Archive for the ‘play’ Category

Welcome to the Fun in the Summer Sun event!

Each Monday until September 7th
Mama to 4 Blessings along with Harvest Moon By Hand,
Adventures of Mommydom, Sweet Diva, and Sweet Phenomena
will be hosting Fun in the Summer Fun link up events.

Here’s the line up:

1st Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer activities”
2nd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer crafts”
3rd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer recipes”
4th Monday of each month: link up your “How to stay cool in the summer heat”


With the temperatures rising this past week to a rather tropical level (dewpoints were in the upper 70s and low 80s and temperatures in the 90s making some days feel like it was 110-116 degrees), it’s a perfect week to look at ideas for cooling down. 

Make a Pinaqua

This idea is from the Family Fun June/July 2011 issue. This is a candy-free version of a pinata that is filled with water. To make it, fill a medium plastic trash bag with 1-2 gallons of water and knot the top.

Tie a rope or piece of twine beneat the knot. Toss the tree end of the rope over a tree branch and either tie it securly or have an adult stand by to raise and lower the pinaqua.


After being blindfolded and spun around three times, each player takes three whacks at the pinaqua with a broom. The winner is the one who manages to break the bag and unleash the wave.

Go Swimming

The girls enjoyed going swimming with a family friend on Wednesday. She took them to their favorite beach where they swam and played in the water for about an hour and a half. Afterwards, they enjoyed a little snack on the beach before coming back home.

Square Lake Beach.

Stay Indoors

On the hottest days when it literally felt like an oven outside, we chose to stay cool by staying indoors. The girls read and/or listened to books on CD, embroidered, played board games, practiced the piano and harp, did puzzles, and sewed doll clothes.

We also homeschool around the year (with a slightly more relaxed scheduled during the summer months), so they also worked on math, history, science/nature study, and government this week.


Now it’s your turn! What are some ways that your family stays cool during the summer?


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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “J.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter J ….is for Joy

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy
in creative expression and knowledge.
~~ Albert Einstein ~~

As I look at pictures of homeschooling, joy is a word that comes to mind. It is most often expressed when we’re doing hands-on activities and bringing to life what we learn through reading about different subjects. 

Sometimes, joy comes from the girls making connections on their own.  For example, Sophia was having fun building a snowman and making a pinecone heart near it one day during the winter.  She was so happy with how both turned out. 

She put birdseed in the snowman’s hat so the birds had another feeder to visit. She left carrots on the ground for the rabbits or deer.

Sophia with Snowman Bird Feeder and Pinecone Heart
Sophia with the snowman and pinecone heart she made
inspired by the book Stranger in the Woods.

She told me after she made the snowman that she was thinking about the book, Stranger in the Woods as she was making the snowman. It’s interesting to see how Sophia and Olivia both are inspired by books that I read to them as part of homeschooling, and how that translates into their play and learning.

I also see joy in the girls’ faces when they are doing something they love to do and at which they feel skilled.  Olivia has always enjoyed coloring and could spend the majority of her days coloring (that…or coloring and doing puzzles). 

Olivia with Egyptian Pyramid
Olivia showing jewelry she colored
and was wearing as part of the Egyptian unit study.

In the photo above, Olivia is holding a paper pyramid that has facts about pyramids on each side. She also is wearing paper jewelry she colored.  These weren’t projects that were displayed in the house or worn after multiple times.  Rather, she put them on and wanted to show what she did – and she radiated joy. 

After she was done, she took off the jewelry and carefully put it in her Egypt 3-ring binder in a protective sheet holder.  In that way, every time she looks at it, it can remind her of how much she enjoyed coloring at that point in her life.

Another time that the girls are joyful is when we spend time cooking and baking together…and then sampling what we made. 

Tea Party with Hungarian Treats
Having a tea party with food made
as part of the geography unit study about Hungary.
The girls and I have made foods that we enjoyed (like cookies and coffeecake as shown in the picture above).  Likewise, we’ve also made some food that none of us would like to eat again (Ukrainian sauerkraut and Welsh Oatcakes).  

