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Friday, October 24, 2014

Perserving Peppers

It is October 22nd, and although we have had some light frosts, it hasn't been enough to knock out the garden yet. Because of this, I am still bringing in tomatoes and peppers. which I have been enjoying having this late in the month!

Not too long ago, I brought in a nice batch of peppers to put away for winter use.  This year I am freezing sweet peppers mainly for pizza toppings and pickling banana peppers to put on our sandwiches. 

To start with, I'll give you a glimpse of how I freeze my sweet peppers.  It's really pretty simple.
After washing them up, I cut around the core in order to pull out the seeds.  I then cut them into thirds with the contour of the pepper. I used to dice them up when I froze them fresh. Now I just leave them in their thirds since they are so easy to break or chop into different sizes when frozen.

If you have the time to chop (which I didn't this year), I would suggest blanching them.  If you add this extra step, you will help stop the enzymes that cause the breakdown of nutrients.  To do this, simply chop the peppers into the size you wish to use them as, drop them into boiling water for 2 minutes or steam them until tender, and then cool them in ice water for the same amount of time to stop the cooking process.

Whether blanched or prepared fresh, I then spin the water off of them to help them freeze nicer and bag them up.

My favorite method of bagging things for the freezer is to portion out meal size portions into sandwich baggies and then place these into a gallon zip lock, which I will reuse and redate from year to year. I have found this keeps my foods easy to use, keeps them from being frosted, and is more economical than lots of smaller freezer bags.

And that's that.  I love to pull out sweet peppers for not only our pizza toppings,  but also for casseroles, stir fry, or other dishes!



Another favorite way to preserve peppers is pickling banana peppers.  This is a tad bit more involved, but it is well worth it for me.
After washing these peppers, I prepare them by slicing off the top and stem, running a slit lengthwise down the pepper, and using my finger to slide out the seeds.  The pepper is then cut in rings.  I used to remove the seeds without slicing the pepper so that I would have true rings, but that didn't last many batches after considering the time it took.  If you don't mind your peppers a bit hotter (I prefer as mild as I can get), you can also leave the seeds in.

Here are my peppers, all sliced up.

The next step is to let them soak in a cool salt water bath.  This helps keep your peppers crisp when they are canned. I prepared 12 cups of peppers so I used 1 cup canning salt dissolved in 12 cups of water.

I just combine my salt, water, and pickles in the pot I will be cooking them in, and stick it in the fridge overnight. 

The following day, when I get around to it, I finish preparing them.  I thoroughly rinse and drain my peppers and set them aside while I prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Using the pan they had been soaking in, I combined 2 cups water, 6 cups vinegar, 3 T sugar, and 2 cloves of garlic. I then simmered this for 15 minutes.

Once it was done simmering I discard the garlic cloves, brought the liquid to a boil, and added in the peppers so they could heat before packing them into my jars. 


The jars were packed, the hot liquid was added until 1/4 inch of head space, and lids and rings were put on. Finally, I processed my jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

And there you have it, pickled peppers to be used throughout the year, a great addition to many sandwiches, as pictured in this post!

The next pepper preserving recipe I would like to try is pepper jelly for our pork chops.  Anyone have a blue ribbon recipe? :)

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Tools of My Trade


The recipe for my pickled peppers was adapted from this preserving guide, which includes the complete instructions and process as well as many more wonderful recipes! 




This little salad spinner is perfect for spinning water out of peppers and berries for freezing, which greatly improves the quality of the frozen produce.  Not only that, but it is wonderful to spin batches of lettuce from the home garden, helping the lettuce to last longer in the fridge.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Not so Urgencies in Harvesting Garlic

About 10/11 months ago I wrote a post about The Urgencies in Planting Garlic.  I was grateful to not only have the help of my children, but to also have the time together with them.

When spring came, the garlic greens appeared.  As summer progressed, the greens eventually died back.  I knew soon enough that I had missed the prime time to harvest my first ever planting of garlic, but my summer had struck a difficult balance as I was attempting to not overdue things and stay rested with the little one that I am carrying.

Because of this, my garlic continued to rest in the garden soil.

