Archive for December, 2011

Week’s Happenings – Christmas Edition

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

We have had a busy Christmas season, although it hasn’t felt much like Christmas here.  The 100 degree days, lack of snow and Christmas decorations made it difficult to really get into the Christmas spirit.  We did our best by listening to Christmas music, hanging stockings and putting up a tree.  Most of our Christmas vacation was spent in South Africa.  We were actually talking to a friend from home this week and decided that our holiday season seemed more like a vacation than a holiday season, so it was different.  But I think we all enjoyed ourselves despite missing family and friends.  The sisters were wonderful and took us under their wings to celebrate with us.

On Thursday of last week we slept in and then headed to Komatipoort, South Africa right on the Mozambique border.  We spent the evening driving around and swimming.  We woke up early on Friday morning and headed to Kruger National Park.  It is one of the biggest game reserves in Southern Africa and is the best known.  We saw some incredible animals.  Whole herds of elephants, lions, giraffes, impala, rhinos, hippos.  You name it and we probably saw it.  We saw four of the Big Five within the first few hours.  The only animals we didn’t see that we really wanted to were cheetahs and leopards.  Although at one point we were pulled off with several other vehicles, including a tour guide, where there was supposedly a leopard in the tree.  We never saw it, but like to pretend that we did!  I am not going to include all of our animal shots, but you can check them out on Ben’s Facebook page if you are curious.  Here are just a couple of snapshots. 

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First elephant we saw for the day and probably the largest!

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Warthog family.  First time I have actually seen a baby warthog.

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Nothing like eating on the go!

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Drinking giraffe. 

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Don’t you just love Mikayla’s hair in this picture!  I swear we brush it every once in awhile.

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I wanted to take this giraffe skull home but Ben said it would be illegal.

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One of our last sightings of the day was this monstrous rhino.  He kept trying to get away, but we finally captured a few good shots.

After a full day of driving around the park (we covered over 300km) we headed towards Nelspruit, South Africa where we spent the rest of our Christmas.  Nelspruit was incredibly western, with almost any type shop you can imagine.  If you didn’t know better you wouldn’t have thought you were in Africa.  On Christmas Eve we drove around the city and checked out some of the shops and malls.  It was amazing how much like the States it felt.  We were lucky enough to find some really special finds.  There were tons of clothing stores, two good outdoors shops, a couple of great liquor stores with good wine and familiar spirits, and a huge Toys R Us (although we didn’t go in this store for obvious reasons).  We even found a candy store that sold Willy Wonka candy!!  Then at the grocery stores we were able to pick up a few things we don’t really see in Swaziland too often – Funfetti cake mix (no Rainbow chip icing though), tortilla chips, salsa in a jar, taco seasoning, corn syrup (stocked up for rolls next year), tahini paste (for hummus), pretzels and few other odds and ends.  That evening we headed to visit with the sisters for pizza and a few games of Boggle.  We also attended the midnight mass before heading back to the hotel. 

We woke up on Christmas morning not really feeling like Christmas at all, but we still tried to get in the spirit of things.  Mikayla opened her stockings and couple of small packages from us.  It took her a good half hour to open her stocking because she would only pull out one thing at a time.  Then she would ask questions about it or play with it for a second before moving on.  We ended up giving her the big gifts before we left so we wouldn’t have to pack them and worry with customs at the border.  All in all I would say she racked up this year with gifts.  She got a table and chairs, her rocking giraffe swing (check out Facebook for the video), a tea set, blocks, a mop and broom cleaning set, tons of books, a new dress, some Signing time DVDs and a few other odds and ends.  And she still has a couple of other packages on their way that haven’t arrived yet.  She was excited about each of them and jumps from one thing to the next now that we are back home.

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Waking up Christmas morning.

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Playing around in the hotel.

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Stockings and small packages on Christmas morning.

After showering and opening packages we headed back to spend some time with sisters for a Christmas brunch and then back again for a fabulous Christmas braai.  Mikayla and Ben were even able to do a little swimming!  We crashed early Christmas evening and then headed home the next day. 

