Surviving on Pennies in America's Finest City

Monday, 1 September 2014
When people find out I live in California their usual response has something to do with just how expensive the West Coast is.  And while yes San Diego is expensive, landing the #10 spot in the "most expensive cities" of the U.S., it can also be very affordable with the right knowledge.

Having moved to America's Finest City with $300 in my pocket (yes literally in my pocket, the bank account came later) I quickly learned how to eat, sleep, and play for close to nothing.  Here is my own list of rules & tips to live in the 10th most expensive city of the United States (in no particular order).

YELP! when you're hungry.
If you've got a smart phone, then you've got this app at your finger tips, and believe me your stomach is going to thank you. The "check in" feature is not just to let the world of social media know exactly where you are in the world, but can also get you some great discounts and even some freebies!  Take Jimbo's Natural Grocery Store in downtown's Horton Plaza for example, "check in" and get a free breakfast burrito (for a limited time).

Cool off for free.
The newest addition to San Diego's Embarcadero is the Waterfront Park.  Spanning 12 acres, including grassy areas to take a nap, shaded sitting areas, gardens and an interactive fountain.  Yes, you heard right interactive.  Let your inner 6 year old run wild through the jet streams of cool water and enjoy your free shower.

Free your mind, the rest will follow.
Every Tuesday, Balboa Park boasts it's "free resident Tuesdays".  Each Tuesday, different museums open their doors, free of charge, to San Diego residents.  Not a resident?  At least we don't have a pesky accent to fake!  If music is more of your thing, stop by the Spreckles Organ Pavilion on a Sunday for a free concert, played on one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs.

Take a trip back in time.
Old Town Historical State park is the most visited state park in the United States. Take that Yellowstone!  The park itself has no entrance fee and can be easily walked in an hour.  Window shop the Mexican souvenir shops or visit the (free) Wells Fargo Museum.  If you've got a fee bucks, head over to the Whaley House, also known as the most haunted house in the United States.  Day time tours will set you back around $6, or if you're like us, simply stand outside and gaze up at the windows looking for it's ghouls.

These boots were made for walking... so is San Diego.
There is a major benefit to having sunshine and 360 days of perfect weather year round, and that my friends is not the tan or the beckoning beach, it's the ability to be outside, moving, walking, and cycling, year round.  I have lived here now two years and do not yet own a car.  I walk everywhere and when my legs get tired, well that's what public transportation is for.  And surprise, surprise, the  city is doing something right in the transportation department.  A bus ride will cost you $2.25 one way, $5 for a day pass and if you're really mobile, monthly passes start at $72.

Get sweaty.
You might be broke or trying to save money but that doesn't mean you shouldn't still get in a good work out now and again.  Yoga One offers free yoga classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, as well as Friday mornings.  And if Yoga isn't really your cup of karma, then log onto and find free weekly boot camp sessions and people who actually want to do all those crunches.

Get a Goldstar.
Goldstar is a free membership ticket service that offers heavily discounted tickets (including the elusive free show) to it's members.  Just log on and tell them what you want to see and voila!

Shop till you drop.
Shopping is one of the biggest places I save money, how you ask?  Two words: Salvation Army.  Every Friday and Saturday, the local downtown Salvation Army drops their already low prices an additional 50%.  Not only do I find great brands, but I am able to make a few bucks on the side by ebay-ing all my excellent finds.

1. New York City, NY
2. Honolulu, HI
3. San Francisco, CA
4. San Jose, CA
5. Standford, CT
6. Washington, D.C.
8. Oakland, CA
9. Los Angeles, CA
10. San Diego, CA
Cost of Living: 30.0% above U.S. average
City Population: 1.3 million
Median Household Income: $63,990 (U.S.: $53,046)
Median Home Value: $477,800 (U.S.: $181,400)
The sun, surf and sand might be free in San Diego, but you pay a stiff price to live there. Housing costs are more than double the national average in this Southern California city. And while typically high household incomes help offset inflated living costs, you may have to hustle to find work in the area. The local unemployment rate of 6.9% remains a bit worse than the national average of 6.8%, as of March 2014, though the labor situation has improved since 2013.
Military and government workers may fare best, with about one-fourth of all local jobs related to defense, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. Besides the federal government, Northrop Grumman, SAIC and Lockheed Martin are major area employers.

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The Death of a Childhood

Sunday, 31 August 2014
It was the first day I ever saw you cry.  I remember the morning exactly.  The dew not yet disturbed from the night before in the New Hampshire Berkshires.  I woke up early, too early for a 9 year old enjoying her last summer vacation before her first day of 5th grade.  It was our first summer with the camper van and we were on a mission to make the most of it before the 'real' world started again, along with an autumnal welcoming of Jack Frost.  It was a perfect late summer's day.  The sun was sparkling into the open space.  I rolled over onto my younger brother, still asleep in August's bliss.  I could smell Mom's coffee and assumed you were out getting the morning paper, a life-long habit which I always admired.  You wanted to know what was going on in the world, a habit which I have gladly inherited.  But today was different, little did I know it would change everything I knew about life, loss, and love.

You car door slammed as you took heavy steps towards the camper van.  You entered and my mother put her coffee cup down abruptly. What's wrong?  She asked in a hushed tone.

She's dead.

As a 9 year old, the concept was death wasn't something I had dealt much with outside of Bambi loosing his mother to a hunter eager to have a new rug and Simba loosing his father in a family squabble.  I understood death was permanent, but I had never seen first hand the type of pain it causes, the sound it causes, or heard that sound come from you.

Princess Diana & My Grandmother
Princess Diana was loved by all.  Whether it was her smile or her lineage, my English father had a soft spot for lovely Lady Di, and news of her death in the early hours of August 31, 1997, took him by surprise.  Her death silenced the world, masses heartbroken her smile would no longer bring joy to their lives.  It was in every sense of the word a tragedy and the first time I ever saw you flinch.

I got up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, knowing something was different.  Little did I know, the death of the Princess of Wales would change my life, end not only my summer vacation in New Hampshire but show me that no one, not even a steadfast father is immune to pain.

