Escaping Everyday Stress at Castaway Bay

How’s 2016 been going so far, you ask? Well, the two words that best describe 2016 so far for me have been busy and stressful. I feel guilty using the word “busy” because I know that word is thrown around as an excuse for everything anymore, but it certainly does apply to the past couple of months.

Each week has been filled with long days at the computer for my job, with my work schedule extending into many evenings as well due to new projects and needs. I was appointed to a facilities planning committee for our school district, too, with meetings for that scattered in every few weeks. And then there’s our typical weekly evening rotations of therapy appointments, dance lessons, PTO meetings, etc. Not to mention grocery shopping, bill paying, laundry, and all of the other daily life tasks of being an adult.

It’s enough to leave anyone stressed.

As a family, we were all feeling a bit burned out and needed a weekend that didn’t involve catching up on chores or going to meetings. So we recently escaped our regular routine for two days and a night at Castaway Bay in Sandusky, Ohio. (Disclosure: I was provided with a one night stay at Castaway Bay.)

Castaway Bay

Castaway Bay is the indoor waterpark resort owned by Cedar Point. It’s a little over two hours away from Columbus, and is just one attraction of many in the Lake Erie Shores and Islands area. And while it isn’t the only indoor waterpark in that area, it remains our family favorite. Here are five reasons why we love Castaway Bay!

Lots of waterpark fun, with something for everyone.

The waterpark itself doesn’t look especially big when you first walk in, but there’s a surprising amount to do packed into that space. There’s the large Lookout Lagoon Family Funhouse area with water jets and buckets all over the multi-story climbing structure to engage in fun water battles, along with a 1,000 gallon tipping bucket that drenches everyone in front of the structure every two minutes.

Lookout LagoonSee the giant bucket at the top? It holds a LOT of water.

There are smaller open water slides for those less adventurous, and for those seeking a thrill there are three larger enclosed water slides and the Rendezvous Run water coaster that uses water jets to propel you uphill.

Morning water slidesThe smaller water slides are a part of Lookout Lagoon.

One side of the park is dedicated to the Castaway Bay Wave Pool, and on the other side there’s another pool that offers water basketball and floating animals you can climb on, as well as a toddler tide pool with gentle water elements to introduce the youngest family members to water fun.

Castaway Bay wave poolCordy loved the wave pool. (Mira is underwater behind her, diving under the wave.)

And when you’re tired and just want to relax, there’s the indoor/outdoor hot tub called The Grotto. Both Cordy and Mira found it fascinating that they could be outside in 25 degree weather in just their bathing suits, and yet be completely comfortable because they were in a pool of hot water.

The GrottoThe indoor section of the Grotto first thing in the morning.

There is literally something to do for every family member, from baby to grandparent and everyone in-between. Cordy and Mira spent the majority of their time in the wave pool, although they also enjoyed going down the water slides and climbing on the turtle and dolphin in the other pool. Me? I spent ample time in the hot tub, soaking away my stress.

No worries about deep water.

My favorite part of Castaway Bay’s waterpark is that no water element is over four feet deep. Our kids aren’t the strongest swimmers, but knowing they can touch the bottom with their heads still above water in any pool helps me relax and be less of a helicopter mom. They could splash and play and go to different parts of the waterpark without me hovering over them at all times. I could enjoy myself without my anxiety on full alert, entirely relaxed.

In the poolIn the deep end, Cordy had no worries with touching the bottom of the pool.

Life vests are also plentiful and available for the smaller kids, and the lifeguards are at the top of their game when it comes to making sure anyone below a certain height has their life vest on for safety before entering any pool area.

The on-site food is great!

At Castaway Bay, you won’t go hungry. There’s Mango Mike’s with it’s enormous breakfast buffet,  and next to it is Ebb & Eddy’s quick service dining, including ice cream and Starbucks coffee. (I need my Starbucks.) We’re big fans of the gigantic ice cream scoops at Ebb & Eddy’s. Would you believe this is the “small” ice cream cup for $2.50?

