A New Month in a New Year

January 2023 is now history, and a new month in a new year is here. February 2023 is heart month, includes Valentine’s Day, and also includes our granddaughter Elsie’s 16th birthday. Time is flying by. It is hard for me to believe that we have moved out of the home we built and lived in for almost thirty-five years in Raleigh and moved into a new home in Durham. But the reality is that we have, and time marches on.

Most likely you made some New Year’s resolutions a month ago, which I like to think of as promises to yourself. The most common ones are: lose weight, exercise more, and spend less money. Unfortunately, many people who make resolutions at the beginning of a year find it hard to keep them and are back to their old ways two weeks later.

How is it going for you with the promises you made to yourself?  If your answer is, “Not so well,” do not despair. There is still a lot of time in 2023 for us to reset and keep our promises. We just need to recommit. The longer we go without getting back on track, the harder it is to do so.

When we want to make major changes in our behavior, such as losing weight, exercising more, and managing our money better, we need systems to help us. Systems help us stay consistent. Finding systems that work for us is important if we are serious about making changes in our behavior.

My system for weight control is Weight Watchers, and it is the only weight control plan that works for me. As a lifetime member of WW, I am required to keep my weight within two pounds of my goal weight and weigh in at WW once a month, in order to attend unlimited WW meetings and access their services without any cost. This is a powerful incentive for me and helps me stay within an acceptable range for my weight.

One of the systems of WW is tracking all food eaten. This helps to keep points consumed in clear focus. On days that I do not track I lose track of what I have actually eaten. Too many of those days, and I find my weight creeping back up. The same system works to help manage money, writing down everything spent. It is easy for money to disappear and not know where it went unless we keep a spending record.

It is too easy to fall back into our old patterns of behavior if we do not use systems to help us stay focused on the changes we want to make. The specific systems do not matter. We need to figure out what systems work for us and stay consistent. Then we will find it so much easier to make the changes we want to make. Not easy, but easier. Behavior change is not easy. The easiest thing is to keep on keeping on, doing what we have been doing.

How is 2023 going for you so far? It is still early in the year. You still have time to make the changes you want to make. But the longer you delay, the harder it will be. Wait too long, and 2023 will be gone, and the changes you want to make will not be made.

So, keep on keeping on, if you are staying focused on your resolutions. If you have slipped, get back on track. You can be successful.

And take care of your heart, not just in February, but always!

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A New Beginning

Since January 6, we have moved from an (almost) 5,000 square foot house to an (almost) 2,000 square foot house. We do not know where we want to be longer term, so we rented a house fifteen minutes from where we lived for (almost) thirty-six years to give us time to figure that out. We have committed to being in this new house for thirteen months. Now that I have packed, moved out of one house, and moved into another, I may not want to ever leave this new house.

We left almost 4 acres and moved into a house with a yard the size of a postage stamp. We left a neighborhood where the houses and yards were so large that we rarely saw our neighbors unless we connected while walking, and moved into a neighborhood with sidewalks and walking trails, where our neighbors stop to chat when they pass in front of our house. After spending two weeks in our new home, my focus is no longer on what we gave up. It is now on what else we need to let go.

Managing a 2,000-square-foot home is easier than managing a 5,000-square-foot home. There is less to keep up, less to clean, and less to maintain, unless you are trying to put 5,000 square feet worth of stuff in a 2,000-square-foot space, which is what I have been trying to do. While we sold or donated about one-half of our furniture, I held onto most everything else. Most of the china, crystal, and sterling. All of the photos, boxes, and bags of them. Most of the books. Most of the accessories.

Bed linens and pillows for beds in 6 bedrooms, moved to a house with three bedrooms. Wrought iron furniture from a large patio, stuffed onto a patio intended to only hold one table and 4 chairs. Many chairs that were used for seating our large Thanksgiving gatherings, were put in storage in the new house where they would never be needed. Christmas decorations for three large trees were moved into storage in the new house that will only have one tree.

There is more, but you get the drift. Trying to stuff a lifetime of stuff from a large house into a much smaller house. It obviously can’t be done, so I am forced to make some hard decisions about what to keep and what else to let go of.

