August 20, 2016

Stairs December 2015

Stairs December 2015

Once the cork floor was done on the main level, Ken got itching to get the stairs done. This is the kind of project he loves, with a lot of fine detailed work. And I am so excited that they are finally done and they look fabulous.

Finishing the stairs was quite the project – treads, risers, under stair storage and railing. It took over a month to complete.






Nosing Glued and Screwed

Nosing Glued and Screwed

Ken constructed the noses on the stair from bamboo by routering a rounded edge on it. The backs and sides of the stairs were also done in bamboo.


Cork on Treads

Cork on Treads

Jul 24 2016_treads done2We had some leftover cork tiles from the floor project and decided to incorporate them into the stairs. We have two cork patterns, one in the bedrooms and another in the living room, but not enough of one or the other to do the stairs. So we decided to use both, alternating the treads. I really like the outcome.

stairs backs in bamboo

stairs backs in bamboo

View from upstairs

View from upstairs









storage compartments framed

storage compartments framed

The space under the stairs has 3 storage sections. The small triangular area at the foot of the stairs is a little cubby to store the vacuum cleaner. It has a electrical outlet inside so the vacuum can be kept plugged in. I use the vacuum to clean off my dust mop so this is really handy.

The middle storage unit is composed of a triangular cubby and 3 drawers. I plan on using these to store my good dishes (using the sunroom as a dining room).

The big area is a alcove for Ken’s old juke box. We have had it for around 30 years and for the last 6, its been stored in a garage. Over the years, Ken has accumulated quite a collection of 45s. We recently brought the juke box home from the city, where it has been stored. It needs a little TLC, but if it can be fixed up, it will have a new home. If not, I have a plan for more storage cubbies for that corner. Never enough storage. LOL

In the pictures below, the under stair storage area is complete except for the cupboard doors and drawer fronts.

Aug 2 2016_stairs with cubbiesAug 2 2016_stairs with drawers








Post and rails in.

Post and rails in.

We removed the post at the bottom of the stairs and the railing when the floor was installed, now that is back in. And it is even sanded and finished.

6_drawersThe drawer fronts are done in this photo but not the 2 cupboard doors.




Next job, get the spindles in. A bit tricky but Ken manages to figure it out. It one day to get the first spindle done, but he got steadily faster as he figured out how best to do the job.

Get each spindle sanded was a chore, until he began using the lathe to rough sand them, and a stationary belt sander to finish them up.

7_Measuring spindlesThe spindles are tenon cut, same as the spindles for the bannister upstairs. The bottom and top spindles were fitted by placing it in the hole cut on the bottom rail and eyeballing it to the hole in the top spindle. For the spindles in the middle, the rails had enough give for him to actually put them in the top and bottom holes. Each spindle was numbered as each is specially made for each space.

Once he had all 24 spindles cut to size, he varathaned them all and we were ready to install them.

Unfortunately, I was no help in this process. I took a really bad tumble off my bike when we were out giving Hanna a run. Luckily, nothing broken but a really bad groin pull has put me out of action. Thanks to Sheryl and Rick who helped Ken out in the final install.

Sheryl sorting out spindles by number

Sheryl sorting out spindles by number

Fitting the top spindles in

Fitting the top spindles in

While Rick kept the top rail in place at the bottom pot, Ken and Sheryl fitted the top spindles in place.  Ken made minor adjustments for length as we went .


All spindles in but adjusting needed to make each snug.

All spindles in but adjusting needed to make each snug.

Since we knew the middle spindles were the correct length, we opted to install the top and bottom spindles, trusting that we could fit the middle ones in later, same as Ken had done while he was making them. All went well until we discovered that some top and bottom spindles were too long, pushing the rails apart and making the middle spindles too short. After a bit of adjusting, we got them all in. The next day, Ken fined tuned them by filing down the too tight, over long spindles until all the spindles fit well. In hind sight, we should have continued installing the spindles top to bottom and seeing if the top  rail stayed in the right place or was pushed up. That way we could have adjusted better as we went along.


It was a bit tricky, but finally the stairs are complete. A real work of art.  The final two doors need to be made for the under-stair storage, but that will wait until later.

