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Monthly Archives: April 2014


Dirt Don’t Hurt

By Cathi Gerhard

Author Margaret Atwood once said that we should smell like dirt at the end of a spring day. When I was a young child, my parents nicknamed me “Pig Pen” after the character from the Charlie Brown comics. Not only did I come home filthy from a long day playing outside on our farm, but they often saw me sitting in the middle of the lane throwing handfuls of dirt into the air – and laughing heartily as it rained down on me. I was just following a famous writer’s advice . . .

I have always loved the earth, the fields of my family farm, and big gardens. Nothing compares to the smell of freshly turned topsoil on a spring day. And yes, because I grew up with it, the smell of freshly-spread manure has a comforting scent to me. Dirt (and everything it contains to make life grow again each year) is precious to me. The birds are singing its praises this very day, as they wait for worms and bugs to make their way up to meet the sun again (and their circle of life fate in a robin’s belly).

Our heirloom vegetable seeds arrived last week, and it’s time to sow our own food. I will check my notebook from last season to make sure I rotate my planting beds properly. Nutrients in and out are the key to sustainable farming, and during my tenure as caretaker to this patch of earth, it is my responsibility to follow nature’s guidelines.

Sadly, much of the 20th century endured the pursuit of mankind’s greed and comfort, with palpable disregard to our planet’s ecosystem. We now understand much of the damage done to the earth, and many of us seek to change those wasteful ways.

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970 and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, which led to the passage of the Clean Air, Water and Endangered Species Acts. Each year, more than 1 million people worldwide gather on April 22 to participate in green activities, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

The Billion Acts of Green campaign invites individuals and businesses to register the actions they are taking to help the environment. The next time you are outside, enjoying the moment, acknowledge your appreciation. And then think about what you can do to help, to get your hands dirty for the sake of the earth.


What the Gluten Is Going On?

By Janine Koutsky, MS

If you haven’t noticed, the popularity of a gluten-free lifestyle is starting to pop up everywhere. In the media, you may hear how celebrities are cutting out gluten for weight loss. Or perhaps you’ve heard of the Paleo diet. Ironically, next month (May) is Celiac Awareness Month, so this article lends itself to this hot topic.

Not so long ago, the only individuals to eat a gluten-free diet were those who were prescribed to do so because of a medical diagnosis of Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. So why now the increase of gluten-free menu items, specialty stores, and gluten-free diets? Is it possible that there is an increase in gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease within our population? Or is it just those celebrities have that much influence on what we eat?

Before I continue, let me give you a brief definition of gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. The big one here is wheat. Wheat is found in many carbohydrates, such as wheat bran, wheat starch, wheat germ, and cracked wheat. These are just a few examples. We also can’t forget all the flours that contain wheat, such as white flour, enriched flour, durum flour, and semolina; just to name a few. So basically, most cereals, pastas, and breads contain some form of gluten. But, let’s not forget the hidden gluten found in several processed foods, such as salad dressing and frozen or boxed meals. Bottom line –a gluten-free diet is not easy to achieve, unless you do your homework.

Let’s take a step back and look at Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s response to consumption of gluten is to attack the gastrointestinal track. Consuming gluten for these folks not only causes gastrointestinal distress and the potential malabsorption of certain nutrients, but also intestinal damage. Gluten sensitivity is when a person experiences the same symptoms as someone with Celiac disease, without the intestinal damage. If you know of someone who suffers or you suffer from either of these, then you know that Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can cause substantial physical and emotional distress.

Grains that do not contain gluten are corn, quinoa, millet, rice, sorghum, amaranth, and teff. Not sure how to cook millet or quinoa? Of course there are several cookbooks dedicated to gluten-free living. Check out the gluten-free isle at your grocery store or a specialty store to find the alternatives to products like cereal, pastas, muffins, cookies, and breads. Do the research, because avoiding gluten cross-contamination can be tricky, which doesn’t end with the food manufacturers. Some individuals are so sensitive to gluten that merely cooking with the same utensils, pots, pans, or even a toaster can cause a reaction. Those folks looking to eliminate gluten without a medical diagnosis would not have the same concern for gluten-contamination.

