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Talkin’ ‘Bout the Birds and The Bees at the Bus Stop

These are the last days of school. I’m trying to make the most of them with my youngest by having our morning one-on-one time while waiting for his bus. We did just that today, just  talking and waiting as the rain fell.

All I was trying to do was play a little math problem solving game with him, and lo and behold, it turned into the beginnings of THE talk.

I was not going to write about this funny conversation with my youngest child, my eight-year-old boy who is a bit worldly thanks to big brother and sister.

However, Blogher and Venus Embrace are putting bloggers up to the challenge of writing about tips of how to have a talk about sexuality with your kids for a $50 Visa Card giveaway, I would take them up on their opportunity.

So, there we were waiting  for the bus when my son asks how old his grandparents, my parents, were when they got married, and how old they were when I was born.

Perfect. Time for a little math while waiting for the bus.

Me: Grandpa was born in 1940 and he got married in 1965.

Son: So… he was 25.

Me: Right. Okay, Grandma was born in 1943-

Son: So Grandma was 22.

Me: That’s right. And I was born in 1968.

Son: Didn’t grandma and grandpa want to have kids right away?

Me: Ummm….maybe, but it takes some time to have  a baby.

Son: Why? I mean, why didn’t they, right after the wedding, drive up to a hospital and say “We want a baby, please?”

Me: It doesn’t work like that….

Now, I have to say, I had these conversations a little earlier with my oldest two, who watched my belly grow when I was pregnant with my middle and youngest children.

My youngest, however, never had the opportunity to be around a pregnant woman on a daily basis, so these questions had yet to come up.

The conversation continued:

Son: So just HOW does it work? Does a mommy one day look down at her belly and say, “C’mon, belly, give me all you’ve got!” and then the belly grows and then POP! A baby comes out?

Me: No, um. It takes longer than that. It takes nine months for a baby to be born. You see, a mom and a dad have to lay very close…..

Son: Oh, they have S-E-X??

Me: Yes. (Just what does he know? I wondered. But I didn’t prod.)

I continued.

Me: You see, a woman has an egg inside of her and a man has a seed, and if the seed goes into the egg, in nine months a baby is born.

Son: AN EGG? Like a Chicken?

Me: No, not like a chicken.

Son: Was I Born this way?

Me: Everyone was born this way. And every thing.

Son: Were trees born this way?

Me: No, but most mammals are born this same way. 

….. and so on.

After having three kids, my best advice about THE talk is:

  • Be calm. Be matter-of-fact. Don’t brush off any questions.
  • You don’t have to have THE talk all at once, but take it up gradually
  • Only give them just the right amount of information they need and don’t expand. I didn’t get into the complications of birth control, sex before marriage, having babies between same-sex couples, in-vitro-fertilization. WHY? An eight year old just needs the basic facts.
  • When they stop asking, it means they’ve had enough information for now.

One thing’s for sure: I will take out a few books for him on the topic at the library. One good source I found was a blog post by Story Pockets, a blog written by the Children’s Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pa.

Good luck!

I will not go quiet into that Kindle Light

I will not go quiet into that Kindle light.

I don’t ever see myself curling up with a Kindle, or a Nook, or any other e-book for that matter.

Kindle the eBook 2.0

I will not go quiet into that Kindle light.

I don’t ever see myself curling up with a Kindle, or a Nook, or any other e-book for that matter.

There has been so much news about books. The drop in the sale of physical books and the recent scanning of 5.2 billion books into digital form to study trends in culture and literature, as reported by the New York Times. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Barnes & Noble recently cited studies that suggest consumer spending on new physical books will fall to $19 billion in 2014 from $20.5 billion in 2009.

But books are more than carefully strung words. Books create communities and friendships. A book has physical attributes – the feel of its Tattered Cover, the texture of the dog-eared pages inside and the wonder about by whom the book has been previously held and read.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was making what she thought at the time a permanent move back to her home of Cape town South Africa. The trans-Atlantic container could only carry so much of her possessions, so she held a yard sale.

