Monday, December 16, 2013

Long lost Swedish relatives


Where do I begin? There is so much I want to say. Get ready for a couple of really long posts. All of my life my mom has talked about the old country and how we still have relatives in Sweden with a farm that has been in the family since the mid-1800's. She has carried on Swedish Christmas traditions and taught us the tiny bit of Swedish that her mother taught her. Somehow it was always very magical, almost mythical, to me and I had vague, far-away dreams of someday going there and meeting them. When we decided to go to Scandinavia, I took out our family history book and looked for a way to contact them. I found my answer in the first pages of the book....an email address for my distant cousin Bertil. I composed an email and fired it off into the abyss. I received a notification that this address was no longer valid. Disappointed, I dug deeper with Google and eventually found a match in Stockholm that looked like it could be him. I gathered my thoughts and picked up the phone. A foreign voice answered and after asking if he spoke English, I introduced myself and how I came to know of him. He was surprised and excited to hear from a long lost relative on the phone. We exchanged email addresses and made plans from there. He put me in touch with Beret who owns the family farm in Västbyn, but lives in nearby Östersund. Beret made big plans for us and arranged meetings with relatives over the course of a weekend. And this is how we found ourselves in northern Sweden.

Words cannot express my gratitude to my new found Swedish family. Upon learning that a strange relative was coming to visit from the US, they opened up their hearts and homes to my family and I. The amount of kindness and generosity that they shared with us was so overwhelming and touching. Bertil's sister (my second-cousin, once-removed), Anita, invited us to stay in her home and when we arrived Friday evening in Östersund, she borrowed her ex-husband's car to greet us with hugs at the train station and bring us to her home where we would spend the next four nights. In her cozy apartment we worked on dinner together as we began to get to know each other. We sat down around the kitchen table and shared the first of many meals together, moose tacos, Swedish style. Late in the evening, her daughter Maria took the time to walk over to meet us even though she had just finished a long work week. We were so happy she did.

The next morning, after Jason made egg pancakes, Beret, showed up at the door with grand plans for the day! We piled into her car and headed towards the family farm where my great-grandmother Märit was born and raised. Along the way she showed me the house where my great-grandfather Eric was born and grew up. She showed us the school he attended, the store where they shopped and the mill where they ground their flour. She showed us the Good Templar house that my great-great-grandfather Anders built and then the family farm in the village of Västbyn. I can't really describe what it feels like to return to where my family comes from other than that it was deeply meaningful and magical to drive up under gently falling snow to the family farm. It looks the same as it did in all the old photos I had seen. It was a lot to take in. At the farm, Beret's sister Bodil was waiting for us. She had lunch and warm glögg waiting for us. Beret showed us through the farmhouse where she and Bodil were born and raised. The farm had remained unchanged from the 1850s until her parents renovated in 1958, adding running water, indoor bathrooms, a modern kitchen and electricity. Beret remembers lugging buckets of water into the house and going out into the cold to use the outhouse. After wandering through the farm house that has been home to four generations of my family, we sat down at the table for more conversation, sipped glögg, ate lunch, ginger cookies and homemade saffron rolls. The light began to fade so we bundled up and headed out into the snow for the outdoor tour before sunset at 2:30. Beret showed us the summer home where the family spent summers and had their baking stove. She showed us a small cabin they had moved onto the land that she calls her museum, where she keeps antiques and treasures she has found from around the farm. We saw an old hand-scythe with the initials MAD which was either my great-grandmother's or her sister's. We saw old chairs that have been there since the farm was bought in the mid 1850's. While we were outside Bodil was busy in the kitchen, preparing a wonderful dinner. When we got back, delicious smells greeted us from the kitchen and Bodil handed us big wool socks knitted by her grandma to put on our cold feet. As we waited for dinner, Beret and Bodil pulled out old family documents. They showed us the original document for the purchase of the farm and documents that laid out how the new generation planned to take care of the old generation including how many pounds of potatoes, flour and provisions they would buy each year to make sure that their parents were comfortable. We looked at old photos. The boys made a fire and Aaron snuggled with the gnome, Tomté, who lives in barns to make sure that animals are treated correctly, otherwise causing mischief. Finally we sat down to the meal Bodil had prepared. We ate the most amazing moose stew from meat her husband had hunted topped with lingonberries she had picked and frozen, boiled potatoes from her own garden, Swedish meatballs and homemade organic beer that Beret's husband Torsten had brewed. The food was delicious and the conversation lively. When Beret asked if I knew any Swedish I repeated a Swedish nursery rhyme that my mom had taught all my siblings and I, and I had taught my own boys. Beret and Bodil's eyes lit up! This game is something my family in Sweden still plays with their babies. It was such a cool discovery to find that this nursery rhyme, split by half a world, a language barrier and three generations, was finally reunited here at the farm. The fire and evening wound down, and we headed back to Beret's house where we met her daughter, Kristina, and her husband, Torsten. She showed us a Swedish TV show where U.S. descendants of Swedish emigrants compete to be reunited with their families. It was remarkable how similar the stories were to ours and how important these stories are to the Swedish people. After a long day, Beret returned us to Anita's and we all collapsed into bed around midnight.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thanksgiving in Sweden


We spent our Thanksgiving riding a train from Copenhagen to Uppsala, a small city located just north of Stockholm. When we arrived, we had some confusion about how to get to our hostel and the restaurant where we had dinner reservations. After a bit of bumbling we were late for our reservations so we gave up and hopped into a taxi. We rolled into the fishy smelling restaurant, piled our luggage in a corner and took our seats. We ordered a fishy appetizer plate followed by delicious fishy entrees. We all left full, happy and fishy....Thanksgiving, Swedish style.

Oh...and we visited the biggest cathedral in Sweden while we were there....

