Category Archives: DIY

DIY Decor: Upcycling My Bathroom Wall Art

I guess this project doesn’t necessarily fit the true definition of “upcycling“, since the wall plaques that I started with weren’t waste materials and functioned perfectly fine. I was just reeeeeeally tired of them. No offense to the lovely Sara who left them with me after she moved, but I’ve done the beach bum theme in that bathroom long enough. It was time for a change.

This was one of the two wooden wall plaques that I started with.

I also had a bunch of these awesome ephemera images that came from my housemate Tracey. They are some of the most interesting and bizarre drawings I’ve ever seen, and they’ve made their way into almost every craft project I’ve done since I discovered them in her living room. If you’re interested, they came out of a book very similar to this one: Victorian Goods and Merchandise. This book series compiles thousands of copyright-free images, categorizes them, and publishes them in books that are easy to scan. It’s a crafter’s (and tattoo artist’s) dream come true.

Anyway, so back to the project. I wanted to start with a blank surface, so I decided to spray paint both the plaques a bright yellow.

By the way, I am the world’s worst spray-painter. Marc will attest to this. I always end up doing the painter’s equivalent to over-correcting when a car almost hits you on the highway. I start spraying, almost immediately lay it on uneven, and in my panic over the unevenness keep going back over that spot hoping to fix it, but of course just end up making it worse. You can’t tell in this picture, but there’s some definite Nikki handiwork on those things.

Voila! To finish, I just cut out the images I wanted and mod-podged them onto the dry painted wood. Ridiculously easy, and the whole thing only took me about a half an hour, not including drying time on the spray paint. Here’s how they look hung back up in their spots in the bathroom:

Marc said I should have ink stamped some kind of border on the one with the single picture, but I kind of liked keeping it simple. One small, satisfying step towards my dream Victorian bathroom. Next stop, one of those fancy freestanding toilet paper roll holders…in brass!!




Filed under art of hospitality, DIY

One Bird, Three Meals

In my quest to expand my cooking skills while also reducing the amount of waste in our home, I discovered a pretty interesting way to approach cooking a whole chicken that ends up yielding three separate meals while also helping you get rid of those random leftover veggies in your fridge that you’re not sure what to do with. Here’s what I did:


Buy a whole chicken. At first I was just doing this as a culinary challenge to myself, but I realized along the way buying a whole bird makes a whole lot of sense. First, it’s less “convenient”, so the meat is much, much cheaper per pound. I think I paid $4 for the chicken I bought, as opposed to paying nearly double for a much smaller package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I’m allergic to math, so I don’t know what percent mark-up that is, but I imagine it must be in the realm of absurdity. The second reason buying a whole chicken is a good idea is because all those “inconvenient” bones and skin and giblets that the nice butcher gets rid of for you? Those things are incredibly useful! (As you’ll soon see…)

Meal #1: Roast Chicken and Random Vegetables

I say “random,” because the beauty of this recipe is that it can work with almost any combination of leftover vegetables that you have in your refrigerator. I made it up as I went, didn’t measure a single thing, and it came out beautifully. This is a brief summary of what I tossed in the baking pan:

– whole chicken, cleaned out and rubbed all over with butter and spices (rosemary, salt, pepper, cayenne)

– celery, carrots, onion, garlic, and kale, chopped and stuffed inside the chicken, with the excess sprinkled around the sides of the pan

– baby portobello mushrooms and potatoes, chopped and rubbed with spices, sprinkled around the sides of the pan

I set the oven on 325 degrees and baked the chicken, covered, for about 2.5 hours, basting it with its own juices every hours or so. As long as you remember to cover the chicken and coat it with enough butter, it is extremely hard to mess this up. Trust me, I’m good at messing recipes up. Did I mentioned I accidentally made 7 sweet potato pies last week??

Voila! Thanksgiving dinner, only smaller.










Meal #2: Chicken and Random Vegetable Soup

After you eat your fill of the first meal, you should be left with a baking pan that looks more or less like this:









This is where those actually-extremely-convenient bones come into play. Using a bone stock recipe like the one I borrowed from my housemate Tracey, you can gather up all those leftover chicken bones and use them to make a low-sodium, calcium-rich, homemade chicken stock that will serve for the base of your soup.