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Super Charged

Saturday, 30 August 2014
"In the U.S.A. what is the most popular sport?" he asked in his thick Swiss-German accent.

Growing up on the east coast, we bleed our sports teams, especially in the Dirty Watah.  In the springtime, we've got our beloved Sox who charm us with their green monster.  Our football team represents more than just the Bay State, and our winters are a battlefield of black and yellow B's mixed in with that beautiful Celtic Green.  We are proud, we are the underdogs, we drop our "r"s and we win.

When I moved to London as a young woman, I was introduced to football culture.  I wore my Chelsea blue at work in Kensington, but underneath I bled red for their rivals.  Arsenal ran in my veins, but not in my neighborhood.  Games were a frenzy of life and death, a series of holding your breath, drowning in the sheer fear they may not make it.

Then I moved to California.  Let me rephrase that, then I moved to Southern California.  The land of the glamorous, sunshine, surfing, where sports consist of yoga, juicing, and if you can do both of those on a stand-up paddle board then you're doing it right.  But baseball?  Basketball?  Football?  Where do they fit in?

So there we were, sitting in the nose bleed section of a pre-season NFL Chargers game, watching the celebration below.  Clearly San Diego loves to "bolt up", support their blue and yellow players, but something was different about their admiration for the husky men on the green field below.  For every touch down the spectacle began.  Flames shot into the air, followed by a series of fireworks, and the sound of what I can only assume is supposed to be a "lightning bolt" sounded on repeat.  The cheerleaders twerked and shook their gold pom poms.

And the music began.

And the crowd around me sang along, I wondered how a sport taken so seriously on my lovely east coast had transformed into such a spectacle here.  Perhaps Hollywood's charm is too deeply rooted into the culture not to "bolt up", sing the song, and drink commercial beer.  On the other hand perhaps that's what's missing from East Coast Sports mentality.  Because win or loose, at least the beer is cold.

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Summertime Sadness

Tuesday, 26 August 2014
You know Lana Del Ray sings about a summertime sadness, that beautiful kiss before the fall, the season is ending and goodness it's palpable.  So as we pull another blanket over our toes at night and prepare for colder weather, we reflect.

There are certain things that one only does in the summer, despite living in southern California, where it is summer year-round, I firmly hold onto the idea that summer is special.  Summer is meant for sunbathing, beach days, beach nights, and a few BBQs thrown in the mix.  So here's a summertime list, full of the things we all should have done by now... and if not, you've got some homework to do before "school" starts again.

  1.  Sunbathing. Whether it's on a rooftop, beach, or in your front lawn, summertime is meant for striping it all off and getting in that vitamin D.  Just remember to use sunscreen!
  2. Swimming. Dip those tan toes into the sea for goodness sake.  Swimming is not only a great way to have some summertime fun, but it's also a great full body workout.  And did I mention it's relaxing?
  3. Skinny Dipping.  So now that you've got those epic tan lines, why not show the world what a full-moon really looks like and get naked!  
  4. Build a Sandcastle.  I'm sorry how old are you?  Did I mention I don't care?  Seriously get down and dirty, put those hands in the sand and build your dream house!
  5. Get your butt in a boat. Even I, the worst Barnacle ever, someone who gets incredibly seasick, got into a boat this summer.  And despite loosing my lunch, I kayaked past sharks and even saw some beautiful Garibaldi.
  6. Play a Game.  Preferably an outdoors game.  Why not grab a football, soccer ball, or join in a beach volley ball game?  Again, there is no such thing as an age requirement or cut off, so what are you waiting for?  And if it's raining, monopoly awaits.
  7. Go for a Hike.  As someone who hikes year round, hiking in the summer is actually my least favorite time to do it, but that's besides the point.  
  8. Camp. Or "Glamp" if you'd prefer, but get outside your own four walls and sleep underneath the stars.
  9. Road Trip.  One of our favorite summertime adventures.  Unfortunately this year has been pretty quiet on the road trip front, but we'll be heading up to Ojai, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo in September.  Stay tuned for our adventure!
  10. S'mores.  Mmmmm please, more s'mores!  Get together around the fire and roast up these tasty treats before it becomes autumn.  Something about autumn makes marshmallows taste less like fun. 
  11. Go to an Outdoor Concert.  We recently found ourselves listening to (and watching) Disney's Fantasia played live by the San Diego symphony on the waterfront.  There is just something so magical about a summertime concert.  Have you been yet?
  12. Picnic!  There are so many foods that are only available during summer.  Ok so maybe that's not true.  But who eats hot dogs and s'mores in the winter?  Grab a watermelon and make that egg salad and pack a lunch, go to the park!  And lets not forget the most important picnic accessory, the vino!
  13. I scream for Ice Cream.  As a Bostonian, I eat ice cream year round.  It's not something that is easily explained to these Californians.  Ice cream is somehow different, better, amazing even.  Californians are all about their fro-yo and soft serve.  Where is the Ben & Jerrys?  What do you mean too fattening?  I'll have a double scoop with some jimmies please.
  14. 50 cent Lemonade.  Little Susie down the street is selling.  Get it while it's cold and sweet!
  15. Gone to the County Fair.  And by go, I definitely mean eat your weight in cotton candy, see the world's largest pig, and taste something fried that should never be fried, like an Oreo or cookie dough.
Whats on your summertime list?

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Monday, 25 August 2014
Every weekend I sit and listen.  It's part of being an assignment editor.  Firmly planted in a swivel chair, agency scanners buzz around me with "breaking" news and all I do is listen.  So what makes it news?  How do you learn to tune into the important stuff and tune out the mediocre?

 It's not something you can teach, it's a combination of something you are born with and something you learn on the job.  People assume learning the codes is the most difficult aspect of the job, but soon you hear it's not just about the code, whether they're responding to an 415 (disturbing the peace) or a 245 (assault with a deadly weapon) or maybe an 11-14 (dog bite), it's not about the numbers, it's about the tone.

