Friday, September 30, 2011

Weekly Deal: $60 for photography shoot and 25 holiday cards from Stuart Townsley Photography ($450 Value)

$60 for photography shoot and 25 holiday cards from Stuart Townsley Photography ($450 Value)

Time flies. A cliché, but a true one. It’s so important to capture these moments on film before they become distant memories. And with the holidays coming up, it’s a great time to get a real picture taken – either of the whole family or just the kids – to share with everyone you love.

You could set the camera up with a timer, but those always seem to snap at the wrong moment. You could go to a big studio, but those are a little forced and cheesy. Or, you could hire a professional and take a family portrait where everyone is well lit and in focus that somehow captures not only a smile, but each individual’s personality.

When you purchase this deal, you get a location shoot with a professional photographer who knows how to work with you and your kids to find the beauty of a natural moment, not a forced “camera” smile (regularly $300). Choose from one of several locations in the L.A. area, from Downtown to the Ocean and from Venice to the Valley. You also get 25 printed holiday cards (regularly $75), a DVD slideshow and one beautiful 8x10 (regularly $45). You might be able to put a price on what this package would usually cost ($450, to be exact!), but having a photograph that beautifully captures this moment for your family forever is (in the immortal words of MasterCard) "priceless."

Stuart Townsley is an L.A. photographer with over 9 years of experience. His love for his own kids helped teach him how to capture on film just how you feel about yours. His work has been featured in magazines and on VH1's "My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding" in addition to being a favorite of many LA families. Call him to schedule a time and location for your shoot today, as holiday bookings fill up fast!

Click here to get this deal!

(Sponsored Post from

Thursday, September 29, 2011

DidiPop: L.A. Mom Makes Fun Music for Kiddos

I've gotten to meet some pretty cool moms while writing this blog, and L.A. singer-songwriter Deborah Poppink -- aka DidiPop -- is one of them.

Based in Mar Vista, Poppink has released a fun, family-friendly CD, "DidiPop Goes to Hawaii," ($14.99) which makes me long for shave ice and snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. CC, who checked out the CD review copy with me, demanded that we play it over and over again until she knew the words.

Not only that, but a song from the CD, "The Hawaiian Alphabet Song," which CC loves, won the grand prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest (children's category). The album also is currently being considered for a Children's Grammy nomination.

The songs are clever and inviting, complete with bouncy tunes that make kids smile. Heck, even the titles themselves are adorable -- "I Like Pigs" for one!

From the chaos that often accompanies airport visits and plane rides -- especially when you have little ones, which Poppink does; two girls, ages 5 and 3 -- she creates well-observed songs that appreciate the tyke-friendly details. Things like yellow taxis, meeting the pilot, and flying above the clouds, in her song "Wowie Gazowie (Goin' to Maui)."

"The Hawaiian Alphabet Song" is a great way to introduce to the kiddos to the sounds of Hawaiian letters and language.

And those little voices you hear in the background? Yep, those are her girls. What an amazing way for "keiki" to spend time with Mom.

I also have a great interview with Poppink that I want to share with readers, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out the songs on her site here, and visitors can pre-order her new CD "Everyday Adventures," which arrives Nov. 1.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

'The Gruffalo' DVD Review + Giveaway

UPDATE: Congrats to Raven in a Blue Room, who won "The Gruffalo" DVD! I'll send you an email with the deets. :) Thanks to everyone who participated (and to, and stay tuned for more giveaways!

I always love stumbling across adorable children's books or movies that offer a nice dose of smarts along with the entertainment. When I received "The Gruffalo" DVD for review from NCircle Entertainment, CC and I got both -- a fun, manageable tale (40 minutes total) about a super-witty mouse who outsmarts some hungry animals around him.

Narrated by the talented Helena Bonham Carter, Academy Award nominee "The Gruffalo," which is based on the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, tells the story of a resourceful mouse who goes for a walk in the woods to find a nut only to come across hungry predators -- a fox, an owl and a snake.

