The Atchafalaya Basin

October 12, 2020 at 5:02 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability to pick up and take school into the world. We love field trips. I realized recently that I always refer to them as field trips and not vacations, because each change of scenery for us offers a new learning experience, and we never stop working on math and spelling.

So when we had the opportunity to venture out into the swamplands of Louisiana, we packed up our school work and went.

Although our family’s main homeschooling style relies on the Classical model by choice, by nature after growing up in the GT program of public schools, I’m a Unit Study girl. So when headed to the Atchafalaya we watched a National Geographic youtube documentary on the basin and loaded up on picture books.

Jim Arnosky is a long time children’s book favorite of mine. He is the author of the Crinkleroot character, possibly my favorite children’s character of all time, and truly my go-to when looking for any sort of nature themed studies. I was pleased to discover I already owned copies of All About Turtles and All About Alligators, perfect for swamplands. We picked these up years ago and I just love the whole series. They’re perfect for little nature lovers to peruse in their free time when they are excited about a particular animal or another, or for building unit studies on a particular ecosystem like we did when we went to the swamp.

The One Small Square series by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne is another favorite. Instead of individual species and their place in the world, this series starts with the ecosystem and defines what is in it. From the cypress knees and ferns to the bacteria and fungi, Swamp talks about all the different layers of life that make up each square inch of swamplands, including diagrams of life at a cellular level… “A carpet of sphagnum moss covers this floating peat island. The moss’s tangled leaves have special hollow cells that soak up and hold water…” Swamp also covers mangrove swamps and the differences between the two.

Homeschooling is such a blessing and it was so exciting to not just read about the environment, but go and––literally––put our hands in it. I am thankful to God every day for the adventure of educating my kiddo.

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Homeschooling Chemistry and Physics

August 20, 2020 at 3:43 am (Education, Recipes) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This year at Atrium (my kiddo’s co-op), I’ve been teaching science with a bit more purpose than I did last year. Last year consisted of a lot of impromptu science articles and activities… when we were studying the bubonic plague in history, I covered fleas on rats, the plague, what modern day scientists said about it, and played a song from YouTube about it set to the tune of Hollaback Girl. In the spring we covered lots of random pollinator things, talked about bees and butterflies and the anatomy of a flower. We did black out poetry over articles I had printed. At some point in the year, I brought roly polies and we talked about crustaceans and literally played with bugs in the driveway. We made terrariums. It was a hodge-podge of whetting the group’s appetite for the idea of studying science seriously, but was mostly exactly what you’d expect homeschool science to be: nature studies, crafts, songs, and critters.

The 2020-21 school year I was determined to do different—to do better.

Naturally, I started teaching what I consider the most difficult science of all the sciences: Chemistry & Physics. To a group of children that range between 5 and 13.

If you’re going to get serious about science, the studies of matter and energy are the way to go, right? Every time I prep for class I’m two parts terrified and one part giddy.

But today, I realized, I’m not failing them. And more than that, they seem to be enjoying themselves.

In our first two lessons, we covered matter. We talked about properties and how scientists use properties to describe matter. I started by describing that matter is anything that has volume and mass, but to say that then I had to describe what volume and mass are. I sent them home with a white bread recipe. One of the fourth graders actually baked it over the weekend and was able to tell me all about how cool it was that the same ingredients can create something with a different amount of volume. I was so pleased. If only this one child understood volume because of a white bread recipe, then I felt I was already winning.

During that same first lesson I taught them about displacement and was delighted when my classically educated group of kids were able to participate in a retelling of Archimedes and the Goldsmith. Several kids shouted “Eureka!” along with me. If I wasn’t already sold on the trivium, that moment would have done it.

Density was when it got really fun. In Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics I found a lab with salt, water, two eggs, and two cups. Fill both cups with water about halfway. Dissolve a quarter cup of salt into one of the glasses. Have the kids announce their hypothesis on what might happen, then drop the eggs in their own glass. The egg in the salt water will float because the water is more dense than the egg when there is salt there, but the egg in the regular water will sink because the egg has more density. One of the kids was convinced it was because one of the eggs was bad and one of them was good, so another mom swapped them. The experiment won out!