We're all human, whether you're a janitor, President Obama or a dispatcher at the local fire department.  And whether it's our job to be human or not, sometimes our humanity breaks through.  Sometimes it's a sense of urgency, a sense of despair, a lack of hope.  It is that urgency that breaks through when it's a matter of life and death.  A fatality has a certain sound, and while a suicide sounds different than a deadly crash or house fire, but that low dark human sound when calling a 11-44 (coroner's case) over the scanners remains the same.

Once in a while you'll hear something.  It's not an easy something, it's difficult, gut wrenching, life changing even.  The first time I heard it, it was one of my first overnight shifts.  There was a call to a high-rise apartment complex in Little Italy, reports of a serious fall.  The officer arrived on scene and began reporting to dispatch.  A man had jumped from the 12th floor.  The radio lit up again, this time full of agonizing cries.  The man's wife had arrived in the lobby.  Her cries were for help, not to save the man she loved, but to save her own soul from breaking. Suddenly my own heart was aching, broken with the loss the woman was enduring.  The officer's sterile words broken through her cries.  Each word clear against the sorrow, he called for a clean-up crew, calm, cool. collected.

We're told to listen our entire lives.  Our parents reprimand us when our ears stray, our teachers remind us to listen carefully, and as we get older, our relationships thrive when we learn to listen to what our partners need all while they in turn listen to us.  And while I get paid to listen, I'm learning it's never been about what is being said, but the emotion behind it, the actual sounds, the human melody that keeps the beat to the sterile words.

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Monday, 18 August 2014
A visit to San Diego isn't complete without a trip to La Jolla.  Rightly name, the jewel of southern California, the affluent neighborhood sits overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  And right in it's heart, lies the cove.  A picturesque inlet, surrounded by cliffs, sandy beaches, and environmentally protected waters, the cove is the perfect place to catch a wave or try your chance at spotting a leopard shark.

Dozens of companies offer kayaking and snorkeling tours, where you're able to kayak through the waters of the cove, over the sharks (if you're lucky) and into it's caves.  Most tour guides are more than informative and will tell you about the areas environmental and social history.

The La Jolla Underwater Park is made up of two artificial reefs, designed to enhance and encourage marine life. And let me tell you, it looks like it's working.  The reef makes the waves minimal adding to the popularity with divers and swimmers.  Just keep in mind the rules of the park: Look but don't touch.

The sandy bottom is the perfect feeding ground for stingrays, crabs, and leopard sharks.  They move underneath visitors effortlessly with each stroke of a paddle or an arm.  The non-aggressive sharks munch on crustaceans and crabs on the seafloor and don't mind the company in the protected water.  And while the sharks keep to themselves, curiosity has been known to get the better of the local seals.  Unfortunately with the seals comes "seal lovers" who will do whatever it takes to keep you at a "safe" distance from the lovable pups.

So go, do, see, swim.  Skip Seaworld and skip the Birch Aquarium and opt for the real action... just remember to do the stingray shuffle.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Soaking a Nation in the name of ALS

Sunday, 17 August 2014
By now you've seen the videos.  People everywhere dumping buckets of ice water over their heads in the name of charity.  I guess you could say the phenomenon has quite literally soaked the nation, but why?  I've watched my east coast friends soak themselves pool side, in front yards, back yards, parking lots, in Jacuzzis, and even in the shower (you are a wuss by the way).  Each of them give a short speech, which lets face it, I always mute, they challenge a few more people to soak themselves and then the big finish.  Somewhere between the speech and the big finale, they mention "ALS" or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.  The neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which leads to loss of muscle control and for some patients in later stages, to be completely paralyzed.

According to the The Ice Bucket Challenge began July 29th as to way to get the public involved in funding research for the disease.  It's safe to say, America accepted the challenge.  Unfortunately there are some reports the Ice Bucket Challenge began as early as June 8th as, guess what folks, just another random Internet challenge.

But is it just an excuse for a facebook post?  As I watch 80% of my facebook friends take on their own challenge, I find myself asking a few key questions.

To my New England buds, what if you were challenged in December?  Would you still dump a bucket of ice over your head?

To my California chums, do you really think dumping a bucket of water and ice over your head is a good idea when we're in the middle of one of the worst droughts the state has ever seen?

Ok so your lips are moving (of course I have you on mute) and then you stand there and act like you weren't expecting a bucket of ice water to be freezing as it's dumped over your head.  Tell me again how this video is benefiting ALS?

Here's one more question, perhaps most importantly, did any of you actually donate monetarily to the challenge or is this just one massive wet t-shirt contest for the Internet?

Ok so maybe those last two were a bit stupid.  After all the whole point is to raise awareness right?  And the entire world seems to be slowly dumping water over their heads in the name of ALS.  But isn't there something more valuable, more important, more meaningful than wasting a bucket of water for a facebook update?

So instead of dumping a bucket of water over my head, I will be donating to each of these charities, so my bucket of water can go to someone whose life depends on it.
Charity Water

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Travel Inspiration: San Luis Obispo

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Stay in style at the Madonna Inn
In just a short month I'll be more than a quarter of a century old.  The big 2-6 is approaching and I've yet to see anything in California north of Los Angeles... I know, I know... the travel-bug hasn't been doing it's job.  But let me assure you, I'm covered in fresh bites from that little bug and I'm preparing myself with a vivid collection of photographic inspiration for the up coming adventure to San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Obispo. Image courtesy of National Geographic

Bubblegum anyone? 
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Saturday, 16 August 2014

Living in the flight path can be terrifying at times.
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A Lifetime of Laughter

Tuesday, 12 August 2014
"It's amazing how this can happen to famous people."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  What did he mean he couldn't believe something like this, like depression, or in this case an alleged suicide.

