Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “family”

Life on Loan

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. — Native American Proverb

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… — Psalm 24:1

“You’re not in charge!” Most human beings I know chafe under such an imperative statement. Sure we’re in charge, each one of us, right? Do you remember the Bon Jovi song “It’s my Life” and its siren song to individuality: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just wanna live while I’m alive…”? This song has inspired people of all ages and become an anthem to the idea of controlling one’s own life and destiny.

It’s true that we don’t live forever on this earth, and it’s laudable to desire to really live instead of go through the motion, but it is not true that this life is ours to do with as we please. Our life is a loan. We didn’t dictate our birth , and we’re really not completely in charge of our terminus post quem. And what we do while we’re here–every choice and decision–matters and affects the course of our journey.

Our choices and life paths also affect others, an important point to ponder. How we treat our bodies affects how long we may potentially live, how much we will have to invest in health care, and what our quality of life will be. How we treat our economic resources affects our security, the futures of those we love, and even the future of our community and our nation. How we treat our earth may potentially affect everyone. We are, in effect, “borrowing” the earth and all its resources from future generations.

Yes, we live on borrowed time with lives that are merely a loan. Each breath, each day, everything is pure gift, but the gift is shared. Our gift of life is lived out in community for good or for ill. How will you enjoy your gift, steward your loan, and care for what is not yours forever?

Thanks-Living Action:

1. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see for your children or your children’s children. If you do not have children of your own, what kind of world would you like to leave as your legacy?

2. How can you be a better steward of your time, talent, and resources?

3. What does it mean to live life as gift?

Finally, ponder these words from a sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

Photo by Damanhur, Federation of Communities. Thanks!

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The Power of Blessing

The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and cherish you.

May God shield you on every steep,

May Christ aid you on every path,

May Spirit fill you on every slope,

On hill and on plain.

May the king shield you in the valleys,

May Christ aid you on the mountains,

May Spirit bathe you on the slopes,

In hollow, on hill, on plain,

Mountain, valley and plain.

— from the Carmina Gadelica (484–577)*

There is real power in blessing one another, and it’s a  power we too often fail to harness. In a world that can weary and batter the soul, a blessing offered in love and truth restores and revives the spirit.

A colleague in ministry posted on Facebook how her young daughter came to her after a particularly difficult day and offered her a blessing. This intuitive child understood the power of blessing her mother, a simple yet profound act that this mother and pastor will ponder in her heart for years to come even though her daughter may remember it only from her mother’s recounting of the story.

When was the last time you offered someone a blessing? When was the last time you received one from someone other than a pastor, priest, or rabbi?

The world would be a far better place if we would reclaim the art of blessing one another. Blessing transcends the boundaries and forges connections. Whether you actively practice a life of faith or whether you simply believe in the inherent goodness of creation and humankind, try adding one simple blessing a day, even if it is only one whispered under your breath–a silent wish that someone will have a good day, a good life, and all good things. Bless the one who cuts you off in traffic. Bless the emergency responders when you hear the fire alarm or see the flashing lights. Bless your life’s partner and your children. Bless your parents. Bless. Bless. Bless. You cannot go wrong wishing good on another.

*From Wikipedia: The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, runes, and other literary-folkloric poems and songs collected and translated by amateur folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1855 and 1910. (Thanks to Daniel Clendenin of Journey with Jesus for posting this lovely poem/blessing!)

Photos by Bless_Pictures and Evelyn Giggles. Thanks!

Digital Sabbatical

Dear Readers and Friends,

I am away from my computer for a few days–a tech sabbatical, if you will. Actually, I have traveled to North Dakota for the funeral of a very dear friend who left us unexpectedly and much too soon. While I treasure any opportunity to visit the prairie and the folks who have such a special place in my heart, this visit is a bittersweet one. My friend, Paula, was a pillar of the community, a force for joy and living life to the fullest, and a woman of deep faith. She knew how to live a life of thanks-living and she did it well. She will be missed by so many people. She touched so very many lives. She leaves behind a legacy of joy, love, faith, and relationship. My heart goes out to her family.

