July 31, 2006

Home again, home again.

We're home after a great week of playing on the beach and visiting with friends and family. Just thought I'd post a few photos while I was downloading them. Here's a parting shot of Vancouver as we left last week.

This is a shot from my in-laws' looking towards a smoky sunset (the smoke is from a serious fire on one of the Gulf Islands - thankfully it's under control now).

We did a whole lot of this (J. insisted on a castle with 3 moats - it still succumbed to the waves).
We rushed home today to meet a brand new cousin who wasn't supposed to arrive for 2 more weeks!

Time for bed, I'm dog tired.

July 26, 2006

The Plastic Sea

I've managed to get myself to a computer while on vacation (my in-laws are pretty decked out in the technology department).
I saw this article in The Tyee and was sickened by it, especially while having such a great time on the ocean (their house in right on the water). The worst we've found on the beach this trip is half a wine bottle, but we have found lots of plastic and garbage at other times. So please remember to use your reusable cups, bottles and shopping bags - this is yet another reason to reduce the amount of plastic in our lives.

The Plastic Sea
An ocean awash in lethal bags, bottles, pellets, line, tarps and diapers.
By Paul Watson
Published: July 26, 2006

On the beach on San Juan Island, Washington, Allison Lance walks her dogs every morning. She carries a plastic bag in her hand to carry the bits and pieces of plastic debris she picks up. Each morning she fills the bag, but by the next morning there is always another bag to be filled. Joey Racano does the same in Huntington Beach further south in California. The harvest of plastic waste is never-ending. Allison's and Joey's beaches, and practically every beach around the world, is similarly cursed.

Recently in the Galapagos I retrieved plastic motor oil bottles and garbage bags from a remote beach on Santa Cruz Island. Every year during crossings of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, spotting plastic is a daily and regular occurrence.

A June 2006 United Nations environmental program report estimated that there are an average of 46,000 pieces of plastic debris floating on or near the surface of every square mile of ocean.

We live in a plastic convenience culture; virtually every human being on this planet uses plastic materials directly and indirectly every single day. Our babies begin life on Earth by using some 210 million pounds of plastic diaper liners each year; we give them plastic milk bottles and plastic toys, and buy their food in plastic jars, paying with a plastic credit card. Even avoiding those babies by using contraceptives results in mass disposal of billions of latex condoms, diaphragms, and hard plastic birth control pill containers each year.

Every year we eat and drink from some 34 billion newly manufactured bottles and containers. We patronize fast food restaurants and buy products that consume another 14 billion pounds of plastic. In total, our societies produce an estimated 60 billion tons of plastic material every year.

Each of us on average uses 190 pounds of plastic annually: bottled water, fast food packaging, furniture, syringes, computers and computer diskettes, packing materials, garbage bags and so much more. When you consider that this plastic does not biodegrade and remains in our ecosystems permanently, we are looking at an incredibly high volume of accumulated plastic trash that has been built up since the mid-20th century. Where does it go? There are only three places it can go: our earth, our air and our oceans.

Read the rest of the article here.

July 23, 2006

Zabaione Con Crema

I realize I'm going kind of crazy with the posts today, but we're leaving on vacation tomorrow and I may not be able to post for a week or so.

I made my favorite blueberry dessert tonight and thought I'd share the recipe. It's called (I'm sure the title was a dead giveaway) Zabaione Con Crema and it's scrumptious. It could probably be made with other fruit, but I love the contrast of the firm blueberries with the fluffy zabaione.

Zabaione Con Crema (from David Rocco's Dolce Vita)
6 large egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp Marsala wine (or Vin Santo)
1 cup whipping cream (preferrably organic)
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Place egg yolks in a steel bowl. Mix in sugar, and Vin Santo wine or Marsala. A good rule of thumb is a tablespoon of each ingredient per yolk.
Bring water to a boil. Lower the heat and place steel bowl over the water. Whisk the yolk mixture for 8 minutes or until it becomes light and creamy (it will be the consistency of lightly whipped cream and will leave a trail momentarily when you drizzle it across itself). Monitor your heat, otherwise you will end up with scrambled eggs. Set aside and let cool briefly while you whip the cream.
Gently fold the yolk mixture into the whipped cream with a rubber spatula and place in fridge for about 30 minutes or until ready to serve. Serve in glasses with blueberries on top.