After that we talked about buoyancy and made aluminum boats. (This lab was also found in Fulbright’s textbook.) Everyone had brought a casserole pan where we had blue dyed salt water and pennies sprinkled at the bottom of each. The goal was to make a boat that could float the most pennies without sinking. The kids loved playing pirates and stole each other’s pennies a lot in a spirit of imagination and fun. Our best ship held 176 pennies. Runner up had 173 before the ship started taking water. The take away: surface area helps.

On day two, the following week, we talked a lot about gold versus pyrite, how luster and hardness helps you identify matter.

The kiddo and I made playdough the day before and at the start of the lesson I put pieces of tree limbs, various garden and river rocks, aluminum foil, and the play dough out on the table. There were plenty of sensory aids for everyone to have their hands on something. Nearly everyone squished play dough in their hands for the duration of the lesson, which I thought was perfect as it helped explain the concept of malleability to the littlest ones and kept hands busy so their brains could focus.

My new, very involved husband sent me to class with a giant magnet and we also discussed how magnetism can help you identify different materials. Everyone got a turn choosing a piece of junk I’d collected from around the house to try against the magnet.

Finally we wrapped up the day with a Mel Science Lab. I’m obsessed with our subscription and it was pretty cool seeing the kids get to do a more intense lab. I had the oldest kids in the group do work, two boiled water and we talked about the “rapid vaporization of a liquid using heat” because I love defining things while two others mixed up the chemicals and dropped in the pyrite samples. Fifteen minutes later, we had a small sample of Prussian Blue!

All in all, I’m pretty pleased how our class is going and I can’t wait to map out next week’s adventure. Because of the broad age range of kids and the desire to keep them all engaged and learning, I’m trying to maintain at least one craft oriented activity, some sensory aids, and a Mel Science Lab per gathering. If you have any ideas or advice, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from the more experienced.

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Vikings!

August 19, 2020 at 1:21 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Kiddo is studying Early American History at co-op this year. So, naturally, we’re already super into it.

I thought we’d be diving into the Pilgrims or the Revolutionary War at the start, but the tutor has wisely chosen to go back and lay the ground work for the Americas with ALL the early explorers. At home, we study all the world’s history chronologically so we love that the course is being tackled this way, despite the fact that it means we’re back pedaling over things we studied this last year. Repetition is good, anyway.

Her homework was to read D’aulaire’s Leif the Lucky. We collect all D’aulaire’s work so both of us were pretty pleased with the assignment. Although we did get distracted and took a detoured into studying the Northern Lights, why they occur, what they look like, and why Leif might have thought he saw Odin riding a chariot through the sky.

We read the assigned pages, and then looked for more… we highly recommend listening to some Danheim while you study. I’m loving Janeway’s fictional depiction of Eric the Red and Leif Ericson, and Landmark books have never steered us wrong.

Click here for additional resources if you want to study this subject as well.

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Homeschooling During Covid

August 19, 2020 at 12:53 am (Education) (, , , )

We’ve always homeschooled, thank God. Educating this way has been the biggest blessing of our lives. Post-divorce, during single motherhood, it was the easiest way to spend the most amount of time with my kid while staying on top of her education. In homeschooling, a little bit of time goes a long way. As a public school graduate, the public system always seemed like for every second of education occurring, there were hours of waste. Homeschooling is efficient, we cover a lot of ground in less time.

“Play is the work of childhood,” and I want my kid to have lots of play time.

During the chaos of sheltering in place, school getting canceled, and whatnot, the only thing that changed for us was me going to work (I got laid off a few months before I was planning to quit), and attending our extra curricular activities. A good chunk of our daily lives looked the same, just more relaxed. Way more relaxed.

Now, in the midst of so many of our friends dealing with school district uncertainty, virtual public schooling, Zoom courses, and a plethora of other dramas–we’re going on with life business as usual. Our co-op is so small and cozy, and several members already recovered from Covid, so we still get to meet as usual.

So what does our Classical Homeschooling life look like?

At Home:

We started a formal Spelling curriculum last year, just using McGuffey’s Speller and memorizing wasn’t cutting it for us. The Workout Spelling books are fantastic and I highly recommend them.

