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Archive for the ‘Misty British Isles’ Category

Never have I been so glad to see mud. In my garden where there should be grass, clinging to bottoms of my boys’ boots as they climb into the mini van, smeared across the mudroom floor. I’ll tire of it, complain about it eventually, but for now I’m glad for anything, anything but the salt and grit my family tracked into the house over the long months of this cold, drawn-out winter.

Mud, yes, we can see it, now the afternoon sun has warmed the earth. But I awoke this morning to a new layer of snow, and it lingers still–in corners and shadows where the sun doesn’t shine. And so still, we are waiting. Waiting for balmy breezes, and for tender green things to make their appearance. Waiting for color, and an end to this black and white world. Waiting, waiting, waiting for spring.

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The Kilns, former home of C.S. Lewis

The Kilns, former home of C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series

And I’m feeling that wait as I clean the mudroom floor, glance out the window at the snow, now grey, littered with twigs and leaves, and pock-marked by the rain. I’m waiting for spring, sure, but also waiting for answers to prayers I haven’t even bothered to pray, waiting for clearly marked miracles and the next bend in the road.

Because all that waiting can make me feel trapped. Trapped, like I’ve been all winter, trapped here rattling around the house with the boys,  when most days the temperatures were too low to even get out and exhaust ourselves in the daylight and snow. Trapped in the sameness and monotony, wondering why I do each little thing that I do day in and day out. Stuck with that unsettled feeling that something’s not right, and it’s more than my décor, or how clean the house is, or even how many cuddles I give the boys. Because no matter how I try to make it so, this is not really my home. And no matter how I wish it so, though I know the very end, I don’t know what comes next. 

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Oxford University, where Lewis taught

And it’s strange how much waiting can feel like fear. Strange how sameness, instead of affirming who I am, can leave me feeling oh, so purposeless, so lost.

I feel lost, but I keep sweeping that mud into a pile, a pile of black dirt I can scoop right up. And while I sweep, I think of Susan and Lucy in Narnia, waiting in the darkness of that almost spring as they watch the Lion leave them hidden in the trees to go forward and face evil. They’re waiting, though they don’t know what for, and they’re frightened because they don’t yet know the ending, or how much they can trust.

And then after, when it’s over–when it is finished–they run to caress him, to free him even though they think he’s gone. And they don’t even know what he’s accomplished, what’s been given–for Edmund and for them. And they don’t know the power he has over darkness, over evil, over death. But for the moment they are waiting, fearing every dreadful probability their minds can fathom. They fear because they’re waiting, and they don’t know what’s coming, though we on the outside, do.

So I remind myself that these times come, and I can’t escape it. In this world we must wait, though our eternity begins now.  And even though we know He’s with us in Spirit, we’re not home, not with Him like we long to be. But we know, though Lucy and Susan didn’t, that it’s coming–that being with Him. And we know, though they didn’t, just what’s already been done for us.

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Gardens in Oxford University

And in these frequent times of in-between waiting, sometimes the only thing to do is sing. Sometimes when your heart is heavy–with waiting, or uncertainty, or fear–the only thing to do is lift your voice and sing out praises to the One in whose sameness you can always put your trust. Sing it like you mean it, loud and clear. Sing of what He’s done, sing of how He’s won. Sing it till you feel His presence, feel His arms wrapped tight around.

And so I’m singing, and I’m sweeping. Moving boots and wet door mats. Cleaning this floor like I’ll clean it tomorrow, like I’ll clean it the day after that. And though I’m waiting, still I’m smiling.Because it all does matter. This home, and the cuddles, and what we say and do here.

Because He’s here. And He’s returning. And when He does, He’ll really hold us. He’ll hold us and the wait will end.

He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hill-top he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.

– From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

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Running to His arms . . .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f3sNiYpuF4

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Avonlea xo

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh orFacebook @happylittlesigh

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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I went out grudgingly.

Would have rather stayed in to clean the bathrooms.

Do some scrapbooking.

Get a batch of muffins in the oven.

All the important things I wanted to do today.

But the fractiousness of little boys after a week of April showers forced me out.

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Out into the garden.

Warmth and sunshine washing over.

The almost green of our snow-flattened grass.

And birdsong.

Birdsong, and I’m Mary Lennox, chasing a robin over a garden gate.