Treasure the ones you love. Get to know the folks you don’t know. Relationships matter. Stuff does not. Faith is important–no matter how you find its expression in your life. Time is more valuable than money. Be the person you are created to be. Laugh. Love. Live. Life is short.

Peace and blessing. I’ll be back on January 1, 2013, to begin a new year of thanks-living. I hope you’ll join me for the journey!

Peace and blessing.

Sharron

Alert & On Guard

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly….Be alert at all times. — Luke 21:34, 36a

Read: Luke 21:25-36 (Yes, this is the same reading as yesterday, but it bears re-reading.)

Ponder:

“Sometimes it seems as though we spend our lives waiting. Daydreaming about an upcoming vacation, worrying over a medical test, preparing for the birth of grandchild-our days are filled with anticipation and anxiety over what the future holds. As Christians, we too spend our lives waiting. But we are waiting for something much bigger than a trip, bigger even than retirement or a wedding: We are waiting for the return of Jesus in glory. Advent heightens this sense of waiting, because it marks not only our anticipation of Jesus’ final coming, but also our remembrance of his arrival into our world more than 2,000 years ago.”  — Anonymous

Reflect:

What lies heavy on your mind and heart today? What worries are you harboring and nurturing? What needs to be let go so that God can infuse your very being with expectation, hope, and joy?

If you find yourself hurrying through this season with too much to do and not enough hours in the day, do something quite counter-intuitive: sit still and do nothing. Simply be. The to-do list will still be there, and maybe some of it will turn out to not be worth doing anyway. Maybe some of it doesn’t even matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

Be alert. Be ready. Watch for those “God-sightings” in your home, during your worship and time with friends, and even waiting in the check-out lane at the grocery. An encounter with the Divine might be just around the corner or down the next aisle. Look for God in the ordinary and extraordinary. Trust me…God is already there.

Thanks-living:

Consider calling up a friend to go for coffee or tea. Make a date with your spouse, partner, or significant other. Make special time to spend  one-on-one with your child or children. Write your parents a letter. Attend an extra worship service or Advent event in your community of faith. Find one thing to do that requires your complete presence and attention. Put those to-do lists aside and experience some joy and anticipation.

What I Did:

Last night my spouse and I were invited to have dinner with friends. Sure there is more work to be done in this season than we have hours for, but we gladly accepted their invitation, and what fun we had! Not only did Liz prepare an amazing meal, but we had conversation, laughter, and a rousing game of “Words with Friends” that we’ll savor for days to come. Thank you, Liz and Tom, for giving us the invitation and permission to simply “be” for an evening and enjoy the gift of friends and fun. Truly the love, grace, and spirit of our Lord was with us all.

Photos by paralog and Minette Layne. Thanks!

The Generous Saint-aclaus

From the book Tales Told in Holland–a rather odd photo indeed.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  James 1:17

Read: 2 Corinthians 9:6-9

Ponder:

“Once again St. Nicholas Day

Has even come to our hideaway;

It won’t be quite as fun, I fear,

As the happy day we had last year.

Then we were hopeful, no reason to doubt

That optimism would win the bout,

And by the time this year came round,

We’d all be free, and safe and sound.

Still, let’s not forget it’s St. Nicholas Day,

Though we’ve nothing left to give away.

We’ll have to find something else to do:

So everyone please look in their shoe!”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Reflect

Today many Christians will commemorate the life and faithful witness of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.  We don’t know a whole lot about Nicholas, although many wonderful legends and stories exist. He lived and served during the fourth century in what is now Turkey, and he is believed to have died around 342 CE.

Stories told about Nicholas emphasize his love of God, his love for neighbor, and his particular compassion for the poor and marginalized. My favorite legend involves three young women whose father was about to sell them into slavery (think human trafficking) because there was no money for dowries. The good bishop reportedly placed a bag of gold in one of each girl’s stockings that were hung out to dry, thus enabling them to marry rather than face a life of shame and ignominy.

