New pride and joy

I have been anxiously waiting to blog about my new pride and joy (no offense to Hurley)!

My entertainment center used to be my favorite piece of furniture in the house. And how could it not be given how the pink stands out and the blood, sweat and tears the middle and I put into it one weekend? But this weekend I finally got to put in a new favorite. Like I’m seriously in love with this thing. I grinned like an idiot each time I saw it.

But first, the back story.

One of the minor downsides to the house I’m renting is the kitchen is relatively small. When I toured it, the owners had a table that gave them more counter space. I knew I was going to have to do something similar since I not only need the counter space, but also the storage space (my food processor, crock pot and extra coffee items were being stored on the stairs leading up to my attic… Whatever works, right?).

I wanted to find something that fit the space, which proved to be a difficult task. There was also an added problem in that I didn’t just want a folding table because I preferred built-in storage. And naturally everything that seemed like a remote possibility ended up being too big, too expensive or just didn’t fit my style.

Enter the middle’s boyfriend’s uncle. He became my favorite person in Lincoln.

About a year ago Uncle Buck made the addition to the middle’s old entertainment center to convert it into a wine rack. The middle said he might be willing to create a counter for me, so I jumped at the chance. After I found a few options on pinterest that caught my eye (this was the main inspiration), the middle create a fantastic 3-D graphic with the dimensions and handed it off to the craftsman to work his magic.

Two weeks later, I had this baby.

counter1

Gorgeous, right?! I swooned. But it gets better.

A week or two later I got to stain it. The oak wood looked so gorgeous with the special walnut stain (that’s just the name of the stain — it’s not specially made or anything). Although I thought about trying to find a stain that matched the kitchen and wood flooring, I decided to instead just find a color that I liked. Chances are this counter is going to be with me far longer than my rental home.

After applying a few coats of polyurethane last Monday night, I had a long waiting period for it to dry (thankfully I was out of town for work so that distracted me pretty well…). Then Thursday evening, I got to pick up my new piece of furniture.

craftsman

Ever since then, I can’t stop admiring it. In part it’s because I’ve been trying to figure out what works in terms of functionality and looks. I’m in search of a placemat to put under the microwave, and may do something similar for the fruit bowl (I’m super protective of the wood surface). The baskets were a lucky find on Friday night. I got the last three at the store AND they were on sale!

To say I love it is an understatement. And I’m not joking when I say it more than doubles my counter space. That alone is worth it (though I refuse to prep any food on it just yet. Like I said, being super protective…).

Kitchen

Mostly, though, I love that it breaks up all the white and makes my house feel even more homey. Between the entertainment center, dining room chairs, pallet shelf and now the counter, it’s definitely a Liz house. Lots of color and uniquely created home decor. And the fact that it’s all functional and aids in my Type A organization doesn’t hurt either.

Seriously. Just look at this hand-crafted beauty!

counter

A huge thanks goes out to Uncle Buck. He and his wife were so welcoming throughout the whole process. Plus, in addition to creating this masterpiece, he stuck with me through the final steps (it was my first time staining, which I discovered I prefer to painting) and was so wonderful to spend time with as I worked on the finished touches in his garage.

Lucky for me that not only did I get a fabulous product, but I also got to know fabulous people. Does it get better than that?

Skinny swap

I was so proud of myself last week because instead of going to get Chinese, I decided to stick with my meal plan of whipping up a skinny manicotti recipe. Sadly I can’t vouch for the leftovers because I’ve been a little less proud of myself since then, but it’s the little wins, right?

It surprised me (in a good way) that it was relatively easy to make. While the noodles cooked, I mixed up the spinach filling. I also decided to throw in mushrooms, not only because I had them on hand, but because I wanted something with a bit more substance. I’ve been hit or miss with leftovers that have spinach and hoped the mushrooms would help. And I’ll confess I didn’t pay too much attention to whether the pasta sauce was sugar-free like the recipe calls for (which is probably which makes it a skinny recipe…oops!). It was just easier to go with what I already had on hand.

The stuffing didn’t take as long as I thought. I didn’t follow the direction and use a gallon size bag. Instead I just spooned it in, which could be what caused most of the mess. It would probably help to let the manicotti noodles dry up a bit, but I was impatient (probably another source of the mess…).

