Friday, August 28, 2009

Rain and House-selling and Swimming

We’ve been having a terrible drought in central Texas. They’ve gotten very little rain this year, or the year before I believe. We flew over Lake Travis on our way back from Portland and it looked like the moon – a deep crater with a little bit of blue water in the middle surrounded by brown clay in every direction. Strange islands have appeared in the middle of the lake where no islands ever were before. This is the worst drought in this area since the early 1950’s.

Days without rain in Missouri used to make me anxious because I always had a garden back then, and no sprinkler system. I would worry about the vegetables and flowers and the lawn, and it was a pain dragging the hose around and trying to keep things alive. Plus, since it’s a state with a lot of farming I would worry about the farmers too. I know things are really bad here, but I don’t seem to be as worried. I may just be getting old and complacent. The City of Austin has water restrictions in place but we live in Travis County so we aren’t affected.

We’re at over 60 days of triple digit temperatures too, which is just amazing. Almost every afternoon this week storm clouds begin to gather and it seems like the entire city cranes its collective head at the sky, willing those clouds to produce some moisture. But every day they dissipate, maybe raining briefly in an isolated neighborhood, but not enough to make any difference in the drought.

Yesterday afternoon the clouds got really dark and it began to thunder and lightning as well. As we were busily completing the paperwork to put the house on the market it started just pouring buckets of rain! We were all so excited; we just stopped what we were doing and watched it rain. We had over a foot of water in the creek in our front yard! It was great. However some of my friends tell me that it didn’t rain at all in their area of Austin. Too bad. And really, we could use a month of rain like that so don’t stop your rain dances just yet.

So the sign went up this morning and the house is officially on the market. Daniel and I are sitting in a coffee shop right now because we’re already having our first showing! We’ve got another scheduled for tomorrow morning too. Wouldn’t it be great if Lee and I could continue our house-selling luck and get this one sold quickly? Our first house never even went on the market before it sold, and our second house sold in a week in a bidding war. This one is priced to sell, but the market is still pretty weak. We shall see. If it doesn’t sell 3M will buy it, but then we have to wait sixty days, and I want to go ahead and move to Boston!

Because my legs are still slowly recovering from the half-marathon I thought maybe I would try something else besides walking on my cross-training days. Hmm, what about swimming? There is a nice public pool close to our house and they have lap-swimming every weekday from 8am to 10am so I decided to give it a try. I bought some goggles and I was ready to go.

The pool is called Deep Eddy Pool. It’s close to Town Lake and is the oldest public swimming pool in Texas. It was a WPA project. It’s not round, like the pool in Fayette, Missouri, but it’s from the same era. Here’s a link describing the history of this pool. .

Anyway, it turned out that Deep Eddy was closed because their pump broke due to the storm last night. Oh well I thought, I can go to Barton Springs. Barton Springs is another Austin landmark. Check out this link: It’s really an amazing structure. It’s a natural spring that is always 68 degrees, year round. It’s open for free swimming from 5am to 9am every morning so I still had time. I drove there, parked and walked inside. The last time I had been to Barton Springs was the first time we lived in Austin, before we moved to Hong Kong. We went to ACL that year and because of hurricane Rita skirting the city to the east, the heat in Austin was horrific, even for central Texas in September. One afternoon we decided to skip the music and walk over to Barton Springs to cool off in that icy water. All I remembered was how cold and how good the water felt.

As I walked inside I realized that I had forgotten how big and how strange Barton Springs is. It’s truly huge, maybe 5 times as big as a normal swimming pool. Reading about it online lets me know that it is actually 1/8 of a mile in length and 150 feet across at its widest spot. And it’s NOT normal. Although it has concrete sides and concrete steps to enter the water, the bottom is natural materials. Some places its rocky, but other places there are wavy plants growing below. There’s a current too, so it’s harder to swim in one direction and easier to swim in another.

I adjusted my goggles and entered the water. I don’t know when the last time was that I attempted to swim for fitness. Boy was I out of practice! I have a decent crawl, but 30 seconds of the crawl left me gasping and disoriented. I had to use the breast stroke instead a lot. I kept trying to use the crawl for a little while. Part of the problem is Barton Springs is so big that you don’t get a break like you usually do swimming in a regular pool. The cold and the current probably had an effect as well.