But I have let go of the resistance to this change, and am embracing this new stage of our life. While I will always miss our home we left and many things about it that I will probably never have again, I am finding that this change provides some gifts I had not expected. As I continue to unpack boxes, I will also unpack the many emotions that accompany this change. I will share how this new change is changing not just where we live, but how we live. 

Isn’t that the way life is, from letting go and grieving, to finding joy in unexpected places? 

                     

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Saying Goodbye to Home

With five minutes to spare, we left the keys and garage door openers on the counter, locked the doors, and left our home at 305 Dalton Drive for the last time. In five minutes, the new owners would come in and take occupancy. Our home that we built in 1988, renovated and expanded in 2003, and raised our family in, would now pass to a new family to make as their own. Mike and I would move to a new home in Raleigh, a transition home for us while we decide where we want to be long-term.

For the past few weeks, we cleaned out, packed, and let go of furniture that we knew we would never need again. This included beds, Mike’s and my large desks, wrought iron furniture, and assorted odds and ends. The cleaning out included discovering letters from family members and an old boyfriend, sympathy cards received when our parents died, and a lifetime of memories from past careers. Also, five hair dryers and four irons, found in bedrooms and bathrooms infrequently used!

I will miss many things about our beloved home. First of all and most acutely, I will miss our Aga, our English cooker. I plan to have another Aga when we are settled permanently. I will miss the space, although, at almost 5,000 square feet, it was too much space for two people who weren’t even there enough to care for the property as it needed to be. I will miss the neighborhood, a neighborhood that always felt safe. I will miss the location, from where we could travel most anywhere in Raleigh in twenty minutes.

I will miss the beauty, both the natural beauty of our almost four acres of land and the beauty of the interiors. The blue and yellow colors of most rooms, the heavy moldings, the simple yet elegant window treatments, and the many custom details that we added through the years. I do not expect to ever have a house that I love as much. Leaving it, knowing this leaving was forever, was so hard, although I know it was the right decision to make.

We take many memories with us. Memories of Tara and Chatham as they grew from preteens to adults. Memories of many Christmases, with the granddaughters waiting on the stairs until everyone was up before they could come downstairs to see what Santa left. Memories of Uncle Barry sitting on the kitchen barstool, barking his orders for breakfast. Memories of the many Thanksgivings we hosted for our extended family, the last few years, more than sixty-five of them. Memories of many family meals, hosting international friends and sharing our home with our business colleagues.

Change is hard. It is much easier to keep doing what we have always done than to do something different, even when we believe it is time to change course. We have to let go of what we have to grab hold of what can be.

We know what we are leaving, yet we do not know what we will be receiving. But we step out in faith, knowing that our next move will take us closer to where we need to be. For our foundation is strong. Our home at 305 Dalton anchors us, creating a foundation so strong that wherever we land, we will be home.

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A Gift From Her Heart

I am grateful for all of my gifts. Regardless of the specific gift, how much money was spent on it, or any other variables, gifts are a blessing to me. Gifts are my love language. I received some very thoughtful gifts this Christmas, and I am grateful for each one. There is one, however, given to me by my ten-year-old granddaughter, Virginia, that touched my heart in such a meaningful way that her sisters and the rest of the family said everything else paled in comparison.

Our family has a tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve. Virginia insisted that I open hers. When she gave it to me, her mom, daughter Tara, said, “You will need some tissues, Mom.” Indeed, I did.

When I opened Virginia’s gift, the first thing in the box was an envelope with the words, “Open First!” Inside the envelope was a note written in Virginia’s handwriting, with a sentiment that alone would have been enough. But there was more to come. The note was on top of a blanket Virginia created, a blanket of memories. Tara said the entire gift, the note, and the blanket, were Virginia’s idea, and she did all of the work on it herself. A gift that was truly from her heart.

Virginia’s gift is evidence that she has memories in her heart of our family’s times together. Times cooking in our kitchen in Raleigh with our Aga. Times skiing in Steamboat. Times in Hilton Head. Times in St. Marys, at soccer games and dance recitals. Times working on puzzles and playing board games. Times just being together.

