Chilly day inspiration

September 28th, 2009 § 0


Of Messes and Wisdom

September 24th, 2009 § 0

So yesterday we weren’t able to do an all-day field trip, as basketball class had been rescheduled to Wednesday for this week. We made do with an afternoon “project” of attempting to attack the nightmare that has become Alli’s room (something I have the unique privilege of interjecting in the ‘curriculum’ as mother and teacher). Several hours yielded only mild progress, which should tell you how bad things were in that jungle. We cleared out a large box of books that we’ll be donating or trading, and found some long-lost treasures that we will both enjoy digging into as part of our studies this year. I find it interesting, btw, that a byproduct of home schooling thus far has been my willingness to adopt a whole new “library rat” mentality – as if books (and “free” books especially – barring the inevitable fines we rack up) are a new-found treasure. It’s a nice place to be, and a nice piece of myself to have rediscovered.

Anyhow, after an afternoon of book and junk-wrangling, and trying to keep my burgeoning frustration with the mess and my daughter’s lack of organization skills at bay (only mildly successfully), we embarked on an “evening field trip” to work at a soup kitchen. Our first experience doing this as a family had been amazing, and last night watching my daughter’s joy at getting the sole responsibility of opening hot dog buns and placing them on guests’ plates with a sincere smile proved to be no less amazing. The numbers are up in soup kitchens these days, not surprisingly, and I feel keenly aware of the almost insignificant turns of fate that separate my own family from other people and families who are struggling so much more.

Andrew made a comment when we picked him up at the train to dash to our serving duties that he was glad the soup kitchen was tonight, because he had run across his homeless friend downtown (a guy he’s sort-of ‘adopted’ over the last year or two, and even taken to lunch a few times) after not seeing him for a few weeks, but on a day when he had no cash in his wallet to offer. Without hesitation, Alli simply asked him, “Why didn’t you just tell him he could come to Evanston for dinner?”

I thought about explaining to her that it was a long way for him from downtown, that he was sick and probably not up for much travel, and that he probably didn’t have train fare to make the trip. I realized instead that here I was looking for justification for why we couldn’t help this man, and overlooking the simple truth that had developed for her – someone is hungry, let’s feed him.

And I let myself feel uplifted by the hope that her generation will hold fast to those kinds of truths, and that the world will be just a little bit better in their hands.

I think I could get used to this…

September 21st, 2009 § 0

So we’ve kicked off week 4, and while our feet haven’t achieved optimal wetness yet, our new routine and learning/life mix is feeling more comfortable. Our house has yet to catch up to it – trust me, “the lived in look” is a lofty goal compared to that which our play and learning wear and tear is generating. But it’s Monday, and thanks to a family office cleaning venture on Saturday and lots of kitchen wrangling by my loving husband over the weekend, I can see my desk and easily found a clean pot for this morning’s oatmeal, so all is good with the world.

There are so many wonderful things that are coming out of this for us. Before I elaborate, I should also be careful not to paint too idyllic a picture. There have been moments of disagreement, doubt, and spades of minor meltdowns along this new path. Alli’s self-confidence and willingness to try new things took a pretty huge beating last school year, and while much recovery has been made, ushering her through anxieties and self-doubt can be a draining process, and when her and my supplies of patience are tapped out simultaneously, that’s sometimes not a pretty scenario. In my dual role as parent and teacher, I find Alli often holds me to a far higher standard for both roles, and as I think about it, I imagine that I too probably hold her to a bit higher standard than a student who isn’t also my own child.

But I feel that we are navigating that path well – better than I expected, for certain. In the process of me taking on a bigger role in her life and learning, I do think our relationship is deepening and we are learning to work together as a team in new ways. The unexpected bonus for me is that I feel a new focus and find that I am able to be more present to her than I think I have ever been as a parent – and I like that feeling, and the spark I see in her as a a result. My child is engaged, happy, eager, and getting meaningful learning experiences. The style that is evolving for me as a teacher – a relaxed, child- and interest-directed learning partnership – is feeling even more fulfilling for me personally and professionally than I hoped it would be.

