It’s harvest time in Nebraska and across the entire breadbasket of America.

It is my favorite time of the year because it features such wonderful things as cool weather that is not too cold to make outdoor activities miserable, the beautiful colors of the gold and red leaves, baseball’s World Series, football season, and my traditional home-based week off from work to get caught up on at least a few things.

However, it mostly is about the harvest. One of the early lessons of life when you grow up on a farm is that most, if not all, of a family’s income for the year depends on avoiding bad weather and other perils of a growing season, being able to harvest a good-yielding crop, and then selling it for more than the cost of inputs.

Harvest is both a celebration and a worry most years. Farmers work long hours around big, dangerous machinery as they hurry to get grain in the bins before the snow flies.

This year’s worries for many south-central Nebraska farm families are that thousands of acres of corn and soybeans were damaged or destroyed by wind and hail storms over the summer, many on-farm storage bins also were destroyed, and the low spot price for corn, at just above $3, won’t pay the bills.

Without risk management tools – crop and building insurance, and a marketing plan to contract grain for delivery during non-harvest months to get a better price – almost no one will make any money this year. Those things are in place on most farms just because no one can stay in business over the long haul without them.

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I also think of my farmer dad and brother whenever I pass a field where a combine is running through the cornstalks and there is the distinctive smell of corn in the air. Harvest was their crowning achievement every October, the farmer equivalent of an Oscar or an Emmy for a job well done.

In other “fields,” fall also is planting time.

Membership renewal forms will be sent out soon to National Federation of Press Women members as a reminder to pay dues for 2015. It also should be a reminder for all of us to recruit at least one new member.

Planting such seeds – getting new members started and growing along with us – is the only way NFPW or any organization can be sustainable.

Add some punch to your membership sales pitch by encouraging new members to enter our two-tiered online contest, attend an affiliate meeting or even take a trip of lifetime next September to attend the 2015 NFPW Conference in Alaska.

A paid membership would make a wonderful Christmas gift for someone special who is involved in a field of professional communications and would benefit from our contest, conference and/or website-accessible workshops and seminars, and the great networking.

It’s a gift I’ve been giving to myself at harvest time for the past 36 years.

It’s batter up in the second game of the ALS championship between the Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles. The Royals won the first game in the best-of-seven series Friday night in 10 innings, Kansas City’s fifth straight win, four of which have been in extra innings.

I just want my NFPW friends in Kansas and Missouri to know I’m doing my part in cheering on the Royals. It was 1985 the last time they made the playoffs, so there is a lot of pent-up cheering to do.

I was a big KC fan in the George Brett-Frank White, etc. era that included a World Series win.

But I kind of lost interest in baseball in recent years because so many players change teams so often that it’s hard to develop a relationship with a team, especially from long distance.

I was raised on the principle that you always do your part.

My dad served on the local school board for about 11 years. He was treasurer for many of those years at a time when that meant doing book work that now is done by a superintendent or business manager in bigger school districts.

My parents always did their parts at church and for other community events. My late farmer brother Glen couldn’t be a volunteer firefighter because our farm is 11 miles from town, but he was on the rural fire district board for a long time.

In farm country, everyone pitches in to help when someone needs it. In the spring when Glen first was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, area farmers finished planting his crops. At silage-cutting time in the early fall, farmers go from place to place with the silage cutter until all the silos are full of winter cattle feed.

I tend to gravitate toward people who can’t imagine not doing their part, whether it’s stepping up to take a leadership role in their affiliate, NFPW or other organization; volunteering to help with special projects at work or within their communities; or just being dependable by doing the tasks they said they’d do.

So, how am I doing my part when it comes to a baseball playoff?

One way is to feel good for fans like Gwen Larson of Emporia who got to go to Kansas City’s Sunday playoff game against the Angels.

However, my most important contribution is to stop watching the Royals playoff games when the other team starts a comeback or ties the game, and especially when a game goes into extra innings.

