30 Apr 2016

Yoga; More than just stretching and sweating

Photo courtesy of I Love Limerick and Dolf Patijn, part of Yoga for Palestine
In one of my last posts I talked about my recent weight loss, I got an overwhelming reaction from people, thank you for all of your kind words and for sharing your stories too. I said in that post that I would talk more about my journey with yoga. Paths are best explained when you wander up the dirt track that leads to the main road; I can't explain my revelations without telling you where I came from first. I am, or maybe the word 'was' is more appropriate, one of those cliche nerds, I pride myself in what I'm good at, I wrap myself up in words, my ability to make stuff, and buffer myself from the world with pursuits of the mind. This was my comfort zone for a long time, I'd hide my sadness underneath a mountain of work, and filter out my anxiety into jars of buttons. It worked for the most part, but it involved me emotionally hiding from myself, it also meant that I had no relationship with my physical body. All of my work and social pursuits were to do with my mind, and I felt awkward in my own skin. I was the kid who was laughed at in P.E(gym class), but rather than figure out how to get better, I embraced my failures and wore them like armour, 'I'm crap at this, and it will never change' was my mantra. This meant that I turned into an adult that sneered at physical exercise, wrongfully thought that people who were into fitness were vain, and avoided any instances that might show up my own short comings in this area. I know now it was all defensive rubbish, I was afraid of being that kid who was laughed at.

I let this go on until my 30's, at which point I became friends with Chrstine McNally a yoga teacher who had just moved back to Limerick. Over the years lots of friends had encouraged me to join classes with them, or go running/swimming/climbing, but I skirted their offers, fearing failure and mockery. Yoga on the other hand intrigued me, it wasn't competitive, it was something I could do alone, and people of all ages and fitness levels seemed to enjoy it. After much gentle and pursuasive conversations Christine convinced me to join her beginners class. 

I was terrified before going. Heart beating fast, nervous tightness in my tummy, and the hamster wheel inner dialogue of self sabotage telling me not to turn up to class. I sat at the back, wanting to be invisible, feeling awkward and enormous in a tracksuit and vest. I told myself it was only an hour, no matter how bad it got, it would be over soon. As with all fears, it really wasn't as bad as I though, no way near in fact. Yes I was sore and out of breath, yes I got lost in half of the poses, and yes I was a sweaty mess. I learned that there's nothing wrong with all of those things, the worst thing happened, and it was totally grand. If you fall over nobody is going to point and laugh, in fact they'll probably pick you up and tell you after class an embarrassing story when they fell/toppled/farted/cried. In that first class, and in many since, I learned that not all bodies are created equal, the fittest person is not going to be the best, that in fact being the best has no place in a yoga room, everyone has their own practice and moves in the way that is suitable to their own physique. In saying that it was comforting to see that the gym bunny guy couldn't get his heels to the floor and I could, it destroyed all of my illusions about some size based fitness hierarchy. By the end of that first class I was exhausted but exhilarated, happy that I hadn't wimped out,and that I kept going when my muscles were tired and my brain was totally confused. In the days that followed my body ached in placed that I didn't know were possible, but I was in my body, feeling it hurt, but knowing it was because I made it do what it was meant to; move. If I'm very honest I know it was the fact that myself and Chirstine are good friends that I turned up to that second class, I couldn't face the text asking me where was I if I didn't go. It was the old habits of self sabotage telling me that yoga wasn't for me, running from the thing I wasn't immediately good at. Determined to take control of these insidious voices I walked into the second class and sat at the front, it didn't matter if people saw me make a mess of things, my best chance of learning was to be near the teacher and not miss and instructions by hiding in the rear. After that I was hooked.

