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Friday, September 27, 2013

signs of fall

I have gone from lamenting the end of summer to relishing my favorite hallmarks of fall: fleece in any form, our down comforter, using my oven again, scarves, cooked apples and squash and turning my focus to the inside of my house instead of the outside (which if you must know is so severely neglected I feel like someone should report me to whatever agency monitors household chore abandonment).
The girls' transition to school has been unexpectedly uneventful (phew).  I'm feeling way too busy with my responsibilities at the school and still figuring out how to use all my time efficiently (especially when the house needs its first post children thorough cleaning out) and how to not over commit myself to things I don't want to do. 
Also, Maya got a bunny leash.  Pink camo.  Cinnamon is no ordinary bunny and she has no ordinary leash. 

Another random fall thing: the chill in the air means bundling up for bike rides and combating some serious wind.  For my birthday I asked for neoprene booties to cover my clip shoes and these little sleeves of brilliant innovation are my new best friend. I no longer have frigidly painful feet while I ride! This will make fall riding 100 times more enjoyable. And while, I admit, I do prefer shorts and bare arms for cycling, there is something equally nice about not getting over-heated and salt-depleted and the beauty of the fiery red maples this time of year is its own reward.

Fall also means apples! I bought a bag of "utility" apples (the ones that drop off the trees)- 1/2 bushel for $11- and this past Sunday was all about applesauce making.

Side note: this weekend was also about the Great Hamster Search of 2013.  Ella bought herself a dwarf hamster with some of her lobstering money (after an all out persuasion campaign) and has been doing a stellar job of caring for the critter herself.  From water changing to cage cleaning, Ella has been the model pet owner.  Except when she was cleaning the cage Saturday afternoon she didn't realize a hatch door had come loose (and actually fell in the trash necessitating three trash inspections between two mothers) and by Sunday morning the hamster was GONE. 
This is what I spent most of Sunday, when I wasn't making applesauce, looking for:

It's Thursday and, despite the awesome trap Sandi set, we have seen nary a beady eye or stubbed tail of the poor missing "Sugar." 
Maya's new favorite word is "thingamajig."  She loved my apple peeler, corer, slicer which L.L. Bean nicknamed the apple thingamajig.  Perfect for Maya.

The entire time she used it she was saying, "I can't wait to do this again!  This is so fun!  I love this!"  I said, "But we're doing it right now!  You don't have to wait for next time!"  and felt a kinship to Yoda.

Every now and a blue moon the girls work as a team and it makes my Momma heart beat proud.  (Opposed to the times when they compete and claim the inequality of their position and I want to go sit on the patio.)
A full pot of apples makes for about half a pot of applesauce.  All that goes in is a little water and some cinnamon and maple syrup.  I slowly boil it until the apples are soft (the time depends on the type of apple but typically about an hour).  I like my applesauce chunky so I don't blend it but just mash it with a potato masher.
Fall is also the time of the sunflower.  We like to grow the "mammoth" variety.  It is has been such  fun for Maya this year to watch the seeds morph into chunky stalks that grow bigger than her, bigger than us and soon tower over the car.  When the dinner plate-sized sunflowers exploded in all their cheerful glory, it nearly sent Maya over the edge with joy.

This morning I leave for my weekend retreat to Kripalu.  I've been feeling kind of anxious about going, a little guilty and a touch of lonely at the thought of going alone.  But as people have reminded me, going alone is sort of the point.  This has been an inward journey and, while support is great, it is one I have to travel on my own.  That being said, I had to remind myself why I want to go by watching the video about this amazing yoga center (you can watch it here) and was brought to tears by the relief of taking my exhausted heart and mind somewhere so wonderful for restoration.

So today I will go despite the pull of my heart strings telling me to stay.  I have my own continued awakening to behold.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

island fun

With graduation getting closer and Sandi having hours to spend on final tasks and studying for boards, the vice on our family recreational time persists.  However, when her mom called to discuss the possibility of going on a "picnic" a few times in a row, we poured over the schedule to see if there was a day to fit it in. 
Did we ever pick the right day out of the weather lottery.
A "picnic" by Carver standards is a day spent sailing on Dwight's lobster boat to a neighboring island, rowing coolers and food, people and dogs, clam hoes and Nerf footballs in three to four trips from the anchored boat to the shore and frolicking on an island for as long as time permits.  It had been two years since we'd been on a picnic, long enough for Maya to not remember it, and although we couldn't frolic all day day long and had some time constraints, it was more than worth the trip!

