pancakes on plate
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream

Pancakes Are Sweeter When You Add Syrup

Every January, I celebrate the new year with a stack of homemade pancakes and round tables filled with friends. Blueberry, chocolate chip, even old-fashioned original pancakes—the baked scents reminds me life is good. The year is new. And I have people to share it with.

This year was different. There was only one person at my table.

Instead of celebrating within the walls of a welcoming church I’ve grown to love in Reno, I ate my pancakes on the back patio of well-worn restaurant joint in Southern California.

pancakes on plate

You see, last year on March 4th, Anthony and I moved from our Nevada home to pursue our dreams. I’d chosen “Dream” as my defining theme for 2013, and we reached the pinnacle rather unexpectedly early. In Los Angeles, I joined a creative team of exceptionally talented individuals in the bustling city, and Anthony began to write and revise his fantasy novels, the Shade of Silver trilogy.

What I didn’t know at last year’s start is that to “dream” is to accept change.

In Reno, we had grown deep roots. We had developed friendships, built careers. 

In Los Angeles, we were uprooted. Take a plant out of its pot, and place it on the dinner table. See how long it lasts. Plants need soil. They must have roots, or they will die.

I had been grieving the loss of my Reno roots for a while. But when we ordered pancakes on a Sunday morning, far from the church where we first experienced the New Year tradition, we memorialized. It was a good kind of remembering. We laughed, and we joked, and we reminisced. 

Then we looked across the metal bar that separated us from the sidewalk in this warm “winter” weather, and we knew: We need roots here.

Earlier that morning, at a different church located in Burbank, a pastor named Billy spoke from a slightly raised stage. “If you had a plant that wanted to bear fruit, but it never saw the sun, it wouldn’t grow any fruit.”

I’ve stayed away from the sun lately. It’s a poor effort to keep the thoughts at bay—in which I wonder about my decision to dream.

“Every good renovation starts with some demolition,” the pastor spoke, and for the first time in a long time, I listened. “God is not afraid of the toxic places in your life.”

This year, I want to remember where I’ve come from without wishing for the past. I need this plant to be pruned. I need mildewed leaves removed, and I want to see the sun. I want to make peace with this city, to find the soil and grow deep roots.

As Anthony and I talked about this, the waitress with dark hair and thick black eyeliner delivered our dishes. The golden pancakes on my plate were dashed with powdered sugar and a thick helping of whipped cream. Beside them, a tin cup of warm syrup waited.

Across the table, Anthony grinned at his berry-laden breakfast, and the waitress walked through the diner’s back doorway.

“Hey, Anthony,” I said and poured syrup on my pancakes. “Can we use your phone to take a picture?”

He agreed, held out his hand and aimed the camera. We both leaned in. Click.

A&A with pancakes

I won’t stand amid the demolition rubble any more.

This year, I’m choosing to rebuild.



–

Pans and Pickpockets Challenge: What theme will you pursue this year? What’s one word you’d choose for 2014?

Words and photos: Ally Siwajian © 2014

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Discover Your Dream, Influential Interviews

Musician Liam Kyle Cahill Shares “The Key To Happiness”

One autumn evening, I sat at a wooden cocktail table in a humble coffeehouse, and I listened to my friend Liam Kyle Cahill play his acoustic guitar to a small crowd of coffee drinkers and hopeful poets for Open Mic Night. Even with a short set, he garnered applause, and a song called “One Spark” particularly resonated with me that night. Now several years later, I still remember the chorus and its arresting guitar riffs.

Meet Liam Kyle Cahill.

Meet Liam Kyle Cahill, the musician with “The Key to Happiness.”

But Liam Kyle Cahill isn’t playing coffeehouses to build confidence these days. Rather, with his Ode to Wisconsin EP  under his belt and his first full-length album on the way, he’s taken stages across the country to play small shows with a gang of friends and a conglomeration of instruments: guitar, harmonica, drums, bass, mandolin, violin, piano, and even a string quartet.

