1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Monday, October 31, 2005

Disco Fever

Happy Halloween! We disco'ed the night away on Saturday at our neighbors' Halloween party. We never could find '70s characters we wanted to be, so we just went with a general sparkly disco theme.

We had so much fun getting ready. I couldn't get my false eyelashes on straight, so I asked Darwin to help, and he glued them halfway up my eyelid. That was a sight.

We took this picture when we got home from the party, so we're looking a little disheveled, but you get the idea. (hint: that is not my real hair)

The party was such fun that now I'm thinking about hosting one for New Year's Eve!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Cardboard Window Treatments

Last night as I sat on the couch with my smoochies (thats code for "cats" at our house), I had a moment of inspiration.

The living room has three windows, one directly behind the sofa. I noticed as I curled up under two blankets and two cats, my shoulders still kept getting chilly. You know, as if they were being hit with an artic blast from behind.

Suddenly, I realized the WINDOW was to blame. Duh. Then I remembered the first winter of our marriage when we lived in a little shack with gas space heaters. The heaters were both in the living room (handy, huh?), and Alistair would misbehave at night, so we had to shut the bedroom door. Then we would just about freeze to death. Every time the wind blew, you could feel it coming through the windows.

Finally one night we got fed up, and because we were broke and it was the middle of the night, we used DUCT TAPE to attach flattened cardboard boxes over the windows. Then we tacked up blankets over that. Very chic.

Remembering this charming arrangement gave me the idea to get a set of heavy drapes for the winter. Why didn't I think of this before?

Today, I ordered velvet drapes in "Cappuccino" from Target. Hey, free shipping, and they're MUCH cheaper than the Pottery Barn versions, even the Pottery Barn via eBay versions. They're shorter than I wanted, but they'll do.

The living room is the place we spend the most time in the evenings, and I think covering up these three enormous windows will warm the room up considerably. Especially while we figure out what to do about insulating. Hey, if it blocks enough cold, we might be able to put off insulating until next year.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Appraisal Schmappraisal

In case you missed it in the comments on my first post on insulation, John gave this helpful advice:

I used to do appraisals, and some appraisers either: mis-measure the house and come up with the wrong square footage, some use the courthouse records for the square footage (which may be wrong or 40 years out of date), and they don't count areas of the house that are "living" spaces (unfinished attics, basements, garages, etc. They should include baths, closets, etc (we always did).

If you can't find your appraisal, contact the appraiser. They are legally required to keep a copy for 7 years before they may throw them away. They may charge a printing fee however ($50.00 or so).

I've heard that appraisals count all the space that is heated and cooled. We think maybe the previous owners were counting the part of the attic that has a floor as living space. The appraiser obviously didn't count this because it's not heated and cooled.

But our measurement of around 3,300 doesn't include the attic. It does include bathrooms and closets.

It wouldn't surprise me if the court records are wrong. The Loan Lady hasn't called me back yet. I don't even know who the appraiser was without talking to Loan Lady. Arrrgh. I hate it when people are hard to get in touch with.

John was just full of good advice. He also said this:

Make sure the attic and exterior walls are insulated first before insulating the floor. From what I've read, insulating the floor gives the lowest return for cutting heating costs. Storm windows or additional attic insulation may do you more good.

I wasn't aware that insulating the floor gives the lowest return. Hmmm. We do have storm windows on most of the windows, except the very front of the house, which has shutters we keep closed in the winter (I wonder if that actually does any good).

The attic could probably use better insulation - it has fiberglass on the floor - and I doubt the walls have any at all. Maybe we do need to have a professional come out and give us his/her suggestions. An estimate is free after all, and we can see how it goes from there.

But I have to wonder if anything we do will help significantly. Most of the house has 12-foot ceilings; the rest has 10-foot. Is there even a way to keep a house like that warm?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Insulation Questions

I thought about it some more, and I don't think we'll hire a pro to do the insulation, whether we want to or not. Seems like every bill on the planet came due this month ... insurance, car tags, etc. $200 here, $200 there.

I suggested to Darwin that we don't have to do the whole house at once. We could insulate under the living room (where we spend the most time) and maybe the office (since it's the coldest room in the house).

