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Since this is the first Thanksgiving Madison is able to really verbalize the things she’s thankful for, we thought we would start the tradition of asking her to name something she's grateful for every day in November.  From the first day of the month leading up to the day we cut the turkey and start passing around warm dishes of delicious family recipes we'll ask her to name something she appreciates; it should be interesting to see how this list evolves over the years.  Below is her list in the order she gave it (although I think her answers would be interchangeable depending on the time or the day we inquired).

1.    Daddy and Mama
2.    Nana, Granddaddy and Uncle Josh
3.    Geeba (Grandma), Papa and Uncle Ed
4.    Sophia, Lakely and Abby (preschool friends)
5.    the Wiggles
6.    orange juice
7.    Ariel and mermaids
8.    baby Jesus
9.    princesses
10.  fairies
11.  comfy bed
12.  toboggans (the hat)
13.  fluffy animals
14.  socks
15.  elephants
16.  Tinkerbell
17.  books
18.  cars
19.  angels
20.  CaCa (Carson) and Grady (her BFFs)
21.  the Beast (this one surprised me)
22.  peek-a-boo
23.  shoes
24.  fireplace
25.  colors
27.  Fruit Snacks, Goldfish and Teddy Grahams

...and last, but not least, something we're all thankful for...

28.  toes

Happy Thanksgiving!


November 26, 2013

Last week, Allison and I attended a Thanksgiving Party for Madison’s preschool class.  When we, and the other sets of parents, arrived the kids were all outside for recess so they weren’t aware we were inside waiting for them.  I wish someone had thought to film their reactions when they walked in one behind the other in a single file line like ducklings, the look on each of their faces once they discovered we were in the classroom was priceless.  They were shuffled into the attached bathroom to wash their hands before eating the Thanksgiving feast of a snack prepared for them.  Madison peeked out once or twice to make sure we were still there.
After she threw her crumpled paper towel away she ran as fast as her little legs would allow right into my arms.  I could feel her hands were still damp from a rushed attempt at drying them.  I could feel her smiling with her cheek pressed against mine.  Without saying a word, I could tell she was thankful her mother and I were there.

One by one, each child embraced their parents then took a seat at the toddler sized table to bless their food and eat while the adults performed an impromptu, and maybe a slightly embarrassing, performance of If You’re Happy and You Know It.  We clapped in agreement while we watched this group of children, our children, take bites of chocolate frosted doughnuts and cotton candy filled ice cream cones, realizing each one of them provided us a reason to celebrate.  We stomped our feet in unison as our eyes went from child to child before landing on our own, but not before catching the eye of Madison’s teacher offering a smile of gratitude and an acknowledgement that it does in fact take a village.  We turned ourselves around in mixed rotations finding the face of our own offspring to regain focus, something that seems to happen every day for me.

In typical slow-eating fashion, Madison was the last to finish her plate before ultimately moving along to the craft table where she would create a turkey from a paper plate, a mini masterpiece of glue stick fated feathers and crayon covered legs made from construction paper.  A playful song her class had been singing for the last week or so came to mind:  Mr. Turkey, Mr. Turkey / run away, run away / if you don't be careful / you will be a mouthful / on Thanksgiving Day.

Several months ago when we enrolled Madison in preschool, we found a strange sense of comfort that this was a good decision.  Watching her in this environment confirmed that this was not only a good decision, but one we never should have doubted to begin with.  Her teacher pulled us aside during the party to let us know a new girl joined the class that morning and Madison was the first to introduce herself and made every attempt to include her with the rest of the group.  She's kind and compassionate.  She's sweet and gentle.  She's the best parts of her mother and I combined.

We're thankful for her.  She's happy and we know it.

At this moment, at this time we're all happy... our faces can't help but show it.


November 24, 2013

I saw this quote somewhere a while ago and it stuck like a yellow post-it note in my mind, a constant reminder to pause and focus on the little things in the moment instead of looking ahead towards the bigger events down the road.  An idea that sounds simple in theory, but is often easier said than done.  It's an effort I'm trying to make.

Little things like cuddle time on Sunday afternoons, piecing together puzzles after dinner, one more cartoon after bedtime or finding a few chocolate chips in a snack cup of fruit flavored loops... a surprise sometimes left behind on preschool mornings when Madison comes into our room and eats breakfast in our bed, the beeg bed she says, before the rushed routine of the weekday begins. 

