A Year of Reading, Part I: In the Word

It’s always a happy moment when I meet my annual Goodreads reading challenge:

Whew!

I was truly surprised, though, when I went back through all the titles and realized that almost half of the reading I did in 2022 was scriptural or theological. Could that really be? I counted again and yes, 29 of the titles I read were on my Christianity “shelf”.

I’ve been all over the place with God in my life and honestly, I am guessing God would say He has been all over the place with me as well. I’m a trial; a little skittish, a little rebellious, a lot imperfect. But we’re working on it, me and God, and after several well-meaning but failed attempts along the way to read the one-year or three year Bible, I finally found something that works for me.

I was thinking, maybe if I listened to it I could make better headway, and I was on the verge of clicking James Earl Jones’ reading of the Holy Bible (what could be better than the voice of God himself?!) when another option popped up.

Dr. Bill Creasy’s Logos Bible Study is not a word for word reading, but a navigated study through each book of the Bible. A retired UCLA professor, Creasy now leads hugely popular Bible Studies in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas as well as offering teaching tours to the Holy Land.

I think his Logos Bible Study web site offers the studies in YouTube video form, but I suspected I couldn’t sit still that long and opted for the Audible versions that I could listen to while I take my morning walks. I began in January 2021 with, of course, Genesis and – taking a week off each time I completed a book to ponder what I had learned – ended that year with the Book of Psalms.

Thus, I began 2022 with the Book of Proverbs and by August I celebrated having completed the Old Testament. (My new party trick, if it’s a good day and I am well-caffeinated, is reciting aloud the titles of the 39 OT books.) And then it was onward into the Gospels – I made it through the Book of Luke before New Year’s.

As you can see, I still have miles to go…

But I wonder if just maybe, by the end of this year, I could possibly make it all the through. We’ll see.

I thought motivation would be an issue – stick-to-it-iveness is not my strong suit. But surprisingly, during each of my week-long abstinences between books, I find myself genuinely eager to begin the next one.

Pastor Timothy Keller, founder of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and author of many popular books on Christian faith and living, tweeted recently “Nothing more important for a Christian to do than to read right through the whole Bible over an over and over, at the very least once a year. You have to keep checking and refining your beliefs by immersion in the Scripture.”

I’m a long way from being able to process the entire Bible in one year, but I understand what Keller is saying. While I’ve long heard pastors and study leaders stress the importance of “being in the Word”, it never seemed like a realistic goal until I found a template that works for me. Reading it in a linear fashion has provided an exponential leap in understanding for me both in terms of history and of the Bible’s significance as the inspired word of God.

If you’ve never opened a page of scripture, you will likely be skeptical. Isn’t it boring? Well, I and II Chronicles did not exactly get my heart rate up and yes, I struggled a bit with the minor prophets. But you have to build from book to book for the entire fabric of scripture to hold together. I attended a study on the Book of Revelation a few years ago and found myself thoroughly at sea. Now I know why Dr. Creasy often says that Revelation is the easiest book of the Bible to understand — providing that you’ve already read every previous book.

And while I’m not big on “best sellers”, I have to give this one 5 stars across the board. With somewhere between five and seven billion copies printed in the 1500 years since the contents of the Bible were standardized, it is the best-selling book of all time. You have to read it to believe it…

“Human history is the long terrible story of
man trying to find something other than
God which will make him happy.”

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
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The price of eggs.

My first thought while scrolling through news items and seeing someone report that the cost of a dozen eggs was just shy of $12.00 was that this must be someone’s idea of a yolk. :-/

I checked our local sources which were, comparatively, a bargain. IF, I’ve been told, you can find any on the shelves. These days, eggs are apparently as scarce as hens’ teeth.

Gelson’s:

Whole Foods:

Still, if you look at historical data, current prices would suggest the sky is falling.

We might be better off investing in Fabergé eggs at these price points. The famed “hen egg” is valued at a mere $3 million.

