All posts by brendaviola

About brendaviola

Brenda Viola is a “love evangelist” on a mission to connect fabulous people using life-learned truths, humor and all types of inspiration to encourage men and women to live life joyfully.

Tony the Transformer (and the New WOW)

Some people are transformers by their very nature. My brother-in-law, Tony, whose “birfday” is today is just that kinda guy.

Tony joined the Air Force and was stationed in New Mexico, where he and Shirlee lived for their first years of marriage.

They say that inspired peoples’ energy changes the atmosphere. From the time this wide-eyed 12-year old girl met this hurricane of a man, Tony has made an impact on every room he enters.

Full disclosure: He was my sister’s boyfriend, but I had a HUGE crush on him.

Who wouldn’t?

These were the days of Saturday Night Fever, and man could this Italian heartthrob DANCE.  He didn’t have practiced, official moves.  But he tore it up with his own Northeast Philly disco swagger.

I loved when HE offered to pick me up after the middle-school dance.  He’d strut up to the cafeteria, cigarette in hand, John Travolta-like hair – and collect ME.  Yep, I was the luckiest girl at Cleary Junior High.

What’s that sound? Just the tears of heartbroken women throughout the Delaware Valley when they learned Tony DiBacco was “off the market.”

Oh, and he can SING, too.  No, he never really knows the words, but they’re always on key.  He does a MEAN Elvis and, had the course of his life gone a different way, I have no doubt he would be some kind of an entertainer.

Tony DiBacco is surely a star in my universe.

With my father’s death just a couple of years before Tony entered the picture, we three Costello girls were kind of somber.  Mom had to try and simply maintain the inner and outer workings of running a household, while valiantly serving as mom AND dad to her 15-year-old, Shirlee, and 10-year-old me.

There was no Christmas tree for us the year after Daddy died.

Then Tony swept Shirlee off of her feet and we then experienced SUPER-SIZED Christmases. So many presents!  So much fun opening them!  He would shake every box elaborately and try to guess what was inside.

Tony, to this day, brings electricity to any party.  He constantly cracks one-liners, is unfailingly generous, as handsome as ever…and today, when thinking about our Word of the Week, Transformation, it felt right to devote the column to him.

Tony, I love you.  Thanks for being a wonderful brother and husband to my sissy.  Thanks for always being full of life and fun.  You are a treasure!

I pondered how to transform my own life in 2018, and hope you will understand and support a big decision I reveal in this week’s video:

Looking forward to wearing my forgiving clothes with you over the next two weeks!

And feel free to wish Tony a Happy Birfday (he never pronounces the “th”) in the comments!

xoxoxoxo

Love,

Brenda

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Let Your Heart De-Light (and the New WOW)

The carol goes, “Let your heart BE light…” but I’m flipping it to “Let your heart DE-light” in honor of our recent Word of the Week.

There’s nothing like treats in the mail (instead of bills) to delight your heart, and my cup ran over with jelly and jam joy with this package from my Aunt Joan upon my return to Sarasota:

Aunt Joan gets regular shout outs on this blog for her constant love and support.  However, she will be scolded this week for totally blowing any semblance of my diet with her amazing “What are they called?” fruity, crumbly cookies.

I ate them all.

Myself.

But the pièce de résistance of her over-the-top gift package was the silver cuff that sits atop the jams in the above photo, engraved with these words:

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.

How true!  I started 2017 with the intention that it would be an “annus mirabilis” or “year of miracles.”  It was all that and a bag of chips, but the road was forged with grit and tears, hopes and fears marked by bold and brave moves that surprised even myself.

When the dust settled, I marveled at the complete and utter paradigm shift that had occurred.

My life had been completely upended, purposefully.

It was HARD.  Detoxing from Zoloft, settling into a single person’s life, finding a new rhythm and learning to love me, myself and I was a journey as jungle-like as my trek to Costa Rica.

My expectation was that I’d navigate this new way of life for a few years and then, maybe, someone might come along that I’d like enough to spend time with.

The universe had other plans, and now I find myself in love with a guy who wants to sit and map out our intentions together for 2018.

If I’m dreaming, please, nobody wake me up.