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Copenhagen


We arrived in bustling Copenhagen exhausted and with each member of our family in various stages of sickness. We were ready to take a break from the fast pace of our trip and hang out a little while. We checked into our comfy, Indonesian-style hotel Sunday and Jason left on a plane for Brussels Monday morning to attend meetings. The boys and I took this opportunity to rest and recover a bit. After a lazy and delicious organic breakfast we spent the entire day playing games, drinking tea and relaxing. The next day I coaxed my coughing kids out of the hotel to explore the city streets and visit the Rosenburg Castle built by King Christian IV in the 1600's as a summer residence. We got there twenty minutes before closing time for the main castle (luckily the treasury was open for another two hours), bought our tickets and rushed up to the throne room. Boy oh boy, do kings know how to spend money! I still can't get over the opulence of the way royalty lived. We then wandered through the rooms of the treasury where we saw chests made out of amber, sailing ships of ivory, and gold, gold, gold. Jason arrived home late that evening and the next day we set out through the streets to find Nyhaven, a colorful, old waterfront that reminded us of Bergen. Along the way the boys were delighted to stumble upon game stores and the mothership Lego store.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Viking Graveyard



After our early morning arrival in Aalborg, we spent the the rest of the day exploring the quaint town. Wandering through its pretty little streets, we stumbled upon a Christmas market where we bought yummy treats to eat and saw the real Santa Claus walking through the streets. The following day was the day we had been waiting for....we would visit the much anticipated Viking graveyard, Lindholm Høje. Some Vikings didn't bury their dead, they placed stones in the shape of ship for a man and the shape of a circle for a woman. They then laid wood over the stones, placed the body on top surrounded by small possessions and then lit it all on fire. Afterwards they would place dirt over the top. Perched picturesquely atop a green hilltop, Lindholm Høje is home to nearly 700 graves from the Iron Age and Viking Age preserved by sand drifts that had covered them for hundreds of years. In the cold, dark morning air, we wandered through the hauntingly mysterious landscape between Viking graves with our imaginations and inner-Vikings awake and alive on the resting ground of the ancient dead.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ferry to Denmark



We left Bergen on a huge, overnight ferry to Denmark. The ferry was very cruise-ship-esque and we enjoyed watching the Norwegian islands pass by in the little bit of daylight we had left, warm in our comfy seats...a really, quite different experience than the sailboat. After the sunset, we watched as the normally staid Norwegians let loose as they set out on vacation and then enjoyed a Christmas buffet where Aaron helped himself to a big serving of lutefisk. Back in our cabin we tossed and turned through the night and then pulled our tired selves out of our bunks at the 6am wake-up call. By 7:15 we had piled onto a bus destined for Aalborg, Denmark surrounded by inebriated Norwegians who sang on and on while they passed a bottle of hard alcohol around. I have to say that it was really strange to watch people drinking so early in the morning, but the sunrise over the Danish countryside was quite lovely.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Bergen



Bergen is a beautiful seaside town with an impossibly picturesque and wobbly waterfront. It served as Norway's capital in the 12th and 13th centuries thanks to wealth accumulated from oodles of dried cod flooding in from the north and its membership in the Hanseatic League that distributed the cod all over Europe. The colorful wharf, the Bryggen, survives from the 1700's only due to a strict enforcement of fire-free living quarters brought on by the city's experience with ten horrific fires in the past. Candles and fires were only allowed in a separate building behind the larger warehouses and living spaces. The men would warm themselves and cook in these assembly rooms before heading back to their lightless, frigid rooms. We spent our time in Bergen wandering through the creaky quarters of the medieval Bryggen. Built on the burnt remains of wooden buildings from the past, the walls lean at crazy angles and wooden planks moaned under our feet. We expected the walls to collapse at any moment. In the depths of the narrow alleyways, we stumbled upon a Viking store. We checked out its Viking weaponry, helmets and clothing. When we struck up a conversation with the owner, I couldn't help but to ask if he knew our Viking taxi driver. He did. Apparently Georg is famous in Norway and even has a Viking doll that was made in his likeness. We took a break to eat some lunch at a lovely cafe where a Portuguese barista brought back all kinds of warm and fuzzy feelings for the Portuguese people. We spent an afternoon checking out a 13th century fortress left over from Bergen's days as capital. We checked out the Hanseatic Museum where we saw the well preserved and still frigid living quarters from the 1700's, including authentic 100 year old dried cod. We ate an amazing dinner within the back alleyways of the Bryggen where the cobbled floor sloped downward and the building positively reeked of magical medieval atmosphere. And cod. Here we ordered a wide array of Norwegian Christmas dishes including roasted reindeer (sorry Santa), smoked salmon, meatballs and lutefisk wrapped in lefsa. We were all surprised that we liked the lutefisk and ordered more. For dessert we ate krumkaka (a traditional Christmas cookie in Norway and beloved memory from my childhood) with cream and berries.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Viking Taxi



Aaron has spent a lot of time on Google Earth looking at mountains in Norway. One of the places he hoped we would go is the famous diving board rock lookout, but unfortunately it is inaccessible in the winter. We found that there is an alternative, man-made lookout above Aurland, close to our home-base in Flåm so we called a taxi to bring us up. Our taxi pulled up, predictably a Volvo, and I looked in to find a long-haired, beard-down-to-his-lap cab driver. Boy did he looked like a Viking! Shortly into the drive we discovered that he is in fact a Viking chieftain for the region. At the moment he is between Viking re-enactment jobs and is driving a taxi. Only in Norway do you get an out of work Viking driving you around in a taxi. As you might expect, it was awesome having a Viking taxi driver and also quite scary. I think that accurately describes Vikings in general, awesome and scary. He pointed out Viking burial mounds along the way. He showed us an amazing photo of himself in his Viking garb. He told us of his Viking plans to build a Viking village funded in part by Ted Turner whom he had spent a day rowing Viking ships. He gave us his Viking business card and then scared the pants off us driving at breakneck speeds up narrow, steep, icy winding roads. When we started up the mountain, the road narrowed to only one lane and the steep drop into the abyss was a little unnerving. Jason asked meekly, "um, where is the other lane for this road?" At which point we learned this was in fact both lanes and that Vikings don't need two full lanes up mountain roads. Though he did acknowledge that things got dicey in the summer with the tour busses. Further up the mountain, the road was blanketed with snow but the speed of the car remained unchanged. From the back seat I wondered if these were my last moments on earth, but then became distracted form my fear looking at the farms perched on these impossibly steep slopes. What in God's green earth are they farming up here? These people are ridiculously tough and their livestock must be in Olympic shape. In spite of my worries of sliding off the road our Viking driver never lost traction and delivered us safely to the overlook. The views were spectacular but with the icy wind and a cough-y kid, we didn't last long. On the way back to the village we had our Viking driver drop us off at a 16th century farm. He knew the owner and tried calling her to see if she was around to show us the place and make us waffles, but unfortunately she wasn't around. We explored on our own and then walked the mile and half along the fjord back to the village. After lunch we boarded the Sonjefjord Ferry at 3:00 for a trip through the narrowest fjord in the world to Gudvangen. We bundled in all of our clothes and watched gorgeous scenery pass by in the twilight. In Gudvangen we hopped on a bus and then a train which brought us to Bergen on the western shore of Norway.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Flåm