The schedule we drafted before starting is, as expected, a very loose guideline for us. As most of her ‘external’ activities and classes are in gear, I’m now trying to get a sense of what “our” time actually looks like with all of the transitions. Alli’s desire for a firm schedule seems to be waning a bit as she realizes that she enjoys having some choice in what she feels interested to pursue on any given day, and I’m enjoying that freedom as well. I do still feel pulled by a desire to provide the balance, breadth and depth, and to ‘cover’ some of the basic skills I think Alli needs in order to pursue some of the higher-level learning and problem-solving that she craves to do and that I think will serve her well in life. Additionally, there’s still a significant part of me that feels a little tied to ensure we hit on the ‘standards’ she would be expected to meet if she were to go back into the ‘system’ without heavy transitional pains – regardless of my distaste for much of that whole realm.

Fortunately, I am blessed to have a child with what seems like a never-ending set of interests and craving for new knowledge, so I don’t generally find myself working all that hard to engage her – most of the challenge right now lies in sorting through places to stop and focus along the way. We do spend time filling in some of the basic mechanics – for instance, we’ve started working towards building automaticity in multiplication facts so that she isn’t so slowed down on higher-level stuff. Alli is loving and breezing through U of C Math almost independently, we write almost daily in some form, I’m experimenting with new models for helping her to structure her writing (and me to relax my expectations of her writing, something I’m sure I’ll write more about later), and we have begun tweaking elements of the ‘cursive’ handwriting she invented (when she was about 4) into a more standard form.

But we’re also doing a lot of fun, integrated interest-based things, like dissecting owl pellets we retrieved from the Museum of Science and Industry to learn more about what owls eat (she’s fascinated with owls since embarking into the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series). In addition to our “economics class” last week at Ethical Planet, Alli’s been busy planning and creating wares to sell at a homeschool craft fair, sorting out the economics of that venture and beginning to think about starting a cat-sitting business. Watching Alli’s excitement during our visit to the Dearborn Observatory when she got a real-live look at Jupiter was a truly joyous sight to behold. I’m beginning to think the timing is good for us to venture out soon to the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art too, as she’s just started a class in Art History and Museum Design.

Classes are providing a wonderful component of her learning, and watching her expand her social network to a wider range of ages has been a really nice side benefit. She sees other kids regularly, home schooled and schooled, and has regular opportunities to interact with others in both learning and play situations. As a whole, I’d have to say that so far I think the social interaction she has had with other home schooled children has had all of the positives of other relationships she formed in school, but has been lacking some of the more negative elements that I was witnessing so heavily in her peer group (cattiness, bullying, peer pressure and the like – and that was only in 2nd grade!). I love watching the kids during park days, where Alli blends in and is accepted seamlessly with groups of kids ranging in age from preschool through junior high. I don’t see that Alli’s social needs or skills are suffering as a result of home schooling.

I, too, am beginning to develop relationships in the home schooling community, and am looking into an additional local network with a ‘gifted student’ focus to see if we might find some additional camaraderie there. I know that the relationships I build with other home schooling parents will also help to sustain me during less sunny days.

In the meanwhile, I am thoroughly enjoying a lifestyle with days like this wonderful fall morning – when my abnormally tired child crawls into bed with my own still tired self at 7am, and instead of fighting about clothes and shoes and packed lunches and getting out the door, we can indulge our mutual desire to snuggle under the covers together for a little bit longer, knowing that all of the learning in the world will be patiently waiting for us.

Alli, Hannah, Lauren and Noelle after seeing Jupiter through the telescope

Alli, Hannah, Lauren and Noelle after seeing Jupiter through the telescope

Guest post: Ethical Planet visit

September 21st, 2009 § 0

By Alli:

On Wednesday, September 16th, 2009, Mommy and I rode our bikes to Ethical Planet, which is a Vegan and good for the earth store and I love it! I interviewed Fran the owner about businesses and stores. Here are some of the questions I asked and answers I got:

Ethical Planet

1.What is it like to own a store? Answer: It’s a lot of fun and work.

2.What is the hardest part of work? Answer: Getting everything done and ready is the hardest. Since she doesn’t have employees, she has to do things alone.

3.When you close how do you get permission to open somewhere else (or do you)? Answer: Look for stores for lease, and sign a contract then pay rent.

4.How do you open a store? Answer: Look at all available places you can. Then contact the owner or their managers and then look at the place inside, and negotiate about rent.

