Thursday, October 30, 2008


I get excited about any time of the year that I can decorate the house or do something fun in the village. Halloween is no exception. I know lots of people don't agree with the idea of 'trick or treating' and I know in South Africa it isn't really possible because of the security aspect. But kids love a bit of spookiness, and Halloween can be kept sweet, simple and fun without anything sinister.

In our village here in Oxfordshire there's an unwritten rule that everyone follows- children only go trick or treating at houses they are familiar with, and then only to those who have a pumpkin on display to welcome them. It seems a good and fair rule, because not everyone wants to or can afford to take part. Also if you are uncomfortable with some of the more sinister themes that go with Halloween, stick to creepy crawlies and pumpkin carving, either way it's a great time of year to get crafty.

This is of course strictly speaking not a home keeping post, but I hope you'll enjoy some of the Halloween ideas for your home anyway.

There are some great ideas on the Internet - I particularly like the Martha Stewart website for things to make. If you don't want your kids to partake in trick or treating, why not have a home party with some spooky cakes and decorate the inside of your house? Below are some great spooky food ideas I found. I'm planning a few carved pumpkins, some bat cutouts to go in the windows and a spooky black bin liner curtain at the front door - I'll post pictures at the weekend to show you which of these other ideas I've used.

And don't forget, while you've got your witches broom out, sweep the floor! ;)
These creepy food ideas are just right for Halloween, and don't go over the top in ghoulishness. I love this spider muffin from the 'Not Martha ' blog - it looks fab!
This spider web cake from the 'Dip me in chocolate and call me a dessert' (fab name) blog looks delicious and just the thing to go on a Halloween cake stand. The recipe can be found on the blog.
A great idea from the Martha website - brain cupcakes. Click on the picture to go to the website.And a lovely simple idea to turn innocent gingerbread men into Halloween themed biscuits, from the Tesco website.This would be brilliant for a Halloween party punch - so creepy! See how to make it on the KidsKuisine website -it's much easier than you think!
When decorating for Halloween, forget about the plastic toys that cost a fortune, I always think simple silhouette cardboard cutouts on the windows or walls, pumpkin lanterns and some dead branches are effective and look classy. Tissue paper is great for making lots of cutouts to stick up around the house. Last year I used orange tissue paper folded in half to cut out jack o' lanterns to go on the windows. It took about 5 minutes to make loads.
This looks stylish and creepy- another Martha idea of course!
I love how this decoration from the Design Mom blog creates a creepy atmosphere but avoids tacky goriness. And a flower arrangement that can be kept after the Halloween decorations come down - once again an example that simple ideas can be so effective.
For those of you who don't like the creepy stuff, glam Halloween up with these fab glitter pumpkins. I love them, but do be wary that your house will probably end up glittered for life. Glitter has a way of sticking to anything.
This front porch arrangement was spotted by the people from the apartment therapy website in New York. They obviously took Martha's ideas to heart - I like the pink pumpkin!Or how about these silver painted ones -so glam!
And if you're into pumkin carving , you must go see the carved pumkin ideas on teh Martha website here.
And my favourite costume ideas for this year are these two.... But unfortunately I'm not prepared to spend loads of money on tulle, so I might just stick to the witches theme for now. What will you be doing for Halloween tomorrow?
And when it's all over... *sigh* I'll be getting out my duster to brush away the cobwebs in the dark corners of the house and on our outside windows sills - unfortunately there's no excuse for cobwebs after Halloween! Have a great weekend.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Home Inventory

I've mentioned before that home keeping is not just about cleaning - the art of home keeping is keeping our homes safe and making them comfortable, so cleaning is merely one part of that process. There is one thing that has been playing on my mind recently after both my mum and my friend's homes have been burgled, and that is to protect ourselves in case of theft, fire or a natural disaster. We have take out home insurance, but if you expect to be compensated properly, you'll need to have a list of what is in your home and this is done in the form a home inventory. We've not done one ourselves yet, so that's what I'm planning to do today.