Fearing for his pint-sized life, the mouse makes up a story about an even bigger predator -- The Gruffalo -- and scares away the predators who want him for their own little snack.

The story takes a turn when the Gruffalo actually shows up -- and is hungry, too! What kind of story must the mouse tell now?

Featuring a talented bunch of voice actors, including Tom Wilkinson (love him!), John Hurt and Robbie Coltrane, this little movie really encourages quick thinking and courage in the face of danger.

CC kept asking when the Gruffalo would show up, and when he did, she wondered how the mouse would get out of that sticky situation. What was great was that she understood that the mouse was tricking the predators just to stay alive.

The next day, after I picked her up from preschool, she told me she had told one of her friends about "The Gruffalo."

"And [the friend] asked me if the Gruffalo lived outside of my house!" laughed CC in the retelling. It was so cute to think of her discussing a little movie at preschool.

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away 1 copy of "The Gruffalo" DVD (SRP: $9.99).

To enter, please leave a comment about something your child has done to surprise you.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter and retweet this giveaway. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I will announce the winner on Wednesday, Oct. 12!

Monday, September 26, 2011

'The Lion King' in 3D Has My Little Cub Roaring

CC and I booked it over to the El Capitan on Friday after preschool to catch "The Lion King" on the big screen in 3D.

If you have the chance, go and remind yourself just how awesome this Disney animated movie is.

While traffic caused us to be about 15 minutes late (eek, I know), CC still happily wore her pint-sized 3D glasses and sang along to "Hakuna Matata." We came in during the song "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" after battling San Gennaro festival congestion and a Hollywood Boulevard closing, but CC didn't mind. She was just happy to see the little lions in the theater.

She's seen the movie on DVD once before, but it's such a different experience on the big screen. And it was great being in an audience of serious "Lion King" fans. Moms and dads were singing along with their children, and the kids were in great spirits -- gasping and ooh'ing and aahh'ing.

One thing I was worried about was The Wildebeest Scene -- you know the one. Would CC be too scared? Or too sad? Would she understand?

Well, once it happened, and as "Lion King" patriarch Mufasa was lying on the parched land, she asked out loud, "What happened to the daddy? Is he died?"

Ugh. Serious heartache. But after I explained it to her -- very simply, of course -- she was OK. Actually, it was kind of matter-of-fact for her.

She kept watching, happily, and wearing those little glasses and smiling.

"The Lion King" is playing at the El Capitan through Oct. 6, as well as in other theaters.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Splashy-Splashing with Disney's Princess Ariel Water Toys

CC plays with Ariel and her sisters.

It's been all about bath time, sink time and pool time this summer with Disney's Princess Ariel water toys. And autumn looks to be no different.

Mattel sent over some girl-friendly toys for review, and CC has been taking them wherever there's even a drop of water.

The larger Princess Swimming Ariel ($17.99; pictured above, lounging on the sink's counter) is a great addition to bath time. Wind up her little seashell and she swims around the tub.

 While that's fun, CC sometimes treats her more like a regular doll. In fact, just last night CC told me to come and look at her sleeping baby. Walking into her dimmed bedroom, I found Princess Swimming Ariel nowhere near water and tucked into a bed of newspapers.

"Shhh," CC said. "She's sleeping."

The smaller trio of Ariel and her sisters, Alana and Arista (who knew?!), is really the go-to bath toy ($10.99). CC creates little stories with them and always asks me which one I like best.

An added bonus -- and great for little scientists -- is that their swim tops change in water. It has to be cold water, and CC has been all over that, dumping trays of ice into the sink and watching them change to deeper shades of purple, pink and blue.

Even though summer has had its last sunset, these toys will still be great for other splashy venues.

[Note: While Mattel sent the toys for review, the views stated in this blog are solely my own.]

Open Auditions for 'The Nutcracker'

I don't usually post casting notices on my blog -- there are so many here in L.A. -- but this audition notice from The Red Chair Children's Production Co. in Burbank was too cute to pass up.

Plus, I might have to remember it for CC next year, after she turns 5.

