7 Cheap and Easy Home Office Improvements

by Mod Home Ec Teacher

7 Cheap and Easy Home Office Improvements

Working from home can be a curse and a blessing. The curse part is that you're at home and home things are always beckoning you away from work, and vice versa. One sure thing is that if you have a room to call your own, you need to make it an attractive and efficient space where you want to spend time. And if you've just blown the budget on a new furnace, don't worry, these tricks cost practically nothing.

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Where to Find Scandinavian Style Staples Even If You're Not in the Nordic Countries

by Rachel Jacks

Scandinavian Style Staples

Perusing online tours of beautiful Scandinavian homes can be an addictive, and envy-inducing, pastime. Though you may not be able to import their high ceilings, period features, or masonry heaters (those cylindrical white corner fireplaces that I endlessly covet), you can certainly create your own replica of the Scandinavian look with the right furnishings. Figuring out where to find certain pieces can be tricky, so I'll round up some popular Scandinavian-style pieces, and tell you where you can buy them in the US.     

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Vintage Eye Candy: 70s Interiors That'll Make You Say, "Groovy, Baby!"

by Amber Dickson
1970s interior design
Photo: Unknown

The distinct colors, shapes, and textures of the 1970s give interiors from that era a unique energy. Currently, the decade's distinct vibe is coming back, and influencing current trends in a big way. Yes, 70s style might be considered over-the-top now, but comb through examples from that era and you will find pieces and inspiration that will bring new liveliness to your space all while fitting in to your current decor. Keep scrolling for some rad eye candy!           

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What I Learned About Interior Design from Living with a Video Game Designer

by Rachel Jacks
What I learned about interior design from living with a video game designer
Photo: Chris Liverani

My husband designs video games for a living, and over the years, I've realized that video game design and interior design actually have a surprising amount of overlap. Room designers and game designers are both designing experiences for people to interact with, and though they may have very different end goals, some of the principles are the same.                 

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10 Ways to Make the Most of Your Tiny Porch this Summer

by Holly Wade

If you've ever lived in an apartment or a really tiny house, you probably understand the struggle of a tiny outdoor space. Generally, tiny porches are the only type of porches you'll find with an apartment. While a tiny porch is better than no porch at all, sometimes you have to get creative with the small space you have with small balcony furniture and space saving solutions. Luckily, I've rounded up a bunch of ways to make the most of your tiny porch this summer, including DIYs, storage solutions and just plain cute pieces to add to your porch. 

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A Quick Start Guide For the Soft-Core Minimalist

by Tracy Leigh Morgan

Simple desk, minimalist workspace

It's tempting to think of minimalism as a "must do" trend. There's been so much chatter online, in books, and on podcasts about it lately - it's seemingly on everyone's mind. Minimalism is getting maximum exposure! For those new to the concept, it's also all too easy to peek at any of that material and feel immediately overwhelmed.         

 Ironically, it's that overwhelming feeling that is usually what starts people down this path AND is the leading cause of falling right back off.

So, let's approach this differently. Instead of worrying about what minimalism means "out there," or feeling like we need to adapt an all-or-nothing mentality to get on board, let's try just dipping a toe in and testing the waters. Feels good, right?  

Minimalist inspiration
Photo: Tracy Leigh Morgan

First, surround yourself with the vibe.

Enjoy some time learning a bit about what minimalism really represents and looks like in real life. It's not solely about stark, sleek interiors or capsule wardrobes. No one's ever accused me of living a minimalist lifestyle, but there is something in the vibe itself that speaks to me: it's about keeping things essential. (Between you and me, that's the word I tend do use when I'm trying on aspects of minimalism, like one might try on a new outfit.)

Scan the blogs, get lost in the gorgeous books, check out a few pins, and maybe listen to a podcast or TedTalk. Gather up your ideas about what minimalism could look like in your life, and see what the common themes are. Feel where this hits you - what pain point does this research bring up? Forget what everyone's saying you should do.

What are the one or two things in your life that could use a simpler, more essential approach and how would that make your life better?

Next, pick ONE thing.

