Mud and Technology

iPads and a bunnyOne of my favorite Seed images is retired keyboards in the outdoor classrooms with dirt balls nearby.  I love the side by side juxtaposition of technology and mud.  In fact, when asked, I often say the Seed specializes in dirt and technology (quickly adding creativity, kindness, instilling a passion for learning).  I first said the “mud and technology” comment half jokingly during a new parent tour and it seems to have stuck.  I think it’s a great metaphor for what we’ve always tried to do at the Seed—keep our hands touching the earth while maintaining one foot on the cutting edge of new ideas and technology.

On Friday I was hanging out with the 3rd/4th graders and was privy to an innovative “mud and technology” learning experience.  The kids worked in teams to look for creatures in the outdoor environment.  Each team had an iPad and they searched the dirt and rocks for signs of wildlife to photograph.  The photos were downloaded to Project Noah (http://www.projectnoah.org), “a tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.”  People from all over the world participate and in addition to helping kids identify unknown living creatures, they learn facts, add questions and share what they know.  It’s an exciting way to connect technology with the natural world.

While snooping around with iPads in hand, we made an interesting discovery.  Near Gwen’s Castle, a child noticed what appeared to be a pile of animal feces.  “Poop.  Yuck!”  Taking a closer look, in the vicinity we found three slightly bloody rabbit feet, a furry white tail, and a grayish mass with green matter inside.  Once everyone who saw it got over the shock and disgust of finding random rabbit parts on the Seed playground, the questions started.  “What killed the rabbit?”  “Where is the rest of it?”  Several children expressed how sad it was that the rabbit died this way.  I reminded them of the whole prey/predator cycle and that it’s the way of nature.

Over the weekend I thought about the rabbit, the poetry we’re just beginning to write, the emergent curriculum, and our emphasis this year on innovation.  As I prepared for my poetry lesson today, the rabbit again came to mind.  I chose questions poems to read to the kids and talked about questions as a way to write poetry.  Thinking of the rabbit, we brainstormed a list of questions:

• What animal ate the bunny?
• What was the bunny doing before the attack?
• What type of bunny was it?
• Was it the same bunny Erick saw?
• Where was the rest of the bunny?
• Was it killed in the day or night?
• How did the bunny get in the school[yard]?

These questions could lead us in a variety of directions, some factual and others pure speculation.  We may not answer all or any of them, but one thing for certain, the practice of asking questions will guide our studies throughout the year.  For questions open doors, and it’s likely when our students open the door to the outside world their experiences with both mud and technology will serve them well.

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Why Innovation?

observersIn the spring we brainstormed taglines for marketing.  One that popped up was “inspiring innovation since 1977.”  When it came time to put together a new t-shirt design, it popped up again.  As I worked on the design, the phrase hung around and it was apparent that, over the years, inspiring innovation has had many layers at the Seed.  It’s a process that, in my mind, is worthy of becoming an intention.  One thing led to the next and before our prep week was completed, we had an exciting focus for the year ahead.

As soon as innovation became an actual intention, all kinds of resources came into the picture.  Being a TED talk frequenter, I found a clip of a school in the Bay Area called the Tinkering School (https://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_s_tinkering_school_in_action).  It reminded me of project days when I taught second grade students who are now walking through the door as parents.  I came across a link to a talk by Derek Cabrera speaking about his students at a prestigious Ivy League school who don’t know how to think because they’ve spent most of their school lives prepping for tests (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUqRTWCdXt4&noredirect=1).   When Lesley, our 3rd/4th grade teacher, made a professional development presentation to the staff about iPad use in the classrooms, we watched a talk by Will Richardson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ni75vIE4vdk), who explained that there is a growing generation of children who are teaching themselves.  Through internet access, they are learning to play the piano, develop skills as cinematographers and follow their passions.  Will describes them as “children who are not waiting for a curriculum.”