Birdsong, and I’m Jane Eyre with her rooks, exploring Thornfield Hall on her very first morn.

Birdsong, and time is lost,

and I’m myself fifteen years past, discovering a walled garden of my very own.

Scotland.

Pussy willows and crocuses.

Blackbirds and brick.

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Birdsong today, and the magic of viewing the world

upside-down

from a swing.

And it’s springtime,

and doesn’t your heart ache with the glory of it?

Of life,

new beginnings,

winter’s end?

And I’m thankful,

wildly thankful in a way I could never express,

for the possibility of all things,

me included,

being turned upside down,

made new.

And I wonder at the sun’s warmth,

and that He calls Himself that,

our Sun and our Shield.

Our Shield,

for don’t we need protecting

from many things,

even ourselves?

Our Sun,

for don’t we revel in the light and the heat?

Don’t we thrive?

Get life?

Doesn’t He give us life

eternally?

Spring.

It has come upon us.

Find a tree stump.

A picnic table.

A bench.

Wait for birdsong.

And just breathe.

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

Listen…

Avonlea xo

Find me on Instagram @happylittlesigh orFacebook @happylittlesigh

MONTHLY Newsletter, Morning Cuppa Tea at happylittlesigh@gmail.com 

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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He met the Queen, my husband, John, did. As in Her Majesty, The Queen. Elizabeth II. Mother of Prince Charles. Grandmother to Princes William and Harry. Great-grandmother to the little royals. John grew up in a small fishing community in the Northeast of Scotland, far from the gilded elegance of London. But it’s one of those things, I suppose, that the longer one lives in the United Kingdom, the more likely one is to meet, bump into, or at least see one of them–a member of the royal family.

It’s like being an American in L.A. Sooner or later you’ll recognize someone from the Silver Screen. Two of my siblings lived there, and seemed to post weekly pics of famous people they’d helped in their retail jobs. Jackie Chan, Helena Bonham Carter, and the list goes on. My brother ended up with a part in a YouTube video with Richard Simmons (which thankfully didn’t involve exercise). My sister made a friend who lives in the same gated community as Reese Witherspoon. He let my sister use his house for her birthday party one year (which I got to attend!). We all chuckled at the story of Reese coming to his house trick-or-treating with her kids. He handed out Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and in her sweet Southern voice, she replied, “Very funny.” I can just hear it.

There’s something just a bit different, though–a little more magical and surreal–about meeting The Queen and all her family. And stories, both magical and surreal, are what I mean to tell.

Wouldn’t we all have loved to be a university student at St Andrews, where Prince William and Catherine met and fell in love? The daughter of a minister at a church we attended was a student there, and one day got a lovely surprise when Prince William himself opened a door for her. Always the gentleman. Sigh.

And wouldn’t the scenery in the hills of the Scottish highlands have seemed all the more green and glorious had a group of poshly dressed people come along the trail–and one of the them was Prince Charles, who bid you good day? That’s exactly what happened to a woman from our church.

But not all of my stories are of chance encounters.

John met the Queen at 14. He was active in the Boys’ Brigade, a sort of Boy Scouts with Christian roots, and one summer his troop was on parade at Windsor Castle. As the Queen inspected the ranks, she stopped every so often to speak with one of the boys. I like to think it was my husband’s bright crop of ginger hair that caught the Queen’s attention.

“And where have you traveled from?” she asked him, in the way only the Queen could.

He answered, all earnestness and Scottish brogue.

“My,” she smiled, “you have come a long way.”

It wasn’t the lengthiest of interactions, but quite special none-the-less, and a story I surmise we’ll pass down to our grandchildren.

My sister got to see the Queen and Prince Charles. John’s great aunt had secured tickets for the Royal Highland Games (think bagpipes, and kilted men tossing large logs called cabers). The games were held at Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s highland residence, which first belonged to Queen Victoria. John and I had only been married a year, and as he had the day off, I decided to forego Balmoral and stay home with him. Ah, young love. And so I missed my chance to see the Queen, although my sister showed me her photos!

And what of the younger royals? University friends of ours attended a charity event and got near enough to Prince William and Catherine Middleton to snap some close-ups (which they kindly shared with me–hope you like them!).

But my stories don’t end here. Next time–your personal invite inside the gates of Buckingham Palace for The Queen’s Garden Party, and even more up-close and personal stories of the Royal Family.

