Wednesday, November 25, 2015

6 Fun & Easy Thanksgiving Ideas

Since I can't hold tightly to these years when my daughters are small, I'm going to try to enjoy each moment. The holidays can make that easy or difficult, depending on your expectations!

I love to do fun things with the girls that don't cost a lot of money or take a lot of prep. This week of Thanksgiving, we've been having a LOT of fun together being thankful, even though it hasn't been a perfect week! It keeps our minds in perspective. I've been loving reading aloud Junie B. Jones First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff). It's hilarious and both kids are amused by it too!

Here are 6 more FREE or super cheap ideas for you to enjoy with your family during the Thanksgiving season.

1. Thankfulness Chain: I take scrapbooking paper I have around the house, cut it into strips and the kids write one thing they're thankful for on the back of each strip before we attach it to the chain. They want to make it super long, so they have to think deeper than the normal stuff...and by "deeper" I mean things like "pigs" and "Shopkins." We do this over a week or so, and end up laughing a lot. This year, I used Christmas paper and will probably let the girls put the chain on the tree.

2. Colorful Table Cloth: Pictured above, with our chain, grandma got the girls this table cloth at the dollar store. Instead of using it once on Thanksgiving, I decided to keep it on all week with a bucket of crayons as our centerpiece. The kids have loved it!

3. Thanksgiving Madlib You can find a bunch of these online. They're hilarious for any age group, which is a good thing because my girls are 5 years apart!

4. Lunch box jokes I printed these and have been sticking a few in my daughter's lunch all week. They'd even be great as kids get back into school next week!

5. Roll A Turkey All you need is some dice and paper. You add features to your turkey based on what you roll and the first person to complete their turkey wins! You could end up with some crazy looking birds!

6. We've also been enjoying Christmas movies on Netflix.

Since our second baby turns 5 this week, we're also planning her birthday! We're hoping to see the Charlie Brown movie and eat lots of cake!

Happy Thanksgiving! I pray you find the beauty in the simple things and count many many blessings.

Melissa

Monday, November 16, 2015

My 2 Favorite Make-Ahead Brunch Recipes

Both of these are crowd pleasers (gluten free or not), and they are SO GOOD!

I often make both of these the night before, and bake before the event/gathering. So easy and delicious.

Best Ever Egg Casserole
This isn't the healthiest egg casserole, but it's amazing and simple! I use skim milk instead of half and half.


Amish Baked Oatmeal
I love this! You can add anything! Almonds, flax, chia seeds, raw coconut, etc...It's amazing! I like to add cinnamon and vanilla! I use almond milk and coconut oil, or soy free earth balance for the butter.

Enjoy!


Monday, November 2, 2015

New Menu! Gluten/Dairy Free

Hey! I'm enjoying hearing feedback from those of you who are enjoying some of the recipes we like in our home! The Korean Beef recipe seems to have been a favorite!

I had a comment from a friend last week, so I'll answer her question here! Those granola bars are addicting, Jackie!!! Glad you like them too!

"Oh those granola bars!! So yummy, but I will eat the entire pan lol so we can't make them unless we're having company! When you do your zuke noodles, what seasonings/sauces do you use?" - Jackie


I keep it really simple! I usually just sauté the noodles in a little olive oil and water...and then I add salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and whatever is left in the fridge: chicken, beans, other vegetables, or even fish. I love it!

Here's what's cooking in our home lately!

Barbecued Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps         (Rachel Ray) This recipe is on our repeat list. I don't include the water chestnuts or the mushrooms because my family doesn't care for them. But, if you've never tried hoisin sauce (you can find it in the international foods isle), it's really good. All of us like it! I served this weekend on lettuce wraps with rice noodles and peas. Hannah has the leftovers in her lunch today.

Grilled steaks, homemade french fries and steamed fresh green beans almondine - Just for the record...I kind of stink at grilling steaks, but these ended up tasting pretty good. I don't buy a ton of red meat, but Matt requested steak, so it was a treat we had on Halloween night. The weather has been nice, and I love to grill when I can...Now, last week, my grill caught on fire. We had to break out the extinguisher and everything! This week, the flame stayed where it was told!

