Have you ever been RAK’d? | Kim’s birthday giveaway

My heart in your hands

creative commons

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” ~Anthony Robbins

Have you ever been RAK’d?

I have!

  • A stranger shared her umbrella with me as we found our cars in the rain.
  • My neighbor slipped a homemade cinnamon roll into my mailbox.
  • A sweet friend cleaned my house while I recovered from surgery.
  • When I ran a bit short at check-out, a smiling grocery clerk pulled twenty-seven cents from her own pocket and tossed it into the cash drawer.

Each of these simple gestures presented itself in my life as a Random Act of Kindness (RAK).

I can’t begin to remember all the ways I’ve experienced the goodness and generosity of both friends and total strangers. Some cost nothing more than a bit of common courtesy; others meant a greater sacrifice of time or resources.

These blessings happen every day, all around us. I wonder how often we miss the gift?

Smallest Gestures

Just last week, a woman invited me to go ahead in line at the grocery store checkout. I know this seems like such a small thing, but it was a hectic day, and those few precious extra minutes meant a great deal to me.

Secret Blessings

Once, when my husband asked our server for the dinner tab, she told us our bill had already been paid!

As we left the restaurant, we spotted a young family in the corner whose children had been in our toddler Sunday school class over the years. Were they the givers of this sweet gift? We’ll never know for sure, but we certainly left that restaurant with lightness of heart!

The Kindness of Strangers

Perhaps the most striking act of kindness calls to mind a November night many years ago when our new dog, whom we recently rescued from a shelter, got into some snail bait and became seriously ill. Her treatment costs were mounting by the hour, and without my husband in town to help make decisions, I told the vet how much I could afford and asked him do what he could for Casey.

As I stood in the office, a man approached the counter and said he’d seen my son crying on the steps outside the animal hospital. He couldn’t bear to see a boy grieving so, and he proceeded to tell the receptionist that he’d cover the difference in the bill, whatever the cost. Whatever the cost!

I have never forgotten the kindness of this man, this complete stranger, because Casey, now quite elderly, has been the sweetest pet we ever could have asked for—and he helped save her life.

Kim’s Birthday Celebration

Today is my birthday, but I’m much more in a giving mood than a receiving one: I’m in the mood to pay it forward!

Ever since the lovely Jenn at Daze of Adventure posted about how she celebrated her 36th birthday by performing 36 Random Acts of Kindness, I’ve been looking toward my own special day with similar thoughts fluttering around in my mind.

Providing clean water to millions of peopleSo when my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I remembered a blog post from my friend Ann Voskamp and told him I wanted someone to have clean drinking water. For just $55, our gift will provide fresh water for 68 people for their entire lives!

Next, I invited friends and family to join me in performing one RAK on my birthday to help me celebrate.

My original goal was 58 RAKs, but in harnessing the power of the Internet, with its amazing viral capabilities, I’m believing that—with your help—my mundane 58th birthday will be a vessel to impact hundreds of people, if not thousands, in our communities and around the world.

Random Acts of Kindness Ideas

There are limitless ways you can bless someone with a RAK—and they don’t have to cost a penny! Whether you have change to spare or not, here are some places to gather ideas for ways you can pay it forward.

Will you join me by doing one kind deed to help celebrate my birthday? My blog gets thousands of visitors each week, so it’s my prayer that our collective Random Acts of Kindness will rock our world!

WriteShop Giveaway

To add to the celebration, I’m giving away a gift package to one lucky winner! Each person who comments below by sharing how you “RAKed” someone this week will be entered into a drawing for your choice of one of the following WriteShop curriculum packages:

What if you already have the WriteShop books you need, or you’re not homeschooling or teaching? Choose a $25 Amazon gift card instead!

I can’t wait to see how this takes off! Are you ready to RAK someone?

Photos: Louise Docker and DFID, courtesy of Creative Commons

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12 back-to-school writing prompts

back to school writing prompts

LOOKING FOR some fresh ways to ease your kids back into writing? These fun end-of-summer writing prompts will help them reflect on their summer without resorting to that tired, overused “How did you spend your summer vacation?”