Among the precious things she agreed to part with was her vast collection of books. An avid reader, my friend always had a stack of books – from the library, finds at other yard sales or book sales – on her nightstand. From the pile of books that was spread on a blanket, I picked up “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks and offered her the asking price of a dollar. She refused to take money from me and instead, pressed the book into my hand, smiled, and just said “enjoy.”

So I took it home and read it. I’ll admit it wasn’t my favorite. But it was a book given to me by a friend, a friend I feared I would never see again short of a very long plane ride. So, the year she was away, I had her book on my shelf as a reminder of our friendship. I have given and received many previously enjoyed books, as a symbol of family and friendship. Before a family vacation, my doorbell rang and it was another friend, who, just because, wanted to give me a book to read on the beach. It was The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd.

I have also given my books away to friends: like Sarah’s Key and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan to my mom, and A Thousand Splendid Suns to my dad.

Can you do that with a Kindle?

Now I know that e-books have their advantages: less trees are cut down to make and read books, less clutter in one’s home, ease of traveling with multiple books, instant gratification of downloading the latest book, and so on. But the clutter of books is legacies of family and friendships that our society will lose with the emerging popularity of the e-book. No, I fear that this next generation coming up, if predictions hold true and purchases of physical books will fall away to one more screen that we must stare at for information. Something will be lost.

Because of paper books, a multi-generation legacy of books rests in my house.

My grandparents lived in a tiny apartment in Bensonhurst Brooklyn for over 60 years. In the foyer, they had their treasured library. Into each book that was added to their collection – books like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson- a seal was placed, saying that this book was part of the Library of Pauline and Milton Kasmere. Some of these books, with their spines embellished with fading gold lettering, are now propped on the bookshelves in my home. I hope that my kids will read these classics from the pages that their great-grandparents held, not an e-book.

In the future, what will we put on our bookshelves?

Now, call me a luddite, but I can go on about how much I like e-books, if only for sentimental reasons. I’d write more about my feelings and dislikes about e-books, but I am off to a book exchange at my son’s middle school – off to sort books that will be donated to a city Literacy project to share with inner city schools in Rochester.

Tell me, in the future, if physical books go away, will there be books to share and book exchanges to give away books?

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Fall Leaves: Rake Many, Turn a Few into a Turkey

By now, in Western New York, the fall foliage has long reached its peak of yellows and reds.

  

Now, when I look up at the massive sugar maples in my neighborhood (the ones that are covered with snow in my homepage picture),  sadly the branches are mostly bare. The only color they will be covered with over the next four months or so, is white.

Wherever you are living now, I bet you are thinking: how to get rid of all the leaves? Rake them? Mulch them? Sick the leaf blower on them?

But before you rake, blow, or mow every last leaf away and before the snows fall, admire the carpets of red and yellow that lie at your feet.

Then, save a few of nature’s castoffs for craft supplies that can last the whole winter through. Here’s how:

  • First, find a preschooler to help you with this task. They are low to the ground and can teach you how to appreciate the simple, beautiful perfection that is found in one leaf that is the color of fire.
  • Then, show that preschooler a telephone book. Theirs will probably the last generation that will actually come in contact with one of these volumes of bound, thin yellow paper volumes. None of them I bet ever had a parent use them as a makeshift booster seat or a stepstool. Show them that these yellow or white clunky books were once used by people to look up numbers for plumbers or dog groomers but now come in handy for pressing leaves.
  • Next take a few of your leafy treasures and pat them dry with a paper towel, and place them between the pages of the book.
  • While the leaves are drying and pressing, read to them a wonderful book like Leaf Man, by Lois Ehlert to get inspiration as to what to do with all those pressed leaves. 

Our preschool class used leaves to represent the feathers of turkeys in our thanksgiving cards, like this:

Fall leaves are abundant - and free - and make for great crafts like this turkey

Send me your comments and pictures about what you made with your leaves.

No, I didn’t Finish Reading Harry Potter. Now, I Must Hide in a Cave.

Am I the last on Earth to know the fate of Harry Potter?

As I write this, I realize that with the release of the first film from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows coming out on Nov. 19, I am in danger now of finding out the final fate of Harry Potter.  Until now, I have sheltered the ending from myself, the final fate of Harry and He Who Must Not Be Named.  Even if I had to enter my childen’s bedrooms as they listened to the book of the same title on CD and had  to sing “Lalalalalala” to myself while I put their clean, folded laundry into their drawers.

