Things I Wish I Wanted To Do

Things I Wish I Wanted To Do

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

– Paulo Coelho

My book club recently read and dissected The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  Over water and lime wedges (turns out that while I’m no longer pregnant, everyone else is), it became clear this writer’s year-long experiment culminated in a “love it or hate it” book for our little critics’ circle and beyond – as all pop culture hits seem to do to some degree.  What do they say – there’s no such thing as bad press?

While this book was a slow, underwhelming start for me, suddenly around April (the book and the topics and resolutions it entails are divided into months), it was as if a switch flipped and I was ravenously hooked on this Manhattan lawyer/writer/mom/wife’s musing on hundreds of minor tweaks we can make to our daily routines (no Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage required) to partake in a more fully-examined existence, boost our quality of life, and thus that of those around us.  Things like buying the nice $4.00 pen instead of the crappy 25-cent pen that just feels cheap and always runs out of ink.  Changing the lightbulb yourself instead of nagging your husband to do it.  Listening contentedly to others and resisting the urge to jump in with a competing story of your own.  Accepting a limitation (or more positively, my God-given uniqueness) such as the fact that a certain hairstyle – try as I might – Will. Never. Look. Good. On. Me.

I could go on and on about the author’s simple yet pointed insights on things from learning to laugh at yourself and lighten up with your kids, to the liberation that comes from “tackling a nagging task,” be it a cluttered hall closet or a toxic relationship.  I was obviously in the “love it” camp.

But the section of the book that provided the biggest “aha moment” for me was about how to distinguish between things I truly want to do, and things I wish I wanted to do.

The phrase “I wish I wanted to do that” resonated with me so clearly.  How often do we trick not just others – but ourselves – into believing this forcefully painted picture of our supposed hobbies, inclinations, status, interests and overall identity?  Maybe you love the idea of buying everything organic but you hate the sticker shock you experience in the check-out line.  Or perhaps you think you want to take a big family vacation every summer, but spending a week with your in-laws/great-aunt/cousins/stepchildren actually induces widespread panic attacks.  You wish you wanted to do these things, but when it comes down to it, you just don’t.

True introverts may feel like they wish they wanted to get dolled up and mingle over cocktails and loud music on a Friday night, but what they really want to do is stay home with a book and pajamas, power off their phone and read until their quiet little heart’s content.  Can I get an Amen from all the introverts?

As this book goes on to point out, “…relinquishing my fantasies of what I wished I found fun allowed me more room to do the things that I did find fun.”

Being so struck by this notion of real vs. illusory desires, I couldn’t help but make my own list.  Without much thought and totally off the cuff, this is what I came up with:

Things I Wish I Wanted to Do:

*Work out more

*Not eat cookies for breakfast

*Play complex family board games (my in-laws are way into games and it’s freeing to admit I could spend the rest of my life mastering Scrabble)

*Chaotic playdates combining two or more of the following: toddlers, junk food, bouncy house, water parks or long car rides

*Camp (as in, outdoors, devoid of proper toilets, with the possibility of bear attacks)

*Go to a grad school (I must face the fact that a few proud extra letters after my name does not a happy homework-haver make)

*Have a third baby (our second is six months old and we’ve hired an overnight nanny and professional sleep coach in recent weeks – this talk is tabled for now.).

*Spend time on my hair (all roads lead to dry shampoo)

*Seek out cool indie music (Top 40 ‘til I die)

*Read classic literature (see grad school reference above)

*Embrace early mornings (maybe this will be The Happiness Project: Age 60)

As I immediately scribbled into my journal upon completion of this hasty (yet pretty darn honest) list:

Wow – there’s such a freedom to just admitting – if only to myself – “I don’t actually want to do any of these things!”

What would you not do, if you knew you could not fail?

Maybe it’s worth cancelling some unwanted plans and sticking around to find out.  Gretchen Rubin would definitely give you a gold star for that.