I sense that I’m a jinx when I care too much about the outcome of a game.

I’ve gone to bed early more than once during a televised Nebraska football game in hopes the Huskers can pull out a fourth-quarter win after playing terrible for three quarters, which they almost did against Michigan State a week ago.

I’ve seen only replays of all but one of Kansas City’s playoff wins, including the one last night. When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was check the Internet from my phone to see which team won.
It’s 2-0 Kansas City at the end of the first inning now. That’s great. If the Royals can keep their offense going, I might be able to watch the entire game – nine innings only, of course.

If the Baltimore bats get too hot or if the game is tied at the end of nine innings, I will do my part and change the channel.

I’ve had a couple of days to catch up with projects at home and get back into the tasks at work after a wonderful – as usual – Nebraska Press Women fall convention last Saturday in York.

York, which is about 50 miles west of Lincoln, is where I worked at the daily News-Times for nearly eight years. So, Saturday was a homecoming of sorts by being with my NPW friends and also because of the many familiar sights.

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Our Friday night NPW board meeting was at the Chances R, a wonderful downtown York restaurant well known throughout Nebraska. We dined on steak, prime rib and pan fried chicken, with the business meeting before and after the actual eating part.

The featured speaker Saturday was State Poet Twyla Hansen of Lincoln, whose work often reflects her farm girl past growing up in rural Nebraska. The only bad part of her Humanities Nebraska-sponsored creative writing workshop was that it needed to be twice as long.

She read some of her poems and then gave us a writing exercise: Tell a story while using words describing all five senses, plus color and movement. That wasn’t so easy for those of us who aren’t great spur-of-the-moment writers. However, several people read what sounded like pretty polished work after about 10 minutes.

Hansen told us creative writing, like all writing, is a process where one thing leads to another. Sometimes we are led to places we didn’t expect and we may be reluctant to go.

Her message was to keep ourselves wide open to such writing adventures and just “go there.”

After a wonderful lunch – good food and Press Women events just seem to go together – we headed south of York to the Wessels Living History farm, a wonderful place that preserves the history of the many Nebraska families who lived on the wide open prairie in the early 1900s.

The huge white house with a wrap-around porch is decorated inside as it might have looked in 1925, including appliances like a corncob-burning stove. Outside, there is a huge windmill used to pump water.

There also is a red barn, granary, woodworking shop and big white Lutheran church moved in from the country just last year.

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The places and things we saw weren’t far removed from the childhood experiences of NPW members who grew up on farms. The much smaller white frame country church of my youth closed on June 1, so it was nice to know a similar church will live on as an example of such places that gave country kids like me so many special memories.

Although the farm museum is just south of I-80, it still sits under a vast sky, so visitors get a taste of Nebraska’s wide open spaces. I hope that like me, they all leave with good memories and some ideas for a poem or story.

I have a love-hate relationship with fall. I love almost everything about the season, except that it flies by so fast.

Maybe that’s because the early part still seems like late summer and the final month has all the trappings of winter.

It certainly has been warm like summer this past week, with highs in the mid-80s. The only thing that seemed like fall was some fog Wednesday morning.

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The coming week starts with summer weather, but highs in the mid-60s roll in by Friday, according to the most recent forecast that includes good chances of rain mid-week.

The leaves are turning and the crops are going from green to tan, but they still have weeks to go to get dry enough for harvest.

There are Friday night football games – former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was in the small town of Gibbon just east of Kearney last night for the Gibbon-Wood River game for a TV series about rivalries.

Apples, pumpkins and squash dominated the produce at the farmers market this morning.

But I know that too soon, November will come with its gray, damp days.

I often lump the entire month of September into my definition of fall, instead of just the final week. September always flies by because fun flies by, and the first full week of September usually is the NFPW Conference and related tours.

So, September starts with a week off from work, followed by a week with too much to do to catch up. By then, it’s half over.

The good news for Nebraska Press Women is our fall conference is next Saturday in York. What a wonderful way to kick off what I hope is a great October.

