First Day of School at Elm Tree Academy! {2014-15}

Today was the first day of school for the new year with these handsome boys! It is our fourth year of homeschool, with Big J starting third grade, Little J in first grade, and Double J wanting to learn colors, shapes, and letters, which the boys names “preschool!”

Our official first day of school pictures…

Jeremiah 3rd Grade 1st Day Joshua 1st Grade 1st DayJacob 2yo Preschool 1st Day Teacher 1st Day Three Boys 1st Day

When do your kids start school? Are they ready? Are YOU ready?!


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Day 18: I Don’t HAVE to… Homeschool My Children

31 Days of NOT Having It All Banner

Ah, the ever divisive topic of educating our children…

I said I would never homeschool my children. Six months later, God steered us right on to the path of homeschooling and we’re journeying that path for the third year now.

It took me quite a while to swallow my pride on that one. I really thought I knew the best way to do things, even if it was just for our family, but when God finally had His say {or I actually prayed about!}, He showed us something totally different.

People ask us all the time if we will homeschool through high school. I have no idea. We are just taking it one year at a time. And that is because I do not believe homeschool is the automatic answer to, “How should we educate our children?”

Homeschool Children

You do not HAVE to homeschool your children for them to succeed in life. You do not HAVE to homeschool your children for them to become “good Christians.” You do not HAVE to homeschool your children in order to be a good parent. You do not HAVE to homeschool your children to be following God’s calling.

The same could be said for other education choices as well. While homeschool is the hot topic, I know there are some who believe private school is the only way to go. And some believe all children should go to public school.

Education is not a one-size-fits-all for every child or every family. There are children’s learning styles and personalities to consider. Family schedules and priorities must be factored in. And parents must be willing to follow where God leads.

See that note? Where GOD leads. Not peer pressure or guilt or shame or even fear. Acting upon those feelings will almost always lead to disappointment or failure. But God. He knows. And He equips for wherever He may lead us and whatever He may want us to do.

The very vocal online homeschool community is a great support to those who have decided to homeschool, but it can feel like major peer pressure for those who don’t. Although a few homeschool bloggers are trying to prove that homeschool is the only way to go, most are just trying to support fellow homeschoolers with resources and such. If you don’t feel led by God to homeschool your children, then don’t let the posts and tweets of homeschoolers lead you off His path for your family.

There are a few HAVE-tos related to our children and education…

  • We HAVE to do what is best for each child and the family as a whole.
  • We HAVE to give the education decision over to God and let Him lead.
  • We HAVE to avoid making education decisions based on fear, guilt, shame, or peer pressure.

I have seen all three educational choices done VERY well and I have seen all done poorly, too. There is no one way we HAVE to educate our children, except what God shows us is right for our family right now.

Have you ever felt pressure from yourself or someone else to make a particular educational decision for your child?

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Art Books for Little Hands

I have included affiliate links below. When you purchase through these links, I may receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting this site and our sponsorship of our Compassion child, Samson!

Our local art museum recently became free to all visitors! It is a beautiful building and houses some magnificent works of art.

Art Museum

This summer, we visited several times, particularly because there was a French impressionist exhibit and I adore French impressionism. It was so peaceful and inspiring to be standing that close to the paintings of Monet, Renoir, Degas and more. It brought back such lovely memories of The Hubby and I’s last trip to Europe and our time at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The kids were actually quite interested in the paintings, especially how old they were and finding particular things in each one.

Before we left, we walked by the gift shop and I spotted this cute little board book, A Picnic with Monet

Art Books for Little Hands

I thought it was so sweet, so we went inside to see if there were more. I was so pleased to find that there is a whole series of these board books full of artwork!

The Mini Masters series is series of art books for kids, featuring the beautiful work of a variety of artists in a durable board book format with cute, rhyming words to tie them all together!

