Why Did I Stay Here? {A Woman at Home Post}

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All during May, I find myself wandering over frequently to the fridge to study the graduation announcements we’ve gotten in the mail; to look at those faces full of promise, excitement and character.

May . . . It circles back to me every year, and it never fails to remind me of 2014, when it was my May.

“Congratulations on graduating! Where are you going to college?”

“Actually, I’m not going to college. I’m staying home.”

I was still seventeen that May. Now I’m almost twenty-one. In that space of time, I’ve learned more and more about the language of the eyes. It’s far more expressive than words, and it often makes things difficult (or maybe sadder would be the better word), when it comes to trying to have a conversation in which it really sounds like two minds are harmonizing . . . but they’re not.

Sometimes, I can be carrying on a cheerful (and now confident, after years of practice) conversation with a peer I haven’t seen in years, or with an adult who’s interested in what I’m up to, but there’s a barrier between our eyes, a cloud that indicates there’s a near-complete lack of mutual understanding. It can be draining, even though I don’t mind talking about it and I know they genuinely want to care and comprehend.

“I didn’t feel God leading me to college, or to a career. I believe my vocation is to be a wife and mother at home, so I’m trying to stay close to Him and see where He brings me. I write articles and help out with housework. I’m truly happy at home.” Or words to that effect.

Maybe growing older has made me increasingly aware of this eye-language whenever I’m conversing about what I do, whether it’s with an adult or a peer. I notice, almost instantly, whether their eyes are speaking the same language as mine; if they carry understanding, agreement, interest. And, conversely, I also see if there’s confusion, discomfort, or–most often–a respectful but blank distance that most likely comes from just not understanding. “All right,” they say, trying to be earnest and kind . . . but it just can’t quite reach the eyes. “That’s nice. It’s good to know what you want to do.”

And now, three years after my graduation, my sister has just finished high school . . . and when people ask her the timeless question of what she’ll be doing and what her plans are,Β  she sweetly replies, “Well, I’m doing what my sister’s doing. I’m staying home and waiting to see where God leads me next.” To me, it’s such a humbling statement; and, I think, truly courageous of her.

The woman at home has, for a long time, been a disappearing phenomenon. Our world, our culture, doesn’t recognize the woman at home any more. It squints its eyes, scratches its head at her (if it doesn’t immediately sneer or dismiss). She’s a fading, a grainy black-and-white photo tucked in an old picture album. In the modern perception of things, she’s distant, quaint and thoroughly un-liberated.

So . . . why did I want to be one? To be that girl, growing into womanhood, who didn’t go to college, who didn’t pick out a career or a workplace-style job, who didn’t move off from home after graduating high school, who didn’t do the dozens of things that, currently, are part and parcel with my sex and age? Not one of my (many!) female cousins did it. Not one of my childhood friends (save a two of my long-distance pen pals) did or had done it. I wasn’t consciously modelling myself off anyone at all.

And now, every May seems the perfect time to ask myself: Why did I stay here? What were my motivations? And am I happy I’ve done it?

I honestly don’t remember it being some monumental decision. And, at first, it wasn’t exactly rooted in my current convictions about authentic Catholic femininity. I do, however, remember having gone to one of a few Catholic youth-group outings, where one high school senior was talking, quite gravely, about just how fast high school flies and how you really need to be thinking about college your freshman year. I came home already stressed. (Typical of my fourteen-year-old self.) “Mom,” I remember saying. “Don’t we need to be talking about college? I mean, before long I’ll be a junior.” (My younger self always makes me laugh now. Sigh.)

She so very wisely and calmly said, “You have plenty of time to find out what God wants you to do.”

And while it irritated me then (ah, that perennial snare of thinking we know more than our parents!), somehow her calm and un-rushed-ness softly permeated the rest of my high school years. By the end, my head had cleared a little more. Enough for me to question, subjectively, my actual need for college, for college debt, the college experience, etc.. And I found that the answer surfaced as a No.

