Make Something Warm: Quilting to Comfort and Support

On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed at Pulse in Orlando on Latinx night and 53 others were injured by a man filled with hate. You probably don’t need to  be reminded of the details. They’re probably etched in your mind and your heart alongside the all-too-many tragedies that came before and that have happened since. But it’s important to repeat the date, the names. Perhaps your heart is starting to feel like a graveyard. Perhaps America is starting to feel like a graveyard.

What can one do in the face of such loss? What happens after the world falls apart? How does one honor those who will never dance again and those who will never hold those dancers again? The Orlando Modern Quilt Guild responded to this tragedy by turning to what it knows, what it does, putting out a call to all quilters for #QuiltsforPulse. Their goal is a minimum of 102 quilts, one for the family of each victim and one for each survivor. They hope to exceed that goal so they can give quilts to the first responders. Groups, guilds, and individuals are spreading the word and getting to work. My sister received an email from Rebecca Saylor, team captain of her local SFEtsy group, asking members to contribute.

“Let’s wrap each other in handmade,” Saylor wrote at the bottom of that email.

My sister–who has made and donated quilts for shelters, for students displaced by Hurricane Katrina, for fundraisers for fire victims and a person battling cancer, and for the homeless–immediately went to her supply closet, where she discovered she already had all the material she would need. OMQG chose a theme of rainbow hearts, and my sister quickly put together her plan for a quilt. Following guidelines provided by OMQG, and using a heart block pattern by Cluck Cluck Sew, my sister created heart blocks in each color of the rainbow and added a two-inch sashing strip in between each row and column of hearts.

She put her own special touch on the quilt with the last block, a heart that holds all the colors of the rainbow. This heart symbolizes the coming together of those within the LGBTQIA and Latinx community in the face of this tragedy, the coming together of allies around those communities, and the coming together of quilters to express love and support and to comfort those affected by the tragedy.

Quilts have always been a symbol of love, comfort, and unity. One of the most amazing quilts in history was started in the wake of the AIDS crisis, when individuals, families, and the LGBT community were wracked with heartbreak and loss. The AIDS Memorial Quilt, as its called, started by Cleve Jones in partnership with Mike Smith and the NAMES Project Foundation, was first displayed in 1987. People from all over the world have contributed to the quilt in one way or another, and the quilt is made of more than 48,000 panels that honor the memory of those lost. You can learn more about this amazing quilt at aidsquilt.org.

We can’t give the grieving families of those killed in Orlando their loved ones back, but making this quilt and spreading the word about this project is something my sister and I can do. And working for stricter gun laws, fighting legislation that puts LGBTQIA people at risk, demanding protection for marginalized groups, and spreading love instead of hate is something we can all do to craft a better world and tomorrow for all.

If you have quilting skills, please contribute to the #QuiltsforPulse by making blocks, tops, or entire quilts; blocks are due by August 15, quilts by September 15. Here are the details. If you don’t have quilting skills, help spread the word by mouth, via groups, and on blogs and social media using the hashtag #QuiltsforPulse.

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Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old; Amanda Alvear, 25 years old; Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old; Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old; Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old; Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old; Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old; Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old; Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old; Cory James Connell, 21 years old; Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old; Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old; Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old; Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old; Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old; Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old; Frank Hernandez, 27 years old; Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old; Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old; Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old; Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old; Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old; Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old; Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old; Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old; Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old; Kimberly Morris, 37 years old; Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old; Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old; Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old; Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old; Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old; Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old; Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old; Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old; Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old; Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old; Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old; Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old; Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old; Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old; Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old; Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old; Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old; Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

Group Crafting

Crafting a better tomorrow doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. You can enlist a crafting buddy like Poptart did with me. You can also find a group you can craft with. In Alameda, California, for example, there is an adorable little shop called Modern Mouse that sells a large variety of local, handcrafted items including art, clothing, accessories, lotions, craft kits, and stationary. They also host a “Crafternoon” once a month that anyone can sign up for. The cost is $10, and the workshop is fun for all skill levels, though beginners will get the most out of the session in terms of learning techniques. Modern Mouse also holds a “Crafternoon for a Cause” every now and then where the items people make during the workshop are donated to a charity or organization.

Poptart and I participated in this month’s Crafternoon for a Cause, and we made felt plush animals for foster children. Modern Mouse will then donate these animals via Sew Mama Sew and the National Foster Parent Association. Modern Mouse purchased the patterns for the animals from Little Hibou Shop, and the fabulous Niki Baker of Foreignspell provided instruction. Crafters could choose to sew an elephant, a lion, or a giraffe.