Each week that went by the days of aching afterwards got less, and I felt my body grow stronger, as the terms passed by I could feel my body slipping into poses that had baffled me months previously. Yoga isn't about getting into funny positions and posting pictures of yourself on Instagram, although it's hard to remember that sometimes given how it is portrayed. For me anyhow, it's about the things I learn on that small foam mat. I learn about my preconceptions of myself, about breaking those notions, I learn to be kind to myself, patient, forgiving, but to also push myself where I'm afraid to go. It's not about getting the crown of your head to the floor in Prasarita Padottanasana  but about trying each time, and being ok with not being able to do it. These were huge lessons for me to learn as a perfectionist, to embrace 'failire', to stop looking at things as an end point, but to revel in the process, to celebrate the freedom in futility. These ideas are so counter-intuitive to how we behave in our every day lives that it's possible to never learn these important lessons. Yoga has helped me to slow down and see the bigger picture, to fear the unknown less, to believe in my own strength more, and to breath calmly through the little niggly shit in life. The type of yoga that I do is Ashtanga, it's a set sequence that never changes, people dedicate their lives to perfecting this one sequence, embracing the banality of repetition, and growing with the practice over years. There is something incredibly freeing in following the same set, knowing what's coming, including the impossible posses as well as the seemingly 'easy' ones, smiling into both of them with equal acceptance. Knowing I can step off the mat at any moment, but knowing that I choose not to reminds me that my own life is not a cage, that my circumstances are the 'mat' that I have chosen for myself, so I smile into the bad days and take them with the good.

I have fallen over, I've toppled out of headstand, I've sweated and cursed over failing to do Urdhva Dhanurasana(the wheel) for a year and a half, I've laughed out loud surprised at what my body was able to do, I've sobbed uncontrollably because of some deep emotion that was brought up by meditation, and I've spent hours on end in a daze in the happy glow that a hard practice can give you. I have also met the most wonderful friends through the class that Christine runs. Back when I lived in Limerick we would go for breakfast after class, sharing the weird hyper energy that yoga gives back to you. It's only been a short amount of time, but I can't believe the changes that trickled down from that first class. As I said in my last post, it's not the weight that I lost, the most significant changes were inside me. 

Note: Christine did not pay me for this!!! But if you are interested in her classes head over to her Facebook page.
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21 Apr 2016

Button Collars

I mentioned before that I have stopped making crafts for sale. I do still have some leftover from when I had a market stall and was selling in craft shops around the country. I had just made a bunch of these button collars as I was coming to the end of Nice day Designs. Which probably sounds a bit strange, but I was always working on new designs, and this was one of the last to make it past the prototype phase, but I finished them too late to really try to sell them properly. When I was tidying my studio I found a whole box of them that needed the clasps sewn on, but apart from that they were ready to go. 

Instead of the price tag of €30 which I had calculated for them I'm not selling them at €15, just because I'd be happy to see them sell rather than have a bunch of new necklaces for my personal collection-not even I need that many button necklaces!!

Here's a few photos, but if you'd like to see the full range just head over to the Facebook album and leave a comment if you would like to purchase one, I am happy to ship worldwide.

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10 Apr 2016

Weight Loss; A different before and after story

I said that this blog would change when I came back to writing, that I wanted it to be more personal and less about craft. My battle with my own body image is something that I've touched on before but never been totally honest about here. In the past year I have lost a significant amount of weight, the type of significant weight loss that people plaster Instagram Before and After photos with. I'm not that kind of person though, and there is something in those posts that rankles with the feminist in me. There is something inherently wrong in those 'look at me now' photos that makes women feel ashamed if they are not ripped and svelte. I blogged for many years in my 'What I'm Wearing Posts' about being happy and confident as a plus size woman, if I was to turn around now with a crass before and after shot that would feel like negating that positive message I was trying to convey.

Nearly every woman I know has a complex relationship with her own body; how she feels about it herself, how she feels it's viewed by others, how she views other women's bodies in comparison to her own. This evolves and become less fraught as we get older, but there is still baggage that we all struggle to grapple with, hopefully we learn to let go and find some true inner confidence. Given how loud the voice of the media is, this struggle can be hard, it can take years of blocking out the white noise that tells you to hate yourself while trying to sell you the solution in the form of fashion and the latest phony wrinkle cream. I certainly have not been immune to this loud inner critic, I've cried in changing rooms, I've hated my reflection, I've masked the pain of feeling monstrously unattractive, but there are very few women that I know who can't tell a similar story. Thankfully that stage of my life is over, not because I'm thinner, but because I spent years figuring out how to unpack that baggage, leave it behind, and start loving myself properly. 

