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We have had over two feet of snow fall on us in the past week. In some ways it’s nice. It really is beautiful to look out the windows and see nothing but snow-covered corn fields, barns and trees. But then there’s the practical side of that much snow that is really… well… impractical. The constant wind in the country means that some of the snow has drifted to be up to the top of my thighs. That’s not really fun trying to plow through to take the compost out. Then I am constantly having to shovel a path to the vehicles and snowblow the driveway. (Snowblowing is actually kinda relaxing though, thanks to the owners who purchased a very nice model for us to use!) And openning the barn doors, or any door for that matter, is extremely difficult with a couple feet of snow piled up against them.

I guess that’s just life in the country, though. I’m very anxious for spring to get here. I want the snow to melt, the mud to dry up, and to start digging my hands into the dirt. I want the chickens and their feathery, poopy mess out of the kitchen and into the huge coop, not to mention the fresh eggs we should start getting in June/July. I can’t wait to have fresh herbs for cooking and pizza.

Ah, spring. Where art thou?

Thursday, Feb 11

We’re a month in now, and there’s no turning back. The chicks will arrive in only a few days. The leeks and tomatoes are all started on the kitchen countertop. And, of course, we have a brand spankin’ new foot of snow on the ground. Honestly, Michigan weather is the silliest phenomenon I have ever witnessed. It’s almost spring, and all winter we have had maybe 10 total inches, all of which had melted almost quicker than it came. So what happens? A blizzard. Well, I guess that’s just the kind of lemons life hands out. We’re making the best of it, though. The house is nice and warm inside, and time passes rather pleasantly when the smells of fresh bread and good, clean dirt permeate the air. Not only that, but we have so much to look forward to.

We just found out that we will be putting in a whole bunch of fruit trees, pines, sugar maples, pretty flowering trees, and windbreak trees this spring, as well as a large soft fruit patch. Do you know how many strawberries 100 plants produce? Oh, yum! My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Of course, the yield won’t be too heavy this year as the plants will just be getting established. But still… strawberry yogurt, strawberry muffins, strawberry shortcake, strawberries on cereal, strawberries dipped in sugar, strawberry cobbler, jumping into a pool filled with strawberries and whipped cream… or something like that anyhow. We’ll also be getting a bunch of new beekeeping supplies to finish getting the hives ready for our new buzzy babies. We’ve joined up with the local (Lansing) beekeepers association, and boy howdy are they a nice bunch! They are not only very helpful and experienced… but love to meet up regularly and swap delicious food. My kind of people. One of the members is actually raising up two nucs for us, with queens that he bred himself. Italian queens. Pretty little things, they are. I’ll definitely be taking pics of them when they get here. I’m sure there are a lot of other homesteaders who keep bees, but there have to be at least a few others like me who are totally new and curious.

Since it looks like we won’t be getting out that much this summer, I’ve been rummaging through the dusty recesses of my mind to think of ways to attract visitors to us. So far, I know we’ll have at least a few long-distance family members coming to visit. My parents, for one. They miss their grandbabies an awful lot, and I’m sure the curiosity about our new place is burning them. Then we’ll have regular visits from all of my husband’s family because they aren’t too far and we’ll have plenty of goodies that I’m sure they won’t want to miss out on. And lastly, I know for sure we’ll get a visit from my Harley-riding Aunt and Uncle. They have forsaken their expansive gardens and livestock this summer to do a little retirement-enjoying, as they deserve to do. As for other visitors, I think I have lined up at least a few. I’ve been spreading the word about what we’re doing to anyone who stands still long enough, including my dental hygienist, friends, and any locals I happen to meet in my wanderings. A lot of people are shocked when I tell them that we will be raising a lot of our own food. “What, you mean you’re going to EAT a chicken you raised from a baby?!” is just one of the responses I have heard so far. But sometimes I meet someone who is genuinely interested. One such man is a complete city-case. He was raised in inner-city Detroit, and freely admits that he doesn’t really know what a chicken is, other than a white meat found wrapped in cellophane at the grocer’s. He’s never eaten anything fresh from a garden, nor has he ever prepared a meal from scratch. Shocking, I know. But it’s so common I could cry just thinking about it.

