September 16, 2014

Bearly a Problem

It's embarrassing to admit, but when we first moved from the city to our rural lakehouse, I was scared out of my gourd.  The woods - at night! - tops the list of my irrational fears.  A lifetime of scary movies has taught me that bad things happen in the wood at night.  Shortly before the move, we started watching The Walking Dead, and that's when I learned that the woods can be terrifying during the day too.  The episode in which Hershel's idyllic, country farm is overrun by walkers hit a little too close to home and that's when I stopped watching.  Only recently have I been able to come home in the dark without spending half an hour parked in the driveway, petrified with fear of what's lurking outside and trying to screw up the courage to open the door.  I can now stand on the deck at night while Szuka does her evening perimeter check/pee, instead of cowering inside with all of the lights on.  When something goes bump in the night I'm not immediately drenched in sweat, certain that my untimely demise is imminent.

Photo Source
Despite the bevy of irrational fears that have shaped my experience of country life, I haven't - until recently - been afraid of more plausible threats, like bears.  I've seen black bears, here and there, but I always felt safe in my backyard because black bears, we're told, tend to avoid people.  Predatory black bear attacks, although horrific and gruesome when they happen, are really very rare.  Still, habituated bears - those that are accustomed to humans and aren't afraid - are worrisome.

Photo Source
Recently I shared a photo on Instagram of one of our apple trees with a branch ripped almost clean off.  I suspected a bear, and it was confirmed last week when a neighbour anxiously banged on our front door to let us know a bear was in our apple tree, high among the branches, and refusing the budge.  He eventually ran off, but she was really concerned by how unfazed he was by our presence.

The neighbour told me someone else in the area had been confronted by a giant, 200+ lb black bear, who determinedly, yet slowly, approached her while she was out walking.  She in turn slowly backed away but he followed, so she tried to make herself big and tall and noisy but still he confidently moved toward her (probably not unlike the curious bear in this video).  He was only scared away by a passing truck.

This description sounded eerily like what might happen before a predatory attack.  For the first time, I became afraid of what's actually lurking out there, in the woods.  I felt somewhat safe because Szuka is always by my side (and she's a big girl), but then I read that dogs can be the worst around bears: some run up to a bear and nip it, then turn around and run back to their owner with the bear in hot pursuit.  Szuka, still just an adolescent and fun-loving pup, is goofy enough to do that.

Illustration Source
I decided to do a little research and see what I could do - in addition to buying bear bangers and bear spray, which I stocked up on - to keep bears away (plus what to do in the case of an encounter!).  The number one rule for keeping safe in bear country?  Hide food sources (garbage, compost, etc).  That's kind of a no-brainer, and despite my former penchant for fox-feeding, we've been diligent about not leaving food out.  I have no idea what possessed the former owner to plant two juicy apple trees between the house and the garage.  But then I saw this photo of a woman feeding a black bear and I realized that sometimes smart people just do stupid things.

Photo Source
We had been meaning to chop the trees down, but last fall there were no confirmed signs of bears coming to our yard (we thought we saw bear poop, but now I'm not so sure), and so it hadn't seemed urgent.  Plus, we liked the leafy privacy they afforded.  Well, it turns out that last year there was a big bear hunt in the area that eradicated the bears, but without an organized hunt this year, more black bears began appearing.

A couple of Instagram friends told me we could interrupt the fruit cycle and still keep the trees.  I thought that might be a good idea but suddenly the fruit tree removal seemed very urgent.  The persistent little black bear started appearing daily and I was worried he'd bring bigger, even bolder friends.  Even though he's small, I knew that he could still do damage if provoked - especially if he took a swipe at Szuka.  He tended to appear around the time we went outside to play fetch - and I started to wonder how many times he'd been only a few feet away without us realizing.  One night I decided to read about every fatal bear attack in North America in the last hundred years, and it had me wishing for a comforting episode of The Walking Dead.  Did you know that a woman was mauled to death in her kitchen when a black bear burst through her window and attacked her?!?  Hubby and I decided, definitively, that the trees needed to go.  Right now.  Luckily, my father-in-law was kind enough to drop what he was doing and come by with a chainsaw.  He expertly cut down the trees (digging up the ground around them so the sawed off stump won't protrude) and then we bagged up all of the apples.  I still need to cut down and dispose of the heap of branches, but the larger chunks of wood we'll dry out and burn.  We mourned the apple trees a little, and the heap of brush has certainly not added curb appeal, but I feel a lot better now that the lure of delicious applies is gone.

