I notice something – there were not many people in the store. In fact, for the thirty-or-so minutes that I was in the store, I had notice 3 other people (not counting me and the two employees) in the entire store. One of them, I am sure, walked in by mistake but pretended to look interested out of pity.

“Slow day?” I asked.

“This is how it has been since the ‘beep, boop, beep, craze.” (gyrating his thumbs in a Gameboy motion).

“Wow, that is sad. There is really a lot of cool stuff in here.”

“Yeah, these things are just not as popular as they used to be.”

It then hit me… My children have no hobbies for themselves. They don’t have that one thing that they depend on to keep them busy when they have nothing else to do and are bored.

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Slot Cars. Why yes! Don’t mind if I do!

If you are reading this article, you are most likely old enough to remember a time when your parents told you to “Go away and find something to do.” Full disclosure, I have not researched this thoroughly, but It seems as though our parents were giving us the gift of finding our inner nerd when they would tell us to “get out of their hair.”

Don’t act like I was the only one!

When my parents were too busy to entertain me, I built Legos, played with my action figures, delved into my collection of comic books, or played with my remote control/slot cars. All things that are not as popular now as they once were. But why? Where did all of the nerds go?

Did technology kill imagination? I mean… I don’t think so, but I do think that technology cannot survive without discipline. It seems that it is way more than a coincidence that my kids were hooked on technology and once that was taken from them, they were in a state of confusion.

Here is the conundrum:

  • Hobbies help kids learn by doing, test the limits of their success, and provide an remedy for boredom.
  • Electronic devices help kids research, provide instant answers to questions/issues kids may have while also combating boredom.

Where is the balance?

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  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/video/the-impact-of-electronics-on-a-child-s-brain-1235967043828

Further Reading:

*https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-fortnite-triggered-an-unwinnable-war-between-parents-and-their-boys-11545397200?mod=e2fb

Pick-Up Basketball Retirement Notice

Effective in 2019, “The Juggernaut” is retiring from all pick up basketball games. In the past year, I discovered the following about myself:

My first step is gone,

My hops are gone,

My muscular stature is now working against me,

My Achilles are tight,

My hamstrings hate me,

Ibuprofen is my friend,

My mind is telling me yes, but my body (my body) is telling me noooooooo,

I am always the oldest guy on the court,

I am still wearing And1’s and partying like it’s 1999,

I regret my decision to play every morning for the next four days afterward,

People now say, “Oh you are still playing, good for you!“

My wife shakes her head in disgust as I can no longer hide my soreness/injury from her.

Streetball has been good to me for the past 38 years. But, year 39 has been hell. So, goodbye old friend. I am letting go and putting myself out to pasture to heal.

The Gift of Failure

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing.” – J.K. Rowling

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A couple of weeks ago, you tried out for an AAU elite travel team. Now, you already how much I absolutely detest AAU teams – although, I’ll admit, it has allowed me to see some awesome locations, meet wonderful people, and play against some of the most talented basketball players to ever walk on a court. The problem is, I have also witnessed the dark side of elite basketball — but, I won’t get into that now; that is for another time.

Honestly, Honey, as we wait for this letter to come in the mail, I keep hoping we receive bad news.

I honestly hope you don’t make the team.

Bear with me…

Listen, I may be a little biased, but whenever you walk into the gym, you are the best player there. You have the size, you have the speed, you can shoot, you can use your left hand, and you have the drive. But, more than anything, you have fun, you are social, you are humble, and you are smart; and that is what I love (and will continue to love) most about your game. I am proud of you every time you step out on the court because I know your competitiveness will compel you to make the most of your abilities as well as make your teammates better. Yes, I will admit, as your coach, when your team falls short — or when you have a terrible game, I am upset. I am upset until I look over at you, joking and laughing with your teammates as if you guys don’t have a care in the world. Basketball is just a game to you; you know you are good at it, but you are there to have fun and socialize.

That being said…

If you are selected for an elite AAU team, there is a whole new dynamic to consider…

Winning.

Man, o’ man. Little girl, you will be expected to win. Not only will you be expected to show up to a tournament and produce, but, when you do not produce, you will sit the bench until you are able to produce (which could be a while dependent on if your replacement has a hot hand). You will need to practice your craft on your own time — no excuses! It does not matter if you are the best player on any given day; you need to be the best player on that specific day. The expectation is for you to show up to a tournament, hours away from your home, and claw and scratch your way to a championship. Period.

Look, I am not here to bash AAU or crush your dream, but, my job as your father is to protect you. That job requires me to deem what is, and is not, appropriate for you given your age and maturity level, whether that be cell phones, music, movies, boys, and yes, basketball. And frankly, right now, I don’t think you are ready.

Is there a side of me that wants you to make it? Yes! But I have come to realize that it is the part of me that is selfish, self-serving, and competitive. Of course I want to show everybody that I produce the best of the best. But that is not right.

So, here’s to you staying young, having fun, and not making the team.

