Monday, January 19, 2015

12 in 2014 {a photo re-cap}

One of the things I've always loved to do at the beginning of each new year is take a look back on the previous year's photos. It always tells such a story.  2014 was a year of difficulties and loss, but also packed full of blessings and joy.  It was a turbulent year...a real emotional hum-dinger. (I know I'm aging myself by using the term "hum-dinger!"  Does anyone even say that anymore?!) It was so hard to pick just one photo to capture each month!   Here is my year in photos:


Our New Year's Eve tradition is to burn a bayberry candle A Bayberry Candle.  As they say, a bayberry candle "burned to the socket brings Luck to the household, Food to the larder and Gold to the pocket." It's a fun and simple thing to do.  I love how it symbolizes a fresh and shiny new year ahead, filled with good things.


Last winter we all discovered our love of "afternoon tea!"  February was the perfect month to cozy up with a steaming cup of tea, some yummy treats and a stack of read-alouds.  So that's exactly what we did.


March was one of the most difficult months of my life.  I miscarried my baby boy,very suddenly at 18 weeks.  A few weeks later, one of my best friends and her family moved away.  But, as I looked through my folder of March photos, I was struck by this picture.  It's a Pileated Woodpecker.  I'm a self-proclaimed "bird nerd" and have always wanted to see one of these birds in my yard, but never have.  One day, not long after my miscarriage, this beautiful bird visited our yard for the entire day.  Even in my saddness, I remember the thrill of watching this happy bird pecking away at our silver maple.  It serves as a reminder to me, that even right there, in the midst of trials, there are still moments of joy and blessing, if you keep your eyes open.


Aaaaaah, Easter.  Spring was such a balm to my hurting soul last Spring.  The return of all things green and living, and warm fresh breezes wafting through windows was exactly what I needed.  We had a beautiful Easter, complete with egg hunts, good times with family and baskets brimming full of goodies.


May was an exciting month for us, as Luke made his first Holy Communion!  I love this picture in particular, even though it's blurry, because of his beaming smile as he walked down the aisle of the church.  


Every summer our family vacations at the Outer Banks, NC.  It's always a wonderful time, and this year was no exception.  The weather was hot and sticky on this particular day, and Kevin and the boys got stuck at the top of the lighthouse for over an hour (!!), but it was still great fun.


July conjures memories of warm summer nights, BBQ and...fireworks!  Our family had a great time watching the fireworks display on the July 4th.  It was a night of sticky juice box spills and goldfish cracker feasts, on a damp too-small quilt.  We waited in parking lot traffic for almost an hour afterward.  But it was totally worth it, in order to see the kids faces light up brighter than the display across the sky.


Looking back on August, I remember spending tons of time outside in the backyard gardening, while the kids climbed trees, splashed around in the kiddie pool and dug up bugs.  I remember how thrilled the kids were to find this little guy hiding out in the garden shed!


This photo was taken at a Labor Day picnic at the beach.  The weather was perfect and we all had a blast visiting with family, squeezing out every last drop of summer sunshiny goodness this bright September day.


I remember how much the kids and I laughed hysterically when I accidentally photographed Adam with his jack-o-lantern in a way that made it look like he was IN his pumpkin!  After that, we decided we just had to snap pics of Luke and Megan "inside" their jacks, too!  (For some reason we couldn't seem to get Megan's quite right, though!)  Too funny!


Around the beginning of November we started seeing a group of turkeys (technically called a "rafter"of turkeys.  There's your nerd fact for the day!) pass through our backyard, nearly every day. I found it was so fitting that they started showing up around Thanksgiving!   Ever since, we've been enjoying our morning turkey-spotting ritual!  Whoever notices them first shouts "Turkeys!" and we all drop everything and run to the window to see how many there are.  On this particular day there were almost 30 turkeys out there!


Christmas morning excitement!  Need I say more?!

So, that's my year in photos.  It was so nice to take a look back and really see all of blessings--even during the difficult months.  And it struck me how much the kids have grown in a year--how does it happen so fast?!