That’s not to say violins are playing and I have stardust in my eyes.  Life is real and relationships are the best opportunity to put to work all the spiritual truths collected over the course of a lifetime.

Here’s the kicker:  This is a man who laughs.  Alot.

He laughs when I get all wonked out about imaginary fears.  When I spill the soup all over the counter and miss the bowl, he chuckles.  I trekked him through an entire parking garage at the airport until I realized we were in the WRONG garage.

At every turn, I’m braced for the blow; the harsh, eye-rolling, “Brenda!” tinged with exasperation.

Yet the blow never comes.

Every time I get all heavy, Mark Roach gets all LIGHT.  And not in a diminishing or condescending way.  He just thinks that life is too precious to get all riled up about insignificant stuff.

These kind responses are healing another layer of my heart so bruised from being so darned hard on myself for far too long.

If you ever struggle with giving yourself a break, my closing thoughts on delight will hopefully encourage your heart.  Plus, we have a fantastic new Word of the Week (and Word of the YEAR!):

What do you want to be?

WHO do you want to be?

What do you want to become?

Where do you want to live?

What do you want to do?

These questions that I posed extemporaneously in this week’s video are the very ones I am asking myself as I head into 2018.  I hope you will ask yourself the same and we can begin INTENTIONALLY our year of TRANSFORMATION.

Much love to you all –

Brenda

xoxoxox

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My Christmas Surprise (and the New WOW)

Sometimes life hits you with a surprise and it feels like a dream.

My friends, this is my story – and it is a very happy one.

As you know, my marriage ended in 2017 and my goal was simply for PEACE; to rediscover Brenda and reclaim her joy.  I wanted to become whole, authentic and to carve out a life that made space for my dreams, gave Spirit free reign and brought healing to my heart.

In none of the above-listed equations was a man-component envisioned.

The love story I was working on was the one with MYSELF.

Who knew that this very emphasis would unlock the door to meeting someone special?

It was QUITE a surprise.

But before we get to the good part, there were plenty of entertaining detours!

For months, friends encouraged me to “get back out there”…but I didn’t want to.  I just wanted to enjoy my peaceful apartment, go to Toastmasters meetings, dance at Zumba, hang at he CitySide lobby with my new friends and read good books in solitude.

I did all of that, but then I got a little bit lonely.

My friends, Larry and Brian, scolded me.  “It’s 2017, Brenda!  You need an online dating profile!”

NO WAY.

Brian gently suggested that I open my mind; that I could be selective and set my boundaries.  That I could swipe and delete and be in control of the experience…and that I should at least TRY.

After some resistance, I became WordGirl22 on Our Time, Zoosk, and Plenty of Fish.

A series of painfully wrong dates ensued – one with a man that demanded that I “twirl for him” so he could see my physique.

I did not twirl.

After a week of thinking there were actually only tin cans instead of good catches in the fishing pool, I disgustedly looked through the latest photo gallery of candidates hitting “No…no…no…no…”

…but then, out of nowhere, “Hmmmmmm…..”

He had dimples.  I’ve always been a sucker for dimples.

Boldly, I wrote, “Nice dimples.”

And the rest is history.

The dimples were attached to a lovely man named Mark who has become my best friend and has made this holiday season both merry and bright.

I felt the need to share this with you because you have been with me for the lows, and I wanted to give equal time to the highs.  Plus, some of you have seen me posing with a handsome man on Facebook and “Inquiring minds want to know!”

So now you know.  My smile is higher wattage and the exercise of building a relationship is putting into practice all the internal spiritual lessons and healing I have sought this year.

What a happy surprise!

And an encouragement to all of you that, whatever pain you may have faced this year – on the other side of it is a gift that you could never have experienced any other way.

May yours show up soon!  (And when it does, please tell me about it!)

In the meantime, I talk about my supportive friend Kevin in this week’s video, and have for us all a perfectly DELIGHTFUL new Word of the Week:

Kevin is just one of the friends that turned my year from traumatic to tremendous.  Thanks, little brother!

Sending you all huge doses of love and DELIGHT.