We’re flying through Math-U-See Delta and using Singapore 3A on review days to keep all those math skills sharp. (We do math every day, year round: Math-U-See we maintain her appropriate grade level and Singapore we do the year before. She tested above grade level on her end of year CAT last year, so we think this routine works for us.) We finished the Mensa K-3 reading list this summer and have been plugging away at the 4-6 list and loving it.

As a family, we’re making a point to learn more recipes in the kitchen. I quit buying bread at the grocery store this month and am officially baking all our bread myself. Something I’ve always loved to do, but not had the time and energy to maintain doing it regularly. Now we both have a routine and baking and cooking has been a magical experience instead of a stressful one. She has to help with a minimum of one meal a week, next semester I’m increasing it to three. Hopefully by next year she’ll be making more things on her own, but as it stands if she goes to college with only what she knows now, she’ll be eating a lot of waffles and french toast.

She’s still working through the Botany science curriculum she started this summer in addition to helping me prep for the Introduction to Chemistry and Physics science class I teach at the co-op. We have a stockpile of MEL Science kits we can’t wait to dig into.

At Atrium:

The kid’s course load isn’t light, by any stretch of the imagination, but so far she’s loving it… Early American History, Critical Thinking & Logic, Introduction to Chemistry & Physics, Poetry, Writing & Rhetoric: Fables, Fix It Grammar, Song School Latin 2, Art, Kung Fu. (I’m teaching two Latin classes, the science class, and Kung Fu. Course load sharing with other moms is so fun, as every morning I get a well deserved coffee break while the other moms are “on deck.”)

Extra-curriculars:

So swimming was a great choice for us for 2020. Dipping kids in chlorine seems like a pretty safe choice and the kid swims like a fish now!

I’m not going to lie, I’m a tad envious of her piano lessons. She’s rocking them and composing music like there’s no tomorrow. She graduated the Let’s Play Music program amidst a pandemic and it was worth every penny and then some.

So, if you’re homeschooling this year for the first time ever and need help, message me. If you have ideas for things we’re covering, please share them! (Your favorite DIY science labs and dinner recipes are welcome!)

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Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

Mr. Tumnus

The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

Turkish Delights

We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

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Tristan & Iseult

October 14, 2019 at 3:14 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Tristan and Iseult, Tristan and Isolde, Drustan and Yseult… the variations of spellings are endless, but the way the names – and the story – roll of the tongue, largely stay the same.

I didn’t read the story growing up, but I gathered the main plot points throughout other literary references my whole life. The story was built slowly, for me, an allusion here, a quip there, until when I watched Legends of the Fall for the first time in college, I thought I understood the the gist of the movie’s genius: naming the wild heart that could not be tamed “Tristan” and subtly throwing in that his wife’s name was Isabel.

The movie is based on a book by Jim Harrison, that I later read and was not so smitten by, I even wrote a less than glowing review here. But in finally reading Tristan & Iseult both to myself and aloud to my daughter, I’m finding the desire to re-read Jim Harrison’s novella swelling in my literary soul.

The part that never sunk in through other literature, or the heavily influenced King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot love-triangle–the part that left me briefly chuckling in a “Oh I see what they did there” –was that there are TWO Iseults. (And *spoiler* Tristan’s wife in Legends of the Fall is known as Isabel Two.) The story of Tristan and Iseult follows the tale of Tristan falling in love with Iseult the Fair, Queen of Cornwall, but marrying another Iseult, called Iseult of Whitehands. If you wanted to twist literature and try to be one of those people who got extra creative, telling authors what they were really trying to say and all that, you could say the wild-hearted Tristan had mommy issues and was Oedipally in love with the first Isabel. But that’s just too much…

The point is that literature is pervasive, ancient poems permeating society for generations; legends evolving and growing, but also maintaining. The stories of Tristan & Iseult, in all their incarnations, heavily influenced the King Arthur tales, the theme or forbidden love–no matter how ridiculous–ending in passionate death (Romeo and Juliet, anyone), continue for centuries. Bits and pieces dribbled in to make each new story more rich with nuance and the truths behind the human condition.

