Holiday Entertaining: Easy Mediterranean Appetizers

Want to get away from the classic bowl of hummus served with pita chips?  Try something fancier and just as easy this year.  I came across this picture on Whole Living this week and I had to try this combo and see if my favorite hummus recipe worked well!…and it does! I love the idea of slicing up cucumbers and pre-serving hummus on top.  Talk about easy finger food!  Once you try my recipe, you’ll make this a staple.  The garnishing options are endless! I love kalamata olives or a tad of pesto on top of my hummus… but you can do so many variations,  you’ll wow your guests!

Ingredients:

Hummus Recipe Courtesy of MOMablesLunch Menus

  • 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 TB Tahini
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt

What you’ll need:

  • Thyme leaves for garnish
  • Coarse ground pepper
  • English cucumbers 2-3 or more if you double recipe
  • Roasted Red peppers, cut into small strips
  • Kalamata Olives

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, combine chickpeas, lemon juice, thyme, garlic, oil, and 1/4 cup water; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and process until combined.
  2. Dividing evenly, dollop chickpea puree onto cucumber slices, top with a roasted red pepper strip and thyme leaves. Serve immediately.

 

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The Skinny on FullBars

I first tried a FullBar about 18 months ago.  I was anchoring the evening shows in Providence.  I had gotten really busy and didn’t have time to eat and I was starving.  I’m almost always in a good mood, unless I’m hungry or tired.  Those in my inner circle know this about me.  So, whenever I would start getting testy (rare, I promise) my boss would give me food.  This was actually pretty genius on his part…and kind, too!

FullBar promises to do a lot that, frankly, I’m not really interested in.  From its website, “fullbar, being inspired by weight-loss surgery, uses the same fullness principles of surgery to fill your stomach with less food. This causes you to feel full and satisfied on smaller amounts of food, resulting in consuming less calories and helping you lose weight.” I’m not trying to lose weight, so I’m not really concerned with all that stuff (now, if FullBars could make my body look like Brooke Burke’s, I’d buy them by the case!)

Here’s the deal.  I like fast, easy, food–that’s good for me–and that I can eat on the run.  I’m a busy mom and sometimes I forget or don’t have time to sit down to a full meal.  I need something that is going to give me enough energy until I get a chance to have a real meal and get rid of that pit in my stomach.  I’m a fan of Luna bars, Fiber One bars and FullBars.  They all pass the taste test (but taste very different).   I think Fullbars taste like a mix of rice krispy treat & rice cake. My 22 mos. old daughter loved them and kept asking for a bite.  Could I lose weight with FullBars? Not sure. But if you are looking for a snack and a healthier alternative to a lot of other stuff you could nosh on, you might want to give FullBars a try!

The Benefits of Changing it Up!

change ahead

This has been a year of changes for me. Or shall I say I was forced into making some changes, and now I am embracing those changes and making new ones. I am pretty much a routine kinda girl. I find out what works, and I tend to stick to it. Some people call this anal, I tend to prefer the term disciplined. A back injury last year forced me into some physical activities that did not include running. I did not run for 3 months and then slowly added days back in, with rest days in between, a strategy that I am still employing. However, as any runner will tell you, running is addictive once you get past the point of hating every second. And the withdrawal of running also comes with a withdrawl of those little addictive endorphins, which make you feel so good, you actually forget that running is hard and you go on your next run. And so on, and so on.  So for me to go from running 6 days a week without fail(unless sidelined by pretty much death) for years, to NOT running… was going to take some getting used to.

hot yogaLike I said, I was forced to change, so I decided to take up hot yoga. This was intense hot yoga.Not just your average take it easy but the room will be hot yoga. No, it was more like power yoga at 105 degrees where they practically bolt the doors and encourage you “not to drink” if you don’t have to. I chose to ignore that part since it is already hot in Phoenix and I figure as a “runner” I know my body well and I know when it needs water and when it does not. Plus, that’s easy for you to say when you are just standing inthe front of the class telling me not to drink! Anyway, the class was so intense that it made not running a little bit less sad. Plus, part of the class was a flow period where they played four songs and you basically rocked it out as hard as you could until the seated series. I strengthened muscles I didn’t know I had. I intensified my ability to withstand some serious heat while being very activie, and I was able to unload some stress in the meantime.