Whether or not we enjoyed the food, the experience of cooking together brought us all a lot of joy and happpiness.  We were sharing time and creating special memories that we all can enjoy looking back upon.

Having opportunities to play and creatively express oneself are important parts of homeschooling as well.  Playing, pretending, and dramatic expression all foster creativity and being able to think independently…rather than having someone tell you what to do and when to do it. 

Sophia Ready to Start Beekeeping
Sophia was pretending to be a beekeeper after
learning about bees, beekeeping, and honey
during a home economics lesson.
Being able to exercise together and be outdoors always makes us happy.  Joy is often shown with huge smiles and laughter, especially when we’re riding bikes; playing badminton or croquet in the backyard; or walking the dogs or horses.

Olivia Riding Behind Me
Olivia riding her bike on a beautiful spring day.
Her bike is actually attached to mine (a tag-a-long bike),
thus the odd angle of this photo.

Living in the country on a small hobby farm means the wheelbarrow is used at least once each week…if not more often.  Many times, Sophia gives Olivia rides in the wheelbarrow.  No matter where you are here, you can hear Olivia laughing as she’s bumped and jostled on the rides.

In addition to having fun, the wheelbarrow rides are good for their bodies.  Both girls have sensory integration dysfunction (aka sensory processing disorder), so pushing a heavy load (for Sophia) and getting input from the ride (for Olivia) help address some of the needs that their bodies have because of SID.

Having Fun in the Wheelbarrow
The girls having fun in the backyard.

Since the girls were infants, they have enjoyed swinging.  When they were under a year old, they would be pushed and would fall asleep while the wind blew, birds sang, and sun gently warmed them.  They were so content and at peace while swinging…a more quiet form of joy.

Olivia Swinging
Olivia in a moment of pure joy
while swinging!
Swinging each day when it’s not raining or well below zero with bone-chilling winds, is both relaxing and exhilarating for the girls…often at the same time.  When they have too much energy and can’t focus on learning, taking some time to go on the swings helps get some of the energy out.  In the process, they are laughing and joking, and having a wonderful time.  They come in awhile later ready to begin homeschooling again.

Homeschooling is about joy.  And when I think about joy — about happiness — I think of spending time together; creating memories; and learning about new things and gaining new skills. 

Joy is present each day we homeschool.  I know that because I hear it through laughter; and see it through smiles and love shown to one another.

Nez Perce - Beaded Necklace
Sophia wearing a beaded necklace she made
during a unit study about the Nez Perce during the 1700s.
Hearing joy expressed through laughter
is what homeschooling represents.

Your success and happiness lies in you.
Resolve to keep happy; and
your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.
~~ Helen Keller ~~

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For the past few weeks for the girls’ nature study, we did the Outdoor Hour Challenge Spring Series #5: Year-Long Cattail Study – Spring Cattail Observations.  We have enjoyed using the lessons and ideas from the Handbook of Nature Study website that uses the book with the same title (it is written by Anna Botsford Comstock).

For this entry, the typeface in bold is from the website; the typeface in italics is from the book (“Handbook of Nature Study”), and the typeface that is left plain are my thoughts/writing.

Inside Preparation Work:

Read pages 500-502 in the Handbook of Nature Study if you have not done so before. It might also be beneficial to read it again this season and highlight the parts that contain information about the leaves of the cattail plant. We will be focusing this season on where the cattail grows and what the leaves look like as they grow up from the plant. Prepare yourself for this week’s outdoor time by reading #1, #2, #4, and #5 suggestions for study on page 502.

These are some exerpts from the book that I found interesting and shared with Sophia and Olivia:

It is an interesting process to take apart a cattail plant; the lower, shorter leaves surround the base of the plant, giving it size and strength. All the leaves have the same general shape, but vary in length. Each leaf consists of two parts; the free portion, which is long and narrow and flat toward its tepering tip but is bent into a trough as it nears the plant, and the lower portion, which clasps the plant entirely or partially, depending upon whether it is an outer or inner leaf.

This section of the cattail had multiple layers
“kind of like an onion,” Sophia obseved.

