Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Composting...

2:38 pm - 42 degrees - overcast...

We live in the Pacific Northwest.  Around here the word “composting” may as well be synonymous with “recycling”. 

Composting is nature’s way of recycling.  It is a method of converting garden trash, kitchen scraps, and other organic wastes into humus – a partly decayed form of organic matter that is an important ingredient of rich soil.

Composting doesn’t have to be difficult, nor does it require a strong back, large acreage, livestock waste or expensive bins.  There are many variations in composting techniques, but the basic idea is to let the biological action of bacteria and fungi heat the interior of the compost pile to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, killing week seeds and disease organisms.  The most efficient way to produce compost is in a bin or container to keep the material from spilling out.

What Belongs In Your Compost Bin --- You know you can compost fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen, but there are dozens of organic-based items that can also go into your compost bin that you may not have thought of.
-      Coffee grounds
-      Coffee filters
-      Teabags
-      Crushed eggshells
-      Paper bags and cardboard, including cereal boxes
-      Stale bread, cereal, and plain crackers
-      Expired herbs and spices
-      Hair from your brush, and from your pet’s brushes
-      Dropping from pet rabbits, chickens, cows and horses
-      Paper roll tubes
-      Freezer burned vegetables and fruit
-      Old bills and other shredded documents
-      Newspaper
-      Houseplants that didn’t make it
-      Wood ash
 
Any paper items from your home or office, so long as the paper is not glossy and is free from staples, paperclips or plastic, can be shredded or torn up and placed into the compost bin.  The smaller the pieces, the faster it will break down inside of the bin.  Even your Christmas tree can be run through a wood chipper and then added to your compost bin.

What Doesn’t Belong In Your Compost Bin --- We’ve covered what should go into your compost pile or bin, what shouldn’t is just as important, if not more important, as the possibility of introducing pathogens to your soil could be dangerous to you and your family for years.  Most importantly, chemicals or metals of any kind, should never be incorporated into your compost or soil.  Here are some other, less obvious, items to exclude from composting.
-      Meat of all kinds
-      Dairy products
-      Fecal matter from dogs, cats, pigs or reptiles
-      Fats, grease, lard or oils
-      Diseased plants
-      Dryer lint
-      Contents of your vacuum bags
-      Glossy paper, including newspaper inserts
-      Yard clippings or trimming treated with pesticides
-      Coal or charcoal ash

There’s some debate amongst composting experts when it comes to pasta and bread items.  The belief is that while these types of items are typically fine to add to your compost bin, the fact is they’re more likely to attract scavenging animals such as rats and raccoons.  However, a tightly sealed or raised off of the ground bin, will reduce the number of visitors.

You may be tempted to throw in diseased plants but that would be opening yourself up to all kinds of trouble later on down the line.  The bacteria or virus responsible for the disease will likely survive the composting process, which means you could infect your entire garden when you spread your compost the following year.

Regularly aerating or turning over the contents of your compost bin will ensure air has access to the decaying organic matter.  The air will help prevent mold from setting in, and will also work to accelerate the decomposition process by providing oxygen to the thousands of tiny organisms doing all the work.

Some gardeners prefer to have two or more compost bins, at varying stages of the process, in order to ensure a steady supply of compost is at their fingertips, at all times.  Trust me, the first time you scoop and spread your very own dark, rich compost, and better yet, see what it does for your garden, you too will understand our deep love of compost here in the Pacific Northwest.


Five Types of Compost Bins That Turn Trash Into Treasure

Sunken Garbage Can --- makes a convenient compost bin when space is limited.  Punch holes in bottom of can for drainage and fill with alternating layers of material.  Cover with screening to keep out insects and scavengers.  Perforated drainpipe in center provides aeration.
 
Photo Source: Back To Basics
 
Screened Compost Bin --- is made of chicken wire and light lumber.  It is easily disassembled for turning compost.  Two L-shaped sections fasten with hooks and eyes.  To use, simply unfasten hooks and eyes, remove sides, and set up in position to receive the turned compost.


