Category Archives: Memoir

Confessions of an Author: Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

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Confessions of an Author: Feeling Like an Imposter

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The Louisville Slugger

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I did my last three years of high school in a district that was cramped for space. Because there was only an elementary school and a high school, and the district had decided to create a “junior high” category but didn’t have the building done yet, the high school building was used for both groups of students. The high school students started at 6:00 a.m. and were done by 1:30 p.m., allowing us half an hour for lunch. Then, at 2:00, the junior high students came to school. They had to stay late in the evening, and the parents didn’t like it very much, but until the new Junior High building was completed, it would have to do. That’s how I was able to work two jobs in high school. We lived near a mall, so I could be at work by 2:00 every day and work any time on weekends.

In one of the stores, I worked in the credit department, calling customers to remind them their payments were due, stuffing envelopes, and eventually, becoming a supervisor and approving borderline credit purchases when the stores called in to our central location. My other job was in a prominent retail store’s catalogue department, which was located next to Sporting Goods.

That’s where I first saw the display of baseball bats. As soon as I saw them, I knew I had to have one. I let the Sporting Goods manager help me narrow down the selection. I don’t recall whether aluminum bats were available then, but I was convinced that a wooden one would suit my purposes better.

I got permission from my one of my teachers (and the principal) to take Spanish class, which was my last class period of the day, during my lunch period. (They knew I had two jobs so that I could save money to go to college, which my parents and the rest of my family violently opposed, and I think they were trying to help me out.) That released me from school half an hour early, since, technically, my lunch period was at the end of the day. I couldn’t leave the school grounds, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t spend my lunch period outside, at the edge of the parking lot, with my baseball bat. So that’s what I did.

I practiced every day with that bat, slamming it as hard as I could against the trunk of the stoutest oak tree on the school’s property. At first, my arms, shoulders, and neck hurt so bad from batting practice, I thought it would kill me. But when I remembered my plan, I got back to work.

I attracted a lot of attention from some of my fellow students, most of them guys, virtually all of them “dead-heads,” as we called the students who used illicit drugs back then, because they were the ones who skipped their classes but, for some strange reason, didn’t leave school grounds, though they all had access to cars. At first, they just watched me. Then Leo, whom I knew from my Political Science class, sent his girlfriend, Nessa, over to inquire what, exactly, I was attempting to do “by beating that tree to death with a baseball bat.” After she returned with the answer, Leo and several of the boys came over.

They all had girlfriends. They all knew I was a “brain,” a “teacher’s pet,” a “brown-nose,” a “suck-up,” and everything else that the College Prep students got called by everyone in the school because we made good grades. They all knew I didn’t wear make-up, dress in all-black clothes, dye my hair purple or blue with Kool-Aid, or skip classes to roam the hallways or smoke marijuana in the bathrooms. They knew I’d never had a boyfriend and that I didn’t drink, do drugs, or party. In short, I was the complete opposite of all of them.

None of that stopped them from teaching me to correctly use the bat, however.

I slept every night with the bat under the edge of my bed. I’d cleared a wide space in my room so the bat wouldn’t connect with anything except what I wanted to hit. I kept the curtains open, though I found it difficult to sleep with the streetlight shining in, because I needed to be able to see my target. I even practiced reaching under the bed, grabbing the bat, jumping out of bed, and swinging it in that virtually empty room.

When my stepfather Fred finally came for the last time, I heard him sneaking down the stairs to my bedroom, which was now on the lower level of the house, so I was already standing in the dark with the bat. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, in the midst of my most extreme discontent.

He came into my room, dropped his pants, felt around the empty bed, stood up, turned his back to me, and cursed under his breath.

That’s when Mr. Louisville Slugger and I struck.