May all of your dreams come true –

xoxoxox

Brenda

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Decorating Our Lives with Truth

Decorating my apartment was NOT on my “to-do” list this year.

After all, I wouldn’t even be home from the 18th through Christmas due to work meetings followed by spending time with family.

It was just me, myself and I , so why did I need to haul out the decorations only to store them away again in a couple of weeks?

The first part of December had all but wiped me out with a nasty, lingering cold that made my raisin-bread baking tradition feel like trying to run through quicksand.

Oh, and I didn’t even have a tree!

I purchased this girly-corset faux tree at the Tuesday Morning store and thought it would suffice:

Love it, right?  Except the “branches” are so soft, it can’t hold ornaments.

And I have VATS of ornaments.  Last year I went crazy decorating with my peacock colors (Pier One’s stock went up as a result).

No tree.  Not an ornament to be found. No Christmas spirit.

You can’t even play carols effectively when the ambiance has nary a glimmer of Christmas.

So this happened:

I’m a “go big or go home” kind of person.  Thank you Amazon, for accommodating my last minute shift from Scrooge to Santa.

I reflected on how the tree transformed with each ornament I placed on it (because without the ribbons and balls, it’s kind of a Charlie Brown scrawny tree.)

And it occurred to me that each truth I embraced this year decorated my life, making what was barren and empty downright beautiful.

Yes, my halls are decked.  And so is my life.

Truth transforms you when you let it in. Just KNOWING the truth isn’t enough.  That’s like having vats of ornaments and not decorating with them.

Truth works its magic first when you embrace it and then when you have opportunities to live it out in relationship with life and people.

Which leads me to this week’s video message about the truths that changed me in 2017:

What a beautiful time of year to extend ourselves in support of others…and to link arms with others in love to ensure this is a lovely, not a lonely time of year.

Sending you much love!
xoxxoxo

Brenda

 

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Recipe for Resilience (and the New WOW)

This recipe has been through A LOT…yet the stains and markings comfort me.

In a year that has been tumultuous (to say the least), Mom-Mom’s Raisin Bread recipe, (which I wrote down when I was a teenager) is proof of resilience, endurance,                  bounce-backability and most of all, the prevailing power of LOVE.

This recipe has traveled with me to at least ten different homes and each year when I get to baking I think about how Mom-Mom packed love into every loaf.

I already burned out one Kitchen Aid mixer in 2014, because this dough is NO JOKE.  It’s thick and sticky and clings to EVERYTHING.  (This includes my walls, my bowls and me.)

Each year the list of people I send the bread to grows.  It’s my one claim to fame; a tradition that honors my Mom-Mom and lets the people I love know they RATE when the package arrives.

So this was what my first UPS trip looked like:

I needed elves to bake, wrap, address, package, tape and ship.

All I had was me, myself, and I.

But I had the recipe for resilience!  L-O-V-E.

Every moment that I felt like waving the white dish towel, I conjured up thoughts of the dear people on the receiving end of these packages.  When a friend saw my war zone of a kitchen covered with flour, he kindly observed, “These are loaves of love.”

Yes, they are.

I talk more about how love fuels resilience in this week’s video, but before we go there, let’s make your mouths water:

Yep, they are crunchy sweet golden brown outsides with soft, cake-y, raisin-filled insides.  This treat is best served toasted and SLATHERED with butter.

Sorry to tempt you so.  But you are resilient!  And here’s more on that topic:

Loving and embracing the TRUTH with you this week!

And loving YOU.  It means so much that you are out there.

xoxoxox

Brenda

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Hold that Thought! (It Becomes Your Vision)

My brain can be like Grand Central Station; a steady flow of traffic with each thought vying to gain some traction.

I’ve entertained far too many thoughts that never deserved my attention. 

Entertain is a good word choice.  Thoughts knock at our door and the majority should be treated like unwanted  solicitors.  Would you invite a stranger in for coffee and to set up housekeeping in the spare room?

Of course not.

So why did that pretty mist-colored laptop on HSN end up in my house?

Well, I kept LISTENING, and the more I entertained the thoughts surrounding the laptop and imagined using it, the less the $500 price tag troubled me.