Photo Source: Back To Basics

Wire Mesh Cylinder --- is one of the simplest of all compost bins to construct.  Use mesh with heavy gauge wire; support with stakes driven into the ground.  Often used for autumn leaves, it can handle any type of compost.

Photo Source: Back To Basics

Rotating Drum --- tumbles compost each time drum is turned, mixing and aerating it.  Material is loaded through a hatch.  These compact, durable units are available commercially and can also be built at home.
 
Photo Source: Back To Basics

Three-Stage Bin --- turns out a near-continuous supply of compost.  Positioned sided by side makes turning compost easy.
 
Photo Source: Back To Basics

We will be composting using the three-stage bin style.  Instead of making bins, we’re going to be using old orchard crates that we got for free from a fruit processing plant.
 
 
We managed to get 21 orchard boxes on the flatbed trailer...
this will be my new raised garden

Over the weekend I got the first bin in place and started my compost pile!
 

In fact we’re going to be using those old orchard crates to make a raised garden on that flat area behind my compost bins (separate post coming soon).

Monday, December 30, 2013

Work Weekend...

8:34 pm - 42 degrees - light wind...

Everyone is finally starting to get better and we had gorgeous weather over the weekend (still no snow) so we took full advantage and spent the weekend outside, cleaning up around the yard.

 
Our main focus was cleaning up all the small debris everywhere so we had three small burn piles going.  The yard looks so much better now!



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mountain Traffic...

11:57 am - 42 degrees - foggy...


What A Day {What A Week!}...

11:55 am - 42 degrees - foggy...

Oh how sickness changes things!  All of our plans for the past week were quickly shot down when Caitlyn got sick... followed by Jack... then me... and finally Tony.  That horrible cold that has been going around has wiped out the whole family which resulted in a double ear infection and a case of bronchitis.  Needless to say it has been a very long and miserable week.  And we’re still not operating at 100% yet.

Besides being sick on and off since Thanksgiving... I’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year and I think the weather is a major reason why.  There is no snow outside.  None!  Zip!  Zilch!  It doesn’t look like it should be winter let alone Christmas time.  Where is all of our snow?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Red The Elf...

11:43 am - 35 degrees - blue sky and sunshine with 28+ mph winds (currently have 3+ inches of snow)...

It’s the most wonderful time of year!  I must admit that I love Christmas time.  I love seeing all the homes decorated in their glistening white lights and beautiful wreaths hanging on the doors.  I love gathering with family and friends at holiday parties, picking out presents for our loved ones, and I love all of our family traditions and the wonderful memories they create.

One of those fun traditions is Red the Elf.  He is a mischievous little guy, and he travels all over the house keeping an eye on the kids while having a bit of fun himself. 

Here are some pictures of what Red’s been up to lately...
 
4 year-old son: "Holy smokes Mom!
Red is stuck in the Christmas tree!"

4 year-old son: "Mom! Red made Caitlyn's lunch! Or...I guess he kind of
tried to." (laughs) "Silly Red, she can't eat all those kisses by herself! He
must have packed those for me."

8 year-old daughter: "Jack! Woof, Red & Rex
are having a sack race in my room! And I think
Red is trying to cheat! He's grabbing Rex's bag!"

4 year-old son: "Mom, I found Red! He's on a train ride!"

8 year-old daughter: "Uh oh Jack! I think Red is trying to tell
 you something! Take the hint dude!"

4 year-old son:  "Mom!  Red is hanging upside
down in the Christmas tree!  Doesn't he know that
is dangerous!!!"

8 year-old daughter:  "Uh Mom!  I think Red made the dinosaurs really mad."
 
This post is for the kid in all of us.  :)

A Simple Trip To Town...

11:17 am - 35 degrees - blue sky and sunshine with 28+ mph winds (currently have 3+ inches of snow)...

