United States

Apple Picking for Acrophobics


Just down the road from Monticello is Carter Mountain Orchard. Their sign advertising fresh peaches reeled me right in! I had never gone peach picking before and it sounded like a really fun thing to do. Only problem was all the peaches had already been picked off the trees. We were too late for peach picking, unless picking them from here counts?


But we were just in time for apple picking and that was something else I had never done before.


Apple picking was fun, but it was not quite the adventure I had envisioned. I had always pictured myself climbing a ladder (funny, I hate ladders!) to pick the perfect apples. Isn’t that how they always do it in the movies? Anyway, there were no ladders here. Just plenty of apples well within reach. Damn you easily accessible apples, ruining my dreams of movie-style apple picking! : )


Once our apple selections were complete, we headed to the barn where they have lots of delicious treats. A bakery full of pies and cider donuts. And the country store full of preserves and other fruity goodness. We indulged in some peach cider donuts and they were worth it!


There are many orchards in Charlottesville, and while this one is the only one I have ever been to, I would highly recommend it based on the beautiful scenery alone! And the cider donuts don’t hurt either!


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A Glimpse into Jefferson’s Garden


When Jefferson referenced his “garden” in written records, he was usually referring to his vegetable garden. While the flower gardens of the West Lawn are lovely, they are miniscule in comparison to Jefferson’s vegetable garden. Monticello’s terraced vegetable garden is 1,000 feet long and the 19th century garden has been restored by referencing the meticulous notes of Jefferson’s Garden Book. Jefferson grew about 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs and today the garden serves as a seed bank to preserve 19th century vegetable varieties.



Today, the vegetables in the garden are labeled according to the notes found in Jefferson’s Garden Book. The stake marking this squash variety is marked “TJ 1812” which means it was first referenced in Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book in 1812.


The stake marking this bean variety is labeled in a similar manner, but also shows “L&C” below the year. This means that this vegetable was brought back from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and planted in Jefferson’s garden in 1807. Jefferson’s presidency is most known for the Louisiana Purchase as well as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. In addition to adding vegetables to his garden, Jefferson also had many expedition “souvenirs” throughout his home that were brought back by Lewis & Clark.


There are also other vegetables currently growing at Monticello that were never recorded in Jefferson’s Garden Book. This tomato plant for example, does not have his initials and/or a year marked on the stake, but it is believed that it was likely planted in Jefferson’s garden based on what vegetables were commonly planted in the region at that time.


The garden pavilion sits in the middle of the garden and overlooks the eight-acre orchard, vineyard and berry plots. Jefferson used the pavilion as an evening reading location.


Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s original wine enthusiasts after serving as Minister to France. He was committed to growing European varieties of grapes at Monticello with the hopes of making his own wine. He never succeeded. Before the development of modern pesticides, these European varieties were extremely susceptible to local pests that killed the crop. However, Jefferson’s vision did lead to a successful wine market in Virginia. Today, Virginia ranks 5th in the country for the number of wineries and production of wine. And while it didn’t happen in Jefferson’s lifetime, Monticello successfully bottles about 1,000 bottles of wine every year.


Today, the vegetables and fruit grown at Monticello are used at their tasting events, served at the Café at Monticello, or distributed to employees.

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Exploring Monticello

A visit to Monticello should be at the top of everyone’s list when visiting Charlottesville. The grounds are extensive and you could easily spend an entire day there. Tickets cost $24 each which includes a guided tour of the first floor of the house and then you are welcome to spend as much time as you like exploring the grounds. There are two optional guided tours included in the regular admission price: Gardens & Grounds and Slavery at Monticello. Or you can just opt to explore the grounds on your own, which is what Rob and I chose to do. Additionally, they offer tours of the upper floors of Monticello, but those tickets are $42 each, they only do a limited number each day, and they sell out quickly. So, maybe next time we will see the rest of the house…

Thomas Jefferson spent much of his life involved in a variety of public service positions and his life was full of notable achievements. Undeniably, Jefferson’s greatest achievement was drafting the Declaration of Independence. To see a brief timeline of his life and other achievements, click here. Despite his very full schedule, Jefferson managed to find the time to design every aspect of Monticello; a project that he continuously updated and modified over a period of 40 years. He was a self-taught architect and began building Monticello when he was 26 years old after inheriting the land from his father. The house is situated on the summit of an 850 foot high peak in the Southwest Mountains. The name Monticello derives from Italian meaning “little mount.” Visitors are shuttled to the front entrance at the top of the mountain.