Legends about the life of St. Nicholas give us our legend of Santa Claus, although the modern North American Santa Claus is a creation of Clement Clark Moore, who in the early 1800s wrote the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” or what we now know as “The Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s  creation of Santa Claus was an attempt to transform the rowdy, drunken holiday traditions into a more family-oriented, calm, and safe holiday. His good intentions, however, played right into the hands of those seeking to market Christmas, and so gift-giving morphed like atomic fallout into an overspent, overindulged, and harried experience.

Recapturing the story of St. Nicholas is one way to turn the Advent and Christmas focus back to giving in a good way–not giving to excess or beyond one’s means but rather giving to meet needs. Instead of giving out of guilt or duty, St. Nicholas’ witness encourages us to give out of pure love in response to the unmerited love and grace of Christ.

No, I’m really not trying to spoil Christmas for the tots or undo a complicated system of supply and demand that will unmantle the very underpinnings of capitalism and the economic system. I’m simply hoping to provide a way for us to reclaim the expectation, preparation, and joy of the Advent season. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no family had to go into debt in order to “do Christmas” the right way? Wouldn’t it be lovely if folks could slide into the pews on Christmas Eve and sing “Silent Night” with a sense of wonder and delight rather than exhaustion and anxious hope about whether enough has been prepared and spent?

Christmas presents we purchase come and go or break and end up in some landfill. Gifts of heart and hand last much longer. But the gift of God incarnate for which we wait once again is the one true gift that matters, the one that will never be the wrong size or color and will never need returning.

Thanks-Living

Spend some time today recovering the legends and stories of this good Christian man, whose life witness gives us a model for generosity and care of the poor and marginalized. For more information, check out Bill McKibben’s delightful little book Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas, Adam English’s new book The Saint who Would be Santa Claus, and/or Stephen Nissenbaum”s The Battle for Christmas. You can also learn a lot by visiting the St. Nicholas Center website. Give thanks for Nicholas’ generous spirit and find one way to be secretly generous with someone today.

Consider making St. Nicholas ornaments or cookies. A pattern/tutorial for the ornament, designed by Mollie Johanson/Wild Olive, may be found here. Recipes for cookies may be found here or at the St. Nicholas Center website. Blessings on your day!

Photos by dierken and oddharmonic. Thanks!

Mea Culpa…Well Sorta

IMG

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I apologize. My mother came to visit over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I took advantage as much as possible of the precious time we had together. And we did have some wonderful times! She recounted stories from her childhood for both Mr. Husband and me. We played Scrabble, and she soundly whooped both of us on her last night here. And we talked, and ate, and talked, and ate some more. How fast six days can fly by when you’re spending time with someone who is so very dear to you! Every hour is a precious and fleeting one.

So after shedding a few tears as I watched the gate attendant help her to the plane, it’s back to life as usual and the beginning of one of my favorite seasons of the year–Advent. That means I’m back to writing about thanks-living as well as living it.

For the next 24 days my gift to you is a daily guide to slowing down and savoring the season. Even if you don’t celebrate this liturgical season, I hope you will find something of use to make your day a little brighter and your mind and heart a little calmer. Consider this your on-line Advent Calendar; instead of chocolate or a trinket you’ll find a saying, a scripture, and a few thoughts on savoring fully this special season.

Blessings…from my heart to yours.

Sharron

“How Can I Help?”

He even poses for pictures without a fuss!

“How can I help?” Today I am thankful for these four simple words that mean so very much, and I’m even more thankful for the one who speaks them to me.  You see, these four words comprise a question my wonderful spouse asks at least once a day, and I have come to treasure them as a reflection of his love and care for me and our family.