The company is holding auditions for "The Nutcracker" ballet on Sunday, Sept. 25, and they're looking for little ballerinas and non-dancers alike.

To those of you with kiddos who want to try out, please use the contact info on the above flyer.

I can't wait to take CC to a production of "The Nutcracker" this Christmas season. She loved the Joffrey Ballet's performance of "Cinderella" so much that I have a feeling she'll go just as nuts (sorry, couldn't resist) for this beautiful ballet.

Happy First Day of Fall!

You might have noticed the overcast skies and the chilly air -- at least in the mornings. Well, fall is officially here.

Our fireplace is ready, and we've brought out the (decorative) pumpkins. Hello, steaming mugs of hot coffee! (OK, so I have one of those every day, no matter what the season.)

Happy Fall!

[Image courtesy of awesome blog A Cup of Jo, who is spending her autumn in New York.]

Thursday, September 22, 2011

L.A. County Fair 2011: Back to the Farm + Giveaway

UPDATE: Congrats to Vianney, who won the Family 4-Pack of tickets to the L.A. County Fair! Please email me at with your address. As always, thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway, and stay tuned for more! (Also thanks to for helping me decide.)

The theme of this year's L.A. County Fair extravaganza was: Face Time! CC was all about sticking her head through holes in painted boards that featured all sorts of fair-friendly life, including pigs (see above), corn, dinosaurs and mermaids. OK, so maybe the last two aren't exactly fair-specific, but CC was not about to miss an opportunity.

Of course we hit Fairview Farms and learned how to feed baby goats, lambs and cows. In the petting zoo area, CC got to feed all of those animals in addition to a super-cute llama. I, on the other hand, was trailed by a particularly persistent little goat who kept nudging me (softly) and got his head stuck inside my dress. Awkward!

CC also had the chance to ride a (stationary) dinosaur at Jurassic Planet, chow down on hot dogs and Dippin' Dots, ride the giant carousel and explore a variety of fun houses -- her second-favorite thing to do after sticking her head through the painted boards.

The biggest change from last year was that she can now ride rides for kids who are 42 inches tall. Yes, my little bear is now a towering 3'6" (and growing!). Suddenly I'm getting nostalgic for the 36" and under rides. *Sniff*

If you haven't visited the fair yet, it's open through Sunday, Oct. 2.

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm giving away a Family 4-Pack of tickets to the L.A. County Fair.

To enter, leave a comment below telling me your (or your child's) favorite fair ride.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter and retweet this giveaway. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I will announce the winner on Monday, September 26!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

'Dolphin Tale' Review

A few weeks ago, CC and I drove up to the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank to catch a special screening of "Dolphin Tale," which arrives in theaters Friday, Sept. 23.

Based on the real-life experience of a dolphin whose tail was permanently damaged after getting caught in a crab trap, "Dolphin Tale" tells the story of her rescue and the boy (played by Nathan Gamble) who bonds with her. Winter, as the dolphin is named after being rescued, eventually needs to get a prosthetic tail and, in the process, ends up inspiring a whole community, including a marine biologist (Harry Connick Jr.), his daughter (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) and a prosthetics doctor (Morgan Freeman).

Combine that story line with a boy's need to find his way, the financial struggles of a marine hospital, and the physical/emotional effects of combat on young soldiers, and you have a compelling family-friendly film.

I'll be honest. I cried like seven times during this movie -- and not because anything particularly awful happens. (Parents: I heard that the movie is rated PG rather than G because you see the dolphin tangled up in a net on the beach.) The film is touching and really explores more than just how Winter adjusts to life without a real tail.

But what made me tear up was how uplifting this story is. "Dolphin Tale" is honest about the struggles that come with treating an animal that doesn't fully understand its injury. In real life, Winter's story also connected with people with disabilities -- some of whom came to visit her -- an element of the film that makes it that much more inspiring.

Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick Jr. and Cozi Zuehlsdorff in "Dolphin Tale."