A Home Inventory helps you to keep a list of valuable items you have accumulated over the years and is extremely handy when you need to decide on a home insurance policy and even more important when you need to make claims on your home insurance. The thought that any of us could be affected by crime, a house fire or a natural disaster seems unbearable to think about. However, something such as a home inventory is fairly easy to put together considering what help it could be in various situations. It seems daunting at first to have to think about everything you own, but taking it room by room, it doesn't take too long. Here are ideas to help you put together a Home Inventory - you'll sleep better knowing that if anything was to ever happen, you are just that little bit better prepared to cope with it.

There are plenty of online home inventory software programmes you can download. They allow you to easily make a list with pictures that are linked to the list. These are useful if you find the idea of doing it yourself daunting. Try these examples below, or follow my steps on doing it yourself.

Creating a home inventory:

1) The easiest way to do your home inventory, is to start by using a digital camera. Go through your house room by room, taking pictures of the rooms,making sure you include general appliances, artworks, and furniture in the photos.

2) Don't forget the garage and to look in cupboards too, since it's easy to miss out valuable items such as collectible crockery or an expensive cutlery set. These must all be included in your inventory. If you have any specific items of value such as an expensive quilt, vintage dress (don't forget your wedding dress if you still own it), artworks, cameras or antique collections, photograph these separated.

3) Next comes the tedious part. You have to sit down, go through your photos and write down (or type of course) a list of all valuable items. Categorise your list by room, or you can also group things such as General appliances together. If you can remember write down the model, the amount you paid and where you bought these items. Even better, if you have receipts for any of your expensive items, keep these with your home inventory.
4) Once you have your list and your photos - you can either print them off or just save them to disk. Whichever way you do it, you will need to keep your home inventory in a safe place - as in a fireproof safe. Alternatively leave a spare copy at a friend or relative's home.

If writing or typing out a list isn't something you look forward to doing, you can make a videotape instead whereby you can walk through your house, videotaping as you talk through what the items are. But I know that I'd just be too embarrassed to talk on a videotape that might have to be seen by some stranger at an insurance company.

But that's all there is to making a home inventory. Now comes the important bit - you will need to remember to update your inventory list. The next time you make a substantial purchase, keep the receipt, and don't forget to add that item to your inventory. A good idea, is to add 'update inventory' to your list of things to do the beginning of the new year - especially if you might have been given a Christmas present of value. Alternatively add 'update inventory' to your spring cleaning list.

And while we're on the subject of keeping things safe, do remember that passports, birth and marriage certificates are valuable items that are a pain to replace, and are a definite target for burglars who sell them on the black market. These items always need to be kept in a secure place such as a fireproof safe. I'd also highly recommend that you make copies of these items (you can have them certified by a police officer if you like) and leave them with a relative or friend, this is extremely handy if ever you are travelling for instance and you loose your passport.

We shouldn't go through life paranoid about losing our possessions or being burgled, however things can happen, and doing something such as creating a home inventory is a simple step that will help ease a potentially stressful and emotional situation.

Thanks to Lesley for my award!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shiny clean windows for a great view

Thanks for all the lovely comments on my last post! You'll be happy to know I'm back on track and the dog booties have been made... Debbie, I promise to post some pictures of the dog wearing them soon- he looks ever so sweet. Talking of whom - have you all seen Debbie's grand new online shop? For all things vintage, shabby chic, romantic and just plain gorgeous, go take a look (I don't normally advertise on my site, but Debbie also happens to be one of the friendliest bloggers you'll come across and deserves the recognition).

Back to the windows then. Window cleaning is an essential part of seasonal cleaning. Of course it's easy enough to get a window cleaner to clean the glass, but there's allot more to window cleaning than just the glass, and plus... window cleaning (all of it) is a home keeping skill we should all know how to do properly because it doesn't need doing often. So if you're going to clean your windows before your Halloween or Christmas display go up, you might as well do it properly - and here's how:

You're going to need a window cleaning kit containing...
Dusting cloth

White vinegar

Lint free cloths (micro fibre cloths such as the e-cloth is great!)

Rubber gloves

Straight edged razor blade or a sharp scraper

Sturdy ladder

Fungicide or 1:3 diluted solution of water and bleach*

Soapy water (dish washing liquid is just fine)

* This is only if you have mould growing in the corners of your window frames due to condensation.

