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Mama said there’d be days like this.  Actually…..she didn’t.  I never heard my mom say that.  She died before I was old enough to listen for any real words of wisdom from her.  But, I’ve heard that song before….or that part of that song before.  And, I’m guessing it was days like this they were singing about.

Days like this…..days when I feel I’m surely failing the homeschoolers…..days when I feel I may not have prepared the older ones well enough…..days when it seems that it would be much better for everyone if I hadn’t taken the fate of their entire educations and futures into my own hands.  Yeah…..days like that!

I know I’m too hard on myself.  And, I imagine all parents second guess their choices at one time or another.  And, of course, I’ve been here….in this state of frustration….many, many times before.

When I talk with new homeschooling parents, the one piece of advice I offer…..because it’s the one thing that calms my soul when I become overwhelmed or frustrated with all of it….is to remember that we are not preparing them for the world.  We are preparing little souls for eternity.  In the long run, eternity is what matters most to me.  It matters more to me that I am raising children with Godly Character than top scholars.

However, with two in college, one only months away from entering college, and the next one in birth order needing to be at least prepared to take an ACT test (which currently feels like a steep mountain neither of us can climb), I start falling into the pit of worry, doubt and second-guessing.

That’s the kind of day I was having today until I finally stepped away from the children for a bit, called out to God, and tried to refocus my priorities.

Within an hour or so, I received some confirmation that I’m doing okay with them academically.  I got a text from a sister-in-law.  Her daughter was given a book of example writings for her Expository 2 Writing class.  Within that book was one of my oldest son’s writings.    My older boys are doing okay….actually they are doing very well academically.  And, their character?  I pray I have steered them in the right direction.   I pray their hearts are in alignment with God’s will and that a Godly character is apparent to others they meet.

Of course, all the children are gifted differently.  No two will follow the same path, study the same way, organize their time the same way, etc.  But, if I keep on walking in the right direction, taking the next right step with the ones still in my care….I think I can get them on their way to the life they are supposed to lead, too.

As I was reminded once again that my goal is to train them, raise them with Godly character, and stay focused on days like this; I had to smile when the next academic question from my youngest son asked was, “Are those rectangular, frosted things people eat for breakfast called Tardy Toast?”

Tardy Toast.  It took me a second, but I told him they were Pop Tarts.  Yes, Pop Tarts…..I smiled because in the past they haven’t known what Twinkies were…..or Oreos…..now Pop Tarts.  I smiled because, yes, this is an example of how they are deprived socially (according to the world).  I smiled because I must still be on the right track with these last three.

We’ll keep working on all of it….character, academics, and that darn socialization.  Together, we’ll try to take the next right step.

Guess what?

We had a party.  A birthday party.

I know.  I know.  I wrote this really long blog just last week on how I had managed to delay throwing my youngest child her one and only promised birthday party for yet one more year.

And then…..

After the Super Bowl, which was  a really great game with a crazy ending, I was cleaning up after the college kids left when I saw one of the invitations Jeanae had begun to write for her big party next year.  It broke my heart.  I read it to my college boys.  We all “Aaaahhhhhd” and Johnathan said, “You have to save that.”  Yes, I will save it.

It was the catalyst to get me thinking again…..wondering again if I would feel guilty forever if my daughter’s broken dreams never came to fruition because of my own fears and insecurities.  I knew in my mind that the little friendships she has today, in February 2015, will not be the same next year or the year after.  She wanted a party with her “now” friends, and my courage began to stretch.

The next morning, without knowing I had read her invitation, she asked, “Can we please just at least invite Alexa?”

So, with no sigh in my voice and a warm smile in my heart, I said, “Okay.”

She was over-the-top excited.  I texted my husband.

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After laughing at me for some time, he reassured me I could handle a party.  I sent out texts and emails, and all but one little girl was able to make it.

Today, my little girl was all smiles and laughter when she finally got to have her own little birthday party.  She got to be the birthday girl, instead of always the birthday guest.