No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the home, but if you would like to get a glimpse of the interior rooms, click here. The view of Monticello from the West Lawn (rear of the house) is more famous than the view of the front of the home. The West Lawn is vibrant with beautiful gardens and butterflies galore. There is also a fish pond that was more function, than decoration. Fish were caught in nearby bodies of water and then “stored” in the fish pond until needed. A fabulous idea for an era before refrigerators!



Jefferson was always very outspoken about his views against slavery. However, he owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime. He inherited about 175 slaves and the numbers naturally increased by the procreation of enslaved families. Jefferson purchased fewer than 30 slaves during his lifetime, which still seems like a lot to me for someone so outspoken about the abolition of slavery. But it is reported that he purchased these “few” based on labor needs and also to unite spouses. A fascinating aspect of Jefferson’s design of Monticello was the incorporation of hidden “dependencies.” Dependencies were necessary service rooms that remained accessible to the family and the slaves that worked there, but they were not visible to the public or even guests visiting the home. Two wings connected by an underground passageway provided the work spaces for the slaves that maintained the household. The kitchen, smokehouse, carriage bays, ice house, etc. were all connected to the home for easy access, but remained well out of public view. Did Jefferson have a guilty conscience for owning slaves, thereby designing his home in such a way to mask his contradiction?


My favorite part was the wine cellar fully equipped with a dumbwaiter that lifted wine directly to a hidden compartment in the fire place of the dining room! While Jefferson was hosting a dinner with guests he would simply send the empty bottle down in the dumbwaiter and that was the signal for the slave in the wine cellar to promptly replace it. Now of course I am NOT an advocate of slavery. But I AM an advocate of speedy wine replenishment! Pure genius.


Thomas Jefferson chose his grave site at Monticello and he also wrote the epitaph for his tombstone. “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” It is said that these are the accomplishments that Jefferson was most proud of and what he wanted to be remembered for. Some might wonder why becoming a U.S. President didn’t make the cut. But Jefferson wanted to be remembered for what he gave to the people, not what the people gave to him. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence.


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Dinsmore House Hospitality

Rob and I wanted to stay at a cozy B&B during our stay in Charlottesville. We chose to stay at the historic Dinsmore House Inn in the heart of Charlottesville. This charming B&B is conveniently located one block from the University of Virginia and only 5 miles from Monticello. The home was built by James Dinsmore in 1817. Dinsmore was Thomas Jefferson’s master builder and his monumental construction achievements include Monticello, Montpelier, and the University of Virginia.


The inn was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t have been more pleased with our accommodations. There are 8 guestrooms available and we stayed in the Dinsmore Room. The room was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe how large it was. Despite having a four-poster king-size bed, there was still an incredible amount of space in the room. The bathroom was also very nice with a large claw foot tub as well as a separate shower.



Every morning they serve a full complimentary breakfast. The meals we had were fabulous! Delicious dishes with fresh, local fruit, homemade English muffins, and even their very own homemade preserves. The preserves were actually the BEST I had ever had! S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y.!! A delicious concoction of figs, apple and pear, oh my! The owner was very accommodating about dietary restrictions and made sure that everything was to our liking. In addition to the breakfast, the inn also hosts an afternoon social every day in the parlor offering light refreshments and a complimentary glass of wine or tea. I think it goes without saying here that I skipped the tea and went straight for the wine! As if that wasn’t hospitality enough, the inn always keeps a stocked refreshment station on the breakfast porch where guests can help themselves to free snacks, soft drinks and water. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Dinsmore House Inn. If you ever find yourself in the Charlottesville area and in need of a good B&B, I would definitely recommend this location.