Grandchildren are truly a gift from God, a gift of love beyond measure. When I think of all of the things I own, of all of the stuff that I have been going through preparing for our upcoming move, I am reminded of how transitory our lives are. How so much of our tangible stuff is unnecessary. Yet we hang onto it. Or at least, I do.

We have all heard the question, “If there was a disaster, such as a fire, in your home, what things would you try to save?” Most people reply that they would try to save photos. Photos of a time that cannot be recaptured. Virginia’s gift of her note and the memories blanket take photos to a different level.

I have been grieving leaving our home in Raleigh, moving into a home without some of what I have come to love. A home without an Aga. A home with less space. A home with less beauty. A home without the memories we are leaving behind.

Virginia’s gift reminds me that wherever we go, our memories remain in our hearts. The wisdom of a ten-year-old, teaching her seventy-one-year-old grandmother the value of memories in our hearts.  

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Going Down Memory Lane

Mike and I are still in the throes of cleaning out our home where we have lived for more than thirty-four years. In early January a new family will move in and we will move on to our next adventure. I have a wide range of emotions, and although I believe it is time for us to take this next step, it is very hard. Leaving our home which we built in 1988, renovated and expanded in 2003, and in which we have so many wonderful memories of family times, is a major life change. But the decision has been made, and we are moving on. But not before we get through facing thirty-four-plus years of stuff and delayed decisions.

I wish you could be beside me while I purge (although not enough,) pack (too much,) and box up a lifetime of memories. I especially wish you could be with me for the attic cleanouts. I have not been into the attics except to store items that were used infrequently, such as bedside commodes for our elderly family members. I had no idea what the attics housed. I was amazed when I got into the boxes in the attics. I found things I had never seen, had no idea I had, and do not know how they got there.

In the main attic, I found items that belonged to my ex-husband (we divorced in 1980,) Mike’s ex-wife, (from whom he was separated since the late 1970s, although they divorced later) from my mother who passed away in 1998, and my aunt who passed away in 1981. There were also many college notebooks of Mike’s from his years at North Carolina State University, from which he graduated in 1975, and my nursing cap and nursing shoes from 1972. There was Chatham’s baby bed, and Chatham is now 45 years old, and no one else has been able to use that baby bed since it was deemed unsafe many years ago. Why ‘oh why would we have kept that bed and stored it in the attic, knowing it should not be used again? There were boxes of stuffed animals and camp letters, as well as a toy chest, a typewriter (remember those?), and a bowling ball. The list could go on and on, but you get the picture.

In the first paragraph, I mentioned “getting through thirty-four years of stuff and delayed decisions.” Hopefully, you have a clear picture of some of the thirty-four years of stuff. But what about the delayed decisions? Perhaps those are clear also. Almost every item in the attics represent delayed decisions. When I put my mother’s remaining possessions in the attic when she passed away, I was delaying the decision about them. When my nursing cap and shoes were placed in the attic, I delayed the decision as to whether to keep them or not, for the manner in which they decayed in the attic made them unable to be saved for any purpose other than throwing them out thirty-four years later. Any paper left in the attic for that many years is of no use to anyone, other than to the squirrels (I prefer to think the squirrels were in the attic making a mess of any papers other than those other critters!)

I did find some wonderful old photos in the main attic, and most of those were salvageable. You see some of those in this blog. I also found a letter from an old boyfriend (I wonder why I saved that?!) as well as a letter from a cousin which I will treasure. Discovering the photos made cleaning out the rest of the mess more than worth it.

If I continue down memory lane much longer I will not finish the job of cleaning out, wrapping up, and boxing the items we will carry with us to our next adventure. While I am sure that I am not purging enough and am therefore keeping too much, I am ok with boxing up and storing anything I am having a hard time letting go. I am going to give myself six months to go back through anything still in boxes and unused, and decide what to do about those things other than continue to carry them around.

But nothing will go in an attic, where it will be out of sight and lost for years. I am making myself this promise. So step aside critters, and find yourself another home.