His bellows brought my mother Maida, who didn’t come near me. Instead, she ran out of the bedroom to call the number Fred gave her. About an hour later, one of his employees came from work. The employee said nothing when he was taken to Fred, writhing, without control of his limbs, on the floor of his stepdaughter’s bedroom. The employee said nothing when he saw me, teeth clenched and eyes narrowed, standing in the corner with a raised baseball bat. He said nothing when he put his hands under Fred’s arms and dragged him, screaming through dishtowels stuffed into his mouth, out of my bedroom, across the laundry room, through the dark garage, down the driveway, and to the bed of the employee’s pick-up truck.

As instructed, the employee drove to work and dutifully deposited my stepfather on an icy bridge over a ravine in the parking lot. Taking Fred’s keys, the employee retrieved Fred’s walkie-talkie from his office. The employee returned to the building in which he himself worked. He dialed our home phone number. Maida answered. She screamed. She ran out of the house, jumped into Fred’s car, and sped off to his workplace, a government installation that required high security clearance.

Here’s how their story went:

The employee, who worked third-shift, had phoned Fred, who was the Manager of Physical Plants and who was always on call in case something went wrong with any of the facilities, to inform Fred that something had happened to one of the generators and that no one could get it started. Later, after Fred had arrived at work, he radioed said employee, informing him that Fred had fallen on the bridge which led from the parking lot to the main building, and hurt himself bad. The employee called Security, who, after finding Fred, immediately contacted the hospital. An ambulance raced Fred  — and the stalwart employee, who refused to leave my injured stepfather — from the ice-covered bridge at work to the emergency room. My mother, who was not legally permitted to even be in the parking lot, accompanied them.

One week later, the stalwart, taciturn third-shift employee, now promoted to day-shift supervisor, came to the house to inform my mother that the company had installed a hospital bed, along with all the equipment necessary to care for Fred, hired several shifts of nurses, and was transferring Fred to the “hospital room” at work. It seems the company was not about to lose its hundred-trillion-hour accident-free safety record simply because my stepfather had slipped on an icy bridge. By keeping Fred hospitalized on its premises, Fred would technically be at work every day. Thus, despite the eight months that Fred would be unable to actually work due to his numerous and complex injuries, the company would not have to re-set its neon Safety Hours sign at the entrance to zero.

Fred’s injuries were reported as having occurred after his falling on ice on the very same metal bridge that Fred himself had apparently reported as “extremely dangerous during inclement weather” several weeks previously, when Fred’s newly promoted stalwart employee had slipped but, fortunately, not been seriously injured. Paperwork detailing Fred’s report concerning this very dangerous bridge as well as the stalwart employee’s minor accident was discovered in Fred’s office files by his equally trustworthy and ambitious personal assistant three weeks after my stepfather’s unfortunate mishap.

My mother bitterly and angrily related all this to me during the period Fred was not allowed to come home because of his grievous injuries, during the many long months she was not permitted to visit him since she did not have the security clearance to see him in the hospital room constructed for him at work.

A hospital room which absolutely no one was supposed to discover, not even his family members, as it was not only illegal, but unethical as well.

Medical Summary of Fred’s Injuries:
Fractured hips, pelvis, upper and lower left leg, upper and lower left arm, left shoulder, left collarbone, both hands, wrists, thumbs, multiple fingers

Words cannot begin to express my severe disappointment.
I’d been aiming for my stepfather’s spine.

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  • This chapter, slightly modified, is an excerpt from my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door
© 2014, 2017, 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman.
All rights reserved. No content may be copied, excerpted,
or distributed without the express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.

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Filed under #CSA, Childhood Sexual Abuse, Memoir, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence

Using Photographs to Teach about The Holocaust

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Jewish women and children from Subcarpathian Rus, Ukraine, who have been selected for death at Auschwitz-Birkenau, going to gas chambers. Photographer unknown.

When I was in school, we never learned about the Holocaust. Not in grammar school, not in high school, not in college, not in grad school. Despite all the schools’ and teachers’ claims that we students were being prepared for “the real world,” they neglected to tell us some of the most important parts of world history. Granted, I spent most of my life attending Catholic schools where the nuns and priests never mentioned Jews except to say that “Jesus used to be one.” Those nuns and priests certainly never mentioned The Holocaust, the concentration camps, or even the Nazis.