Isaac was an amazing trooper and we were able to stick with our original plan to hike while in Flåm. The cold Norwegian air invigorated his Viking blood and we walked through the valley filled with picturesque red and yellow farms. Through lightly falling snow we climbed steep slopes to a waterfall with gorgeous views over the valley. In the evening we went to the Ægir Brewery or as we like to call it, "The Viking Restaurant!" Built in the style of a small stave church, we opened huge wooden doors and were welcomed by a round fireplace surrounded by wooden benches covered in sheep skins. Hands down, this is the coolest restaurant we have ever been too. At the bar, our friendly Irish bartender helped us navigate the menu. I ordered a smoked reindeer salad, Jason got leg of lamb, and the boys got venison burgers. The adult Vikings washed the Viking fare down with Viking beers and the smallish Vikings drank apple ciders. Afterwards we relaxed around the crackling fire soaking in the earthly Valhalla (minus the endless fighting) before reluctantly leaving to get our sick kiddo to bed.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Train to Flåm


We got up dark and early the next morning, inhaled a quick breakfast and dashed off through the dark, with a sick Isaac, to catch our 8am train into the mountains. We watched how the countryside gradually changed from green pastoral fields to mountains, white and frozen. At Myrdal, we stepped out into the snow and boarded our next train to Flåm. The Flåm Railway was built in the late 1800's and is crazy, steep and curvy....one of the steepest railroads in the world. As Isaac snoozed in and out of a fever-y sleep, the rest of us enjoyed spectacular scenery as we descended down the mountains into Sonjefjord before disembarking in the tiny village of Flåm where we would spend the next two nights.

Click here for bad photos shot through the train window for a little glimpse of the Norwegian countryside.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Viking Ships


The following morning Jason woke me at 8am. I had floated in and out of sleep as screams and loud music had pulled me in and out of consciousness all night long. In my bleary brain, it couldn't possibly be time to wake up. I was absolutely positive that he had it wrong...it must be 4:00 in the morning. I made him re-check the time. To my dismay, it was in fact time to wake up and we all pulled our exhausted bodies out of bed. We were rewarded by a decadent spread of Norwegian breakfast foods...cocoa-sprinkled salmon, smoked mackerel, caramelized Norwegian brown cheese, pancakes, breads, fruits, nuts, smoothies and bottomless cups of tea and coffee. Many cups of tea later, with bellies full, we were ready to roll. We hopped on a bus headed for the Viking Ship Museum, home to three Viking ships recovered from burial mounds around Norway. Traditionally Vikings buried people of importance in huge mounds large enough to contain their ships and all of the things they'll need for the after life. The ships in the museum, and all of their belongings, were packed in clay which preserved them amazingly well. I have to say, this was one of the most amazing museums we have ever been to. Upon entering the hall we were greeted by the double-dragon-headed Oseburg ship dating from 834 AD. She is 65 feet long, 15 feet wide and her elegantly curved bow and stern were intricately carved with swirling dragon heads. With a relatively low free-board she was designed for coastal cruising as a pleasure craft. The next room contained the impressive, beefy, ocean-going Gokstad ship dating from 890 AD. The Vikings had made some dramatic improvements over the years, and measuring 76 feet long and 17 feet wide, this ship was fully seaworthy, ready to cross any ocean. Let the Viking age and pillaging begin! The next room held treasures found within the burial mounds...elaborately carved sleighs, wagons and beds, Viking tent posts, cooking utensils, etc. All weaponry and valuables had been looted long ago.

Next we visited the Folk Museum, home to over 150 historic buildings that have been transplanted from around Norway. We saw how Norwegians from all walks of life lived throughout history. We saw Oslo suburbs at the turn of the century, where children started smoking at age 5. We learned that Oslo did not have widespread indoor toilets until after 1952 and saw firsthand a double-decker outhouse, something I had never imagined existed. I would have always chosen the top floor. We saw log buildings from remote farmsteads that drove home how dark my ancestors existence must have been surrounded by dark wood with tiny windows in a place that hardly sees daylight for a large portion of the year. We saw a pagoda-like 1600's era stave church which was even darker inside than the tiny cabins. We saw a traditional Sami winter dwelling and learned more about the reindeer-herding people of the north. We saw how lefsa was traditionally prepared over a fire. We eagerly slathered our portion with butter and gobbled the warm goody down in the chilly air outside as the sun began to set at 3:30. After a quick rest in the hotel, we ate dinner at a quaint little cafe where Isaac ordered moose stew....a perfect ending to a chilly day.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Oslo


After two weeks at home we learned that Jason needed to be in Atlanta in two weeks for a meeting and in Brussels the week of Thanksgiving for another meeting, so we decided to plan a trip to Scandinavia. We spent the next two hectic weeks planning and reminding people that, yes, we were aware that it was winter in Scandinavia. One of the decisions we made in planning this trip was that we would leave Pika behind for the very first time. We were all very sad about this but agreed it was probably in her and our best interest. Jason's mom valiantly stepped up to the plate to take on the job of taking care of our nervous, anti-social, bitey chihuahua. I'm pretty sure this secures her a spot for sainthood. So off we flew to Atlanta to visit the great-grandparents and for Jason's meeting, chihuahua-less. We spent a couple of days visiting with family and resting before our flight to Oslo.

