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Friday, November 30, 2007

What's that sound?

File this under "Will somebody just give that woman a kid already?!?!"

Due to dh changing jobs we now have to have an update done on our homestudy. Keep in mind that we actually have two homestudies (one for our agency, one for our state license) so that means two updates.

It's looking like we will have our files pulled from placement options until the updates are completed.

Our coordinator thinks we should have it all finished in February.

February.

Hear that? That's me laughing manically.

ETA (12-4): We have since found out that our agency is pushing for an addendum to our homestudy, rather than a full-fledged re-write. Since this change improves our "marketability" as a family (ie, we will be more financially sound), they are pushing for the less-intensive addendum process. Praise God!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Part 2: Stealing Space

From its humble beginnings as a garage, my family's school room took shape. In an earlier post, I shared photos of the what we moved in to in late August of 2006--a 9x11 room with unfinished walls, lined with books, a wicker couch and my children's let's-pretend-we're-in-school desks.

A lot of people asked me if being in that unfinished room bugged me. Truthfully, no. Moving in and actually doing school in the space before it was completed gave me the unique opportunity to finish the room according to how we used the space--not how I thought we would use the space.

Case in point: my plan had been to add a hinged table-top to one wall. The table, when set up, would act as a community workspace, and could be lowered for times when we needed the floor space. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, in my mind's eye, it would have been. But what wasn't taken into account in that plan was how strong my children's affinity for those desks they occupy actually is. (Can you tell that desks are a bit of a homeschooling killjoy for me?) My children adore their desks. They love their own individual little work areas. And the idea of a group table is absolutely repugnant to them. Really.

I also hadn't foreseen the need for as much extra light as we ended up using. Having no windows, our school room can get mighty dark. A friend swapped out the old hanging lightbulb that had been the only light source, installing a wonderful, large fixture that made the whole place glow. But as it turned out, we like to switch on our
ambient floor lamp, too. :-)

Here are Jo and Logan's desks today:

Another thing I thought would be vital is the white board you see hanging here above our little art shelf. It is used probably twice a week--and usually not by me. Atticus
likes to practice his Greek vocabulary on it, and Logan gets a kick out of spelling new words where he can wipe them away easily. Good thing I didn't break the bank for it. :-) (The tall boxes you see there are Ikea shelves waiting to be put up, by the way.)


Another adaptation was putting up a timeline on our longest wall. You can't see it in detail here, but running above and below the posters on the bottom is a timeline wide enough for the children to write on. The posters are relevant to our current studies, and are placed above the corresponding date on the timeline. (That's Logan's famous easel below it!)


Another shot of the timeline, this one farther to the left, showing Atticus' desk. The bookshelf there holds our Bible resources, foreign language books and Language Arts.


Below is the last unpainted area of the schoolroom. (You may have noticed that lovely shade of creamy yellow that finally went up in these newer shots!) Why is this area unfinished? No good reason, but I promise you, it will be painted soon. Anyhow, these two shelves hold our current SL Core (4), math, science and general reference materials.


Had I not used the room for a full year prior to finishing it, I would have missed out on how to fit the room to our needs rather than how to fit us into that room. Would it have been the end of the world? Certainly not. But it would have forced my children to conform to my idea of what homeschooling is, and frankly, I'm not about that. So desks it is. :-)

Another interesting side note to the schoolroom was the ways that the room wasn't used. I had never envisioned utilizing the room all day long, and I wasn't disappointed. Plenty of reading and other activities were still centered in the main section of the house, with the school room acting as our organization point for "seat work" and the main home for our burgeoning
resources. Because of this, I relocated the wicker couch and brought in a rocking chair for myself to pull alongside the child who needed me rather than having them come to me.

I also quickly came to see that during the time we were in the school room, Logan often wasn't. Still a preschooler, Logan preferred to spend the bulk of his time at his easel just outside the schoolroom door. When he wasn't painting, he was often building elaborate works of architecture with the over sized blocks of pine his dad had cut from the remaining pieces of framing wood. These activities all took place in the chill of the drab garage. He didn't seem to mind, but I did. He was being left out of what was going on with his siblings, and isolated from me. This was the last thing that I wanted. When we got closer to finishing our adoption paperwork and that whole idea became more real to me, I saw what a disadvantage our little schoolroom was; anyone not engaged in the business of school was decidedly left out. Not catastrophic for a 4 year-old who likes to entertain himself in worthwhile endeavors, but a horrible idea for a woman looking at adding a toddler and infant to her brood.

After talking with my husband, we agreed to extend our plan. Which leads us to the next phase of the 400 square foot project ...

Review: For Parents Only

I don't have a teenager. Jo is only now flirting with the pre-teen thing, much to my surprise and delight. Looking in my own personal rear-view mirror, however, reminds me that I will most likely not be cashing in on this extended goodwill for terribly long. At some point, those occasional bouts of hormonally induced mania become more the norm than the exception. It's just the design of things biologically. Might as well be prepared.

Part of being prepared--even for those of us who still feel young enough to be shocked that we aren't carded when we order a glass of wine--is getting inside the mind of your child. For Parents Only, a cooperative effort between Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice, attempts to do just that.

Written in a casual, conversational tone that takes on a kind of "Girl's Night Out" cadence, For Parents Only looks not only at the trouble spots that have become an expected part of the teenage landscape these days (eye rolling, disrespect, and the search for freedom) but also tackles some of the deeper issues shaping the how and why of parent/teen interaction. The writing team deals with some sticky topics (such as sex and drug use) delicately, and offers some tips for ingratiating yourself into your child's life ... even when it's the last place you want to be. Especially helpful are the personal interviews, which present attitudes and information from a teen's point of view.

Once again, from the perspective of a homeschooling parent, there is much in this book that simply does not apply to the experiences of my family. (Plenty of information is, however, universal.) Peer pressure, emulating pop culture and access to drugs and alcohol are not on the radar of the vast majority of homeschooled teens that I personally know. Unfortunately, their parents still face the hurdle of assisting their teen in their coming-of-age ... only without the benefit of a solidly written guide like For Parents Only to help in their own specific instance.

