Bake and Breathe

static1.squarespace.com.jpgI’m” sure many of you have heard bakers refer to time in the kitchen as their “meditation”. For many, baking or cooking a meal is a chance to slow down, take stock and put life back into perspective. It’s amazing how theraputic kneading a loaf of bread can be or bashing biscuits for a cheesecake base! But more seriously, time in the kitchen can create a breathing space from the hectic world and emotional pressures we all face.

So, when I saw Miranda Gore Browne’s tweet about the Mindful Kitchen Retreat I was intrigued and took a look at her new website. Partnering with meditation teacher Gillian Harris, Miranda is launching a new series of day long events designed to equip you with the skills to create a “breathing space” in your kitchen.  You can read how Gillian and Miranda came up with the idea here. While Miranda takes you through new baking skills, Gillian will teach you breathing techniques and meditation practices you can incorporate into daily living. There will also be opportunities to forage wild foods and explore the beautiful landscape of the South Downs National Park.

Starting with a day long workshop on 13th May, there are plans to host regular mindfulness events at Miranda’s Kitchen School and at other venues by arrangement. For many of us, life is a constant juggling act, especially if you are caring for kids or relatives. Finding time for ourselves is essential, but often “self care” comes way down the “to do” list. I know, because like many working parents I’ve been there, looking after everyone, but ignoring my own health. These new workshops combine indulgence (In the form of baking in Miranda’s beautiful kitchen school) with the tools you need to bring moments of stillness and mindfulness into the every day.  I’m sure everyone who takes part will leave with a new perspective on life’s tricky balancing act.

You can find full details and booking information on the website, or follow The Mindful Kitchen  on Twitter to keep up with latest news.

 

 

 

 

Review: Sugru

17157423_10155043812785912_8639739388407831482_oRegular readers will know that we’re big fans of Sugru in the Todhunter household, so when I was offered one of their new “Create and Craft” packs of course I said yes. The Create and Craft pack is one of a new series of kits available now. You can also pick up “Organise Small Spaces” , “Hacks for Your Home” and more (click here for all the latest special editions and kits). Each kit contains everything you need to get started with Sugru and “hack” your home, garage or craft table. They would make great gifts for the diy enthusiast or crafter (or those hard to buy for uncles, brother in laws etc).

six9_600_get_started_with_sugru

The Create and Craft pack contains a handy tin with four packs of Sugru and a couple of useful texturising tools. Best of all, there’s a booklet filled with creative ideas and suggestions for using this brilliant mouldable glue. Whether you need to add a comfort grip to a pair of scissors, make a stamp for a quick printed wrapping paper or fix almost anything, then you need a pack of Sugru in your life. It’s strong, flexible, grippy and reliable. We made a “running repair” to our favourite cafetiere three years ago and it’s still holding up to daily use. You can find dozens of craft and design ideas over on the Sugru website.  My current favourite is this personalised mug “how to”.

mugs_1

If you’ve not tried Sugru, look out for it in DIY stores, or sign up for the Sugru newsletter to get 10% off your first order. Do check out Sugru for yourself – and bookmark this handy zip fix tutorial – it’s been well road tested in this house and really works!

zip_guide_4_steps

My top tip for more Sugru inspiration is to follow the team on Instagram for loads of  diy / upcycling tips and dozens of crafty ideas to make.

Thanks again Sugru x

 

 

 

A New Website I Love

Once in a while I come across a new blog, when I do I try to let my friends know how great it is. Here’s one I’ve been talking about a lot this week.

Mrs Steel’s School of Stitchcraft and Scissory was set up by Emma Friedlander –  Collins, a crochet designer,  all round lovely person and champion of all things creative. Her designs regularly appear in print and she has written a couple of rather marvellous crochet books (you can visit Emma’s blog to discover more about her). This new website is a celebration of all things crafty, with tutorials, recipes, patterns and all kinds of great ways to share the crafty love.

Emma says:

The school motto is ‘Make More, Take Less’, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try and do.  Rather than buying ‘throw-away’ things from stores, we’re going to find creative and exciting ways to make and re-make things to create treasured, heirloom pieces.