It seemed simple enough to me. In the end, I really did just want to be married (although at that point, I hadn’tΒ really done authentic vocational discernment as much as I’d done a lot of wishful thinking based off lifelong emotional desires πŸ˜‰ ) and a homeschooling mother. I enjoyed writing and music, and was earning money from singing for weddings, funerals, and the like, as well as writing the occasional article. I enjoyed being home and my parents were by no means eager to see me out the door as soon as I got my diploma. (What wonderfully counter-cultural parents my parents are, by the way.)

So . . . why incur so much debt? I thought. Why go to college when my hopes for my future didn’t involve an academic career at all? Why not stretch my wings along the less-traveled path and see where and how God might want me to use any gifts He’d given me?

It wasn’t that I was terrified of people, or didn’t think I could cope with class-style settings after being homeschooled. I didn’t have grand theological/anthropological reasons for bypassing college. Honestly, it just seemed very simple. (Maybe simplistic to some people?) The college question seemed comparable to deciding whether or not to purchase a car and incur debt when I could walk just as easily, and when I felt no desire whatsoever to travel farther or faster than I could walk, anyway.

I think there were must have been faint rumblings in my head and heart about authentic Catholic femininity, about old-fashioned and time-tested stay-at-home womanhood, but nothing I’d really articulated to myself or others. Certainly nothing informed by the Traditional Latin Mass and all its little branches that so vibrantly direct, color, and guide the traditional Catholic lifestyle. Not yet.

Rather, I was planning to be a self-made author of fantasy novels, and at that point I was really involved in an online homeschoolers’ magazine. One day, I’d fall in love, get married, have lots of cute kids, homeschool them, and live to a ripe old age. In the meantime, I would write and do anything God led me to.

Again, simplicity. And a lack of worldly worry, a kind of simple trust that God would guide me where He wanted me. That was completely due to my parents’ guidance and God’s grace, and something I’m still grateful for. How will I take care of myself? What will I make of myself? How will I succeed in life? Those questions were never really present in my head.

(Note: On a subjective level, I know my personal situation should absolutely be differentiated from a situation where it would be prudent and necessary for someone to go through secondary education, especially for a man who looks to provide for a family, or other similar circumstances . . . but I’ll go more into that later . . . of course πŸ˜‰ )

So I didn’t go to college.Β And . . . I went on to have many conversations with friends, family members over the next few months. Some were true conversations of understanding . . . and some, though polite, were dead ends. Again, the language of the eyes. Exhaustion. And yes, there were feelings of loneliness–but no questions as to whether or not I’d done the right thing.

Who is the woman at home?

Their eyes often asked the question, but I was only beginning to formulate–or, better put,Β find–the answer. It’s an answer that went far beyond my practical/logical reasons for why college wasn’t necessary for me and what I desired to do.

It’s an answer that would completely sweep me off my feet over the next few years. And God knew I needed time to find it.

To be continued…

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There and Back Again

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My family was blessed with our first true vacation together in six years. We rented a small yellow beach house for a week, and we spent hour after hour soaking in all the incredible beauty of God’s seaside creation.

We stayed up late watching The Lord of the Rings every night (with ice cream . . . no better combination!); we had a bonfire, we played music, engaged in endless rounds of Kadima (once, in 25 mph winds . . . most of the time I was an embarrassment to the sport, but I did have a few heroic moments). My dad and brother had an ongoing fishing competition.

We swam, got fantastic farmers’ tans (the thanks goes to my mother for helping all us girls find modest swimwear), collected a million seashells (of which we only kept a thousand), and walked miles and miles of shoreline.

We talked, laughed, and read, napped a lot, played hard and ate probably a little more fun food than was good for us (though we burned so many calories, I don’t really feel guilty. Actually, come to think of it, there’s no guilt at all).

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We watched the glorious sunsets every evening and were amazed at how long the daylight lingered. We befriended a striking four-foot-tall blue heron, fed him fish that we baited with leftover hot dogs, and affectionately dubbed him Herr Detweiler (or Max, for short).