5_Aug 20 2016_complete


Next job – the living room. Ken has been working on it while doing the stairs, so hopefully it won’t be too much longer to get completed.

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Odd Jobs

July 23, 2016

While the cork floor was being installed and cured, we had to avoid working in the house. It was an unexpected bonus, giving us time to complete some odd jobs around the place.

View from the cabin deck

View from the cabin deck

I moved my kitchen essentials out and into the cabin where I did all the meals while the floors were being done. It was a great flashback in time. We spent so much time at the cabin before the house was started, sitting on the deck and enjoying the lake view.  The Ponderosa was my Mom’s favorite property and she loved to come and sit on the deck. However, its been years since we have used the cabin much. It was wonderful to cook on my mother’s old stove again, although my Kitchen Queen is a much superior stove.

peony bed

As a bonus, the lilies (from my mother’s garden) were in full bloom and it was a blessing to enjoy them everyday. The cabin area was designed as an oasis from construction. Out of the way of the house, on the north side of the garage and shop, you could escape from the chaos of construction. However, since we have moved into the house, I seldom hang out at the cabin and forgot how beautiful it is with all my perennial beds.

Challenging my fear of heights

Challenging my fear of heights

We still have not completed the siding on the house and having to stay out of the way while the flooring was going in gave us the perfect opportunity to work on it. We started the south side a couple of years ago and now it’s finally finished. It was not a difficult or big job but it was a challenge to work up so high. Both of us were glad to see it finished.

2b_Jul 22 2016_south side landscaping




2b_Jul 22 2016_south side landscaping


With the siding done, we could also do some landscaping on the south side, which had become a huge thistle patch. My plan for next spring is to plant eggplant and peppers against the house and melons and squash on the slope. I am hoping the melons and squash will spread and cover the area. But for this year, I will be happy just to keep it relatively weed free.

Garden July 15

Garden July 15

Garden July 23

Garden July 23

We also used the time to get the garden weeded. We have been having a whole lot of rain and now that the heat has also arrived, it is growing like crazy. We are enjoying the greens – kale, spinach, lettuce, collard, turnip greens, beet greens and snow peas.

And the raspberries are going nuts – huge and plentiful. Every other day we pick about a gallon for eating fresh and freezing. The Saskatoon berries are also large and plentiful this year. Its been several years since we had a good crop so we are enjoying snacking on them on our daily dog walks and picked a bunch for freezing as well.

4_Jul 22 2016_north sideThe siding on the north side was done last fall; however, not the porch/wood shed. Now that is almost completed. Just the top row to finish. But that has to wait until we get another order in. Somehow we messed up our calculations when we ordered the vinyl siding and we had enough to do only the south, east and north sides. The west side is yet to be started. I am hoping we can get that done in August.

4_Jul 22 2016_north side landscaping


We also took the time to get the weed patch on the north side under control. We decided to keep much of the north side in shale rather than earth. We work a lot in this area stocking the woodshed with wood and want to be able to access it with the tractor. Eventually I may put in some raised beds for strawberries but for now a weed barrier is down and a layer of shale. Further west is still weeds and that will be put into garden beds once the deck is completed on the west side.

5_Jul 22 2016_Hanna and Sox on verandaWe are loving the veranda, on the east side of the house, this time of year. Its lovely and sunny in the morning, and cool and shady in the afternoon and evening. The swing has become our favorite place for breakfast, lunch and supper. Hanna and Sox also like to hang out there in the shade.

I am hoping as the weather gets cooler this fall, we will enjoy the deck on the west side overlooking the lake. But right now, it is just plain to hot there once the sun hits in the afternoon.

It’s just over a week since the cork floor was finished and the final coat of urethane applied. The urethane is now fully cured and we can begin working inside the house again. Ken has started his next project, the stairs, and I am so excited to see this one started. I am hoping he can go from start to finish but we shall see if I can keep his attention centered on one project for long enough to do that.

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Cork Floors

July 14, 2016

Another milestone reached…the flooring on the main level is complete. Oh wow, it is starting to look more and more like a house and less and less like a construction zone.

We decided to do the main level with cork tiles for several reasons.

