Thanksgiving Day is only a week and a half away. While you may be busy planning the big meal, having a few fun activities up your sleeve once Thanksgiving dinner is over is great way to make the holiday extra special. In my article published in the November issue of Kansas City Parent magazine, families share a variety of fun ideas about how they like to spend the holiday after dinner is done. And these are all wonderful ways to grow closer as a family.

Click on the cover of KC Parent to go to my article “Dinner’s Done, Now What? 13 Ideas for Post-Thanksgiving Dinner Fun” article:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your family’s traditions for after the big dinner? 

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Creative Connection Tip: Start a Cooking Club

by Christa Hines on October 25, 2017

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

For those who love to talk about food as much as they love to cook and eat it, a cooking club can be a creative and enticing way to connect with other like-minded culinary fans or individuals who want to hone their food prep skills.

Here’s how to start a cooking club:

Theme. Choose a theme that can help your group focus on what to prepare for each meeting. As your group gets in the groove, you might switch up your theme each year. Side note…don’t make the theme too complicated, especially if you have novice cooks or you’ll risk chasing them off.

Ideas might include:

  • Ethnic cooking
  • Healthy cooking on a budget
  • Meals that can be prepped in 30 minutes or less
  • Vegetarian cooking
  • Recipes from celebrity TV chefs, cookbook authors, bloggers or cooking magazines
  • Pinterest recipes
  • Seasonal/local ingredient sourced dishes
  • Ingredient specific…Each month choose a specific ingredient that everyone includes in the dish they make

Group size. To build group cohesiveness, keep your cooking club to a manageable number, like, between six and 10 members. One reason people return to a group is they develop a sense of camaraderie as they get to know each other. Smaller numbers give members an opportunity to share stories, build trust and swap tips in a relaxed setting. It’s just harder to build that same sense of cohesiveness if numerous people come and go.

Plus, a smaller group is more likely to hold each other accountable for being there. When we know we’re expected somewhere and we’re looking forward to seeing the other members, we’re more inclined to make it work with our schedule.

Scheduling. Set up a Facebook group, GroupMe app, group text or an email chain to coordinate get-togethers. Choose a day of the week and time that generally works best for everyone. Decide how often your group will meet—usually once a month or every six weeks works best for many busy moms.

Making it work. Before each gathering, have your group members sign up for different categories like beverage, appetizer, soup/salad, main entree and dessert. Each friend brings their dish to the gathering along with recipe cards to hand out.

Everyone takes a turn explaining their dish, perhaps sharing what inspired them to make it, what changes they made to the original recipe, what the preparation was like and how they would score it. You might rank a meal based on the difficulty of gathering ingredients, issues during preparation, taste and kid-friendliness. Then everyone eats!

Use social media. Take photos during the gathering and post them to your group page. If you don’t want to hand out recipe cards, include links to each meal on your page. In between face-to-face meetings, share recipes and cooking ideas with each other.

Holiday tip. Host a Secret Santa exchange where everyone swaps an inexpensive cooking gadget that you each consider an indispensable part of your kitchen.   

Focus on fun! Don’t worry if your meal is a disaster. That’s real life and your friends will understand! Besides, they might have some tips for making it work better the next time. Focus on the conversation and the opportunity to spend time with others who share your interests.

Do you have a cooking club? How do you make it work?

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But What Do I Say? 10 Conversation Starters for Moms to Help You Connect with Confidence

The most difficult part of going to a social gathering where you won’t know anyone is managing the awkward small talk. That alone pushes most people to just stay home. But making face-to-face connections is an important way to get to know people better, which is harder to achieve online alone.

When meeting new people, look for things you have in common which will make you more likable to the other person. Avoid pointing out differences (i.e., “Oh, I hate reading books”; “Yuck. I don’t like that kind of food”; “You liked that movie? I thought it was awful.” etc.) And dress in a way that fits with the people you will be meeting. Clothing and accessories can make a statement—just make sure it’s the one you want to make.