Does gluten deserve the bad publicity? Let’s look at what we do know.

We know that eating a plethora of refined carbohydrates – pasta, bread, cereal, pastries, cookies, etc -is not the healthiest way to eat. We also know that most of those refined foods do contain gluten. What maybe you didn’t know is that foods like soy sauce, hot dogs, ketchup, beer, and deli meats also contain gluten. Shocker? Maybe. But this just means that when eliminating gluten you need to consider the less obvious foods.

We do know some of the reasons you may read or hear for people eliminating gluten, outside of a medical diagnosis, is because of these popular claims:

  1. Not digested properly
  2. Bloating
  3. Causes weight gain
  4. Causes joint pain
  5. Our ancestors didn’t eat grains or the modified grains we currently eat, so why should we?” (a’ la Wheat Belly)
  6. “Brain Fog”

If you are experiencing those listed from 1-4, you may want to speak to your doctor about testing for a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.

We also know that there is no scientific evidence that says gluten is bad and that we should eliminate it, outside of a true gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease. The common “junk” foods that are over processed should be eliminated anyways. Keep in mind that just because it says “gluten-free” on the box, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Gluten-free cookies can be high in sugar too!

If you are convinced that you might have a gluten sensitivity, even speaking to your doctor, focus on foods of quality that are naturally occurring gluten-free grains with higher amounts of fiber and loaded with great nutrients like buckwheat, nut flours, coconut flour, and quinoa. Look for the Certified Gluten-Free Trade Mark. Finally, speak to a Registered Dietitian for the best suggestions when eliminating gluten from the diet.


OVER-expecting Weight Loss Success: Why Your Effort Doesn’t Match What You See on the Scale

By Mark Rullo MS, CSCS, MES

In the previous article, “UNDER-standing Weight Loss Frustration” I discussed how it is easy to UNDER-report the calories you are consuming and give up in frustration. The purpose of that article was to reinforce the science that weight loss is simple, in that it revolves around calories in versus calories out. However, simple doesn’t mean easy, due to factors such as portion distortion, food label loop holes, accountability accuracy of nutritional labels, and Bites Licks and Taste’s that may cause you to miscalculate and UNDER-report the calories you are consuming.

This article is going to continue on that theme but now focus on the other side of the caloric equation: caloric expenditure (calories out).

We have been able to document with our clients here at My Fitness Kitchen that the UNDER-reporting of caloric input (eating) averages around 25-30% until they hone in on the factors leading to this error. Meaning if you report a 1500 calorie intake, in reality you could be eating 1875-1950 actual total calories. This equates to a daily calorie error of 350 to 450 from your daily deficit, or .7lb to .9lb per week you would be expecting to see on the scale but are not – VERY FRUSTRATING.

Now what about our caloric expenditure or “burn”?

First and foremost, let’s accept the fact that all methods used to measure caloric expenditure—such as the Exerspy™ armband (used here at the Kitchen), heart rate monitors, Fit Bits, Fuelbands, and displays on stationary cardio machines, to name a few—are only estimates. With that said, if you want to minimize frustration, choose a method that does not exaggerate your burn. It may be cool to see a large caloric burn from a device; but if it isn’t true, that is a cruel trip back to reality when you jump on the lie-detector, also known as the scale.

To document such a wide range of OVER-estimating caloric expenditure, I wore an Exerspy™ armband while doing a simple 30 minute steady-state cardio workout on an elliptical at a moderate level of intensity (level 14).

In the photo above, the exercise display on the machine reported 404 calories expended; whereas the Exerspy™ arm-band shows 192 calories burned in the 30 minutes of steady-state work. That is a 212 calorie difference in 30 minutes of work or 7.1 calories per minute difference! Imagine doing that 30 minute workout three days a week or every day. That is 636 or 1484 calories you believe you are able to eat. Again both are estimates; however it is better to err on the lower end so you don’t think you have more calories to eat than you actually do. It is no different than being told you will earn$404 dollars for doing something but in reality only get paid $192. Even worse is if you went out and purchased (ate) something that cost $404 but actually do not have the additional funds ($212) to cover the cost.