Sandi and her sister Kristi

Brevan, Maya and Dwight

Me, Patti and Kristi

Patti with her other child.
Check out this guy hauling his traps by hand.
After a beautiful boat ride that would have, in and of itself been enough fun to warrant a trip to Beals, we came upon Ram Island.  What a amazing stretch of coast the Carvers live on and what a photogenic day it was.

Patti and Sandi got right to their favorite sport: fire building.  They are two peas in a pyrotechnic pod and love these sorts of joint activities.   To cook outside is gratifying but to cook on an island in the Maine sunshine is irresistible.

Dwight, Micheal and Brevan set about digging us some clams.

Patti also brought fresh mussels to cook over the open flame. 

These lobsters look so beautiful laid out and ready to be eaten.  But they do look decidedly lonely.

Yes, that's better...  (for the record we covered nearly all the shellfish family: lobsters, mussels, clams, crab claws.)  Eating this kind of hands on meal outside on the rock is ideal in every way. Easy to manage, a cinch to clean up and, as everyone knows, all food tastes better outside.

The island is such a wondrous place.  Not surprisingly this called for an usual event: the creation of a store.  (You may recall the kids have been nearly obsessed with stores this summer.)

Dwight's store purchase was a Canadian baseball hat I fished out of a tree for Brevan. 


"Mum's girls" awaiting our return.

The girls and Sandi and I are always on the lookout for heart-shaped things in nature (or in pickles which Ella is very adept at finding).  She found these two rocks on the beach.

I often don't know how to finish posts like these where our lives seem so over the top blessed it feels almost arrogant to broadcast it.  All I can say is that I am never without gratitude and I always work to take in this love that flows to me but to not hold it too tightly.  Instead I let it keep flowing, allowing me to enjoy it as it moves but giving it license to travel to all the other places it is needed.  So this was my love for the afternoon and now it belongs to the world.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

bold moves and the importance of good undies

A few months ago a friend told me that Geneen Roth, writer and teacher extraordinaire whose work has shaped my own personal journey of the past 9 months, was coming to Kripalu to lead a workshop.  Kripalu is yoga retreat center in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts and is a place I have been longing to go for years.  I have entertained visions of myself going to Kripalu to train to be a yoga instructor when my kids are older and my life is in a different phase of its evolution.

Geneen Roth mostly holds workshops on the west coast so for her to be coming to the east coast, and to Kripalu no less, seemed like an offering I couldn't refuse.  I was so excited at the possibility, especially when I learned that Kripalu offers scholarships.  Then I wondered how I would actually leave town and my mom post for three days.  When I learned that it is the same weekend that Sandi has her very important presentation on her massive senior thesis, I thought there is no way.

Then I remembered all the offers of help, all the people who love me who encourage me to take care of myself.  I decided it was worth pursuing further and not abandoning this deep desire when I hit the first obstacle.

I asked my sister to help with the kids.  She gave a, not surprisingly, enthusiastic yes.   When asked what I wanted for my birthday, I said a contribution to go to Kripalu.  I applied for the scholarship and I got it.  The scholarship covered 40% of the cost of the workshop and lodging ($210) and I needed to pay the remaining $311. 

Guess how much money I got from the incredibly generous people in my life?  $310.

I'm going to Kripalu at the end of September.  The timing isn't good and it makes life hard for Sandi when she needs her focus on these last few crucial months of school.  But we've worked it out and I'm going.