To most of us he was simply a comedian, a funny man who starred in the movies that defined our youth.  But it wasn't a secret Robin Williams battled drugs, addiction and depression through out his entire career, all behind the facade of a smile and quick whit.  When I first heard he had passed, I didn't need to read the fine print.  I remember first hearing about Williams depression years ago when the star relapsed in 2003, after 20 years of sobriety and again in 2006 when he publicly checked into a rehabilitation center.  And while suicide is not something one can predict, for someone battling demons it's a constant possibility.  What's more, it's an unfortunately truth that more often than not, someone who is suicidal can't necessarily be stopped.  It's shocking to those of us who lost someone they loved, and when it happens to someone who we think we know, someone who makes us laugh, celebrity or not, it rips that magic carpet from under our feet.

It's been nearly 24 hours since Williams was found unresponsive in his California home, and our newsroom is buzzing more than ever.  Perhaps it's out of shock that the world has seemed to stop laughing, but what about those of us who are not surprised.  Are we bad people for understanding why someone would take their own life?  Is that cause for concern?  Who am I to voice the opinion of "I'm not surprised someone like Williams, someone who has been battling drugs, alcoholism, someone who has been to rehab multiple times, took his own life."

Williams even joked about his battle with cocaine in Live at the Met stand-up performance.

The world seems to idolize the rich and famous.  We see them as less human, stronger, more beautiful, super-human heroes.  We tend to forget they are just like us. Singer and child star Demi Lovato spoke candidly about her battle with drugs, depression and how celebrity amplified the negative effects.  I remember reading her powerful story, as she recounted the rush of fame, being surrounded by thousands of people all smiling, wanting to meet you, taking your photograph, screaming your name.  You then are rushed into your hotel room, alone, in silence, somehow cut off from the real world.  And while you're loved by millions around the world, you're still alone.

So why are we so surprised?  Perhaps it's because many of us don't understand what it's like to want to take your own life.  Or what it's like to slowly poison yourself with drugs and alcohol, knowing it's killing you, but you keep taking because you're afraid you might die without it.  But for those of you battling your own demons in that hotel room, despite loved ones easily reached by phone on the other line, you feel alone.  After all we're all human.

call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) ----National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
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Justice Served?

Friday, 8 August 2014
It was the summer of 2010, I was a hopeful graduate with a fresh diploma in hand.  I packed my bags and moved to Phenom Penh, Cambodia to work for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called The Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR).  The Organization worked in conjunction with the Extraordinary Chamber Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), specifically by educating the public about the Khmer Rouge Regime of the 1970s, the genocide of the Cambodian people under Pol Pot and his Goons, and future democracy in the country.

I took my time getting to Cambodia, stopping over in Thailand, adventuring in Bangkok and the surrounding villages, even taking a moment to meet some pretty cool cats.  I stopped off in Angkor Wat to see the ruins, trying to figure out where a young 22 year old from Boston fit into the world.  Then I got to Cambodia....  Suddenly the world was no longer about me, about petting tigers, or sharing a large beer with fellow backpackers along the banana pancake trail.  

After unpacking my bags I was introduced to the leader of CJR, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, Theary Seng.  I liked her immediately.  She was charismatic, compassionate, and incredibly beautiful.  Everything she touched seemed to glow with hope, with justice, and with an undying spirit.  I bought her novel from a 9 year old boy on the street a few days after meeting her, the yellow paperback stood out from the knock-off "Lonely Planet" guides.  I read her story cover to cover, with each page not only understanding her contagious hope, but the spirit of Cambodia and why I was here.

On July 26th 2010, just three weeks after I arrived to help with the organization, Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his Khmer Rouge alisas as "Duch" was convicted for crimes against humanity and sentenced to life  in prison.  We organized public forums leading up to the sentencing, trying to educate the public on their own past.  A past that even today, isn't spoken of among it's survivors.  Fear of the government is a daily reminder of the country's genocide, where nearly 2 million people lost their lives in senseless killing.   I remember the day clearly.  Those lucky enough to get close to the courts waited outside, holding our breath, hoping the ECCC made the right decision.  It had been more than 30 years since these men ruled the earth, killing the educated, innocent women and children, leaving a country in a constant state of fear and confusion.  It was time to lock them up.

4 years have passed since I was that young woman sitting in a Cambodian office, organizing educational forums, holding my breath for the 2 million lives lost, hoping for justice.  This past Thursday, two more leaders in the Khmer Rouge were found guilty for crimes against humanity by the ECCC.  Nuon Chea, the former deputy secretary of the Communist Park of Kampuchea and Khieu Samphan, a one-time president of the Democratic Kampuchea received life sentences, joining Duch behind bars.  The 3 men are in their 80s and have spent the last 40 years living the high-life.  Raising large families, in even larger homes, denying their involvement with Brother Number one.  Both men say they intend to appeal the verdict.

3,500 victims participated in the trial.  An incredibly small amount of "witnesses" considering a quarter of the nation's population, nearly 2 million, were slaughtered during the regime.

While the UN and Amnesty International welcome the verdict as an important step towards justice, one can't help but ask, is it enough?  Three life sentences later, the country is perhaps a baby step closer to justice, but reconciliation? The UN backed ECCC also announced a decision to endorse 11 reparation projects for victims, but many believe the government also needs to act.  A sentence doesn't fix what the regime left, what the country has been living in for the last 40 years;  a public fear and lack of knowledge and democracy.  

Theary was of course vocal about yesterday's verdict, saying; "Cambodia hasn't got to the heart of the genocide. It's a missed opportunity... it completely missed the mark. What have we seen from $200 million and eight years (of the existence of the ECCC)? (It is) really a disservice to the other Cambodian victims."  She did however comment on those baby steps saying this verdict will "serve as a catalyst for conversations in Cambodia about our past."  They say everyone has a past, and for Cambodia it is one that continues to wait for it's serving of justice and reconciliation.

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America's Finest Convention

Saturday, 2 August 2014
What I'm about to say may have some of you up in arms, but for this blogger, living in San Diego is pretty boring.  Unlike our past homes of London, Boston, even Puebla, "America's finest city" lacks.  I often find myself trolling hundreds of event listing sites trying to find something to do with my afternoon or evening off from work.  The border city isn't a mixture of Mexican/American culture like we discovered in El Paso, but is a border, segregated in culture, except when it comes to the spice on your plate.  The museums are somewhat stagnant, the same exhibitions remain for years, and pop-ups?  What is a pop-up show? They're very few and far apart.  Perhaps this is simply the rant of a spoiled child who once lived in one of the most fascinating cities in the world, one that never sleeps, never stops, and never gets stale.