The lower portion, which clasps the plant entirely or partially…adds to its strength.

In June and early July,…the cattail…will be seen to have the upper half of the cat’s tail much narrower and different in shape from the lower half. …. It seems to be clothed with a fine drooping fringe of olive yellow. …. We see that this fringe is a mass of crowded anthers, two or three of them being attached to the same stalk by a short filament.  These anthers are packed full of pollen.

If we look at the leaf in cross section, we can see the two thick walls strengthened by the framework of stiff veins which divide the interior into long cells.

We had never taken apart a cattail, so it was interesting
to see the framework of veins which divide the
interior into long cells. The cells are supported
by the stiff partitions.

If we cut the leaf lengthwise we can see that these long cells are supported by stiff, coarse partitions.

When we cut the cattails into cross-sections,
the little sections almost looked like cardboard.

The cattail is adapted for living in swaps where the soil is wet but not under water all the time.

Despite drying overnight the sections of cattails
that we brought indoors, the girls were
still able to squeeze quite a bit of water from them.
The cattail roots are fine and fibrous.

Outdoor Hour Time:

Enjoy your outdoor time this week at your cattail spot. If you have been participating in the year-long cattail study since last autumn, you will know just where to look for cattails. Use the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study to talk a little about the habitat where your cattails are growing.

On March 30th, there was still snow on the ground in the pasture. 
There was a thin covering of ice on the pond. 
The cattails are in the middle of the pond and not accessible.

During the previous summer, the horses ate most of the cattails
since the pond had dried up.  They didn’t disturb the root system
so the cattails should grow again this spring. 

Since the girls couldn’t reach the cattails,
they ended up playing with the ice and water.

They enjoyed using sticks to break the ice and
watch the water bubble up through the openings.

Continuing on our nature walk through the pasture,
we went to the wooded area in the northwest section.
We found a variety of pheasant feathers there,
including these long tail feathers!

Since the cattails were so far in the pond, and the water was higher than the top of our boots, we’ve been looking for cattails that we could more closely observe. We went to William O’Brien State Park on April 7th. We went on a 1.5 mile hike along the St. Croix River.  In several sections, the trail was flooded the water was so high.  Didn’t see any cattails, though.

The girls taking a short break on their favorite rock
along the St. Croix River.

We continued on the trail and followed our way to Lake Alice.  We stopped to enjoy the view of the half-melted lake.  Lake Alice didn’t have any cattails either along the shoreline…or at least in the area we went by.

The girls sitting on a bench overlooking Lake Alice
in William O’Brien State Park.

Follow-Up Activity:

Make sure to allow some time after your outdoor hour to discuss any subjects that your child finds interesting. Encourage the completion of a nature journal entry recording your observation of your cattails.

I typed and printed out a list of the questions presented in 1 and 2 in the “Handbook of Nature Study” since the questions in 4 and 5 were focused on examining the cattail plant and leaves which were inaccessible to the girls at this time.  The questions were put into their nature journals and answered.  Here are the questions with the answers as they relate the section of cattails that we’ll be studying on our property:


Where are the cattails found? The cattails are found in the pond.

Is the land on which they grown under water all the year? At any part of the year? Is it dry land all the year? The land is under water for part of the year (in the spring).  By mid-summer the pond usually is gone.

What happens to the cattails if the land on which they grow is flooded for a long season? The land hasn’t been flooded for the entire spring and summer season for many years.  About 15 years ago, it use to be a year-round pond and there were no cattails.  As the land alternated between being wet and dry, the cattails began growing.

What happens to them if the land is drained? The cattails do come back each year, despite being dry for most of the summer and fall.


How wide a strip do the cattails cover, where you have found them? I think the area is about 75′ wide and long.  At some point, the girls and I should measure the area.  We haven’t done that yet.

Are they near a pond or brook or stream? The cattails are in the pond.

Do they grow out in the stream? There isn’t a stream on the property.

Why do they not extend further inland? The cattails prefer a moister soil, and seem concentrated in the area where there is a seasonal pond.

What is the character of the soil on which they grow? The character of the soil depends on the season and the level of moisture in the ground.

