All posts by Melissa Mcpherson

Melissa is a 31-year-old creative writer, quilter and photographer with Cerebral Palsy. She received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Grand Valley State University in 2005. When she is not pursuing her creative endeavors, Melissa works as a part time Administrative Assistant at the University of Michigan. Melissa spent eight years working at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, where she developed and taught inclusive creative arts and writing classes for people with and without disabilities. She continues to mentor and advocate for people with disabilities through her blog: Disability and I do. She lives with her husband in Michigan.

The Products I Hate to Admit to Owning (but they Actually Work)

American television is full of infomercials. Early risers and night owls are most often subjected to these gems, but all of us will see more than we care to in our lifetimes. Some of these infomercials stick with us. Those are usually the ones with those catchy tunes or hilarious one-liners that we find ourselves singing in the shower or doing impressions of in bars. None of us imagine that we will buy these items, but once in a while we get suckered in and we find ourselves forking over credit card numbers. Most of the time this ends up being a huge mistake, but sometimes we get lucky and we find something we simply could not live without.

The first infomercial product I own is a little embarrassing to admit to. The advertisements for this product are so notorious that I can almost guarantee you will have the jiggle for it stuck in your head when you finish reading this post. Yes, I must admit, I am the proud owner of a clapper. I have to tell you this thing is awesome. A few years ago I bought my husband this really awesome lamp made out of deer sheds. (Those are the antlers that bucks shed every winter.) For years, this lamp sat unused in the corner because my husband and I were both too lazy to get up and turn it on and off, but now thanks to the clapper, the lamp is finally getting used. I simply clap my hands from anywhere in the room and the light will turn on and off. Of course my husband still hasn’t figured out how to do it, but I am sure he will catch on at some point.

Another popular subject for infomercials is exercise equipment. These infomercials can be hard not get suckered into, after all, who among us doesn’t want that hot bod we see on TV. I was no exception; I purchased the Bender Ball in the early morning hours in the summer of 2007. The whole time, I was telling myself how stupid I was, but as it turned out I was presently surprised. The Bender Ball is a small exercise ball that will reportedly give you rock hard abs. While I can’t speak to that, I will say that this little ball does make sit-ups and crunches easier to execute while still giving me a great ab workout.

The products in infomercials are notoriously cheesy, and it is a little embarrassed to admit to owning a few of these items, but I must admit that they are very helpful in living my unlimited life. Next time you find yourself awake at 3 in the morning, forgo the netflix and check out an infomercial, you might discover something really great.

My Smartphone Pick

Technology has come a long way in my lifetime. However, I am the first to admit I am a little slow to jump on the band wagon when it comes to the latest and greatest. I did not get a cell phone until after I graduated high school and I didn’t even know how to send a text message until the middle of my sophomore year in college, so it was no surprise that it took me several years to upgrade from a cell phone to a smartphone.

I originally got a BlackBerry because it was recommended to me by several friends who had one. At the time iPhone was still relatively new, and I don’t think Androids were even out yet. I became instantly addicted to the convenience of having the internet at my fingertips. I used my phone to look up recipes, downloaded quilting projects, and send emails for work. I kept my original blackberry for 5 years, and only got a new phone because the battery in my old one kept going bad.

When I went to finally get a new phone, I told the saleswoman that I wanted the new blackberry and she looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently I have once again become a user of old technology. But despite her efforts to point me toward a phone with more apps, I stuck to my guns and got a Blackberry; an iPhone, Andriod, or virtually any other smartphone on the market would be useless to me because I cannot type on a touchpad, at least not one small enough to be attached to a phone.

The Blackberry is one of the only smart phones that still use a real Qwerty keyboard, with actual buttons. The only other one they carried with buttons was one of those slide out jobs that breaks if you look at it too long. The keyboard is the one feature that allows me to use my smart phone the way it was intended to be used, but that isn’t the only feature about my phone that I like. It has the same basic functions as all the other smartphones out there, including a great speech option that allows me to send a text, email, search the internet, compose a note or update my Facebook status with my voice. The blackberry is also durable. I drop my phone at least once a week, and I have yet to break it.

