Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Books I Read January/February 2018

Okay. So I recognize that I have really dropped the ball in posting book reviews—or anything at all—lately. What I have been doing lately is trying to read more, so I do have a good list to share with you for the last couple months. (Plus, I added a couple that I read before Christmas that I never actually posted.)

Book review of Turtles all the way down, The Woman in the Window, The Blinds, The Rules of Magic, The Grownups Guide to Teenage Humans, and more.

Books I Read in January & February 2018

(affiliate links)

Book review of The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

I got this book in my Book of the Month box. It seemed like an interesting plot—slightly dystopian—in which hardened criminals have their memories erased and are put into a makeshift town in the middle of nowhere to start new lives. I enjoyed it and the ending was a bit surprising and made the read worthwhile. I would only give it about 3.5 stars, though. I just couldn't love the characters or care about them very much.

Buy on Kindle
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Join Book of the Month and get three new releases for just $10 plus a free tote bag!

Book review of The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Another Book of the Month selection and Oh. My. Gosh. This is the best book I have read in a long time. Completely unputdownable. I love mysteries and thrillers best, but because I read them often I can usually see twists coming and while I still enjoy the story, the supposed "amazing plot twists" don't usually surprise me much. But hello? There are three different times I was completely blown out of the water by the twists in this book—they came completely out of nowhere! And then of course I had to keep reading to find out what happened. This book gets a solid 5 stars from me.

*Strong language found in this book

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Book Review of The Grownups Guide to Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp

The Grown-ups Guide to Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp

I was sent this book to review by TLC Book Tours. As the mother to a few teenage humans, I found it to be remarkably spot-on, easy to read, and an excellent book to keep on my night table. Josh addresses things by age—there are sections for each teen age —and by problem. Things like eating disorders, dating, discipline, etc. are all beautifully addressed. After reading it I felt like I had a whole new perspective on my teenage children and I look forward to using this book as a reference often.

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Book review of The Silent Wife by Kerry Fisher

The Silent Wife by Kerry Fisher

This was our book club read for February. My book club had taken an unintended hiatus for a few months, so I was really glad to read something and go to the meeting last month! This was a novel about two sisters-in-law—told alternatively from each of their perspectives—married to two brothers. One of them is in an abusive marriage and nobody has any idea. I liked how the story played out, and it definitely made me think a lot. We just never know what's going on behind closed doors or why people may act the way they do. 4 stars.

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Book review of The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

This was another Book of the Month selection. It took me about three months to actually read (I kept putting it down to read other books instead), so that is already a clue that I wasn't very captivated by it. It was a nice story about three siblings who are witches living in NYC and Massachusetts in the 1960s and 1970s. They are cursed in love by an ancestor who lived in Salem during the witch trials and the book chronicles their misadventures in love and is kind of sad and depressing. I give it 2 stars.

*Strong language found in this book

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Join Book of the Month and get three new releases for just $10 plus a free tote bag!

Book review of Turtles all the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I picked this one up to read on vacation back in November. I like John Green's stories, but I'm often unimpressed with some of his subject matter so I like to read his books before my kids do so I know what we will need to discuss. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. While there are still a couple things that I felt were gratuitous, I didn't mind Chloe reading it. The main character has OCD and the book just really chronicles how she deals with it and how it affects her life. It's a good one for understanding how OCD can affect people. I give it 4 stars.

Buy it on hardcover
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Book review of The Encore by Charity Tillemann-Dick

The Encore by Charity Tillemann-Dick

I received this book from a friend for my birthday. She had heard the author interviewed on NPR and thought I would love reading her memoir—and she was exactly right! The author is an opera singer who had to have a double lung transplant and her story is inspiring. I have actually been following her on twitter for several years, so I already knew some of her story, but I loved reading it in memoir form. Besides being a fellow opera singer, she also happens to share my religion (LDS), so I enjoyed her faith perspective, too. I give it 4 stars.