Is inflation to blame? Yes and no. It’s here, and apparently has no plans to depart any time soon. But there is another issue which we looked at in March of 2022. As I noted then, this recent wave of avian flu ruffled my feathers more than most because it was being spread by migratory waterfowl and thus, presented a threat to backyard flocks. According to The Wall Street Journal, 58 million birds have perished or been been culled since the beginning of 2022.

Thus, no surprise that U.S. egg inventories “were 29% lower in the final week of December 2022 than at the beginning of 2022”, according to the FDA. WSJ reports that “the price for eggs rose 11.1% last month compared with the month before and was up nearly 60% in December from the prior year, according to Thursday’s consumer-price index…”

Hey, it’s a pittance compared to Fabergé’s Coronation egg, which is said to be worth $18 million:

Does this mean it’s finally time to go out and get your own backyard flock? Well, yes and no. Backyard Poultry Magazine just penned a timely article on that subject which you can access on their Instagram account.

I do not doubt that many people make the math work. I just don’t happen to be one of them. We’re still amortizing the cost of our hen palace twelve years later sooooo…no telling what the real cost is of those three eggs Miss Peggy laid last week. But hey, at least we have some!

Bottom line, the news reports suggest that the situation will ease in February or March when commercial producers bring in young laying hens to replace past losses. In the meantime, I suppose the best advice for us all is that old adage…don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

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When Beauty became a Beast.

Here we are, almost fourteen years into flock keeping and still learning. Sometimes the hard way.

When we brought these two precious ones home, we thought broody Willa would be their mama. But Willa wasn’t having it. That was our first surprise. Turns out there were more to come.

We didn’t really mind hand-raising these two. We remarked on how bonded they were. We’d never really had a pair of chicks so completely devoted to one another. Granddaughter Caleigh named them for us; Peggy and Beauty. And Beauty was truly a little beauty!

I make a point of keeping a Buff Orpington or two at all times. They are easy on the eyes, easy within the flock, and the bonus is that a Buff Orpington hen might be a good broody when you need one (unlike crazy Willa the Salmon Faverolle). And I was looking forward to the blue eggs we would get from Peggy the Easter Egger.

I watched them closely as they grew. Closely enough to have the occasional uneasy feeling about Beauty. Oh, she was nice enough, but sometimes she would pick on Peggy. She’d chase her around the chicken yard and peck her a bit. Never aggressive, exactly, but the behavior was persistent. Maybe, I thought, it’s just because Peggy is so much smaller than Beauty. Maybe?

A few times I went so far as to look up Buff Orpington behavior online. I typed the word I could not say out loud. “Buff Orpington hen or rooster” is, I believe, what I searched. And each time I looked it up I was consoled.

“Buff Orpington roosters will begin trying to crow as young as four weeks, sticking out their necks and making a small chirping sound.”

Whew. That wasn’t happening. So nothing to worry about, right?

“The combs and wattles on a rooster will be darker pink and they will grow faster and larger than a hen’s combs and wattle. “

I didn’t really notice this, nor did I spot hackle (neck) feathers being longer, more pointed and narrower than those of a hen.

So all was well, right?

Ummmmmm.

Wrong.

We traveled over Thanksgiving, chasing turkey instead of chicken for a change. The morning after we returned we stepped outside early to take Lily for a walk. And that’s when I heard it.

“What was that???”

I’ll tell you what that was. It was a rooster crowing. And not the next neighborhood over. And not down the street. The sound was coming from our coop!

We have the nicest neighbors in the whole world. Lovely, lovely neighbors. The fact that they aren’t really enchanted with our chickens does not detract in the least from how lovely they are. Misguided perhaps, but still lovely. When they moved in a few years back I definitely picked up on their lack of enthusiasm for chickens and quickly reassured them by saying “Don’t worry, we’ll never have a rooster.”

Ten seconds after I heard the first crow, I texted my neighbor.

“Um, I just wanted to let you know I’m a little concerned we might have a rooster.”

“WE HEARD IT!”, she typed back, adding “You told me you would never have a rooster!”

Ugh. The promises we make…

How did I not see this coming?

Beauty was most definitely beautiful, but in a very masculine way. Look at those poofy tail feathers! Look at that strut! Like Peter, I denied at least three times before the cock crowed. It happens.

