#AtoZChallenge — Fahrenheit 451

My favorite book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I love how it doesn’t tell the story in a traditional format. Instead, it takes the reader through the story as an experience which means you have to do quite a bit of inferring. But in the year 2021, the story is also a bit unsettling as it seems like we are creeping closer and closer to the dystopian and dysfunctional world in that novel. Read on to see my perspective, but this post may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the novel but plan to and don’t want parts of it ruined for you, then maybe stop here 🙂

  • Wall TVs: our TVs keep getting bigger and bigger; soon they will literally be as big as an entire wall.
  • Seashells: ear buds are very close to the seashells people use in the novel. Just take a look around the next time you are in public. People everywhere are plugged in to the ear buds, just like people in Fahrenheit 451.
  • Banning books: while books are not anywhere close to illegal in our current society, we have started to remove books that people find offensive. This is a hot button issue for sure. Take the Dr. Seuss brouhaha. Yes, the books in question had racist material. But does that mean it should be completely removed and unavailable? I don’t know. To me, it seems enough to call the books out for what they are, and then they can sit on library shelves, maybe never to be checked out again. But what if I wanted to read them? What if I wanted to look at them through a new lens, trying to make sense of the racist depictions? Is it fair that I can’t access the books? Ultimately, the removal of some books because of offensive content starts a trek down a potentially very slippery slope.
  • Cult mentality: just as people in the society of the novel seem to have a cult mentality, sticking to their misguided tenets, eschewing and actually turning in people who don’t follow those tenets, even people they love and care about. Politics over the past decade or so have cultivated a similar mindset, with people losing relationships with friends and family because of differences of opinions about politics and political figures.
  • Death rituals being abridged, even eliminated: COVID has caused many families to have to skip the traditional goodbye rituals to loved ones who pass away. In the novel, when someone dies, there is no mourning or service to bring closure. The deceased is simply taken away and life goes on.
  • Dependence on medication: so many people today are reliant on medication for stress, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, etc. People use medication like its candy in Fahrenheit 451, and medication is so commonly used that even when the protagonist’s wife overdoses, the technicians who help her aren’t the least bit phased by it. Mildred herself thinks it’s impossible that she took too much medication, she takes so much that she can’t even fathom how it’s possible she took too much.
  • Desensitization to death: there is a scene in the book where a car full of teens try to hit and kill the main character, Montag, with their car. Montag’s wife Mildred talks about how she goes out at night and drives her car fast, sometimes hitting and killing animals and how it makes her feel good to do that. We may not be having fun with killing (yet), but we sure seem accepting of it. Mass killings and school shootings are common place and don’t seem to be terribly shocking news and nobody seems interested in finding ways to make them stop.

Are you a fan of Fahrenheit 451? If so, do you see things the way I do, and did I miss any parallels? Or am I way off base with a really crappy, pessimistic attitude? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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#AtoZChallenge — Empathy

My post for today is about empathy. I feel like empathy is one of my strongest personality traits. I think it’s one of the most important traits a person can have. I think it’s the trait people need most of all in this world, especially the way things are now. I also think it’s probably the hardest thing to teach people.

Empathy, simply put, is the ability to understand the way another person might feel. I didn’t realize empathy was a thing until I was an adult. I have always kind of been good at thinking about how other people feel. I just thought it was “romanticizing” or “dramatizing” the way other people might feel. Come to find out that the consideration I have for other people’s feelings is actually empathy.

If people would operate from a place of empathy, there would be so many different people in this world. There would be less bullying — both among kids and adults. There would be less name calling. There would be less selfishness. Social media would not be a cesspool. “Karens” and “Chads” would be few and far between. Crime would decrease.

Unfortunately, empathy is sorely lacking, and when people behave empathetically, they get made fun of. They get called snowflakes, triggered, soft, weak, and various other offensive names (many of which are misogynistic, but that’s a whole other post). Being empathetic is considered silly and laughable.

