The Blog

This is the blog.  Where you can find all the latest projects, freshest faces, and most current happenings from Amy Allender and The Art of Living Project.  I would sincerely love to have you follow along.

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Allene: Class of 2015

Senior photography

This is Allene. In case you haven’t noticed…she has aqua hair. Which, automatically makes her about 30x cooler than I’ll ever be. Sure, she may hail from small-town, Practically Canada, but she’s edgy, urban and has a do-what-I-please attitude that makes me smile. Oh, yeah…and she loves her mom–who joined us on the session. It was her mad texting skills and random comments that caused a lot of these adorable caught-me-off-gaurd smiles.


What follows here are some of my favorite images from her senior portrait session. But, there is one prized gem that you won’t see here. Remember the contest I ran for Andrew? It was such a hit, I’ve decided to run one for all of my remaining senior sessions. If you missed it, let me refresh your mind.


garden senior portraits


I’ve posted one of Allene’s best images on the Amy Allender: The Art of Living Facebook page. There are two copies–one color and one black and white. Go on over and “like” your personal favorite. If 40 people share their two-cents, Allene will receive a free 8×10″ print of the favorite. Not to mention, it’s super fun to see the battle of color vs BW rage on! So check out this post, then go vote!

downtown senior photography

Senior portrait tree

Book worm senior portraits

I love a session that includes a few props that give a glimpse into the personality of my subject. That said, you can imagine how excited I was when Allene told me she’d like to bring some books along. I mean, books in the park…with those eyes and that awesome hair?! Yes, please.


I was so excited about her bookworm tendencies that I took things a step further by getting the okay to shoot a few inside Minot’s public library. I wasn’t sure if she would think this was a good idea or totally lame. Lucky for me, Allene was up for trying anything my crazy mind could come up with. And I’m so very pleased with the result. {Also, isn’t that dress amazing?!}

Library portraitslibrary senior portraits

And, since the sunflowers were still blooming, I obviously insisted we take a trip to the edge of town for a little vibrancy.

sunflower senior portraits


Downtown Senior Photos

Urban senior portraits

There’s an time just before sunset when the light is perfect and soft–when colors melt into something totally luscious and portraits take on a magical quality. Photographers call it the “golden hour.” We just so happened to be in the wheat field when that hour rolled around. Like the time of day…I think these are pretty magical. So I’ll leave you here. In the wheat, in the golden hour.

sunset wheat portrait


golden hour wheat portrait

Now, before you leave completely, don’t forget to go over to the Facebook page and vote! Allene needs 40 people to share their opinion to win the complimentary 8×10″ of the favorite photo!

People Pleasing

1 thessalonians 1:4b


“We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”

–1 Thessalonians 1:4b


It’s so very easy to get caught up in the people pleasing game. Especially if you are a yesser like me. You know, the kind of person who says “yes” to just about everything. The kind never really had birthday parties growing up because she was too stressed over the possibility of hurt feelings if someone felt left out. The kind who has spent a few of her 20-somethings curled up in an anxious ball because she doesn’t have a “real job.”


Maybe that’s not your story exactly, but chances are there has been a time or two when you have longed to please people.


Every time we move I get direly caught up in pleasing people. I so want friends, want to fit in, want to be liked that I can fall into a trap. I’m not good at being anything but myself. So I don’t easily fall into a trap of forsaking my true self, or my faith in the name of finding friends and fitting in. My heart and spirit, however is easily torn to bits when I just don’t feel like I fit in…like no one will ever get me, and I’ll spend the next few years totally friendless.


It’s a fear I have faced over and over. And, if you are affiliated with the military, you are probably familiar as well.


I hate that my joy can be so easily sucked up by the thoughts and opinions of people. People! After all I’ve been through. After all the times I’ve seen God moved in huge ways…you’d think that I’d know better than to let my happiness hinge on something as trivial as mere mortals. I serve the God who made them, after all. But, sadly sometimes it does.


Luckily, humanity has been around for quite some time now, and the struggles we face today are not new or unique {at least, not most of them…not this one.} Paul spent lots of time evangelizing to Gentile nations. I’m sure his time wasn’t all warm welcomes and high fives. In fact, we know it wasn’t. He was tossed in jail and beaten to a pulp on more than one occasion. But he kept at it. He loved those people, believed in the truth and importance of his message, and was fueled by unrelenting faith.