One little two hour birthday party consumed my entire day.  Actually, it has consumed me for a week and a day…..and nine years.  I’m tired.  But, I’m happy I was able to give her this little gift of love.  As per my previous blog post, I’m not sure if I still owe her a party next year….or a pool…..or a sister….  I’ll cross those bridges when I get to them.  For today, we’ll bask in the glow of happiness from one sweet birthday party for one sweet little girl with some very sweet little friends.

02:07:15

And, would you believe that even with a whole two-hour birthday party to plan we had some other events this week?

It’s true.  Other than school, college, and play rehearsal every day:

My Jay had two interviews for internships.

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My Johnathan has been back in studio using his creative mind when he’s not racking his brain over physics. In fact, he’s still in studio tonight working, but he hasn’t sent me a picture of his models.  So I have no picture to post for him.  That’s sad because he really is quite talented.

My Jordan was one of 173 seniors honored by the Kiwanis Club for scholastic achievement (he holds a 4.0 GPA) on Wednesday.  Tonight he is attending his first SubDeb Dance.

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My Jacob is also attending the SubDeb Dance for the first time.

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My Joseph began working on his first mural.

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And, my birthday girl, had a fabulous birthday highlighted with a day out with mom…..lunch, hair, nails, and getting her ears pierced.

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Of course, I almost burned down the house with the washing machine once.  But, I don’t wanna talk about that!

It was a full week.  We are blessed.

It has been quite a week.  So many blog post ideas; so little time to write.

I’m thinking if I list my ideas from this week, maybe I can revisit them and get them into writing at some point.  First, I wanted to write something about “time”.  Then, I had a post in my head about “physical fitness”.  Then I thought I’d write those at a later time because suddenly I felt the urge to write a bragging post my oldest.  But, then came an opportunity to write about the negative ramifications of socialization with public schooling.  And, when my crossing-eyes and tired brain didn’t finish that one on one day, it turned into the day of the 29th anniversary of my dad’s death when I wanted to write a story about my dad for my kids.  I figured this would be a great idea since when my two littlest saw me post a photo of my dad on Instagram, they asked, “Who’s that?”  How sad is that that I haven’t kept my parent’s memory alive for them?  <guilt>  But, on the very day I was going to tell a story about him, my daughter and her sweet little emotions tugged at my heart all day long.  I couldn’t ignore it.

It began early in the morning as I was sipping coffee.  She came out from her bedroom, sat down on the floor to give the dog some love, and said, “Pyper (a friend from theater) said that when she turned 9 she had a big party, so I should have a big party, too.”  This was her way of asking for a party without asking for a party.  She knows I have party issues.  I wrote about that [HERE] last year.  My biggest fear is embarrassing her (or any of my children).  You see, I have sent my boys to birthday parties armed with gifts only to hear upon their return that their friend didn’t like their gift “…because it was boring.”  My heart would sink.  I would feel sad that I caused any embarrassment to my child.  I have no idea how to please other people’s kids.  My kids have always known that if it wasn’t on sale AND we didn’t have a coupon, we didn’t buy it.  My kids have always known that if they really wanted something, they would need to save their money for it.  My kids have always been taught to be gracious givers and receivers.  So, when it comes to thinking about throwing  a party for one of my children , I become paralyzed with fear about how to meet others’ lofty expectations.  I figure if I can’t offer the most spectacular fun (which I have no idea what kids expect these days), then it’s easier to just not do it.  HOWEVER, my little girl would love to have her very few friends over for a party.  Is that too much to give her?  No.  It’s not.  With an enormity of mom guilt, I conjured up as much courage as I could, I looked into her big brown eyes, and decided I could suck it up.  It would only be a few little girls, I reasoned.  Surely they wouldn’t expect much.  Simultaneously, I began pondering if we could get an indoor pool built by next Saturday because surely if they could swim they would have fun.  Every little girl loves to swim, right?  Swimming is the only way I can pull this off….

Doable?  No.  Hmmmmm…..  Still, I offered.  I said, “Well, maybe we can go ahead and invite them for a party.”  Which was quickly answered with , “Oh, Pyper can’t come.  She has to sell cookies that day.”

Really?  I just went full circle in my head.  I had already practically had a huge hole dug in the backyard for a swimming pool.  Really?  Why did she even mention it?

