The Valentine Museum

Some months ago I had purchased tickets to The Valentine Museum on Groupon.  I had forgotten that the tickets were only good through the end of August 2012 until my husband asked me when they expired.  So we only had a few weeks to use them.  I work at VCU Medical Center.  VCU Medical Center is, literally, 2 blocks from The Valentine Museum.  One Saturday morning, after I got through working, my husband met me at the hospital.  On the weekend there is free parking in the VCU Medical Center parking deck.  We had lunch at the hospital.  The garden of The Valentine Museum does have Sally Bell’s Kitchen, but it is not open on the weekends. We then walked to The Valentine Museum.

The Valentine House

Sally Bell’s in the garden of the Wickham house

The Valentine Museum is an old row house that focuses mainly on the history of Richmond.  It is connected to the Wickham house, which was built and owned by John Wickham, Aaron Burr’s attorney during Aaron Burr’s treason trial.  The trial was held in Richmond.  You can go on a guided tour of the Wickham house with the admission ticket for The Valentine Museum.  I remember going to the Wickham house as a child on a school field trip at Christmas time.  I remember the house being decorated in Christmas decorations as it would have been in the early 1800s.  I remember the Christmas tree having candles on it and thinking that the tree could burn down.

The front of the Wickham house

The Wickham house is restored to what it would have looked like when Mr. Wickham and his family lived there.  You could not take pictures inside the house, and the tour only goes through the downstairs.  Mr. Wickham had 17 children!  However, only a few of the children got married and had their own children.  What I found very interesting was that the carpets in the house were wall to wall, and the company that made them still exists today.  That carpet company keeps swatches of every carpet it has every made, so when the house was being restored they called the company up and asked for them to come with samples of carpets made during that time period.  They had no way of knowing which carpets were in the house, but they tried to match the carpet to everything else that was in the room.  It was interesting to see how the wealthy of Richmond lived during that time.

the back of the Wickham house

The Valentine Museum has a lot on the Valentine family and its legacy in Richmond.  What I found very fascinating was that most of the family was amateur archeologists.  I, also, did not know that their company was in existence until the 1950s. They made meat juice that was sold like a vitamin.  What is amazing is that they had lots of bottles, still full, on display.  One of the sons was a famous local sculptor, Edward Valentine.  He did 3 of the monuments on Monument Ave in Richmond.

The Valentine Museum had a room in the basement that had some of the old neon signs from some of the old Richmond based stores like Thalhimer’s.  I went to school with some of the Thalhimers.  The eldest daughter wrote a great book about her family and the department store.  There was a room on schools and one on the two World Wars and how they affected Richmond.

Mirror that hung in the White House during the Van Buren presidency

This is the only thing that I was allowed to take a picture of inside the Valentine Museum.  It is just inside the door as you walk in.

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Pope-Leighey House

After we went to George Washington’s Mill and Distillery we drove down the street and straight through the traffic light to the entrance of Woodlawn Plantation.  Woodlawn Plantation is the house that George Washington built for his granddaughter and her husband as their wedding present.  It was not open to the public when we were there due to rennovations.  However, the Pope-Leighey house sits on the Woodlawn Plantation property.  You have to buy tickets to the Pope-Leighey house in the gift shop of the Woodlawn Plantation.  The driveway to the house is at the opposite end of the parking lot from the plantation house.  A port-o-potty marks the entrance to the driveway of the house.  Otherwise it would probably be hidden.  I don’t know if the port-o-potty is there all the time or just there during the rennovations of Woodlawn.

Woodlawn Plantation house

Frank Lloyd Wright built the Pope-Leighey house in 1940 for Mr. Pope who was a writer at the paper that was to become a part of The Washington Post.  It cost about $7-8000 to build which was over budget and a lot of money after the Depression.  It was sold for for less than half of the building price several years later to the Leigheys.  The house had to be moved in the 1960’s when Interstate 66 was built and it was relocated to its current location.  Mrs. Leighey recognized that the house needed to be saved simply based on who built it, so she made a deal with the National Trust.  She agreed to give the house and the money she got from the seizure of the land for the building of I-66 to the Trust, if she could live in the house until she died.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a famous mid 20th century American architect.  He is best known for The Guggenheim Museum and the Fallingwater house.  My husband studied industrial design in college and worked in New York City for the company that designed the lighting for the ball for the millennial New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, so he likes stuff like Frank Lloyd Wright.  I find some architecture interesting and nice to look at, but the actual “design” does not interest me so much.  Since we were so close to a Frank Lloyd Wright house I agreed to stop.