No, I am in danger still. Because I know this blog post will be read by millions who will be clicking away at their keyboards to comment and tell me the end.

Okay, it might be read by three-dozen people who might bother to read it and then still take more of their precious time to comment and tell me. But really, please don’t. Give a mom a break!

I remember when we first started reading and/or listening to the Harry Potter Series as a family on paper and audio book format.  My patient husband read our daughter Harry Potter and the Sourcerer’s Stone and then Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets , one chapter a night, when she was only in the first  and second grades.  I don’t know how we had all this time, because now I barely have time to read my third child a Dr. Seuss book.

By the time she was eight or nine, she was reading the third and fourth books on her own. She would shlep the hard-covered editions of The Prisoner of Azkaban  to whatever errand we were running. I think the novel weighed more than she did.  At the supermarket, I would shop and she would sit in the bottom of the cart, immersed in reading about Harry’s third year of wizarding school through the produce and cereal aisles.

I did my own reading and listening of the series. But, halfway through the Order of the Phoenix,  and halfway through my third pregnancy, I just stopped. My interest went elsewhere while the rest of my family, excluding the baby of the family, gobbled up the rest of the series like it was a box of Chocolate Frogs and washed it down with Butter Beer.

My kids can’t believe I haven’t finished yet. And I tell them I will finish the series before I leave this earth.

 There are a few things that I can do so I can finish the series and not have Hollywood ruin the ending for me:

  • I can hire a House Elf to prepare the meals, wash the clothes and scrub the bathrooms
  • I can purchase a wand from Olivander’s Wand Shop and wave it over the dinner table instead of shopping, chopping and cooking to get ready for meals.
  • I can quit all three of my jobs that I work at to help pay for their Hogwarts-like overnight summer camp to free up my time.  
  • I can stop reading the other amazing pieces of literature I have tackled in my post, unfinished Harry Potter era. Books that took me to places and times the Hogwarts Express does not reach. Books like The Little Stranger, The Help, The Man in the White Shark Skin Suit, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and other wonderful adult novels I have finished.  Not to mention The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

So Harry, Hermione, the Weasleys, and Headless Nick, I will not cave to popular culture. You’ll just have to wait for me to finish. And when I’m good and ready.

Sorry Yemen, your mail bombs didn’t stop the Global Day of Jewish Learning

Chef Tal Renan cooks up vegetarian food - just like he made for Oprah

The foiled Yemen plot to bomb synagogues in Chicago occurred so closely to two occasions on the Jewish  calendar – one historic and one contemporary –  you have to wonder if the timing was planned or if it was an eerie coincidence. Had some terrorist in Yemen checked a calendar to see if something important was coming up on the calendar within the global Jewish community?What if the terrorists from Yemen did intentionally plan the bombing of Jewish institutions one week before the Global Day of Jewish Learning, which was planned in 350 communities around the world? What if it had succeeded, as  terror plots did against Jewish institutions in MumbaiBuenos Aires, and Casablanca?In the spirit of this learning event that celebrated asking Big Questions, I’ll add mine: If the Yemen bombing had succeeded, would Jewish learning and teaching  on November 7th still had happened?Thankfully, this time, we will never know.  This past weekend,  synagogues and Jewish community centers all over the world were brimming with people listening, speaking, dancing, drumming, and of course eating, in a Jewish way. The Global Day of Jewish learning was held in honor of an esteemed Jerusalem Rabbi, who on this day will finish five decades of work interpreting the Talmud, a sacred book of Jewish commentary, making it accessible and more understandable to today’s Jews.  So no, in honor of this milestone that took a half-century to reach, we weren’t staying home on account of a package. We were ready to learn and tackle questions, in my community and others,  like

  • What is Jewish Mysticism?
  • Why do Jewish holidays happen late or early, but never on time?
  • How can God be both loving and mysterious?

And, in my household….

  • When will the newest version of Shalom Sesame Come out?