Honestly, how bad is it that so many people don’t think to question where their food comes from? How insane is it that in times of economic struggle, it’s still frowned upon to keep your own small laying flock or some meat rabbits in town? Why is it considered antisocial to propagate vegetables? How can anyone live an awesome life if they have never tasted a fresh, free range egg nor eaten sweet peas straight off the vine pod and all, still warm from the sun?

Ok, those are all deep, outrageous questions that I would love to get to, but I am beat. It’s 11:00pm now. Phew. G’night, all! I’ll try to write more later!

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Saturday, February 20

I have just read a very interesting article about hyperinflation. It was in the latest edition of Backwoods Home (a MUST have for anyone interested in the back-to-the-land lifestyle), and I just can’t stop thinking about it. So I’m going to summarize the awesome article as best as I can using a few excerpts.

Inflation isn’t so much that prices go up – because that would imply that groceries and stuff like that have somehow become more valuable. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable so it takes more money to buy a sack of potatoes, a gallon of gas, or hire a babysitter. In fact, in cases where commodities become more valuable, it’s usually a case of supply and demand. When there’s increased demand for something, or the supply of something we typically use runs short, the price of it goes up. For example, if a bad winter wipes out much of the citrus crop, oranges become more expensive that year. When the crop returns to normal the next year, the price of oranges returns to where it usually is. Inflation, on the other hand, is an increase in the money supply that exceeds the expansion of the goods and services that are available to buy.

The article goes on to give some helpful analogies to financial laymen like me. Basically, it says that inflation is caused by the issuing of more currency, and not by supply and demand. It also makes the statement that inflation of any degree discourages saving, which makes total sense. Why would someone deem it necessary to sock money away under the mattress when a year from now that money isn’t going to be worth nearly as much as what it originally was? On the same note, why would anyone waste their time with a savings account at a bank that only gives a 3% return when monthly inflation rates average 3.5% and higher? (All of you who think your 2-4% wage increase every year is a promotion… you are just fooling yourselves. You are actually making less each year. Sad, huh?) Further on in the article, more interesting tidbits appear.

This may surprise you, but we’ve only had long-term inflation since the Federal Reserve was established in 1913 and they got control of our money supply. They have steadily increased the money supply faster than the increase in the amount of goods and services that the money will buy. The result is that money has become worth less and less until, today, a dollar has about the same purchasing power as four cents had in 1913. Prior to the Federal Reserve, our currency had an amazing amount of stability for more than 100 years because it was based on gold. That is, prices remained pretty steady for over a century. The only thing that really happened is that prices went down as one technological advance after another made life easier, crops more plentiful, and businesses more efficient. There was a blip of inflation during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, but those passed when those wars ended.

Consider what you just read. Prices were stable until the Fed got involved. Think about it. Chew on that idea a bit. How would the Fed cause inflation when prices were known to be stable or deflating? The answer? The United States of America no longer relies on our gold supply as a guage of wealth. Instead, we have chosen paper. Gold is a limited resource, one that would only form a cube 50 feet on each side if all of the gold ever mined could be formed together. Paper is a very cheap and renewable resource, one which can be multiplied many times over. And with electronic banking today, where deposits and withdrawals can be made without actually exchanging physical currency, even the need for paper money is fast becoming a dying fad. Now, read on.

Governments like to tax us and inflation is a tax. Most people simply do not understand that. When the government increases the money supply, without a corresponding increase in the amount of goods and services, they devalue everyone else’s dollars – they’re worth less and buy less as prices begin to go up. But government gets full value with this newly created money because they spend it first. (So they’re stealing value out of every bill I have in my pocket?) Stealing is exactly what they’re doing. Keep in mind that if introducing more money were harmless, the government wouldn’t care about counterfeiters.

That’s inflation. Now the article tackles hyperinflation, which is a very real phenomenon that has happened many times before in the world. You’d think that a country filled with such smart people would be able to learn from the mistakes of others, but we just seem to blithely ignore those mistakes and keep pounding away at our own miserable, ill-destined path. How bad is hyperinflation?