CC, who really enjoyed the film and had tons of questions throughout, really liked that there was a strong girl character in the movie. Daughter to marine biologist Dr. Haskett, Hazel draws out the shy Sawyer (Gamble) and welcomes him as part of the dolphin-saving team. She's smart, spunky and relatable, which CC appreciated.

She also loved the humor. Dolphins -- and in this case, Winter, who played herself -- are funny and adorable!

What I really appreciated about the film, too, was that there was no forced love story between Connick's character, a widower, and Sawyer's single mom (Ashley Judd).

"Dolphin Tale" is a fantastic story for kids of all ages that's touching, empowering and -- well, who doesn't love playful, smiling dolphins who are all about making a (literal) splash?

[Images courtesy of Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment. Bottom photo: Jon Farmer]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

L.A. Story Tackles Tech at

Please check out my story, "5 Ways High School Students (and Teachers) Are Using Smartphones in the Classroom," over at tech site

If you don't know Tecca, it's a great site for learning about the latest tech developments and checking out cool photos of far-away planets. There's even a great guide to tech-savvy parenting.

Enjoy, and thanks for taking a peek at my story!

[Image via Tecca]

Weekly Deal: $14 for 1 Adult and 1 Child’s Ticket to the Hollywood Wax Museum and Guinness World Records Museum

$14 for 1 Adult and 1 Child’s Ticket to the Hollywood Wax Museum and Guinness World Records Museum - Hollywood | Visit two kid-friendly museums ... be sure to bring your camera!

We're always looking for fun and unique places to take the kids and for experiences that will create long-lasting memories. Of course, it's always a bonus if those experiences don't break the bank. That's why we really love today's deal.

Be a tourist in your own town and take your child for a fun outing to not one but TWO museums: the world-famous Hollywood Wax Museum and the Guinness World Records Museum. For just $14, you will receive one adult and one child admission to both attractions!

Click here to get this deal!

(Sponsored Post by

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mustaches and Photo Booths

We spent most of the day yesterday at the L.A. County Fair. As you know, we're big fans. I have a longer post about our Fairview Farms-filled extravaganza planned for this week (complete with giveaway!), but I wanted to share fun Photo Booth pics that we took while at the Fairplex.

Notice Ian is in his new "Mustache Roy" character that CC loves. More on that and, of course, the goats, later.

In the meantime, did you know it's Talk Like a Pirate Day? Arrr, thanks for reading, me mateys!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: 'Sesame Street: Ready, Set, Grover' Wii Game

CC has proven to be really skilled when it comes to electronic games, whether it's an iPhone app or something for the Wii. And as much as I appreciate the educational value of most of these entertainment options, I've always wondered if companies could somehow engage kids physically.

That's why I was happy to have CC try out "Sesame Street: Ready, Set, Grover!" ($39.99) for the Wii. This preschool-friendly game, which I am reviewing from a copy provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, not only has segments that promote healthy eating and basic sorting, it also has her dancing, jumping and moving her arms.

I was really impressed. One mini game has the player mimicking dance moves of an on-screen Elmo or Abby Cadabby. Another has the player ducking every time a low-hanging tree limb appears on screen.

It was great to see CC so active while still having to make decisions about which fruit goes where and what is a balanced meal for a little monster. She even invited her friend to play, too. (I never tire of watching 4-year-olds dance.) So, suffice it to say, there wasn't much time spent on the couch.

And that's not even mentioning the cute Grover Wii controller cover that conveniently hides buttons that little hands won't use. Parents also can track a child's progress with the game via a special parent page.

While the graphics of the game aren't the same as watching an episode of "Sesame Street," the characters are still fun, appealing to kids and give them another reason to get on their feet.

(Note: A copy of the game was provided for review.)

$99 for Combo Bouncer Rental From Awesome Bounce! (Up to $200 Value)

Awesome Bounce has been providing top-notch inflatable bouncers, combos, slides, obstacle courses and more for children's parties for more than15 years. They're always clean, always on time, always professional, and always ready and willing to turn your party into an event!