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Cheesy girl enjoying swimming outside in December!

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Swimming with daddy!

We spent yesterday relaxing at home (I started reading Harry Potter and can’t put it down), cleaning and organizing.  Sometime today we will be picking up the twins for a months stay at our house.  The kids from the hostel are on holiday right now (summer vacation) and the twins have been back at their homesteads for about three weeks.  This will be a much different stay for them because they are both relatively healthy now and extremely mobile.  Both are walking/running all over the place!  I think this time it will feel more like we have triplets than just three kids. 

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Toddler School–Christmas

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

For the last couple of weeks we have been focusing on Christmas activities during our school time.  Unfortunately, we did not end up with much learning time in the past few weeks, so we did not get to very many of the activities I had planned.  Maybe next year!  Here are a few of the activities we did manage to squeeze in.

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She made a hand/foot print reindeer.  She got really upset today when she found it in the trash and we had to pull it back out to play with!

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We made a reindeer snack with a square cookie cut in half, raisins, jelly bean, pecans and peanut butter.

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For this game Mikayla would choose a magnetic number and place that many ornaments (pom poms) onto the tree until she had the tree filled up.

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I put magnetic letters in a stocking and she pulled them out one at a time to identify.  She was able to say each letter!  After each correct identification we would both say "Jingle Bells"! 

We also did a really neat nativity storyboard with her handprints.  I can not remember where I saw it, but basically it was four handprints, each turned into an animal that represented the nativity story.  A donkey for Mary heading to Bethlehem, a cow for the manger and stable scene, a sheep for the shepherd and a camel for the wise men.  Then in the middle of the four handprint animals was her fingerprint to represent Baby Jesus.  It was a great learning tool for her to retell the birth of Jesus.  Of course we played with Christmas stickers and did a few other crafty activities that I did not get a picture of.

I am not sure what the coming weeks will hold for our learning time because we will have the twins we cared for in August living with us again.  They will be with us for a month so I don’t expect to get much learning time in!  We will see though.  They are both walking and running and what not now so it will be more like having triplets than it was before!

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Kruger Bird Pictures

Monday, December 26th, 2011

We took lots of pictures of animals while in Kruger (you can find them on Ben’s Facebook page), but here are a couple of bird pictures for you.  We haven’t identified all of them yet, but will when we get back home.

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Not a great shot, but still a cool bird!

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This bird was just hanging out on top of a hippo!

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Some of these birds have amazing colors.

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This was some sort of eagle, I think an African fish eagle.

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Love this guy – we have actually seen him around our house too.  His color is beautiful!

I am sure I will post some animal pictures later, but if you want to see them now you can go to Ben’s Facebook page.

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Christmas Can Officially Begin

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

In case you missed my Facebook update this morning, Christmas Season can officially begin in our household.  Today was Cinnamon Roll Day!  Mikayla and I spent the morning making my Grandma Clark’s famous cinnamon rolls.  Which in my mind symbolize Christmas.  I love them so much!  Ben asked today why we don’t make them more often and I said they would lose their mystique if we made them more than just at Christmas time.  Last year I posted about the tradition, you can read about it here if you want.

Since cinnamon rolls are so big for my family, I have spent the past couple of years making triple or quadruple batches to fulfill our desires for their gooey goodness.  However, this year I just made one batch since I didn’t figure they would ship very well (sorry guys).  It was strange only making one batch and we were finished before lunch (this has never happened on cinnamon roll day)!  We had to make a few slight alterations (like swapping honey for the corn syrup), but they still taste a little like home.  To all the Clark family out there – we will be enjoying some cinnamon rolls this week while thinking of you!

We didn’t manage to take but a couple of pictures today (Ben left with the camera), but here are some pictures from several years ago when my sister and I made cinnamon rolls with my Grandma.


Making cinnamon rolls with the best sous chef around!

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Sister and Grandma preparing the surface.  Please note the cinnamon sugar shaker on the left.  This was given to me a couple of years ago and I really missed it this year when making.  It makes the cinnamon sugar part a lot easier!