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Cleaning Out

Having lived in our home in Raleigh since May of 1988, we have accumulated a lot of stuff. Mike and I have been cleaning out the past few weeks, and are shocked to find what we have been storing. Well, Mike is probably not as shocked with what he has found, since his items pale in comparison to mine. But even I am shocked at mine. I recommend cleaning out a house every ten years at least, to cull items that are unnecessary duplicates, things that no longer have a place in your life, and clothes, that even if they fit, you will never wear again. Until you do, do not pass judgment on my findings!

In the category of “unnecessary duplicates,” I found that I have 11 candle snuffers! Yes, 11! Why, I do not really know, other than I can see why I bought some of them, for they fit in my “need for beauty” category. But 11? Even I am shocked by this number. I will keep two of them, a sterling one, and a gold one. The rest I will put in my antiques/gifts booth and attempt to sell them. Let me know if I have one you like in the remaining 9, and I will gladly send it your way.  

In one of my china cabinet drawers, I found many white napkins, from three different family events. One napkin is from daughter Tara’s 16th birthday party. Tara is now 47 years old, so I have kept that napkin, as a memory, for more than 31 years! Another set of napkins, of which I have many, is from cousin Paula’s wedding, which occurred in July of 1994, more than 27 years ago! “Cousin” does not adequately describe Paula’s relationship with Mike and me. We “raised” Paula for several years, and served as “parents” in her wedding. Even so, we did not need those napkins to remind us of any of this. Maybe we could have kept one as a memory, but this stack? The third memory napkin is from Mike’s Ph.D. graduation party in 2000, almost 23 ago. In the photo, you can see that we have enough of those napkins for another large party!

Mike had many vinyl records housed in his end of our master bedroom closet, records that have not been played at all during our marriage. We married in April of 1984, so those records have been using prime real estate for almost 38 years! While I still have the candle snuffers and napkins to deal with, most of Mike’s vinyls are already in the antique shop and three have already sold! We did keep a few for us and a few for our grandchildren, but the rest are where they need to be, to be bought and enjoyed by others. Now if Mike could just let go of his Boy Scout blanket and sleeping bag!

I have 65 china turkey plates, and it is unlikely we will ever need more than twenty (if even that many) again. The plates and all of the trappings that went with them were enjoyed (at least by me!) as we hosted Thanksgiving in our home in Raleigh for most of our married years. Now that Thanksgiving duties planning and execution are the responsibility of the younger generation, who hosted our gathering this year at the beach, I should sell at least 45 china turkey plates. This past Thanksgiving we had a delicious Thanksgiving meal with paper and plastic, which is the style of those now in charge.

We have not even made it to the two attics yet! Most of what is in those has not been needed or used since we moved into our home in 1988. So hopefully any desire to keep any of that will be replaced by the feeling of freedom of letting it all go.

You are probably amazed at what Mike and I have been housing and not using for so many years. But before you gloat, do a quick inventory of your stuff, and see what is lurking in your cabinets and drawers. Out of sight out of mind.

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Retail in December

Retail is a hard job, especially so in December, the busiest shopping time of the year. There are ways that salespeople can make it more pleasant. The best way they can make it more pleasant is by being pleasant! I have a few examples of how this is being done, and how it isn’t.

I just shopped in a kitchen store and experienced great customer service from a salesperson, and poor service from the owner. Go figure! The salesperson was friendly and helpful, while the owner did not even acknowledge my presence, although she should know me given that I shop in her store often, and usually call her by name. The very least she should have done is speak to me, even if she did not use my name. But she didn’t, and not because she was busy; but because she isn’t friendly. I think I will take my kitchen shopping elsewhere. While I don’t expect someone to gush all over me, I do like my presence acknowledged, and my business appreciated.

Recently I observed two women who were upset with a waitress who was less than friendly to them, although they are regular customers of the restaurant, and she knows them well. But the waitress did not smile, did not make eye contact, and did not speak as she gave them their check. The woman sitting next to me said, “I will let my displeasure show in my tip; she does not deserve a tip.” Sometimes customers do show their displeasure in monetary ways.