He’ll walk in the kitchen door and see me preparing dinner, set down whatever he’s carrying, and immediately ask “How can I help?” No task is too great or menial. I’m a terrible chopper; my lefthandedness and clumsy fine motor skills never have been helpful when it comes to chopping vegetables. Mr. Husband can chop as well or better than any food channel chef. He’ll set the table if asked or make a salad. In fact, he’ll frequently make an entire meal; we are true partners in the kitchen just as in other aspects of our marriage.

Mr. Husband doesn’t limit this question to meal prep and clean-up either. He is incredibly handy and able to fix almost anything. Broken faucet? No problem. Leaky shower? No big deal. Need an oil change? Done! His acts of service know no limit, and I’m convinced he can make just about anything work again.

If I’ve had a bad day or am worried or dealing with excess stress he’ll simply ask “How can I help?” Help might be a back rub, a listening ear, or a cup of tea. He’s also really good at inciting some awesome belly laughs. He’s also patient, kind, and calm.

So today I am grateful for my spouse, and for his servant heart, gentle spirit, and true partnership. Thank you, Mr. Husband, for your love, your friendship, and your partnership. You’re the best!

How often do you ask “How can I help?” Who has been of great help to you? Who can you thank today?

Photo by Linda Fleagle. Thanks!

Thanksgiving with the Girls

This blog began last November as a way to increase gratitude and turn everyday life into a lifetime of thanks-living. I wanted to learn to live more gratefully, fully, and simply and encourage others to do likewise. The journey has been one both of learning and celebration. We may have a national holiday here in the USA called “Thanksgiving,” but living with gratitude and thanks all the time sure does trump a single day’s remembrance.

But since it is “Thanksgiving Day,” and since I have so much in my life for which to be thankful, I don’t want to neglect the chance to be especially grateful right now in this present moment.

For the first time in many years my mother and both of my daughters were gathered with me around the table. Our dear friend Debbie joined us, too. I was able to cook up a traditional family feast without massacring the turkey or ending up with lumps in the gravy. It was a good time; however, it came at a price.

My mom took a lot of risks to fly up here. Her health has been tenuous for a while now, but thanks to the good folks at Delta Airlines and her friend, Greg, she braved the journey. It has been wonderful to have her here, and she even made us one of her awesome pecan pies for dinner.

My wonderful husband also paid a price. It is his tradition to travel to New England to be with his family at Thanksgiving. Pastors have a tough time getting away at Christmas, so if you want to spend a holiday with family Thanksgiving is the window of opportunity. Because my oldest daughter had surgery and could not travel, Mr. Wonderful Husband suggested I stay home with her and have a holiday with the girls. When I mentioned flying my mother up, he was completely supportive because he realizes how precious time with family is and how seldom I am able to see my mother (who lives in Tennessee) and have both daughters home, too. I am grateful that his family understands why I stayed home this year.

So the day has been joyous. It has been fun. It has been a bit bittersweet, too. Gathering around a table spread with all the good foods that have been a part of my (and my daughters’) childhood, with my mother seated next to me, with prayer, laughter, and much joy has been better than any Hallmark sentimental moment.

I am thankful for family. I am thankful for traditions that bind us together. And, I am thankful that on occasions tradition can be broken or altered through acts of love and caring that are truly gifts of the heart. Thank you to my family–all of you–for the gift of this Thanksgiving Day.

What about today meant something really special to you? To whom do you need to say a special word of thanks?

And as my Thanksgiving gift to you, here’s my recipe for Tipsy Taters (a decadently delicious take on candied sweet potatoes)

Tipsy Taters

You will need–

Enough cooked and sweetened yams for the number of folks you want to feed (or a large can or two of yams)

1 egg

brown sugar to taste (I use about 1/4 cup with sweetened canned yams or more for fresh)

spices to taste (I use cinnamon, ground cloves, and nutmeg)

somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 cup Kahlua or other good coffee liquor

2 to 4 tablespoons melted butter (margarine won’t cut it–don’t even try)

Mash and mix these ingredients and place in a greased casserole dish.