I have copies of this book to give away to the first two folks who leave a comment!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stolen Space (or how to add 400 square feet to your house without breaking the bank)

When I officially started homeschooling, I was an optimistic mother of three little darlings; Jo was a month shy of her fifth birthday, Atticus was two and a half and Logan was three months old. Since I had every intention of being the perfect homeschooling mother, I drew up extensive lesson plans integrating seasons, crafts, holidays, appropriate literature, community helper jobs, and phonics in one elaborate amalgam that left me beaming with pride over my resourcefulness and also very, very tired. After all, I realized quite quickly, it was one thing to draw up all those plans; it was another thing entirely to actually complete each little item on my daily check list.

But organization was most definitely on my side. Since we would be using our dining room as the main school area, I carted a small, two-shelf bookcase in and began to fill it with books. There was the small library of craft books I had acquired. The preschool curriculum I had used with Jo (Every Day in Every Way) and wanted to have on hand in case Atticus showed any interest in beginning his own educational career. And there--on its own special shelf--was our entire, $450 Calvert School kindergarten program.
(Go ahead and laugh. I know I do.)

This was the extent of the space our homeschooling endeavor took up that year. One small bookcase in the corner of the dining room. I smile just thinking about how official that bookshelf made me feel.

Nowadays, of course, homeschooling is, shall we say, a far more
space demanding enterprise.

While my family refuses to be confined to our specific area when it comes to our schooling, I have found that for my own sanity, our resources must be. Two years ago--with a 3rd grader, kindergartener and very eager preschooler--I reached my breaking point, space-wise. Our small family room had been slowly taken over by an ever-growing wall of bookcases that were brimming over with books, science supplies, books, math manipulatives, books, art supplies, books, paper, educational games, books and more books.
(I blame my own bibliophile tendencies as well as my discovery of the Charlotte Mason approach to schooling.) If all those resources had remained neatly on the shelves, then our story might have a different ending. But they didn't. My children--devious little things--insisted on pulling them out and using them. The family room was constantly awash in mounds of literature on topics ranging from ABC's to Elephants. And the trend showed no signs in reversing.

And that was when I started eyeing the garage.


We'd never actually parked in our garage, despite living in the wet and wild Pacific Northwest. The truth is that while I am a parallel parking ace, I cringe at the very thought of cruising into what is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my house. The entire space had been used as glorified storage, doubling as a both pantry and a covered play area for my children in the more stir-crazy days of February and March.

In other words, wasted space. And when you have five people and one very large dog living in a 1,500 square foot house, wasted space is--as Jo used to say
--unsmart.

It didn't take long for my husband to catch on to my idea. I'm
that persuasive. Actually, I think it was just that he was beginning to tire of moving the massive Sonlight IG off the coffeemaker every morning. At any rate, he began asking around and soon found not one, but two homeschooling dads that were willing to donate their expertise and time to get us on our way to what had become my dream: an actual school room.

Within a few weeks, we had this as our view:



A completely framed 9x11 room within our garage! The next step was wiring the room for electricity. Again, a neighbor stepped in and offered up free labor in installing outlets, lighting and even a space heater to make our room more livable. After that, it was on to hanging drywall.
(We have since learned that we could have saved ourselves time and $$ by using paneling instead of drywall. Live and learn.) This was not a fun project. I don't know if you have any drywall experience or not, but trust me when I say that I don't really relish the thought of doing that again.

At this point, the exterior of our schoolroom was still exposed framing, and the interior walls were unfinished drywall. The floor was covered in a large piece taken from our family room carpet when we installed laminate. But it was time to get school underway for the year, so I covered the walls in some of the National Geographic maps and posters I'd been collecting for years and we moved in.

Here are books waiting to go on the shelves. The wall that the shelves are on is the house side of the garage. And that desk is Atticus'. Behind him is a topographical map that his daddy brought home. All three of my children like to do independent work at their own little desks. Go figure.


This is the other side of the room, with Jo's desk. The couch across from the desk was donated by a dear friend, and eventually recovered.


And this was how we started out the school year of 2006-2007. Total cost of this room: $750.

NEXT UP: Adapting the room to meet our needs, and expanding the project further.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stockings

I walked by a kiosk in the mall the other day and I found myself coveting again.

No, not the amazing Tupperware collections, a cell plan or a radio controlled helicopter ...

It's those darn ornaments with an entire mantle full of neatly labeled stockings. ((sigh))

Every single year I look at those ornaments. Every. single. year. I look at them, and I count the stockings and I multiply the happiness in my family by two or three and I think to myself, "This is what I want in my life, Lord."

So far, God's plan has been different. I am resigned to the fact that another Christmas is upon us, and we still have exactly six stockings hanging on our mantle. One of those, incidentally, is for the dog.

I realize that this is a whiny thing. I have so much to be thankful for--namely those four stockings that represent the people I love most in this world. On a good day, I'll even throw in the four-legged friend as well, provided that those four legs aren't tracking mud on my kitchen floor. I also realize that, barring any unforeseen tragedy, by next Christmas, I will have at least one more stocking hanging on my mantle through the miracle of adoption.

And really, how many couples hope and dream and pray that some day, their marriage will be blessed enough to add new little stockings alongside their own two? And here I am, with a healthy daughter and two sons, waiting on more ... eyeing the ornaments in a kiosk and wondering if I will ever have the family my heart desires. I know that I have no right to complain. But the ache is still there ...

Clearly, God is still working on me in this area. He's led us on a rocky path that has finally brought us here--impatiently waiting for the phone call that will be the equivalent of going into labor. We had no idea five years ago that we would ever desire more children in our lives. So who knows? In five more years, I could have just one more stocking to hang at Christmas time and find myself perfectly content. Or, I could be looking at a mantle brimming over and think to myself "There's still room for more." I can't even begin to guess where God's plan for our family is going.

So, if I make it to the mall again this season, I've decided that I'm buying one of those ornaments. Sure, it'll only have six stockings on it, but it'll represent the family that I have now, as we celebrate Christmas 2007. That's where I need to be--right where I am.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving thanks for homeschooling

I'm sure that someone, somewhere has already circulated a generic list of reasons to be thankful you're a homeschooler. This isn't that list. This is a rundown of the things that popped into my head as I pondered my many blessings as my coffee brewed this morning. Maybe some of them apply to you; maybe some of them are shared between homeschoolers and traditional schoolers. I don't know. But I do know that today, of all days, I feel very blessed to teach my own.