Our main presenter will be Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, who will have a creative writing workshop. In the afternoon, we’ll spend time at a living history farm just south of York, which is new since I worked for the York News-Times from 1979-86.

I hope it will be a perfect fall day to enjoy being outside and with good friends.

I also hope it is the first of many perfect fall days bathed in amazing yellow light, topped by bright blue skies, and alive with all the last-minute activities of migrating birds, buzzing insects, and farmers harvesting corn and soybeans.

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I keep telling myself to pause and enjoy such days before they are gone for another year. Having a camera around my neck is a good reminder.

As a prelude to my morning walk around a wetland east of my house that is surrounded by expensive new homes, I walked north into an even newer construction zone. The property used to be an alfalfa field sprinkled with singing meadowlarks.

That loss, plus the many other aggravations of having construction all around me, made the sound of trucks delivering concrete at 7 this Saturday sleep-in morning seem like the last straw.

So I had a little talk with the contractor overseeing work at a foundation with a still-wet basement floor.

I questioned his neighborliness.

He explained that with winter coming, his crew must work on every nice day to get their homes built. And they have to accept concrete deliveries whenever they can be scheduled.

I understood that. He understood my frustration at having my routines and the land all around me disturbed.

I apologized for yelling – he said I was not the first person from my subdivision to do so – and said I was thoroughly frustrated with all the construction work the past two years and needed to complain to someone. He happened to be the boss on this particular morning.

That episode followed a frustrating work week linked mostly to one simple problem. Someone never called me back.

I had left my calendar mostly free and put off other projects to be flexible for a time that worked for this man. And he never even called me back.

It was a good reminder about the importance of responding to voice messages and emails, even if it is only to acknowledge that I received them, and that what we do or don’t do does affect others.

I had left the first voice mail message for the man’s employer on Sept. 12, asking him to serve as a middleman. I left phone numbers for my direct line at work and my cell phone, adding that it was OK to call me that night or over the weekend.

I left the same message late Monday afternoon because I had heard nothing.

Tuesday noon, I called the business’ office to ask if the middleman had been ill or was gone. No, the woman said, he was right there. He relayed through her that he had passed along my phone numbers to the man I wanted to interview.

That was fine, but why didn’t he call to tell me that?

Wednesday noon, I called the office again and got a different woman. I apologized for being so persistent. She promised to make sure the interviewee had received my message.

Now, it is Saturday afternoon and I still have not had a call back.

I did squeeze in another interview that had been on hold into Friday morning for a story in today’s Hub, but I would have done it on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday if I had known there would be no call back on the other project.

A counselor might say that when I yelled at the contractor this morning, I also piled on my frustration with the didn’t-call-me-back people.

The cure for such frustrations is to do something I enjoy, which usually involves taking photos.

On Monday, I enjoyed interviewing the new habitat manager at the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary. While I was out in the country south of Platte River, I noticed the masses of goldenrod carpeting the prairie meadows and road ditches.

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It is Nebraska’s state flower.

This afternoon, I took Mom for an outing to Apple Acres, an orchard several miles northwest of Kearney that also is having a bumper crop. The trees are loaded, and I can’t wait to try the tart Jonathans I brought home that are the size of baseballs.

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If that’s not enough to lift my spirits, especially if things don’t go well for the Huskers as they host Miami in football tonight at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, I still have a sure cure for the blues.

In my refrigerator is about three-fourths of the 1-pound block of dark chocolate I bought at the Education Fund silent auction two weeks ago at the NFPW Conference in Greenville, S.C.

I salute Media Women of South Carolina for hosting an outstanding 2014 NFPW Conference last week in Greenville.

Thanks also to our NFPW management team, officers and appointed directors, the South Carolina travel and tourism directors who accompanied us on the fabulous pre-tours and post tour, the speakers and workshop presenters, and everyone else who played a role in making last week a fun, entertaining, educational and memorable adventure.