  1. August is the only month that has no major holiday. Invent a new August holiday. How will people celebrate?
  2. Did you visit a new place for the first time this summer? Describe this place and tell how you felt about it.
  3. Think about your favorite activity from this past summer? What made it so much fun?
  4. Describe something you did this summer that involved water.
  5. Summer is a time for vacations, family reunions, and backyard parties. Write about something you did with a large group of people this summer.
  6. byke_boySummer is a great time to explore the out-of-doors. Did you spend time in nature this summer? Describe where you went and some things you did there.
  7. There’s one word that reminds almost everyone of summer: hot! Was your summer hot? What did you do to keep cool?
  8. Kids often get summer jobs. Did you? What were some things you did this summer to earn money?
  9. Write about something you did this summer that you have never done before.
  10. Write five words that describe your summer. Then tell why you chose each word.
  11. Describe something you did this summer to help someone in need.
  12. Write about a book you read this summer.
Photos: Vicki Watkins and Marius B, courtesy of Creative Commons.

2000 Facebook fans {and a great freebie}

Congratulations to us!

Yesterday, our WriteShop Facebook page hit 2000 fans … and then kept right on going!

To celebrate, we’re offering a thank-you gift to all our Facebook fans: a fantastic free writing lesson you can use for all ages!

Your Freebie Includes:

  • How to write a friendly letter — includes help choosing topics to write about
  • How to write a thank-you letter — with a special section called “What If You Don’t Like the Gift?”
  • Learning the parts of a letter
  • How to address an envelope
  • Sample letters
  • Links to free printables: stationery, note cards, and envelopes
  • Letter-writing tips and etiquette
  • Ways to incorporate letter-writing into other subjects {think history!}

Thanks again, Facebook fans!  Click here to download the gift. FREE OFFER HAS EXPIRED

Not a fan yet? Just follow the link and *like* our page to download your free lesson.

Happy writing,

WriteShop Special: This week only!

Now through Sunday, save $14 on everything you need to get started with WriteShop for grades 6-10—including this cool 8 1/2″ x 11″ poster featuring the 5 Steps of the Writing Process! 

Just visit our virtual booth at HomeschoolConvention.com and click the red Convention Special sign!

Hurry!! Sale ends September 2, 2012 (midnight EST).

4 tips for writing college application essays

Preparing teens to write solid essays during early high school will make them more comfortable with writing college application essays.

THOUGH IT’S been 14 years, it seems like only yesterday that my first college-bound child began filling out forms, submitting transcripts, making lists of extra-curricular activities, and yes—writing college application essays.

Each university had its own specific essay guidelines, so each essay she wrote had to be unique as well (not to mention engaging enough to set it apart from the rest of the applicants’ submissions).

Is your child preparing for university? The admissions essay doesn’t have to be a deterrent. Here are four things you can do to help teens prepare for this task:

1. Teach Essay Writing

I’m sure this seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many parents have not begun teaching essay writing to their soon-to-graduate teens.

Whether writing is your weakest area or your strongest, it can easily take a back seat to other subjects in your homeschool. To keep writing at the forefront, make sure to schedule it into your weekly lesson plans. You may need to invest in a curriculum that lays a foundation and equips teens with tools to sharpen and enliven their writing.

In addition, regularly assign essays related to other subjects of study such as literature and history. Frequent practice with essay writing of all types will make the application-essay process that much less stressful.

2. Encourage Excellence

Lee Binz has made it her mission to help parents homeschool high school. In her article “What’s the Big Deal about a Little Essay?” she says, “Colleges want to know two things about your student – who they are and how well they communicate.”

The folks in admissions read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays every year. Many of these essays are poorly written, lacking in content, style, and creativity. It doesn’t have to be this way! When your students’ essays are lively, personal, and carefully edited, they will stand out from among their dull counterparts.

3. Promote Concise, Honest Writing

Admissions personnel are not impressed by pompous writing. Teach your teen—in all essay writing—to speak plainly, articulately, and honestly. While well-chosen, mature vocabulary words can certainly be tucked into the essay here and there, the text should be clearly written and easy to read.

4. Plan Ahead

Beginning in 9th or 10th grade, essay writing should be part of every high schooler’s language arts diet. Whatever you do, please don’t wait till they’re seniors to introduce this skill!