1. The hardest work has already been done before we even came on the scene. The pioneers of homeschooling sacrificed their time, energy, talents and in many cases, privacy, so that those of us who teach their children at home today could do so within the bounds of the law.

2. I have more resources than I can justify using. There are so many good, solid choices out there in terms of curriculum, books, websites, lesson plans, videos, unit studies and the like that I actually can't use all of them without tacking a few more years onto my childrens' educations. Since I don't really envision them playing with Legos and listening to read-alouds
at 22, I have to make the choice to leave some items on the shelf.

3. I have to pick and choose between a whole host of wonderful learning opportunities for my children. Co-ops. Classes. Lessons. Groups. Clubs. Field trips. There are so many worthwhile ways to spend our time that it is hard to walk away from some of them. Who says that homeschoolers only see the inside of their own homes? :-)

4. My 5 yo thinks it's strange that there is a separate "Gifts For Teachers" section offered on the shelves of our local store during Christmas. As far as he's concerned, everyone's teacher wants a new apron embroidered with "Mom" and a Mary Pride book or two.

5. While Thanksgiving is a special day, it's not a rare occasion for our family to sit down to a full meal and talk about the many ways that our lives overflow with God's goodness. As a matter of fact, it's the norm. We enjoy long family meals without the pressure of homework to be done, buses to catch, or after-school activities to attend.

6. My daughter has never asked for a Bratz doll, and to the best of my knowledge, neither has her closest friend. They are far more likely to try to figure out a way to get money to a missionary in Africa than they are to covet a scantily-clad doll.

7. My children are getting the best education money can buy ... for about $500 a year total. They have a 1:3 classroom ratio, but spend about 50% of their instruction time one-on-one with their teacher. Show me that kind of cost-effective excellence in a traditional classroom and for that price!

8. When my children have a question, chances are good that we have the resources to answer it--in depth. A good homeschooling library has an abundance of books on a variety of topics so diverse as to make your head spin. Ours is no exception. Add in the internet
and a host of friends wiling to share their expertise, and there is no end to how far an interest can go.

9. We live in an area where homeschooling is not seen as being abnormal. It's still slightly against the grain to homeschool here, but the vast majority of folks you encounter are familiar enough with the concept so as to not look at you as if you've suddenly announced that your favorite historical figure is Adolf Hitler.

10. In a nation obsessed with the lack of quality time available in any given day, my family's cup runneth over. Morning devotions that don't have to be cut short to catch a bus. Long afternoons with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Reading lessons that can last ten minutes ... or an hour. Middle of the night wake-ups to witness meteor showers. Half an hour comforting a child who is frustrated, sad or just having a bad day. Teaching my children to bake. Coloring at the kitchen table. Playing board games. Breakfast (and sometimes lunch!) in our pajamas. This is "the good life" you hear so much about. Thankful doesn't even capture how grateful I truly am.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hail the conquering in-laws!

My in-laws will be strapping themselves into their seats in just a few hours, heading west toward our happy little homestead for a holiday celebration. The children are looking forward to the visit; we have a handful of traditions that have evolved over the five years of trans-continental visits, and my children are nothing if not sticklers for tradition. This is something that they inherited from dh's side of the family, because mine, as a whole, is a rather take-it-or-leave-it kind of crew that focuses less on the semantics of how a holiday is celebrated and more on the fact that there's something "good" on t.v. in half an hour.

Being the chameleon that I am in these situations, I give lots of leeway to those people who do feel cheated if something isn't the way it should be. I tend to just go along for the ride and try to smooth out the inevitable wrinkles as they come up.

Tradition number #1 for in-laws visits is a trip to a bowling alley. Desperate for an alternative to sitting around our living room and staring at one another on a particularly rainy, windy NW afternoon five years ago, dh seized upon the idea of taking the kids for their first-ever bowling excursion. This idea was a huge hit with my in-laws, who are always up for anything that has the words "first-ever" in front of it. We carted the children off the the only smoke-free bowling alley we could find in the area (they are all smoke-free now) and had a blast. The children loved dropping six pound balls SMACK onto the delicate, polished wood lanes, the in-laws loved the fact that there were french fries and burgers on hand and I loved not wondering if I should have repainted the entire house before they came.

Tradition #2 is dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. This goes back to dh's childhood, where an Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant was located near the major league baseball stadium in his hometown. The entire family would gather for dinner before a game. While we have yet to attend a baseball game up here with the in-laws (they visit in the off-season), we can at least indulge the dinner part.

Tradition #3 is the heated debate over the validity of homeschooling. I'm fairly certain that no one enjoys this one, but we revisit it annually just in case that's changed.

Tradition #4 is a day trip. In the past we've hit themed villages, travelled to museums and gone shopping in the downtown areas. I'm not certain what this week's big trip will be, but I know it will be something.

You'll notice a prolonged absence as of tomorrow on this blog, mainly because I won't have the chance to write down the gazillion things that I'll need to blow off steam about. Think of me as you celebrate Thanksgiving, especially if your turkey ends up resembling an oblong bowling ball. :-)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dear Mr. President

Inspired by the read-aloud we just finished, Across Five Aprils, Atticus spent part of the morning composing a letter to George W. Bush. I republish it here by permission. :-)

Dear Mr. President,
My family read a book called Across Five Aprils. The main charicter in this book writes a letter to President Abraham Lincoln and the president writes back to him. I am writing you because I think it would be really cool to get a letter from the president and also because I have a couple of things that I would like to say to you. First, I thought you might want to know that Abraham Lincoln was not a very popular president when he was the president. My dad told me that you're not so popular either. I thought that if you knew about Abraham Lincoln you might feel better because Abraham Lincoln is considered one of the best presidents ever. That has to feel good.

I wanted to ask you about President's Day. My mom said that it used to be two sepurate hollidays. One was for Abraham Lincoln and one was for George Washington. I find this really confusing because they were not born on the same day or the same year even. Actually, having just one birthday celebration for both of them could be really confusing for all the people who don't really know when they were alive in the first place. Some people might think they were alive at the same time or something. I know that's really wierd, but some people just don't know better. I think you should make it two hollidays again.