But I want to do a little more research after reading the comments. As Patricia W. says, there are so many conflicting ideas about what's best.

Patrick says Insulstar spray-in foam is awesome, and I agree it sounds interesting. I like the idea of sealing up all the cracks and eliminating drafts.

But I worry about spraying something permanent under my floors. I think we have no subfloor - just tongue-and-groove pine. I checked under a vent cover, and though I couldn't see well, I felt all that cold, under-house air breathing on my hand.

I'm terrified of doing anything to the house that can't be changed back at some point in the future, if necessary.

So does this foam attach to the wood? Can it affect the wood? What if we needed to replace part of the floor in future? And is this something we could do ourselves?


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

3,000 Square Feet of Insulation

Darwin went under the house today to evaluate the insulation situation. The last time we looked, it was (I think) around this time last year, and we noted the house was partially insulated under the floor with fiberglass batting. Since then, we've been planning to finish out the insulation.

Another winter is fast approaching, with the promise of even higher gas prices than last year. We're trying to resist turning on the heat, so the last two nights it has been pretty chilly in the house. When the cats curl up with us on the couch instead of blinking at us scornfully from across the room, we know it's cold.

It is time to insulate under the rest of the house. But Darwin found that it's a much bigger job than we anticipated. For some reason, we thought most of the house was insulated. Oops. Only ONE ROOM is insulated - our bedroom, which is notably cooler or warmer than the rest of the house at appropriate times. Makes sense.

So now Darwin is thinking this might be too big a job for him. He suggested we *gasp* PAY SOMEONE ELSE to do it. That would be a first for us.

To argue his point, he presented me with the long-awaited actual square footage of our house. It's somewhere around 3,300 square feet ... nowhere near either the previous owner's claim - 3,900 - or the appraiser's - 2,800. I want to check the appraisal again because if he underestimated by that much, we could possibly refinance. Only trouble is I can't FIND the appraisal. I put in a call to our loan person today and left a message. Maybe she still has a copy.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Farewell, Sweet Slippers

Last week I retired this year's set of house slippers. My slippers get abused and overworked. They're intended to keep toes toasty, and that's about it. But my slippers live a life of "scandal and passion."

They climb ladders, collect the mail, bash ceramic tile, demolish walls, plant flowers, spray paint oven doors, glue shingles on a dollhouse roof, protect me from dead roaches, rip out carpet, paint cabinets, strip woodwork, take photographs ... oh, and keep my toes toasty.

With all that work, my slippers don't last long. I got these last Christmas from Old Navy for $10. Now, look at them:

Not pretty. Slippers, you have served me well.

My new slippers (K-mart, $7.99, pink) have rubber soles, so I'm hoping they will make it more than 10 months. But I won't be surprised if they don't. We have a lot more work to do, my slippers and I.


Monday, October 24, 2005

A Whole Other House Up There

Until now, info on my attic has been restricted to one photo on the Entry Hall page. This weekend I took more comprehensive photos of the attic and gave this room it's own page. That's only fair, since the attic is the same size as the whole rest of the house.

Yeah, this is what I did instead of doing actual work on the house. I was giving Darwin an off weekend since he was sick with some sort of vile flu all last week. And we had to watch the Alabama vs. Tennessee football game. We're 7-0 now!!! Roll Tide!

Oh, and I forgot to mention it was interesting seeing Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice watching the Alabama football game. I wonder if she sang, "WE JUST BEAT THE HELL OUT OF YOU" at the end? Something tells me ... um, no.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Stick Figure Bathroom

For a while, I've had a drawing of our master bathroom vision taped to the wall that will be destroyed in our plan. (Why am I bothering to say "our" when everybody knows it's "my"?)

But plans have changed a little since I made this drawing. For example, I've changed my mind about which sink I want, and I've given up on moving the plumbing around.

This week I finally made an updated drawing as well as an updated layout. Have I mentioned how much I love graph paper?

Here's the layout:

We plan to build the small walk-in closet in the nook in the hall, and I want to build shallow 6-foot-tall cabinets with shelves (like really tall medicine cabinets) on either side of the sink. Also, in that blank space along the wall next to the toilet, I want to put a piece of furniture - maybe a vanity with chair or a bench with a lid that lifts for laundry storage.