Crockpot Mongolian beef - We had this last week too. People look at me strangely when I suggest this meal - like I have two heads. Check out the recipe - there's really nothing weird in it, only it's AMAZING! I cut the sugar in half, add extra carrots, and served with brown rice and broccoli. So good. I also buy cheap cuts of beef. London Broil was on sale this time. In the crock pot, you can buy cheaper cuts of meat and it'll still taste great.

Individual Turkey Meatloaves - (Rachel Ray) Use gluten free bread*** crumbs. I've been making this recipe for YEARS. Since the first 30 minute meals cookbook came out. I don't usually include the egg yolk or the red peppers inside the meatloaf...but these are easy, fast and very flavorful using ground turkey. I don't usually make the broccoli with cheese sauce include in the recipe. I served it last week with smashed potatoes (much faster than mashed but still as yummy) and a side salad.

***Gluten free breadcrumbs. I NEVER buy them. They are SO expensive!! I save the ends to the loaves of bread I buy or make, and when I have enough, or need them for a recipe, I pulse them in my food processor with seasonings and toast them in the oven. I put what's leftover in the freezer. If I need a little more, I'll add gluten free oats, gluten free rice krispies or rice checks to bulk it up. You can even use GF oats.

Baked Chicken: I roasted 5lb of "quick-sale" chicken tenders. Lightly sprayed with olive oil, and rubbed with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and some paprika. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes and they were perfect. We'll be eating those in lunches all week.

Some Extras:

Vanilla Scented Granola - (Ina Garten) (Use gluten free oats and the rest is safe). This is great for breakfast or desert!! It's extremely sweet, so you can pretty dramatically reduce the sugar in it. Add anything you enjoy. I've added raisins, cranberries, chia or flax seeds, mini chocolate chips, organic unsweetened coconut. It's amazing, but granola is high in calories, so, if you're watching, be careful because it's addicting!!

Gluten Free Bread - This is a new recipe I'm trying today!




Monday, October 26, 2015

When the bad guys win...

It's An Unfair World.

I had a conversation with my oldest daughter the other day. She was feeling frustrated because, sometimes, doing the right thing didn’t seem to have any benefits, and doing the wrong thing appeared to lack consequences.

We sat and talked about how, regardless of how things “seem,” in the long run, we are always blessed for doing the right thing, especially in the cases that seem as though it’s not worth it, or we wouldn’t get caught. In the end, I don’t know that she was convinced. As a rule follower at heart, I can understand the frustration.

These feelings certainly don’t change as we grow up. We all try to cut corners, knowing that what we’re doing is wrong. It’s SO EASY, to come up with justifications by comparing ourselves to what others get away with.

I told her, people are always going to get away with doing the wrong thing. The Bible says in Matthew 5:45:

“He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

We’re all his children.  He loves us the same and He blesses us the same in our good deeds as well as our shortcomings. I’m THANKFUL for this! We wouldn’t want to curse our own children, even when they make mistakes, and God feels the same.

We are, however reminded that our reward, our GREAT reward is in Heaven, where our eyes should be ever-focused.

“Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.” Ephesians 6:8

“And let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 [emphasis mine]

We all sin and fall short of God’s glory, not one of us more than the next. There is no comparison of what is “good,” because the only One who IS good, sacrificed Himself so that we could ALL be good with Him. Forever.


So be encouraged. Having a heart that undividedly seeks after righteousness and relationship with Jesus Christ, is worth every ounce of energy we give to it, even when the reward may remain unseen temporarily. Press on!

Monday, October 12, 2015

This Week's Menu! Easily Gluten/Dairy Free


Do you remember when you were a kid, and you couldn't wait to see what kind of goodies, your mom brought home from the grocery store? Yeah, well, I don't think my family gets that excited. That's a lot of green from this morning's grocery trip! I did find a box of Nutter Butters that someone threw in the cart. He shall remain nameless...but I bet you could guess!