One of the most helpful resources I found was an article called “Five Discovery Skills That Distinguish Great Innovators,” an excerpt from The Innovator’s DNA (Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen, 2011).  They describe five characteristics of innovators:
associating - (connecting fields, problems or ideas that others find unrelated)
questioning  – (to understand how and why things are as they are and how they could be changed)
observing – (to gain insights for new ways of doing things)
networking – (talking with and listening to others who may have a radically diverse perspective on things)
experimenting – (constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas)

When I looked at this list, I saw the faces of generations of Awakening Seeds, many of whom are now parents, artists, writers, teachers, lawyers, doctors and engineers.  Frequently I am told how much the Seed has influenced their lives, how the Seed taught them to think and love learning.  They are innovators, changing their worlds in significant ways.  There is nothing on this list that is new to the Seed.  We are revisiting it because we value these qualities.  We want to ensure that each child has frequent opportunities to ask questions, make connections, observe the world, try out new ideas and entertain diverse perspectives. Our hope is that they will grow up inspired, excited about learning and not having to wait for someone else to provide them with a meaningful, relevant curriculum.

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First Ireland

Inishmor This morning a parent asked me how many first days of school it’s been for the Seed.  Thirty-eight, to be exact.  More than half of my lifetime.  I’m feeling calmly excited about this year we’re devoting to inspiring innovation.  Before I start writing about school, however, I need to write about Ireland.

In July, Bill and I flew to Dublin for the biggest adventure of our lives together.  We rented a car and quickly figured out driving on the left side of the road and how to navigate the roundabouts.  We were a team.  After a day in Dublin, checking out the Old Library at Trinity College, we headed to County Clare in the West of Ireland.  The first few days felt like being in a movie.  After eight months of studying maps and researching destinations, it all seemed so familiar.  My interest in County Clare, particularly the Burren area, came from the work of John O’Donohue, an Irish poet and philosopher who was born and grew up there.  John wrote and spoke so eloquently about that place and I wanted to stand on the landscape so dear to his heart.  The Burren is a remarkable area of rolling, weathered limestone hills.  The cracks or “grikes” in the limestone form unusual patterns which invite the imagination’s wildness.  It’s an ancient place with both historical and archeological sites.  I felt connected to this area, where John is now buried, after passing unexpectedly from this world at the age of 52 in 2008.  I understand firsthand why he loved the Burren and County Clare so much.

Before heading north along the west coast, we took a ferry to Inishmor, the largest of the Aran Islands.  They are situated in the outermost part of Galway Bay, facing out into the wide Atlantic.  We weren’t allowed to take our car to Inishmor, so when we arrived there were a dozen or more drivers with vans, trying to entice us to see the island for a price.  Instead, we hired a weathered man with a red horse-drawn cart for our tour of the island.  This turned out to be a highlight for both Bill and me.  The man, whose family had lived continuously on Inishmor for 300 years, had been driving visitors around in his cart since he was fifteen.  He talked of the island’s history, his family, and the island’s delicate dance between sustaining life there as it is amidst the rapid infusion of technological developments.  We decided later that it was our closest encounter with the old Irish traditions and ways of life.

There were other places that captured our hearts and imaginations—the Markree Castle in Sligo, Connemara’s misty mountains, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, and the Hill of Tara, where the ancient High King gathered his people for ceremonies.  Each place with its unique weather and landscape offered just one more glimpse of Ireland’s complexity.  It’s one of those places that stays with you, long after you’ve crossed the Atlantic and returned to American soil.  Ireland’s mystical wildness continues to float through my dreams, sparking my imagination and inviting me to live from an inner awareness that came to life in landscapes of limestone and green.  Who knows what will surface in the coming year as we seek to inspire the minds and hearts of our brand new collection of Seeds?

 

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Sparkly Night

sparkly nightsWe all know it’s hot.  This time of year is what we endure as a trade-off for the winters we enjoy.  While people in other places are digging themselves out of snow drifts, we bask in the sun.  During months when others have to rely on produce shipped from far away, we can eat local freshness right out of the ground.  A few months of extra perspiration is worth it in my book.

One of this season’s highlights is the 4th of July.  For one thing, it’s nice to have a holiday right smack in the middle of our summer camp.  A day for a breather.  It’s also fun to make art that reminds us of the fireworks we have a chance to see this time of year.  This week we’ve used Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to inspire works of art.  Stars and sparkly skies fill the hallways.  It’s a week of anticipation, knowing the fireworks lie ahead.