As I have needed garlic this year, I have dug what my recipes call for.  And as the seasons changed to fall, the greens of my garlic reappeared - reminding me just how many bulbs remained from my planting last fall.

Today I headed out to the garden to gather tomatoes and peppers that are tempting the first frost to come. While in the garden, I caught a glimpse of my garlic greens again, tempting me to dig them up.

Although I had decided that my work in the garden was done after the Farm Crawl, to be replaced with a more restful pace and preparation for our little one to arrive in the next few weeks, the call of garlic got the best of me.  So I slowly and carefully dug up my garlic. 

As I mentioned, this was my first attempt at planting garlic.  Because of this, I haven't gathered much knowledge when it comes to garlic growing . . . but I'm guessing that digging garlic when it has started to regrow again isn't the best for flavor or storage.  Even so, I am hoping that it will at least be better than no garlic.

After I dug my garlic, I brought it in the house. There was quite a bit of mud on them so I broke apart the cloves, cleaned them off, and divided them into two piles.  (I'm sure I would have been better off digging them when it was drier and leaving the cloves together - but they they probably never would have been dug. ) The first pile that contained the larger cloves was braided and hung up to dry. The pile with the smaller cloves was put into a breathable produce storage bag in the fridge, in hopes that they can be replanted this fall (maybe after Baby is born??) for some sort of garlic harvest next year (Yeah, I know I'm probably supposed to plant the bigger cloves - but I wanted to use these this year, especially not knowing if I will be able to replant.)

Trial and error is common here on our beginning farm, and with this garlic growing attempt there was probably as much error in my trial as any. I'm sure there are probably garlic experts out there chuckling at me, especially when I have Google at the tip of my fingers telling me what I could do or should have done at this point.  I won't feel offended though if comments are shared to guide me in future garlic growing attempts, and I'd much rather here from my blog friends than from Google anyway. :)

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Recieve a Free Bar of My Soap!

I realize I've been absent from my blog for awhile.  It's been a full summer with trying to prepare and keep in good health with the new baby coming (less than 2 months now!), along with keeping up with the garden.  Our tiller blew up earlier summer, just about when I was ready to put the mulch down. Because of that, I've been battling weeds by hand - a battle that I've had trouble keeping up with.  Thankfully, we have a new tiller engine in our kitchen, and next year I plan on very little weeding again after a good tilling and layer of mulch!

Another project I've been working on is restocking our Crooked Gap Farmcrafted Soap supply for the upcoming Farm Crawl.  I completely sold out this spring with one of our events, and it has been a slow processes restocking my supply since I'm pretty exhausted after the kids get to bed  - which is my soap making time.  I think I've finally built up a good supply for the Farm Crawl though.

With that said, these two bars are my newest bars, and I am having trouble naming them.  I would love your suggestions, and if I pick a name you suggest, I will mail you a free bar for your help!

The first bar is made with my basic soap recipe, tumeric, and cocoa powder.  The second soap is made with my basic recipe and tumeric powder as well. (I was excited to recently stumble across tumeric as a natural colorant with great benefits.  You can read about it here.)

If you have any great name suggestions, just click on this link to my Facebook post and leave them in the comments.  I'll decide on my final name before the Farm Crawl, this October 5th.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

County Fair 2014

Early this month was our county fair.

I usually don't get super excited about county or state fair.  I was in 4-H growing up, and I would go to fair just long enough to take my projects, participate in the pet show, and take part in the pie baking contest. One year I did the broiler project - having to raise and process 50 broilers.  One year was enough for that.

I rarely walked through any parts of the fair besides where I needed to go.  I really prefer to stay away from big crowds (unless it's a gathering of people I know or will get to know), and if I have to dodge piles of manure and smell animals, I would rather do that on a farm.

Even so, over the last number of years we have taken a handful of trips to the county fair and almost yearly trips to the state fair. State fair was something Ethan grew up doing with his dad each year, and he dreamed of being a fair kid hanging out with his livestock in the livestock barn.  They made a full day of their trip, checking out all the fair had to offer - minus the food stands as they would retreat for an afternoon lunch at the car. Once we started our family, Ethan became excited about taking our kids. And although I really was not that interested in the fair experience, I did really like spending a day Ethan and the kids.