Yep, this is where you already start practicing what you’re going to preach. Instead of trying to boil the ocean of lifestyle areas that need tweaking, identify the one thing that will 1) impact your life in a meaningful way, and 2) give you a quick win. There's nothing like momentum and success to keep us on the path when trying to make a shift.

Is your pain point a cramped closet, cluttered desk, chaotic mealtime, or an over-scheduled calendar, perhaps? Then, start right there. Don't fall into the trap that minimalism is an on and off switch; you can use the dimmer.

Simplify your closet with a capsule wardrobe.
Photo: All About Space/Shutterstock

So, if your closet has lost its mind and you've not worn half that stuff for eons, then envision what a capsule wardrobe might look like, and start putting together a "draft" version for yourself. Apply a little Marie Kondo, and strip out the things that don't bring you joy or inspiration. And get real if things are damaged, out of size, or otherwise unwearable now. You're living now, so prioritize the things that support your life today.


Meal planning & batch cooking can simplify mealtimes
Photo: Stephanie A. Meyer/Project Vibrancy Meals

Give technology a good, hard, side-eye squinty look. 

Tech can be your best friend or your kryptonite as you approach minimalism. Use it for good, friends.

Try these ideas:

  • Go as paperless as you can. It's 2018, let's do this.
  • Take breaks from social media & the relentless news cycle. The stress of keeping up often fuels the behaviors that got us into the maximalist, over-spending, stuff-collecting groove to begin with.

  • Lean on apps & digital services that can make your life easier. Struggling with mealtime decisions or spending too much money on take out? It's not a sign of defeat to pay someone else to do the meal planning; subscription services like Project Vibrancy Meals (pictured above) can do the heavy lifting for you. Or if money management is one of your Achilles-level pain points, apps like You Need A Budget can be a game changer.

  • Learn about minimalism, essentialism, and other related practices on podcasts and blogs online. The Minimalists is one of my favorites.

    Bonus points: Try a challenge! Most of the minimalist & simple living blogs offer jump-starts by way of simple challenges. Just remember to keep yours focused on your ONE thing and don't overdo it.

Create a stylish entry way "landing zone" to make your new routine easier.
Photo: Lucia Coppola/Shutterstock

Adopt a new mini-routine that supports your "one thing."

The most effective behavior changes happen when they become almost mindless, like turning on the coffee pot each morning or grabbing your keys before you walk out the door. Once you have your minimalist goal in mind, create a little routine around it that connects the behaviors to the change itself.

So, for instance, if clutter is your bug, start by creating a landing zone for keys, bags, mail, and other papers & detritus that come in the door with you. Make it your new habit to empty your pockets, dig the receipts out of your wallet, drop the change into a jar, leave the keys in a pretty bowl with your sunglasses, and plug in your phone to charge. Boom. You're on your way to a behavioral baby step that's directly connected to the everydayness of walking through the door.


Finally, reflect on what's working...and what's not.

I love a pen-to-paper journal for this, but use whatever format you prefer. There is little point in pushing for a change when it's not meeting your needs, or is only meeting them part-way. As with most "lifestyle" practices or approaches, it's always best to be honest with yourself and take the parts that work, and leave the rest in the dust. There are no martyrs in minimalism...that just wouldn't be essential or necessary, would it?

As an example, I love my Kindle. I use it each and every day and have since Kindle 1.0 was a thing. But, deep in my heart, I also love books...the smell, the feel of paper, the weight, and certainly the look of them on my bookshelf. So a book-free life is not for me. But I've adopted a new mentality towards how I buy books and what I keep around so that it works for my approach.


Quick start guide to soft-core minimalism
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At the end of the day, trust yourself to learn the basics, practice a bit, and then tweak what you’ve got to make it work for you. Start simple, get the small win, and keep on easing in.

Looking for more minimalist inspiration? Check out this streamlined home, owned by a very organized couple.