If you, or someone you love, struggle with touchscreens like I do, the Blackberry Q10 is a great option. It will allow them to have access to the all features of their phone without having to rely on the speech option or an additional piece of adaptive technology. Because blackberry got rid of the track pad that I loved, you are still using a touchscreen to navigate, but the accessibility features on the phone make it much easier.

Shaving Your Legs Doesn’t Have to be an Aerobic Excercise

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Many women dream of having long, soft, flowing hair; but typically they want this hair on their heads not their legs. My fight with leg hair began at the tender age of ten, a doctor removed full length casts from both my legs only to discover that my leg hair, which had be fine and blond when they put them on a month or so previous, had turned coarse and black. I don’t remember being particularly bothered by this phenomenon but my mother was somewhat horrified. And so began my battle with leg hair.

Let’s face it, we all hate leg hair; the only thing we hate more than leg hair is dealing with the leg hair. Having a disability that causes fine motor issues, along with super tight leg muscles, only makes leg hair that much more deplorable. It’s no wonder that women with and without disabilities have decided not to deal with it at all, allowing their leg hair to grow uninhibited and unashamed. I applaud those women for the unabashed love for their leg hair, and between September and April I am one of them; but come Spring I fall victim to the pressure of social norms. I remember my mother’s horrified exclamations over my leg hair and I shave my legs.

Finding the perfect product for shaving my legs has been an adventure. The disposable razor slipped a lot thanks to both my poor fine motor skills and my excellent spasticity; shaving cream made everything worse. Nair left chemical burns in some spots and patches of hair in others. Waxing is too expensive and painful,and laser treatments are super tempting but also way too expensive. Ultimately, it was my mother who convinced me to try an electric razor. Honestly I didn’t even know that they made these for women anymore. I had an old plug in one in middle school that had been my mother’s or someone’s back in the day, but it didn’t work well, so I assumed that all electric razors were just as ineffective, even if they did exist.

In order to convince me, my mother let me try hers; and I realized very quickly I had been wrong. The electric razor left my legs as smooth as my manual razor. Even better, I could use this razor outside the shower where it was easier to contort my body into the yoga poses required for leg shaving. Best of all, when I was done there were no cuts to cover in little bits of toilet paper!

I did some research about the best electric razors available, compared that against what I wanted to spend and decided to buy this Panasonic model because it got good reviews and was a decent price. It can be used wet or dry but for the reason I’ve already stated I use it dry. Now I can wear my cute spring and summer dresses without horrifying my mother or cutting my legs. This razor really is a win/win.

Fiber: What is it Good For?

Some of the tools that we use to live an UNlimited life are not as obvious as others. When people think of the items that might be helpful to someone with a disability, they often think of assistive technology like wheelchairs, prosthesis and lifts. They might even think about intangible things, like support from family and friends, a sense of humor, or perseverance; but chances are that unless you ask a doctor, things like your diet do not get included in the conversation.

We have all been told that a good diet is important to living a long and healthy life. We all know that fruits and vegetables are “good,” while sugars and simple carbohydrates are “bad.” But few of us can really say why, and even fewer of us can say what exactly those good foods are doing for us.

Recently I learned that fiber, a carbohydrate that is found in whole grains, beans and many fruits and vegetables, not only plays an important role in my UNlimited life, but my husband’s as well. Of course I always knew that fiber was good for me, but other than cancer prevention, I didn’t understand why.

Earlier this year I went to my CP specialist complaining of a new and embarrassing symptom, incontinence. I had just turned 30 and felt too young to be dealing with this sort of a problem. To my surprise, she recommended fiber. As it turns out, constipation (another wonderful problem often associated with CP) can cause urgency and accidents because as waste builds up in your bowels in can cause pressure on the bladder. Because I have a history of constipation, as far back as early childhood, my doctor wanted me to try adding fiber to my diet before prescribing a drug for the incontinence. Sure enough, it helped; not only am I less constipated, I find those frantic sprints to the bathroom have decreased.

I also learned that fiber is not only good for me, but also for my husband who has diabetes. Soluble fiber has been found to produce a significant reductions in blood sugar, and can decrease insulin requirements. Increasing your fiber can also prevent long-term complications from diabetes. Though my husband already enjoys many high fiber foods such as brussel sprouts, strawberries and peas, we are both eager to see what adding a high soluble fiber supplement will do to help control his blood sugar. Of course, we plan to talk to his doctor first.

