Florida summer has arrived. Well, let’s call it spring-summer. If winter is the earth exhaling an icy breath, then spring is a deep inhale. It warms the air in the lungs, preparing to exhale it forth, breathing out a blazing and bright summer. Well, if spring is the earth inhaling, it’s a very short and shallow breath here in Florida, followed by the deep and long exhale of summer. Spring is finally here one moment, and the next, it’s gone, giving way to blistering heat and thick humidity, clinging to your clothes and skin with sticky, wet fingers.

Summer has arrived, conveniently the week that I spend most of my days at school  sprinting halfway across my college campus under the sun’s warm, bright face. Back and forth. Back and forth. Deadlines, appointments, papers, and plans. No matter what, it’s never enough. Time is sucked away, and the stress keeps coming. And the hot spring-summer sun whispers in your ear, with every concrete-slapping footfall…

You’re the only one. You’re the only one experiencing this level of stress. The only one finding yourself running from appointment to class to work with as little as fifteen minutes in between to catch your breath. The only one who cares enough about being to class on time to run halfway across campus and make it on time.

The only one who looks like a total idiot, monstrous backpack jerking you from side to side with each footfall, face screwed into an ugly expression, cut by the lines of a deep frown. The only one who can’t control their stress and emotions and pull themselves together. Slap, slap against the concrete. Parched, heaving breaths. Still going to be late. A failure. Always a failure. The only one who knows what it feels like to always be running and striving and never achieving the exact result you want, like a kid in Walmart trying to catch the fluorescent light reflections on the tile. The only one who always seems to be a mess.

Then, what is this? Another back-pack heaving runner, hands gripping the backpack straps at his sides, bending down to create less wind resistance, and dashing headlong for the music building. I dash right in front of him. As I pass, our eyes meet, and we share a tired smile. A brief wave.

“Good luck! You can make it!”

“Gooooooooo! The mad dash!”

And that’s that… we keep dashing on to our individual classes. But, now, I am smiling. It seems odd- why would that make me so happy? But it does. It does because I can see it with my own eyes– the heaving breaths, the heavy backpack, the thudding feet. He understands. He feels the same heat beating down from the sun, heaving the same dry breaths. He, too, will arrive at class sweaty and dissheveled. And he, too, cares about about being on time to dash across the parking lot, as idiotic, comical, and sadly desperate as it may loo.

Even through the heaving breaths, my mind inhales and exhales deeply and calmly again. The all-consuming world of my selfish mind is broken, interrupted, by a fellow runner.

The world I built up in my head– a world of pride and loneliness, failure and fear– is defenseless the moment I see that I’m not the only one who lives in that world. Alone, the selfish world is strong. Together, when humans come to share hearts and open eyes and lift each other up, the lonely world of the mind is broken apart. And the run becomes a joy; a race, even. I arrive panting, but I arrive knowing that I’m not the only one experiencing the victory of finishing a race. That I’m not the only one who walked late, sweaty, panting, and disheveled into the tranquil classroom.

My friend, you are truly understood. There are many who run beside you, past you, before you, to your right, and to your left. We are all sweaty and disheveled, gasping for breath, soul suffocating from the daily races. We are all late, and we are all failures. But we are all understood. And, somehow, knowing that can be enough to get you through the races you run every single day.

Well, I’m Back

I'm back, 2

.. And there is much to be said.

I know: I haven’t written in about 4 months. Writing anything– blog, stories, poetry, etc.– has been really difficult to go through with. But I have a valid excuse. I had some very important things that needed to be said to some very important people in my life–  difficult, painful things– and I couldn’t pour out my thoughts and heart to public readers until I was willing to be open with those closest to me.

So, I said those important things.

In a coffeeshop in the last hours of 2015, I rid myself of burdensome words in a 17-page-letter to a very close friend– a letter that catalyzed a heartbreaking but necessary rift in our friendship.

I sat down with family members, and was honest about my current place in life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The silence hurt.

I called a long-distance friend, to be very honest about truths I had been afraid of speak.

And, what’s funny is that these past months have shown me that  tension in relationships with people is a good and natural thing. As my dad mentioned to me once, even the muscles in our bodies wouldn’t operate without tension, for any bodily movement requires the relaxing of one muscle and the tensing of another. In the same way, we could never grow or learn or move forward or really accomplish anything without having to work through tension.