Oh.  She mentioned it because her heart’s desire is to have ONE birthday party.   That’s all she is asking.  Surely I could find it in me to give her one stinking birthday party so that her entire childhood is not marred because of this one little thing.  So, I decided at that moment that I would pledge to her that next year (pool or no pool…..boy I hope we have a pool) we will have that party.  I said, “Well, let’s just go ahead and plan on having a party next year so Pyper can be there, and we’ll give her plenty of notice?”

BIG SMILE!

No psychological damage done.  I escaped the party one more year; and I would have an entire year to prepare emotionally, physically, mentally.

But, then, when I walked into the schoolroom later that morning to begin our school day, she was making heart invitations…..for her party….in a year……another tug at my heart!

01:29:15 Jeanae's invitations

Wearing her little heart on her sleeve, she finally obediently agreed to set those invitations aside because a lot can happen in a year, and people cannot put a party on their calendar that far in advance.

Later in the school day it was time to finish listening to her read The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Oh my.  Tears. Every single day.  On this day she read the final chapter describing the murder of Esmerelda and how Quasimodo fell to his death.  After we closed the tear-stained pages of that book, I handed her a book that I thought would help her forget the sadness of Quasimodo and Esmerelda.

I handed her this book based on a true story of a little girl who went from being an orphan to an accomplished ballerina.

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I skipped checking out this particular book several times because although my little girl looked adorable in her pigtails and pink leotard when she was two, I was hoping to not resurrect the desire for ballet lessons.  Isn’t that terrible of me?

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It’s not that I don’t want my girl to be a ballerina.  It’s just that….well, it’s terribly expensive, and not everyone is made to be a ballerina.  She and I both know this to be true for her, so I was relieved when she said these words herself.  But, she was still inspired by this book…..not to begin training for Swan Lake, but rather she became inspired obsessed about needing a sister.  The heartstrings tightened once again.

At one point in the book when the little girl (who was still orphaned) was describing how when her adopted mother chose her best friend to adopt, my little girl couldn’t hold back the huge cartoon-like tears.  The tears fell onto the pages as she could barely read the next sentence which would change those tears from tears of sadness to tears of joy.  In the next sentence, the little girl described how her new mother hugged her, too.  She and her best friend would both be adopted by this mother.  They would be sisters forever.

But, with this relief and joy for these two girls also came the overwhelming desire for a sister for herself.  When we were finished with our reading time, she announced that she wanted a sister.  I did the only thing any self-respecting coward would do….I told her to ask Dad.

And so she did.  She went to her room, wrote this note (I have mentioned my kids are spelling challenged, right?).  Translated, the note reads:  “Dear Dad, Please give me a sister. Please, please with a cherry on top, please the magic words, please here is some money.”

01:29:15 Jeanae's sister letter

She made a little holder out of tape, and deposited all her money (all except $1.50 which she needs to save for the Vacation Bible School offering).  Then she waited for Dad to come home.  She was prepared with her argument as to why she needs a little sister.  She begged and pleaded and cried.  She said, “I want a sister more than I want my ears pierced!  I want a sister more than a CAT!”  Oooooh!  This is big….more than a cat.  She might even want a sister more than a birthday party.  To me, adopting a sister might be more doable than a pool and easier than a party.

Dad, of course, was not moved by her argument.  So, I told her to pray about it because you just never know what God has planned for any us.  And, if God has it in His plan, then we can’t fight that.  So, she has added the wish for a sister to her daily prayers.  She doesn’t want a baby sister because “that would be too much stress for Mom”.  She doesn’t want an older sister.  She wants us to adopt a sister just under her age so she can be a big sister and have a lifelong friend.

My heartstrings have been stretched!

“What year is it?”  — 2015

“What month is it?” — January

“What’s your pattern shape?” — I don’t have one.

“Who’s baby is that?” — What’s your angle?

“I’ll buy that.”