  1. comfort – cork has a nice give to it making it wonderful to walk and stand on.
  2. warmth – cork is a great insulator and will help make the floors warmer.
  3. water resistant – great for kitchens
  4. durability – a cork floor can last 20 to 30 years.
  5. upkeep – damp mop and wash. Every 5 to 10 years, high traffic areas may need another coat of urethane.

We had the cork professionally installed by Ray’s Cork Flooring and are thrilled with the end result. It took three full days to lay the approximately 1000 square feet of tile (kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms and foyer), and another morning for cleanup and the final coat of urethane. The tiles already had 4 factory coats of urethane on them, so only one final coat was required.

















Living Room








It will take 7 days for the urethane to fully cure, so we are not working in the house until then. Next week we can tackle the final trim on the main floor. We are taking the flooring time as a break from inside construction and getting some of the outside work done. Update to come.

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Baby Astrid Arrives

July 10, 2016

Jul 1 2016_Astrid and Family2


We have a new grandchild! Christopher and Emily’s first child has arrived. Baby Astrid was in no hurry to join the world, and arrived with much fanfare 11 days late.

A is for Astrid

She is the sweetest little thing, born 6 pounds 10 ounces. Such tiny little hands and feet. She has a long lanky frame and a full head of dark hair.

Jun 29 2016_with Emily1


Jul 1 2016_with Baba and Gido


We travelled to BC for her arrival, enjoying a visit with 8 month old Jacob while we waited. And I finally managed to find time to get Astrid’s quilt finished.

Jul 2 2016_with Baba on quilt

Jun 20 2016_Bike timeJun 21 2016_Guitar time2Jacob is now into crawling, standing, playing in cupboards and getting into everything, He’s a busy little beaver and kept us busy and amused.Jul 1 2016_Jacob and Baba

Jun 20 2016_play time with hanna2








Jul 4 2016_through windowHanna came along with us and Jacob was quite fascinated with her and not the least bit afraid.Jun 26 2016_Splash Park_Family2











It was wonderful to meet our newest grandchild and spend time with our first. I love watching my kids with their own little ones – musing a teething baby or soothing a fussy newborn.They have developed a selflessness.  They are doing such an awesome job as parents and I am so proud of them. And I cant wait until they are all out here at the Ponderosa in September.

Enough holidays, time to get cracking and get the house ready for the grandkids. I am super excited about our next project – flooring. At long last, the flooring is being installed on the main floor. The house is all ready and the installer just arrived. Going to be a busy week. Stay tuned for pictures.





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June 12, 2016

You need to develop a different mind set when you live off grid. You think about power usage all the time. Power tools are for sunny days. But regular household items also use power, and sometimes significant amounts. Vacuuming, running the washing machine and using the food processor or mix master are also sunny day activities. I only use the electric kettle in the summer, mid day, if the batteries are floating and lots of power is still coming in. Same goes for the electric skillet. However, a good blender is a must in my kitchen – sun or no sun I would love to have a green smoothie everyday.

We have owned a VitaMix for many years. It is a high power blender and I love it. Or rather loved it. It just bit the dust after 35 years of smoothies and banana ice cream. When researching what to replace it with, we discovered that all the new high powered blenders that have recently appeared to compete with the VitaMix, all use about 1,500 watts of power. Yikes, that is similar to an electric kettle. So when replacing the blender we added another criteria into our decision making – power usage.

35 year old VitaMix and new Waring MBB518 Blender

35 year old VitaMix and new Waring MBB518 Blender

We decided on a Waring MBB518 professional bar blender. It uses 550 watts, but produces a nice smooth finished product. You can get more info on the blenders we considered in my cooking blog post.

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June 10, 2016

Lά maith agat (Gaelic – Have a good day)

Typical Irish Countryside - green grass and sheep

Typical Irish Countryside – green grass and sheep

We just returned from a bus tour of Ireland, with a couple days in Scotland.  It was my first bus tour and it was fantastic. We were blessed with a great group of 36 travelers, who were punctual and considerate of their fellow passengers. Our guide was awesome and the weather was absolutely wonderful. Imagine visiting Ireland in May and having sunshine and no rain.