Last I wanted to ask if you if you ever get to pardon people who have deserted in the army. In the book I was telling you about, Abraham Lincoln helps the main charicter's cousin. This reminds me of when I do something and I should get punished but my mom has this thing where she says she will show mercy. Showing mercy is a really cool thing because you do not ever know when you will get it. Dad says you are a Christian so I know that you know all about mercy. Anyhow, I was just wondering you you get to do this.

You have a really cool job. I hope you enjoy it!

Sincerely,
Atticus
age 7

Friday, November 16, 2007

Enthralled

My children discovered the Furreal Butterscotch Pony at a local store today. They were absolutely enchanted. Have you seen one of these things?



Logan, Atticus and most especially Jo stood spellbound as the pony whinnied, crunched a carrot and moved its head to the sound of their voices. They alternated between rubbing the faux fur flanks of the little beast affectionately and vying for its attention with its various sound effects.

I have to admit, it was a pretty neat toy. And I can completely see my children using the thing as a prop in one game or another for the next oh, decade. Butterscotch the chariot racing horse. Butterscotch, who bears Sir Atticus into battle. Butterscotch, riding into the fracas of Gettysburg. Butterscotch, our little fake pony friend.

But for $250, Butterscotch will have to remain our little dream pony friend. Because whoever set a price tag like that for a child's toy is sick, sick, sick.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fair questions

Out of the blue, Jo asked me about school shootings today. It wouldn't be overstating things to say that I was a little surprised that a) she was aware that such things happened or b) that she knew as much about the incidents over the years as she did. So much for all that hyper-vigilant sheltering, huh? :-)

The question itself was simple: "Mom, why do kids in schools shoot other kids?"

After I picked my jaw up off of the floor and made sure that Atticus and Logan were still happily killing off their respective green army men with decidedly imaginary artillery, I proceeded to follow the very careful questioning technique that I've learned is usually the best approach when sensitive things like this come up. Quite often when my children pop off with some completely random-yet-deep question like this, their real question--the one they don't even know they want to ask--is still crouched just below the surface, waiting to be let loose. The only way you will ever let those sneaky little fears and doubts and concerns see the light of day is if you gently poke and prod around the topic and see where the tender spots are.

I led Jo through an examination of the things she already knew. While names like ColumbineVirginia Tech aren't part of her vocabulary just yet, she has a firm grasp on the fact that sometimes, people get mad. And when they get mad, if the right (or wrong) conditions exist, that person just might march into a classroom and start shooting at whomever happens to be in the way of their raw anger.

Jo had never really pondered before the fact that some children have access to guns in their own homes. Or the fact that children can actually be mentally ill (through our family's ministry efforts, she knows that adults can have mental health issues). Or that children can be brutally, ruthlessly, unfathomably cruel to other children.

She had assumed that these things happened with more purpose behind them than just feelings that had been stomped on repeatedly. I think somewhere in her mind, she had equated a school shooting with the actions of terrorists who accomplish the same end while seeking to draw attention to their cause.

To think that someone simply decided to kill another person was enough to bring her to tears.

Our conversation was framed by the fact that our family homeschools. Jo has never had to worry about being repeatedly ostracized, being in a physically threatening environment or being at the mercy of anyone whose intentions towards her are less than good. This is one of the blessings for which I praise God each and every day.

And this is where we found that deeper question, the one she had been harboring but wasn't able to put words to. Jo knows that there is sin and death and injustice in the world. She knows quite well that Daddy travels across the globe to help build churches and schools for children who lack clean drinking water while their leaders swim in built-in, chlorinated pools. She is painfully aware of the persecution our friends in Nepal suffer under, and the wretched conditions that they rescue orphans from on a weekly basis. She counts among her friends a family who runs an orphanage in Africa where nearly every child is HIV+. She has met adults who spent years of their lives unjustly imprisoned for nothing more than having confessed their beliefs.

Jo knows that the world isn't fair. She knows that there is pain. But there's one thing she can't quite get her mind around:

"With all the bad things already in the world, why do people just want to keep adding to it?"

It's a good question. A fair one. One for which I, alas, have absolutely no answer. But one I am glad that my ten year-old daughter is pondering. Because, despite my own inner flinching at the slow loss of her childish innocence, I am as always impressed that Jo can cut through the mess that we adults make of such troubling things. She sees straight to the heart of the issue. And, clearly, God can use that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Review: Splitting Harriet

Ever feel like it takes a whole lot of effort to keep your life firmly under control? Do you struggle to maintain an appearance of godliness that reflects to those around you the measure of the faith that you hold in your heart?

This is the life of Harriet, the heroine in Tamara Leigh's latest chick-lit novel, Splitting Harriet. Once an unabashedly good-girl-gone bad who reveled in her status as The Fun One, Harriet has repented of her devil may care days and has returned to the church her father leads as a Women's Director in good standing. Harriet seems to have achieved the perfect Christian life, until God throws a wrench into her plans and shows her that HIS plans don't fit in anyone's box.

Written with the same self-depreciating, conspiratorial tone that made
Bridget Jones' Diary such a hoot, Splitting Harriet pulls off the difficult task of keeping the reader firmly in the head of the narrator, while allowing the freedom to see things from an outside perspective. When Harriet passes judgement, there's enough detail from "the other side" that you can call her plays into question without losing your loyalty to her as a character.

While
Splitting Harriet offers up only a handful of surprises--mostly of the "I see myself in that" variety for the average Christian woman--it is a fun romp of a read that explores some fairly deep questions rarely given voice to: how do we define ourselves? What makes a Christian woman Christian? Are tattoos and nose rings the modern versions of stumbling blocks for our fellow believers? Would any self-respecting Christian drive a motorcycle? And, last but not least, is it o.k. to have fun, and still love Jesus?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More story spinning ...

Another in a continuing series of stories from my family history. If you're just joining me, you may want to read parts 1, 2, 3 & 4 first.



While Papaw could never let Mamaw forget where she had come from, it sure didn’t slow him down when he made up his mind that he was going to marry her. By all accounts, he was as aggressive in courting her as he was in hunting down the odd jobs that kept his pockets lined with extra dollar bills.