The bear will still come back for a bit, out of habit, until he realizes that the apple buffet has officially closed.  The neighbours have blueberries that have yet to ripen so it's entirely possible that he'll still be hanging around the area, snacking.  Hopefully, though, no additional bears will be drawn to our yard because we never leave out anything tasty.  At least by the time our little guest grows to his full size, our apple trees will be a distant memory.  In the meantime, I'm not going outside without bear bangers and bear spray, plus I've put a giant bell on Szuka's collar so we don't accidentally crash a teddy bear picnic.

See ya, little guy.

September 11, 2014

25 Easy + Inspiring Art Ideas

Did you see how cold it was here yesterday?!?  I wore earmuffs while I worked outside, and it was with a heavy heart that I pulled out the bin labelled "winter accessories".  While we lived in Ottawa, I grew to love fall because it was a welcome respite from the sticky humidity of summer.  Now that I'm back in Northwestern Ontario, fall offers me little but the ominous warning that winter is coming.  I don't know why, but I'm dreading winter like never before.  Maybe because last winter was pretty grueling: snow so deep that even my humongous truck got stuck, a failing furnace warmed our house to a toasty 16 degrees (that's only 60 for my American friends), and endless snowstorms

Despite the cold, I've been working hard, trying to finish "summer projects," like staining the deck, spray painting everything, and cleaning out the garage (plus I'm really hoping we manage to paint the house exterior).  I know our days of working on projects outside are numbered, so I'm also cleaning out our weird little fish room, which I have decided will make the perfect studio for painting.  It's got a lake view, a floor I don't give a hoot about wrecking, and a sink!  This winter I've decided that I'm going to hunker down and create.  My Mom and I always dreaming up really fun ideas for beautiful, artful, handmade home wares and we decided that this winter we're finally going to shelve the excuses and see them come to fruition.  With this genius plan, my dread for winter has abated ever so slightly.   

Just for fun, I rounded up 25 ideas for modern, chic (but super easy) DIY art projects, in case you need a few fun projects to help you get excited for colder months, and more time spent indoors.

This project caused a bit of outrage (read the comments on her blog), but I really like Dana's trendy gold and chevron painting.  It's fast and easy, but the large scale makes such a big impact.  This is one of those satisfying, little-work-big-outcome projects - my favorite!

Equally simple is Katie's textured painting, which can be whipped up with leftover renovation supplies: all purpose joint compound, a trowel, and leftover paint.

Bower Power

Katie's DIY art really reminds me of this stunning, muted pair of abstracts:

Image Via

My last print-making experience saw me gauge a huge chunk out of my right hand but I'm still tempted by this simple tutorial from Emma Dime, using a handmade rubber stamp.

Emma Dime

But of course I favor this aqua version (from Rachel):

The Crafted Life

Using colourful embroidery stitches to affix a crocheted doily to cloth makes for a sweet (and easy) piece of art - and a great way to use the doilies that seem to linger on, unloved, at yard sales and thrift shops.  Here Esther used an embroidery hoop to display the finished product, but I think mounting a group of doilies onto fabric that's been stretched on a frame would be a nice option, and lend a slightly more modern feel.

Wholly Kao

It's not that I have anything against embroidery hoops!  In fact, this installation (spotted by at Anthropologie, by Little Girl Big Closet) would be a perfect DIY project! Done in sheer fabrics and hung, layered like this, in front of a powder room window would be a really fun take on sheers curtains. 

Little Girl Big Closet

I have quite a few DIY art tutorials in my DIY Projects Archive and although I've really tried to take step-by-step photos of what is usually a fly by the seat of my pants type affair, sometimes it's difficult to really capture how a painting is made.  Mandi's tutorials for her stunning abstract painting is perfection - lots of photos that show how just some simple layering can produce a truly sophisticated finished piece.

A Beautiful Mess

Mandi also created this beautiful quilted art, a textural take on abstract art.  I love the wood frames she made for both pieces because they immediately look gallery-ready.