2014-09-17 19.50.13-2

Thankfully it proved to be worth the time and, more importantly, the slight mess. Especially with the cheese broiled on top at the end, the skinny manicotti dish looked and tasted delicious.

2014-09-17 20.17.05

Although I liked the recipe, I’m not entirely sure I’d make this again. If I do, I’ll likely throw in some ground turkey or swap out the cottage cheese for ricotta cheese. I’m sure that’s another swap that makes this a skinny dish, and I didn’t think it would bother me all that much since that’s how my mom has always made lasagna. With this dish it just didn’t seem to hit the spot, though. Hopefully by the end of the day I can say whether the leftovers hold up (granted I made this on Wednesday night so I might be less inclined to really enjoy them at this point).

Beauty in Books #6

I promise the lack of Beauty in Book posts doesn’t mean I’m not reading. Some books haven’t warranted a full post, and I’ve got another two on deck to write posts about in the near future. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day…

Thankfully, my travels last week gave me solid, uninterrupted blocks of time to read (one of the perks of flying). I started The In-Between on my second flight to Atlanta and finished it on the way back. It’s been a bit strange reading writers who fall in the same pack, if you will. The forward was written by an author I’d read recently, the book was mentioned in Packing Light. It’s like they’ve got their own writing clique of sorts.

But that’s neither here nor there, other than to say they deliver similar messages. I don’t know if it’s because my life has calmed down pretty substantially on an emotional front and I’m more open to the message or if the universe is trying to tell me something.

Regardless, it’s a message I didn’t mind hearing again.

Just this morning, I opened my laptop to check email, and as my messages began to download, I opened a web browser. While that loaded, I checked Twitter on my phone. Incapable of wasting a single second, to simply sit still and soak in my surroundings, I must always do something. I must squeeze the most out of every moment, unaware that this leaves little left to savor. I blame TV for what it’s done to my brain, the Internet for how it’s made me impatient. But the truth is, I’m the one who chooses to be restless, the one who gives in to temptations to find the next thrill, while refusing the joy of what’s in front of me. (pg. 25)

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this concept before (and probably will again…). I think what helped is that I was traveling, thus giving me an opportunity to put it into practice. Instead of pulling out my phone while waiting for another session to start or while the cab driver was taking us to our next location, I observed. I looked a beautiful buildings, brightly colored trees and a variety of people. I took in the sights and sounds, reminding myself of how fortunate I am (did I mention my career fangirl moment?!).

My hope is that this appreciation and stillness, for lack of a better word, can carry over into my everyday life. I wrote just a couple days ago that finally my life had some sense of normalcy. But what do I find myself doing? Trying to find new community education classes to enroll in, reaching out to new organizations for volunteer opportunities (more on that in another post) and scouring the meetup group website to see if any social outings catch my eye.

I feel like I need to constantly be making the most of my time and on the go, not realizing that sometimes the best use of my time is slowing down.

A life filled with movement, with constant motion and no rest stops, isn’t a life at all. It’s tourism. Life’s mundane moments – ordinary times of TV-watching and breakfast-eating – can be embraced as a slow, deliberate, beautiful way of life if we pay attention and see what’s really there. (pg. 39)

I love that concept, in part because it’s so true. Granted, I’m still going to chase those thrills and attempt to make the most of each day and week. And that’s okay. Essentially the concept of the in-between was to realize and, perhaps more importantly, be okay with the times when it feels like life isn’t progressing – at least not in the way you might want it to or at the pace you want. It will eventually. Change is inevitable, and those pauses in life allow us to catch our breath.

Last fall and winter I was smack dab in the middle of that in-between stage. I felt stuck, frustrated and despite every attempt at making progress, nothing changed. But let me tell you, it’s a hell of a time for some good self-reflection and introspection. Fast forward not even a year, and my mundane moments of reading while Hurley snoozes next to me is as beautiful as life gets.

As enticing as it may seem at times, I don’t want a life filled with constant movement. I read this book at a good time in that it reminded me that I don’t have to be a tourist in Lincoln. I don’t have to pack my schedule full of social activities, networking functions, volunteer opportunities and more. I can just enjoy this new in-between stage of sorts and take things as they come. It might not be at the pace I normally like to go in life (read: top speed), but at least this way I get to better appreciate all the beauty and joy around me.