And if you didn’t catch the story of the weekend I spent in England with some almost royals and totally embarrassed myself, you can find that here.

Avonlea xo

For more breathtaking pics of Great Britain, inspiring quotes from our favourite authors, & peeks into the daily life of a boymum looking for beauty in the everyday things in life, find Avonlea on

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

 

 

 

 

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The London days are the worst. That feeling I wake with, or that settles over me in the almost twilight of an afternoon, to be somewhere exotic yet familiar. Buzzing with activity, yet gracefully weathering the passage of time. Somewhere able to give me the rough grittiness of ancient castle stone and surround me with the intoxicating fumes of a double decker bus. Somewhere with all the imagined romance of a Charles Dickens novel, all the contemporary romance of William and Kate. Somewhere that can always give you a hot cup of tea, a good deal on a new pair of shoes, and a crisp set of white sheets at the end of the day. London.

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It’s hard, you know, when you’ve been to a city like that. Especially when you’ve been enough times that you begin to find your favorite haunts, your favorite stops on the tube, but where the scenery is still something like a living painting, dazzling before your eyes.

I get other sorts of days, too. Florence days, where I long for the lazy air of a sun-drenched piazza, pistachio ice cream dripping down the cone and over my hand, though I’m glorying too much in the beauty of it all to notice. Edinburgh days, when I ache for Princes Street, and shortbread, and hearts, dear hearts of friends.

But there is something about the otherworldliness of London that can catch like a gasp in my throat, and I have to breathe it out. Breathe it all out.

Because it took a million miracles to get us here. Here, in this little yellow house in the country in the middle of America. At the edge of the river and the edge of a town founded when America was still quite new. Here, where I wake and breathe in the now of my life.

Most of those miracles passed by unnoticed, like most every moment of an ordinary day.

A few of them seemed more like tragedies than miracles at the time. That house in the city. The break-ins, where they took so much, and yet left so much pain and fear and those awful dreams. The bat in our bedroom. The garbage. And the bugs.

And then there were those events that came about in such strange, unexpected ways that we had to look at each other, my husband and I, and we just knew. This house, which seemed a half-decade or more away, was scrolled past on the computer just for fun one Wednesday night. We didn’t know the thieves were coming that Sunday while we sat learning, praising, smiling in church. That we’d come home to find they’d been in our room—just there beside the bed, rummaging through the drawers and taking that pocket watch I bought him for our first anniversary. And the money and the phones, and worst of all the computers with the pictures of our babies and all those files of my research and words, lost. We didn’t know, and it seemed like the worst thing ever, and we didn’t know why.

Looking back, it seems as strange as ever. But so does this house. Six minutes from my mother, and six years earlier than we thought we’d be here. An empty house. Just waiting.

And then there are our neighbors—kinder, and with more joy and home-baked cookies than we know what to do with, and it feels like they’d been waiting. Just for us.

That night they came for dinner and I heard the story about the truck crash that ripped the top off the trailer like a tin of sardines and yet left their five-year-old son curled up behind the seat fast asleep. That night I felt it heavy upon us. That miracle. That grace.

And I could go on and say more about our baby. Our silky-soft butterball of a baby boy who joined our family in December. I call him Wonderbaby. Did a child ever laugh so much? I prayed over him, prayed over my stomach that God would give me a child of peace. And He did. Wonder.

 

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But I couldn’t see it all so clearly, wouldn’t treasure it so dearly, if I hadn’t first stood drenched, umbrella-less in the torrential rain that lifted us up and floated us here.  Here, to this house and this place in our lives. Here, where our hearts are full of love for our children, and for every hurting person who has known our pain and worse. Here, where we’ve dropped everything else and our arms are empty as we go running through fields in the gleaming sunlight to Him.

These are the days I’ll want back. These days of wonder and want. Of nappies and sticky hands. Of gifted dandelions, and legos, and laundry, endless laundry.  Of never, ever enough sleep, and staggering from bed to lift my smallest one and tuck him close so he can drink.

London can wait. We’ll take them one day, our boys, and show them where the Queen lives, and that roaring T-Rex robot in the V & A. And we’ll have our cream teas, and it will be grand.* But for now, here, where we live and breathe today, I’ll show them the wonder. The miracle of a God who doesn’t stop loving, who doesn’t stop thinking of them as if it’s just them. For every glimpse I’ve gotten, I want them to see more.