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What good books have you read lately?
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Amazingly Simple Snacks for Game Day

For the past week or so, my husband has been watching replay after replay of the "Minneapolis Miracle"—the amazing ending to the Vikings/Saints game last Sunday. I have to admit, it is pretty crazy to watch, which explains his obsession with it, considering he isn't even a Vikings fan!

We are Green Bay Packers fans at our house. Except for Sophia—somehow this strong-willed little 6th grader decided a couple years ago that she is a Patriots fan. So, as you can imagine, she's pretty excited for the big game this week!

So even though my team isn't there, I figure I'd better make it special for Sophia. I recently received a fun box of goodies that are perfect for making a simple spread on Game Day.

These products make your Game Day menu easy and delicious. Your guests will think you spent hours on the menu, but you will be done in just minutes!

Amazingly Simple Snacks for Game Day

RAGÚ® Old World Style Sauce and RAGÚ® Double Cheddar Sauce

RAGÚ® Old World Style Sauce is a traditional spaghetti sauce made with vine-ripened tomatoes, but that doesn't mean you have to serve pasta at your football party. You can create some of the best appetizers for game day with RAGÚ® sauce! For instance, these shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches are the perfect easy addition to a game day spread.

RAGÚ® Double Cheddar Sauce was a new product for me! It's perfect to use for mac-and-cheese, but we just used it as a queso dip for tortilla chips. Both mac-and-cheese and queso dip will fit right in on any game day menu—this southwest mac-and-cheese recipe looks perfect!

RAGÚ Sauce will clearly make your game day menu both simple and amazing.

Garden of Eatin'® Chips

Garden of Eatin'® Organic Corn Chips are perfect for health-conscious football fans. Their non-GMO, all organic corn chips are available in three flavors: Corn Chips with Sea Salt, Blue Corn Chips with Sea Salt, and BBQ Black Bean Corn Chips.

Judging by how quickly these disappeared, we loved all three flavors at my house. But I must say that I particularly loved the BBQ Black Bean chips. Every one of them would be welcome as a Big Game snack.

Get 75 cents off any one variety here: Garden of Eatin® Organic Corn Chips coupon

Midea Air Fryer

You guys, I am in love with the Midea Air Fryer

I was so excited to get it for two reasons: 

First, we rarely fry food because it is so time consuming. Making some ribs for a football viewing party can turn into an all day event. And by the time you're finished cooking, you'll be too tired to enjoy the game! The air fryer solves that problem because all you have to do is put your wings (or fries, or whatever) in the frying chamber and it comes out just as crispy as if you deep fried it.

Second, fried food is so full of fat, and I do want to avoid that. The Midea Air Fryer cuts about 80% of the fat than if you had deep fried the same food. And it still tastes and looks deep fried! That's the best part!

We made some wings in it right away (and paired it with the Red Duck BBQ sauce below), and they were so good! I can't wait to use it for things like french fries and fish. You can also use it to bake and roast things, too. 

Red Duck Foods Applewood Molasses BBQ Sauce and Smoky Ketchup

Red Duck Organic Smoky Ketchup is delicious. You can jazz up your French fries or just about anything else that you'd dip in ketchup with it or use it as a tomato paste alternative in your favorite recipes. My family loved the smoky taste and I loved that it's lower in sugar and sodium than other ketchups.

Red Duck Applewood Molasses BBQ Sauce also doesn't contain preservatives or artificial colors. We used it as the sauce for our wings and it was delicious! 

Get 25% off your order through 2/28/18 by entering code BABBLEBOXX here: Red Duck Foods

Formaggio Italian Cheeses

I was sent Fresh Marinated Mozzarella Balls and Artisan Wraps from Formaggio Italian Cheeses. My kids could barely wait for me to take pictures of them, they were so excited to try them out!

We threw some grape tomatoes in with the fresh mozzarella balls—the marinade they were already in made a wonderful caprese salad. The Artisan wraps—Italian style meats wrapped around fresh mozzarella sticks—were perfect paired with some crackers.

