Adventuring Through the National Parks, Part Two

We are nearing the end of #NationalParkWeek, and it’s been fun for us to look back at our travels and where we’ve gone in the 12 years since we first started visiting what has been called “America’s Best Idea.”  In 2006 we ventured across the American West and drove over 6,000 miles.  We experienced Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and a made thousands of memories along the way.  It started a love for the National Parks that continues today.

Robyn has her favorites.  These are a few of mine.

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Golden Gate National Recreation Area and San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park– San Francisco, California.  Take one day in San Francisco and experience everything from the infamous Alcatraz to the old growth redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument to the only Civil War-era fort built on the West Coast, Fort Point.  Visit the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge or tour the history of California at The Presidio.

1Get away from the crazy hustle and bustle of the waterfront and experience the history of sailing, fishing, and so much more at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, or go directly to the coast and Lands End Lookout overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  There is literally so much to see and do in this amazing combination of monuments and historic sites, you will not be able to experience it all in one visit.

 


 

 

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Capitol Reef National Park – Torrey, Utah.  There are so many beautiful National Parks in Utah, it’s hard to choose one.  But Capitol Reef combines incredible arches, canyons, and red cliffs with a whole lot of history, which makes it tops for me.  The unique landscape of Capitol Reef made it ideal for Native American cultures, and there are countless petroglyphs visible, some just a short walk from the main road through the park.

Created more than 500 years ago, they are stunning examples of the Fremont people who lived here before the Mormon settlement of Fruita planted orchards of more than 3,000 trees.  1 (1)You can still visit one of the old houses, eat fruit right from the trees (they are maintained by the park), and then take a drive in deep red rock canyons–it’s a perfect experience for everyone.


 

Since Robyn only listed three, I’m limiting myself to three, too.  Honestly, I could list at least a dozen here, but since I only have one more choice, I have to go with the one that started it all.


yellowstone-1500x609Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone NP, Wyoming.  Without Yellowstone, there would be no National Park system.  It was the very first National Park in the world, and it remains one of the most amazingly diverse ecosystems in America–a truly stunning combination of animals, geothermal wonders, rivers, canyons, and more.  It is one of those parks that you can’t experience just once–there is so much to see that a day’s drive from one end to the other will leave you a bit exhausted.  636559460866264567-1-Yellowstone-Kris-Wiktor-shutterstock-96972083Take time to explore the mudpots and geysers, marvel at the wateralls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and stop and stare at elk, buffalo, and countless other species that call the park home.  Yellowstone is one of the busiest National Parks, so plan ahead and make reservations for hotels around it, or for camping inside it.  You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be reminded why our National Parks have been called “America’s Best Idea.”

What are your favorite National Parks?  What tips can we share about any visits you might be planning this summer?  Let us know!

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Too Much of a Good Thing

As a parent, I frequently think about what my kids pay attention to.

I can tell when they begin to spend too much time thinking about things that distract them from what’s important.  When they think too much about a video game, I limit their game time.  When they get obsessive over an artist or song, I limit how often they get to listen to it.  Television, food, candy, sugar, social media–you get the picture.

This is a biblical idea.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs: “If you find honey, eat just enough. If you eat too much of it, you will throw up.”  Short, sweet, and vivid.  You can have too much of a good thing.

Whether it’s honey or the video game Undertale or the musical Hamilton or Facebook or their latest fave on Netflix–none of those things by themselves are bad.  But too much of those things?  Not good for them.

It’s easy to see this as a parent.  We are quick to see what our kids need to stop doing, because we how it affects them.  Their schoolwork suffers, their relationships with others go south, they sleep poorly–you get the idea.

It’s harder for us as adults to catch this for ourselves.

Seahawks.
Exercise.
Television.
Career.
Disneyland.
Candy Crush.
Money.
Politics.

All of these things are fine, in themselves.  Rooting for a team is great.  Being healthy is awesome.  Enjoying a good show is relaxing.  Having a job is always a plus.  Getting away from it all is good.  A few minutes with an app is a fun way to kill time.  Money sure helps take care of the bills.  And we kind of need to make sure our country has leaders.