Here's what's happening this week in my kitchen!

Hannah asked for homemade dairy free mac and cheese for lunch, so I'll be making some of that for her.

I've been OBSESSED with my new kitchen gadget, the "Veggetti." Yes, it could have been named better...Nonetheless,  I've been eating sauteed zucchini noodles, constantly. They are so good!

Here's what we're having for dinner!

Chicken Broccoli Chowder with mini biscuits (I use the recipe from the back of the gluten free baking mix from Aldi)

Turkey Tenderloin (purchased at Aldi already marinated). Grill or bake according to package directions. Crash Hot Sweet Potatoes, and roasted green beans. Love this sweet potato recipe.

Korean Beef Bowls served with rice and peas. I reduce the brown sugar. This quick, simple and SO good!

Honey Balsamic Chicken Tenders This is a new recipe for us. Roasted mixed veggies, and pasta

Pan Seared Flounder with seasonings,  polenta cakes, and side salad. I've never made polenta before, so I'm going to try Giada's recipe. Refrigerate, and then slice it and grill. Tomato sauce on the side.


And for a little something sweet...

No Bake Rice Krispies Peanut Butter Granola Bars

This is my most requested recipe. It's ALWAYS a hit. It's very forgiving if you want to edit or adjust. I use honey, dairy free chocolate (or dark chocolate chips), gluten free oats, gluten free Rice Krispies and sliced almonds. They're great for breakfast or dessert.

Happy Cooking!


Sunday, September 20, 2015

This Week's Easy Fall Dinner Plan - Delicious & Easily made gluten/dairy free

Sometimes I make meals so difficult on myself. I'm in the kitchen for hours, making special trips to the store for weird ingredients, and feeling discouraged when dinner is over in 15 minutes.

The past couple of weeks, when planning meals, I decided to keep it simple. The weather won't be completely fall-like here, but dinner time will be.

I'm posting to give you some inspiration for relatively simple and well balanced dinners. Plus, they're all tested and deemed delicious by those I live with...and me!

All of these dinners are gluten and dairy free naturally (or can easily be made so) and economical. No weird substitutions necessary.

So, let me know if you try one of these out and what you think. I also adapt some of these to fit our lifestyle, reduce sugar, or increase vegetable content.

Hamburger Soup/Crackers 
I use ground turkey instead of beef and add extra vegetables (often green beans).
I also just use beef broth and granulated onion in place of the onion soup, gluten free soy sauce and gluten free noodles.

Honey Garlic Chicken with Smashed Potatoes & Green Beans
Uses inexpensive boneless skinless chicken thighs
Use gluten free soy sauce if making gluten free
I reduce the amount of honey to limit sugar content

GLUTEN FREE TIP: Instead of buying outrageously expensive gluten free soy sauce, check out store brands, often they're the cheapest on the shelf and they naturally don't include wheat as an ingredient.

Ronaldos Carnitas on toasted corn tortillas & roasted Broccoli
I use a tenderloin roast. This is so easy and REALLY good. Feeds an army.

Breakfast for Dinner. Omelets with veggies , turkey bacon, fruit

White Chicken Chili with Corn Bread & Salad
The corn bread is an a gluten free recipe with gluten free ingredients. I cut the sugar to a couple tablespoons and use almond milk instead of soy. This recipe is the best.
Can sub chicken broth for water in the Chili.

I'm SURE we will have a leftover day.

I did make a large pot of beans and rice for lunches this week too.

Good luck menu planning! It makes a busy week so much easier and takes the guess work out of what to cook. It also saves money while keeping you from ordering takeout or buying unneeded items at the grocery store!

Happy Eating!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Saying Goodbye

When someone you love enters eternity, leaving you behind, it doesn't matter that they lived a long life. It doesn't matter how long they suffered, and it doesn't matter how weary everyone became during the process. It hurts. It's sad. And it's a stark reminder of our humanity and Jesus' sovereignty.

It's a reminder that a body detached from a soul, is nothing. It's a reminder that the soul is what brings beauty to life. It's a reminder, as you watch the sting of death seem to overcome, that the soul longs for our more heavenly home.