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It took a million miracles to get us here. And for all the days we have to come, however many that will be, whether they are London days or laundry days, I want to live them with my eyes open to it all. To every miracle. Every gift.

Avonlea xo

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Finding beauty in the everyday ❤

*This post was originally written in 2013. The very next year, we did go to London, and these photos are from that trip.

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In honour of my former home,

and on this Monday after the first Advent Sunday,

I bring you a little taste of a Scottish Christmas past . . .

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Heap on more wood!–the wind is chill;

But let it whistle as it will,

We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.

~ Sir Walter Scott

 

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This was the Sunday to light the Advent candle of HOPE.

Hope because of that child.

The One the world heard about,

the One promised,

long, long before He was born.

Wonderful,

Counselor,

The Mighty God,

The Everlasting Father,

The Prince of Peace.

Unto US

He was given!

He was given

unto US!

Hope.

Hope for everyone.

Everyone

who drops whatever else they’re holding onto

to take this gift.

Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7

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It’s not too late to re-focus your Christmas

for yourself

for your family.

Not too late

to bring others

reason to HOPE . . .

 

Avonlea xo

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Finding beauty in the every day ❤ 

 

 

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“Pretend you’re eating with the Queen,” she’d say, my mother, in those preschool years when my sisters and I would gather around the table for our lunch of cottage cheese and tinned pineapple rings. Oh, and we knew something of the Queen, over in her castle in England, and of Princess Diana and all her lovely clothes. I owned copies of them, after all. Paper copies, which fit neatly onto my Princess Diana paper doll. 
And so when she’d say it, our minds were filled with pictures of a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace. And my sisters and I made sure to keep our elbows off the table, chew with our mouths closed, and always say “Please pass,” instead of stretching for something out of reach.

 

But they weren’t quite enough, those lessons in manners. Didn’t quite do the trick when, sixteen years later, I found myself dining with real royalty–well, they were only 42nd in line for the throne, as I was told. But for this young American, that came close enough.

I arrived by train. My friend was there to greet me, and as we climbed into the car and whizzed down the single track road towards his family home, I felt as though I were being driven to another world. Through the maze of green hedgerows that towered around us, I caught glimpses of thatched cottages and gently rolling fields.  The sky grew smaller as the hedgerows grew taller. And in the next couple of days, I would grow smaller, too. 

“My mother is hosting a dinner party,” he said, my friend, “and you should probably apologize for arriving in the middle of it.”

Wide-eyed, I assented, and when we arrived at the most ancient of large cottages that his family called home, I found his parents and six of their friends gathered around a table (which was really a 400-year-old door) for a casual four-course summer evening meal. 

I dutifully apologized, was met with murmured acceptances of that apology, and was then seated to the left of his mother. 

The meal could have gone worse, I suppose, if I’d tried to make it so, though I made a small disaster of the affair quite well without even having to try. 

And what did I do that was so very wrong?

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I could have laughed a little quieter, eaten a little less, declined the cheese course. But I did not. 

And when the man to my left made a comment about the side-by-side American style refrigerator that my friend’s family had just purchased, followed by the statement that everything in America is large, I could have smiled demurely and said something diplomatic like, “Perhaps that is so, but bigger does not always mean better.” But I did not. 

And when, for the first time in my life, my nose started to bleed, I could have quietly slipped from the table into the other room until it stopped. But as I had a proper handkerchief with me, I decided to use that to dab at my nose, thinking the bleeding would soon stop. But it did not, and I waited until the elderly man who sat across from me looked at me with a measure of horror before I decided to slip away. 

But there is more. 

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.  If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.  

– Emily Post

The next day I awoke to find my hosts in the garden wearing their wellies, having just returned from a countryside stroll with their King Charles spaniel. I was offered some strawberries from a large basket on the kitchen door-table and asked how I had slept.

The main activity of the day was watching my friend play cricket, that most English of games. I sat with his parents to watch the match, where we could look down at the local castle and admire how brilliantly the men’s white cricket uniforms stood out against the green.

“Do you ride?” I was asked. 

had taken horseback riding lessons, but as it had been a few years, I replied with an honest, “No.”

His parents looked thoroughly unimpressed. 