A Beautiful Mess

Recently my Mom and I were pouring over a website, looking at vintage options for some kitchen artwork for her, when she looked at me, wide-eyed, as she remembered, "there's a whole bunch of those photos you took in Hungary that I want to get blown up and framed instead!!".  I have file folders on my computer stuffed with thousands of photos and although I always intend to blow them up and frame them, I usually forget about them once they're in the bowels of my hard-drive.  So here's a reminder: unearth those stunning beach photos or artsy vacation shots, fix them up a bit with a free photo editor like Picmonkey, and frame them for instant art!  Hanging a grouping in a grid, in identical frames, makes the look more artful.  You can thank Kate for this beautiful inspiration:

Centsational Girl
Even easier is enlarging just one photo as an engineering print (Staples can do this) and mounting it on tempered hardboard like Jules did in this tutorial - or building a custom frame for it with this tutorial from Yellow Brick Home.  Yep, I definitely need to pick out some photos to frame (and print for photo albums, something I've neglected for years) because rumor has it Black's Photography is closing up shop in Thunder Bay.  I'm so glad I've put off this task for years :(  Don't be like me: hunker down this winter and get it done!

Joy Shoppe

An app turns photos into "watercolour" masterpieces with the touch of a button!  See Heather's tutorial for all of the details.  Again, a grouping framed in identical frames looks sharp.  

Setting for Four

For something a little more dimensional, Meg's video tutorial demonstrates how to whip up mid-century inspired star-bursts - it's so easy!


I don't think Merrick posted a tutorial of this pretty, graphic piece she created  for her dining room (I couldn't find one) but I think that with a straight edge, some painter's tape, and a few tubes of acrylic paint, this is definitely do-able.  A square canvas is the perfect choice.

Merrick's Art

Here's another take on creating a simple, graphic piece (from Pop Sugar):

Pop Sugar

This paper art is so ingenious, but Patricia's tutorial looks really easy - although I think origami would be a fun alternative, and could be mounted in the same way.  I could totally see luring some girlfriends over on a blustery evening and making something like this - this is especially good for the paint-averse.

A Little Hut

Still using paper as a medium, Carrie created an assortment of beautiful paper pinwheels to adorn her walls and the result looks like an art installation.  Although I love the colourful papers Carrie used - and the vintage, curated over time look her collection has - a more monochromatic colour palette would still look whimsical but just a smidge more modern.

Dream Green DIY

Sometimes it just takes switching up the medium to make something simple seem fresh and new.  Colourful, layered circles painted on sheet music and book pages - dreamed up by Mary - would look great framed in sleek Ikea frames.

Me With My Head in the Clouds

Do you remember those stamps I bought in Hungary?  I've lost and found them about a dozen times since bringing them home, but right now they're safely tucked away, ready for me to finally turn them into something great.  I plan to frame the mod dogs (especially since I tracked down a Komondor on eBay!) but I'm searching for the right frames.  In the meantime, I'm temped to copy and enlarge some of them, like the one I spotted on Desire to Inspire, although this idea isn't limited to stamps - playing cards, ticket stubs, scraps of love letters, etc., would all be contenders for photocopying and enlarging.

Desire to Inspire

Some paint, some brushstrokes.  Spotted on HGTV, this abstract piece proves that as long as it's big, even the simplest composition can be eye catching.  A little texture and a little variation in the intensity of the colour helps too (add a little white, or thin out the paint).    


I have a confession: despite my penchant for all-white walls (and insistence that they're the best), I do love the look of a stenciled or wallpapered room.  Really.  But it just seems like a lot of work, and I know I'll get bored or overwhelmed immediately - I have before!  That's why I love this idea of just stenciling a large "canvas" made of wood planks (although a proper canvas would do too), as seen on The Handmade Home:

The Handmade Home

I don't think that I enjoy the textural trend of woven/hand knotted wall hangings that's really hot right now enough to try to make my own, but seeing the beautiful, fanciful woven wall hangings that artisans create (like this one spotted on One Kings Lane) makes it easy to see why this has become a popular DIY project.  I actually follow a few particularly talented weavers on Instagram, because I find their use of colour and their compositions inspiring, even if I never plan on picking up a piece of yarn.  This winter I'm sure a lot of folks will be hunkering down with a small loom and some Netflix.