As I anticipated writing this post about Independence Day,  I remembered 4th of July celebrations in the small town where I grew up.  There was always extra excitement for me as a kid, because my birthday is the 5th.  We had a 4th of July parade and we always participated.  My dad had a 34 Ford coupe we called the “jitney.”  (I looked up the word “jitney” and found out it’s somewhere between a bus and a taxi, or can mean an illegal taxi operation.  I’m certain ours was legal.)  My dad was in the color guard so he’d march at the front of the parade, carrying the flag.  Then at the end of the parade route where he’d parked the jitney, we’d hop in with him and re-join the parade.  Along the route, on behalf of our family business, the Thayer County Bank, we’d toss bubble gum, candy and wooden nickels out the jitney window to kids lined up along the red brick street.

As it started getting dark, neighborhood kids gathered at the dead end of our street to shoot off fireworks.  We had sparklers, pop bottle rockets, fire crackers and snakes (the black pellets you light and they burn to create a snake-like shape from the ash), which we were allowed to light freely with little to no supervision.  Later the grown-ups joined us as bigger items were brought out.  One time, wearing a white shirt, I was holding a lit Roman candle.  Initially it shot off without a problem and then all of a sudden backfired.  Since I failed to hold it off to the side as instructed, my white shirt had a big black spot on it.  Fortunately, I wasn’t injured, just left with a good story to tell.

Our childhood, especially where my siblings and I grew up, held considerable freedom.   The kind of independence we experienced is sadly becoming extinct in most childhoods.  I like to think the Seed is somewhat of a stronghold for children to experience the freedom to create, imagine, explore and wonder.  At the all-school meeting on Monday, one of the teachers mentioned the current playground trend of collecting empty cicada shells.  She held up a big bag of recycled sandwich bags and offered them to anyone wishing to collect cicada shells, instead of wasting new cups.  There it was, an invitation that both supported curiosity and promoted earth-friendly practices, quietly presented during a week typically noted for its fanfare.  On Friday night when I’m enjoying the 4th of July fireworks with my family, I’ll keep in mind that’s it’s how we are on the regular days that matters most of all.

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Floating In a Sea of Art

peace love kindnessIt’s a big time for art.  This morning as I was walking into the school, a parent stopped me and remarked how impressed she is with the quality of art in our summer program.  I would have to agree.  Each week, as the theme changes, it’s hard to imagine that it can get any better and then it does.  It’s inspiring and humbling to see children making such beautiful works of art.  And gratifying to be surrounded by teachers who hold art in high regard.

I’ve had my own art immersion going on as well.  On Sunday afternoon I had an art opening at Desert Song Healing Arts Center (http://www.desertsongyoga.com).  The theme was “A Way Through:  art as a path for healing.”  In addition to the exhibition of my work, I talked for awhile about the role of art as a healing practice as I recovered from two different cancer diagnoses in 2011 and 2012.  I shared my cancer art journal and reflected on the interplay between my art’s evolution and my personal journey.  Complimenting my contribution to the day was an extraordinary musical offering by local musicians Jane Hilton (http://www.waywardfiddler.com/bio/bio.htm) and Darin Mahoney (http://www.darinmahoney.net).  Over 100 people attended the event that ended up being a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit through art and music.

As I looked out into the crowd, I was appreciative of the various communities of which I am a part.  Each of those communities—family, friends, the yoga studio, and Awakening Seed—was well represented.  One of the most meaningful guests was Anne Sager, the lively spirit, an artist herself, who co-founded the Seed with me in 1977.  It made me smile to see some of our current teachers in attendance light up when I mentioned Annie was there and had driven up from Patagonia, Arizona, just for the event.  The support was overwhelming and I’m still floating in the afterglow.