The Saxon Math math meeting begins this way every day.  It has begun this way for the past 15 or 16 years….I’ve lost count.  And, this is my last year of the Math Meeting which goes through third grade.  I’m actually gonna miss it.  The “Who’s baby is that?  What’s your angle?  I’ll buy that.”  has nothing to do with the math meeting.  But, I say it every day with the child lucky enough to be doing the math meeting with me.  Once in a while I get a kid who challenges the order of those questions and tries to beat me to the last line.  The nerve.  Those lines come from the Flintstones (which my kids have never really seen <gasp>), and it’s just one of those weird things I added in there when the pattern shape question became nonessential after first grade.  This is one of those weird things my kids will remember forever.  You’re welcome, kids….I do what I can.

But, for me this Math Meeting I have been doing every school day since my oldest (now 21) began first grade.  This year, my daughter will finish 3rd grade, and it will be on to independent learning with the “big” math books next year.  My youngest son cried when he no longer got to do the Math Meeting with me.  I will probably cry when I don’t get to do it any more.  But, most likely, I’ll still ask these questions to my kids…..just for the fun of it.

The basic idea of the Math Meeting is to offer repetitive questions to the kids to ingrain use of the calendar, telling time, number sequences, counting money, reading a thermometer, learning number patterns, and analytical thinking skills.  I have had kids breeze through the Math Meeting in five minutes or less, and I have had kids drag it out longer than the lesson itself takes.  Whether they were counting the numbers so fast that their little brains were moving faster than their mouths or if they were off in La La Land daydreaming about whatnot, they have all skipped numbers when counting.  I have had fun with this.  When my third son was rattling off counting by 5’s quicker than his little mouth could move, he always forgot “55”.  I would quickly jump in with an interruption, and say, “55 has feelings too, don’t forget 55″.  He would giggle that kind of giggle kids do when their Adam’s apple bobs up and down.  Without missing a beat, he would circle around, come back to 55, pick it up and carry on counting to 100.  And, even though it’s not quite as endearing when a child takes what seems like 10 minutes counting their odd numbers from 51 to 99, I still let them know the skipped number has feelings when they miss it.  They all know from the Math Meeting that numbers have feelings, too.

As every Math Meeting comes to an end, the daily Math Lesson begins.  The scripted Saxon math book always begins with, “Today you will learn…..”  I, of course, begin every lesson with “Today, I want you to write…..a THEME…..and I want it turned in tomorrow morning.” (quoting A Christmas Story all year long).  They all expect it every day.  I think they might think something is wrong with me if I don’t quote it.  You’re welcome kids…..glad I could make those Math Meetings fun….for you and for me.  It’s what I do.

What on earth will we do next year with no Math Meeting?  Even though my daughter drives me to drink (coffee) every day with the dragging on of the Math Meeting (yes, she falls into the drag-it-out-forever category), I can honestly say I am sad to see this chapter coming to an end.  So each day until it is over, I will remember how much I will miss it and cherish our last days of the Math Meeting.

Lasterday

My brain is scattered into a million different directions this week.  And, as I try to reel it in to focus on the immediate tasks at hand, I can’t help but remember that not too long ago this was my life:

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Three little boys who could fit into one laundry basket.  Day in and day out….little boys and babies….juice cups, owies, tears, and giggles.  The days flowed one into the next; and without warning, those sweet little boys grew up.

And now…..they are all young men rushing off in basically the same direction every morning, but rushing off to build their own lives….not needing me so much anymore.  And, yet, they do still need me in varying ways.  How did it happen so fast that they grew up?  When?  Why?  There is a part of me that would like to freeze time, hold onto the past, step back into the simplicity of yesteryear when all I had to do every day was make sure they all had love, food and shelter…..when I could meet all their needs, calm their fears, and hold their little hands as we walked through each day together.  My oldest used to say “lasterday” for “yesterday”.  So, I’ll call it “lasterday”.

Actually, lasterday they never got a full hand held (not often)….most times, they each got to hold one finger on my left hand as I scooped up the fourth baby boy in his car seat into the crook of my right elbow while we crossed the grocery store parking lot together as one unified group……those were the days.  Exhausting and demanding, yes.  But, now that I can’t literally hold their hands as they navigate their individual paths in life, I want to go back….even for just a little while.

