Friday, April 27, 2012

Parenting Tips: Planned Spontaneity

By: Deborah Pace Rowley
Have you noticed that kids love it when their parents act spontaneously? It is exhilarating to let go of the routine, forego the rules, and just play together. The problem is…I can’t do it! I must be completely lacking in the spontaneous gene because, even if I could let go of MY PLAN (which I can’t!), I couldn’t think of a spontaneous action if my life depended on it.

So I cheat in this department. I plan ahead for moments that I can make seem spontaneous. I buy a kite and store it in the trunk of my car. Then I watch the weather for a windy day so that I can pick up the kids at school and “spontaneously” announce, “Let’s be crazy and go fly a kite today!” All the kids cheer as I wink and nod knowingly to myself in the rearview mirror. What a fun Mom I am! The amazing thing is that if I had made this announcement at family council, “Let’s go fly a kite on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.” my plan would have resulted in grumbles of disapproval and disinterested stares. Trust me, I have tried this approach. There is something about flinging it on kids spontaneously that makes the idea wildly popular.
If you are the predictable, day-planner type, (you know who you are) give planned spontaneity a try. Next time you are folding a mountain of socks into neat little balls, don’t put them away. Instead, sneak the laundry basket behind the couch. Then when Dad is pulling into the driveway, “spontaneously” gather all the kids behind the sofa for an impromptu sock war as soon as Dad enters the house. You won’t need to give Dad a heads up. He will jump right into the action, grabbing up socks and pelting them back at his giggling and screaming offspring. You will just smile, knowing that you had planned this spontaneous moment of family fun all along!
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Elementary Activities: Bash Down the Wall

by Deborah Pace Rowley
Junior high and high school can be so stressful for kids. Sometimes the pressure causes my teenagers to melt down just like they did when they were toddlers. Teenage tantrums look a little bit different than two-year-old tantrums, but not much! Right now at our house Dad is a student too and is approaching his finals this week. He has also been a little bit grumpy and stressed out (sorry honey, but you have!) so I planned a special stress-busing activity.

First, I gathered all the boxes that I could find of different sizes and shapes. *Couch cushions and pillows would also work for this activity if you can’t find enough boxes. I loaded them all into the family room with some tape, paper and markers. Then I gathered my family and had each person write on pieces of paper all the things that were causing them stress. They could write down specific assignments, tests or teachers, anything they were concerned about. Then they attached each piece of paper to a box. Some boxes got more than one label because we had so many. Then we built a wall with all our boxes. The wall almost spanned the distance of the room and almost reached the ceiling. Then each family member got a chance to bash down the wall. They could ninja-kick, karate-chop, or head-butt down the boxes. The only requirement was that they had to holler at the boxes as they did it. ‘Take that you big, bad assignments! You aren’t so bad after all!” “Is that the best you can do?” “You think this test is hard! I will show you hard!” After each person had a turn to bash down the wall (and some kids had more than one turn!), we talked about how we are bigger than our problems and God is bigger than everything. He can help us tear down any wall. He even tore down the walls of Jericho with the blast of a few trumpets! We don’t need to worry or stress when God is on our side. At the end of the activity, everyone lay peacefully on the floor of the family room for 15 or 20 minutes. The kids (and their Dad) probably should have been working on homework. But I didn’t care. It felt so nice not to feel stressed for a change. 

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Preschool Activities: Secret Language

By: Deborah Pace Rowley
When one of my daughters was little, she often invented words. One time when she was really mad, she couldn’t find the rights words to express her anger at me. Red-faced, she blurted out, “Blah, blah, blue, blue!” I chuckled inside and decided to overlook the reason for her frustration. Instead I responded, “Why, honey, that is so sweet. I blah, blah, blue, blue you too!” Natalie began to laugh. This silly expression quickly became our term of endearment for each other. It was our secret way to say, “I love you.” The important part was that this expression belonged just to Natalie and to me. She guarded this phrase and wouldn’t let Dad or any of her siblings use our “special words.” Is there something special you could do or say that would show your love for each child individually? Spend a few minutes snuggling with your preschooler and come up with a made-up word or special gesture or hand shake together. 
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Meal-Time Activities: Describe It!