A week of normalcy

Despite the typical doldrums of a Sunday evening, I’m breathing a sigh of relief for the upcoming week. Hurley and I won’t know what to do with ourselves! Last week (naturally when I was out of town) was the last session for my community education yoga class on Monday night and the chronic disease self-management class I was teaching on Wednesday nights.

Compared to what it’s been for the last few weeks, my schedule looks surprisingly empty (and it’s very needed). This freedom, however, left me feeling a little overwhelmed when it came to meal planning. I didn’t have to plan out the distribution of my leftovers as extensively as I’ve had to in the last couple months. It was also strange knowing I had two extra nights during the week to actually cook a meal instead of having salad or cereal.

Complicating matters a bit is that I really wanted to get back on track with healthy eating. Last week I spent four days in Atlanta for work, and sadly workouts in a hotel gym don’t even come close to canceling out the food indulgences.

(As an aside, I had a total fangirl moment when I got to the CDC for our grantee meeting/conference. And you can about imagine my excitement at being in a room to network and brainstorm with dozens of evaluators, where I was introduced to this accurate graphic).

evaluator

Although the trip was a great learning experience and full of fabulous food, I came back feeling not so healthy after lots of cheat meals, if you will. My goal for this week was to find recipes that would give me the comfort food I was craving without all the carbs and calories. I knew I was taking a slight risk with spaghetti squash carbonara, but it seemed to fit the bill.

I was thankful for a relatively straight-forward recipe. Actually, I think what complicated the prep process were my own additions of onions and peas, since that’s generally what I think of when I picture carbonara. I couldn’t get the bacon to be quite as crispy as I was hoping (perhaps because it was turkey bacon?) but in the end, I must say I was pleasantly, pleasantly surprised with how the dish turned out.

carbonara

It’s definitely a dish I’ll be making again, especially since it only requires me to pick up a few ingredients. It almost made me chuckle to think of how often I’ve been eating spaghetti squash in the last few months. Who would have thought the girl who initially blogged about not caring for it now makes it two or three times a month?

At least the week is off to a good start. This girl is definitely ready to get back into a routine. Maybe that will help convince Hurley he doesn’t need to be my shadow (although let’s be honest, it’s incredibly sweet and endearing).

Hurley

Making it happen

(Preface: This is one of those posts that I’m not overly happy with, but it’s been sitting in my post queue for about three weeks now. I keep making edits and revamping it, and then there reaches a point where you just have to hit “publish” or “delete” and be done with it…)

I went back and forth about whether to make this part of my Beauty in Books series, but I only really wanted to talk about one particular segment of The Noticer.

The book itself is a bit hard to explain, but essentially each chapter features a story where a man named Jones coincidentally runs into an individual or couple  needing new perspective and wisdom. It was a book I primarily skimmed except for this particular passage:

‘Five seagulls are sitting on a dock. One of them decides to fly away. How many seagulls are left?’
‘Well…four.’
‘No,’ Jones responded. ‘There are still five. Deciding to fly away and actually flying away are two very different things. Listen carefully to me. Despite popular belief to the contrary, there is absolutely no power in intention. The seagull may intend to fly away, may decide to do so, may talk with the other seagulls about how wonderful it is to fly, but until the seagull flaps his wings and takes to the air, he is still on the dock. There’s no difference between that gull and all the others. Likewise, there is no difference in the person who intends to do things differently and the one who never thinks about it in the first place. Have you ever considered how often we judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their actions? Yet intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you.’

I’ve always been a fan of the adage “well done is better than well said,” which I think is why I loved that passage so much. Despite being a big proponent of it, even I get hung up on not moving past intention. I don’t even want to count how many times a week I say I’m going to do something and either don’t follow through or half ass it.

The day after reading that chapter, I saw an article by Liz Gilbert (she’s at Brene Brown level in terms of how much I love her perspective and writing). There was a paragraph in the article that immediately made me highlight, copy and paste it so I wouldn’t forget the message.

