Sequoia National Forest & Park

Cool stuff we learned about this beautiful, and diverse, spot on the planet.

Kids Art Lesson: Sketching, Photography, Ansel Adams Biography & Connecting With Nature

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View of the Sierras, photograph taken by M, age 7

Grab some sketch pads & pencils, a camera, and the following information about photographer Ansel Adams, find a nice spot in nature, and you have a wonderful art lesson to share with kids!

The beauty of nature has been an inspiration to artists for all of time. I would like to share how I presented the works of Ansel Adams, and also touched briefly on Claude Monet, while taking the kids out to sketch in the mountains. All you need is a place in nature (mountains, parks, fields, and even your own backyard ), sketch pads, pencils, a camera, and some artist information and examples.

Captain’s friends came for a fun visit this week and we went on a hike in Sequoia Forest. I told them a little bit about how artists of many mediums have been inspired by nature, and that today we would be talking about the famous photographer Ansel Adams. We talked about his life and looked at photographs (see information below) and also talked about Claude Monet’s work. They learned  the term “impressionism” and its origin. I gave each kid a sketch pad and invited them to find a spot to sit with a nice view to sketch. We talked about perspective, lines and details, and then they went to work. The sketches were amazing! The kids took their sketches home to watercolor, and Captain painted hers right away that evening. I showed them a postcard book of Adam’s lovely winter landscapes and after they “oohed and ahhed” over their favorites, I gave them the opportunity to take 3 photographs each, with my iphone, encouraging them to take their time. They each chose their favorite photo and I promised to print their special photo in black and white and frame them. They were thrilled. *Note: I printed the photos at Costco for 13 cents each, and bought black frames at a dollar store. I can’t wait to give the kids their own photographic works of art this week!

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Beautiful Granite, photograph taken by Captain, age 6

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Bueller in the Mountains, photograph taken by J, age 5

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M with his mountain sketch.  He really loved the whole experience of sketching and photographing an amazing view of the Sierras from atop a giant, granite rock face.

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Captain’s watercolored sketch of granite and mountains.

Here is some wonderful, easy to understand information about Ansel Adams to share with your kids. I found these facts on a wonderful site called Mr. Nussbaum! Learning + FunClick on the link to easily print these biography pages, and also check out some of the cool science and other learning ideas and lessons presented there!

Ansel Adams Biography for Kids

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Early Life

Ansel Adams was a famous American photographer and environmentalist. He was born near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, on Feb. 20, 1902. When he was four years old, his nose was broken when he was knocked to the ground by an aftershock of the great earthquake. His nose was crooked for the rest of his life. One of his earliest memories was seeing smoke from the great fire that followed the earthquake.

Growing Up

He was an only child who performed poorly at school, so his parents had him tutored at home. Although he was hyperactive and possibly dyslexic, he was thought to possess an eidetic memory, which is a form of photographic memory that includes memories of smells, sounds, and other senses. Ansel enjoyed music and taught himself to play the piano when he was twelve. He also enjoyed nature and loved walking in the sand dunes near his home. His father gave him a telescope, and they shared a great interest in astronomy.

A Photographer is Born in Yosemite National Park

When he was fourteen, Ansel read In the Heart of the Sierras by James Mason Hutchings, and he convinced his parents to take a vacation in Yosemite National Park. His parents gave him a Kodak Brownie camera for the trip, and Ansel’s interest in photography was born as he tramped through the park’s mountains. When he talked about the trip, Ansel said, “the splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious… One wonder after another descended upon us… There was light everywhere… A new era began for me.” Some of his most famous photographs were of Yosemite. His work helped raise awareness of and interest in America’s national parks. In 1927, Ansel took one of his best known photos, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” at Yosemite.

Grand Teton Mountains and Snake River

The Sierra Club

When he was seventeen, Ansel joined the Sierra Club. The club works to preserve the earth’s natural wonders and resources. He spent four summers as the caretaker of the Sierra Club visitor center in Yosemite Valley, and was an active member of the club for the rest of his life. Ansel was interested in environmental issues related to national parks, especially Yosemite, and the preservation of wilderness.