Tonight we had it with an egg white omelet (to use up all those leftover whites) and a large green salad. Summer eating at it's best!

Be sure to check out Sweetnicks' ARF/5-A-Day Tuesdays for lots of delicious, antioxidant rich recipes.

Bored yet?

I've been a bit of a shutter-bug today, but I'll only bore you with a few more garden shots. Here's a picture of the biggest bee I've ever seen in my life:

The picture doesn't do him justice, but he had to be an inch and 1/2 long. He spent a good 15 minutes lumbering through the bee balm.
Here's the latest slime mould update. It lost its yellow outer coating over the course of the day and is now a hard, fleshy mass.

I was very excited to discover that the lingonberry bushes are blooming!! I was beginning to think they weren't going to produce anything this year because I'd just planted them this spring, but here you go: They're actually more pink in person, but the bright sun kind of washed out the photo.

Garden Variety

These two rogue poppies have just started blooming in the garden. I think they must either be the original varieties that were combined to make the Bombast Rose Poppies that I planted, or that some different seeds got mixed in with the package. They're both pretty, though.

I'm loving the variegated leaves of these Alaska Salmon Nasturtiums. They add a real feeling of dappled shade to the garden.
Juliet cherry tomatoes should be ripening soon!

Baby Romanesco Zucchini.

July 22, 2006

Hot Dog

How's this for a pampered pooch? I caught her having a snooze at grandma's house this afternoon (she was worn out from the heat and a long swim at the beach).
The sneaky thing knows she's not supposed to be laying on the pillows, but who could disturb such a peaceful nap?

Slime Mould

Thanks to Phelan, the mystery of yesterday's garden discovery has been solved. It's slime mould, which is now officially one of the coolest things I've ever heard of. Listen to this:

"It has been observed that they can find their way through mazes by spreading out and choosing the shortest path, an interesting example of information processing without a nervous system."

and this:

"In 2006, researchers at the University of Southampton and the University of Kobe reported that they had built a six-legged robot whose movement was remotely controlled by a Physarum slime mould. The mould directed the robot into a dark corner most similar to its natural habitat." (

This is what it looks like as of this evening:

This concludes today's biology lesson.

July 21, 2006

What a fun-gi!

Does anyone have any idea at all what this might be?! It sprouted up in the garden tonight, and I mean that literally. When I first discovered it, it was about 1/4 of an inch away from the top of the wooden stick, and by the time I came back with the camera, it had covered the whole thing. You could almost see it growing. I'm assuming it's some kind of weird fungus that's thriving because of this heat (don't get me started on the heat). It's the brightest French's Mustard yellow - bizarre. We went out to a local U-pick to get raspberries and blueberries this afternoon. We managed to stick it out in the field for about 20-30 minutes before we all started to get sunstroke and decided that the picked ones were actually a pretty good deal. It's not an organic grower, but they use Integrated Pest Management, and that's about as close to organic as we've got within a reasonable drive. My own raspberry and blueberry bushes aren't productive enough yet for us to bypass this little jaunt, and it's always kind of fun anyway (except for today).
On the way home I began to have a wee bit of a meltdown (it was probably heat stroke now that I think about it). We got stuck in slow traffic for almost a half an hour - twice! It took us almost 2 hours to get home and the drive out there only took us about 30 minutes. If I had gotten out and walked on all fours I would have gotten home faster. I sat there surrounded by SUV's, fuming about the heat and how it never gets this hot here and no wonder global warming is such a problem when everything is either paved or metal or glass and you can't go more than 5 miles an hour (using even more gas) and there are no TREES!!! I think I need to get out of the city.
In case I didn't feel like enough of a whiner, I just remembered that hubby's cousin in England is cycling for charity over the next few days from England to Poland. They're riding 1200 miles in 3 1/2 days (yes, that's three and a half), and the temperatures in Europe are currently in the mid to high 30's!
I think I'll shut up now.

July 20, 2006

Summer Lunchin'

Ladybug Love

I spotted these two getting to know each other in the Three Sisters plot today. Yay! My garden could use some more aphid eaters.