So, that 17 page letter did spark a deep rift, but that deep rift has ever-so-gradually been closing, through back-and-forth emails every couple week. It has been a process of getting to know each other, outside of our bitterness and mistakes, all over again.

And I can honestly say that I am the closest to and most open with my family that I have ever been.

And my calls with my long-distance friend are gradually becoming more open, honest, and encouraging.

That time of words-not-coming is now basically past. Words have been spoken to people, and I feel much more able to move forward with life, relationships, and goals for the future. Although change and growth are slow, step-by- step journeys, I am ready to journey, especially through returning to writing in various forms. Writing will serve as a way to continue to repair and strengthen strained relationships with people, but also a way to work through my thoughts.

There is much that I have to say. Story ideas are forming. Thoughts and reflections on things I have recently learned are piling up in my “drafts” box and mind. And I’m a little less afraid to be honest here: honest about where I am, about the things that are most important to me, about the things that I believe in most strongly.

The truth is that, though I do write with certain people in mind, this blog is not customized as an indirect message to certain people in my life. Yes, people that I know personally do read it, but I can’t write specifically for them. Some of the blogs that have touched me the most are the bold ones, which are brutally and  messily honest about thoughts, emotions, and experiences. They are the true storytellers, and their stories are the ones that touch people’s hearts.

So, in an attempt to restart this blog and my writing in general, I will try to be more honest. Not so ambitious in the things I cover in my posts. Post more frequently, about small revelations and occurrences in life, told through the lens of a storyteller. Bring up topics that I think are very important,  as a way to stir intelligent discussion and understanding between people. The things I talk about, and the way I talk about them, may shift. But change is welcome here.

Thanks to all you faithful readers for sticking with me through four months of silence. I’m back, and there is much to be said. So, here’s to more writing to come…to honesty, to everyday life, to conversation, and to living creatively in the midst of reality.

Photo credit:

Cosplay Adventures of Legolas and Frodo


As Halloween rolls around again, I thought it’d be appropriate to finish off the tale of costumes and comic cons from last fall– namely, my brother’s and my first cosplay adventure, previously written about here.

Spanning from October to February, we basically re-detailed our Frodo and Legolas costumes from Halloween; an endeavor which included crafting two exquisite wooden knives for Legolas, crafting “hobbit” feet for Frodo, turning a thrift store corduroy jacket into Frodo’s red coat, and making a leather knife-sheath for Legolas.

We went into the experience with two free tickets and zero idea of what we were getting ourselves into. We walked around crowded Civic Center and tromped the downtown sidewalks in the personas of Elves and Hobbits for three days, ready for adventure. At the end of the last day, we climbed into the car, exchanged a single glance, and didn’t even have to say it: “We’re definitely coming back next year.”

So, here are just a few highlights of our first cosplay/ comic con experience.

1. Meeting many fellow Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit characters, including…

Galadriel and Tauriel
Galadriel and Tauriel


Thorin Oakenshield


Another Frodo!
Gandalf (this guy was amazing).

2. The Fencing workshop

We learned the basics of fencing, different kinds of equipment and then had a chance to try our hands at basic moves (stances, steps, saluting, and how to handle the fencing foil). We also got to watch an extended fencing demonstration.

3. The Costume Contest

Though this was my brother’s and my first time cosplaying, we decided that entering the costume contest would be a worthy endeavor. We entered into the amateur division– for cosplayers who have never before won awards in contests, or first time cosplayers– in the company of about 30 or so other cosplayers. We spent about two hours checking in and standing in line, to get about 1 minute on the stage in front of judges and audience. Neither of us won anything, but it was still a good experience and chance to become more comfortable in front of crowds.


4. Going public places in costume

Pensacon took place at the downtown civic center, and several events happened in other parts of the downtown area, so we did a good bit of walking back and forth. Sporting our costumes proudly, we traversed the local farmer’s market and the main street lined with shops, went out for barbecue, and then visited my workplace to show off our costumes to my coworkers. It was immensely fun to have a legitimate excuse for wearing a cape in public.