I spent a lot of time writing the essay to go with my scholarship application.  It was immensely difficult to distill my journey into a concise, readable format.  Here is the meat of it:

Personal transformation never takes the easy or convenient path and its timing is often seemingly very poor.  I never fall apart at a good time and I don’t get to hand pick the issues I would prefer to work on.  Inner work is not pretty or neat, is not designed to be tied up with shiny paper and a matching bow, and my deepest issues have a way of pinning me against the wall and demanding my attention.
This year, I’ve come to understand that the most fertile ground for my own transformation comes when external circumstances set off untouched, previously unknown, places in me. I can’t say I like it, or that it is comfortable, but I can say I do my best work here. This concert of external catalysts and internal readiness is perhaps not the terrible timing I’ve judged it to be, but rather the only avenue for my deepest work to be done. It is like being told my own secrets.
The last eight months have felt like the ultimate labyrinth of inner work.  Each road takes me to another which morphs into yet another as I trace my distorted ways of thinking and living back to their origins.  I have been stripped bare and stand raw in my life unsure of what is left when so much has been discarded.  It has been lonely and disorienting and I struggle to have words to describe the undoing of what I thought was myself in the pursuit of my real self.
There is no doubt in my mind that the circumstances of Sandi being in school has been one of the greatest opportunities of my life.  It has forced me to look inside, the strain has broken me open and through the cracks so much light has flooded in.  I wouldn't want to go back and do it again but I can tell you that, from where I stand, I am very grateful for the gifts it has brought.
We have 73 days until Sandi graduates.  We are in the home stretch, mile 24 of a marathon.  It is a period of distorted time and flagging energy.  It is a good time to take a break and rejuvenate.

On a related side note, I have been considering, disregarding and reconsidering some advice I have read over and over again in Geneen Roth's books: remove all the clothes from your closet that don't fit or that are uncomfortable to wear.  Throw away your old underwear with holes and buy new underwear.  Go out and buy clothes that fit and underwear you love. 


Finally, I became deeply willing to follow this guidance.  I was tired of pawing through my clothes and feeling demoralized if things didn't fit.  I told myself that I would give myself all the time I needed to figure this food thing out from the inside and that I would not rush or push by enforcing stipulations about food.  What is happening with my eating is nothing short of a miracle.  I am eating less, eating mindfully, choosing thoughtfully and dispelling myths about how and what I eat every day. 

It is also a slow, imperfect process and I cannot tolerate the external pressure of clothing size on this delicate journey.  In short, I decided I am no longer waiting to arrive at my "normal" weight to start living joyfully in this amazing body just as it is.

So I went out  and got myself some new pants so I would have more than 2 comfortable fitting pants in my closet.  (I compromised and sought out clearance buys so that I wouldn't feel guilty about spending a lot of money on clothes while we are still a few months out from a paycheck.)  I did not let the sizes, the harsh flourescent lights or the show-it-all changing room mirrors get me down.  I thanked my body for being all that it is and doing all that it's done.  I thanked it for being mine, only mine to care for and reside in.

 I felt so free and self-affirming that I did something very daring. I went into Victoria Secret in search of new undies.

Let me tell you the layers of self-talk I had to combat to be in there- about money, about my weight and how much more fun this would be if I were 10 pounds thinner, about frivolity and need, starving people in Africa and about being a self-respecting lesbian.  I discarded each act of sabotage as I made my way deeper into the silky cave of Victoria's Secret.  A very lovely young salesgirl asked if she could help me.  I told her what I was looking for: something pretty and sexy but comfortable. She all but took me by the hand and gave me a tutorial on cheekies, hipsters, thongs and all that is in between.  She showed me the fit of different styles on mannequins and shared her own personal underwear preferences.  She was like a lingerie Mother Teresa.

The panty sale (5 panties for $26) felt like a sign.  As I stood at the register with my daring purchase, I watched as she wrapped the delicate fabric in pretty tissue paper and tucked it beautifully in a fancy bag. I almost said, "Oh, that's okay, you don't have to go to all that trouble and waste."  But I stopped myself with another thought: yes please, I need a little luxury, a little just-because kindness, a little beauty.  I've been mean to myself for far too long and the pink tissue paper containing a lingerie peace-offering will go miles in apology. Please go to the trouble on my behalf.
It wasn't about the panties (which are in fact awesome by the way) or retail therapy or buying into cultural ideas of attractiveness.  It was about asserting my right to relish myself as I am and live now and not wait for myself or my body to be different in order to do so. 

So I'm taking my fancy-panty self to Kripalu in a couple of weeks.  I continue to work to discard the thoughts that tell me I am being selfish or self-indulgent. I am doing it anyway.  I'm not even telling myself that I am no good to anyone if I'm not good to me because that implies I am doing it with the end goal of caring for other people.  I am going because I need to, want to, deserve to. I don't need a justification for doing nice things for myself or caring for myself with tenderness, thoughtfulness and regard.