I did not know much about Frank Lloyd Wright, other than he was an architect.  I now know I would have never wanted a house designed or built by him.  He was a control freak!  I like his idea that the structure should almost be an extension of the natural surroundings and should incorporate as many natural elements as possible. For instance there is a lot of natural lighting in the house.  He was, also, one of the first architects to use radiant floor heating and unique ventilation systems so that the house did not need a heating or cooling system.  However, he did not believe in storage.  His philosophy was that if your belongings could not fit in the spaces he provided then you had too much stuff and needed to sell the excess.  He believed that the heart of the house was the living room, so the kitchen is very tiny.  The Popes had to ask to have drawers built in the kitchen and in the closet in the master bedroom. You could not bring in your own furniture; you had to use what he built.  The main hallway in the house that leads to the bedrooms is the exact measurements of the hallway of a passenger car on a train, so you couldn’t move in furniture even if you wanted to.  You could not put anything on the walls; you had to place things on the built in shelves.  You could not have drapes or any type of coverings on the windows, as this would block the natural lighting.  I can’t imagine living in a house with all those restrictions.

You could take pictures of the outside of the house only.  There are so many things that we have seen on these trips that you can’t take pictures of.  The most common explanation is that “some” of the items are on loan or owned by people other than the museum, estate, etc…

Anyhoo…  It was interesting.

front of the house

The front of the house was meant to be a car port.

some the windows that also doubled as vents

some of the windows in one of the bedrooms

the back of the house

the side porch

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Mount Vernon

The weekend after we went to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown we went to the Northern Virginia/DC/Maryland area.  My husband’s friend from college is (was) expecting a baby with his wife and they had a baby shower.  They live in Maryland just outside DC.  It was the first time that I had ever seen an invitation to a baby shower that included men, so I agreed to go to see what it would be like.  We ended up missing the first 2 hours of it, but more on that later.

We decided to stay at my brother’s newly acquired bachelor pad.  His first “real” apartment.   He had only been living there a little over a month and it definitely needed a “woman’s touch”.   Probably still does.  We had to bring our own blow up mattress because he only has 1 bedroom and a non-pull out sofa.  But it was free, so I’m not complaining.

We drove up there Friday night.  Saturday morning we went into DC to see one of my most dearest friends, her husband, and her 2 children.  We had brunch at this diner on Florida Ave.  It has cinnamon and sugar pancakes and french toast.  You really don’t have to put syrup on them because they are already so sweet, and oh so tasty.  After that we went back to her house and played with her kids.  We were trying to kill time before going to an exhibition at the Smithsonian that my husband wanted to go to.  It was called “The Art of the Video Game”.  It was rather disappointing.  I was expecting more on how video games are made but it was more about the evolution of the gaming systems.  There was not a lot to the exhibit.  It had one room with some old school games you could play like Super Mario Bros; one room had a little about graphics, and the last room had every gaming system every made and representative games for each.  However, the exhibit totally left out hand held gaming systems like the Gameboy.  Tragic.  The best part about the whole exhibit was the $40 book that you could get at the gift shop.  It had so much information about a ton of games. It was more interesting than the exhibit.

Now we get to why we were late for the baby shower.  We had parked in a parking deck to go to the gaming exhibit.  This parking deck had supporting columns for the deck behind the parking spaces.  Not every space had a column behind it, but my husband chose to park in a space next to one of these columns.  I didn’t think anything about it when we parked.  Well, when we were pulling out he turned the car a little too soon and slammed the front driver’s side of the car into the column.  I heard glass break and saw plastic flying and my heart sank into my stomach.