Adding a fiber supplement to my diet turned out to be a great benefit for me, but I never would have discovered if it weren’t for the open and honest conversation I had with my doctor. Sometimes talking about certain symptoms, even with your doctor, can be embarrassing. But it’s important to remember that you’re probably not the first person to experience these issues, your doctor has probably heard it all and they are there to help find a solution that works best for you.

Ironing Will Never be Fun, but it Doesn’t Have to be a Struggle

ironingLike so many other children, I wanted nothing more than to grow up so I could do what I wanted when I wanted. It took about five minutes of living alone to realize that I had been foolish. Being a grown up does mean you can mostly do what you want when you want, but it also means that there is no one else around to do what needs to be done. Household chores become solely your responsibility, and they aren’t any more enjoyable as an adult.

Ironing is one chore that I avoided successfully for 28 years. If something was wrinkled, I wore something else. If I had no other options, I would sometimes throw it in the dryer hoping for the best. But most of the time, I would just put it on anyway and hope that by the time I got to where I was going the wrinkles would fall out on their own.

I was perfectly happy with this arrangement. However, when I started quilting I discovered that ironing, and more specifically pressing, was going to be necessary. My mother gave me an iron and for a while I borrowed an ironing board; but I knew that eventually I would need my own.

I also knew I would have to find something that would fit my needs. I probably had a more few requirements than the average person buying an ironing board. I wanted to be able to use it standing or sitting, I wanted to be able to put it away independently, and I wanted it to be big enough to work with my larger quilts. This over the door ironing board turned out to be just the right fit. When open, it is a good height for sitting or standing, folds up against the wall for easy storage and is 14 inches wide by 42 inches long.

I have been using this board for a few years now and it works well. The ironing board can bare a lot of weight, which is especially good since I tend to lean on things while I work; so for added stability I put a wedge under my door to minimize shifting. I will caution that because this board only attaches to the top of the door it will slide an inch or two if leaned into, This slight shifting has not caused me to fall or loose my balance, and if not an issue at all when I am sitting because I don’t lean into the board.

I still hate ironing and pressing. In fact, it is my least favorite part of quilting. I have by no means gotten any better at ironing my clothing either, but this board makes this dreaded chore a little bit less of a burden.

Worry Free Home Decor

My husband and I bought our first house in 2009. It was really exciting. The place was definitely a fixer upper; I had all these wonderful ideas about how I would decorate and how beautiful it was going to be. I was going to have a house fit for a magazine. I think everyone feels this way the first time they move into their own space. However, most of us come to the realization that what we have in our head and what we can afford are two different things. We also find out that those DIY projects are not as easy as the home depot commercials make them look.

My husband and I have now lived in this house for about four and a half years, and we are still working on various projects. This is because we don’t want to go into debt fixing up the house, so my husband takes on one or two projects a year. I obviously cannot help with these projects, but I do my best to make sure my house has that homey feel by adding small touches here and there.

One company that I have discovered along my decorating way is Scentsy. Scentsy is a company that sells electric, wickless, candles for your home. I am going to be honest, with a dog, four cats, one husband and my tendency for setting of the smoke alarm, my house can get a little smelly and stuffy, especially during the winter when we are all cooped up inside. Candles are a great way to help keep your house smelling nice, they also give your house a cozy feel. But lets face it, open flames and Cerebral Palsy are not the best combination. Open flames and cats are even worse.

Scentsy products are great because they use these beautiful ceramic warmers to melt a non-toxic scented wax that will fill your room with one of many wonderful scents. The wax gets warm, but not hot, so you won’t get burned if you spill it. I have even had wax spilled on my kitchen floor, it was quick and easy to clean. The burners come in several sizes and can either be plugged directly into the wall like a nightlight, or set on a table.

The main reason I love Scentsy is that I can select a fragrance, turn it on and not worry about it. I can leave the room, or even the house, and not worry that something is going to catch on fire. I also don’t have to spend 45 minute rummaging for a lighter.

One word of warning: Scentsy is awesome and you might feel like you don’t need those candles anymore, but make sure to keep a few on hand, and know where they are. Scentsy might be safer than a candle, but they won’t work during a power outage; you really don’t want to forage for candles to light your living room in the dark, trust me on that.