Now that our oldest has finished 4th grade, however, fair has taken on a new twist since he is also in 4-H.  If you've listened to Ethan's podcast that includes Caleb as a guest, you might have caught that we spent more or less an entire week at the county fair mid July as Caleb took took in his projects and showed sheep, chickens, and rabbits, adding in the daily chores at the fair too. Even though we have made sure that what Caleb takes and shows reflects his work, Ethan can now be a "fair dad" in those barns even though he didn't get to be a "fair kid".

I do have to say, that fair is much more enjoyable when you have someone you know showing things there - especially when it is your kid. And I will admit that I really didn't mind hanging out at fair so much this year, and I did spend quite a bit of time in the livestock barns too.

And to also add a bit more draw for me, I discovered that there is a building previously hidden from me on the fair grounds for open class entries - a place where you can take various homemaking items to be judged for awards. I found out about this last minute, but I was able to dig through my closets and pantry to grab a few things to enter that I had worked on over the year, many of which received placings.

I didn't take a ton of things since I didn't know if my jars would be opened (and unable to be consumed after fair), and I didn't want to spend the money on ingredients for baked goods that we wouldn't get to eat either. Now I know though that jars aren't opened, that garden produce does not have to be fully ripe, and that you also get to take home 3/4 of each baked good once they have been judged. (And that pies go in 2 days after canned goods . . . something good to know so your crust stays nice!)

So here I am, just weeks after the fair, and I'm thinking about what all I can set aside to take to fair next year.  Part of it is because it adds a little excitement to the mundane tasks of my day/year (I would have taken so many more canned goods if I knew they would have remained sealed.), and some of it is that it is fun to get a little bit of premium money which I have picked a purpose for (although there are lots of ways to save money at home, it's a bit harder to generate money.).

Still, I think the best part of county fair is the time spent with my family, and now also seeing our kids enjoy taking part in fair with their interests.

Caleb's Livestock Awards for Sheep, Poultry, and Rabbits

Caleb's Projects and Awards
Hannah's 4-H Clover Kids (K-3rd grade) Projects and Recognitions


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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Preserving Strawberries

One of my favorite seasons in the garden is strawberry season.  I have to say that it is by far my favorite garden crop. 

When I was a young girl I used to sit in my mom's strawberry patch and devour the strawberries. In high school I worked at a strawberry patch for a few summers as a picker in the morning and sales in the afternoon.  I also consumed a bit of strawberries (and strawberry shortcake and strawberry smoothies!) there.

Now I have my own strawberry patch.  And yes, I still sit in the middle of the patch and eat strawberries.  Lots of them.

I have grown to know my habits though, so I have planted a big enough batch to support my in patch strawberry eating, to supply fresh strawberries for my kids to enjoy, and to have extras to preserve.

Strawberry season is now over, but for about 2 1/2 - 3 weeks, weather pending, I bring in a batch of strawberries like the ones pictured here every other day.  (Not pictured are the cups of strawberries that I have eaten in the patch that day.) The best thing is that my patch is still expanding!

It takes around an hour or so to work through the patch to pick the berries.  Remember, I pause often.   When I get them into the house, I find a spot for them in my fridge until I can spend another hour or so preparing them, which is usually the opposite day of picking.

Last year I would freeze or preserve them as jam by the individual batch.  This year, however, I have shaken things up a bit and separate out the larger berries for freezing and the smaller berries for jam within each batch.  This has seemed to work out well for me. 


To start with, I fill my sink with cold water and dump my berries in.  I swish them around a bit with my hands, drain the water, and repeat until the water is clear.  It usually only takes a couple of fills.


Next, I fill my strainer as much as possible to drain some water, followed by placing them in my salad spinner.  I don't have too many kitchen gadgets in the house, but I do love my salad spinner.  Not only does it help my garden lettuce to stay fresher longer, but it has made preserving all of my varieties of berries so much more efficient and improves their quality. (Especially the raspberries which hold water so well in their empty core.)


