Daring to be Ridiculous

Root 174

Down time can sometimes be hard to find. When everyone in the house is self-employed and it means you don’t get paid if you don’t get the products out, taking time off can be hard to justify. It’s nice because you get to spend time doing the thing that you love to do, but there can be a lot of pressure to be productive, and taking time off is seldom the hallmark of productivity.

But when you’ve worked weeks straight without a day off, it’s time to rest. So Rich and I decided to take Saturday as an opportunity to go visit the Carnegie museums in Pittsburgh and to find a new restaurant. The first part was easy, but for us, picking a restaurant is a tough thing. We like to choose local restaurants rather than chains. And we like to choose something new.

Our search this time led us to a newer restaurant in the Burgh. It was listed as one of the best eateries there, and when we checked out the chef’s Instagram feed, we were impressed by the creativity that seemed to be on display.

We decided that we wanted the full experience, so we gave up control and ordered the five-course tasting menu, which basically meant that the chef was in charge of our meal. If we didn’t want fried duck testicles, too bad, that might be brought out to us.

We were thrilled with the first course of a caesar salad and salmon tartare, and when our server asked us how we were enjoying everything, Rich told him that it was sort of ridiculous how good it was. The waiter laughed and replied, “If it isn’t sort of ridiculous, we don’t want to have anything to do with it.”

A few minutes later, he brought out our next course, which included a dish that will probably stay in my mind forever. It was pork belly, with a strawberry and apple compote. And savory rice crispy treat and barbecued pop rocks in addition to a bunch of sweet and savory sauces, most of which I can’t remember. I don’t know if I’ve ever described food as joyful before, but that dish was perhaps one of the most joyful things I’ve ever eaten.

Sweet and salty together are a fairly standard combination. They play off one another and create a more interesting flavor. We know that from every time we’ve eaten a chocolate covered pretzel or salted caramel. It works because it tastes good.

But this chef went beyond “it tastes good” and looked for something more. Something interesting like a savory rice crispy treat. Something unheard of like freaking bbq pop rocks.

We ate entirely too much food that night, and all of it was delicious, but days later, I keep coming back to that one appetizer. I’m not a food reviewer. I’m not really even a foodie. There are probably complicated, chemical reasons why this particular dish stood out for me.

All I can tell you is that it resonated with me because it was fun. It didn’t take itself seriously.

It dared to be ridiculous.

 

Photo Credit: Keith Fuller

Unpacking

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Inside your closet

Over the years, The Incredibles has become one of my favorite Pixar movies. I love the way the family relates to one another and the ways that their super-powers speak to the people they are in their regular life.

But there is one scene early in the movie that is just completely unbelievable to me. Helen is on the phone with her husband Jack and she declares that they are officially moved in because she has unpacked the last box.

Maybe I just have altogether too much junk, but I don’t know if I’ve ever unpacked every box in a house, ever. There’s always some box of memorabilia that sits in a closet or in the basement that I swear I’ll get on a shelf at some point, but that never quite happens. No one really wants to see my seventh grade scrapbook or programs from my college recitals, so they stay packed away. Things I can’t quite stand to throw out, but that I don’t necessarily want on display.

Even with regular unpacking, it can still take a long time. We’ve been in our new place nearly a month and there are still boxes that need to be looked over and their contents put into their correct spots.

Sometimes the boxes stay packed because what’s in them is painful to look at. I have a box of maternity clothes that I need to sort through so I can put them up on freecycle while it’s still summer, but going through them is a struggle. There’s a small box that contains some towels and blankets that a friend made for Elliott when I was just starting to tell people about the pregnancy and while I don’t need them, I can’t bear to give them away. There is a box of old makeup that was my mom’s – items I’ll almost certainly never use, but that help me when it’s harder to remember her before the illness.

With all of the stress of last month, Rich and I have found that we have brought some other difficult things with us to our new house. We find ourselves sometimes reacting not to one another, but to the memories that we have brought with us of past hurts. We know that our marriage is not exactly the same as our previous marriages, but sometimes when there are similarities (and it’s a marriage, so of course there are similarities), it can be easy to fall back on old responses. The painful emotions that we thought we had neatly packed away become harder to contain and they crowd out productive, healthy responses to grief and stress.