Sharing my photo re-cap over at House Unseen.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Peace Like a River

With the arrival of the new year, many of us take stock of our lives--where we're at, where we're headed, what we wish to accomplish in the year to come.  While I've never been a huge "resolution" person, in more recent years I've become more intentional about the progress I wish to make in the coming year. By being around goal-oriented friends and reading books on the subject, goal-making has rubbed off on me a bit!  So, while I'm still reluctant to adopt the more formal (and intimidating!) "list" approach to resolutions, I do love the practice of choosing a one-word goal.

Having a one word goal helps give me focus during the day-to-day routines of life.  It's a gentle reminder, when I feel like I'm stumbling and overwhelmed, to just slow down and see the bigger picture. My one word becomes a part of me, changing me forever.  One of the really neat things that has happened ever since adopting this practice, is that I have begun to see the inter-connection between my words from year to year.  As I worked on trust a couple of years ago, I discovered how it was related to my previous goal of "courage."  The connection makes sense, really, since spiritual goals never really exist in isolation.  I've been marveling at how my words have fit together year by year, like puzzle pieces.

A beautiful necklace my (awesome!) sister made for me for Christmas.

This year, the word I've chosen is peace.  Sometime last Fall I started thinking about what my new word would be.  One of the words that initially came to mind was "stillness."  As I began to think and read about stillness, it led me to the word peace, which felt just perfect.  While I spent 2014 trying to live more fully in the present, I felt like I wasn't allowing enough time to just be at peace.  My days are often filled with near-constant interruptions, noise and busyness (homeschooling 4 kids can have that effect!).  But I need peace in order to steady myself.  And one of the amazing things about peace is that it can still exist in times of chaos, because it's not dependent upon the environment; it's something that dwells within us.

Once I decided on peace as my word for 2015 I wanted to start by seeing how the dictionary defines it. The definitions were a great place to begin:

Peace: Freedom from disturbance; quiet tranquility.  A state of security.  Freedom from oppressive thoughts or emotions.  A state of calmness. 

I loved thinking about peace as a type of "freedom."  How true that being held captive--by our surroundings, or thoughts and fears--is what destroys our peace. After pondering this definition I wanted to see what scripture had to say on the matter of peace:

"'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor my covenant of peace be removed' says the Lord." --Isaiah 54:10

"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." --Isaiah 55:12

"I have told you these things, so that in me, you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world." --John 16:33

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the holy spirit." --Rom. 15:13

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." --Phil. 4:6-7

But the one that spoke to me the loudest was this verse that helped bring me comfort through my miscarriages:

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."  --John 14:27

As I read all of these verses, so many amazing things kept popping out at me...most of all the connection between peace and hope, trust, thanksgiving and joy.  Before I had read the scripture verses on peace, I hadn't given a ton of thought to how closely related all of these things are.  But it started to dawn on me, that when we have give thanks, we can trust more deeply, which fills us with hope, spilling over into joy...all of these things working together toward peace.  So, in a sense, peace is the gateway to joy!  Amazing!

I'm looking forward to seeing where my one word will take me this year.  So far, I've been setting aside time each day to read and think about peace.  I've been trying my best to put aside the Martha-esque to-dos and worries, to just be still.  One of the things I've enjoyed playing around with lately is Zentangle.  Concentrating on the repetitive strokes and letting go of perfection while I do it is a great way to bring calm and a feeling of peacefulness.  My good friend introduced me to it about a month ago, and I've been loving it ever since! 

I've also resolved to write in my gratitude journal every. single. day.  While I've somewhat kept up kept up on jotting things down in my journal, I had fallen out of the practice of writing in it daily.  So, now I begin each morning jotting down my eucharisteo.  

I've also put into practice, during my morning prayer time, a few minutes to just be quiet and let God speak.  I tend to do a lot of "talking" to God when I pray, and sometimes I forget to just listen.   

I can't wait to see what the year ahead will bring!

Do you choose a one word goal for the year?  I'd love to hear yours.  Do you make a list of resolutions?  Feel free to share in the comments!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Update and O Antiphons {Free printable!}

Enjoying "Holiday on Main Street" despite the frigid temperature!

