Monday, July 07, 2008

Ain't No Party Like a LEGO Party

What a busy holiday weekend this was for us! We celebrated Ethan's sixth birthday with his dream party- a LEGO birthday party. I must say that I tried to put a lot of effort into this one and he was the happiest little boy I had ever seen!

What's a LEGO party without a LEGO cake though? I had bookmarked a recipe in my notebook entry for a LEGO cake, but we were entertaining a lot of people and the cake would not cover the amount of people that I needed it to. I also did not want to try and cut and make shapes out of a sheet cake. I opted to prepare two cake mixes in loaf pans to create this cake. One cake mix per loaf pan, cooked as directed, but cooked for at least an hour (mine took approximately one hour and ten minutes to cook these cakes at the same time). I then froze the cake overnight which helped keep the crumbs at bay and made it easier to decorate. I did use the marshmallows, but opted for blue and yellow for colors. This cake was extremely difficult to frost around and on top of the marshmallows, but I think the results turned out great, even though it was not as smooth as I had aimed for. The cost to make these two cakes was $5.50.

We had the party outside so I kept the decorating simple. I made pinwheels out of my scrapbook paper. To make these, just fold your paper accordion-style. Then fold your accordion in half and fan these out. You can then staple these to one another (along the back side) to make your pinwheel. Each of these pinwheels had three pieces of paper on them each. You just want to make sure that the paper is very sturdy so it will hold the shape. I gave them a hole with a hole punch and then tied them on the underside of the umbrella with green raffia. They looked really lovely under the patio umbrella.

For the indoor food table, I did a big basket of LEGOS and I framed a letter that I wrote to Ethan about how special he was to us. This is the first year I have done this, and we read this to him as a bedtime story before bed the night before. He loved hearing about how much we loved him and how proud we were of him. The grandparents loved reading it too and seeing what cool things happened this year. Total spent on decorations and party supplies- $0

I did serve food at the party and opted for some take-and-bake pizzas to help save me some time. Our Papa Murphy's is just down the road and I signed up for their e-club so that I could get a new batch of coupons. We printed these out and used these on four family size pizzas. Total cost for pizza for twenty $34 (with plenty of leftovers). We also served some fresh melon, spinach dip with carrot sticks, & tortilla chips with salsa, and soda. Overall, I spent about $50 on food (which includes the cost of the cake), but we also have a couple of dinners and plenty of snacks leftover to eat!

Entertainment consisted of dragging out every outdoor game and toy we could imagine to keep the kiddos busy. The kids also spent lots of time coloring on free LEGO coloring pages that I printed up from the LEGO website. They could take these pages home with them to color too so that filled in for those goody bags. Total cost spent on entertainment and goody bags- $0

All of that effort for this perfect moment right here. Ethan wished for a hundred kisses from his mom & dad. I think we can do that! How I wish he was always this innocent and that I could freeze this perfect moment forever. Perfect moment...oh, you know it... PRICELESS!

Total Amount Spent on LEGO Party for Twenty: $50

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A Homemade Kind of Birthday

In a future episode of my segment on WSBT, I am discussing ways to simplify birthday parties and the birthday party process. Like everything, it easy to get caught up in the hype of the celebration and the focus becomes less about the birthday girl/boy and more about the giant bouncy house and enormous goody bags.

This year we opted for a simple homemade celebration for Emily's 2nd birthday party. At this point, we are able to get away with just family attending. With just over twenty people in our immediate family, having family feels like a giant party without even having to invite any friends over.

Once again, I ran into a dilemma with holiday festivities complicating a birthday celebration. Emily's birthday is on the nineteenth so I opted to have her birthday on the first, so that her party would not get lost in the mix of holiday get togethers. Unfortunately, Ethan's Christmas concert fell on the same day at the same exact time, so I had to put together a meal that could be eaten following a Christmas concert.

I had hoped to do brunch, but trying to figure out how I could have everything immediately on the table for consumption was proving to be challenging and then with the time shift (meal following the concert instead of morning time) I thought a lunch would be more appropriate.

This is what our homemade birthday party looks like:

Invitations- I purchased really cute blank cards and envelopes for the invitations. They had sixty cards in the package and I used seven cards out of the box. I had a coupon at Michaels, so I was able to get the package of cards for about $6. I just used my number stamps to stamp the invites with a giant "2" for our party. I did purchase a party stamp that I used for the date/time and they had a sale on the stamps so I was able to get it for approximately $3. I can use this over and over so I did spend a bit for the initial investment, but I plan to use this often. The extra cards in my set will be stamped with the same "2" stamp and we will use these for thank-you notes. Total cost for invites was approximately $4.