But, I can’t.  And, what’s more is I still have three at home.  They aren’t little enough to fit into the laundry basket, but they still need me.  They need me to be present and focused.  They need me to help grow them into the people they dream of becoming.  It’s as though we have been walking through a fog with school since the new year began.  Our focus, discipline and effort has been lacking as we have been muddling through the days.  They deserve more from me, and I’m determined to get back on track with each of them…..just as soon as I’m done fretting and worrying about my husband’s 50th birthday party this Saturday….at our house.  YIKES!  Nothing puts such swift fear and trepidation into a perfectionistic, introverted, recluse’s psyche as inviting people (lots of people) to one’s home .  A party.  At my house.  With people.  People do this party/hostessing/entertaining thing all the time.  I know this to be true because I’ve seen it on TV.  Lots of people manage to juggle work and fun.  Why can’t I?  It shouldn’t be that difficult for me.  I. Can’t.  Even.

Maybe I can.  You know what I think?  I think its not so much that I’m terrified to have people over as much as I fear the unknown.  When there is anything new or different, I get scared…..I worry and fret (most times for no reason).  I can look back to lasterday with confidence because I now know that my oldest three boys have successfully transitioned from home and homeschool to the world out there.  They are all doing okay regarding their character, educational ability and social skills.  But, I can also guarantee that that while I was living through those days when they could all fit into a laundry basket, I spent every sleepless night and waking moment worrying that I was screwing them up.

Even with the proof that I did okay with the first three, I still have three more with unknown futures.  And because of these unknowns, I still waste time with worry and stress.  The unknown is scary to me.

So….the tasks at hand….the tasks that have me so scattered this week:  focus, plan, paint the basement, prepare, worry, educate the children every day, worry, clean the house for people other than the bug man, cook something for the party, worry some more…..hmmmmm I’m sure there’s more.  So, for some reason, before tackling all of the aforementioned, I find comfort in looking back to the more simple days.  Simple in my head now.  But, I’m sure as I was living through it back then, it probably felt like an overwhelming mountain of responsibility and physical exertion.

And, now as I look back on what I’ve written in this post, I can see it clearly reflects the scattered thoughts in my brain this week.  Welcome, readers, to a glimpse inside my brain.  Dizzying, isn’t it?  If you have read this far….I have a feeling you may now feel compelled to eat your weight in chocolate.  I’ve got to get busy reeling in these thoughts so I can begin working on these tasks at hand.  And, then, I shall eat chocolate!

“Mooooommmmm!  ‘You take medicine for this’…..and the only choices are ‘school’ and ‘elephant’…..and they don’t fit…..”

This is the logic I contend with on a daily basis.  She was doing a small crossword puzzle with her spelling list words.  With a quick glance at her words, I could see the answer was clearly “cough”; but to her, the only clear choices were “elephant” (because elephants need medicine sometimes) and “school” (because….well….maybe she sees me take Excedrin Migraine a little too much during school time).

Wouldn’t it be nice if all humans were born with the ability to reason at full capacity?  It sure would make educating children less frustrating.  And, we’d all make better choices throughout life.  But, it doesn’t work that way.  We all grow, mature, and develop at our own pace.  I think this different pace is expected with such physical aspects as height or weight….or with emotional, mental or knowledge capacity.  But with logic, it is often less obvious if a child is up-to-speed or not.  It’s also something we don’t often think about until we notice the lack of reasoning skills displayed by certain children.

I’m not saying my daughter is necessarily behind with her logic development.  I’m not even really concerned about her in this area.  But, it is at this age (she’s 8) that I start paying more attention to a child’s reasoning skills.  Her elementary learning years are quickly coming to an end as she will soon enter the logic phase of learning.  After years of home schooling, I have learned enough to know people are all different in everything….and I mean everything.  While some humans seem to be born ready to solve Newton’s Laws of Physics, others go through most (if not all) their life unable to even remember the current day of the week.  Those two examples are at opposite ends of the logic spectrum.  But, my point is building higher order thinking skills comes more naturally for some, and is painfully difficult for others.  Thus, frustration ensues.  When you’ve seen kids grasp concepts easily, effectively move through learning at a constant pace, and evolve into self-disciplined, motivated, and independent thinkers as naturally as they began breathing at birth; it’s easy to become discouraged when other children require constant assistance, reminding, and help with every facet of life.