But the one thing San Diego has that no other city does quite the same: Comic Con.

For one weekend in July, the city gains 150,000 visitors, dressed in their superhero best, all ready to hear what the imminent year has to offer in terms of fandom.  It began in the 1970's when a group of comic lovers decided they wanted to host their own convention.  And while it all started with the superheroes and villans in between the pages of a glossy magazine, it soon included other aspects of popular culture that those same fans found worth merit.  Nearly 50 years later, I'd be surprised if half the attendees had ever read a physical comic book, but the characters have leapt from their original pages onto the big screens of Hollywood and onto our video game consoles.

As a resident, my city streets are transformed into a parade of fantasy.  Spider man is in Starbucks ordering his green tea latte with extra soy milk, while the Mayor rides a zip line through Gotham City.  Each year the costumes get more elaborate and with that comes elaborate issues.  Feminist groups demand these women dressed in little more than duct tape not be oogled at and are using these conventions as a platform for their anti-sexual harassment campaigns. For residents, the convention is both a blessing and a curse.  While the tourism gives our lovely city a boost, it makes going anywhere downtown or remotely near the Convention Center incredibly difficult.  Our favorite dive bars have been transformed into themed invite only haunts, restaurants are a 45 minute wait for the table in the back (you know the one near the kitchen with that awkward swinging door that slams into you every time someone delivers a plate), even the prices at the local grocery store go up.  Locals complain about the crowds, how everyone comes to their city, to enjoy their weather, their food, blah blah blah.  While secretly venturing into the masses to steal some swag, including a Hello Kitty headband and a Simpsons themed blow up doughnut.  We love it, we hate it.  But it's one of the things that defines us, that gives our home a place in modern history, a place in popular culture.  All while giving event starved bloggers a place to go and meet Robot Chicken.

The sad news?  Comic Con is set to remain in San Diego through 2016, and then?  This blogger only hopes "America's finest city" holds onto it's finest event.

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AH-HA! So that's why you think I'm "stuck up"...

Thursday, 31 July 2014
In a recent survey, over 1,000 people were asked how they pronounce certain words.  For this particular blogger, growing up in a British/American household, there were many a conversation on how to "correctly" pronounce words.  Only to of course get to public school and be told everything I had ever learned in the realm of pronunciation was false.  Now throw in a Boston accent and let me tell you, I was one screwed up 5 year old.  But I digress.  What the survey found to be most interesting was that pronunciation is no longer necessarily about how you say something but how you're perceived when you say it.

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2 Acres of Stuff...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014
The moment you land in El Paso, Texas, it's not hard to miss the cities biggest advertisement.  It screams from billboards, posters, magazine ads, and commercials, "2 acres of a wholesale showroom".  2 acres.  They say everything is bigger in Texas and the SaddleBlanket proved just that.

Jewelry, furniture, knick knacks of every kind, linens, clothing, decor, and well... before this list gets any longer, it's safe to say at the Saddleblanket you can buy pretty much anything you want.  Don't believe me?  Here are a list of some of the strangest items inside:
- A western style coffin.  Yes a coffin.  They come from a company called "The Last Rodeo", which is probably one of the best branding ideas since sliced bread. Fully lined in cowhide leather, beautifully handcrafted wood carvings of your ranch, horse, or maybe your favorite cowboy boots.  Of course these are all customizable, as is everything at the Saddleblanket.
- A two headed Taxidermy bull.  Yes you read that right.
- Stools that make whom ever dare sit look like an overweight stripper or a horses ass.
- You can actually buy a home.  Yes an entire house and of course that entire house will be "southwestern style".  The best part?  You get to choose all your furniture right then and there.

When you mention you might be heading to the Saddleblanket, the locals will roll their eyes.  "It's a place for tourists" they say, when in reality, the store is full of locals and tourists alike, all vying for that southwestern flair for their homes.  It truly is a "must stop" on anyones visit to El Paso.

During our visit, a good friend Rob Buscher stole the show and performed in a make-shift stage in the center of the store.  Bravah.


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WanderLusting after San Elizario

Monday, 28 July 2014
One of the best afternoon excursions in El Paso, Texas is a trip south to San Elizario.  Lucky for this blogger, the small community was also the home of my hacienda for the weekend, offering a lovely get away from the hustle and bustle of the "big city".

The historical town offers visitors a self guided walking tour through it's center, after having been added to the National Register of Historical places in 1997.  It's beautiful church and cozy plaza have been the backdrop for a few films including the 1985 flick, Fandango, staring Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson.  And 1997's Lolita staring Jeremy Irons and Melanie Griffith.

Aside from it's modern draws, the town's history stems from what was once truly the "wild west".  Including the famous "Salt War" in the late 1870s.  Which, you guessed it, was a little argument over salt, and ultimately lead the seat of south western Texas to belong to El Paso and not San Elizario.

Much of the original town still remains.  And visitors are welcomed to meander through it's old stone buildings.  Most noted is it's county jail.  Story has it, this is the only jail Billy the Kid ever broke into, yes, broke into, to rescue friend and fellow bandit Melquiades Segura.  As the tale goes, Billy woke the Mexican guards at 3 a.m. telling them he had two American prisoners.  The guard opened the door to find good ole' Billy and his friendly 44 revolver staring him between the eyes.   The guard released Segura, but that wasn't enough for Billy.  He locked the guards in the cell and threw the keys into the Rio Grande.  Lucky for Billy, the Rio Grande also marks his entrance into Mexico. Ahh the sweet smell of Freedom and tacos.

Despite the numerous historical buildings, the Presidio Chapel of San Elizario seems to outshine them all.  Standing at the western corner of the plaza, it's white walls illuminate the community.  The current chapel was built in 1877, replacing an existing Mexican chapel built in 1789.  While it's interior isn't spectacular, it's the perfect example of late adobe architecture in Texas, complete with European influences.