Mamaw had spent her earliest years safely under her grandparent’s roof, learning how to cook, to sew and to sit stock still through even the most impassioned preacher’s fiery sermon. Life in that house was warm and good, she remembers. Food was plentiful. Dresses were kept clean and pressed after each washing. The schoolhouse, which was a mile and a half away, was a familiar sight to the girl known then as Naomi; she walked to class each day, surrounded by girls like herself--girls who took no interest in the growing agitation that seemed to be gripping the county.

“Seemed like every feller you talked to wanted to tell you how he was goin’ to Detroit, headed north to make him some real money,” she remembers. “But me and my girlfriends, we just wanted to stay put. Raise us some babies and some shuck beans and stay put.”

Mamaw had never been outside of the holler, and had no reason to believe she ever would until the day she walked to the grocers to get herself a bag of penny candy with the money she’d earned watching her great-Aunt Mabel’s four scrappy little boys.

“I was walkin’ along, thinking how it hadn’t hardly been worth the effort, me keepin’ those hellions just for a bag of sweets, when she pulled up alongside me in that shiny black truck.”

In the eleven years since her birth, Naomi had come close to seeing her mother a handful of times. Though Sarah had drifted in and out of the area for the better part of a decade, she stayed clear of her parents and, most especially, her daughter. Usually, she came through at night, like a thief. Huddled in her bed on the other side of the coal stove, Naomi would listen through the walls at her grandmother’s angry rant as she hissed about sin and fornication. The voice that answered was always calm and unswayed, a slightly musical voice that never seemed to feel the weight of the damnation being heaped on its owner like so many burning coals. Naomi knew that the voice belonged to her mother, but she could never work up the nerve to peek around the doorframe and see the woman who had abandoned her with her own eyes.

But now, on a dirt road eight miles off the highway that connected this part of Kentucky to the rest of the world, Naomi came face to face with her mother for the first time.

As the big black truck had rolled to a stop, Sarah had thrown herself across the lap of the man next to her so that she could hang out the driver’s side window. Her hair, Mamaw remembers, was dyed red and curled so perfectly that she knew this woman had actual rollers on her head at night instead of the bobby pins she herself had dreamed of experimenting with. She wore lipstick that looked out of place against the yellow blue sky. But most striking of all, Mamaw says, was her smile.

“I always thought she would look sad. But here she was, and any fool could see that she was happy as a lark.” Mamaw recognized the woman without any introduction, just as, clearly, Sarah had recognized her.

“You get up in this truck, Naomi,” Sarah told her, and without thinking, Naomi obeyed. It never occurred to her what her grandparents would think when she came lurching up the drive in the company of her scarlet mother and whoever it was that was behind the wheel of the vehicle. This was a total suspension of her nature; while she was not known to be shy, she was always exceptionally careful, and far-sighted for a girl her age. At school, it was generally noted that Naomi Pope was not given to flights of fancy, nor was she easily impressed. But on this day, sitting in the biggest, loudest truck she had ever seen in her life, the past seemed to melt away.

Naomi rode shotgun all the way home with her mother and the man she soon discovered was her step-father/uncle. Then, after sitting numb through a supper punctuated with shouts and accusations on all sides, she quietly packed a sack full of her prettiest dresses and hairbows climbed back onto the bench seat of that lumbering truck. She had no idea where she was headed. No idea what she was doing. And no idea how to do anything but ride until someone told her to get off.

That someone would be my Papaw.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Living *and* learning

Interesting soccer mom conversation at the field yesterday.

A woman I rarely see (despite the fact that our sons have been on the same soccer team for the past six seasons) happened to be at the game, bundled in a really cute white jacket lined with equally cute white faux fur and some very sharp matching
boots.

O.k., I admit it. I felt really frumpy standing next to her in my massive--but very
warm--old winter coat and my tall rubber rain boots, which is the absolute only reason I mentioned what she was wearing. Why is it that some women have such an overreaching sense of style that they can manage to somehow look simply stunning on a muddy soccer field... in 50 degree weather... with gusting wind? But I digress ...

So I was talking to this fellow soccer mom. And in between, "Nice shot, Thunderbolts!" and "Defense, defense!" we managed to have a conversation that still has me scratching my head.


The gist of it is this: her daughter--who happens to be the same age as Jo--is enrolled in public school. Last year, she was in a normal fourth grade classroom, and did so well that the school tested her to see if she should be placed in an accelerated program. The girl tested well above grade level, except in the areas of math and science, where she placed at slightly above average. Using this information, the school recommended placing the child in the accelerated program. When the mother (a certified teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom) voiced her concern about math and science, she was assured that those subjects would be taught at her level in the accelerated classroom. The family agreed, and the girl was placed in the program.


A few weeks into school, it became apparent that the girl--who has always loved school--was struggling. The mother, being an involved and proactive sort, went in to speak to the new teacher. Come to find out, the fifth grade accelerated program uses a 6th grade curriculum. This was not a huge leap in the areas where the girl was already doing well, but it had devastating effects on her confidence and abilities in the areas she was only slightly advanced in. Contrary to what she had been told, the teacher would not be offering custom-fit math and science lessons, as she had no way to provide that service to 26 individual students. The little girl would have to find some other way to "fill the gaps." Together with the teacher, the mother came up with a plan for retroactively tutoring her daughter in everything she has missed out on educationally by joining this program.


In other words,
fifth grade.

The mom went on to tell me that her daughter currently has no extra-curricular activities, because her schedule is too full with school work. In addition to her normal 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. school day, she is tutored by her mother from 4:15 p.m. (the time they get home) until 6:30 p.m. Then the family has dinner. Immediately afterwards, the girl has to go and do the homework sent home by her teacher for her normal day's worth of classes. She goes to bed around 9:30 p.m.

All told, less than two hours of this ten year old's day are spent doing anything other than bookwork.


I heard this, and I tell you, I wanted to shake the woman.


I simply can not imagine Jo burdened with that much work. The life would simply be sucked out of her. As much as my children enjoy learning new things and exploring the world of education, to employ them in such a way for such an extended period of time would surely result in children who balk at the very idea of learning for the sake of learning. There is so much to be said for time spent alone with your own colored pencils, or kicking a soccer ball, or talking to your siblings, or building with Lincoln Logs or playing a board game. These are the magical moments of childhood--doing and discovering and having no agenda save a little fun.