If you see me out there in the world doing something that seems self-serving, go ahead and assume it is because I have a lot of lost time to make up for.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

might as well enjoy it.

 What started out as a very painful week turned, as things often do, into a successful week of accomplishment and pride. 
Day two of school I planned a ride on MDI with my friend Chris while the kids were in school.  It was kind of like my way to mark this new phase of my life. I was all packed, bike in the car and ready for drop-off when I went to help Maya with her shoes and hit a road block.
"Are you coming into help at lunch today?" 
"Not today.  I can't go in everyday.  They wouldn't want me to do that."
"If you're not coming in, I don't want to go to school."
"I can't come in today but I will another day very soon."
"I don't want to go to school!!!"
Uh-oh.  I really wasn't sure, in my fragile emotional state, if I could handle forcing my child to go to school.  Even if I needed to.  Even if it would be best for her. 
As I was pondering my very immediate future full of tears from both of us, she said, "I will go, but if you don't come I won't eat."
"Okay.  You don't have to eat."
"I won't eat anything.  Not one thing."
"Okay. Deal."  She put her shoes on and got in the car.  She agreed to let Ally walk her to her class.  No tears, no fuss and I actually got a smile.
At home I met Chris and we hit the road for Bar Harbor.  We hit the September weather jackpot and got pretty much the most exquisite day one could ever hope for on a bike.  Chis is a very ambitious cyclist and I love to ride with her.  She mapped out a loop that took us up Cadillac Mountain and then all over the Acadia National Park Loop Road and through Northeast Harbor.
Thank goodness we started with Cadillac because it is a major leg crusher.  We did it  back in May when the road was closed to cars.  Let me tell you  there is no comparison between climbing a mountain road without cars and with a steady stream of cars and buses and motorcycles.  When we got to the top it was so jammed with people we didn't even go to the vista lookouts and instead headed back down.  I did snap this pic on the way down the road. 
The day was unparalled beauty.  We rode 41 miles and my legs were shredded at the end. I think when my heart hurts I really crave physical challenge so this was perfect for me.

The girls had a great first week.  Maya did in fact eat on the second day of school.  Ella is adjusting nicely to her new school, although the jury is out on whether she likes it as much as her old school. 
Maya has this very cool device called an FM system at school.  It allows the teacher to speak through a microphone that transmits directly into Maya's hearing aids. Unfortunately we only have one of the two transmitters working but that will be rectified shortly.  When I heard about this accommodation for her I wondered if she would really need it since her hearing loss is mild.  Then we got to hear on a computer simulation what it sounds like for her with and without the FM system.  Without the system, and just her hearing aids, everything is amplified in the room so the teacher's voice is, but also all the kids and all the background noise.  In other words, it is very hard to hear the teacher.  With the FM system, her teacher's voice comes right into her ear (we tried it and it is amazing!) and it also helps to cancel out some of the background noise.  This will be essential for such a busy child to hear directions in a space as distracting as a kindergarten classroom.  The FM system gets passed to whatever teacher is giving instructions (art, music, PE and the principal at school assemblies) and can be used via microphone by other kids in the class.
She says to me after the first day: "At school this ear (the left) is a magic ear.  I can hear Mrs. Welch right in my ear!  I wish you had one of these so that I could always hear what you are saying."
(There may be a way to get one and I am working on it.  It would be perfect for public settings.)
The system is working so well and Maya is responding so well to the structure of kindergarten that she even got her name moved to the owl (a really good thing we presume) and earned not only her first, but also her second, McGraw Paw!  (These are given out in special recognition of good behavior.)  After watching Ella earn these purple gems for 3 years, she was mighty happy to have a couple of her own.
I confess it was hard to send Ella to kindergarten.  Not just on the first day when she clung to me like a barnacle and had to peeled off, but for months it was hard.  She was tired by all day school until sometime after Christmas.  She didn't want to leave home. 
Maya is ready with a capital R. Other than the one protest about me coming for lunch, the other mornings she has been anxious to don her backpack and get in the car.  After school she wants to play school.  She is Mrs. Welch and I am the student.  She talks nonstop before and after school and we are attempting to tire her since school is barely making a dent in her energy level.
On her first run.  She and Sandi went together and she talked the entire way on every possible subject like a ping pong in play.  They ran just over a mile without stopping.
Maya's mind is such an active and fertile place and I have to admit, she needs school.  And after spending all summer trying to keep her stimulated, it is nice for it to be Mrs. Welch's turn for some of the day.