Once you’ve boiled the stock for at least 45 minutes and have strained out the bones and debris, return the stock to the pot and keep boiling it, adding in any other random vegetables you want to use and all the leftover veggies from the first recipe. Boil just long enough for all the veggies to get tender, and the finished product should be delectable.

Soup for the soul...and taste buds.










Meal #3: Chicken Salad Sammich

Hopefully you set aside all the remaining chicken that you came up with when you gathered up the chicken bones, because that’s what you’re using to make this last meal. Put all the leftover chicken in a mixing bowl and shred it with your fingers. Chicken salad seems to be one of those things that everyone makes a different way, but here’s what I put in mine:

– Miracle Whip and yellow mustard, about a 70/30 ratio

– chopped celery and green onions

– chopped almonds and halved green grapes

Wrap it, sandwich it, or eat it with crackers. (Just not Triscuits...those are gross)










So there you have it–my chicken magic trick. One bird goes in, three meals come out. And the bird vanishes before your eyes! The main idea here is that you will have very little wasted food–veggies or meat–when you’re done. But if you do, just start a compost bin and you’ll be good to go. =)

Got any other waste-reducing cooking tips? Uses for food items that we often discard? Comment and let me hear them!

Leave a comment

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A New Kind of Pioneer – Women and the Homestead Movement

"The Prairie is my Garden" by Harvey Dunn

It should come as no surprise to anyone by now that I fantasize about being a pierced, tattooed manifestation of a Steinbeck novel, only with less Greek tragedy and droughts. In short, I’ve attempted to start down a path that I’m hoping will lead to me looking very much like the mother in this painting–a nurturing, self-sufficient, knowledgable woman with a wicked paring knife. The daydreams I acted out in my backyard when I was a kid of “living in the wilderness” have grown into full-fledged adult ambition, with my aim growing more and more appealing every time the economy plummets to a new low.

What has been surprising to me, on the other hand, is how many other people are beginning to feel the same way. I can’t tell you how many of my friends are at this very moment starting gardens, tending chicken coops, and/or rigging solar panels to their roof, and time and again the word “homesteading” comes up to describe this shift towards self-sufficiency. I hope…actually, I pray that it isn’t just a fad. I hope that my generation is the one to finally call time-out on the relentless industrialization of our world and start to actually assess the value of working with our hands and providing, as much as possible, for our own needs.

Specifically, I’ve noticed many of my female friends becoming very passionate about homesteading. Many, but not all, are Christians, and I believe there is a strong spiritual component to them embracing these values. I also think there’s a reactive quality involved, a sort of “land on your feet” response of these strong, smart women to the sometimes appalling roadblocks that stand in the way of them and provision for their families, i.e. $6 for a gallon of milk when you make minimum wage. And last but not least, I think many of these urban frontierswomen would agree with me that so much of homesteading speaks directly to our sense of femininity. Through gardening and farming, we are able to nurture plants and help them grow. Through maintaining a home, we are able to “nest” and create a hospitable, enjoyable environment for the people we love. Through having a limited amount of space and resources, we are able to foster our creativity and ingenuity. And multi-task? Don’t even get me started.

But enough from me–since this new homesteading movement is still in its infancy, I was interested to see how other people define the word and what it means to them. I asked two eloquent homesteading mamas that I know to answer the question “What does homesteading mean to you?”, and this is what they said:


“To me, homesteading is reconnecting with the earth, each other and with Yahweh God in practical ways, such as:

Working with our hands and get the tactile, cathartic experience of touching creation. Kneading bread, digging in a garden, hand-washing, hand-crafting, hand-making.

Build a home with local and common materials, thus stewarding our resources well.

Feeding and clothing our kids with things we’ve grown and made, thus enriching our bodies and souls and empowering our families to look within to what we can do, rather than asking others to meet our needs.

Trusting our instincts, the wisdom of past generations, and the natural cycles and resources of the earth to often have greater, simpler and healthier answers than those found in western medicine and science.

Trusting our bodies when it comes to birth and child bearing and healing.

Trusting each other enough to build a greater future together, one where we live and learn in a connected and whole hearted ways, as vital members of our community.