As an artist, he’s evolved from a singer/songwriter into a man with the mentality of a full-blown producer. And his sound—it’s just as bold. (Think “Mumford & Sons in a bar room brawl with Bob Dylan at a punk rock concert,” as he’d say.) To polish it up, Liam Kyle Cahill’s lyrics stay true to his personable nature and big heart.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview my friend. Today we’re talking about life, his music, and his encouragement to fellow dreamers. So listen up, friends, and learn how to live it well!

(1) You’ve got a new album called The Key To Happiness. So what is the key to happiness?

LKC: Making music really—that’s what makes me as happy as anything! As far as the title, I think it was more about my pursuit of happiness and the lessons I’ve learned along the way…. When you make the choice to be happy, you are! That’s what I’ve found.

Liam Kyle Cahill on stage

Liam Kyle Cahill performs with friends at his “Ode to Wisconsin” EP release party.

(2) You’re following your dream, working in geology by day and writing songs at night. Congrats! Tell us a little more about your journey to pursue your passion for music—not to mention, rocks—and what it’s taken to get there.

Liam Kyle Cahill on stageLKC: Well, I graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a bachelor’s degree in Hydrogeology, and have spent the last three years doing exploration geology in different parts of Nevada and Utah. I have always connected with the outdoors, and was immediately drawn to that kind of lifestyle before I even knew how to hold a guitar.

But by the end of my senior year, I started writing my own songs and performing around town. The passion for music had always been there my whole life, but I finally had the outlet to create something that was uniquely me. Once I got a taste of that, I never stopped! Now I’m working to find the right balance, advancing both of these loves simultaneously.

(3) In your new song “Life Before Death,” you talk about that tension between nature and technology—that idea to slow down, “cut your chains and breathe life deep,” and really “live it, folks.” What inspired you to share this awesome message?

LKC: “Life Before Death” is a song based on a poem by John Muir, where he ponders these same ideas and what it means to be grateful for the lives we have. I took that idea one step further, challenging our dependency on technology and the control it has on our ability to be content in each moment that we live. Then I started reading Charles Dickens, and the basis for the song thickened. Dickens urges us to live with purpose and embrace the people around us by opening up our hearts and being vulnerable. And when it all comes down to it, that’s what I think music is really about.

(4) As we pursue our dreams, we need people to encourage us. Who’s been with you every step of the way for this project?

LKC_3LKC: There are a two people who fit that description, the first being my good friend and co-producer Dan Ruben. I met Dan at a show almost two years ago and we clicked instantly. When I first started to envision the scope of this record, Dan was able to bring those ideas right to life with bass, mandolin, and drum parts—and the rest is history!

Then there’s Tom Gordon: sound recording engineer, mixing engineer, co-producer, and friend. Nobody has pushed me to grow as a musician more than Tom during the recording sessions we’ve had this year, where he challenged my guitar playing and singing to become tighter than ever. Tom is like the quality control for the album, making sure we get just the right take before we move on to the next step.

(5) What advice do you have for your fellow dream-followers and friends?

LKC: In one of the last conversations that I had with my grandfather before he passed, I asked him what he felt was the most important advice that he could share about following my dreams, and I must admit his answer surprised me: “Don’t let the bastards get you down!” He lived his life by that rule and explained to me it doesn’t matter what other people think of you or your endeavor—if it’s your dream, then go for it!

One Spark cover art

Buy a pre-release copy of Liam Kyle Cahill’s album, and you’ll receive an immediate download of his single, “One Spark.”

Liam Kyle Cahill is currently raising funds to complete his 2014 album, The Key to Happiness. If you resonated with his story and his advice to fellow dreamers, then stop by Liam Kyle Cahill’s Indiegogo page to hear his music and buy a pre-release copy of his album. November 25, 2013, is the last day of this fundraising campaign, and LKC is giving all contributors an immediate download of the single, “One Spark.” As someone who’s been looking forward to a digital recording of this song since I first heard it in a coffeehouse, trust me: This music is worth the listen.

Words by: Ally Siwajian © 2013

Photo credit: Gary Micander and Alex Fleiner (All photos used by permission of Liam Kyle Cahill.)  

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Ally in Reno snow
Daily Life, Discover Your Dream, Stunted World Changers

Birthing the Dream

Dreams are easy to talk about, but they’re more difficult to do.

