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What I don’t get is this . . .

29 Oct

There are so many things I don’t get these days. Like people who comment on comics they view online. Go check out Arcamax comments. People actually comment on strips like Baby Blues and Zits as if the characters are real.

And, if you’ve been reading me for a while, I don’t get chubby guys doing outdoor activities topless.

But the thing that I don’t get more than any other, is how any one who wants to see fewer abortions, fewer teen pregnancies, fewer women sink into poverty because of an unplanned pregnancy can possibly support de-funding Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is the biggest preventer of unplanned pregnancy in the United States. They provide contraception, cervical cancer exams, referrals to mammography and a wealth of other services to women who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

That Planned Parenthood has become a political football is ludicrous. In fact, funding of Planned Parenthood was initially proposed by Richard Nixon, a Republican, and received strong bi-partisan support by Congress. Planned Parenthood receives federal funding primarily through two government programs: the Title X Family Planning Program and Medicaid and is prohibited from using any of that money to fund abortion services.

Anti-abortion activists claim that any federal funding of Planned Parenthood enables the group to keep from using resources for abortion services. Good! The services Planned Parenthood provides that are federally funded are highly effective at preventing unplanned pregnancies and abortion.

In 2009, Planned Parenthood received $360 million in federal grants and contracts. None of that money funded abortion. In fact, it’s estimated that Planned Parenthood prevents more than 600,000 unintended pregnancies every year. And no other provider, federally funded or not, is able to provide healthcare services to clients as inexpensively.

Richard Nixon recognized the costs to the country of unintended pregnancies and said “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” It was true in 1970 and it’s true now.

So, I just don’t get why anyone, pro-choice or anti-abortion, would want to cut $360 million dollars to shrink a 17 trillion dollar deficit when that cut is guaranteed to increase costs in other areas.

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Happy Birthday, Dear Mom

11 Oct

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. No, not a day when everyone on earth spends the day trying to act calm, stable and happy, but a day devoted to encouraging people to discuss mental health issues. This year’s topic was depression. Not to belittle the global crisis of depression, but I guess all the other mental disorders got to take a break.

Most of you know that I am bipolar and may wonder why I didn’t write about what it’s like to be bipolar on World Mental Health Day. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, I’ve got all week. Mental Health Awareness Week in the United States runs from October 7th through the 13th. I am American and I’m writing this on the 11th, so I figure I’m covered. Even if I’m not, National Mental Health Month is in May. Of course, a mental health month puts a lot of pressure on us; I’m not sure I can keep my mania and depression from popping up for an entire month even with meds.

I didn’t write about mental health—mine or anyone else’s—because yesterday was my mother’s birthday. When she was alive, I hosted a beef-centered dinner at my house. I did this because I loved my mother, but also because I spent years listening to her complain that no one ever did anything for her birthday and she was not going to plan her own party. And she loved beef.

Yesterday, we had fried chicken for dinner. That is not as contrary as it sounds. My mother was from the South and, while she made really good fried chicken herself, she also loved Popeye’s. My kids don’t really like beef—I think my daughter may become a vegetarian soon—but they like Popeye’s.  So, fried chicken for dinner.

I think my mother would have approved, but there were many things in my life that she didn’t really like a whole lot.

My hair? Not curly enough. Never mind that it is stick straight, fine as frog fur and most likely inherited from her. When my hair was permed, my mother loved it.

My housekeeping? Notice “housekeeping” and “Ha!” both start with an H. But when Mom was scheduled to visit, I became a dervish, scrubbing counters with hot water, vacuuming lampshades, polishing bathroom fixtures, arranging flowers. A friend once pointed out that it wasn’t like Queen Elizabeth was going to pop in to use my powder room. If only, I thought, if only!

My mouth? Far too many F-bombs came out of it to please my Mom. Actually, any F-bomb was unacceptable. According to her, I swear like a longshoreman. I doubt she ever met one; I’m not convinced she even knew what they did but she was convinced that I talked like one.

My mother didn’t swear . . .much. I think I heard her use the S-word twice. The most memorable instance was during a sewing session when she repeatedly tried to do a tricky seam. Finally, she got it right only to realize she’d sewed the thing to the shirt she was wearing.

There were things my mother approved of, though.