How pathetic and awful to have one's entire memories of your fifth grade year revolving around a hellish schedule of cramming math facts and hypotheses. I think of Jo reading (for pleasure, mind you), stretched out on the couch with a rabbit on her chest. I think of the elaborate villages she has built with Legos. The hours she has spent writing plays to perform with her brothers. The new love she has discovered for Holst's
The Planets. The Littlest Pet Shoppe animals she plays vet with. The rubdowns she has given our dog. The help she gives me in the kitchen.

All shoved aside for the sake of what someone else has decided is a true "education."

This is no education that I want my children to have, and I feel both privileged and blessed to be able to provide them with something else. Something less defined and, at the same time, I think, more valuable: a life. Because in the end, learning is a lifestyle. We all know that. But what we often forget is that sometimes, the best learning comes from that life itself.

Friday, November 9, 2007

It's good that I'm not angry


You know when you start referencing Matchbox 20 songs in your blog titles that you're in a place you shouldn't be.

Today I am feeling more than a little heartsick over the state of (insert ominous music) The System. This is not good, because while I'd like to believe that we are most of the way through with our involvement with (da-dum) The System, in truth we are only beginning on this particular joyride. Our journey does not end when we welcome a new member of our family. That's only the opening peal in what could be a two-year entanglement with what the Bible loving refers to as the "principalities." The powers-that-be make sure that you understand this at every turn in the foster-adopt process: the state is your new best friend the minute you sign on the dotted line that allows them to begin the arduous task of determining whether or not you are fit to parent a child who does not share your DNA.

Like many things in life, you know this in an academic way when you embark on the foster-adoption route. You know that there are rules and regulations and guidelines and requirements--and praise God there are. A system this large and this called upon to provide services could never exist without a rule book. But these rules, you tell yourself, are there to make sure that The Bad People (throw the ominous music in there, too) don't adopt children for their own evil ends. They will not hinder you. Oh, no. All you have to do is make sure that you have posted Poison Control Center numbers on every phone, and practiced your
bi-monthly fire drill and taken an appropriate CPR class. These are all good things, anyway, you reason. See? The state is just looking out for us all.

And then you are shaken from your dream. It's enough to make a person very, very angry I tell you.

I spoke with the social worker for the boys I mentioned. I also got to speak with their current foster mother. And it was at the end of these conversations that I began to feel the initial sparks of an indignation that has been smoldering in my heart for over a day now.

The fact of the matter is, sometimes, rules are stupid. Don't tell my children that I said that, because "the un-smart word" is strictly verboten at Casa Maria Gracia. But it's really apropos here. S-T-U-P-I-D.

The social worker--the very same one who called our agency about us several times, the very same one who kept insisting that we are the perfect family for these boys--(wait for it now) hates homeschooling. And because she hates homeschooling, and because the rules are written the way they are, our family will not be pursuing the adoption of two little boys who otherwise could have a home with us.

Is it God's plan? Of course it is. Please don't think that I'm denying that. Clearly, these are not our children, and God is using this woman's venomous little anti-homeschooling bent to steer us to the children that are ours. That's a given.

But it doesn't make me any less frustrated that someone in an office--someone who doesn't even tuck these boys in at night, remember--has decided that homeschooling is bad. And while these boys would (in her own words) "blossom in a structured environment," "do best with a tight-knit family," and "function best with one consistent care-giver," she is not willing to acknowledge that maybe--just maybe, mind you--homeschooling would provide that for them.

As I said, I admit freely that God is showing us that these are not our children. I submit to that. But what is chafing me right now is that the powers that will shape these boys futures have already made up their minds about what will and will not make an acceptable home. Love aside. Nurturing aside. Time invested aside. A checklist exists in a folder labeled with their names, and because of a social workers' personal bias, a written recommendation has been made that homeschooling is a poor substitute for the schooling experience that they "need."

There's no appealing that proclamation. Not really. Once it is in writing, The System has a very hard time reversing itself, especially for people with absolutely no legal standing in a particular case.

So these are not our boys. And that's o.k. But it's really, really good that I'm not angry anymore. Back in the day (call it 1988-1995) I would have wanted to see someone's head roll for this kind of arbitrary injustice. And now, I can just wait on the sweet timing of the Lord while seething over the inane rules of man.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The fitting room

By now we have firmly established that while I may very well be a good enough Keeper of My Home, I am by no means an effective Manager of My Home--no matter how much I want to be. I have tried, and thus far, fitting my life into fifteen minute increments has done nothing but make me understand on some small level what it must feel like to have ADHD.

I would really like to be one of those people. I would like to have a life so slap-dang in order that it flows naturally from one thing to the next in neat little compartments. Instead, trying out one of those ultra-organized schedules is very much like me and a pair of size 6 jeans--no matter how hard I wiggle and shake, this behind only going to bust the seams on those babies.

So I continue to fumble along--with no apparent detriment to my children, I might add--discovering what works and what doesn't, and adjusting the whens and the wheres as I see fit. At times, this causes me no stress whatsoever. I see myself as being firmly in the "eclectic is good" camp, and have no desire to add a little more structure to my day.

At other times, though, I feel a bit more worn around the edges. This has been the case recently. Part of this is clearly because I have been pregnant on paper for well over a year at this point and part of this is because our schoolroom is still overrun with the Ikea purchases we made some time ago in preparation for the completion of the garage game room. Both of these things have been working together to drag the school day out well past what I feel are acceptable limits. I want to teach my children, yes ... but I also want them to have plenty of time to engage their own interests. "Doing" school until 4 p.m. leaves little time for that.

I vented as much at my most recent homeschool support meeting and found that I was not alone. A fellow homeschooler with three of her four children nearly the same ages as mine was in the same boat. We both wanted more structure without being tied to a schedule. The best of both worlds, in other words.

With that mandate still ringing in my ears, I awoke Monday with an idea. Now, this isn't a revolutionary idea, so please be prepared to be underwhelmed:

I made a to-do list for each of my two older children.