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Like a seed in the ground, it needs nourishment—from multiple sources—to break free of the tough dirt and sprout above the earth. A dream needs roots, roots that reach deep and anchor it, no matter the storms. It needs a caretaker, a gardener—someone who will take proactive measures to ensure it doesn’t die, but rather buds, grows, and flourishes.

Deciding to Dream

Ally in Reno snow

Northern Nevada: in my element

In January, I chose “Dream” to be my theme for the year. I’d tossed around ideas like Move, Simplify, and Hope. But Dream was the most daunting. That would require work, and through it, all other ideas would be achieved.

So I decided to dream.

Pretty soon, life began to change. Anthony and I felt our time as residents of Reno, Nevada, would be ending soon. I’d been in that town for seven years. We were involved in volunteer activities, loved our church family and local friends, and even considered buying a house.

But something in the back of our minds—rather in the corners of our hearts—rustled. We prayed and prayed and prayed. And we felt it—we are going to leave Reno.

Succumbing to Fear

Anthony and I debated our initial inklings. I continued to write articles about everything from cocktails to curtain designs to bring in money for bills and keep my freelance writing clients. Anthony continued to come home from his biomedical lab work distraught and drained.

Walden's latteOne Sunday afternoon, we sat across the table from a good friend, Ronnie, in one of our favorite Reno spots, Walden’s Coffeehouse. We’re not moving, we told him. There’s just too much on the line. Anthony has a stable job with good benefits. I can just keep flying to Las Vegas on weekends for work. We like it here. We’ll be fine.

Eyes wide, Ronnie missed his mouth and caught his chin in the milky foam of his tea. He plunked the ceramic mug to the tabletop.

“What I’m hearing right now is just a lot of fear.” He paused, wiped the edge of his short beard, then continued. Wherever you go, he said, whether you stay in Reno or move someplace else, God exists and He’s with you.

Discerning Safety Versus Security

Good friends’ words have a way of sticking with you. It was the challenge we needed. Several Sundays later, confirmation came.

4x4 trip with friends

To follow your dreams, be in community. Here’s part of ours: Ronnie, Colby, Anthony, me, and Claire. Snowballs help too.

An artistic fellow and friend, Colby, spoke with us after church. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between safety and security,” he said. Sometimes we choose what’s safe over what we’re intended to do and who we’re designed to become. That sets us upon a trajectory in a certain direction. When you choose safety over security, where does that path lead you?

Anthony and I thought about these words long and hard. It was time to go big or go home, we decided. We’d been going home for far too long. We opted to stop playing it safe.

Dreams Rewritten and Realized

When we chose to dream and we knew it was time for that dream to be realized, we discovered dreams pursued are not easy. They often don’t resemble the dynamics you expected. The framework shifts. The details are rewritten. But the core remains the same.

Los Angeles downtown skyline

Welcome to the downtown LA city skyline.

We dreamt of a place where I could work for a magazine and be surrounded by people to encourage. We wanted an opportunity that also would extract Anthony from a job that was killing him, to instead be in a place that would let him claim his dreams of being a writer—a fantasy novelist, to be exact.

We have found that place. Through a zany series of events, we pit-stopped in my hometown Las Vegas for three weeks, then landed full-time in Los Angeles, California.

It’s different, and sometimes it’s difficult when I think of the people we left behind in Nevada. But as my friend Natalie Rose wrote to me: “Change is hard. God is good.”

Now It’s Your Turn: Pans and Pickpockets Challenge

marigold sprouting

A dream must be birthed, then cultivated, cared for. Then, like a seed in the ground, it will bud, grow, and flourish.

Our dreams are becoming reality. I’d like to encourage you to determine your dreams too.

Start by seeking God with your whole heart. Determine your natural talents, and weigh if your dream is supported by these skills. Become prepared: in your emotional state, your developed talents, and amid a supportive community.

Then, be willing to wait for the right moment when God tells you it’s time at last.

Because the right dream, friends, it’s worth waiting for.

Leave a Comment: Scroll down and leave me a comment below.  I’d like to hear your dream. 