Here are 10 conversation starters that will help you connect more deeply with other moms:

  1. What are you working on right now that you are most excited about?
  2. What is something exciting that’s happening your life right now?
  3. What do you love about being part of this group? (or if they’re the new person: “How did you learn about this group?”)
  4. How do you know the host?
  5. Tell me about your kids.
  6. (If it’s near the holidays) How does your family normally celebrate the holidays?
  7. (If you’re coming up on winter/spring/summer break) Do you have any vacation plans this year?
  8. (Fall) My kids are trying to come up with Halloween costumes. Did you like Halloween as a kid? What was your favorite costume? What will your children be dressing up as this year?
  9. We are still getting acquainted with this town. How long have you lived here? Do you have any recommendations for family friendly outings or family friendly restaurants?
  10. That’s a cool class ring. Where did you go to college?

You can learn so much about people simply by asking them about their favorite leisure activities and interests. And they’ll have fun talking to you too.

Need a little extra help? Check out the free Social Superhero chat bot software that the Science of People came up with. The bot sends you conversation starters when you’re stumped, tips, social dares and even jokes to your phone.

Do you have a favorite conversation starter? Please share it with me!

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Foster Empathy to Help Prevent Bullying

by Christa Hines on October 5, 2017

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. 

Want to prevent bullying? Empathy is the key.

Kids who are high in empathy are less likely to bully. You can begin teaching this skill from infancy. Unfortunately, fewer kids are learning this valuable social skill. Researchers have discovered that the levels of empathy among college students has taken a nose dive over the years and some describe an “epidemic of narcissism”.

Here are simple ways to raise more empathetic children:

Read together. Books are a wonderful way to build empathy skills at all ages. Both fiction and nonfiction books provide us with an opportunity to experience a story and another person’s life through a protagonist’s eyes. Story is a gateway toward helping us grow more sensitive to the challenges others face.  Here’s a list of books for children that helps spark conversations about empathy.

Label emotions. Begin labeling emotions from the time your kids can talk. Playdates are an excellent opportunity to build empathy skills.

  • “Your friend seems sad. What can we do to cheer her up?”
  • “I can tell you are upset right now. Do you want to talk about it?”
  • “That was such an awesome goal that Tina made! Let’s go give her a high five.”

Interview a family member. Teach your kids to ask family members questions about their personal stories. For example, your child might ask their grandparent what a particular holiday was like for them while growing up. For example: What is one of your favorite holiday memories? What is something you are most proud of in your life and why? Your kids may learn about hardships that they might not otherwise have heard about, and how their loved one overcame them. If you have the family getting together for Thanksgiving, place conversation starter questions under their dinner plates as a simple and fun way to segue into sharing family stories after the meal.

Display photos. Include photos in your home of family members, including those loved ones who are no longer alive. Tell stories about these family members and the types of hardships they endured. Talk about the traits you admired about them and why you miss them. 

Volunteer. Find ways for your family to contribute to those in need. By role modeling your caring spirit, your kids will be more likely to think about ways they can help others too.

Adopt a pet. Adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization can help kids learn the value of helping an animal in need. Even if you don’t go the rescue route, the simple act of caring for any animal is a valuable lesson in empathy and responsibility. But…P.S….if you’re not a fan of the “cool frog” that your kids found and want to keep in your house, explain how much the frog’s family is going to miss him if they take him away. (empathy+!) 🙂

Watch movies. Check out this list of movies from Michele Borba, Ed. D., author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, which she shares on her blog. 

Choose a social issue to explore. For older kids, who are learning about the many complex issues our society faces, encourage them to delve deeper into an issue. They can read personal stories, various news sources, books and learn how a particular issue impacts lives.

Discuss kind acts and why they matter. Point out news stories that highlight people helping other people. Ask questions like: What is something kind you did for someone today? How did you help someone?

Make the online world kinder. With social media, it’s become easier for kids to engage in bullying without having to look their victims in the eyes. Ask thoughtful questions for them to consider like: “If you share that post or like a post that makes fun of someone, does that make you a participant in the bullying?” To help guide your kids before they post online, teach them to  T.H.I.N.K.: Is it Thoughtful? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring/Informative? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? 