Unlike the items in our closet, we can’t simply let this baggage sit. We have both been through the part of our lives where we ignore our negative feelings and pretend that they don’t exist or at least aren’t as bad as they are, and we don’t want to see that eat away at this marriage.

This is a job we have to do together. Certainly we both have our own issues that we need to deal with, but we need to talk about them as a couple. My tendency is to want to unpack things myself. I know a good bit about Rich’s past and it can be easy to look at things that are wrong and assume that I already know what is bothering him and how to fix it. And while I may know general details about those things, by myself, I am seldom going to get everything right, and I end up worrying about things that aren’t a problem and missing things that are.

So we sit together on the porch swing and talk. We hold one another’s hands, we lean on each other, we cry on each other. It hurts more than it’s supposed to, but then again, maybe not. Maybe when people grow together there is a pain that is missing when they grow apart. 

We are complex people and I doubt we will ever unpack everything from our former lives, or even from the life that we have made together so far. When we do unpack, sometimes it will bring tears. But as we do, we are bound closer together, and the joy found in that is worth all of the pain.

 

Photo by Matthew Ragan

Reluctant Jam

Shawn Smucker inspires and challenges my thoughts about writing all the time. There are a handful of people who have had a direct influence on how I write and Shawn is among them. I am honored to have to opportunity to post over at his site today about my recent failed jam experiment (and some other failures).

The tools and ingredients were laid out on my counter. Gram’s potato masher, our biggest stock pot, sugar, pectin, and loads of fresh blueberries. We had picked 22 pounds of blueberries the night before and I couldn’t make and eat enough cobblers or pies or cakes to use all of those berries. And while I don’t consider myself a particularly good cook, jam isn’t terribly complicated to make, and I’ve made it before with some success, so I thought that would be the best way to use a portion of our harvest.

I carefully mashed, measured, boiled, and added the ingredients together. I watched the mashed berries morph from an unappetizing brownish goo into a beautiful dark indigo sauce. It smelled amazing, but as I added the pectin and sugar, it didn’t seem to thicken. I ladled it into the jars that I had prepared and hoped that it would begin to congeal as it cooled, but a few hours later, it still looked far too runny to be considered jam.

Read the rest at Shawn’s site. And be sure to read around and subscribe. That man can write.

Stuff I’ve Been Reading #7

Happy weekend, friends! Here’s a list of some of my favorite things out on the internet this week. Enjoy!

  • I loved this post about living in sin from my friend Grace. As one who has been there (is still there, at least according to some), I thought she pretty much nailed it.
  • Joy Bennett wrote a fantastic piece about independence and how that uniquely American view of God is hurting the way that we relate to one another.
  • Along those lines, Matthew Paul Turner has written a book that releases in just one month about how God became an American. I can’t wait to read it, but while I wait, his publisher has released the first chapter so we can get a taste.
  • This weekend, Andi Cumbo-Floyd is hosting her first writer’s retreat at her farm. I wish I could be there, but in the meantime, I thoroughly enjoyed this post she wrote about simple things.
  • Benjamin Corey wrote about 5 ways we can all be better Christians. I think this list is pretty spot on.
  • Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite story-tellers, and one of my favorite novels that he’s written (11/22/63) is available on Kindle for only $2.99 right now. I’m often torn between this and The Stand as his best work, but since this is the one I’ve read most recently, I’ll say this is. Regardless, if you’re looking for a good summer read, make it this one.
  • I haven’t been this excited about a Weird Al album since back in the Michael Jackson days, but Mandatory Fun is absolutely phenomenal. He’s been releases a new video every day for 8 days (all on different video sites, which is crazy clever), but my favorite one has definitely been his parody of Blurred Lines, Word Crimes.

 

What have you been reading/writing/watching/listening to that moved you? Link it up in the comments!