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Discovering Charlottesville

Rob and I recently planned a little getaway to Charlottesville, VA. Charlottesville is a charming little city about 100 miles south of Washington, DC. The area is rich in history and offers tourists a wide variety of things to do and see. Charlottesville and neighboring Albemarle County were home to three of our founding fathers that later became our 3rd, 4th and 5th Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, & Monroe – to save you the effort of having to Google it!). Of those 3, Thomas Jefferson definitely had the greatest impact on our nation and his spirit remains very much alive in Charlottesville! Everywhere you turn in this region, you are reminded of one of the world’s most important historical figures.


Charlottesville is home to Monticello (Jefferson’s residence) as well as the University of Virginia, both of which were designed by Thomas Jefferson himself (both have also been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites). Not far from Monticello is Ash Lawn-Highland, home to President James Monroe (they were practically neighbors and apparently very good friends). In addition to its historical sites, Charlottesville also has an active entertainment scene, plenty of outdoor activities around the Blue Ridge Mountains, and more than 20 vineyards along the Monticello Wine Trail. What more could you ask for in a charming little city? We only stayed in Charlottesville for two nights, so we knew we wouldn’t have time to see all that the city had to offer. But to get a good feel of the area, our plan was to stay at a cozy B&B, visit a local winery, and tour Monticello. I will cover the details of our trip in subsequent posts. Stay tuned…

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USS Arlington LPD 24

This past weekend, Rob and I took a day trip to Norfolk, VA for a very special military ceremony. The US Navy commissioned the USS Arlington on Saturday, April 6th. The USS Arlington is one of three namesake ships to commemorate the victims and heroes of 9/11. The USS New York was commissioned in 2009 and the USS Somerset is scheduled to be commissioned next year. The USS Arlington LPD 24 (landing platform/dock) will transport troops into war zones around the world and will be a constant reminder that the American spirit cannot be broken.


The ship’s name plate was made out of steel recovered from the Pentagon after the attack (top left picture below).


Members of the Arlington County Fire Department, Arlington County Police Department, and families of the victims that died at the Pentagon were invited to attend the ceremony. Rob was a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11, so it was very special for us to attend such a meaningful ceremony honoring all of the heroes and victims. Members of the ACFD attended the event looking sharp!


The Commissioning Ceremony

The commissioning of a naval ship is a time honored tradition hundreds of years old. The ceremony marks the transition of the ship into active duty. The national anthem was played and then a representative read the commissioning directive. The American flag and commissioning pennant were then raised and the ship officially became a member of our naval fleet. The commissioning pennant is the very thin one at the top (center) of the picture below.


And seen again in the bottom right of the picture below (look closely, it’s as thin as the ropes that raise it!).


The prospective commanding officer read his orders, officially assumed command, and set the first watch. Then the ship’s sponsor (Joyce Rumsfeld) gave the first order: “Man our ship and bring her to life!”

At that point the crew rushed on board the ship and lined up along the railings.



The ship’s engines were turned on and they sounded the mighty horn!


Then the crew saluted as the colors were retired.



The Tour

After the ceremony concluded, we were allowed to tour certain parts of the ship.


Rob in control of the bridge.


Four types of aircraft on the deck.


Although we didn’t get to see it, the ship has a “tribute room” to honor the 184 people killed at the Pentagon as well as the emergency personnel that responded to the attack.

I’m sure many of you are wondering if they smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship. No, wrong ceremony. But that did in fact happen at a different ceremony! The christening took place in March of 2011 and Joyce Rumsfeld had the honor of smashing the champagne bottle.