In 1 Thessalonians 2:2-6 he says :

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.


We are called to grow God’s kingdom in all that we do. To be good representatives of Him on Earth. To act as the body, who does the will of the Head.


We do that best when we remember to keep our eyes set on the Lord, and do not let ourselves become consumed with the pleasing people. So next time you feel like doing something to please a person, or feel crushed because you just can’t seem to please everyone…remember who we are really trying to please. People will only ever see our actions, but God knows our intentions and tests our hearts. Work to please Him. Focus on pleasing Him.

The Beauty & Charm of Nature

badlands quote

I love parks. Especially national parks. Especially now more than ever. My favorite of favorite things is hiking deep into the back country, to experience wilderness and solitude and beauty that you just can’t access any where else. For now, I’m still sidelined from that. But that’s the beauty of parks.


As Teddy puts it: “…the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of present travel.” I find that especially true in the South Dakota Badlands, at Badlands National Park. You drive out into the prairie, miles and miles and miles. Then, suddenly it all comes to a stop, the grass and green falls away–and all that’s left is stone. You don’t have to trek out 20 miles to get there. It happens right beside the car window and all you have to do is squeeze the breaks and pull off.


Lots of people overlook the Dakotas, writing them off as a bit of a no man’s land. Which, I guess in a few ways, that is true. But that’s also kind of the charm, the beauty of this wilderness. And to Theodore Roosevelt, the Dakotas were the most inspiring place on earth.

Badlands National Park

There are only eight marked trails in Badlands National Park. Something that really sets it apart from its counterparts across the country. That’s because in the Badlands you can roam, horseback ride, or hike anywhere–unless marked otherwise. Just don’t lose your way.


Some of the trails that are marked are done very loosely. A couple walk along boardwalks over the rocky terrain to an over look. The others are mere suggestions of places to head. You move from one small marker to the next…until you find yourself at the final vista. There has been no cutting of stone or rolling out of asphalt. How you get there is true “choose your own adventure” experience.

Badlands National ParkBadlands National Park

It’s unlike any other place I’ve ever been. {Well, except the North Dakota Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park…they’re comparable.} The only way I can describe it to you is to say that is it other worldly. The texture, color and sheer vastness of it all confuses your depth perception.


The sky is huge and vibrant over the monotone rock formations. We arrived to only a few cloud in the sky, but about an hour into our visit we could see big storms blowing up in the distance. It was incredible to be able to see the sky be so angry and fierce in one direction and so sunny in another. To see a wall of rain falling miles away, sweeping across the Badlands at the same time puffy clouds floated lazily somewhere else.

Badlands National Park

It’s a unique kind of wilderness. It make you feel like the foreigner, like you are standing on Mars, or inside a Star Wars movie. Or, like you are driving along the bottom of the ocean.


If you drive the Badlands Loop Road, you’ll get amazing views of this rugged creation–along with plenty of opportunities to get out of the car and take in the sights at overlooks and trail heads. Be sure to drive the whole road for the full effect, you’ll be glad you did.

Badlands National Park

If you visit:


Like I said, drive the Loop Road.

Know that the visitor’s center isn’t right inside the gate. You’ll have to drive a bit to get there. Be sure to take the map they offer you at the entrance gate. Pull off to overlooks, stop, and hike along the way to the visitor’s center–don’t plan to go there first then do the other stuff because you’ll only end up backtracking.

Stop at the visitor’s center and see paleontologists at work in the fossil lab. Real paleontologists. Cleaning real dinosaur bones. That they found in South Dakota. It’s seriously cool.

If you don’t hike anything else, at least check out the Door, Window or Notch trails. They are short and even a girl with a bad back can do one of the three.

Take water. It’s bone dry.

Bring binoculars.

Get dinner, lunch or breakfast at Wall Drug. It’s a roadside attraction to add to your road trip. You can miss it. There are a million signs. {Actually, we counted 56 from Rapid city to Wall…it’s a 45 mile drive.} The donuts are awesome, the coffee is cheap, and the souvenirs are plentiful.