Just this morning a friend and I met for breakfast at a local diner. The food was great. The service was slow, but they were busy. The waitress was friendly and service-oriented. Although the standard in that diner is to pay at the register, my friend wanted her check and credit card picked up, taken to the register, and brought back to her, although we were in a diner! The waitress got the message and took the customer service high road. We put our credit cards on the table and the waitress picked them up and took them to the register for us. That is a great example of service, doing what the customer preferred even when it was not the restaurant’s standard. And done with a smile.

Retail is hard work, very hard work. There are as many, if not more, rude customers as there are less than friendly and sometimes rude salespeople. But the salesperson has a higher calling than the customer, like it or not. A friend of mine once said to me, when I was teaching customer service principles to staff in various companies, “When are you going to teach customer service principles to the  customer?!” Well, sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. Even now when the need is even greater for customers to be nice to service personnel due to the shortage of wait staff and service personnel, even with all of the signs in businesses asking customers to “just be nice.” The onus is still on the service person to be friendly and service-oriented. The customer may get by being less than friendly or even rude, whether they should be or not. The salesperson is representing the business, and at all times should be friendly, helpful, and service-oriented. And the mere idea that the business owner is not setting the customer service standard! In those cases, let’s take our business elsewhere since the loss of business may be the only way some of those business owners will become service oriented.

Although retail is hard work, it can be rewarding work. Serving customers with a smile, being friendly, and doing all that one can to meet the customers’ needs and even (unrealistic) expectations, can pay big dividends, and not just monetarily.

It feels good to be nice to people. It feels even better when one is nice and friendly, and that attitude is returned in similar behavior from the customer. And yes, it feels good to receive above-average tips, and for the customer to commend the salesperson to others, including management. We do live in a world of reciprocity. What goes around does come around, eventually.

Watch for good service, and compensate it appropriately. Also, watch for poor service, and take your business elsewhere. And keep your cool all the while!

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Minding Our Manners

We have all heard it; “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” So often we fail to follow this adage, however, and say something that falls in the “feel good behavior” category, behavior that feels good to us, and cuts into another person. Why? Are we really trying to put the other person down, or build ourselves up? Or are we just not thinking? Are we intentionally being mean? If we really are not in general mean people, what benefit do we derive from saying things that hurt others? Something to think about.

We just celebrated one major holiday, and have others coming up. Did you mind your manners? Did you say things to others that were hurtful? Did you talk negatively about some family members to other family members? If so, how did that feel? While you may have felt justified, and in fact may have made a valid point, how did that contribute to the overall goodwill that all were gathered to celebrate? Perhaps we need to look within and figure out our motive for making such comments.

Holidays are stressful enough without having to deal with behavior from others that is negative or inappropriate in other ways. Drinking too much is not a way to celebrate, it is a way to embarrass not just yourself but others. Be better than that. When the family gathers, drives long distances and deals with long delays in traffic, and works hard for days, spending a lot of money on food to feed the crowd, respect that contribution, and don’t do anything to detract from that. Mind your manners.

Hopefully, your Thanksgiving holiday was peaceful and joyful, and none of the inappropriate behavior written about above occurred at your gathering. Then consider this message nothing more than a reminder of gracious behavior. If, however, you find anything in this message that you or others you know need to improve, consider this a gentle and compassionate reminder to do so. So your next gathering is filled with only positive behavior that builds others up.

One of my speaker heroes, Elizabeth Jeffries, made this comment many years ago: “We are called to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed.” This message may do both. And be not mistaken, this message is as much for me as anyone else.    

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Changing Again

I hesitate to talk about WW, or Weight Watchers, as I still refer to it, although the company changed its name to WW a few years ago. I hesitate to talk about Weight Watchers in this blog because of the Thanksgiving holiday that most of us will celebrate this week. There will be food galore, and although we do not have to eat it all, many of us will eat more than we normally do. That is why I weighed in for my mandatory monthly weight-in on Sunday, so I have time to reconcile the pound or two I may gain before it is time for me to weigh in again.