But too much of any of these things will make you sick.  And I don’t just mean feeling sick when your favorite team doesn’t do well.  Anything–anything–that you get too much of will hurt you.  Each of these things can consume you, become all you think about–and that’s the deepest trouble: they will distract you from what really matters.

Time with the kids.
Talking with your spouse.
Growing in your faith.
Deepening friendships.
Trusting in and relying on God.

You can have too much of a good thing.  Solomon learned this the hard way.  Once he filled his life with wealth, women, success, power, he lost his way.  He stopped focusing on the one who gave him all of that, and his kingdom fell apart.  He didn’t listen to his own warning.

I’d never want that for my kids.  But God also doesn’t want that for me–or you.  He’s not out to dispense heavenly Pepto-Bismol so we can feel better about ourselves after overindulging.  He’d rather we make the wise choice to begin with.

So, before you lecture your kids on how much Xbox they play, or that singer they’re obsessing over, take a second to think about the “honey” in your own life.  What’s distracting you from what really matters?  It might be time to admit that you have too much of a good thing.

And stop before you throw up.  Because that’s just gross.

Making Memories On Any Budget

If you’ve known us or followed us for any length of time, you know that we love Disney.  We have a little history with Disney, though. Duane and I met working at The Disney Store back in 1996 and we were married just two short years later in Disneyland.  We have raised our kids in a “Disney home,” following many of Walt’s own traditions.  And we visit the Happiest Place on Earth whenever we can get away for a few short days.  Many people wonder how we can afford it, but we’ve visited so often that we know how to spend and save money. Also, working for Disney allows us several benefits that not all guests can afford.  And even though Disneyland will always be our go-to vacation, we also love going on other adventures outside of Disneyland.  So, how does one go on adventures on a budget?  I’m going to share with you my top 5 money-saving adventures.  And yes, Disneyland is one of them.

  1. DAY DRIVES.  I think one of our favorite things to do as a family is to find a place just a couple hours away and take a day drive.  It’s always fun exploring new things.  Last week’s blog was about how to make memories anywhere and this is one of the easiest, and cheapest ways to do it.  Usually all it takes is a full tank of gas and some research.  Pack a lunch, grab your smart phone for directions, and you’re off!  Here in the Seattle area some of our favorites are Leavenworth, Mt. Rainier, any place a ferry can go, or even the city itself.  You just need to get creative.
  2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SEASONS.  Every town, city, state offers seasonal adventures.  In the fall, visit your local pumpkin patch.  Summer time is great for fruit or veggie picking.  Regardless of the season, find something new and fun and go for it.  Again, with just a little research, you can find adventure just about anywhere and at any time.
  3. VENTURE OUT TO A NEARBY BIG CITY.  One of our favorite getaways as a family is Portland, OR. If we have a couple of days off in a row, we try to head out of town. Portland offers great shopping and dining.  And it doesn’t matter how often we go, the kids love staying in hotels.  It’s a different experience for them. And who doesn’t love going for a swim or soak in the hot tub after a long hard day of eating and playing?
  4. GO FIND YOUR PARK!  Did you know that you can purchase an annual park pass for the entire family for just $80?  And it pays for itself in 2 park visits.  Every state offers several national parks, historic sites, or historic reserves.  Again, just pack a lunch, several snacks, water bottles, jackets and/or hats, and fill up the car.  The National Park Service also offers a Junior Ranger program with fun activities and adventures for your kids and an opportunity for them to earn a Jr. Ranger badge.  All of my kids, including my 17-year old, love earning their Jr. Ranger badges! Just visit The National Park Service to find out more information and programs near you!
  5. DISNEYLAND!  OK, you knew I had to! Like I said, we visit Disneyland as frequently as we can.  Each visit is different and depending on the kids, they all experience something new.  So, how can we afford it?  Before I was worked for Disney, we had annual passes.  If you visit the park more than 5 days, you will have paid for your annual pass.  Plus the annual pass gets you discounts on food and store purchases.  There are several hotel offerings around Disneyland Resort, so just choose the one that best suits your family’s budget and needs.  For our family, I’m all about saving as much money as we can.  I bring a backpack with me filled with snacks and waters to save on food purchases.  Our kids have learned to split meals so we only end up purchasing 3 meals at a time instead of one for each of us.  If they’re still hungry, they can have a snack, but most times, they’re just fine.  And I’m not big on souvenirs, but we give each of our kids a $25 gift card to spend on souvenirs, dole whip, churros, etc.  And the biggest money saver for us is transportation.  We load up all 4 kids in the minivan for a 18-hour-straight-thru drive.  We have done this so often that we know where to find the cheapest gas, cheapest food, and best times to travel to save time. I guess you could say we’re experts on Disneyland on budget!