In my community, we came out to listen to keynote speaker Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author many books, including I’m God and You’re Not, wich was released this Fall We learned about Jewish vegetarian cooking from Chef Tal Ronen, who has cooked for Oprah Winfrey and the Dali Lama. Our kids learned Krav Maga, the Israeli martial arts, and explored Psalm 150 through drumming with percussionist Mike Mason.A separate track was offered for area Jewish educators, where we learned to fascinate our students with the art of storytelling, how to weave the narrative of Israel into any lesson, and how to excite and engage Jewish kids who, let’s be honest, may not be thrilled about coming to Hebrew School in the first place.The second occurrence on the Jewish calendar so close to these planned bombs from Yemen will be commemorated tomorrow.  On November 9, 1938, the Nazis unfurled Kristalnacht, their own terror campaign, on the Jews of Germany. On the Night of Broken Glass, 1,350 Jewish synagogues were burnt to the ground or destroyed; over 91 Jews were killed; 30,000 Jews were thrown into concentration camps; 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed; and thousands of Jewish homes were ransacked.  It was the beginning of the end of European Jewry in the 20th Century.It may seem like a date that is far in the past, but in light of the foiled attacks from Yemen, it brings it all too close to home.One thing that did keep the 600,000 Jews of Los Angeles away from their day of Jewish Learning was poor planning. Unfortunately, the LA Day of Jewish Learning was cancelled because of low enrollment. Why? A long-held community day of good deeds (mitzvot) was planned for the same day and the community just couldn’t compete with itself.Someone  wasn’t checking their calendars.

The Bats in My Belfry: Part I

Could there be a colony of bats in your attic?

Since this is the Season of the Witch and all things creepy, it’s time to share a scary, true story with a very educational ending.  This story is about bats … and the Batman.

I love our old house. We live in a 1920’s English Tudor with all the old-world English Tudor charm. This charm includes leaded glass windows that are beautiful yet leak in the cold Rochester winter drafts, and copper plumbing that offers enough water pressure to either take a shower OR run the washing machine, but not both at the same time.

It also features a walk-up, half-finished attic, with its own bedroom/bathroom suite and a claw foot tub in the bathroom. This is where all our guests spend the night.

I greatly respect and appreciate bats. I love that the average bat can consume 1,000 mosquitos per night, and how they use sonar to get around, and I love the children’s story Stellaluna.

I even worry about how white-nose syndrome is decimating bat populations in northeast. On October 28, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted new white-nose syndrome decontamination protocols and supporting documentation for cavers.

I want bats to have disease-free homes and be fruitful and multiply, just as long as their home is outside my home.

This is the part where things get scary.

One Saturday night, my husband and I were doing what we do on most Saturday nights: we were lying in bed watching Saturday Night Live. As you can see we do not get out much and that is why I blog for excitement.

We were nearly dozing off between the opening monologue and the musical guest when we thought we saw something fly by our bedroom door.

“Did you see that?”

“Wha….” my husband was nearly asleep…

“Um, did we close Charlie’s cage before we went to bed?” I asked, hopefully.

At the time, our daughter had a sweet green parakeet named Charlie. I desperately convinced myself that it was Charlie that just flew down the hall.  Charlie got out, yup.

Please let that winged thing be Charlie.

We went to our daughter’s bedroom. Charlie the parakeet was safe in his cage, door closed. But something was still flying in the hall. Something with a wingspan far larger than your average parakeet.

We could now safely say we had a bat in our house.

I ran screaming into the bathroom in our bedroom. My brave husband threw a towel over his head and went to pursue the winged rodent with our bed sheet.

Then, like that, it disappeared.

The only thing worse than having a bat in your house is knowing there is a bat in your house but not knowing where it is.

With towels over our heads, my husband and I crept down to the kitchen to get the telephone book to search for someone, anyone, to help us. We dialed the town animal control hotline only to learn their hours were from 10-4 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The outgoing message said to call 911 in an animal-related emergency.

Was this an emergency? SURE! There could be a rabid bat attacking us at any moment!

So my fingers shakily punched 911 and I alerted the local police that I had three sleeping children, including a 7-month-infant, and a bat was loose in my house.

In minutes, the police were at our door. Remember, this is Brighton, and not Staten Island, where years earlier I waited 45 minutes for police to arrive after calling about girls trying to break into my house to beat me up with a very different bat.