Walk in my shoes. For middle school kids, I thought this “shoe” is a clever and creative empathy building activity that an English teacher does with her students.  Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out. “You  Do Not Know Me Unless You Have Walked in My Shoes.” 

Teaching and modeling moments of empathy in everyday life will help your child grow more sensitive to the world around them and help them be better friends to others. And that’s what the anti-bullying message should really be about.

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Creative Connection Tip: Turn on the TV

by Christa Hines on September 28, 2017

My friends and family know that I have a special obsession for Outlander, a historical fiction/fantasy book series authored by Diana Gabaldon that Starz turned into a fantastic mini-series recently.

I love sharing articles, swapping memes and discussing the show with friends both online and off who love it as much as I do. For me, it’s a welcome retreat from real-world problems. Plus, it’s a fun way to connect. 

Want to make some new friends as we head into the colder fall and winter months? Popular television shows can offer a built-in sense of community through the course of their seasons. Consider the cult following for shows like “Game of Thrones” and “This is Us.” People are hungry to discuss the plot lines and characters with each other.

Back in the olden days when everyone watched “Must See TV” on Thursday nights or the Monday night soap dramas, we’d rush into work the next morning to swap opinions and thoughts about the show. Some people would even have watch parties at their homes for season finales. (I wonder, do people do that anymore?)

Television shows, like books, are a great form of escapism from the daily grind. Nowadays, people gather around the virtual water cooler to discuss the highlights and share critiques. Many shows have online communities on social media created specifically for the show’s fans. A recent research study published in the National Communication Association’s Critical Studies in Media Communication found that “these online communities give women a significant degree of group identification as they self-reflect and swap opinions with others about the storylines of the TV shows.

With everything happening in the world and on our own doorsteps, many of us are feeling anxious, stressed and disillusioned these days. Why not tune out the real world for a little while and escape into your favorite TV show along with a community of online fans? You’ll not only come away feeling more relaxed, you’ll find common ground and a sense of belonging that we’re all craving right now. Check around online for your favorite TV show’s online community. Facebook and Twitter are great places to start.

What is your favorite television show?

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Six Ways to Help Kids Use Social Media in a Healthy Way

by Christa Hines on August 23, 2017

By age 10, many children already have social media accounts on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, even though these sites require that users be 13 or older. If you’ve spent any time on social media, you know that it can have an influence on mental wellbeing–both positive and negative.

While many of us jump online as an entertaining distraction, too much social media can invite feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and depression. As adults, most of us can recognize when it’s time for a break. But if you’ve ever tried to get a child off of a video game, you know that most kids don’t have a strong sense of limits. Given the opportunity, my kids would play video games from morning until midnight!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,  kids who spend too much time on social media are at risk for mental health issues like depression, anxiety and distorted body image, which can lead to eating disorders. Like many adults, they can easily fall into the trap of believing that other people’s lives are better then theirs. Furthermore, exposure to negative news, alarming photos and videos, as well as toxic individuals can heighten feelings of anxiety, fear and hopelessness.

The good news is there are ways to guide our kids toward healthy social media consumption that will help them create a more well-rounded, fulfilling life.

Define your boundaries. Besides depression and anxiety, the more time kids spend on social media, the more problems can arise from invasions of privacy and sleep deprivation to cyberbullying. Establish family rules around when and where electronics are allowed in your home. Involve your kids in the discussion. Role model healthy electronics use by following the rules you create. Create a charging station where everyone’s devices are turned in by a particular time each evening.

Talk about social media. Remind your kids that what’s happening in their friends’ social media lives isn’t the complete picture. Social media posts are  simply snapshots of people’s more complex lives–sides of themselves that they choose to share. No matter how beautiful the selfie or enviable the status, everyone has their own set of problems they’re dealing with.