My intelligence, for one. When Geraldine Ferraro ran with Walter Mondale, my grandmother was appalled. How, in her mind, could a woman be tolerated one heartbeat away from the presidency? My mother was incensed. “I think a woman would be a wonderful president. Janice would be a wonderful president!” I might be, but there are far too many skeletons in my closet. Hell, my skeletons are out on the front lawn doing the Macarena.

My cooking. My mother loved the beef-centered dishes I made, but she loved the Williamsburg Orange cake I made every year even more. She liked my snacks, too. When my sister and I still lived at home, we’d watch late night movies with Mom, everything from Frankenstein to It Happened One Night. During some commercial break, I’d want a snack. I’d offer one to my mother on my way to the kitchen. “No, thank you” was invariably her response. On my return, she’d take a look at my snack and say, “Oh, that looks good!” an unspoken yet undeniable request for said snack.

My spirit. I’m honest—blunt, some would say—and pretty funny. If something strikes me as humorous, I’ll say it even if it’s highly inappropriate. My mother loved this about me. She loved it so much that she worried the meds I needed to stay alive would dampen it. They never did.

My mother died a slow, painful, ugly death of COPD. But while her disease chipped away at her freedom and health, she adapted and kept going. When breathing became difficult at night, she used an oxygen concentrator while she slept. When climbing the stairs at her home became difficult, she got a stair lift. When she couldn’t walk around the mall, she got oxygen in a bottle and a wheeled cart to drag it around behind her. When even that became difficult, she learned how to surf the ‘Net to visit her favorite stores.

My mother even found a reason to like Depends. Getting to the bathroom from the couch before you’ve got to go is something you likely take for granted. But when you can’t breathe, there’s no guarantee you’ll get there in time. “These Depends are great!” my mother told me. “I never have to worry if I’ll get to the potty in time.”

We joked that Mom was the Energizer Bunny; she kept going and going. Even in the end, she didn’t give up. It was left to us to turn off the machines keeping her alive.

I don’t need a particular day to make me aware of mental health issues; I live with them everyday. So, while yesterday may have been a mental health day for the rest of the world, I spent it with memories of my mom.

Running, Writing and the 20-point Shot

1 Oct

Waiting to start

“Give me your hands,” she said, holding her own out, palms up.

Confused, I took them nonetheless. Was this some kind of congratulatory high-five? I wondered. No, this felt comforting, her warm hands making me realize how cold my own were.

Another woman grabbed at my waist, slowing me when all I wanted was to keep moving. “I know it’s hard,” she said, “but we need the bottom part.” Then, she ripped off the bottom of my racing bib and with that, they released me to walk off the momentum and adrenaline of finishing my first race.

I started running a little more than two years ago. I’ve logged probably 2000 miles since then. My first runs consisted of sixty seconds of shuffling like an eighty-year old woman interspersed with ninety-minute segments of walking. I recall the first sixty-second shuffle vividly. Ok, time to run, I thought, as the voice from my C25K app directed. I can do this. I look ridiculous. I hate running. “Walk,” the app directed after what seemed an eternity. I walked, then shuffled, then walked again for twenty minutes.

Yesterday, I ran for thirty minutes and 6/100ths of a second without stopping, except to slow down twice for a cup of water from a Cub Scout by the side of the road. I finished second in my age group.

I started blogging at about the same time I started running. Both were things I did because I thought I ought. Running would get me the bone-strengthening impact I’d been missing swimming laps. Blogging would give me a way of exercising my mind while kicking the cobwebs out of my tech savvy. And, both filled the massive amount of time I had on my hands while looking for a teaching job in a crashed economy.

Running and writing have become integral parts of my life, but for some reason, I’m able to be more disciplined in my running. I find it far easier to get my butt—and legs, of course—out the door three times a week than I do to park my butt—and my typing fingers, of course—in front of my computer everyday. OK, that’s not completely true. It’s very easy to park in front of the computer, what’s not so easy is doing it to write.

I’ve read many stories of successful people translating skills learned from one discipline to another, where they also inevitably become successful. I believe it’s possible for me; I believe my running regularity and success should make it easier to develop discipline, and achieve success, in a writing career. But so far, I haven’t done it.