One day we went out to buy a few souvenirs and explore the area; my sister and I found oversized sun hats with bows and bright colors and walked around BlueWater Outriggers wearing them (to the complete humiliation of our younger brother πŸ™‚ ). I took 500 pictures. We even accomplished the minor miracle of family portraits at sunset.

Personally, I relished getting to be so active out in the wind and sun. My closest-in-age sister and I got to share a bed and room all to ourselves, and while we initially planned to stay up late talking every night, we were so worn out from all the talking we did during the day on the beach, especially on our shoreline walks, plus all our other shenanigans, that we were both asleep in five minutes every night πŸ™‚

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My muscles and feet were continually sore, but every day I was experiencing the blessing of mental, emotional, and often spiritual refreshment. There was such incredible beauty all around me, and space to think and be quiet and ponder so many things that have happened to me, and to my family, over the past few years.

On impulse, I had brought along a traditionally toned (from the 1950’s) miniature book about St. Raphael and stuffed it down in my tote bag. Reading this on the beach catapulted long discussions with my sister and graced us both with the blessing of a deeper devotion to this Archangel, especially in regards to our vocations.

She and I packed several big holy cards with us (Our Lady of Fatima, St. Joseph as a child, and St. Raphael) and we wedged them into the edge of a picture frame hanging in our bedroom wall, making a mini-shrine like the one we have in our room at home πŸ™‚ But, while on this theme, I have to say one of my very favorite things we did at the beach was to bring our spare framed images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, our votive candle, a crucifix, and holy water, and make the fireplace mantle at our beach house a copy of the one we have at home. Dad blessed the living room with holy water.

It was like having our home away from home . . . and, when you’re someone who believes in the home being a “little church” (as St. John Chrysostom put it), then that’s exactly the point.

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Yet even so . . . with all our sacramentals and daily prayers in tow at the beach house, it was still wonderful to be home again. (Which is funny, especially when I recall being so devastated every time a vacation came to an end when I was younger . . .)

After we got home, it was made clear to me (in more ways than one) what a gift and true necessity the routines of home life are. The quiet routines we take for granted, and which we’re largely removed from on vacations, are often a spiritual safety net. Family trips are a wonderful time for refreshment and for making memories together, as well as marveling at the splendor of God’s creation . . . but I think there’s a significant reason why we often start craving to be home again. Not merely to be back to “the normal”; but, truly, to be home. To be back to our order (well, as much order as we can ever make πŸ˜‰ ), to our prayers, to work. Ora et labora. If the truly Catholic home is a little church, then our time-shaped routines of work and prayer are, in a certain sense, liturgy.

When speaking in general terms about Catholic worship, if the liturgy is negatively altered or impeded, it’s possible our dispositions receptivity to grace can be altered as well. On a smaller scale, the same can be said when we take a break from our home life and our family liturgy is consequently altered a little too. If we’re not vigilant, it’s so easy let the alteration/cessation of our daily routines impede our receptivity to grace and our alertness in spiritual battles, both as individuals and as a family.

But in any event, it shines fresh perspective and awakens gratitude to come to the end of a beautiful vacation and realize that we crave the rhythmic days of home. We realize there are things to be done (often simple, mundane, repetitive things) in order for us to keep on living our vocation to sainthood; we want to get back to them. And I call that a real grace!

At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

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3 Resources For Traditional-Catholic-Style Gift-Giving

My family’s in a vortex of activity around here that’s showing no signs of slowing, but I wanted to drop in again before the whole month went by completely . . . especially since this topic is on my mind, begging to be written of . . .

This is such a hectic but happy time of the year in which it seems everyone’s graduating, receiving the sacraments of Confirmation or First Communion, getting married, etc.. So . . . what better time for me to share my favorite resources for traditionally themed Catholic presents? πŸ™‚

If I lost my crumbs of self-control altogether, I’m afraid I’d spend all my money at these places . . . and not just for other people, ahem. Beautiful sacramentals can be, well, so addictive. In the spiritual sense, of course.