Even though I already have a perfectly good laptop.

(Yes, I returned it.)

But the point is, what thoughts we entertain give us imaginations or VISIONS that can actually become reality.

I’ve learned to approach my thoughts like a buffet.  I used to try to get my money’s worth and took advantage of “all you can eat.”  Indigestion and regret usually followed.

I’ve learned to be more choosy at the buffet, only selecting what I’m in the mood for at the moment.  (This can lead to a focused attack on the desserts, but that’s another story.)

When it comes to our thought lives, it’s wise to understand that not everything that flies into our brains merits consideration.

But some things DO.

I bet some of the most brilliant entrepreneurial ideas started with just a thread of a thought.

This very blog started with a “Hmmmmm” moment in a float tank.

How many relationships ended in happily ever afters because someone thought, “I’ll give online dating a try!”

My sister took a calligraphy class decades ago, and she has been gainfully employed doing what she loves ever since.

Does it make your heart leap?  Does it bring hope?  Then by all means HOLD THAT THOUGHT!

Nurture it and let it breathe.  Water it and fertilize it and who knows – it can end up being a full-blown vision.

Were you as captivated as I was by Prince Harry’s engagement announcement this week?  I didn’t know much about Meghan Markle until I saw this video, which is an example of holding a THOUGHT and taking action based on that thought to effect change:

I think Diana is smiling, don’t you?

So let’s not get caught up in VISIONS of grandeur that overwhelm us.  Let’s start with a thought, and then play with it a little.

I did that this week and it turned me a bit upside down!

https://youtu.be/la8hY9xh9-U

Oooooh…sisters and brothers.  We ARE a resilient bunch!  I feel like this is a week where our mantra should come from Dirty Dancing:  “No one puts baby in a corner.”

Let’s go out, rise up and seize the week!

xoxoxox

Brenda

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Your Masterpiece is YOU (and the New WOW)

For our entire lives, we’ve been working on a masterpiece.

We may not call ourselves creative and a paintbrush may never have graced our hands – still, we are artists.

On my 4+ hour drive to Jacksonville to spend Thanksgiving with my friend Anita and her family, I had good company.  Joining me on the open road was the audio book of Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Voice of Knowledge.”  A new friend had shared with me that Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements” deeply affected his life for good. He highly recommended the trilogy of Toltec Wisdom Books.

The word “Toltec” means “artist of the spirit.” In the Toltec tradition, every human is an artist, and the supreme art is the expression of the beauty of our spirit. To consider that we are artists (rather than mere humans), makes us creators – just like the One Who created us.

From page 47 of The Voice of Knowledge:

How do we live our life? This is our art; the art of living.

There are two kinds of artists.  Those who create their story without awareness, and those recover awareness and create their story with truth and with love.

To think that I – that WE – hold the paintbrush to our lives is an awesome realization.  Is there something that doesn’t fit into our vision of truth and love?  Paint over it.  Create something new.  We have the power to do this.

We were BORN to write our own story and have everything we need to make it a work of art.  Yes, people will come along who will try to impose on us what THEY think our lives should look like.

When I handed over the paintbrush to other people, I became something other than the authentic Brenda.

It has taken many years to get her back.  As the song goes, “Reunited and It feels SO good!

This passage from page 68 excited my spirit so much I wanted to share it with you:

You are the only one who can change your story, and you do this by changing your relationship with yourself.

Every time you change the main character in your story, just like magic the whole story starts to change in order to adapt to the new main character.

I think of one of my favorite movies of all time, Frequency, in which the main character is able to connect to his long-deceased Father through a miraculous ham radio.  At one point he mentions that “cigarettes will kill, you Dad…” as an off-handed comment.

Long story short, that suggestion led to a decision by his Father that resulted in him changing the course of his life…and his death.  The script was rewritten.

I consider my decision four years ago to stop drinking.  After years of wrestling with, “Do I have a problem?” I heard clearly in my spirit that if I kept it up, I would die prematurely.  When tempted to sip a Cosmopolitan, I have reminded myself of that revelation to keep me from turning back.