Ella has been more quiet this week but she is doing her homework with no complaining, she has been much kinder to her sister and, overall, I see a shift in her general being.  She is more thoughtful, more mature, and more bold.

This is what I have to say about having both kids in school.  (Ironically, this is similar to one of the things my friend Emilie has said about having shared custody.)  I have enough time now to do things like mow the lawn, grocery shop, get the car fixed, clean the house, fold the laundry, ride my bike, balance the checkbook, write, make phone calls and go to the dump that my time with my kids is more relaxed and present.  If you want to ride your bike up the street for an hour, sure let's do it.  If you want to catch butterflies, let's go for it. 

I miss my kids during the day and it is so nice to miss them, get them back and then spend a few hours relishing them. 

Yesterday was Friday, the last day of their first week.  Sandi was home (she is on a four day a week plus a night of call clinical rotation) and we went for a 33 bike ride.  It was sunny and breezy and perfect (except for way too much traffic and a few mechanical failures) and I was overjoyed that we were able to have some time alone to do this with no favors called in, no sitter to pay.

Then we went together to pick the kids up and it was so cute to hear Ella explain to Maya in the backseat about how Friday afternoon is the official start of the weekend and hear Maya tell us about the silly thing her music teacher did that made her laugh. 

This is why I'm not in charge of the world, or even fully of what happens in my life.  Left to my own proclivities I cling on to things and try to cajole them into stagnancy and sameness.  But every part of me, and probably of every human being, seeks change, transformation, newness.  Thank goodness life provides it for me around every corner and I have little say because, in the end, change is what keeps us alive, growing and evolving. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

first day of school

And then the time for backpacks, new sneakers, packed school supplies and all my brain power devoted to thinking up creative things to serve for lunch was upon us...
You know this story.  It is has been this way for parents for thousands of years.  Way back when it was probably more like:
 Honey, you are ready to go off and hunt for food.  Watch out for those red berries- the dark ones are poisonous and the light ones I can pound down to spread on raw meat so be sure to get the light colored ones.  The medium ones will strike you dead the second you touch them so beware of those.  If you see a mammoth coming for you, hide behind the closest rock and tuck your naked body in a ball.  If it is anything smaller than a mammoth, try to kill it with the slingshot I've packed for you.  It is right next to that drumstick in your burlap sack. Beware of insects and chaff with that loin cloth and try not to get it too dirty since it is brand new.
But all these eons later, it is really the same story.  We just have less danger and Land's End, LLBean and Target to make life easier.   Yet for a mom sending her kids back out into the world, one officially for the first time, it feels the same as it has for moms through the ages.
I hope people are good to you.  I hope you know that I love you even though I am sending you away today.  I hope you are good to others and can be the person we have raised you to be.  I hope you are happy while you're there and not missing home too much.  I hope you feel confident and sure and now how marvelous you are (but not too much since arrogance is obnoxious).  I hope you say please and thank you and listen well and learn lots and do what you went to school to do.  I hope that whatever makes your heart soar or break today you will tell me all about it when you get home.
For anyone that doesn't have kids I'm sure this seems 50 flavors of ridiculous.  But when it has been your job, your life's work for many years to care for your children, it is hard to turn them over to someone else.  I confess it is easier with Ella since she is accustomed to school and I can see her need for a broader horizon.   Maya is my baby, however, and it is very weird to send her to the big school and not have her home with me some of the time. 
There is something excruciating about knowing that neither of my kids will ever be home full-time again and that there circle of influence is widening each year.  I cannot adequately use words to describe this unique brand of sadness but I find great comfort in knowing the countless moms who have gone before me.
It helps that they were both ready to go.
(Maya was slightly distracted by the butterfly in her hand.)


 It is my new school year resolution NOT TO RUSH my kids in the morning.  We had plenty of time to spare getting into the car and getting where we needed to be.  This year we have our neighbor Ally three mornings a week so we got to take her on the first day too. 
Ella started at the 3-5 school this year which is just a walkway down from her old school.  Here you can see her old school in the back.  It is very convenient for dropping and picking up the kids but it is a major transition for her nonetheless.  I was incredibly proud of how brave and confident she was!