I spin the water off of the berries, one bowl at a time.  As I remove them from the spinner, I destem them.  I have tried many methods for destemming strawberries, including using many gadgets at the berry patch.  My favorite method is by far using a thin baby spoon which quickly scrapes/pops off the tip with very little berry waste. The berries are then divided into a bowl for smaller berries and a bowl for larger berries. The smaller berries are placed back into the fridge until there is enough for a batch of jam, usually within another picking or two.

The next tool that I use is an egg slicer.  This slicer quickly and evenly slices berries to the perfect size, and held upside down, it drops them right onto my pan for freezing.  I could freeze them whole, but I have found that the berries don't get used up as quickly when they are sliced as you can get so many more berry bites with sliced berries.


For my freezing pans, I just cover cookie sheets with washed cereal box sacks. They are cheap (free), sturdy, and the berries come right off of them.  As pictured, I spread my berries across the pan, being careful that they don't overlap much which helps them freeze individually.


I used to just flash freeze them to the point where the outer layer was frozen, but I have changed to freezing them overnight to where they are completely frozen. I have found that they are just easier to work with this way.  Once they are frozen, I simply crumple up the cereal bag from the outside in, make a pile of berries in the middle, and then lightly push on the pile with the cereal bag covering them in order to separate any berries that have stuck together.

They then get put into sandwich baggies, 2 cups at a time.  Just as I do when canning my sweet corn and other veggies, these sandwich baggies get placed into a gallon freezer bag.  This method allows me to grab out, or shake out, just the portion of berries that I want.

This year I froze a new record of 32 baggies, or around 64 cups, of strawberries.  They will be enjoyed in our homemade oatmeal and occasionally over ice cream.  I'm looking forward to freezing even more next year!

And then there is the jam. As I mentioned, the smaller berries get set aside and used for jam. This year I made 2 batches of strawberry jam, equaling 18 1/2 pints.  I could have made another batch or two, but we had a big event coming up on the farm that needed my attention so we just ate the rest of the little berries, which was just fine!

You can find the instructions for jam making in any Sure-Gel packet, but I thought I would just add some snap shots of my kids helping me and some basics of the process. 

Jonathan, my 3 year old did a great job helping smash the berries for me with a potato masher.
Isaac, our 5 year old, helped measure out the sugar needed.  I have heard that when making jam you want to use 100% pure cane sugar and not sugar which includes beet sugar.  Apparently, beet sugar does not allow the jam (or jelly) to set well, and it can end up runny.  I've never experimented with the sugar which contains beet sugar, but the 100% cane sugar has always given me a nice set.

Once the berries were mashed and sugar measured, Hannah, our 8 year old, added in our packet of Sure-Gel to the berries.

The berries were then heated to a rolling boil, and then the sugar was quickly added in, returning everything to a rolling boil again for the appropriate amount of time.  This is a step where I ask the kids to stay back since there is often some very hot splattering going on.

Once the cooking process was done, preheated jars were filled with jam.

Rims were wiped clean.

And heated lids and bands were placed on the jars as Hannah fished them out of the heated water.


The jars were then placed back into the pot to process which I had them heating in, this time filled with berry goodness. 
And after their processing time was complete, they were pulled out to cool.


Once the jars were cool, I labeled them and had each of the kids who helped put their initials on the rim of the jar as well.  As talked about in a previous post, throughout the year, as we enjoy produce preserved from our farm, we acknowledge who all helped with the meals being served and remember the memories made, something that the kids now find great enjoyment in!

Usually, after strawberry season I am move right along to the next season of my garden. This year, however, there is a bit of a lull due to the garden getting in later than I would have liked - a combination of a rough 1st trimester of pregnancy, a challenging end to our home school year, and projects that needed to be accomplished on the farm outside of the garden.

As I try to remind myself often, I just need to be faithful with what I have been given and trust the Lord to provide in His own way through the areas and times that seem to be challenging as well as the times areas and times filled with ease.  At least I know that this year I will get to enjoy the (strawberry) fruits of my labor!

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Tools of My Trade

I was given an egg slicer as a wedding present, and I don't think I have sliced more than a dozen hard boiled eggs with one. I have, however, sliced gallons upon gallons of strawberries to freeze and bananas to dehydrate with one. My original egg slicer broke a wire, and I tried to replace it with one from a nearby store which quickly broke as well.  After reading many reviews, this slicer went on my Christmas list.  It is a tad more expensive than others, but I give it heavy use and it is holding up great!