Words: Ally Siwajian

Photos: Ally Siwajian; group photo by Claire Stephens  © 2013

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trash can labeled landfill
Daily Life

You Know You’re a Renoite When…

Reno, Nevada, isn’t a place you move to; it’s a place you get stuck. At least that’s what I heard from a handful of locals while living in The Biggest Little City in the World. But as a seven-years-strong Renoite who recently relocated to The City of Angels (which is anything but), I can honestly say Reno is a place I’m proud to call a piece of home.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some pretty strange things about Reno. But when you live there, you start to adopt these little habits that, well, you don’t realize aren’t akin to the rest of the West Coast.

A friend from Hillside in Reno once called the Northern Nevada city “The Poor Man’s Portland.” There may be some sense to that. All I can say is: The dream is alive.

A little list of how much of a Renoite I am, despite living in Los Angeles:

Salad in a jar

Yes, it’s a salad in a jar. (Top secret hint: Build your salad from wet to dry ingredients, and it’ll last for three days in the fridge.)

1. I brought my refillable water bottle to work on my first day … and my to-go tea cylinder. Well, it just so happens that So. Cal. break-rooms are ripe with buy-in-bulk bottles of H20. Noted!

2. I make layered lunch salads in mason jars. Wait, why do I do this? *reviews list of Renoite uses for the mason jar: daily coffee mug, candle holder, whiskey jar, flower pot, table centerpiece, spaghetti noodle storage….*

3. I like running … on dirt trails. What, we have to run on sidewalks? This cement will ruin my cankles.

4. I thought Reno’s 395 had rush hour traffic. *sniggers in corner* Oh, hi, I-5! Yes, I remember how fun it was to drive my moving van along your bumper-to-bumper lanes of traffic for two and a half hours. Then my car… and… yeah.

5. I lament L.A. freeway overpasses in need of a good power-washing from decades of smog grime, graffiti, and pigeon poop. To think, I was scoffing at Reno’s city beautification project just months ago. Though I do maintain that butterfly sculpture at the downtown ice rink looks vaguely reminiscent of female organs. Come on, Reno.

trash can labeled landfill

Thank you, chain store coffee shop.

6. I want to be casual friends with my barista. Now I just get confronted by a cold metal can with whether I’ll contribute to protecting the earth or promoting landfills.

7. Bicyclists in Reno wear head-to-toe spandex and aerodynamic helmets. In Los Angeles, they sport straw fedoras and carry enormous striped tote bags.

8. In Reno, I would drive home early to avoid death by iced-over roads at night. But living in Los Angeles, I was told to leave work early to dodge death by Dodgers fans in a traditional takeover of all downtown roads on Opening Day.

9. The great outdoors up north means wide-open space, scenic views, and plenty of solitude. In the big city, it’s a park with graffitied tree stumps. What, I ask, would one gain by tagging a stump?

Lake Tahoe in winter

You just can’t beat views like this. Thank you, Reno-Tahoe, for this moment.

10. I wave at people and ask, “How’s it going?” when we cross paths. I’m sure someone walking along will wave back someday. I mean, with L.A.’s constantly gorgeous weather and no sight of snow, who wouldn’t want to celebrate with me?

Anybody resonate with these? Leave me a comment with how you feel about Reno, L.A., or the differences between your hometown and your latest city. 

Photos and writing: Ally Siwajian © 2013

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desert road in winter
Connectivity, Daily Life, Stunted World Changers

Change is Hard. God is Good.

I used to worry when I heard the sound of a helicopter’s blades whirring and pumping somewhere above my neighborhood at night. It used to be rare—the sign of cops looking for someone who was making himself hard to find. Now that sound is normal.

So are the sounds of sirens. Of music blaring from passing cars. Of children’s feet hitting the pavement in the outdoor hallway beyond my apartments’ windows and of a young girl next door singing. Singing because she sounds beautiful—to her ears—and she hasn’t learned yet to care what other people might think.

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks now.

How do I encapsulate the twists and turns of a road from Reno, Nevada, to Los Angeles? How can I capture the dreams Anthony and I shared—dreams that came true and yet somehow came so unexpectedly but expectantly.

desert road in winter

In March 2012, Anthony and I drove home from church one evening and sat slumped in our car’s seats in our Reno apartment’s dark parking lot. God has forgotten us, we thought. We bought the lie—that America sells.