We arrived in Oslo at 9:30am very jet-lagged and discombobulated. We had a series of follies as we worked our way from the airport to our hotel. We missed our first train by just seconds. We caught the next train, but when it came time to get off we gathered our stuff quickly and then stared dumbly at the door, waiting for it to open.  In a stroke of genius, I saw the open button and hit it, but it was too late. The door opened half-way, then closed and the train was in motion again. We managed to get off at the next stop and we all piled into an elevator with one other person. The doors wouldn't close so we all piled out thinking maybe it was over its weight limit. The doors closed abruptly and down it went. We had success with our second try. On the next train platform we had to buy a new set of train tickets to get us back to the stop we had just missed. Once we got off at our train station, dazed, we wandered back and forth, back and forth trying to find the street to our hotel. Once at the hotel, they informed us that according to their computer, we were supposed to have checked in the day before. Luckily, I had an email confirmation with the correct dates and they gave us a room. At this point we were starving and in serious need of caffeine so we stumbled into the hotel restaurant and dug into the sandwich and cake buffet. At this point we knew that Norway is expensive, but we did not have a good handle on the kroner to dollar exchange and ended up spending $250 on sandwiches. Oops. At least they were fancy sandwiches in a fancy restaurant. With full tummies and fully caffeinated, we hit the streets.

Jason navigated us to Akershus where we soaked in views of the Oslo harbor before taking an audio tour through the 1300's era castle. Afterwards, we circled back up the overlook at least three times, for reasons I do not think I will ever understand. The ultimate goal was to watch the early sunset over the water but I haven't a clue why we circled so many times...I suppose a byproduct of our jet-lagged state. At any rate, we had a lovely time watching as the sun sunk lower and lower in the sky until it disappeared behind the horizon at 3:40. At this point we wandered through the dark streets past a mixture of ultra-modern and traditional European buildings back to our hotel for a quick shower and rest before dinner at a Vietnamese-French restaurant. We all collapsed into bed at 8:00 where we fell asleep in spite of the loud music and screaming that emanated from below our window until 3am.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Coming full circle.....



After arriving back in Seattle, we spent a hectic weekend cleaning the boat and getting her ready for winter. All through our eight-week long journey the sausages and beer at München Haus in Leavenworth had been calling our names so we said good-bye to Marinero and drove across the Cascade Mountains to finish off our trip where we had started. After knocking off a quick hike in gorgeous fall colors, we went back to München Haus to satisfy our craving. Huddled in warm coats, we sat upstairs and watched the sun set over the mountains as we gobbled down our hearty German fare.

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Princess Cove to Port Townsend



The following day we went for a lovely hike on Wallace Island where we came upon an old cabin that had been completely covered with wooden signs that boaters had made and left behind as proof that they had been there. We spent some time checking out the artwork and made plans to make our own for our next visit. When we got back to the boat we set out for Bedwell Harbor, our final stop in Canada before heading back into the U.S. Here another downpour set in and the following day Jason had a hard time coaxing us out of the boat to keep him company as we motored back into the U.S. We did, however, have an unexpected visitor just after we crossed the border. We watched as a Coast Guard boat raced towards us at an astonishing speed. They flagged us down, asked us a series of questions, decided not to board our boat and let us continue on our way. We checked back into the U.S. at Friday Harbor where we ate a yummy dinner before anchoring in Griffin Bay as the sun set. The next morning we set out early through Cattle Pass where we saw stellar sea lions and porpoises out hunting for breakfast. We arrived in Port Townsend just before lunch allowing us time to relax and eat good food for the rest of the day. Our final day on the water was gorgeous. We had all forgotten how beautiful Puget Sound is, flanked by the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and with Mount Rainer looming in the distance. We're lucky to have such an amazing home port.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I pity the fools.....



When I look out at the ocean on windy, wavy, rough days and see a sailboat, I think to myself, "I pity the fool out on a day like today." On this day....we were the fools. The day after the storm we were worried that it may be too rough to head out into the Strait of Georgia, but we were eager to get home before another storm hit. When we checked the Coast Guard info, the waves were reported at only two feet and the wind was only fifteen knots. Not so bad, we thought. So we let our eagerness get the upper hand of reason, and after pushing two 60-70 foot logs away from the boat, we headed out thinking we could turn around if was too rough. Things got rough immediately after we left Snug Cove with waves hitting us erratically from all sides, including large swells, ferry wakes and reflections off the surrounding cliffs. We figured it must be at its worse because we were in the convergence zone of the Strait of Georgia, Howe Sound and the Frasier River and maybe things would calm down once we got fully into the strait. One choppy, uncomfortable-kinda-green hour later things were not better, just different. Now we had six to eight foot, steep, white-capped and breaking waves pounding us from the south at three second intervals and we had to make a decision...keep going or turn back? Neither felt like good options. I was in despair. Oh how I wished we had never left. What kind of morons head out to cross the Strait of Georgia the day after a major storm that shut down the beefy BC ferry system? We plowed forward as we weighed enduring the ugliness we had just gone through again or braving the horrendous waves ahead. Sailboats are designed to be under sail...it smoothes out their motion when you lengthen the waterline and stop the rolling so Jason suggested we raise the mainsail in hopes of calming the motion down. I whole-heatedly disagreed because there was no way that I was going to allow Jason out of the cockpit onto the heaving decks. We agreed to raise only the jib since that can be done from the cockpit. Jason turned into the wind and the boat bucked wildly as the waves slammed into us. When Jason raised the jib the boat gave a horrendously violent lurch as the sail filled and the motor pulled us forward at the same time into the trough of a huge wave. Seawater crashed over our bucking boat and hit Jason full in the chest and face. He sputtered as he regained his footing (thank you, Grandpa, for the harnesses) and shook the shock from his face. I lost it at this point and shrieked, "This is completely unacceptable!" At this point, I was shaking, white and terror-stricken. Jason set our coarse and beat into the twenty knots of wind, staying on his knees through tacks to stay stable. Things were extremely uncomfortable and we were all green so Jason checked the charts and tidal current predictions and chose a different destination that would decrease our angle to the wind and the waves in hopes that it would help. It worked. Things were not at all comfortable now but at least the boat was surfing down the waves instead of hitting them straight on. Our decision was made...we would proceed forward. My coping mechanism was to shake and stare straight ahead, catatonic, while Jason adopted the strategy of not looking off the high side of the boat, where watching the spray and immense white-cap waves on the march towards us struck fear into his heart. The kids doused their fear with a dose of game boy to distract them from the violent lurching of poor Marinero. Poor Pika just shook violently down on our bed. After a few hours things calmed down a bit as we entered Gabriola Pass. As luck would have it we arrived right at slack water, where we were able to sneak through and duck into the safety of the Gulf Islands. We all breathed a sigh of relief as conditions dramatically improved. We all marveled at how these improved conditions of three foot whitecaps and twenty knot winds would have made us nervous in the past, but after what we just went through, it was a cakewalk. We enjoyed a leisurely sail down to Princess Cove on Wallace Island and the sunshine even tried to break through. When I tried to drop the anchor (notice I said "tried?") it wouldn't drop because the violent action of the morning's proceedings had tossed our thousand pounds of chain around so much that it was all jumbled with the lower portions riding on top of the upper portions. I held our position at helm in the narrow cove while Jason heaved the chain out inch by inch. We've had rough days before but this was by far the most violent and scary day on the water so far. I sincerely hope we never repeat it. Maybe days like this are why sailors are so partial to rum?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Smugglers Cove to Snug Harbor