As Advent flies by (doesn't it always?!), I haven't had much time for blogging, but I wanted to squeeze in a quick post!  I've been trying to fit as much fun as we can into this short Advent season, while being careful to maintain balance and avoid over-commitment (always a challenge, that one little word--balance).  A head-cold the kids had last week forced us all to slow down and do the simple at-home stuff we love best.  We read lots of Christmas stories, drank hot cocoa, watched Christmas movies and made simple crafts.  Every year I seem to need the reminder that it's not about how much we do, but the quality of what we do that matters most.  (I guess I have a short memory!)  Fun no longer feels very...well, fun when it's jam-packed into teeny tiny time slots, like sardines in a can.

But we have managed to fit in some activities we love to do each year.  We trimmed the tree.  We've prayed around the Advent wreath each night (ok...well most nights!).  We saw some amazing gingerbread houses on display.  We celebrated St. Nicholas Day and St. Lucia.  We did some RACKing--taping quarters to parking meters and popcorn to Red Box machines.  The kids have been placing "Sneaky Art" around stores whenever we shop!  Life is good.

Megan all dressed up for St. Lucia Day

Our St. Lucia Feast :)

As Advent nears its final days, I wanted to share these free printable O antiphon ornaments I made.  You can print, color and mount them to cardstock to make ornaments, glue them to wooden blocks...or whatever else you feel inspired to do!  My kids love coloring them and hanging them on our paper Jesse tree.  We also incorporate them into our evening prayer time, starting on December 17th, by praying the corresponding prayer each day and singing the appropriate verse of O Come of Come Emmanuel.  It's simple to do, and a fun way to build the excitement as we celebrate the final days of Advent.  They also blend beautifully with the Jesse Tree stories, which is a neat bonus.

This is what your print-outs should look like.  Just color and cut.

Click on the links above, and you should be able to print the ornament pages from Google Docs.  They are Microsoft Word documents.  If you're looking for O Antiphon prayers, these are great to say together as a family.  In that same link, you can also read about how the Benedictine monks arranged the O antiphons to spell "Ero Cras"--tomorrow I will comeAmazing.  And here you can find the corresponding verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel to sing.

Our simple paper Jesse Tree
Some of our favorite Christmas read-alouds

I hope you're having a blessed Advent.  If you use the printables I'd love to see what you create!  Please feel free to share!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Beauty Matters

Lately I've been thinking about the importance of beauty.  How beauty is a gift from God-- one that we so desperately need in our lives.  How beauty has the ability to uplift, to elevate, to draw us closer to our creator.  Beauty is the lens through which we see the extraordinary, a touch of the divine.

I have this friend who has bare walls in her house, because she's doesn't have the extra funds to decorate the way she'd like to.  So, she's decided to settle on nothing at all.  This makes me sad, because when we surround ourselves with beauty (and I don't mean the cost-a-whole-paycheck variety.  I'm looking at you, Pottery Barn.) we are uplifted.  Beauty elevates the spirit, making us come alive inside.  It arouses a feeling of hope, a glimpse of eternity.  And beauty can truly be free...or practically free, if you use a little imagination.  A simple browse on Pinterest can spark all kinds of creative ideas on how people re-purpose, up-cycle and use items found in nature.  Fill old jam jars with wildflowers. Paint an old picture frame. Cut up a salvaged sweater and wrap it around a dollar store candle.  Take a walk in the woods and cut some branches to display.  Beauty. Practically free. 

A year and a half ago, when we moved to our new house, the walls in the dining room were a bright sunflower yellow.  This wasn't the color I'd originally envisioned, but I was 7 months pregnant and it was 3 weeks 'til Christmas, so painting was pretty much out-of-the-question for me.  But I still wanted to make the room look pretty, even though I'd decided not to paint.  I thought a collection of cheerful plates would work well with the color, and bring some beauty to the bare walls.   But, since we had just moved and it was right before Christmas, there wasn't much money to spend on decorating.  So, I went to Good Will and found a bunch of bargain plates for $1.00 a piece.  It was so much fun playing around with the designs and sizes to create something unique! Yes, it wasn't completely free--it ended up costing about $12.00 dollars (I made the hangers myself with wire). And if I had had to save up for it, I would have.  Because beauty matters. It's just a simple thing I put together, but one that continues to give me cheer, whenever I'm in the room.