I have often said that part of the problem with the messaging about wearing masks is that we were told wearing a mask protects those around us. For a society that has a distinct lack of empathy, this message falls on deaf ears, so people get all pissy about “having their rights infringed” by having to wear a mask. What should have been said is that wearing a mask is 100% personal protection and will keep you safe from all the other germy folks out there. Appeal to peoples’ selfishness and they’ll do what needs to be done.

Ultimately, the people who lack empathy either don’t see it or simply don’t care, so trying to get people to be more empathetic is an exercise in futility. That won’t stop me from trying to continue being empathetic, no matter how much of a snowflake that makes me.

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#AtoZChallenge — Defending Jacob

My friend Janine suggested I read the novel Defending Jacob by William Landay. It was a fantastic read! When a teen is murdered, a local family has to deal with the possibility that their son Jacob is the murderer. It’s a nightmare scenario for every parent. If you are a parent reading this book, you will find yourself being able to identify with the parents in the story. No parent wants to believe their child could so something so disgustingly heinous. This book will take you on an emotional roller coaster right up until the very end, which has quite a plot twist that will leave you with your jaw on the floor and wondering if you would have done the same.

This story was turned into a limited series on Apple TV+. It was good, but doesn’t hold up to the novel, in my opinion. You can watch the trailer for the limited series below.

So if you’re looking for a book that will get you pretty emotionally invested, consider reading Defending Jacob.

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#AtoZChallenge — COVID Blessings

I know what you’re thinking…how original. A post about COVID for the letter C. Sorry I couldn’t be more imaginative 🙂 I am sure you’re also wondering how there could be any kind of blessing associated with COVID. Well, that might be more tricky, and I also know that many people don’t see any blessings at all, as they have become sick themselves, or have known people who became sick, or have even died. In those situations, blessings may be hard to find. I know that. But I have been incredibly fortunate during the past year, and I feel it would be wrong to acknowledge how lucky I have been.

Here is what I want to say about COVID. I have tried to focus on the blessings I have received during this time. Do I know people who did indeed get sick with COVID? Yes. Some of them even got really sick. But none of them had to be hospitalized, and none of them died. Those are blessings.

My husband actually got sick with COVID, although I really have no clue how he did that, as he never really left the house. But he had almost no symptoms whatsoever, and we managed to keep me from getting it despite living in the same house. That’s a blessing.

My mom and dad, both of whom have health issues, did not get COVID. That’s a blessing.

During lockdown, my husband and I were both still able to work from home. We did not have any real disruption in how we live our lives outside of being at home and not going out anywhere. That’s a really big blessing.

My workplace, a school district, was able to open this school year for in person instruction. I honestly figured we would be closed again by Labor Day weekend, but here we are, in April, and still open. We have had cases of COVID, both staff and students, but it was never rampant. I call that a blessing — including for the students in my school district.

Finally, many of my friends and family, including myself, have been able to be vaccinated. That is an incredible blessing.

My sincere hope is that everyone who wants a vaccine is able to get it as soon as they possibly can. I want people to be able to do things they want to and need to do — travel to see dear friends and family, enjoy meals together, hug each other, know they’re safe.

COVID has been awful for so many people in so many ways. I am grateful that my experience has not been as tragic as others, and I wish I could do something to make it better for those who did have to face nightmare scenarios.

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#AtoZChallenge — Beer

I like beer. I’m not a beer connoisseur by any stretch, but I know what I like.

A rare moment, drinking a Corona.

I didn’t always like beer. What I have discovered is that I seem to prefer beer that doesn’t taste like beer. You won’t likely find me drinking a Budweiser, Coors Light, or Miller. Maybe a very occasional Corona (because I like the lime), but generally speaking, not a beer-flavored beer drinker!

Enjoying my “comfort beer,” a Guinness.