The German mark started losing value so fast that people were getting paid two and three times a day and they’d leave work each time so they could spend it before it lost even more value. They’d buy anything: food, hard goods, knickknacks, who cared? If you didn’t spend it right away it was going to be worth a lot less in just a few hours. It got so bad that people not only spent their money as fast as they could, they often didn’t bother taking their change. You know how stores today have those little penny trays on the counter near the cash registers? You buy something for a dollar ninety-nine and give the clerk two dollars. He gives you one penny change and you drop it in the tray because a penny is close to worthless nowadays. Suppose in a hyperinflationary period the price of a loaf of bread goes up to $19,900, something not at all inconceivable, and you’ve given the clerk two $10,000 bills. He gives you back a hundred dollar bill. That hundred dollar bill now has the purchasing power the penny used to have. It’s easy to leave it on the counter and leave, especially because in a few hours it’ll be worth even less. In October of 1923, prices in Germany went up over 40% a day. Money was so worthless you couldn’t buy heating fuel with it, so to keep warm many people took to burning the paper bills instead.

Believe it or not in Hungary, just after World War II, the Hugarian pengo lost its value even faster. Throughout July of 1946, prices tripled every day. What cost 1000 pengo one morning cost 3000 the next and 9000 the morning after that.

Today, Zimbabwe is undergoing hyperinflation. Their hyperinflation started when the country’s president, Robert Mugabe, took land away from the former white landowners to give to blacks who, unfortunately, were unfamiliar with agricultural practices. Crops failed and Zimbabwe began having trouble feeding itself. As a result, food prices jumped and Mugabe started to run the presses to keep up with the price increases. Coupled with that was his decision to quadruple the pay of the police and the military, without putting it in the budget, and the presses had to run even faster and longer to make up for these and other budget shortfalls. Of course, each hump in inflation sent all prices further skyrocketing and the presses were run to keep up with that, so prices climbed even higher. Prices go up, so you print more money so the government can make purchases, but that makes prices go even higher, and so on. There was a time when the Zimbabwean dollar was worth more than the American dollar. Today, it’s possible to find 100 trillion dollar Zimbabwean notes, but no one wants them. You can’t even bribe a Zimbabwean official with Zimbabwean money.

Many South American countries – Argentinia, Brazil, and Bolivia among them – experienced hyperinflation in the late part of the 20th century. All of it was the result of government overspending; when the bills came due, unable to pay them with taxes, the respective governments ran the printing presses and got caught in the same vicious circle.

After reading this fine article, one has no questions about what causes inflation and hyperinflation. One also becomes aware of the effects of hyperinflation, and the dire consequences the U.S. will face if our leaders can’t figure out how to budget appropriately and reign in the national, regional, state, and community debts. We already have trillions in unfunded debts: Social Security, Medicare, national healthcare if it passes, the trade deficit, the bailouts, and the trillions in loans to foreign countries. Who shoulders the burden of paying off these mountainous debts? Our children. Our children’s children. Is there a way to avoid this downfall? Only if we were to scrap the Fed and all of our current currency, somehow erase all of our debts to the rest of the world, and find and stick to a standard (like gold) that stayed stable. Also, it would help to sack all of the Republicans and Democrats on a position of power. They have formed over the past few decades a single party that has brought about the ruinous circumstances we are witnessing today. Major changes need to be made to our government, which is why I think there’s really no way to avoid inflation and eventually hyperinflation. American people are more interested in things like fashion trends, American Idol, buying cheap goods with out of control credit cards, and going into debt because they just have to have the latest and greatest gadgets and doohickeys.