My cheery little plate wall, on our first Christmas in the new house.

And of course beauty isn't only aesthetic, and it's certainly not restricted to home decorating.  We all know that beauty comes in many forms--music, dance, nature, writing, cooking, and countless other forms.  But the reason I bring up our homes is that we spend so much time in them--hours gazing at the walls and surfaces around us.  So, why not make them as beautiful as we can, to elevate our spirits?

Several months ago, I came across this video on the subject of beauty, presented by philosopher Roger Scruton, entitled Why Beauty Matters.  It has been with me ever since.  It is one of the most moving pieces I've ever come across on the subject of beauty.  It's about an hour long but very worth the watch.  (Warning: the video contains several disturbing images unsuitable for little eyes, so plan to watch it sans children!) Here are some of the take-aways that really spoke to me:

image source

1) We understand our own nature, as spiritual beings, through the pursuit of beauty.  An experience with beauty can have a profound and life-changing impact.

2) Beauty is an antidote to the chaos and suffering of this world.  It brings consolation in times of sorrow and jolts us out of the complacency of our everyday duties.

3) Creativity is a call to others to see the world as we see it, a way to share our hearts and connect with others.

4)  Beauty has the power to arouse powerful emotions within us--feelings of desire, adoration and longing.  It awakens in us the stirrings of the soul that sometimes lie dormant and calls us into contemplation.

5)  Beauty lies all around us--the world itself is intrinsically beautiful, and art (in all its forms) reminds us to see it.

6)  When we remove beauty from the world, we are left with ugliness, utility, a world of alienation, raw appetite and despair.

It matters that we create an atmosphere of beauty in our lives.  We are surrounded by so much ugliness in this world.  There is pain, poverty, illness, natural disasters, loss of faith.  We need a place to elevate our souls and arm ourselves to fight for what is good. 

Plato once said "Beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, you will be able to nourish true virtue and become the friend of God."  Yes.  I can't think of a better pursuit than growing closer to God while pursuing virtue.  And I love that beauty is a path to this.

An *old* high school picture of me singing in the our chorus

image source

So, lose yourself in a soul-stirring piece of music.  Contemplate the brush strokes of a gorgeous painting.  Gaze in awe at the wonder of an architectural masterpiece.  Be blessed by a stage-performance which feeds your being.  Go for a walk and bring a bit of nature back home with you to display.  Get lost in a beautiful pursuit of your own, that awakens your passion.  Take a moment to look within, to contemplate, to be transformed by heaven here on earth.  Let beauty be a balm to to your weary soul.  Steep yourself in goodness, and ponder in deepest gratitude, Our Creator, who gave us this magnificent gift of beauty.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Martinmas!

Happy St. Martin of Tours...a.k.a. Martinmas!  Last year my family had a lot of fun sitting around the fire pit in the backyard, grilling hotdogs and making s'mores to celebrate.  We also decorated these printable lanterns , and displayed them in the yard.  This year we plan to do it all over again!  I just wanted to share the printable lantern again with you, in case you wanted to make one, too!

Our backyard fire last year.

HUGE huge fire Kevin had made! (It was actually a little scary at one point LOL!)

Luke toasting up some marshmallow yumminess.

Happy celebrating!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October Daybook

It's been FOREVER since I last posted and so many wonderful things have been happening!  I've had such a fun-filled summer of beach days, nature walks, reading (always reading!) and just finding much-needed peace and renewal, after a difficult Spring.  And this Fall has been filled with so many new and wonderful experiences!  I figured it was high time for a bloggy update!  And what better way to do that, than with a nice long daybook. :)  And so, I bring you, the October Edition Daybook:

Outside my window...

The leaves are exploding color all around, which is a glorious sight!  It makes me want to just drop everything and go on a nature walk!

I am thinking...