I learned that there were beers that had actual flavors from my friends Steven and Brian, who actually opened and ran their own brewery for a few years. (Brian has since moved on to working for a beer distributor in the Florida keys, using his extensive beer knowledge and reputation to make a name for himself on the beer world. Steven is a brewer and part owner at a local brewery near where I live, so I still get to drink his beer, and it makes me happy!) My very favorite beer in the world is actually one Steven brewed at home and also ended up brewing when he was in business with his brother. It was called Stick to the Nuts (many of their beers had a hockey slant, as their business was named SlapShot Brewing. Stick to the Nuts had peanut butter in it, and it was just so tasty! But since I can’t enjoy Stick to the Nuts anymore, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:

  • Guinness, especially if it’s a nitro (I do love a good stout, and Guinness is just a comfort beer for me)
  • Wells Banana Bread
  • Abita Purple Haze
  • Breckenridge Vanilla Porter
  • Left Hand Milk Stout
  • Hailstorm Hotel Life (this is one of the beers Steven brews)
  • 3 Floyds Zombie Dust
  • Pollyanna Fun Size
  • New Glarus Spotted Cow
  • Saugatuck Neapolitan Milk Stout
Wearing a Guinness shirt I literally charmed off the back of a man in Key West!
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Blogging A to Z — Adopt, Don’t Shop

I have 2 dogs — Blanca and Zoey. They’re both chihuahuas. Zoey is 12; Blanca is 14. Zoey was adopted from someone I knew whose dog had puppies. But Blanca, she’s a different story. One I want to share.

I wanted a chihuahua. I knew I wanted one that was solid, light colored. I did not do any legwork or research and assumed I would not find one anywhere except from a breeder or a shop. I ended up finding her at a pet store, and I won’t disclose what I paid for my dog, but it was A LOT.

Since getting her, I have done a lot of learning, and I discovered that puppy mills exist. I didn’t really know anything about them 14 years ago, but I soon came to learn the horrors of them. If you’re an animal lover. then the details about puppy mills will make you absolutely sick to your stomach. I also learned that many pet stores are notorious for acquiring dogs from puppy mills, and I am fairly certain that my Blanca was probably the product of a puppy mill, and I unwittingly contributed to that practice continuing by buying her at a pet store.

If I had to do it all again, I would reach out to rescues specifically for chihuahuas to see if I could find the kind of pup I wanted. I would go to a shelter to see if they had a dog I wanted. I would NOT go to a breeder (not for a house pet; that’s a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a dog I’m not going to do anything with except feed and love on). I would NOT go to a pet shop. I would adopt. That’s what I would encourage anyone to do for any kind of pet. There are far too many unwanted animals out there that need a home; there is no need to pay big bucks for a house pet. Period.

And while I am on my soap box, please also do not bring a pet into your home unless you plan to keep it for the rest of its life. Pets are not disposable. You do not get to just get rid of it when it becomes an inconvenience. Blanca, being up in years, can’t hold her peeing and pooping as long as she used to be able to, so she does end up having accidents in the house. It’s a pain, and it’s gross. But I will NOT get rid of her because of it. Instead, we use puppy pads in areas where she is prone to making a mess, and we clean floors, throw rugs, and carpets where she has accidents. We invested in a good carpet cleaner, and we have plenty of cleaning supplies. THAT’S what need to be done, not throw her away because she got old.

So the next time you are looking for a new fur baby, please adopt, don’t shop!

P.S. Thanks to my friend Sheila for suggesting I write on this topic. She is a fierce advocate for all things furry!

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Year in Review 2020 — The Year of Silver Linings

I think everyone agrees — 2020 sucked! It was the hottest mess of hot messes of a year. So why is this post subtitled, “The Year of Silver Linings”? Because as I reflected on the year and what I wanted to write about, I realized that pretty much every gray cloud of 2020 had a silver lining.

Let’s start with the obvious: COVID-19.

Gray cloud: schools closed. Clearly unprecedented. Something I surely never, ever expected to happen in the course of my career. When schools closed in March, my mind was simply reeling. It was surreal, working from home every day. When we had the chance to get back into the schools near the end of the school year to close up our spaces, it was eerie, with everything having been frozen in time. Dates written on whiteboards, supplies left on desks, decorations on walls and doors. Having the pick up day at the end of the year with kids in cars with their parents was so strange and sad somehow. It was like all of us in education couldn’t believe this was our current reality.