The friendly policeman came and humoured us by shining a flashlight all around the kids’ bedrooms and our living room, but found no bat.

“He probably found somewhere to hide. Bats are really shy and wherever he is, he will stay there till morning,” he reassured us.

This left me no comfort, and I scanned the Yellow Pages for more help after he left. By this time it was around 12:45 a.m.

Then, I found him. An ad for the Batman. From our bedroom, I called the number, figuring I would leave a message and someone would call me in the morning. Instead, to my surprise, I heard a low mysterious voice after a few rings.

“Hello?
“Um, are you — the Bat Man?”

“Yes, I am the Bat Man, how can I help you?”

I immediately apologized for calling at such a late hour, only to be answered with the Batman’s strange response.

“No need for apologies. This is usually the time when the calls come.”

Okaaayy. I told him the situation, and then he told me that this could wait until morning, that bats were very shy, want nothing to do with humans, and he would be by in the morning.

Oh, but one more thing, he said. There was a good possibility that if we found one bat, chances are there were not one – but a colony of bats in our attic.

A colony?

With that the Batman bid me goodnight.

Nighty night and sleep tight. Stay tuned for the conculsion of this bat tale.

Traversing The Swiss Family Robinson – and use of the “A” Word – with my six-year-old

Time magazine’s July 22 cover story was “The case Against Summer Vacation,” an article that posed the argument that our romanticized notion of summer vacation can be blamed on Tom Sawyer and is merely the remnant of our vanished agrarian society. Kids had off in the summer hundreds of years ago because Ma and Pa needed them to work the fields. Now, enriched summer vacations are a privilege only bestowed to the middle and upper class, while inner-city kids run the risk of summer learning loss if they spend too much inside with TV and video games.  

I know how lucky we are that we can afford – barely – to send our kids to summer camp. It’s not just kids in lower economic brackets who tend to veg out before the plasma god in the summer. At the beginning of the summer, I feel it is my parental duty to program every art project, play date and forced nature hike. What happens if I take the laissez-faire approach?  Let’s just say I wish I had a quarter for every time I scream “TURN THE TV OFF!”

I know that kids can backslide during months of summer slacking. So I have really tried to get my kids into summer reading. I’ve enlisted them in our local library’s summer reading programs. I don’t know if my kids are reading while away at summer camp, but I know that my 11-year-old son voraciously plowed through four books before he packed up and left for sleep-a-way camp. My teen daughter? She put up a bit of resistance to reading this summer.  I will attempt to get her bit by the literacy bug before the summer is through.  Her school does have required reading book lists, after all, it’s not mom that wants her to read, it’s SCHOOL!

While the big kids are at their heavily-programmed, up-at-dawn sleep-a-way camp, my youngest child gets to be an only child for one solid month.  That means mom and dad are all his. With all this quality one-on-one bed-time reading time on our hands, I figured we would tackle a classic. No Captain Underpants for us! With visions of climbing that immense artificial treehouse at Disney World and bowls made of coconut shells dancing in my head, Toby and I cashed in a 10-month gift card at Barnes & Noble and bought The Swiss Family Robinson.

We get through a chapter each night. The language, let’s just say, was far more complex back then. I checked the year Swiss Family Robinson was written. 1812.

“I believe there was a war that year,” my husband jokingly said.

Yes. This book is almost 200 years old. And some of the sentences were as heavy as the sugar canes that Fritz and Father carried on their shoulders on their Voyage of Discovery in Chapter Three.

I’ll give you examples of how I offer my son modern interpretation as I read along.

“I awoke my wife, and we consulted together as to the occupations we should engage in.”

I woke up my wife, and we talked and made a to-do list of all the jobs we needed to get done for the day.

“When we had gone about two leagues…”

After walking two miles

“we entered a wood situated a little further from the sea…took out some provisions and refreshed ourselves.”

We went into a forest located further from the sea, got out some snacks and refreshments.

At one point, my son asked me to read the book exactly as it was written. Three sentences later, he again asked for my interpretation and complained, “mom, I have no idea what you are talking about!”