I have been many shapes and sizes over the years. When I started college I was size UK10, moderately happy with my body on a surface level, but in reality I was uncomfortable with my own reflection, felt larger than everyone else, and didn't really feel present in my body. I went on the pill soon after I started my first long term relationship, within 6 months I had gone up to a size UK16, and I didn't understand what was happening to me. I didn't really acknowledge the weight gain, I thought it was just part of not being a teenager anymore, I stuck my head in the sand, and continued feeling much the same on the inside; sad with a veneer of confidence that convinced nobody. As I got to my mid 20's, I crept up to a UK18, my attitude to dieting was militant and confused, I refused to give into regular notions of beauty, to starve myself to fit someone else's ideal. I armored myself in a garb of feminism and denial, which in many ways helped me to start having a healthy relationship with myself. I wrongfully bundled together fad dieting with living a healthy lifestyle, I saw them both as self hatred in disguise. It was far more important to me to get a handle on self acceptance than being an a certain weight, which is a good thing, but I was blinkered; I was afraid of addressing the unhealthy elements in my life. My physical fitness was terrible and I was chronically addicted to sugar, things I absolutely did not want to address.

A few years ago I blogged about my journey to getting healthier, these lifestyle choices were due to taking an allergy test that told me that a lot needed to change in my life. I followed it for a while, but my heart was never fully in it, and when I fell off the wagon, I did so spectacularly. Dealing with the break up of my relationship and partying heavily for a couple of years undid any good work I may have done during the detox. When I opened The Stormy Teacup I naturally started losing weigh due to the long hours I was working. Around the same time I because close friends with a yoga teacher, Christine McNally, through this friendship I started going to her beginners Ashtanga Yoga classes(my relationship with yoga will warrant a whole post by itself soon). It was at this point that everything turned around for me. It wasn't just losing weight that kept me going back to her class, but the peace that I found on the mat each time I practiced. I marveled at my growing physical strength, I learned to be kinder to myself, to value patience and self forgiveness, by figuring out how to care for myself on the mat, I was able to apply this in my day to day battles. Losing weight was one of the side effects of this turnaround in my life, but it was one the smallest transformations, it was a nice benefit, but dropping all the baggage was the real weight loss.

Since moving to Ennis and starting a new job in a health food shop this journey has continued. I have given up dairy and meat, cut down hugely on sugar and revel in cooking delicious healthy things for myself each evening. Yet again I am tackling my allergy issues, and specifically my skin condition rosacea(this will also warrant a whole blog post). It feels like a gentler more sympathetic way of treating myself, that is sustainable over a lifetime, rather than a regime that I've foisted upon myself. I got a bit of a shock the other day, I was getting dressed and put on a skirt that I know was a tight fit when I moved here 6 months ago, now it's too big to wear and I can take it off without opening it. Most women, who's goal it is to be thinner would be delighted with this but I felt a bit shaky. I hadn't noticed I'd changed that much, and to see a physical manifestation of it jolted me into a new awareness. 

I don't associate being thinner with happiness, just like I didn't relate being plus size with self hatred. I refuse to post a before and after photo with this blog post because I don't want to add my voice to the conversation that shames women over a certain size. The after picture is these words, the after picture is me saying I feel happier on the inside because I figured out how to be kind to myself. When I bump into old friends and they are shocked by my appearance, I don't know how to react, I know that they mean well, I know that they're genuinely happy for me. Even though it's not how it's meant, it feels like a judgement on how I looked before, I was beautiful then and I'm beautiful now. This post is an attempt at having a different type of conversation about body image, about self love and acceptance, just so every voice is not about thinspiration and fat shaming.

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28 Mar 2016

Supplies Shop

One thing that I still have tonnes of is supplies. When I moved house 6 months ago I was somewhat disciplined and sold off a lot of buttons and fabric, but I couldn't bring myself to get rid of all of it. I had lived in that house for seven years so there was a lot of clutter and unwanted life garbage that was clogging up my space. Moving was a great excuse to sort through it, downscale, see what I wanted to keep, and see what was good for selling. 