by Tiffany Rudd
I set a small “rule” at the breakfast table today that made for a super fun start to our day. The only rule was: You can’t say the name of the foods you want, you have to describe them! 
Sleepy Eyes + Bed Head + Glass Table = Awesome Photo! :)

We were having steel cut oatmeal (yum!) with toppings for breakfast. So, I set out bowls of fruit, the cinnamon shaker, a jar of jam, and even a little bowl of chocolate chips. 
When Cameron asked, “May I please have some small, purple, frozen balls of juiciness?” we couldn’t help but laugh.
And when Brooklyn said, “Please pass the jar of blood stuff with little seeds that Grandpa made.” Cameron had tears in his eyes, he was laughing so hard. 
He wanted blueberries and she wanted raspberry jam, but just asking for those wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.
Try this simple rule at your table today. You may not be eating “hot, creamy goodness in a bowl” or shaking “tiny flecks of spiciness” on top, but as long as your meal includes a few options to ask for and describe, I promise it will be a lot of fun!
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Friday, April 20, 2012

Parenting Tips: What Puddle Wonderful Means to Me

by Deborah Pace Rowley
I am a working mother. I serve in my church. My husband works full-time and goes to school full-time. Like all moms, I am busy. If I am not careful, I end up too busy. My parenting philosophy can be summed up in these words: Be a great mom, a few minutes at a time. I can’t spend all day homeschooling my children, even though I envy those who do. I can’t spend hours sewing elaborate Halloween costumes, even though I wish I could. I can’t do the coolest “pinable” crafts with my kids because they are too expensive, too time-consuming or both. But I can snuggle with my daughter and read one chapter in the book we are sharing. I can shoot a few hoops with my son. I can sit on the back porch swing with my teenager and enjoy the spring sunshine. This is what “Puddle Wonderful” means to me. Have you read the poem on our side bar by e.e.cummings? My favorite line in the poem is “when the world is mud-luscious.” I love the messy, no-rules freedom this word represents. I love the way the whole poem celebrates simple childhood games and sweet moments of adventure and play that are gone all too soon.

I knew “Puddle Wonderful” was the perfect name for our blog because this was what we wanted to do: to provide inspiration for simple moments of learning and play. The ideas we presented had to fit this criteria. First, they had to be free or inexpensive to do. Second, they could only require just a few minutes of time. And third, and most importantly, they needed to be fun for both parents and kids to participate in.

Have we accomplished our goal? I know that I have loved the ideas that my sister has shared and I have loved trying out ideas on my own kids. This blog has helped me to be a better mother. As hectic as life gets, I try to remember that it only takes a few minutes to say, “I love you.” It only takes a few minutes to stomp in a puddle or play Pooh sticks in a stream. It only takes a few minutes to play an ABC game or sing a counting song, but the memories of these moments last forever. I can always slow down enough to have a Puddle Wonderful Day!
Included in this post are some of my favorite pictures of my kids. This was the backyard of our home in Arizona on a rainy day before we put in grass. The result of Mom seeing that a few moments of fun was infinitely worth a few more moments of mess= Puddle Wonderful! 
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Elementary Activities: My Favorite Educational Apps & Websites

by Tiffany Rudd
Since my oldest is just 6, I didn't have a ton of experience with apps and websites for older kids. Don't worry though, I sacrificed just for you and spent a little (okay, maybe slightly more than a little) time playing scientifically testing games to share with you. I have to admit, I found some that were extremely addicting and even learned a few things myself. Let me tell you, playing games is hard. {Cough, Cough} But I'd do anything for our readers. :)

My Favorite Educational Apps - Elementary +
1. Math With Springbird (Full Version $2.99, but the FREE version has basic addition and subtraction) This is a fun game with the cutest little birds. You solve math problems to earn worms, fly your way up to rescue birds trapped in cages, and even buy cute accessories to dress up your birds. 