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Up Above El Paso... and Juarez... and New Mexico

Sunday, 27 July 2014
Next on our whirlwind adventure in El Paso, Texas was the Wyler Aerial Tramway.  Like any good traveler, seeing a city isn't just about walking it's streets, eating it's food, experiencing it's culture.  It's about seeing the city from it's every perspective.  And for El Paso, that meant seeing it from 5,600 feet.

Hovering in one of many Texas State parks, the tramway holds about 8 people, as it travels to Rangers Peak.  The four minute trip takes passengers between a canyon, exposing the beautiful desert life thriving in the heat.  Hawks, deer, snakes, rabbits, and although not visible, thousands of insects, spiders, scorpions dance underneath the rocks.

From Rangers Peak, one can look over Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico with ease.  The sprawl of the city lasts forever, the borders don't divide but merely add texture to the geography.  The clouds leave shadow patches across the sprawl, offering those lucky enough to be underneath a few moments shade from the intense 100 degree weather.

The peak also offers great hiking trails around the area.  If only we had time, one of the trails leads to the nearby crash site of B-36 Bomber in 1953.  The air force owned plane went down in the Franklin Mountains while trying to land at Biggs Air force base at Fort Bliss, during a snow storm.  Yes a snow storm.  (Thank you global warming.)  During the time of the crash it was the largest piston engine air craft in the world.  All 9 on board died in the crash.  The Park ranger explained because of it's location and the historical significance of the site, pieces of the wreckage are still there today for those who wish to make the 90 minute hike to remember the 9 veterans who were lost in the hills of El Paso.

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Full of Brisket & Love

Saturday, 26 July 2014
Visiting El Paso, Texas wasn't about traveling.  It wasn't about seeing a new city or venturing into one of the largest states of the union on an adventure.  It was all about love.  A wedding invitation had been sent just three months before, tickets were booked, and a dress bought.  Cowboy boots in hand, the trip was happening, not for the love of travel, but for the type of love that happens when
a man and a woman stand up in front of the people they love and say "I do".

There is something strange and exciting about watching someone you knew before they met their new wife, turn into a man by answering a simple sentence.  Will you? Do you? Forever?  A resounding yes fills the chapel and a sigh of relief, happiness and pride exhales from the crowd.  You can't help but think about the future, growing up, and commitment.  A quick hug to the bride and groom as you leave, is enough of an emotional dose to last the entire year.

But this is a Texas wedding, which somehow makes their love bigger.  Cowboy hats, boots, and bolo ties fill the dance floor with cheers and beers.  The Brisket flows freely and guests fill their bellies with the fatty meat and wash away their inhibitions with something frothy and cold.  The sun sets and the bride and groom bid their loved ones goodbye, taking into the night to start the rest of their lives, bigger than ever - Texas style.

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Everything's bigger in TEXAS

Tuesday, 22 July 2014
There has been a lot said about one of the largest states of our union.  We're talkin' bout Texas y'all.  Where everything is bigger, the BBQ smoked just right, and cowboy hats are a staple.  After spending the weekend underneath it's sprawling skies, driving past Sonics, taco stands, and visiting its famous 2 acre Saddleblanket wholesale store, this blogger was sold.  Texas has something bigger than ever I've seen in the union; heart.

Ironically it was love that brought me to Texas, and love that I found in the southwest corner of El Paso. The border town where Mexico meets the wild west of Texas, whilst New Mexico nuzzles it's western edges, completing the south western Ménage à 3.

Stay tuned for this Barnacle's lovely adventures in El Paso..

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The Restaurant

Wednesday, 16 July 2014
I used to frequent the restaurant whilst living in downtown San Diego somewhere between the safe and clean tourist destination of the Gaslamp and the hipster haven of East Village, full of ironic facial hair, suspenders, and left over crime that has yet to move out of the "up-and-coming" neighborhood.  The restaurant sits on the corner of Broadway and 12th, with a sign painted above the door that simply reads "Restaurant".  Easily missed as it blends into the surrounding urban landscape.  Established in 1957, when the current owner, Teresa was just the local teenage beauty queen, the recipes have the same authenticity now as I'm told they did then. Now in her late 80's, the woman simply known to locals as "Mama" still clears the dishes from tables, treating every customer like her own familia.

Over the past 2 years, this small hole in the wall has become home.  After night shifts I slid into it's red booths, greeted by Teresa and an infinite cup of coffee.  Her breakfasts breathing life back into a tired soul.  Everything is perfect, served with love not convenience.   My plate arrives and my newspaper opens to the daily headlines.  Meanwhile the "U" shaped counter is full of locals, young and old, swapping stories about their neighborhood, about their Restaurant.  Every once and a while a 'newbie' will come in, hearing about her famous Nopales Scramble or enticed by the tiny price tags advertised in the windows out front.  We welcome them to our restaurant, seated and caffeinated, our family continues to grow underneath the large red letters that say everything and nothing at all: "Restaurant".

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Your Dream Trip

Monday, 14 July 2014
What Kind Of Trip Do You Dream About?

Ten people can go on the same trip to the same place, and experience ten different versions of that city or country. It’s easy to let ourselves be caught up in travel brochure spiels and our own visions of a place, nurtured by movies, by the experiences people we know have had there, and all the other scraps which make up our vision of the world. Yet just like we know that our own city is full of countless stories and lives - the way we experience our home is far different than how a tourist will, or even someone who earns far less or far more than we do - every place we visit is the same. None of these versions of a place is inherently better or worse than the others, just different, though each comes with its own pitfalls and beauties. Young or old, single or married with children, we each seek out the trip which calls to something within us, and navigate our way through a foreign place with that ideal dream in mind. Here are just three of the popular ways to experience a new city or country.