I only swam for around 15 minutes and then it was time to get out because the free swim was over. It’s just as well. I think swimming is a good cross-training exercise; my legs are less sore today. I didn’t have to take Motrin at all. But I’m going to have to work up slowly to 30 minutes of the crawl and it would be easier in a smaller (and warmer) pool like Deep Eddy. I hope they get their pump fixed soon!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Here are my observations from our trip to Portland.

Friday, August 14th:

We arrived in Portland yesterday around 4:30. It was no problem finding Daniel...he was sitting right by our baggage carrousel! Poor boy...his luggage didn't make it from Seattle to Portland. So, first thing we stopped at a Gap on the way to the hotel. He said he needed some new jeans anyway. They've found his bags and they should arrive here at the hotel sometime before 8 am today. They may be sitting at the front desk right now. Lee just went out to run and I'm sitting in the kitchen of our little hotel suite in my pj's and the kids are still sleeping, so I don't know. This hotel is a little funky but it has a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms and it fits our needs and is in a good location. It’s clean, just a little worn and old. It’s in the Nob Hill section of Portland so everything is kind of downhill from where we are, as Portland seems to be on the slopes of a gentle incline that makes its way to downtown and the riverfront. Portland is a lot bigger than I thought it was. Wikipedia says it’s almost 600,000, but it seems bigger than that. Last night we went to a Spanish/Basque/tapas-type restaurant in an area that I think might be known as "restaurant row". Sarah picked it. I'm not remembering the name. It was right off of Burnside, around the corner from a Whole Foods...maybe NW 28th St? It was very good, lots of small plates. This is another one of those cities with lots of numbered streets with compass directions appended to the numbers. It takes awhile for street names like that to stay in my foggy little brain. Today we'll do some exploring. I want to go to Powell's, the giant bookstore, go see the river and the roses. Daniel wants to try one of the micro breweries. I'm not sure what Sarah and Lee want to do, probably be foodies and try out different eateries. I hear Portland is great for street food, so maybe we should try lunch from a street vendor? Cynthia says there is a grilled cheese sandwich man somewhere – that sounds pretty cool! But, does he use Velveeta? Hmmm.

I DON'T want to do a lot of walking, so I think we need to try out the trolleys or whatever they are. I want to be very lazy until Sunday (race day). I’m getting nervous about the race. Just general anxiousness about getting lost on the way there, getting our race packets today or having to wait until Sunday morning, going out too fast and crashing at the end…oh well!
It’s great to be together, watch Daniel and Sarah kidding around, just SEEING Daniel for the first time in 5 months. I love listening to Sarah talk; she’s so generally happy and excited about her job and life in general. Daniel is concerned about finding a job; he knows things are very tough right now for everyone. But hopefully it won’t be too difficult for him to find something to help pay his bills and maybe get a little more experience toward figuring out what he should do next. Ah life.

Friday afternoon.

This morning we went to Powell’s bookstore, the largest bookstore in the world. At least. It was fantastic! There was one book I was looking for (JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun). It wasn’t on the shelf so I asked at the information desk and it looked like they should have had five copies. They sent me to the info desk for the literature section (this place is HUGE) and he said “oh those copies have just come in. The new books cart should be here soon. We’ll page you went it comes”. So I went off to the coffee shop for a little bit. In a couple of minutes I heard “would the person that was just in the literature section looking for Empire of the Sun please return?” So I did and there it was on the new book cart! What fun.

We walked around the Pearl District and Nob Hill, browsing little shops. I made us sit and relax off and on, because Sarah can walk my little legs off and I do NOT want to do that before the ½! Funny; here we are in a very restauranty town and where did we eat lunch? Baha Fresh…I know, I know, but Daniel longed for Mexican and the rest of us really didn’t care. I had some great espresso later in the afternoon and we also went for ice cream, although I didn’t have any cause I wasn’t very hungry and I can often just take or leave ice cream, which makes me the odd man out in this family.

I go get our race packets that afternoon so that little anxiety is put to rest. Our shirts are cool – the Hulaman on the front and they’re made of a technical fabric like the HK marathon shirt so I will actually wear it for running sometimes.