We wanted simple: to be, to live and to love. But we had traded it for convenience. Somewhere between rent payments, electronic gadgets, a desire to dine at restaurants instead of cook at home, and a whole mess of being over-committed for all the right reasons to all the right things but to too much at the same time.  We had forgotten how to say ‘no.’ And we felt buried.

Let’s run away and move to Canada, we thought. I have enough extended family there that it just might work. We could live in Nanaimo. Write books. Stay in a little secluded cabin made of cedar wood. We could disappear, and we could be free.

But there’s this problem called relationship. People die of starvation from the human connection.

Dreams of that kind of freedom quickly became overrun with realities of isolation. While utter escape sounded appealing to a couple of introverts, we knew that pace couldn’t be sustained any healthier than our current state of rat-race numbness.

So we stayed.

The college version of myself would have scoffed. Don’t settle, I would have said. Just do something.

But sometimes “just do something” can be just as harmful. I might send myself spiraling as I force my way forward, on the wrong path, misstep, and fall flat on my face.

Sometimes we aren’t called to just do something. Sometimes we’re called to wait. Because when we wait by continuing the slow, steady walk of what we know how to do, we find clarity. Then when the clinging fog clears, you can see the rocks in the road and see the paths you should take.

I waited in Reno for one year. Then seven years from my initial entry point into that city, I knew: It was finally time to go. But when I went to leave, I realized I’d done it the right way for once. I’d planted roots. When we moved, we missed those we left behind. We’d have to start over, start fresh. But that’s okay.

Relationship with people and with God is what I seek in this life. If I don’t jump in—if I instead allow myself to be numb in the waiting seasons—then I’ll never know the joy of stepping into my purpose.

 —

Leave a Comment: What do you think about waiting? 

  —

Special thanks to Natalie Heifner who told me: “Change is hard. God is good.” and to Louie D. Locke for showing Anthony and me how to wait but wait well. 

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youth group in winter
Connectivity, Daily Life

This is my church

This is a church where jeans prevail over dress pants, and women won’t look down on you for failing to acknowledge Jesus with a dress’ knee-length hemline.

This is a church where you walk in and people know your name. And if you’ve taken the time to ask, you know their names too. Debi. Petey. Tim. Joni. Louie. Colby. Claire. Rod. Kate. Danae. Ronnie. Katy. Geneva. John. Chris. Tiffany. Andrew.

In this church, we take time to connect over free-of-charge coffee and tea and pastries that a certain coffee chain kindly donates to our Sunday morning services. Kids race each other, ducking in and out of rows of maroon, cushioned chairs purchased for our building by the lively Spanish congregation that meets in our sanctuary in the evenings. A pair of three-year-old girls eye the Communion crackers that haven’t been eaten, and no one smacks their hands for wanting to participate in this symbolic reflection of remembering to come into union with Jesus.

In this church, I’ve found a family. I’ve discovered more about who God has created me to be, and I’ve been given opportunities to live that out in real, tangible ways.youth group in winter

I’ve learned so much from my church family and from a compassionate pastor who wears baseball jerseys and Doc Martens when it snows. I’ve learned nature is a gift, to be explored and enjoyed. I’ve learned to care for my body as well as my mind and spirit. I’ve learned to lead we must serve, and I’ve learned we must go beyond the church doors with love, hope, and mercy if we wish to see true change in the world.

I’ve learned it’s okay to be who I am. It’s okay to love nerdy books, and it’s all right to talk about how I was inspired by The Hobbit or The Dark Knight Rises or The Return of the Jedi.

In this church, I realized it’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to experience emotions. Then instead of exploding like a shaken soda can, it’s good to ponder these feelings, give them to God as David does in Psalm 4, and invite a friend to help you in your journey.

In this church, I have learned how true it is that it is not good to be alone. We need each other. We’re a community. It’s not an unhealthy dependency that demands we always function in stride. No, it’s a healthy unit, a working body, a family that knows when to give advice and when to simply share a story and when to provide a car when yours is broken down or make a meal to take home when you’re out of food or say a prayer that communicates I really do care and I will be thinking about you.