...isn’t so simple – especially in the winter time. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - I don’t like driving in the snow!  Well maybe I would if it wasn’t on a one lane curvy mountain road (that’s skirting the edge of the mountain in numerous areas) with a 100+ foot drop off most of the way.  Which let me tell you can be extremely nerve wracking when you’re rig goes sliding towards that drop-off.  You can see from previous posted pictures {click here} that there isn’t a guard rail or anything to stop the rig from going over.  So maybe I would like driving in the snow if it was flat... and I knew that I wouldn’t be going over a cliff.

Besides the nerve wracking drive itself, there is always the very real possibility of getting stuck.  So when there’s snow on the ground (regardless if it’s an inch or a foot), before I ever head out, I always make sure that I have a snow shovel, tire chains, extra food, blankets, snow shoes, and snow gear for everyone in the car.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

This year we have been experiencing colder than normal temperatures with a little bit of snow and a lot of ice.  Due to the icy conditions on the roads, our kids are on their third snow day already!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Molasses Cookies...

12:00 pm - 14 degrees - windy and snowing with a wind chill of 6 degrees...

This is the perfect holiday cookie!  There’s something about ginger, cloves and cinnamon that makes me think it’s Christmas!  Just the aroma of these baking in the oven brings back lots of happy holiday memories!


~Molasses Cookies~
1 egg (room temperature)
3/4 cup butter or ¾ cup shortening plus 3 teaspoons water*
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter (or shortening).  Add egg and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the molasses and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.  Stir together.  Mix the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture.

Chill the dough for several hours.  {Note:  Most molasses cookie recipes say to chill the dough, but I never do and the cookies still turn out great!  So I personally think this step is optional.}

After the dough has chilled (or not, in my case), roll the dough into 1” balls and then roll the balls in sugar.  Place the balls of dough onto an ungreased parchment lined baking sheet 2” apart (they will spread).

Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Do not allow the cookies to brown or they will become hard!  Allow the cookies to remain on the baking sheet for 2 minutes after removing from the oven.  Then transfer cookies from the baking sheet onto wire racks to cool.   Yields:  2
dozen cookies

~ Enjoy!
 
 
*P.S. Here’s a side note on Butter VS Shortening in baking...  In general, you can substitute shortening for butter in equal amounts in baking recipes (not the frosting or icing, though – yuck!).  Shortening yields higher, lighter-textured baked goods, which is sometimes preferable to butter (depending on what you’re making).

Butter naturally has some water in it; shortening doesn’t.  Cookies made with shortening and no extra water added, for example, are higher and lighter, while butter cookies are flatter and crispier.  This is because butter has a lower melting point than shortening, causing them to spread faster and more in the short time it takes to bake a cookie.  If you use shortening, but want an effect closer to butter, add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons water for every ¼ cup of shortening.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We've Got Snow...

4:06 pm - 29 degrees - slight breeze with a wind chill of 26...

The rain finally turned to snow yesterday and we ended up with just under 2 inches.  With the cold temps this week (high teens and low 20s) I think its going to stay for a while.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Heavy Rains...

3:40 pm - 46 degrees - 40+ mph winds - heavy rains...

It looks like our little dry spell is over.  It started raining late last night and since then we have gotten 5.58 inches of rain.

Here are so photos from along our driveway of all the water runoff.  Sorry for the poor quality photos, I was snapping pictures from inside the car through the heavy rain. 




numerous large rocks have loosened and fallen into the driveway

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!

8:25 am - 42 degrees - 50+ mph winds...
 
 
A few things that I am truly thankful for today are:
- My husband, the calm in my storm and the true heart of this crazy venture.
- Our two children, each so much who he/she is, it makes me cry sometimes.
- Our family and friends that bless our days.
- Work. Hard, meaningful, often joyous work.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

It's A Bit Windy Out...

10:59 am - 37 degrees - 65+ mph winds...

The wind has been howling for the past several days with wind speeds easily hitting the mid 60s and up.  The wind has been so strong that it was shaking the house, it felt like we were being rocked to sleep. 

The trees are dancing in the wind.