Lots of things have me thinking about the importance of relishing the present.  I love that idea that we can experience joy, peace, love...God right now.  One of the ways I've been able to live this out has been through my gratitude journal (which I'm better about writing in at some times than others!).  But there is something truly sacred about pausing to give thanks for the right this minute. I was fortunate to hear a speaker several weeks ago, Kevin Hines, who shared his experiences battling mental illness and surviving attempted suicide.  He ended his talk with the quote he lives by each day: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift; that's why it's called the present."  Upon hearing it, I immediately thought of eucharisteo.  I love how God speaks to us through bits and pieces of experiences we have, all with a common message.  In the past week, so many conversations I've had and passages I've read all have echoed this theme.  Um, I think God is definitely trying to tell me something!

I am thankful...

For the reminder to not hurry past eucharisteo.  I've been trying to intentionally set aside time each morning for my gratitude journal--it's something I've gotten a little lazy about. It's funny how the same life lessons keep whispering to our hearts over the years.  It reminds me of that metaphor of one's spiritual life resembling a spiral staircase...looping around and around, but always ascending.  It's so true.

In the spirit of eucharisteo, some of the other things I've been thankful for lately are:

The crisp autumn days along with the coziness (and yumminess!) that fall ushers in.  Pulling out the sweaters, busting out the fall-scented candles, the crunch of leaves beneath my feet, hearty soups and steaming mugs...LOVE. IT. ALL.

The gorgeous butterflies fluttering all over our butterfly bush in the backyard.

The bounty of fresh garden produce our neighbors have been sharing with us, especially appreciated since we didn't plant any veggies this year! 

A smooth start to a new homeschooling year.  Such a blessing to see the progress each of the kids are making.  I think I've finally figured out a more "slow and steady" pace, which is a very good thing!

All of the new things my little Thomas has been doing each day!  Walking!  Talking!  Each day he's doing some new cute adorable thing! (Although his new favorite pastime is sneaking up the stairs to play in Megan's room when no one is looking...not loving that new skill! Time to invest in a gate!!)

For the Fall fun we've been jam-packing into this short season!  Apple picking!  Hay rides!  Painting Pumpkins!  Halloween parties!  Jumping in the leaves!  Farm trips!  Apple cider!  Donuts!  (Especially donuts!) I am just loving every minute of this golden season.

This little girl just celebrated her 5th birthday!  She was one happy little lady with her ice cream cake!

In the kitchen...

As I just mentioned, I've been all about the Fall recipes!  This Rachel Ray Pumpkin Pasta is to die for. Broccoli Cheese soup will be happening this week and I've been craving me some hearty chili!

I am creating... 

I've been gradually pulling out the autumn decorations.  I've also had fun putting together a Halloween mantel!  I'm thinking a new wreath for fall would be nice, too.  Time for some Pinterest perusing!

I am going...

To Salem, MA in a couple of weeks.  It's been several years since I've been there--I just love all of the history of the place, and how it looks like Halloween exploded all over the place!  I'm planning to do a unit study of the Salem witch trials (albeit very simplified, since my guys are still pretty young! No Arthur Miller read-alouds just yet for my crew!).

I am wondering...

Whether my older kids can do the adult version of Rosetta Stone Spanish.  Has anyone had any experience with their children using the adult course? I just started the program a few weeks ago and LOVE it!  I always loved Spanish classes way back in high school, but sadly, never really used it since.  Over the years all those lessons on boot verbs and tenses have mostly slipped away.  I figured it would be nice to get them back.  I had heard wonderful things about Rosetta Stone and loved the idea of "immersion and intuition" it employs, so I decided to try it out.  It's been SUCH a different way to learn, and one that I love much more than memorizing word lists!  It's so much fun.  I had Luke try out a lesson last week, which he enjoyed, but also found somewhat difficult.  He did ask to do the next lesson, though, so I figure we'll just see how it goes.  Maybe I'll sit down with him and help him out whenever he gets stuck.

Our family got all spiffed up for a formal dance with our homeschool group.  A fun night (cranky over-tired toddler aside!) !

Megan did not want to stop dancing!  The boys were being such wall-flowers but she just kept dragging everybody back out onto the dance floor!

I am reading...