Almost ready to go in to their school...

It helps that Maya grew a bunch this summer and is nearly 6.  She didn't seem as impossibly small as some of the kindergartners being dropped off.  And I can't even tell you how comforting it was to know how comfortable she is at this school having spent countless hours volunteering here with me over the past three years.   She and I were in a good place and I knew dropping her would be a breeze.

But alas, as soon as we walked in the front door and saw all the familiar faces of the staff who were saying, "Hi Maya!! You get to come to school here now!"  I promptly, unintentionally, burst into tears.   No, not her.  Me.  Full on tears.
How did we get here?
I did a reasonable job swiping and hiding my emotion but these unbidden tears were merciless and were not to be stopped.  I knew I had to get out of there before she caught on.  I helped settle her and sat her down to color with another girl.  Then I said, "Okay, you're going to stay and I'm going to go," and I felt my heart shatter. She looked up at me and searched my face.  How to be brave when you are breaking so that your child can be brave when she really needs to be?  I did what was best for her.  I bolted.

After a tearful pep talk with Ange, I went home and got right on my bike.  I was going to enjoy this newfound space, damnit. I want to say it was amazing.  It wasn't.  I had a headache from all the crying and where I might have felt freedom, I felt disoriented and disjointed. I kept feeling like I had left the gas on or like I accidentally left home and forgot the kids were there. I kept telling myself they were at school but it felt all wrong. 

I went to school for kindergarten lunch to help out and I was so happy to see her.  She gave me a big, clingy hug and I asked if she had had a good morning.  "Some." was her reply. Then she asked me if I could sit and eat with her and when would I be coming to pick her up.  She wanted to go home.  

When I got home to eat lunch alone in the very quiet house, I worked to cultivate some gratitude for this new stage of my life.  It felt disloyal to enjoy the quiet when I was still conflicted about my kids being at school and knowing Maya wanted to be home, but they were there regardless.  I began to just accept that my whole person has been calibrated to them for so long (and recently for 2 1/2 months straight) that it would take some time to find my new rhythm.

I found myself pondering how stay-at-home moms feel, beyond a sense of loss, a sense of what am I supposed to be doing now? when their kids go to school full-time.  I have a list as long as my leg of things I want to do but it feels weird to be doing anything for more than a couple of hours that isn't related to being Mom.  Having so many of my own interests and passions, I didn't think this would happen to me but...well, it did. 

Then I looked up and saw this poster the kids made for me months ago and has been hanging in the living room.  I smiled and felt their love deep in my heart.  What I have given has mattered.  And it is okay now for me to spend some time on myself.
One of the goals I have for September which I am very much looking forward to is to clean out the house in a major way.  I started by attacking Ella's stacks and stacks of second grade papers.  I was able to recycle 85% of it and pack away a folder of her writings and memorable things from second grade.  It made me so proud to reread some of the things she'd written and see her progress over the past year.  It also made me feel really weepy and sentimental and left me wondering why I hadn't done this in June and waited until the first day of school to tackle it.

I could not wait to go pick up the girls.  Sandi came home early and we went together to get them. 

I'd say, by the looks of it, it was a good first day.

The tag that says she will be picked up instead of riding the bus.

Then down the walkway to get Ms. Ella.

The school kids: Maya, Ella, Kendall and Kaylee
It was a good first day all around.  I think that Ella was very brave about her new school but there are inherent issues with going from being the oldest in a school to being the youngest again, not to mention all the new methods to adjust to. 
We always do something special on the first and last day of school.  We decided to take the kids to Governor's to get some free pie with some of the countless stickers we got at the Folk Festival.
The host at Governor's asked how I was as he seated us.  I told him that it had been a long day and I was ready to relax over dinner.  (I may have actually told him I needed a drink, I'm not sure.)  He said, "Yes, you look tired," which I think is code for you've either been smoking something or cried your eyelids half off today lady.
 It was one of the more successful dinners out we've had (more joyful, less stressful) and I was reminded of the benefits to having your children growing up.  We were so immensely proud of them and I know they knew it. 
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