It's a reminder that we don't belong here and that such beauty awaits. It's a reminder of the love, grace, mercy, and presence my Jesus gives.

Grandma and the girls on
her last birthday.


Making Easter bread together in 2010.
My sweet little Italian grandmother, Ergie, has been battling the ugly disease of Alzheimers for a long time. Now, it seems, she mostly remembers us with her heart and not with her brain. To wish for her to stay, imprisoned by the chains that steal joy, is selfish. I imagine her soaring, whole, soon.

I know she is ready. I know because my grandmother fought for her family to love Jesus. She lived her life shining His light, praying, and living as His hands and feet with my grandfather, and she never gave up.

Sure she was a worrier. If you didn't answer your phone, she'd march her little Italian legs to your home (somehow - because she didn't drive) and throw rocks at your window. She also taught me that touching a booth seat in a restaurant is the worst thing on the planet to touch. And, let's face it...If you didn't have a third helping of macaroni, you straight up didn't love her.

But, if you called, she was there. With an ear. With my grandfather in a large white Cadillac with red interior. With food. And with food. Wait...did I already mention that?


I will miss my grandma. I will miss a childhood of messing up her pantry playing "store" with my cousins. I will miss jumping on her couches banging pots and pans singing Italian music. I will miss the way she furrowed her eyebrows when she worried. I will miss the milestone of finally reaching the height of an adult...She knew how to rock 4 feet 11 inches.

But I am thankful for the legacy she leaves behind for generations. A legacy of loving Jesus and caring for others. A spirit more generous than most, and an undivided heart. I'm thankful that as we grieve, we can remember a life that will live on.

God is always good, and today, tomorrow, and every day I will cling to him as I put one foot in front of the other. I can only imagine my sweet grandma, walking with Jesus, embracing the beauty of heaven and her new, whole body, and hearing the words "well done."

Grandma when Hannah
was born in 2005.
Grandma with Emma when she
was born in 2010.



2 Corinthians 5

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.

Grandma with her 11 grandchildren (top) & great grandchildren (bottom).
3 more have been born since this picture
was taken 1.5 years ago.

Friday, May 8, 2015

9 Ways To Save Money When There Is No Extra

You've all heard it: "Stop drinking Starbucks and save the money you would have spent." Well we never do that, do we? Somehow, we manage to eat out with the kids (even if it's only fast food), put clothes on our bodies, gas in our car, and pay for our kids'  extracurriculars, but we can't transfer $10 a month into a savings account (or onto that credit card bill).

I was thinking the other day. When we were on our journey to become debt free (aside from the 13 years left on our mortgage), we paid off our student loans, our only debt, in two years making less than half of our present income.

Now that we're onto our retirement and kids' college savings, I wonder how we managed it then, but now lack the motivation to kick things into high gear. So I dusted out the cobwebs of those aggressive, debt-busting days in my mind and remembered.

Budget & Prioritize Spending  - We make room for what we want to make room for. Make a list. Today. At the top, write your take-home pay for the following month and start subtracting non-negotiables - FOOD, SHELTER, CLOTHING, & TRANSPORTATION. Then subtract everything else...Include in the top part of that list some savings...even just $25. It may be too small to seem worth it, but an extra $300 at the end of the year for Christmas or a medical bill won't leave you complaining. It DEFINITELY takes time to get used to a budget and you might fail a few times, but it gets easier. If you don't start somewhere with budgeting, even small, you are guaranteed to fail.

Do It As Soon As You Get Paid - This was huge for us when we were putting large - to us - sums toward debt monthly...and begrudgingly, I knew I had to get back to that mindset with saving recently. After the mortgage and charitable giving, we make a transfer to our savings account to save for quarterly and yearly expenses, but also to save for car purchase & repair, boosting our emergency fund, vacations, IRA contributions etc. The reward is seen immediately and is motivation to keep going.