In this church, I have rediscovered my voice. I have discovered who I am. I have discovered what God wants of women—not for us to be quiet when we should speak—but for us to embrace who He created us to each be. Unique. Beautiful. Relational. Powerful. Unified with sisters and brothers.

In this church, I have overcome grief. I have survived the deaths of a friend and a family member, and I have seen healing power overwhelm my husband‘s sickness.

In this church, age doesn’t matter. I have been invited to the table of a couple who already have shared their fortieth wedding anniversary, and I have held hands with a child as she showed me plants in her family’s backyard. I have danced. I have sung. I have attended a rock show within these walls. I have seen people overcome thoughts of suicide. I have dreamed of days in the future, and I have been encouraged to continue.

In this church, I realized the power of God’s redemptive story. He loves me deeply, and He loves you. He wants relationship with us, and He wants to empower us to become people who pursue Him and care for those around us.

I’m still learning. My life does not reflect a complete picture of Jesus. But I hope when people see this church, they see a little piece of the puzzle we are working to complete.

In this church and beyond its walls, we all matter. We all contribute to the puzzle. And I’m looking to the box cover with its perfect example, to find where I fit in this design.

Photo credit: Debi Johnson (from my church)  © 2012

Author: Ally Siwajian

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Ally and Anthony by rustic wooden wall
Connectivity, Daily Life

Why We Read Stories as We Live Them

Ally and Anthony by rustic wooden wallWe met about this time many years ago—Anthony and I—in a cold classroom in an antique brick building at the University of Nevada. I remember his laugh, full-bodied and genuine.

I often sat at a narrow desk in the classroom’s back corner, dressed in my black snowboarding jacket and flared jeans. My brown hair was styled in a punk-inspired pixie cut. I felt so empowered with short hair, as if I had to prove my femininity in other ways than long locks.

Anthony had longer hair then. It grazed the nape of his neck and flipped to the sides. But he was always clean-shaven, except for the tuft of chest hair that peeked above his Threadless T-shirts. His denim jeans shredded at the hems, and his shoes featured holes that revealed his gray-toed socks. He wore those “animal shoes” every day, even in winter.

We met in winter, in January. But I wouldn’t truly notice him until spring more than a full year later. In class, he was just the funny guy. He cracked jokes, quoted “South Park” with reckless abandon, and laughed without restraint. He also had a knack for having all the right answers, sometimes to an annoying degree. But the guy did his homework. I appreciated that fact.

That semester, we had both registered for a class that became the basis for our friendship. Although the course was billed as Twentieth Century British Literature, the course description made its field of study quite clear. This class focused exclusively on author J. R. R. Tolkien. Anthony and I independently chose this quest for our mutual adoration of The Lord of the Rings.

Now, five years later, I can think of no better starting point for our adventure.

In the pages of Tolkien’s book, we discovered tales of men and women who suffered hardship, endured grief, and received for their toils the greatest joys of all. In its pages, the word “hope” appeared in earnest. In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, committed people do what they must for the good of others. In doing so, they find the good within themselves, even if they might misstep into darkness along the way.

Hope always exists, and good always wins. This story enlivens as a metaphor for our own world. But its symbolism changes, walking alongside our perceptions as we absorb each word.

Ally and Anthony hold book pages

We hold the pages between us, as two stories become one tale.

That’s the power of stories. No matter who you are, you can find yourself amid the pages. You relate. Not to the literal situations, but to the emotions characters feel as they survive those fictionalized moments that, in the moment, feel all too real.

We’ve been here before, we realize as we read.

Isn’t that why we read?

Now the stories of my books become my stories. We march in tandem as I flip each page, knowing and believing and understanding and feeling.

It’s that feeling that brought us here in the first place.

Had we not taken these steps to grasp the cover and peruse the pages, to so desire to immerse ourselves in the world and to take a chance on awaiting adventure, we may have never met at all.

“I’m glad you’re with me” for we were meant to go together.

Photograph credit: Jamison Frady of Quiet Art Photography © 2010   (Photos feature Ally and Anthony in January, two years after we met.)

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