The Chandler blueberries are getting close!

July 19, 2006

Raspberries and Livestock

I'm trying out a new method of supporting the raspberry/blackberry bushes that I read about in The Good Life. I spent the morning clearing out the old canes and tying the new ones onto bamboo stakes (several canes per stake) using velcro plant tie tape (so that I can go back and add any new branches that may grow over the summer). The plants run alongside the path that my husband brings his bike through every day, so the plants have to stay as upright as possible. I'm a little worried that the bamboo might not be substantial enough, but it seemed to work okay, and I can always replace it with something bigger if I have to. Danielle and Phelan's comments on one of my earlier posts about raising their own meat, as well as Steph's musings about not being able to kill any of her animals for food got me thinking about my own visions of farm life. I dream of having enough space to raise chickens and a few goats but there's no way I'll ever be able to eat any of them. The reason that I ever became a vegetarian in the first place was because I'd spent many years hunting deer and moose at my dad's side and watching my grandfather kill the chickens, cows and pigs he'd raised (which I'd stupidly gone and bonded with). They were always telling me to "harden up", but it's not looking like I ever will.
I guess I'll just have to build nice posh lodgings for all the geriatric animals I'm going to have!

July 18, 2006


C. (hubby) spent the day up on the roof today, stripping off three layers of old shingles. Our house would have been so cute with it's original cedar shingles, it killed me to watch him tear them off. We stowed them away for use as kindling or whatever. So good natured, he's still smiling after a day spent on a hot roof (he doesn't actually have a mustache).
I did a lot of miscellaneous garden stuff today. I mulched the blueberry plants with dry needles from under the pine tree out front (to increase the acidity of the soil), and reluctantly pulled out the broad beans that were doing so well a month or two ago. They were covered in aphids pretty badly, and despite spraying them with soapy water, etc., the plants just gave up and died within the past few weeks. Maybe it was something else that got them. Very disappointing, we all really like broad beans (well, I do anyway).
I'm really happy with the way my tomato spirals are working out, though. They are the easiest tomato support I've ever used, I just occasionally have to make sure the main stem of the plant is twisting up the stake (I usually do this while I'm there pinching sucker branches anyway) and so far so good. We'll see how they do once they're completely laden with ripening fruit.
I was also happy to discover that several of the cavities of our mason bee house have been filled (see the little mud plug on the left?). Hopefully we'll have even more little pollinators buzzing around next year.
And finally I just had to share the scrumptious homegrown salad we had with dinner tonight. The lettuce, beet greens, pea tips, carrots, beet root, and the herbs for the Green Goddess dressing were all pulled from the garden this afternoon. Yum!

July 17, 2006

I don't actually eat meat...

Had a nice second day of holiday with hubby and the kids today (we're spending the first week doing work at home, mainly the roof, and will spend the second week camping and visiting my in-laws). We took in an early matinee this afternoon (okay, so technically that's not really working on the house), and then DD and I spent the afternoon making a yummy dinner. We made Chicken Savoyarde, a luscious looking recipe that I spied while perusing a Tamasin Day-Lewis cookbook, and Hasselback (or Hasselhoff if you're my husband) Potatoes made with homegrown baby spuds and loads of crunchy Maldon salt. The chicken was a lovely creamy dish flavoured with tarragon, which is our new favorite herb - the kids are always grazing on it whenever they're outside. Ours turned out a little more saucy than it should have, I think because our chicken was about 2/3 the size it should have been. I have to mention here that we actually tend towards vegetar-ianism in our house, so this was kind of a one shot deal. I had been a vegetarian for 12 years and a vegan for one when I became pregnant with my son (our second child), at which point I started having dreams about killing half-crazed moose in self defense, thereby justifying my consumption of them (they were just lying there dead afterall). I took that to mean that I was probably lacking something, and gradually added back dairy, then eggs, then fish, and by the time he was born I was pretty much a full-blown carnivore again, much to my husband's delight (I never could bring myself to each much beef, though). But about a year and 1/2 ago, I read John Robbins' book "Food Revolution" and I've been vegetarian again ever since. Until today, when I found a lone frozen organic chicken that had been lost in the bottom of the freezer.
I'm actually toying with the idea of going at least semi-vegan again, partly for health reasons (heart disease is prevalent in our family and when I was vegan my cholesterol was way below normal), and partly for environmental reasons. I recently read in the Utne Reader that a diet based on meat and/or dairy products "generates the equivalent of nearly 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan diet with the same number of calories."
That's food for thought.