5.Where do you get the stuff for a store? Answer: You can buy from the company who make something or from someone else who also sells it. Some things you might also make yourself. You will need to markup. Markup means you buy something at one price, and then charge more than that when you sell it.

6.How do you figure out what to name a store? Answer: It’s kind of a personal thing, think about what you’re selling and use that sort of as a theme.

7.How do you pick what to sell? Answer: For her she wanted something healthful, Vegan and good for the planet. She also buys what she thinks people will like.

8.How do you budget your money so that you make more than you spend? Answer: There is a cost called overhead which includes costs like rent and electricity, which you have to pay even if you don’t sell anything. So you have to markup the things you sell enough to be able to pay overhead too.

9.How do you figure out a price where it’s enough for you but still have customers want to buy it? Answer: You decide what percent to markup what you sell. Usually the company who makes a product tests prices and then when they figure out a price to have it at then they suggest it. If anything is not selling still because of its price, then you might change it.

10.When you close and then open in a different place how do you choose where to go? Answer: Go where there is more audience, like more people who want what you sell.

Those are most of the questions and answers!

Week 2 Review

September 12th, 2009 § 0

I had a bit of a stress meltdown at the end of this last week. Actually, the week of home schooling was a reasonably good one. I think that the added stress of Andrew being in job hell, working crazy and unpredictable hours, not being home pretty much at all during waking hours (and many sleeping ones) just put me on edge. Home schooling is a wonderful experience in many ways so far, and I can already see the bond between Alli and I deepening and some of the everyday struggles between us easing as a result of this new sense of partnership. I am also becoming more aware of the tremendous opportunity we have to both work through some of the challenges Alli still faces and really engage some of the amazing strengths she has – both areas that I think aren’t possible to do under the confines of school. But it’s also still a huge adjustment for both of us. For me, without a partner in parenting this last week of Andrew’s work insanity, the 24/7 intensity of being teacher and parent felt incredibly heavy. Andrew and I often move as one in our marriage partnership, and we haven’t had much time to connect on this new experience – really bad timing with this big transition in our lives and the crises at his workplace. It’s also caused us to fall behind on a lot of non school-related stuff at home, which tends to stress me out as well.

Of course, both Alli and I are still adjusting from being a part of a greater school community – Alli seems to have adjusted to this easily (as she makes connections with others far more easily than I do); for me, it feels right now a bit like I have taken on a new job but without coworkers for chatting, sharing and commiserating. We’re continuing to work on developing relationships with the home school community, and are making headway, although this takes time. Classes are starting to kick in little by little and will be in full swing over the next week or two, so I know that will increase our sense of community. In general, I have found area home schooling families to be very generous with the sharing of resources and support. But it’s also a group where everyone’s philosophies and approaches are different, and folks tend to be somewhat protective of talking about the specifics of what they do (and also a little bit in who they allow into their already well-functioning close networks of friends). I’m used to being incredibly open, and like the process of sharing this kind of detail and bouncing ideas off others as part of the support process – something that I haven’t necessarily found a group of peers yet to do that with quite to the degree that I’m craving. While there are many things I like about the flexibility of our 1:1 time, I still harbor a desire for a bit more co-operative schooling model, and I haven’t really come across the right fit and interest level for that yet either.

Anyhow, I’m hopeful that as Andrew’s work settles down and we continue to find our groove on this new path, things will settle into a good place. I am looking forward to getting a sense of how things feel with our new schedule of classes, and have noted already that once I get a sense of things I need to devote some energy to finding more time and space for “me” in all of this.

Balance. I think this week just felt a little unbalanced for me.

But really, it wasn’t such a bad week. We had a great field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry on Tuesday, and Andrew was miraculously able to join us with only a few urgent phone interruptions, although he still pretty much worked a full day, working well into the night upon our return home (long story, one which has me ready to unionize the IT field). I’m so glad we waited to hit the Harry Potter exhibit (nice exhibit, btw) until school was in session – made the whole museum a much more manageable place for Alli and I, both crowd-phobes. Alli no longer refers to it as “the loud museum” – she had pretty much the run of everything she wanted to do, and had a great time. We came home with some owl pellets that we’ll probably be dissecting this week in an effort to see what kinds of things owls eat. Sweet.