Some of the benefits of joining a group crafting session are that the supplies are collected and ready for you, the cleanup is minimal, and someone else goes through the sometimes arduous task of arranging and completing the donation. Some of the disadvantages can be the cost (though Modern Mouse’s sessions are extremely affordable), the limited choices of what craft can be made, and table mates who occasionally try one’s patience (as I certainly did for Poptart). Make sure you are comfortable with the craft choice beforehand.

I must admit, sewing is not my thing. In fact, I find it extremely tedious and dull so this craft session was not exactly pleasant. I also made the mistake of choosing the giraffe, not realizing that I would have to cut out and sew on each spot and the perimeter I would have to sew was also  the longest.

Poptart, on the other hand, is an experienced sewer and enjoys it. The difference in our experiences with our plush could be heard in the noises we made while sewing. I sighed frequently and loudly, mumbled often in annoyance, and occasionally slammed something onto the table a little too hard. Poptart hummed happily in between comments like, “Don’t you find this so calming?” After sewing for nearly two and a half hours and losing more than a few hairs, I could safely say, “Not in the slightest.” Poptart even had to help me by sewing the spots on one side of my giraffe and finishing my perimeter.

While Poptart’s lion turned out well, I was not happy with my giraffe. I did my blanket stich to long on the neck so the stuffing showed a little. This is, perhaps, my least favorite part of a group sewing effort for a donation. If I had been making the craft at home, I could start over if it didn’t turn out, but I had to hand my less-than-perfect giraffe over as it was, hoping that the recipient would forgive my lack of sewing skills.

However, if you want to do something good for someone with your crafting itch, and you want some company while you do, a group crafting session might be just the thing. So find a place like Modern Mouse that helps people craft a better tomorrow, and spread the word and love to others.

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Powering the Craft Movement

Poptart and I wrote about volunteering one’s crafting skills last year when we helped build a community garden, but other skills are also vital to keep the craft movement strong. Craft fairs often need people who can help with set up, take down, customer service, vendor support, planning and much more so even when you’re not crafting, you can help fellow crafters succeed. Rather than seeing other craftspeople as competition, Poptart and I see them as partners in a craft revolution that is showing Americans just how valuable and heartwarming handmade and local can be. We are a community, and communities rely on the active participation of their members. That’s why Poptart and I believe so strongly in volunteering.

This past weekend we volunteered for the SF Etsy Indie Holiday Emporium held at Pier 35 in San Francisco. I have to admit that Poptart had to do a bit of convincing before I agreed to help with this event because it took place on Black Friday weekend in one of the most popular tourist areas of the city, and Poptart wanted to volunteer for the 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. shift on Small Business Saturday. However, her adventurous spirit and promise to provide plenty of coffee finally won me over, and we signed up.

Poptart found out about the event on Facebook from the SF Etsy page; the show would take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and about 168 Etsy Sellers would have booths. Poptart and I decided we wanted to help with set up and vendor support so we chose the early shift. This allowed us to avoid the holiday crowds on the commute into the city. We also chose public transportation to avoid parking drama. Finally, we didn’t take any purses or bags and wore light jackets in case there was nowhere to leave our things (there wasn’t). These are just some planning things to keep in mind to keep your volunteer experience as stress free as possible.

The best advice we can give you is don’t be shy. If you have a talent for a particular task let organizers know. They are often grateful for your enthusiasm and feedback. They also don’t have time to babysit or micro manage, so being confident in your abilities and with your task is important.

After getting a feel for the scene, Poptart and I quickly found a place we could be useful. We helped mark vendor spots at the pier, answered vendor questions and directed them to their spot, helped vendors set up their booths, and helped vendors haul their equipment and merchandise to their spot. There was very little parking in front of the pier for unloading, so many vendors were stressed and scrambling. It felt good to help relieve some of their stress by watching their merchandise while they parked, helping them get all their things where they needed to be, and troubleshooting any obstacles that popped up.

Poptart and I greatly enjoyed the experience. It was hard, fulfilling work that was appreciated by event organizers and vendors. Many event organizers came to us to thank us for our help, and vendors even stopped us after our shift ended to express their thanks. SF Etsy even dedicated a post to us on Instagram and Facebook:

Besides receiving warm thanks, each volunteer also received a gift certificate to use at the event as well as an adorable helper pin made by Rebecca Saylor of OodleBaDoodle that we got to keep. It felt great to check out the booths after our shift and know that we helped put everything together. The shopping after was, of course, a big bonus. Poptart and I found a truffula tree as well as new prints by two of our favorite local artists, Amy Rose Moore and Nidhi Chanani.