The stakes are much higher for my writing. No one pays me to run and no one is depending on me to be paid when I run. People are depending on me being able to make money writing. My husband wants to retire, my kids will go to college. We need, desperately need, to be out of debt.

And yet, I hesitate.  The thought of cold calling prospects leaves me breathless with anxiety. Writing letters of introduction takes hours of torment and deliberation over every word. Networking events? Weeks of self-pep-talking to get me there.

I know the answer is going to be something like a C25K program for writers. I could even say I’ve stalled because I’m not good at inching toward a goal; this weekend proved that isn’t true.

When I watch basketball and my favorite team is behind by 20 points, I wish for the 20-point shot. But, there is no 20-point shot, not in basketball, running or writing. I’m going to have to start writing professionally the way I did running,  sixty seconds of shuffling at a time.

 

Yesterday was the second anniversary of starting my blog. I’ve gone from approximately 45 readers to nearly 300 since then and I thank you all for your loyal support.

 

Bra Makers are Boobs

31 Aug

I was in middle school—we called it junior high back then—when I got my first one. My mother took me shopping, after enduring weeks of insistence that I really did need one. “What do you want one of those for, honey?” she said. “You don’t even need one.”

“Yes! Yes, I do!” I said. “I’m the only girl who doesn’t have one. They all make fun of me!”

So, off we went to my mother’s favorite department store for my first bra.

I was excited; the teasing and torment were finally going to end. I was excited, that is, until I encountered Brunhilda. I have no idea if the woman’s name really was Brunhilda. The German accent I recall is probably a fabrication of my scarred mind. But there she was, standing between me and the lingerie that would deliver me from the hell of changing for gym in a locker room full of growing girls.

Brunhilda was tall. Brunhilda was big. And Brunhilda had the biggest breasts I’ve ever seen on a woman. There are lots of names for breasts. Some are cute, like “titties” and “boobies.” Some are funny. Think “chesticles” and “sweater puppies.” But this woman had jugs, each about the size of my head.

My mother introduced us, noting that Brunhilda would be fitting me for a bra. Without saying a word, Brunhilda whipped the tape measure from where it was draped around her neck and lassoed me with it. She measured under my wee bits. She measured across my wee bits. She stood and announced, “You don’t need zee bra.”

Just as she was about to point us in the direction of the undershirts, my mother worked some kind of Southern Belle voodoo on her, which consisted of dressing a tart request in a sweet gooey accent. Suddenly, training bras appeared and I could undress proudly for gym.

Our current bra problem is not mine and there is no voodoo my mother can work to make this one disappear.

The cute little bralettes and sports bras my daughter has been wearing, off and on, for some time now have a fatal flaw: they can be seen under white shirts. Because nipples can be seen under white shirts when one doesn’t wear a bra, all of my daughter’s white shirts are no longer wearable and she has a lot of white shirts.

So, we went on the hunt for flesh-tone bras, the kind that blend with your skin tone and seem to disappear under a white shirt.

My daughter has skin the color of very expensive, very fine milk chocolate. I love her skin. In winter, it glows with a warmth that belies the frigid outdoor weather. In summer, it takes on deep cinnamon hues; she looks good enough to eat.

Flesh-toned bras are the color of some mythical Caucasian woman’s skin. Though they work well enough for me, they don’t really match the skin tone of any real woman I know. Still, we white ladies don’t have to toss our white shirts when the boobies start to appear.

There are no options for budding young dark-skinned girls. I know this because I’ve looked in every conceivable place for some kind of undergarment that will enable my daughter to wear her favorite white shirts again. I’ve looked at Nordstrom, Gap Kids, Justice, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Aerie, Amazon, Brasmyth and Target.

I’ve even been to Gilly Hicks—a store for girls—where “Push ‘Em Up” bras and thongs are displayed under spotlights in otherwise dark shopping environments. A virtual trip to their website was even more frightening. Again, the bras are displayed against a black background, but here they promised “perfect fit with lots of lift.

As a teacher and mother to a ten-year old daughter and a teen-age son, I’ve seen quite a few girls in the Gilly Hicks target market. The only lift any of them needed was to the mall. Aren’t’ perky breasts part and parcel of being a teen?