Party Decorations- I purchased one bag of pink balloons, one package of white streamer paper, one package of party blowers, and a tiara for the birthday girl. We just used regular plates and cutlery so we saved on the paper products department. Total cost was approximately $3.

Slow Cooker Chicken BBQ- I made this the night before and it cooked all night long. In the morning, I shredded the chicken and then put it back in the slow cooker to cook. The longer this cooks, the more the BBQ flavor comes out. It ended up being perfect for the dinner. This cost approximately $4 to serve twelve people. (Side Note: I had BARELY enough of this for our party because, during the cooking process, my chicken breasts shrunk considerably and I had a lot less meat than I had anticipated. With chili on the menu though, we managed to make this amount work. I had used approximately 3 pounds of chicken. The buns were provided by my in-laws so I did not factor in this cost).

White Chili- I made this the day before and put it in a plastic container in our fridge, after it was done cooking. The chili was thrown back into the slow cooker to be cooking while the concert was going on. I served this with chili toppers like shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream. This cost approximately $6 to serve twelve people.

Tossed Salad With Balsamic Dressing & Homemade Croutons- I cut all of the lettuce up the night before and tossed it into a plastic bag for the next day. The croutons were made from leftover bread that I had from my Bunco night potluck that I had went to. The dressing was made the day before in a mason jar and I just gave it a shake and poured when we arrived. It made a beautiful salad and cost about $4 to serve twelve people.

Best Birthday Cupcakes- These were made and decorated the day before. I served them on my pretty cake platters. These cost approximately $1.50 for twenty-four cupcakes.

Total Cost for Party-

I find it very gratifying to see how much I saved by hosting and making my own homemade birthday party. The reason I shared this is because people sometimes say that it is cheaper to just buy everything from their superstore or that you would spend just as much money having someone else host the party, but that might not necessarily be true. There is certainly convenience in buying food that is already made, but there is definitely a cost involved.

Much like Meredith, from Like Merchant Ships, sharing about the cost of making a homemade pumpkin pie versus buying a pie, it is often easy to think that you would spend as much to have a birthday party somewhere else versus the cost of hosting it yourself. When I sat down to write this all out, I realized that there was a great savings by having my own party and I have to say that the food was a lot better than having it somewhere else.

It felt good to have such a fun and loving celebration for our daughter without spending astronomical amounts of money. We still had a beautiful day and I believe she felt just as special as she would have with a fancy celebration. After all, it is all about celebrating who they are and I think we were able to capture that with our homemade and inexpensive birthday party.

Here are a couple of additional recipes that we had used to make our birthday lunch:

Basic Vinaigrette Dressing (Courtesy of How to Cook Everything)

1/4 cup good vinegar, such as sherry, balsamic, red, or white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional, but I did use)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced shallots (optional, but I subbed with a teaspoon of minced garlic)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

I placed all of these ingredients into a Mason jar and shook the ingredients. Taste to adjust salt and add more oil or vinegar if needed. Add shallots and pepper. This is best made fresh, but it will keep refrigerated for a few days; bring back to room temperature before using.

To make a small amount of Basic Vinaigrette: Combine 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon mustard, 3-4 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon minced shallots. Prepare as directed above.

White Chili (Courtesy of

1 onion, chopped (I left this out because we don't like onions)
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 (4 ounce) cans canned green chile peppers, chopped (we used mild)

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

ground cayenne pepper to taste

ground white pepper to taste

3 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans (we used Navy beans)

5 cups chicken broth

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

In a large pot over medium heat, combine the onion, garlic and ground turkey and saute for 10 minutes, or until turkey is well browned. Add the chile peppers, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper to taste and white pepper to taste and saute for 5 more minutes. Add two cans of the beans and the chicken broth to the pot. Take the third can of beans and puree them in a blender or food processor. Add this to the pot along with the cheese. Stir well and simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Best Birthday Cupcakes in the World

My sister-in-law's boyfriend celebrated his birthday Friday night. To help out with the evening's festivities, I offered to make the cupcakes for his special day. I found a recipe in my favorite cupcake book, "Cupcakes from the Cake Doctor" and picked her "Best Birthday Cupcakes" recipe.

These cupcakes are as close to a bakery cupcake as I will probably ever make. They are light and sweet, but not too sweet. They have a great consistency and are perfectly moist and sturdy enough to hold up to a good dose of yummy frosting.