A Picnic with Monet

Books in the series include:

  • Quiet Time with Cassatt
  • Painting with Picasso
  • Sunday with Seurat
  • Sharing with Renoir
  • On an Island with Gauguin
  • A Picnic with Monet
  • A Magical Day with Matisse
  • Dreaming with Rousseau
  • In the Garden with Van Gogh

I want to own all of them! These are the perfect books for our house – strong enough to stand up to Double J, easy reading for Little J, and a great starting point for an art lesson with both of the big boys!

We also discovered another great art book designed for little ones at the library this week. Art for Baby is a collection of black & white images created by famous modern artists. They are visually appealing to babies because of the high contrast, but Little J made it into his own art lesson by trying to imitate them on paper himself! I love that this became a lesson in shapes because there is no color to worry about!

We do use an art curriculum for homeschool, but these art books for kids are a great supplement and provide great exposure to the world of art for our littlest one as well!

Do you have a favorite artist or piece of art? Have you shared it with your children?

I’m linking up with K Learners this week to share ideas for teaching our kindergarten age kiddos!

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Not Just Tacos: Free Latin American Recipe + Culture eBook!

We had the YUMMIEST dinner last night and it even counted as a homeschool lesson because we found it in the fabulous book, Not Just Tacos!

Not Just Tacos

Not Just Tacos by Shirley Solis may look like a cookbook at first, but it is also a beautiful resource for learning more about Latin America – it’s food, people, culture, land, and more!

In a bit of irony, the recipe we made from Not Just Tacos WAS actually tacos, but these were authentic Mexican tacos and WOW. I had to cut myself off after three because I think I would have eaten the entire batch!

The meat {I used chicken} was flavorful, but not too spicy. We usually eat our tacos on crispy shells or flour tortilla, but I fell in love with the warm, soft corn tortillas! I made Shirley’s Pico de Gallo to go along with the tacos and that was what really made the dish for me. It was so fresh and delightful!

It was also fun because Big J read recipe directions to me, and while the meat was cooking, he also read out loud the lesson about Mexico! We learned about the capital, famous places, and that corn is the most common ingredient in Mexican food history!

Now, I thought about sharing the taco recipe with you here today, but the whole Not Just Tacos ebook is FREE right now through September 20th, so you can get ALL of the scrumptious recipes for yourself!

Not Just Tacos Free eBook


And remember, you don’t have to have a Kindle to get Kindle ebooks! I use the Kindle app on my computer, iPhone, and iPad!

I WILL share the Pico de Gallo recipe however, because I love you and feel you MUST try it. NOW. {Well, first get your free Not Just Tacos ebook. THEN make the Pico.}

Not Just Tacos 2

Pico de Gallo

Shirley’s note: Pico de Gallo, literally translated “rooster’s beak,” is a delicious salsa and a great addition to tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, rice, beans, or any meat.


  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 1/2 bush cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


1. Mix tomatoes, onion, scallion, cilantro, peppers.

2. Add lime juice, salt and olive oil. Toss and enjoy!


Seriously easy and delicious! And now you can enjoy it while reading your free Not Just Tacos ebook! And please share this with your friends as well! They will thank you!

Not Just Tacos Disclaimer

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Calendar Time on the Go!

I love having a calendar time with my boys in the morning, especially Little J who is in kindergarten and still perfecting his months and such. But I don’t love having a big calendar board that can’t be wherever we need it to be during our school day!

Instead of putting together a calendar time board this year, I searched for a calendar app. Well, my good friend actually did the searching while she was here visiting, and she found the perfect thing!

My First Calendar is an app for iPad that covers many of our calendar time bases – and we can do it anywhere in the house!

Here is a quick tour:

My Calendar Home Page

On the home page, you are able to select English, French, or Arabic as your language. {Maybe we’ll learn a little French this year!}

My Calendar Main Page

Next, you need to select an activity from this main page. We go to “My day” first!

My Calendar My Day Page

When you click on each circle, you get to fill in the blanks! Their is an auto-correct mode that will alert them when they have the date or day of the week wrong – this can be turned on or off!