2. Futaba (FREE, but for $2.99 you can get the Full Version and add learning sets) I love this game because it can be played alone or with up to 4 players competing against each other, which we've had fun with in our family. In the game you are picking the correct word to go with the picture shown. The free version is a great way to practice vocabulary/site words. In the full version you can add learning sets to practice telling time, math concepts, currency, and even a foreign language. 

3. Stack the States ($0.99) Warning, this app is totally addicting! You answer questions about state capitals, bordering states, state parks, etc. to earn states that you stack on top of each other to try to reach the checkered line. It may not sounds all that exciting, but I'm telling you, don't get this app unless you have time to sit and play learn for way longer than you planned!

4. Doodle Fit ($0.99) This app comes with a guarantee, "Once you start playing you won't be able to stop!" I have to admit it is true. This is basically a tangram game for older children. You have to fit a given set of blocks into a given shape. As you get further along they get pretty tricky, so this is a great one for higher-level thinking and problem solving. 

5. Robot Tycoon (FREE lite version, $4.99 for Full Version) This is a great app for a future entrepreneur! You sell and build robots and make decisions based on cost vs. income. You can even expand your business by building a storefront or factory, but first you have to increase your cash flow!

6. Pizza Fractions (FREE) This is a great way for kids to master simple fractions using pizza slice examples. Even my 6 year old was able to grasp the concept of simple fractions with this app, but it's perfect for 2nd-6th graders.

7. Word BINGO ($0.99) This is a fantastic app for practicing site words. It includes a BINGO game where you tap on the word the BINGO bug says, and a Spelling Practice game where you drag letters to spell the words the bug says. Cameron loves earning the cute little BINGO bugs for his collection.

8. K12 Timed Reading Practice (FREE lite version, $1.99 for Full Version) Fluency (how quickly and smoothly you read) is such an important part of reading comprehension. This app has your child read fun stories at his/her reading level and tracks words per minute. It will even tell you where your child fits compared to average reading rates. Then you can set goals and work with your child to improve his/her fluency.

9. Fast Facts (FREE) This free app comes in Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division. It's not fancy, but it is a great flash-card like way to practice and increase speed on basic math facts. 

10. A Basic Time App (FREE) This is a very simple app for learning and practicing telling time. It includes narrated instruction with example clocks and practice questions.
My Favorite Educational Websites - Elementary +

1. - This website has all kids of math games like math Baseball and Math Fact Tic-Tac-Toe. Plus, reading activities including Mad Libs, comics, and even the web version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. There is even online Sudoku and a section with games parents and kids can play together. 

2. - Too many great games and resources to list! From lessons on compound words to keyboarding practice and spelling games. I had way too much fun playing the Music Memory game.

3. - I love the slogan "Play with Numbers and Give your Brain a Workout!" My favorite section on this site is called Manipulatives because it gives kids access to great math manipulatives like pattern blocks, geometry boards, and probability spinners they probably don't have at home. 

4. - I was so excited to find this resource for children's book reviews and author features. This website would be a great way to find new books and series for your child to read. 

5. - This is a website for High School students. You answer questions about vocabulary, math, science, geography, etc. and for every question you get right they donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. There is even an SAT prep section. Learning and feeding hungry people at the same time. Very cool. 

6. - Tons of fun an educational games divided by grade level. There is even a Latitude and Longitude Treasure Hunt! For grades K-5.

7. - Lots of games to practice reading and math, plus puzzles, mazes, and even dot-to-dots. I was especially excited to find lots of games for practice counting money. 

8. - This is a fun site for kids (or parents) who are interested in learning about any topic. There are articles on tons of topics from math and science to sports and music, or even fashion. There is also a great homework help section.

9. - What a great site for spelling and vocabulary practice! Your child can enter his/her spelling list and it will create flashcards, practice games and even a test. 

10. - This would be a great site for motivating summer reading! It's a free site by Sylvan where kids can find books, take quizzes on books they have read and even earn prizes. 