Trusting God’s promises and seasons to bear fruit in our lives as we live simply, steward the earth well, and learn to love each other.” – Haley


“Homesteading, to me, means reclaiming the knowledge of past generations. It is a movement towards living simply. Becoming self-sustainable. Cultivating gardens. Raising thoughtful children.

This leap into becoming an urban homesteader, however, does not occur overnight. It creeps upon you, and my hope is to be swallowed, consumed if you will, into realizing all the glories of being a woman in the 21st century. And that is daunting!

The glorious reality is that it’s within all of us to create & explore the gifts, talents, and arts of building our homes & incorporating all this into a lifestyle that becomes seamless. We can knit sweaters, raise bees, churn butter, bake artisan breads, sew, make music, hang our clothes on lines to dry, make yogurt, breastfeed, cloth diaper, preserve the fruits of our gardens. The best part is in the sharing with one another.

Homesteading is building a community to trade secrets & barter goods. To build one another up & encourage everyone along the way. It’s also a means to laugh, weep, sing & dance together! And that, ladies, is something to rejoice in!” – Tracey

So, to turn the question on the questioner, what exactly does homesteading mean to me? I’ve already slipped a good amount of my two cents in, but to try to sum it up I’ll say that homesteading means to actively participate in the essentials of your own existence, and by doing so, maintain your connection to and appreciation of the dirt beneath our feet that we call Earth. It means to live as simply and independently as possible. To waste nothing and share everything. To reject the American Dream in favor of a better reality.

What about you?



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DIY Food: Humble Beginnings in Urban Farming

the first row I ever hoed and seeded

This is a post I have been wanting to write for a very, very long time. These are pictures I have been wanting to take for an even longer time. And a couple months down the road, when I’m drizzling homemade ranch over my homegrown lettuce, carrots, and zucchini, that will be a salad I will have been wanting to eat for what feels like forever and a week. At long last, Marc and I and our housemates have taken the plunge into urban gardening. This weekend we planted two raised beds and several pots that we hope will yield delicious, nutritious, FREE food for our families in the coming spring.

I know this may not seem like that big of a deal to some of my readers who may have grown up learning to garden from their grandparents or who have long since turned their meager square footage of urban property into a vegetable oasis, but for me, this is a monumental.

Out of everyone living in the house right now, I am the person with the least experience and natural inclination towards making things grow out of dirt. You can ask my old roommate about the sad fate awaiting every plant that crossed the threshold into our house. And believe me, there were many, including a shriveled, blackened cactus that could have weathered the harshest Arizona summer but didn’t survive two weeks in my living room. I also come from a family that, in lieu of growing real flowers, potted silk ones in real soil and mulch to give the illusion of botanical bliss without the hassle of actually caring for living things. This was what I brought to the table as we decided that we would start a garden this spring. And as much as I tried to create a Little House on the Prairie fantasy for myself, I was almost certain it was going to turn into a Grapes of Wrath scenario in no time flat. I was horrified that I was going to spend a bunch of money just to end up turning my yard into Dust Bowl 2.0.

“I have trouble remembering things about plants,” I confessed to Tracey.

“It’s okay,” she replied.

“Like watering them.”


Steeled by my friends’ promises that they would remind me to water the plants until it became ingrained in my black-thumbed skull, I set hoe to soil for the first time in my life.

marveling at carrot seeds


It was pretty incredible, you guys. If I may be allowed to get preachy for a brief second, I believe firmly that we lost something very deep and important in our souls when we, as a society, got so “civilized” that we stopped growing our own food and paid machines to do it for us. Getting your hands full of rich black soil and planting seeds on the faith that some of them, maybe five out of fifty, will sprout and grow, is as close to God as I’ve felt in years. Knowing that I am participating in one of the oldest and most primal acts in the world–the act of bringing forth nourishment from the earth–gives me a feeling of connectedness to the world around me that I just don’t acknowledge when I’m spending my days going from store to store, building to building, eating things shrink wrapped in plastic and never bothering to wonder where it came from.

carrots, snow peas, green beans, squash, and zucchini, coming up!


I had a first date with farming and I’m falling, hard.