Disclaimer: I have not been requested or paid to review the following sites. I have merely been a very satisfied customer who now desires to gush πŸ™‚

1. PortraitsofSaints.com

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Oh, Portraits of Saints, how I love thee! I could literally whittle away all my wakeful hours on this website . . .

Tracy Christianson is devoting her God-given talents into crafting the most beautiful portraits of virtually every saint that can come to the average traditional Catholic mind, and many more that don’t. (Do you know of St. Vitus? St. Dwynwen? St. Pedro Calungsod? Do you see what I mean?)

Large frame-ready prints, sturdily laminated holy cards, diptychs, triptychs, holy water fonts, pendants, fridge magnets, stationery and more all feature her sigh-worthy artwork depicting the triumphant saints in Heaven. (Gushing . . . gushing . . . gushing . . .)

All her products are of beautiful quality, affordable price and fast shipping; the winning trinity, I suppose, of online shopping πŸ˜‰ Best of all, 10% of their profits are given to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP); when I found this out (two minutes ago…) I was completely euphoric that I’d been supporting them all this time without even knowing it! Could it get any better?

Here’s a glimpse at how many holy cards from Portraits of Saints my family currently owns (this doesn’t include our large framed prints of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, the Holy Family, and St. Margaret Mary) . . . They’re a little like baseball cards. You can’t stop collecting them.

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(And yes, those are well-worn math books and crumpled napkins at the top of the picture. Why crop out such enchanting real-life details?)

From their About page:

We started our small, family-owned business to create and make available, artwork of Our Lord, His mother Mary, and His angels and saints; to inspire, make known and bring devotion to the heavenly court, who are ever ready and waiting to help us in all our needs. These new and original images by Tracy L. Christianson cannot be found elsewhere.Β All our products are handcrafted in the USA.

So whether you’re in search of a First Communion, Confirmation, graduation, wedding, baptism, birthday, or anything gift, do consider supporting this site (and the FSSP while you’re at it πŸ™‚ )!

2. RobinNestLane.com

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Naturally, this is a potential-gift-site for Catholic ladies . . . but that being said, I think there are few things that a traditional Catholic woman loves than a beautiful, handmade, feminine chapel veil.

Sigh . . .

Handmade by a Catholic mother in a wide variety of styles, patterns, and colors these veils are simply gorgeous. My sisters and I own several; Robin Nest Lane was the place I went to for my very first veil before I started attending Latin Mass, so it will always have a special place in my heart πŸ™‚

Every veil comes with an optional sew-in clip, a pretty drawstring bag, a handwritten thank-you note (which I think is so sweet πŸ™‚ ) and a business card. Venite, Adoremus!

And might I say that even if you’re not buying, a simple trip to her site is still worth your while; the serene faces pictured under Robin’s chapel veils witness to the true beauty of Catholic femininity in such a lovely way!

3. MissalCovers.com

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Earlier this year, I went to this site to find, customize and order my sister’s birthday present πŸ™‚ Again, we find a Catholic mother doing beautifully handcrafted work to glorify God and inspire others in the Faith!

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Alyssa’s missal/breviary/bible/prayerbook covers are tailored to fit the precise dimensions of your book in question. I scrupulously measured and re-measured my sister’s Daily Missal to a sixteenth of an inch, as required, and guess what? The cover fits perfectly πŸ™‚

The embroidery, as you can see, is just exquisite. There are so many beautiful symbols available in Alyssa’s repertoire to choose from, as well as four different color options for the leather; the wording is also your choice, as well, although there are photos and ideas on the site should you draw a blank πŸ™‚ Ahh!!

I would wind up spending a little more money on a missal cover than I would on the other two gift options listed above, but for such a beautiful, hand-made gift, I would expect nothing less!