Get your bouncer at more than half-off with this voucher, and bounce your way into party fun! This deal is valid for the following 15' x 15' Combos; Castle 4-in-1, Pirate 4-in-1, Funhouse, Cars, Disney Princess, Dora the Explorer, Dumbo, Happy Birthday, Incredibles, Luau/Hawaiian, Madagascar, Mickey Mouse, Simpsons, Sponge Bob, Superman, Tinkerbell Combo, Transformers, Winnie the Pooh, Winter Wonderland. The deal is also valid for the 16' x 19' Noah's Ark 5-in-1.

Click here to get this deal!

(Sponsored Post)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Venice Canals and Ducks

Hungry ducks follow CC along a Venice canal.

August and September have proven to be two of the busiest months of 2011. We've had friends and family visit from out of town, we've gone out of town, and don't forget about school starting again -- for CC and me. But it's also given us a chance to check out more of what Los Angeles has to offer.

When our friends Alisa and Glenn visited from New York, we took them to the Venice canals, just off the beaten path of Washington Boulevard near the ocean. CC loved it.

Too bad we didn't bring any bread with us. Hyper-attentive ducks were trailing us as we strolled along the sidewalk. It's such a nice walk, checking out the adorable houses and taking pictures on small bridges that cross the waterway.

It's a peaceful visit that doesn't cost a dime.

P.S. I also contribute to Click here to learn more about an upcoming Culver City bash.

Monday, September 12, 2011

L.A. Story's 3rd Blog-iversary!

[Image credit: iStockphoto]

I can't believe it's been three years since I started this blog. Actually, the real blog-iversary was on Sept. 9, but hey, who's counting? :)

To celebrate, I wanted to take a little stroll down memory lane. Remember the goats, hulking out -- and, how about "It's not you, it's me."

Whatever posts you've liked, thank you for checking out our L.A. adventures.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where Were You?

Ten years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, I was on the subway in New York, heading from 86th and Lex to Grand Central Station as the world changed. I arrived at work, picked up my already-ringing phone, and heard my mom in tears asking if I was OK.

"Slow down," I thought. "What's going on?"

That sentiment was something I kept repeating to myself throughout the morning, as colleagues stopped what they were doing and huddled around small TVs, wondering what was happening and what was next.

I remember it being a bit of a panic in the office, at the New York Times Syndicate. We could see on TV that the towers were smoldering. Then we heard about the Pentagon, then the flight in Pennsylvania. What was next? The Capitol? The White House? Nobody knew.

Then the towers fell, and it was as if that were the last straw.

Some people in the office said we should stay where we were, that that would be safer. A couple of my friends and I just wanted to get the hell back home.

A few of us decided to go, and the streets were chaotic. Manhattan was on lock-down, and the only way to leave the island was on foot. I told my friend at work, Mary-Beth, who lived on Long Island, that she could stay at my apartment.

Tons of people were jumping on buses, us included. The subways were a no-go. We didn't have any change -- or maybe the exact change -- but the bus driver just said, "Get on."

I was amazed at how familial everyone became. We were helping each other get through a tragedy as it was unfolding.

The next day, after everything, there was still smoke billowing over downtown, as it would for days. The city was a ghost town. People stayed inside their apartments, cocooned in some kind of protective shell.

Then there were all the paper signs taped on poles and walls around the city and in Grand Central, signs of missing people. Had you seen them? Please contact their family.

A young man who I went on two dates with in college died in one of the towers that morning. So did the brother of a classmate from high school and the son of a colleague. How was that possible?

Ten years later, we're still trying to make sense of it all. But time has passed, and we've changed jobs, gotten married, had kids, and learned to live with the post-9/11 stress that comes with getting on a plane.

The world might have changed, but we're still here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back-to-School Goodies

The Roving Gallery lunch box from Kimmel Kids

I always love finding adorable (and functional!) school supplies. As a kiddo, I loved walking up and down drugstore aisles in search of cute Trapper Keepers (eek, I'm old!), folders, pens and -- of course -- stickers.

Back-to-school items are much cooler these days. I love the above brushed metal lunch box from Kimmel Kids (check out my interview here with local artist Karen Kimmel). It's called the Roving Gallery ($19), and it comes with a magnet set that kids can use to decorate the lunch box. So imaginative! CC would love the hot-pink handle alone.