Start With Small Amounts - Go Big or Go Home just doesn't work here. We are an all or nothing society. We can't finish it now, so we don't start. Put a regular (make it a habit) small amount into your savings account. Make it easy on yourself. Electronically transfer X amount whenever you're paying that first bill of the month. You could also hide an envelope under your mattress and save cash there (as long as you're not too tempted to touch it). I don't care if it's $1! It's more about the habit than the amount. It's much easier to increase to $2 when you're already saving $1.

Chart Your Growth - Keep track of your growth. It's like a pat on the back or a reality check. Use Excel or a legal pad with a purple pen. I don't care. But, I can tell you this; looking at our Excel document of our progress encourages us to keep going.

Categorize Your Savings -  There's a lump sum in our savings account, but we keep documentation of how much money applies to each category we have in there. It really gives perspective on what needs attention and what can wait. Sometimes it will seem like EVERYTHING needs attention. That's ok. Keep going.

Checkout Check Up - When we're really focused on some financial goal, right before I check out at the store I scan the cart and ask myself some questions. "Is there anything in here that wasn't on my list?" "Is there anything in here that I really don't need, even if it was really cheap?" I often can easily shave $10-$15 off my total when I do this.

Sell Stuff - When you really look at your home - you realize how much you have that you don't need, use, or even like. Your trash is someone else's treasure. Get on Craigslist and declutter your home and  and your budget.

Be Content - Honestly, this requires some soul searching. I don't know what path you will take to get there but you have to find a way to be satisfied with what you have and with what you don't have. You have to be content with spending less on gifts or buying underwear at Walmart when you're getting out of debt or working toward a goal. Suck it up, it's not the end of the world. We've been debt free for 5 years and while we are still working hard and I'm thankful for our progress and provision, we drive very used cars (though we've slowly upgraded, always paying cash), our house isn't huge, and I'm in love with hand-me-down clothes. You can't have champagne taste on a beer budget. Life is about so much more than stuff.

Expect Emergencies -  Things are going to come up. You're going to dip into your savings. It happens. Expect it and move on.

Don't give up on this. I'd love to hear your progress!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wellness Wednesday - 7 Of My Favorite Fitness Finds

I wouldn't say I love working out, but I do it, almost every day. I get bored easily, and since I'm a stay at home mama with a husband who is out the door by 5:30am, I can't just get up and go to the gym early in the morning.

HEART RATE MONITOR

I use this one:



It's not the newest model, but it's affordable and keeps track of your heart rate and calories burned. This is helpful to me because I'm only five feet tall and not really overweight - so calories burned is much lower for me than the average person. This helps me get a good picture of how hard I'm working and I can easily pump it up a little if my target heart rate isn't in zone...You can set it to beep to let you know! Alternatively, I can chill out a little when it's going wild! I tend to have a high heart rate naturally.

HOUSE SHOES

Ok, this sounds silly, but I workout in my house to online workout videos. We don't wear shoes in our house. It grosses me out. So, I used to workout barefoot...which now seems insane to me. I bought myself a pair of inexpensive but highlighter-bright (why not?) tennis shoes to workout in the house.

FITNESS BLENDER

At Fitness Blender, there are over 400 FREE workout videos, a free calendar to keep track of workouts, and a husband and wife duo, that is just really awesome. They want affordable health and fitness to be available to everyone. There are meal plans and challenges available for purchase (very affordable) on the site, but I've never bought one. All of the videos in those challenges are free already on the site, they just set up a specific plan for you when you purchase. They even just came out with a free APP!

YOU TUBE
You Tube is the home of A LOT of trash...but you know what? There are a ton of awesome, full length workout videos. Some of my favorite subscriptions, other than Fitness Blender are: jessicasmithtv, BeFit, and POPSUGAR Fitness. You can also find celebrity trainers on there too like Jackie Warner, Jillian Michaels, Chris Freytag, and Cindy Whitmarsh - all of whom I enjoy working out with!

WATER BOTTLE

One of my Christmas gifts from my husband was this water bottle. It's a glass one with a silicone sleeve. I love it. It holds 20oz. so I try to drink 3 per day and it's really be very helpful to me.