I reopened my Etsy supplies shop a few months ago and have been tipping away with some sales without having to put too much effort into it. I should really be less lazy and do a few days of photography and listing and properly figure out what I have. For the moment I have about 100 listings of buttons, knitting supplies, pincushions and other miscellaneous items. If I was a more organised person I could easily bring that up to 250, I'll get there eventually!

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23 Mar 2016

Costume design for Mustang Hobo

After finishing up with Nice Day Designs it took me a long time to figure out my relationship with my own art. I was burnt out, dry of ideas and no longer sure if I ever wanted to pick up a sewing needle ever again. I tentatively made a few pieces for myself and friends over the couple of years, but waited a long time before embracing a large project again. I only wanted to do it if I loved it, I needed a real passion project to get me going again. One that I have been working on lately is being the costume designer for the music videos for Mustang Hobo, a funk/jazz band based in Scarriff.

The bassist is my partner, so naturally we've been talking at length about the creative process, his ideas for his band, and what artistic direction they want to take their videos. It seemed like a natural evolution of both our relationship and our conversations that I would work on them with him. I like how his crazy brain works, and he likes that I can somehow make his ideas a reality.

The most recent one that I worked on was the song 'So You Think I'm Crazy', which shows the curious journey of a man into the afterlife, which is populated by craven woodland fairies, of which I am one. My direction was pretty specific, he wanted fairies but not the glittery pretty kind; something rugged mens gift, textured, and hairy. As is the case with all bands there was pretty much no budget, so this lack of funds informed my decision to collage different fabrics together to make woodland pixie hoods. I used these pieces to accessories a cast of extras all dressed in browns and earth tones.

That's us just as we shot the last scene
The couple of days that I was on the shoot, there were seven in total, were loads of fun, I got to style all of the extras, and it was great to see ideas go from paper, to creation, then to final cut. When I saw the final edit I was pretty blown away with what the Niall Coley, the director of photography, came up with, I didn't expect it to be so beautiful and lush. We'll be making more, and the ideas have gotten even bigger and crazier. I've already started working on the next one, but it's all hush hush, I have to say though, it's pretty darned cute!

18 Mar 2016

A Return to Business

I've spent a very long time away from Nice Day Designs, I'm not sure if I have any readers left after abandoning this little niche on the web for so long, so if you're still reading please wave hello. A lot in my life has changed both externally and internally, mostly for the better, and even the hard stuff ended up being transformative in a positive way. 

Those of you who have read this blog over the years probably had a false sense of how well the business was doing, I always put a positive spin on it and kept the sharp claws of the recession out of this polka dot little site. The reality was that it was too tough to keep Nice Day Designs going, I ran out of patience, energy, ideas, and eventually the love for it left too. In January of 2014 I decided to call it a day and embrace a new exciting project, The Stormy Teacup, which was an artisan tea shop that I opened with my friend Martins Punculis. Many of you who are based in Limerick know that it was a seeming success for the year that we ran it. It was an incredible life experience setting it up and seeing it flourish, but again I had to be realistic about how financially viable it was, at the start of Summer last year I made the tough, but mentally healthy decision to step away from it. What has followed since has been months of re-evaluating what I want personally, professionally, and creatively. After 15 years of living in Limerick I moved out and started a fresh with a new house, new job, and a new relationship. Things are looking really good and I can genuinely say that I am contented.

I made the decision recently to restart the custom badges side of my business again. It was always something that I enjoyed, that sold well, and didn't have the same pressures that the more intricate hand crafts had. I've already gone through the madness of having my own self imposed sweat shop, I don't want to do it again, so I won't be going back to making endless hand stitched accessories. I still craft, draw, and create, but mostly for myself now, and in so doing I have found the love for it again. Moving forward this will be more of a nerd, feminist, lifestyle blog, that will sometimes have badge and craft related posts. 

I hope to keep writing, and that there's still some of you still reading.

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28 Feb 2014

Update on The Stormy Teacup Crowdfunding Campaign

I thought I would do an update and let you know how my crowdfunding campaign is going for my new business venture with my friend Martins. Last time I checked in, in this blog post, we were just 5 days into our campaign to open the crafty cafe The Stormy Teacup. As of today we have 9 days left and are coming into the finishing stretch. We've managed to raise just under €5,000 and now have to make €1,000 to reach our goal, but if we don't get over the last hurdle we get €0, eek!