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For the record:

Weeks later, I found out that you, in fact, did not make it…

“Unfortunately, She was not selected for our 6th grade team.  We had so many girls at that level trying out this year and looked at each one very carefully before making our decision. 

We highly encourage your daughter to try out again next October.

Thank you.”

Okay. Now, let’s make them regret that decision…

A Letter to My Children About Turning Left

What if I fall? Oh, my darling, what if you fly?

– Erin Hanson

Eight years ago, I sat in a room across from both of my bosses and realized ahead of me lay a fork in the road — a decision was being forced upon me. I had two options: One, stay in a place that did not deem me or my services valuable, yet provide a comfortability. Or, two, go with the uncertain, improbable, and uncomfortable. Looking back, I can now say that without a shadow of a doubt that I made the right decision.

I had always loved the poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. But I was never put in a position where I would have to put those exact words to the test – until that moment. When I am old, and it is time for me to reflect upon my life, that meeting will be the pivotal point in my life. It will be the time when I told the right people where to shove it and chose to take my own path.

I want you to believe in yourselves as smart, able-minded people. I want you to be able to depend on your education, grit, and skill to choose the path that you want to take. If you choose to switch careers, or start your own business, I hope that you are able to make sound decisions that won’t incur a ton of risk. But if you choose to risk it all, I hope that you do it without fear because you are willing to put your all into it.

During that pivotal time, I was father who was expecting his second child and in need of all monetary compensation that I could get my hands on. Everybody, including your mother, was very fearful of what we would do next. But I was not. I saw that moment as an opportunity for me to grow both as a person, and as a professional – that is what is most important. It is important that you have a job that will help you attain your goals; a job that will provide you with an opportunity to advance – both monetarily and position wise. It is easy to be comfortable; it is extremely difficult to rely on yourself and your training to reach your goals.

People will call you a fool. They will ask what in the hell you were thinking. They will sit back and whisper to others about your sanity while waiting for your failure so that they can tell you that they “told you so.” But after a while, they will admire you because they could not take that leap themselves.

Do not listen to the accolades and do not track the accomplishments. Those things show you an event or feeling from a snapshot in time. Many people have heard their praises only to fall from grace soon after. But, on the other hand, do pay attention to the doubts and the criticisms. Those come from true feelings. Use them to fuel you, but not burn you. Use those to help you and not hinder you. Use those as reasons and not as excuses.

Because of my choices, I am living a life that I once believed was only a dream. I am only to that point because I understood that there is truly no such thing as luck – good or bad. So, I’m telling you that there are no wrong decisions, only consequences. If you choose to do something. It is no one’s place to tell you that they, “told you so.” Don’t use that to make your decision. Whatever you choose, go about it with reckless abandon, pour all of your heart into the venture, and live with the consequences.

Go Left. Everyone chooses right. No one wants to dare because of the possibility that it could lead to failure. I am begging you, go left. You are stronger than what you realize. You will not know that stregnth until you put it to the test. If you are willing to put the work in, go left. We only get one life to live, don’t live it trying to be someone that you are not. Don’t live it trying to do what others think that you should do. Do what makes you happy — unless it hurts other people, then take one right.

Who’s that Lady?

A few weeks ago, I spend time with my best friend. It was weird because her and I have not hung out in years. Life got in the way. After college we both got married, had kids, went pretty far in our careers, and drifted apart.

We decided that we were going to meet up in Minneapolis for the weekend. At first, it was a little awkward. I am not going to lie, I had always had a crush on her. When we met, the tension was still there.

It was like we were never apart; we picked up right where we left of years ago. We laughed, we ate, and we drank as if we did not have a care in the world. We thought, “Geez, if only those people we left back home could see us, they would be jealous.”

It was not until I saw her in a mirror that I thought, “Shit. I have been missing her for the last ten years.”

Good thing I married her.

Yup. I hung out with my wife.

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We saw stayed at a casino hotel, took in Hamilton, attended a Counting Crows concert, ate sushi, consumed endless mimosas and met up with some old friends.

When you have kids, they tend to take up all of your time. Parenting is hard. Raising a human to be a decent grown up is a daunting task. It requires all of your concentration, money, and resources. We have four cherubs, meaning we work during the day, attend a multitude of events in the evening, and try to catch up on the days’ events at night after the kids are at bed. By 8 p.m., we are completely depleted. But, dispite of that, we have found that it is just as important to make time for each other, even if it is only once a year.

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It is important that we are able to look at each other, twelve years later and see the people that we were – before we had the stressors of everyday living taking over our being. Yes, we chose this life, but like many other parents on this journey, we had no idea what the hell we were getting ourselves into (and yes, we would do it all over again if we had the chance and would not change any decision we made thus far).

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I am fortunate that I have a support system around me that affords me the opportunity for a getaway. I thank God for that. I thank God for them. They allowed for the girl that I met in college to came back for a visit.

I hope to see her again next year.

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