Make sure to encourage your child to sketch the cattail leaves. Also try to include a little of the habitat that your cattails are growing in during this season. Include in your sketch any insects, birds, or animals that you observed near your cattails during your outdoor time.

There aren’t any insects or animals (except the horses) that were in the pasture that we observed.  The birds we saw the most of were red-winged blackbirds.  They sat on the fence posts that ran through the middle of the pond (the fence divides the farm from the neighbor’s property).

Here are their nature journal entries:

Sophia’s journal entry about cattails. 

Olivia’s journal entry about cattails.

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Project Simplify’s Hot Spot #3 was focused on children’s toys and clothes.  Since I’m preparing for the homeschooling conference and trying to assess what the girls have and what would be nice to supplement in terms of educational games and puzzles, I focused on the cabinet in the family room.

What did it look like before?  This:

Disorganized, messy shelf with games, puzzles,
musical instruments, and play-doh.

I removed everything from the shelves and asked the girls if they played with or used the game or puzzle I was holding.  This process resulted in a half-garbage bag filled with games and puzzles that are going to be donated to the local thrift shop. 

For a few of the games that are “too young” for the girls, I kept them aside and put them in one of my office closets just in case younger visitors or relatives come over and they want to play a game with them.  I tend to hold onto the Ravensburger games and puzzles since they meet or exceed all national and international safety testing standards. The games and puzzles are both educational and fun, and are made from high quality materials.

After the shelves were clear, I used Watkins Natural Lemon Furniture Polish with natural olive oil.

I put everything the girls played with back on the shelves, trying to place the puzzles and games that Olivia would use on the lower shelves as well as items that are used  most often.  Here’s what the shelves look now:

Board games, puzzles, and card games are on the lower shelves.
More games, musical instruments, active & “old-fashioned” games, and
needle-felted letters in a basket on the upper shelves.

The needle-felted letters are ones I made in 2008.  They were ones the girls used when they were younger to put the letters of the alphabet in order.  Now, they can use them to spell different words.  Each letter is made from hand-dyed sheep wool.  The base is a cream-color wool from sheep that I raised many years ago.  The size of each letter is 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ – a good size for small hands.

Mosaic of Needlefelted Alphabet ATCs and ACEOs - Tactile Art and Learning for Children
The needle-felted alphabet set I made.

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Cardinal and black-capped chickadee at
one of the feeders

This week’s focus for the Winter Series Outdoor Hour Challenge is winter birds (including bird migration). For this challenge, instead of picking a particular bird from the Handbook of Nature Study (HNS), the Handbook of Nature Study website suggested learning about bird migration and then spending some time outdoors looking for birds.

The website also encouraged participation in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count that took place from February 18th-21st.

(Note:  The information that is in bold typeface is from the Handbook of Nature Study website.  The text in regular typeface is mine.  Quotes that are in italic typeface are from the book, Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.)

Inside Preparation Work:

Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 35-37. This will help explain why you have some birds in your area only during certain seasons. If you are interested in more information, you might want to check the Peterson Field Guides for additional information about particular birds that you have in your feeders or near-by parks.

These three pages were very interesting.  Some facts worth noting:

The Arctic tern’s round trip mileage…is about 22,000 miles. 

– The Arctic tern has more hours of daylight than any other animal on the globe.

– We see great flocks of swallows [before they migrate] …. Some birds do not gather in flocks before leaving for the winter; they just disapper and we scarecely know where they go.

A permanent resident in Minnesota

– Chickadees, jays, downy woodpeckers, nuthatches, grouse, and pheasants are typical examples of the permanent resident group.

– The first migrants…are, in general, those which have spent the winter only a comparatively short distance away. [These are] robins, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, and bluebirds.

– In many species, the males arrive first; they may come as much as two weeks ahead of the females.  The immature birds are usually the last to arrive.

– Usually the very first birds of a kind to arrive are those individuals which will within a few days continue their northward journey.  The later arrivals are usually those that remain to become summer residents.

– [Some species of birds have] double migration routes …. One route may lead chiefy over land while the other may lead over the ocean.  The golden plover is an example of such a case.