Now of course, that resonates with me. As many of you know, sustainability and reducing waste is a big part of my philosophy.  With a nod to Hogwarts, you can place yourself in one of  five  “houses”. I’m struggling a bit as I think I’d be at home in any one of them. The houses are listed as:

Yarnistry – crochet, knitting, weaving, macrame and the fibre arts
Stitchery – sewing, embroidery, dressmaking, cross stitch
Stationery  Cupboard – paper cutting, painting, drawing, origami and anything paper based
Greenhouse – flower arranging, photography, growing and gardening
The Pantry – dyer, baker, candlestick maker? Anything with a bit of hardware!

Emma promises that over the coming weeks there will be lots to discover based around these themes. Of course, the best way to discover what Mrs Steel’s school is all about is to pop over and take a look for yourself.  Today’s post is a rather delicious looking chocolate brownie recipe, which I must admit had my mouth watering.

And, if you have a favourite blog or website (or would just like me to take a look at yours). Leave a comment and I’ll drop by.

Happy making x

But First, Coffee

eric-barbeau

Photo by Eric Barbeau for Unsplash

I’ve mentioned here before that Mr T and I are keen on a decent cup of coffee, so it might come as a surprise to know we only just discovered Pact Coffee. I’ve seen the ads and plenty of friends had posted discount codes on social media, but I had never been tempted to try it for myself. Recently I shared a great cup of coffee at a friend’s and was surprised when she told me they have been subscribers to Pact for a couple of years. Not long after I saw a link online and went off to do some research. Unlike our favourite brand, Pact isn’t Fairtrade, but they do work directly with coffee farmers and I was impressed with how much information they give about where the coffee is grown, how it’s harvested and processed. The choice of blends was impressive and the flexibility to choose how often our coffee is delivered was definitely appealing (there is even a post now button if you really need a coffee fix in a hurry).  I chose the Planalto blend, ground for my cafetiere. My order arrived just a couple days later. Freshly roasted, securely packed and ready to brew.

It’s a great tasting coffee, the customer service was friendly and my order arrived promptly. I’ve set up a repeat order, but Mr T and I are going to spend some time perusing the different blends, so if you’re already a Pact Coffee fan, do let us know your favourite. If you would like to try Pact Coffee for yourself, you can get a whopping £5 off your first order by using my referral link*.  Or, you can type this code in when you visit the Pact Coffee website (TRACEY-698BF3). And, just so you know, this isn’t a sponsored post, I’m writing this because I really liked the coffee and I’m just a bit sorry Mr T and I are so late to the Pact Coffee party!

*Offer for new customers only, discount is applied to your first purchase of any regular priced coffee

 

Bargain Book Finds

hooked-cover-imaage1Book bargains are great news for readers, especially if you’re on a tight budget like me. And as a writer, I am happy that my books might be picked up by readers who might not want, or be able to pay full price. I have discovered some brilliant designers by shopping in  bargain book shops and my local charity shop and I can never pass the door of a second hand bookshop without peeking inside for “just a minute”. Luckily, Mr T shares by book love, so he’s happy to accompany me.

Lately, I have snagged some absolute bargains while mooching in The Works. These include the wonderful Claire Montgomerie’s book Hooked, which I picked up for the bargain price of £4 and Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant for just a fiver!

Both books are excellent and I love them both. I noticed both are also on offer at other online bookshops (including Amazon and The Book Depository), so if you still have Christmas money to spend, these are both perfect choices – you won’t be disappointed. Even at full price they are both excellent value and will earn their keep on your crafting bookshelf as you dip into them time and again.

So, what makes them such great books?

let’s start with Hooked by Claire Montgomerie. Once Editor of Inside Crochet magazine, Claire has a long list of successful knitting and crochet books. Hooked, published in May 2016 is her latest and perhaps best crochet book (that’s just my opinion). It is filled with beautifull projects aimed at beginners, but even the more experienced hooker will find themselves wanting to make almost everything. The styling and photography are fresh and modern. I love the colour palette Claire has chosen – and can’t help noticing she’s sneaked in several projects with her own favourite colours – the Chevron Clutch, Granny Square Blanket and Tiny Coin Purse are stunning.