Badlands National Park

Andrew Class of 2015

Andrew Senior Session

Say hi to Andrew. He’s smart, kind and has mad evangelical skills. Seriously. The guy knows how to integrate Christ into a conversation. During his session we came across a drifter, and this guy–this one right here–struck up a conversation, read a Psalm, and explained the plan of salvation. Right there on the street. I can’t make this stuff up. I’m so proud to know him.


Below you’ll find a sneak peek of his portrait session. BUT–you should also go over to the Amy Allender Facebook page for an extra special contest I’m running. I’ve posted my fav-or-ite photo from Andrew’s session. In color and black and white. Go over and “like” the one you like the best. If 40 people vote, Andrew will get an 8×10 of the winner. So, you should go over and vote. And like the page. And tell your friends to like the page….so we can do more fun things in the future.

Minot Senior Session

Minot Senior Session

I love that senior sessions often involve a mom. It’s particularly true for guy sessions. Probably because boys don’t care as much about senior portraits as girls do. But either way…I love moms and I love when they come along. Like Andrew, his mom is a gem. This session was a blast not only because, he {being on the very photogenic side of the scale} made my job easy…but because between takes and during clothing changes I got to chat with Trish. Nights like this, clients like these…they really make me love my job.

train station senior portrait

Minot Train Depot

Minot downtown portraits

Downtown senior portriats

Oh, and I must say…I’m a huge fan of the suit portraits. Girls laugh and wonder why guys always have a senior photo in a suit. This. Is. Why. Totally dashing. Girls really have no equivalent. A dress? We wear dresses all the time. A portrait of a girl in a formal dress? Nope. That’d seem weird. But a guy in a suit. Pure class.

formal senior portraits

formal senior portrait

Okay, we’ve come to the end. Join me in wishing Andrew a happy senior year. And don’t forget to go to the Facebook page and vote!

I’ll see you tomorrow…and I’ll be sharing photos and stories from the Badlands.


One Awesome Invitation

A friend of mine is getting married. So when she asked if I could create her invitation suite, I was set on making something super special that would be just what she wanted. My wedding gift to the happy couple. Chalkboardy, woodsy, quirky and fun. That pretty much sums up Courtney, Mark and their wedding theme. Aren’t they precious? {In a way-cool kind of way?}

SMC Photography{BTW…this amazing photograph is from SMC Photography. You should a)like her page on FB to show some love…and b)check her out for photography need if you live in or near America’s best region. Michiana. Obviously.}


They’ve been mailed and received by now, so I figured it was safe to show the you all the finished product. I really love them.

chalkboard wedding invitation

Courtney has a stamp in the same font as the YES and NO on the response card. So the real deal has those word stamped on in gold ink. Gold ink! {I’m telling you Courty is super cool.}

chalkboard RSVP card

info card

The biggest challenge was making this map. Because I’m on par with Buster from Arrested Development when it comes to cartography. But thanks to the magic of Google Maps and a little digital tracing…I think people will at least be able to find the place.

chalkboard wedding map

And if they can’t find the way…then they’ll just have to pull up Google Maps on their own. So….

Anyway, all this to say, there is going to be one fabulous wedding once November rolls around. And I couldn’t be more thrilled for such a sweet, way-fun couple to be starting their life together. Marriage is amazing when you seal the deal with the right person…and the wedding is just the beginning.

Sunflowers Round 3

I am so happy to finally be posting the final round of Sunflower Mini Sessions.  Not that I’m happy they are over with.  That’s not it at all.  It’s just that the folks you see here tonight really got the run around.  First their sessions were moved because an exercise on base meant most husbands couldn’t make it.  Then we got rained out–twice.  But finally we had the perfect evening.


The ground was still a little soggy.  My shoes ended the night caked in mud and gravel and a few items of clothing got a little dirty.  But no one really seemed to mind.  In the end, it was all about capturing a few dreamy North Dakota moments–in the last moments of summer, before winter comes again and we count down the days to another season of cool breeze, open skies, mosquitoes and sunflowers.