Another example happened when I was taking a Spinning class. A female next to me, no where near my size and weight (at least 60-70 lbs lighter), wore a heart rate monitor that reported she burned over 800 calories during the workout, whereas my armband showed only 380 calories burned. To understand this, the point is that mass (particularly muscle mass) plays a significant role on caloric expenditure; therefore even if I was dogging it and she was busting her butt, there’s no way there would be over a 400 calorie difference.

Another problem with calculating caloric burn of workouts is that it fails to account for the other 23 hours in the day (assuming the workout was for 60 minutes). This is where many info-commercials mislead people with hype of extreme caloric burns that are mostly impossible. Workouts with a 1000+ calorie burn are not happening unless we are talking about a large (300+ lbs.) individual who is extremely fit, exercising at a high intensity for 60 minutes.

By wearing an armband for 24 hours, I can see what the difference in one’s expenditure is while sleeping, sedentary, active (vertical/walking around), and exercising. For example, on average I burn about 4,000 calories per day. Typically I burn about 100 calories per hour sleeping, about 190 calories per hour being sedentary, and anywhere from 300 to 550 calories per hour during a workout depending on the intensity and type. Therefore to illustrate, if I would…

• …sleep 8 hours, that would be about 800 (8×100) calories

• …be sedentary for 15 hours that would be about 2850 (15×190) calories

• …and exercise an hour and average 425 calories burned for the workout

This example would total about 4,075 calories in 24 hours. The important take-away from this is that we burn calories 24 hours, not only when we exercise.

Yes, having knowledge of an individual workout burn is great and can be motivating, but it can be misleading, particularly for the devices that OVER-estimate the caloric expenditure. Equally troubling with individual workout caloric expenditure (even when the device doesn’t OVER-estimate) is that it fails to show the entire picture of weight loss. Regardless of what you burn in a workout, how will that help you determine what you can eat (in calories) if you do not know the other 23 hours or the complete total for the day?

Understanding that we burn calories all day can also explain and educate how we can influence our metabolism during rest, not just by exercising. Monitoring expenditure all day can show which workouts create the greatest EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption), which is a scientific term for “after burn” or elevated metabolism post workout.

As in the previous article “UNDER-standing Weight Loss Frustration” and in the few examples above on how people “OVER-expect weight Loss Success” is how we help individuals here at My Fitness Kitchen via technology and evidence-based science to eliminate the guesswork with weight loss and build programs around YOUR FOOD, on YOUR TERMS, for YOUR RESULTS.

For more information, please feel free to consult with any of the fitness professionals at My Fitness Kitchen®. Additionally, as an on-going thank you to Laurel Mountain Post and its readers, mention this article for a FREE, no obligation, personalized, metabolic nutritional formula and fitness program that will leverage the “Hierarchy of Fat Loss.” If you are serious about achieving a body transformation goal, then you need a program; as any goal without a plan is really only a wish!

As an added incentive for people new to My Fitness Kitchen®, by mentioning this Laurel Mountain Post article and after meeting with one of My Fitness Kitchen’s Fitness Professionals for a private consult as offered above, you will receive $50 “Kitchen Cash” to be used toward any program or service at My Fitness Kitchen®, as a courtesy of the Laurel Mountain Post.

Forever Young

By Cathi Gerhard

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything” – William Shakespeare

I have never felt so old and tired as I did this winter, the one that seemed to last forever. I spent weeks not wanting to get out of my warm bed each day – the cold, dark and dreary skies encouraging my semi-coma.

The biting cold and lack of regular activity made my joints stiff and achy, which fed my weary state and left me constantly tired. Each day, if I dressed at all (because pyjamas are warm and cozy), my go-to item was one of my many pairs of stretchy pants – or as our generation more fashionably styles them, yoga pants. Not only are they comfortable, but they also help one manage the 10-20 pounds of extra seasonal insulation we tend to acquire.