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to find adventure!  Just a little imagination and research.  Now go find adventure!  It’s out there just waiting for you!

5 Restaurants to Try On Your Travels

On all of our adventures across the United States, we’ve enjoyed some great food.  There’s nothing better than experiencing local culture, and there’s no better way to do that than eating at restaurants you may not find elsewhere.  There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but part of the adventure of life is trying something new–and when we’ve tried something new, we’ve typically been blown away by the people, the food–the whole experience.  Here are five of my favorites–stop by when you’re in these towns for a fantastic food experience!

Mother’s Bistro • Portland, Oregon

The city may want to keep itself weird, but there’s nothing weird about the food at this amazing restaurant.  You may feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen, surrounded by crisp white cabinetry, white linens, and feeling of home.  That’s because Chef Lisa Schroeder’s goal was to create a fantastic food experience around “Mother Food,” the kind of food she would cook for her family if she had the time.  Each month, a different real-life mom’s meals are featured along with familiar favorites like pot roast, chicken and dumplings–comfort food created with a distinct flair and excellence.  We discovered this place on accident while in Portland for a concert–and now go back every time we’re in the city.  Stop by Mother’s, because you will not be disappointed.

Carver Brewing Company • Durango, Colorado

The town of Durango has a long history of cowboys, mines, and railroads, and when we were there last summer, we wanted to eat somewhere that would give us a chance to enjoy some of that history.  Walking up Main Street, we found Carver’s, featuring some sidewalk dining.  The chalkboard sign was filled with promising ideas for meals, so we walked in.  As the hostess walked us through the labyrinthine maze, we were disappointed to find we wouldn’t be on the street, where the action was.  Instead, we were back in a back patio area.  Bummer, right?  Right–until the little kids discovered the swings available for them to play on, and once the food started coming out.  Our waiter was from Seattle, too, which was fun–but it was the food that really knocked it out of the park.  We eventually found out that this is a local institution with a long history, and the second-oldest brewpub in Colorado.  Enjoy some great food and drink while the kids play on the swings.

McGlinn’s Public House • Wenatchee, Washington

We decided to get away for a few days a couple summers ago and headed over the mountains into Washington’s apple country.  Driving through the town of Wenatchee, we couldn’t find anywhere that appealed to us (well, the parents–the kids would have loved to eat at Sonic) until we saw the sign for this place, located in a historic building with a storied history.  We couldn’t have made a better choice.  The wait staff was fantastic, the decor was full of history and great personality, and the food was stellar.  McGlinn’s was such a great experience because it was fun for adults to eat there, but also so good and that the kids liked it, too.  A short walk from the riverfront, McGlinn’s is a winning combination of history and contemporary excellence.

Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue • Flagstaff, Arizona

When we arrived at our hotel in Flagstaff last summer,  I asked the clerk about good local food.  He said, “How do you feel about singing waiters?”  That’s when I knew our family had to check out Black Bart’s.  Of course, for someone out of town it can be a bit disconcerting, especially when it’s dark outside and you have to drive past a bunch of RV’s to find the restaurant.  It’s a Flagstaff institution for more than 35 years, but it still looked totally sketchy.  The inside looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1970’s (except for theatrical musical posters which featured more recent hits like Wicked and Hamilton).  The menu was pretty impressive, though, and the portions were plentiful.  Everything was cooked to perfection and we agreed it was a good choice.  My theatre-loving daughter and I were enjoying the posters–and suddenly a waiter began singing “Be Our Guest.”  This was  where the experience went from good to great.  The entire wait staff joined the song and eventually all of them had a chance to shine–along with a stellar accompanist.  If you want a great experience beyond just good food, definitely check out Black Bart’s next time you’re on your way to the Grand Canyon.