Holding Jupiter

We continue to forge along in Math, and I’m blown away by how strong Alli’s thinking skills in the number theory arena are. She really gets some pretty advanced, well beyond her years concepts, and it makes for some really fun problem-solving and discussion. Still, there are some mechanics we need to hit on so that she can do some of the more advanced things that she’s craving to do. So we’re working on things like building more automaticity in basic operations to support her in that. We continue to play a lot of games, and we’ve had 2 sessions of the multi-age Math Games sessions I’m running weekly for a small group at the public library. That has been going well, and I’ve gotten great feedback from the families participating. I enjoy supporting the kids as they learn to work together, and it’s a great experience for Alli too. She’s exerting more patience and more willingness to be a mentor to other kids, which is a lovely thing to watch develop. Her competitive need to trounce others when playing them in games? Well, that is still a work in progress…

Math Games

Math Games

We’ve also mainly kept up with some form of writing every day, and continue to focus on editing skills. This week Alli also created a spelling list from words she’d accumulated (she jots down words she comes across that she either doesn’t know or wants to learn more about or wants to challenge herself with), and she had to be able to provide definitions for them as well as take a little spelling quiz (the latter was at her request). Despite her strong spelling skills, she does still struggle (and resist) looking things up in the dictionary (I think dealing with alphabetical order poses a challenge to her still), so I’ve added a little bit of focus and support in this area for her. We’ve also continued a lot of reading, silent and aloud, and have started the book for our upcoming Mother/Daughter book club meeting (Wednesday Wars), the content of which is occasionally a bit above Alli (she’s just under the general age range for the book club girls – plus the book is set in the late ’60’s with several Vietnam War references), but it’s well written and funny and with some support and extra discussion, she is engaged.

Alli’s also been working on some crafts that she’d like to sell for a homeschool craft fair in December, so she’s put some of her planning, sewing and crochet skills to work again this week. Choir started too, and piano resumes Monday, with art class starting the following week – so I’m glad that the arts are feeling more integrated into her day. I have officially committed to resuming my Halloween seamstress duties (skipped a few years by buying costumes), so I guess I’ll be having to nurture my rather lacking skills soon to come up with some form of vampiress costume.

Thursday we went to an area nature center with the goal of trying some geocaching, but as the equipment was down, we had to settle for checking out an “Explorer’s Backpack” for a nature hike with a great new friend/fellow homeschooling family that both Alli and I connect with. Alli and Noelle were given complete responsibility for navigating the guide and map, and got us all back to the finish line with only one minor directional debate (and a fair number of insect bites)- a productive afternoon of exploring!

Exploring at Emily Oaks

Exploring at Emily Oaks

Our project this week was inspired by our visit to the Science & Industry museum, yet one more place where Alli got absorbed in an exhibit about outer space and demonstrated her obsession with size, distance and scale. A perfect opportunity for some integrated learning! While discussing whether we could construct our own scale model of the solar system, I offered up the task of finding out using real numbers, and Alli was all in. With little support, she was able to find the diameters and distances from the sun for all of the planets (she included Pluto, but isn’t sure whether she really wants to include it – an ongoing debate that makes me giggle every time), and she input all of the information into an Excel spreadsheet. I gave her a little help in then setting up a formula to convert the large mile measurements into smaller centimeter scale measurements, in such a way that she could simply play around with the scale factor and it would recalculate all of the formulas for her. She really got this concept, and could predict with surprising accuracy what would happen to the numbers when she changed the scale up or down. We then got sidetracked by her trying to prove or disprove a fact that she’d taken in from a book that she read – that Jupiter was almost 1.5 times bigger than all of the rest of the planets combined – because we had built a “how much bigger/smaller than Earth” column from just the diameter that wasn’t showing this (her quote: “Excel must be wrong then, because how could they publish a book that had something wrong in it?” – LOVED that!). Anyhow, I had to go a bit above her head finally for this one and build for her a “volume” formula for spheres, but we ultimately were able to support the books assertion, and my child could not have been more delighted with herself.

We moved on to reach the conclusion that we could not use the same scale for the size of the planets as we used for the distance from the sun and come up with a model that would fit on our street block. Conclusion: it is NOT possible to build an actual scale model of the solar system in which the planets would all be even as big as a pinhead but the distances could be contained to even several street blocks. An awesome piece of learning, and a lot of fun! We might still do some form of model at some point, but we learned that we’d have to use a different scale for planet size than for planet distance, and we learned that the exhibits we’ve seen at museums thus far have all had to do that as well.