And then, well, the classes became harder to get to because of my work schedule, and I couldn’t resist not pushing the poses that I wasn’t supposed to push because of my back so I took up something else. Enter CrossFit. If you have not heard of it, CrossFit is a short but intense workout (45-60) minutes that incorporates a lot of power, strength training, elements of gymnastics, fast-twitch muscle fibers, balance and coordination. It wasn’t a ton of cardio, but what we did was intense and fast. Think push ups, jump rope, deadlifts, overhead presses, box jumps, burpees, sprints with weight, etc….I was sore after Every. Single. Session. It really gave me a boost in my overall strength. I was surprised, however, how much weight some of those ladies could handle, but that many of them could not run a half mile without stopping. There was something to be said for not getting so wrapped up in one activity (for me this was running!) that you lost the benefits that come from crosstraining. Soon though, I could not resist the temptation to push myself on exercises that were not good for my back. I needed to make a change.

I then decided to do something that really scared me. I decided that I could no longer be a 6 day a week runner and I needed a new challenge. So I signed up for a half-ironman distance triathlon in Oceanside next March. Yep, I would be swimming 1.2 miles in the ocean, biking 56, and running 13.1. I’ve never been a swimmer before. I dabbled in it once for about 3 months or  a few years ago, but this was going to require some serious prep. And some extra hair washing and drying… that gets really old (yes, I am a girl). But you know what? Yesterday (after my 15th time or so in the pool), I actually enjoyed it! It started to flow and I felt that Zen feeling that I can sometimes get when I run. Don’t get me wrong, I still have goggle issues, I look really dumb in a swim cap and I am super scared for the beginning of that swim. All the hitting and kicking in the face, the feeling of getting pulled under, the shallow out of control breathing at first, it scares the heck out of me. But I think it will make the completion of it that much sweeter.

I also signed up to hike the 7 Summits of Phoenix. It was a one day, 23 mile hike that I had never done before. Normally I would be in marathon training mode and therefore would not have wanted to forgo my Saturday long run for something like this. But I did. And it was great. I did it with some fabulous friends and it was not competitive at all! I don’t even know what our time was. It was great to be physically exhausted without the stress or goals that I usually place on myself when competing.

7 Summits

I signed up to be a pacer for a “Girls on the Run” program where I run next to a 3rd grade girl for her first 5 k! It will feel so great to encourage her to do her best and to give some of my time to hopefully help this girl develop a love for running, or at least make her feel strong and able bodied in hope that she can carry that in her pocket and call on it when she needs to.

Not all my changes have been physically based. I decided to respond honestly when asked “how are you?” I decided not to sweat so much of the small stuff. I am not perfect, I don’t have to be. I can have friends over and be undecided regarding what to make. I can (gasp!), not serve an appetizer. I can let my kids dress themselves in outfits that I don’t particularly like and let them walk out the door. I can skip a workout. I can ask my husband to lighten the load. I can slow down, mess up, and downright suck. It’s okay, the world will not end.

Elenor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing per day that scares you.” And although one per day may be pushing it for me, I think there is something to be said for shaking things up a bit. It makes you sit a little straighter, pay more attention and be more adaptable. And if I fail? Well, the failure really is in the not trying.

Matters of The Heart

heart disease

I had to look away as the needle plunged into my skin, I hate needles, and as I felt the pinch, (admittedly not as bad as I expected) I remembered that I was not supposed to have eaten before I came. Not only did I forget to fast before checking my cholesterol, but I had also polished off a McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (don’t judge me!) just moments before.   To save myself a trip back to the lab, and needle…and o.k. the disapproving look of the phlebotomist, I decided not mention my lunch.  The following week I got a congratulatory note from my doctor on my excellent cholesterol count!