 

(*featured image by Anne Taintor*)

Slodge Podge

The last week or so I’ve more or less been running on fumes. Anything I’ve posted online definitely has not included my face, house, laundry pile, or choice of clothing in which I’ve been lounging around the house. Not sleeping well due to a combo of pregnancy aches and pains and a high-maintenance dog, begging my husband to take the morning toddler shift so I can scrap together a few extra zzzz’s, and living in his t-shirts (husband’s, not toddler’s – do I look like Bethenny Frankel?) – have been the common threads of this last week. I’m not looking for sympathy, as I know we all have days/weeks/seasons where we feel like we are “slodging through life.” Like our feet our constantly stuck in the mud and we just can’t find that light and easy pace we had the week before. Just keeping it real, and writing….which has happened like twice this year I think, but that could be overestimating.

Early today my sweet neighbor emailed and asked if Anderson and I would like to come over for a visit this morning or this afternoon. I thought to myself: “There is not a remote possibility I will be showered, out of my husband’s XL graphic tee and even remotely presentable to anyone outside my home until at least the mid-afternoon hours.” I said: “Later this afternoon is probably best for us.” No need to scare the woman.

On his way out the door this morning when Aaron asked me and my son, who was at the time very evenly alternating between bursting into PMS-like tears and exclaiming, “All done crying!” with a tear-streaked, semi-creepy smile on his face, what we were doing today, I said, “Surviving.” He patted me on the head like a lost puppy and told me to enjoy surviving, or good luck, or something like that. I can’t remember and/or didn’t really hear him at the time because I hadn’t had coffee yet.

On days like this, perspective is our friend. I may have almost thrown up from record-disgusting diapers, and I’m starting to stick to my clothing (OK, my husband’s clothing), I need to shower so bad – BUT –would you believe I still polished our stainless steel appliances, taught Anderson to ride a balance bike (he kept exclaiming, “I’m riding a bike! I’m riding a bike!” It was so cute I almost felt human again.), AND served both of us warm food today? I know. Please excuse me while I go find that gold star….the first place I’m looking is the shower.

PS – In addition, have I mentioned we’ve reverted to blow-outs this week? If you don’t know what this is, bless you. If you do, sorry for the TMI. But seriously, it’s like Anderson’s 6 months old again and I’ve actually lost count of how many pairs of shorts, blankets, sheets and sleep sacks I’ve had to shower with shout this week like I’ve been fighting wildfires. I guess he’s just doing his part to grease my wheels for baby #2.

PPS – Here’s a cute pic of Anderson on his bike AFTER I cleaned up approximately 700 toys…. total failure on my part.  This blog post obviously merits a “before” pic.  I would say use your imagination, but I know most of you have been there, and don’t have to.  🙂

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Baskets, Baskets Everywhere

Since moving to a larger house this summer and spending the last three months learning the ropes of our new home base with more space to spread out, store things and lose things, I can’t help but call to mind wise words from Uncle Ben in Spiderman:  “Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.”

I don’t know if I’d call it “power,” but I do feel that making the most of my home is a privilege, and one that comes with the responsibility of creating some semblance of order, and not losing my stuff or my mind.

I love for my things to be organized and look good while doing it.  Too much clutter drives me crazy, but bland and boring storage solutions drive me almost equally as crazy.  So here are a few organizing tips and tricks that help keep me sane and that I actually enjoy looking at, too:

BOOKSHELVES & BASKETS

These two items can hold a lot of stuff, and be made to look cohesive and attractive in any room of your house.  I tend to use the same type of basket in any given area, but have all different colors and textures of baskets (and bookshelves) throughout my house.  They can hold books, cards, photos and crafting supplies:

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A few more of my favorites uses……

Toys, extra bedding, shoes and bedside clutter (be gone!)

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And of course, the old standard – the bathroom magazine basket.

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Even though I have a home office space at our new house, where I find myself spending the lion’s share of my time doing desk work, filing, bill paying and computer time is at this 2×5 ft. (?) desk, in my kitchen.  It is where bills and mail come in and are filed, where I write my grocery lists and scribble out way too many post-it notes each day.  It’s where I even get FUN mail, and post it on this pretty linen board.  This wall system from Pottery Barn is where I sort my mail (To File/To Respond), pin photos and cards, keep keys, checkbooks, stamps and envelopes.  Knowing my needs and organizing accordingly has been key in crafting a space that is fun and functional.  It’s where I usually write this blog, plan my PEPS meetings, and even chip away at a novel that’s been in the works forever.  I love this space.