What can anyone do to protect themselves against being a helpless fish in the financial sea? If you really must invest your money, do it in paying off your debts. Dave Ramsey and many other experts have written countless books on the subject. If you can’t afford the books, borrow them from a friend or the local library. Also, start looking for ways to cut back on expenses. Do you really need to eat out four times a week? Do you really need that Cappuccino with extra whipped cream every morning before work? Does your family need a new TV, or would that money be better spent somewhere else? Is wasting your money on cigarettes and liquor something that will benefit you, or could you use that money instead on stocking up your food pantry or buying a new deep freeze? There are a lot of little things that a family can do to cut expenses. Another way to protect yourself from an out of control economy is to start becoming somewhat self-sufficient. Even if you live in town, you can still dedicate part or all of your lawn to edibles to help cut down your food bill. Can’t afford seeds and new containers and accessories? Check farm auctions, Goodwill, neighbors, friends, the Classifieds, and local bulletin boards. Get the word out, and you will suddenly find yourself overwhelmed with offers. You can even save seeds from certain store-bought items, like potatoes. Did you know that by burying an eyed potato and waiting until the resulting plant dies and dries up, you can multiply your initial potato tenfold if conditions are right? You can also look to investing in things like hunting rifles and ammo or bows and arrows so that you can take advantage of two- and four-legged meat that happens by in season. You can stock up on gold and silver (pre-’65 coins are popular) or even foreign currency. You can build up your pantry and other supplies to last you through tough times. If you are die-hard, you can move to the country, get some livestock, grow your own fruits and vegetables, learn how to make-do, and live with alternative forms of energy. In other words, you can choose to give up the greedy, entitled, pop-culture, debt-ridden, uninformed society of your peers. It’s a hard road to choose, but you can do it if that’s what you really want.

Look at me. I never really thought I would be here when I was growing up. I didn’t have any interest in gardening, cooking, raising children (much less animals!) back then. I wanted to live in a city with all of the city pleasures. Sure, my parents were into that country lifestyle, but who wants to be like their parents when they’re young? 😛  People change. I sure did. You can, too.

Good luck!

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Did you know that a chick can make a sound remarkably similar to a smoke alarm with a low battery in the middle of the night, at the exact same intervals that a smoke alarm beeps? Neither did I. But it can! Did you know that a person with hundreds of freckles on their hands and arms would look like a tasty treat to a flock of ever-hungry chicks? Huh. Yeah, I found that one out the hard way.

The chicks are growing. Today they are a week old, and I suppose only a trained eye would be able to tell the differences. The feathers on their wings and tails are starting to come in, which means that their instinct to flap is taking over. Combine that with stronger leg muscles and a raging curiosity that would put George to shame, and you have 24 chicks eying the low edge of their enclosure with an expression that reads “I could jump that.” Guess it’s time to start thinking about cutting some chicken wire to put over the top. They are also eating and drinking a lot more. And pooping. Oh my goodness, the poop. How in the world are they getting enough nutrients from their food if they poop more than they eat? Okay, maybe I’m skewing the figures a little, but still. Gah, it makes me think of when my boys were just little babies and I’d go to change their diaper only to find that not only was their diaper full but their pants and the carseat as well. How can such little things create such a big mess?

The chicks aren’t the only things growing in the kitchen, though! I planted two flats of tomatoes and two flats of leeks last week, and many of them have sent up their first set of leaves. I’m worried about the germination rate of a couple of the varieties, like the Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes. Two of the varieties haven’t sprouted at all yet. I’ll give them another week then try replanting. People I have talked to are amazed that we are attempting to grow 10 different varieties of tomatoes, but I guess they don’t realize that when you start from seed you can pick and choose how many you will have. We planted 10 of each, but not all of the seeds are working out, so we’ll probably end up with a good deal fewer. I’m hoping for 40-50 plants. That should give us enough for personal use and a bit extra to sell. I can’t wait to taste all the different kinds! I’m especially excited about the Paul Robeson’s and the Big Rainbow’s. They had stellar reviews everywhere I looked.

What are we going to do with all those tomatoes, you ask? So much! First of all, I’m going to make a few different kinds of salsa and picante sauce. We go through 1-3 pints every week on average, so having that stocked up will be sure to save us some money. Being homemade, we might even blow through it faster. I’d like to have around 150 pints of various salsas. Maybe more, since they make great gifts. Next, we’ll be sure to can up around 100 mixed pints and quarts of diced or whole/peeled tomatoes. Tomato sauces will come last in the canning, and hopefully we’ll have enough to make 100 or so half-pints to pints of sauce and paste. I’ll also bust my dehydrator out of storage and see how well the different varieties dry up. Dried tomatoes are a great addition to soups, pizzas, sandwiches, bread, and sauces.

 As for the leeks, we’ll use those for soups, stews, meat dishes, stir fry, and pasties (meat and veggie pies). Leeks are great fresh, but don’t store well in the house. We’ll experiment with hilling and other in-ground storage methods next winter, and hopefully our leeks will last us well into the next year. I am curious if drying methods work with leeks, so I’m sure I’ll sacrifice a few to satiate my quest for knowledge on that front. Leeks are going to be a new thing for us to grow, so we’re very excited about them.