I'm on a huge C.S. Lewis kick right now.  I've decided I just might as well go ahead and read every single book of his, since he's Just. That. Awesome. I'm working on The Problem of Pain right now.  It's so good.  More to come on that, I'm sure!  I also have a million half-finished books laying around, as usual.  I borrowed Rediscovering Catholicism from a friend, which I'm working my way through (putting C.S. Lewis on hold, so I can return the book to my friend soon!) and just finished a wonderful piece of fiction, Crossing to Safety.  I found myself so enthralled by the 1930s setting, complete with gorgeous nature descriptions and loads of profundity entwined in a uniquely character-driven plot.  I fell in love with this book.  It's the best piece of fiction I've read in awhile.  I can't wait to read more Wallace Stegner soon!  And, to top it off, I learned a fun new word: lugubrious.  (I'm such a word nerd!)  I'm also trying to finish up a Carol Joyce Oates book, We Were the Mulveneys and a few others that have been gathering dust over the summer! I'm dying to read some of Madeleine L'Engle's non-fiction as well.  I've heard great things about it!

I am hoping... painting of birch trees goes well tonight!  I'm going to a Paint Nite with my sister tonight!  I went to one over the summer and LOVED it!  I've always loved painting, but tend to not really do it much on my own, so I love the idea of girls night out of painting.  I hope I come home with a materpiece! :)

I am looking forward to...

...Halloween!   Last year the farmer down the road from us took all of the neighborhood kids on a hayride to go Trick-or-Treating.  It was a blast!  It was such a nice way to get to know our neighbors better, and some of the people on our street even passed out treats to the adults! (One neighbor had cups of wine for all the grown-ups!  Best treat ever!!)  The night was capped off with a bonfire party, complete with chili, pizza and hot cider.  It was awesome.

No Autumn is complete without making your best "Candy Corn Fangs" face!

I am learning... much from an Alpha course I've been taking at our parish. If you've never heard of it, I highly recommend finding one near you!  It's just such a wonderful way to give your spiritual life a "kick in the pants."  It's an 11 week video course covering the basics of Christianity, along with dinner and good conversation.  The video presentations are wonderful, and just have a way of bringing life into one's faith.  Whenever my small group gets together for discussions, we all marvel at just how good the videos are, and how much more renewed we feel.  I'm so happy I've been able to participate!

At the Halloween party our Parish put on for the kids this past weekend.

Around the house...

...I've been on a major Fall-cleaning kick, just trying to get rid of a bunch of stuff we don't need.  Our basement play area was out of control, so we spent hours and hours yesterday going through every single toy down there, filling up an entire garbage bag with broken junk, and another bag with donations.  Aaaaaaaaah.  What a great feeling!  While I'm not a minimalist, I love the feeling of paring down our possessions.
Luke making one of his favorite meals--Enchiladas!

I am pondering...

What our family will do as a giving project this coming Advent.  Last year, the kids made scarves to sell as a fundraiser for the Philippines.  We all loved this project!  Megan has been asking me what we can do this year, so I'm brain-storming. :) Ideas are welcome!

Caught this gorgeous sunrise out my back window last week.

A favorite quote for today...

" Once we recognize that the Father has given us everything, the focus of our lives changes.  We begin to marvel and live in awe of a God who desires to be so involved in our lives that he shares from his fullness to fill our poverty.  The more we acknowledge him as the giver of all that we are, the less we need to hoard, to cling, to defend, or to fight for what we have.  Ultimately nothing is ours, yet everything is ours." 

Yes, to all of this!  It's a quote from an ebook of homilies I have, Ordinary Grace, that accompany the daily Mass readings. I LOVE these books.

One of my favorite things...

These quirky Sharpie Mugs I made!  Kevin had bought some dishes to replace the many that have broken over the years (it was ridiculous how few we had left!).  The dish sets came with plain white mugs that were just BEGGING to be crafted into something fun!  There are a ton of craft tutorials on how to make these, with tips on how to get the best results.  I highly recommend reading them all first, to get the marker to adhere!  So much fun. :)

A few plans for the rest of the week:

..,Paint Nite, Apha Class, continued purging/organizing, as many read-alouds as possible with the kids (LOVING audio books these days!), make soup, get outside as much as we can to soak up all that lovely autumn air!

A peek into my day...
My little lounging men :)

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