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Did I mention FUN file folders (see above).  I keep a lot more files in our actual home office, but invested in a dozen with fun designs that I actually want to look at and use every day.  MY TIP:  Let mail pile up for a week or two (not that I ever do this, ever), and sort what accumulates into piles like “banking,” “utilities,” “receipts,” etc… make your folders accordingly and keep them in the place where you’re actually most likely to receive and sort mail.

MEALS & KITCHEN:

Another place where I really try to make organizing fun is in the kitchen and with grocery shopping and meal planning.  Some things that get me more excited about these everyday tasks include:

FUN SHOPPING LIST/TO DO LIST PAPER (so much more enjoyable than scribbling your grocery list on the back of an envelope!):

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A CHALKBOARD MENU:

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I also raided Fred Meyer for big baskets for my kitchen pantry, to keep stuff like aprons, paper plates, and seasonal cookie cutters out of sight.

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THE BATHROOM:

A couple of years ago, one of my big “nesting” projects while pregnant was doing a complete organizational overhaul of my linen closet.  I learned only two things are really needed for permanent bathroom storage sanity:  a label maker and matching see-through bins.  Gone are the days of digging through mounds of shampoo bottles to find a razor or a band aid.  It’s the simple things like this that make me happy and keep my blood pressure in check.

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Oh, and Aaron really appreciates these non-see-through cubbies in our bathroom (another Fred Meyer find) that keep my feminine “unmentionables” out of sight.  Husbands everywhere, you’re welcome.

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I hope this blog post has been of some entertainment, inspiration or motivation to other home-keepers out there!  If you really get on board with this whole organizing thing – this blog and woman are so organized and fun it’s scary.

Oh and a shredder.  Everyone needs a paper shredder at home.  It just feels good to clear clutter and simultaneously operate a semi-power-tool.

Until next time,

Beth

Higher Highs and Lower Lows

Dyrehavsbakken, Copenhagen

My husband and I got into a big fight two days after finally moving into our long-awaited “dream house.”

But to be honest, I would have been more surprised if we hadn’t.

Robin Williams’ laughter and smile were larger than life. They’re still painted in my memory and ringing in my ears.

But his pain was deeper than the ocean.

And parents, especially new parents, are thrust into the greatest joy, purest bliss and calmest peace of life with a precious new child…

So why do so many of them report suffering from the deepest sadness, most severe loneliness, and isolating ineptitude they’ve ever felt in their lives?*

The common thread in each of these scenarios is something that has taken me a long time to learn about life: with higher highs come lower lows.

With the house example, I’ve learned that even good stress is stress. The overwhelming work of packing your life into boxes and unpacking it piece by piece as you get to know and operate and secure each quirk and cranny of a foreign new place is unsettling, even if it’s also exciting. Add to that exhaustion, chaos and competing opinions about priorities and I’m willing to bet many a husband and wife have “gone at it” – in a way that’s far from the christening fantasy they envisioned.

Then there’s the raw, painful story of one of the world’s most beloved comedians suffering so severely he took his own life. I’m not a psychologist but I know many mental health professionals have said in the aftermath of this shocking death, that it’s often the people who smile the brightest on the surface, that are fighting the darkest demons inside. That smile is their armor; it’s certainly not their whole truth. High highs….low lows.

Finally we have the true roller coaster that is parenting. It can lift you, windswept, to breathtaking heights you never knew existed, and then drop you so fast it leaves you spinning and wanting to throw up.

So why does this happen and what can we do about it?

Well.

One more thing I’ve learned about life is there’s a hell of a lot we have very little control over. Like where our husband puts the coffee maker. Or the unbelievable number of times in a day our little one….fill-in-the-blank (Spits up! Wakes up! Cries! Makes me cry!).