Minimalist House Tour

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17 Ways to Introduce this Trending Pattern into Your Home

by M.E. Gray
Selection from the Unmagic Eye Exhibition by Spencer Harrison and Billie Justice Thomson; Photo by Bri Hammond
Selection from the Unmagic Eye Exhibition by Spencer Harrison and Billie Justice Thomson; Photo by Bri Hammond

The home decor world is operating mostly in throwback-mode right now. What used to be tacky is now tasteful, and looking dated doesn't matter as much. Walk into any big box store like Target, West Elm, or CB2, and you'll see interpretations of designs and color schemes that originally surfaced over 30-40 years ago. From the resurgence of treatments like terrazzo to the re-introduction of wicker, what's old is new again. If you're like me, you've noticed a familiar pattern pop up. And if you're like me, it's making you gleefully reminiscent. I'm talking about the bold and bright world of Memphis design, and its colorful impact on the 80s and 90s.                 

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The Wabi-Sabi Home: Learn to Embrace Imperfection and Authenticity

by M.E. Gray

Wabi-sabi home

I used to own this cup and saucer set. It was white with a yellow border - I found it at the thrift store. The handle of the cup was comfortable, and the saucer large. I loved it. I loved it in a way that it seemed to make my coffee taste better in the morning. One day, my yellow cup met a fate that many ceramic dishes face. It was dropped, and the cup cracked. The vessel was still usable after its accident, after a bit of gluing. But it never looked the same again. A piece of the ceramic was missing, a chunk gone. I still held onto it, because I loved this cup, and life happens, you know? This is, roughly, the definition of wabi-sabi.               

Photo by The Ranch Uncommon
Photo by The Ranch Uncommon

I only heard of the term wabi-sabi recently, but I was immediately intrigued by the concept. Being someone who is always fighting with achieving perfection in reality, I am drawn to the freedom of wabi-sabi, and can see its value in the Western world. I'm no expert on the topic, but here's what I've come to understand about this Zen Buddhist aesthetic.

Definition: What is Wabi-Sabi?

Traditionally speaking, wabi-sabi is the acceptance of imperfection as an aesthetic.

Let's start from the beginning. In Buddhism, there are three marks of existence that are taught about. The first is impermanence - the idea that nothing that is alive will last forever. The second is suffering - that all living things suffer. And the third is lack of self - that all living things contain no permanent soul (which is where the idea of reincarnation comes into play). Wabi-sabi was born out of the teachings of these three marks of existence. If all this talk about suffering and impermanence is getting you down, try shifting your perspective. 

Photo via The Future Kept
Photo via The Future Kept

The Aesthetic of Zen Buddhism

Rather than wallow in the idea that nothing is permanent and every living creature suffers, over time the translation of these definitions changed. It was in Japanese culture that wabi-sabi moved away from a nihilistic mindset and became revered as a sort of flawed beauty. 

Wabi-sabi, like many forms of Eastern art and design, exists as almost an opposite to Western culture. Rather than always aiming for perfection, wabi-sabi embraces that perfection is unrealistic. There is nothing grand about the Zen Buddhism aesthetic. Instead, it's introspective. It says, Yes, the cup is chipped, and is now imperfect. And we accept that as beautiful. Because life is imperfect, and life is beautiful.


Examples: The Wabi-Sabi Home

Photo by Emilie Anne Szabo
Photo by Emilie Anne Szabo

So how does this life-is-messy-and-that's-okay mindset translate into the home? It can be as small an act as accepting the chipped dish as a beautiful part of your life. Maybe it's the acceptance of a wobbly chair that you love in spite of its imbalance. Wabi-sabi exists almost opposite of the culture that we in Western Civilization are accustomed to. In Western culture, bigger is better, everything is store-bought, and if something is broken, throw it out immediately. A wabi-sabi home is quieter, unfocused on grandious materialism, and forgiving. On the scale of home decor, the wabi-sabi home is somewhere between bohemian and minimal. Here are some queues to take when considering this quieter design style.