El Gaucho • Bellevue, Washington

I have to put this local favorite in this list, because it’s our favorite place to go for an incredible steak dinner (served to perfection by the fantastic waitstaff) or even a quick bite on a Sunday evening.  El Gaucho is a throwback to 1960’s steakhouses, with tableside preparation of flaming deserts or steaks, salads, jazz music, and a style that is both classic yet contemporary.  There are four El Gaucho locations (the original in Seattle, a lesser one in Portland, one in Tacoma), all with their own flavor, but we really prefer the Bellevue restaurant for the quality of the servers, the high ceilings, and ease of parking.  We have celebrated anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, and more here, and we have never been disappointed.  While its multiplicity of locations may make it more of a “chain,” the specificity of its Northwest theme, commitment to local food and wines, and its long history wth the city of Seattle make it feel more like an original.  Whether you want to eat steak served on a flaming sword or try bananas foster prepared en flambé as you watch, El Gaucho‘s Bellevue restaurant is a wonderful dining experience.

What about you?  What great restaurants have you discovered on your family adventures?  Share them with us–we can’t wait to try them out!

 

How to Make Memories Without Even Trying

I love my family, almost to a point where if we were the only 6 left on earth, I would be totally OK with it.  I’m very protective of us and our time together, which as the kids get older and we get busier, seems to be a little bit fewer and far between. So when we are all together, either purposefully or accidentally, we are very intentional with our time.  I saw a sign today that read,

We didn’t know we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

This is my new mantra!  With that being said, let me help you create memories with your family without even trying.

1. Don’t over schedule yourself.  I can’t stress this enough.  Work, school, PTA, sports, dance, music, karate, homework, housework, yard work, … the list can go on and on.  Over scheduling yourself and your kids is easy to do.  But it’s also not necessary.  Pick one extra curricular activity for you and/or your kids. The days off are a bit more frequent when you don’t have too much going on. Believe me, I get it.  Both me and my husband work full time, both of my teenagers have jobs, my youngest daughter is involved in basketball and brand practice, so I know how easy it is to get caught up in busy.  But try to set aside one or two days per month where you and your family is 100% “off.”  Let the vacuuming wait.  The dishes are fine in the dishwasher.  And there will always be laundry to do.  Take your free day and go make a memory or two.

2. Sneak in fun things even when you have a lot going on.  As much as I would like to say the Christmas season is full of baking days and relaxation for us, it’s not.  It’s easily the busiest time of year for me.  I don’t get to drop everything and go play with my kids when they are outside making snowmen.  But I do sneak in moments with them when I can.  Whether it’s driving around looking at Christmas lights or dining out at their restaurant of choice, creating moments for them will also create memories.

3.  Document your moments so you can relive your memories. Most people have some kind of a camera on their phone.  It’s there for a reason, so use it.  You may not even realize you’re creating memories until you look back a week or two later and you are able to relive it. One of my favorite moments, which I didn’t even realize would turn into a favorite summer memory, happened two summers ago.  We took a few days to get out of town.  We stumbled upon a restaurant that we all decided looked decent enough for us to have dinner. It turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.  The kids all got along, our food was amazing, we explored the restaurant after dinner which just happened to be full of history.  But I didn’t even realize how much I loved those moments until we were able to look back at the photos (played as a screensaver on our family Mac) and remember what an amazing memory it was!

What can you do this week or even this month to create special moments with your family?  Next week, I’m going to be sharing some of our favorite things to do as a family for every budget. I’d love to hear your ideas, so send them my way!

A Battle for Life: August’s Birth

12314574_10153283054171608_6435122065943222663_oAugust turned 8 years old on Monday, which is hard to believe.  The night of his birth was definitely one Robyn and I will never forget.  After three kids, we didn’t expect that our fourth child’s birth would be the most difficult, and easily one of the scariest things we’ve ever gone through.