Giant ice creamMoose tracks ice cream – yum!

A new feature since the last time we visited is Quaker Steak & Lube, a chain table service restaurant featuring amazing wings, burgers, and a wide variety of sauces. The food was delicious, the service was outstanding, and the decor was fascinating to look at. It’s a restaurant I’d like to visit again soon.

Quaker Steak & LubeI was secretly glad we weren’t sitting directly under that car.

You can meet your favorite Peanuts characters.

If you’re a fan of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the Peanuts gang, you’ll find there’s no shortage of your favorite characters around the resort. There are random encounters with the characters around the resort lobby, as well as scheduled times for meet and greets with Snoopy and friends at Camp Snoopy.

LinusEarly morning hug from Linus (still in his PJs!)

The night we were there, they had a dance party with the Peanuts characters, and then later in the evening we went back to Camp Snoopy for the Peanuts family movie and Story Time with Snoopy.

Time with SnoopySnoopy also ends the evening with hugs, too.

There are plenty of non-water activities, too.

Need a break from swimming? There are plenty of other family activities happening throughout the day at Castaway Bay. At Camp Snoopy, kids can do free arts and crafts, color their own Castaway Bay t-shirt or towel, or join in on a dance party or karaoke. On some evenings, cookies and hot chocolate are provided in the lobby before bed. And for the older kids, there’s a large arcade full of ticket games and traditional arcade games waiting to keep them busy.

Camp Snoopy t-shirt coloringHard at work coloring her t-shirt.

Beyond the fun, the rooms are moderately large with comfortable queen beds and a mini-fridge. We loved the view of the water from our room’s balcony.

Castaway Bay balconyView from our screened-in private balcony.

If you’re not staying the night at Castaway Bay (or choosing to swim more after checkout on your last day there), there are lockers available in the waterpark to hold your stuff. Also, no beach towels are needed unless you really want to bring them – Castaway Bay provides all of the towels.

There may be larger indoor waterpark resorts in the Lake Erie area, but Castaway Bay is the perfect size for our family. They have plenty to keep everyone busy, there’s never too long of a wait for any water slide, and the resort goes above and beyond to help you relax and enjoy the time together without going too far from home. We splashed, we laughed, we hugged Snoopy, and for the first time in weeks I went two days without a stress headache.


Want to experience Castaway Bay for yourself? I have four waterpark day passes to give to one lucky reader! These passes will admit you and three friends or family members into the waterpark for a single day – hotel stay and transportation is not included.

To enter, just leave a comment below telling me your favorite thing to do at a waterpark. Are you a thrill seeker and go for the water slides, or do you prefer to lounge in the wave pool or the hot tub? Entries will be accepted until 11:59pm on Friday, March 18th, one entry per household. After that date, one winner will be randomly selected and contacted. Winner has 48 hours to respond or another winner may be selected.

Good luck and happy swimming!

Castaway Bay lobby

Gluten-Free Pizza Nirvana at Pizza Hut (& Giveaway!)

It was just over two years ago that we found out Aaron couldn’t eat gluten. A lifetime of stomach issues was finally explained with a simple diagnosis. This new diet restriction didn’t come easy, though. Eliminating gluten from his diet took some getting used to, because my husband really loves his bread. I mean, really loves his bread. We found simple adjustments for many of his favorite meals. When eating out, he’s now used to ordering a burger without the bun. We keep gluten-free cereal and granola in the house for breakfast. And through lots of trial and error, we’ve found a small supply of gluten-free baked goods that he likes.

But there’s one area that has been hard to compensate for: pizza. Ordering pizza has always been a go-to meal for us on busy nights, but unlike ordering a burger without a bun, you can’t order a pizza without the crust. Making pizza at home defeated the point of ordering out. We’ve tried a few bake-at-home gluten-free pizzas, too, but they still haven’t matched the quality that Aaron remembers from good delivery pizza.