“Just get rid of it”, is what people say about roosters. The options careened through my brain. I warn you here and now to never google “how to humanely kill a rooster”. “Leaving him out all night” might be something seasoned farmers might do but nope nope nope. Not happening. I quickly came to the conclusion that I would take him to the vet and have him euthanized, already envisioning the miserable car ride with the little fellow on my lap headed to his doom.

Upon which moment, miraculously appeared the deux ex machina in the person of our friend who lives on a ranch a few miles away. The CE and I saw him walk in our gate, we looked at each other and then at him, and brightly said “Heeyyyyyy, Scott, great to see you!”

A minute later, instead of heading to the chopping block, Beauty was headed off to meet his new harem. Scott just happened to have a ranch hand in need of a rooster for his flock (better not to too closely examine the reasons why) and we just happened to have a rooster. It was December 1, the perfect day for a Christmas miracle.

I took this one last photo of our handsome boy before he departed. I think of him often and it tugs at me a bit. I hope he is enjoying his new flock. I hope he has a cozy place to sleep at night.

Peggy floundered for awhile after he departure and that tugged at me, too. But she is slowly making her way with the flock.

And she has begun laying – not the blue eggs I had hoped for – but pretty whitish pink ones. Sometimes we just have to be happy with the way things turn out, right?

Still learning!

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A Christmas to remember.

It started off brilliantly. We found a beautiful tree this year and these two came up from LA for a cozy tree-trimming visit.

We hosted a party for the church and Lily loved being the center of attention.

Julia and Cece were there to help revive the graham cracker house tradition.

All was calm.

All was bright.

We had a wonderful weekend trip to LA. These two hosted THE party of the season:

So much fun!

We also got to chill with this guy at the Beverly Hills Peninsula.

It was all so merry.

We were ready for a fabulous family Christmas.

And then…

Santa sent home a souvenir with us from LA.

But we were bound and determined to have fun! Kudos to Thomas and James for cheerfully sleeping on the couches due to quarantine.

Everything seemed reasonably under control as we progressed to Christmas dinner. Randy outdid himself in the kitchen! And everything was perfect…

…um, until the fire alarm went off. Oops.

The unraveling continued with a trip to urgent care for Taylor the next day. The chorus of coughing might be what prompted the rest of the family to skedaddle, while Tina and fam never made it up here to open their stockings since Santa sent a sinus infection her way.

At least some of us stayed healthy!

And so far, I’m testing negative, but even the common cold can pack a wallop. Looking forward to changing the calendar page to January and leaving all this behind.

Happy New Year!

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Glad tidings to all.

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Only one way to roll in Maine.

You guessed it. Lobster roll!

We checked in at Cape Elizabeth’s lovely Inn by the Sea and headed straight to their Sea Glass restaurant for dinner. Our first Maine lobster roll! But not our last…

Next morning we took the first of several walks along the path between the Inn and Crescent State Beach – what a great location.

Then we headed over to Ft. Williams Park to see the famed Portland Headlight lighthouse

and, of course, to pick up another lobster roll at the Bite Into Maine food truck, which seems to be almost as famous as the lighthouse. Half an hour wait in line! And yes, it was worth it!

We would love to have seen more of Maine but given that we had just a few days I think we chose a great destination. Inn by the Sea is a gem, and it’s just a fifteen minute drive from there into Portland, which is known for its restaurant scene. We had a terrific meal at Chaval and as a bonus we were befriended by a neighborhood denizen – our first meeting with a real, no kiddin’ no foolin’ Maine Coon cat.

We completed our stay with a visit to Allagash Brewery

where, of course, we ordered up another lobster roll

It was one of our favorite road trips and I spent most of the flight back conjuring a repeat to pick up all the parts of New England we missed. I hope they save a few lobsters for us – we plan to return!

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“Worst weather in the world”

Well if that’s not a vacation draw, I don’t know what is. Who wouldn’t want to head straight for the “worst weather in the world”, right?

If I had to plan all over again I think I would have routed our New Hampshire stay somewhere around Lake Winnipesaukee but friends had stayed at Mount Washington and since we were still mid-pandemic when I was planning the trip, I was sticking to the default script.