As you would expect, the first chapter takes you through the basics, holding your hook, reading a pattern and basic techniques. Subsequent chapters are designed to extend your skills and challenge you to try new techniques. The Striped Pencil Case for example has a useful tip about avoiding “jogs” in your stripes. There is a useful glossary at the back and a well designed index so you can look up projects and techniques easily.

I have recommended this book to lots of crocheters (new and more experienced) and I know a couple found a copy under their tree, so I’m looking forward to seeing their makes. So, congratulations Claire on producing another beautiful and useful book to add to my groaning bookshelf!

Next,  Knitting from the North by Hilary Grant. I just adore this book. Filled with colour work patterns inspired by Fair Isle and Icelandic knitting techniques this isn’t a book for beginners. It’s light on technical advice, although there are a few pages at the beginning which skim over double knitting, grafting and making a pom pom. You’ll also find advice on caring for your knits and how to prevent moth damage. If you haven’t tried stranded colour work before I’d recommend a good technique book or a patient friend to guide you through some simple techniques, and you might find yourself looking up provisional cast on tutorials and working from charts if these aren’t already aprt of your knitting skill set. But, few knitters will be picking this up expecting a “how to”, it’s a snapshot into Hilary Grant’s creative process, her design inspiration and a chance to knit some truly beautiful accessories.

The real beauty of this book lies in  the short text that accompanies each pattern and of course the photography. Each pattern is accompanied by a stunning collection of images which are  almost a love letter to the Scottish landscape. The first project, Beacon Pom Pom Hat is less than half a page, but the 3 pages of photographs which accompany it had me gasping at how such a simple knit can be so beautiful. It is also a perfect project for the less confident knitter to begin with.

This collection adapts some of Hilary’s most popular machine knits and  is filled with graphic patterns, flattering shapes and simple designs that hand knitters can recreate at home. Practical hats, snoods and sweaters suitable for all skill levels will inspire you  and no doubt (like me) you’ll find yourself googling trips to  Orkney to see for yourself the stunning backgrounds showcased in the photographs. The colours chosen for each design are beautiful, although it’s rare for me to knit anything in exactly the same colours as shown in the pattern, this is one book where I would be tempted to make everything just as it is.

In short, I love this book. I have spent hours just gazing at the photographs, planning projects and colour schemes. It’s a book I will buy for friends and certainly not one I shall be lending out. It will sit with me for years, and every now and again I shall knit myself something beautiful from it’s pages.

 

 

Review: How to Crochet

Every season brings a new selection of crafting “How to” books and crochet is no exception. This latest publication from GMC Books is written by Emma Varnam, a familiar designer on the British crochet scene and well respected for her clearly written and imaginative patterns (she has a cheeky humour which is captured brilliantly in her work, such as the crochet Campervan she designed for Inside Crochet (you can see more examples of her work on her lovely blog) and the rather cute Bunny Toy you can find inside “How to Crochet”.

This little book is available at the very reasonable price of £7.99 and would fit easily into a project bag, making it the ideal gift for those friends who say “I’d love to learn to crochet…” Emma’s approach of matching projects to the skills you need to learn means that by working through the book, nothing is too daunting. No prior knowledge is assumed and Emma guides you through from holding the hook to making your first garment (a rather pretty shawl).

Whenever I teach a class I always take along a selection of crochet books and my copy of “How to Crochet” arrived just in time for a session with ladies from the local WI. It was well “road tested” by a group of complete beginners who declared it “A lovely book” and many said the price and layout appealed.

For the intermediate or more advanced crocheter, this book has little to offer in terms of expanding your skills –  but for the absolute beginner this is a perfect – and very welcome publication.

Affordable and with achievable projects which will inspire you to take your crochet further, I’m absolutely sure this book will set many people on the road to a life of crochet.

Details:

Paperback: 108 page

Publisher: GMC (7 Jun 2014)

ISBN 978-1861089472

With a RRP of £7.99 you can find this book on Amazon by clicking here

 

Finished Projects and Sneaky Peeks

It was only when I had finished writing this piece that I realised every project features yarn from the DMC range! It made me realise how much it means to me when yarn companies take the time to support designers and that I am much more likely to choose a yarn for a project if I have an actual sample or even a shade card with “proper” yarn attached instead of photos. Take note yarn companies!