Again, these are so easy to set out on game day. All you have to do is open the packaging and you've got a pretty amazing appetizer ready to serve!

Both Formaggio Italian Cheese products can be purchased at Sam's Club and Costco.

BIG AZ® Sandwiches

If you want super simple on Game Day, these BIG AZ® sandwiches are for you. They are found in convenience stores (store finder here) in the sandwich warmers or refrigerators. I found them at a gas station c-store about a half mile from my house.

The sandwiches come in several different varieties, such as Siracha Chicken with cheese, Kickin' Jalapeno, or just plain Cheeseburger. They are easy to pick up and eat on the go, or set out for your Game Day party.

With all of these products, you will have the most amazing Game Day spread ever, and it will be a cinch to get it put together.

May the best team win!

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Friday, January 19, 2018

How to Motivate Your Teen to Practice Music

Thank you Fender for sponsoring this post. Learn guitar at home with Fender Play!

My teenage daughters have been playing musical instruments since they were little. They are no strangers to the whole "you have to practice" script from their mother, but I am finding it harder and harder to get them to practice the older they become. I mean, I can't just offer them one M&M for every time they play their song anymore—it just doesn't have the same effect on a 17-year-old as it does a 6-year-old!

I've found that there are two things that are excellent motivators to practice for teens. It has taken a bit of trial and error for me as a parent, but it's amazing how well these two "tricks" have worked! My home continues to be filled with music and I don't even have to buy them candy or use sticker charts!

Allow them to choose

This year, my 17-year-old daughter has wanted to take up the guitar alongside her violin. I was already having enough trouble keeping her motivated to practice violin lately—she's just so darn busy—that I wasn't sure about the whole guitar idea. But, I've learned that it's better to let them choose rather than dictating when and where and how long to practice.

As a result, sometimes my 14-year-old practices piano at midnight, but I'm just happy she's doing it!

As for the guitar, we found Fender Play—an online guitar lessons program—that has just been amazing for Bria. She's so busy we couldn't even figure out how to do live lessons, so everything she does on Fender Play is self-led and on her own time. For her, that is also often late at night, but I love hearing the sounds of her guitar drift downstairs after she has finished up her homework.

I have found that since I stopped nagging my teens about practicing, they have taken responsibility for it and they still get it done. Sure, it can be feast or famine, but overall I have been happy with backing down and letting them choose for themselves.

Make sure they're playing fun music

This has proven to be magical. Yes, sometimes teachers assign music that isn't very fun and they still have to practice it. But if you as a parent can find some fun music for them to learn, too, they will be more motivated to practice all of it.

This is another reason why I have loved Fender Play—they have a huge library of fun songs for Bria to learn. She just has to get out her computer and look up the song she is hoping to learn and it will most likely be there since they have so many available.

I have been amazed at the music she has been able to learn since starting the online lessons with Fender Play. It's really fun to watch her progression and her familiar riffs as she works on them. I love that it doesn't matter the skill level, either. Each kid can learn the songs they want to because they are broken down to their most basic level. The song-based curriculum is motivating to teenagers because they are learning the songs they already listen to, know, and love. Plus, they can customize their lessons to exactly the music that they want to play. Fender really understands the power of playing music you love.

And I love that!

You can get your free 30-day trial of Fender Play by clicking here: Free Fender Play Trial

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Planet Fitness: Your Judgment Free Zone for the New Year

This post is sponsored by Babbleboxx.com on behalf of Planet Fitness

I don't always make the best choices. Sometimes I eat too much at birthday parties. I often choose to stay in bed instead of getting up to exercise. I almost never fold the laundry right away. And on New Year's Day, I wrecked my car.

While such a beginning to 2018 surely means that I have nowhere to go but up, I still have resolutions I want to make. After all, what else is the new year for?

This year I want to love myself more and judge myself less—just like my dog.