So why I am talking about Weight Watchers in this blog? Simply because the company is a great example of change. WW has changed again, and they do so at least once a year. Since I recognize some of my readers are not WW people, I will focus on why WW changes, and not other aspects of WW, of which I am passionate. I really am passionate about WW. I have been a WW member (off and on for some years) for more than forty years, and truly believe it is the only plan that works for me. But enough about that. Let’s talk about change.

WW changed its eating plan again, which they do about once a year. The new plan is simpler, but I was fine with the plan that was replaced, and wondered why they changed the plan again, and asked the WW leader in our meeting on Sunday about that. Her answer was, “WW follows the science, and they decided the plan was not working as it was intended, so they made some changes.”  I accepted that as valid, and my mind immediately went to other things.

How often do we change something that isn’t working? Are we more likely to hang on to what isn’t working, hoping it will work eventually? Maybe not you, but I do. I have several examples of that in mind right now. I am stubborn, and when I lock into something, it is hard for me to change. I need to be more like WW and change what isn’t working.

You might rightly ask, “How do I know something isn’t working, and how long do I give it?” Well, there is no magical answer to this. But let’s be honest. We know, and we even know when the time is up and it is time to make a different decision. We just fail to shift, for a variety of reasons. Or maybe you don’t fall in this category. Maybe you are better at this than I am. You know which group you are in. What matters is that you are honest with yourself.

You are likely familiar with the Serenity Prayer. The part of that prayer that fits in this discussion is the “God Grant Me the Courage to Change the Things I can.” Yes, change does require courage. It is easier (or at least we think it is) to keep on keeping on, even when something isn’t working. We do get set in our ways.

I am reminded of something a colleague of mine, Marilyn Moats Kennedy, said years ago: “The Only One Who Really Likes Change is a Wet Baby!” Funny, but not totally true. Some of us think we are change-oriented, and that we like change. Well, what we really mean is that we like change that we think we can control. And so much of change is outside of our control.

But one change that is totally within our control is our behavior. So, what will we do, what changes will we make, to be the best version of ourselves?

What I am going to do is be less resistant to change, paying attention to what isn’t working, and making course corrections quicker than is often comfortable.

What about you? You do not need to answer me, but by all means, answer this question for yourself.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday. In spite of all of our challenges, there is still much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for you, my dear readers. I appreciate you following my blog and occasionally letting me know your thoughts about it. I am very thankful for you.  

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Thankful, Grateful, and Blessed

Next week many families gather for a time of food and fellowship. Our family will also, although we will be smaller in number than in some years. I think our highest number of family members and friends who have come together through the years is sixty-five. Yes, sixty-five! All seated, all with china turkey plates, sterling, and crystal. And lots of good food. This year we are going to the beach, and there will be thirty-eight of us. It will be a change for our family, going to the beach, without all of the resources, such as cooking items, we have had. But it will be fine, regardless. If we are missing something we think we need we will either get creative, go buy it, or do without it. After all, it really is just stuff, and stuffing!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is more about the people who gather together than the food, although the food is always delicious. And although most years our extended family has gathered in Raleigh for Thanksgiving, it really isn’t about where we are, as long as we are together. We will miss not having Dad and Uncle Barry with us, both of who passed away in recent years. We will miss having some other family members with us as well, who are not making the trip for various reasons. Those of us who gather will continue our traditions while making new ones.

We all know that while the holidays with family are wonderful, they can also be stressful. If we remember why we make the effort to get together, and it really isn’t about the food, and mind our manners, we can have an enjoyable and nourishing (in more ways than food) time. You may not need to be reminded of this, but I know I do!

We have so much to be grateful for, in spite of our challenges, and we should not lose sight of that. I remember, as you do as well, the one or two years that COVID precluded us from getting together. This season of togetherness is to be treasured. We never know when some in our midst this year may be gone from us next year.

Let’s remember those less fortunate than us, and reach out and give to those in need. Let’s keep any negative thoughts to ourselves, refusing to let anything dampen the little time we have with loved ones. Let’s jump in and do our part to make our celebration come together, not allowing a few to carry the load for the rest of us. When we close the door on Thanksgiving 2022 let’s all be able to proclaim it was a wonderful time together.

For if we have family that chooses to get together, we are Grateful, Thankful, and Blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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