It has also been blowing stuff around - like our culvert were going to be using to make a bridge {click here}.  The wind has blown it over 100 feet down into the lower yard.  We're waiting for the wind to calm down a bit before we try to roll it back up to the house.

Our culvert is being blown away.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Brrrr, Baby It’s Cold Outside…

5:42 pm - 32 degrees - clear night sky… 

Two weeks ago we had our first snow for the season.  I wasn't able to get good pictures because the mountain was hiding in the clouds.  The mountain has only recently decided to come out, and you can see just a tiny sliver of the snow remaining.

Taken November 3rd - 0ur first snow of the season.
 
The mountain has stopped hiding!  If you look really hard,
you can see a small sliver of snow left from the first snow fall.
For the next few days, it is supposed to be nice out, although very cooold  Even with five layers of clothes on this morning, I was still freezing as I was running around the yard taking pictures - it was just so pretty out, I couldn't help myself.
 
 

It so cold out that everything is frozen right now.  And in the backyard we have strange looking ice crystal called needle ice.  Needle ice can form any place where the ground freezes.  Needle ice is made up of thin ice crystals that grow upward, starting just below the grounds surface.  These ice crystals have made the ground rise several inches.  I think they are really neat looking so I just had to take some pictures.
 
Needle Ice
 

 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cooking Off-Grid...

5:00 pm - 42 degrees - raining and windy...

It amuses me when people find out that we live off-grid and they ask me how I cook our meals.  My response is always the same – just like everyone else does, with a few exceptions of course. 

I’m not a gourmet cook and I don’t have “gourmet” items in our tiny temporary kitchen, but I do have what is needed to cook from scratch – which is the preferred method in our home.  Cooking off-grid, for us, just means setting up our kitchen the way our grandmothers and great grandmothers did it - with plenty of manual (non-electric) kitchen tools.

These are a few of my favorite kitchen tools that I use all the time!
Grater, Sifter, Can Opener, Hand Mixer & Whisk
 
Sometimes I am startled by what people lack in their kitchen.  I’m not talking about newlyweds just getting started in life; I’m talked about established families whose kitchens lack mixing bowls or pie pans or a rolling pin.  I recently met someone who didn’t even own a single measuring spoon.

I understand why this is.  It’s because fewer people are cooking from scratch anymore.  People are busy, convenience food is cheap and abundant, and the art of a homemade meal is becoming rarer.

I don’t pretend to be a culinary genius in the kitchen, in fact I prefer baking over cooking and am way better when I have a recipe to follow – whereas my husband (who doesn’t cook very often) is way better when he’s not following a recipe.  Either way, knowing how to cook from scratch is, I feel, very important.  No, more than very important – essential.

Scratch cooking is one of those unheralded and under-appreciated skills that we should all learn because it’s the answer to an obvious question:  What would you do if a frozen pizza or canned soup or boxed macaroni-and-cheese were not available?  This is a particularly important question for Preppers because it affects what foods they store.

With a few exceptions, more of your food storage should be ingredients, not prepared food.  This means basic staples from which you can assemble complete meals.  Most staples (properly stored) will also last longer than most processed foods.

Endless number of Preppers have stored away endless amounts of rice and beans, but often they lack the ability to cook up those rice and beans in tasty ways.  Worse, lots of people have wheat stored away, without any real comprehension of how to turn that wheat into a loaf of bread.

Sadly that ability – to take raw ingredients and create delicious meals out of them – is either watered down or gone.  We are so entirely dependent on prepared foods from the grocery store (or deli or restaurant) that some peoples definition of “scratch” cooking means making a cake from a boxed mix.

Our pioneer ancestors were experts at cooking from scratch.  They had no choice.  The food they grew, raised, gathered or hunted was in “scratch” form and needed to be transferred into something edible.  And yet pioneer recipes have come down through the generations as testimonies of the wonderful and delicious ways in which basic foods could make marvelous and nutritious meals.