Lest you think young girls are going after a product marketed to women, take a peek at the GH Girls landing page, where you’ll see a disrobing man and an invitation to “become a Gilly Hicks girl.”

Image: Gilly Hicks

The message my shopping ventures delivered was loud and clear, wrapped in a package replete with hypersexualization and a side order of racism. It’s perfectly ok to acknowledge, even celebrate, my daughter’s burgeoning womanhood. She can, in fact, find any number of garments guaranteed to have her walking down Lolita lane. What she can’t have is a single article of clothing that will enable her to wear her favorite white T-shirt with the pink and grey horse on it.

Head of the Class

9 Aug

Image: Designtechtonics.biz

Not too long ago, in my newspaper column, I wrote about my son’s friends being given cars by their parents. I had heard that kids with cars—and I don’t mean Power Wheels—was pretty common here, but didn’t really believe it until one newly minted driver after another was given a car. And we’re not talking old cars in funky colors, like the mustard yellow Pinto that was my first car. Two of my son’s friends were given new Priuses. Or is it Prii?

I wrote that no kid should be given a car, especially a kid who just learned how to drive. Let that kid buy a car and he’d appreciate it, care for it, drive it with caution, fill it with gas using his own money. Until he could do that, I wrote, my son would be asking to borrow the family car. I mentioned that we can’t afford to buy our son any car, but even if we could, there’s no way in hell that we would.

I was accused of having class envy. You need to understand where I live to fully appreciate this accusation. Money magazine has named Naperville one of the 10 best places in America to raise children—more than once! There are a lot of reasons to like Naperville: good schools, nice houses, lovely downtown near the historic district. A river even runs through it.

In Naperville, you could live here.

With all that good publicity from Money magazine, lots of people moved here in the past 20 years or so. So, you’ve got the old timers who mostly live in the old neighborhoods. Back when I was a kid, houses in those neighborhoods were very affordable for a young family; my own family almost moved there. If you moved here in the good old days, your $25,000 house is probably worth more than $500,000 now. Wealthier people have moved here and built even more expensive houses. And less wealthy people started moving here when builders started turning farmland into subdivisions; I live in one of those. Today, we even have town houses, condos and (gasp) apartments.

Or you could live here.

Or here.

What started as a pretty nice small (white) town has become a city of more than 140,000 people replete with every race, religion and socio-economic grouping. We even have a prostitution ring and a heroin problem.

In that context, I understand the anxiety that pushed an obviously wealthy long-time resident to think that when I said “ there is no way I’m giving my son 24/7 access to something that is a proven killer, particularly of boys” what I actually meant is “rich people suck.”

I don’t think rich people suck—well, not all of them. There are rich people that suck and poor people that suck. I’m equal opportunity when it comes to thinking someone sucks. So, me with class envy? Nah.

I have had several other types of envy. Like kid envy. There are children who make their beds every morning, get their own breakfast and go happily to school. There are children who join in school activities, practice their music lessons, do their homework and help around the house. There are children who respect their parents, walk the dog, get good grades and brush their teeth. These are not my children.

Frequently, I find myself wishing that my son were more involved in activities at school, such as anything. And I would love for my daughter’s room to not look like Lord Voldemort could hide in it. But, then I wouldn’t have a son who calls me on his cell phone and says, “Hey, Mom. I’m sitting on a couch on the corner of Sanctuary and Lowell.” When I drive to said corner, I do indeed find my son sitting on a discarded sofa, kicking back like a football fan on a Sunday afternoon.

I have had penis envy, too. When I worked in public relations, I made a fairly decent salary. We bought our first house on it. But, if I had a penis, I would have made $25,000 more. That would have also made us a gay couple, but we’re ok with that. Hell, we adopted our second child and lived in Oak Park for a while.

Do I even need to mention shoe envy? Massive quantities of shoe envy here. My sister and her daughter have truly gorgeous shoes and they wear the same size, doubling the number of shoes available to each of them. Not fair, right? When my husband finally got his PR business off the ground, I could buy truly gorgeous shoes, too. I paid lots of money for some pairs. I still swoon over the Italian ones made completely of leather. Does that mean I envy myself my shoes? I think it might.