Here's my vision (or something like it):

I'd prefer the tub to face the other way, but we don't want to have to move the plumbing.

I found the sink I want the other day. On an episode of This Old House Classics last week, we saw an oval pedestal sink that was original to (or at least had been there a while) in an 1890s house. Then on eBay, I saw the modern version! This one, conveniently, doesn't have separate hot and cold faucets like the old one but still has the look. And it's cheaper than the Kohler I originally intended to buy. Hurray for cheaper!

Now I'm just wondering if I should buy a second one for the half bath ...


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ah, the Smell of Pee in the Morning

After our master bathroom demo, we decided to tackle the half bathroom. I know it's hard to imagine getting rid of something as attractive as '70s green carpet in the bathroom, but that's exactly what we did.

We've noticed a damp smell in there now and then over the past few months. Then when we got home from Gatlinburg, we discovered that our cat Henry had decided to pee on the guest towels in a tray on the counter. Removing the offending towels and tray and cleaning the countertop didn't take care of the smell entirely.

So we decided to remove the carpet, which had always been our intention eventually. Underneath the carpet is a layer of plywood, as expected. I begged Darwin to take up a small piece of the plywood to see the condition of the original wood floor underneath. But underneath the thin plywood was another layer of plywood. We believe that under THAT is the wood floor, and *gasp* Darwin actually agrees with me that we should restore the room back to its original floor.

This is a half bathroom so not used for typically splash-happy occupations like bathing. We figure the wood floor will be fairly safe in there (while in our master bathroom we plan to tile).

Removal of the carpet took care of the truly horrid pee smell, but the damp smell grew worse. Then we noticed two water-damaged areas on the floor, on either side of the wall next to the vent pipe.

We don't know yet what could've caused this, but Darwin sprinkled baking soda around the floor in the toilet corner, and the damp smell has ceased ... for now.

The rest of the work in this bathroom will have to wait until we at least get the toilet restored to working order in our master bath, which will have to wait until the demo is finished and the floor tile installed. We don't want to have two toilets out of commission at once.

Of course, we could take Henry's route and pick any convenient spot to do our business. Yep, he peed beside my desk this morning on top of a plastic bag. This is a new - and very unwelcome - activity for him. What is wrong with my cat?


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Peek at the Beadboard

I'm not certain how high the beadboard goes up the bathroom walls, but I suspect it goes to the ceiling, maybe even on the ceiling. The first place we saw the beadboard was behind the tub when we opened up the wall. It's painted a dingy beige.

Then I cut a small square in the drywall at about eye level at the back of the closet and saw beadboard there, too. That's higher than chair rail height, so I suspect the beadboard goes all the way up, like it does under the staircase and in the stairwell.

This intact beadboard is one more sign to me that the Parkins - who bought the house in 1969 and did most of the updating - respected the age of the house. They added tile and drywall in the bathroom - but the beadboard is still there behind them. They put down carpet - but it's only double-sided taped to the floor, not stapled. They installed cabinets and vinyl in the kitchen - but the original blue-painted trim and wood floor are still there behind and underneath. And I bet if we went outside and ripped off the aluminum siding, we'd find perfectly intact clapboard underneath.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Let the Dust Fly

This morning when I left for work, I noticed the toilet glistening with dew on our back patio. Some might think this could be a Halloween prank, but you, Noble Houseblog Reader, YOU know this can only be a harbinger of bathroom demolition.

I predicted on Friday that this weekend would be a weekend of great accomplishment. For once, my psychic aspirations were realized.

In fact, I have so much to show you that I must resort to thumbnails.

Recall the bathroom before and more before this weekend. One sliced finger (mine), a bit of blood-splashing (mine), and many hours of labor later (mostly Darwin's), all the tile in the main part of the bathroom is gone, bashed out and carted away to the garbage bin. The aforementioned toilet is on the patio with the tank cleaned. All that gray stuff you see on the floor? Yeah. That's concrete. It's all over the walls, too, behind the tile. But I'll get to that later.