Home Alone? Tips on Staying Safe and Sane.

My husband is an avid outdoorsman. He likes to hunt, fish, camp, and go for long walks in the woods. A few times a year, he goes on what I call a “man-cation.” I call it this because, generally, women are not welcome on these trips. Not that I want to be invited. Spending a few days cooped up in a cabin with no access to running water and sleeping in close proximity to a bunch of snoring men does not sound like my idea of a good time.

He really enjoys these trips; getting some time away from the daily grind in good for him. However, this also means that I lose my primary source of transportation while he is gone; which means we have to plan for what I will do while he is away.

Generally, I try to plan my own trip, or have a friend come stay with me while my husband is away. This is as much for boredom as it is for peace of mind. But if the timing doesn’t work out and I do have to spend a chunk of time alone, I always make sure that my family knows when he is leaving and when he will return. My Mom and in-laws are just minutes away in case of an emergency. Additionally, I like to set up a “check –in” schedule with them; this way we can check in with each other once a day, and if I cannot be reached they come over to the house. This might seem like a silly thing for an adult to do, but because I don’t use an aid, this is very important in case of a bad fall or something similar.

Besides making sure that I have someone on hand in case of an emergency, I also like to stock up on easy meals. Spending half an hour to an hour cooking for one just seems silly to me. I like to buy frozen skillet meals, because they taste better than the microwavable ones and I usually end up with left-overs. Also they are really simple to cook, with no chopping or measuring; just put in the pan for seven minutes and you are good to go.

The last thing I do when facing a week alone is make sure that I have a project and a nice long book to keep me entertained. I have just started the Game of Thrones series which I heard from a friend is “epically long.” Of course, I love Stephen King, but his novels tend to not be the best when home alone, though some of his less scary work would be a good choice. My favorites include Heart of Atlantis, The Green Mile and The Long Walk. My project of choice is of course sewing, but being without my husband for a few days is also a great reason to get some organizing done, or trying a DIY project seen on Pinterest. The best part? No one is around to her you swear.

 

New Uses for Common Household Items

It isn’t always necessary to buy a specialized product in order to adapt the world to your needs. Often times, you can use everyday household items already at your disposal, in new and creative ways; turning them into a mobility device or another form of assistive technology.

I am always using my body and the objects around me in new ways in order to make my life easier. Sometimes this makes people nervous. For instance, I have been known to carry anything from a slip of paper, to dinnerware, in my mouth in order to avoid an extra trip. This drives my Dad crazy, he thinks I might break a tooth; but if it is good enough for my dog, it is good enough for me. Other times my ingenuity leaves people wondering “why didn’t I think of that?” and soon others, even those without disabilities, are using my methods in their daily routines.

I have a tall bar stool in my house. It is located right next to my fridge in the kitchen. It is not for sitting, even if I wanted to sit on it I couldn’t. I do, however, use it for a number of other things. First, I use it to hold my coffee cup and cereal bowl while I pour milk in the morning. This saves me from have to make trips back and forth from the table to the fridge in the morning. Secondly, I use it to carry things from one side of the kitchen to the other. I simply place the item(s) on the stool and push the stool from one place to the next. It slides very easily on the kitchen floor. Finally, I use it for stability, when sweeping or picking something up off the floor. The third instance isn’t as common, thanks to my Mint and my dog. However, it is good to have options.

Another common item that I use in uncommon ways are tongs. You can probably guess what these are for. I not only have CP, but I am also short and cannot reach past the second self in most of my kitchen cabinets. Since step stools are hard from me to climb, I often use the tongs to give me a few more inches of reach when I am in a pinch. There is a technique to using tongs, but with a bit of practice any one can master it. Though I must caution that this is not recommended for heavy or breakable items. This warning comes from personal experience.

The last item I use frequently are those reusable grocery bags. I use them to carry heavy objects, like my laptop, from room to room, especially if I am going upstairs. I can’t carry the bag on my shoulder so I hang it on my forearm, or for a hands free trip, around my neck.

Of course these tricks and techniques won’t work for everyone, but I think that all of us can benefit from thinking outside the box in order to live UNlimited.

What everyday items do you like to use in new ways?

Garlic Lovers, Rejoice!