John William Waterhouse painting of Tristan & Isolde drinking poison.

So, I found the most “original” version I could find (and still read in English) for myself, and the most kid friendly version for me to read out loud for my eight year old. Rosemary Sutcliff is my go-to when it comes to ancient or medieval tales brought to life for a young audience. Much to my pleasure, she had a Tristan & Iseult published in 1991. Kiddo gave the story 4 stars on Goodreads, “It was really amazing, but also dramatic, and all the love stuff isn’t what would really happen.”

We had many discussions on the difference between love and passion. “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, love is not rude or self seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth…” A man who loves you will never encourage adultery. A woman who loves a man will not participate in adultery. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Cheating isn’t love, it is passion. Some romance can be romanticized too much. It’s not that the “love stuff isn’t what would really happen,” it’s that it would happen, it does happen, and that’s not love, that’s agonizing obsession.

I enjoy working through literature with her. When she’s in college, I’ll be interested to see what her much more informed reaction will be to Legends of the Fall. As soon as my library is out of storage, I plan to re-read a few things, and see if my own mind has been changed by the experience of reading the literature that came before.

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Back to School…

August 14, 2019 at 4:25 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Well, actually, we never left.

History in the hammock.

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Gilgamesh

July 26, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’re studying ancient history in chronological order, sometime after you’ve read the Book of Genesis, it’s really fun to dive into Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is an epic poem most kids have to read in high school or early college for literature classes, originally written in Akkadian. It’s a mythological adventure about a real Sumerian king documented in history, who, like many kings of old, became a legend passed down through the ages, the truth of his life distorted and lost to deification.

Ludmilla Zeman has a fantastic children’s picture book trilogy that I find to be the best starting point for learning about Gilgamesh. It is consistent with most translations and full of beautiful illustrations. When kiddo was small and we were studying ancient history the first time around, we checked these out from the library over and over again. She loved them. This time I bought them, brand new. They’re worth every penny.

I picked up used copies of the epic for myself. I was disappointed to discover that every translation available was a translation of a translation. I know its ignorant to expect to read direct translations of the Old Babylonian tablets when you pick up a Penguin trade paperback, but I did. I went back to the store after reading through David Ferry’s pretty version and N.K. Sandar’s better translation, looking for something closer to Andrew George’s 2003 version – or better yet, George Smith’s 1870’s version! To no avail. Everyone wants new and better more modern ways to tell the tale, while I bemoan my inability to read archaic clay tablets I’d never get my hands on anyway.

I was hoping to find a cool cartoon on the tale for us to watch together, desiring a repeat of the experience we had when we studied Beowulf in 2016 (YouTube had an amazing cartoon rendition of Beowulf featuring the voice of Joseph Fiennes at the time…). All I found were some not so kid friendly “cliff notes” style videos of people walking students through what it was all about so they wouldn’t have to read the book themselves.

Attention all animators: Please provide a kid appropriate Gilgamesh cartoon, featuring an oddly famous actor of the 90’s of my choice. Thanks.

Gilgamesh is neat. I love the beautiful picture books we own. I will be the parent that makes sure she reads poem and doesn’t watch internet video summaries when she’s older. But I’m not in love with it the way I am with The Iliad and Beowulf. I think it may be the insincerity of it all. It feels obvious that it was a legend born of puffing up the ego of a king and his people. It takes Noah’s ark and twists it, I love reading confirmation that many regions of the world had a major flood, I’m saddened when the details are distorted and inconsistent, making heroes of those who weren’t and forgetting the one man who did obey.

Maybe I’ll love it when I finally get my hands on one of the George translations…

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American History With a 2nd Grader

June 14, 2019 at 6:37 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It has actually impressed me how much wonderful American History literature is available for children. Jean Fritz, who has a fantastic book for everything, is my first go to. We read the biography of Pocahontas nearly two years ago, and then moved on through time to other great biographies like Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? I desire to own everything Jean Fritz has ever written eventually. But I already knew I loved Jean Fritz when I started homeschooling. Jean Fritz is known. Some authors or books I didn’t previously know, however, and they have brought us much joy.