Yeah, that's the big revelation. :-)

Thinking to myself, "Well, it can't be that easy, but it can't hurt, either," I wrote up a 10-item list of things that needed to be accomplished before we could say school was officially out for the day. Included on the list were things that could be done independently (such as a few grammar exercises in Rules of the Game for Jo) as well as things that fell firmly in my court, such as Language Arts instruction for Atticus or read-alouds for the whole family. I highlighted the independent work, told them that they could work in just about any order they pleased and set about putting Logan through the paces of his Math-U-See lesson.

The day went wonderfully.

I was available for questions in between one-on-one sessions with individual children, and checked in with everyone on a regular basis. I taught both Jo and Atticus how to work the DVD player so that they could spend a little time with Mr. Demme and share in his mathematical prowess sans my intervention. I set up a tray of dry rice and left it on the kitchen counter to rotate kids to for cursive/spelling practice as needed. All the while, the older kids were ticking through their little lists without my constant redirection. Nothing was set in stone, nothing was demanded, no one was boxed into some pre-drilled hole of a schedule.

We completed all of our seatwork and were able to move on to our favorite parts of the day--reading--which had been getting shortchanged due to the fact that I was having to pull kids back to the table after each completed assignment. Our afternoon was lovely; one of those dreamy, sweet times that will live on in my heart long after my children have left home. Just me and a book (Across Five Aprils) on the couch, a quilt over my legs, tea on the coffee table, and children scattered around me on a rug littered with colored pencils, quietly scratching away at scenes in a Dover Civil War coloring book.

This is how I want to remember homeschooling. Orderly, but with room for exploration. Quiet, but with room for joy. Balanced ... and a good, comfortable fit.

2007 Homeschool Blog Awards.

A friend pointed out that it's time to nominate your favorite homeschoolbloggers. Personally, I really enjoy reading the blogs of talented and inspiring homeschoolers. A really well-written entry reminds me of driving down a street early in the evening, when dark has crept up on a home's occupants and they haven't realized that it's time to close the blinds so that gawkers like me don't crane their necks checking out the placement of their potted plants on the mantel.

Not that I do that on a regular basis. Of course not.



Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Jo's poem

A poem Jo wrote during her free-writing time today. Read it as the sad outpouring of a ten year-old, animal-obsessed girl before I give you my thoughts.


some people say you are just a rabbit
and you do not know
the things that humans know
like hurting hearts
and sadness and tears
and love

but I can see
that you are mourning
your loss is real to you
as real as your empty nestbox
and the straw underneath you
that does not hold your babies



Makes you want to give Jo a hug, doesn't it?

Being a literary sort myself, I have nudged my children to give vent to their more raw emotions in writing ever since they were old enough to phonetically piece together something as eloquent as "Im aingree" (this particular sentence was from Atticus at age 3.5).

From those humble beginnings, I have watched my children express excitement, fear, love, friendship, joy and outrage in their writing. I am always delighted when they reach that level of openness in their work that allows me to see the inner wrestlings of their hearts, and a glimpse into their passions. It is, to me, one of the most tender parts of homeschooling; I have witnessed and helped to shape in my children a love for a form of expression that not only allows them to vent their emotions, but helps them to process them as well.

So, it was not unusual that Jo chose to use her writing time to fit together the things that were rubbing against her heart in the most bruised places. Honestly, I just feel honored that I was able to sit beside her afterwards and ask if she wanted to share what she had written with me. (This is a general rule in our house: free writing is free writing. It is only made public if you wish it to be so.)

I read it once in my head, and then again aloud. And this is what I told my daughter:

Your imagery is beautiful.
Your word choices are clear and set a wonderful tone.
I see some of that ee cummings coming out in you!
I really like the cadence of this poem.

And what I thought in my heart was, "Thank you, God, for the gift of writing. Thank you for a pressure valve for our souls."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

And again

Kitling #2 was also stuck in the birth canal. This one required my intervention to finally deliver. I have pulled a variety of farm animals alongside my grandfather, but I have to say that seeing my shaking, frightened Jo holding an old towel and moving her lips to prayers she wasn't even aware that she was asking made the whole process that much harder.

Hold your applause

The first of the baby bunnies was delivered, but had apparently been stuck in the birth canal and died. The doe is showing no signs of delivering more, but a litter of one would be highly unusual. Jo is keeping a (distant) eye on her and praying for more kits.

The children named the little spotted pink and black kitling Chips and buried him under our cherry tree.


Labor Pains

W√ľnderbunny is apparently in labor. I have no idea how this sort of thing is supposed to shape up, so all I can compare it to is human experience. Jo and I messed up the process (according to the vet I called) by poking our heads in every half hour. I hope we didn't make her so anxious that she went cannibal. ((shudder)) At any rate, the room she's in is decidedly off limits until late this afternoon. I'll report back then and let you know if we've got any squirmy pink babies in the house.

Sick social worker

No, not as in "I talked to this really demented social worker today." :-)

The social worker for the boys I wrote about last week has been sick since ... last week. So I haven't heard anything new. She did call me and a leave me a voicemail message saying she was sick and out of the office, but looked forward to talking to me. That's a good sign, at least.

Monday, November 5, 2007

All I want for Christmas

It may not be the fashion statement of the stars, but if I've learned one thing during my tenure as a wife and mother, it's this: aprons rock.

Cooking something that might splatter? Wear an apron. Assisting a creative 5 yo with his latest art supplies? Wear an apron. Brushing a 120 lb. German Shepherd? Wear an apron. Cutting rose buds for a vase? Wear an apron. Baking cookies? Wear an apron. Performing a fizzy science experiment?

You get the point.

Since I spend such a large part of my day wearing an apron, you'd think I'd have a whole collection of really cute ones that I rotate. Alas, I do not. Since I am sewing inept in addition to being financially challenged, my entire wardrobe of aprons consists of:

(Yes, I really like toile. And yes, I do look exactly like my curtains, thankyouverymuch.)