Consider if your child is really ready for social media. Read up about the different social media sites that your child wants to join. Common Sense Media is a good resource. Be aware that many of these platforms have age limits for a reason, depicting subject matter that your child may not be developmentally ready to handle. Consider your child’s personality. Do they tend to be impulsive? Do they understand that nothing they post is private? How well do they communicate with others via text and email? How will you stay in the loop? Are you willing to check in regularly and have discussions about smart online decisions? Will they talk to you if they see or experience something that bothers or worries them?

Discuss privacy. Make sure privacy setting are in use and that your kids only friend people they know in real life. Learn everything you can about a platform that your child wants to join. Join it first to see what it’s like. Some apps don’t have strong privacy protections and can open the door for strangers to message them. How will your kids handle those types of messages if you permit them to use these sorts of apps? Discuss the type of personal information should they never share online. Remind them that anything sent through messaging apps or posted online can be shared outside their network. A question they might ask themselves before posting: “Would I want Grandma (or my favorite teacher, etc.) to see this?” Set up restrictions on their phones that require a parent to enter a password before they can download an app. This way they will come to you first to discuss the app they want and you can decide together if it’s a good idea.

Take a digital sabbath. Choose a day of the week when your family unplugs from social media and the online world. This is an opportunity to simply be in the present and pursue personal interests without worrying about the rest of the world, other than the people who matter most to you in the here and now. If this is difficult at first, plan ahead. Invite another family over for an early dinner. Go on a family hike or bike ride. Take your child shopping or for an outing. Make it a family game day with indoor or outdoor games. Arrange for a neighborhood barbecue.

Strike a balance. Encourage and push your child to get involved in activities at school. Outside of school, help them discover activities that give them a sense of purpose, personal satisfaction and that nurture their self-confidence. They’ll begin to develop friendships around shared interests so that when they do go online, they’ll be less willing to put up with obnoxious, mean-spirited individuals and focus more on attracting positive, uplifting people into their online universe.

 

 

 

 

 

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New to Back to School? Six Fun Ways to Connect

by Christa Hines on August 9, 2017

Family calling cards designed by Kari Burkholder, Two Turtles Gift & Design Company

Many of us are gearing up for back to school, which means we’re going to have the chance to say hello again to families we haven’t seen all summer. But if your child is new to the school or headed to Moms Day Out, preschool or kindergarten, you both may be going in without knowing a soul. Here are some fun ways to begin connecting with other parents and feeling like part of your child’s school community:

Attend back to school socials. Many schools host welcome breakfasts and school orientations to new families. Best case scenario is the school assigns you a seasoned family who can introduce you to other parents and fill you in on little details about the school that you wouldn’t have otherwise known. If you find yourself more or less on your own, attend other family-centered events that the school puts on. While these can be a little intimidating at first, take your kids and go. Notice another mom standing by herself? Go up and introduce yourself. Ask about her kids and the grades they are entering.

Have a family calling card. A friend of mine shared this idea with me, which I wrote about in my article “15 Genius Tips for Back to School” in the August issue of Kansas City Parent magazine. Using a clever design that’s more memorable than a regular business card, she hands people she meets a card that tells them her name, her contact information and the names of her child(ren). Kari Burkholder, a talented designer and business owner here in Kansas City designs these adorable cards. Check out all of her beautiful products on her Facebook page Two Turtles Gift & Design Company

Use social media. Many schools have their own Facebook page where parents chat about school functions or post questions. If you’re a new family, write a post that introduces yourself and your child. Mention that you’d love for your child to meet a few classmates before school starts. Then, ask if anyone would be interested in getting a few kids together from your child’s grade for a playdate at a nearby park.

Attend Moms’ Night Outs. Parent volunteers at our school coordinate monthly moms’ night outs for moms to gather without kids. These are a lot of fun and usually the first gatherings of the year are the largest. If your school parents host  these types of functions, try and go. Other school PTOs/PTAs organize meet and greet coffee gatherings at the beginning of the school year as a way to connect. Ask around to find out what your school does. 

Volunteer. Schools are always looking for volunteers and this is a wonderful way to meet other parents. Doing something alongside other volunteers takes the pressure off, especially if you find social gatherings a little intimidating. As you get to know some of the other parents, begin attending other gatherings to grow your network. Just be sure to choose volunteer opportunities that interest you and that work well with your schedule so that you can feel positive about your service. 