I will probably never search for the perfect birthday cupcake again after sampling these. I paired the cupcake with her Chocolate Syrup Frosting which was the perfect way to top this delicious cake.

No more searching, ladies! This is THE cupcake for every celebration. Enjoy!!

The Best Birthday Cupcakes

24 paper liners
1 package plain butter recipe golden cake mix (I subbed with white and loved it!)
1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate Syrup Frosting (recipe to follow)
Colored sprinkles or candy cake decorations for garnish

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake cups with liners. Set the pans aside. Place the cake mix, cream cheese, sugar, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed with an electric mixer for 30 seconds, until the ingredients are well blended then stop the machine and scrape down the sides. Increase the mixer to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should be smooth and thickened. Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two thirds of the way full (You should get between 22-24 cupcakes). Place the pans in the oven. Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 24-27 minutes. Remove pans from oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool fifteen minutes before frosting. Meanwhile prepare your frosting...

Chocolate Syrup Frosting

1 stick butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup chocolate syrup
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate syrup in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until just combined (about 30 seconds). Stop the machine and add the sugar, milk, and vanilla. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute more. Use to frost your cupcakes.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Teaching My Kid to Say Thank You

I decided to do some different types of thank you cards this year. I ran across a cute Martha Stewart stamp set with numbers on it, from the Michael's Craft Store. The set included two sets of ten numbers (0-9) in two different styles for $14.99 for all of the stamps total. I figured I could use these in the future for each of the kid's thank you notes and could also use them as invitations for our parties.

The blank note cards were on sale for $1.50 and included twenty cards. Each of the cards were stamped with the number "5" on it and we wrote out a note of thankfulness for the great birthday gifts he received.

It is important to me to teach my children to be thankful for what they receive. I believe it is the key to getting a lot of what you want in life. People take notice when you are grateful and will want to do more for you because they know how much you appreciate things. For me to just write a thank you note on his behalf, however, doesn't involve him in learning gratitude. I want him to participate in helping with these, even if he can't write yet.

Next to each of my notes, he drew a picture to help with the card. Of course, what he says the pictures are often become more funny than the picture itself. I ask him to explain what each picture is and write a subtitle. For this set of cards, here were some of his subtitled responses:

Picture of a Door: "You Can Always Come to Our House" (This sounded like he could write for Hallmark, don't you think?)

Picture ?: Ethan begins laughing, "We don't know what this is. It is a very strange thing."

Picture of a Mommy with a giant dress:
Ethan: "This is mommy when you have a baby inside you."
Me: (About to PASS OUT!) "But I don't have a baby inside me."
Ethan: "Yes, you do!"
Me: (Getting agitated) "No, I DON'T"
Ethan: "Yes, when you had EMILY inside of you. That is what I am talking about."

Isn't it fun what our children can come up with?

Sound Off: How do you teach your children gratitude?

Related Readings:

Why Being Thankful is So Important
Raising Creative Kids
Raising Financially Responsible Teens
I Heart You!
What is This Secret?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Celebrating With Cheap Class

Can cheap and classy go hand in hand? Maybe I am wrong, but I believe these two can be intertwined, as long as you can try to not look TOO cheap in front of your friends and family.

Ethan celebrated his 5th birthday and had a wonderful birthday party to remember. We picked the Fourth of July for celebrating because we figured the majority of the family could come since it is a holiday. We offered to host a cook out and everyone offered to bring a dish and their gifts for the birthday boy.

I decided to make this delicious birthday cake out of ingredients purchased at Aldi. The results were fantastic! This tasted close to a DQ ice cream cake, but without the make-your-teeth-hurt sweetness from that frosting. I would recommend this cake to any mom whose child doesn't like real cake (my sister was one of those children) or as a fun summer party treat. We decorated it with little cars on top from the movie, "Cars."

Price Breakdown:

1.5 packages of frozen burger patties- $4.99 each or $7.48 total
2 packages of beef hot dogs- $1.99 each or $3.98 total
4 packages of buns (hot dog and hamburger) $.65 each or $2.60 total
2 packages of ice cream sandwiches $1.69 each or $3.38 total
2 containers of whipped topping $.99 each or $1.98 total
1 package of cookies for crumbling $.99
2 bags of chips $.99 each or $1.98 total
Homemade Pasta Salad $3.50
Birthday Banner $3.99

Total Spent: $29.88

19 Guests= $1.57 per guest

Things that we omitted this time:

Friends- If we had a small family, I would feel really inclined to do friends at the party, but our family is big and just a family party for me can feel a bit overwhelming. We are doing little play dates with friends this week and maybe we can polish off the rest of the cake as a small celebration of his birth. My nephew & Ethan are just nine months apart though and are the best of buddies so he still felt like he had a friend there to celebrate. Of course, he was the center of attention and who could possibly love or appreciate you more than your family? No one!