That was almost a year ago and I’d been feeling pretty confident about my good health since.  Until today.  I went to an event planning committee meeting for the Go Red for women campaign.  Go Red is a campaign by the American Heart Association that serves to heighten awareness of the risks of heart disease in women.   We were shown a great 3-minute movie called ‘Just A Little Heart Attack’ which I think every busy mom could identify with.   Then I heard a survival story from a woman who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.  She had been around my age, fit, with healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  She was slim, ate well, and exercised regularly.  The fact that she survived at all is amazing, 95% of women who suffer a heart attack do not.

Watching the movie and then listening to her speak, the message hit home.  It actually could happen to someone like me (I don’t eat McDonald’s that often, honestly!).  A representative from the American Heart Association then rattled off some pretty startling statistics.  Heart Disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 25, and every year it kills more women than men.  Yikes! Like many other people I had believed heart disease to be more of a risk for older, unfit men.  Clearly not!  The good news is that with lifestyle modifications in diet and exercise, the risks of heart disease can be greatly reduced.   I left the meeting this morning armed with all sorts of new information,  and as soon as I got home I went for a run!

How do you keep your heart healthy?

 

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Our Little Miracle, Born at 24 Weeks

preemie

I will never forget the day we got the call from my sister-in-law, Jill.  She was in the hospital and had just had her baby.  How could that be? She was only 24 weeks pregnant? The terror in her voice was palpable. My husband and I felt helpless.  We were in Cleveland, Ohio, where my husband was going through his own health scare with cancer and my sister-in-law was thousands of miles away in Arizona.  To top it off, it was right around the holidays.  Little John weighed 1 pound 8 ounces, when he was born, and was 12 inches long. He spent 110 days in the NICU before coming home on March 20, 2006. John is a true miracle and an inspiration to all that meet him!  You can read more about his amazing story here (grab the tissue!)

More than half a million American babies are born prematurely each year.  That’s a staggering 1,400 babies born prematurely in the United States every day. Because premature babies immune systems haven’t had time to fully mature, preterm infants are more likely to develop infections.  Preemies have underdeveloped lungs, so they are more susceptible to respiratory problems.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a highly contagious virus which is quite prevalent during the winter months. It is transmitted primarily by hand-to-nose, hand-to-mouth, and hand-to-eye contact. The severity of the symptoms vary depending upon the age of the child and whether he has any chronic medical problems.  RSV can be particularly serious in infants born prematurely and children under the age of two suffering from chronic lung conditions.

For otherwise healthy children, RSV usually amounts to little more than a cold. However, for preemies and other at-risk infants, the health consequences can be much more serious. In the U.S., approximately 125,000 children are hospitalized each year with serious RSV disease and, sadly, some of these children die.

To help protect your baby from RSV, there are simple steps that parents and caregivers can take:

  • Have family members and caregivers wash their hands with warm water and soap before touching the baby
  • Avoid being around the baby if you have a cold or fever
  • Avoid exposing the baby to other children with cold symptoms
  • Keep the baby away from crowded places
  • Never smoke around the baby
  • Talk to your baby’s pediatrician about RSV risks and prevention

Symptoms
Contact your child’s pediatrician immediately if your child exhibits one or more of the following:

  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Rapid, difficult, or gasping breaths
  • Blue color on the lips, mouth, or under the fingernails
  • High fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Not eating well

To learn more about RSV please visit www.rsvprotection.com.

As we prepare to celebrate my nephew John’s sixth birthday, I can’t help but think of all the other babies born too soon. November 17th is World Prematurity Day, an important day designed to help raise public awareness about the problem of global prematurity, which affects more than 13 million babies worldwide.

preemie as a child

John (6) with his mom, dad and sister

I wrote this post while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of MedImmune and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

 

 

How Cancer Changed my Identity (Click for a Cure)

The early morning air was frigid.  The snow crunched under my feet, and a single tear rolled down my chapped cheek.  Headphones on, I was listening to Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” but this time, the words  cut through me and took up residence in my head.