One Kings Lane

As much as I think a project like this is very feasible as a DIY project (see here and here), I think that the real artists who create such captivating work (like the weaving below, from Native Line) deserve a little attention.  Wow, just wow.  I'm all for DIY art (and when I say DIY art, I mean DIY "art") because it can be personal and budget-friendly - plus fun and relaxing to make!  But every now and then I feel compelled to recognize the talent of professional artists and humbly back away, in a shuffling manner.

Native Line Store

Although I love looking at woven pieces, like the two photographed above, I felt kind of (okay, really) lukewarm about macrame until I saw this giant wall hanging...

The State of Things

...And the one below, and now I feel the need to implore someone to find a good tutorial (here's a simplified one, and here's another, and another, and another - whoa this is popular) and make this beauty for themselves.  Go big or go home, though. 

Apartment Therapy

When the lakehouse walls inevitably fill up, I'm taking art outside with this clever idea (also by Dana!):

Home Depot

Remember I just intimated that artists are awesome and let's respect them?  Well, now I'm going to admit that borrowing a neat idea crossed my mind this summer.  I very randomly found this delicate painted arrow/feather collage by Britt Bass and thought it was super cute and just quirky enough.  I didn't see them for sale anymore but decided to use this collage as inspiration.  I planned to snag some of the many goose feathers, guinea fowl feathers, and loon feathers littering the lawn and make something similar (maybe dip dye some feathers?) but, alas, I couldn't get my hands on enough that weren't chewed by Szuka.  I'm presenting it as inspiration for a fun collage made from feathers, paper, paint - maybe dye? Foliage?  Go crazy but add some on-trend colours and aim for repetition, not clutter, for a modern piece with some character.

My love affair with my text painting abated but only because I grew tired of the execution.  Linda's angled script in gold is a delicate and elegant version that has me running for the printer again...

Craftaholics Anonymous

This bold, turquoise painting (spotted on Michael Mundy's website) isn't a DIY project (in the sense that there's no tutorial) but it's the perfect inspiration to cap off this collection of tutorials and ideas/suggestions.  Some teal paint and an afternoon, that's all you need.    

I hope you liked this round-up!  I combed the internet for modern and chic, but still playful and easy tutorials and ideas.  Sometimes when I search for "DIY art ideas" I get really overwhelmed with all of the ideas out there - some of them a little too cutesy and craftsy for me.  But if I had the wall space (and time), I'd try each and every one of these ideas.  Now, before I get too ahead of myself dreaming up things to do when the snow falls, it's time to finish some summer projects!  In a toque. 

September 4, 2014

Townhouse Bathroom Reno Do-Over

I've really enjoyed being able to share the lakehouse transformation with you since Day One - actually, since before Day One, when this place was still just a twinkle in our eyes.  Part of my excitement stems from missed opportunities in the townhouse.  I knew next to nothing about DIY/design blogs when we were elbows deep in stinky carpet and splattered paint.  It wasn't until after the dust had settled on our more major renovations that I actually had the time to read blogs and thought, "oh crap, these would have been useful to read before we started renovations," followed by, "oh hey, blogging looks like fuuuuuun!"  Although I've since shared a bevy of projects, I rarely talked about the townhouse bathroom renovation (except for this post on installing linoleum, our simple DIY medicine cabinet door, and adding some yellow accents - which I did).  With another bathroom reno on the horizon, I've been thinking a lot about what we liked about the townhouse bathroom reno, what we hated about it, and things we learned.  So here's a timely blast from the past: a long over-due peek into the renovation process, with a list of pros and cons for everything from our bathtub choice and tile surround to our marble counters - all brought to you by the magic of hindsight.

Here's what the townhouse main bathroom looked like when we moved out of the townhouse:  

It was quite horrifying when we first toured the property.  The beige-ish pink fixtures were old and perma-dirty, the toilet didn't work, the cabinetry reeked (I shudder to think of what).  We knew right away that we would renovate it before we even moved in.  It was kind of a shame that it was in such poor condition, because I could have rocked that pink.  Maybe.

Okay, maybe not.

Having never tackled a bathroom reno before, Handy Hubby and I hired out the replacement of the bathtub and tile surround.  We knew everything else would be manageable, but I pictured the two of us sending a bathtub crashing down the stairs.  We didn't know if we'd recognize water damage, if there was any.  We also didn't trust that we could tell if the subfloor was strong enough to hold the extra weight of our deep soaker tub.  I've since seen some truly heinous DIY tub installs around blogland, so we've always been happy with the decision to hire that part out.  Basically we bought the tub, tile and installation as a package deal from an Ottawa-based bathroom and kitchen company and they contracted out the actual work.  We liked the team who did the work, but we had issues with the sales team who made mistakes, blamed me, charged me, and then fell off the face of the earth when I complained.