Hooked Zpagetti basketThe first project I can show you is this very handy storage basket made in Hooked Zpagetti yarn. Disappointingly, I offered it to a couple of magazines last year  who declared it “too simple for our readers”, so you’re unlikely to see it in print. I may write it up for the blog if anyone would like it, let me know. This version uses a multi coloured print version of this versatile recycled t-shirt yarn and was made in under two hours. It now sits by my bed, stuffed with all my favourite magazines. You can see from the photo, it holds a lot of reading matter!

baby jumper

Next up is a very sweet little baby sweater. I make these a lot  as baby gifts and one day I will get round to writing up and hopefully submitting the pattern for publication. This one is made in DMC’s “Woolly”, a 100% superwash merino which I am loving! It’s quite a “light” double knitting yarn, which makes it ideal for baby clothes, and because it’s washable, parents like it too. This combination of grey and orange might not be your typical combo for a new baby, but it looks great on little boys and this one is destined for a rather sweet newborn and I know his stylish Mum will love it.

cover image

I can’t resist a little plug for “Crochet” published by Dorling Kindersley. I haven’t really said much about my contribution to this fabulous book, but inside you’ll find over 80 designs for all skill levels put together by a team of very talented designers. 15 of the projects  are mine (yes, if you want to know what kept me so quiet last year, it was this!) One of the first patterns in the book is a simple washcloth which is made in DMC’s Natura 100% cotton. This yarn comes in an unbelieveable range of colours and is perfect for crochet. Natura washes really well and is very soft, which made it the perfect choice for this project. Don’t mock, washcloths and dishcloths are always appreciated as presents and I have at least a dozen in my kitchen.

washcloths

Lastly, here’s a sneaky peek at what’s on my hook right now. Full of optimism for a lazy summer, I have started work on a fine tablecloth (yes, crocheting with a  2.75mm hook will keep me out of mischief for a while). The yarn is another DMC favourite. Petra is a mercerised cotton and again comes in fabulous colours and three weights. The “yardage” is very generous, which makes it ideal for this project. The colour isn’t my usual choice, but I picked it out as it goes so well with pale pink and looks very fresh. It’s destined for a round “bistro” table and will probably have a weighted hem to stop it blowing away in the evening breeze (see how optimistic I am, cue chilled white wine and glorious sunsets please).

It’s always very frustrating not to be able to share commissions until after publication, so I hope this little snippet will prove I’m keeping busy!

table clothAs the weather gets warmer, it’s time to start thinking about lightweight and portable projects for outdoors and for travelling. I’ll be back soon with a round up of some of my summer favourites. Don’t forget, if you’re a “facebooker”, you can say hello on my facebook page and if you use Pinterest you might like to follow some of my boards to see what else I’ve been up to and what’s catching my eye in the world of knitting and crochet.

 

 

Review: Joana Vasconcelos in Manchester

Britannia 2014

Britannia 2014

I’ve been visiting Manchester Art Gallery since my student days. Mr T and I would spend many Sunday mornings “mooching” around the exhibitions, and when the teen was a “tiny tot”, few trips into town were complete without popping in to see what was new.

In recent years, the creative team behind the gallery exhibitions have brought a vibrancy to the gallery, fresh, modern and fun are words I use to describe the space to people who aren’t familiar with this “gem” (alongside the traditional pieces in the collection which are on permanent display).

I had  been looking forward to visiting the latest exhibition, Joana Vasconcelos’ Time Machine  and when I heard that a curator tour and talk by Emma Varnam had been organised as part of the “Thursday Late” series I knew this was the perfect opportunity to make a visit (I’ll be honest, the first of many, I already have plans to go back and to take the Teen when she comes home for Easter.

Big Booby 2

Big Booby 2

I’ve written quite a long piece here, although it hardly seems to do the exhibition justice. You really need to see it for yourself. These photos are only a small snapshot of what is on display – and I’ve mostly included the textile pieces – there’s much more to see throughout the gallery.