The tour was arranged by Transat Holidays here in Canada but done by Abbey Ireland. Our main guide, who was also our driver, Matt Rafter, was extremely knowledgeable. He was an endless font of information from agriculture to history and everything Irish in between.  Having the gift of gab, the driving time was very enjoyable as he regaled us with story after story, even singing for us at one point. Aside from Matt, we had a separate guide for the city tours of Dublin, Derry, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Some of the highlights were:

  • Phoenix Park Cross

    Phoenix Park Cross

    Phoenix Park, Dublin – a huge green space in the heart of the city which is home to hundreds of wild free roaming deer. Below is a group photo in front of the cross erected on the green space used for an open air mass by Pope Paul II for 1,250,000 people, one quarter of the population of the island of Ireland, one third of the population of the Republic of Ireland.





  • Johnnie Foxs Pub
    Leprechauns Ken Ken and Larry celebrating 65 years at Johnny Foxes.

    Leprechauns Ken Ken and Larry celebrating 65 years at Johnnie Foxs.

    Johnnie Foxs is one of Irelands most favorite taverns, situated up on the hills surrounding Dublin.  The quaint old style pub is well known for its nightly entertainment. The food was typical Irish fare, including Colcannon Soup, Irish Soda Bread, Lamb Shank, Salmon, moss pudding and Whiskey cake. For us vegans in the group, lunch was Colcannon Soup and the most delicious bean stew. That night we were celebrating the birthdays of two of the travellers, Larry and Ken who both were turning 65 (also my Ken’s  65th birthday earlier this year. The three leprechauns went to school together and have stayed friends since.) Entertainment was a lively Irish band and Irish River Dancers. A fitting introduction to Ireland.

  • Kissing the Blarney Stone. While perfectly safe, it didn't feel like it.

    Kissing the Blarney Stone. While perfectly safe, it didn’t feel like it.

    Blarney Castle – kissing the Blarney stone turned out to be way more difficult and terrifying than I imagined. While the castle and grounds were fantastic, the Blarney Woollen Mills turned out to be a large gift shop located in an old woolen mill.






  • 2016_3_narrow roadsRing of Kerry – the countryside with its stone fences, green rolling hills, plentiful sheep and narrow roadways where a treat.



  • 2016_3_Jaunty car rideJaunting car ride in Killarney Park – the best part being the horse drawn cart driver with his humorous anecdotes and thick Cork accent.






  • 2016_4_Cliffs of Moher_kenCliffs of Moher – The visitors’ area was safe with paved paths and walls but beyond the main area the gravel paths along the cliffs edge are not protected and could be dangerous in inclement weather. However, the view was phenomenal. A must see in my books. Would have been lovely to be dropped off at the visitor center and walk to the next town along the cliffs for lunch.




  • Bunratty Medieval Feast

    Bunratty Medieval Feast

    Bunratty Medieval Feast – Staff dressed in period costumes regaled us with song and humor. The restored castle was something to see. Dinner (soup, ribs, chicken, potatoes and veggies) were to be eaten without forks and spoons, a dagger being your only piece of cutlery. (unless you were a vegan, then you got a fork with your salad and rice). Larry from our group was singled out as a scoundrel and sent to the dungeons. He was able to return to the group by singing for everyone’s entertainment. While it was a fun evening, it did leave me wondering how the Irish peasants were fairing while the English lords and ladies were feasting.

  • 2016_5_Corrib river cruiseBoat cruise on the River Corrib – a relaxing way to view the countryside and enjoy a sunny day in Ireland. It was a balmy 20 degrees and I was dressed in several layers while a local sunbathed on the shores in a swim suit. The locals are a hardy bunch.


  • 2016_5_Galway juiceStreet market in Galway – a lively bustling event that won my heart with its many homemade craft and vegetarian food booths. We enjoyed whole wheat samosas, curry and fresh squeezed carrot juice.