The long winter of such discontent also brought about my first patches of grey hair, too, framing my face with a dull, white haze. The emerging streaks go pretty well with my new reading glasses, which many magazine articles tend to call “one of the ten things that make you look older.” Really? So what. I AM older now, and I think it is far worse to hide it – or rather pretend to be younger like a “Real Housewife of Beverly Hills” with too much plastic surgery, make-up and junior-sized clothing. I went through a short spell of such fashion disillusionment in my 30s, but quickly came to my senses. Going against the grains of nature is simply destructive.

All living creatures on earth follow the rhythms of life; but somehow humans have lost their way. Because of technology we now live “despite” nature instead of along with it. We control our climate indoors, like a science fiction bubble, and treat every day as equal. Medical science has invented youth serums, treatments and surgeries to change practically every-thing natural about us – all designed to fight time, which is still out of our control.

But youth is not just a fleeting period in our past – it is a spirit. Last week brought some quick samples of warmer weather, and with each burst I felt the rejuvenating power of the Spring sunshine. No vitamin D supplement can even compare to that feeling of the real thing. Suddenly I had enough energy to take a walk, and endorphins flowed to mask my back pain better than any narcotic. I no longer craved the comforting taste of carbohydrates, but rather the juicy flavors of fruits and vegetables. It felt so good, I wanted to dance and sing!

Poets throughout history have written the lyrics to nature’s songs about new life, and its promise of re-birth. Just when we start to feel worn out, and mostly dead inside, life draws upon that forced period of dormancy to re-energize a new season. We are a part of that cycle, no matter how much we try to deviate from it. In winter we may not hibernate, but we could all use a long winter’s rest. Cold, rainy days are for soaking up what we need (stay inside: rest, nourishment, and contemplation); warm, sunny days are meant for energy consumption (come out and play: work, activity, and enjoyment).

Consider nature’s simple, visible rewards for a successful cycle: flowers and vegetables in our garden. I love how they look. I love how they make me feel –young. The ongoing search for some fountain of youth is nothing but a fool’s errand, invented by a species that has somehow “evolved” too far from its roots.

Humans have tried to sever all ties with Mother Nature’s dumb “rules and regulations,” behaving like an arrogant teenager who knows it all. We take what we want (SUVs) instead of what we need (4 wheels and a sustain-able power source). But if we wreck her car, there is no insurance to fix it. We need to grow up, age gracefully, and play well with others. Perhaps humans are trapped in this Peter Pan syndrome because we lack patience and faith in the promised spirit of youth, caught instead in a self-spun web of frustration and fear.

This Spring, consider stepping outside of the climate-controlled box by taking a leap of faith into the real world. You might be surprised by how good it feels, inside and out.

Do It Yourself Lawn Care?

By Michael Vernon

Grass. It is everywhere. Because most lawns are too small to be clearly seen via satellite in any kind of efficient manner we must rely on estimates to determine exactly how much of our surface area is covered by lawns. The latest estimates show that simple grass covers approximately 79,000 square miles of the earth. This is roughly the size of Nebraska. That’s a lot of mowing, fertilizing and watering. The question you have to ask yourself as a homeowner is whether or not you want to handle your little green oasis yourself or trust it to the hands of a professional.

Mowing can be a source of pleasure and pride for some homeowners and with increasing pressure from local governments to cut back on watering that leaves the third element of a successfully green yard – fertilizing. Your choice if you decide to chemically treat your yard is to hire a service to come out four or five times a year or to head to the local box store and purchase the fixin’s to do it yourself. The cost of doing it yourself is approximately two thirds of what it would cost if you hired a professional.

Before you determine that this is one area of lawn care that you can handle yourself, consider the positives of hiring a professional to treat your yard. If you are unhappy with how your lawn is coming along you can always contact that lawn professional and they can come out and make adjustments to the treatments you are receiving; usually at no additional expense. The chemicals a professional uses are also considerably stronger than what you can purchase at your local retailer. Some may say this is a bad thing but with today’s lawn chemicals being improved every year it is usually safe for your kids or pets to be on them after one day.

The choice comes down to cost and how much your time is worth. Please don’t hesitate to call me regarding this and any other issue you may have about your home and its upkeep. I can be reached at my office at your convenience.