Photography as an Art

Ansel learned basic darkroom technique working part-time for a photo finisher in San Francisco. In 1927, Albert Bender, a businessman and patron of the arts, helped publish Ansel’s first portfolio, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras. Ansel soon got paid for photos, and he began to think about a career as a photographer instead of a pianist. In 1933 he opened his own art and photography gallery in San Francisco. He often worked for eighteen or more hours a day, for days and weeks on end. He learned from and exhibited with other famous photographers of the time including Alfred Stieglitz, Imogen Cunningham, Paul Strand, and Edward Weston. They developed photography as a form of art. Ansel helped to establish the first department of photography at a museum at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Sierra Nevada Mountains

Ansel’s Work in Space

Ansel Adams’ photographs recorded what many of the National Parks were like before tourism. His photograph of the Grand Tetons and the Snake River was one of 115 images chosen to grace the Voyager spacecraft in an effort to share information about life on Earth with a possible alien civilization. He died on April 22, 1984 in Monterey, California.

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No matter how I photographed these lovely works, I couldn’t help but get glare off the glass. Funny how it made the cloudy, gray sky look blue in M’s photo!

Thank you so much for reading. I wish you a glorious, dramatic, black and white day, filled with color!

Good thoughts, Karen

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Categories: Art Rocks For Kids!, Family fun, Homeschooling Projects, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The Solitary Cougar: 13 Fast Facts!

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Gorgeous Puma Concolor, I admire and respect your ways, and I hope we never meet…

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Captain and I discovered this incredible adult cougar print on our road in the forest.  It was about 4″ long!  We regret deeply that we didn’t get back out to take a plaster cast of it before the rains came…

Oh mountain lions! We are certainly on the lookout these days for these magnificent creatures, as we have been finding scat around regularly.  We do live in the Sierra Nevada, where cougars, black bears, rattlesnakes and bobcats share the land, but there is something especially eerie about the thought of a large cat stalking my kid or dogs.  It is simply a responsibility of the land in which we live.  Captain knows that she cannot run around outside alone during these times. She is learning to live as safely as possible in a remote mountain location.  This does not mean that I don’t watch her like a hawk!  It just means that we exercise precautions as necessary.

Lately, we have found a LOT of cougar scat all around us, and do know that they are on the move.  They are solitary and elusive, mostly moving about at dawn and dusk, and to see one is a rare sight. My husband, K, and I did see one years ago while driving slowly home down the dirt road one night.  The headlights flashed upon a face in the trees that nearly took our breath away!  A fleeting glance was enough to see and feel the power and beauty of this animal.  I would like to share some facts about our calm, and quiet, friend, the cougar.

1. Mountain lions are also known as cougars, pumas, panthers and catamounts, and many other names as well.  In fact they hold the Guinness record for the animal with the highest number of names in the world.  The term “mountain lion” is incorrect actually.  They do not only reside in the mountains, and they do not roar like a lion, but it is a name coined “back in the day” and it has kind of stuck.

2. Cougars have powerful limbs and can leap as high as 15 feet and as far as 40 feet.  Their top running speed is between 40-50 mph (64-80 km/h)!

3. Cougars can swim.

4. These big cats measure 2+ feet at the shoulders and weigh 110-180 pounds typically.

5. They have a lifespan of about 12 years in the wild.

6. Cougars are solitary animals.  They are extremely territorial and actively avoid other cats, except during courtship.

7. With the exception of humans, cougars have the largest range of any mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Their range can vary in size from 10 square miles to around 370 square miles. They are found from Canada to Argentina.

8. There are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the western United States.

9. They eat large mammals like deer, and also smaller mammals like mice, raccoons, rabbits, beavers and squirrels.

10. They are active hunters and will travel long distances in search of food.  They hunt alone and attack from behind, breaking the neck of their prey by biting it at the base of the skull.  Their weight coming down helps with the kill as well.

11. After killing their prey, they will bury it and leave it, coming back to feed when hungry.

12. Cougars commonly mate from December to March, but are known to mate at any time of the year.  Moms have 2-4 kittens, which they raise alone.  The kittens nurse for two months, then start to travel with mom so that she can teach them to hunt.  They will stay with her for about 1.5-2 years.

13. Mountain lions are on considered a low-alert species on the United States endangered species list, due to population increases.

Cougars are fascinating, and beautiful, and I hope they stay healthy and at a distance from our home!  We have learned to identify their scat, and will keep an eye out for scat that contains a lot of hair.  Healthy cougars tend to eat the fleshy, good, parts of their prey, and leave the skin and hair behind.  If they are unhealthy, or mal-nourished, their scat would contain hair, which would put us on extreme alert.  Mountain lions don’t tend to attack humans unless they have been imposed upon and their habitat taken, or if they are unhealthy and HUNGRY!