And you know what? I don’t think it’ll be quite as hard to remember to water them as I thought. If nothing else, my sunburn will remind me.

Botanically yours,



To learn more about urban farming, check out:

Urban Farm Online

Urban Farm Hub

Foxfire Books

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DIY Dresser: From garbage to gorgeous

I can’t even tell you how satisfying it is to write this post. In fact, the thought of writing this post and getting to show off the pictures of this dresser is often what kept me going in my epic paint-scraping struggle to transform it from a piece of junk to a functional, pretty addition to our rather spartan guest room.

Here’s what it looked like to begin with: (minus the drawers because I had already taken them out and started working on them)

Now, let me first tell you where this little dandy came from. A few months back, my friend Caitlyn was living with us on the side of the house that Marc and I now occupy (we own a shotgun double). When she left , she asked me if I would like to keep this dresser, which she had found on the side of the road and snatched up because of the relatively good shape it was in and the cool-looking design of it. “I told myself I would do something with it,” she said, “but it’s just never going to happen.”

I agreed to keep the dresser, lured by the same vision of its potential that had drive Caitlyn to load it into her minivan in the first place, but also with the unsettling knowledge that I too have a history of taking in “fixer upper” projects and then leaving them to collect dust, unused and mocking me, in the corner of my room. After seeing a slew of housemates come and go by that point, I was also quickly developing a “sure you can stay here but for the love of God please don’t leave half your belongings behind when you go” policy that this bulky piece of furniture was definitely violating. It was against my better judgment, but I kept it, with only the vaguest of hopes that I would actually see the project to completion. That doubt was largely due to this little detail:

See that? That right there is not one, but TWO layers of paint gone bad. I guess the previous owner hadn’t liked the sleek black look and wanted to jazz things up with hot pink. Great idea, hypothetical person, go for it. And they did, only they forgot one crucial step in repainting furniture–you have to sand off the glossy finish of the previous coat of paint first. Otherwise, the new layer won’t stick properly and will end up peeling off in a million tiny brain-hemmorraging increments all over the surface. (I guess I can’t blame them too much…I ruined several craft projects that way before Marc finally showed me the error of my ways.)

So the task of repainting this particular dresser was daunting not only because I’d never done it before, but also because I knew that simple sanding wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to take a paint chipper and scrap and claw and peel my way, little by little, over every square inch of that thing to get all the paint off without leaving little curling bits of pink latex behind.

I’m not going to lie–it did take me a long time to get around to it. Like, six months or so. But one day I woke up, saw that the weather was nice, and decided that was the day. I spent several hours on my front porch with my drawer and a paint scraper, trying very hard to pretend I was Michelangelo sculpting his next nude biblical figure instead of a furniture restoration noob trying to accomplish the most basic of tasks.

That first day took it out of me, man. When I went back inside after so much time and saw just how much I had left to do, I nearly put the thing back out on the curb myself. But some stubborn part of me decided that I was not going to give up on this spunky little dresser. That it wanted to LIVE just as much as I wanted it to sit there and look pretty while holding my houseguests’ clothes. I set the project aside for a few days, but then I went back to it. Again and again. It took a long time, about two weeks total of intermittently working on it, to finally get it stripped and ready to be spray-painted.

That, of course, was the fun part. During the whole paint-scraping purgatory, I’d had a lot of time to think about what I wanted this thing to look like when I was done. I decided that I wanted to go with a bright, loud color and something complementary but feminine for the new hardware. I settled on an extremely flamboyant shade of blue called “lagoon” and mustard-yellow ceramic rose knobs from Anthropologie for the hardware. Putting those things on was like honeymoon sex–after so much waiting and anticipation…well, you get the idea. =)

This is my finished product:

Finishing this beast gave me a whole new lease on life regarding house furnishing and repair projects. Today, for example, I installed by myself the shelf that I’ve been wanting to put in the bathroom. I even sawed down the piece of wood I had to the right size. And it was a regular saw, not a power tool.

I am woman, enjoy the gorgeous home furnishings I create.