Look out for more of my Information for Life.

Michael J. Vernon Broker/Owner Vernon Realty Services
305 West Main Street
Ligonier, Pa. 15658
(724) 238-0443 – Office
(724) 331-6858 – Cell Phone http://www.vernon-realty.com mike@vernon-realty.com

Honey Do

By Brian Mishler

Ah! Spring is finally in the air after a long dreary winter. With it will hopefully come the rains we all depend on for sustenance. With equal hope, we’ll avoid the flooding we see so often.

Early spring is the best time to get a lot done, before summer vacation season is upon us, and gives us a head start to prepare for summer activities as well as get a head start on – dare I say it – next winter.

As was mentioned last month, if you haven’t already, get your gutters and downspouts cleaned and checked as soon as possible; we don’t want that rain water to end up in the basement or under the house. Rain barrels are gaining popularity for watering gardens and other outdoor uses, and if you go that route, make sure the barrel has a way to direct overflow away from the house.

Now is the time to get the bushes and trees trimmed and away from the siding, and make sure the yard slopes away from the house. If you don’t want to tackle these projects, your local landscape contractor would love to hear from you. A few hundred dollars of (proper) exterior maintenance can save thousands on interior repairs, and reduce the potential for an insect invasion.

Call your local heating contractor to get the central air conditioning serviced, and go stock up on furnace filters; they actually need to be replaced more frequently during summer than winter.

If you’re like me, you’ve got plans for improvements this year: perhaps a new deck, sunroom, or pool? The most common issues I see during home inspections are self-inflicted. Do-it-yourselfers who don’t take the time to educate themselves on a project invariably paint themselves into the proverbial corner. Just because the big-box hardware store sells it, doesn’t mean it meets building standards. I’ve also seen components on a shelf, but not the proper fastener for that component. Before you pick up a hammer, pick up a book; you may discover it is more cost effective and safer to hire a competent contractor. Decks are the biggest culprit, but DIY mistakes pop up commonly in electrical, water/waste plumbing, roofs, kitchens and bathrooms. When in doubt, ask questions.

Regardless of what you intend to do, a plan is the most critical part. Often the most boring part of a project or homeownership, putting together a list or plan helps us stay on track, and get ‘er done!

Here is my spring check-up plan:


  • Inspect roof, clean gutters, ensure downspout drainage
  • Trim shrubs
  • Hire tree trimmer
  • Edge lawn at sidewalks, fence and driveway
  • Clean porch, siding and windows, checking for damage.
  • Clean retaining wall
  • Repair damaged concrete
  • Call landscape, patio, chimney company to get barbeque grill serviced
  • Have outlets tested (Upgrade to Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI) if necessary.)


  • Open windows, enjoy the air!!!
  • Room by room spring cleaning
  • Change furnace filter
  • Call heating contractor get A/C serviced.
  • Check outdoor hose faucets for leaks; get repaired if necessary.

This year, I’m thinking about a new deck. Here is my initial plan:

  • Layout – how much yard space will it take? Where will it meet the house, and how? Will it be multi-level? Where will the stairs be? Am I really going to put a hot tub on it? What about the barbeque?
  • Overall size
  • Materials
  • Footings – how deep? Concrete or helical piers?
  • Posts – Metal or wood?
  • Joists – Metal or wood?
  • Flooring – Composite or wood?
  • Rails – Vinyl or wood?
  • Lighting – overhead, built in, or both?
  • Will it have any roofing?

Once I answer these questions, and compose a list of expenses, I may find it more cost effective to hire a contractor; they have the tools and experience to build a better, safer, deck faster than I can. Don’t assume they will be more expensive than doing it yourself; you may be surprised, and it’s hard to predict the cost of mistakes. If you do choose to do it yourself, get a building permit from your local authority and make sure to get the necessary inspections done. Yes, this does generate some revenue for your municipality, but most importantly, it ensures the construction is correct – and your family and friends are safe.

Do You Have Anything Here to Eat?