We overhauled the rest of the bathroom ourselves and made sure we removed the vanity and toilet before the tub was due for demolition, just to make things a little easier.  We were lucky because family was visiting and helping with the renos (a "renocation," as my Dad calls it), so we were able to shower at their hotel each night, but we slept at the empty house with nothing but an air mattress and many bags of Doritos. 

I found some photos (from almost five years ago!!) of the tub installation process. 

The speed with which they worked definitely gave us totally unreasonable expectations about how fast our own tiling would go in the kitchen, when we replaced the counter and backsplash the following spring.

The Bathtub + Tile Surround:


Ultimately we were really happy with hiring out some of the work.  The tub install was done well - and very quickly (just a few days).  The salesperson upsold us on a deep, super comfy, soaker tub and it was such a fabulous purchase.  Water was included in condo fees in the townhouse and now that we're on a well and conserving water, I'll always think fondly about those water-wasting days and long, relaxing soaks.  The removable shower head was on my must-have list and I definitely want one of those again because I shower at night and wash my hair in the morning (otherwise it's toque-flat, no matter the season).  We also bathe Szuka in the tub and it's handy for that as well.

As an added bonus, the woman on the reno team was once married to a pretty famous Canadian actor!  Like a jerk, I Googled him immediately and, sure enough, saw photos of them on red carpets. 


I picked the least imaginative tile for the tub surround.  I don't know what I was thinking.  The tub was a "package deal" and this tile came with it.  I had the option to swap out something else and pay the difference but it was overwhelming.  We were in Ottawa, flipping through a million tile samples but running out of time before we had to drive back to Kingston and then on to Thunder Bay.  We were making snap decisions and I just opted for the white tile in the package.  I regretted not choosing a classic white subway tile (which I ultimately chose for the townhouse kitchen).  I asked them to install it like subway tile but the salesperson scoffed at my "ridiculous idea".  I still think it would have looked cute.  While we lived in the townhouse,  I had to remind myself daily: "it's new, it's clean, it's better" because I just hated the tile so much - that's why this is the first time you're actually seeing it!  This time around I'm considering my tiling options more thoroughly.  Maybe a little too thoroughly.

Aggravatingly, there was nowhere to put shampoo or soap - I wish we'd been upsold on some kind of cubby or tiled nook because this particular tub had no ledge!  We stuck on a suction soap dispenser, which I glared at every morning and night for four years.  A tiled cubby like this is now high on my list of must-haves.

After the tub was done, my poor Papa volunteered to scrape away the old linoleum flooring.  We had started before the crew showed up but it was super sticky so we waited until they left to resume.  Then Hubby installed the vinyl flooring, which we talked about in this old post.

Vinyl Flooring:


Vinyl flooring gets a really bad rap for looking and feeling cheap.  Certainly there are a lot of cheap and ugly options out there, but I loved our vinyl flooring.  It took me awhile to find it (it's from Home Depot) but literally everyone who visited complimented it - some people got down on their hands and knees for a feel because they didn't believe it was vinyl.  (Luckily, it was easy to keep clean!)  It was a snap to install and incredibly affordable, plus it wasn't slippery with wet feet.  After four years it looked brand new.


For resale, "vinyl flooring" isn't the sexist thing to add to an MLS write-up but no potential buyer ever complained once they saw how nice it looked.  But still, "ceramic tile" or "stone tile" has more cachet. Vinyl also precludes in-floor heating, but that wasn't something we considered anyway.

For the vanity we chose a now-discontinued model from Home Depot.  It was a nightmare ordering it and we had multiple delays as we struggled to get the correct pieces.  We eventually gave up and just kept what we received.  This vanity was a great choice because the middle section fit perfectly in the half bathroom and for the main bathroom it was a perfect size when flanked by two sets of drawers.  I liked that both townhouse bathrooms on the second story, even though they were different sizes, had the same vanity (and counter, sink, fixtures, toilet, and flooring) for a cohesive look.