This little salad spinner is perfect for spinning water out of berries for freezing, which greatly improves the quality of the berries frozen.  Not only that, but it is wonderful to spin batches of lettuce from the home garden, helping the lettuce to last longer in the fridge.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Guinea Keets are Hatched!


These past few days my first batch of guinea keets have been hatching.  It has been a rather strange hatch, since one hatched on Monday, Tuesday the majority hatched, Wednesday a few more, and this afternoon (Thursday) I found another egg that has just started pipping. Considering I set them all the same day in the same incubator, I have been a bit confused at the spread of the hatch, but I'll take it.

Tonight I pulled the eggs from the incubator that did not show any signs of development, using a flashlight shining through to illuminate the egg. Normally, I would have done this before I put them into the hatcher (a few days before the hatch), but because there were eggs starting to pip through early, I just wanted to get them in the hatcher.

So for my counting and math - I set 150 eggs, 45 did not show signs of development, and only a handful of the unhatched eggs left did show development to some degree. These appeared to have stopped developing partway through though. I had 92 chicks hatch, giving me a hatch rate of 87%.  (If you are observant, you may have caught that 2 of the keets are a different color too.)

I'm pretty happy with the hatch rate, a little disappointed with the number of undeveloped eggs.  We keep a rooster to hen ratio of about 1:5.  Considering these guineas are not enclosed by any means, maybe that ratio needs to change a bit.  I also held onto the eggs approximately 5 weeks before putting them into the incubator, which could have been a bit long to collect and hold onto them.

If you remember in my previous post, I was unsure of if my guineas would continue laying after I set this batch, as I was having trouble finding more eggs.

Well, they hadn't.  They just changed locations. 

While I was in the garden one afternoon, I heard a few guineas across the road and in some trees by the ditch.  I had heard them here a few times so I decided to take a little walk. 

A wonderful thing happens when the grass gets taller.  You can see the guinea highways. It is hard to tell from this picture, but they trample down a path through the tall grasses on their most frequently traveled routes.  If you look carefully, you should be able to find this route by the grass seed heads that cannot be seen, as they have been laid down.

I hopped on this guinea freeway, and it quickly led me to a new stash of eggs, which held over 60.  It didn't take me long to have a new batch of over 150 eggs collected to put into the incubator, which were all under 3 weeks old when I put them in.  (If I wasn't so far behind this spring, I would search to see if I could find another nest, but this one will do for now.)

I asked Ethan just how many guineas he wanted me to hatch this year, and it looks like I will continue collecting eggs!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Storm Shelter Blunders and Waiting Projects

We are now entering our 6th summer living on the farm.  Isaac, just like each of the other kids when they were born, accompanied a major life change. (Which makes me a bit curious to see what will happen with this baby!) We moved into our partially finished house on the farm in October of 2008, and Isaac was born in November.

I would think that after 5 full years of living on the farm, we would be a bit more settled in. With Ethan still working off of the farm, however, and with the kids at home and homeschooling, there is still much settling in to do.

If you would switch one of the above - either Ethan being on the farm full time or myself being on the farm without kids, I'm sure we would be settled in.  The fact is, starting up our farm would be impossible without Ethan working extra jobs, and we have kids.

I have had a number of young couples considering farming and family ask me if it is a good idea to start a farm and start a family at the same time or if it is a good idea to start a farm with a young family.

My response . . . it is hard.  It would be so much easier for me to not have children right now so I could be a better help to Ethan in our farm setup. Either I could go to work and provide more income to allow Ethan to be on the farm more, or I could do more of the farming. Everything would move along so much faster - getting settled in, getting the business established, and turning profits sooner. But I wouldn't trade our kids for any of that. They are a blessing, and they add richness, joy, and fullness to what we are doing. I can't imagine farming without them.

So with that introduction, here are some projects that I worked on today. Projects that I wish were further along then they were, in terms of weeks and years, but they aren't. Projects that I'm sure would be done if we didn't have kids or if I wasn't expecting, but projects that will get done in due time.