Sunflower Mini Session

Sunflower Mini Session

Sunflower Mini Session

Sunflower mini session

Sunflower Mini Session


Sunflower Mini Session


Sunflower Mini Session


That Weird Time at Devil’s Tower

Here’s a story for you.  It’s actually a continuation of yesterday’s journey to Devil’s Tower.  And I wouldn’t be bringing it up if we’d only gone and walked around, then driven back to Rapid City.  But, as tends to happen, an awkward scene arose…and tonight I’ll tell you all about it.

hiking devil's tower

Let me start by saying that Devil’s Tower is fabulous.  A friend of mine visited once and climbed it–all the way to the top.  Ever since then I’ve wanted to visit.  Now I have, and it is as cool in person as his photos made it look.  Maybe even cooler.

Devil's Tower, WY

The great mass of stone seems to come out of no where.  It’s only transition from earth to sky being a tier of boulders and crumbled rock around its base.  A paradise for fools like me who love to walk along uneven terrain and scramble up rocks.


But alas, as you know, I’m working with an injury.  So there was no fun bouldering for me.  Derek and I decided that we should stick with the paved trail that goes around the tower.  Even that was a challenge.  You see, months of inactivity has rendered me physically useless.  So the ups and downs of what was marked as an “easy” hike left me winded and in need of frequent breaks.  Meanwhile all the elderly who had stopped off during their RV trips “out west” were whizzing by me with legs that worked perfectly.


It was along this trail, at one of my all-too-often bench stops that Derek said to me,  “I think I’m going to walk up closer and walk on the rocks instead of the trail.”  I sat there, just a touch confused.  He was going to leave me to be passed all alone by 70-year-old speed walkers?  Then I got a grip.  It would be more fun that way…and just because I couldn’t do it didn’t mean no one should.  So I watched him walk up to the rocks, then turned to follow an off shoot of the trail to an overlook.


When I got back to the main trail I looked up toward the tower to see if I could see Derek, wondering if he had gotten too far ahead of me.  What I saw nearly made me fall over. I spotted him alright.  Waaay up high.  So high I could hardly see him, above the tree line, all the way up to the point where ropes are required to climb higher.  I just couldn’t believe it.  He was not just walking along, “a little closer.”  He had scaled half of the tower.  He was standing where this circle is drawn.

devil's tower

I whipped out my phone.  Ah, yes, service.  Perfect.


I called him.  Why I expected the call to go through, I have no idea–but it did.  His ring tone bounced off of the rocks and echoed back to the trail as loudly as if he was standing next to me.  The mechanic tee-tee-tee-tee of his Verizon ring tone split the sounds of nature like a hot knife through butter.  Awkwardly, this got the attention of all of the other trail walkers around me–who started looking around, then realized there was a man, half way up the tower taking a call.


A crowd was forming and I didn’t want to make a scene.  No one likes a naggy wife.  So I nonchalantly turned aside and said casually, “Please do not go any higher.”  Then added, “Are you insane?”


But, there is no privacy on a crowded Labor Day weekend hike at Devil’s Tower, and soon the group had gotten larger and put the two calls together.  There was pointing, laughter, photo snapping, and wry comments about how he “…must not have gotten permission,” and “Look at the guy who climbed all the way up there to take a phone call.”  Hardy, har, har.


In Derek’s defense, once he had gotten to the tower base, there really wasn’t any other way to go but up.  He had expected the tier of boulders to curve back down, but it never did.  He told me he was actually about to turn around when I called.


The crowd dispersed, chuckling, after our conversation ended.  Naturally there were a few over the shoulder comments about “keeping a closer eye on that one…” as they all wandered away and I parked it back on a bench to wait for Derek.


When he met up with me I must have shot him one of those looks.  Those looks.  He just laughed and said, “What?”  What indeed.  But I just said, “Well, that was exciting.”  And we kept walking–together this time–and I told him all about it while we finished the trail.

Aladdin, WY

I guess it’s official.  Now I can say I’ve been to Wyoming.