Ideally start window cleaning from the outside - choose a a time a time of day that the sun is not directly shining onto the windows because this will result in the windows drying too fast and streaking.
  • Start off by brushing away cobwebs and loose dirt from around the window.
  • Mix a solution of 1 part vinegar and 1 part hot water. Use this solution to wash the windows with a sponge rubbing away any dirt.
  • Starting at an upper corner, wipe the squeegee down the window in a smooth straight stroke, moving along the window and wiping the squeegee with a lint free cloth after every stroke. Dry the sill at the bottom with a cloth.
  • Now use a dampened cloth and the soapy water to wash the frames of dirt and the vinegar solution, paying particular attention to the corners where dirt and grime gathers.
  • If any marks remain on the glass after washing, use the razor blade or scraper to scrape off the marks, taking care not to scratch the windows.
  • Fungicide or diluted bleach can be used in the corners of windows to prevent mould growing back.
Repeat the same steps on the inside of the windows, making sure to clean the frames of any vinegar solution and dusting and polishing any window hardware with a suitable cleaning solution. For large windows, use the method to squeegee your windows that you see office window cleaners use - it's called the snake method. The squeegee gets pulled horizontally across the top of the window, turning at the end and winding your way down to the bottom of the window. Yikes, I'm glad I don't have his job.

Please only ever use very gentle PH neutral cleaners on stained glass. Painted glass should only ever be washed with warm water and a soft sponge, and leaded windows should also only be washed with a PH neutral cleaner - so don't just use a vinegar solution on everything - eek!

When cleaning your windows also check for any window putty that needs to be replaced or rotting wood that could do with filling, or paint retouches that are needed. When we bought our house, the windows had been neglected, and once we touched them up with some wood paint the look of the house from the outside changed drastically!

I'll be honest and say that I find washing windows a bit of a pain, but oh boy does it make a difference. Looking out of clean windows will make your house feel fresh as a daisy, and the light will bouncing off all of your favourite possessions like the crystals in Pollyanna (I love that movie!).
So go ahead and clean your windows before you show off your Christmas ornaments this winter (or summer for those of you down south!)... I know I need to!

Channel 4 - How to clean windows
Martha Stewart's Home Keeping Handbook
The Daily Green

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When it's all too much.

I apologise for not doing my usual organised long post today - but I'm afraid I've had a bit of a wobble. Now I am sure that those of you with kids will know this 'all too much' phrase quite well already, but the rest of us also have our moments. Respect to all you mums though!

This week on Monday a stomach bug kicked into my system - it was tiring and draining and I stayed off work for the whole of Tuesday even struggling to make a cup of tea. By Wednesday of course the whole ordeal was over and it was back to my usual routine of keeping busy. But it's amazing how one day off threw me, and two days on I've fallen even further behind with housework. Last night after making dinner we took our beautiful Greyhound for his dog training class and the dog trainer once again pointed out that his feet look very sore and we need to get it checked. But we've already had his feet checked and I'm making him some booties to protect his feet - but at that point I was tired and that was just one more thing on my list that hadn't been done... and then I got that sinking feeling that it's all too much and I can't possibly get everything done in time (such a drama queen I am!). Now I know this all seems very dramatic over a pair of dog booties that need to get made, but it's been building up since we returned from our holiday - and the house honestly is in a bit of a state. It didn't help that I went straight back to work after our trip, but how did it get like this?

Picture taken from Balt Amour.

So what do you do when it all gets too much? First thing I think is to sit down with a cup of tea and sort out my mind. This is where I struggle with housework - it's too easy when things get out of control to sit down and ignore it - or ummmm, do some blogging, oops. So here I am with my research again to see what those of us who feel out of control can do to get back in control without pulling our hair out. But for the rest of you, please share your tips of how you keep on top of juggling it all? Do you religiously follow a routine? Do you use to-do lists and reward yourselves when it all gets done? Do share!