But, he urged me to read on. We got to the chapter about rescuing the animals off of the shipwreck, and the challenge faced by the father and the oldest son.

I read,”What a difficulty in making it! and how could we induce”

umm.. make

“a cow”

a cow

“a sow”

a pig

“and an ass”

…….ummm, a donkey

“either to get upon a raft, or when there , to remain motionless and quiet?”

At that point, my young son stopped me.

“Wait, Wait! Moooooom, you changed that word, the word for donkey!! You were going to say one word, but you said “donkey.” Does this book have — the A word — in it??” He had deliciously naughty grin on his face, both dimples showing. Reading a 200-year-old book cannot be all that boring if you might catch your mom saying the “A” word, after all.

Tonight, Chapter Seven: Second Journey of Discovery Performed by the Mother of the Family. I can’t wait.

 

In pursuit of a fine-free summer of reading

In our debt-inflicted society, there are some who cringe at the thought that their credit card will be denied when it is swiped at the department store, or the supermarket, or the gas station. For me, it is my library card.

I am under the impression that I will personally offend the librarian if an outrageously overdue book shows up on my account, accompanied by a hefty fine.  What book has slipped under a bed or retreated to the deepest recess of my son’s closet? How much do I owe in overdue fines and will I need to take out a second mortgage to pay for it?

In any case, a few dollars in overdue library books are worth it if the book is enjoyed by a child – or adult – through the summer.

There is something magical when a child puts vowels and consonants together and realizes they can read. It just clicks.  Words on street signs and cereal boxes come to life. Best of all, they can pick up a book and read to themselves.  Libraries in Brighton, Pittsford, and Mendon are offering plenty of incentives this summer for children to curl up with a good book, whether it is under a tree or on a beach blanket.

On June 25, the Brighton Memorial Library kicked off its summer “Make a Splash into Reading” program that runs through August 13 and is sponsored by the Friends of the Brighton Memorial Library.  Beach balls hung from the ceiling as youngsters were greeted with leis and ice pops by children’s librarian Tonia Burton. Girls dressed for the occasion in Hawaiian printed dresses. They decorated paper-framed sunglasses and said they couldn’t wait to read titles such as Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale.   

Registered children received game boards with pictures of beaches separated by five blank spaces. For every day they read 20 minutes or more, they move one space on the board.  When they reach a beach, they return to the library to pick a prize out of a beach pail – and borrow more books.  After a child reaches the fourth beach, they receive an invitation to the summer reading party in August.  For every person that finishes the reading game, the Friends of the BML will donate three books to the library.

If you missed the kickoff party at your local library there is no need to worry. It is summer, after all. Register your youngster in person or online at www.brightonlibrary.org, www.townofpittsford.org-library, or www.mendonlibrary.org.

It is relatively easy to steer eager new readers to books that contain vibrant illustrations and lively prose. But what about those independent-minded tweens and teens?  Deena Lipomi, circulation and young adult services manager at the Brighton Memorial Library said she rarely offers verbal recommendations because “that might seem too pushy.” Instead, she lets the books speak for themselves.

“I look for books with colorful, modern covers and turn them face side out on the shelves.  For teenagers, you can’t strongly suggest a book, or they may not read it, and the book can’t look dated.”  To entice this age group, Lipomi also creates book displays by theme, such as the popular vampire series. But thankfully, the classics still endure. Lipomi said that the multiple copies of Catcher in the Rye and Jane Austen are “(checked) out all the time.” 

The joy of reading can also blossom in adulthood.  Jodi Warner-Farnsworth, a retired French teacher who lives in Canandaigua enjoys the personal impact she makes on the adults she helps to read through Literacy Volunteers of Ontario County.

“The biggest gain I have seen in the people I tutor is the self-confidence that spills over into all aspects of their life. Sometimes, all they needed was just someone to believe in them,” said Jodi.

Jodi started tutoring because she was interested in giving back to the community. She also will be training volunteers this fall. Jodi teaches multi-sensory strategies that help adults with learning disabilities learn to read with visual, auditory, and kinesthetic teaching methods. If you are interested in becoming a literacy volunteer, contact the organization at 585-396-1686 or go to www.literacyvoc.org.

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