Traveling Rough, Living Wild
For some people, their idea of a dream vacation is having as much of an “authentic” experience as possible. Backpacking, living in hostels deep in the urban center of a city, eating and sometimes working with locals, and avoiding everything that smells of the tourism industry; these are the features of this kind of trip, an ethos based around truly experiencing the heart of a foreign country. Of course, as more and more people seek this kind of experience, it can be difficult to separate what is “authentic” from the smaller backpacker tourism industry. Yet whether you’re on a short trip or are looking to travel the globe, there’s no question that this style of travel can be a fascinating adventure.

One note of caution, however. Due to this style of travel’s attractiveness to 20-somethings and counter-culture types, one of the common factors on these trips is drug and alcohol use and abuse. Depending on the country you’re in, authorities might not care that your travelling partners are carrying illicit substances and you’re not; you may also be implicated in any charges. Furthermore, bacchanals like Thailand’s famous Full Moon Party can be detrimental to the environment and the community, going against the ethics of many backpacking-style adventurers whether they’re aware of the issues or not. What you do on your trip is your own decision, but keep in mind that drugs and alcohol can be found quite easily on the backpacking routes. They’re easy to stay away from if you’re not interested, but keep an eye on your companions, and consider another method of travel if you’re sober for important reasons.

“Basic” Travel, With a Twist
The Eiffel Tower and fine dining in Paris, the changing of the guard and Tower Bridge in London, Disneyland and celebrity spotting in California; these are the “basic” trips, the ones which take in the most prestigious landmarks and popular activities, featuring postcard-perfect pictures and the occasional bout of eye rolling from seasoned travellers who want to strike their own trail. Yet what on earth is wrong with experiencing the things you’ve known a city for since you were young enough to first be learning about the world? There are tourist traps, of course, with plenty of over-hyped and overpriced spots, but on your first visit somewhere there’s nothing wrong with experiencing a Hawaii luau or Buckingham Palace. Millions may flock there, but you haven’t yet, and postcards will never substitute for a picture of your very own. Of course, these trips are best with a twist - do your research, and don’t stick entirely to script. The best Hawaii luaus aren’t held at hotels, after all, and while in NYC you might prefer an off-Broadway production instead of Les Miserables. Look for hidden gems, but don’t be ashamed to check out the crown jewels.

Cruises, All-Inclusive, And Sunbathing
Another very popular trip is almost entirely based around relaxing and feeling pampered. There’s sure to be excursions to everything from historical sites and ruins to shopping meccas, as well as plenty of sports, snorkeling, and more, but the basic premise is sun and surf, an abundance of good food and drink, and the chance to let go of your worries. Cruises are as popular as they are for a good reason, as are all-inclusive resorts, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking this kind of vacation if it’s what you want out of your trip. Don’t be afraid of trying different things, though, like spending part of your trip at an all-inclusive and part of it in the urban heart of an exciting new city. Also, be aware of your resort or cruise’s ethical and environmental policies; nothing spoils a holiday glow more than worrying about the damage you may inadvertently be doing.

Written by Susie King
Contributor Susie King worked in tourism for much of her twenties, but when her first child was born she switched to freelance writing.  Now she spends much of her time as a writer contributing to travel sites, blogs, and online publications.

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Sunday, 13 July 2014
World Cup Fever. It's on.  And apparently it's happening here in San Diego more than most other U.S. cities.  'America's finest city' is ranked 5th in the nation for overall viewership, behind Washington D.C., NYC, San Francisco and L.A.  Which as someone who resides in the sunny so-cal destination am finding hard to believe.  As I write this the final is well underway.  Germany has had the ball for most of the game so far and no one is complaining.  We're Germany supporters here in California.  Our make-shift red, yellow and black outfits were thrown together this morning, most likely after we 'googled' who was actually playing today.  But from the inside of a bar, it's not about Germany or Argentina, it's about having an excuse to be at a bar on a Sunday morning, to have a beer in your hand, surrounded by hundreds of others who believe it or not are chanting "U-S-A-U-S-A-U-S-A".

Who says America doesn't like Soccer?

The crowds watch the jumbo screen in North Park
Those of you who realize for us Americans the World Cup has never been about the actual game.  They say we're in a futbol frenzy, but perhaps it's just another excuse to get all dressed up, take a moment out of our overworked and underpaid lives and celebrate.  And whoever wins, we're make sure to chant "U-S-A-U-S-A" the entire time.

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Do the Stingray Shuffle

Tuesday, 8 July 2014
"You have to do the stingray shuffle!" He said as we dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean.  The what?

Stingrays made international headlines when 'Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin was fatally stabbed while filming near the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia in 2006.  His cameraman watched as the animal lover was stabbed "hundreds of times" by what he described as a "massive" stingray.  They were ironically filming a documentary called "Ocean's deadliest", when he got too close to the ray.  It's jagged barb when through Irwin's heart, while he was standing in waist high water, killing him in just moments.

Growing up in New England, stingrays were a complete mystery to me.  Sure we had great white sharks, jellyfish and the occasional eel, but stingrays were strange exotic wasps of warmer waters.  So when I moved to San Diego and was told they were here in the thousands, my first thought was of the late great Mr. Irwin.

Would I have the same fate?

Fortunately for both myself and water loving San Diegans, our stingrays are itty bitty compared to the waters of Australia.  And while they do sting, it's not going to kill you.  The rays hang out in shallow warm sandy waters.  When someone steps on them, that's when they strike.  But who can blame them?  If someone stepped on me while I was enjoying my hot summer day I'd strike them down with whatever power I could muster.  The rays have stingers on the tip of their tails, much like a bumble bee or wasp.  So in order to avoid their swift sting, beach goers simply shuffle their feet, kicking the sand around the rays to let them know they're heading their way.  Thus the stingray shuffle is born.

Meet my new friend: Ray
If you feel something squishy under your feet, move! If you are stung, the only true solution to ease the pain is hot water.  It's not necessarily the sting that hurts but the Nero-toxin poison that coats the tip of the barb.  First rule of thumb, don't panic.  Heavy breathing, running, panicking, it all ends up with a rise in blood pressure which you guessed it, circulates that poison into your blood stream that much faster.  And yes it hurts.  Seal Beach Lifeguard Jake Howard says he's treated a woman who compared the sting to child birth, watched a full grown tattooed burly men "cry like sissies", but he's also had little girls walk away without shedding a tear.  Either way, soak the wound in hot water as soon as possible, clean the wound and simply wait.  The pain will pass over time and so will the poison.