My great-grandparents, Aloysius and Stella (née Lili) Hirsch were trying to protect the family from anti-Semitism by sending us to those Catholic schools. It didn’t help. Despite the fact that all of us inherited my grandparents’ strawberry-blonde hair and green eyes, I got called “Kike” and “Yid” and lots of other racist names from the time I was in first grade. When I asked my Grandpa why we couldn’t talk about being Jewish, it was my Grandma who interrupted us, telling me that I must always say, “I was baptized and I go to Catholic schools.” Since I was only 8 at the time, I did what she told me.

My great-grandmother Stella (née Lili) and great-grandfather Aloysius Hirsch on the day of my First Communion, 1962. Photo © Alexandria Szeman.

It wasn’t till I was an adult and able to research the family genealogy that I learned the source of my great-grandparents’ fear: during the War and the Holocaust, they’d lost all their family members in Germany. All those German members of the Hirsch and Wekesser families have their dates of death listed as “1940-1945?” with no places of burial. I have few photographs of my great-grandparents, and none of their family members who remained in Germany. That saddens me, not only because my great-grandparents feared telling us any stories about them, but because we have nothing to recall them to us.

Photographs are an important aid to history, even if we do not know all the names of the people in the pictures. Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, has several videos resources to help people learn about the Holocaust, and to teach it, using photographs. I have included them all in this post for your convenience, but these are all Yad Vashem videos.

Part One:
Teaching The Holocaust
Using Photographs

Child survivors at Auschwitz, 1945. (WikiMedia)

In the first video of the Yad Vashem, Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs, Franziska Reiniger, staff member for the International School for Holocaust Studies (ISHS) at Yad Vashem, discusses some of the important things to bear in mind before using Holocaust photographs with students.

  1. Who is the photographer?
  2. Why was the photograph taken?
  3. Was the photograph staged?
  4. Where was the photograph found?

Photographs, like all historical documents, have limitations and are open to interpretation. These things need to be taken into account before using photographs to teach others about the Holocaust.

Part Two:
Photographs as Propaganda

A group of Jews escorted from the Warsaw Ghetto by German soldiers, 19 April 1943. The photo was part of SS Gen. Stroop’s report to his Commanding Officer: introduced as evidence of War Crimes trials in Nuremberg in 1945.

In Photographs as Propaganda, the second video in the Yad Vashem series, Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs, ISHS staff member Franziska discusses the Nazi photographs and films that were made to promote their anti-Semitic ideology. In fact, she states, the Nazis used the camera as a weapon against their Jewish victims, starting in Poland in 1939 where the soldiers first encountered Jews who were not fully assimilated into their non-Jewish society.

Part Three:
Documentation of Atrocities

Three U.S. soldiers look at bodies in an oven in a crematorium in April of 1945. Photo by unidentified concentration camp in Germany, at time of liberation by U.S. Army.

Official Lodz Ghetto inmate and photographer Henryk Ross and his photos make up the third part of the Yad Vashem Series Teaching the Holocaust Using Photographs. In  Documentation of Atrocities, Ross demonstrates how he surreptitiously photographed the Ghetto Jews and then secretly developed them. Later, Ross served as a witness against Adolf Eichmann in his trial for Crimes Against Humanity.

All three of these films are part of Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Education Video Toolbox. Please visit their site for additional video resources.

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Photographic Introduction to the Holocaust

Rare Historical Holocaust Photos

Holocaust Timeline and Overview

Holocaust Days of Remembrance

Learn about The Holocaust on USHMM
(United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

For more information on the Holocaust database
or to fill out Pages of Testimony, visit
Yad Vashem‘s Central Database of Shoah Victims

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Sleep with Me Podcast: The Best Free App for Insomnia Relief