Casting Cares and Laying Down Burdens

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burden

I was sitting on an old towel covering up the sticks and leaves of the woods seminar at Creation ’88. The mosquitos were out in full force as we took shelter from the late June sun under the trees. The speaker was telling a story about how he and his dad went bar hopping and spent the night getting wasted together, and how that moment with his mostly absentee father was one of the best representations that he had of God. Someone who was with him even in the dirtiest, most disgusting places. Someone with whom he could be his most honest, disgusting, true self. We didn’t say “authentic” much back in 1988, but that was what he was talking about.

And though I was not quite in high school and my history was pretty blameless at that point, I remember thinking that was a God I could get on board with. Someone who loved me completely, without judgment. Someone who would not simply accept my failings, but would walk through them with me. My church upbringing left me pretty sure that God existed, but it wasn’t much of a touchy-feely church, so the parental aspect of God had never been talked about. Love was a very abstract thing. But this wasn’t abstract – this was a God who was WITH me. This was Emmanuel.

I had never done an alter call before, but that June afternoon, I had no choice. I had to know that God.

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This morning as I was driving kids to summer school and band practice, I was listening to Crowder’s song Come As You Are. The chorus is as follows:

Lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
O wanderer, come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart
Come as you are

I think this is a beautiful sentiment, but I don’t know if we ever really talk about how to do that. What does it look like to lay down your burdens when they feel like they are attached to you? How exactly do you lay down hurt when it’s so entangled in your everyday life?

More importantly to me, even after we get past the how’s, is where? Where do I go when I finally figure out how to lay down the troubles of the world? The Bible says “Cast all of your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” People say “give it to God” but what does that meanIf my pain is invisible and God is invisible, where exactly does this transaction take place?

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I’m on the phone with someone who, yet again, has disappointed me by not behaving in a way that I think is appropriate. I tell her that until her actions are different, I can no longer have her in my life. I don’t want to talk to her or hear about her anymore. I cut off contact for nearly a year because I believe that while maybe God doesn’t demand that I leave her to her own destruction, it’s certainly allowed.

God has certain standards and when someone doesn’t live up to those standards (as determined by me, in this case), I no longer was obligated to have anything to do with that person. I may have had biblical support for this shunning, and I certainly used that in my arguments, but the truth is, I just didn’t want to deal with her perceived failings anymore. This was just a little bit too dirty for me. God could walk with them, but me? I was going to bow out of this one for a while.

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Every single Christmas, my parents would wait until my sisters and I were in bed to put presents under the tree. And every Christmas morning at intensely unreasonable hours, my sisters and I would gather in one of the bedrooms. My middle sister would sneak downstairs to look at the gifts and then report back to us. Even as we went to college and were far too old to continue this tradition, we still did. Christmas morning meant the three of us bouncing around in a bed, trying not to be too loud before the approved time when we could all go downstairs together to celebrate together.

I’m not sure if it was the bed that was too old or us, but one Christmas morning after the spy returned, one of the boards that held the mattress on the bed we had all piled onto broke. We all screamed a little and then laughed, but it could no longer support the three of us. We had to move to another bedroom to await the morning’s festivities.

Even though that happened, I don’t fear collapsing into bed at the end of a long day. I don’t gingerly lower myself into bed, I flop. And I do it without really thinking about whether or not it can hold me. I trust that the bed will do the job that it does every night and hold me.

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When I start thinking about casting my cares or laying down my burdens, the most tangible place to do that seems to be the Church. We meet each week with others who are struggling, who are hurting, who are in pain. Surely if there is a place where we can be our most real, honest, authentic selves, it would be in the midst of our Christian brothers and sisters?

I have heard it said that we can’t trust people because they will let us down, so we should only trust in God because he will never let us down. But if I can trust that a bed will hold me even though one collapsed on me once, I don’t think that trust in the Church would be so shaky if there were only a handful of times when the people failed to hold up one another in their desperation. Unfortunately, the Church as an institution and Christians as individuals have failed over and over to be a support to those most in need. We use discipline not as a way to bring people closer, but as a way to shut them out.

If I’m to lay down my burdens, I have to know that the place that I lay them down will be strong enough to hold them. When the Church behaves as I did, using God to justify my own prejudices and hatred and fears, it becomes yet another burden to carry.