At any rate, I'd really like to find a cute, cheap apron that will take as much wear and tear as the old stand-by
toile. I realized this need today as I pulled on my apron to make breakfast (apple heart pizzas, mmmmm!) and noticed that well ... it's seen better days. All that rescuing of my "street clothes" has taken a toll on my toile. ((sigh)) Maybe I should fake the Santa thing and see if he stuffs one down the exhaust port on my gas fireplace.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Really Funny

I'm going to post this, because I watched it again today and it still cracked me up. :-)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

THAT'S why I married him

Dh surprised me with take-out Chinese for dinner tonight, just like in college. I love that guy.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Potential

I know that I've kept blog readers a bit in the dark regarding the calls we've had regarding potential adoptive placements. I admit that it's a defensive mechanism; one of the cardinal rules of adoption, according to the wise folks who spoke in our classes, is not sharing too much of your child's story. In the first rush of excitement after a phone call, there's this urge to shout the whole bundle of info from the rooftops. Unfortunately, if that bundle of info ends up being the actual baggage that your child carries with him or her for the rest of their lives, that billboard of past experiences ends up haunting your family forever in the form of relatives and friends who know way more than you wish they did.

Knowing this, dh and I have played our cards close to the vest, only asking for prayer in a handful of cases--the ones we were actually considering--and even then, sharing only careful tidbits.

My fear for those who read this blog is that they will see our wait and think there is just one big black hole of nothingness in the foster/adopt world. That isn't the case. Since our licensing
in July, we've been called about:
  • A 6 month old Caucasian girl we heard about in July. We were submitted for consideration for her, but never heard back on whether she found a home or not as her social worker never returned our social worker's calls.
  • Two AA boys, ages 3.5 and 18 mos. We chose not to be submitted.
  • A Caucasian sibling set--boy age 3, girl age 18 months. We chose not to be submitted.
  • A 6 month old Caucasian girl we heard about at the end of August. We submitted our files, but were not chosen to be her family.
  • Two bi-racial boys ages 3 and 2. We chose not to be submitted.
  • Two Hispanic boys, aged 4 and 2.
  • Two Hispanic girls, ages 5 and 3. We chose not to be submitted.

See, there's been movement. :-)

You'll notice that one of the entries above is listed without a qualifier--the two boys ages 4 and 2. A little bit about that ...

We first heard about these boys from our agency's placement worker, K. She mentioned them in a quirky phone call, saying that they had come across her desk and seemed like a possible fit for us, but she just wasn't sure. With that in mind, she called me up and asked how old our youngest is. I told her that he had turned five in May.

"Oh, this won't work then," she sighed. "The oldest of these boys was born in August of 2003. That would only make them what, 15 months apart? Probably not good."

In the uncomfortable pre-adoptive meeting, where dh and I got to sit with two social workers and bare our souls about what horrible people we are because we don't want to adopt a child with MS or Bi-polar issues or needing a colostomy bag (laugh if you will, but it feels awful to say this stuff out loud, folks), we talked about how our family would transition to include a new addition or two. One of our points of concern was the fact that Logan has been King of the Hill, er-- the baby for the past five+ years.

That translates to a little boy who will surely find his little world rocked when he realizes that he has been usurped in his role as youngest and cutest. :-) We talked about how to cushion this blow and came up with a plan: a child three or under. Someone that Logan will not see as a peer, but rather, as a "baby."

Clearly, these two little boys that our placement worker was telling me about didn't fit that requirement. I mentioned them in passing to dh, but both of us promptly put them out of our minds. (Note to those considering adoption: this is a trick that you learn to perform after three or four potential placement calls.)

Fast forward a few weeks. Placement worker K. calls again:

"I just wanted you to know that there's a social worker that has been hounding me about you guys. She thinks you're perfect for these two boys she's trying to place."

K. said that after seeing our Cultural Plan, the social worker had apparently fallen in love with us. This particular worker was trying to place two boys who happened to be the children of a Mexican mother, and our Cultural Plan listed our preference as being a child of Hispanic descent.

K. said she'd already spoken to me about these boys and let the worker know that we weren't interested, but the social worker wasn't letting it go. She was convinced that these were our boys. I agreed with K. that she was cracked, and we moved on in our conversation. Dh returned from Haiti the next day.

I can't quite explain what changed in the next 24 hours, but I can tell you that dh and I woke up the next morning with those boys on our hearts. I told dh that I was going to call and see if I could get more info, and he agreed that I should. I got K. on the phone that morning, and she shared what she knew. She didn't sound overly shocked that I was calling her back about these particular boys, but hey, she is used to the mercurial MG, after all.

The next step was to put a call in to the boys' worker, which I did. She has been out sick all week, so I haven't heard back from her. So ... holding pattern (again).

My prayer right now is that God would clearly lead the way. If these are our boys, then a 15 month age gap is not going to be any better or worse than a three year age gap. Any concerns that we have about attachment or behavior issues are in His hands. I just want Him to be in control because, clearly, dh and I will foul this up in a bad way if we try to do it on our own. All we can do is pray ... and buckle in for the ride.

Some moments I feel so excited that I have to stop myself from advertising this potential addition to our hearts and home. Other moments I am so wracked with doubt that I want to call K. in a panic and tell her to burn our homestudy immediately. I don't know if this is a normal step or not, but it's where I am.

So there's the adoption update, warts and all. As always, prayers coveted.

Cubbies

Cubbies last night was ... a mess. A real, royal mess. The program is clearly in disarray but I. will. not. step. in. Not unless I'm called by the Lord--which I haven't been. The AWANA leadership doesn't seem to understand the weight of this little caveat, so the not-so-subtle "We sure could use you," just keeps coming.

I think I'm letting dh handle the drop-off duties for a while.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

How come .... ?

The Lord very clearly released me from my duties as Cubbies Director last year. I felt it. The people who worked closely with me in that area felt it. The AWANA Commander did not. She has tried to pull me into the drama that is now the AWANA program since this year's session began in September. I am not amused.

Tonight, I was supposed to fill in for an absent T&T secretary. This wasn't part of my required duty as a parent of three little AWANA clubbers. Oh, no. It was a favor for a friend. Well, guess what?

The Commander just called me (3 hours before tonight's meeting) to ask if I'd run Cubbies tonight instead. Sort of a "Well, since you were planning on being here tonight anyhow, would you mind .....?"

I can't say no. Not really--I was already planning on being there, and she has already gotten someone to step into the role I was going to fill. My back is against the wall. Have I mentioned how much I love that feeling? (rolling eyes)

Back to Cubbies tonight, my friends! Never fear, preschoolers, MG is here to entertain and amuse you!

Rating My Life

This Is My Life, Rated
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8.3
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7.3
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7.7
Love:
9.1
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6.3
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