A Passage Tomb in Carrowmore

A Passage Tomb in Carrowmore

  • Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery – A must see. Not your typical cemetery, with over 50 passage tombs dating back to 3700 BC. Located on a hill with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. One of my favorite places.2016_7_Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetary3







  • Beleek Pottery Tour – The tour was exceptional, not just lip service to get you into the gift shop. We got a start to finish walk through of the workhouse seeing in action the painstaking process involved in crafting this high quality pottery.
  • Kylemore Abbey Walled Garden

    Kylemore Abbey Walled Garden

    Kylemore Abbey and Walled Gardens – Built by an English Lord for his ‘beloved wife’, later a monastic community of nuns and now a tourist attraction run by the nuns. The castle and chapel are impressive and the gardens spectacular. We enjoyed the long walk through the woods from the castle to the walled garden and from the castle to the chapel. Reminded me of the Ponderosa – tucked away in the countryside, a beautiful house build for a ‘beloved wife’, lots of wilderness and trees, a small lake and lovely gardens. What’s not to like!

  • Derry City Tour – It was interesting to learn that Northern Ireland’s recent history of unrest had really nothing to do with religion. Rather, those wishing to separate from England and rejoin Ireland Republic where mainly Catholic, while those wishing to remain British were mainly Protestant.  So the division was political. Our tour guide was Charlene, was a delightful young lady from Martin McCrossan’s Derry City Tours. If you are going to Derry, seek her out as she presented a balanced view of the political scene. Her humor and genuine willingness to forget the past and move on for the greater good left me hopeful for peace.


  • Giants Causeway

    Giants Causeway

    Giant’s Causeway – In Bushmills, this is another must see in Ireland. We were grateful for another beautiful day to scamper among these natural volcanic formations, as the going would have been much less enjoyable in the rain. The video in the Visitor’s Center provided a wonderful interpretation of the actual formation as well as its mythical interpretation. This is also another great site to do a hike.


    Mural in Belfast, defaced as a political statement

    Mural in Belfast, defaced as a political statement

  • Belfast’s Peace Wall and Murals – The city is dotted with murals depicting the political unrest of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Sign your name on the Peace Wall. Due to the decades of civil unrest, the culture of the city has changed so that, unlike most other European cities, the inhabitants tend not to walk about in the evening, preferring to do their errands and retreat to the safety of their homes. Though the city is now safe to walk about, once the work day ends, the streets clear out quickly leaving the downtown virtually empty of traffic and people.



2016_9_Titanic Belfast_group

  • 2016_9_Titanic Belfast_buildingTitanic Belfast– Belfast is home to a museum celebrating the building of the Titanic. The Irish are fond of pointing out that the Titanic was a fine Irish ship in perfect condition…..then they gave it to an Englishman to drive. The museum is a new modern building with plenty of interesting interactive exhibits dealing with the building rather than the sinking of the Titanic.
  • Ferry crossing from Belfast to Cairnryan Scotland aboard the Stena Line ferry which more closely resembled a luxury cruise liner than a car ferry.
  • Leaning clock of Glasgow

    Leaning clock of Glasgow

    Glasgow city tour – Glasgow is a city of contrasts, old and new buildings side by side.








  • Group in front of Edinburgh Castle

    Group in front of Edinburgh Castle

    Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile – We enjoyed wondering the castle, viewed The Honours (Scottish monarchy’s crown, septre and sword) and browsed through the many shops lining the Royal mile. I loved the narrow walkway streets called Closes that line the Mile providing access to buildings inside the old city.2016_11_Edinburgh_Royal Mile Church








  • Limerick Contest – After leaving the city of Limerick, our guide Matt challenged us to a limerick contest. The results were hilarious. Below is the first part of Ken’s entry to the contest.

From America and Canada they came

36 of them all with a name

Through the Emerald Isle

Driving mile after mile

Until all the gift shops were looking the same.

Cashew Cheesecake at Raw Food Rebellion in Belfast

Cashew Cheesecake at Raw Food Rebellion in Belfast

  • The food – I was expecting to live on fried potatoes and cabbage but was delighted to find the food exceptional. Many of our dinners were included in the tour and they were very good at providing vegan options. On our own dinners were a welcome simple change from the elaborate 3 course hotel meals, opting instead for pub fare or local vegetarian restaurants.  We found a fabulous budding plant based restaurant culture in several of the cities.  I bought myself a couple of vegan cookbooks and plan to try to replicate some of the delicious dishes we sampled including bean stew, Malaysian Curry, Vegan Haggis, Colcannon and Cashew Cheesecake.