5. Making connections with fellow nerds

One of the greatest things about Pensacon was finding that, “Hey! We’re not the only ones!” Finding strangers with wonderful costumes was a great platform for meeting people with similar interests and great talents, and for having really interesting conversations. We discovered that there is a local costume guild, by meeting the Gandalf character pictured above. We found great resources for costume materials and quality costume weapons, leather items, and other Tolkien-ish props. We were able to admire well-made costumes and learn tips and tricks from experienced costumers and cosplayers, which will hopefully help us with our costumes for next year.

Costume resources– the amazing leather vendor
Costume weapons vendor

6. Costume-crafting

Finally, we really enjoyed the process of costume-making itself. We used costumes that we had created for Halloween, but did a lot of detailed work on them, to enhance their accuracy. For example, Frodo helped create the pair of Legolas’ knives completely from scratch. We found most of our materials for other costume components at thrift stores (an old coat which we altered to be Frodo’s coat, a $5 pair of grey boots, a 50 cent glass vase for the phial of Galadriel, 2 forest-green shirts/ jackets which became Legolas’ tunic, and an old courduroy sweater which became Frodo’s vest). The brooches were cut from old tin pans (indented and painted), and the cloaks were handmade from fabric we bought. One of the funnest parts of Legolas’ tunic was the mallorn-leaf-shaped overlay, which I actually crafted from an old Air Force flightsuit, and then embroidered with silver.

Legolas’ bow, in the making
The front of Legolas’ tunic
Tunic embroidery detail
Legolas’s quiver + knives (handmade from wood) + leather knife-sheath
The Phial of Galadriel, stage 1
The phial of Galadriel, in the making
The Phial of Galadriel, completed
The phial of Galadriel, completed

Here are just a few more of the interesting and fascinating cosplayers we met, including Katniss Everdeen, a Weeping Angel,  Westley (The Princess Bride), Mary Popppins, Maleficent, Russell + Mr. Fredrickson (Up), and Xena the warrior princess.

100_5280100_5290 100_5294  100_5305 100_5306 100_5308 100_5254

I know that this post is long overdue, but, since we are planning to go back next spring, I thought that it was worth sharing. I plan to also post a couple tutorials from these featured costumes, as well as sneak-peaks of and posts on the progression of next year’s costumes.

Until then,


True Alchemists

Gold 4

A friend recently made this housewarming gift for me —a flower pot, painted with the anonymous quote, “True alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.”

Flower pot

After several months of glimpsing the flower pot every day, the meaning of those words has suddenly sunk in.

The past half-year has been the craziest, most adventurous, most interesting, most painful, and most joyful time in my life thus far. I would say that, for the first time, I’m truly living: experiencing adventure , taking risks, making mistakes, finding reconciliation, opening up, enduring, growing, thinking, reasoning, and changing. But truly living hasn’t come without a lot of pain. These days, I spend a lot of time trying to focus on “keeping on walking”—keeping going, not giving up, focusing on the important things, and finding healing and reconciliation. However, in the midst of this, a certain phrase has been on my mind a lot: “No matter what I’m going through right now, I can take comfort in the fact that, someday, I can write it into one extraordinary story.”

And that, my friends, is turning the world into words: finding redemption within your experiences by turning them into stories that can touch others’ souls. Think of how often something written by another person has touched you. Well, they were probably a true alchemist. They took their experiences, created gold, and then offered it to you.

I’m finally ready to practice some true alchemy. My writing has been on the decline since the beginning of this year, and while I haven’t given up entirely, I haven’t dedicated real time and effort to getting it back on its feet. However, as summer began, a story began to emerge from several scattered thoughts and ideas. I half-worked on it throughout the summer, writing random bits and pieces, but only when it came to me. I never went to it. I never sought it out. As the summer ended, though, and keeping on walking became a little harder, I felt a pressing need to fully commit to crafting that story. I needed to write in order to find redemption in the things I was struggling with.

Thus was birthed “The Hermit Journals,” an odd little work of art, mixing poetry and prose from various perspectives within a single story. I don’t know quite where it will go, but I’m now committed to turning it into something, and it has become the first priority among my writing projects. I even plan to share a bit of this story here, within the next couple of months.

So, I’m finally going from being only a writer to being a true alchemist. And it has, and I hope will have, an incredibly powerful effect on my life.