There will be maps in the field guide that show where birds winter, migrate, and spend their summers. I encourage you to pick one common bird you have in your area and see if it migrates. (If you do not have a field guide, use the links in the Follow-Up Activity to research your bird.)

Outdoor Hour Time:

Spend 15-20 minutes outdoors this week looking for local birds. Choose one of the birds to learn more about and to record in your nature journal. If you are participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, plan on spending your outdoor time to tally birds you see in your yard. If the weather is too cold, you can always sit at a window where you can see your birdfeeder and take a tally from there.

Olivia measuring the snowfall on the birdfeeder
before clearing it off for the birds

During the Great Backyard Bird Count, Olivia and I were sick; and Sophia was on the verge of getting sick.  Therefore, we weren’t able to get outside and do a bird count.  However, after the big snowfall on Sunday-Monday, we cleaned off the feeders of 8″+ of snow and re-distributed the seed we had on hand between the feeders to make it a bit easier for the birds.

Two birds at the feeder – the nuthatch (on the upper right)
and the dark-eyed junco (on the lower left)

Within a short period of time, the birds started visiting the feeders that were empty – including some of our favorites:  the cardinals and woodpeckers.  This is a blurry picture, but it’s one of our favorite visitors to the feeder:

Follow-Up Activity:

Give an opportunity for a nature journal entry after you talk about any birds you observed. Help your child identify any birds they saw if you can. Remember to check the table of contents in the HNS to see if your bird subject is covered in a lesson. You can use those suggestions to learn more about your backyard birds.

The girls do a lot of bird watching, so they are very familiar with the permanent residents.  During spring and fall, when the birds are migrating, we often birds that we’ve never seen before which is exciting. Sometimes we can identify them…other times, we are just happy that we saw a bird that we never saw before. 

If you have a field guide, use the information there to discuss if the bird is a winter resident or a year-round resident. Our family uses this online bird site to help us identify birds: WhatBird? And this website for additional information as well: AllAboutBirdsAlso make sure to log into the Great Backyard Bird Count and record your results from your neighborhood.

Additional bird migration websites:

Bird Migration (Backyard Nature)

Bird Migration (Wild Birds Unlimited)

Sophia measuring the snow depth in the front yard
The snowstorm that traveled through central and southern Minnesota from Sunday night through Monday evening luckily didn’t leave as much snow as anticipated (at least here at the farm).  The average snow depth was about about 8 1/2″, with some drifts as high as 12″.  
The girls definitely enjoyed finding evidence of wildlife around the yard.  The most fascinating thing we discovered was a rather elaborate tunnel system through the snow that we’re thinking that a squirrel made since it led right to the squirrel/rabbit feeder. 
Near the pear tree there was a hole and then a pathway that led to two tunnel openings (see picture below).  One opening led right up to the squirrel/rabbit feeder.  The other opening led to an area under a nearby shrub that the birds, rabbits, and squirrels use for shelter and an eating area.
Two tunnels leading the squirrel/rabbit feeder. 
Reminded me of this quote:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
U.S. poet (1874 – 1963)
Near one of the feeders, Sophia discovered that the vole had returned and had a little tunnel.  As she got down to examine it a bit closer she said, “It already has a bunch of birdseed in here!”
Olivia was walking near the tall pine trees on the east side of the farm and was excited that there were a lot of rabbit tracks.
Rabbit tracks

While the girls were outside, I had them each fill a canning jar with snow.  Sophia chose to pack the snow in her jar, while Olivia simply filled hers. 