What we do have control over, friends, are the expectations we set for ourselves, as parents and as people.

When we expect things to be picture perfect, easy and happy all the time – we’re setting ourselves up for a freefall into disappointment. How can anyone live up to that bar, set as high as a trapeze artist? I’m pretty sure the only thing new parents have in common with a trapeze artist is sometimes feeling like they live at the circus.

Expect yourself to be human. Expect yourself to do some things well. And forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned. Learn to be happy in your home with dishes in the sink, and a baby with spit-up on their onesie. You’ll wash them and change them eventually, but maybe right this second you really just need to pour yourself a cup of coffee or spend 5 minutes zoning out to E! News.

And that’s OK.

Hopefully once we learn to expect that life isn’t roller coaster highs all the time, the lows might even out as well, and we’ll begin to settle into something resembling – what do the trapeze artists call it?

Oh, yeah. Balance.

*PS –  I recognize and respect that sometimes these “lows,” when related to mental health are beyond our control and require the help of a trained professional, and/or treatment such as medication. If you are experiencing something you suspect could be a postpartum mood disorder, please know you are not alone, and you deserve to find the support you need. Here are a couple of resources available to you:

*Postpartum Support International of Washington:
http://www.ppmdsupport.com** has info on PPMD, list of recommended resources and Support Groups
*Peer Support Phone Line (a “warm-line” not a crisis “hotline” – support from women who have recovered from PPMD – if you leave a message, someone will call back within 24 hours). 1-888-404-PPMD

This essay was originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows.

*photo credit

Hunting Season

Hunting Season

I’ve been watching a lot of HGTV’s House Hunters recently.  Before I go on, I would like to address the humorously unrealistic premise of this show.  Ever notice how they ALWAYS tour exactly THREE homes, and ALWAYS decide to live in one of them? People – it is never this easy!!  What REALLY happens on House Hunters, I am convinced, is that realtors take the couple through approximately 78 homes over approximately nine months, and then trim it down to the three most interesting ones to make for good TV.  “Now remember to ONLY talk about houses #14, 39 and 51 on camera, folks,” say the sly producers.  “Our viewers can’t know you actually saw more than three homes on the journey to find the perfect one!”

I digress.

What I DO find realistic about House Hunters is the commentary I now find myself repeating verbatim.  Constantly.  Mockingbird style, as Aaron and I tour home after home, if not in person then “virtually,” online (how did people with busy lives house hunt before the internet???).

For example:

 “I love the character, but wish it had more modern finishes.”

 “Love the house, hate the commute” OR “Great commute!  Really tiny/unattractive/old/creepy house”

 “A bidet?  Seriously?”

 And we do not make it easy on our realtor.  Oh no, she is earning that commission with every fiber of her well-connected being.  To illustrate this point, let’s play multiple choice quiz.  Which options have Beth and Aaron seriously considered for their next move:

A)  5 acres on rural Bainbridge Island where we could someday raise goats

B) A postage stamp lot in Madison Park

C) A furnished apartment in the heart of downtown while we wait for the perfect home to hit the market

D) Taking over the oversized (and very nice!) “living room” of our company’s Georgetown office

 Okay, though we haven’t quite gotten so desperate as to truly consider living at Aaron’s work with an 8-month-old (though the blogger in me is drooling over the potential material here…), we have actually (seriously) considered options A-C dependent on the season, time of day, how much sleep, wine, coffee and road rage we’ve had at any given moment.  Option D – it’s only a matter of time. 

 My husband’s family moved around a LOT growing up –  from Washington to Iowa to Southern Oregon back to Washington.  I think he’s pushing 20 homes by now, going on four just since we’ve been together.  His mom has told me that each year when she was packing up the Christmas ornaments, she would find herself wondering where she would be unpacking them the following year.  So as the holiday season officially kicks off today with Halloween, I find myself wondering the same thing.  Where will we be putting up our tree next year?  Heck, where will we be putting it this year?  House hunting is nothing if not wonder-inducing, that’s for sure….