And later on back at the house, as I sat beside the enormous inglenook fireplace while my friend watched a football match on the telly, I was asked, “And what do your parents do?”

It was all a bit too much like that scene in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennett visits Rosings Park and is interrogated by Lady Catherine De Bourgh. “Do you play and sing?” and “Do you draw?” and all the rest. 

I cringe as I remember the humiliation I endured, though I didn’t realize I was enduring it at the time.

I sigh as I recall the golden English June sunlight that bathed those few days, illuminating the green of the fields and pouring through the windows of that old house.

I laugh at the shock I must have given my friend’s family, especially when I imagine the fear they must have felt that he would fall in love with me and that they would have to welcome me into the family.

And what I wouldn’t give to go back and re-do the visit. Not to deny who I was–the great-granddaughter of poor immigrants who chose to make America their home–but to present myself with more of the discretion, thoughtfulness, and self-respect that I now possess. But that was then, and this is now, and had the visit gone differently, I wouldn’t have been left with such a fine story to tell.

Read more on manners in part 2!

Avonlea xo

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Finding beauty in the everyday 

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A castle is where I’d end up on days like today when we lived in Scotland. Days when the luminescent green earth called me outside for an adventure. Out to where pink-blossomed trees quivered in a gentle breeze and white fluffy clouds danced across a seamless blue sky.

As we’re sadly lacking for castles in Midwestern USA, I buckled the General, Waddlesworth, and Little Bear into the car, handed an apple to each of them, and headed off for a country drive through woods and rolling farmland in search of some Estate or Barn Sales. And did I find any? Certainly did.

I came home in possession of a light-up globe attached to a table. Some vintage curtains dotted with fishing, golf, and other manly pursuits, which I hope will one day become cushions or even a bean bag for my boys’ rooms. And books. Always books.

With my dose of sunshine and newly found treasures, and a day off from homeschooling due to my eldest being at a friend’s house, life looks good. I feel happy. Blessed.

Not so a fortnight or so ago, when I found myself tangled at the bottom of a slippery, murky, gnarly pit. 

While my morning routines got my days started and gave me focus, by afternoon my positive, cheery mummy reserves were running dangerously low. After a long school day I wanted nothing more than to curl up with a mug of chai and watch Fixer Upper. Not face the whole make dinner/eat dinner/clean up after dinner/wrestle the kids to bed routine.

But my  lack of motivation and feelings of despair came more from simply the exhaustion of raising four squirrelly little boys. It was more than the challenges of homeschooling. More than the difficulty of doing so much of it on my own since John has been working unusually long hours of late.

while I battled within the walls of my own home . . . it felt like the world around us was crumbling to pieces.

The problem was that while I battled within the walls of my own home, trying to give my children knowledge, feed them healthy meals, help them grow in faith, it felt like the world around us was crumbling to pieces. And what could a tired out mummy do about all that?

What was the point, really, in trying to make up my mind which shade of grey to paint the dining room, or doing anything else to bring loveliness to our home? Why search Pinterest for sugar-free dessert recipes? Why invest the energy in teaching the Professor about the injustices of segregation?

What, really, was the point of all my efforts, what with wars being raged, the American political scene making us all cringe (or cry!), and craziness like the recent Target bathroom/dressing room controversy leaving people up in arms.

What was happening to the world I would one day send my boys out into? 

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I was overtaken by a Spirit of Fear that left me nearly useless to the people in my life. And so one night, sitting in my bed with my pink and white polka-dot clad phone, I began to search for what God’s Word might have to say about all that.

What I found has changed my outlook 100%.

I read

 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesions 2:10

And that has made all the difference.

As I Christian, I believe that God created me, his daughter, with great forethought and care. That He chose the date and place of my birth, this exact time in history, for a reason. That He gave me these sons to raise up and prepare for the good works He has for them to do. That he gave me this husband to be my partner in life, that we can be a mutual blessing and “spur one another on to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). That he gave me this home to be a haven for my family and all who enter here.

And so you see, the daily work I do with my sons, with my home, with the people I seek to care for in my community and across the globe, they are not meaningless at all. They are vitally important to those whose lives I touch. Important in eternal ways I may never see.

Our world may seem to be spinning into chaos. Our current political candidates may not seem worthy of the title of President. But our God in control. And he IS worthy in every way. He is all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful, and always present.

And He has good works for me to do.

Avonlea x

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