After Darwin finished bashing the tile, he was pretty tired, but I wanted some more action. There's a cabinet in the corner of the bathroom that I've known would have to go from the beginning. The bathroom is too teeny and compartmentalized right now, and we (okay, I ... Darwin actually could not care less) want it to be more open, so the clawfoot tub will be more visible.

I applied the same inefficient tools we used on the tile - two hammers - to the wood frame and drywall. I admit Darwin had to help me, especially at first, because the embarassing fact is I had no idea what I was doing. Demolition looks so easy on TV! Of course, they usually have handy things like crowbars and sledgehammers.

But eventually, over the course of Saturday and Sunday, the closet succumbed to the wrath of Kristin.

After that, to Darwin's horror, I still wasn't ready to quit. I enticed him from his position on the sofa by banging on stuff with hammers until he couldn't stand it anymore and had to come see what I was doing.

I wanted to remove the tub, but Darwin wasn't sure how to deal with copper plumbing. Turns out, though, that he only had to remove the faucet and stuff and didn't actually have to turn off the water or mess with the pipes.

Then he laid into the wall between the former closet and the tub. Apparently, the way to tile in the '60s was to attach concrete slabs - reinforced with steel mesh - to the studs, then lay tile on top of that and drywall above. After much finagling (aka, hammering and sweating and struggling), Darwin got the whole section of concrete/tile to break away from the studs. Hurray!

But oops. We still couldn't get the tub out because the concrete/tile rests on top of the tub edge, and there are still two more walls of tile to deal with. We were hoping to salvage these walls, but from the looks of it, they'll have to go. I guess we're going to just play it by ear on the rest of the wall tile. I still need to look for matching tile at Home Depot and/or Lowe's because if we can't find a match, it's a moot point anyway.

And there's something else to consider. When we demolished the wall between the closet and tub, we discovered beadboard on the wall behind it. To Darwin's dismay, I did a little cutting on the moldy drywall in the back of the closet and found beadboard behind there, too.

So if we have original beadboard behind the drywall in the whole bathroom, all the way up to the ceiling (and it sounds from knocking on the wall like we do), maybe we wouldn't have to tile the walls at all. Hmmm ...

I know beadboard in the bathroom is sort of popular now. Does anyone know how well it holds up to shower areas? Of course, the clawfoot tub would have a shower curtain all the way around, but some water always leaks through.

By the end, we were both too worn out and sick of inhaling drywall dust to make any decisions, so we gave it up. On that bathroom anyway. We moved on to the half bath, and I framed some photos and scraped paint and baked cookies, and we cooked ourselves another real meal where we had to chop things.

All this in spite of the fact that Darwin was coming down with something and ended up with a fever last night. My husband is a hero.

And me? I'm tired today. I'll tell you more about the half bath tomorrow.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Move Over, Angela Bassett

The vacation was a nice break from thinking about the house, but we need to get our groove back.

I'm afraid that our lazy week will translate into a lazy weekend. So I'm declaring right here on this blog what we're going to get accomplished this weekend. That way, I'll be so fearful of the shame of announcing our failure that I'll actually do something.

Here goes:

  • Frame botanical prints and more old photos. (We bought several frames at Old Time Pottery in Gatlinburg ... I love Old Time Pottery and wish I'd had more time to peruse the whole store.)

  • Hang said prints and photos in the dining room.

  • Bash out the rest of the master bathroom floor tile.

  • Remove green carpet from half bath, where Henry-cat took it upon himself to pee while we were gone. (The carpet had to go eventually anyway ... it's green carpet ... in a bathroom.)

  • Strip more woodwork with the dreaded heat gun.

    I better leave it at that before I condemn myself to Monday-morning shame.


  • Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Green Ol' Smoky Mountains*

    I'm back! I'm back! Let the spontaneous dance of joy begin!

    Actually, the vacation to the Smoky Mountains surprised me by being fun. I liked hanging out with my nieces and nephews, and I think they liked being with me, too. I have a stack of drawings and letters in my suitcase, all addressed in crayon to Aunt Kristin.

    We shopped and played and went ice skating and rode go-karts. I took 138 pictures, which wasn't nearly enough. I need another memory card, darnit!