I've discovered that when it all gets too much, you need to break things down into smaller, less daunting tasks and prioritise. Disorganised spaces makes for mind clutter because it stops you from switching off. For me, it's all about how tidy the house looks - once it's tidy, I don't mind the cleaning! I'm going to keep it simple and short- writing a long list of things will just make it more daunting and unappealing. Here's how I'll start:
  1. De-clutter... easier said than done. But few things give me a kick start to clean as much as throwing out clutter. I'll start with every unnecessarily kept magazine, catalogue and pamphlet. Then I'm going to sort through my jewellery and put all the things I've no worn over the past year in a charity box. Next up is make-up and toiletries - I'm chucking those out of date creams I know are lurking in the bathroom cabinet.
  2. Put some washing on - one more pile of dirty washing out of the way already makes a huge difference to how the house feels and the idea of fresh smelling white laundry tumbling in the washing machine already puts my mind at ease.
  3. Sort out the pile of done washing - pack away socks and pants and get the rest ready for an iron.
  4. Make dog booties
  5. Have some chocolate
  6. Tomorrow - get back onto the usual cleaning routine and do that pile of ironing.
So that's my list of things to do after work, it won't get everything done that needs doing, but it'll be a great start.
Lucky for me, my husband cooks well, so he can take care of dinner tonight. Perhaps that's one of the secrets, don't try and do it all yourself - but it's so hard not to want to do it all perfectly all the time and then not feeling like a failure when things don't all get done. I need to remind myself however that perfection is not what we should strive for- but by being the best we can be and
occasionally switching off to let things be is not the end of the world.

Today I've learnt that focusing on one small task at a time, and a bit of chocolate to aim for makes anything achievable.
I'll let you know if I get back on track! Don't forget to let us in on your secrets of getting it all done! It all seems so petty now.
Hopefully in no time I'll be ship-shape back to the happy busy vacuuming person - Anthea Turner style! Ha ha, I wish :)

I'll be posting again at the weekend with my normal more organised posts... that is if the chocolate hasn't distracted me too much!
Have a lovely Friday tomorrow!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thread Count, Weave and all that Jazz...

I use to choose my sheets, duvet and pillow covers based on their pretty patterns and colours (and affordability) not giving much thought to what they were made of or what the quality was. But after a few cheap and highly uncomfortable bedding buys (although they were pretty), I remembered the comfortable white bedding that my mum bought us after a trip to Malaysia. So I decided to replace all the bedding in our house with plain white bedding that was comfortable and breathable, thinking it would be more affordable and would hopefully last throughout my changing colour schemes.

What I didn't realise was what a minefield of terms and decisions I would have to go through just in order to buy a simple white cotton sheets - not to mention some rather expensive choices. I wanted to know how it was possible that one white sheet costs £90 in comparison to a £3 sheet? So here you have it, a post all about sheets and bedding, and how to make sure that next time you treat yourself to new pillowcases you can make an informed decision about whether those pillowcases really are worth the money you are spending on them. Just a quick note be fore we start, I'm very easily swayed by bargains, but I must say that in terms of bedding I have learnt that investing in good quality is worth it, but don't worry, it still can be very affordable - but you might want to forget about that £3 sheet if you want a good night's sleep. There's allot of detail in this post that some of you might not be that interested in, in which case skim through the top bit and skip to the conclusions to sum up how to make your choices, but these are the things you need to consider (in this order) when buying sheets: Fibre content, weave and thread count.

Fibre Content

This refers to what the bed linen is made from, cotton being the most common and in my opinion, complicated, so let's get that out the way.

Cotton is comfortable, natural, easy to care for, it keeps you warm but also cool. Have you ever notice that when you wear a synthetic fibre top you tend to get a bit sweatier than if you wear a cotton top? That is because cotton is 'breathable' meaning it is permeable to water vapour, thus allowing sweat to freely evaporate away from your body, lovely. It's wonderful stuff, but confusing when you try to buy a sheet. There are different types of cotton fibres identified by the staple or length of the fibre. The longer the staple, the stronger the fabric. Here are the type of cottons you can find, if a sheet is simply marked 100% cotton, it is probably a shorter staple.

Egyptian cotton - the longest staple in the world, but only if it comes from the Nile region.
Pima Cotton - one of the best quality cottons grown in America (Supima is the trademark that shows a sheet is made from 100% Pima cotton)
Sea Island Cotton - Said to be the finest of all cottons - rare, silky and white grown in the west Indies.
Intermediate staple cottons - Used for bedding with a thread count up to 230.
Shorts staple cottons - these are what you will find commonly in bedding from Asia.