My dog doesn't care if I eat too much at birthday parties. She loves me no matter what I eat, and in fact, is eating as much as she can get away with right alongside me!

My dog doesn't care if I stay in bed instead of exercising. She's just as happy to cuddle up with me on a cold winter day while I read a book as she is to go out on a walk. She doesn't judge me for the weight I've gained in the past couple years. She still thinks I'm amazing and lets me know just how amazing she thinks I am every time I walk in the front door.

My dog definitely doesn't judge me for not folding the laundry right away. After all, fresh laundry from the dryer is her very favorite place to nap!

And thank goodness my dog didn't judge me for wrecking the car. I desperately needed her warm greeting and unconditional love when I walked in the door after the accident. I think her love was one of the things that helped me keep it together.

When I make a poor choice I tend to beat myself up and I rarely give myself mercy. I think that is hindering my progress on my weight loss goals in particular. In order to really feel as if I can do what it takes to meet those goals I need to find a Judgment Free Zone® where I can forgive myself for poor choices and love myself enough to keep going.

Gyms don't often feel like judgment free zones for those of us who are working on fitness goals. And sometimes that keeps us from actually going! But if you want to find a gym that does have a real live Judgment Free Zone, you should check out Planet Fitness.

Right now Planet Fitness is running a January new membership sale where you can join any Planet Fitness location for just $1 down and only $10 a month after. This deal runs from January 1-January 10.

Other benefits to joining Planet Fitness (besides the great price and the Judgment Free Zone) include free group fitness training for all memberships, clubs that are open and staffed 24/7, fully equipped locker rooms, and flat screen TVs.

I especially love the online community Planet Fitness provides their members with: Planet of Triumphs. Members can find support in meeting their fitness goals and a safe place to share their successes and failures. Everyone belongs at Planet Fitness.

Here's to a 2018 that's full of a little less eating at birthday parties, a lot more self-love, a lot less self-judgment, and definitely no more wrecked cars.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Holiday Cookoff—Finishing Details for Your Holiday Entertaining

This post is sponsored by Babbleboxx.com

Cooking and entertaining are an essential part of the holidays and the presentation is almost as important as the food itself. I always like to find little details to make my holiday meals more fun and more beautiful.

Fun details for holiday entertaining

Babbleboxx recently sent me a box full of fun finishing details for holiday entertaining that I am excited to share with you today.

Castello Cheese

Castello Cheeses: Gouda, Aged Havarti, and Danish Blue

Cheese trays are a holiday party staple. Not only does Castello cheese offer some wonderful gourmet cheeses—I tried the Danish Blue, the Gouda, and the Havarti and all were wonderful—they have a cool online tool to help you create an amazing cheese board.

I tried out the Castello Cheese Board tool myself. It asked me a little bit about my taste preferences and dietary restrictions and spit out a shopping list to make the perfect cheese board.

The Castello Cheese Board Builder makes creating a cheese board easier than ever!

Find out more about Castello gourmet cheese and find out where to buy them here: Castello Cheese

Get your own personal cheese board shopping list here: Castello Cheese Board Builder

PAM non-aerosol cooking spray

Pam non aerosol cooking spray

When you're doing lots of holiday cooking you'll need a good cooking spray. I really liked these PAM non-aerosol sprays a lot better than the aerosol type I am accustomed to using. I like that you can better control how much spray you're using and found it to work really well with my cooking and baking.

Find out more here: PAM cooking spray

Download the ibotta app and earn cash back on your purchase of PAM spray pump

Cracker Barrel Serving Accessories

Sometimes cute little details are all you need to make your holiday meal go from good to amazing. These serving accessories from Cracker Barrel are sure to make your holiday spread look perfect.

These glass milk bottles are so cute! They feature either an adorable reindeer or Santa Claus. Use them to serve milk and cookies at a caroling party or for your Christmas breakfast.