Olivia gathering snow to put in a jar
The girls brought the jars inside where they started melting. 
Within  a half hour, the snow had melted a bit
About an hour or so later, Olivia wanted to check on the progress of the snow in her jar.
The snow is taking longer than anticipated to melt
By mid-afternoon, the snow had melted completely in Olivia’s jar (on the right, in the picture below) and had almost melted in Sophia’s jar (there was a small piece of ice in the center). 
Amount of water remaining after a jar-full of snow melted
Although Sophia’s jar did have more water, it wasn’t a tremendous difference between her jar and Olivia’s jar.  This was rather surprising because we all thought there would be a more significant difference.
The snow sparkled today – it was just beautiful!  Initially the snow that fell on Sunday was a bit heavy, so that was packed down.  The snowflakes that fell later on Monday were huge, (and for a lack of better words:) fluffy flakes that rested on top of the other snow.  This morning, with the sun shining on the snow, it looked like crystals – or diamonds – gleaming in the light.
It was a morning of exploration…
Montague trying to find something (a vole, perhaps?) in the snow
and of play…
Sophia making a snow angel

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I’ve been spending some time over the past few days making some new hand-embroidered toys.  I used all natural materials to create the toys:  wool felt, sheep wool stuffing, cotton embroidery floss, and cotton stockinette fabric.

Wool felt zebra…only 3 1/2″ tall.
I made a zebra like this one about a year or so ago that I gave away.  Made another one this weekend for my daughters who enjoy playing with dolls.  Miniature animals – whether they are stuffed, carved from wood, or glass – make their way into the girls’ play time and imagination.  
Since the zebra is for the girls, I decided to make a PDF pattern of the zebra that’s available in my shop (Harvest Moon by Hand) so anyone can make one.
Another thing I made this weekend was a doll.  The pattern is from The Birthday Book – Celebrations for Everyone by Ann Druitt.  I’ve had this book on my shelf for some time now, and just pulled it out recently for some ideas.  I was pleasantly suprised to see all the different patterns for children’s toys.
Walking Star Boy
One of the patterns is for a “walking star boy and jester.”  I started with the walking star boy since that was the first pattern and seemed a bit easier than the jester which requires a bit more sewing/embroidery work.  The doll stands about 8 inches high (with the hat).
I haven’t used stockinette fabric before, so this was my first attempt at trying to make a face and hands.  I chose not to put a face on the doll because then whoever plays with the doll can imagine what it looks like and its expression – the doll can be happy, upset, resting – whatever the girls want the doll to express – rather than having the same expression that dolls typically have when they’re purchased from a store. 
Olivia was sick all day, so she rested in bed while I sat by her and made the doll. She chose the colors of the doll’s outfit and hair; and enjoyed watching the doll-making process. By late afternoon, the doll was completed…just in time for her to hold onto as she rested.
Olivia resting with her new doll
In addition to providing comfort, the star boy provided Olivia with some entertainment while she was laying in bed.  Because the doll has a horizontal slit in the back, two fingers can be placed in the legs. In this way, the star boy can “walk” and move around which is a bit different than other dolls the girls have. 
Star boy kicking some felted acorns

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– To have some extra time to get caught up on projects I’ve wanted to do – personal and for my shop.

– A friend of the family who listed and offered support.

– Healthcare professionals who provide a meaningful and supportive place for my dad to attend twice a week.

– Hearing enthusiasm and happiness in my dad’s voice after attending the day care program (Tuesday was his first day).

– Spending time with my daughters learning about ocean life (part of homeschool science lessons) and some very interesting fish that live in the deep sea.

– Having enough food to make meals for the entire week.

– Enjoying a variety of books from the library.

– Spending time with my parents on my dad’s birthday.

– Being able to help my mom get errands done that she’s wanted to do.

– Finding a colorful and fragrant bouquet of flowers to give to my dad on his birthday; and seeing how excited they were to have fresh flowers on their table.

– Finding a picture of my grandma, my uncles, and mom from 1982.

– Seeing the snow sparkle.

– Seeing the variety of birds at the feeders – especially the flock of cardinals whose color is so vivid against the white snow.

– Watching a tiny vole peek out of the snow under the birdfeeder and collect seeds that had fallen.

– Seeing the squirrel navigate through snow tunnels in the front yard, and watching it pop up in different places.

– Having the skill to sew quilts and pillows.

– Warm, hand-crocheted blankets that I made from wool from my sheep or that my Grandma Olive made before I was born.

– Daughters who enjoy spending outdoors during the winter – exploring the pastures, sledding, making snow forts, and ice skating.

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