So, we work on learning logic, whether the child needs it or not.  Each of my children has or will work through a critical thinking series called Mind Benders:  Deductive Thinking Skills.  Of course, for the ones who display adequate reasoning and analytical skills for their ages, the workbooks offer less of a challenge.  But, still, they do offer a challenge to them.  My youngest son recently told me he loves these books because he feels like he is Sherlock Holmes when he is figuring out the clues.  For those who face more logic thinking challenges, it does take more time….sometimes more frustration and tears, too.  But, in the end, I think it was a good choice to add this series to our curriculum.  My hope is it will benefit all of them as they learn to train their minds to approach each and every subject or decision they face in their futures.

Well, I suppose the good thing about entering the first week of school with low expectations is that expectations are fully met.    That’s something, right?

But, I kinda, sorta envisioned us slowly increasing our productivity over the the span of five days.  It did not happen this way.  I did a little bit of each subject with each kid, but not each day.  A lot of variables and distractions throughout these days contributed to our lackluster school days this week.  Not a whole lot was accomplished.  And, I was left feeling like I failed my homeschoolers.

So, as I was beginning to prep dinner, I was replaying our week in my mind….trying to figure out what we could have done differently.  What do I need to add?  What do we need to abandon?  What do we need to do to get more focused to get back on track?  Basically, a million thoughts were criss-crossing through my mind as I was chopping vegetables.  Out of nowhere I remembered my daughter can’t tie her shoes.

Oh….instantly the mom guilt rose to a level far above the homeschooling mom failure feeling.

So, I addressed my daughter, who was sitting nearby and well-engrossed in a game on the i-pad, “Jeanae, why don’t you go get one of your new shoes, and we’ll learn how to tie it.  Your brothers all learned to tie their shoes when they were five.  I bet now that you are almost nine, it won’t take much time at all.”   I suppose I might have been trying to salvage our school week.  Maybe I was simply trying to backtrack and pick up the pieces of learning I know I’ve been lazy with.  I am not sure why I had this thought now.  I mean, I tried to teach her at the age of five…..I tried for a little bit.  But, she wasn’t getting it, so I let it go….for nearly four years.  There are velcro shoes and crocs and boots…..tying shoes was not a priority, and I was fine with it.  I certainly haven’t lost any sleep over it, but for some reason it came to mind today after a dismal homeschooling week.

So, she actually got off the i-pad, ran to grab one of her new shoes, and was eager to learn.  Wouldn’t you know it?  I showed her once, and she got it.  Achievement unlocked!

01:09:15 Jeanae ties her shoes

No longer does she have to tell the wardrobe lady at the theater that she can’t tie her shoes.  No longer does she have to feel embarrassed when someone asks her to tie something for them.  She’s probably been able to do it for quite some time, but we didn’t know because she hadn’t tried since she was five when we both abandoned the idea of learning.   I think I may have been thinking I might just wait for Aunt Carol to come visit and teach her.  After all, that’s how “I” taught the boys…..Aunt Carol used to visit a lot; and once she taught the first one, she became known as the Chief Shoe Tying Teacher.  She loved it, they learned it, and it worked for me.  But, it just so happened that about the time Jeanae was born, Aunt Carol began having grandchildren of her own enter into her life.  Her visits became farther and farther apart, and the opportunity to teach Jeanae to tie her shoes was never realized.

This got me thinking about how much easier it is to teach a child a skill, task, or concept if I simply wait until they are ready to learn it.  I’ve come to this realization before (potty training being the first ah-ha moment in this area for me), but it sure would be helpful if only I could remember this all the time.  I need to remember this with math…and writing…and spelling….and pretty much all of it.   Remembering this once again was in itself a valuable lesson for me today.

So, at the end of the day….and the end of the week….our learning is not only measured in how much we got done or how far we got in the books, but our achievement is more heavily weighted in the lessons we learned along the way throughout each day and the individual growth we each encountered.

It turns out it was a productive week.  I’m looking forward to the lessons and life lessons next week brings our way.

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