You remember yesterday when I mentioned that Derek has to work from South Dakota for a bit because of a runway closure?  Well, the part I didn’t tell you is that when my back was at its worst, I made plans to come and stay here with him for a few weeks.  The thought was that here I wouldn’t be lonely, I could do my work remotely and I’d be able to focus on recovery without any distractions.  So I got a house sitter and took off.


Things took a turn for the better, since I’m feeling pretty darn good.  Meaning that instead of laying around the hotel we’ve actually been able to go out and do things.  For starters we went to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming–which is only a few short hours from Rapid City, SD, where we are staying.


Don’t panic.  I’m being really good.  Walking, yes…but no strenuous hiking or climbing.  Seriously.  I’m on level with the elderly.


If you follow the Facebook page you probably saw a few images from our journey west when I posted a couple photos from our pit stop in Aladdin.  You see, we were nearly out of gas and I was about to wet my pants, so we decided to stop at the next “town” which ended up being this.

Aladdin General store

Yes, this is the whole thing.  It’s remoteness and back-in-time air has caused the general store to become a bit of a tourist attraction.  The best part about the town of Aladdin is their fine, hand-lettered signs.  They were everywhere.  The signs on the door read:  “Great deals upstairs.”  “This town is for sale.  Store-House-Bar-Trailer Park-Post Office-30 Acres.  $1,500,000 Firm.”  “We will be closing at 4:30 pm for a wedding.”

Aladdin, WY

Naturally upon entering this other worldly place I forgot all about the need for a toilet and went upstairs to see all the great deals.  Antiques and curiosities of all kinds abounded.  Clothes, shoes, yard games, guns, vintage furniture, antique dishes.  It was all there.  As with the signs, everything upstairs was hand labeled as well.  Including this Swagger Stick.  What is a swagger stick, you ask?  It’s a really cool cane.

Swagger stick

In freezers on the first floor we were blessed to lay eyes on the country’s best bacon.

country's best bacon

In the bar, off of the main room there were coolers with all kinds of beverages and another hand written sign reading “Free Beer Tomorrow.”  It was shoved behind a book case…apparently they put it out sometimes.


Then I remembered why we’d really stopped.  So I asked about a bathroom at the counter.  The woman working told me there was an outhouse behind the building.  “Oh, how cute,” I thought.  I thought I was getting a real out-west experience.  I couldn’t wait to see the “outhouse.”  I mean, could this place get more kitschy?


What I found behind the building was not a tourist attraction “outhouse.”  It was a real outhouse.  Just a wooden shack baking in the sun.  Inside sat a wooden bench with two holes cut in the seat.  As soon as I opened the door I could see all the contents under the seat.  The smell slapped me across the face.  “Nope, not cute.  Not cute.”


I let the door swing shut on it’s spring loaded hinge.  And I held it until we stopped for lunch.


Welcome to Wyoming.


Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you about Devil’s Tower.



Medical Miracle

medical miracle{image via}

It’s time I tell you a story.  The ending isn’t finished yet, but I’ll tell you what I know up to this point.  At the end of the post you might think I’m crazy, or a wishful thinker, or an exaggerator.  But I don’t think any of those are true {well…not in regard to this any way.}


On August 13th I had an appointment with the neurosurgeon who performed my microdiscectomy.  I was out from surgery about seven weeks.  To give you a point of reference, I was placed on restricted activity to recover fully for 12 weeks, then would go on to 12 more weeks of physical therapy before being deemed “healed.”  So this appointment was more than half way–and I felt terrible.


Seriously, I’ve had some dark times lately, but this was the worst.  I was in constant pain.  Unrelenting, awful pain.  More {much more} than before the surgery, when the disc was out of place.  I was simply, miserable.  Everyday I’d find my face leaking.  I call it that because I wasn’t meaning to cry, or even conscious of it half the time.  The misery I was feeling just leaked out in tears, at least once every day.  I wasn’t sleeping, the pain made me lose my appetite, I was dependent on pain killers just to function through the day, the whole thing lent itself to very sad spirits.