What drew me to God in that bug infested clearing in 1988 was the thought that I could be completely myself and know that I was loved, and that unconditional love was what made me want to share love with those in my life. It wasn’t fear of God that led me to repentance, but rather the kindness of God. We cast our cares on God not because we are afraid of him, but because we know that he cares for us.

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There is a line in the song that says, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.” I don’t know if Heaven is a real place, but I know that right now, we can offer healing to those who are experiencing sorrow. We can offer hope to those who are going through despair. We can offer respite to those who are burdened.

We can bring Heaven to Earth through our kindness to one another. We can be a place where people can cast cares by being people who care.

Photo by Tetsumo

While I Wait

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blueberries

Blueberry season is finally upon us here in West Virginia. Last week I made it out to a local farm’s blueberry patch on their opening day. I’ve gone berry picking almost every summer of my life, but I believe this was the first time I’ve ever been out on an opening day, and it was glorious. The bushes were heavy with blueberries, and in no time at all, I was able to pick two buckets full of the most plump, sweet berries you could imagine.

When I was finishing up the first bucket, I thought that this might have been the first time I could have possibly out-paced Gram at picking. Then I smiled, because that was based on nothing but wishful thinking. Gram was the one who first took me blueberry picking when I was just a little girl and never once had I picked more berries than her, even when I joined her as an adult. Maybe she was more patient, staying at one bush while I wandered around from place to place, looking for the best berries. Maybe she daydreamed less while I would think about this boy that I liked or that story I was going to write. Maybe she just didn’t eat as many berries as I did (and still do!) when out in the patch.

This has been a year of one loss after another. Mom, Gram, Elliott. Sometimes I can’t even tell who I’m grieving. Out among the berries, I naturally thought about Gram, because this was the place where I felt the most connected to her. But I missed Mom as well. The first time I made blueberry jam, I was on the phone with her constantly because I knew that she had done it before and I wanted her long-distance reassurance that I wasn’t screwing it up. And I missed Elliott, thinking about how I had been looking forward to taking him into the fields with me and his brothers and sisters, passing on this tradition of putting our hands on the food we would later enjoy.

There is often talk of waiting when people speak of the dead. Of how we’re waiting to see our loved ones again. Of how they’re waiting to greet us in Heaven.

I’m not sure what I think about the afterlife. I have a lot of questions about what I’ve been taught about heaven and hell, and as a result, I don’t find a lot of comfort in talk about what people who have died are doing now that they’re no longer with us. My uncertainty makes me uneasy. I believe that there is something more than this life, but the not knowing makes it difficult for me to dwell on it.

It means that I don’t find comfort in waiting.

But regardless of what I believe or not, there is a kind of waiting that happens when some are gone and some remain. Almost daily I am reminded of the separation that has happened, and in that moment, I am waiting. Sometimes with expectation, often without, but I am forced into the position of waiting.

It is inescapable.

Blueberry season is short – just a few weeks. Soon I will be waiting for next July. But while the blueberries are in season, I will enjoy them. I will make every recipe I can find or just eat a handful right from the bush. I will appreciate their beauty and savor their flavor. I will fully experience this season.

Our time here is short as well. Whether it’s the few months that my son had or the 80-plus years that my grandmother had, we are only here for a moment.

So while I wait, I will cherish memories of those I’ve lost, and I will make memories with those who are here. I will take my children to pick blueberries and tell them stories about my childhood and things that I remember about my grandmother. I will make blueberry jam and give some away to people at work and tell them about my mom’s writing about the raspberries that she grew in her back yard. I will bake a blueberry cake with Rich and we will remember how he could calm Elliott with his voice when our son was inside me.

I will wait, but while I wait, I will fully live.

Stuff I’ve Been Reading #6

So it’s been forever since I’ve done one of these, but I’ve read some good pieces lately, and I wanted to share them. I hope you’re having a lovely Sunday and that these piece inspire some interesting conversations.