Party Favors- I have never been a big fan of these, personally, and so I avoided this cash trap this time. It helped that we didn't have friends coming and the kids had the best time playing with all of his new things that I felt like the party favors would have been lost in the fun anyway.

Paper Products- With the exception of the infamous birthday banner, I didn't do paper products this time (other than paper napkins that I keep for such occasions). I did do two loads of dishes, but everyone pitched in with clean-up so it wasn't a big deal at all.

The "Only Me Mentality"- I was thinking that I wanted to ask people to bring a dish since it was a cookout, but then thought that might give the impression that I am cheaper than my usual cheap self. Instead, when I called to share that we were having a get together, everyone asked what they could bring to the party. Usually, I would say to just bring themselves, but everyone seemed insistent that they did want to do something to help. And you know what? I pushed my pride aside and let them. Everyone had such yummy dishes and they were happy to share. And that made me happy to not have more dishes to have to cook. It helped that it was the Fourth of July and we would have probably done a family cookout together anyway. Combining the two events helped me feel a little less cheap.

I know many people forgo the dinner/lunch portion of the party, but we live a bit of a distance for our family to have to travel just for cake. I love to sit and visit and share food with everyone so while this could have been more affordable, I still feel like we did really well for the money and we hope Ethan will have many happy memories of his special day!

Sound Off: Can cheap & classy go together? How do you save money when it comes time to celebrate?

Related Readings:

Kid's Party Etiquette for Parents
Ten Easy Steps to Great Kid's Party Pictures
Find an Activity
Birthday Party Ideas
McDonald's Birthday Parties
Simplifying Gift Giving

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happa What?

I was so excited to finally get a chance to head over to Michael's and check out the new Martha Stewart line that they are carrying. All of the trademark colors and quality crafts were there. The price was better than some of her other lines, but a bit steep compared to some of the other items that the store offers.

We are combining a Fourth of July family get together with my son's fifth birthday. It was an easy way to still get together for the holiday and also enjoy a birthday party with our family. I hunted through the birthday goodies at Michael's and found this beautiful birthday garland and some fun puppet crafts (no glue required!) for my nephew and son to do.

When I brought up our purchases to the cashier, I asked that the coupon be applied to a Martha Stewart rubber stamp set that I wanted to use for my thank you notes & invitations. The girl informed me that the store is not allowed to use the store coupons on the Martha Stewart line. She said that Martha had made a stipulation that she would carry the line on the condition that none of the items go on sale and none of the store coupons could be applied to the purchase. Then, muttered quietly under her breath, "She is SO greedy!" Disappointment set in, as I had many things from the line that I had planned to purchase utilizing the coupon. The quality on these items was there...or so I thought!

This morning, I was bustling around trying to get ready for our big event, I went to put the birthday garland together. The ribbon to the garland was already frayed and falling apart and the garland didn't even have the right letters in it.

Would a five year old notice that his big banner said, "HAPPA BIRTHDAY" or would he be content with how it looked? Considering the purchase was made to be used more than once, I marched back in there and showed the girl what had happened. She told me that I could replace it and as I was walking away, I heard her say, "This is from the MARTHA line! I guess even she makes mistakes!"

I doubt I will buy anything else from the line, if this is a taste of the quality and craftsmanship that will be going into these pieces.

Regardless, HAPPA BIRTHDAY, Ethan! You are loved more than words and we hope to make your day extra special!

And for the rest of you have a HAPPA FOURTH!

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Our Birthday Party Directory

Stumped for birthday party ideas this year? You are in luck because we have pulled a list of great places that you can have your next child’s birthday party at. I have created a directory of places that offer children’s birthday parties. Why, you might ask? Well, I had a hard time finding information about who offered parties for children. After researching for our son’s birthday party, we decided to have a McDonald’s birthday party and it has become among the top items searched for that have lead people to our site. I figured that I probably was not the only mom hunting for this information so I put together a list of (mostly) national places that you can host your next birthday party at.