The hurdle, however, is that asking for what you really want—whether it’s a job as a writer or a discount on tires—can be difficult. Especially for women. First of all, you must know what you really want, which can be hard if you were raised to please others. Secondly, you must believe that what you want is worthy—again, a tricky prospect for women long trained in the dark arts of self-deprecation. Thirdly, you must face the possibility of rejection. That’s the worst of it. Women don’t like being turned down (we get enough of that in our personal lives), and so, like trial lawyers, we often ask only questions to which we already know the answers. Which means: no risk. Which further means: no reward.

Needless to say, my mind was spinning. There’s no power in intention. There’s no risk or reward in not asking. In both scenarios, it’s about playing it safe.

Moving beyond intention and going after what I want was the big motivation when I decided my word for the year would be daring. I think what these two quotes helped me remember is that it’s not just the big things (my career, wanting to be a consultant, personal growth) that need attention and action. It’s also about the daily things, the small things that, in the end, can actually make a huge difference.

I got to thinking about all my good intentions throughout an average week or month. And let me tell you, I’d be one rich lady if I got even a penny for every time I said something like, “I really need to start eating healthier” or “I should really give up Diet Coke.”

It goes beyond health, too. It wasn’t until I attended a financial/retirement planning seminar two weeks ago that I start taking action on budgeting/creating a new retirement account and getting a bank in Lincoln (six months after I moved here…). All the intention in the world is going to get me a bank account in town or money for retirement. It requires action.

From that financial seminar I also gained a different perspective on that first quote. Intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you. You know who that is? Me, myself and I. The financial advisor kept stressing you need to look in the mirror and have that staff meeting to really assess if you’re taking the actions you need to take. In the end, waiting another month to not budget or start eating healthier hurts myself.

I can’t say this post has a real purpose other than giving me an opportunity to reinvigorate my efforts to keep daring myself — to act on and ask for what I want, whether it’s big or small. Plus it’s part of living the good life, right? It’s not always easy, but in the end I’d say it’s worth it.

Baking breakfast and dinner

Contrary to the title, I actually didn’t bake both of these on the same day…

You’d be surprised to learn how many of my muffins/breads are a result of bananas starting to turn. That was the case with the skinny banana blueberry muffins I made on Friday afternoon. Thankfully I managed to have all the ingredients on hand (you never know when you start making skinny and healthy recipes since they generally replace sugar with something).

You’ll have to ignore the odd one in the bottom left corner. I don’t have toothpicks so I often opt to stick a knife into the center and I probably got distracted trying to make sure Hurley didn’t get too close to the oven (sometimes he’s a bit too much help in the kitchen and I really don’t need another vet visit).

Muffins

While I enjoyed the muffins, they didn’t seem to keep well. I made them on Friday and by Tuesday morning I couldn’t eat them. I’m not sure if it’s because I stored them in tupperware or I waited too long to use the bananas. At least I got a few good muffins out of it and I got my blueberry fix. Next on the docket is a pumpkin flavored muffin or bread (I’ve already added the pumpkin syrup to my coffee at Starbucks twice… and it hasn’t even been out two weeks).

Sunday night I attempted a loaded baked potato and buffalo chicken casserole. I’ll admit I had my reservations based on two things. One, the pinterest link suggested that the casserole was healthy. Not entirely sure on that… Two, it seemed a bit odd to combine potatoes with buffalo chicken into one dish. But, I was craving buffalo chicken and needed something that would yield leftovers for the week at work.

Sadly I opted not to get the bacon for the recipe. I actually think it would have made a great addition. I made a rookie mistake in not cooking the potatoes for the full 45-50 minutes like the recipe said. Mine were started to get crispy at the 30-minute mark, but they ended up being less crispy 20 minutes later. Probably from the added sauce and raw chicken (as the initial blogger noted, I was a little skeptical throwing the raw chicken on what seemed to be fully cooked potatoes, but it worked).

Buffalo chicken casserole

This more than hit the spot! I was a little nervous the leftovers wouldn’t be as good since the potatoes wouldn’t be all that crispy, but somehow it seems to be better. I don’t know if it has more time to soak up the buffalo sauce or what. Whatever it is, I love it. But like pumpkin flavors, I’ve also been craving buffalo… Must be fall/football season (says the girl who doesn’t really watch football)?

The only thing I didn’t like about this dish is that it doesn’t have a vegetable incorporated. I paired it with zucchini, but it didn’t really do the trick. A co-worker suggested adding cauliflower to the casserole or at least having celery and/or a salad as a side dish. Might be an option for the future.