Solar System Scale Worksheet

Solar System Scale Worksheet

One more little artifact – I found this later in the week and realized that Alli must have written it just after she watched Obama’s speech to kids on Tuesday. She told me she wanted to ‘take notes’, but apparently it morphed into this. So cute. (Btw, the ‘principle’ she’s referring to is one of the 7 principles affirmed by Unitarian Universalism – the adult version has to do with the “inherent worth and dignity of each person” – Alli knows it as “we’re all equal and valuable”). I find it so interesting to see what she takes away from various experiences in her life – referring here to both Obama’s speech and her experiences in UU religious education:

Alli's Speech

Alli's Speech

A Day in the Life

September 8th, 2009 § 0

Nothing earth-shattering to report today. Knowing that I tend to struggle with re-entering “life as usual” after regular weekends, let alone extended time off, I harbored a little anxiety about jumping back in to week 2 of home schooling after a 3-day weekend. Especially one where Andrew was still pretty heavily tied to work (although he was physically at home) – I was feeling more than a little burned out on all things parenting.

Am pleased to report that despite my post-weekend sluggishness, we have managed to jump back in. Looking forward to science class at a local nature center, which kicks in next Tuesday, and Critter Crew, which won’t get underway for another few weeks. For lack of a more thoughtful or humorous entry, I’ll instead share exactly what we’ve done, post-breakfast:

  • We checked in on our new “pet” caterpillar (cabbage looper), cleaned its container of voluminous frass (new vocab word – caterpillar poop!) and gave it fresh herb (and one not-so-fresh kale) leaves
  • Alli data entered and published a blog entry that she’d hand-written and edited on Friday (she has now learned how to search the web for images and get them into her blog)
  • We completed the equivalent of almost 3 math lessons (still mostly all concepts Alli has seen before, but many of the Everyday Math approaches are new to Alli)
  • We learned and played another new math game that Alli now loves (“Name that Number” – we modified it to include basic multiplication and division and challenged ourselves to use as many cards as possible in each number sentence)
  • We made and ate lunch
  • Alli had about 45 minutes of computer time (when I handled some work-related issues and a short conference call), during which she attempted to find out how to identify caterpillar gender (no success on this yet), did a few sessions in Type to Learn, and about 25 minutes of Spanish.
  • We read independently for about 45 minutes (Alli mainly elected to revisit an old favorite – The Number Devil, reading the “funny parts” to me aloud).
  • We watched a C-Span video of Obama’s back to school message, talked about parts we found interesting (she, of course, loved the Harry Potter reference and expressed thanks for not home schooling at 4:45 in the morning). We also lightly discussed the controversy that precluded the speech.
  • Alli’s presently pursuing her latest craft idea, making her own “ugly doll-styled” stuffed animals from felt. She’s presently working on an owlish creature, and is testing a new sewing method I proposed before deciding on how she is going to make a bunch of them for a little craft fair/sale that is planned for early December. I’m hoping we can get outside shortly and take in a little of this glorious fall-ish day before heading off to Alli’s modern dance class.

Tomorrow, we’re off to the Museum of Science and Industry and to the Harry Potter Exhibit!

Book it, Dan-o!

September 4th, 2009 § 0


So we’re wrapping up our first “easing in” week, and I have to say that overall, things have been going better than I expected. Alli has been a willing and enthusiastic partner in this effort, and I’m reminded of how wonderful it is to be teaching and learning again. It’s been a slightly challenging week for finding personal time for me, especially since Andrew’s been in crisis/long hours mode at work (to the extent that he hasn’t been home since YESTERDAY morning!!), and I have to say I look forward to doing this without feeling like a single parent when the workday is over.

Alli told me yesterday, unsolicited, that “she was learning a lot more than she thought she would be at school.” I asked her to elaborate, and she shared that she really liked having someone who was always willing to answer her questions and who didn’t ignore her, and that she really liked having everything “at her level”. She also said that she has a hard time focusing when there are lots of people around her and kids making lots of noise. She’s been fortunate to have pretty small classes for her school years to date (13-17 kids), and while she’s learned to manage it, I know she has still really struggled with auditory sensitivity in that size group – I can only imagine what that would feel like for her in the more typical class size range.