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We’ve all experienced insomnia at some time in our lives. Whether caused by excitement over good life events or by anxiety over bad ones, this sleep disorder can hit children, teens, adults, and the elderly. Our racing thoughts about an impending wedding (or divorce), vacation, cross-country move, new job (or the loss of one), or approaching exams can keep us awake long after we’ve gone to bed or keep us from falling back asleep after we wake in the night. Many life events can trigger short-term or “acute” insomnia, as can common illnesses or other disorders and diseases. Colds and sinus infections can cause insomnia; migraine, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and Parkinson’s are all known to cause short bouts or extended periods of sleeplessness. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can bring on this sleep disorder, though not necessarily for everyone: antihistamines, decongestants, anti-smoking aids, SSRIs for depression, and drugs to treat or control ADHD have all been known to trigger insomnia. Herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort or ginseng can, for some users, interrupt or prevent sleep.

In both men and women, trauma, whether physical or emotional, can have lifetime negative health effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and insomnia, while childhood trauma, including divorce or sexual abuse, contribute to insomnia in childhood and adulthood. Even the blue light in our computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions has been found to cause insomnia when the devices are used too close to bedtime (or in the middle of the night upon awakening) because, though any light can suppress the hormone melatonin, involved in circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping, blue light suppresses melatonin more powerfully.

Apparently, the brain has its own, mutually exclusive, wake and sleep cycles: when one cycle is “on,” the other is “off.” Researchers are trying to determine whether insomnia may be due to the brain itself not being able to “stop being awake.” Since both the quantity and quality of sleep affects our health, and since insomnia can lead to “decreased quality of life, increased rates of depression, and even increased risk of heart disease,” insomnia, especially when it becomes chronic, should not be dismissed. Chronic insomnia, medically defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep for at least three nights a week for three months or longer, is not just extremely unpleasant: it’s dangerous to our mental and physical well-being.

As a survivor of childhood trauma, including sexual abuse and rape, I’ve suffered from insomnia from the time I was three years old. The insomnia worsened a few years ago, however, when I was taken off a class of drugs I’d been taking for complex PTSD and panic disorder: benzodiazepines, which had been deemed potentially dangerous for anyone over age 50. While withdrawing from the medication, I was literally not sleeping at all, day or night. In the past, prescription sleeping pills had worsened my insomnia, and my usual herbal sleep aid, valerian, wasn’t helping, even when I doubled and then tripled the dose. Desperate and fearing for my mental and physical health, I turned to the Internet, where, to my absolute astonishment, I found relief for my insomnia, the strangest relief I ever could have imagined: Drew Ackerman’s Sleep with Me Podcast.

Drew Ackerman, a life-time insomniac, has dedicated himself to helping fellow insomniacs fall asleep by telling “ingeniously boring bedtime stories,” causing plenty of adults, kids, and pets to fall asleep. Of course, that means you may not ever hear an entire story, but because Drew is a writer, and a good one, he makes each episode, as disjointed and haywire as it might seem, feel complete. That way, if you really can’t fall asleep some night, as happens to me during a migraine, for instance, Drew is there “to keep you company in the deep, dark night,” as he often assures you in the episode introductions.

Drew Ackerman, creator of Sleep with Me Podcast. Photo © Natalie Jennings.

Each Sleep with Me Podcast episode begins with an introduction, where Drew explains that you don’t really have to listen to him and that it’s perfectly all right if you fall asleep while he’s talking, and then he usually wanders off onto some tangent or other topic, just so you begin to wonder what he’s talking about… if you’re still awake. After 7-15 minutes of an introduction that is often as entertaining as the story which follows, Drew, performing as “Scooter,” tells a bedtime story, which lasts about 45 minutes, making each podcast episode approximately an hour long. “Your goal is not to get your listeners to stay with you to the finish,” Drew told The New York Times: “[Your goal] is to lose them [to sleep] along the way.” It’s this combination of slow, lulling delivery, seemingly pointless introductions, and rambling stories that make Sleep with Me Podcast such a success with its listeners, who download episodes about 3 million times each month.