Never devalue or regret your experiences. They are lead. You are a true alchemist. Every day, you are blessed with the opportunity to turn the world into words. Your life can become one extraordinary story.

If I’ve Learned Anything…

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there is:

A God of  the commonplace

A gospel of simplicity

A call to adventure

An outpouring of peace

An unbreakable bond of friendship

Permission to be who you are

Grace to become fully human

Endless opportunity to love well

A covenant to always kneel and gaze in wonder at the stars, through the eyes of a child

A life-long mission to practice resurrection, redemption, and reconciliation

This is following God.

This is religion.

Practice resurrection

Photo source: http://literarytattoosdotcom.tumblr.com/post/76855162120/practice-resurrection-this-tattoo-belongs-to

Wonder: (The world through the bottom of a milk glass)



We take it to mean good, excellent, fantastic. Someone says that they’ve “had a wonderful day,” and we take it to mean that they had an incredible, happy, encouraging day in which their plans were accomplished and their lives were improved.

But break it down.

Wonderful. Wonder/ful… wonder… full… full of wonder. So, when I have had a wonderful day, it really ought to  mean that I have had a day in which I have experienced much wonder. A wonderful day is a day in which something amazing has caught my eye, and I have stopped in  my tracks just to stare at it in absolute awe.

Wonder is seeing…

A huge flock of birds, only black specks from a distance, performing skilled maneuvers through the air, into the trees, onto the power lines, and back again, all in unison.

The color green.

A freckled child’s impish grin.

A cloudy night sky with only one visible star, breathed upon by a chilly evening wind.

A Japanese magnolia tree absolutely bursting with huge pink flowers.

A young man standing tiptoe on a sidewalk, painting swirling designs on the side of an old brick carwash.


But to be in awe of something isn’t the only meaning of “wonder.” “Wonder” is also a verb. “To wonder” is to consider, ponder, and think through something. It is to speculate, to be curious, and even, in some cases, to doubt.

Suddenly, a wonderful day becomes a day full of wondering.

A wonderful day is also full of…

Looking the homeless man on the streetcorner in the eye, holding his gaze, and acutely feeling his pain.

Working a double shift at work, feeling like you’re caught in a vortex where there is no world outside of those yellow walls and fry-oil-smells, and realizing that you will walk out those doors at the end of the day with your heart and soul alive and intact.

Reconciling yourself to the fact that, though your heart may deeply ache and do its best to hold on, it is finally time to let go of the someone or something that you have been carrying for too long.

Wonder is doubt. Wonder is awe. A wonderful day is bursting with both.

Wonder is staring at the computer screen late at night, to the backdrop of a huge pastel world map lit by a glowing desk lamp. The house is quiet. A mass of school assignments loom ahead. A glass emptied of chocolate milk–  fuel for said assignments– sits beside the lamp. I look away from the glowing screen, toward the map, seeking to find a world outside of my obligations. The lamplight refracts through the facets of the milk-stained glass. And I wonder… perhaps the world would look different through the bottom of a milk glass.


I raise the glass, and peer through it. It isn’t a particularly profound view. It doesn’t hold some immediate epiphany or significance. It’s just interesting. I’d never seen things that way before. In its own strange way, it is beautiful. It fills me with wonder– wonder that light can look so interesting and amazing when I try to look at life and the world from a different perspective than before. It was wonder-full. Wonderful.

The world looks absolutely wonderful through the bottom of a milk glass.



Hey, Tolkien. I Missed You.

chapter 1

Hey, Tolkien. I’ve missed you.

I don’t know why I stopped reading your words. I first heard them read aloud in my family, when I was a child. I loved your stories, characters, and writing. I read The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit multiple times on my own as I grew older; I was a shy little bookworm. I finally saw the movies, and was hooked. I watched them every Christmas break after that, and never stopped enjoying them and gaining new insights and thoughts from the experience. Entering high school, I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring over the summer, determined to make it through the series before school started. But I never made it past Theoden’s courts in The Two Towers. For some reason, I got stuck. Then Life happened. School got busier and busier. I only ever had time to read required literature for school. Reading lost a bit of its magic. I read the great works of literature, and analyzed the crap out of them. But, by that point, great literature held little meaning, few life-impacting lessons, and no magic. So, I forgot the magic of reading, and how vital it impacted my ability to write well, too.