Silver lining: the camaraderie I felt with my colleagues. It was comforting knowing there was a group of people I could bond with, who could understand exactly how difficult trying to teach kids from home actually was. We were all united in our efforts to do right by our kids, and we all were able to laugh and cry together, even if it was virtually. I am still so incredibly proud of the extraordinary work my colleagues did (and are actually still doing) to ensure the students in our district had the best possible experience, both educationally and socially.

Silver lining: the comforts of home. While working from home, I got to be with my dogs and my husband. I got to sleep a little bit later. I got to wear super comfy clothes each day.

Gray cloud: my husband, my daughter, and my future son-in-law got COVID. Becky and Ben came down with it pretty much at the exact same time. Jim came down with it, too. We are all pretty sure we knew where Becky and Ben got it, but no clue where Jim picked it up.

Silver lining: none of them had a serious case. Becky and Ben never had anything more serious than some body aches; Jim never had anything more than a stuffy nose. And I have also managed to avoid getting it (unless I have had it and have been asymptomatic). Hearing about how many people have had serious cases of COVID and how many people have actually died from it makes me grateful beyond measure that my family was fortunate enough to have mild cases.

Gray cloud: quarantining. Stay-at-home orders and voluntarily avoiding being around people has meant I don’t get to see some people, like my mom or my brother and his family. In fact, I have not hugged my mom since March. It can be pretty emotionally draining to be away from those you love.

Silver lining: quality time with the hubs. We have enjoyed binge watching TV shows together and playing cards as well as doing some cleaning projects around the house.

On to other gray clouds and their silver linings:

Gray cloud: Larry and Cathy leave me. My dearest friends moved to Key West this year. These are people I love like family, and their moving has left a hole in my heart. I miss them so much every damn day.

Silver lining: travel. Jim and I have managed to get 3 trips this year to visit them in Key West. We have a reason to get there as often as possible now, and because they live there, they show us all sorts of great new places to visit, places we would have never thought about if not for their experience. Plus they are happy, so I am happy for them.

Gray cloud: neuropathy. I still have pretty significant numbness, especially in my left foot. I really thought I would be back to 100% this year, but alas, I am not.

Silver lining: lots of normalcy. I am now able to drive normally — no hand controls. I don’t have to wear leg braces. I don’t have to use a walker or a cane. I go to the gym and go to boxing, and I can do most of the things I want to do to be active.

2020 is ending, and I am so glad for that! I am very much looking forward to 2021. The biggest event is my daughter’s wedding. I am also looking forward to getting a COVID vaccine as soon as I can, taking more tripe to Key West, and continuing to work on my recovery.

Happy New Year, my friends!

via Wintershall Dea on GIPHY

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I Get To

Today is Thanksgiving and I thought of something I wanted to say today about gratitude. This year, Thanksgiving is peppered with a little bit of angst and even resentment as many of us aren’t able to celebrate the way we normally would because of COVID. Even last night, I was lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t get to be with my mom on Thanksgiving (part of that had to do with the fact that I had to make the pies that she normally brings haha)! But this morning, I had a thought, and this is something that many of us have probably heard.

Instead of saying, “I have to,” say, ” I get to.”

Instead of, “I have to be away from family this Thanksgiving,” say, “I get to keep family safe and healthy,” or, “I get to have a small. cozy Thanksgiving this year.”

Instead of, “I have to make the pies that my mom normally makes,” say, “I get to try something new.”

Instead of, “I have to do all the cooking this year,” say, “I get to provide a good meal for my family,” or, “I get to eat while some people don’t.”

Instead of, “I have a big mess to clean up after this meal,” say, “I get to to clean up from a great celebration.”

Instead of, “I am having a lonely Thanksgiving,” say, “I get to have a peaceful, low key Thanksgiving.”

Gratitude is a matter of perspective, in my opinion. I have had to learn this the hard way as I have battled through some mighty tough obstacles in my life. “Having to” is an obligation, a chore, a duty. “Getting to” is an opportunity, a chance, a possibility.

This Thanksgiving, and as we continue to live through the era of coronavirus, please join me in “getting to” instead of “having to.”