Let us not have these creatures get a bad rap for taking down the occasional human.  I suppose if we delved further into the story, we would find out that whole neighborhoods have been built on their land and whose fault is that?  In the meantime, we root for them!  Let them live in the peace and quiet that they are born for, and we will do our best to stay out of their way.  Thanks for reading.

I stalk you with good thoughts!  Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Make Beautiful Rock-quariums for Mother’s Day, or Any Day!

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Mother Nature shares her lovely gifts of rocks and water!

Do you love the look of stones resting in water? There is something peaceful and beautiful about having little bowls of water and stones inside our house. They make delightful table decorations, and really shine when placed on a surface near a window, where the natural light spills in and lights up the colors of the stones. I adore rock-quariums!  I used to collect stones when I visited my family on the east coast, and would leave one for them as a thank you gift when I left.

Stones, quartz, granite, pebbles, and little rocks from our driveways, make great decorations. The very act of collecting them is a wonderful experience for adults and children alike, and they seem to add a peaceful air to our counters and tables.  Place one in your bathroom for a little “moment” near your bathtub, or children can put one in their room. Why do they make us feel better?  I suppose the beauty alone helps, or water and rock together being such a natural draw to our human spirits, or perhaps it is because rock can absorb negative energy?  Does it matter? They are my most favorite simple project ever!

Gather stones from your yard, parks, anywhere!  Scrub the rocks with soap and water, arrange them in a glass jar or vase, and fill with water. Voila! Change the water whenever it gets too cloudy and occasionally scrub the rocks off again if you need to.  At a certain point we like to return all of the rocks to the great outdoors and make new rock-quariums another time.

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These make great gifts!  Mother’s day is coming and I would much rather have a beautiful rock-quarium from my Captain, than flowers, candy or other presents!  In fact, a rock-quarium next to a bathtub with a note that tells mom to take as long as she wants in there would be perfect!

I purchased the vase with the frilled edge (on the right in the photo) at the dollar store.  We also use old mason jars, jelly jars, etc.  Another sweet idea is to make mini rock-quariums in the small, 8 oz mason jelly jars and put one at each guest’s place at the table, with one large one as the centerpiece.  Sweet!  We like to add plant cuttings, like manzanita or bear clover to them for table decorations as well.

This is the simplest, most inexpensive, loveliest project I know.  Nature rocks!

Cheers!  Karen

Categories: Art Rocks For Kids!, Homeschooling Projects, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

California Newts Rock! 10 Fast Facts For Newt Lovers

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Taricha torosa!  The gentle California Newt  

They are adorable, they are orange, and they’ll kill you if you eat them!  Who couldn’t love a California newt?  Over the years we have noticed some interesting things about them, like how they always seem to be moving in a purposeful direction, and on rare occasions, we have even come upon several of them all balled-up together in a stream. Newt balls! Delightful!  It wasn’t until recently that we delved more deeply into learning about these special creatures that are found mainly in California, on the coastline, and in the Sierra Nevada.  Captain asked many questions and we discovered some remarkable things about our little orange friends that we would like to share.  Most kids love newts and we invite you to read on for 10 fast facts.  You can also find free coloring pages of California newts, and other cool creatures, on the USGS site by clicking here.

Fast Fact 1. California newts are poisonous!  There are glands in their skin that secrete a potent neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin, which is hundreds of times more poisonous than cyanide.  It is the same toxin found in pufferfish and harlequin frogs, and one drop can kill up to 7,000 mice.  The neurotoxin is strong enough to kill humans, but they are only dangerous if ingested.

Fast Fact 2. Due to their toxicity, California newts have few natural predators, although garter snakes, and some other species, have developed a resistance to tetrodotoxin.

Fast Fact 3. California newts eat earthworms, snails, slugs, bloodworms, mosquito larvae and other invertebrates.

Fast Fact 4. They reproduce between December and early May.  The adult newts will return to the pool in which they hatched.  This “homing instinct” is probably why they seem to be moving with purpose.  Cool!  The “ball of newts” is actually several males wrapped around a female during the mating process.