Another incentive to volunteer for craft fairs is the opportunity to meet and interact with your favorite crafters and artists. We were delighted to receive our marching orders from Rebecca of OodleBaDoodle, one of our favorite Etsy sellers (check out her adorable pillows!). We also got to speak with Amy Rose Moore for the first time.

But of course, the greatest incentive to volunteer for craft fairs is the knowledge that by doing so, you are crafting a better tomorrow, a tomorrow where goods are made and sold locally, artists and crafters are treasured for their skills and imaginations, and shoppers are not beholden to big box retailers. Long live handmade!

Crafting to Show Gratitude

Is there anything more satisfying than giving a gift that’s tailored to the recipient? Well, when you make your gifts yourself, tailoring is pretty much guaranteed.  When you craft, you have all the power. So you can incorporate elements into your items that reflect the values and characteristics of the person those items are intended for. Poptart and I love to make hand-crafted gifts for all occasions, but we especially like to make them to express appreciation.

Consider all the organizations, groups, causes, or individuals you support in spirit or monetarily. They all probably value monetary donations because these help them continue their work. However, a gift that boosts the morale of employees or staff members is often a welcome surprise, especially for organizations that are engaged in heated or difficult battles. Work for such things as social change can be wearing on anyone, and it’s nice to be reminded that people value one’s work, one’s sacrifices, and one’s goals. A box of hand-crafted gifts can be the perfect thing to brighten someone’s day and strengthen his or her resolve.

Poptart and I chose to make a hand-made thank-you for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to show our gratitude for their work to end illegal whaling, the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, and the assault on marine life around the world. This awesome collection of conservationists often faces personal peril to ensure the survival of whales and other creatures. Though Poptart and I can’t hit the seas ourselves to join their cause, we wanted to send them a little something to show we are there with them in spirit.

We chose to make keychains to express our gratitude so that the crew and staff will have something they can take everywhere that will remind them that people care about their work. We made as many keychains as our budget would allow, which didn’t provide one for every member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, but we hope what we did make will be appreciated by those who receive them.

Keychains have a lot of different elements, depending on what you choose to make. We purchased stone whale charms in bulk on Ebay. The charms turned out to be quite fragile. Several arrived broken, and a few broke during the crafting process, but we love the look of the charm. We also purchased corks from Scrap in San Francisco for the body of the keychain.  We like the look the cork provides and its tie to acts of celebration, and we figured it would allow the keychain to float if dropped in water. We also got 3 inch eye pins to serve as the core of the keychain, key rings of various shapes for the top of the keychain, and blue and pearl beads for the bottom of the keychain. We also used blue paint, and we needed needle-nose pliers to shape the eye pins.

These keychains turned out to be much more difficult to make than we anticipated. We originally wanted to paint or stamp the logo of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on the cork and dangle the whale charm underneath the cork. This turned out to be impossible. We couldn’t find any skull stencils, and our attempts to cut our own stencils failed miserably. The stencil produced a fuzzy image that was not recognizable. We tried to cut the cork into sections to provide a flat surface, but this also failed. The corks were too crumbly, and we lacked the tools to produce a smooth cut. I tried to paint the logo on the cork, but this proved too time-consuming for the amount of corks we had. Plus, I couldn’t get a sharp enough line with any paint pens or brushes to make any logo or words recognizable.

One valuable skill you have to possess to remain a sane crafter is flexibility. So after many frustrating attempts to produce our original vision of the keychain, we conceded defeat and switched tactics. We decided to leave the cork itself whole and paint it blue so it serves as an ocean. We then placed the whale charm on top of the cork instead of underneath it so it looks like the whale is swimming on the ocean. We finished the keychain by dangling blue and pearl beads underneath.

These keychains take a lot of time and patience, and the supplies were not cheap. The finished product is more fragile than we prefer, especially considering the environments the keychain will be in, but we like the result. If you would like to make these keychains, or ones similar to them, here are the steps we went through after gathering our supplies:

1. Use a darning needle with a strong cord tied on the end to punch a hole through the cork, lengthwise. Then thread the eye pin through the hole you created.