I was glad for both park day yesterday and our math games group starting up this morning – and continue to look forward to more classes with others kicking in. I do love our 1:1 time, but we both really need to be with others on a regular basis in order to not feel isolated. We are so fortunate to have connected early on with one family that has a 10-yr-old homeschooling this year, and we continue to develop relationships that I’m hopeful will also be consistent presences in our world. I’m also realizing that I need to get back on the horse in arranging playdates with Alli’s friends who are in school – hoping they are reaching a routine level where we can do some of that soon so that Alli remains connected.

Schedule-wise, I can’t say we’ve really followed things all that precisely (not that I expected to) this week, but I have used it to guide our work. I already find myself sometimes wishing there were more hours in the day; I think I need to relax a little more and realize that we have all year! Alli is most receptive to having a few goal projects in the first morning hours, then I think we have sort of worked with her mood and energy levels and what she’s most interested in as a driving force for some of the rest of the day. I’m seeing that she could happily do math for most of the day, so I’ve had to provide some direction to give us some balance (although I have indulged her enthusiasm by allowing us to go heavier on the math on occasion). Even if we veer “off schedule”, and I can’t say that we’ve had a day yet where we’ve really been “on schedule”, I refer back to it as a touchstone to guide us in eventually covering most of the bases. Things we’ve stumbled into this week have presented a lot of wonderful opportunities for integrated learning, and I’ve been delighted at how easily we’ve been able to already start weaving across traditional ‘subjects’. This is something I have struggled with feeling free to do as a teacher in today’s public school system.

Hump Day

September 3rd, 2009 § 2

Alli seems very content so far with how things are going, but it’s hard not to notice that she still refers to things that she used to do at school in the present tense (as in, “we do something like that in Mr. so-and-so’s class!”). Although I feel that things are going well for us at this early juncture, it’s hard for me not to feel some sense of loss and sadness about the things that she enjoyed about school, and the friends that I imagine she misses seeing every day. I have worked hard to let go of my anger and disappointment in a school that broke my heart, and at a public school system that I don’t think would do a whole lot better, but there are still moments where it trickles out and I feel sad for us, for her, and for all of the children who are not getting their sparks nurtured so that they grow up to become thoughtful, fulfilled adults.

Those feelings aside, yesterday was a good day. Wednesdays will normally be our ‘project’/’field trip’ days, but as Alli is still a bit under the weather and we’re still getting a rhythm going, we took it easy. We did some writing (Alli published a blog entry that she’d edited the previous day), watched a fabulous animated version of If the World Were a Village that led to some great thinking and discussion – mathematical and social — and also led towards us choosing a new recipient for some Kiva funds that had been paid back to us and were ready for re-lending. Spent a few hours in the afternoon at the library, where Alli got sucked in by a Guinness World Records book and did a little more reading in The Journey while I found some more great books to bring home (including the kids’ version of Three Cups of Tea, which I’m in the middle of presently – so cool to be working with both! And there’s a young reader’s edition too that we’ll have to explore next!). Then a short playdate to meet a new friend that we’ll be transporting to choir, followed by a short grocery trip (Alli is now going to be tracking the price of milk across stores and across the next few months as part of the little money/economics study we’re pursuing). The two giant wall maps I ordered from a sale at Rand McNally arrived – now I have to figure out which wall in our home gets sacrificed for the cause. We ended the day reading One Hen before bedtime, a wonderful tie-in to having re-lent some micro-loan funds earlier in the day.

It occurs to me that I’m learning as much as I’m teaching on this journey…

We can study dirt, right?

September 2nd, 2009 § 0

I feel a need to report that I have already come to the conclusion that home schooling and keeping the house clean are not efforts I can co-manage. Mad props to those that do.

Must evaluate whether budget can allow allow us to pursue some help with the latter.

Cracking me up

September 1st, 2009 § 2

Alli wanted to write a problem for me to solve.

It reads:

“Matt has 1 friend coming over for a birthday party. His friend told him an order. Place a mark using his order to cut his pizza into pieces for him and his friend.

Matt: one piece with two medium pepperonis, a little bit of cheese, no pepper, and make it a small piece.

Friend: large piece with 3 peppers, 2 pepperonis, and cheese. ”

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