Meal

The best part about dinner, though? I got to eat it while sitting on my comfy dining rooms chairs. Have I mentioned how much I love them?!

Labor Day laboring

I’m typing this entry from the comfort of my newly recovered dining room chairs. But first, the before photo.

Table Before

It’s not that it’s a bad table per say. It was a solid $100 investment for my apartment during graduate school. But the cream/white chairs were never going to last with me around, and they left much to be desired in terms of comfort. In fact, I normally put a fleece pillow on top of the chair if I anticipated sitting for more than 10 minutes.

Recovering them has been on my to-do list since I moved almost six months ago (it’s hard to believe it’s been that long already!), but I was torn on color. With a pink entertainment center, a light blue rug and an orange coffee pot, I felt like I had to be somewhat careful in my color selection. Although I went into the store with the hopes of finding a slate blue/gray color, it was inevitably a purple that caught my eye. Then the middle had a genius idea — do two chairs purple, and the other two the chevron pattern just a few rows up from the purple. Yes, please!

I also bought 2 inch cushion foam to add more support to the chair. We anticipated scrapping the old foam but decided to keep it on the chair for two reason. One, it would definitely offer more comfort. Two, the foam was already wrapped around the wood base of the chair, meaning we wouldn’t have to worry about getting the new form around the wood, which would save us time (and headaches).

Once the foam piece was squared away, next came the task of figuring out how to effectively wrap the fabric around the foam. Essentially the middle treated it like wrapping a Christmas present. And I had the honors of using the staple gun to secure it in place. (Let that sentence sink in for a minute. A staple gun, people! I got to use one!)

You can tell there’s more padding on the chair now, and the comfort alone is worth the size difference. Plus the patterns are so fun!

Before&After

The entire project took us* about two hours.

*By us, I really mean the middle. She did the staple removal from the old covering, the fabric wrapping job for the new covering and screwed them back on to the chairs. I mostly just used the staple gun and provided lots of witty commentary.

The transformation was much needed and already my dining room feels even more complete (I’ve been putting off hanging any wall art on the open wall because I wasn’t sure what color my cushions would end up being). Not bad for a four-hour $50 project!

Table After

Like I mentioned, I couldn’t have done this without the middle, though. Clearly Hurley wasn’t going to be much help…

Hurley Help

With that project marked off my to-do list, I’m just about ready to tackle my next DIY project. Here’s a small hint — it involves a sander (another big tool I’m really excited to use!) and teal/turquoise paint. Oh, and the middle. I still need supervision for most projects requiring tools…

Accomplished summer goals

School is apparently back in session and I suppose that technically marks the end of summer (not that you’d be able to tell based on the weather the last week or two). Although last week I posted about the notion that life isn’t about adding experiences to your life list or resume, I still felt like I should “report out” on my summer activities. Besides, it’s been a draft post I’ve updated all summer held me accountable the last few months.

I have to say, I really enjoyed the new approach I took for my summer goals. Trying 12 new things throughout the summer was much more manageable and I didn’t have to go all OCD to get it accomplished. And surprisingly, I got pretty close to doing almost one new activity each week.

So what did my summer consist of in terms of personal growth (aka: my 30 Before 30 List and #100fitdays challenge) and getting to know Lincoln?

  1. Joined the American Evaluation Association (June 5). And from that I got to participate in an eStudy course on becoming an evaluation consultant. Double win!
  2. Attended a Salt Dogs baseball game (June 13).
  3. Started volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association (June 18).
  4. Attended a Meetup group meeting for 20s and 30s young professionals (June 25).
  5. Tried a BodyPump class (July 7). I could barely move the next day, but I’ve been going to the class once a week (in part because the instructor now knows me and holds me accountable…)
  6. Took a eight-week Intro to Yoga class (July 14). I still suck at it but it’s surprisingly done wonders for my hips.
  7. Took a community education class on feng shui (July 17). Technically it wasn’t my first community ed class, but the other two have been activity based, making it feel like a gym class.
  8. Went canoeing with the middle on the Elkhorn River (July 25).
  9. Started teaching a new session of Living Well, which is Nebraska’s chronic disease self-management program (July 30).
  10. Toured Pioneers Park (August 3). Seeing a real moose was incentive enough for me to go back. So many trails to explore with Hurley (though he gets a little too excited thinking it’s like the dog park and advocates to run free).
  11. Fell in love with a new coffee shop (August 5). It’s a little out of my way in the morning, but once I got a free large coffee out of it!
  12. Tried a class at the zumba studio in town (August 16).