Sheets made from linen are ideal for hot climates because the fabric stays cool. Linen is made from the flax fibres that are very durable because of resistance to abrasion or rubbing. But linen can also be rendered into delicate fabrics. Linens need special care, and are more expensive than cotton ones, but can last a very long time if cared for properly. So not the best choice if you love your 40 degrees wash cycle for everything and remember that linen also creases easily. But saying that, good quality linen bedding is a great luxury!

As opposed to linen, silk sheets will keep you warm as they drape around the contours of your body closely, but they are also durable although less so to abrasion which is why silk is not commonly used to upholster sofas or chairs. They are the epitome of luxury to some, but be weary if you like to keep cool at night.

Bamboo is usually mixed with cotton to make sheets, but because of the bamboo plant's ability to grow fast, it is becoming a popular choice as an environmentally friendly fabric. The great thing about bamboo is that it is naturally antibacterial, it is soft and allows for air circulation and as a bonus dries quickly after washing. I think bamboo will become more and more popular in our environmentally aware times.

These fibres include polyester, acrylic and rayon. They are resistant to creasing, but less comfortable than 'natural' fibres because of their low absorbency IE. you tend to get warmer under synthetic sheets because sweat cannot effectively evaporate away from your body. Many sheets nowadays are a blend of synthetic and natural fibres for durability and crease free qualities.


There are three basic weaves - the rest are variations of these particular weaves, plain weave, satin weave and twill weave.
Plain weave is the most common weave used to make sheeting, it is crisp and allows for air circulation.
Percale is a plain weave cotton fabric or cotton mix fabric with no fewer than 180 threads per square inch (see thread count below). These tightly woven threads result in a fine finish and texture.
Muslin is another plain weave where the thread count must be no fewer than 128, but muslin sheets normally don't exceed a thread count of 160.
Satin weave or sateen is where a number of threads lie directly next to each other when woven making for a smooth lustrous sheen to the fabric. They snag easily which is why the thread count of a sateen sheet needs to be higher.
Twill weave produces strong bedding fabrics that have a softer drape. They have more cotton fibres exposed on the surface and can therefore be brushed for extra softness.
Flannel can be made from either a plain or twill weave with a slightly napped surface on one or both sides giving it a soft fuzzy texture. Flannel sheets are usually very warm and best suited as winter bedding.
Jersey is a plain stitch knitted cloth. The fabric is knitted in circular, flatbed or warp knitted methods. Very elastic with good draping qualities.

Thread count
You might have seen adverts for Egyptian cotton sheets with a 600 thread count at a hefty price, and let me tell you, the sheet industry knows how to cash in on marketing sheets at a certain thread count... so what does it mean? Thread count is the number of horizontal and vertical threads in one square inch of fabric, so basically how closely the fibres are woven together. The higher the thread count the softer, more durable and probably more expensive the sheet is. But that doesn't mean you should buy the highest thread count you can afford, it's not quite that simple and not the only way you should choose your bedding sets. If a finer yarn is used, it's easy to get more threads within the one square inch of fabric, but this only makes a stronger sheet if long staple fibres are used. Therefore a muslin sheet made with a courser yarn might only have a 180 thread count, but would be just as durable as a sheet made of a finer yarn at 300 thread count but it wont be as soft and luxurious. Hospital sheets are an example of this - they are crisp and course but very durable.
Some manufacturers also cheat by using two very fine threads twisted together to make on thread, and then double the stated thread count even though it doesn't make a difference to the quality or feel.

Basically when you look at thread count, if you want a touch of luxury, look for a minimum of 200 thread count, but be wary of thread counts higher than 400.

More bed linen terms:
Combed- a technique used with cotton to remove shorter fibres producing soft durable fabrics.
Mercerized - this is where yarn is immersed in a caustic soda solution to increase the lustre and strength.
Carded - this process removes impurities by separating the fibres. Carded cotton is constructed of short-staple cotton.
Ring spun - A technique where fibres are mechanically twisted to produce a stronger yarn.
Yarn dyed - this is where the yarn is dyed before it is woven to produce a uniform colour.

Consider your preferences of how you like to sleep at night - do you prefer crisp sheets that keep you warm, but don't smother you? Or do you prefer luxurious softness that lies close to your skin?
If you can afford it, a true Egyptian cotton at a thread count of 400 would make most people very happy. But 100% cotton bed linen at a 200 thread count is great if you like crisp sheets. Although if you don't believe in ironing bed linen, cotton does crease quite a bit, but then I find hanging the bed linen up taught helps allot!