So when I recently found out that Pizza Hut® had developed a “Gluten-Free Pizza” made with Udi’s® certified gluten-free crust, I knew we’d have to try it. How much did we want gluten-free pizza? Enough that we drove out of town to see what we were missing, because it’s not available in Columbus yet! (They’re slowly rolling it out to all stores, so we expect it to be in Columbus soon.)

Pizza Hut offers a cheese-only gluten-free pizza, a pepperoni gluten-free pizza, and a “create your own” option with select gluten-free toppings. Each still has 100% real cheese and that great Pizza Hut marinara sauce. While it’s important to note that Pizza Hut kitchens aren’t gluten-free environments, they partnered with the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) to create a gluten-free preparation process and training standards for their employees to reduce the risks of cross-contamination.

We ordered a cheese-only pizza and a pepperoni pizza, both gluten-free. I was so surprised at the size of the pizzas that were delivered to our table. Most gluten-free pizzas tend to be tiny personal pizzas, but these were about the size of a medium pizza and easily large enough for two people to share.

Pizza Hut gluten-free pizzas

The crust was thin, but not super thin, and had a good texture and crunch to it. Honestly, it tasted like a good thin-crust pizza to me. But Aaron is the ultimate judge of gluten-free taste, so I waited for him to take his first bite to ask his opinion. He’s already a fan of Udi’s baked goods, so I hoped a pizza made with Udi’s crust would win his approval. He chewed the first bite thoughtfully, then smiled and said, “I forgot how good Pizza Hut pizza is!”

Enjoying gluten-free pizzaI am mean and take photos of people while they eat.

Our gluten-free family member declared it to be a good pizza. And considering I somehow didn’t see him quickly inhale another two slices before he asked if I wanted the last slice of pepperoni, I’d say it’s a complete success.

It was at that point that I asked Mira if she liked the gluten-free pizza. Her eyes got wide mid-bite, and with her mouth still full of pizza, she said, “Wait, the cheese pizza is also gluten-free?” When I nodded yes, she replied, “Huh. Well, it’s still good pizza!” A few minutes later, this was all that remained:

just crumbs left

Aaron’s only complaint about Pizza Hut’s new Gluten-Free Pizza is that it isn’t available in Columbus yet. You can find a list of participating restaurants at The Gluten-Free Pizza starts at $9.99, which in our experience is a fantastic price for a gluten-free pizza big enough for two. We can’t wait until this is available for delivery in our area.


 SheKnows is hosting a giveaway and wants to give you the chance to try Pizza Hut’s new Gluten-Free Pizza with Udi’s gluten-free crust for yourself with a $100 Pizza Hut gift card! (Or, you know, just have a big pizza party for your friends.)

To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below telling me your favorite combination of toppings for a pizza – mine is pepperoni, green peppers and mushrooms.    

Entry Instructions:

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post

3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post

4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older (or nineteen (19) years of age or older in Alabama and Nebraska). Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 2 business days to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 2/23/2015 – 3/16/2015.

Be sure to visit the Pizza Hut’s brand page on where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

Spooky Fun at Cedar Point’s HalloWeekends (Giveaway!)

Last month, I spent a weekend at BloggyCon 2014. This was a win-win for me: an intimate, low-key blogging conference, held in one of my favorite Ohio family getaway locations: Cedar Point. I loved all of the tips I picked up at the conference, and I was thrilled that I could bring my family and have a mini-vacation outside of conference sessions.

To make it even better, we were there for the opening weekend of HalloWeekends. This is probably my favorite time of year to visit Cedar Point! Why? Here are a few reasons:

The weather is fantastic! Perched on the shores of Lake Erie, you won’t find a better season to visit Cedar Point than Fall, especially if you’re not fond of the summer heat like me. The temperatures are often mild, and there’s usually a cool breeze coming off the lake. You still need your sunscreen, but you can usually wear a single layer during the day and maybe add a sweatshirt or light jacket at night to stay comfortable.

Lake Erie

The lines are shorter. Okay, so this is partially true. During the day, you will still do some waiting in line for the most popular rides, but with summer vacation travel done for the year, the lines are still manageable.