For Topping (get ready to sin and sin boldly)–

Mix together brown sugar, sweetened flaked coconut, and chopped pecans using enough to liberally cover the contents of the dish. Melt 1/2 cup butter (again, no margarine please) and Kahlua to taste. Pour melted butter and Kahlua over sugar/coconut/pecan mixture and stir until you have a lumpy but not overly moist mixture that can be sprinkled liberally over the yam mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes (topping should be bubbly and browned but not baked to a crackly crisp). Enjoy!

The Gift of Doris

(This is a guest post by friend, author, and fellow Compactor, Julia Park Tracey. Be sure to check out the website for the book. Enjoy!)

For the past year I have been sharing snippets and excerpts from the “Doris Diaries,” a collection of diaries from the 1920s through 1940s that I inherited from my Aunt Doris. The first volume of these has just been published as I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen (1925-1926). It has been an unexpected pleasure to spend time in the presence of someone I miss very much, and whose presence in my life was akin to a fairy godmother.

When my great aunt Doris, who passed away in 2011, was beginning to fail, starting to lose some steam in that last of her 101 years, she asked me to take care of her private things, not to leave her frillies and her secrets open to just anyone.

At that time I did not know that Doris had kept journals all her life. I did not know that she had held onto her teenage scribbling – those that embarrass us so much later in life. After she passed, my mother gave me a box of letters and diaries, and I was shocked and thrilled to find this fresh voice, this impish artistic soul, in pen and ink. For all the years I knew Doris – since 1963, if you must know the numbers – I never knew she wanted to be a writer, and never heard this voice. And this voice is lovely and amazing.

When I first started to read her words from 1925, I couldn’t keep from laughing. What a dry wit! I couldn’t keep from swooning with her over the handsome boys and flirtations and moonlit rides in a roadster. Such stories she tells, so casually elegant, so refreshingly blunt. So Doris!

I’ve been asked if I’m telling her secrets and how she would feel about that. I feel confident that Doris, knowing I’m a writer of 30-plus years in publishing and journalism, would not have directed in her will to give this box of her life to me in particular, if she hadn’t wanted to share her story. And the Doris I knew wanted to tell her story; she published her memoirs in 2006, when she was 96. To quote the 16-year-old Doris of 1926, “I love to cause a sensation!”

For me, the gift has been getting to know someone I had already known for 50 years – again, and better, and deeper. And though I miss her, it’s different, and not the sense of absence and loss that usually accompanies a loved one’s passing. I realize how rare and special this is. And I’m grateful, every day.

Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning blogger, journalist and editor. Her book, I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen (1925-1926) is available at your local bookstore or through Amazon. Follow Doris’s ongoing diary adventures on Facebook and Twitter at The Doris Diaries, or www.thedorisdiaries.com.

Photos courtesy Julia Park Tracey. Thanks!

Nota Bene: Today is the last day to leave a comment on the blog or on my Facebook page in order to be entered in the drawing for your own copy of I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen (1925-1926). Don’t miss this opportunity!

Thankful I’ll be Home on Black Friday

Disclaimer: I begrudge no one the experience of shopping on Black Friday. If that’s your thing or your holiday tradition, go for it. To each his or her own.

I, however, won’t be engaging in any retail recreation or therapy on the day after Thanksgiving for several reasons that range from ethics and justice to simplicity and supporting local businesses. I’m thankful to be able to opt out of the consumer hamster wheel and choose a different way to spend the day. Here are my reasons.

1. Because we keep Christmas giving simple, there is no need to rush out and save a few cents (which is generally what it amounts to once the value of my time and fossil fuel is figured in). I don’t take pleasure in shopping, so there is particular incentive to hold this day sacrosanct for consumer activities. I would much rather stay home and read, write, play games, or watch a movie.

2. I find myself resenting the retail world’s ever-increasing competition to be the first, the earliest, and the most sensational. You can now shop Black Friday deals before the day even officially arrives. I find it equally annoying that the Halloween candy was competing for space with Christmas decorations before the little witches and goblins had a chance to don their costumes.