Then there's my new favorite thing, decoding toddler-talk in little random voicemails from a two year old once she discovers those chocolate chips hidden among her fruit loops.  The little things.  :)

"Thank you Daddy for getting me chocolate chips ... love you."


November 21, 2013

The other night my eyes opened in the early hours of the morning, a time before the sun stood to take its position for an encore performance of the previous day, and I stared at the ceiling while the rest of my household slept.  In the darkness of those hours I could practically feel the energy of my wife dreaming next to me.  I wondered if I inched closer to her placing my arm around her pulling the covers over the both of us if I could get a glimpse of the sleeping scene her mind had set.  I could hear the hypnotizing sound of a resting two year old through the static of a baby monitor, the abbreviated inhales and slightly longer exhales left to fill her room filled my heart during that morning moment of clarity.

Instead of falling asleep, I found myself falling under the spell of what these early morning hours used to consist of.  The days where Allison and I struggled to find sleep yet held on with the grip of a vice once a minute of solitude presented itself.  The days following the moment we welcomed the face of Heaven into our lives and a small person we just met into our home.  It’s unbelievable how a complete stranger could seem so familiar.  Those early days of infancy cemented themselves in a routine that became so encompassing and second nature that neither Allison nor I ever stopped to question why this baby was given to us.

The answer of why she was chosen as the physical embodiment of the love between her mother and I was obvious.  This baby girl arrived as a compass to guide us in the direction we were always intended to go, a misguided ship lost under the sea of time saved by the reassuring weight of an eight pound nine ounce anchor.  An answer I’m certain of. 

I remember feeling the warm yet stern pressure of God’s hand under my chin one morning three hours after midnight when rest seemed like a war I would never win, the result of an ever-growing army of tears and impatience.  With His hand forcing me to hold my head up, forcing me to look in the face of all He had given me, He helped me understand the lack of communication wasn’t the fault of the newborn in my arms.  He comforted me.  He helped me comfort her.

Allison and I instinctively developed a routine those first few days where we operated like a well trained crew in our new roles as Mom and Dad.  In those early hours before roosters found their voices I submerged myself in the motions of changing the diaper of a beautiful baby girl then passing her off to her mother for a feeding.  A conversation without words that occurred every two hours or so in the very beginning.  A conversation between the two of them that would continue for an entire year.  There's something about the connection formed during breastfeeding that is unmatched by anything else.  More often than not, I would sleep during those dark morning feedings.  Sometimes though, on rare occasion, I would watch the moon sneak in through tightly closed blinds and highlight the embrace of a mother and her child, the embrace of my child and her mother.

Sometimes we dream with our eyes open.  Sometimes, like the other night, I find myself awake watching the same sneaky light of the moon bounce off the walls recalling these memories that fill them.


November 20, 2013

We knew Madison was ready for the transition from her crib to a toddler bed by the sound of the thud we heard after she climbed out and landed on the floor.  She had just turned 2 years old at the time so we knew this moment was coming and had even discussed it, but the thought of her climbing out like a zoo animal executing an escape plan confirmed that time had arrived.

A random day towards the beginning of July, Allison had the day off from work and after a morning full of coloring and other fun toddler events she put Madison in her crib for an afternoon nap then went into our room to fold and put away laundry, the most exciting of all household chores.  She collapsed shirts into themselves and set stray socks aside for the matching game she would play once the bottom of the basket was discovered again when she heard something hit the floor across the hall then echo even louder through the baby monitor.  Once she ran in, saw Madison on the floor and registered the noise was the result of a failed dismount combined with a sloppy landing, they both started crying. 

Something worth noting about Madison is how tough she is.  Sure she has a ribbon in her hair more often than not, she’ll quickly announce purple as her favorite color with pink as an alternate and she’s drawn to glitter like Mariah Carey, but all of those feminine details disguise a brave and tenacious little girl.  She will slide across concrete and dust herself off, she’ll slip on the hardwood floor and laugh about it, she will over zealously play the drums and accidentally hit herself in the head… but she will not cry about it.

She will cry when you cry.  Compassion.  Something she was born with.