This is our current house:

 

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It’s a good, sweet home.  It’s been a really great place to live and start our family, and we’ve been blessed with the most wonderful neighbors.  But it’s a lease, and the lease is almost up and that means it’s time to buy and time to move on.  Exciting but nerve-wracking.  Bitter but sweet.  Stress-inducing but trust-inducing. 

I’m excited to see where we end up, and thankful for the homes that will always be a part of our story.  I’m a big country music fan, more than anything because the artists are so gifted at telling stories through songs.  There is a song I love recorded by Miranda Lambert called “The House That Built Me.”  It talks about the deep emotional connections we build with the homes we live in.

“You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.  I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am….

“If I could walk around I swear I’ll leave.  Won’t take nothing but a memory from the house that built me.”

I love that idea of a longing to return to the home(s) that helped shape us, to hang on to the hope that maybe if we just touch their walls we’ll be reminded a little bit more of the heart of who we are.  I want that for my family – a home we can all grow in and be shaped by, and help shape.  A place we can thrive, build memories, love each other, and be the best that we can be.  I look forward to putting down some roots and being built up in this new home – wherever that may be, however big or small, new or old, near or far.

Now back to the hunt.  🙂 

Sometimes You Just Have to Buy the Cake

Sometimes You Just Have to Buy the Cake

Earlier this month, I paid a visit to my doctor because I was a ball of stress – though I didn’t know it at the time. 

I had been experiencing tightness in my chest and some occasional labored breathing for a few weeks – symptoms I had experienced off and on in the past but always chalked up to some “logical” excuse:

“Oh my bra is just too tight because I’m pregnant.”

 Or

“It’s bad posture – I just need to do those ‘chest wall’ stretches my doctor recommended.”

Or

“Breastfeeding is just taking a toll on my body – it must be what’s literally ‘weighing me down.’”

Nope. 

Several sleepless nights, a few mini panic attacks, some crying in a hospital gown, one chest x-ray and one EKG later, all signs pointed to a classic case of STRESS.  It’s like that feeling when you have a lump in your throat and are trying not to cry, but that “lump” was in my chest.  Both my primary physician and my therapist seemed not at all surprised by this diagnosis –a textbook manifestation of mental and emotional stress through physical symptoms. 

Huh.  This was not what I was expecting.  I mean, I’m thrilled I’m not on the brink of a heart attack and all, but a diagnosis of STRESS??  How on Earth do I treat that??  And how did I get it?  After all, I’ve GOT this motherhood thing down, right??  Not perfect by any means, but sooo much better than my worst fears of chronic sleep deprivation, utter isolation or post-partum depression.  I really, truly thought I had been doing pretty darn swell! 

But as many have now gently reminded me – no matter how good or how hard things may seem – a new baby is a new baby.  A HUGE life change, period.  Even good stress is STRESS.  And even good change, is CHANGE.  And many things have taken a backseat to prioritize being a good mom – my personal relationships, exercise, sleeping and eating as much and as well as I should.  It’s all worth it, right??

Well, it is until it’s not.  It’s not worth it to skimp on sleep and exercise and processing my emotions in a productive way, because more than anything, my child needs a HEALTHY MOM.  Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually HEALTHY.  So for him and for me I am following my doctor’s orders:  running until I break a sweat, continuing to talk through life with my therapist, eating better, sleeping better, and most of all – NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF!  Or trying not to, anyway….

I’m even trying to not sweat the BIG stuff.  Not as much as I usually do, at least.  Compounding the change and the stress of my current “new mom” life, we just almost bought a house, then didn’t buy a house, then found out we need to find another house to buy.  Soon.  Like probably right-around -Christmas soon.  And there’s no inventory!  And it’s a cruel seller’s market!  And we love our neighborhood and don’t want to leave!  The schools are so great here and we can walk to everything!  And! And! And!

Stress. 

Even if it’s positive and life is exciting, stress creeps into the need to constantly fight for the BEST for my life and my family – the BEST house, the BEST school, the BEST homemade cakes for his future birthday parties. 