You can find my list of Favorite Educational Apps & Websites for Preschool Kids HERE
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Preschool Activities: Habitat Sort

by Tiffany Rudd
This fun and easy activity combines two important preschool concepts, animal habitats and sorting. It takes just a few minutes to prep, but has always been a favorite of my kids and my preschool students. 
1. Print out the habitat pictures I created HERE. I’ve included Ocean, Farm, Forest, Jungle/Rainforest, and Arctic. 
2. Gather any small animals you have around the house. Have your children help with this part. It doesn’t matter if the animals aren’t from the same set, just gather any figurines/small stuffed animals you have around. If you don’t have many animals, you can print some small pictures or cut pictures from magazines. 
3. Spend just a few minutes talking about each habitat and what kind of animals would live in each. 
4. Let the sorting begin! You may need to help a little the first time. 
5. Depending on the age of your child you can discuss why certain animals live in certain habitats. For example, what do each of the Arctic Animals have to help them stay warm in their cold habitat? 
6. Watch your child enjoy sorting the animals over and over again! :) You may want to laminate your pictures, or just slip them into plastic page protectors.

Print the Animal Habitat Pictures HERE.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Meal-Time Activities: I saw It on Mulberry Street

by Deborah Pace Rowley
Today’s dinnertime activity is inspired by the Dr. Seuss book And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In this classic tale, Marco answers his dad’s question, “What did you see on the way home from school?” with an invented tale that gets bigger and better the longer it continues.

At dinnertime tonight participate in some storytelling of your own. Explain that the purpose is to make the craziest, silliest, most imaginative story possible. The goal isn’t to tell the truth. Begin the festivities by asking Dr. Seuss’ question, “What did you see on the way home from school?” If your children aren’t yet in school, you can ask, “What did you see in front of our house today?”

Each person in the family then takes a turn describing the scene. Tell the story round-robin style so that one person picks up where the last person leaves off. All the elements have to tie in together. If Dad saw a lion, Mom can see the lion tamer chasing after the lion, brother might see the lion tamer tripping over an elephant’s trunk, and sister might see the elephant putting down his trunk to pick up the peanuts that had spilled out of her backpack. Continue going around the table until everyone has run out of ideas and/or the story is super-sized enough for Dr. Seuss. For added fun, you can cover the table with butcher paper or a paper table cloth and illustrate your outlandish tale as the story unfolds or as an after-dinner activity.  
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Parenting Tips: Making Memories {Guest Post}

by Tiffany Rudd & Ashley Sullenger

I recently sat trying to write a Parenting Tip post about enjoying motherhood. Being a mom is not easy. Children come with a lot of hard work, tantrums, sibling fights, constant demands and not always a lot of appreciation. But, I believe one of the most important things we can do as parents is to pause throughout the day and enjoy our children. Every time I stop running long enough to spend time with each of my children or even just really look at them, gratitude for my blessings washes over me. I'm reminded of how lucky I am to be a mom, to be their mom. 

As I sat pondering this tip, the Sullenger family kept coming to mind. I started reading Ashley's blog in 2010 when their beautiful daughter was in an accident. Ashley has been such an example of strength and faith through trial. I am trying to be more like her and I will often read past posts from her blog on those days when I need reminded to enjoy the moments I have with my children. I am so incredibly grateful Ashley was willing to share a guest post with us today. I'm sure you'll learn from her as much as I have. 


Memories. We all have them, and are constantly making new ones. We tend to focus on the positive ones, and push the negative ones aside. Whether our memories are good or bad, what if suddenly we weren't able to make new ones? What if all we had left were the memories we once took for granted?
July 2010, Preslee, my 18 month daughter, fell into a canal while my husband and I were on a date. She was air lifted to Primary Children's Medical Center in SLC, UT where she fought for her life. I would have never dreamed the last memory I would have with my child would be holding her in my arms while she took her last breath.
Primary Children's Medical Center July 2010
Suddenly I found myself childless, grasping on to the only thing I had left, which were memories.
Now, 19 months later, many of those memories are beginning to fade.
I am so incredibly grateful for everything I did to document Preslee's life. Last year we were blessed with another child, a little boy, we named Ledger. Even if I never lose my son, I realize there will come a day that I will miss my daily routine of being a mom. I now try to preserve any memory I can with Ledger and my husband. Here are a few things that I've come to understand.