Great Homeschooling Article

Minding your own
July 13, 2006

Stefanie Mohsennia is a librarian, a self-described "sit down, read and write type." She liked school and did very well. But as a parent, she began to see that her son's learning style differed from hers; she became concerned the school would be unable to answer his needs.

Basics, like the structure of the school day, interfered. Mohsennia said her seven-year-old son "would not be interested in math at 8 or 9 a.m. in the morning."

"Why sacrifice his love of learning?" she asks.

She took a big step and decided to home-school her son. But ironically, to home-school, she had to leave her home.

Mohsennia relocated to Canada from her native Germany, where home education is legally verboten.

Home-schooling is legal everywhere in Canada. Mohsennia's son joins the 80,000 kids estimated by the Canadian Centre for Home Education who are being home-educated as the movement to teach your own grows steadily.

To read the full article, click here.

July 16, 2006

The Great Turning

From Empire to Earth Community
by David Korten

By what name will future generations know our time?
Will they speak in anger and frustration of the time of the Great Unraveling, when profligate consumption exceeded Earth’s capacity to sustain and led to an accelerating wave of collapsing environmental systems, violent competition for what remained of the planet’s resources, and a dramatic dieback of the human population? Or will they look back in joyful celebration on the time of the Great Turning, when their forebears embraced the higher-order potential of their human nature, turned crisis into opportunity, and learned to live in creative partnership with one another and Earth? A defining choiceWe face a defining choice between two contrasting models for organizing human affairs. Give them the generic names Empire and Earth Community. Absent an understanding of the history and implications of this choice, we may squander valuable time and resources on efforts to preserve or mend cultures and institutions that cannot be fixed and must be replaced.Empire organizes by domination at all levels, from relations among nations to relations among family members. Empire brings fortune to the few, condemns the majority to misery and servitude, suppresses the creative potential of all, and appropriates much of the wealth of human societies to maintain the institutions of domination. Earth Community, by contrast, organizes by partnership, unleashes the human potential for creative co-operation, and shares resources and surpluses for the good of all. Supporting evidence for the possibilities of Earth Community comes from the findings of quantum physics, evolutionary biology, developmental psychology, anthropology, archaeology, and religious mysticism. It was the human way before Empire; we must make a choice to re-learn how to live by its principles. Developments distinctive to our time are telling us that Empire has reached the limits of the exploitation that people and Earth will sustain. A mounting perfect economic storm born of a convergence of peak oil, climate change, and an imbalanced U.S. economy dependent on debts it can never repay is poised to bring a dramatic restructuring of every aspect of modern life. We have the power to choose, however, whether the consequences play out as a terminal crisis or an epic opportunity. The Great Turning is not a prophecy. It is a possibility.

Read full article from Yes Magazine.

July 15, 2006

Peas and Blueberry Banana Bread

I've had a pretty productive day so far. After hanging the laundry to dry, I finally got around to picking, blanching, and freezing a batch each of peas and yellow beans. It's always a little disappointing to discover that the huge bowl of pods you picked only amount to a couple of cups of actual peas . I planted two varieties this year (Paladio and Laxton's Progress) and so far I think the Laxton's Progress variety is more worthwhile as a shelling pea, just because each individual pea is so large, you get more bang for your buck (although the Paladio might be a tad sweeter). Does anyone have a favorite pea variety that they'd be willing to share?

I also made a couple of loaves of Blueberry Banana Bread. I'm not a huge fan of most banana breads, but this one is the exception. It's moist and delicious, and is my version of a Best of Bridge recipe.

Blueberry Banana Bread:
Preaheat oven to 350 degrees.
1 cup organic butter or non-hydrogenated margarine (I like Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups mashed ripe banana (4-6 bananas)
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (can use white or a combination)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg (1/2 tsp. if freshly ground)
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add bananas and eggs, mix well. Pile dry ingredients together on top of wet mixture and mix all at once (do not overmix). Fold in blueberries (some people toss the berries with a tablespoon or so of flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the loaf, but I can't be bothered and have never found it to be that effective).
Pour into 2 lightly greased loaf pans or a bundt pan. Bake for 55 minutes to an hour (test with skewer for doneness). Cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing. Freezes well.