    • This piece by Darlena Cunha at the Washington Post about driving her Mercedes to pick up food stamps was one of the most powerful things that I read this week. It’s easy to think we know by looking what “poor” means, and this post challenges that.
    • As always, I loved this bit of poetry by John Blase about where salvation is found.
    • David Henson is giving a homily this morning about the parable of the sower, and when I read what he would be saying, it changed my view of this passage of Scripture. I absolutely loved this.
    • Ed Cyzewski wrote an important post about the wave of child immigrants that are coming into America, asking us, “Who is our neighbor?”
    • My friend Jennifer Luitwieler wrote a fantastic piece about choice and women’s rights. Love that lady.
    • I got all weepy watching the newest video from Colbie Caillat. Such a good reminder for all of us (not just women) that we are more than our appearance. (This John Legend video is pretty fantastic, too. Plus, Laverne Cox!)

What have you been reading/writing/watching/listening to that moved you this week? Link it up in the comments!

Dear Leo – Here is the World

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Buechner quoteDear Leo,

Welcome to the world, little one! Or as Frederick Buechner so brilliantly stated, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

Sweet child, all of this is true. There is so much beauty in the world. There are the instagrammable moments of beauty, like sunsets and spiderwebs catching morning dew and huge puffy clouds that look like your favorite stuffed animal. There are green hillsides that prepare for their winter slumber by donning the most spectacular bedclothes of yellow and orange and red. There is the smell of freshly cut grass and sassafras trees and your favorite meal cooking on the stove. There are miles of highway stretched out in front of you, taking you to friends and family you haven’t embraced in far too long.

Some beauty is harder to capture on an iPhone. That’s because it’s often the kind of beauty that can only be experienced when the terrible things happen. It’s the beauty of humanity.

Don’t get me wrong, dear boy. Humanity can be ugly. We war against one another – sometimes with guns, sometimes with words, and sometimes simply by turning our backs. We allow our differences to fuel violence. We embrace ignorance rather than understanding.

But those terrible moments often allow us to see the goodness of humanity. When one chooses to be a villain, others will choose to be heroes. When some choose to wound, others will choose to heal. When some choose hatred and violence, others will choose love and peace.

Sometimes we don’t know the role that we will play. I think this is where fear plays in. What if I make this choice and it’s the wrong one? What if I cause the terrible rather than the beautiful?

Child, sometimes you will make that wrong choice. You will be the instrument of pain, or your choice, even if it is good in itself, can lead to pain. We cannot escape it, so don’t try.

Because when you choose to live a risky life, you will see more. More of the terrible, yes, but so much more of the beautiful. You will have the opportunity to experience generosity, and kindness, and laughter. You will see that light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Welcome, welcome, welcome, Leo. Make the world beautiful.

 

(My friends Maile & Shawn Smucker gave birth to their fifth child last night. Right around when he was born, Shawn messaged me to let me know that he & Maile were praying for us and that he felt that there would always be a link between Leo & Elliott. It reminded me of the Buechner quote and how in the midst of the terrible, there is still beauty, and that is a reason not to fear. These are words that I would have wanted Elliott to know, so today I’m sharing them with Leo.)

What Turning 40 Means To Me

40

Tomorrow I turn 40. I was born at 1:03am, so I’ll be 40 as soon as I wake up.

We’re right in the middle of a move, so the birthday stuff has kind of been on the back burner. Don’t even get me started on how brutal it is to find a place when your husband is a luthier so you have really specific housing needs and trying to fill those needs while you’re basically immobile for the first half of the month because preeclampsia isn’t something that just disappears the second you cease being pregnant or being so depressed that you can’t really get up the energy to think about finding a house, let alone actually doing the move. Let me just say that this is among the hardest moves I’ve ever done.

But despite all of the insanity that has happened this month, tomorrow is the big day. One of those milestone birthdays that ends with a zero, meaning I’m starting a whole new decade of my life.

In the waning hours of my 39th year, I feel like I should have some Big, Important Thoughts about what it means to turn forty. After all, that’s one of those ages where I should know things. I should be old enough to have some sage advice to dispense.

I guess I do know what turning forty means to me.