Show your friendliness. You know that old saying, “Smile and the world smiles with you. Cry and you cry alone?” Emotions are contagious. When you’re in a bad mood, people tend to steer clear or they mirror you in a negative way. People instinctively respond to our facial expressions  and body language whether positive or negative. Go into social events with a warm smile and upbeat, welcoming attitude. Be curious about the people you meet. Ask them about their kids, their summer vacations and what they’re most excited about in the coming year. Even if you’re feeling a little nervous, I promise, just by showing up, laughing with and meeting other welcoming moms, you’ll enjoy a healthy shot of confidence and a boost of happiness. This isn’t just my opinion. Science backs it up. After a pleasant social interaction, the feel-good hormone oxytocin surges in our bodies. 

What are things you have done that have helped you connect when you’ve been the new mom to the group?

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Do you ever wonder how you come across on social media to others? What do your photos, posts, likes and comments say about your personality?

ApplyMagicSauce.Com, a free personality prediction site created by the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Center, claims to “accurately predict psychological traits from digital footprints of human behavior”. I was curious to see how the site works and if my social media profile is an accurate reflection of who I am, so I gave it a try.

How it works. When you connect Apply Magic Sauce to your Facebook or Twitter profile, it will go through your photos, posts, likes and comments to determine your personality profile. I chose to just have my Facebook account evaluated since I’m most active on this account in both a personal and professional context compared to Twitter. 

What you’ll learn. On a sliding scale, the site will evaluate your level of openness, how you manage life challenges, your level of extraversion, how well you get along with others and how satisfied you are with your life. It will even predict your political affiliation, gender preference, education and religion.

The level of openness, for example, distinguishes creative and imaginative people from more down-to-earth, conventional-minded people. You might rank high in openness, low or somewhere in the middle. But it doesn’t just rank, the site also attempts to interpret the data. Here’s how the algorithm interpreted my openness profile:

“Your digital footprint suggests that you are intellectually curious and appreciative of what you consider beautiful, no matter what others think. You might say that your imagination is vivid and makes you more creative than many others.”

You’ll also learn your digital age—what your digital footprint suggests about your age. Mine suggests that I’m 36, which is a few years younger than I am in real life.

What it means. Most of us know that our social media profiles aren’t separate from ourselves. They’re often extensions of our real life–or at the very least, a slice of our reality. Besides being a fascinating and speedy personality assessment, the beauty of this tool is it can help you figure out what messages you’re sending out to the world about your personality and if you’re coming across in a way that feels genuine to you. 

What does your social media profile say about you? Are you happy with the results? Do you feel they are accurate?

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My favorite types of conversations are those where I get to delve deeper into topics and issues facing moms. There’s nothing that quite fills my spirit like listening to stories, sharing experiences and exchanging viewpoints. These types of conversations energize me and inspire a sense of connection and community with the women I talk to.

Needless to say I was thrilled when Shannon Kinney-Duh, a holistic life coach and creator of A Free Spirit Life, and Ashley Walburn, owner of Home Holistic invited me to join them for an episode about connecting in the digital age on their Mindful Mama Movement podcast. 

On the show today, Shannon, Ashley and I talk about dealing with technology and how to create deep and meaningful connections with our families. We also talk about why self-care is important for moms and why it matters for the overall wellbeing of our families. Head over to the Mindful Mama Movement website to listen to the episode.  You can also download the episode on iTunes here. 

Check out the other episodes of this uplifting podcast too. I’ve consistently found the Mindful Mama Movement podcast to be both enlightening and empowering, while providing a positive community and welcome miniature retreat from the busyness of daily life.

P.S. Be sure and listen to the end of today’s episode to find out about the giveaway I’m offering! After you listen, let me know what comes up for you from the conversation! I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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I know many people—adults and children—right now who are feeling anxious and worried. One expert I spoke with recently told me that today’s kids are the most anxious of any generation.

As our kids most influential role models, what are some simple things we can do right away to help ease stress and anxiety for ourselves and for our kids?