Once Allison patted her down confirming she wasn’t hurt and wiped the tears from both of their cheeks, I received a text the time had come to remove the crib railing.  I was nervous.  Allison was nervous.  Madison was excited.  I was concerned that she wouldn’t stay in her bed and I would wake up at 3am with her breathing in my face... which actually occurred the second time she crawled out of her crib.  She also pulled my eyelids apart with the thumb and index finger of her right hand that morning (you may have seen mention of this event on Twitter when it happened).

We removed the railing that night.  We didn't remove it after the initial incident in hopes the fall would discourage her from trying again allowing us a little more mileage out of the crib, but no such luck.  We removed the railing immediately.

With the railing removed from her crib, the toddler bed now allowed her access to climb off and on at her leisure.  There was nothing to contain her.  There was nothing to contain the rush of emotions we had watching from the sidelines either as our baby morphed into this walking, talking little girl who could now get in and out of bed by herself. 

There is never enough time to soak in one phase entirely before moving onto another.

Every night after we have turned out the lights, read two bedtime stories (she picks one for both Allison and I to read individually, lately this one is in heavy rotation) and we've tucked her in, we sit with her as she says her prayers.  We encourage Madison to pray for whatever she wants, whatever she’s thankful for, whatever she feels the need to mention and she always includes the comfy bed she sleeps in.  We pray that we’re always able to provide that for her.

As for the removed railing...

...Allison decided to place it in our home office where it's vertically propped up against a blank section of one wall currently holding catalogs/magazines.  Maybe it could hold Christmas cards in a few weeks?  We figured we'll keep it there until Madison is ready for her big girl bed then we can store the entire crib/toddler bed all at once.  Or maybe the toddler bed will need to transition back into a crib by then?  A certain someone with red hair and a subtle cabbage patch obsession has been showing symptoms of baby fever and I think it's contagious. When asking Madison what she wanted for Christmas the other day, her response was a baby sister.

{sigh} I hope Santa is prepared to let her down gently when she sits on his lap this year.


November 17, 2013

Fatherhood is an interesting thing.  There are times when you catch the eye of another father in a restaurant with a somewhat quiet kid sitting up straight, the picture of perfect posture while your own child laughs hysterically as they drop crayons on the floor... but only one at a time and only after you've retrieved and returned the fallen crayon to the table do they release the next one.  The look you notice in the father's eye isn't one of solidarity, but more so of achievement with a hint of smugness and a touch of competition as if to say his kid is better than yours.  Or at the very least, he's better at this whole fatherhood thing.

Then there are times where you catch the eye of another father in the grocery store pushing a cart as he passes by with the legs of a toddler swinging from the front, there's a slight nod acknowledging the unspoken sense of community formed in that moment.  A sense of brotherhood and an immediate bond of we're in this together, a silent agreement of I've got your back if you've got mine.  While this proves true more often than the first scenario, the one constant I've noticed in my two years since joining the Fatherhood Club is there is nothing more uniting than daughters.  There's something about the experience of fathering a little girl that instantly ties us together, the effort of protecting the damsels in distress of today while empowering the women they will eventually become tomorrow... a goal we all seem to share.

When I jumped in head first to swim in the vast waters of fatherhood, I found myself desperately looking for an instruction manual or a how-to book of all the right things to say or do.  As a result of that search, I found a proverbial buoy to keep me afloat during those times of complete confusion and extreme exhaustion.  I found Life to Her Years.

A blog created by a father inspired by his daughter.  A blog providing tips and advice to other fathers experiencing the privilege of raising beautiful women, for other men struggling to achieve the perfect ponytail, for those of us sitting at a toddler sized table with our knees to our chest for a sip of the best invisible tea ever made.  Imagine my excitement when one of my favorite blogs featured one of my favorite father/daughter moments to date.  If Life to Her Years isn't a place on the web you frequent, that should change.

"She isn't making a mess... she's making memories."


November 14, 2013

When I was in second grade, I was cast to play the part of a young servant in our class production of King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub.  If one isn't familiar with this particular story, it’s about a King who refuses to get out of his bathtub despite the efforts of the Queen, the Knight, the Duke or the Court regardless of their individual temptations.  The Page cries out in failed pleas of help for someone to encourage King Bidgood to finally get out of the bathtub… a continuous cry heard throughout the story.