Friday evening we go to a restaurant called the Laurelhurst Market. It is a converted butcher shop and it has wonderful food. The meat is tender and the various side dishes and salads are really good. In particular a fresh beet salad stays with me. One of those things you think of requesting that Bon App├ętit get the recipe for, but of course I never will.

Saturday, August 15th.

We had breakfast at a deli in Nob Hill. God I love restaurant breakfasts! Then we took the light rail to the Saturday Market on the Portland Riverfront. This is a crafts market and there are more vendors and food than seems reasonable. We walk all over and explore it thoroughly. One of my favorite venders was a lady that makes light fixtures from tin cans.

They were really beautiful and I had fun talking to her. Check out her work at She had lived in Thailand for awhile. It just makes me feel more connected somehow when I meet people that have spent some time overseas. I took a picture of the sweet young girl selling fairy costumes. Her name was Sarah and her business is called “Tip Top Tutu”. She gave me her business card but now I can’t find it, but her email is if anyone wants more information about her products. The most popular booth was the spoon man, They made everything you could possibly imagine out of spoons and other tableware. I found it was easy to get permission to take pictures if I told them they would be in my blog.

After eating lunch at the market (hotdogs for Daniel and Lee, a wrap for Sarah and Thai for me) we took a walk along the river. There we found a VERY STRANGE bicycle festival going on. People and bikes in various fantastical costumes wandered around. A wonderful bike blowing bubbles passed by but I didn’t get a picture. We spent a couple minutes watching a “slow ride” contest and then head back to the hotel.

Later that afternoon we hang out at a coffee house for awhile on Nob hill. It’s fun to watching the Saturday crowds. It’s very chilly in Portland this day. I’m cold so I have another espresso. I seem to be into espressos this vacation. I like their strong, citrusy flavor and concentrated blast of caffeine. It’s just a very efficient little drink!

Sunday, August 16th. Race Day.

I’ve got the directions to Forest Grove in my phone, but I also get out our map of the wine country and make sure Lee understands where we are going as well. I’m not taking any chances! We don’t have any trouble finding Forest Grove, or the start of the race. It’s a teeny-tiny race; as we find out later there are only 140 people in the ½ marathon. But there are several different triathlon events taking place as well and that makes for some interesting observations later.

The race is so small that they just lead us all out to the starting line and Sarah and I actually stand together and chat before the start. The temperature is perfect, somewhere in the 60’s. I’m nervous but ready. Off we go!

I try very hard to pace myself, especially at the beginning. I’m still too fast at first, but I feel good. The racers sort themselves out, the faster runners disappearing quickly, the slower ones finding their position. I get my “run 3, walk 1” pace going. There are a couple of people who are going about my speed. There are a few that are running ahead of me, but I watch them and think maybe I’ll catch them later and I do, a few of them anyway. It’s interesting what happens in the later portion of a long race. There are always a lot of people that really don’t know what they’re doing and they get exhausted at the end. It’s a nice thing for someone like me, who gets to slowly pick them off, haha.

This race wound through the Oregon wine country in the Willamette Valley. It was very pretty and mostly flat. It was all on roads and they couldn’t completely block them off, so sometimes that was a bit annoying to have vehicles passing us as we ran. The other thing that was really interesting was that some of the professional triathletes were running the same course as us. I’d hear some super fit person suddenly gaining behind me and then they would whoosh past. It was a little un-nerving the first few times it happened.

I tried to save something for the last mile or so, but I really got tired at the very end. I think my training helped me to keep going and not slow down as much as I might have otherwise. I gave it everything I had and made it to the finish line in 2 hours and 28 minutes. I broke 2.5 hours, which was my goal and I beat my time in the HK ½ by 8 minutes, which is really good

It was fun having everyone there at the finish line waiting for me. Sarah had come in at 2 hours 7 minutes, which I thought was a really good time for her. When we found out our results I was in for a surprise. I won my age group! But wait, there’s a catch; I was the only person IN my age group! No matter, I still got a prize – a wine goblet engraved with the little hulaman. I felt inordinately proud of myself…I’m not sure why. It doesn’t take much I guess!

After the post race lunch and a lot of hydrating and walking to keep our muscles from getting too stiff we decided to go visit a couple of wineries on our way back to Portland. We sampled various Pinot Noirs, which seemed to be the primary variety available in that area. Two wineries were really enough for us, though, so we headed back to Portland soon afterwards.