1. Limit violent images. Sadly, thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, violence is a daily part of life that we invite regularly into our homes. If we overexpose ourselves to hostile, dark images and stories, we risk growing increasingly angry, fearful and aggressive. We are what we consume. In the same vein, if we allow our kids to regularly view death and destruction on TV, in the news, and in video games, I believe we effectively manage to terrorize and desensitize these most precious, vulnerable spirits. We don’t want our kids to begin to see the world as a cruel, cold place. Indifference is the enemy of empathy and can feed narcissism.

2. Swap good news. Search the back pages of your daily newspaper or online for interesting nuggets of news that you can share with your family around the dinner table or when you’re headed to extracurricular activities. What are stories that bring you hope? Who inspired you today? Who showed generosity in an interesting, unusual or thoughtful way? What is a story that made you laugh? And ask your kids: “What’s something you heard, did or witnessed that made you feel good today and made others feel good?”

3. Show gratitude. When we take time to give thanks for the gifts in our lives, we can move away from feeling like we don’t have enough or that we aren’t enough to the people we care for and love. Ironically, the scarcity mentality is rampant in our abundant culture. And yet, there are people who literally have next to nothing and still find reasons to be grateful. The more energy we put into enjoying what we do have in our lives, the less we’ll focus on what we don’t have. Gratitude provides a solid return on investment for the spirit.

4. Create a family bulletin board. Put up a bulletin board in your house where you post the good stuff. If you don’t have a bulletin board, use your refrigerator or a door in your home that everyone regularly sees. Include a collage of accomplishments of each family member, favorite photos of your family having fun together, uplifting quotes and inspiring stories about people in your community and around the world.

5. Share positive news online. While we shouldn’t ignore what’s happening in the world, we can help spread joy to counterbalance the negative. Share uplifting, humorous and thoughtful items. Begin following organizations, writers and artists that will help fill your news feed and inbox with more uplifting, creative and inspiring items. Some that I personally like include TED, Project Happiness, Uplift Connect, SARK, Flora Bowley, Martha Beck, Christina Katz, Marie Forleo and Wayside Waifs (an animal welfare organization here in KC) .

6. Tune in and then move along. If you’re a news junkie, too much news can drive anxiety and stress and harm your overall sense of wellbeing. Try limiting your news intake to twice a day. Avoid fear-mongering personalities and mean-spirited commentators. After reading an article, move on to something else rather than reading the rancorous comments that follow. If you’re worried about missing out, sign up to receive breaking news from one of your favorite news organizations.

7. Unplug. Turn off social media. Focus on a work project, go fishing, meditate, read a book, cook a new recipe, craft, play a game with your kids, clean out the junk drawer, journal, shop or write a letter. The options are endless. If there’s an issue that is particularly bothersome to you, take action rather than ruminating. Write that letter to the editor, call your congress person, contact the customer service person about the problem or work to resolve a conflict in an important relationship.

8. Call a friend. Talking to a good friend can help ease anxiety. Schedule lunch or go for a walk together. Gather your friends for happy hour. Social time can give us a break from the worries that plague us.

9. Engage in self-care. Make a list of everything that makes you feel happy, comforted and cared for. Then pick one and go do it. Carve out 15 to 30 minutes a day to do something that invigorates and calms your spirit even if its something as simple as a hot bath or painting your toenails.

10. Run it out. Exercise can have a profound effect on your overall wellbeing and can help reduce stress, anxiety and tension. Run, dance, walk, do yoga—whatever you enjoy that gets you moving.

11. Listen up. Turn on your favorite music station, listen to Pandora, play soothing classical music in the background or tune in to an inspiring podcast.

12. Laugh. Follow comedians and funny writers online. Watch your favorite sitcom, late night show or a funny movie. Invite your kids to take turns telling jokes at the dinner table. Listen for laughter in your home. Nothing makes me laugh like listening to my 11-year-old cracking up as he reads Calvin & Hobbes or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Laughter truly is the best medicine. 

What do you do to manage stress and anxiety?

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