Sometime this week I’ll get the peppers started. We’ll have a lot of those to go around, too. There’ll be four varieties of sweet bell peppers, a cayenne, a sweet banana, a pepperoncini for pickling, and jalapenos for salsas.

That just reminded me, too. I need to start saving milk jugs for cloches for the garden. I’d like to be able to transplant out as soon as possible without worrying about losing everything to a frost, but I can’t do that without some kinds of protection for the plants. So far I’ve been washing the jugs, bleaching them, then filling them with filtered water and sticking them in the basement for emergency use. I’d like to have at least 20 gallons on hand in the gallon jugs, and I’m pretty sure we’re getting close to that. I’d also like to have a few of those big, sturdy camping containers filled with tap water for things like washing up. The CDC recommends at least 14 gallons of potable water per person in the household for emergency use. I think that’s a fair amount, but I’d also like to go a step further and someday invest in a Berkey water filtration system. Something like that would guarantee that our family has enough clean drinking water as long as we could find some source like a puddle, pond, stream, lake, or spring.

Well, that’s it for now. Toodles!

YAY! I was so excited this morning when I woke up to a new voicemail from the post office saying that the chicks had arrived. The boys and I just couldn’t wait, so we ate a quick breakfast and then drove down to the post office in our pajamas and winter gear. I’m sure we made quite a sight, not to mention the fact that we got there early and my 3 year old had to pee. I hope nobody noticed me coaxing him to pee in the snow on the side of the post office. Teehee.

Anyway, the chicks are looking content in their new home. We got 18 Buff Orpington hens, 1 Buff rooster, 6 straight run (mixed sex) Sumatras, and our free chick looks to be of the Tophat variety. It’s such a goofy looking thing – it looks like a chick with a yellow cotton ball glued to it’s head. One of the Sumatras didn’t make it already, but I’m keeping a close eye on the rest to make sure they’re eating and drinking enough. I’m not sure why the one died, perhaps from the stress of shipping as it happened within an hour of getting the chicks home and into their box.

What’s that? You want to see what they look like? Of course I took pictures! I’m like a proud mama today. And my 3 year old is like a proud little daddy, he’s so concerned about the chickens. As soon as we got home he wanted to help teach them how to drink and eat, and he was very upset when I told him that chicks don’t need toys to play with. He had a whole stack especially for them. Ack, here I am jibberjabbering when all you want to do is look at pictures. Well, here they are!

Our "freebie" chick - note the crazy poof on top!

The little black and white one in front is a Sumatra. The fluffy yellow one behind him is one of the Buffs.

My husband brought home a nice big box from work for them. They seem to like it.

So those are some of the pictures. There’ll be many more to come as these little fuzzballs grow. I thought about taking pictures of my seed-starting venture as well, but at this point it’s kind of boring. Nothing has germinated/sprouted yet, so it’s just a bunch of peat cells with dirt and seeds. My son wanted to plant something too, so I gave him some mystery flower seeds. They were already starting to sprout, but now that they are in damp soil they are just taking off. It is very bad to be jealous that mine haven’t sprouted yet? I’m so eager for spring to get here it’s not even funny. Alas, spring looks to be far off yet. We just keep getting more and more snow, now that winter is almost over. Grr.