"Why do you know so much about the stingray shuffle?" A friend recently asked while at the beach.  I explained my upbringing, how rays were never something I needed to worry about.  My fear of being stung had fuelled my research on how to be safe, and if I was stung what I needed to do to make sure I didn't end up like Irwin.

My first shuffle was sometime last year and since then, I've come to love these little bumble bees of the sea.  So naturally when the newsroom did a weekend morning segment on the buggers I was the first to stick my hand in the tub.

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America's Finest Tourist

Monday, 7 July 2014
For travelers, being a 'tourist' is one of the worst things one can become.  They're travelers not tourists.  They experience, taste, feel, see, get involved, and take to the unknown by the seat of their pants.  Tourists tend to let themselves be guided by the latest edition of Lonely Planet, following those before them, taking advice from the "experts", from "travelers" who paved their incredibly well trodden path.

But there is something about being a tourist that can be fun.  Seeing the sights just because, following a Lonely Planet or the advice of every single travel blogger or Buzzfeeds top things to see list.  Personally I consider myself somewhere in between.  Traveling is a balance of taking the advice of those that have ventured before me, while paving my own path.  I may not always have a Lonely Planet in hand, but I have researched and created a list of my top things to see before heading to my destination.

I recently began a new job that puts me into tourist shoes each and every day.  I plan activities for foreign students studying English in San Diego, California. The zoo, the aquarium, the beach, numerous museums, neighborhoods, and day trips beyond 'America's Finest City'.  Many of these places I have not yet been as a tourist or a traveler.  So I explore them with an open mind; seeing them for the first time along side students who are not only experiencing San Diego for the first time, but American culture for the first time.  It brings back a renewed sense of Culture Shock as I began to dissect the city I call home.

The U.S.S. Midway Museum

The aircraft carrier now sits permanently docked in San Diego harbor, offering tourists, veterans, and locals a glimpse at not only San Diego's military history, but what life is like for those living aboard these massive ships at sea.  Meandering through the tight hallways in the bowls of the ship, the claustrophobia sets in as you see where brave men once slept, showered, ate, and prepared for battle.  The trail of artifacts finally leads you to the top deck, where you walk in between jet fighters, helicopters, just few among the two dozen aircraft parked in the sunshine.

Pros: The roof deck offers a view of the city from the water's surface.  And for Military enthusiasts the museum is informative and their collection of aircraft is pretty incredible.

Cons: Those who don't appreciate tight spaces, this isn't the museum for you.

Birch Aquarium

Coming from a city with an Aquarium that one can spend all day and still not see every tentacle, the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla can be more than disappointing.  But San Diego's only aquarium isn't intended for entertainment purposes but educational ones.  Owned and operated by UCSD Scripps Institute for Oceanography, the aquarium was created for research.  The Aquarium is divided into three small sections: The main exhibition which shows visitors what is in the local oceans, running from northern California all the way down Baja.  The second half has very little to see, but it's reading material could take a good hour if you were looking for information. And finally both sides of the facility pool out into a Tide Pool Exhibit, where visitors can touch starfish and sea cucumbers.

Pros: The view.  Ok so I'm obviously a sucker for a beautiful view but check it out! Also there is a giant octopus which I honestly could watch wriggle around all day long.

Cons: The Tide Pool exhibit is kind of lacking.  There are strict rules about actually picking up the starfish or sea cucumbers.  Unlike at SeaWorld where you can hold anything you'd like, including the Rays as long as you keep them under water.  And the biggest con?  It's obvious size, not only with the actual building but the largest underwater creature on site is a 3 foot leopard shark.

Seaport Village

Seriously what is better than souvenir shops, over priced beach gear, kites, and even more expensive restaurants offering the best of "San Diegan" dining?  Well most things are better than that.  But Seaport Village has an allure of it's own.  The small cluster of shops, cafes, and restaurants, sit facing the Bay with an excellent view of Coronado and it's magnificent bridge.

Pros: Great place to walk around, grab a coffee, and sit in the sun.  Make sure you check out the massive kites flying high above the embarcadero park.  And give the man balancing rocks a penny, because well... have you ever tried balancing rocks?

Helpful Hint: There is a lousy pizzeria located on the water front.  Forget the pizza and opt for their $9 pitchers of beer.  Sit on their outside porch and people watch, order another pitcher, repeat.

Cons: There isn't actually anything useful to purchase.  The overpriced art galleries are fun to walk around but don't dare show any interest of actually spending thousands on a piece, or you'll have the over zealous sales rep making arrangements to steal your first born.

San Diego Zoo

Holy Moly.  A trip to San Diego wouldn't be complete without a trip to it's world famous zoo.  Not only do they have Giant Pandas, lions, tigers, and of course bears, but even Noah would be impressed.  It was founded over 100 years ago, which is pretty impressive for the West Coast.  And it's the largest zoological association in the world.  But it's not just a place with animals in cages, the zoo was founded as a research facility and continues to be as such.  It's home to over 3,700 rare and endangered animals.  And if the cute and furry aren't you're scene, then they've got a huge botanical collection as well, housing over 700,000 exotic plants.  Not impressed?  I don't believe you.

Pros: There is a great tram to see the entire park, which I'd highly recommend before venturing out on foot (or even venturing on foot at all).  Plus they've got a snake exhibit that would give that rotten Dursley boy a run for his money.  Did I mention the zoo is one of the largest conservation projects in the entire world?  That's right they're actually helping the animals rather than putting them in cages for your enjoyment.

Cons: The entire zoo is shaped like a taco shell, with good juicy meaty bits (the Pandas obviously) are located in the bottom center.  Meaning, once you've seen the Panda's it's all uphill from there, literally.

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