At night, however, with many of the haunted attractions drawing the crowds in, some of the ride lines drop to almost nothing. Few times during the year will you be able to walk right on to GateKeeper and Raptor, but we’ve done it during HalloWeekends at night.

Mean StreakOr ride Mean Streak 3x in a row with no wait in the morning!

Daytime fun is not-so-scary. There are plenty of family friendly activities during the day for the younger set who aren’t ready for their first real scare yet. Planet Snoopy and the Kiddie Kingdom become Planet Spooky and Howl-O-Palooza, with activities like a cornstalk maze, a pumpkin patch, and a foam pit.

Foam pit Mira, slowly being enveloped by foam. (Note: they do provide towels to get the foam off!)

Kids are encouraged to come in costume for the Monsters’ Trick-or-Treat, and then join the Peanuts gang for a costume contest. (And a very cute show.) I can tell you that Elsa and Anna were definitely popular costumes – there were at least three of each.

Costume contest at Cedar Point Mira and an Anna twin dancing the Chicken Dance while the Peanuts crew deliberated on costume winners.

There’s also a Halloween parade down the midway, and for kids wanting to try their first haunted house, there’s the Magical House on Boo Hill. Cordy and Mira love going through this house, and I promise it’s not scary. You even get a candy treat at the end – no tricks!

Cedar Point graveyardThe Rides Graveyard. Moment of silence, please, for one of my favorite rides: Disaster Transport.

The decorations around the park are spooky, but during the day everything has a sense of fun to it. Even this monster:

Go ahead, play the video. Yes, he’s singing, “What Does The Fox Say?”

Nighttime fun can be terrifying. Looking for some frightening entertainment? HalloWeekends has that covered. There are several haunted houses and mazes of different themes, as well as six outdoor scare zones.

Since we had the kids with us, and they’re not so keen on haunted houses yet, we didn’t get to check any out this year. But we did walk through Maniacal Mechanical Screamworks (watch out for the ghouls who will zip past you on wheeled kneepads!) and Cordy and Aaron were brave enough to go through CarnEVIL. Not me, though: I don’t like clowns in general, much less evil clowns.

I like scares, but prefer to focus on the beauty of the park at night.

The kids did find parts of these walkthru areas a little too frightening for them, but the actors are very aware of when someone has had too much and will adapt as needed.

Last year when Mira started to get too scared halfway through Screamworks, one well-dressed Victorian steampunk ghoul suddenly changed his tone and began speaking to her in a very friendly way, asking her about her stuffed Minion toy, where he could get one, etc. It immediately calmed her down and as a result she had great memories of that scare zone.

If I could pick only one weekend to visit Cedar Point each year, it would definitely be a weekend during HalloWeekends. The weather, the abundant decorations and attention to detail, and the additional themed events make this amusement park even more fun in the Fall.


You must check out all of this fun for yourself – and hurry, there’s only three weekends left!

Luckily, I’ve got a family 4-pack of tickets to Cedar Point to give away to one lucky reader! Package includes one-day admission to Cedar Point for four – nearly a $200 value.

Here’s the catch – these tickets are only good for 2014, so you must be able to visit Cedar Point at some point during the next three weekends. (Park is open Friday-Sunday through November 2, hours can be found online.) This is a super-fast giveaway, to make sure you have as much time as possible to use these tickets.

To enter, leave a comment below telling me your favorite scary movie or, if you’re not a fan of scary movies, your favorite Halloween tradition. One entry per household – duplicates will not be considered for the giveaway. You must answer the prompt to be eligible.

Entries will be accepted until Thursday, October 16 at 9pm ET. At that point I will randomly select a winner. Winner will have 24 hours to confirm or another winner will be selected. Cedar Point will make arrangements with the winner to receive tickets at the park entrance.

Good luck!

Streaming TV for Kids with Kidoodle.TV

At least once a week, we find ourselves in a situation where one or both kids must sit somewhere boring and wait quietly. Sometimes it’s for an appointment, sometimes it’s while we take one to gymnastics or the other to her therapy session, and the other kid has to tag along because the other parent is occupied. Books work in many situations, but for longer waits or long car trips, we often like to pull out electronic media to provide additional reward for waiting patiently.