I certainly envy my daughter’s shoes. She has narrow feet. With a lot of obese children in the US, they make cheap shoes really wide these days. So, the Empress—I mean, my daughter—can only shop at the pricey children’s shoe store in town, or Nordstrom.

But the envy I’m most likely to suffer is Writer’s Envy. Like most writers, I read a lot. I read all kinds of things, from crappy fantasy to classic literature. And when I find truly good writing, I want to crawl in a hole and never touch my computer keyboard again. I feel like Mike Myers and Dana Carvey meeting Aerosmith in Wayne’s World. “I am not worthy,” I think, “I am not worthy.”

Being bipolar actually has its benefits in dealing with Writer’s Envy. Reading something truly fabulous will send me into a tailspin. But all I have to do is wait for the next mania train to pull into the station and I’ve got myself convinced I can write a bestseller . . .in a month . . .while still working . . .and raising my kids. You jealous yet?

Would you go back, Jack, and do it again?

7 Aug

If Lincoln hadn’t gone to the theater, he would have been run over by a carriage. Or he would have had a heart attack. Or he might have fallen down the White House staircase and broken his neck. Or something like that.

My husband, a historian, hates speculative chat about history. What difference does it make what might have happened if Lincoln hadn’t gone to the theater? Lincoln went to the theater; he was assassinated. There are no do-overs. Write it in the book and move on.

But, I want a do-over. Actually, I want more than one do-over; I want a lot of do-overs. As my daughter might say, even, I want a lot, a lot, a lot of do-overs.

I’d use a bunch of them this morning. First, I’d do-over my dental situation. I’ve got dental dominoes going on in my mouth. My front crown fell out recently, bringing down with it a whole range of dental woes, from yellowing to molar rot.

One of the indignities of aging that rarely gets mentioned is teeth. You hear about hot flashes, back pains, creaking joints, heart attacks, weight gain, gray hair, sagging chins, drooping butts. But no one ever told me that I’d be sitting at my computer, flossing while catching up on blog reading, and my tooth would fall out. Just fall out and plink right onto my laptop.

Certain dental work can be delayed, like repairing molars. Heck, I figured, I’ve got more than one and it’s not like I’m eating caramels every day. Filling the 22 cavities in my 9-year-old daughter’s mouth seemed far more pressing a year ago. So, my molars waited. But a crown. . . now that can’t wait.

A crown can be a lovely thing and mine served me well. Beneath the crown, though, is a stump that looks like something cooked up by a British Hillbilly dentist on crack. Money be damned, I could not—would not—go around looking like Austin Powers.

Replacing the crown is going to be far more involved than I suspected. First, the surrounding teeth need to be bleached because I’ve spent years drinking coffee, tea, cola and all the other things that keep me awake for the glory that is my life. Apparently, they don’t make crowns in the yellowish ivory hue my teeth have taken on. So, bleach. Which leads to bleach trays. Which leads to this morning’s appointment.

Preparing for the dentist required blow-drying my hair. My hair, which I affectionately refer to as “frog fur,” is fine. And flat. So, I bend over and dry it from the roots believing that this will magically make my hair fuller. I bent over, began drying and then screamed with pain as my back fell apart, perhaps in sympathy with my tooth. When the pain subsided, I stood up and decided that a half-head of volume was better than no volume at all.

With my half-full head and broken back, I hobbled to the hall closet for my purse. No purse. Everywhere in the house? No purse. So much no purse that I decided my purse must have shrunken and was now so small that my dog ate it. Then I decided my children were no longer content to drive me crazy figuratively and had invented a new game: Gaslighting Mommy, which involves hiding things Mommy frequently needs, like glasses, car keys and her wallet. I called around. No purse at Whole Foods. No purse with husband at his office, as if he suddenly decided he needed a lavender and white man-bag. No purse in my son’s or daughter’s rooms, though I was too afraid to move anything for fear something frightening might be under them.

So, I called the dentist to reschedule my appointment. Then I found the purse. In the garage. I know how it got there; I’m not telling.

Then the dentist called. They were worried about me. I decided it was nicer to have someone worry about me than to point out that they wouldn’t have been worried if they were checking their messages. We rescheduled.

Finally, all the drama seeped out of the morning and I got over wanting a do-over. I decided the newly discovered down time would be well spent at the library.