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Watching the master at work!

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Christa and me! (This was pre-Mikayla, Tanner and Taylor)!


This Week’s Happenings 12/12-12-18

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Ben had a three day meeting in town this week.  We were sad for him to leave since I was gone so much last week.  But then on his first night he called and said he ended up with a suite and that we should find a ride into town to come stay with him (our car is in the shop).  So on Thursday we got up early and hitched a ride with one of the Cabrini vehicles heading that way to enjoy some time with Ben (although he was in meetings for most of the time).  We got to enjoy some AC, excellent Internet and some rain!  I am starting to get spoiled with all the getaways!

Speaking of getaways, we finalized our holiday plans this week.  We will spend some time in Kruger (one of the largest game reserves) and Nelspruit – both in South Africa.  We will also be spending some time with the sisters.  We will surely miss our families and friends a lot this week, but are hoping to have some decent Internet so we can make some video calls.  We will keep you posted on that.  When we get back we will pick up the twins we kept earlier in the year.  They will have a months stay at the Kickert’s abode during the "summer" break!

We have been thinking for awhile that we wanted to get Mikayla a pool to play it.  It is just so hot!  Well, we finally purchased one this week and I think she is in love.  Originally we planned on getting one of those wide shallow pools, but I think this is going to be even better because she can submerge herself and we can use it as big bath tub if we need to.  It will actually come in really handy when we are keeping the twins.  We have also been having some problems with our shower so it will be nice to bathe ourselves as well.  It is amazing how small things can make such a big difference here.

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Just hanging out in her new pool/tub!

On Saturday I did some baking for the sisters.  They wanted to give some homemade goodies to the priests and sister here.  They had given me a couple of box mixes they picked up in SA last week, but I had some butternut squash that needed to be used.  So I decided to throw some "pumpkin" (aka butternut squash) muffins into the mix.  When I had some leftover puree I decided it was a great chance to try out some Pumpkin Monkey Bread I have had on my radar for a bit.  I am so glad I did because it was delicious.  Maybe even better than traditional monkey bread.  I found the recipe here.  I didn’t take any pictures because our pan was actually too small and it fell out as it rose so high during the baking process, but trust me it was amazing!  Try it, definitely worth the wait time.  If you do try, be sure to read the recipe all the way through before starting because it requires two rise times. 

For all you Clark folks – we will be thinking of you this week as we make the annual cinnamon rolls!  It’s just too bad we will have to eat them all ourselves!

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Feast of Mother Cabrini Video

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Feast of Mother Cabrini we celebrated and promised a video.  If you are still interested you can click here to see the video. 

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Potty Training Update

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I hesitate to even mention this on the blog (or in person really) because I am afraid we will jinx ourselves, but here we go anyway.  Mikayla pretty much potty trained herself a year ago.  In the fall we introduced the potty and potty seat.  We would occasionally sit her on the potty when we knew she would be going to the bathroom and every once in awhile she would go.   We didn’t force it or really try to potty train her at this time though.  Right before we were leaving on our Christmas travel time she decided it was time to use the potty for real.  And she never looked back!  She had very few accidents and even approached us to use the potty instead of us asking her over and over again.  Let me reiterate, that she did this all on her own.  We just stepped in and played the parent role when she made the decision. 

Flash forward several months (around spring or early summer time) and she decided she would stay dry at nap time.  We never forced the issue, but one day she consistently started staying dry.  We rewarded her every step of the way with cheers of encouragement or small rewards like a piece of candy (i.e. gummy bear).  I am telling you, this kid will do anything for a piece of candy.  Even something as small as a Skittle.  Wonder where that comes from?

Flash forward again to present time and I do believe we have conquered night time training.  Do I think she will continue to have an accident every once in awhile?  Sure.  Do I think she is a champ for choosing to stay dry constantly?  Absolutely!  For the last week and a half (and maybe longer) she has woken up dry after bedtime.  She has even worn underwear to bed the last three nights!  Can we get a big "hip hip hooray" for Mikayla?  She is so cute when she wakes up because the first thing she says is, "I’m dry.  The front and the back!"