It's good to properly plan out times and distances when picking a departure time on a sailboat, especially when a storm is looming in the forecast...and normally we do properly plan this, but this time...well.....maybe not-so-much. At this point we were feeling maybe a little exhausted and maybe a little tired of the rain (which had started back up) so we were a bit lazy and complacent about getting out since we thought our destination was only three hours away. We raised our anchor around 1:00 and set sail in the Strait of Georgia towards Snug Cove on Bowen Island. We beat into the south wind only making about six knots. Progress was slow and we began to fret about our arrival time. When Jason studied the charts closer he discovered that, at eight knots, we would arrive at our destination in five hours which put us in after dark. At this point it became painfully clear that we would not reach our destination if we continued under sail (and we definitely needed to make it to Bowen Island to take refuge from the storm that was due to hit the following day) so we reluctantly turned on the motor and tucked away the sails. After a long day on the water, we watched the sun set as we motored towards Snug Cove just across Howe Sound from the city of Vancouver. By the time we reached our cove, it was pitch black. Following our GPS we inched our way through the dark into the tiny cove. As we entered the harbor we put Isaac on the bow with a big flashlight to help light the way and navigate us to our spot on the dock. We successfully landed without incident and tied up. Though nerve-wracking, it was utterly magical coming in to this aptly named "snug" cove at night. Low-lying clouds shrouded the mountains that marched up from the water and lights from houses on the hillside twinkled through the blanket of fog.

With most of its land set aside as park, Bowen Island is a haven across the water from Vancouver. Our original plan was to spend time hiking the trails that cross the island but, with an overexposure to sogginess in the recent past, the the sirens of the warm coffee shop emerged triumphant and we spent the day snuggled in warm places trying to stay dry. The following day we felt compelled to take a ferry across the sound to Vancouver to explore the city though none of us were too enthusiastic given the wind and the rain. What we really wanted to do was stay in the boat and play Isaac's new board game with mugs of hot cocoa. But....since we were there...we reluctantly left the warmth of the boat to board the ferry. As the ferry pulled away from the terminal we watched Marinero with the chihuahua nestled inside grow smaller and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. The wind howled, waves crashed and the boys' coats flapped violently as we crossed the water. When we got to the other side we boarded a bus and 45 minutes later were deposited in downtown Vancouver. Our goal was to eat at a yummy Chinese food restaurant and then hit a museum. We walked a half mile through pouring rain and sat down to eat, soaked to our skin. We noticed the conversations around us centered around the storm and overheard one man say that the ferries may stop running. Upon further investigation we found out that, indeed, the ferries were poised to close in the afternoon as the storm ramped up. Doh! We were a ferry ride away from the boat and our chihuahua! We finished lunch as quickly as possible as tears ran down the boys' face from the onion-chopping action in the kitchen and hustled to the nearest bus stop. We arrived to the ferry ticket office in time to get back to Bowen and as I was line-hopping for the best position, I turned around to see Jason with a news camera in his face. I watched as he told the newscaster that we needed to make it back to our boat on Bowen Island to rescue our chihuahua. A super-hero, with a super-story indeed! Luckily we were not stranded, made it back safely to Pika and now have a story about the most-expensive, most-difficult lunch ever. As we ate dinner at a restaurant that evening the wind and rain lashed the winds and the walls shook. On the walk back to marina I watched as a wooden shed was lifted by the wind and thrown over a fence. The slippery docks lurched and rocked under our feet but Marinero kept us safe as the wind howled at thirty knots in our snug little cove. Out in the Strait of Georgia, just a short distance away, the winds were raging at seventy knots. Thank goodness we were not out in that.