Photo via Billie Blanket
Photo via Billie Blanket

Natural materials

Natural materials are the best method for embracing a wabi-sabi home. You can't control how a fresh flower blooms, nor can you totally tame a hosueplant. Add texture to your home through natural materials like dried flowers, furs, and raw woods

Photo via ElleDecor.com
Photo via ElleDecor.com

Natural colors

When choosing color to bring into your wabi-sabi home, mimic the hues of nature. There's nothing manufactured about the Zen Buddhist aesthetic, and your color scheme should flow with this idea. Pick calm blues like water, earthy neutrals, greens, and grays

Photo by Amanda Watters via Design Sponge
Photo by Amanda Watters via Design Sponge

Utility and design

What separates a wabi-sabi home from a bohemian one is utility. Remember, this aesthetic is un-fussy. There should be little in your home that doesn't serve a purpose. The appliances and electronics you have in your home should be there because they work, not because they're the newest and or most recent version released. Artwork should bring joy, not just fill space. Everything has its role, and that role includes bringing joy, so don't feel like you have to strip your home totally down to utility only.

Photo via Malfatti Glass
Photo via Malfatti Glass

Fewer items of higher value

Western culture is obsessed with buying and spending, and that mindset is engrained in every facet of our culture, including interior decorating. The wabi-sabi home exists opposite of that, putting value in usefulness over trend. Sturdy fixtures and furniture tend to be more expensive, but their higher cost will pay off in their longevity. Focus on bringing fewer items into your home, and be mindful that what you do incorporate should be sturdy and long-lasting.


Important People - Leonard Koren

Leonard Koren's home, photo by Aubrie Pick
Leonard Koren's home; Photo by Aubrie Pick via the San Francisco Chronicle

Just as hygge has Meik Wiking, wabi-sabi has its big player, too. Let's talk about Leonard Koren, the American artist and aesthetic afficionado. Born in New York City in 1948, Koren made his first big splash in the design world by founding WET Magazine (did you catch the pun?), a publication that focused on gourmet bathing. After that, Koren went to live in Japan, where he wrote several books on the wabi-sabi aesthetic, successfully introducing this Japanese Philosophy into Western culture. 

"'Material poverty, spiritual richness' are wabi-sabi bywords. In other words, wabi-sabi tells us to stop our preoccupation with success - wealth, status, power, and luxury - and enjoy the unencumbered life."

- Excerpt from Koren's book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers


More Resources - Books/Articles

Photo excerpted from "Wabi-Sabi Welcome" by Julie Pointer Adams
Photo excerpted from Wabi-Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams

 

If you are interested in learning more about the wabi-sabi aesthetic, there are lots of resources out there. In additon to Leonard Koren's works, check out these articles and books as well: 

 

  • Wabi-Sabi: A Japanese Aesthetic as Worldview - This article goes deep into the Japanese roots of Zen Buddhism, and answers all your questions about the aesthetic in practice.
  • Wabi-Sabi: Finding the Beauty and Peace in Ordinary Things - This article from Mother Earth News includes 12 ways to cultivate wabi-sabi.
  • Wabi-Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams - A journey of discovering wabi-sabi all over the globe, and lots of beautiful imagery.
  • The Natural Home by Hans Blomquist - Visual inspiration on bringing nature into the home as part of the overall design. A case study on the natural color pallete. 
  • Imperfect Home by Mark Bailey and Sally Bailey - While this book isn't about the wabi-sabi home per se, it still deals with the action of accepting imperfection in decor.
  • The Kinfolk Home: Interiors for Slow Living by Nathan Williams - What it looks like to simplify your life from a design perspective. Again, not wabi-sabi exactly, but a nice pairing. 

The Wabi-Sabi Home: Learn to Embrace Imperfection and Authenticity
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 Even if you don't want to take on wabi-sabi as an entire design scheme, this Japanese philosophy can be an enriching aid to anyone. Perfection is unreal - life is imperfect. This imperfect life is the only one we have, so why not celebrate it?

If you're looking for more ways to cleanse your home, check out these five minimalist blogs.