Then, for some reason, even though I still hadn’t laid a finger on The Two Towers, I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog based completely on the metaphor of stepping outside the Bag End door. I used some quotes from the books, examples from the movies, and general Middle Earth metaphors. But I still didn’t pick up the books again. Apparently I thought that my yearly dosage of the movies would suffice to sustain the metaphor and my inspiration for my Bag-End-based musings.

next chapter

Well, Tolkien, I’m finally back. I missed you, and I forgot how inspiring you are. For no particularly compelling reason, I decided to take the Fellowship of the Ring with me to burn time on a 4-hour plane ride to California three weeks ago. I knew that the first few chapters were a little monotonous, with the prologue, explanation of hobbits, and long description of Bilbo’s party, but I decided to fully commit to my first Tolkien-reading-experience in years. I read every word of the forward, preface, “Concerning Hobbits” intro, and then into the first chapter. It was, indeed, a little monotonous, but I kept reading. By the time Gandalf had returned to give Frodo an account of the Ring, memory was stirring in me. I began to remember why I loved these books so much. And by the time I got to Frodo’s encounter with Farmer Maggot, I was thoroughly enjoying the small sections that I would read each night before bed. I started trying to catch a couple pages, half a chapter, or sometimes a whole chapter whenever I got the chance– the plane ride home, on break at work, and sitting outside on the lawn, looking at the sunset.

chapter 3

Well, Tolkien, I just wanted to say thank you. I’m not tucking your words away on my bookshelf and forgetting about them any more. Life will still be crazy, and will probably do its best to distract me from reading the things that truly bring me joy and inspire me. But, day by day, step by step, I will focus on continuing to read and learn. I’m learning that, in order to become the people we truly want to be, we have to prioritize the things that truly inspire and impact us.

This song lyric has been on my mind a lot recently, in relation to that:

“Well if you can’t get what you love
You learn to love the things you’ve got
If you can’t be what you want
You learn to be the things you’re not
If you can’t get what you need
You learn to need the things that stop you dreaming.” {emphasis mine}

— Passenger, “The Things That Stop You Dreaming”

Too often, the mundane and painful things of life make us chase after “the things that stop our dreaming”– in my case, being so immersed in the stress of school, literary analysis, and English classes that I don’t make time to read books that truly inspire me.

Well, Tolkien, chapter by chapter, book by book, I hope to seek after the things that inspire and continue my dreaming. Besides, coming back to you words may breathe a little life into this struggling blog. Thanks, Tolkien, for helping me become the writer, reader, and human that I want to become. From now on, your words will be close to hand, mind, and heart.


Every Human My Teacher


Last week, I set out on a short journey– needing a deep breath of fresh air, away from the weariness of everyday life. I needed a period of solitude from the voices always surrounding me– good, friendly voices though some be. I needed to hear new voices– the voices of distant family, of the towering redwoods, of the gentle river– and receive strength from them to return home to impending changes.

So I boarded a plane, opening up my ears to listen and my heart to accept whatever new voices would come my way. And, sure enough, the voices came along.

I met a bright, hopeful-hearted young woman. For an hour-long-flight, we conversed about faith. Disillusion by her faith, a little blinded and naive she seemed, speaking as if the world was black and white and questions were easily answered.

I arrived at my destination, and through a bus window watched the disillusioned, desolate, graffiti-pockmarked slums of Oakland, California. This world was definitely not black and white.

But, despite her slight, happy disillusionment, she was still a human. Every human is my teacher. And so I took her words to heart, added them to my journeyman’s satchel, and walked off the plane.

I met a woman whose beauty simply shone from the inside out. 70 years old, but with a beautiful heart and stunning face, framed by long, white hair. We connected at the heart level: my passion is for education and teaching, and she was in the education system for 35 years. She became my teacher. We complained, laughed, agreed, and conversed for almost two hours about teaching, children, growing plants, and creating things.

She told me stories. She gave advice. She rekindled waning embers in me– embers of excitement for pursuing a job in the teaching field. The lady of the white hair breathed inspiration into me. She instilled in me the courage to return home and diligently pursue my future direction. She told me to always stay in the trenches; no matter how high in leadership position I rose, never to forget the difficulties and needs and efforts of the people working at the lowest levels of the system– to “stay in the trenches” with them. She told me that teaching was a high calling. That, if I was meant to teach, I would know it, because I would keep loving it, but that I also must never give up. Former teacher to aspiring teacher, we spoke– and she became my teacher.