We topped both vanities with a marble counter and under mount sink offered with the modular cabinetry, which was pretty inexpensive.  The faucet was from Canadian Tire.  The vanity came with brushed hardware but for the tub install we'd picked chrome.  We chose chrome for the sink faucet but I'm not one for mixing metals, so this is another example of why I should have paid more attention to the finishes.

Vanity + Marble Counter


The modular aspect of the vanity was great and so was the value.  The ease of everything together (vanity, hardware, sink, and counter) was great for first-time renovators, like us.  The white finish was a classic look, as was the shake-style door - although I grew tired of it immediately.  I tried to pick traditional/modern updates to suit the house and not turn off any future homeowners.  I would have chosen more modern things for myself, but knew that potential buyers may not have the same taste.

The marble counter felt fancy at first, even though I disliked the profile of the counter.  It was a selling point for resale and helped brighten the small, window-less bathroom.  It was certainly the star of the bathroom and added a small touch of luxury to any otherwise budget-friendly home.  I also liked not having any tile around the vanity because I thought it was a really clean, modern look.  I'd consider something similar again.


The melamine cabinetry was, sadly, not the best quality and was starting to show wear after only a few years.  I'd never go with cheap melamine for a humid area again.  This vanity had the option of adding the toe-kick or leaving it off for a leggy look.  I liked that it looked kind of like a re-purposed dresser - until the first time I had to lie on my tummy and shimmy my arm and a rag under the vanity to clean.  Now I'd like a floating one because it combines my two loves: a more modern look, plus I can easily run a mop (or a Roomba) under there with minimal effort.

The marble was also nightmare to keep clean.  In the beginning I thought it was the best thing ever and decided every surface I ever own should be marble from that point on, but I quickly learned that marble was not my friend.  It stained easily - even from the water - and needed lots of care and cleaning.  There was a huge variety in the quality of marble cleaners, and I spent way too much time researching cleaning and then putting my research to good use.  It's a wonder I got any work done on my dissertation.  The counter discoloured when I even looked at it wrong.  I absolutely hate marble now; although I love the look I'd never choose it for any surface that sees a lot of use.  An end table? Sure. A kitchen counter? Nope, not for me.

Shower Rod + Curtain


I loved our Marimekko shower curtain, which wasn't cheap but looked brand new four years later - and cleaned up in the washing machine so easily.  I'm always relieved when paying a bit more for something actually means getting better quality.


I just never loved the look of the shower rod so low.  I really like the ceiling-height ones I've seen, with extra-long shower curtains, but I had no clue they existed at the time.  I really miss a shower curtain (cleaning the glass on our portal is no fun) and I'd like to go back to this option instead of the glass encased shower I thought I'd prefer.  Living with the portal helped me realize this, so I'm really happy we didn't decide to renovate right away.  This time around, though, let's get that curtain up high!

Towel Bar:


You might lose respect for me if you knew how long I searched for a double towel bar.  It's the best and when we replaced the towel bar in the lakehouse, I opted for a more modern version of the double.  It's perfect for drying two towels at once in a small space.  Because our lakehouse bathroom is a smidge larger I'd really love a towel warmer because it will feel so indulgent to be ensconced in a toasty towel.  

I definitely learned a lot and I hope that the next bathroom we overhaul will be perfect.  I'm going to be really honest and admit that I'm petrified of making mistakes again - of spending a whack of money and still not being happy.  In the townhouse we always knew we'd be moving soon-ish and I knew that we'd recoup the cost of the reno (we did), but we've hunkered down in the lakehouse for an indefinite amount of time.  Things need to be perfect.

At least now I know that:
  • It's smart to hire out if doing the job seems too daunting
  • Marble is not my friend
  • A ceiling height shower curtain and removable shower head are my must-haves
  • A vanity on legs makes cleaning a chore
  • Sometimes the salesperson is right (miss you, soaker tub)
  • Sometimes the salesperson is negligent (where does the soap go, huh?)
  • When in doubt, choose white subway tile

Most importantly:
  • Carelessly picking things = a room I don't love
  • Picking things I think other people will like = a room I don't love
  • A room with hardly any aqua = a room I don't love

Do you have any bathroom renovation hits or misses of your own? I'd love to hear your own experiences (please feel free to include a link in the comments if you have a blog post you'd like to share).
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