Luckily, I wrote the whole thing down just two days later.  Here’s the original version of what happened on September 12, 2008–the night we battled for the life of our youngest child before he was even born.

It has been a whirlwind weekend. What was supposed to be an easy delivery turned into a night of fear and worry and a battle between life and death. Sounds melodramatic, but it’s not, because life is what we are always fighting for against the Evil One. He hates life and will do anything he can to snuff it out.

Some may call it just a delivery with complications, but I will truly forever remember the birth of my son August as a day when God confirmed for me that my children are a gift of life, precious beyond words, and each to be cherished and protected against the powers of the enemy.

We went in at 1:00 pm on Thursday, September 11, to be induced. The doctor was worried that August was going to be too big. That Robyn would have a difficult time delivering him if he went all the way to term.

We made arrangements for the older kids. Got to the hospital and were placed in a room with a great view of the outside–lush green trees and beautifully, unseasonably blue, Seattle skies. The process began, and within hours, the contractions were strong and things looked good.

But an alarming pattern started as well–with every strong contraction, August’s heart rate dropped. At first, it only dropped a few degrees, from a baseline of 145 to 120. But as the evening wore on, and the contractions got stronger, the more his heart rate fell. 90. 80. It would always go back up after, but the consistency was beginning to worry our doctor and nurse.

They decided to slow down the process. Austen had had a drop in heart rate during birth, but it had rectified itself. Perhaps the umbilical cord was in the wrong place, being squeezed too tightly? I went out to the family members who had been waiting and gave them an update. It wasn’t going to happen tonight. Go home, we’ll call you.

We said goodnight. It was around 10 pm.

Our doctor came to the room and would not leave. She stayed as Robyn received her epidural, holding her hand through the process. Now the pain was less–but the contractions, and August’s reactions–were getting worse. We signed a consent for a Cesarean, just in case.

As I wrote the words above 8 years ago, I suddenly realized that the story was much more intense than my narrative made it sound.  This is why the rest of August’s birth story is written in the present tense.

At 12:23 am, August’s heart rate drops to 60, fights its way back, and drops again. In an instant, what was routine becomes a battle for the life of my son.

Robyn is moved to a gurney. There is a rush of activity, nurses coming from nowhere, the rushed conversation of “there’s someone else scheduled–no, I’ve called it–we’re going first.” Robyn is being readied to leave the delivery room and head to the OR. I have time for three thoughts, all of them involve prayer.

I call my mother, who is watching Audrey and Austen. I quickly tell her that Robyn is on the way to the OR–please pray. I call my mother-in-law and tell her the same–and to come quickly, Robyn wants her there. I quickly compose a text message and send it to a random selection of friends and family. I ask them again to pray.

By 12:34 we are in the OR, I am putting on scrubs, a mask. I am terrified. Thoughts of loss and death overwhelm me. I am going to lose either my child or my wife. Life will lose tonight.

I enter the room and see my wife on a table. She is being covered, prepped. There are three doctors, several nurses, and the team from the Infant Intensive Care Unit awaits in case they need to revive my boy. I cannot hold back the tears. I weep.

Robyn sees me. “Don’t cry. I need you to be strong.” I tell her I am not crying and I manage to stop the tears–but I am still terrified. I can’t see straight–tubes, scrubs, machines, a sterile clang of instruments. The doctors begin working in hushed tones–I focus on Robyn and try to distract her from what is going on. She is awake, only slightly uncomfortable, and getting very tired.

The noises stop. The doctors do not move.

Robyn and I fear the worst. Then suddenly, a cry. I see my boy. He is screaming, angry, scared. But alive.

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He is quickly wiped off and taken to the nurses who examine him and determine that whatever happened in the womb did not hurt him. He is beautiful, loud, and pink. A little dried blood is on his nose, but he stops crying when they hand him to me. I take him to Robyn and we both cry. Life has won.

Turns out that the umbilical cord was wrapped around one shoulder, through his legs, and over the other shoulder–almost like a harness. There was no way he was going to come out the natural way. But he is here, alive, and sleeping loudly in the room next door.