This is not necessarily the most frugal birthday party choice. I have hosted some wonderful birthday parties at our home. For our son’s first birthday party, I made two lasagnas, a tray of baked ziti, and we had a birthday cake (for almost twenty guests- only inviting family). The total cost was around fifty dollars. Our second birthday party cost a mere forty bucks (for almost twenty people). I made a French toast soufflé, two egg casseroles, orange juice, and served Krispy Kreme donuts (that I piped blue and pink decorations onto). This was a very inexpensive “cake” because I had a coupon for buy one dozen, get one dozen free. They were a hit with the kids and a candle fit perfectly into the donut. Our third birthday party was also a home party, costing around fifty bucks for everything. We bought two subs from Walmart, a cake from Walmart, and I made a veggie tray, fruit salad, and a pasta salad. This party was hosted outdoors (cutting down on clean-up).

Party number four was a McDonald’s party and the most enjoyable of the bunch. Sixty bucks total and no clean-up for me. The savings of ten dollars seemed minor after having a second child and feeling drained of energy and creativity.

If you are just not a party type of family, that is fine too! Go out to dinner and treat yourself to some birthday freebies by visiting my blog entry and finding every freebie, known to man, that you can cash in on during your special day.

I hope that you will find some time to visit our birthday party directory. If you have a local or national place that you like to have your parties at, please give me a shout out by hitting my comments button. Please do not give me a shout out if you are trying to advertise your personal business. I will be happy to add any company (or work-at-home mom!!) to our directory for a PayPal payment of fifteen dollars to [email protected]. This is a lifetime spot and we will only have one representative listed from each company, so it is first come first serve. I would love to add your services- clowns, mimes, face painters, juggling acts (wait, don’t we all do this?), and other birthday planning services can be included in our list.

Thank you all for your support of our site and all that we do here!

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Freebie: Eat Free on Your Birthday

Do you know of a better way to celebrate your birthday than with free food? Here is a list of restaurants that offer birthday freebies. Feel free to add to the list (in the comments section) or let me know if one of these restaurants is no longer participating.

Oh, and an embarrassing serenade from the wait staff from your friends...yup, that is free too!

ALFY'S PIZZA - free mini pizza

ALL-AMERICAN CAFE - free dessert

APPLEBEES - free dessert

AUTO ZONE - free oil change

BAKERS SQUARE - free pie

BANDIDO'S - free entree

BASKIN ROBBINS - free ice cream treat

BENNIGANS - free dessert

BILL KNAPP'S - gives adults a % discount equal to age; plus a free bday cake (w/purchase of a meal) during the week of your B-day

BOB'S BIG BOY - free hot fudge ice cream

BUFFALO WILD WINGS (BW3) - free dozen hot wings

BURGER KING - free kids meal to all Kid's Club members (check within the store because there is no reference to the club on their website).

CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN - Register First - free kids meal during the month of their birthday

DENNY'S - free meal (for children who are ten and under)

EINSTEIN'S - free meal

FAMOUS DAVE'S BARBEQUE - free meal (w/advance signup)

FUNNY BONE COMEDY CLUB - free cake (party of 5 min.; 2 drink min.)

HARD ROCK CAFE - free dessert


HOLLYWOOD VIDEO - one free video rental

MACARONI GRILL - free dessert

MAX AND ERMA - free $5 dessert


OUTBACK Steakhouse - free dessert

RED LOBSTER - free slice of cake

STEAK-N-SHAKE - free dinner for "birthday club" kids (I didn't locate a form on the site so you will probably have to ask about this one in the store).

TGI FRIDAYS - free birthday dessert

WENDY'S - free kids meal to all Kid's Club members (check in stores for this one- no form is located on their website).

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

McDonald's Birthday Parties

We just celebrated our son’s fourth birthday. In the past, I have made the food and we have had the party at our house. It has been fun (for everyone else!), but we still ended up spending a lot of money on food, cake, party favors, etc… We only invited a few friends, but our family continues to grow and now our immediate family alone is about thirteen people. This year, I decided to let someone else host the party…But what is a frugal momma to do when most parties cost so much money?

Have no fear! The McDonald’s Birthday party is the way to go! Each McDonald’s offers a different price, but the prices are usually in the same neighborhood and all of them usually offer the same types of activities.

For $59.99, we could have ten children attend his birthday party. The cost included ten Happy Meals (everyone got their own choice in entrees & sides), party favors, games, cake (chocolate or white), and ice cream. The party times, at our McDonald’s, were two or four, which meant that no one was there eating and we had the whole place to ourselves.

We chose a nice McDonald’s, in our area, and they cleaned up and closed off the play area just for our party. It was, honestly, the best party we have ever had. The kids had a blast in the play area and played for three hours, while the parents sat around and visited. The host did all of the work for us, entertaining the children, taking orders, bringing food…and the ultimate part? All of the cleaning up!

In short, have a McDonald’s birthday party- it is the way to go!

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