5 Minimalist Blogs

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How to Create a Home that Won't Hurt Your Back

by M.E. Gray

Back Pain Relief At Home

Have you ever dealt with an achy-breaky back? If you haven't had the misfortune yet, I hate to say it, but you probably will. Not-so-fun fact: About 80% of Americans will deal with back pain at some point in their lives. For some, it's just a pulled muscle, but for others, it's much worse. As you age, it's the little movements and activities that lead to spinal disc deterioration. But it's not all bad news! From furniture placement to purchasing the right kind of tools, you can structure the layout and function of your home to keep your spine healthy. Here are a few adjustments you can make to your home for back pain relief, and to maintain the health of your spine.        

 

Get Rid of Your Home Office Desk

How to get back pain relief at home - try a standing office desk
Source: A Beautiful Mess

If you spend all day sitting at a desk, eliminate the possibility of spending all evening sitting at one. Remaining in one position for extended periods of time is bad for a lot of areas in the body, and your back bears the brunt of the blow. Poor seated posture can compress the discs in your spine, which makes them deteriorate faster. Change up your posture and stand while you work at home (that's right, that means no couch, either!).  Add a standing desk to your pre-existing one (this is the model that my boss Bruno uses at his desk), or trade your seated desk for a DIY one made of brackets and boards. The best at-home work station is at eye-level, which will keep your upper back and shoulders from curling forward as you use your laptop or computer. 


Get Back Pain Relief from a Recliner

Get back pain relief from a recliner, like this gray one from West Elm
Source: West Elm

I know what you're probably thinking: "M.E., recliners are just the ugliest chairs in existence. I'll take the back pain over that decor disaster, thankyouverymuch." But wait - hear me out on this one! Sitting in a reclined position is the doctor-recommended position for alleviating pain in the back (I would know - I was there when my wife's doctor said, "Hey, get a recliner. It'll alleviate back pain."). It's the angle of the chair that gives you back pain relief; your legs are up, and your back is fully supported at a 180º angle. 
Regarding the unarguable decor disaster that is the La-Z-Boy, just know that there are other options out there. Not all recliners will take up 25% of your living room's floor plan, nor do they all have to come in leather. Many recliners are now designed in incognito mode like this Henley chair from Wayfair or this Dalton recliner found at Target. Recliners are also being designed in a stripped down, minimal fashion like this Mid Century-inspired one from Crate & Barrel. 


Figure in Some Footstools

Old ottoman gets a makeover
Photo: Sarahdipity Photos

Similar to the way a recliner can provide you with back pain relief, a footstool can do the same.  To take some of the pressure off your L5-S1, prop your feet up on a stool or ottoman that is slightly lower than the height of your sofa or chair. In addition to being one of the simpler back remedies, adding a footstool to your lounge or living room is also a quick method for adding color and pattern to a space. Plus, ottomans are one of  the easiest piece of furniture to give a makeover.


Create Space in your Home for Your Health

At home yoga station
Source: Knicole

Make it easy to work on the health of your spine by carving out a section of your square footage just for your back. It doesn't have to be a large area, and it doesn't have to be a total at-home gym. All you need is enough space to lie down on the floor comfortably. There are several stretches you can do to give yourself back pain relief at home. If you create a designated space in your home, you'll likely be more eager to do your physical therapy exercises or daily stretching if you don't have to rearrange furniture every time you want to roll out your yoga mat. 

Grab a large basket, and store these items together for easy access when you need some back pain relief at home:

  • A yoga mat or a comfy towel
  • A small blanket (nice to roll up or sit on while stretching when your muscles are feeling extra tight)
  • A strap or towel (excellent for wrapping around the foot when doing a hamstring stretch)

Keep a Stockpile of Hot and Cold Packs

If you deal with chronic back pain, you probably already have a freezer full of ice packs and a heating pad or two. If you injure your back, start with a cold pack first to reduce swelling, and if necessary, move to a hot pack to help with muscle tightness. To make your own ice pack, combine water and rubbing alcohol in a freezer bag. It won't freeze solid, and instead will remain slushy but cold. Alternatively, you can freeze wet sponges and keep those on hand for any unexpected twinges or strains.