Kimmelcolors Forest Set

How great is this stencil set for little artists? Kimmelcolors ($45) -- in an autumn-friendly forest theme -- comes with three stencils, six over-sized colored pencils (great for little fingers!) and an eco-friendly stencil case. I can imagine CC sitting at the table drawing away ...

Do you have any back-to-school favorites?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Happy First Day of Preschool!

CC started her first day of preschool today -- this time as a "Lion." Last year, as a 3-year-old, she was a "Bunny," and now she's one of the big kids.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day ... and Photoshop Rocks!

CC stops to smell the flowers at the Santa Barbara train station.

First of all, Happy Labor Day! Hope you're enjoying the long weekend. I took the above picture in Santa Barbara a couple of weeks ago, when my dad was in town from Oklahoma.

I've also been taking a Photoshop class this summer, and I've really enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I bought Photoshop CS5 for my computer. (Yes, it's that good, but thank goodness for the teacher discount!)

I wanted to share with you one amazing feature of the program. There's a cool trick you can do to turn an image into a pencil sketch -- which was actually one of my assignments. Check out the end result below. It blew my mind.

So much so that I framed it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Disney's 'Pixie Hollow Games' Giveaway

"Pixie Hollow Games" (Image credit: (c) Disney)

UPDATE: Congrats to Mama Stacy, who won the Pixie Hollow gift pack! Please email me at with your mailing address. Thanks for participating!

You might remember when CC first experienced Disney's Pixie Hollow game at an event at Hollywood &; Highland last year. Just before she rocked out to "Be Our Guest" from Beauty & the Beast, she checked out Tinker Bell and friends, created her own fairy and played games in this kid-friendly virtual world.

Fast-forward to just over a year later, and a TV incarnation of the game, "Pixie Hollow Games," is coming to the Disney Channel this fall. The Pixie Hollow fairies and sparrow men will be training for these games, and viewers are encouraged to create art for a big contest around the theme "How Will You Train?"

While that contest, which runs through Sept. 6, is happening, I'm hosting a giveaway here on L.A. Story.

I'm giving away a Pixie Hollow gift pack (pictured above) that includes:

* A Pixie Hollow workout bag
* A Pixie Hollow T-shirt
* A Pixie Hollow hat
* A Pixie Hollow workout log
* Pixie Hollow stickers
* Pixie Hollow window decals
* A Pixie Hollow starter flower garden that you can watch grow as you train!

To enter, visit Pixie Hollow and leave a comment below telling me your favorite Pixie Hollow character. 

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter and retweet this giveaway. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I will announce the winner on Friday, Sept. 9!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Coming Attraction: 2011 L.A. County Fair

(Photo credit: The L.A. County Fair)

Kicking off on Saturday, Sept. 3 (which also happens to be Ian's and my wedding anniversary) is one of our favorite SoCal activities -- the L.A. County Fair.

I still will never forget my 2-year-old child eagerly leaping onto a farm-friendly stage at the 2009 fair just so she could milk an unsuspecting goat. (And yes, I will remind readers of that every time the fair rolls around. :)

Running through Oct. 2 at the Fairplex in Pomona, the L.A. County Fair promises lots of down-home entertainment paired with international flavor.

Of course there will be the petting zoo at Fairview Farms, but be sure to also check out the Barnyard Races Pig Racing (seriously, how could you miss that?), the Chinese Circus of Beijing and dinos at Jurassic Planet.

There are also lots of great deals. Arrive on opening day any time between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and gain admission for only $1 per person. Check out more deals here.

Have fun, and don't forget about the rides and the fried Twinkies!

Fairplex in Pomona
1101 W. McKinley Ave.
Pomona, CA 91768

Tickets: Ages 13+ ($12 weekdays; $17 weekends); ages 6-12 ($7 weekdays, $12 weekends); ages 5 and younger (Free)
Parking: $10 (general); $15 (preferred)


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