MY FITNESS PAL

The site is free,  you can scan your food and recorded your exercise and food intake. I use this periodically to get back on track with my eating. The only problem I personally have with this, is I'm a scratch cook. Most of what I eat is made with my own two hands. This can be extremely tedious to figure out calorie counting...So, when I feel frustrated, I use something probably considered archaic.

FOOD JOURNAL
There tons of fancy ones out there...but I use a notebook and list my water intake, weight, exercise and food eaten for the day...Then I take a picture of it and send it to a friend to keep me accountable...Even that one day when I ate a large blizzard...*hanging my head in shame*

FREE WEIGHTS
Weight training is my favorite kind of workout. Obviously I alternate with cardio and a few days of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), but I love my weights. Don't be discouraged if you can't spend the money on weights right now. Honestly, 6 years ago, I started with water bottles. Then, my sister-in-law loaned me a pair of 3 lb. You'll get there. Start where you are.

I will use anywhere between 3lb. and 20lb. free weights, and a kettle bell.

I have metal and coated dumbbells, but I do prefer the coated ones (similar to the ones below). They're nicer to grip, in my opinion (and don't scratch my wedding rings). I do use weight lifting gloves sometimes, too.



I own this kettle bell, but I'm looking to purchase a heavier 10-12lb. one as well.



So, nothing here is fancy, necessary or expensive. What are some of your favorite gadgets?


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tips And Hints Tuesday - 5 Easy Ways Keep Kids' Rooms Clean

Kids' rooms can get out of control, and FAST!

We have always had our kids help with chores, even from the youngest of ages. I'm a bit Type A when it comes to clutter and keeping like toys together. My second-born however, is NOT. She likes to mix everything together, every day.

We have finally gotten to the point where we're both happy with the arrangement. Our bedrooms are small, and our second-daughter's room is exceptionally small.

I can't say enough, that kids need to get used to picking up after themselves before they pull out new toys, move onto another activity, and before they go to bed. It's a habit in our house and because of that, I really don't have to say much about clean up.


FIND A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING

This might take some time. It can be a huge job to sort through the massive amount of toys, legos and little pieces your kids accumulate. However, if you start with a place for the toys they play with most - slowly things become sorted on their own. Clear bins REALLY help kids to see where to put things.

MAKE IT EASY TO PICK UP

We use the open bins below for books and specific toys. Our girls know what goes where and it's quick and easy for little hands to clean up with these. They don't have to open lids, and it's easy to see inside.



We also sort little toys with these:



And some of our Barbies stand up in these when they're picked up:



There's also something to be said for a simple zip-top bag. Ours hold the smallest of toys like barbie accessories, very well. We even save the plastic snap bags in which kids chapsticks and nail polish - and even character underwear come! They are more durable and again, are easy for tiny fingers to close.


TOSS THE JUNK

This is a periodic and never-ending job. Take a grocery bag in there every now and then and toss all of those kids' meal toys and ripped paper creations that have no business cluttering up the space. Donate or put on a rotation and pack away things they don't play with. If it's sitting in there and getting no use but you feel bad getting rid of it - part ways. If you don't love something - "release it and let someone else love it." This is said by one of my favorites at flylady.net.


ROTATE

Our play-doh stays high up in the hall closet so only I can reach it when it's time to play. At the moment, Strawberry Shortcake and her cronies are in one of the plastic shoeboxes linked above, in the bedroom closet. They're easy for me to reach when she wants it, but out of the way enough so that it's not all dumped out all of the time.

PICK UP OR SUCK UP

Our 9 year old's room is almost always picked up and our 4 year old is well on her way. But, before I vacuum (and maybe this sounds awful) I call out "pick up or suck up," and that means, whatever is on the floor in the next 10 minutes will be eaten by my yellow Dyson. I haven't had to test the theory. It's all in fun and the kids don't get mad; it just means, go pick up your stuff.

With a little consistency, this stuff works very well. The kids get to play with what they want, when they want and I'm not overwhelmed by the mess!


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