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Guest Blog: Karrie’s DIY Kitchen Pharmacy

My very first guest blog! My friend Karrie was gracious enough to try out my little experiment, and I have many more in the works. You know, I never realized just how surrounded I am with fascinating, smart, and talented friends until I started trying to pillage their knowledge for my own personal interests.

Karrie has been independently studying herbology for, oh, probably as long as she can remember. From what I gather, it’s somewhat of a family passion, as her mom worked for many years as a gardener for the Audubon Zoo and passed that love of plants down to her daughters. Karrie now works at Whole Foods, where she hangs out in the Whole Body section every chance she gets. In her spare time, she enjoys perfecting her zombie makeup techniques, playing tabletop roleplaying games, and smoking marshmallow out of cool-looking pipes. She is one of my favorite people ever. Take it away, Karrie!

one of my favorite pictures of Karrie, only in part because I took it.


So Nikki came to me, asking to write an article about herbal remedies. You know, strange concoctions that will help boost your immune system or aid you in fighting off that cold. Well, I thought I’d make it a bit more simple than that. You do not need a large cabinet or pantry filled with just herbs to help support your health. So I decided to make this article about every day herb, the ones you find in your kitchen.

When getting into herbs as medicinals, best to start off small. Get familiar with 3-5 herbs before trying something new. Before you go and buy that random herb from that occult shop or health food store, make sure you know what you are working with. You don’t want to buy a small bag of boneset and not have anything to use it for. Besides, you’d be surprise how many foodstuffs in your kitchen can be used for medicinal purposes.


Hospitals in WWI used garlic as an antiseptic. You don’t need to go to excessive amounts of garlic to get its benefits. Just use it in your cooking. Cooking garlic will reduce the burning that garlic tends to have, not to mention reduces some of the toxicity. Garlic has properties that are antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal, which is why it is great when you are sick. You don’t have to do any special preparations for, just use it in your cooking. Another great thing about garlic–plant it next to your veggies in your garden for a natural pest control option.


Peppermint is a great decongestant. Put a few drops of peppermint oil into a bathtub and soak in the warm water. The vapors from the peppermint oil will help open up your sinuses. Use peppermint oil on your forehead to help with headaches. Peppermint tea is great for upset stomachs. It also has muscle relaxing properties, which is why it is great as a tea, not to mention helps with bad breath.

Cayenne pepper.

I could go on and on about the benefits of cayenne. It helps lowers bad cholesterol, stimulates the appetite, relieves headaches, and a slew of other properties. During summer, on those hot, hot days, eat food that has a bit of spice to it. Spicy foods act as an equalizer, because your body is warmer the outside around you feels cooler. Taken together with slippery elm and honey, it can help with colds.


Cinnamon is another great bad cholesterol reducer. It aids digestion, helps fight off colds, helps with toothaches and bad breath. Use it in place of salt to help reduce the risk of high blood presser. Great alternative to sugar as well, to help maintain your weight.


Certain cultures believe it can help prevent the flu. Ginger helps upset stomachs. Great for easing morning sickness. Helps against diarrhea. Good for sore throats as well.

The wonderful thing about the 5 herbs I listed is that they are cheap, everyday items. Add them to meals, spice up a dish…it is really easy to incorporate these herbs into your life if you are not already doing so.

For people interested in natural medicine, I recommend getting to know what you cook with first before jumping into some deeper stuff. Once you consider yourself comfortable and strong with an herb, move to another one. It is better to build a deep, intimate knowledge of a few herbs at a time then a small bit of information on a variety. Do the research. There are some fantastic books out there. Get together with others and share your knowledge!


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DIY Tamales: Myrna’s secret recipe

Whew! Sorry folks–kind of got derailed on the blogging there for a second. With all of my writing classes starting (the one I go to plus the ones I teach) and Valentine’s Day fast approaching at Sucre, I didn’t have nearly as much time to blog as I had gotten used to having over Christmas break. Know what else I’ve been doing since Christmas break? Making tamales, thanks to my awesome friend Aubrey. When she told me at work that she was going to make tamales the next day, I jumped at the chance to come over and learn the recipe.