For our last dinner in Portland we went to an Italian restaurant called Navarre. I remember that the food was good, but the only item I actually remember eating was the dessert. They served us two huge blueberry-plum-apple crisps and they were absolutely delicious. We were taken aback by their size but still managed to eat every single crumb.

This was a fun vacation. I liked Portland, especially the food and Powell’s. Definitely a great destination for a family of foodies and bookworms!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Well as anyone who knows me or who has been following this blog (or my previous Hong Kong blog) knows, Lee and I have been wondering where our final destination would be for almost a year. Probably about this time last summer, we started to get indications that our time in Hong Kong was coming to an end. At first it seemed likely that we would be sent to Singapore, but that idea didn’t hold up for long. By December we knew we were coming back to the US, but to where? Lee’s job in Austin was over, but the economy was in dire straits and nobody within the company was changing jobs. No retirees, no new departments, 3,000 additional layoffs…things did not look good. Jokingly we said that if we had to we could eat the scrawny deer in our neighborhood, or move in with Lee’s sister in Fayette!
When we came back to Austin in March we knew it was probably temporary, but for how long? In any other economy Lee would have known his next assignment before we ever left Hong Kong. But in this economy…would it take one month? Two months? Six months? Who knew.
The days, and weeks and months passed. We’d hear rumors; a plant here, a management job there. In June things started to move a little. He began to get resume requests and even a couple of phone interviews. It was hard to remain positive and even harder (for me at least) to not blather all my angst about this process to friends and family and the internet in general!
Finally in July Lee flew to Boston for an interview at a plant in Methuen, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston near the New Hampshire border. He went directly from that interview to New York and our east coast vacation. The HR director told him it could be a couple of weeks before he would find out the results. Torture!
The day we drove from New York City to the Berkshires Lee was scheduled to have a phone call with the director at 3 pm. Adrian was with us (Chris was meeting us at the house) when Lee’s phone rang. He immediately pulled off the highway, muttering that he had to take this “business call”. He left the car, wandering off by the side of the road, with me trying to play it cool and not make it too obvious that I was watching him anxiously in the rear view mirror. Imagine my relief to see Lee smiling and nodding while he talked on the phone! Finally!
So that’s it. We’re moving to Boston. We’re already in the process of working to get this house on the market. Lee’s new job starts September 1st so he’ll be commuting back and forth between Austin and Boston for awhile, until this house sells and we find a place to live up there.
I’m pretty excited. Excited for a new area of the country. Excited for Lee. Excited for living in a very interesting and historic city. I’m also freaking out at the amount of things I need to get done in a short amount of time, but that’s normal for me (to panic I mean). So as usual I’m trying to stay calm and just complete one task after another and not get annoyed at myself for the things that aren’t done yet.
We’ve certainly gotten a lot of moving experience lately! We’ll be very happy to be settled somewhere for awhile. We’re both pretty optimistic that the east coast will appeal to us.
Now, what am I going to do about the title of this blog? I think I’ll leave it as it is and it can become a metaphor for the repatriation process! Maybe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Berkshires and The Catskills

The moon rising over Tanglewood

Tanglewood is beautiful and dreamy. We have a picnic dinner and sit on the lawn back from the stage, among the trees. Its almost cold, I wrap myself in one of the blankets, letting the music wash over me. The Rober Morris Dancers perform odd dances to the music of Hayden, Stravinsky, Beethoven and Charles Ives. Yo Yo Ma can certainly get an amazing sound from a cello!

The next day we get up and I go for a run. They have a triangle route (go left, then rightrightright) and the weather is absolutely perfect. Then its time to say goodbye and head to the Catskills to visit Eugenie and Ken. Its hard to say goodbye to Chris and Adrian…we’ve had such a fantastic time and who knows how long it will be before we see each other again?

The area in the Catskills (Durhan, NY) where Eugenie and Ken live is very similar to the Berkshires, but looks older. We eat dinner with Eugenie and Kenny, but we are staying in a funky little b&b only two miles from their house, called the Deer Watch Inn. And, when we drive back there that night there ARE deer to watch on their lawn. Better their lawn than ours!