Santa and Reindeer glass milk bottles from Cracker Barrel

I love these snowflake hors d'oeuvres picks, too. I'm excited to use them at my Christmas Day dinner. Aren't they the perfect festive touch? (Here I am using them for the Castello Gouda cheese.)

snowflake hors d'oeuvres picks from Cracker Barrel

Purchase the snowflake hors d'oeuvres picks here: Cracker Barrel holiday picks

Use code SHOP30 for a 30% discount site wide.

Wellness CORE Natural Pet Food

My dog is a member of the family, so I can't ever forget her during the holidays! We always like to splurge on special dog food and treats.

Wellness core natural pet food

I love that this Wellness CORE Natural food is high protein and even safely incorporates raw protein with freeze dried raw bites. It is also grain-free and 100% meat—no fillers.

I know my dog loved it because she took each bite under the table to eat—she only does that when she really, really likes something.

To find out more about Wellness pet products and find out where to buy, click here: Wellness Raw Rev Pet Food

Whimzees Daily Dental Chews

whimzees dental chews for dogs

All dogs need dental chews, but these are the cutest dental chews you've ever seen. Not only are the Whimzees chews adorable, they are all natural, freshen breath, clean teeth, and promote gum health.

Puccini loved these, so it looks like they are going on my shopping list!

whimzees dental chews

Find out more about them and learn where you can purchase: Whimzees All Natural Daily Dog Chews

Christmas Central Holiday Decorations

Christmas Central Holiday decor

Nothing takes a party from okay to amazing like the decorations. And Christmas decorations are my favorite! Christmas Central offers artificial trees, lights, and a huge variety of other holiday decor.

I am hosting Christmas dinner this year and I think a reindeer theme would be perfect. The reindeer pictured above as the centerpiece and some cute reindeer dishes will make a fun tablescape. There are plenty of other reindeer holiday decor options on the site, too.

Check out all the rest of the holiday decor they have to offer here: Christmas Central

So many fun details to add to your holiday entertaining this year! Happiest of holidays!

Looking for the perfect finishing details to make your holiday cooking and entertaining amazing? These items will add the perfect touch to your holiday parties.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

How to Get the Funky Smell Out of Your Towels

I don't know what the deal is, but lately every single towel in my house stinks. They come out of the laundry smelling okay, but as soon as they get wet—they STINK.

I have tried everything. I've changed detergents. I've tried the ones that promise to get odors out. I've tried heavily perfumed fabric softeners. I've tried vinegar. Did I mention I tried everything?

And my towels still smelled awful.

It got to the point that I was sure I was just going to have to throw out all my towels and start fresh. But I've got three daughters—two teens and a tween—and they go through towels faster than I can do laundry. The prospect of replacing all of the towels seemed daunting and expensive.

And then I learned about EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer.

How to Get the Funky Smell Out of Your Towels

EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer is typically used to remove chemical and perfume smells from clothing for those who are highly sensitive to them, but it will remove all smells. So if you have a load of towels that smells like mildew because you let them sit too long, this will help (who does that? certainly not me!). This product is safe to use on cotton, personal delicate, nylon, polyester, spandex, washable lace, washable rayon, washable wool, and all other washable fabrics. So if you've got any funky smells happening on any of your clothing or linens, EnviroKlenz will get the odor out.

Since I'd already tried everything else, I admit I was skeptical. But, my towels came out of the laundry smelling fresh. No perfumes or funky smell....just freshly clean towels.

The real test was using the towels. As I said before, every time my towels got damp the stink would return. But once I ran a load through with the EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer there was no more stink. In fact, as I've been using it for a couple weeks now, I can easily tell which towels have not been run through a load with the EnviroKlenz.

I have been super happy with the results! This product will be a staple on my laundry room shelf from now on.

Purchase EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer here: EnviroKlenz
Enter code overstuffed20 to get an extra 20% off your order!