I am going to share a bit about me that isn’t a secret; I love garlic. I am Italian on my father’s side, I blame this obsession entirely on those roots.  I love garlic the way my husband loves catsup, I put it in almost everything I eat. Whenever there is a chip, potato, sauce, dip, or bread that has garlic in it, I am first in line to try it. I love only two foods more, cheese and wine. Wine is food right?

One thing I don’t like about garlic is the preparation. I know I am not alone in this, plenty of people have complaints about prepping garlic; but having cerebral palsy, where fine motor skills are not a strong point, I find the peeling, chopping and the mincing utterly infuriating. Before you mention it, I know there is pre-minced garlic in stores, but I just can’t do it. I am sure it is perfectly fine, but I personally find those jars of pre-minced garlic to be a little off putting. I prefer to used fresh garlic.

So what is a garlic loving ceep to do? You buy a garlic zoom and a garlic peeler of course! These two tiny gadgets are proof that big things really do come in small packages. They completely changed my life. The Garlic Zoom is my favorite kitchen appliance of all time. It was given to me by one of my favorite people, and fellow garlic lover, as a wedding shower gift. She showed me how to use it and my mind was blown. You just put your peeled clove in the zoom and then roll it on the counter like you’re back in kindergarten with the matchbox cars (Get it? garlic zoom!)

I love it. I can’t live without it. In fact, when my husband accidently destroyed  the first one in the garbage disposal, then tried in vain to piece it back together, I went out and bought a new one the same day. After all, how was I to make dinner?

Of course you still have to peel the garlic. And that is where a garlic peeler comes in handy. I know it doesn’t look like much, but this garlic peeler works similarly to the Garlic Zoom. You simply place the garlic inside and roll it on the counter. You will hear a crackle when the skin separates, then you just slide the now naked clove out of the peeler and into your garlic zoom.

Or course, if you want to peel a whole head of the stuff, the bowl method is the way to go, not only can you peel a whole head of garlic in ten seconds, you can also release a day’s worth of frustration.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d3oc24fD-c&w=560&h=315]

The best part about these two products, other than the fact that they are budget friendly, is that they are not just for people with disabilities. Anyone can benefit from these time saving gadgets, plus they are safe for children to use, which is great if you have a kid that loves to help out in the kitchen.

So, what’s for dinner?

No More Untied Shoes!

I love shoes. This is a little ironic because my CP severely limits the types of shoes that I can wear. I am envious of women that can wear hooker boots, sexy heels and strappy summer sandals. I will never be able to wear those types of shoes. In college I wore only sneakers; for some reason I was convinced that was the only type of shoe I could put on independently and have it stay on my feet.

Unfortunately, sneakers came with their own set of problems, mainly the laces. I did everything I could to avoid tying my shoes, including just leaving them untied which annoyed my college roommate to no end. If I had a quarter for every time that girl tied my shoes, I’d have enough money to buy my very own shoelace tying robot; which I need now that she doesn’t live close enough to tie my shoes anymore.

Shortly after college, angels descended from heaven and delivered unto the world cute, velcro- sneakers for grown-ups. I thought my life had been made, but then I found there were cute mary janes, flats with elastic sides and boots without laces. I no longer needed to struggle with laces, or ask my husband for help. My sneakers soon found themselves pushed into the deep recesses of my closet, shoved under the bed and forgotten, for the most part.

Except, this bounty of laceless shoes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They may be cute and easy to put on, but when I am walking for more than a few minutes at the mall, the grocery store or with my dog, they offer absolutely no support for my feet. This was fine when I was young and spry, but now, I often find myself uttering “oh my aching feet” like the grandma on an 80’s sitcom.

I tried to go back to sneakers for those longer walks, only to find that tying my shoes is even harder than it used to be. Seems that old phrase ‘use it or lose it’ definitely applies to my shoe tying ability. So, as I often do in times of trouble, I turned to the internet and discovered that many of my fellow Ceeps (that’s a person with CP, for all you non-Ceeps) were using something called Lock Laces to solve this dilemma. I decided to give it a try.

These laces are awesome and  relatively easy to put in your shoes. It took me a little more time than some; if you have trouble with fine motor skills you might have to employ your shoe tying robot for assistance, but once you get them in your shoes, that’s it! You will never need help tying your shoes again, and you can retrain your robot for another impossible task, like folding a fitted sheet.