Going along with the cake example, this recently struck me as the perfect analogy.  Maybe you can’t always have your cake and make it, too.  Maybe I can’t have an immaculate, organized home all the time AND be rested.  Maybe I can’t spend hours on a from-scratch home-cooked dinner every night AND have the energy left to actually ENJOY a conversation with my husband.  Maybe I can’t stay up until midnight watching TV AND have the energy to run the next morning. 

Maybe I CAN have all these things, but more likely, I just can’t. 

As anyone who follows my writing knows, this little health scare came on the heels of my 30th birthday resolutions, which included goals to “Learn to sew and make my kids’ Halloween costumes,” “Make my kids’ birthday cakes” and “Grow a vegetable garden.”

Life is all about choices.  Priorities.  Making the most of the time we have.  For me, right now, I need to train myself to let go of perfectionism and embrace the GOOD.  I want a GOOD home for my family.  I want my son to go to a GOOD school.  I want my family to have GOOD meals.  GOOD seems doable.  I can do GOOD, and still find time to run, smile, and chill the heck out. 

So listen to your inner sanity.  It’s telling you, in its little lumpy, pesky voice, “If you want to live the sweet life, and really have the presence of mind to ENJOY the moments that matter – sometimes – just sometimes – you have to put away the apron and Just. Buy. The. Cake.” 

By the grace of God, I have managed to remain blissfully clueless about Pinterest to this day.   

And for the record, I totally bought Anderson’s Halloween costume this year. 

Falling for Fall

Falling for Fall

Falling for Fall:  Why this Season has become my Kindred Spirit

 

I had my tennis shoes all laced up for a walk, baseball hat covering my unwashed hair, and was about to snag baby from the crib when I heard it.  The “tink….tink tink” of rain against the metal parts of our house.  I’ve been hearing it at night lately, too.  A soothing sound that prompts me to pull the covers around me even tighter and drift into a deeper slumber than I’ve had in months. 

Plan B:  put baby down for a nap and sit down to write.  As the rain gets louder outside, I crack my windows so the forceful sound invades my house, and breathe in the pure, tranquil air that is unique to a fresh downpour. 

Aaaaahhhhh. 

Refreshing.

I’ve been really, really trying to wait until at least September 1st to write about fall.  But I can’t.  I am just too in love with this very specific turning point in the year, and I can FEEL that we’re in it.  Right now.    

It’s that time of year when you realize you are OK letting go of the vacations, beach days, outdoor adventures and warm nights that come with summer.  OK with packing up the shorts and unpacking the sweaters.  OK with fewer dinners from the grill and more from the slow cooker.  More than OK is how I feel.  I LOVE fall. 

Up until about five years ago, I was a summer girl, through and through.  I thought summer would always be my favorite season.  I was happy as a clam to spend endless hours baking in the sun (insert skin cancer warnings here), getting tan as can be (and here), dipping into every lake, ocean and pool within reach (and here).

Growing up, like all American kids, summer symbolized freedom, and fall symbolized the surrender to those three dreaded words:  back to school (also known as back to alarm clocks, back to homework, and back to pasty white skin).  Maybe a big part of my newfound adult adoration of fall, is that none of these changes apply to my post-student self (well, except the skin tone one…but I wear a lot more sunscreen these days to begin with).

While summer tends to embody a carefree spirit, spontaneity, letting loose, and stretching ones boundaries – FALL represents stability, a return to the comforts of routine, a renewed appreciation for home, a cozy hibernation after the long exposure of summer. 

Summer has always been summer and fall has always been fall.  I realize it is I who have changed.  I have become a person more in tune and akin to fall and all that it represents – it has become my kindred spirit.  The older I get, the more I LIKE summer, and LOVE fall.  It has come to be the season that most represents the values I hold dear:  Home.  Family.  Tradition.  Comfort.  Introspection.  Peace.

Plus, it is just so damn hot in my house all the time.

 I am ready to stop sweating over the stove. 

Godspeed, fall, Godspeed. 

The greatest thing in the world is not where we are, but in what direction we are moving.”- Oliver Wendell Holmes

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