3. It’s pretty tough to balance giving thanks for abundant blessings one day and then obsessing over wants before the sun rises on a new morning. Whatever happened to being content? Or even simply letting your food settle before thinking about what to consume next? We in North America are incredibly blessed. Why not savor those blessings a little longer?

4. When I do shop, I prefer to do so locally, supporting independent businesses whenever possible. I also like to give gifts that are consumable, practical, or revolve around time and experiences. We make our own jellies and other canned goods to give. Other good options are handmade soaps, candles, plants, and wearable art. Best of all are gifts of time: concert passes, a certificate for dinner and a movie, or a coffee shop gift certificate. My favorite gift last year was a $5 stainless steel serving spoon. Hey, it gets used almost every day, and I get to tell the gifter repeatedly how much I like it!

5. Finally, I’m just stubborn enough and of an un-consumer mindset to resent being told what’s a great deal and what I simply can’t live without. Now that we don’t have television we get to opt out of a lot of the warm, snuggly holiday advertisements. Bah! Humbug! (Note: I direct that last Dickens-esque comment only to the commercial consumption machine and its minions–not to any holiday celebration.)

So, what alternatives exist to falling into the Black Friday black hole?

1. Just don’t do it. Plan a day of leftovers, lounging, sports, hunting, or hiking (if the weather allows). Spend time with family and friends. Give your children or grandchildren an entire day of your time. Take a little time to write letters, Skype, or phone the ones you love who live far from home.

2. Gather a group of friends and family members for a crafting day, bake-a-thon, or craft gift exchange. Make gifts together or barter and exchange for handmade gifts to give. You’ll have a blast, save money, and support one another’s artistic endeavors.

3. Declare a do-nothing pampering day. Take a long bubble bath. Eat fair-trade organic chocolate. Drink good fair trade coffee or tea. Stay in your pajamas all day long. Read that book you’ve been putting off. Give your spouse or significant other a massage. Do whatever brings you bliss. Remember that self-care is important, too. Hey, at least you won’t risk being mowed down in the quest for a limited edition Furby or the latest i-whatever!

4. Give of yourself. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. Host a coat, glove, and hat drive. Collect non-perishables for the local food bank. Be creative and some way to give to others rather than to consume.

If you must shop on this most unholy of retail days, consider these alternatives:

4. Hit up the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or consignment shops. See what perfectly wonderful treasures you might find for friends and family who support your un-consumer predilections and who find joy in preventing new additions to the consumer stream.

5. Shop locally. Go to your local farmer’s market, boutiques, or art galleries and support your local economy. Pay particular attention to selecting fairly traded, sustainable, and locally made items. Buy consumables if possible. Refuse to set foot in any big box or chain store for at least this one day.

6. If you simply must shop the major consumer retailers, consider carefully planning only what you need to purchase and make those purchases online. My super-bargainista friend Melissa tells me you can get almost anything at Black Friday prices that way. She would know because she is amazing at finding excellent deals. A major part of the reason she shops like this is to give to those in need and support local charities.

Finally, remember that there are very few real bargains. Somebody pays somewhere along the consumer chain. It may be that underpaid factory worker in China, or it may be the planet from the fossil fuel emissions expended to tote said “bargain” halfway around the world. It may be the big box store employee who gets just enough hours to prevent him or her from qualifying for benefits, or it may be you who supports government subsidies for these workers through your taxes. It might even be the person who receives the gift and finds out that corners were cut in the quality of the item to accommodate the supposed bargain price.

When you must consume, do your best to consumer justly, minimally, wisely, and thoughtfully. Make your precious resources count as best you can. Waste not, want not, and love your neighbor as yourself.

What ideas do you have for countering the Black Friday consumption monster?

Photos by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, KayOne73. glindsay65, bradley j, and Breibeest. Thanks!

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