According to Lee, teens should start the actual college-application process on the day their senior year begins (though essay writing itself shoud be introduced well beforehand). She often suggests that students practice writing essays beginning on the first day of their junior year.

“Practice college application essays before senior year,” she says. “If you go to a college fair, grab some application packets and look at their essay topics. Use those for writing assignments.”

Admissions counselors really do read these essays. They want to see how students handle various topics and how well they express themselves in writing. Preparing your teens to write solid essays during their earlier high school years will make them more comfortable with the process and more confident in their ability to communicate—no matter what the topic.

. . . . .

WriteShop IIWriteShop II teaches advanced descriptive narration, persuasion, and beginning essay writing (including timed essays). To learn more about WriteShop II for your high schooler, visit our website at www.writeshop.com.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Leaving a journal legacy: Beyond “Dear Diary”

A Journal Legacy | A Journal Legacy | Help teens create a goldmine of unforgettable snapshots of the people in their life

JOURNALING can be the perfect activity to engage students in the writing process.

With no demands for extensive planning or revision, journals can chronicle your children’s maturing abilities, interests, and attitudes. A journal allows the creative student to unleash a host of ideas about current pursuits and future dreams.

As a journaling veteran, however, I caution you to beware, lest your kids start wandering into Dear Diary territory!

Emotional Diary . . . or Purposeful Journal?

A writing devotee by age eight, I entered the realm of embarrassing revelations when I turned thirteen. Soon, several diaries overflowed with my adolescent emotions, self-critiques of my personal appearance, and many internal debates.

Dreaming of a future marked by literary fame, I shielded myself from the awful truth: most of my “dear diary” entries were, at best, reserved for a shredder (or a bonfire, if my future self were to take a dramatic turn of mind)!

I knew better. After all, I had proudly worn my teen-volunteer badge at homeschool conventions and taken copious notes on myriad subjects. I still remember the afternoon session taught by the scholarly Miss Katherine Dang. In crisp tones, she admonished her audience: “Don’t keep a diary. If you don’t want anyone to read it, you should never write it down.”

In theory, I agreed with her wisdom. In practice, I allowed myself to fall under the deceptive charms of Fresh White Pages and Exquisite Binding.

Looking back, I wouldn’t say my time spent in self-examination, goal-setting, and introspection was wrong. Yet now I confidently follow and promote the principle of writing for a purpose, even in our personal lives.

We choose to homeschool in order to create a family legacy and impart a cultural and spiritual heritage. Therefore, we ought to write—and teach our children to write—with the forward-minded intention of leaving a legacy. Parents and students alike can create a journal legacy filled with snippets that future generations will learn from and thoroughly enjoy.

Create Character Sketches

The best journaling practice I’ve discovered is creating character sketches. How many people come into our lives for a season, only to move on or pass away before we’ve taken time to capture them in words? How many brothers, sisters, friends will grow up and change before we’ve reflected on the wonder and beauty of their earlier seasons of life?

Journal Legacy | A Journal Legacy | Help teens create a goldmine of unforgettable snapshots of the people in their lifeEach of us becomes a fuller, richer person for having crossed paths with a spirited daughter, sympathetic teacher, insightful grandfather, or iron-sharpens-iron friend. Their image, their words, and their effect on us ought not to be forgotten.

So find a quiet place, and invite your children to join you. Choose a new pen and a bright, fresh page. Close your eyes and think of someone who touched your life last year, last week, or this very morning, perhaps, writing your impressions of:

  • A child’s peculiar gait: the way he runs up to you out of breath and full of laughter, or the way he rambles with hands in pockets and head in the clouds.
  • An elderly aunt’s odd speech habits: the outdated expressions she uses on Sundays, or the pet names she bestows on each family member.
  • A brother’s endearing  facial expressions: the puzzled wrinkle of his eyebrows as he wrestles with a math problem, or his unconscious mouth-puckering at piano recitals.
  • A mother’s deep impression on you: the day she cried over long-forgotten photos, or the night she soothed your fever and sang you to sleep.

Defer Perfection

Remember, journals are for sketching, with plenty of rough edges but a wealth of heartfelt truth. You can fill in the sketch with color and details later, perhaps when you complete a WriteShop lesson.