I hope you enjoyed this little tour and gush session over some of my favorite resources for beautiful and unique traditional Catholic gifts. And . . . by the way, happy feast of St. Gregory Nazianzan, Bishop & Doctor of the Church! πŸ™‚

Her Month Begins

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Roses by our driveway, just in time for May πŸ™‚

Father Bowden, of the Oratory, in his Miniature Life of Mary, suggests the following practices in honor of Mary. They may be drawn by lot, or otherwise chosen, at the beginning of the month.

  • Take a short time from your recreation to spend in solitude conversing with Mary, or in meditation on the mysteries of her life.
  • Rise punctually in the morning, invoking her as “the morning star.”
  • Invoke her sixty-three times as “Virgin Mother” in honor of her sixty-three years.
  • Visit in spirit one of her great sanctuaries.
  • Mortify your will three times as an offering to Mary.
  • Say three Glorias in honor of the saints and Doctors who have explained and defended her prerogatives.
  • Gain indulgences for the soul in purgatory most devoted to the Blessed Virgin in life; offer Mass and communion for this purpose.
  • Ask Mary to be present with you during the day to drive away evil spirits.
  • Perform some act of kindness with inconvenience to yourself.
  • Say three Hail Marys in reparation for the blasphemies uttered against her.
  • Give an alms in honor of her poverty.
  • Invoke the saints who were related to her–Saints Joseph, Joachim, Anne, etc.
  • Mortify your sight, once or more, in honor of Mary’s modesty.
  • Burn a candle before her image or picture
  • Recall with devotion her words recorded in the Gospel, remembering how many of your sins are committed in speech. Bear your sufferings silently and patiently.
  • Say the litany (of Loretto) for the conversion of a soul for Mary to offer to God.
  • Shun idleness during the day in imitation of Mary at Nazareth.
  • Say a Hail Mary in honor of St. Gabriel, who brought it to earth.
  • Practice some little mortification at meals.
  • Before going to sleep, place yourself with the Infant Jesus in Mary’s arms.
  • Say seven Glorias with extended arms, in honor of her seven dolors.
  • Make a spiritual communion in union with her dispositions at the Annunciation.
  • Say a Memorare to obtain Mary’s help at the hour of death.
  • Keep silence for a short time, and with Mary ponder on God’s words in your heart.
  • Say a Hail Mary before going to bed, to prevent one mortal sin during the night.
  • Visit her altar or image in atonement for the desecration of her sanctuaries.
  • Say nine Hail Marys in union with the nine choirs of angels who are ever praising her.
  • Say a Salve Regina for the spread of devotion to her.
  • Say fifteen Glorias, in honor of the last fifteen years of Mary’s life, for the grace of perseverance.
  • Kiss the ground, and say three Hail Marys for the virtue of holy purity.
  • Say a Hail Mary in reparation for your neglect of Mary’s service during this month.
  • Distribute leaflets in praise of Mary, scapulars, medals, pictures, and beads, to promote devotion to the blessed Mother of God.

from Fr. Lasance

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My tiny copy of The Catholic Girl’s Guide, with May devotions

“My good Mother and Mistress, I acknowledge that up to this time I have, by your intercession, received more grace from God than I deserve; and my sad experience teaches me that I carry this treasure in a very frail vessel, and that I am too weak and too miserable to keep it safely of myself. I beseech you, therefore, receive in trust all which I possess, and keep it for me by your fidelity and power. If you keep it for me, I shall lose nothing; if you hold me up, I shall not fall; if you protect me, I shall be sheltered from my enemies.”

St. Louis de Montfort

Even though I’ve been so blessed to be Catholic all my life, I feel like I was never deeply devoted to Our Lady until I began St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary for the first time last year. (But I guess anyone who does the Total Consecration must feel something like that πŸ˜‰ )

Although it hasn’t made an instant saint out of me (surprise!), or really changed my faulty self too drastically (though I definitely feel more assisted than ever in my daily combats!)–it made me love her much, much more, and ask her 200% more times for her intercession. After reading St. Louis de Montfort, I felt like I’d only seen rough charcoal sketches of her all my life, and he let me see Bouguereau’s L’Innocence.