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Feeding the Hungry—A 6th Grade Christmas Service Project

#LightTheWorld—Feed the Hungry: A Service Project for Tweens & Teens

#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry Service Project for Tweens and Teens

Want your tweens and teens to catch the Spirit of Christmas this year? Help them plan their own Christmas service project with their friends.

Christmas is an exciting time for kids—often because they are looking forward to what they are going to find under the tree on Christmas morning. While I do love spoiling my children at Christmas, I don't want their entire focus to be on themselves. I want them to learn the joy of giving to others, too. Each year we try to participate in at least one service project for those who aren't as fortunate as we are, and it has been something my girls really look forward to doing.

We are loving the #LightTheWorld ideas for service. If you go to the website it lists 25 ways to serve others this Christmas season, and even has a calendar and other tools to help you plan your own service projects.

Help your kids to #LightTheWorld this Christmas by letting them organize and execute their own feed the hungry service project

This year, my youngest daughter is in her first year of middle school and I figured she was ready to take the lead on a Christmas service project. I asked her if there was anything she would like to do for a family in need this year and she took me seriously. She came up with a wonderful idea to go along with Day 21 of #LightTheWord—Feed the Hungry.

Feed the Hungry—A Service Project for Tweens and Teens

Sophia decided that she wanted to invite her friends to go to the grocery store with her to purchase food and then deliver it to a family in need. She pitched it to as many friends as we could fit in our minivan, and they were all on board and excited to do it.

#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry service project for tweens and teens

When the designated day finally rolled around, I picked everyone up from school and we drove to the grocery store. I handed them a list of things to purchase and told them what their budget was and let them get to business. I followed them around the store at a distance, and only helped them if they asked.

#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry service project for tweens and teens

It was awesome to watch them. Some were more budget conscious, but all of them really wanted to make sure they were being as generous as possible. They all worked together to get the items on the list, paid attention to sale prices, and made decisions together about what they would purchase.

#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry service project for tweens and teens

They also had a lot of fun in the process. Right off the bat, they chose one of those kiddie car carts and pushed each other around in it. They drew a few looks, but it was also pretty clear that they were doing the shopping. More than one person remarked on my "army of helpers" as I followed them around the store.

#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry service project for tweens and teens
#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry service project for tweens and teens

At the check out, one of Sophia's friends was sure we'd gone WAY over budget, so they decided to all guess at how much we spent (who knew this would turn out to be a lesson in food costs and keeping to budgets). As it turned out, they came in a bit under budget, but they were able to get quite a lot of food.

#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry service project for tweens and teens

I had previously asked the Relief Society President in my branch for a recommendation on a family who could most use the groceries. Once we were all loaded up, we drove out to their home.

The kids decided on the way there that they would like to sing a Christmas carol to them as we delivered the food, but nobody answered the door (even though we could see that they were home). We just decided to leave the bags inside their front door and leave after knocking several times. Just as we were driving off, we saw them come down to the door.

#LightTheWorld Feed the Hungry service project for tweens and teens

After we were done delivering the food, I had a bunch of hungry 6th graders on my hands so they all came to my house for pizza and had a great time together for the rest of the evening. Once all the kids had gone back home for the night, I asked Sophia what she thought of it all. She said she felt really good about serving and she knew her friends had enjoyed doing the service project more than she thought they would which made her really happy.

A couple texts she received from her friends:

Well, I'm really happy that we all did that. Always makes a person smile when u do something good for someone.

It feels so good to make someone's night like yesterday! Thanks!

I think it's really nice that u thought of doing this. Thanks for inviting me!

It does feel good to help others, and it was really cool to watch Sophia and her friends feel that as they participated in Lighting the World. I was proud of her for coming up with the idea and for wanting to include her friends. This is something they will hopefully remember for a long time, and I hope Sophia will want to do it again next year!

As thanks to her friends, we made some quick #LightTheWorld tags and sent each one home with a cheesecake—there's more than one way to feed the hungry after all!

#LightTheWorld gift tag

This post is in partnership with BonCom.

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