A synthetic/cotton mix is preferable if you really want to avoid ever ironing sheets or pillowcases, and will probably stand more wear and tear from repeated washing, so good for children's bedding. Personally I wouldn't recommend purely synthetic bedding because I find them uncomfortable and sweaty, but then I do love my cotton, so perhaps I'm biased.

Silk bed linen is of course a great luxury, but only if you like being kept warm, some people find them a bit smothering and claustrophobic because they drape so close to the skin. But apparently silk pillowcases don't make nasty sheet marks on your face after a good nights sleep... I'm not so sure about this, but I thought I'd let you know anyway. It sure would be great waking up without those red lines on my face.

My choice is pure cotton sheets that can be machine washed at 40 degrees and they are great for allergy sufferers. I like plain white because I like the look of it combine with colourful cushions and throws. However, I also love floral and dotty patterns too! Recently I've bought 100% bed linen from Dunelm mill in the UK at a very reasonable price and they have been great! I've also bought some Egyptian cotton bed linen from ASDA (yes you read that right). The ASDA ones, although okay quality, aren't sewn together very neatly, and don't have poppers at the bottom of the duvet cover (what a pain!). So next time I might just skip the Egyptian bit until I can afford quality ones.

So here's my suggestion for putting together a luxurious bed linen set at an affordable price:
There are plenty of very pretty and fun duvet sets out there at cheap prices, and you shouldn't have to miss out. Use good quality plain sheets, including a top sheet and pillowcases (buy the best you can afford according to your preferences) then combine that with a pretty duvet set or blanket and pillows. That way the fabric that touches your skin when you sleep is comfortable and luxurious (and preferably breathable and absorbent), but you can still have that funky IKEA duvet cover you like so much. I have found that some hotel or catering suppliers can provide quality sheets at great prices, but you need to buy in bulk (10 pillowcases etc), so it might be worth doing if you have many beds in your house or a friend wants to go halves with you. But do try and stick to mostly natural fibres for 'breathability' since our bodies need to drop in temperature at night for a good night's rest!

Okay, my head hurts from all that information now, but I hope it helps you to have a good night's sleep after your next bed linen purchase because you made an informed choice as to what you sleep on. Good night and sleep tight!

Thanks to all the great resources out there for this informative post:
Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook
Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Getting to know me!

So I'm back from a visit to South Africa - it's gone so quickly yet I feel like I've been gone for ages and that I've missed out in blogland.

Thanks for all my lovely comments on having a nice holiday. I had a lovely time catching up with family and friends, and worked hard to try and be a good bridesmaid. Debbie, I know you've requested some photos of the bride & bridesmaid dresses, and well even though I blog anonymously, I still thought that perhaps it would be nice for my blog friends and regular readers to put a face to the blog and to get to know me a bit better, so here goes. So I've included these photos as a sneak peak for you all. These are just some quick pictures taken with our camera, since the professional photos from the wedding are not yet available. For privacy reasons I will be deleting these photos from my blog after 5 days... I told you - this is just a sneak peak. PHOTOS HAVE NOW BEEN DELETED.

The colour scheme for the wedding was pink, purple and turquoise. My friend decided to put me in the purple dress. It was a big wedding (250 people) and there were 3 bridesmaids. The bride and groom handmade chocolates as gifts, provided tissues and seat cushions in the service as well as bookmarks as a keepsake. So lots of little details, well done my friends it turned out stunning!

This post is also a bit of a thanks to all of you who regularly pop by! Thank you, you make it worth coming back to do more and more posts.... now that's enough silliness from me, let's get back to business shall we? I'm already working on my next home keeping post. Let's get back to cleaning ladies (and gentleman of course)!

Hope to see you all soon.
Lots of love from me!

A note on perfection

Many of the posts featured on this blog are about doing household chores the correct, or so to say perfect way. My intention is not to make readers feel that the way they are running their households are wrong. So if making the bed, or ironing shirts in a certain way doesn't fit your lifestyle, do not feel guilty about it. But by learning the correct way of doing things it might just come in handy for those times when special guests are staying, or when you need to iron that shirt perfectly for a job interview. So enjoy the learning, but skip the guilt and LOVE your homes. x

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