He said I was in my early forties, with a lot of  life before me
And one moment came that stopped me on a dime
I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays
Talking bout’ the options and talking bout’ sweet times.
I asked him when it sank in, that this might really be the real end
How’s it hit ‘cha when you get that kind of news?
Man what did ya do?
He said

Chorus
I went skydiving
I went rocky mountain climbing
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin’
And he said some day I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’…

You always remember exactly where you are when you get the news.  I was a morning anchor in Cleveland,  and my husband had just been diagnosed with cancer.  Melanoma.  True to my nature, I remained optimistic, but I would be lying if I said the thought of being a widow in my thirties didn’t enter my head. My husband is a fighter, much like my sister-in-law, who at the time,  had just beaten breast and thyroid cancer.  He wanted to keep the issue private and just wanted the cancer GONE, so shortly before Christmas he had a five and a half hour surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to remove the cancer that had spread across his face, down his neck and into his chest.  It was quite possibly the longest five hours of my life. To say the wait at the clinic–alone–was agonizing is an understatement, but I’m happy to say that although he hasn’t been cancer free, he has been melanoma free for six years.

Since that day,  cancer has taken the lives of  several friends and family members-  most recently, my grandmother,  who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.

Many of you have asked where I am and what I’ve been doing since I left my job as the evening anchor in Providence.  We initially traveled around the country, but when we got to Georgia, where my parents live, they had some unexpected news for us.  My dad–the full of energy, West Point graduate, Air Force General–has cancer.  Specifically, stage 4 throat cancer. He has a tumor at the base of his tongue and the cancer has spread to his lymph nodes. He has had four chemo treatments so far and, I think, 20 radiation treatments.  Honestly, I’ve lost count.  This round of chemo is over and now he must continue going to radiation TWICE a day, five days a week, for three more weeks.  Doctors will then see about removing the –hopefully dead– nodes and will check to see if surgery to remove the tumor is an option.  My dad also has Leukemia (CLL) & Diabetes, which makes all these treatments a little more complicated.

 

radiation for cancer patient

radiation

I am the youngest in the family and am used to everyone looking after me, regardless of whether I need it: older siblings to protect me, parents to be over-protective. Being here, as my dad battles cancer,  has forced me to see myself in a new light…that of caretaker. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can really be of help to my parents.  I don’t have a job that I am tied to, yet if the right opportunity presents itself I can take it. This is the first time in my adult life I’ve ever spent any considerable amount of time with my parents, and the most time they’ve ever gotten to spend with my 20 month old daughter.  She is such a welcome distraction, not only to my dad, but to my mom, who is taking my dad’s diagnosis especially hard.

 

grandfather and granddaughter

Dad & Paige amusing each other

 

grandfather & baby

Fun at the pool!

Click for a cureI don’t know what the future holds for my dad.  We can only live one day at a time and be hopeful for many more great years together. I know it will get worse before it gets better, but I am so grateful for this time we have together.  So many families have been touched by cancer, including many of you reading this article.  My hope and prayer is that we can someday find a cure.  I am not asking you to donate any money; I know times are tough and everyone has charities that are important to them.  I would, however, be so grateful if you could find the 15 seconds it takes to “like” a company on Facebook. Overhead Door Garage Headquarters has generously offered to donate $1  to the Tomorrow Fund for each facebook “like” Overhead Door gets from the start of this campaign.  My hope is that we can help “close the door” on cancer by sending  thousands of  “likes” their way and, in turn, thousands of dollars to the Tomorrow Fund to help find a cure for this horrible disease.  So, please, spread the word, re-post, and take thirty seconds to check out Overhead Door Garage Headquarters and “like” their page.  When the campaign is over, we will be doing a check presentation.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

baby & grandfather

How Vitamins Make Me a Better Me

Nature Made Vitamins

I grew up taking Nature Made vitamins. They were just part of my life. My dad always said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of thevitamin dispenser day,” and right next to that hearty breakfast was this vitamin dispenser that my parents still use.  At some point, in my adult life, I grew tired of taking all those pills and I just stopped doing it.  Then I had a baby and everything changed.  It seemed no matter what I ate, how much I slept, or how many walks I went on with the baby to “get some fresh air,” I remained exhausted beyond belief.