Once Allison and I found out she was pregnant we started stocking up on the essentials:  crib sheets and changing pad covers, rattles and teething toys, onesies and receiving blankets.  Among the items we started accumulating during our gathering phase of the pregnancy were books.  We wanted to make sure Madison had a plethora of options when she reached for a bedtime story so we purchased some and received others as gifts yet the one we made sure to have on hand was a little story about a King and his bathtub.

For the first year or so of her life, Madison was drawn to Pajama Time.  A story we’ve read so many times Allison and I could quote it word for word.  However, the last eight months (give or take) Madison has favored King Bidgood adding it into her bedtime story rotation more often than not.  I’m not sure which is more appealing:  the voices her mother and I take on for each character as we read or the incredible illustrations.

Every time we get to the part where the Queen is dripping from head-to-toe as a result of her brief soak in the tub, Madison inhales deeply with her mouth a perfect oval then lets out an audible sigh and says, “Oh no!  Her dwess is vet… needs to dry off.”  With her tiny index finger resting on her chin, her big brown eyes looking up and to the right she hums then adds with enthusiasm, “I know!  A towvel.  A purrpail towvel.”  Every time, she interrupts the story to inform the Queen her dress is wet adding that she should dry off with a towel.  A purple towel, of course.  Every.  Time.  And every time, my cheeks hurt from smiling.

I’ll spare the ending to avoid ruining the story, but I love this book.  I love that Madison enjoys bedtime stories and reading in general.  I love this kid.  I just can't say it enough.

This was not a sponsored post, just a recommendation from Madison's personal library.


November 12, 2013

The number of times Madison has spent the night away from us the last two years could be counted using two hands as it isn’t very often that all three of us aren’t together once the sun comes to rest over the horizon.  Rarely do Allison and I share a meal at a restaurant without requesting a booster seat and a children’s menu.  We spend the first few minutes digging for crayons and making sure Madison is situated.  A routine that has evolved from the beginning stages of carriers and high chair configurations, a routine that has become second nature.  Normal.  Something we will find ourselves missing several years from now, I’m sure.

Sometimes though, it’s nice to have a conversation with your wife uninterrupted with pleas for help finding a rogue corn kernel that plummeted from a toddler fork during a shaky journey from plate to mouth… also known as an all hands on deck recovery mission through a bib or lap that ends buried in a napkin.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a conversation with your wife in complete sentences instead of fragments with inserted phrases of don’t put that in your hair or don’t play with your food or small bites, chew with your mouth closed.  Sometimes it’s nice to look across a candlelit table and see the woman you love as your wife instead of the mother of your child.  Thoughts I often feel guilty for thinking, but find myself coming back to.  While we love Madison with every part of our existence, it’s okay to have a meal without her once in a great while.  It’s okay to spend time as husband and wife versus always being the parents.  It’s okay to feel this way and to acknowledge it.  It’s okay.

Epiphanies I struggled coming to terms with until now.

The other night we had reservations for two at eight o’clock to celebrate our anniversary, the last five years we spent adding to our collection of little moments that make up our lives together.  It was nice to hold hands, to have an adult conversation between just the two of us, to share our dreams and goals both old and new, to show our hearts to one another in a setting other than nightly pillow talk before we give in to the exhaustion from a week of day-to-day life.
It was nice.
Allison and I always agree to implement some sort of date night into our routine at least once a month in effort to recreate this moment.   The kind of moment where we check in with each other sans child and refocus ready to take on the world together.  Yet somehow we always find our house unsettlingly quiet when Madison stays a night away from us and once she returns home again we seem to forget that little agreement until our next anniversary rolls around… 365 days later.  That's okay, too.
Until then, it’s a table for three because I know a day is coming when Madison will not want to spend as much time with us as she does currently.  I know there will come a day, probably sooner than I realize, where Madison will have a date night of her own leaving her mother and I to share a meal without her whether we want to or not.
 Of course, dating won’t be allowed until she’s 25 so we have a little time to work with.


November 10, 2013

A little over thirteen years ago, I met and fell in love with my best friend.

Five years ago, I married her.