Family pictures with Ledger 2011
I love writing, I probably write more than the average person, but I now record a lot more. My blog is incredibly important to me and I love that I can look back and read about Preslee's precious life. I also have a private blog, where I record the more personal things dealing with our family and all of Ledger's milestones. (I'm pretty sure not everyone cares about them as much as his proud mama does) I combine both blogs to create a book using Blurb, which I absolutely love.
One thing I've learned is to work on it more than once a year, if not, it can become extremely overwhelming to put together. Whether it's writing on a blog or in a journal, I understand the importance of documenting our experiences.
I've learned to save all the pictures I take, even the ones that don't seem "blog worthy." My favorite pictures I have of my daughter are the candid ones that depict who she really was. Always save the original, even after you edit it. 
This site gives some great tips on organizing and backing up your photos.
When talking to a friend who lost her husband, she suggested to switch off who stands behind the video camera. She explained the same person usually tends to videotape, so they rarely appear in the videos. When I went back and watched ours, I realized that I'm in very few. I now hand the camera over to my husband more often.
This may sound strange, but for me, gratitude and memories are strongly tied together. My strongest memories throughout the years, are when I was the most content and happy with where I was in life.
It's easy to constantly focus on the future, especially when raising children. But, after losing Preslee, I've come to understand every single day is a gift, and I have no idea how many days I have left with the people I love. I now focus on the present, hoping to always make the most of it.
February 2010

I now encourage you to do the same. Get out your camera more often, make time to write, and be grateful for what you have been given. Cherish the moments you get to spend with family and friends, and appreciate the experiences you share with them.
Because I now understand, very few things last forever.
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Elementary Activities: Roller-Box TV

by Deborah Pace Rowley

In my Spiritual Learning post last week, I suggested making a roller-box TV. My Mom taught me how to make this simple contraption when I was a little girl and I loved creating my own TV “shows” into my teens. Back then I didn’t have iMovie, but I did have boxes, broom sticks and an imagination. There are so many ways you can use this simple idea to teach your family. It is amazing to see how fascinated high-tech kids become when you unveil this old-fashioned “TV.”  
For your first TV show, decide what story you want to tell. Fairy tales are a great place to start. With your child’s help, decide what happens in the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. Divide the story into parts. Each part will have its own picture. The story should have at least 7 or 8 parts, but can have as many as 15 to 20 if multiple children are working on the story together. Create a story board or make a list so everyone knows what to draw for each page of the story. Here is an example of how we divided up the first half of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Mama Bear made some porridge but it was too hot so the Bear Family decided to take a walk until it had cooled down.  

Goldilocks came to the Bear’s house in the woods while they were gone. She knocked on the door but when the Bears didn’t answer, Goldilocks walked right in.

First she saw the porridge. She sat down and ate Papa Bears’ porridge. It was too hot. Then she ate Mama Bear’s porridge but it was too cold.

Then she ate Baby Bear’s porridge and it was just right so she ate it all gone.

Then she went in the living room and sat on Papa Bear’s chair. It was too hard. Then she sat on Mama Bear’s chair but it was too soft.

Then she sat on Baby Bear’s chair and it was just right. But she broke it all to pieces. Etc.

For added fun, give the fairy tale your own ending. What would happen if Goldilocks fell asleep in Baby Bear’s bed and grew fur while she slept?

When you are finished, use the list or the story board to create illustrations. One person can draw all the pictures or you can cut the list apart and share the illustrating duties with several family members. If several children participate, make sure each person has oriented their drawings in the same way. All the pictures should either be vertical or horizontal on the page. Once all the illustrations are done, follow the instructions below to create your own roller-box TV.
First, you will need to gather a box, some scissors, two rods and some tape. For the box, you can use something as big as an apple box or something smaller such as a large shoe box or family-size cereal box. Just make sure that you can cut an opening on one 
side about 8 x10 inches.