To all you parents out there attempting potty training let me just offer a few words of encouragement.  The most important piece of wisdom I could pass along is that your child will potty train when they are ready.  A lot of parents told me this when Mikayla was a baby and I never believed them, but this is so true!  I have a few friends who have tried to push the issue before their child was ready and it completely back fired on them.  They were frustrated, their kids were frustrated and there were messes everywhere.  Children are pretty smart and they know when they are ready.  Do introduce them to the potty, don’t just sit around and wait for them to discover it on their own.  In our house we have always had an open door policy (when we don’t have company over of course).  So Mikayla has always been accustomed to seeing us use the bathroom.  When we started introducing it to her she was like "no big deal, I’ve got this thing under control!"  When you introduce the potty be sure to make it fun, not a chore and you will more than likely have more success.  I have a friend who has a "Potty Power" cheer they do each time their daughter uses the potty.  Simple and to the point, but really motivating for their child.  Another thing we did, that helped Mikayla’s friends more than it helped us, was we allowed her friends (keep in mind they were 1 at the time) watch her use the potty.  Lylah thought this was the greatest thing and when her mommy introduced the potty she would use Mikayla as an example to motivate her. 

I think it is safe to say that Mikayla is (knock on wood) officially and fully potty trained!  Good job baby girl!

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This photo has nothing to do with potty training, but I wanted to include a picture.  This is from last weekend when we went hiking.

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This Week’s Happenings 12/5-12/11

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

I spent 2.5 days in town this week for an all staff training on Child Protection.  Ben stayed back on the mission to watch Mikayla and hold down the fort at Cabrini.  I got a lot of raised eyebrows when I said that Ben was watching Mikayla while I was at the meeting.  Swazi men are not typically seen as the "caretakers" of the children so for Ben to watch Mikayla for almost three days without me being around was strange for them.  He did a great job keeping up with our almost three year old!  They played games, had school, washed the car and just hung out. 

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Handprint Tree Ben and Mikayla made while I was gone.

Most of the meat of the meetings were things that I already knew, but new information for a lot of our staff.  It was nice to hear their perspective on things and I even learned a lot about the Swazi culture.  For example, when the Gogos (grandmothers) were kids they actually lived in their Gogos huts instead of their mothers so they wouldn’t see things.  Want to hear an interesting fact – Only 20% of the children of Swaziland still have both parents?  No wonder we have such a problem with child abuse and have so many OVC (orphan and vulnerable children).  Another thing that raised my eyebrows was that the school systems still practice corporal punishment!

In other news, mangos and lychees ripened enough to call them into season this week.  In case you aren’t familiar, lychees are small fleshy fruit with a tough skin that peels off and a pit in the middle.  They taste kind of like a green grape without the skin.  Ben and Mikayla are big fans but they aren’t my favorite.  But I am very excited about the mangos.  I can’t wait to try some of the mango recipes people have sent me soon.  Did you know you could get a mango burn?  It is similar to the rash you get with poison ivy.  Ben and Mikayla had the pleasure of experiencing this first hand.  It comes from the sap.

We had some unseasonably cool nights this week so we spent a lot of time hanging out on the porch.  Mikayla loved blowing bubbles and running around.  Ben even had a couple of braais while I was away.

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She is a redneck at heart!  Blowing bubbles barefoot in underwear, a t-shirt and headlamp! 

On Saturday we had some family time by making homemade gingerbread cookies.  I found the recipe here.  They turned out delicious, even if we didn’t have any holiday themed cookie cutters.  We decided to not spend lots of time frosting them (they were that good), but make some cream cheese frosting to dip them in!  This was my first attempt at gingerbread cookies.  I usually make sugar cookies this time of year (and we still might), but I really enjoyed the change of making gingerbread instead.  Mikayla of course had a blast rolling out the dough and using the cookie cutters to make designs.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love my little family?  I missed them so much this week, even if I was only away for 2.5 days. 