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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Squirrel Cove to Smugglers Cove



With another big storm looming in the forecast we decided to hightail it south. First we knocked off a quick hike among the old-growth trees in Squirrel Cove before setting sail. We welcomed the much-missed sunshine with open arms and basked in its glorious warmth as we lazily sailed to the little Swedish village of Lund where we tied up to a dock for the night and visited Nancy's famous bakery. The following day we enjoyed another day of sunshine before we tucked into the teensy-tiny Smugglers Cove named for its history of hiding sailors with illegal cargo such as alcohol or Chinese workers. It's uber-narrow entry makes it almost impossible to see from a distance and nerve-wracking to enter. After the anchor was dropped and our stern was tied to shore, Isaac dropped our crab pot in hopes of crab dinner. After being skunked so many times, he pulled it out after dinner to find a dungeoness crab of appropriate size. Jason excitedly boiled a pot of water and cooked him. I cried. But everyone agreed he was delicious.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Toba Inlet


Last year it was Aaron's heart's desire to venture up Toba Inlet, but he was merely teased by the views as we peered at the entrance from our anchorage at the Wildernest. This year we plunged into the fjord through frigid, pouring rain. We were rewarded with otherworldly views of massive mountains rising out of milky ocean waters filled with glacial run-off. Sheer cliffs dissapeared into the clouds draped over the mountains and waterfalls crashed down into the sea. Two steaming cups of hot cocoa and a thermos of tea helped warm our cold, wet bones during the soggy day. 

Later and much further south, the clouds broke and sunshine made a welcome appearance. While I was drying myself on the foredeck, talking to my mom on the phone (due to cell phone coverage that we hadn't seen in over a week), a dozen Pacific white-sided dolphins leaped through the air in the distance. Through a series of high-pitched squeaking noises I managed to get the boys up on deck to watch them as they hauled through the water towards our boat and passed by at an astonishingly fast speed. It was a perfect cap to a spectacular day before we re-entered civilization at the tiny outpost of Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island. 

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Homfray Channel


The rain finally stopped and the clouds parted so we pulled up the anchor and headed into the much anticipated and mountainous Homfray Channel. We watched the slowly changing vista of mountains that were reluctant to give up their blankets of clouds as we motored up the windless channel. Clouds hanging low among mountains is favorite Taylor family scenery. We decided to spend the night tied up to a dock at hydro-electric-powered Homfray Lodge that sits perched on steep shores in the middle of this rugged wilderness. Here we enjoyed free, time-limitless hot showers and a spectacular sunset over dramatic scenery. The next morning, we filled our water tanks with stream water that tumbled down from Mount Denman high above, and as we motored away through pouring rain, we looked back at the huge lodge that looked so tiny on the edge of the steep, densely forested mountain that looked ready to swallow it up. It was another reminder of how inhospitable this land is for humans and why Captain Vancouver named it Desolation Sound. We imagined his ships drifting through the windless waters aimlessly, staring at land so forbidding with its densely vegetated, steep terrain, devoid of food, topped off with threat of grizzly bears on the mainland. Desolation Sound seems a fitting name indeed. Sure is pretty though.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Melanie Cove


Melanie Cove is a tiny cove within in a cove, inside Prideaux Haven in Desolation Sound. We spent four soggy nights nestled in this protected anchorage waiting out a storm that raged in the Strait of Georgia. While we were in Melanie Cove, there was a day when the wind blew at 60 knots out in the Strait and, north of us on the tip of Vancouver Island, the winds were hurricane force. We were all thankful for the protection of our little cove. Though it was rainy we still suited up in our rain gear and went for a hike where it drizzled, then deluged, then rained, followed by more drizzle with a little peek of sunshine and then some sprinkling. We sensed spirits of days past as we walked through the thick, dripping primeval woods and ancient home to the First Nations tribes. Another day we explored a maze of coves in the kayaks (on a triumphant side note here, I managed to help Isaac paddle on this outing!). As we passed a boat and were rolling in the waves of Laura Cove, a couple called out that they hoped we had a warm boat to go back to. Along the way we would hop out of the kayaks to explore the little islets. On one island I had the strangest buzzing surround me as I stepped into the undergrowth. It sounded like an otherworldly bug, muffled but very loud, almost like it was in my head, but then it stung me on the neck, but not intense like normal stings. The boys who were near me did not hear it but Jason who was 100 feet behind me experienced the same otherworldly buzzing. It felt like the fabric of time had a tiny tear in it and just a little bit of the past was leaking through.

Though the rain was heavy during our stay, we had the warmth of our boat and steaming cups of hot cocoa to keep us warm, and board games and books to keep us busy between soaked outings. Along the way, Jason had been reading the book Curve of Time to us. The book follows the journey of Muriel Wiley Blanchett (otherwise known as Capi), an amazing woman who turned the sorrow of the loss of her husband in a boating accident, into endless summer adventures spent with her five children on their 25 foot motor boat Caprice. During the 1920's they spent their summers on the boat exploring every nook and cranny of Desolation Sound and beyond. The adventures they had and the native culture they witnessed were amazing. One of their favorite places was Melanie Cove where they would visit with their friend Old Mike who lived at the head of the inlet in a cabin he had built. He had tons of apple trees which he generously shared with the family. Capi took almost everything and made it with dumplings. In honor of her I made apple dumplings one rainy day. We sat around our steaming bowls of yumminess and imagined the Blanchett family doing the same thing almost 100 years ago.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Happy 14th Birthday Isaac!


We celebrated Isaac's 14th birthday nestled in uber-protected Melanie Cove as we awaited the arrival of a major storm. Isaac had hoped for rain on his birthday so we could spend the day snuggled in the boat with a board game he had hoped he might receive. Let me tell you, Isaac must have some special pull with the rain gods because, did we ever get rain. We all awoke early on his birthday to the intermittent pitter-patter on the cabin top. After Isaac opened his presents, including the hoped for Rune Wars game, we watched the colors of the sunrise over the mountains reflected in the waters below. We spent the day relaxing on the boat as Isaac built Legos followed by an afternoon and evening of epic board game battles. For dinner I made a cozy chicken barley stew as Jason and I sipped on some wine. Jason managed to talk me into trying an oyster he had gathered, pointing out his triumph of not been paralyzed by the previous one he had consumed. I ate one, which I still cannot say I like, and Jason had two. A while later he turned to me and said, "I think my lips are numb. Are your lips numb?" My head started to swim. Good God. Paralysis on Isaac's birthday! With apprehension we waited and ate dinner. Luckily none of my panicked thoughts came true but I think Jason has come around to my point of view on shellfish gathering and consumption. After dinner we all sang happy birthday and savored Isaac's favorite chocolate pot-au-cream that I had made. Happy 14th birthday Isaac!