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2. Paint the corks with acrylic paint. Push them into a piece of cardboard or a box to dry. Then apply an outdoor sealant to each cork to waterproof it. We used Mod Podge. Stick the corks back into the cardboard to dry.

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3. Turn the cork so that the eyelet of the eye pin is facing down. This will be the bottom of the keychain. Thread the whale charm through the straight end of the eye pin so that the whale charm rests on the cork. This will be the top of the keychain. Use needle-nose pliers to curve the straight end of the eye pin into a loop. Before you close the loop, slide in a key ring, and then close the loop with the needle-nose pliers.

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4. Use twine to string your selection of beads on the bottom of the keychain, using the eyelet of the eye pin. We tied the twine so that two strings dangled. We then threaded on beads and tied the two threads together to form a circle. However, you can let the beads dangle or choose any look you want.

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And there you have your whale keychain!

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We wrapped each keychain in bubble wrap to protect them in transit. And now we just have to mail them! You can usually get the mail address for donation items from the organization’s website or by contacting the organization. When possible, email or call the organization to see if your gifts will be welcome.

We tailored our keychains to the organization we wished to thank.

Think of organizations, groups, and individuals you admire. What craft could you make to show your gratitude for their existence and work? Now, gather your supplies and get crafting!

And a sincere thank-you to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and everyone who works tirelessly to craft a better tomorrow for all who share our planet.

Having Fun while Helping Mother Earth

Earth Day is April 22, and there are many crafty ways you can participate in the love-fest for our home. One way to get involved is to participate in art and craft fairs that use and advocate the use of leftover material and tidbits that would normally be considered trash. Richmond Art Center’s Upcycle fair is just such an event. The activities they offer at this FREE hands-on event show visitors how to use creativity to turn trash into treasures.

Upcycle is still new (this year was its second go), and already it’s run like a years-hardened event. The organization, atmosphere, and layout create a low-stress, high-fun environment with activities for all age and skill levels. The event is held at the Richmond Art Center, mostly in the inner courtyard, and this year it took place on Saturday, April 12, from 1-4 p.m.

The activities Upcycle offers makes even the grownups give in to the gleeful cries of their inner child, especially when presented with the opportunity to make something like a drawing robot. Poptart, the seasoned crafter, put me to shame at many of the booths, but  I still walked away with something I was proud of. We tried most activities, and though some booths were busy and required people to wait to participate, the wait was worth it. Besides, it was entertaining just watching what everyone chose to make. It was also heartwarming to see kids enjoying learning about the value of reusing materials and giving the earth as much of a break as possible.

The first activity we did was make screen-printed patches with Joyce Shon and Monica Gyulai. They explained how screen printing works and what to do and then let us apply the ink to our patches. Poptart then made a robot that draws by itself at the California 4-H Foundation. The gentleman at the booth taught everyone how to attach markers to a paper cup and to attach the battery pack and rotor to the top of the cup. The table and the nearby ground were covered with paper, so when a robot was finished, it could be set loose on a blank canvas. This was my favorite station. I loved seeing all the robots humming away and imagining the chaos they would happily cause in each creator’s home.

We then made bracelets out of bike inner tubes with Holly Carter. There were numerous examples available to guide one’s design, and Carter was generous with advice and instructions. All of the equipment and supplies one could want were available, and we were impressed with everyone’s results. There was a young girl next to us who created two bracelets like a pro.

The final activity we did was make a metal leaf with Ed Lay. He taught us how to fold the metal, cut it, pound the side to elongate it to the shape we wanted, and then fired the metal to make it pliable enough to open and finish. He was able to tailor his instructions to any skill level and age, and everyone seemed to be happy with the result of their work.

Other activities that were a joy to observe was the creation of a garbage can by Daud Abdullah and visitors using glass shards, glass beads, and other items, the blending of smoothies by stationary bike with Urban Tilth, the weaving of small rugs with Susan Sterling, and the creation of hats with Kiki Rostad. There were many more booths and activities to choose from. While enjoying the activities, we were treated to the otherworldly yet delightful sounds of the Crank Ensemble. They had a variety of what appeared to be hand-crafted instruments that made a music to resonate with one’s inner funk and quirk.

We walked away from this event with a wonderful variety of creations, and everything was free! However, many booths had donation jars to help make up for the materials used.  All of the activities were quick and easy to complete, and visitors of all ages seemed to enjoy them. Check out the Richmond Art Center website to learn more about the booths and performances: http://www.therac.org/html/calendar.html#upcycle.