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Colorado Day 4 – Oktoberfest & Independence Day all in one day

On Sunday morning we woke up feeling refreshed after our long day in Colorado Springs.  We all went out for a nice breakfast and later that morning we shuttled to the neighboring ski town for Oktoberfest.  Beaver Creek Resort has a Bavarian feel to it so it was a great location to host such a festival.  I am assuming they do it every year, but I am not sure.  Either way, Rob and I were both looking forward to some good German Bier and Bratwurst.  Rob was especially looking forward to the Bratwurst part since he had ordered Bratwurst for lunch in Colorado Springs the day before and they literally served him a hot dog!  He was not pleased…but hopefully the delicious Bratwurst we had at Oktoberfest made him forget all about the hot dog incident.  We had a good time enjoying the German music, food and beer, but we couldn’t stay too long.  We had to get back on the road towards Denver for plans we made with John and Leslie.

Once we made it back to John and Leslie’s house, we all went to visit John’s father, Frank.  It was really great to meet him and I know Rob was really glad to visit with him as well.  Frank told us a lot of stories about himself and Rob’s grandfather, Ned, from when they were kids and very close friends.  He had a lot of good stories to share and I am sure if we had more time, he would have loved to share more of them.  I know Rob really enjoyed hearing stories about his grandfather that he had never heard before.  We had a nice visit with Frank and then John and Leslie took us to a fabulous restaurant for dinner.  For fun, let’s call it Mimi’s Café (sorry, inside joke).

After dinner, we went back to John and Leslie’s house and we planned to just relax and then go to bed early since we had to wake up very early the following day to catch our flight.  While we were chatting inside we heard fireworks starting to go off outside.  The town of Lone Tree had to cancel their 4th of July fireworks display that year because the weather conditions were far too dry.  So they rescheduled for Labor Day weekend.  We all walked outside to the front yard where we had a really great view of the fireworks.  This worked out perfectly for me since I didn’t get to see 4th of July fireworks at home this year.  Our power had just come back on after being out for close to a week, so I spent the 4th of July cleaning out my fridge and freezer and cleaning the house.  Good times!  For a small suburban town, Lone Tree put on one hell of a good fireworks display!  And it was a nice finale for our Colorado trip.

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Colorado Day 3 – Colorado Springs

On Saturday morning we had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. because we wanted to head south to Colorado Springs for the Colorado Balloon Classic.  This annual hot air balloon show has become the largest and longest running hot air balloon festival in Colorado.  It is held every year in Colorado Springs over Labor Day weekend and since the timing of our visit was perfect, I didn’t want to miss it.  The balloons start to take flight right around sunrise, but it was definitely worth waking up at that wretched hour because it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.  We arrived at Memorial Park just as the very first balloon was being inflated, but most of the other balloons weren’t even set up yet.  This gave us time to find a breakfast vendor and some much-needed coffee.  By the time we were finished with our breakfast burritos, the field of balloons were starting to go up.

As they each started to take flight, they passed over a lake within the park and some of the pilots attempted a touch-and-go off the water.  I definitely wasn’t expecting to see that!

There was a veterans’ memorial in the park, so we decided to check that out while we were there.  It was actually quite impressive with a lot of different smaller memorials for specific services and units surrounding this center memorial for all veterans.

It was really amazing how many hot air balloons were at this festival.  We had to have seen at least 100 of them and there were still more setting up as we were leaving.  I could have easily stayed for hours to continue watching them, but we were trying to squeeze a lot into our day, so we had to leave before it was over.  On our way out of the park we saw the Fire Fighters’ Memorial, so of course, we had to check that out too.

Our next stop in Colorado Springs was the Garden of the Gods.  The park is filled with beautiful red rock formations and it is definitely worth checking out if you are ever in Colorado Springs.

The rock formation below is called the Kissing Camels.

The next rock formation was particularly amusing to Rob and I.  It didn’t have an official name like the one above, but we think it looks like a cartoon Mt. Rushmore because it reminded us of the presidential bobble heads that run around the field at the Nationals games.  Can you see it?

There were rock climbers throughout the park.  Notice the guy sitting at the highest peak in the picture below.

There were also climbers in costume that offered some entertainment value.  Take note of the princess and the bee!

Just when we thought all the awesomeness was over…we found these final great rock formations on our way out of the park.