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tenedos


We set out early in the morning with the tide to cross the Strait of Georgia to Desolation Sound. The weather gods smiled on us this time and we had a peaceful crossing. As we approached the mountains that tower over Desolation we were shocked at how immense the mountains are. Having been here last year it's amazing how we had already forgotten their impressiveness. It's really not something I can describe or capture with photos. It's something you have to experience yourself, apparently more then once in our case. Although I'm sure we'll forget and be just as amazed next time.

We anchored in Tenedos Bay where there is a hike to Lake Unwin. The weather and water were still warm but we opted out of a swim in the ocean due to swarms of jellyfish. Instead we hopped into the kayaks and headed to shore for a hike to the mountain lake. The boys waded around in the warm water and made return plans for a swim the next day, this time, armed with towels. Back at the boat, Jason left us behind and paddled out of the cove to where it is supposed to be safe to harvest shellfish. I thought gathering and eating oysters was a bad idea given that where we were anchored it was deemed unsafe to harvest shellfish. I tried to reason with him that he should wait until we were closer to medical facilities just in case he should eat an oyster with paralytic shellfish poisoning. He said it was fine....I could just call the Coast Guard. Ok...I guess I had to be fine with him poisoning himself far from medical help, but could he at least wait until after Isaac's birthday which was in two days? So he didn't ruin his son's 14th birthday with shellfish poisoning? Please? I already ruined his birthday party with a broken wrist, surely, paralysis must be worse. I need to learn to be more convincing. He came back to the boat triumphant, struggled through opening one, and popped it into his mouth. Luckily he made it through the night with no major complications and the following day we hiked back to the lake for a swim.


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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Comox


Comox was our last stop before we headed off into the wilderness of Desolation Sound so we took some time to make some final preparations. We found a physical therapist who unlocked my frozen wrist and gave me stretches to help increase my mobility. Isaac had an aching tooth that looked like it may have a cavity so we took him to a dentist who just smiled and informed us it was just a baby tooth working its way loose. Oops...we thought he had already lost them all. We stocked up on uber-delicious king salmon steaks bought from the fisherman down the dock from us (we've been daydreaming about these since last year), topped off our water tanks, washed five loads of smelly laundry and took our final showers. We even managed to find time to hike trails close to us and, of course, eat some gelato.


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Monday, September 30, 2013

Fear


Thunderstorms are rare in the Pacific Northwest and Tribune Bay has a way of letting us know when we've worn out our welcome. Last time we stayed at Tribune we were chased out early in the morning by a 40 knot wind howling up the Strait of Georgia, with crazy waves to match. This year we had a lovely visit as we hiked and explored the beach
through drifting fog. On our planned day of departure we awoke to super thick fog with very low visibility, maybe 10-15 feet. It's an odd feeling to look into the distance and have no idea if you're faced towards the shore or out to sea. I had a funny feeling all morning that we should be leaving but reasoned we should wait for the fog to lighten. Oddly, later on, I learned that Jason had a similar feeling. At noon the engine was on, Jason was at helm, and I was emerging from the boat to raise the anchor. A wide-eyed Jason looked at me and said, "We need to leave. Now." Hearing the urgency in his voice motivated me to raise all 200 feet of anchor with my one arm without a rest. A short distance out of the bay I heard thunder in the distance and realized the reason for the rush. There are a lot of things that scare me about sailing but this struck terror into both of our hearts. In all the other situations my rational brain knows that the boat can handle it...but there's nothing like a thunder storm while on a floating lightning rod in the ocean to make you feel small and helpless. There's really nothing we could do but pray that Thor would treat us kindly. If the boat were to get hit, it could mean anything from loss of electronics to the through-holes being blown out if the bottom of the boat followed by, perhaps fire, maybe an explosion or two and then thankfully the fires will be put out by the boat sinking. I desperately wished to be tied up to a dock with the kids off the boat, so we located the closest port, revved up the engine, put on all of our rain gear, and headed towards Ford Cove. With heavy rain beating down and lightning flashing around us, some within hundreds of yards (funny side note here...it's funny how our instincts think that flinching and ducking will help here), the squall chased us for the next 45 minutes. When we reached Ford's Cove, I pulled, with all of my one-arm might, against the wind, to land the boat in an illegal docking spot. We all hopped off the boat and headed to the shelter of an outdoor porch on the tiny general store where all of the island's soaked inhabitants seemed to be milling about. We waited until the lasts bits of lightning were squeezed out of the storm before we headed back to the boat for hot cocoa to soothe our nerves and gather our courage. We watched the weather radar and when we were sure the storm had passed, we headed north again. Along the way the moody clouds broke up and treated us to spectacular scenery all the way up to Comox where physical therapy and dental appointments awaited us.


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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Montague to Nanaimo