Last year, I rambled in a long-winded “article” I drafted up (longwinded-ness is so supremely typical of me πŸ™‚ ):

My nose wrinkled with distrust and a little fear at the concept of spiritual slavery when I embarked on St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary and began reading his book True Devotion to Mary. But St. Louis de Montfort definitely didn’t think so: and over time, he convinced me he was right. Moreover, he showed me that what he termed voluntary slavery doesn’t preclude an intimate and personal relationship of love with our Creator God, but rather elevates such a relationship to an unprecedented place of sweetness, surrender and grace.

Β In the Communion of Saints, St. Louis de Montfort is the boy at the playground who constantly, interminably, endlessly goes on about how wonderful his mother is. In his eyes, she’s the best, the most beautiful, the smartest, the most amazing woman ever to have walked the earth. His stamina for adulation never tires, and he’s always crafting a paean of praise for the mother who gave him–in this case–spiritual birth.

In fact, think it will take me a whole lifetime (or Heaven, really) to see just how right St. Louis de Montfort was about our Blessed Mother. But reading his works and doing Total Consecration lifted much of the veil for me.

Our Lady will certainly capture your heart if you open it even a little to her perfect maternal love. She is so much more beautiful, glorious, powerful and gracious than we can begin to imagine. She truly is the Gate of Heaven for us. And, sometimes, it might take an act of voluntary slavery to begin seeing that.

This devotion consists in giving oneself entirely to Mary in order to belong entirely to Jesus through her. It requires us to give:
Our body with its senses and members;
Our soul with its faculties;
Our present material possessions and all we shall acquire in the future;
Our interior and spiritual possessions, that is, our merits, virtues and good actions of the past, the present and the future.

(True Devotion to Mary, 121)

Now there are three kinds of slavery; natural slavery, enforced slavery, and voluntary slavery. All creatures are slaves of God in the first sense, for “the earth and its fullness belong to the Lord”. The devils and the damned are slaves in the second sense. The saints in heaven and the just on earth are slaves in the third sense. Voluntary slavery is the most perfect of all three states, for by it we give the greatest glory to God, who looks into the heart and wants it to be given to him. Is he not indeed called the God of the heart or of the loving will? For by this slavery we freely choose God and his service before all things, even if we were not by our very nature obliged to do so.

(TDM, 70)

To place yourself entirely in Our Lady’s hands, without reservation, for her to do whatever she pleases with you for the glory of God, takes courage, but it brings infinite peace. St. Louis de Montfort was given the grace to see this, and not only this, but also the inexpressible beauty of the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Second Eve.

God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas (maria). He gathered all his graces together and called them Mary (Maria). The great God has a treasury or storehouse full of riches in which he has enclosed all that is beautiful, resplendent, rare, and precious, even his own Son. This immense treasury is none other than Mary whom the saints call the “treasury of the Lord”. From her fullness all men are made rich.

(TDM, 23)

But whether Total Consecration or no, let’s all make a special effort to honor the Blessed Virgin throughout this month, especially in our homes through the Rosary and other family devotions!

It is by her that Jesus Christ came, and it is by her that we must go to Him. If wee fear to go directly to Jesus Christ our God, whether because of His infinite greatness, or because of our vileness, or because of our sins, let us boldly implore the aid and intercession of Mary our Mother.

She is good, she is tender, she has nothing in her austere or repulsive, nothing too sublime or brilliant. In seeing her, we see our pure nature.

She is not the sun, who, by the vivacity of his rays, blinds us because of our weakness; but she is fair and gentle as the moon, which receives the light of the sun, and tempers it to render it more suitable to our capacity.

She is so charitable that she repels none of those who ask her intercession, no matter how great sinners they have been.

St. Louis de Montfort

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