The final thing on our Colorado Springs agenda was to check out Pikes Peak.  Apparently, Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in North America.  It was ok, I guess, but it was really hard to compete with what we had already seen that morning.  And it might have been a better experience if the drive up there wasn’t so terrifying!  It is a 19 mile drive to the summit on one of the windiest roads I have ever been on.  That, in and of itself, is not terrifying.  But when it is coupled with cliffs that start right at the edge of the road with NO guardrails….that makes for a very stressful 1 hour drive to the top of the mountain.  Yes, that’s right….it takes at least an hour to drive the 19 miles up the mountain.

After finally arriving at the top, I think Rob and I were both stressed out.  It definitely felt good to get out of the car at that point.  We were just over 14,000 feet and the temperature was much colder.  This was the 2nd highest altitude I had ever been at (the highest was during our hike of the Inca Trail where we were just under 15,000 feet).  The view was pretty cool, but I think they should use that $12 per person entrance fee to install some more guardrails.  Just a thought…


I was starting to feel slightly light-headed from the elevation, and we were both ready to head back down the mountain.  We assumed that driving down the mountain was going to be much easier than our drive up…but, we were wrong.  After 6 miles, each vehicle gets stopped for a brake check.  If you aren’t driving in low gear your brakes become too hot from excessive use, so they have a park ranger there to check the temperature of your brakes.  Anything under 300 degrees and you are free to go on your way.  Anything higher and you need to pull over and let your engine and brakes cool down for about 15 minutes.  Our brakes registered at an impressive 435 degrees….FAIL!

After our mandatory cool down period, we safely made it off the mountain and it was time to leave Colorado Springs and head west to ski country.  Rob’s cousin Becky and her family were staying at a ski resort in Avon and she invited us to join them.  We drove through all of the beautiful ski towns…Breckenridge, Vail, etc. and we finally made it to Avon.  Rob and I were both pretty spent after such a long day and so much driving, so we just had a relaxing evening with Becky and her family.  But we were looking forward to seeing a bit more of the area the following day.



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Colorado Day 2 – Rocky Mt. National Park

We woke up on Friday morning and had a delicious breakfast with John and Leslie.  After breakfast, I was ready to put some miles on our rental car and start exploring Colorado, but Rob was anxious to try out a CrossFit workout with his cousin Becky.  Did I mention that Becky is a bad-ass Level 2 CrossFit instructor?  Probably not…but she is.  So, while Rob was getting his butt smoked by Becky, I enjoyed a relaxing morning with John and Leslie.

Rob returned from his workout looking pretty exhausted (butt officially smoked!) and wanting to rest.  But there was no time for that because I had a different agenda.  The plan was to head north to Rocky Mountain National Park (about 2 hrs. away), check things out there and then head back to Denver to meet an old army buddy for dinner.  We were getting a late start to the day, so we needed to get on the road pronto.  Somehow Rob mustered up the energy to get showered and we hit the road.

About 2 hrs. later we got to Estes Park, which is a beautiful town right outside Rocky Mountain National Park.  We stopped at a scenic overlook and we became so preoccupied with the wildlife there that we didn’t get a picture of the Rocky Mountains in the background! (That last part isn’t exactly true.  The real reason we didn’t get a photo of the mountains is because of some other tourists that wouldn’t get out of our shot and I got tired of waiting for them to leave.)  The first thing we saw as soon as we pulled into the overlook was this beautiful woodpecker.

There were actually quite a few of these guys flying around and I don’t think I had ever actually seen a woodpecker before.  I had only ever heard them in the distance.  Now that I think about it, I am not even positive that this is a woodpecker, but I am just going to go with it and continue to assume that it is.

The next thing that we noticed were these cute little chipmunks that were everywhere!!  Clearly they were used to being fed by humans because they had no fear of getting up close and personal.

There were also several wild turkeys there as well.