We chose the eighth of November as a symbol of the last eight years we spent falling head over heels for each other.  The sun set that evening leaving behind the glow of luminaries lighting a path in the churchyard; a path welcoming friends and family inside to witness the love between Allison and I, to share in the light we found in one another.   I stepped up to the altar and glanced around the small church lit only by candles and held my breath until the double doors at the back of the sanctuary parted ways… the most beautiful woman I had ever seen stepped forward and the breath I had been holding was lost.


A harp played as I watched Allison make her way down the aisle.  I heard the plucked chords dance and echo around the wooden beams until they hid in the curvature of the ceiling arches.  I watched as my bride walked towards me in a dress constructed of childhood dreams garnished with crystals, catching the candlelight and my eye with every step.  We exchanged rings and the vows we wrote.

"...I promise to grow old with you just as I've grown up with you..."

I said "I do".  Then she did, too.  We promised forever.  I took her hand while she took my name.  I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to share this journey with.  Happy Anniversary, Allison.  I'm lucky to have you.


Images captured by the talented Bobby Davis courtesy of Bobby Davis Photography.


November 7, 2013

It was hard to breathe. Every muscle of my body cried out in pain as I placed one foot and then the other on the cold floor beneath me. I made my way across my bedroom in slow motion, partly to avoid waking Allison who slept beside the spot I just abandoned and partly because my limbs were so stiff another option didn’t seem to be available. I entered the bathroom and rolled off several sheets of Charmin to blow my nose and then made eye contact in the mirror.  I looked as bad as I felt.

I was sick.

I made my exit and retraced the steps of the path I just paved to reclaim my side of the bed. Eventually, Allison woke and encouraged a visit to the doctor. However, I’m not one who typically goes to the doctor.  I’m not sure that I even have a doctor. I can’t remember the last time I went into an office for a concern of my own. When Allison was pregnant, I never missed an appointment. Not something I’m bragging about, but something that was important to me. The baby growing inside of her was just as much mine as it was hers and I wanted to share in every detail. So I did.

A few days passed and I could feel the infection working its way through my body. It climbed to my head and pounded my temples. It slid down to my throat and then my chest screaming its way out through coughing and sneezing. One night Madison pulled herself over the edge of the couch and came to rest in my lap. She took her tiny fingers and held an imaginary thermometer to my forehead to take my temperature. A word that sounded incredibly large when pulled from a two-year-old vocabulary.  She then rested her head upon my chest; I couldn’t see her face but I could feel her smiling.

Several minutes passed before she reached for a toy at the end of the couch. She pulled the purple dog closer to her and pressed the paws prompting various songs and spoken phrases. Madison resumed her spot in my lap and held the dog while I tried desperately to hold onto the moment when suddenly the voice of the toy asked, who is your best friend?

Madison answered with Daddy.

My eyes immediately, although unexpectedly, became wet and my vision blurry. She turned her head to look up at me and said you’re my best friend, Daddy. Then she put her head back on the section of my chest she was warming for the better part of the last half hour. Once she was comfortable again she said in what was almost a complete whisper, I love you. I love you, Daddy. She couldn’t see my face, but I hope she could feel me smiling.

I didn't need to see a doctor. I didn’t need a prescription. At that moment, with that medicine, it was impossible to feel any better than I already did. I love you, too, Madison. More than you’ll ever know.


November 5, 2013

When you’ve dated someone for a while, people start asking when the two of you will get engaged.  When you’re engaged, people start asking for the wedding date.  When you’re married, people start asking for your plan regarding children.  When you have one, people ask about number two.
People ask a lot of questions.

The last question is where we are currently.  People ask Allison and me all the time what our plans are for future kids.  It’s almost as if they look over Madison completely in hopes to see her sibling, as if every child should have a brother or a sister, as if every parent should have more than one child, as if their curiosity will encourage us to have another, as if we say one is enough for us we’ve committed some kind of crime against humanity and offended all the wombs (fertilized or not) of society.

Those people are entitled to their opinions.  So am I. 

For me, I’m at a place where I cannot see past Madison.  She’s my world.  I’m so inspired by her and fulfilled and grateful for her.  Consumed.  Satisfied.  Complete.  A puzzle where the last piece was finally placed to reveal the bigger picture.  Whole.

While I never want to deprive her of joy, in this case a sibling or the experience of having one, part of me fears the unknown.  As it stands now, she’s perfect.  She’s the child lullabies are constructed of and the child portraits try desperately to portray.  She’s all I could ask for, all that I ever wanted, all that I never knew I needed in a daughter and it seems unfathomable that another child could play the same part.