Rediscovering A Blast From My Past

Because I acquired my disability shortly after birth, I have spent my life using adaptive equipment and assistive technology. Some of these items I still use today, like my crutches and my bath chair. Other items, like my leg braces and adaptive writing utensils, I no longer use at all. Every once in a while though, one of those long ago items will become useful again and I then wonder why I ever stopped using it in the first place.

Recently, I have been struggling with things that slip; like my feet on the kitchen floor, the cutting board on the counter, my ruler on my cutting matt, my butt on the chair in my sewing room. All of these things are frustrating at the very least, and have the potential to be very dangerous. I’ve tried to come up with various solutions that didn’t involve spending a small fortune on non-slip rugs and rubber coated kitchen supplies. I have put blue tape on my ruler and my cutting board. I even considered the possibility of rubber cementing the bottoms of my most used kitchen supplies to see if that would help. Then I had a flashback to my first grade classroom, where my teacher, Ms. Hart used to put prices of blue rubber sheeting under my paper so it wouldn’t slip when I wrote.

All it took was one quick post to a CP forum I am part of to discover an item called dycem; big plus side is that it is available online. Dycem is great; it is tacky on both sides and will stick to nearly everything. It can be cut to any size so I can use it on the floor under my feet, on my chair under my butt, under my cutting mat and ever under my ruler when I am cutting fabric. I can even use it under fabric when I need to trace a template. But that’s not all, dycem is not only good at preventing all manners of slippage, is also great for adding grip to items. It can be used to open jars and bottles, or strips can be added to handles, pens or even a toothbrush to supply a better grip.

Dycem has a million possible uses. And it is not just for people with disabilities. Dycem can be useful to anyone who is sick of having their stuff slide around; I can even see it being a great tool for mothers with young children. Dycem is also reusable and washable, so one small roll can last quite a long time and be used for several different applications. If you find you are regularly putting Dycem under certain items regularly, it can be permanently adhered to any surface with a little superglue. I think I might glue some to the back of a clipboard so that I can finally carry papers around the office without them sliding off my lap. What do/would you use dycem for?

The Perfect Solution….Or Not

We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen a product on television, or in the store, and thought to ourselves, “This is the greatest thing ever! I must have it, and together we will achieve so much.” So we buy it, filled with possibility, and then we use it only to discover we have been duped. The product is a total failure.

I am no stranger to this scenario. Often, I think I have found something that is perfect for me, only to find out it doesn’t work the way I need it to at all. In an effort to be kind, and perhaps save you a bit of money, I thought I might share some of these failures, along with the products I replaced them with.

This first item might come is a bit of a shock. In fact, most people probably find this item very useful; but as a left handed person with fine motor issues, I just cannot recommend it. It’s the mandolin slicer. These things are supposed to cut through veggies like butter, slicing items for salad and other recipes with ease. I’ve used mine exactly three times since purchasing it, three years ago. It is the most frustrating piece of kitchen equipment I have ever owned. First, it is hard to set up, then you have to get just the right rhythm going in order for the blade to go all the way though the veggie without catching, then you have to keep re-adjusting the guard. By them time I slice one carrot, I am tired, frustrated and usually bleeding, no matter how careful I try to be.

I ended up replacing it with this slicer instead. It’s a little noisy, and like with most slicers you may have to cut the larger veggies into smaller chunks first; but the set up and cleanup is much easier. Plus, there is little chance of slicing off the tip of your finger by accident.

The second thing I bought that didn’t work out was the Pasta Boat; many of you probably saw the infomercial. Well, I fell for it hook, line and sinker, and my dear husband bought me one. I was so excited. As an Italian, I eat a ton of pasta, as a diabetic, my husband does not. I thought the Pasta Boat would be safer and easier to use, especially since I was only making pasta for one. After the first use, I knew I had thought wrong. The pasta did not cook in the time listed on the instructions, and when it finally did cook through, I opened the door to find that water was all over my microwave.

As of now, I have not found a successful mechanism for my pasta cooking dilemma. I do want to find something that would prevent me from handling boiling water and I am considering trying this; though I am still a little weary of infomercial products. Has anyone tried it?

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