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The Tunnel

I am standing in the middle of a long, dark tunnel. If I look behind me, I can see the pinpoint of light that is where I came from. If I look in front of me, there is a light that is my final destination, but that light always seems to be flickering and elusive. I want that light in front of me to be exactly the same as the light behind me, but I fear it won’t be. My biggest worry is that I have no idea what kind of light awaits me at the end of the tunnel.

The light behind me is my life before Key West in August 2019. I wouldn’t say it was blissfully happy, but overall, I was one happy camper. I was happy with my marriage, my child, my family, my job, my friends, and my health and body. Life was comfortable and I was highly satisfied. I could see my future out ahead of me very clearly, and I took comfort in that. I knew the steps I would have to take to reach that future.

Then Key West happened. Normally it’s one of the trips I most look forward to every year. I woke the morning of August 1 feeling just as excited as usual, but there was something bothering me: my back was sore. The pain in my back steadily grew more unbearable throughout the whole trip, to the point where it was debilitating. I suffered that whole trip.

Then as soon as I got home, my world turned upside down, and I wasn’t even aware it happened while it was happening. Complications from spinal surgery to fix 3 vertebrae that were lined up like stair steps left me numb and unable to move from the knees down, with some numbness up the outside of my legs and the back of my legs. Thus started my trip through this tunnel I am currently in.

I have been in this tunnel since August 8, 2019. I call it a tunnel because I feel closed in, trapped. My body traps my will. My body has altered everything — my marriage, my relationships, my job, my body, and my vision for the future. That’s the little, flickering light in front of me. I have no idea what my future looks like, and that uncertainty colors everything I see and everything I do.

And I hate it. I am the kind of person who follows directions, who sets goals, who takes deliberate steps to reach those goals. People keep likening my recovery journey to my marathon training. Except that they’re not alike at all. When I trained for the marathon, I followed a plan, and I knew that by following the plan, I would be able to finish the marathon. And I did. Yes, there were obstacles and uncertainties along the way, but it was implied that plan + effort = finish line. In my current situation, that equation doesn’t work. Instead, my equation looks like this: plan + effort = maybe walk again normally, maybe not — just wait and see, keep working though. I hate the uncertainty, and that hatred taints everything else in my life. My marriage seems compromised and less vibrant despite being more in love than ever with my husband. My relationships are changed, focusing so heavily on the limitations of my physical abilities. My job has changed in that I am now playing catch up after missing the first half of the school year and having to change the way I physically move about my environment. My health and relationship with my body is strained. I mostly hate my body and its limitations. Yes, I do have moments of celebration with my body when I can do something I couldn’t do (like use a regular cane instead of a walker, or walk unassisted, or bend down to pick something up off the floor), but those moments often turn quickly into thinking, “How sad is it to celebrate something so primary, something everyone else can do, something I used to be able to do without even thinking about it?” and then I am right back to that self-loathing.

I have such an impressive support system. I have family and friends and co-workers and doctors and therapists. Some of them are here for the long haul; some of them come and go. I am grateful for so many people who care about me and my progress, but I am resentful that my relationships now seem to revolve around my recovery. I don’t resent the people; I resent my situation permeating those relationships. That’s not anybody’s fault, well, except maybe mine for letting those relationships center around that. But my whole damn life revolves around that, and I never asked for it.

I have no idea what the rest of the tunnel path looks like. It’s dark, and the light at the end keeps flickering. The path ahead of me is often bumpy, sometimes smooth, and always unclear. I hate being in the dark, and I hate the lack of clarity. I wonder what my life will look like when I finally meet that elusive flickering light in front of me. Will it look like what is behind me, or will it look completely different? That unknown angers me, it saddens me, and it scares me.

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2019 Year in Review — Buckle Up

2019 has been an incredibly memorable year. The ups were way up there. The downs were way down there.

Peabody Ducks!

Memphis: In the early part of 2019, Jim and I took a long weekend trip to Memphis with our friends Larry and Cathy. This was my first time in Memphis and I absolutely fell in love! Highlights include seeing the Peabody Ducks, having some fantastic food at Gus’s Fried Chicken, listening to some really great music at Rum Boogie Cafe, and visiting historic places like Graceland, Sun Records, and the Civil Rights Museum. I loved that whole trip to Memphis and I can’t wait to go back!