Sumptuous tub at Randles Court Hotel

Sumptuous tub at Randles Court Hotel

  • The accommodation – Given the size of our group, we had to stay in larger hotels rather than the more popular B&Bs that dot the country. However the hotels were fabulous, from elegance of Randles Court Hotel in Killarney, to the cute boutique hotel the George in Limerick, to the Harry Potter’ish style of the Jacksons Hotel in Ballybofey. In Belfast, we had the dubious distinction of staying in the most bombed hotel in the world, the Europa.




The trip was exceptional and went off without a hitch. However, there is no place like home. It is wonderful to be home again, in the peace and quiet of the Ponderosa.



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Wood Stove Hearth Reno – Lessons Learned

May 15, 2016

a15_Oct 25, 2014_stove completeI love my woodstove, a beautiful and functional Kitchen Queen 480. It supplies all our heat and hot water during the heating season as well as handling all our cooking and baking. The hearth and surrounding walls are a thing of rustic beauty. Loads of local rock fashioned into a wall, topped with grey porcelain tile. And the floor – shiny black granite tiles. After living with the stove for over a year, we are happy with the hearth, with the exception of the black granite tiles. They look very sharp when they are cleaned and polished (which I did before taking every picture); however, at all other times they show every bit of ash and debris – all of which a wood stove produces lots of. As a result, it seemed to always look dirty.

In addition, we found that the stove should be anchored to the floor. You would think that a stove that weighs over 900 pounds would be hard to move. However, the stove was slowly moving. Our guess is that when wood was thrown into the firebox, the push would cause the stove to move slightly on the slippery granite tiles. After a year and a half of use, the stove was noticeably off kilter.

Since the stove is used to produce our hot water during the heating season, it has a heating coil in the firebox which is connected to the hot water tank upstairs by a copper pipe. As a result of the stove movement, a small leak in the hot water heating line developed. It was not a big deal. A pot placed at the back of the stove beneath the leak collected any drips and the heat from the stove evaporated the water in the pot. However, we didn’t want things to get worse, so we decided the hearth needed to be redone.

We were planning out our options, when a pallet jack was delivered to our door by brother-in-law Dennis. No time like the present to fix the stove. We unhooked the hot water system and stovepipe, jacked up the stove and moved it out of the way. We were happy to see that our stove pipe and chimney had almost no creosote build up.

With the stove out, Ken removed all the granite tiles and chipped away the old mortar. What is the easiest way to remove mortar from plywood floors? Ken used a chisel and worked away on it until we googled for help and found that wetting down the old mortar made it much easier to remove. In a matter of a couple of hours the tiles and mortar were removed and we were ready to start over.

This time we opted to lay the tiles – the same cream colored porcelain tiles as we used in the foyer, hallway and bathroom – on cement board rather than directly on the plywood subfloor. And we inset the stove legs into the tile so that they would be fixed in place and not move.

Living room ready for next project - laying out the new hearth for the kitchen woodstove

Living room ready for next project – laying out the new hearth for the kitchen woodstove

We set the new tiles and cement board out on the living room floor and transferred a pattern of the stove legs onto the tile and cut the tile and cement board to fit the hearth space. Once the tiles were cut the hearth was installed in the kitchen.




Hearth in place, with holes cut to fit the stove legs and the fresh air intake

Hearth in place, with holes cut to fit the stove legs and the fresh air intake

In short order we grouted the tiles and moved the stove back in place with the pallet jack. We were extremely grateful that the project went so smoothly, completed in two and a half days. And we are very happy with the result. The light colored tiles do not show the dirt near so badly and the stove seems solidly in place. The hot water was reconnected and voila – no leaks.

New Stove Hearth Completed

New Stove Hearth Completed

This house building project has been an interesting journey. We have made a few mistakes on the way, and I expect we will make a few more before we have finished. But that is part of the journey and the learning process. We are not experts in any field and are learning as we go.

Next project? We have a few things on the go. We are putting up a bit of dry wall upstairs, Ken is creating a few more drawer fronts, and its time to start some gardening work.


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