Neither myself and Martins are very good at asking for help, both of us are doggedly stubborn, and prefer to work all the hours under the sun rather than admit we need someone's help (something I'm working on!!). So it was quite surreal to so publicly ask for help and money. But we had a business idea that we knew would work, we just needed help getting it off the ground. We all know that banks are not lending to small businesses at the moment, so we needed to think outside the box if we were ever going to get this started.

It's been a really crazy and emotional process, we've both been amazed at how generous people have been. We knew that our friends and family would show their support, however much they could afford, but we were really amazed at the amount of strangers that donated to the campaign. It totally renewed our faith in humanity and also showed that there is a real desire for something like this to open in Limerick. We've been really touched by the outpouring of positivity and goodwill towards our project. Even if people haven't been able to afford to donate money they have been enthusiastically sharing and liking our pitch.

If any of you are sitting there at your desk daydreaming of the amazing boutique/cafe/barber/bookshop that you could open, maybe think about really doing it. Crowdfunding is a way for communities to help themselves, taking out the middleman of the bank. It gives people with the drive, energy, and ideas the power, rather than those who tick the right boxes for getting a loan. Over the years we've all seen small businesses dwindle in our towns and cities. I really believe that crowdfunding is a way for people to invest in a small way in the businesses/project that they want to see in their community.

If you would like to read about our experience over the past month with this campaign head over to Write on Track to and interview I did with social media guru Lorna Sixsmith. Also if you would like to donate to our teashop head over to our campaign, the clock is ticking!
Wish us luck!

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11 Feb 2014

I'm opening a Cafe in Limerick-The Stormy Teacup

It's been quite a while since I updated this blog, 2013 was a pretty strange year so I took a break from blogging. Part of this strangeness was re-evaluating my life and what I wanted, in the latter half this involved looking at what I want to do professionally. Having Nice Day Designs has been amazing but it hasn't been enough to live on, the balance of trying to make money out of crafts can sometimes feel creatively suffocating, I've realised after lots of soul searching that something needed to change.

As some of you may know I have run a craft pop-up shop Limerick Craft and Design for the past two years, and I was also heavily involved with Limerick City of Culture over the past several months. These two project taught me that I wanted to move more into retail, but do it for myself. The Creative Limerick projects, as great as they are, are not sustainable in the long term(because of the tenancy agreements), so it looked like I was gonna have to do something privately. All of these ideas about change, and my frustrations with craft were mulling around for a long time. About a year ago I became really good friends with fellow craftsperson Martins Punculis, we spent endless hours talking about how we could set up something really interesting, and eventually in the new year we decided to go for it.

Myself and Martins are opening a craft shop with an artisan tea and coffee shop upstairs, and we're calling it The Stormy Teacup. I am so excited by this new venture, I feel like it's the accumulation of all of my professional experiences; weaving together my experience in sales, hospitality, craft and books. That mixed with Martins unending enthusiasm and fanatical logic means that we make a really good team. We've already found a venue for this exciting new space and are currently in the process of raising funds for it on the crowd funding site Indiegogo. We've set a target of €6000 (but are actually aiming for €10,000), and we've managed to raised over €1,800 in 5 days. We have been amazed by the fantastic response, and only hope that this means we will reach our target in time.

Putting together an really good pitch for Indiegogo was a lot of work but we felt that it was worth it for the amount of money that we are asking for. We spent over a week working on the above stop motion animation, working lots of late nights and very longs days; from research we knew that the video is an integral part of the success of the campaign. If you want to read more about our dream cafe then head over to our campaign, if you have any money to spare we have rewards like this set of badges from as little as €7, every donation counts. 

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2 Aug 2013

Cooking on a Budget; Beetroot Pasta

I'm probably not meant to moan about how broke I am on this blog, I really should pretend that I am super successful, and that I sleep in blankets made of money. This sadly is not the case, I'm broke at the moment, I know I'll get through it, I always do, but for the next while I'm living on a very strict budget. 