If you do write your novel someday, you can sweat and strive to paint the perfect masterpiece, with every nuance of character in faithful hues of light and shade. For now, relax. Smile. Breathe. Your journal is becoming a goldmine of those unforgettable moments you’ve shared with remarkable, everyday people.

Don’t forget that you’re one of them.

Daniella Dautrich is a homeschool graduate and WriteShop alumna. A happily married writer and homemaker, she blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com

Photos: Barabeke and Joy Coffman, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Choosing a writing program for teenagers

In choosing a writing program for teenagers, look for lessons that walk students through the writing process from brainstorming to final draft.

Recently, we peeked at WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior for elementary ages. But if you’re homeschooling for junior high or high school, you’ll want to consider WriteShop I and II, a writing program for teenagers.

WriteShop I and II – Middle and High School

The flagship WriteShop program sets teens on a course for success, guiding them through each step of the writing process.

I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful your program is. The improvement in my daughter’s writing is phenomenal.” —Sandy, North Carolina

Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I & II

Award-winning WriteShop takes the guesswork out of teaching writing. The Teacher’s Manual helps you teach writing with confidence.

Containing daily lesson plans and schedules for both WriteShop I and II, the Teacher’s Manual offers tips for editing and grading, answer keys, student samples, and supplemental writing activities, as well as dozens of essay topics for WriteShop assignments.

I love WriteShop. I used to feel so inadequate teaching writing but now I am confident they are learning all the tools they will need for High School level writing.” —Heather, Montana

Student Workbooks

Assignments give students a chance to practice various kinds of writing, including creative, expository, and narrative.

  • WriteShop I gives your 6th-10th grader the basics of descriptive, informative, and narrative writing.
  • For grades 8-12, WriteShop II introduces descriptive narration, point of view, narrative voice, persuasion, and essay writing.

Lessons focus on clarity, conciseness, colorful vocabulary, and sentence variety, with a strong emphasis placed on the editing process. With each lesson, students learn and practice new skills, apply them to their current writing project, and edit and revise the composition several times.

The consumable workbooks contain Skill Builders, word banks, detailed lesson instructions, editing checklists, and grading forms. TM required.

First-timers should begin with the Basic Set or Starter Pack.

Someone asked me what I didn’t like about the program, and I couldn’t think of anything.” —Lynée Ward, iCHED

WriteShop also makes a great writing program choice for homeschool classes, co-ops, and private schools. As you consider curriculum decisions for the upcoming year, let us know how we can help!

Photo credit: Karah Fredricks. Used by permission.

Choosing an elementary writing program

FOR MANY homeschoolers, summer is the time of year to scour websites and homeschooling catalogs in search of just the right curriculum products for your children’s varying needs. So many subjects, so many choices! What to pick for science, math, history, language arts?

As you consider your purchases for writing and composition, here’s a brief overview of WriteShop— products that can help you feel more equipped as a teacher while giving your kids a leg up in the success department!

WriteShop Primary – Grades K-3

An introduction to early writing skills, WriteShop Primary gives young children tools to experience success as they develop the ability to plan and write stories.

Whether you have a more advanced child or one who is just beginning, this program’s flexibility lets your young students work at their own level. Pre-writers can even do all the activities orally!

Taylor has already asked if we can buy the other two books in the series … This really just speaks volumes for this program.” –Chris, Armyof5

Teacher’s Guide

Gently introduce writing through guided writing practice, favorite picture books, hands-on activities, and crafty writing projects. Extra challenges appear throughout each lesson to keep the interest of a more advanced child.

It’s also fun! Most writing programs seem kind of boring to me, but Write Shop Primary includes fun games, visuals, activities, crafts and books that help to enhance the writing experience.” –Erica, Confessions of a Homeschooler

Activity Set Worksheet Pack

WriteShop Primary Book BIn addition to your Teacher’s Guide, you will need a reproducible Activity Set Worksheet Pack to round out the program. Illustrated activity pages introduce or reinforce writing skills taught in each lesson. The pack also contains Evaluation Charts for tracking your child’s progress.