At first glance, the Omni Mount Washington Resort looked promising.

It definitely has a bit of a Grand-Hotel-Mackinac-Island vibe going for it.

But my friends’ praise for the hotel was faint, extremely faint, so I booked us at the Omni Bretton Arms, a smaller ancillary property down the hill from the resort. It was…okay. And a shuttle runs between the two so we never waited more than a few minutes for our ride up the hill. I was a just a bit regretful that we didn’t have the grand common areas to enjoy:

And the sweeping views.

But then we met a family in the dining room (the food and service were great, by the way) who bent our ears for a good long time about how dreadful their rooms were. Along with other horrors, apparently the floors sloped alarmingly – not a good state of affairs in the dark at night. The hotel was built in 1902, and from what we heard, has perhaps not been much updated since then.

So, we thought, we’ll just be happy in our little place down the hill. And we were.

Until the lights went out.

Oh, and also the heat.

We were already chilled to the bone from our expedition on The Mount Washington Cog Railway, which is where we learned that indeed, that particular spot holds the distinction for “the worst weather in the world”. In April of1934, the highest surface wind speed ever directly observed by man was recorded at the summit of Mount Washington: 231 miles per hour!

The highest temperature ever recorded at the summit is 72º (F), and the lowest, not including wind chill was… -47º! It takes nearly an hour for the little train car to make its way vertically to the summit and on the October day we were there we had white-out conditions so we didn’t see much.

The wind speed when we alit from our coach at the summit was 50 mph – we were told they shut it down at 60 mph and I can see why – I felt like I might be blown down every step of the way from the rail car to the Visitor Center.

Oh it can’t be that bad, you might be thinking. After all, it’s only about 6,000 feet high, a mere slip of a hill, right? Well then, just consider this – in the winter months, Mount Washington is the place where prospective Mt. Everest climbers train because the conditions are similar. 161 people have died on the mountain since 1849, including a highly experienced hiker who perished from hypothermia this past June.

We made it down from the treacherous mountain to discover an icy rainstorm brewing in the town below. We were trying to dial up the temperature in our room when everything. just. stopped. And went dark. The common areas of the resort were powered by a generator so we hitched a ride up there to contemplate our fate in warmer climes. The CE was all for packing up and getting out of New Hampshire, but alas, our next destination was fully booked that night. We went instead with my Plan B, which was to order a cocktail in the hotel bar and hope for the best. It worked! The lights finally came back on!

We were not, however, tempted to hang around. We got an early start the next morning, but with the weather somewhat “fowl”,

we opted not to drive the famed Kancamagus Scenic Byway. Big mistake. We will have to go back someday. Instead, we meandered south on route 153 and the east on 25, admiring the fall colors muted by the rain as we went. We stopped to chat with a flock of turkeys and warned them to keep their heads down come late November.

We had been wandering somewhat aimlessly when we crossed the border into Maine and found ourselves in the charming little town of Cornish. It was lunchtime and when we stepped into Krista’s Restaurant we knew we were in the right place. I highly recommend that you take any detour you need to find your way here, ask for a seat on the back porch overlooking the creek, and by all means order the “big bowl of chips”:

New Hampshire was not what I would call the highlight of our trip, but then again, we went from the “worst weather in the world” to possibly the best lunch in the world, so all in all it was a win!

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Solving for pie…

The most pressing question on our road trips is not the calculation of distance from Point A to Point B, but from Point A to “WHERE DO WE HAVE LUNCH”?

We said farewell to the Berkshires, heading east and then due north. I was thrilled with our route as it meant several hours driving up the eastern border of Vermont, a new – and so beautiful! – state for me.

Everyone has a different definition of what constitutes having “visited” a state. I think we can all agree that flyovers do NOT count (which is why despite a score of airplane window views of the Grand Canyon I must sadly admit that I still haven’t seen it). If you’re a purist, I suppose you would say one should spend a night somewhere, excepting the dreaded experience of sleeping over in an airport terminal. But we didn’t have time to settle in, so we decided that stopping for a meal could count as having actually been to Vermont.