The clarity of sobriety has graced me with so many gifts; most importantly, a clearness about what I want my life to be and who I want Brenda to be.  It has afforded me a newfound ability to call a lie a lie and step away from pretense and performance.  Being clear gave me the courage to walk away from those things that no longer “fit” the true me…and the health in mind, body and spirit to enjoy a new way of living.

It was the first domino in a series that led to removing Zoloft from my life, journeying to Costa Rica to get back in touch with my wounded soul and begin this journey to wholeness.

What a ripple effect!

I’m sure there will yet be many more changes to the main character of my story, but my point in writing is to encourage YOU to take that paintbrush and adjust your masterpiece accordingly.

Paint your beautiful life with broad strokes of love and truth, my friends.

And what a great word to follow up these thoughts on CREATIVITY:

What a wonderful assignment for all of us!  It is NEVER too late to be who you “might have been.”

I hope you had a beautiful Thanksgiving.  It’s a holiday to be celebrated year-round…and my heart is overflowing with gratitude for this life I get to live (and create!).  I’m so blessed to share it with you.

xoxoxoxo

Brenda

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Letting Love IN (and the New WOW)

Can you imagine a table loaded up with love and yet you remain starving?

I’ve considered this on a week where HARMONY was our Word of the Week, and all of the messages I kept reading referred back to LOVE as the secret sauce for harmony.

When I am out of sorts with myself, I’m learning to check my love levels.  Since Costa Rica, my first step is to check out how well I’m loving ME (or not).  Because I’ve learned that I will only attract what I emanate.

Harmony is when there’s unity of thought and feeling – and fear is always the great divider.

Fear’s leading line is, “What if…” and leads down the rabbit trail of negative possibilities.

That’s when I need to go and sit in Mom-Mom’s chair, and talk to myself.

Taking that five minute (or more) time-out is just what I need to get back to unity between my soul and spirit, and it always ends with a little love note to myself.

“I love you Brenda.”

When was the last time you said those words out loud to yourself?

Picture yourself, through all of the many stages of your life:  The chubby toddler, the acne-stained teen; the insecure but tough-looking college student or the polished (but anxious as hell) professional.

With each mental image, let love well up inside of you.  You’ll find floods of empathy and compassion, tenderness and grace rise up.

Then let those loving feelings wash over you.

Some tears may spill out of your eyes.  That’s okay.  It’s your angels washing your heart from the wounds accrued over time.

After that good, cleansing cry, you may find that where there was discord, harmony now resides in your heart.  And you’re ready to face life again, because YOU’VE got your own back.

The table of love is a feast that is always set before us.  May we all choose to partake!

I talk a bit more on this (and just wish I had put some better lipstick on), but you’ll forgive the momentary lapse of aesthetics in the new Word of the Week reveal:

Looking at life with fresh eyes is how I’m going to approach creativity this week.

After all, if I keep doing the SAME thing, I’ll get the same results.

I want new stuff!  How about you?

Oh, and let’s GIVE THANKS for all the wonderful stuff we already have.  I hope you and yours enjoy a marvelous Thanksgiving holiday, seated at a table where the feast is LOVE.

xoxoxoxo

Brenda

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Interruptions and Explorations (and the New WOW)

Divine interruptions are sometimes the universe’s way of keeping us out of harm’s way. Or bringing us an adventure!

I’ve got to look at it this way, as I write this week’s post from the Tampa Airport Marriott…a hotel I had not planned on staying in, because I had intended to be on a plane to Philadelphia.

The  plane got to Philly Friday night, but without me.

I was finishing up a work meeting with plenty of time to spare to make the flight.  Ten miles from the airport, a dreaded standstill drained all of my lead time – and more.

I arrived in time to board, but they wouldn’t take my bag and offered no solutions to get it to Philly. And in my bag was my LIFE.  Ain’t no abandoning the bag option for Brenda!

I try to go with the flow when my life is interrupted, but when involves or affects other people, I get a bit antsy.

One thing was certain: Come #$%@ or high water, I was NOT going to miss my sister’s play on Sunday afternoon.

It was clear that no flights out on Friday night on ANY airline would get me to my destination without blowing up my credit card inordinately, so my next option was to search for Saturday morning flights.