My Calendar Date Page

The days of the week separated by color – red for week days and yellow for weekend! Another good thing for us to touch on during calendar time!

My Calendar Today Page

The seasons and weather are also a part of the “My day” section! I love observing the weather and so do the boys so this was a must when looking for the right calendar time app!

My Calendar Season Page My Calendar Weather Page

See that cuckoo clock in the upper right hand corner? You can also click on that to see the time. Little J love that clock!

The other two activities from the main page are a calendar and a drawing page.

My Calendar Month Page

On the calendar, just click on a day and you can type in anything special happening that day!

My Calendar Drawing Page
And here’s a look at the “My drawings” section. If Little J has some free time before we move on after calendar time, this is often his choice of free time fun!

The My First Calendar app is just $0.99 and worth every cent! I love the portability of our calendar time this year!

I have a bunch of friends with kindergarten age children this year, so we’re all sharing our posts for that age group in a weekly K-Learners link-up! This is a GREAT place to look for learning ideas for that 4-6 year old age range! There is also a K-Learners Facebook page and Pinterest board – check them all out!

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Elm Tree Academy Homeschool Curriculum 2013-14

I have included affiliate links below. When you purchase through these links, I may receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting this site and our sponsorship of our Compassion child, Samson!

As we kick off our school year this week, it’s time to post our annual homeschool curriculum list! I’m no expert, but I love sharing what we’re doing and reading what others are using.

Big J is a second grader and Little J is in kindergarten. This list may seem super long, but we obviously don’t do every thing every single day. Some are daily, some weekly, some we’re just trying out, and some are just a week long or seasonal!

Several of these homeschool curriculum books or companies are ones we have used before and continue to love, particularly A Reason for Handwriting/Spelling and Math-U-See, but we’re exploring some new ones as well! I’ve put a * next to the curriculum that is new to us this year. I will edit this list as the year goes on if we add or stop doing anything!

We also started a couple weeks before school with the awesome Brain Quest workbooks to get the boys back in school mode in a fun way {grade 1 for Little J, grade 2 for Big J}! The boys and I both like them so much, we’re continuing to use them as supplemental material for the school year!

Homeschool Curriculum 2013-14

Language Arts

A Reason for Handwriting: Level A Manuscript {Little J}, Level C Cursive {Big J}

A Reason for Spelling: Level A {Little J}, Level C {Big J}

*Growing with Grammar Level 2 {Big J}

*Winning with Writing Level 2 {Big J}

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading {Little J – starting where we left off last year}


Math-U-See Alpha {Little J}

Math-U-See Gamma {Big J}


*Science Experiment book from the Target Dollar Aisle!

*Christian Kids Explore Biology

*Christian Kids Explore Creation Science

Social Studies:

*Mystery of History

*Hands On Geography


Artistic Pursuits


*Creative Composers

Accent on Composers

*Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers

Recorder {Big J}


How to Teach Nutrition to Kids

Nutrition Fun with Brocc & Roll: A hands-on activity guide

Physical Fitness:

Family Time Fitness

Unit Studies:

*Autumn Treasures

*Sensational Sharks

*Discover the Brain

*Dynamic Ducks

*Creation Camouflage


*Answers Bible Curriculum


We Choose Virtues

Mom Reads for 2013-14

For Mom

Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs to Thrive

Prayer Warrior Mom: Covering Your Kids with God’s Blessings and Protection

The Love Dare for Parents

Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood

The Fitting Room: Putting On the Character of Christ {group Bible study}

Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement


What new curriculum are you trying this year? Any books on your mom list to read?

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Back to School! {+ Love Dare Check-In!}

I’ve been a little scarce around here because we have been having family fun, going on road trips, and getting ready for school! I miss the writing, but I wouldn’t trade it for all the memories we’ve been making together!

Today is our first day of school and I couldn’t be more excited! Having a summer break allows all of us to get recharged for another school year, and by the time August rolls around, we are ALL ready to go.