My phone and my iPad have a few apps on them specifically for the kids, although both get bored with games fairly quickly. I have different video viewers on my devices, but I also know I’m not always right there to make sure one of the girls doesn’t finish one video and then accidentally jump to another video that may not be appropriate for kids. So I either have to hover to make sure the video is appropriate, or block video apps from their allowed list.

To further complicate things, we’re planning to cut cable soon. The final straw was when the cable company announced they were raising our rates again (3rd time in a year), and were also removing some of our favorite channels from the now-higher-priced package we pay for. While I’ll be glad to save money, I know Cordy and Mira will still want to watch TV, especially when we’re making dinner or when they’re cashing in for some free time.

I recently had the chance to try out Kidoodle.TV for our family. Kidoodle.TV is a video-on-demand streaming service specifically targeted to kids 12 and under. It also has robust parental controls to give you the ability to customize what’s available for each child in your house and set viewing time limits.

kidoodle main pageThe main screen of Kidoodle.TV in a child’s profile.

Signing up was a breeze, and it allowed me to create a profile for each child. (You can create up to 5 profiles per account.) Each profile can then have different customizations applied. You can select appropriate age ranges for videos, so your four year old isn’t watching Transformers Beast Wars, or your older kid isn’t watching preschool programming.

Profile setupProfile setup

Beyond that, you can then look through the list of all shows available, and further customize, turning off shows you don’t want to make available, and turning on others that your child might like, even if it doesn’t fall in the recommended age range.

Selecting showsselecting shows manually

Once you’ve got the profiles set up, you can navigate to the website on your computer or launch the Kidoodle.TV app for iOS or Android, select the profile, and hand the control over to your child. Select a profile

When you’re in a profile, your child can choose from any available video and watch it immediately. You then set up a passcode so that changes can’t be made to a child’s profile without the parental passcode. I also like that you can lock a profile to prevent that child from switching to another kid’s profile. (Mira, who loves to see what her sister is up to, doesn’t need to be watching all of the video options available to Cordy, for example.)

Parent passcode

No changes made without permission.

The video controls are bright and easy to use, too. Mira had no trouble learning how to pause a video, start it again, and control the options available to her. There are a lot of different shows available on Kidoodle.TV, too. Some of the cartoons I grew up with are there–like GI Joe, Inspector Gadget and Jem–and there’s plenty of educational programming, including National Geographic, Zoo Babies, and In Space. I’m excited to introduce our kids to shows that we grew up watching, and we’re enjoying watching new ones together. But when I can’t watch with them, it’s nice to know they won’t wander into anything inappropriate.

This point is completely unrelated to the kids, but Kidoodle.TV is also useful for parent TV time. Give the kids your computer or mobile device for Kidoodle.TV while you watch the TV shows you want to watch!

So far we’re really happy with the Kidoodle.TV service. The selection of kid programming is good, and they plan to add even more great content in the future. We’ve found the iOS app is superbly stable for a video player without the frequent buffering slowdowns of other players. Kidoodle.TV provides a free trial, and then it’s $4.99 a month afterward. BUT…I’ve got a coupon code you can use for 25% off a 1 year subscription to Kidoodle.TV. Just enter this code on the payment page: BLOGHER25. This coupon code expires June 30, 2014.


Not only can you use that coupon code for a big savings on Kidoodle.TV, but they’re also giving away $100 Visa gift card to one lucky reader!

To enter, leave a comment below to these questions: what devices do you kids use? Do they have their own or share with the whole family?  You can also visit here to enter for a chance to win 1 of 3 iPad Minis in March and in April!

You can find out more about Kidoodle.TV on their websiteFacebook page, Twitter, and Pinterest

Sweepstakes Rules:

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

  1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
  2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique terms in your tweet message: #KidoodleTVBH and #SweepstakesEntry; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
  3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
  4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US or Canada (excluding Quebec) Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 72 hours to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 3/17-4/18.