Perfect with a cup of tea!

Check out Sweetnicks' ARF/5-A-Day Tuesdays for more healthy, antioxidant rich recipes.

July 13, 2006

Urban Chicken House

Okay, so they're not exactly the rustic country hen-house I dream of, but for a city farmer with limited space, these Eglu chicken houses are pretty darn cute. They come with a fox-proof run that attaches onto the front, and I'm thinking it would work pretty well as a chicken tractor. Not exactly sustainable being made out of plastic, though, and would the chickens actually have enough room in something that looks like an iMac monitor?
Vancouver has a bylaw against livestock, but I've heard of people keeping them on the sly (the people across the alley from us even found a young chicken in their front yard last year, so someone in the neighborhood is doing it!). If we didn't have such an "inquisitive", law-abiding (but very sweet) neighbor next door, I might be tempted to sneak a few hens in. I guess I'll just have to wait until we buy our acreage (or until we build a bigger fence).

Sleepover Fun and the Roof

My daughter (Bee) had her best friend over for a sleepover last night. It's so neat to see them growing up together (they've been joined at the hip since they were a year old), but it's hard to believe it's been 9 years already! Her mom is one of my closest friends, and we conveniently both had sons a few months apart when the girls were about 3, and now they're best buddies too! Despite initially thinking that I was a complete flake for even considering homeschooling, they started homeschooling the year after we did and have become a big part of our lives.
What's really great is that the girls willingly spend time with us, and actually include B's little brother in their fun, even while having a "girl night". We made pizzas and homemade (organic) strawberry ice cream (yum!), and later watched the Felicity American Girl movie (they're obsessed with American Girl dolls).
They lay awake giggling until after midnight, so they're all a bit fried this morning, but they quickly gobbled down some German Apple Pancakes for breakfast and have happily resumed playing.

So, my delight over the rain yesterday was quickly dashed when the roof over our back porch/laundry room started leaking. : (
My husband had just asked me the day before whether he should be re-roofing it while he's on holiday next week, so I guess that answers that. We knew when we bought the house a year and 1/2 ago that we were going to have to do some work on the roof, and he already fixed the flat roof over the kids' room this past winter (during our record breaking 2 months of non-stop rain - who builds a flat roof in a temperate rainforest?!), so while it doesn't come as a real surprise, it's still money we'd rather not spend right now.

I joined the Homesteadin' Unschoolers blog ring yesterday and look forward to getting to know some of the people over there. I was pleasantly surprised to find another "Free Range" family among the bloggers - I guess it's an obvious description for unschoolers interested in organic farming practices!
Click on the funky chicken icon in the sidebar to check out the other blogs.

July 12, 2006


After an unusually warm and dry past month or so, it was a nice treat to wake up to rain this morning. I'm convinced it was reading Farmgirl's post on how to make it rain that did it (if you haven't read it, do - it's hilarious). I took her advice and hung a load of sheets to dry yesterday and just barely got them off the line before they were too wet to sleep on after a light sprinkle started to fall.
I am such a hibernator that these few hours of drizzle have given me an overwhelming desire to hunker down and do comforting indoor things (just a few weeks of summer weather and I'm ready for fall!).
The garden will burst out with new growth after this, I can't wait!

For breakfast this morning we had toast with the fresh "Summer Flowers" honey that we got at the Farmer's Market last weekend - heaven. How can it taste so different from store-bought honey?

July 11, 2006

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

I bought a huge bag of basil at the farmer's market on the weekend, and I realized today that there was a serious need for some pesto action or it was all going to go bad before I had a chance to use it.

I was pouring over the copy of Giada De Laurentiis' "Everyday Italian" that I got from the library, and when I spotted her recipe for Sun-dried Tomato Pesto I knew I had to make it. Our family has a tendency towards carbohydrate addiction, so we eat more pasta than I care to admit, and I'm always looking for new ways to dress it up.