I immediately began to think about how were we going to get back to Richmond?  Scenarios started running through my head, and all of them very elaborate so I had to force myself to stop thinking about it.  I got out of the car to help pick up pieces.  I, finally, looked at the car and the front driver’s headlight was smashed to pieces; the front bumper on the left side was hanging, and the panel over the left front tire was crumpled.  It seemed to all be damage to the body of the car and not the engine so that was somewhat of a relief.  My husband insisted that he could drive it.  I questioned whether or not it could go on the highway.  It did OK on the city streets. We re-programed the GPS to take us back to my brother’s apartment without using highways.  What should have taken less than a half an hour took almost an hour.  I still do not understand why it takes so long to go just a few miles in the DC area.  Yes, there is a ton of traffic and traffic lights, but it should not have taken us an hour to go less than 15 miles.

We got back to my brother’s apartment relatively unscathed.  Now, if you ask my brother he would probably tell you he is the best car expert in the world and could race Ferraris but chooses not to 🙂  Well, he and my husband, amazingly, put the car back together with zip ties.  Everything held for the rest of the trip, even at I-95 speeds on the way home to Richmond.  I was quite impressed.

the car after it was zip tied back together

We did make it to the baby shower, which was lovely.  It wasn’t too involved, which is probably a good thing for the men.  I noticed that the majority of them were absent when present opening time came around.  But I’m glad that my husband got to spend time with some friends he doesn’t see often.

The next morning when we left we went to Mount Vernon.  We had already decided to do this since were were “in the area” so to speak.  The website says to allow at least 2 hours to see the house and the grounds.  The Mount Vernon property once encompassed an area that went 10 miles down the Potomac and 4 miles in land from the Potomac.  That’s huge!

Mount Vernon

The back of Mount Vernon

The visitor’s center has a very nice movie about the life of George Washington with Hollywood actors.  You may not know their names, but you would recognize their faces. You cannot take pictures in the house and museum, but you can take pictures of the grounds and out buildings.  For the time period George Washington was extremely wealthy, and the tour guides in the house pointed out evidence of this throughout the tour.  First of all the house underwent 3 additions to become the house that is seen today.  The fact that the walls were painted in bright colors like greens and blues showed that he could import the very expensive paint.  Various other things like that.  I had not realized that George Washington did not have children.  When he married Martha she had 2 children from a previous marriage, and then they raised some of their grandchildren.  Also, I think Robert E. Lee married one of Martha’s descendants.

View from back porch

The house has a gorgeous view of the Potomac river, and the gardens are lovely as well.  They have a rare type of hog there called the Ossabaw island hog.  We saw one of them.  It was very large and very hairy.

Ossabaw Island Hog

There was, also, a mule there that was bigger than the horse that was in the stable with it.  I have never seen anything like it!  The mule’s head looked almost twice as big as the horse’s head.  It was ginormous!

Enormous mule

We went to the site of Washington’s old tomb.  In his will he specified that a new tomb be built.  So he was moved from the old tomb to the new one a few years after his death.  Its crazy to think that his skeleton was right there.  I wonder what they buried him in?

Washington’s old tomb

Washington’s new tomb: George on the right, Martha on the left

Part of the museum had a more interactive area with videos and was more of “interesting facts” than museum items.  That area had the lower half of his famous dentures.  Apparently, Washington only had 1 tooth, a left lower molar, which was used to anchor the dentures to.  They were not wooden teeth, but they still looked very uncomfortable to wear.  You could not take pictures of the dentures.  This part of the museum had life sized mannequins made from work done by National Geographic on what Washington would have really looked like at certain ages.  I remembered watching the documentary on TV about it. (the reconstructions are at the end of the video around minute 38)  So it was kind of neat to see those reconstructions in real life.

We ate lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant.  We got the peanut soup there too.  The peanut soup at Colonial Williamsburg was better in my opinion.  They had several items that looked very good on the menu.  I ended up getting a sandwich.  It was huge. I could only eat about half of it.  What my husband got was large too, so the portion sizes are definitely shareable.  They have 2 very large and nice gift shops next to the restaurant.  One is geared more towards children. They, also, have a smaller gift shop as you walk into the visitor’s center, and one in one of the out buildings near one of the gardens.