It frustrates me when the media talk about people eating badly because they are poor. The times in my life that I have eaten the healthiest food is when I'm really stuck for cash. There is no option to buy processed food as it's way too expensive. Years ago when I suddenly lost my job was the first time that I realised that you can eat really well on very little money, you just have to put in some extra effort in the kitchen. If you build up a good larder over time it makes cooking flavoursome meals affordable. If you get into the habit of buying one or two things for your cupboard every week you will quickly build up a good arsenal of spices, herbs, oils, and grains.  

I had the misfortune of only having a few euro to get the makings of a dinner for two days. I got  the above ingredients for the grand total of only €4.13! Keep an eye on the veg section that is just about to go out of date, this means shopping more often during the week, but that suits me fine since I live in the city centre. I also went for the own brand feta, which was 1/3 the price of the one beside it.
Cooked beetroot
Feta cheese
Green Pepper
Red Onions
Baby leaves

This is where the well stocked cupboard comes into play for making a delicious dinner on a budget!
Veg stock cube
Tomato puree
Black Pepper
Tinned tomato
Soy Sauce
Leftover garlic bread
Mixed Seeds

-Chop the red onion and cook with a little olive oil on a low heat in a pot with a lit, at this point add you crushed garlic.
-While the onion is cooking cook up your pasta with a veg stock cube, it really adds flavour.
-Add lots of black pepper and a teaspoon of marjoram to the onions.
-After your onions and garlic have sweated nicely add in your chopped green pepper, turn up to a higher heat.
-To make sure your garlic bread is cooked on time pop it into to the oven at this stage.
-Put in your tinned tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of tomato puree, and a splash of soy sauce.
-Chop your beetroot into large chunks and add to the tomato sauce, leave to simmer until your pasta and bread is finished cooking.
-While you are waiting on the pasta make the dressing from the below instructions and mix in with baby leaves, crumbled feta, and beetroot chunks.
-Sieve your pasta and add to the tomato sauce, add crumbled feta on top of the dish.

I never buy salad dressing, I make it as I need it and it tastes 100 times nicer. Just use
1 teaspoon  honey
1 teaspoon mustard
loads of black pepper
Half a lemon
Good splash of nice vinegar
Mixed Seeds

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28 Jul 2013

Hosting a House Sale

A couple of months back after my break-up I had a double fold problem, I had way too much stuff and way too little money. The logical solution was to sell my stuff and try to make some cash. Easier said than done sometimes! A friend of mine said they had organised their own house party clothes sale to much success and I decided to give it a shot. I had lots of really good vintage clothes in varios sizes and styles from when I used to do clothes upcycling. I knew it would be a fair bit of work but what else did I have to lose, the rent had to be paid.

At the time I had an empty second bedroom downstairs beside my living room, so this was a perfect location for the shopping room. I borrowed some clothes rails, a changing room screen, and a full scale mirror to help with this transformation. I also used a large bookcase to display the shoes and bags in a boutique style manner. Just the day before I decided to put out some of my craft stuff in the living room in case anyone took a fancy to my own handmade pieces. I used some of my market shelving and suitcases to make the display look more appealing. I also had some bunting left over from my birthday to add a festive atmosphere to the evening. My friend Dee even painted a large paper dress to hang on the front door to with some cute balloons to make the house stand out on my street. 

In the lead up to the sale I photographed all 200 and odd outfits on a mannequin and uploaded them to Facebook with all the prices and sizes. This way I drummed up lots of excitement about the evening and also made about €150 in pre-sales. This took tonnes of work between taking pictures, coordinating outfits, and also writing the descriptions, but it was really worth it. I also invested in beer and wine for the evening, trust me, people shop more when they are a little tipsy and they have some tasty food to nibble on. It cost me about €70 to provide this, but it was worth the extra outlay. If you are thinking of doing something similar I would recommend that you undertake this with a friend, both so you can divide the labour but also so you have a greater variety of clothes on offer, most people would not have the type of collection that I had.

All in all it was a successful evening, I didn't sell everything but I got rid of a lot of unwanted clothes that went to better and happier homes. It was a really fun night, and it's something, space permitting, that I would do again. If it was something you wanted to do yourself, maybe look into using your local bar or community centre and a group of you do it together.

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