Drew Ackerman. Photo © Chris Duffey

Most of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes feature original stories written or improvised by Drew. To stay creatively motivated, Drew writes and tells various types of stories, some of which are developed into multi-episode series, like After the Glass Slipper, about Cinderella’s stepmother Agatha after Cinderella’s marriage to Prince Charming; Big Farm in the Sky PI, about a private investigator, Simon, working to solve mysteries in the afterlife; and SuperDull, about a group of superheroes sitting around waiting for their chance to save the earth whenever its greatest hour of need arrives.* (Links to the episodes mentioned here appear at the end of the article, for your reading ease.) Though some of the original series are comprised of multiple episodes, each episode of any series is independent: you don’t have to know any of the previous sections of a story to understand — and be put to sleep — by any current episode. And really, since the point of this wildly popular podcast is to make you fall asleep, it probably helps if you don’t know what happened to any of the characters in previous episodes.

Some episodes of “the podcast that puts you to sleep” are stand-alone stories, improvised stories based the social media trends, or re-caps of movies or television shows. During an episode of Sleep with Me Podcast, Drew has been known to open games and try to figure out how to play them without reading the instructions,* give you the entire chronicle of seltzer / sparkling water,* and tell you all about the history, the rides, and the food of the New York State Fair.*

In his Real Time Recipes,* which are among my favorites, Drew metaphorically walks you through grocery-shopping for all the items necessary to make the meal, and then talks you through preparing the meal. In his on-location* episodes, Drew talks while he’s actually walking around some public place (he has permission to record there). Initially, when I listened to these, the ambient sounds, though faint, prevented me from sleeping. Then I noticed I was waking up after having been asleep for a few hours despite any faint ambient noise. Now I love the on-location episodes, if only because Drew doesn’t perform these as Scooter: he simply tells us what’s going on as he roams around. Guided Meditations* are some of the most sleep-inducing episodes, if only because Drew slows his sleepy delivery even more than usual, and these are among the most popular episodes.

Photo © Drew Ackerman

Drew sometimes reveals some personal details about his life that were painful or especially exciting for him, and these episodes are some of the most endearing. You might think that listening to someone talk about his personal life and some of its painful events would keep you awake, but, because Drew’s delivery makes you fall asleep, I’ve often had to listen to these episodes several times to hear the personal information (and Drew sometimes hides these tidbits in stories that don’t seem to be autobiographical.)* And in case the changing seasons or the holidays give you insomnia, Drew has plenty of Halloween* and Christmas* episodes, too.

Some of the Drew’s bedtime stories are suitable-for-all-ages recaps of television dramas*. Though the shows themselves might deal with adult topics or include violent scenes, Drew soothes them all into all-age-appropriate bedtime tales. Of all the television series that have been recapped on Sleep with Me, I have only seen Game of Thrones, though I’ve happily been “bored” to sweet dreams by all of Drew’s recap-podcasts, including any episode of Game of Thrones / Game of Drones,* Breaking Bad, Star Trek: The Next Generation,* and Dr. Who.*

Drew has many stellar stand-alone episodes* that make me sleep better than any prescription or natural sleep aid ever did. I wish I could tell you what happened to the residents of the Lost Village when they discovered that the geography around their village had changed overnight,* or how to assemble a wall-bed,* but I’ve never managed to stay awake through either episode. And Sleep with Me Podcast retrospectives* cover the content of hundreds of previous episodes, if Drew can remember what they were about.

The DreamQuilt, from SWM listeners, which inspired Drew’s story, “The Bear with a Comet on His Belly.” Photo © Drew Ackerman

One of my absolute favorite stories is the three-part The Bear with the Comet on His Belly* which was inspired by Drew’s listeners thanking him for “curing” their chronic insomnia by making him a quilt featuring images from his original stories: the DreamQuilt, Drew calls it.