Not very much.

Here’s the deal. The things in our lives that really change us are seldom going to happen at times when we expect them. Turning forty is unlikely to change me. I’m still waking up today to go teach piano lessons. I’m going to spend the afternoon with Rich and my kids. We’ll get some kind of take-out because we’re living between two houses, so that’s easier than cooking. All of the people who are good singers will probably sing purposefully out of tune. We’ll play a game of cards, go to bed, wake up and it won’t be my birthday anymore.

Life altering stuff happens much more unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s really big and immediate, like Elliott’s death. Sometimes it’s much more gradual, like the realization that I love cooking with Rich. We can’t look at our calendars and say, “This is the day that I’m going to fall in love!” or “This is the day that my dad will die!” or “This is the day I’m going to write a blog post that goes viral!”

Good or bad, most of the events that shape our lives tend to sneak up on us without our knowledge. They catch us unaware and make us different. Sometimes, even things that we have planned can catch us off guard. Either they don’t go the way they were supposed to, or they don’t have the outcome that we expected.

So yes, I’ll celebrate. I will be with people who I love and who love me. And maybe something spectacularly life-altering will happen.

But it won’t be because I’m forty. It will be because I’m alive. 

 

Photo by Jon Jordan

What To Expect When Your Friends Are Expecting…And You Aren’t

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empty bassinetWhen I was pregnant a decade ago with my first batch of kids, I had lots of friends who were going through the same thing. We experienced pregnancy cravings together, enjoyed one another’s baby showers, shared the good and bad advice that we received, called each other in the wee hours to cry about our crying infants. Having friends who were experiencing the same things was a comfort when I was parenting four kids who were five and under.

But I had one friend who had several miscarriages right around the time I was expecting my last two, one just a few weeks after I gave birth to my youngest daughter. We cried with her during that time, but I’m ashamed to admit that I probably didn’t understand just how hard that was for her and her husband. It’s true that I was wrapped up in parenting two other young kids as well as a newborn, but I also didn’t find time to sit with her in her grief. For that, I am truly sorry. I probably expected there to be more celebration than she was able to give at that time – after all, I was excited about my new baby girl, why wasn’t she more enthusiastic? I didn’t understand the balance that she was trying to maintain, going from excited participant in the birth process to onlooker in the excitement of others.

Over the past months, I’ve been thrilled because several of my online writing friends are expecting new little ones in their families. I have two friends whose wives are expecting in July, one just a few days away from what was my due date. Now, as we near July, two of them are still anticipating the births of their sons and my son is only a memory.

I don’t know how to feel about that.

Part of me just wants to ignore it entirely. I want to block them on Facebook for a while, because I don’t want to see the pictures of their wives here in the final days of their pregnancies, looking absolutely beautiful and joyful. I don’t want to see the pictures of the births. I don’t want to see pictures of their siblings holding a new baby. I don’t want to see these dads kissing the tops of their newborn sons’ heads. It’s not fair, and it hurts to even think about it.

But I can’t ignore it. If I leave my house, I’m going to see someone with a baby. When I’m at work, there are students who have tiny brothers and sisters who wait outside of my room for their siblings to finish their lessons. If we go for a walk, we’re going to see a pregnant mom getting in her laps before she has her baby. People will post pictures of their children online every single day. If we’re driving down the road, we’ll see advertisements for ob/gyn practices that have pictures of adorable infants on them.

Unless I want to live in absolutely seclusion for the rest of my life, there’s no way to avoid that hurt.

And the truth is, I am happy for my friends.

I love that these men and their wives are bringing new life into the world. It makes me smile to think that there will be more love in these households, more stories to be shared, more beauty to be experienced.

Some days I’ll cry – probably most days, at least for a while. Their pictures and stories will remind me of what we lost with Elliott, and I will grieve that. But I will also take time to celebrate with my friends. To admire their sons and daughters. To laugh with them at their children’s adventures. To commiserate with them about long napless days, and longer sleepless nights.

When I need to withdraw, I will. When I need to grieve, I will. When I need to cry, I will.

But then I will celebrate.

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