Lunchtime called to us about the time we rolled into Chester, which is tucked into the eastern edge of the Green Mountains. Technically larger than a village with its population of 3,005 so we will call it a small, small town. A charming town! I don’t know about the other 3,000 folks but the 5 we met were disarmingly friendly and so welcoming that they completely dispelled any notions we had about those stand-offish New Englanders.

The first two people we met wasted no time in telling us exactly where we should go to eat. “There!” they pointed “You have to eat there! See the sign?”

Well, yes we did, and while I don’t ever remember having pie for lunch before, it is apparently a thing in Chester, Vermont. We might be in the heart of the northeast, but we were going to dine at the Southern Pie Café.

Good thing we got there when we did – they were almost sold out of pie! I had coconut and the CE had peach. A la mode, OF COURSE!

Since it was, after all, a fall day, I ordered some hot cider to sip while we chatted it up with our new friends, two more local ladies who told us all about themselves. One of them had lived in Chester her entire life and that means a long time since I am not sure she was a day under 90.

We still had miles to go so we said a reluctant goodbye to Chester and moved on up the highway.

And so went our lovely day in Vermont. You might calculate a “visited” state differently than we do, but if you didn’t have pie, then I say you did your math wrong!

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Her House of Mirth.

We have a thing for author pilgrimages. We tromped to Asheville, N.C. to visit Thomas Wolfe’s home (so central to his masterpiece Look Homeward, Angel); to Key West to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home and his six-toed cats (we also followed him to Petoskey and to Sun Valley) and had a memorable moment in dusty Salinas paying respects to John Steinbeck.

But until now, our favorite of favorites had eluded us. The CE and I discovered Edith Wharton back in the 1980’s and our affection for her has never waned – I think he has read The House of Mirth at least three times, and I fully intend to re-read The Age of Innocence. For us, Edith Wharton defines the Gilded Age, and while Henry James is the go-to for many on that subject, I am of the opinion that Henry (Edith’s close friend and literary rival) falls short by taking too long to unravel his plots. By the time I recently finished The Wings of the Dove, I was ready to do in Milly Theale with my own bare hands. So I am decidedly Team Edith.

So much so that I even spent a precious morning in Paris back in 2011 tracking down Edith’s address on the Rue Varenne, to whence she fled after the irrevocable breakdown of her husband and thus, her marriage.

But that all came later.

What we’ve long longed to see is The Mount, the Berkshires retreat Edith built in 1902 in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was a summer home where she could entertain – Henry James was a frequent guest – but also a place where she could escape the social rigors of her class and, with her little dogs at her side – write, write and write. It was here that she wrote both The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence.

The Mount is somewhat modest compared to other Gilded Age mansions, in keeping with her determined view of it as a place to which she could withdraw. In a 1904 letter to a friend, Edith wrote “How I miss that beautiful white silence that enclosed us at the Mount, & enabled me to possess my soul!”

The tour was 5 star excellent with a wonderfully engaged docent. Since none of Edith’s own furniture occupies the home (she packed it all up and sent it on to Paris when she departed The Mount in 1911) we were actually encouraged to sit on the chairs, which allowed us to experience the rooms as if we were truly Edith’s guests.

Of particular interest was Edith’s library…

and her dining room, where she broke from the tradition of a long grand table in a firm belief that a smaller group at a round table made for a more convivial gathering.

The most significant room, however, is Edith’s bedroom, where she lay in her bed writing each day from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., dropping the finished pages on the floor to be collected and typed.

This is the bucolic view she had from her bedroom:

I think what I love most about Edith Wharton’s books is the way she portrays the small, personal calamities of life that we all experience. She knew of what she wrote. A complicated relationship with her domineering, social-climbing mother was a constant trial for Edith, and led her into a disastrous marriage. Teddy Wharton checked all the boxes – wealthy family and social standing – for Edith’s mother, but his crumbling psyche spelled doom for their relationship. It is now widely believed that Teddy was bi-polar.

Edith’s dogs, pictured above with Teddy, lent the comfort to her days that her marriage could not.