Not all children need to begin with WriteShop Primary Book A! We can help you choose the best starting level

WriteShop Junior – Grades 3-5

WriteShop Junior eases your upper-elementary students into writing. Engaging games and activities teach and review important writing and self-editing skills while keeping it fun for everyone. (Note: Only WriteShop Junior Book D is available at this time.)

Book D was so easy to teach, I couldn’t possibly fail! The lessons were concise and fun, which made my reluctant writer start to come out of his shell. His writing skills have come a long way—and so have mine.” –Kelley, SD

Teacher’s Guide

Easy-to-use lesson plans and schedules help you lead and guide your children through the steps of the writing process. WriteShop Junior exposes them to genre, fiction and nonfiction writing, and journal writing and introduces exciting new brainstorming and editing tools that truly motivate young writers!

Activity Pack with Fold-N-Go™ Grammar

Each 2-pack contains BOTH the Student Worksheet Pack AND Fold-N-Go™ Grammar Pack.

Student Worksheet Pack: Activity pages your child will need to complete portions of each lesson. These worksheets introduce WriteShop Junior Activity Pack w/Fold-N-Go Grammar, Book D - Print Editionyour child to writing skills such as brainstorming and self-editing.

Fold-N-Go™ Grammar Pack: Fun reference tools with simple exercises that introduce or review grammar rules and essential writing skills. Printed on brightly colored paper, pages are assembled inside a file folder to form 10 large flipbooks, one for each lesson in each WriteShop Junior book. {The Level 1 Fold-N-Go Grammar Pack is also available to purchase separately.}

The Fold-N-Go packs are really what I loved the most about the student part of this curriculum. It was the ‘hook.'” –Christina, I Have Been Blessed

Time-Saver Pack

For parents and teachers who appreciate shortcuts, the {optional} Time-Saver Pack includes a number of sturdy, ready-made props for activities featured throughout Book D, such as game cards and spinners.

If you prefer to make your own, that’s okay too! You’ll find instructions for each activity in the Teacher’s Guide.

WriteShop Junior SUMMER SPECIAL!

Get a FREE Time-Saver Pack ($14 value) when you purchase both Book D Teacher and Student books! Visit our virtual booth at HomeschoolConvention.com and look for the Summer Special banner. Hurry–Summer Special ends soon (offer valid thru August 15, 2012).


. . . . .

Now that you’ve had an overview of our younger-level writing programs, come back tomorrow for a look at WriteShop I and II for junior high and high school!

Photo credit: Karah Fredricks. Used by permission.

4 art-inspired writing projects

Art Inspired Writing Projects | Writing Across the Curriculum

SPECIAL PROJECTS can grow naturally from your children’s studies and interests. When they invest in a such a project, it can benefit them by:

  • Providing the opportunity for delight-directed learning;
  • Opening doors to more deeply explore a topic;
  • Appealing to their unique interests;
  • Allowing them to use their individual skills and abilities;
  • Helping them experience greater success with writing.

When kids are inventive, artistic, or crafty, it’s important to find ways to incorporate those interests into other subjects. They’ll more readily embrace a history, science, or other writing assignment when they can use their gifts and talents alongside the writing.

Here are a few ways imaginative students can combine creativity with writing using these art-inspired writing projects.

1. Alphabet Book

Create an illustrated alphabet book or scrapbook representing a historical era, single historical subject, civilization or country, or science topic.

  1. First, make an alphabetical list from A to Z. Brainstorm and write down several words, phrases, or terms for each letter of the alphabet that directly relate to your overall topic. Narrow your choices and make your final selections before creating pages.
  2. Make one page for each letter. Choose a word or phrase that relates to your book’s theme.  Example: xylem (Plant theme, letter X)
  3. Write a sentence that offers a brief explanation. Example: Xylem are plant tissues that transport water and minerals from the roots to other parts of a plant.
  4. Draw pictures or cut photos from a magazine or online source to illustrate the sentence and embellish pages.

Possible Themes: Japan, Incas, the Renaissance, the Civil War, the Victorian Era, nutrition and health, plants, rocks and minerals, weather 

2. State Birds or Flowers Book

Art Inspired Writing Projects | Writing Across the Curriculum

Research the birds or flowers for each of the 50 states, and make  an illustrated booklet.

Include the name of the bird or flower. In your own words, write a few sentences telling interesting facts about each.