Satisfied with our wildlife pictures, we left the scenic overlook (myself slightly annoyed for not getting the mountains overlook photo) and headed into Estes Park.  We stopped at the Visitors’ Center and a very helpful woman suggested the best route for a Rocky Mountain National Park visit based on our time constraints.  In order to drive through the entire park, you would need to have 5-6 hours.  Since we got a late start, we clearly didn’t have that much time to work with (and Rob wasn’t really interested in doing that much driving to begin with).  The woman assured us that we would still be quite pleased with our visit of the park even though we didn’t have time to see it all.  She highlighted all of the must-see overlook spots on our route and then we were on our way.  Estes Park was such a beautiful little town and I really wish that we would have had more time to stroll around, but we needed to get straight into the park if we were going to make it back to Denver in time for dinner.

We entered the park through the south entrance and paid the $20 fee (worth it).  Rob didn’t get to enjoy the scenery quite as much as I did since he had to concentrate on the driving.  The roads are extremely windy and you can’t exactly stop in the middle of the road to take in the view.  But we definitely made use of all the available overlook areas so that we could park and both enjoy the view.  Our first stop was called Many Parks Curve at 9,640 feet.  Of course Rob had to do a bit of climbing of his own, so I guess his elevation was slightly higher than that!

Our next stop was called Rainbow Curve at 10,829 feet.  There were lots of chipmunks at this stop as well, but we had already gotten our fill of chipmunk photos.

The next stop was Forest Canyon Overlook, where we saw some elk off in the distance!

Next we stopped on Trail Ridge Road, just over 12,000 feet.  This overlook spot was supposed to be the best view of the Continental Divide.  We attempted to do some hiking at this stop, but we got caught in the rain.

Our last stop was Gore Range Overlook and then it was time to turn around and head back.

We chatted with some other tourists that saw several bighorn sheep along the way.  I was disappointed that we somehow missed that, but I was still happy we got to see so many elk along the way.  If you ever plan to visit, you could easily spend an entire day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  I wouldn’t mind exploring the whole park, but I feel that we got a good taste of it during our express excursion.  Rob safely navigated us out of the park and then we were headed into Denver.

We met my old army buddy, Derek, at a microbrewery in Denver.  Derek and I were both MP’s stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington and it had been about 11 years since I had seen him.  Derek met Rob for the first time that night and Rob and I got to meet Derek’s daughter, Bailee, for the first time as well.  It was really nice to catch up with him and Rob was pleasantly surprised at how well I hit it off with Derek’s daughter (seeing as I generally don’t care for the little ones).  Aside from this one night out to dinner in Denver, Rob and I really didn’t make it back into the city to check things out.  I am sure there are plenty of things to do there, but we just didn’t have enough time to check them out.

After dinner we headed back to John and Leslie’s house and had to call it an early night because we planned to get up at an obscene hour the following morning (actually, still night time if you ask me!).

Categories: Colorado, Destinations | 1 Comment

Colorado Day 1 – Meeting the Relatives

Rob and I recently traveled to Colorado to visit some distant relatives of his that I had never met before.  I was excited to meet his family and I was also excited to explore Colorado since I had never been there before.  We stayed with John and his wife, Leslie, who they live just south of Denver.  John is 2nd cousins with Rob’s mother, Nena, so I believe that makes John, Rob’s second cousin once-removed?  The terminology for distant relatives can be a bit confusing to me, but I think I finally got it down.  Regardless, they are family.

We arrived at John and Leslie’s house at about 5:00 and we were just in time for a great BBQ and birthday celebration.  John and Leslie’s two daughters, Carrie & Becky (Rob’s 3rd cousins?) and the accompanying four grandchildren, as well as close family friends, Dan & Peggy, all came out to meet us, as well as celebrate Carrie’s birthday.  They are an incredible family…the kind of people that make you feel warm and welcome as soon as you meet them.  After only being there for an hour, I felt like I had known them for years.  The weather was fabulous, so we enjoyed ourselves outside on the back patio with lively conversation and delicious food.  We stayed out there for hours eating, drinking, and chatting and it was a great way to relax and get settled in after our flight.  Due to the time change, Rob and I were ready to go to bed pretty early, so we called it a night so that we could energize ourselves to start exploring Colorado the next morning.  All in all, it was a fabulous welcome reception with family in a new place.

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