1.     Cut a rectangle in the side of the box. The opening should be slightly smaller than the 8 ½ x 11 pictures to be displayed.
2.  Cut two rods about six inches longer than the width of the box. You might use dowel rods, an old broom handle that has been cut up, wrapping paper tubes or sticks broken off a tree in your yard.
3.  Cut two holes for the rods at the top and bottom of each side of the box.
4.  Insert the rods through the holes.
5.  Tape the ends of the pictures together in the proper sequence so they form a single scroll of paper.
6.  Tape the last picture on the scroll to the rod on the right hand side of the T.V. Roll up all the pictures around this rod and then tape the first picture to the rod on the left hand side of the T.V.
7.   Choose a narrator to tell the story as you scroll through the pictures on the “screen”.

When you want to reuse your TV, simply remove the old scroll of paper and insert a new one. Let the show begin!
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Preschool Activities: Alphabet in Eggs

by Deborah Pace Rowley

Before you put away your plastic Easter Eggs for the year, use them for this fun and easy learning activity. Gather up a few tiny toys that can fit inside the Easter Eggs. I found a little car, a Littlest Pet Shop animal, a piece of play food, a key, and a small game piece. Then I wrote the letters that those objects started with on small pieces of paper. You could also use small magnetic Alphabet letters or cards you may have from another game.
Put the toys in some eggs and the letters in other eggs. To make the game easier for 3 and 4 year olds, keep the eggs with letters on one side of the table and the eggs with toys on the other side of the table. To play, have your child open up one egg with a letter and try to find its match by opening up the eggs with toys until you find the right one.  Help your child practice saying the sound the letter makes as you look at each toy to see if they match. For 5 year olds, just mix up the toys and the letters so that the game is more of a challenge. Continue to play until all the eggs have been matched.  If you want to continue the fun, send your child off to find more items to put in the eggs. He/she can then write the beginning letters with your help and you can start the game again.   
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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Meal-Time Activities: Manners Marbles

by Tiffany Rudd
Eating together as a family is definitely a priority in our house. I try to make sure we all sit down to eat together every evening. Because my husband has a long commute to work, that means it is practically bedtime by the time he gets home. About half of our dinner meals end up a little bit rushed. “Let’s all hurry and eat and get to bed!” Eating out is very rare in our house, so I honestly hadn’t realized we had created a problem with manners until one day when my in-laws took us all to a restaurant. What a wake-up call! I was frustrated with my children’s behavior until I realized I had no right to expect something I obviously hadn’t taught them well. That is when Mrs. Manners and her Manners Marbles came for a visit. 
I donned a goofy wig and a pair of glasses, did my best cheesy voice and told the kids it was time to learn how to act at the table. First we had a quick lesson on appropriate behavior. Tip: try to avoid negatives or “do not...” rules. Here is the list I printed out to use during our lesson.
During Meals We Always...
Say “please” and “thank you.”
Remain seated with our bottoms on our chairs. 
Chew with our mouths closed.
Take appropriately sized bites.
Use our napkins.
Keep negative comments about the food to ourselves.
Use silverware unless food is meant to be eaten with our fingers.
Only talk about subjects/make noises that are table appropriate.  
Clear our places when we are finished.
Show appreciation to the cook.
After we reviewed the rules, I put a jar of marbles on the table and a small bowl in front of each child’s plate. We also decided together on a reward system. The first night it took 8 marbles to buy dessert. The next night it took 10, the next 12, and so on. As we ate dinner I complimented any good manners I saw and put a marble in that child’s jar. My high-pitched “What MARVELOUS Manners” became a hilarious reward all by itself. 
At the end of dinner the kids were able to trade the correct amount of marbles for dessert. After 5 days Mrs. Manners and her marbles left, but thankfully the good manners stuck around. And, every once in a while the kids will still point out each others “Marvelous Manners!”  
Click HERE to print out a copy of our manners rules.
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