lower garden

Upper garden

The Necessary: there were several of these on the property

inside the Necessary: no privacy

After we ate lunch we drove 3 miles down the road to George Washington’s Mill and Distillery.   Admission is $4 extra, but I found this more interesting than the house.  One thing I learned from my whole time at Mount Vernon was that George Washington seemed very smart in terms of business.  For instance he stopped growing tobacco because he knew that the market was saturated with it and he could only sell it to England; therefore he couldn’t make very much money off of it.  So he grew wheat and corn and turned them into cornmeal and flour in his mill.  England already had enough of these items as well, so he was allowed to sell them to other European countries and make more money off of them.  The distillery was not built until 2 years before he died, but was extremely profitable in the short time it was open, which was only a few years.  After Washington’s death it became less profitable because of who was managing it and then it burned down.  I did not know that in colonial America whiskey was clear- they did not age in it barrels to give it the brown color we associate it with.

Washington’s mill

the back of Washington’s mill

inside the mill; the stones to grind corn

the indoor water wheel

making corn meal


Both the mill and distillery are reconstructions, and both are functional.  Archeologists found the site for the distillery during prohibition so they did not tell anyone of its existence.  The site was covered up and left until the 1990s when it was re-excavated and re-built.  The distillery does make whiskey once or twice a year.  It is made the way they would have in colonial America.  A pint of the clear whiskey is almost $100 and a pint of the colored whiskey is almost $200.  There are very limited batches and they are sold on a first come basis.  You can be put on an email list to be notified when a batch is going to be sold, and they said that when the email is sent out they will have people lining up as early as 7AM for the 10AM opening of the distillery to buy it.  Bottles 1 and 2 of the first brown whiskey batch sold for thousands of dollars at an auction.  So far they have only had 1 brown whiskey batch because they age it approximately 2 years.

the Distillery



the worm tube

You can buy cornmeal made at the mill.  I bought some, but now I need to figure out what I am going to make with it.

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America’s Historic Triangle: Jamestown

On Sunday we went to Jamestown.  There are some interesting exhibits in the Visitor’s Center and a pretty interesting 25 minute movie that briefly covers the history of Jamestown.  We did not go to the National Park site next door. It would have been an extra $10.  I wish we had now because that is where the original site of Jamestown is and where they are doing all the excavations.  We will have to go back to do that another time.  Also, I think by this point we were a little historied out.

Fountain at the entrance to the Visitor’s Center

We decided to do the 90 minute guided tour.  It was free, and I think that it was very informative.  There are 3 areas: the Indian village, the fort, and the ships.  In each of the areas a re-enactor talks about that area.

Corey-  Indian guide
Here Corey is talking about corn, how it came to this area, and how it started out as something similar to what we know today, but through plant breeding it became what we know it as.  
Indian dwellings
Inside an Indian dwelling
The Indian dwellings were very interesting. They were made out of young trees and reeds or grasses for the outer covering.  Inside there was a fire in the floor with a vent in the roof to help it not get so smoky.  A whole family would have slept in one of these dwellings.  The sleeping area is what looks like benches covered in animal skins.
I couldn’t imagine being a Native American in that area at the time when the English settlers came.  Seeing those ships, the men dressed as they were, the  weapons, etc…. It truly must have been like seeing an extraterrestrial.  
Inside the fort
Church bells

If you had lived in Jamestown you would have had gone to church twice a day during the week and on Saturday. On Sundays you would have gone 3 times.  If you missed a weekday service your rations for the day would have been taken away.  If you missed a Sunday service you would have had your rations for the week taken away.  Miss 3 Sunday services and you were executed.  They said that there were no records of anyone missing 3 Sunday services.

Ships from the fort.
The Susan Constant
The Godspeed from the Susan Constant

The ships are replications of the originals.  We only walked around the Susan Constant, the largest one.  I was expecting something like out of Pirates of the Caribbean or Captain Hook’s ship in Peter Pan, but not so.  I couldn’t tell which area was the captain’s cabin.  It was all so cramped.

The summer camp that I went to, Camp Chanco, is only about 5 miles up the James River from the Jamestown ferry which is right next to the ships.  I remember one summer during the sailing class our boats being away from the shore of the camp and the wind dying.  Several of our boats ended up floating almost all the way down to the Jamestown ferry.  One of the many memories I have from Camp.  I love that place!  I met some of my best friends there.  I could talk for years about Chanco, and I wish I could describe the place that it holds in my heart and what it means to me.  Chanco is sunshine with magical forests 🙂  If you have children, send them to a summer camp.