Although I may not bake or cook from scratch exactly like our pioneer ancestors did, I do use similar kitchen tools – that is manual (non-electric) kitchen tools.  And now I'm off to make dinner - cube steak with mushroom gravy, real mashed potatoes, and a tossed salad.  Yum!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank You...

10:19 am - 46 degrees - 35+ mph winds...

Thank you to all who have served our great Nation. We are in your debt.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Drip...Drip...Drip...

11:58 am - 43 degrees - raining and windy (35+ mph)...

Wind in the mountains is unlike anything we have ever experienced.  Since the wind likes to swirl around the house, the rain and snow come from every possible direction – sometimes we feel like we’re inside a snowglobe.

Due to the high winds and heavy rains, that are very determined and persistent on coming down the stove pipe, we had to switch out the standard chimney cap with a high wind directional cap.  That seemed to do the trick...for a while that is.  After a few winters of heavy snow, broke the seal on the storm collar to the stove pipe.  So when the heavy rain storms hit, the stove pipe would leak. 


Up the ladder Tony went and climbed up to the peak of the roof, which is 34 feet up in the air, all to fix the first storm collar and add a second one.  He removed the old storm collar, cleaned it up, modified it to fit better, then reinstalled and sealed it.  He then installed and sealed a second storm collar on top of the first one.  We’re hoping that by having two storm collars it will be more rigid and withstand the heavy snow and keep the rain out.

Happy {belated} Halloween...

11:48 am - 43 degrees - windy and raining...

 
Hope your Halloween was spooktacular! ~ Sacagawea & Cowboy Jack

Sorry for the belated Halloween post.  :)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Firewood Supply {Kindling}...

4:28 pm - 53 degrees - clear with a light breeze...

A warm cozy fire in the fireplace is a great idea, but sometimes that fire is a challenge to start.  It doesn’t matter how much firewood we have if we can’t get the fire started!  Even though kindling is essential to heating one’s home with wood, it’s often overlooked.

So while Tony has been busy splitting and hauling firewood, I’ve been busy splitting cedar rounds into kindling.
 
We've currently have just over 6 cords of firewood split and stacked.
 
My father-in-law picked up a hatchet at a garage sale for me!
Soooo excited, it makes splitting the cedar kindling much easier.
 
one bucket of cedar kindling and one bucket
of mixed cedar kindling and odds and ends.

We’re storing our kindling in 5-gallon buckets or boxes for a couple of reasons.  Kindling is inconvenient to stack.  It’s better to contain it in a bucket, cardboard box or other container.  These hold the kindling until it can be transferred to a kindling bin in the wood box, or it can be set inside the firewood area to be used as needed.  Also, if it’s stored vertically, any dampness tends to wick away faster.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Questions and Answers...

10:42 am - 43 degrees - foggy...

We get a few comments and questions posted on our blog but for whatever reason we get way more that are emailed to us.  So here are a few of the questions and comments that we have received lately...

------------------------------------------------------------

I recently found your blog through your Facebook page. 
I officially LOVE your blog and what your family is doing! 
I think it’s amazing that you’re building your home yourselves! 
I just find your blog fascinating! 
 
You have never really mentioned the Prepper movement
or whether or not you are part of it.  I was wondering if
 you consider yourselves “Preppers”?  If so, I would
love to see you do more posts about it.

Thank you very much!!!  For those of you who don’t know what a “Prepper” is here’s the web definition:  a movement of individuals or groups who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international.

“Prepping” is all the rage right now.  There are websites, articles and even television shows about something called “the preppers movement”.  Personally I think that you could ask a half-dozen people “what is a prepper?” and get as many different ideas or views.

We believe that it simply means people are preparing for emergencies.  Prepping doesn’t have to be related to the end of the world.  Instead, I think it’s about people thinking about how to help themselves, their friends and their neighbors in case of emergencies – real world emergencies that are happening today like natural disasters, or even things like losing your job, or getting a pay cut to where you can’t make ends meet, even preparing to be cut off from society for a little while.