I finally went to the doctor and had a thorough exam, including blood tests.  He told me I was severely deficient in Vitamin D and suggested I take a supplement, along with a multivitamin.  He said it would take a few weeks to notice some results.  I could easily handle taking two pills a day, especially if they made me feel like myself again.  The energetic, happy, always on-the-go woman my friends knew me to be, and  my daughter deserved me to be.  Watch this short video to find out what happened after my second week of taking the vitamins.

http://youtu.be/Az7aK2t3-rM

Something I hear often from people is that they are just so overwhelmed when they walk down the vitamin aisle at the store; there are so many brands and so many different options!  Nature Made has a really cool feature on its website that helps you figure out exactly what you need.  It’s called a “vitamin assessment” and, after answering some questions, Nature Made recommends a customized vitamin plan that’s right for you, based on your lifestyle.  The company also has a terrific rewards program that gives you high value coupons worth up to $7 off Nature Made products, exercise DVDs and other fun things.  As an aside, I noticed the company recently came out with some new products and I’m eager to try the Skin Beauty & Wellness pack. I’ve never tried what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call a “vanity pack,” but the clock is ticking and I’ll take all the help I can get! 😉    Have you tried any products like this?  How do vitamins make a better YOU?

***Disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Nature Made and received promotional items to thank me for taking the time to participate. Please vote for my entry at www.facebook.com/naturemade between 9/20/11 and noon (PT) 9/26/11.***

Lasagna in Less than 20 Minutes!

I’ve made homemade lasagna ONCE in my life.  It was actually pretty good, but expensive, and it took me forever!  It wasn’t your traditional dish though, this was healthy lasagna;  using half soy crumbles, half turkey.  You could definitely taste the difference.

My family is currently in Georgia right now, with my parents, and my dad is going through chemo and radiation for throat cancer.  We are constantly looking for foods that are full of flavor, but aren’t too spicy, as they hurt my dad’s throat.  I knew my Southern parents would not be fans of my “soy-lasagna”, so I was thrilled when I was asked to review Marie Callender’s Three Meat & Four Cheese Lasagna.

Marie Callender's Lasagna reviewMy mom, dad, and husband all doubted that it would be any good because their only experiences with frozen lasagna had not been favorable.  Burnt edges, lacking in flavor, not enough cheese.  I, however, remained optimistic.  After all, Marie Callender’s must know it has a pretty decent product if it’s willing to put a money back guarantee right on the box.  I love that!  Nothing is worse than spending your hard earned money on a product and not being satisfied with it. Just sayin’.

Marie Callender’s Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna comes in a special baking tray designed to prevent the edges from burning or the center from staying frozen – even in the microwave!  Generally speaking, I think food tastes better when prepared in the oven, but I wanted to test this “no-burn” claim and it was 6:30 and my 19 mos. old was getting hungry!  The lasagna can go from freezer to family dinner table in less than 20 minutes by zapping it in the microwave, so that’s exactly what we did.

The lasagna includes three Italian-style meats (sausage, ground beef and pepperoni), layered with four different cheeses (Ricotta, Mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano), in a hearty marinara sauce. Everyone loved it, even the baby.  Score!  Now, if only I can figure out a way to transfer it to a baking dish after it has been cooked–without it falling apart– I might just try to pass it off as my own…

Baby eating lasagnaHave you ever tried frozen lasagna?  What has your experience been?

Disclosure:  Marie Callender’s and TheMotherhood provided me with a coupon in order to facilitate this review and I was compensated for my time. Thoughts are my own and my family’s.

Dealing with a Failure to Thrive Diagnosis

Joanna's son during the sweat test for Cystic Fibrosis, notice the binky. We still haven't been able to break the addiction.

My son has always been small. He was born weighing 6 lb, 2 oz and was 20 inches long. In the back of my head, I attributed his small weight to the fact his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck four times. After all, I was almost a 9 pounder as a newborn so I figured my child would be the same

He never “caught up” on weight and was always in the lower percentiles for weight, usually hovering around the 10th percentile but after he weaned from breastfeeding at 12 months old he dropped down to the 7th, then the 5th and eventually less than the 1st percentile where he currently resides.