I should almost include the three trips to the vet that I took this summer (which technically took place in just the last eight weeks…). Some aspects of summer (namely bees and pollen) apparently got the better of my little guy.

Aside from those minor incidents, though, I have to say that summer was a smashing success. I’m feeling more comfortable in my new city, with my job and being Hurley’s mama. Although it still feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, I certainly made the most of them.

Summer2014

The best part is that fall is right around the corner, and that’s undoubtedly my favorite time of year. In fact, I’ve already got another list started that includes picking apples and going to the pumpkin patch. Plus I can’t forget that I’ve got four months left of daring myself (side note: best theme and year ever!). There’s still so much to experience and explore!

But for now, I’m going to snuggle with Hurley (perk of the vet: medicine makes him cuddly) and listen to the rain. I’ve earned some relaxation after a few busy weeks.

 

Down with taco meat

I’ve apparently been on a Mexican food kick these last few weeks. After tonight’s delicious dinner, I almost feel like I need to retract (at least a little bit) all my black bean love. From black bean tacos to black bean casseroles, I’ve been singing their praises (which, believe me, isn’t normal).

Not tonight. Tonight I’m singing the praises of carnitas. And more specifically, Chipotle copycat carnita burrito.

This has been on my radar all summer but I couldn’t commit to the amount of food it yielded. Needless to say, I finally caved (and will likely be eating it for more meals than I care to think about right now, but that could just be the full belly talking).

Although it’s a crockpot recipe, I knew the pork wasn’t going to fit in my pint-size crockpot. I tried to trim most of the fat and cut up the pork into smaller sections in hopes of getting it to fit. Factor in the diced tomatoes and beef broth, though, and I knew it was going to lead to a mess. Instead I cooked it on the stovetop, and on medium heat, it was done in slightly more than an hour.

carnitas

With the exception of the whole not-using-a-crockpot thing, I can’t say I made any real modifications to the recipe. I did add a lot more seasonsings and made sure to season the pork before browning it. It packed a lot of flavor without being too much.

Paired with the Chipotle cilantro lime rice and the corn salsa I made with my black bean tacos a couple months ago, I had the perfect burrito bowl.

burrito bowl

Normally I’m not one to get carnita burritos from Chiptole, but I may be a convert. And surprisingly, I didn’t miss the cheese or sour cream I would normally add to my burrito bowl. I can’t tell if it’s because I felt it already had enough flavor (my carnitas probably had more sauce than I typically get at Chipotle) or just because I didn’t have sour cream in my fridge anyway.

This dish was definitely worth trying. Next time I’ll probably aim to have company just so I don’t have quite the amount of leftovers I have, though I may surprise myself and still be craving it at the end of the week. Only time will tell!

Cooking highs and lows

Last week I had two very contrasting cooking experiences. One I can’t wait to make again, and the other I didn’t even eat once it was done.

At least it started off on a good note. Last Sunday I made an enchilada spaghetti squash. It sounds a little odd, but I assure you it is fabulous. I did swap out chicken for ground turkey, but otherwise the recipe was incredibly simple to follow (probably because I didn’t actually make the enchilada sauce from scratch. Getting a can at the grocery store was a much easier option). Pure deliciousness.

Boat

It’s definitely the spaghetti squash that sells it since it has a bit of a crunch to it, for lack of a better word. I doubt it would work with any other pasta, though having not tried it I can’t be sure. I still can’t get over how much I enjoyed the dish, even as leftovers.

squash

My second new recipe was far from that successful. Although the lentil sloppy joes sounded and looked great, it was anything but. The carrots dominated the flavor of the sauce, and even after 40 minutes, the lentils still weren’t fully cooked. To say it was a bust was an understatement.

Sloppy joe

Thankfully the only real investment (other than time) I made for this dish was the lentils. Plus I had a backup plan. The last time I tried a dish with lentils it was also a bust. Perhaps third time is the charm? I’m not in a rush to find out, though…

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