I don’t think we have ever really considered ourselves to be “Preppers” but I guess we do fit into that category.  Living up on a mountain we do have to be prepared for whatever comes our way.  We’ve had our driveway washout during a rainstorm {click here}.  We’ve been snowed in for three days before Tony was able to get us out.  The county has even forewarned us that during heavy snow it could be 7-10 days before they can clear our road and get us out.  So yes, I guess we are Preppers.  We have to be, it’s just plain common sense.
 
Feb 2008 - we had 10+ feet of snow that winter

For those of you who haven’t seen our Facebook page {click here}.

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I so very much long to live the kind of life you’re living
right now.  Maybe someday if God allows, we’ll be doing
what you are doing!  I’m completely inspired by you. 
My question is: did you know a great deal about
off-the-grid living before you moved off-the-grid?

No we didn’t.  Tony knew what “off-grid” was but I had never even heard of the term until we came across this property.  You don’t have to know everything up front to be able to successfully make the move to off-grid living.  What you do need to have is a real appetite for learning.  There are many things you can learn best by doing.  Experience is often the best teacher.  We have learned a lot along the way with a lot of shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’s.  Although our home is still not finished, we are still having fun and enjoying this phase of our off-grid adventure, even though we do hit the occasional speed bump.

------------------------------------------------------------

What do you think is holding back off-grid
living from mass acceptance?

I am sure there are several reasons for this, but the cost of land, the lack of self-confidence, and the need for peer approval seem to be the most apparent obstacles.  I know that off-grid living isn’t for everyone.  But I think there are a lot of people who haven’t ever even considered it.  I know we didn’t until we just happened to run across this property 8 years ago.  They think that they couldn’t possibly live like that, so primitive, so reclusive.  The fact is that this life is not primitive, and if anything, it is technologically advanced compared to a city apartment life.  Once we get our power system all hooked up, we’ll be using technologies on a daily basis that most people have never heard of. 

I also think that most people assume that living off-grid is a fringe lifestyle, like being a hippie.  That may be true for some people, but not for everyone.  I think some people have a problem with being different, standing out, and doing what they want because it goes against “society’s norm”.

Some people imagine our lives as something detached, like out of a movie or a book, not real and not doable by their standards.  But what they don’t realize is that it is actually very doable, and very real, but only if they make it so.  They have to take the step forward, just like we did, and make something happen for themselves.  And one day, they might just be able to sit back on the porch they built, sipping a drink from the fruit of their gardens, enjoying a breathtaking view, and wondering, just why would anyone want to live any other way.

------------------------------------------------------------

Have you ever had any negative experiences with wildlife? 
Bears breaking into the shed or the garbage or cougars
threatening the pets, anything like that?  Your blog is
amazing.  I look forward to every update.

Our first year living here, we had problems with raccoons getting into the trash cans.  That didn’t last very long.  We haven’t had any problems with them since and our trash cans are still kept outside.

We haven’t had any problems with cougars.  Our first winter we had cougar tracks all over the place, but we never actually saw one (we didn’t have pets at that time either).  We haven’t had any sign of them around the house since then.  About two and a half months ago one of the nearby loggers saw a mom and her cub on the ridge over from us – so we know there are at least three in the area, and they are currently keeping their distance from us.

We occasionally see black bears here and there but they seem to be more scared of us than we are of them.  Same goes for the bob cats.
 

Coyotes on the other had are a bit annoying and have been coming closer to the house these last few months – thankfully our cats are still all accounted for.  They howl, yip, yelp and bark at all hours of the day and night.  They show up and hang around the mountain ridge several days at a time, then disappear for several days.

We did have one incident with a young buck who we think saw his reflection in the truck window and head butted it, shattering the window.  The only other issue we have with the deer is that they eat all the bird food.
 
"Mom, he's watching me!"

 Since we are living in their space, we have been really lucky and have had very little problems with the wildlife.

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Keep the questions and comments coming, we love hearing from you!  To view the first Q&A post {click here}.

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