With Aaron's birthday finished, it was time to make a big push north so we left early the next morning for Nanaimo, six hours away. Our goal was to make it to Dodd Narrows during the fifteen minute window of slack tide. At any other time, the water rages through the narrow gap between cliff bands. We had a nice sail and reached Dodd with time to spare. This passage is not something we feel comfortable sailing through so we prepared to reduce sail by rolling in the jib. To our surprise, a rope jammed and we were stuck with a sail that wouldn't roll back up again. Jason had to run up to the foredeck to work on it, but luckily it was an easy fix and we didn't lose much time. We pulled the main sail in tight so it couldn't blow us around too much in the gusty wind and Jason started the engine to motor us through the narrows. Jason and I looked at each other in dismay as I turned white and declared, "that doesn't sound right." Jason immediately shut it down as he realized why it sounded wrong....it was no longer cycling cooling water. Gulp. We turned the boat around and I slowly sailed us downwind as Jason opened up the engine. He found that the raw water impeller had exploded, thus no more cooling water. Very luckily, Jason has a couple of extras on the boat so he quickly replaced it and saved the day. We fired her back up and, voila, we had the comforting sploosh, sploosh noise of water pumping out of the back of boat again. Phew! In spite of both of these delays, we still had time to squeak through the narrows before the tidal currents got too crazy. When we squeezed through the passage, rapids were already forming with the changing of the tide. Water swirled and bubbled below as gusts of wind hit us from above. With all the extra excitement my nerves were shot by the time we made it through and I would have been happy to just motor the rest of the way. Jason was intent on sailing so I suggested sailing under main sail alone given my frazzled state. He insisted that a reefed jib would be fine so he rolled it out. We proceeded to tack upwind in 20 knots through a narrow passage hemmed in by floating log booms and logging equipment on one side and cliffs on the other....not exactly what I was hoping for. I grew more and more unhappy as we heeled over hard this way and that through choppy waves as Jason rushed through each short tack to avoid collisions. Aaron was below in tears because his Helms Deep Lego was in pieces after a crash off of the table. When we finally dropped sail I hurried below to help Aaron rebuild his castle as the boat lurched through the waves. A short while later we emerged with tear-stained cheeks and green with sea-sickness but Helms Deep was intact and safely stowed away. While Jason dropped the sails, Isaac took the helm and maneuvered us through a moving obstacle course of sailboats and seaplanes in the busy Nanaimo Harbor where we squeezed onto the dock between other boats and a floating Mexican restaurant.

After a night in the city where Jason dismantled and dug through the engine to find exploded impeller parts, we moved across the harbor to a mooring ball at the much quieter Newcastle Island, a wonderful marine park. During our stay we had sunny skies and temperatures in the 80's. We were all sweaty and hot when we arrived so we put on our bathing suits for a swim in the 69 degree water. The boys swam between the boat and our uber-stable kayak, Banana. I was unable to swim due my injured wrist so I manned Banana as the boys splashed and swam around her. I really wanted a rinse off too so after everyone was done swimming, I had all three boys take turns dumping buckets of water over my head so I could give my hair a wash. As you can imagine, they took much delight in that. Next, we hopped into the kayaks to paddle over to a floating pub for dinner. We sat on the dock watching a sailboat race as the sun set. As we paddled back to the boat we stopped at Newcastle Island to check it out and give Pika some shore-leave. Fellow chihuahua owners were doing the same with their six-month old puppy named Charlie. As you all know, Pika is not a well-socialized dog. Dogs are one of her least favorite things so as Charlie spastically bounced on all of us in the grass, Pika had a barking/growling fit showing off her best rabies impression. When we all stood up Pika no longer had to protect us, was overcome by her waggy-tail urges and succumbed to playing with Charlie....the first dog she has EVER played with. It was so funny to watch. We were all in hysterics. I'm afraid we may be in danger of becoming two adults, two kids and two chihuahuas though we hope to remain a one chihuahua family as long as humanly possible.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy 12th Birthday Aaron!


We spent Aaron's 12th birthday in Montague Bay. Bright and early in the morning, he opened the gifts I had labored to wrap in thick brown mailing paper with one hand in the back of my car in Seattle. A saintly woman witnessed my struggles and stopped to help me with the wrapping. Many thanks. He spent the rest of the day building Legos and playing his new Lord of the Rings game boy game as breakfast, and then lunch, piled up on his plate. No time for eating when there is so much play to be done. Late in the afternoon we coaxed him away from the boat for a hike through forest dotted with old-growth Madrone trees and play on white shell beaches. Happy 12th birthday Aaron!

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Cowichan to Montague


We're suckers for good food. So when we read that there was a delicious organic bakery and a gourmet cheese store in Cowitchan, we just couldn't resist making a quick stop. However, we found ourselves in a quandary when trying to choose the marina. One had a five star restaurant on the dock and the other has the bakery, and, they are a good distance from one another. Since we were coming in close to dinner time we opted for the five star restaurant with plans to head to the other marina the next day when the bakery would be open. I know. We have to make tough decisions when out on a sailboat. Now that we have experienced both, here is my piece of advice, skip the restaurant, head straight for the bakery and cheese store. We had perfect bakery/coffee shop, rainy, drizzly weather while we were there. So after eating lunch at the cheese store, we gobbled delectable pastries at the bakery, and then the boys and I hunkered into a coffee shop and played a game of Rummikub. We then found a fresh fish market where we bought salmon mousse, salmon filets, smoked salmon, and sea asparagus to go with our fresh bread for dinner. It was awesome.

So after Cowitchan we headed to Burgoyne Bay where we had plans to hike up the mountain that rises out of the bay. Burgoyne Bay turned out to be the weirdest anchorage we've ever been in. In Canada, you can anchor anywhere and live there for free, forever. Burgoyne Bay is home to quite a few of these people. We saw nice little cottages, a floating greenhouse, and a floating camper lashed to a mostly-sunken sailboat to name some examples. As we sat anchored there, I felt oddly like an outsider looking in at a mental ward in a hospital. First, a man, who didn't seem to have his wits about him, stepped out of his greenhouse boat, boarded his dinghy standing and sang real-loud, real-Bob-Dillon-like, as he slowly rowed to shore. He did not seem fit to operate a row boat, especially standing. Next, another man rowed to shore slowly, sitting at the very bow of his boat with his feet sprawled and dangling over the sides of his bathtub-like vehicle, but somehow all I could see was a man padding down a hospital hallway in his pajamas. It had a weird feeling about it...but maybe having a sunken-sailboat-lashed-to-a-nearly-sinking camper-van as a neighbor (Is the universe trying to tell me something? Is this where we're headed?) colored my mood and interpretations of the bay.

The following day started very foggy and we found ourselves feeling quite lazy so we opted out of the hike to the top of the mountain we couldn't see in the fog, turned on our radar and cruised to Ganges for a little provisioning and then onto Montague Bay. Isaac and Jason quickly put our new crabbing gear to the test. I watched from the cockpit as they lowered it to the seafloor just behind our boat as visions of crab dinner danced in their heads.

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