You see, Marc is kind of a tamale fiend. He’s obsessed and–unfortunately–very often disappointed, since many of the Mexican restaurants in New Orleans don’t carry tamales for whatever reason (my theory: too dang time consuming). Even our honeymoon cruise to Progresso and Cozumel turned into a full-scale tactical mission to find this man some tamales that ended ironically, damned near inconceivably, without success. Tackling homemade tamales had always loomed as a vaguely intimidating task in my mind, so I was thrilled to be able to shadow Aubrey as she made hers. The results? Deliciousness that wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.

Fair warning though–they are time-consuming, albeit totally worth it. My best advice is to dedicate an afternoon to them and invite some friends over to help. You’ll be making enough for a crowd anyway.

Aubrey told me she learned the recipe from her “Mexican mama” back in Atlanta, a woman named Myrna, in much the same way that I then learned it from her–by hovering over her in the kitchen and furiously scribbling down notes. So, without further adieu, I give you Myrna’s tamale recipe. Don’t be scared. If these two gringas can do it, so can you!

Myrna’s Shredded Pork Tamales







Estimated time: 1/2 prep the night before, 3-4 hours the day of

Equipment needed:

crock pot

large stock pot or dutch oven

food processor or blender



4-5 lbs. pork – we used Boston butt (tee-hee-hee!), but any fatty part of the pig will do

2 packages corn husks

1 package Masa tamale cornmeal mix

–for the dry rub–

2 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. coarse ground black pepper

1 tbsp. paprika

1 tbsp. cayenne

1/2 tbsp. ground mustard (optional)

olive oil

–for the chili sauce–

5-6 large dried red peppers

2 small dried red peppers

3 sorento peppers

2 large garlic cloves, pressed

1/2 tbsp. salt

2 capfuls white vinegar



1. Rub the salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne all over the pork until evenly covered.

2. Drizzle just enough olive oil on the meat to coat it; wrap in plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

3. Unwrap meat and place in crock pot; add 1 cup water and cook on low overnight. If cooking a different amount of meat, just use the ratio of 2 cups of water for every 1 pound of meat.


1. Soak the corn husks in water and set aside.

2. Put the peppers, garlic, white vinegar, and salt in the food processor or blender. Add 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup of broth from the crockpot. Process until smooth.

3. Use a colander to strain out any seeds and debris; pour the liquid into a saucepan and simmer for several minutes or until a layer of orange foam appears on top. Scrap off the foam and turn off heat.

4. Transfer pork from the crockpot to a large container (we used a really big tupperware dish). Shred pork with a fork. It should be very tender and easy to shred.

5. Make the masa cornmeal from the directions on the box, but substitute the broth from the crockpot for water. Set aside.

6. Add the chili sauce to the pork until juicy and orange-red. It should look like BBQ pork. Resist the temptation to eat it all on the spot.

7. Take corn husks out of water and set them on a plate lined with a wet paper towel. Cover with a wet paper towel on top to keep them moist as you go. Make the tamales by spreading the masa paste onto the middle of the corn husk, then spooning on some of the shredded pork. You can alter the proportions to your taste–heavy on the pork, heavy on the cornmeal, whatever.

8. Wrap the corn husk and tie it together with a strip of corn husk. Set aside and cover with more wet paper towels. Keep going until you run out of husks, meal, or pork!

9 Set the tamales vertically in the dutch oven. If you don’t have enough to cover the whole bottom of the pot so that they support themselves, you can put a small metal or ceramic bowl in the middle to create a doughnut shape. Pour in about 1 inch of water.

10. Cover the whole operation with flat corn husks, then put the pot lid on. Simmer for about an hour, then check to see if they’re done. If you open a husk and the tamale falls out solid, you’re good to go.

Voila! Scrumptious, spicy, hearty, Marc-satisfying tamales. Aubrey says that this same basic recipe can be applied to a lot of variations, such as beef, chicken, or veggie tamales. I think the next time I make them on my own I’m going to try a pork and mango combination.

If you try the recipe, comment and let me know how you liked it. Or if you’re already a pro tamale maker and have a different recipe you want to share, comment with that as well. The pay-off for these guys taking so long to make is that, if you make a big batch, you can freeze them and reheat them as leftovers later on.

your ethnic susie homemaker,


Thanks, Aubrey, for your secret to tamale nirvana.



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