Life wins. The prayers of the faithful are answered, and a little boy whose name means “Revered and Exalted,” helps me do both to the very giver of Life. I revere Him for His power, His glory, and the fact that He reveals Himself to me. I exalt Him for His life, for His nature, and for His providence.

Sleep well, August. The battle for your life has just begun.


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I am thankful for Doctor Robertson, every nurse, every attendant, friend and family member who did their part to bring this sweet and wonderful boy into this world.  We can’t imagine our lives without our Goose, Gus-Gus, or any other name he goes by.  He’s one incredible kid.

Road Trip Packing List

I can’t believe we’re already in September!  I don’t know how the summer has flown by and now we’re in back to school mode.  I may be in the minority, but I love having my kids home!  I love the sleeping in and cuddles on the couch that last into the late morning.  I love moseying into the day with just the sun to guide us on our adventures.  And I love spending it all with my family!

13774899_1736279196596936_1336765421_nOne of our favorite things to do is road trips.  Whether it’s just spending a day to drive to nearby Portland, OR or a few weeks to tour the country, we love just getting in the car and driving.  Last month we left for a ten day southwest America trip!  We visited Arches, Mesa Verde, The Grand Canyon National Parks.  This is our fourth  major National Park trip as a family. So while I’m still learning how to pack a family of 6, I’ve done enough road tripping to know what I’m doing.  Today I’m going to share with you my how-tos on how to pack for 10 days on the open road. Let’s go!

  1.  Try to keep your luggage to a minimum.  This means sometimes sharing luggage space.  My husband and I share one giant suitcase and we leave enough room for extra shoes or jackets for the kids.  While I would love for my kids to share luggage, I know that with a teenage son and daughter, it will not happen.  So, be realistic with who can share.  If you have littles and they don’t insist on pulling their own suitcase, pack them together.
  2. Pack plenty of snacks for the whole family.  With 6 people, we all have fairly diverse preferences.  While I prefer healthy non-spill snacks, my 7 year old would love to have a banana and peanut butter in the third row.  Not gonna happen!  Pack things that are easy to clean up and high in protein (to prevent car sick kiddos) like trail mix, beef jerky, and cheese sticks.  I always throw some extra goodies in the cooler for rest stop breaks, but try to keep the in car food to a minimum. We also keep drinks to a minimum with the exception of water, just to so we don’t have to find a rest stop every 20 miles.
  3. Small balls or frisbees.  We haven’t done this in a while, but I think we may need to revisit this idea.  When our older kids were smaller, we would make our rest stop breaks a little longer by getting out a ball or tossing around a frisbee.  It helps the littler kids with wiggly legs get a good stretch and helps mom and dad get a nice break from those long highway drives.
  4. Maps.  That’s right, a good ol’ fashioned, folded backward and forward map. While Apple Maps and Google Maps are great and convenient, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere without cell service, those apps will do you no good.  On our last trip, we ran into a bit of a jam with our directions and thankfully had a map in the car.  Without it, we would’ve been in trouble and probably would’ve extended our trip a few hours longer than it needed to be. If you’re a AAA member, you can get all of your maps for free.
  5. Use Gasbuddy.  Speaking of apps, Gasbuddy was a lifesaver on our last trip.  We like to save money wherever we can and thankfully our Gasbuddy app saved us close to around $50, just by driving a few short blocks away from the convenient gas stations.
  6. First aid kit.  While we don’t always need one, it’s a good idea to have one.  I pack in mine bandages, first aid cream, tylenol, wipes, and believe it or not, barf bags because we usually have at least one barfer in the car at any given time. If you’re doing any hiking I would recommend packing a full first aid kit.

One other thing I want to mention, is that when we travel, we stay at hotels across America.  It may not be the most economical way of traveling, but it is the easiest.  If you need help with finding great hotel prices, let me know and I will tell you my secrets!  It’s not hard, just takes a little more time.  And let me know how your next road trip goes!  I love to hear (and sometimes steal) other family’s ideas!

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