I wakened the teenager. We drove to the library. On the way, I rear-ended a Jetta.

 

Have you ever wanted a do-over? What would you use it on?

PS. I attempted to download a photo of a lovely woman with terrible teeth to accompany this post. My computer crashed three times.

Now, THIS is crazy!

28 Jun

Image from Zazzle.com

It’s Father’s Day. I’m sitting with my Dad on the patio.

“How are you, Dad?” I ask.

“Not very good,” he says, looking down at his hands. I’ve never seen him this sad.

“Your mother rejected me,” he says and tells me, through tears, that my mother left him.

I start to cry, not knowing which is worse, telling my father that my mother died nearly four years ago or letting him believe she’s still alive and left him.

“Dad,” I say, as gently as I can, “Mom’s dead. She died almost four years ago. She would never leave you.” He looks up, confused. He’s confused nearly all the time now.

“You took such good care of her, do you remember that?” He’s trying. “She had emphysema and you took such good care of her. She was just too sick. We had to let her go, Dad.” I wonder if he remembers making the decision ending life support. He believes me. He believes and he’s sad, but he’s calmer.

I visit my dad every week these days, but I never know where it’ll be. Last week, it was Denver. He was waiting at his hotel, while my mother and grandmother shopped for houses. They’d come to Denver for a convention, something they did a lot. Traveling to conventions, that is, not traveling to Denver. He seemed anxious about buying yet another house, but he’d never really been able to say “No” to my mother. I told him I knew the feeling.

Another visit saw us in Hong Kong, having dinner with a group of executives my dad clearly didn’t like because they’d kidnapped me. Yet another visit saw us in Rochester at a bicycle factory. There was our visit in an undisclosed location in Romania, where my dad told me he was forced to sit on a minaret to escape the men trying to capture him in Saudi Arabia. Recently, my sister married the Shah of Iraq, so we have an Arabian theme going lately.

My dad’s delusions are nothing compared to the other residents. There’s the woman who gathers all of the baby dolls and stuffed animals and arrays them on a table. She dresses them all and sets them down to sleep then complains about how she has so many babies to care for. There’s the 105-year old woman who was once a singer. She still tries to sing but it comes out as screeching wails. There’s the woman who sits quietly and, when she catches your eye doesn’t say “Hello,” but “I’m afraid.” “Afraid of what?” I asked. “Of dying,” she replied.

It’s hard not to make the leap to The Snake Pit or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or whatever look-inside-the-loony-bin movie was popular in your particular generation. This, after all, is what crazy people are and do.

But I know better. My father and his housemates aren’t nuts. They have a terrible disease that literally eats at their brains, destroying the web that connects a lifetime of accumulated memory and leaving them with a stew of thought they continually try to make sense of.

No. They are not crazy; I am. At least, that’s what my society says. I have bipolar disorder; I am bipolar. I never know which description to use, so I use both. But no matter how I reveal my condition, I get a universal reaction, spoken or no. “That chick is crazy.” Someone even told me, “Wow. You’d never know to look at you!”

I suppose that’s a compliment; the self-harming, judgmental thoughts, over-spending and insomnia don’t show on my face. Of course, the medication helps. More likely, it’s an indication of how crazy Americans are about mental illness.

I happen to come from a family of crazies. Alcoholism, schizophrenia, drug abuse were things I learned about early. None of the crazies looked crazy. Well, ok, the schizophrenic lived in another state, so I didn’t see him very often and can’t really say he never looked crazy. Still, “you’d never know to look” at any of them that they lived with demons.

So, I don’t usually tell people I’m bipolar, though I’ve been doing it more often lately. Maybe it was the “you don’t look” it comment; maybe it’s my own growing acceptance. I’ve been more active in the blogosphere lately and the anonymity it affords makes it easier for crazies to hang out and connect with each other.

In America, you can pretty much tell who’s a flag-waving conservative by, well, the flags waving on their houses. I decided, some time ago, to take back the flag. This is my country, too, I thought, and hung the flag on our porch.

So, I’m taking back crazy. I’m a mom, a writer and a teacher. I have two great kids and the obligatory pets that go along with living in one of America’s most famous suburbs. I’m happily married.

This is what crazy looks like, people.

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