Even when a Sleep with Me story is fascinating, I can’t stay awake long enough to hear it all, and that’s one of Drew’s gifts: writing engaging stories and delivering them with a “droning” — in the best sense of the word — delivery by “Scooter” so you drift off into dreams. The first time I ever listened to a Sleep with Me Podcast episode, I didn’t even know there was a story at the end. While listening to the introduction, I found myself thinking, “How on earth am I supposed to fall asleep to something that is so interesting?” When I awoke, hours later, and realized that I had, in fact, fallen asleep, I played the episode again. I fell asleep even more quickly the second time. The next night, I put the episode on and also queued it to play a second time — and I slept longer before awaking in the night. I began queueing up 7-10 episodes at a time, so they’d play all night long. Since I live in an isolated area where the Wi-Fi connection is unreliable at best, the podcast shuts off each time my Internet connection goes down, waking me up. Now, I’ve downloaded many of my favorite episodes, rather than streaming them, so that I can queue them up to play all night long without interruption.

Sleep with Me Podcast currently has over 755 episodes, all free, partly because of advertising (only in the first minutes of each episode) but mostly because of the financial support of the show’s patrons, whom Drew calls “rebels with a cause” because we pay for a free show so that others won’t have to. I’ve been one of those “rebel” patrons for five years now, ever since I realized that, listening to SWM all night long, I was sleeping better than I ever had in my life. Patrons get ad-free versions of the shows.

You can listen to any of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on the SWM website or subscribe for your device: Apple Podcasts, GooglePodcasts, RadioPublic (listen on site or send to iOS or Android devices), and Spotify. You can also listen to all the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on its YouTube Channel. (Note: Because of the limitations of podcast apps, you may not be able to scroll back far enough to find some of the earlier episodes on your phone or tablet.

You can reach Drew — aka Scooter — on Twitter, where he is very responsive, and you can reach his equally responsive account managers, all volunteers, on Facebook.

Sweet dreams, my Lovelies.

Episodes mentioned in this article
(please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all 750+ episodes)

*Multi-episode series
• After the Glass Slipper: A Lesson in Opportunity to be like Cinderella s2e4
• Big Farm in the Sky PI: The Dog That Chased the Moon 553
• SuperDull: The Siren and the Professor 508

*Unboxing
• Fairytale Gloom Game Unboxing655
• Tokaido Unboxing 747

*Seltzer / Sparkling Water History
• Mars, Moranis, Curry Seltzer: Pitching Roman 689

*New York State Fair
• As Fair as a State Fair 692
• Fun Food and Fun Houses at the Great New York State Fair 695

*Real Time Recipes
• Under Pressure [Corned Beef] 652
• Salad 537
• Stuffing and Mashed Potatoes 474

*On-Location
• Kayak Cruze 588
• Lake Ontario: Can I Call You Teri 570
• Dusk featuring Slurp and DJ Echo Bass 540
• Faux Cousteau Visits Sea Life Orlando 522
Quasi-On-Location
(recorded shortly after visits, not during them)
• On Summer’s Horseback 594
• La Brea Tar Pits (534

*Guided Meditations
• Comforting Chair 576
• Sand’s Day at the Beach 564
• Bird Bath 395

*Autobiographical
• Things I Might Have Wrote as a Kid 591
• My Life with HBO 567
• Spruce Museum (introduction) 525
• Video Games and Me 501

*Christmas
• Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers 473
• The Christmas Tree that Took a Walk 468

*Halloween
• Costume Nostalgia 609
• Lulling Analysis of The Great Pumpkin 456

*Recaps

*Game of Thrones
• The Wolf and the Dragon” 584
• 7-Hour All Night Game of Thrones Season 7

*Star Trek: The Next Generation
• Elementary, Dear Data 557
• 10-Hour All Night All Night Star Trek: TNG Volumes 3 & 4

*Dr. Who
• Dickens and Dr. Who 625

*Stand-Alones
*Lost Village 442
*• Realtime Wall-Bed Assembly 433
*• Lulling Retrospective of the First 500 Shows 502

*The Bear with the Comet on His Belly
• Bear with a Comet on his Belly, Inspired by the Dreamquilt [Part 1] 414
• Sleeping Rude Gods [Part 2] 417
• The Local Borefriend [Finale] 418

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