For anyone who is curious, here are a couple smaller details of our chick handling process. They are in a box that is about 4’x2′ with no top. The walls are about 1.5′ high, that way the kids can all see in without tipping it. The red heat lamp is hung about 3′ above the chicks. That took a bit of finagling to get the right temperature by adjusting the light. I just kept moving it up or down until the chicks seemed content to spread out. If they huddled under the light it was too far away, so I moved it closer. If they avoided the center of the box then it was too hot for them, so I moved it further up. They’re spread all over now, and the temperature looks like it’s around 95 degrees. I’ll adjust it as needed in the coming weeks. When we first brought the chicks home, the first order of business was teaching them how to drink and eat. I removed one chick at a time from their shipping box, dipped it’s beak in the water, then paused a moment to make sure it understood how to drink. If it didn’t immediatly start dipping it’s own beak I would teach it again. Most of them got it on the first try. Once all of the chicks were in and the water trough (which has small aquarium marbles in it to keep the chicks from drowning themselves) was clearing out, we introduced food to them. The Buffs are natural eaters. They all fell on the food as soon as they saw it, so that part was fairly easy. The Sumatras, on the other hand, were a little wobbly on their feet and didn’t seem to grasp the idea of pecking. Plus, being so much smaller and ganglier than the Buffs, they kept getting plowed over by the bigger birds. So my son and I took turns holding the little ones and getting them to eat out of little plastic cups by themselves. It seemed to work, except for the one that died. The Sumatras are looking a little better now that night has fallen. At first they were all so weak and wobbly I thought for sure none of them would make it through the first few hours. Now they’re pushing right back and shoving their way to the food and water through all of the Buffs. I hope they will be okay tonight. I know I’m going to have trouble sleeping. I’ll be tossing and turning all night, probably sneaking downstairs for a peek every few hours. They’re just so little and dependent right now. I guess the mothering instinct kicks in even for critters.

I’m laughing to myself right now, because that last line just reminded me of a conversation I had with my best friend this morning. She asked how many roosters we have, and I told her that we really didn’t know with the Tophat and Sumatras, since they are all straight run. But, I told her, we only want two. One Sumatra rooster, and the one Buff. Any others will end up in the frying pan. Nice mothering instinct, huh? It would be just our luck if we ended up with all male Sumatras. We’re hoping to be able to breed them, but reproduction won’t take place without at least one hen!

One thing I forgot to mention is the liner of the box they call home now. We are using old rag towels. I will change them out once or twice a day, depending on how messy they become. I know a lot of people use sawdust, kitty litter, torn newspapers, straw, or wood chips, but we chose towels because they are reusable and will help to prevent splayed legs in the chicks. As an added bonus, most of our towels are boring monotone, and have been washed so many times that they don’t have any stray fuzz for the chicks to pick at. Chicks will really try to eat anything, and I’d rather not have them filling their gullet with pieces of straw, sawdust, or fragments of newspaper. I’ll let you all know how it works out, but so far it’s looking like towels are the way to go. When we eventually transfer them to the coop, they’ll have straw. By then, they’ll know what to eat and they’ll be strong on their legs.

That’s it for now! Toodles!

I’m sitting in front of the local library right now because I can pick up some free wifi access here. I feel kinda like a shmuck, but that’s life. I just went around today and took a bunch of pictures of the farmhouse, barns, chicken coop, and some of the plant life on the land. I thought it’d be fun to show you all some of what we get to enjoy every day. I’ll take a lot more pictures this summer. I know… all that snow is just depressing, huh?

Cleaning out the beehives is dirty work!

The pretty little indoor cactus is in bloom.

The big barn.

The chicken coop on the far left is attached to the smaller barn. Far right is the tractor barn.

Part of a HUGE 12'x6' patch of Eastern Prickly Pear on the property.

An outdoor oven. We'll try to get this fixed up for summer get-togethers.

Big garage/workshop. Corncrib appears closest. (That'll make a fun playhouse for the boys!)

Inside the workshop. Note the woodstove in the far corner. Some beehive supers sitting on the floor ready to be scraped.

Two-holer outhouse. It'll be useful if we have a large event, but I think I'll stick with the indoor potty.

Western wall of the 23'x10' chicken coop. This window is gorgeous, but very drafty.

The chicken coop still needs a good coat of lyme whitewash and some insulation in the ceiling, but it's already so much better than it was when we got here! I think we'll have some happy biddies.

View from the back property line facing the back of the house/barns and the road. 5 acres is pretty big when you actually get to walkin' it.

 

So that’s all I’m going to post for now. I purposefully left out pictures of the house, because it is very distinctive, and I really don’t want to give up our privacy so easily. 😉  I will tell you that we are close to Eaton Rapids, Michigan, and that our family will most likely have a little farm stand set up either along the road or in the back sunroom/porch. We’ll also be trying to attend local farmer’s markets with our extras. It’d be nice to at least be able to recoup our money for all the seeds and whatnot.

So that’s about it for now! I hope all of my one or two followers are doing well! Toodles.

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