The pups are a prominent and whimsical feature of the house tour:

But whimsy was ultimately in short supply. Just as her masterpiece The House of Mirth ends in tragedy, so did Edith’s time at The Mount. The home she had built as a refuge had to be sold when she left her marriage and decamped to Paris as an independent, self-supporting woman. Our docent told us that Edith never returned to have a look at The Mount, likely because the memories of what she had and lost were too painful.

Edith was never to be happy in love, but she found a measure of happiness in her life in France and was ultimately awarded the French Legion of Honor for her charitable and advocacy work during World War I.

If I could sit at that round dining table at The Mount and invite anyone to dinner, Edith would be at the top of my list.

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Living the Gilded Age Dream.

Those robber baron millionaires of the late nineteenth century left plenty of evidence of their beautiful excesses – there are the “cottages” at Newport, R.I., the Vanderbilt “Biltmore” monstrosity in Asheville, N.C., and any number of Manhattan mansions long since converted to hotels, condominium buildings and even department stores. Bergdorf’s was once – wait for it – a Vanderbilt mansion.

The CE and I have long brushed up against the era in our reading and we’ve taken many a tour, but now the excitement (mine) and mild dread (the CE’s) built as we made our way west to the Berkshires where we would be lodging at Wheatleigh, a bona fide vestige of the Gilded Age nestled in the woods between Lenox and Stockbridge Massachusetts.

The Wheatleigh mansion was built by Henry H. Cook, a New York banker who hit the big time by investing in the Union Pacific railroad. The Italianate mansion, a wedding gift to his daughter, was completed in 1893.

Hence the CE’s dread. He’s perfectly willing to admire relics of the distant past, but spending the night in them is a different story.

Ah, but even he softened a bit as we made our arrival at the lovely entrance.

I refrained from mentioning how similar it looks to its 19th-century self (but couldn’t help but think that it’s a lot better preserved than my 20th-century self.) This is a photo of the very same front entrance in 1893:

The entry opens onto an elegant living room:

While I was taking in the grand setting, the CE began to register the teeniest bit of angst. Because, while Wheatleigh is a very spacious mansion for say, one family, as an inn with just nineteen rooms, the guests are, by definition going to mingle somewhat – well, cozily – with one another and the staff.

The staff has clearly thought this through and for all the happenstance encounters in the hallways and on the grounds, each of them somehow maintains the warmth of an easy familiarity but also the most impeccably perfect distance of professionalism. We were very impressed.

I’d made our reservation almost a year in advance, before that $1.3 trillion giveaway triggered rampant inflation. But even at that time a night at the inn was a pricey proposition for those of us who did not make a killing in the Gilded Age. So when our room heater proved uncooperative and we struggled to decipher the inner thoughts of the shower fixtures…

the CE took the opportunity to remind me of how much he DOES NOT LIKE OLD BUILDINGS. “How much are we paying to stay here???”

“But it’s so beautiful!” I implored.

And the grounds! He had to agree with me about the grounds. Exquisite, and originally designed, of course, by that god walking amidst mortals, Frederick Law Olmstead.

We changed rooms, hoping for a less persnickety heater. Same shower fixtures. But everything else so very lovely. I will always remember The Portico dining room, which doubles as the inn’s breakfast room:

I will especially remember it because when I sat down one morning for coffee I slowly realized that the gentleman bent over his laptop a few tables away from me was none other than actor/comedian/writer/art collector Steve Martin.

Yes. I was tempted. All that coziness and mingling of guests, right? But I restrained myself and pretended to have absolutely no idea who he was.

Since we couldn’t spend the entire day at the inn decoding the shower fixtures or stalking Steve Martin, we went on a field trip to the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum, its walls lined with the Saturday Evening Post covers the CE and I remember from our childhoods.

Especially fun was the docent-led visit to Rockwell’s studio, which was moved to the grounds of the museum in 1986.

Alas, Norman Rockwell is no longer with us, nor is the Gilded Age. It was great fun to visit them both. Some things are lost in the passage of time but lucky for us some traditions remain…and you don’t need to live in a mansion to enjoy them!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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