Be sure to visit the Kidoodle.TV brand page on where you can read other bloggers posts!


We’re Having A Smurfy Week (& Giveaway!)

How’s your week going? I don’t even know what day of the week it is.

(Checks computer calendar…OK, it’s Wednesday.)

Summer camp ended last week, and school doesn’t begin until next Wednesday, which means we’re in that limbo period between the two where the kids are home all day while I’m also trying to work during that same time.

This plan? Doesn’t work well. Here’s how our days have been going. (With thanks to the Smurfs for illustration.)

Cordy generally starts her day on the computer after breakfast.

Brainy Smurf

Mira watches while finishing breakfast. I sit down to my computer and try to get as much work done as possible.

Then by mid-morning, Mira gets restless. And starts doing things to annoy Cordy.

Annoying Smurf

Which makes Cordy angry. Yelling, whining, and unpleasant behavior begin.

Grumpy Smurf

I then have to stop what I’m doing to mediate between these two.

Papa Smurf gets involvedI think Papa Smurf is holding a crystal, but it really looks like a beating stick to me.

Then it’s lunchtime. I make them lunch, then I eat a minimal lunch while working.

By mid-afternoon, they’re clearly bored at home, so we go take care of an errand or do something out of the house. However, with this new unstructured schedule, they both usually act something like this while we’re out:

Silly SmurfsThis may be more tame than how they actually act.

So we come back home. I go back to work and suggest they read or do something not involving electronics. Cordy will read for awhile, but Mira has no ability to stay quiet for long, and then:

Harmony SmurfAnything that can make noise, she finds it.

Which makes me (and Cordy) grumpy.

Grumpy Smurf

Mira then practices her gymnastics for a little bit, begging me to watch and give feedback. So I do, typing a few words at a time between watching cartwheels and rolls.

Hefty Smurf

I then give in and let them back on the electronic devices for an hour, and we all work in quiet on our own devices. Aaaah, peace again.

And finally, Aaron comes home from work. We make dinner, he takes over entertaining the kids for an hour, and then they’re off to bed while I go back to working for the evening.

I’m looking forward to school starting again next week. I mean, it’s not so bad when I look back over a single day, but when I’m in the middle of the day itself, it feels like it’ll never end and I’ll never get anything done. I am getting things done, though – just not at the speed and in the order I’d prefer. Cordy and Mira are also getting things done, even if I worry about them spending too much time on the electronics.

But I know we’ll all be happier when we’re back into our school routine again. And that routine will be cheaper, too – I’ve been offering the kids rewards if they don’t fight with each other and are extra helpful around the house.

One reward for getting through the week together? Going to the movies. So far no one has lost their privileges, so there’s a good chance we’ll be taking in a movie this weekend. It’s probably no surprise that movie may be Smurfs 2. McDonald’s has partnered with Smurfs 2 to promote the movie with their Happy Meal toys. We’ve been collecting Smurfs from the girls’ Happy Meals because Cordy and Mira think they’re cute, and I love the nostalgia. Our Smurfs have also been hanging out with these guys from the last set of Happy Meal toys.

Smurfs vs Minions


Smurfs 2Do you want a free trip to the movies, too? McDonald’s and Sony’s Smurfs 2 provided me with four movie passes to give away to one lucky reader! (Passes are generic Sony movie passes, FYI, good at any theater.)

This is a simple giveaway! To enter, leave a comment below and tell me the name of your favorite Smurf. That’s it, easy-peasy. If you don’t remember the Smurfs all that well, here’s a quick guide to help you out.

One entry per person, US only. Giveaway will be open until Monday, August 19 at noon ET. Then I’ll close it, pick a winner and email that person. You’ll have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be selected.

Good luck! And wish me good luck to get through the rest of this week – school starts in less than a week!

Disclosure: No Smurfs were harmed in the making of this post. McDonald’s and Sony provided the prize for this giveaway, as well as an equal prize pack for my family as well. All Smurfs shown above? Totally purchased by me. 

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