As I talked about my relationship with art and healing, I quoted the singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash (http://www.onbeing.org/program/rosanne-cash-time-traveler/1048), who talks about her own artistic process:  “I want so much to touch those things in my life and in my work, and I just keep looking for the veil to be lifted even in a fraction of a moment, you know, I’m always looking for that.”  Sunday’s event felt like a lifting of the veil, with a glimpse into a deeper part of myself.  As I returned to the Seed this week, I thought how fortunate we all are to have these summer weeks devoted to art.  If we can help each child even in a small way catch a similar glimpse of his/her potential as an artist and human being, then it will be a success, above and beyond all the beautiful works hanging in the hallways.

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Glass Gems

corn beautiesCorn has always been important in my life.  After all, I grew up in Nebraska and continue to identify myself as a Cornhusker, even though I moved away and never attended the University of Nebraska.  I have vivid memories of my dad teaching us how to eat corn on the cob, rolling the warm ear right onto a full stick of butter.  We still enjoy watching him consume corn with his butter.  Lately I haven’t eaten as much corn as I used to, although it’s really hard to pass up a bowl salsa with fresh corn tortilla chips.  Corn is a part of my heritage.

A few years back, soon after we moved into our neighborhood and decided to make our whole back yard a garden, our neighbor popped his head in through the gate.  I try to plant at least a bit of corn each summer and he noticed the stalks pressing skyward.  Somewhat in disbelief, he exclaimed, “This is a science yard!”  I chuckled at the time and often recall his statement.  Yes, it’s a science yard.  I like to experiment with all kinds of heirloom plants and seeds.  I find it interesting how much the garden varies from year to year.  Some years a variety will do really well and the next year, nothing.  This year’s experiment was my most rewarding success so far.

In 2012 I stumbled across a photo of glass gem corn (for a detailed history of glass gem corn, check out this article:  http://www.nativeseeds.org/community/199-the-story-of-glass-gem-corn-beauty-history-and-hope).  I was so taken by this corn that I tried to place an order.  It was a year before I could actually purchase it.  I paid $7.95 for a pack with fifty multi-colored kernels, then had to wait another six months for the right planting season.  When I finally did plant the seeds, I kept an eye on them vigilance I generally reserve for children.  They spent their first few weeks protected under wax cones to keep the birds off.  Once the shoots were too tall for birds to extract from the soil, I introduced them to the sunlight.  They thrived.  For several months the stalks huddled together in a section of the garden, a luscious green and looking mighty healthy.  Still, my last few crops of corn weren’t that productive, so my expectations were low.

When it came time to harvest, each ear sheathed in a faded dry husk, I was astonished.  Unwrapping the ears one by one, my eyes could barely believe what I held in my hand.  Each ear was so unique, many of them fully developed, and filled with colors ranging from purples, to yellows, lavenders, pinks, and even some indigo kernels.  All translucent.  Several people I’ve talked to about the glass gems have asked if they are edible.  I’ve heard they are, like popcorn.  However, they are so stunningly beautiful I will not be eating them.  Butter or not, the only thing feasting on my glass gems with be admiring eyes.  I have lots, so let me know if you’d like me to share.

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Garlic and Graduates

garlic harvestOn Sunday I harvested a a school year’s worth of garlic.  They take that long to grow.  Growing garlic requires patience and faith that the end result will be remarkable.  It’s like cultivating a group of kids, then graduating and gifting them to the world.  As I carefully extracted each head of garlic from the ground, shook off dirt and trimmed the leaves and gangly roots, I thought how parallel some parts of the process are to what we do with our children for an entire school year.  Some I placed in a dark cabinet outside to dry for future use and others made it into the house, lined up on our kitchen counter, prepped and ready to be dispersed to friends or for personal use.

Growing garlic takes planning.  In early fall, single cloves are placed in the ground, pointy side up, taking care to be sure there is plenty of space for each one to grow to maturity.  The leaves on harvest day were over two feet long.  Garlic needs plenty of water and sunshine.  One of the hardest parts of growing garlic is the urge to pull it from the ground too soon.  Even when it looks like they might be ready, the cloves need extra time to fill in before harvest.