Bestie 2014

Bestie 2014

‘Joana Vasconcelos: Time Machine’

Described by the gallery as “seductive and subversive”, Joana Vasconcelos has brought her  large-scale sculptures to Manchester for an exclusive site specific exhibition which runs until 1st June. This major new show features over twenty of the Portuguese artist’s most significant sculptures, which fill the gallery’s major exhibition spaces, adorn the exterior of the gallery and can also be found within the gallery’s permanent collection in spaces across the whole gallery building. It’s a breathtaking sight to walk into the building and see Britannia in all her glory!

Britannia (2014) is made up of  brightly coloured organic forms that cascade down the  stairs from the main exhibition galleries and spill over the balconies into the atrium. Britannia is composed of many fabric elements including knitting and crochet, fine silks and cotton velvets (referred to as Manchester cloth across much of the world), recycled clothes and industrially produced textiles, embellished with Portuguese tassels, crystals and beads in a riotous patchwork of patterns, shapes and textures.hanging. Our enthusiastic curator described how this new piece, from the iconic ‘Valkyries’ series is inspired by a previous work, Contamination, which was originally conceived for the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in 2008 and reconfigured for the historic Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2011. Listening to the curator describe how the piece was commissioned and installed was mesmerising. I would never have thought the huge pieces were held together with zips! Pom poms, fringing, fur yarn all feature in a playful and quirky piece which really defies description no matter how hard I try.

Tutti Frutti 2011

Tutti Frutti 2011

Two of my favourite pieces, The sculptures Tutti Frutti (2011) and Fruit Cake (2011) from the series “Treats” are positioned outside the gallery  on either side of the building (Princess Street and Nicholas Street). These works, an oversized ice-cream cone and a giant cupcake, are made from plastic toys used by children to cast shapes in sand and they are truly captivating. It’s rare to see small children slow down as they approach the gallery building, but I watched mothers with pushchairs stand while their little ones simply gazed at the huge sculptural ice cram cornet.

Fruit Cake 2011

Fruit Cake 2011

Quoted in the press release I received about the event Joana Vasconcelos says: “It is a privilege to see my work go on show in Manchester Art Gallery’s remarkable spaces. I am particularly proud of the dialogue established between Manchester Art Gallery’s collection and my works, as well as the interaction between the city’s history and traditions and other realities of entirely different provenances – such as those specific to my homeland. Time Machine will certainly be one of the most challenging and noteworthy shows of my career.”

Bond Girl 2014

Bond Girl 2014

About Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos is a Portuguese artist, born in Paris in 1971, who lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal. Primarily a sculptor, she is renowned for her sense of scale, choice of materials and mastery of colour. A meticulous craftsmanship connects all her work which is ambitious, seductive, humorous and exuberant. She achieved major international recognition when her sculpture The Bride, a 5m high chandelier comprised of 25,000 tampons, was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2005. Since then her career has gone from strength to strength including recent solo exhibitions at the Château de Versailles in 2012 (where she was the first woman and the youngest artist ever to exhibit work), Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, Lisbon in 2013 and Trafaria Praia, the Portuguese Pavillion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

 

Photo Credits: Pictures For Press

Books by Friends

book coverThis week I’m sharing two books written by very good friends of mine. The first is the long awaited “Fun Hats” by Lynne Rowe, which the lovely team at Search Press sent me to review. when Lynne first described her ideas for the design and content of this book I knew she was on to a winner. The photography and styling really show off her designs to perfection. I’m pretty sure  I’ll be knitting lots of her creations for friends next year. The Owl and the Pirate Hat are particular favourites and the Birthday Cupcake is just too cute!  Of course, with Halloween coming up I can’t resist a little mention for my contribution to this book.

Witches Hat designed by Tracey Todhunter

This simple Witch Hat is just the thing for dressing up. It’s knitted from the top down, a bit unusual for a knitted hat, but it was great fun to make – and the spider – well he was just a bit of whimsy I couldn’t resist. If you head over to the Inside Crochet blog, Search Press are offering a discount price on Fun Hats with free postage.

Well done Lynne, clearly written, beautifully styled and packed with original designs – you have done a grand job – thanks for letting me be a small part of it.