This activity will take time, so spread it out over several months, perhaps drawing and coloring two birds or flowers each week. This would also make a great family or group project!

State Birds
Official US State Birds
State Flowers
Official US State Flowers

3. Collage

What period of time are you studying? Design and make a collage about a certain decade, historical era, invention, or historical figure. Collect pictures from online sources or old magazines such as National Geographic, which you can often pick up at library sales or thrift stores for pennies.

Alternatively, create a college that reflects the popular cultureof a particular time period. Your collage could include painters/artists, books/authors, sports figures, entertainers, musicians/music titles, and clothing for a certain decade or era.

Either way, prepare a written guide that explains the symbols, people, and other images you chose, telling the importance of each.

How to Make a Collage
14 Tips on How to Make a Collage (see “Paper Collage”)
Make Collage Art Using Magazine Clippings

4. Coloring Book

Do you draw or sketch? This would be a great way to use your artistic skills!

  1. Create 12-15 outline drawings that illustrate the life of a famous historical figure, the historic events of a particular era, sea creatures from an oceanography study, leaves or flowers from a plant study, or other subject-specific area you’re learning about.
  2. Add a caption to each page.
  3. Include an appendix for the back of the coloring book that features a brief paragraph about each of the coloring pages.
  4. Design and color a cover.
  5. Assemble the pages into a book, which you can have bound inexpensively at most office-supply or copy stores.

Consider photocopying the originals to create several coloring books to share with others.

Photos: Adreson Vita Sá and bobistraveling, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Writing ideas for the unstructured homeschool classroom

profondeur des champs / depth of fields

WHENEVER I talk to parents who homeschool, I’m surprised at how many still treat the experience as if their children were in a traditional, structured classroom.

As a homeschooled child myself, I remember my folks being pretty adamant about making the process one of fairly unstructured personal and academic discovery. In terms of writing, my mother took full advantage of the fact that we didn’t have to be glued to our desks while attending class!

No matter your homeschool style, try these four dynamic writing prompts to inspire your kids as they learn the basics of writing and expressing themselves in a perhaps less-than-traditional way:

Have your child pretend she’s a reporter by interviewing people in the community.

It’s important for children to learn early on that the process of writing is deeply connected not just with their own thoughts, but with the opinions of other people. The best way to learn this is by talking to others about a specific topic or issue.

For example, ask your students to interview older neighbors about what life was like when they were children, or talk with a community worker about his or her job, and them compile these interviews into an article, story, or essay.

Go on an outdoor adventure, and then have children write a descriptive essay about what they saw and felt.

Inexperienced writers can forget to include descriptions of scene and setting in their work, often because they’re stuck indoors where they must rely on their own imagination.

To ameliorate this problem, consider taking them to a local park, zoo, or wildlife sanctuary. Have them take notes about their surroundings, and then later write a short essay or story containing details about what they saw, smell, heard, and felt.

Allow kids to choose their own books and write reports or reviews about them.

Too often, kids become disenchanted with writing because they can’t really pick what they’d like to write about. The same goes for reading. While most standard reading curricula are well intentioned, they can’t account for young readers’ diverse tastes.

Qiqi EGR Public Library December 31, 20097Put the ball in their court by encouraging them to pick their own books and write summaries, reviews, or book reports about their selections. If a particular child needs boundaries, you might give him three books from which to choose the one he wants.

Invite children to write a short play and perform it together.

Whether they’re young or old, it can be very difficult for writers to master an ear for spoken language. To improve this specific skill in a fun way, have your kids write and act out a short, five- or ten-minute play.

When they can hear out loud what they’ve written on paper, they start to understand how to make their writing sound more natural and conversational. It’s a great way to improve your students’ speaking abilities as well.

When you aren’t stuck in a traditional classroom, the sky is the limit as far as learning goes. Take advantage of the opportunities afforded by homeschooling, and think of as many different, off-the-beaten-path learning methods as you can!

This guest post is contributed by Barbara Jolie, who enjoys writing about trends in the academic world. Even when she’s not blogging, Barbara is always contemplating and considering issues concerning education and modern society. You can reach her at barbara.jolie876@gmail.com.

Photos: Olivier Bacquet and Steven Depolo, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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