With garlic, the yield isn’t anywhere near the amount of food you have from plants like kale, chard or peas.  Yet what garlic offers in terms of flavor and healing properties (some research has shown garlic successfully used to treat heart disease, lower cholesterol, relieve rheumatoid arthritis, and serve as a natural antibiotic) makes all the time and care worthwhile.  It’s a long term gardening relationship I’m willing to be a part of each year.

On Wednesday, the Seed graduated its 3rd/4th grade class of 2014.  There were thirteen in all and they are a class that will be remembered.  Two of the girls have been at the Seed since the Toddler 1s class, with their families’ Seed years totaling 21.  They are a group of problem solvers, question askers, poets, artists, scientists, animal lovers, caretakers of the planet.  Unlike the garlic that will be stored away for awhile till needed for future use, they will enter the world beyond the Seed immediately, ready to share their essence with everyone with whom they come in contact.  They will offer their intelligence, humor, kindness and curiosity to all who touch their lives, elevating the world around them, just as they’ve done at the Seed for the past several year.  They will be missed and I look forward to their tales of growing up.

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Story of the Last Days

mythical playersEnding well is as important as beginning.  Seed teachers put in countless hours completing their students’ awards and progress reports, reflecting on each precious child who has been part of this community for another year.  I remember when I was a classroom teacher.  Tears flowed as I wrote each child’s narrative, created his/her award and scanned through memories of our past nine months.  Establishing and sustaining community in each classroom is a priority, so how we bring it to closure matters.  Over the years we’ve developed several school-wide rituals that play a significant part in our last days together.  Studies come together as parents and schoolmates attend open houses in celebration of learning.  Buddy groups join up for one last time.  A new favorite is the 3rd/4th graders’ annual musical production, which is offered to students in the morning and an evening performance for parents.

On the last day, each class has an awards ceremony.  The ceremonies are spread throughout the day so families with multiple children can attend each one.  Teachers call one child at a time to come forward and say a few things about each student.  Kleenex is generally involved.  Following awards, some of the classes have breakfast or lunch gatherings that include parents, depending on the time of day.  At 2:30 everyone comes together in the multipurpose room to graduate our oldest Seeds.  More kleenex.  Graduates sing, we celebrate and honor the people who sustain Awakening Seed, diplomas are handed out, we sing “Celebrate Life on Planet Earth,” pictures are taken, then the Seeds disperse.

In the old days, we used to return the next morning for pool parties.  A family from each class hosted the party and it was one last time together before scattering to the wind.  As we added toddlers and more staff members had children, the pool parties were harder to coordinate.  It was time for a shift.  The end-of-year family party was born.  Although others may have offered input, I give most of the credit for this change to my daughter Astraea, our assistant director at the time.  The end-of-year family party replaced pool parties with an evening event on the same day as awards and graduation.  The whole school can be together, kids can roam in a safe space and it gives the summer school teachers an extra half day to prep for the coming weeks.

This year’s family party will be held on June 4 from 4 to 7 P. M.  We’ll have tables full of great food, sno cones with fruit juice, two water slides, face painting, water play and a beautiful evening of celebrating the completion of the  Seed’s 37th year.  Some families will return to us the following Monday to begin our Seed Summer Art Camp.  Others we may never see again.  The event feels like a blessing, sending each family on their way, regardless of direction or destination.  It’s a blessing that scatters a bit more of the Seed around the planet.

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Cards for Sarah Beth

colorful cardsFor a community like the Seed, this time of year holds a mixture of emotions.  Kids are excited about summer, just around the corner.  Vacations are planned, artists are looking forward to the summer art camp and a sense of freedom is in the air.  Teachers are scrambling to finish up assessments, write progress reports and put together end-of-year awards.  It’s a time when we’re glad summer is near, yet feeling the emotions of letting go of another group of children, either to different schools or just the next class.  This time of year buddy groups are getting together for final activities, such as the Toddler 1s and PreK classes, who on Tuesday gathered on the toddler playground to paint with cars (yes, the kind a child can drive, through paint and over paper).  Once the painting was finished, the cars were lined up for a “car wash.”  One of the toddlers so attentively cleaned the tires of her car that it looked like she was a pro with lots of experience.  Nearby a card making station was set up and one of the little toddlers said, “We’re making cards for Sissy.”  A five-year-old worked on her card under a shady treed alongside a pair of toddlers.