Picture me traipsing from ticket counter to ticket counter – United, Delta, American, Spirit, Frontier, Southwest…only to discover there were NO reasonable seats to Philadelphia.

But Newark!  Now there’s an option!

So yes, I got a flight for Saturday AM that would get me to Newark in the early afternoon.  This would mean I’d miss coffee time with Renee and Steve (boo) and an afternoon visit with Roseann, Mike and her parents (boo) but at least I’d be in South Jersey in time for an evening with the star of “Our Town” and her husband (my brother-in-law), Tony.

Getting a room at the Marriott was the easy part.  I thought it would be equally easy to adjust my Budget rental to a pick-up in Newark and the original drop-off in Philly.,

After placing me on hold for 45 minutes they said (basically), “Nope.”

Dollar Rental to the rescue!  A few clicks, and it was done (at the same price as Budget.)

So now I am here in Marriott-land, unintended and upended…but planning on embracing our word of the week, EXPLORATION. 

First, I want to explore a menu. My stomach is growling!  And I will go down to the restaurant EXPECTING something wonderfully serendipitous to happen.

Because that’s how I roll.  Who knows why this all happened? But it did.  Maybe I am a bozo and should have left earlier.  Lesson learned.  Maybe there’s a person on this newly booked Southwest flight that I am meant to meet.  Or an accident somehow avoided if my plans had gone as…well, planned.

We try and script life and yet each day can be fraught with plot twists.  We can either let them frustrate us – or we can see them as adventures in the making.

Yes, first I cried.

Now I am going downstairs to lose myself in an order of French fries.

I hope YOUR explorations brought you happy surprises this week.  Next week I hope to have a full report of how this all played out! And I close out the word with my thoughts about exploring our INTERNAL lives.  Take a listen:

To HARMONY!

(And perhaps a few less interruptions!)

xoxoxoxo

Brenda

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This One’s For My Sister (and the New WOW)

My sister has been my chief cheerleader and support system for 54 years.

When I cried incessantly as a baby, my parents threatened to put me up for sale in a wheelbarrow by the road.

I think in today’s world, someone would have called child protective services, but back then it was their way of saying, “If this child doesn’t stop screaming, we’re going to lose it!”

Of course, they never INTENDED to sell me, but my five-year-old sister couldn’t grasp the nuance of dark humor yet, so SHE began to scream and beg for my life.

She wanted me, tears and all.

She still does.

Always more comfortable with a drawing pad or lost in a good book, she never failed to encourage my more “outward” pursuits.  She schlepped me to Philadelphia from Buena, NJ to get my  head shots taken. When I competed in the Miss Magic 103 radio contest, and belted out my Cher impressions for the world to hear, no one laughed louder. Before and after big events,she sends me handwritten cards or flowers.  And when I’m blue? She reminds me that better days are coming.  Usually in about two weeks, if you mark it on the calendar. In man respects, my sister Shirlee has been my guardian angel.

Shirlee DiBacco has always avoided the spotlight, yet has always helped my face find the sun.

And this past Friday night she made her acting debut!

Forever she has loved the play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. An “Our Town” groupie, she’s seen the play from New York to Hammonton numerous times.  She quotes from the play, because to her, there’s a line from “Our Town” to fit any situation.

And then she saw an ad that her community theatre in Somers Point, NJ would be holding auditions for…”Our Town.”

She tried to talk herself out of it, but couldn’t shake it.  When she showed up, she practically recited an encyclopedic knowledge of the play.  She would have paid the producers to give her a part.

No need.  So captivated by her enthusiasm, she handily won the part of “Woman in the Balcony.”  The woman with a movie star face who always took a back seat and applauded for everyone else is finally having her moment.

Her friend Barb, husband Tony, friend Chris – and the STAR, my sister, Shirlee, celebrating with ice cream after Our Town’s debut on Friday night.

And I am so proud of her I could just burst.

I’m flying up to see her final matinee next Sunday, the 12th. And I am equally delighted that she (and my mom) picked our new Word of the Week!

I wonder what new things are right around the corner for us this week?

Let’s be explorers!

xoxoxoxo

Brenda

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