By Rev. Cindy Parker

“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’”

I receive the United Church of Christ devotional every morning on my computer, and there was a Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver titled, “Do you have anything here to eat?” In it he mentions that:

Jesus asks a lot of questions in the gospels — 307, to be exact. Even when the risen Christ appears to the disciples, he is still asking questions. And if Jesus were to ask questions when he returns, don’t you think he’d ask the important ones? Maybe he’d ask what you’d been up to? Maybe he’d ask how you have shown love to your neighbor? But one question Jesus asks, according to Luke’s gospel is: “Do you have anything here to eat?”

What do you think about that? That doesn’t sound like the question that the Risen Lord would ask. I have three teenaged daughters, and it sounds more like the question one of my girls would ask as they arrived home from school. Those of us that are parents know that question well, because we’ve heard it over a million times! “MOM—do we have anything here to eat?”

So his disciples give Jesus a piece of broiled fish, and he eats it. Apparently, rising from the dead really works up an appetite. Who knew? Get this guy something to eat!

So what’s going on here? Well, for one, it’s a way for Luke to assure us that Jesus’ presence is real. He isn’t a ghost.

But, knowing Jesus, the follow-up question is this: “Does your neighbor have anything to eat?” After all, this is the same Jesus who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not my daily bread, but our daily bread. In this prayer that we pray almost every week at Christ and St. John’s churches, is the radical idea that your neighbor’s need is not very different from your own need. There is only our need.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

This weekend the youth Group is going to spend 30 hours fasting. After dinner on Friday night they will not eat again until Sunday morning. Why are they doing this you might ask? They are going without food so they know what it feels like to be hungry, not just tummy rumbling, I need a snack hungry, but tired down to the bones hungry. The type of hunger that kills a child every 10 seconds, more than 22,000 children die every day and globally more than 925 million people are hungry.

But hunger is not just a statistic, it is somebody’s daughter, sister, brother. There are people that don’t have enough to eat right here in our own community.

I spoke with one of the principles of a local elementary school, and she told me that there are programs during school to help with free breakfasts and lunches, but she worries about the kids over the summer. The Greater Latrobe ministerium is working together with volunteers to make sure these kids don’t go hungry this summer.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

My daughters have seen the need in this community when they volunteered with Fresh Express. This is a program that local churches sponsor alongside the Westmoreland County Foodbank and local food stores. An 18 wheeler pulls up in the parking lot of Prince of Peace Lutheran church and volunteers separate food into cate-gories. If you weren’t aware that we have hungry people in Latrobe, all you have to do is look at the huge line of people waiting with their boxes, laundry baskets and wagons.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

My daughter, Lauren, has been so touched by the people she has met through Fresh Express she wants to do more. She is in the process of earning her Gold Award through Girl Scouts. She intends to do all she can to help alleviate hunger in her community. One way she wants to help is through giving. She asked the congregations of Christ and St. John’s churches as well as her family and friends to donate food. She has helped distribute the senior food boxes and was dismayed by how little they contain.

In support of her, the Lay Life & Mission committee has stepped up to collect food from the congregation to help others. We, as a church community and the body of Christ, will collect special foods with a theme. Spaghetti for dinner and Breakfast for dinner are the two Lauren came up with because that’s what she likes to eat! We have the opportunity to help our brothers and sisters in need right here in our own community.

“Does your neighbor have anything to eat?”

It is said that after German bombers destroyed an English cathedral during the Second World War, dedicated volunteers worked to repair one of the church’s broken statues of Christ. Rather than restore the figure’s missing hands, the artisans left Christ handless-replacing the artwork’s “Come unto Me” inscription with “Christ has no hands but ours.”

We are called to be Christ’s presence in the world today.

St. Teresa of Avila , who was born in Spain, and entered a Carmelite convent when she was eighteen, wrote a prayer that so beautifully illustrates what Christ is calling us to do:

Christ has no body but yours, 
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.


Fifteen centuries ago, Saint Benedict wrote that Jesus comes to us disguised in every stranger knocking on the door asking for hospitality and food. And if that is true, the question on his lips surely is: “Do you have anything here to eat?” Amen.


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