Ann Malaspina has an excellent picture book on Phillis Wheatley and George Washington. (We actually read a lot about Phillis Wheatley this year, and were enamored with every mention of her in other books and shows.) We also enjoyed Ann McGovern’s The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson. Avi’s Captain Grey intrigued us completely and opened up a lot of doors for discussions regarding moral dilemmas, trust, and relationships between adults and children.

We absolutely loved Becky Landers: Frontier Warrior by Skinner. It took us a long time to read it out loud, but it was worth every page. I think it’s important for kids to really experience a time period through literature, not just memorize the facts and move on. The stories are what helps my kiddo remember the facts she memorizes, and there are so many good stories!

During this time, which took up the entire summer going into her second grade school year, we also read Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry. Several years ago I was sent a recommendation for a unit study on horses put out by Beautiful Feet. I have all the books in their package, but instead of tackling it like a unit study, it has been an underlying theme in all her studies. She’s in her fourth year of horseback riding, so the undercurrent of equestrian education is something I hope she looks back on with fondness.

If you are into lists, these are the books we read next and loved:

Davy Crockett – George Sullivan

What Was the Alamo? – Meg Belviso

Poli: A Mexican Boy in Early Texas – Jay Neugeboren

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – Karen Cushman

The Moon of the Gray Wolves – Jean Craighead George

The Moon of the Fox Pups – Jean Craighead George

Sing Down the Moon – Scott O’dell

Harriet Tubman – Sawyer, DK Biographies

A Ballad of the Civil War – Mary Stolz

In a few years, we’ll have the pleasure of repeating this point in history, and there are so many more books I can’t wait to read with my kid, especially for the Civil War era. This year we focused more on biographies, we also read non-American ones like Florence Nightingale. Perhaps, next time we’ll read deeper into the wars. For second grade I tried to focus on the importance of moral goodness and fighting for what’s right while I hedged around the gory details.

We thoroughly enjoyed watching the cartoon Liberty’s Kids, and I’ve got quite the little patriot on my hands. I’d appreciate any recommendations in the comments for books that encourage honor and respect for ones nation while also discerning its flaws. Because we study using a classical model, all of history gets repeated in cycles, chronologically, so there is plenty of time to line up our reading lists for the future.

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Wicked Histories

June 8, 2019 at 2:40 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

While reviewing all the books of years past, it’s impossible to avoid children’s history books, audiobooks, picture books, and a great many of odd resources. As mentioned many times before, I homeschool, so most my reading material reflects that.

We stumbled across the Wicked Histories series a few years ago, and I find the series extremely helpful when trying to find biographies on people who helped shaped the world but aren’t typically doted upon in children’s literature. From this series, last July while studying the 1700’s-1800’s we read Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia by Zu Vincent.

One thing I love about the Wicked Histories is that it has been an excellent tool for walking my kid through discernment practices. How do you identify bad people? What makes someone a safe person? People can be evil and still do good things. People can be good and still do bad things. It’s what they do longest, it’s the legacy they leave behind, that tends to define them. Most people, as researchers and biographers know, have a running theme for their life. The “theme,” so to speak, is often the best judge of their heart. They can say a few nice things, but if their legacy was that of slaughtering people in the street, could you truly call them good? Maybe they were known to love their family, but if all their political policies doomed their nation, what then? I like that Wicked Histories isn’t afraid to have these discussions with children. I also like that they never give a straight answer, the authors leave the conclusion up to the children.

Because these books are so full of moral nuance, I don’t have her read these alone, even though she could. I read all the Wicked Histories aloud as part of our school day and we discuss. Some of our most riveting discussions came while reading Cixi: Evil Empress of China? by Sean Stewart Price and Grigory Rasputin: Holy Man or Mad Monk? by Enid A. Goldberg. It’s helping her see that she has the power to pursue what is good and just in the world, or choose personal glory, fame, and power which tends to corrupt. These stories are helping her see that what you make your priorities matters, who you put your trust in matters. Alexandra Romanov, as well as many other Russian women of the time, were deceived by Grigory Rasputin. How do you watch for deceit while maintaining your positive attitude toward other human beings. I think these are important and healthy lessons to learn. We learn these lessons best by reading God’s word, yes, but also by and knowing our history.

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