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The second book is one that has proved an absolute lifesaver when faced with those difficult “How do you …” questions I’m often asked at knit classes. Complete Knitting Skills is just about the best technical knitting book for “everyday” knitters I’ve come across. What makes this book even better is the inclusion of QR codes, so the tech savvy can scan the codes with their smart phones and watch videos explaining techniques. Written by Debbie Tomkies, a name many of you will recognise from her columns in Knit Now, this book should be on every knitter’s shelf. I’ve already bought copies for several new knitters. It was great to see Debbie credit Betty Barnden in this book, her “300 Knitting Tips, Techniques and Trade Secrets” got me out of several knitterly scrapes when I took up knitting again. If you click on this link, you can read more about the book, and take a peek inside  on the Search Press website. The photo tutorials and attention to detail are almost as good as having Debbie sit next to you.

With Christmas coming around far too quickly, these two books would be welcomed by any knitter – even the best of us need a bit of technical help occasionally – and Lynne’s book is sure to bring a smile to any knitter with a sense of fun.

I’ll be back soon with news about new published patterns, some ideas for Christmas, but first I need to go write my birthday wishlist…..

Review: Woodland Knits

tiny owl knits (small image)

There are lots of beautiful knitwear books on my shelves, but the ones I turn to most frequently are the ones where the knits take centre stage. Locations and styling complement the designs and the knitter’s prose reflects their personality and their desire to “connect” with the reader. These are my “comfort knitting” books, the ones I have covered with post it notes of things I want to make for myself or my friends and they’re the ones I curl up with on wet Sunday afternoons, just to turn the pages and be inspired by the content.

Woodland Knits is set to become one of those books. I took it to knit group  and the collective “Oohs and aahs” and “No, no I’m still looking, you can have it in a minute” revealed that my admiration for this book was shared by my fellow knitters. Not surprisingly, it also passed the “teen test”, with young girls (and boys) who hadn’t come across Stephanie Dosen’s work before falling in love with Mr Fox and begging me to knit them a pair of catching butterflies mittens.

Stephanie Dosen has done a grand job, pulling together a collection of new, and familiar designs in a beautiful book . Already I’m inspired to pull out my needles, forget about all the commissions and patterns waiting to  be edited. I could, just for a day, put aside the “work knitting” and indulge in a fantasy of knitted Faerie Wings, a Bo Peep Scarf or a Wildflower Crown …

The commissioning editor and creative team at Quadrille Craft have achieved the difficult task of bringing the  world of “Tiny Owl Knits” to the printed page. Her quirky style, her creativity and her unique way of making you feel that she’s sitting right beside you as you knit haven’t been lost. And there lies its triumph.

Buy this book, put it on your Christmas list or pester your local library to stock it. Any which way you can, get hold of a copy and cherish it. This is a book to have and to hold – and to hope that just a tiny bit of Stephanie Dosen’s enchanted  world rubs off on you and makes your day better – it certainly made mine a little magical.

T x

Woodland Knits is published by Quadrille and is available from 26th September

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  • I’m Tracey Todhunter. I’m a freelance writer. specialising in green / ethical living – with a “sideline” in craft!

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  • Borage flowers. The leaves & stalks make a brilliant plant food, the flowers are edible - but I grow it because it's just so pretty - & the bees love it.
#girlgardener #mygardenrightnow #permaculture #herbs Away with the fairies! Lovely wander around Stonyford Cottage gardens today. Lots of inspiration. Finished a new shawl. Far too hot to wear it, but luckily my shed is a great backdrop! Yarn is King Cole Riot. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #neverenoughshawls #sheshed #madenotmanufactured #crochetlove Free food! Next best thing to growing your own food is eating other people's homegrown. I'm looking after my neighhour's garden & boy does he have a lot of radishes just now! I have written a blog post about more of my favourite (almost) free foods. Link in profile, now I'm off to pickle these radishes.
#frugalfood #foraging #ediblegarden #growyourownfood #girlgardener #allotmenteering #eattheseasons #permaculture  #zerowaste #slowliving #gardentotable #organicgardening #forktofork I'll admit it, I grow this mostly for it's amazing colour - but the stems are delicious sauted with chorizo or streaky bacon!
#mygardenrightnow #girlgardener #girlsthatgarden #permaculture #growyourown #ediblegarden #bakingandmaking #slowliving #organicgardening I do love a formal garden. I walk through this one every Friday on my way to knit group.  Castle Park is a hidden gem.
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