All NFPW conferences are special. I have attended 25 now. My first was the 1987 50th anniversary conference in Williamsburg, Va.

If you never have attended one, I encourage you to start planning for 2015 in Anchorage, Alaska, and check out the ww.nfpw.org website for information about applying to the NFPW Education Fund for a first-timer grant that will cover your conference registration.

As an incentive, I’ll share a few things I learned in South Carolina. If you didn’t get to go this year, I hope to make you just a little jealous.

I learned about South Carolina’s history; ate wonderful Southern comfort food; saw a beautiful part of our country, with waterfalls, farms with blue Appalachian mountains in the background, gardens and forests; and felt the warm welcome of South Carolina hospitality everywhere I went.

I also learned that absolutely nothing enhances networking with my great NFPW friends from across the country than a morning spent flying through the trees on a zip line.

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At the conference itself, I was reminded to go after my dreams, even if it means leaving my comfort zone, from Francine Bryson, a national pie baking champion who was a finalist on CBS’ “The American Baking Competition.” She also taught us how to make better biscuits.

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I was inspired by the stories shared by two of our high school contest winners, who reminded us to listen to that small voice we often hear that can lead us to being in the right place at the right time. They also gave us a glimpse back to our own moments when we realized our calling as professional communicators.

I was amazed – again – at the tremendous generosity of our NFPW members in donating items to the Education Fund’s silent auction, and then bidding high and bidding often to ensure we can continue to award first-timer grants and support the high school contest and the next generation of journalists, broadcasters, authors, and multi-media and public relations specialists.

There was much more, of course, on all those fronts: fun, entertainment, great food, great speakers, tremendous workshops and inspiring moments.

It’s hard for me to believe our NFPW Communications Contest Banquet was starting about now last Saturday.

At the end, President Teri Ehresman of Idaho called Parliamentarian Debbie Miller of Arkansas to the podium to present the annual closing proclamation, which is a wonderful, cleverly written recap of conference week.

Then, Past President Meg Hunt, co-chair of the South Carolina conference, came forward, raised her glass, made a toast and wished us all safe journeys home.

Final toast, Meg Hunt, Teri Ehresman, Debbie Miller

It was a perfect end to an outstanding week.

Thanks again Media Women of South Carolina!!!!

I was at the Plum Creek Cemetery Saturday morning with two members of the Phelps County Historical Society. My goal was to take photos to illustrate stories I’m working on for this week’s Kearney Hub on a water project and its relationship to several Oregon Trail sites in the area.

About two miles east of the cemetery is a mass grave where 11 of 13 men killed in August 1864 during what’s known as the Plum Creek Massacre are buried. A war party of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians attacked a wagon train carrying freight, killing the men and kidnapping a young woman and boy.

That site isn’t impacted by the water project, but the berms of a shallow reservoir south of the Platte River will be on three sides of the Plum Creek Cemetery. It honors early settlers in the area and Oregon Trail travelers, and is within a few hundred feet of where a small military outpost, road ranch and store used to sit.

It’s well known that there are unmarked graves of trail travelers within and surrounding the cemetery. That’s one issue that will be studied during development of the two reservoirs that will temporarily hold water and release it when it’s needed to enhance river flows.

While the study may include bringing in ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint any remains, for now, the best proof comes from the two historical society members. Patti and Sandra say they have located 319 bodies using their witching skills.

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I took photos of them doing that on Saturday, plus some portrait shots to go along with a sidebar story about a new book they have written about the Plum Creek area’s Oregon Trail-era history.

Witching, in this case, involves using L-shaped wires – Sandra’s are from a common coat hanger – and walking slowly across an area. The women hold the short end of the “L” in their hands and close to their bodies, and start with longer pieces of the wires straight ahead and parallel.

When the are over a buried body, the wires move. Patti’s turned out to the left and right. Sandra’s cross in front of her.

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I asked what would happen if they used each other’s wires. So they tried it. Patti’s still turned out and Sandra’s still crossed.