Get Back Pain Relief by Firming Up Your Mattress 

Firm up your mattress for back pain relief

If you wake up every morning in pain, it's not just a sign that you "slept funny." It means something funny is up with your bedding. If you can afford to trade out your un-supportive mattress for a new one, do that! If a new bed is out of the budget, there are a few temporary ways you can firm up your existing mattress:

  • If you haven't flipped your mattress in a while, start there
  • Purchase a firming mattress topper
  • Replace the box spring
  • Add a bed board - this is a literal board that you add in between your mattress and the box spring. You can buy one or make your own, and is especially helpful if your mattress sags in the middle (which can cause major back injury over time)

Be Mindful of Countertop Height

Cutting fruit at a comfortable height for spine health

I always clean dishes by hand at the kitchen sink. Even when I lived in an apartment that had a dishwasher, I always preferred to scrub plates a few times a day rather than save them up for one dishwasher load. What I began to notice was that every time I step away from my kitchen sink, my back hurts a bit. My shoulders would also curl forward during this chore. Because the sink is a little lower than it should be, my posture suffers.

When you're working in the kitchen, be mindful of the countertop height. If you are a taller person and your countertops are shorter, the repetitive bend downwards will show in the health of your spine. To keep your spine straight, try bending at the knees as you chop vegetables. Keep your tailbone curled under, and your shoulders back. If this pose is strenuous to hold, try raising your countertop to meet you. Much like a standing desk, you can prop up your cutting board on a cookbook to give yourself fewer inches to bend over to.


Arrange Your Home in a Cleaning-Friendly Way

Clean home, healthy back?
Photo Credit: Bruno Bornsztein

Scrubbing behind the toilet, moving the coffee table each time you vacuum the living room, bending over to change the sheets... housework is hard work, and like any other strenuous activity, it can have a negative impact on your spine if you're not careful. To prevent injury, avoid excessive twisting and straining when you clean. On top of mindfulness, you can start with a cleaning-friendly home.

When arranging furniture in your home, consider placement. Does the vacuum cleaner fit in between the side table and the couch, or will you have to physically move the side table once a week? Consider giving the side table felt feet so you only have to slide it, rather than pick it up. Maybe it's a bench that doubles as storage. What about adding a few casters to the bottom so you can slide it out of the way when you need to mop? Invest in a tool that makes scrubbing easier, or a mop that requires no bending or buckets of cleansing liquid.


How to curate your home to support the health of your spine
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Hopefully these healthy home back remedies have you inspired to sit up straight and stretch more often. Remember - you only get one spine, so take care of it!

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The Pinch of Yum Master Bedroom Tour

by Alicia Lacy

The Pinch of Yum Master Bedroom Tour


When we started Curbly in 2006, saying that your job was 'blogging' was a recipe for confusion. Lots of people didn't even know what a blog was. Fast forward a decade or so, and blogging as a profession is so well-accepted that you probably have a blogger or two living in your own neighborhood. That why we were excited, but not entirely surprised, when we discovered that prolific food bloggers Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom, from PinchofYum, lived about a mile from us.

Bjork and Lindsay are famous for their gorgeously-photographed recipes (their chocolate-chip-cookies are the best), and for helping hundreds of new bloggers get their start through their FoodBloggerPro program (seriously: it basically teaches you to be a blogger). 

Today, we're excited to share a tour of Bjork and Lindsay's bedroom, which they recently finished remodeling. When we met up with these two to talk about their space, they were well on their way to designing it. They'd chosen paint colors, laid flooring, and picked out the major pieces, so styling was the main thing they were looking for help with, and we were more than happy to oblige.

Here's a look at how we styled the space, along with some of Lindsay's take-aways from the whole remodeling process:

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Kitchen Ideas for the Curbly House Project

by Alicia Lacy
Curbly House II - Kitchen Inspiration
Current mood (board): kitchen-y

We're making headway on the Curbly House and the next two weeks will bring about a big leap in the transformation we've been dreaming about. We spent much of the last week trying to finalize our choices for kitchen cabinetry, countertops, appliances, and fixtures. While the room reveal won't be ready until later, I wanted to share a peek at what inspired the design. 

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