Flowers in Eugenie's Garden

On Saturday we participate in an art project that Euge is working on. She makes paper sculptures. She has created a piece of paper with rope entwined in it, and set it to drying in the sun. The way the sculpture will dry is affected by changes in tempurature and air. It will change shape as it dries. We all have an opinion about how it would work out best. We didn’t get to see the finished product. I hope Eugenie sends me a picture of it!

We go to the nearby town of Hudson, NY and walk around, looking at the little shops,fulled with antiques and art galleries. That night we eat at a great place called Ruby’s Hotel and Restaurant in Freemont, another nearby town. This area is just filled with little towns, all 10 miles or so apart.

This has been just the best vacation. This morning its home again to Texas. We will have 3 days in the heat before its off to Portland, Daniel, and running a half marathon with Sarah.

New York City and The Berkshires

On Tuesday in New York City we go into tourist mode. First its off to Chinatown via the subway to sample the local Dim Sum. I’m quite confident in the NY subway system now. Its not as nice as Hong Kong but it’s not that difficult to navigate. The dim sum restaurant is a typical Hong Kong arrangement in a huge banquet hall with plenty of Asian customers, trolleys with dumplings and other delights. Its good dim sum, but still can’t compare with Hong Kong or Taipei, not even LA.

After that we head to the Brooklyn Bridge. We walk 2/3rd of the way over with all the other tourists, taking pictures and getting tired and hot. We decide to take a bus to the South Island Ferry Station and take the ferry to Staten Island. This turns out to be a perfect choice. The breeze is pleasant, the ferry is free and the views are spectacular! On the way back we stand at the front of the ferry, taking picture after picture of the New York skyline as it comes closer and closer. It’s a beautiful skyline and very iconic, but it can’t compare with Hong Kong. Well then, nothing can.

We head back to the hotel to rest before we go to the show that night. At first I’m not hungry but then I decide I’d better get something to eat, since we’re not going to eat dinner until after the show. Lee has done some exstensive hot dog research and walks a couple of blocks away to get his NY hotdog. I’m lazier and just go across the street from the hotel to a corner hotdog stand. I stop at the hotel’s happy hour bar for some veggies and a glass of wine to accompany my dog.

We take a taxi to Lincoln Center, where South Pacific is showing. It’s a great theatre; we have excellent seats at the back of the orchestra but really it doesn’t look like there is a bad seat in the house. The show starts and we both just thouroughly enjoy it. The orchestra and the singers are just perfect. The man that plays Emil Debeck has a wonderful voice. This part is usually played by an opera singer; this actor will make his debut at the Met next year. His voice is beautiful.
I love the story to South Pacific as well as the music. There is something about the tale of people taken out of their usual surroundings and how they adapt to this new situation that I’ve always found very interesting. In addition the love stories, with their push and pull between the power of love and the power of prejudice and convention are very compelling. The music doesn’t hurt either! Lee and I both cried a little at the end, when Emil Debeck returns from the war and discovers that Nellie is taking care of his children in his absence. We all want to believe that love conquers all, don’t we?

We have a late dinner at an Italian restaurant called Fiorellos right across from Lincoln Center. Its fun and very New Yorky to be eating out so late at night. A very big city thing.

The next day I go jogging in New York. I head toward Central Park but don’t want to wait for the lights so I end up running catty-corner northwest across the city, from Madison and 41st to 11 Ave and 57th Street and back. By some utterly strange coincidence, considering that I took a completely random route, I run into Lee on my way back. All I can say is that after 30 years our minds must work too much alike!

Adrian meets us at the hotel at noon. We take a taxi to LaGuardia, pick up our rental car and off we go to the Berkshires. What a change from the city! Its beautiful, rolling, semi-mountainous, and COOL. Very green; they have had so much rain. A french restaurant for dinner, then we fall asleep under quilts.

In the morning after breakfast we go for a hike at the local ski resort. I haven’t climbed a hill like that since Hong Kong! Its pretty at the top and I can actually get cellphone reception so I can call Eugenie and let her know when we will be arriving tomorrow.

Lazy this afternoon in the warm sunshine. In the shade its cool. Tonight is a picnic on the lawn at Tanglewood. Yo Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax! Wow.