I’m a skeptic by nature and by profession. So they insisted that I try witching using Patti’s wires.

I walked a step or two and the wire in my right hand moved left until it crossed the other wire. It happened again a few steps later.

I have no idea what was going on, but I know I wasn’t moving anything and the wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to make the wires cross.

My mom used to talk about her dad witching for water wells. That usually involves a Y-shaped branch from a willow or other tree. So, maybe I have an untapped talent for witching.

Still, I’m be more inclined to believe any body count revealed at Plum Creek Cemetery by ground-penetrating radar and other more science-accepted tools.

The witching experience reminded me that everyone has gifts – talents – that are important. Some are just stranger than others.

I’m always amazed at the different talents in the room when I’m at Nebraska and National Federation of Press Women conferences.

I don’t mind getting up in front of people to talk, but I have friends in both groups who would volunteer to do almost anything except that. The introvert in me is much less comfortable in one-on-one situations, but I’m backed up by a lot of extroverted “people persons.”

I can write and take photos, but you don’t want me doing any social media things beyond sending emails. I’m not a public relations specialist or book author, but I have a lot of friends who have those talents.

Now I’m wondering if some of them also might stumble across some untapped witching talents someday.

Throughout my two years as NFPW president, Mary Pat Finn-Hoag sent me cards and emails or called me. We talked about a lot of things, but she always ended every phone call and each written note with these words, “just breathe.”

Mary Pat has known me for all 35-plus years that I’ve been a Nebraska and NFPW member. So she knows that some of the things I do best are worry, stress the details and constantly make to-do lists.

There are two to-do lists on the table next to me that outline things I need to take to the 2014 NFPW Conference and things I need to do before I go.

Many other people in my state affiliate and on the national level were similarly supportive during my term as president … and well before and long after, too.

But it’s Mary Pat’s “just breathe” that I say to myself when I’m getting to wound up and worried.

Taking walks and going outside with my camera are two things that help me relax. I have a butterfly bush in my front landscaping, just below my kitchen window, which is a prime location to take photos just steps from my front door.

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A section of hike-bike trail will be going along the north side of my property sometime soon, which will require a fence and some new landscaping. I plan to include another butterfly bush or two.

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I had expected the trail work to be done already. One thing on my travel to-do list is to check with the Kearney city engineer about when he thinks the contractor might start tearing out a hedge on my property and a big section of my front yard for that project.

I have told him I don’t want any work done when I’m traveling, mostly because I want to be sure the part of my lawn sprinkler that will be involved will be properly plugged to prevent water from running everywhere.

That became a bigger worry overnight Aug. 8-9 when we had a terrible storm come through Kearney that dropped about 3.5 inches of rain in an hour or so. You may have seen on the Internet or network TV news the Good Samaritan Hospital security video of a river of water breaking through the floor-to-ceiling windows of its relatively new lower level cafeteria and kitchen.

Anyway, I’m getting excited about coming to Greenville, S.C., in a couple of weeks. I’ll have things checked off of my checklist and can enjoy some travel fun, the networking, learning opportunities, good food and wonderful hospitality for a week.

I’m also keeping President Teri Ehresman in my thoughts and prayers. No one understands the pre-conference preparations she’s making better than a past president. Also, I know she has a big week ahead with work responsibilities and her daughter’s wedding.

So Teri, two words come to mind: Just Breathe!

I’ve often said I would not have made a good pioneer, but thank God my ancestors were.

The good pioneers were brave and bold in heading west, while not knowing where the great overland trails that passed through Fort Kearny would take them. Their goal was to find a better life for themselves and their children in that great somewhere out there to the west.

They knew there would be hardships when traveling the Great Platte River Road and trails even farther west, but they could not have imagined just how hard it would be to face weather that always was too hot, too cold, too wet , too dry or too windy. They dealt with injuries, diseases, rivers too wild to cross and mountains too high to climb.