Naturally, like any 21st century patient, in the days leading up to my much-anticipated doctor’s appointment I turned to Dr. Google for answers.  And I found all kinds of things.  Scary stats on how many miscrodiscectomy patients have “failed surgery syndrome” and are left in chronic pain for-ev-er.  Studies that show that many people re-herniate their disc and are never the same.  Testimony pieces from folks who never recovered and their ability to walk was permanently impaired.  By the time the appointment rolled around I was terrified.  I felt sure that this was my new life, impaired and miserable.  But I was also eager to get some answers from a real live person, who had actually touched my spine and knew my case.


I explained my symptoms and pain to the nurse.  When the doctor  came in he told me he was concerned.  Then things got really vague.  He didn’t really want to talk about what would happen if things didn’t improve, other than blurry references to more surgery.  I pressed him and he did tell me that out of the 500 of these surgeries he does every year, about five fail.  Maybe I was one of the five.  He wanted to give it six more weeks before taking action.  If things weren’t better, we’d get an MRI and discuss what surgical options were available to correct things.


As you might imagine, that was not the answer I wanted.  I wanted relief.  I wanted to feel better.  I didn’t want to wait any more.  There was nothing else to do, but go get the new pain meds and cry.


To make everything just a little bit worse, Derek has to work out of a base in South Dakota for a while, while the runway in Minot is repaved.  The loneliness added insult to injury.  Not only was I miserable, but I was alone.  And if Derek wasn’t there, that’s how I preferred to be–no one likes to be a depressed mess in front of friends.


That night when Derek and I talked on the phone I told him everything and cried and cried while wailing that this was how I was going to be forever and ever.  I mourned the fact that my life in shambles, since I couldn’t do anything that I loved doing.  I also hated myself for being the reason we could no longer do things that we loved doing together:  biking, hiking, swimming, boating, anything active–none of that is possible when you are chronically messed up.


Instead of giving in to my pity party–which is what I wanted him to do–Derek told me that we could chose to view this situation another way.  We could look at it as an opportunity to grow in an area of our faith that is a little lacking: prayer.  Instead of trusting doctors and science, we could earnestly pray, call on prayer partners, and seek God in this trial.  We decided to pray that God be glorified through this dark season.  If that meant He would show His power through healing–awesome.  If that meant He would change my heart and give me the peace and joy to proclaim Him, despite the pain and lifestyle change–awesome.


Friends, I’ve never been witness to a medical miracle–let alone had one take place in me–but that is the only way I can describe what happened next.  It took me a couple days to cope and draw the courage to choose to proclaim my God as good no matter what.  I prayed that to start me off, God would give me a certain message that things would be okay.  That night I ended up at the Sanctus Real concert.  They sang this song, which I’d never heard before–but the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, telling me to put my trouble on Him, that things would be fine.  Then, He opened my eyes to His amazing grace {see this post.}  Finally, I called some faithful partners who are gifted with a fervent zeal for prayer.


Three days after my appointment I felt a supernatural peace and joy return.  I felt better.  I was able to stand long enough to take a shower {really, it was that bad.}  I could walk.  I was sleeping.  I stopped taking pain pills.  Cold turkey.  All together just quit.  I didn’t need them.  And I haven’t taken another since.  It’s been about three weeks since that appointment and I feel that my healing has been put back on track.


I still get tired and have some pain in my legs at times…it mostly feels like cramped muscles in my hamstrings.  It’s tolerable and made much better by stretching out.  Every day walking becomes more comfortable, every day I feel a little more like myself.  Not only is my health being restored, my future is as well.  A month ago, as I looked ahead I saw a never ending road of misery, self-hatred and pain.  Now I see the possibility of a return to activity, fitness and strength.


I can honestly only describe what has happened as a miracle.  There is no explanation for such a sudden shift in my condition, only that something impossible happened.  I can tell you that God is a healer, a restorer of peace, the source of joy.  My hope is that you will, as I have, see this as a real-world example of the power held in prayer and intercession.


I understand that not every story will end like this, but for whatever reason mine did.  I cannot guarantee that healing will always look the way we want it to, but I can tell you that if you earnestly seek to glorify God, He will provide a way for you to do that.  Through choosing to glorify Him healing, restoration, peace and joy will return.




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Hi. I'm Amy. Thanks for coming by. I'm in to trying new things and learning to live better. I hope you'll hang around...together we can come closer to mastering the Art of Living.

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