First off, the storm shelter. The picture below (sorry for the post in the middle) shows the dirt work around our storm shelter before last spring.  It was roughly done with a skid loader when they installed the shelter in 2010, and for 3 years after that it was used by any animals that made it to the yard (which the cows and sheep did often before we got our yard fence in) for king of the mountain.


The dirt work badly needed to be redone, not just for visual appeal and the ability to plant on it as I wanted, but also to keep the storm shelter insulated properly to be used as a root cellar.  It had been put on hold amidst our settling in for too long, so late last spring I spent 8-9 hours one day with a shovel on the storm shelter moving dirt and shaping the storm shelter mound.  I remember vividly because it was about 98 degrees that day and I ended up sick with mild heat stroke that evening. (Yes, having children slows me down, but I am also very stubborn when I want a project done badly enough.)

Even so, I got the project done.

Or so I thought . . . until this winter.

One day, after a thaw and refreeze, I went to go get some produce from the storm shelter, which was packed with potatoes, apples, carrots, and squash. 

I would soon discover that with the dirt work I had done the spring before, I had made the lowest part of the storm shelter's base right in front of the door. Perfect for melting snow to collect and refreeze into a solid chunk of ice, making it impossible to open the door.

Thankfully, Ethan came to my rescue a couple of times and chipped through inches of ice so that I could gather up a couple week's worth of produce to store in the house to be used, but with his full schedule of off farm work, I only asked this of him a few times.

So the majority of the winter my produce was frozen shut in its cozy root cellar. By this spring, bags of potatoes has sprouted (I used them for my seed potatoes) and the squash and carrots were done for.  Thankfully, the boxes of apples remained good and are making rounds through my food dehydrator to be apple chips now.

This spring has been a slow spring for me.  Since the start, this pregnancy has knocked me down a bit more than the others. I have just entered my 5th month and have been over the sickness stage for a couple weeks now, but I can still tell that this pregnancy is effecting me a bit differently.  The humidity of the last week or so has especially been hard, mainly making the air feel much heavier and more difficult to breath than it has before.

All of that to say, I am a bit behind where I would like to be concerning all things outside. But it is a season, and one that is well worth it.

So this evening, seeing that the forecast was bringing rain, I decided to start my grass seeding - hoping that it isn't too late yet.

Over the last week I have very slowly been trenching out around the storm shelter to provide proper drainage in front of the door. I finished up tonight by tilling the area I trenched to smooth it, and then I seeded it.  My kids by the way, joined me by helping rake seed in and bringing the straw over in a wagon and spreading it. (If you look closely, you will see the rock walls I made last spring on either side of the door to prevent erosion, along with the fence that surrounds the shelter to keep livestock off! There are also marigolds starting to grow which self reseeded from last year's flowers.)

Along with tilling and seeding around the storm shelter, I also tilled up and seeded two areas of hard packed dirt on the side of our house, another project that has been waiting to be done since we built our house, as the construction equipment followed by heavy traffic areas of feet and market loading (from the sliding door) has prevented grass from growing. (You might also notice the tree cages stuck in the straw that I put together in the shade of the porch today - for trees that I wish I could have acquired and planted the year we moved to the farm.)

And then there is the garden. This afternoon, when my lungs were telling me to move at a snail's pace, I did a bit of weeding . . . or mostly eating strawberries straight from the patch. I am kind of embarrassed to put a picture of my garden up. Most everything is planted now, but it is all weeks behind schedule.  I would also like to have it mulched by now, but I will hit that the next cool/non humid week that comes up.

The reason for my post. My personality is one that likes to have my ducks in a row, things tidied up, and checks flying across the checklist of things to do. I often look around at all of the projects I would love to have done here on the farm.  Projects that fall behind running the farm and projects that fall behind being a wife and a mom.  Projects that I wish would have been completed years prior and projects that rely on seasons which are passing quickly.

But more important than seasonal projects are the seasons of life. And as I have been slowed down even more this spring, I have been remembering the gifts of the season that I am in. A season to anticipate another blessing in our family, and a season to invest in the 4 blessings we have already been given. 

A season that I wouldn't trade for a list of completed projects by any means.


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