This week, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite things about back-to-school time, including our curriculum choices for the year, supplemental books we are loving, the best meal-planning tool ever {with a coupon code AND giveaway!!!}, and much more!

For now, I just have to share our first day of school pictures. How can they be this big?!


Big J Second Grade Little J KindergartenDouble J Mascot Double Mascot 2013 2 First Day of School 2013 2First Day of School 2013Teacher First Day 2013First Day Gifts 2013

Let the school year begin!

Now how about week 3 of The Love Dare for Parents?!


This week was pretty powerful, with topics from fear of God to protecting our children to respecting authority. I found a lot of things to pray hard about this week. It was challenging and oh so good.

But my favorite day came on Saturday. We had gone up for a surprise visit to my parents’ for my mom’s birthday and I thought maybe I would get to visit a friend who was in town for a conference while we were there. Saturday morning came and I really wanted to go see her, but the family was all together and headed for some outdoor adventures. The decision was hard, but easy, if you know what I mean. I texted my sweet friend, hoping to see each other some time soon, and headed out with the family.

We had the BEST day together, trying all sorts of new things, from BB guns to canoeing, and I cherished every single moment.

Ready to Canoe

I didn’t get to read the Love Dare until later in the day and it just happened to be “Love Takes Time.” I knew God had a special hand in making that day – and that time together – happen and lining it up with that love dare before I even knew it.

Has there been a certain Love Dare that came on just the “right day” for you?

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Answers Bible Curriculum

I received these materials to review. I was asked to provide an honest review, and all opinions are 100% my own. I was not compensated in any way for this post.

It’s that time of year when school supplies are appearing in the stores and homeschool moms and dads are picking out and ordering curriculum for the coming year! In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing what we thought of our curriculum from last year and what we will be using this year when we start back up in August!

But today I wanted to start with a curriculum that could be used by any family, or church for that matter!

ABC Curriculum

ABC – Answers Bible Curriculum is a brand new resource from Answers in Genesis!

Answers Bible Curriculum is a full-featured, chronological, 3-year Sunday school program. Its 156 lessons are synchronized across 7 age groups from preschool to adults. Each group covers Genesis through Revelation and learns the same material—but at different levels of depth—empowering exciting and easy discussion for the entire family!

Even though Answers Bible Curriculum was designed for Sunday school, the curriculum has a great set-up for homeschool as well!

Answers Bible Curriculum {all levels} emphasizes these key concepts:

  • The Bible is Trustworthy – We can trust all of God’s Word.
  • God’s Attributes – God’s attributes are displayed throughout the Bible.
  • Chronological/Historical Teaching – The Bible presents true history, not just “stories.”
  • The Bible’s Redemption – God’s plan of redemption is woven throughout Scripture.
  • Apologetics – We must be ready to give an answer for what we believe.
  • Life Application – We are to live in light of what the Bible teaches.

This curriculum provides an important, priceless foundation for our children’s faith. We received the Grades 1 & 2 level to review. Each quarter kit includes lesson plans for the teacher, student guides/take-home sheets, colorful posters, and a resource DVD-ROM.

A few things we love about ABC so far:

ABC Teacher Guide

*Well-laid out lessons with lots of information to prepare the teacher. I absolutely love all the background they give me as a teacher, including spiritual, apologetics, and historical information.

*Colorful posters to illustrate main points and capture their attention. I have very visual boys so this was the first thing they were drawn to! And I’ve seen them learn and memorize things all on their own just from posters up around the house, so I can’t wait to have these up in our house!

ABC Take Home Sheet

*Activity sheets for the students to do after the lesson. In a Sunday school setting, these would be take-home sheets, but for using at home, we do them as lesson follow-up! Word searches, coloring pages, daily verses to read as a family to reinforce that week’s lesson, and much more are included on these colorful sheets!

*The kids are actually exploring the Bible. I don’t want my kids to just hear stories from the Bible, I want them to read it themselves! This level of the curriculum has the kids opening their Bibles and talking through what they see on the page! I love that!