I would like to think that I could have been brave enough to go into and survive a situation like the one that the settlers from England faced in Jamestown. However, given that  almost all of the settlers died, I probably would have too.  Then again, if I had been woman during that time I wouldn’t have arrived in Jamestown until it was a more functional settlement. Even then it would have been very hard.  It really makes you think about how much our society has advanced and all of the technology we take for granted.  I know that the maternal side of my father’s family goes back to the American Revolution.  I wonder how much further back than that it goes?  Maybe one day I will do the research.

By the time we got through walking around the Susan Constant we were, or I was, getting hungry.  We ate lunch at the cafeteria in the Visitor’s Center.  It wasn’t great, but decent enough for a quick bite and sufficient enough to make us less cranky.  We then went to the massive Yankee Candle store in Williamsburg for smelly good items and then went home.

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America’s Historic Triangle: Williamsburg

The Governor’s Palace

On Saturday we went to Williamsburg.  It was the capital of the colony of Virginia.  We spent all day there.  It rained the majority of the day.  That morning when we left the hotel I found $16!  The bills were all wet and dirty so they had been in the rain over night.  I didn’t win the big lottery that weekend so I guess that was the universe’s consolation prize.

We parked at the visitor’s center and walked to the historic part.  There is a nice path through a wooded area that ends at the back of the Governor’s Palace.  Do not walk it at night because the majority of it is not lit.  The reason I know that is my husband wanted to walk back to the car at night in the rain.  I was more than creeped out and practically ran back.

At the hotel there was a “calendar” of events for the week in Williamsburg.  We used that to plan our day.  Historic Williamsburg is laid out like a giant “T”, with the “stem” of the “T” being the lawn in front of the Governor’s Palace, and the “cross” of the “T” being the Duke of Gloucester street.  There are other side and back streets, but that is the basic lay out.  The problem was that if we wanted to see something at 1PM it may have been at one end of the “T” and the next thing may have been at the complete opposite end.  It was a lot of walking.

We walked down the Duke of Gloucester Street going into various shops and exhibit areas.  We wanted to do a quill writing class, but when we got there they told us that the person who was going to teach it wasn’t coming that day.  At 1100 AM we watched 2 re-enactments.  One had sword fighting in it and the other had to do with the Royal Governor leaving the colony and taking stores of gun powder.

We ate lunch at the Kings Arms Tavern. The peanut soup was so good. It was like creamy peanut butter.  We spent the rest of the day going to various exhibits and going into various shops while trying to stay dry.  We ate dinner at Chowning’s Tavern.  We were told it is pronounced Chewning’s.  We really wanted to eat there because welsh rare bit was on the menu.  Welsh rare bit is a super cheesy, bready dish that my husband and I had heard about and have always wanted to try.  It was good.  We got dessert at Shield’s tavern while we were waiting for the ghost walk tour.  We got the apple pie with a Rummer drink.  A Rummer is a traditional 18th century “cocktail”.  It was so strong!  I thought that would be the closest I would come to drinking something like moonshine.  My advice, if you get it, is to let the ice melt a bit and water it down.

That night we did the Shield’s Tavern ghost walk tour.  A guide took us around to various places and told us stories about things that visitors and staff had experienced.  It was pretty interesting, but not scary.  We had noticed that not all of the buildings are open to the public.  We found out that those buildings are rented out to the staff.  We also learned that some of the sites in historic Williamsburg are considered museums and the staff that work there do not have to dress in colonial attire.  I couldn’t imagine having to wear those costumes in the Virginia summer heat.  We were lucky that the weekend we were there as it was a “cold spell” in Virginia in July with temps in the 80’s, but rainy.

Cherokee Indians doing a beading demonstration

On of the things I learned by looking on the Colonial Williamsburg website was that the eastern Cherokee were going to be in Williamsburg all week doing demonstrations.  I wish that we could have seen the dancing demonstrations.  The website said they would be on Saturday, but they were really on Sunday.