I'm happy to report that it was absolutely delicious and everyone gobbled down more than their usual amount for dinner (no leftovers for hubby's lunch, but oh well). I can't decide whether I liked it as much as the recipe for SDTP in Plenty, as there were no nuts at all to emulsify it, but it was very good nonetheless.

I just have to mention one of my very favorite tools, as it's really handy for any recipe calling for hard cheese - my trusty wood rasp/cheese grater from Lee Valley Tools. It is the best grater I've ever owned - it's sharp, but not finger-shreddingly so, and it works incredibly well for lemon zest and fresh nutmeg. Without it I'd be forced to use Kraft parmesan cheese product from a shaker (okay maybe not, but I really do like it a lot).

    New Blooms

    Two of my favorites have recently begun blooming.
    Monarda (Bee Balm)...
    and Liatris (alongside the Shasta Daisies). The resident bees are very happy!

    July 10, 2006

    If only we'd read this before signing our mortgage!

    My husband and I had a good chuckle over this one:

    Man turns paper clip into house
    By Jeremy Cooke BBC News, Washington

    A Canadian man who set out to use the internet to trade a paper clip to get a house says he has achieved his aim.
    Kyle MacDonald, who is 26, made 16 trades over almost a year - and is now preparing to move into his new home.
    A novelty doorknob, a camping stove, a keg of beer and an afternoon with rock star Alice Cooper were some of the stages in his swap marathon...

    Click above to read the full article.

    Click here to go to his blog.

    Organic Levi's

    Levi's Brand Launches 100% Organic Cotton Jeans; Denim Leader to Offer Organic Options in its Most Popular Styles for Fall 2006
    (CSRwire) SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--July 5, 2006--The Levi's(R) brand today announced it will include jeans made with 100% organic cotton in its fall 2006 product line. Organic cotton will be used in select new and popular men's and women's styles within its Red Tab and recently launched Levi's(R) Capital E(TM) lines. The jeans will be identified as "Levi's(R) Eco" and be available in November 2006 exclusively at Levi's(R) U.S. stores with additional products to be introduced in spring 2007.

    Interesting Local News

    Low-lying B.C. city prepares for higher water levels
    Last Updated: Monday, July 10, 2006 11:25 AM PT
    CBC NewsPlans are being made for a new $16-million dike to help protect low-lying Richmond against possible flooding caused by earthquakes and global warming.

    Much of Richmond in the Fraser River delta is on large islands, with most properties just a metre above sea level.

    A dike is now in place to protect the community, but city planner Terry Crowe says a sea surge triggered by an earthquake could cause a major problem.

    Crowe says planners are also considering the impact of global warming on water levels. "Simply put, if the ice melts, the sea level would rise, and there's quite a bit of science behind that."

    The planners' report recommends a second mid-island dike along the Highway 99 and Knight Street corridor for added protection.

    The new 25-year flood strategy also recommends further restrictions on new developments to make sure the living space in a home is high enough above sea level to protect residents in case of a major sea surge.

    "All in all, we wanted to take advantage of the latest studies going on and update our measurements, and what we can do to improve the quality of life and safety for the people of Richmond," said Crowe.

    World Cup Fever

    Our community has its fair share of proud Italians and they were out in full force after the World Cup final game ended yesterday afternoon. Commercial Drive ("The Drive") was shut down due to the festivities, which exploded into the streets when the coffee shops and pubs couldn't contain them anymore. This was the scene within minutes of the final kick - fun!

    July 07, 2006

    Garden Pics

    I was out taking photos this morning and thought I'd share a couple.

    The kale is looking ready to harvest, and the Bombast Rose poppies are in full bloom. I love to go out and and just look at everything. My neighbors probably think I'm looney, wandering aimlessly around my backyard (the fact that I'm usually in my pajamas might have something to do with that, too).

    July 06, 2006

    The Fam

    Here's a picture of our family (I'm behind the camera as usual) walking on the beach here in Vancouver. The furry one in the middle is Princess, our English Shepherd that we rescued from the SPCA as a puppy. We didn't choose the name, and despite our best efforts to change it, it stuck. My husband is too humiliated to call her by name in public.
    Here she is as a puppy:

    We've got two cats too, but I'll save them for another post.


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