And there was the constant threat of conflicts with Native Americans who were desperate to hold onto their lands and their ways of life in the midst of a great migration of pioneers passing through and eventually settling on their lands.

In Nebraska, many of those conflicts were in 1864. So, when organizers of last week’s first Oregon-California Trails Association Convention in Kearney were selecting a theme, they chose that piece of history.

The conflicts were discussed by people with ancestors on both sides. The day tours and presentations also included topics about the Pony Express, military history tied to Fort Kearny, Native American and pioneer cultures, and road ranches along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails.

The convention’s concluding event Saturday night was a Nebraska supper at Fort Kearny State Historical Park featuring locally grown sweet corn, potatoes and apples baked into cake, plus smoked beef brisket and chicken.

The fort’s regular crew of re-enactors demonstrated military drills and fired a big canon. There also was a demonstration of a Pony Express mochila hand off by a grandfather and his 13-year-old grandson, who is just a few years younger than most of the original riders.

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A Colorado couple brought a team of milking Devon oxen, which were the kind of oxen used by many pioneer travelers. The same animals could pull a heavy wagon loaded with provisions and personal items, and provide milk. If one died, there was value in the meat.

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We still have pioneers today in people who see brave new worlds to explore in their travels or professions. Many NFPW members could wear that title, even if they’ve never been in a Conestoga wagon or spent time on the Oregon Trail.

They are the types who always hear the word “challenge” when someone tells them “no.”

Willa Cather’s “O Pioneers” is one of my favorite books. It is set a little later in pioneer history and describes hardships faced by the first and second generations of pioneers who settled the Nebraska prairie, including people like my grandparents.

When the storm clouds gathered in the western sky, as they did Saturday night at Fort Kearny, those settlers closed the barn doors, huddled in their sod or wooden houses, and prayed that their crops and livestock would be safe in the morning. Farmers and ranchers still do that today during stormy summers like we’re having this year.

The earliest travelers on the overland trails had nowhere to hide. When storm clouds came their way in any form or fashion, they lowered their heads and continued to go west.

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At the end of the Buffalo County Fair each year, I give myself permission to start anticipating the annual NFPW conference.

It has been later or earlier than usual the past two years, with the 2012 conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., a few weeks into September and the 2013 conference in Salt Lake City in late August. We’re back on schedule this year to be in Greenville, S.C., during Labor Day week.

I can hardly wait.

There are constant reminders now in the emails from President Teri Ehresman, our headquarters staff and conference planners as we prepare for the business meetings, COA and contest banquets, Education Fund silent auction, speakers and other learning experiences, and tours.

I had another reminder this week that came out of the blue, but with perfect timing. It was early Wednesday morning – the morning after the last events at the fair – and I was getting ready for work.

I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, turned on the radio and one of my favorite singers, James Taylor, immediately sang, “In my mind I’m going to Carolina.”

If that wasn’t permission to mix in some planning and anticipation time with all the things I still need to do at work in August, I don’t know what is.

We had an NFPW spring board meeting in Greenville a few years ago, which was my first visit to South Carolina.

So, I did a little research and found a woman there who gives van tours around the northwest part of the state. She showed me part of Appalachian country, plus some historical sites around Greenville.

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I loved it and I looked forward to coming back for a longer visit.

I have signed up for three of the day tours, Sept. 1, 2 and 3, prior to the actual start of the conference. The pre- and post-tours set up by our conference hosts everywhere we go are a great way to see parts of the country in just a few days. Best of all, there is more time to visit and have fun with NFPW members from other states.

Some of the sites on the South Carolina tours I’m taking are places I saw during my first visit to Greenville, but many will be wonderfully new.

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I’ve started to think about the things I’ll take with me to the 2014 conference and I will make my travel checklist soon. As inspiration, I looked at photos I took earlier in the Greenville area.

So, as James Taylor said, “Yes, I’m going to Carolina in my mind.”

Better yet, in four weeks, I’ll be going to Carolina for real!!!

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