Magazine- ammunition and gunpowder storage
Chowning’s Tavern sign
Capitol building

We noticed throughout the day that the staff dressed in period costume had period drinking vessels for their drinks.  This guy in the red shirt sitting in front of the Capitol was the guy who checked your passes so you could go in. You can’t see it but he has a ceramic mug for his water.  We saw this throughout the day.

Making mud bricks
Kiln for making mud bricks
Shaping mud bricks
The brickworks area was interesting.  The mud pit had kids in it.  I can’t imagine those poor parents- their kids caked in mud.  Anyway, to make the bricks someone had to physically mix the clay, sand, and water together.  They then shaped the bricks into forms and dried them before firing them in the kiln.  The brickworks area was open late into the night.  We were finishing the ghost tour around 10PM, and it was still open.
Inside the Governor’s Palace
The entryway to the Governor’s Palace was filled with guns, swords, and daggers.  You could barely see the walls underneath them all.  They were in very intricate patterns.
Governor’s Palace gate

At one end of the Duke of Gloucester street is Merchant’s Square.  A collection of shops and restaurants.  I can remember going to the candy and toy stores when I was little.  The Cheese Shop is there.  It is a great deli that has wonderful sandwiches, as well as food and drink items to buy.

Overall, Williamsburg was a very long day.  We probably saw less than half.  I can understand why some people split it up into 2 days.  It can be done in 1 day if you are ambitious and don’t have children.

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America’s Historic Triangle: Yorktown

Tobacco at Yorktown

We started in “America’s Historic Triangle”: Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown.  They are all within a 15 mile radius of each other, and about an hour’s drive from Richmond.  This is where American history books began.  I had never been to Yorktown or Jamestown as far as I know.  I know that I had been to historic Williamsburg as a child on a school field trip because I remember my teacher taking my sweater away from me because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to keep it on or off.  These days the only reason I would go to Williamsburg is for the outlets that there.  However, on 7/26/12 the LL Bean outlet closed, and I am saddned by this, but I digress.

We made a weekend out of it.  I looked online through the historic Williamsburg website for tickets, package deals, and any other interesting things that might be going on for the time we were going to be there.  We g0t the Historic Triangle tickets which gives you access to all three areas for 7 consecutive days.  Since Jamestown and Yorktown are primarily reconstructed areas there are central entry points through a welcome center, but I wondered how passes would work in Williamsburg since it is basically restored to how it was during colonial times and has no central entry point.  We discovered that in Williamsburg you cannot get into any of the re-enactment areas, such as the Blacksmith, without showing your pass.  So that’s how the passes work in Williamsburg.

I should note that when we do these trips we are not staying in fancy places.  However, we might splurge on food.

We started in Yorktown on a Friday afternoon.  Yorktown was where Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington to end the Revolutionary war.  We probably spent about 2 hours there.  I think that the coolest part of it was when they set off the mortar.  We learned the difference between a canon and a mortar.  A canon was used for long range destroying, and a mortar was used for short range destroying.  A mortar could, also, be angled to fire over walls and other blockades.

Firing the mortar

We learned a lot at Yorktown.  What I think I was most surprised about was the fact that the colonies were not allowed to trade with each other and there were no banks.  Virginia did have a tobacco based economy.  I am sure I had learned that in some history class at some point in time, but had forgotten it.   We, also, learned that peanuts, sweet potatoes, okra, some type of hot pepper, and white squash among other things are not native to this continent and were brought over from Africa.

That night we ate at the Riverwalk Restaurant at Riverwalk Landing.  I would suggest making reservations.  The cobbler was so good!  You have to order it when you order your food because they make it from scratch and bake each one for 45 minutes.  Paula Deen would have been proud.  There must have been 2 sticks of butter and a 1/2 pound of sugar it, but it was such a good indulgence especially a la mode.  There is a nice paved walk along the York River behind the restaurant.  There are lots of point of interest plaques along the walk.  For instance we learned that Yorktown is at the edge of massive impact crater from a meteor that hit that part of the planet millions of years ago.


Colonial surgery tools- Ouch!

Tobacco drying- looks like really big ugly bats

colonial military camp- reminds me of tent city from my summer camp

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