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Doesn’t he look handsome in his jewelry?

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Working hard with daddy!

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This kid loves playing with dough!  She took it very seriously and would not let us help her at all.

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Ben cut this Christmas tree out of the dough by hand.  He was really proud of it and Mikayla enjoyed eating it!

We spent a lot of Sunday in imaginative play.  Mikayla began by dragging out some of her stuffed animals and had a tea party.  We then made her a car out of a large box and she drove her "family" around all over the place.  Her imagination never ceases to amaze me!  And it is amazing how a few pieces of "trash" can stem an hour or so of play.

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Necklace dance – She spent a good bit of time dancing around with some necklaces on Saturday night.  It was hilarious because she was so serious about it.

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Family tea party

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Pretend car made from old box


Toddler School–Letter G

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

We spent the last two weeks studying the Letter G off and on.  We did a lot of crafty activities.

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Felt gumball machine game.  The idea behind the game was that she would roll two dice and count out that many gumballs to place in the gumball machine.  However, she struggled with counting both dice together.  She wanted to count each dice individually.  We eventually shifted to using just one dice, but by that time she was through playing.  She wanted to just "dress up" her gumball machine (which partially inspired my Felt Mr./Mrs. Potato Head game I made her for Christmas).

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Letter G Grapes.  We took a bottle cap and dipped into purple paint to make a grape, then she stamped onto the letter G.  When she was done we glued a green leaf on the top.

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We are way behind the blog world on this game, but we balanced marbles on top of golf tees.  She was excellent at this and was able to complete in no time at all. 

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We then scooped marbles into a bottle.  This was a little harder for her.

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We played a feely bag game.  I took one of her wet bags and put one object at a time inside.  She had to close her eyes and feel what the object was and then make a guess.  She did great and only missed a couple.

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We made a picture of Grover by painting a cutout blue and then gluing on the other body parts and letters to his name. 

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I wrote letters onto a strip of paper.  Then she rolled two dice and counted over that many letters to identify the letter.  We ran into the same problem with counting two dice at once.  She tends to be a little stubborn so she wouldn’t let me help show her how to count them together!  We ended up dropping the second dice and just playing with one.

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Handprint giraffe – it was really cute until she smeared the red paint across his face!

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Final letter G Grapes and a gold glitter letter G.

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Another letter G giraffe made from foam and the spots are her finger prints stamped.  She had so much fun with this one that she spent the next hour (literally), cutting and tearing scraps of paper to make her own giraffes.  We ended up with a whole pile of "giraffes" by the time she was through.

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And of course we had to finger paint with green paint!

As you can see in most of the pictures, Mikayla loves her art apron her Mimi sent her.  If we paint, she wears it for the rest of the morning!  Mikayla says, "Thanks Mimi".  For our cooking lesson this week I wanted to make guacamole, but living an hour from a grocery store hindered us from getting our supplies.  We settled for a Letter G lunch instead – grilled cheese, grapes and goldfish. 

For the next couple of weeks we will focus on the Christmas season.  We will also throw in a few "winter" activities just because they flow well with Christmas, even if we aren’t experiencing the cold here!  We have a lot of "distractions" in the next few weeks, so I am not sure how much learning time we will actually get to.  But we will do our best.

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Felt Mr./Mrs. Potato Head

Monday, December 5th, 2011

I love the idea of giving homemade gifts to Mikayla.  Last year we made her a kitchen set (that my nieces and nephews now enjoy).  This year I had the idea to make her a teddy bear dress up doll with different outfits, but when I started to make it I just wasn’t "feeling it".  Then I ran across a picture of a felt Mr. Potato Head here.  I didn’t wanted to recreate this exact model (mostly because I don’t have felt or a sewing machine), but I did want to come up with something similar.  Here is what I came up with:

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I just cut out a basic potato shape out of brown felt and then "accessorized".  I even made some male items to make a Mr. Potato Head instead of a Mrs.  I was very pleased with how it turned out and think that Mikayla will love it.  I am also excited about how easily this will travel with us and keep her entertained on long trips!

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