I met a beach-traveller– a tiny Asian woman, sheltered by a straw hat, walking the shores of the turquoise Pacific Ocean, filling plastic bags with driftwood and smooth stones. She edged close to the hissing spray of the waves, but never once let the waters touch her tiny tennis shoes. She watched the children playing nearby, and simply grinned in delight at each cry of laughter and surprise when their  toes would touch the water. She sat nearby me, and we exchanged simple smiles as we both watched my younger siblings enjoying the ocean. I felt compelled to talk to her, but hesitant; after all, what if there was a language barrier between us? But my previous encounters had taught me that good things come from odd risks, so I sat down beside her. After all, what language barrier can prevent the exchange of a smile? And cannot a smile mean more than a thousand words?

Communicating through broken English, we exchanged stories of how we had journeyed there and why, discussed California, and exchanged names. Both of us horribly mispronounced the other’s name, I’m sure, but we gave it our best shot. I waved goodbye to her, tucked her delighted smile into my rock-filled pockets, and left the beach behind me. I treasured her and her smile as my teachers– which taught me to never underestimate the power of reaching beyond words to another human, and opening your heart just a crack to them. Thus the woman of the delighted smile became my teacher.

Every human I encounter is my teacher.

Thus, I will learn to observe people. I will learn to respect every human, listen to every human, ask questions of every human, and learn the identities of every human. We are all gifts to one another– fellow students and teachers, jumbled together in this crazy heap called Life. Let us always live with open eyes, open ears, and open hearts toward our everyday teachers.

Relentless Light


“It was a gift. Keep it.” 

– Arwen, The Two Towers

I have long treated joy as my enemy. I have fought it fiercely.

It fights back. It whispers to me in the chilling wind and shouts in the thunder. “Receive me. Take me into your soul. Make me yours, and pour me back out into your world.” But I grip trembling hands over fearful ears, because I don’t trust joy.

It makes itself very present in the dark stormcloud and the cloudless sky alike. It stands behind me, before me, to my right, to my left, and promises, “I have your back. I descend to hell with you, and rise to the reaches of the sky holding your hand.” But I dare not take its hand, for fear it will dissolve into dust. It never seems to last when I need it the most. I clench my hands into a fist.

But Joy is ever present, ever opening its soul and offering its heart to me. I have only to receive the gift. But I hesitate, refuse it, back away, and even flee from it.

For fear.

For fear that if I act in response to it, I will make a foolish mistake. For fear that I will grow to love joy’s presence, and then it will abandon me.

For fear that it— the mystery that it is— will pry my fingers from trying to control my life, and that it will take me on an adventure from which I can never turn back.


“There is light and beauty up there that no shadow can touch.”    — Sam, “The Return of the King”

Joy will break you. It will not save you, nor shield you from every pain. If anything, it may plunge you deeper into pain, deeper into feeling, deeper into being human. It will fill you with the adventurous heart and dreams of a child, and then walk with you into the world of grown-ups, where you must use it to break down walls of bitterness, hatred, stress, discontentment, and deception. It will be the glimpse of color, the hint of a smile from a stranger, the star that still glimmers behind a clouded sky– the short pause from the chaos that reminds you that you’re still alive, and that you’re still human.

Source: http://www.graphicstock.com/

“We could trust that when there’s joy, there’s nothing dark behind”

— Sleeping at Last, “January White”

Joy will heal you. It will be the rest from a long journey to break bread with fellow humans and the song that bursts from your throat to fight back the darkness pressing in on you.

Joy will make you human, opening up your heart to love those around you, to give generously when you get nothing back and to accept the love of others.


“Let joy be the crown upon our heads” — Josh Garrels, “Bread and Wine” 

Let it be the starlight in a bottle that we nestle in our pockets and which shines brightest amidst the darkness. Let it be the covenant hanging ’round our necks, resting against our beating hearts, drawing us on adventures, leading us home, and teaching us to never fear the darkness. Infused into the air that we have been given to breathe, it is an everyday, extraordinary gift that must be received with an open, broken heart.

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