Engaged: On a family trip in June, my family grew by one: it’s a boy! My daughter Becky got engaged to her wonderful fiance, Ben. I couldn’t have hand picked a better man to be mu daughter’s husband. All the quirky things about Becky, he embraces them. He knows how to take care of her and protect her and make her feel safe. I watch them together and they really seem like they are friends who love each other. It fills me with a deep happiness to know that Becky gets to spend the rest of her life with someone as truly wonderful as Ben.

Google Innovator: This year, after submitting my 3rd application to become a Google for Education Innovator, I was finally accepted! It has been a highlight of my professional life to get to do this! I truly enjoy working on a project related to education that I hope becomes something valuable to teachers. The experience of going through the Innovator Academy actually reminded a little bit of attending Kairos my senior year of high school in that you find yourself being exposed and made vulnerable in ways you never expected, but you come out the other side with so much energy and growth and a host of new friends who also went through the same experience that you feel bonded for life with them. (Shameless pitch — my project is called EduRate, and you can read more about it here.) Related to this…

The application video that finally got me accepted to become a Google Innovator!

London: When I was accepted into the Google Innovator program, the academy I needed to attend was in London, so I took my first trip there with Jim. I crammed as much tourism as I could into a few days because once the academy started, I would be busy with that for three days solid. We visited Kensington Palace, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, visited Tower of London, rode the London Eye, traveled using the Tube, drank beer in pubs, enjoyed a traditional English breakfast, took a tour on the Thames, and were dazzled by Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. I also got to spend time at Google’s offices in Covent Garden and King’s Cross. Jim and I both fell in love with London so much that we are planning a return trip, hopefully in 2021.

Back surgery: In August, the year took a turn for the worst. I was in Key West when I started to experience debilitating lower back pain and numbness in my feet and weakness in my legs. As soon as I returned home, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis (I had 3 vertebra slip out of place, looking like stair steps), and bilateral foot drop. This required a fusion of those 3 vertebra in my lumbar region as well as a laminectomy. The surgery did not go as planned (it is still unclear what exactly happened), but I had the surgery started in one hospital, then was transferred to another hospital where the surgery was finished, and I was left temporarily unable to feel or move anything really from below my knees to the tips of my toes, making me unable to stand or walk on my own. I was admitted to the hospital on August 6 and was finally released on September 4. I have since then started to regain some feeling and movement and mobility, which leads me to…

Rehab: I have been in some form of rehab since August 15. I spent 3 weeks in inpatient rehab, receiving 3 hours of PT/OT 6 days a week, and 90 minutes of PT/OT one day a week. I then transitioned to day rehab, which was 3 hours a day of PT/OT for 5 days a week, ultimately transitioning to 3 hours, 3 days a week. This just ended on December 27. I now transition to outpatient rehab, which will be about 1 hour a day, 2 days a week, for what I am guessing will be an indeterminate amount of time. I still have a long way to go to get back to full mobility.

Blood clots: Compounding the issues I am already facing, I also had to deal with having blood clots after surgery. After feeling pain in my right calf, ultrasounds were done on my legs to see if I had deep vein thrombosis (DVT). I did not. A week later, I was having pain in my left calf. Ultrasounds were done again and it was discovered that I had DVT in both legs. Because of that, I was also given a CT scan to check to blood clots that may have broken off and traveled to my lungs (even though I had no symptoms of this). Clots were indeed discovered, so I had pulmonary embolis (PE) in addition to DVT. As a precaution, I was placed on a different blood thinner (I had been receiving low doses of heparin) and had an IVC filter placed to catch any other clots that might decide to take a trip to the lungs.

In this image, you can see the hardware used for the fusion in my lower back. In the circle, you can see my IVC filter.

I am ready for 2019 to be in the rear view mirror. I have tried hard not to let the negatives of this year overshadow the positives, but the year has ended on a relatively sour note. So good riddance, 2019. Here’s hoping 2020 is a year full of celebration!

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