Also, check to see if similar craft events are happening in your area. With a little creativity and a big imagination, you can craft a better tomorrow for the planet, and you won’t be left empty handed.

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Warming Hearts at the Office

Valentine’s Day is great for couples, of course, but why should they get all the fun? Love, after all, has many forms, and romantic love doesn’t have to be king. For singles and those who have to work on Valentine’s Day, this holiday can not only be a little depressing but annoying. That’s why Poptart always does something special for her coworkers on Valentine’s Day. This year, she made Valentine mice out of Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses. And whose heart wouldn’t melt into a big, sloshy puddle of happiness walking into the office and finding one of these adorable little critters in the in box?

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These little guys (or gals) are so cheap and easy to make! The only materials you need are Hugs and Kisses (any flavor you want!), a glue stick, red and pink paper, a heart die cutter, and a smile.

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First, cut out a stack of hearts. Then, fold the bottom of each heart up. This gives the mouse something to sit on.

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Now, take the Kisses and rip the paper tag off the top (this will be the mouse’s nose). Then glue the Kiss to the front of the heart, with the bottom flap pointing up.

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Now you’re ready to put the back on. Take the Hug and glue it to the back of the heart. Don’t rip the paper tag off the Hug (this is the mouse’s tail!). Your mouse is complete and should be able to stand up by itself!

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Don’t forget to add a cute note to the mice you hand out. Poptart and I made about 50 mice, and it only took us 30 minutes. Imagine all the smiles you’ll create at work by handing these out. Crafting a better tomorrow means crafting a happier work environment. So get crafting! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Volunteering those Crafting Skills

So far, Poptart and I have written posts about creating things and donating them, but time is one of the most valuable donations anyone can make. And crafters make valuable volunteers. Many organizations need craftspeople and their skilled hands to help with projects. That’s why Poptart and I signed up to help with Alameda’s construction of a community garden at the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park as part of the Alameda Community Garden Day of Service .

Organizers began the event by thanking us, explaining the day’s agenda, and reminding us of the history of the open space we stood upon. Jean Sweeney became a community hero and legend when she uncovered documents that allowed the city of Alameda to purchase old railroad land owned by the Belt Line for less than $1 million. The city named the property after her and has dedicated it to the residents, both human and animal, by earmarking the space for a park and nature preserve. The community garden, built by volunteers and sponsored by local businesses and figures such as Supervisor Wilma Chan, is the first of many projects planned for the site.

Volunteers could work half or full shifts on January 18, 2014, and could choose from a variety of projects: painting, arts and crafts with children, planter box construction, weeding, mulching, and tilling.

Poptart and I chose painting, and our task was to whitewash the border wall for the garden in preparation of the mural being painted by another group. The painting was more fun than work, and we fully enjoyed the opportunity to get dirty. By the wall’s completion, Poptart and I had paint on our clothes and shoes, in our hair, and on every exposed piece of skin. And we handled the appearance of insects escaping the activity with grace. Poptart even saved a spider from committing suicide in the paint pan, and I rescued a snail caught in foot traffic and sun.

Once our part of the wall was complete, Poptart and I helped remove some very thorny and overgrown blackberry bushes by carrying their branches away for disposal after brave souls had cut them down. We also joined a group trying to haul away a giant rock. Physics were discussed, leverage was agreed upon, and hypotheses were tested. Finally, the rock was maneuvered into a wheelbarrow and carted away, leaving us to wonder how many Alamedans does it take to… 🙂

Although we volunteered our time to help create this wonderful addition to Alameda, I think we were and will become the beneficiaries. Working outside in the warm weather and blessed sunshine and watching all the volunteers working hard and having fun made us both feel like kids again, and that’s priceless. It also warmed our hearts to know that we were helping to build something that will be a cherished and useful part of the community, providing fresh fruit and vegetables for the food bank as well as educational opportunities for residents.

The organizers for the event (ARPD, Project LEAF, and more) thanked the volunteers by providing a generous breakfast and pizza for lunch, but I’m sure I speak for many other volunteers in offering a big thank you in return for the opportunity to come together and build such a wonderful thing. By allowing us to help make a community garden, they became our partners in crafting a better tomorrow for the city of Alameda.

If you want to learn more about Jean Sweeney or the open space named after her, visit www.alamedaopenspace.com. You can also learn more about Project LEAF by visiting www.projectleaf.blogspot.com.

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