    Here's one of my favorite pics:

    We don't have children yet (I probably would've mentioned them by now if we did), but this vacation gave us a little peek into what parenthood is like. And we both agree that right now we enjoy being the fun aunt and uncle. No worrying about making them eat their peas or go to the potty.

    I just wish we could spend more time with them. There's something so special about the moment when a clammy, sticky little hand reaches for yours.

    All that said, I'm glad to be home, back to our bed with the properly fluffy pillows and back to our kitties, who were a little miffed last night when we got home. They looked at us with reproachful orange eyes and skittered away from our hands. Poor boys. This is the first time we've left them alone; before my sister moved away, she would drop by and visit them a few times while we were gone. Next time we go away, we need to hire a neighbor's kid or somebody to check in on them so they don't think they've been abandoned.

    Fortunately, this morning they were all smiles - make that purrs - again.

    *from The Wabash Cannonball, which we heard on the radio on the way home.

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Now With More Grunge

    As promised, a photo of the master bathroom tub area (did you ever think you'd be excited about seeing someone else's grungy bathtub?):

    That little cabinet to the left will come out. The tub is just a tub - no shower. It will be replaced with a clawfoot tub.

    Oh, and I must mention we're going to that computerless hell known as "vay-cay-shun," so I won't be posting again until Tuesday or Wednesday. I know my adoring fans (aka myself) will miss my posts, but there's nothing I can do about it. I really need a laptop. It sure would come in handy up in the mountains with the hill folk (aka my in-laws).

    Commuter Rock

    I'll post the pics of the tub area tonight (I forgot to take them last night because I cooked my first-ever real meal! With garlic! And onions!).

    But today I want to introduce my newly-launched audiobook review blog, Commuter Rock. Go on and check it out, if you please - I'd love to have a comment from somebody other than spammers hawking Viagra.

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    Bathroom Doubts

    Everyone voted to keep the 4x4 white wall tile, and I tend to agree.

    One popular suggestion was to supplement with decorative tiles in the tub area. I love that idea. I have my eye on some beautiful and wildly expensive decorative tiles at Charles Rupert.

    For example, these, which are so perfect and pricey they make me want to cry:

    The trouble, besides our shortage of funds, is that the walls are tiled around the bathtub but not behind it. We're replacing the tub with a clawfoot, so the area that's behind the tub now would be bare. That bottom third is what we'll need to fill in, along with the other half of the bathroom, which isn't tiled at all.

    The sink area and tub/toilet area are now separated by a wall and door, which we plan to take out or else widen the opening. I figure, what's the point of installing a clawfoot tub if you can't see it when you walk in the room?

    (This pic was taken before we moved in ... the fluffy pink bathmat isn't ours, I swear!)

    So basically, we have now 2.67 walls of tile that would stay. We'd have to add about the same amount of tile to finish out the bathroom. These plain white 4x4s should be cheapycheap from a big box store.

    But I'm having trouble envisioning how to do the decorative tilework while keeping the tile that's there now. *sigh* I'm confused. I have such big ideas for this bathroom - for example, narrow built-in shelving sunken into the walls on either side of a pedestal sink - but I'm unsure how to achieve them.

    A bathroom is scary and expensive and requires skilled work. Darwin claims he can do it all himself, but doesn't he always claim that? Fortunately, we have a functioning shower in another bathroom and another half bath, so if this ends up taking 100 years, at least we won't have to go around smelling like cave people.


    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    4x4 or 3x6?

    Like every project around here, progress on the master bathroom tile-bashing has been slow. I keep holding off on posting a progress picture, hoping we'll get a little more done. Finally, we chipped away at it - literally - and here's the current state of the bathroom:

    A question: would it be horrible of us not to bash out the 4x4 wall tiles? If we could find some to match (they're plain white 1960s-era tiles ... maybe not too difficult to find), we could fill in the blanks where the current tub will come out and to finish out the sink area of the bathroom.

    We're probably doing a subway tile backsplash in the kitchen. Do we need another room with subway? And 4x4 tiles were in use in the '20s, right? Not cushioned-edge ones like these, but we'd be using the modern version of subway tiles anyway, so what's the difference?