I talked yesterday about the boys’ morning Bible time, but this is going to be a family Bible time thing for us. We will do one lesson a week and split that lesson up over a few days when necessary and appropriate! This curriculum is very adaptable!

Now is a great time to order the Answers Bible Curriculum because you will get free shipping and a free subscription to Answers magazine with any purchase of $100 or more! Just enter the code 137ABC5 at checkout!

And you could also be the winner of two quarters of the ABC level of your choice! Just enter below!

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Teach Them Diligently Convention Highlights!

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As far as retreats and conventions go, I’ve been sticking close to home so far this year, but that’s pretty easy when amazing stuff has been coming right to me! First it was the Jumping Tandem Retreat in April, and this past weekend it was the Teach Them Diligently Convention!

Teach Them Diligently is actually the first homeschool convention I’ve attended, but I felt like a lot of the messages presented would be beneficial to any Christian family!

Teach Them Diligently Collage

I made new “real life” friends with lovely ladies like Rachael Carman {above left} and Heidi St. John, surprisingly ran into dear friends like Traci {above right}, and got to hang out with some of my very favorite friends and homeschoolers from this area! And I finally met my MOB friends, Hal & Melanie Young from Raising Real Men, in person {below} and my friend Michelle from Apologia! So great to hug all of them!


I missed a lot of the sessions because we were still on our tenth anniversary/second honeymoon trip {more on that fun tomorrow!}, but I wanted to share with you about the two main sessions I just loved!

Pam Tebow blog

Friday night’s keynote speaker was Pam Tebow! She is such a sweet, graceful, faith-filled, inspiring woman! And I loved how she kept referring to her son – you know, the football player – as Timmy. So cute. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from her session:

What is learned in song is remembered long!

She was referencing teaching Scripture set to music to help the family memorize and I could not agree with this more! This is why we love Seeds Family Worship and The Rizers so much!

Let His Word have a profound effect on your children while they are in your home.

Don’t wait for someone else to teach it or try to explain it to them! Do it NOW while they are home with you!

Without God, we labor in vain. ABIDE in Him.

This parenting job is hard enough as it is, but doing it on “our own” is pretty much impossible. When we abide in Him, He brings forth fruit in every aspect of our lives, including our families!

We don’t have to be Super Moms or Super Dads because we have a Super God!

And THAT one is my favorite.

And Saturday afternoon I just HAD to hear Heidi St. John speak. She was speaking on the topic of marriage & romance for the homeschool mom/wife and I super-duper loved her message and perspective! Lots of laughs, too 🙂

A few quotes from Heidi that stuck with me:

Take Bible off of your curriculum list!

I know this is not related to marriage or romance at all, but this got a hearty AMEN from me. I don’t want to the boys to think “Bible” is just another thing to check off their school list!

The marriage is the priority relationship in the home. Nurture your children out of an overflow of your relationships with Jesus and your husband.

Jesus should be our first priority, but as far as human beings in your household, your spouse NEEDS to come first and the children need to know that as well!

Parallel living vs. Entwined living

Ooh, I loved Heidi’s picture of how couples can live in the same house but never meet because they are living two parallel lives, doing their separate things. Entwined living is what God intended for us as couples, purposefully coming together on a daily basis with Him at the center of it all!

The enemy knows if he can take out the marriage, he’s got a better shot at the kids.

I had never thought of this reason for Satan attacking Christian marriages, but it makes so much sense. Divorce leaves everyone in the family hurting and vulnerable. This is just one of the many reasons our marriages need to be a top priority.

I bought Heidi’s book, The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance: Nurturing Your Marriage Through the Homeschool Years, because I wanted to hear so much more of what she had to say on the subject!

Such good stuff from just those two sessions, right?! And that’s about .5% of the whole convention!

Leslie blog

I can’t thank David and Leslie Nunnery enough for putting on this amazing convention. I had some time to chat with Leslie Friday night and they are just the best of people. Their heart for encouraging and equipping families to carry out Deuteronomy 6 is so inspiring. They love Jesus and love people and are doing something about it!