Long Island and New York City

Brunch is on a rainy Brooklyn street. I’m totally lost, so unfortunately I can’t tell you the name of the street or the restaurant. We meet their son Roland. He is in his mid-thirties. Went to Oberlin, worked as a sound engineer for many years but is now going back to school to become a physical therapist. He’s of course a very nice man, what would you expect from any offspring of Chris and Adrian?

In the afternoon the introverts beg off any social activity and crawl off for a bit of solitary time. That night its sushi at a Long Island family restaurant.

The next day we bid goodby to Chris and Ad for a couple of days and take the train into the city. I can finally run this morning and not feel like I’m dieing . That 15 miles in the heat really did a number on me.

We are staying at a boutique hotel named The Library, at 41st and Madison Avenue. Its very close to Grand Central, the New York Public Library (duh!) and Bryant Park. Cute as can be, each room is an entry in the Dewey Decimal System. We are in 300.006, Law, so all the books in the room are law books. Funny. We go for cocktails on the rooftop bar, and then for dinner at a place called Sushi Yasuda. This is heavenly sushi, better than anything we’ve had since Tokyo. We are happily bossed around by the sushi chef. I have the best piece of mackeral since Toyko. Everything is just fantastic! He tells us the sushi rice is vital to each taste…gives me a piece without rice, then with and I understand. It’s the contrast in flavors.

Long Island

I arrived on Long Island on Thursday, July 30th. My flight from Austin was delayed but so was my flight from Dallas so I made my connection. Chris and Adrian picked me up at LaGuardia. I was SO excited and delighted to see them! As we drove to Long Island I’m increasingly amazed and delighted the closer we get to their house. Things just keep getting prettier and prettier. They live only about 35 minutes minutes from the city, in Port Washington, New York. They are right on the sound, with their own dock and beautiful yard overlooking the water. I’m in heaven, a giddy little tourist that can’t stop exclaiming.

In the morning I jog around their neighborhood and then take pictures. Lee arrives from Boston and his interview there around noon. Hard to say how things went. He thinks they went well but who knows what will happen. Out of our hands now so back to patient mode. Better to just not think about it.

It was very rainy so no sailing on Friday. The east coast has had crazy weather this summer, with rain almost every other day. They get a call from the Berkshires where their other house is and one of their neighbors tells them that they’ve had almost eight inches of rain! That’s just insane. But we go to the Yacht Club for dinner and talktalktalk, catching up on everything. They have only been back in the US for about a month so are 5 months behind us in the repatriation process. But we can talk to each other honistly about it, without being misunderstood. They are Brits but US citizens and have lived here for years and years (30+ I think).

Saturday dawns bright and sunny. As is so often the case we seem to have brought good weather with us. We go grocery-shopping in the am and decide on lobsters for dinner. Their neighbors will join us.

In the afternoon we go sailing. Adrian has a little 21 ft wooden boat that is strictly for racing; no cruising allowed here! As we take our seats Adrian enters captain mode. Chris is crew. We obey. It slowly dawns on me that we are actually entering a race. We approach the committee boat, figure out the starting line and off we go. Its very confusing and way more technical than any sailing we’ve done before. For the first race we only encounter mild winds. We come in 4th, and Adrian is not pleased. The second race starts and the wind dies completely. Hot and calm, with too much sun, I sit there getting cranky. Suddenly the breeze freshens and away we go. It’s a good thing they had bored me to tears before or I would be terrified. We are indeed tipping. I trust Adrian though. He knows his boat and knows what he’s doing. I’m the lightest person on the boat, so they use me on the opposite side sometimes. Its interesting, watching the course he chooses, decisions he makes, which line to sail.

Note the tell-tails, used to indicate wind strength and direction - it was really windy for the second race!

Afterwards we go for a drink at the yacht club with the other sailors as they rehash the race. Then home to fix lobsters for dinner.

Dinner starts with something called PIMS, mixed with sprite and fruit. An insidious drink. It doesn’t taste like alcohol but sneaks up on me. As usual I am all thumbs when it comes to eating the lobster. Judy the neighbor takes pity on me…”here, can I make a suggestion?” and grabs my lobster, twisting off the tail from the body and removing the meat from the tail. Good thing too or I would still be struggling with that lobster.

Now this morning (Sunday), the weather is still and cloudy, with intermittent rain. Off to the city (Brooklin) for brunch with their son. More soon!


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