My pediatrician is wonderful and not an alarmist by any means, but at his 15 month appointment I expressed concern for my son’s lack of appetite and growth. She referred me to  the local children’s hospital to meet with a Gastroenterologist to rule out any underlying health conditions.  The doctor we met with was wonderful and tested him for various diseases, such as Cystic Fibrosis and Celiac Disease. Fortunately, his blood work  for celiac and sweat test for cystic fibrosis all came back negative.

She then referred us to the “Feeding Team” to work on getting him to eat better. The Feeding Team was an amazing team comprised of over 6 doctors, therapists and residents. They observed my son eat a meal and talked with us for almost 2 hours. It was helpful for them to see his lack of interest in food and offer their suggestions on how to get him to gain weight. After our appointment with the Feeding Team we have kept up with regular appointments with the Occupational Therapist and she has helped him gain some upper body strength and learn how to chew his food better.

It’s been a journey over the past few months and I know we have made some progress, but that doesn’t make accepting a failure to thrive diagnosis any easier. It stings every time someone at the grocery store asks if he is 10 months old or whenever anyone comments on how tiny or small he is. My son is now 19 months old and only weighs 20.4 pounds and is 31 inches tall. He has hit every developmental milestone on time or early;  however,  he is a peanut. Being small doesn’t make him any less of an amazing toddler so it hurts me as a Mom when people make such a big deal about his size. To be perfectly honest, when he was first “FTT,” it felt like I was a failure as a Mom.

As a Mom (or Dad) have you had to deal with a tough diagnosis? How do you manage?

*You can follow our journey through the Failure to Thrive diagnosis here.

 

How I lost 30 pounds (and plan to do it again!)

Summer is coming, and everyone is working to shed those extra few pounds put on during the winter “fluffing up” season.  I always seem to work harder when I know someone is watching, so I once again joined Weight Watchers and even paid for personal training sessions at the YMCA.  So far it’s been a rough start.  I’m not sure if it’s my age, or the newest Points Plus program at Weight Watchers.  I previously did Weight Watchers before my wedding back in 2001, and I lost 30 pounds with the program.  

After joining Weight Watchers in 2001

I then joined the staff at Weight Watchers for 2 1/2 years as a receptionist and a leader.  It was a great way to stay on track, and I truly loved working for them.  I ended up leaving the job after moving and having a child.  I didn’t lose all the weight from child number one, and then after child number two…….. (you can guess).  Now, I am back to needing to lose the 30 pounds again.  Of course we all know the magic to losing weight; tons of water, eating less and healthier, and getting some form of exercise.  It’s easier said than done (as many people can attest to).  Weight Watchers helps me, because I have someone to weigh me in and keep me honest.  I am definitely one who “cheats” on my diets or gives myself excuses for starting tomorrow.  The nice thing about the new Weight Watchers Points Plus program, is that it definitely focuses more now on eating healthy and lifestyle changes than just losing the weight quickly.  I’m sure this is the better way to go for more successful maintenance.  The only problem is I like quick fixes, so now I know I’m just going to have to wait to take off the weight.  In the long run it will be better for me, but in the meantime I’m not sure I will be very comfortable at the pool club this summer.  I guess that’s just something I’m going to have to get over.  I also know that at age 36 I will not be losing the weight as fast as I did at age 26.  Darn!  That’s what happens when you get older I guess.  My new goals for this stage in my life are going to be: get healthy (by eating better and exercising regularly), enjoy life, and be happy with who I am.  No more obsessing on the numbers; just gauge my success on how I feel.  Pool club, here I come (now to find a bathing suit to be as flattering as possible so I can be as comfortable as possible)!

Just starting Weight Watchers again in 2011

 

* No more “after” pictures, just hopefully liking myself more in pictures as time progresses.  Have you had any weight issues?  What do you find is the hardest thing about maintaining or losing weight?

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Kristin Wheeler