Make sure you put Teach Them Diligently on your list for next year or head to one their nine marketplaces coming up throughout this summer!

Did you attend a Teach Them Diligently Convention this year? What was your favorite part?


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We Choose Virtues {Review & Giveaway}

Let’s be honest: there are a LOT of good ideas and programs out there for teaching our children character and Biblical virtues. I have not gone looking for any program and still I have heard about four to five new-to-me programs since the beginning of 2013.

I actually tend to get overwhelmed when this subject comes up because as soon as I start one method, I hear about something else and want to switch to that!

So, all that to say this post is NOT telling you to switch from something that is already working for your family. This is simply me telling you about a program we have recently started and fallen in love with!

We Choose Virtues Banner

We Choose Virtues caught my attention when a few online friends mentioned it, and as I look around their site, it was statements like this that made me very interested…

It has been said that character is not one more thing to add to your plate, character IS the plate. This system is not a curriculum or a unit study, it is a language that that you rehearse and demonstrate for the first 10-15 minutes every time you get together no matter what else you are teaching!

Creator Heather McMillan observed a need for more effective character instruction in her role as a teacher and pastor. Here’s more about why We Choose Virtues came to be…

As her passion continued to grow, she realized that she wanted to teach children how to change. Not just a momentary change of actions, but a more lasting change in their attitudes as well. Her observation is that children needed to be inspired by simple, positive and consistent instructions, and parents and teachers needed an effective language with which to communicate these instructions.

Our boys are very verbal and visual. They love to talk and they love to read. We Choose Virtues utilizes both to help families incorporate the twelve virtues into everyday life!

We Choose Virtues calendar

Simple sentences are used to help children learn what the virtue IS and what it IS NOT. Bible verses are included to reinforce each virtue. Cute illustrations and stories of “Kids of VirtueVille” help make each virtue come to life!

We Choose Virtues Banner close

We’ve been using We Choose Virtues for three weeks now and we are using the phrases we’ve learned so far all the time! For example, I asked the boys to help with a quick full house clean-up before dinner last night, and I heard Little J say, “Ok, whatever you say, I will obey right away!” It was so cute AND he remembered that phrase from our first week!

All of the virtue posters are hung up with clothespins and twine in our school room where the boys can see them often. The Three Rules poster is also hanging in our school room. And the virtue poster of the week is clipped on to the calendar in our kitchen, with the parent card stuck in the pocket behind it!

We Choose Virtues Three Rules

We have been using the homeschool kit, the most comprehensive kit available from We Choose Virtues. It is an investment, but a worthy one as it includes…

Reusable tools
    • Parenting Cards (Teacher cards for families!)
    • Virtue Flash Cards for families
    • Kids Virtue Poster
    • Three Rules Poster
    • Kids of VirtueVille MINI Posters
Consumable tools
    • 100 Days of Virtue Chart and Butterfly Stickers
    • 25ct pad Virtue User Reviews
Downloadable/reproducible PDF tools
    • Teacher’s Handbook (no need to print this handbook. Just read and save for easy reference)
    • Butterfly Awards
    • Family Character Assessment
    • Kids of VirtueVille Coloring Pages

This has seriously been a great experience for us so far! I’ve been working on the virtues along with the boys, particularly the virtues of diligence and self-control! I love that We Choose Virtues emphasizes these virtues are for the whole family, not just the kids! 

To celebrate March as Homeschool Month, We Choose Virtues is offering the code HOME20 which gives you 20% off the homeschool kit! This sale has actually been extended through April as well!

To get more inspiration for how to use this in your home, you MUST check out the We Choose Virtues Pinterest boards! GREAT stuff there! And connect on their Facebook page for lots of discussion and specials!

Today, I have the pleasure of giving away a set of We Choose Virtues Parenting Cards! Just enter below!

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*I was provided the homeschool kit for review purposes. I was not compensated in any other way for this post and all opinions are 100% my own.

**This post contains affiliate links.

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