Cards came together from all classes and awaited delivery in a sunflower decorated basket, donated by one of the teachers.  They were for Sarah Beth, a previous Seed student and daughter of one of our staff.  While other children were finishing up their school year, she was in the hospital recovering from a tonsillectomy.  I visited Sarah Beth later that day and was happy to deliver over 100 cards to her.  I was also happy she was headed home just after our visit.

It is a simple act, making a card.  Yet these cards held something special.  For one thing, it was just one more thing to ask of the teachers who are already overloaded with end-of-the-year projects.  They all embraced the request without an ounce of hesitation and had them ready within a day.  And the kids went all out, coming up with catchy slogans and colorful textures.  Extra effort went into this batch of cards, knowing that Sarah Beth is visually impaired and would need multi-sensory input to “see” the cards.  The cards were full of soft spongy shapes, corrugated cardboard, felt, sparkly things, smelly soap, shiny crackling butterfly wings and one included a flower cut out of braille paper.  The basket was overflowing with sensory delight.

I look forward to hearing about Sarah Beth’s experience of unpacking the basket.  I’m hoping she’ll feel all the love that went into those cards by a community that loves her and her family.

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Watching Trains

Belvidere depotIt was a planes-trains-and-automobiles kind of weekend as I ventured to Nebraska for a visit with family and friends.  It’s tricky knowing when to go there, as the weather can turn problematic in a nano-second.  It was a swift drop into my homeland.  My  main reason for the trip was to check in on my elders, a noble group of wise beings formative to my upbringing.  This year held greater urgency, knowing that for at least a few, life is rapidly winding down.

Conversations varied, yet often circled back to the theme of aging.  With Marilyn, our across-the-street neighbor who is nearly 91, we first caught up on family news, then the focus turned to assisted living.  She still lives independently in her cozy little house, which she’s reluctant to give up.  Yet she knows it’s not far off.  We talked about the pros and cons of assisted living and the concerns about falling.  It was not an easy subject to explore.  I also visited with Kathie and Bill who, along with their six children, were like a second family to me growing up.  In their mid- to late 80s, Bill now resides in a state-of-the-art nursing care facility.  He was handsome and friendly as ever, yet definitely more fragile.  Kathie visits him every day, then returns to her beautiful home in a lush Lincoln neighborhood, surrounded by her books and artifacts of a life well lived.  Their life is one of transition right now and I was touched by the dignity with which they are both moving through this phase.

Then there was Sue, my mom’s first cousin.  At 82, she still leads an active life, full of curiosity about the world.  She mentioned that she is giving herself an early birthday present—a trip to London by herself.  She’s leaving today.  Our conversations were full of questions about technology and spirituality, tales of travels and reflections about family and life.  Every bit of our time together was energizing and I hope I’m as lively when I reach my 80s.

My own parents amaze me.  My dad is 89 and my mom, almost 86.  They still live in the home of my childhood, drive to Minnesota regularly and are active members of the small town where they live.  They both have constant projects going.  My mom always has a knitting or quilting project nearby and is currently working on a soft blanket for a great-granddaughter.  We had a conversation about creativity and craftsmanship.  I reminded her that she’s had a big influence on my creative life, particularly in the way she’s modeled such precision with her various crafts over the years.  My dad’s current project is working with a group restoring an old train depot in a town of 48 through which the Union Pacific runs regularly.  Along with the depot, a boxcar is on display nearby.  From what my dad reported, it sounds like much of his involvement has been scrounging miscellaneous parts for the project.  He also restored several of the crumbling windows.  His enthusiasm still runs high.

On the last morning I was with him, he took me to see the old depot.  During the course of our outing, at least five trains passed by.  He perked up like a little kid each time one came through, identifying different types of freight.  As we watched each train with its specific cargo, I thought how much they are like our individual lives.  I was glad for the reminder, from the trains and the weekend, to enjoy the ride while it lasts.  We’re all just passing through.

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