Maybe I’m selling myself short.  Maybe if Allison and I created something so pure and necessary and right once before surely we could do it again.  Or did we cash in all of our savings for one lump sum because it certainly feels like we hit the lottery with her.

While a second child would without doubt change the dynamic of our family, would it be for the better?  While I would provide and care for and love a second child without question, would it be as much as I love Madison?  Would I constantly compare the two?  Questions forced to be rhetorical because a definitive answer doesn’t exist.

The other night the three of us sat around the table, blessed our food and started to eat.  Next to our plates were a few mail catalogs that made a short journey from our mailbox to our kitchen table for an indefinite rest.  Allison picked one up and flipped through as we discussed our day and encouraged Madison to use a fork instead of her fingers.  Then she paused on a picture idea for our Christmas card this year before locking the beautiful brown eyes she shares with Madison on mine and for a second I got lost in the love between us, in the image of her when we first met before she mentioned she wanted another child.  She wanted another baby.

She became one of those people asking questions.  When could we have another?

Consequently, now I'm one of the people asking questions.  Could we have another?  Should we?

And Madison?  She's approached the topic a few times so obviously she's thinking about it, too.


November 3, 2013

There are days where I feel like I have nothing in the world to complain about.  It's those days I wish were contagious causing every day thereafter to be infected with copious amounts of positivity.  It’s those days I find myself smiling at nothing in particular or daydreaming about the witty insights of the lively toddler occupying space in my home or relishing in the solidity of the relationship I’ve built with my wife. 

Those are the good days.

Those are the days I clench with white knuckles when the other type of day settles in.

The type of day like today.  The type of day where I clearly woke up on the wrong side of the bed even though it’s the same side I’ve always vacated.  The same side where I peel my eyelids apart every morning to the screams of an alarm and struggle through an internal debate of five more minutes or throw back the covers and get it over with.  The type of day I have a pep talk with my reflection in the bathroom mirror searching for the light in the eyes of someone I know all too well.

I've never been a morning person.

Today gets dressed in the same closet as Yesterday and takes the same route to work and performs the same functions and has the same responsibilities yet the feeling of familiarity wavers between extremely and not at all; Yesterday got lost somewhere between bedtime and sunrise and instead left me with Today… a bad day desperately trying to impersonate a good one.  An imposter.

Today is one of those days I stalk the clock in complete anticipation of the moment I can arrive home and wash off the last eight hours before crawling back into bed, a game of lost and found in the sheets for tomorrow.  Today is one of those days where the sight of dishes in the sink and scattered toys on the floor make my chest tighten.  A visual to-do list.  A reminder that work is never really done.

I scan the room making a mental plan of attack on the chores of the evening and swallow the words on the tip of my tongue choking on the bitterness of all four letters.  Madison helps me clean up by putting her toys away in places she can reach.  Then suddenly today turns into tonight and I catch myself watching my daughter with her arms full of blocks and books hurry haphazardly around the living room in my shadow.
She looks at me then looks at the floor and says she's sorry.  Sorry Daddy, she says.  Sorry.

It's not a secret she undoubtedly inherited some of my OCD tendencies and more often than not I praise her for helping me tidy the rooms of our house or close doors left open or provide a coaster for a drink drowning in condensation, but tonight that's not the case.

Tonight I now find myself wanting to leave the toys scattered in their random positions throughout the room.  Proof a good time was had today.  I want to let the dishes rest in the sink for a change.  Evidence a nice meal was shared this evening.  Tonight I want to apologize because this mood is my own fault.  Madison has absolutely nothing to be sorry for.

Happiness is a choice.  One that I need to make more often.

I'm sorry I don't always realize this.  I'm sorry.

I really have nothing to complain about… I have my health and a beautiful family.  I am blessed.

It’s just one of those days, you know, one of those days where you can't see the forest for the trees.  One of those days that end curled up on the couch with a sweet little girl in my lap naming the animals as they exit the Ark, the weight of her children's Bible on our knees.  I close my eyes and say a silent prayer for forgiveness, for patience and understanding, for awareness... for more days exactly like these in this moment.


November 1, 2013

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