    I'm thinking about our wallet (we just had to pay for four new tires on my car, and Darwin's will need them soon, too) and about the effort involved.

    So what do you, noble blog reader, think about my proposal?

    P.S. We're planning to do black and white pinwheel tile on the floor, so would that coordinate with the 4x4 on the wall or look freaky?


    Tuesday, October 04, 2005


    You know you live in Alabama when, at the first hint of cool weather outside, you don’t say, “Mmm, it feels like fall” but “Mmm, it feels like football season.”

    When I was in college, I was so wrapped up in football. It's hard not to be when campus totally transforms beginning every Wednesday of football season, when the RVs roll into town and take over the outlying parking lots. When the tents go up on the Quad, and the energy level everywhere ramps up several notches, until we're all like quivering microbes in a petrie dish.

    Then comes game day. Crowds of alumni swarm campus, 90 percent of them wearing red. I don my elephant-shaped silver earrings and poke the same red and white shakers that I've had since my first game freshman year into my back pockets.

    In the stadium, the student section faces the sun. The shade creeps toward us and finally makes it five minutes before the game ends. If we're losing, we might cut out early to beat the crowd. But if we win, we stay until the last second of the game and grin at each other as we dance our way down the concrete steps, all chanting, "We just beat the hell out of you! Rammer jammer yellow hammer, give 'em hell, Alabama!"

    It's tacky, and I feel a little guilty for rubbing it in, but at the same time the joy of the win is swelling in my chest and we all feel like tiny moving parts of one big animal.

    I'd forgotten that feeling until this Saturday when my alma mater beat Florida. The roar of the crowd even through the TV was so loud it reminded me. Gave me that little shiver, like I felt when Bear Bryant's recorded voice mumbled on the Jumbotron pre-game.

    So I'm an Alabama fan again. Since my graduation three years ago, I'd lost all interest. It was easier not to care, especially when my dad is a die-hard fan of my school's biggest rival, Auburn.

    But it's nice to care again. It’s October 4, and the mornings and evenings are slightly cooler now. It's fall. It's football season.

    Monday, October 03, 2005

    No More Bare Walls

    After my two-week eBay spree, I realized I'd need frames for all this art. Turns out, dark wood frames (to coordinate with our dark floors and dark furniture) aren't so easy to find. I searched several stores in town on my lunch breaks last week without success.

    Finally, on Friday I hit the jackpot ... twice. The first time was on my lunch. Out of desperation I went to Hobby Lobby again (hey, maybe I missed something). Next door is a Tuesday Morning store, where they sell discounted fancy stuff.

    There I bought several picture frames, all different sizes and styles but all a similar dark shade of wood. Hurray!

    Then once I got back to good ol' Eutaw, I decided to try the Dollar General (one of three dollar stores). Believe it or not, I found exactly what I needed there! Super cheap (but not too cheap-looking) 11x14 black and dark wood frames, along with 8x10s and 4x6s.

    I couldn't find a proper frame for my three 1890s vegetable can labels, but then I found them at the Family Dollar yesterday.

    So I'm all set! Well, nearly. I still have to figure out a framing method for the 1 million and 1 vintage postcards of Eutaw and Mobile I bought (thanks Mindy, for the suggestion!).

    But I got several things framed and last night convinced Darwin to hang the art up in the kitchen. Finally, the eye candy:

    I think that's also the first wider view of the kitchen since we've put the knobs on the cabinet doors. Turns out I bought two too few, so I'll have to reorder from Rejuvenation.

    The black-framed art will tie in even better once we get the black and white hex countertops installed. I can't wait!

    Still to do in the kitchen:
  • Install countertops.
  • Install backsplash (subway tile?).
  • Hook up electricity for disposal.
  • Paint walls.
  • Install less hideous light fixtures.
  • Build built-in cabinet for my Fiesta ware next to pantry.
  • Remove brick-print vinyl.
  • Refinish wood floors (or something).

    It sounds like a lot. Okay, it is a lot. But the kitchen is functioning and not too terrible looking right now, so most of the projects remaining are non-urgent. Except the vile light fixtures. Oh, and I've already bought the tile for the countertops, so could we please get that done soon? Thanks.

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