Fast Fact 5. When a female releases her egg mass, it will have between 7 and 30 eggs.  The egg masses attach to stream plant roots or rocky crevices.

Fast Fact 6. California newts make sounds that humans can’t hear, unless under special conditions, like in a lab or aquarium environment. They whistle, squeak and click to tell other newts that this is “their territory”, to attract mates, or to warn predators that they are poisonous.

Fast Fact 7. These newts can live up to 20 years!

Fast Fact 8. California newts grow to be about 3-8″ in length.

Fast Fact 9. When threatened, a newt will take a sway backed position and close its eyes.  It will extend its limbs to the side and hold its tail straight out in warning.

Fast Fact 10. California newts are currently a California Special Concern Species due to population reduction.  Human habitation and invasive species are the biggest contributors to the reduction. We hope that if you read about them here, or elsewhere, you will encourage others to do so as well so that they are not overlooked.

There are many more things to learn and I encourage you to check out Sierra Nevada Natural History by Tracy I. Storer and Robert L. Usinger, and, for lots of great photos, visit californiaherps.com.  Thanks for reading!

Good thoughts, Karen & Co!

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

15 Fabulous Ladybug Facts For Budding Entomologists!

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I can’t help myself but to forever photograph the ladybugs of Sequoia National Forest!

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The scientific name for ladybug is Coccinellidae. Sounds romantic, eh? 

Ladybugs are truly beautiful, beneficial, and deserving of some major praise as we polish up the house, shake out our rugs, and open our hearts to spring.  Okay, I can’t promise that I am going to get the windows washed anytime soon, but I can say that I might just be forgiven if I am caught bumbling around in the forest with a camera looking for more of these beauties!

My 5 year old loves ladybugs, as so many kids do, and we adults could spare a few moments to give a nod, and learn a bit about these lovelies as well.  Here are some fabulous ladybug facts for all of us insect-lovers! At the bottom of the page are links to my sources as well as links to some fun ladybug crafts and coloring pages for the kids.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do and thanks for reading on!

1. There are about 5,000 different species of ladybugs in the world.

2. Ladybugs can have spots, stripes, or no markings at all, and come  in many different colors. The most familiar ladybug in North America is the seven-spotted ladybug.  They have 6 short legs.

3. Ladybugs breathe through openings on the sides of their bodies.

4. The seven-spotted lady bug is native to Europe.  They were brought to North America in the mid-1900’s to control aphid populations.

5. Ladybugs are also called “lady beetles” or “ladybird beetles”.  They get their name from European farmers who prayed to the Virgin Mary when pests ate their crops.  The ladybugs came to the rescue, and the farmers called them “beetle of our Lady” which became shortened to lady beetle or ladybug.

6. Ladybugs (and aphids) were studied by NASA up in space (1999)!

7. A ladybug can retract its head into it’s body.

8. One ladybug can eat up to 5,000 insects in its lifetime.  They eat aphids and other plant-eating pests. Farmers and gardeners love them!

9. In many cultures ladybugs are considered good luck.

10. A ladybug’s bright coloring tells predators that they will taste terrible. When threatened, ladybugs secrete an oily, yucky-tasking fluid from their leg joints.

11. Birds are the main predators of ladybugs, but frogs, wasps, spiders and dragonflies like to eat them too.

12. There are both male and female ladybugs and it’s almost impossible to tell them apart without a microscope, except that females are usually larger.

13. According to Alive and The Sierra Club, pesticides and GMO’s are threatening ladybugs.

14. Ladybugs are most active from spring to fall.  When it gets cold, they hibernate.

15. The ladybug is the official state insect of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and Tennessee!

Thanks for reading and happy spring to all!

Karen

Visit  The Ladybug Lady and Nat Geo Kids for more information and pics! Click here for more about entomology.

Click here for a cute ladybug terra cotta wind chime craft!

Click here for free printable insect coloring pages!

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Body Earthing Rocks! Science proves it and we at The Cabin can back it up

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Need to feel good in body and spirit?  Go outside and LAY DOWN ON THE EARTH!  Here’s Captain, Grandpa & Mom just laying around outside as a family

This sounds so simple.  Just go outside and lay down on the ground, ‘eh? Yep.  That’s all there is to it, but the effects are astounding.  We live in a forest where it is quite inviting to lay down on the soft grasses and pine needles and stare up into the sky while resting, but even if I lived in a city, I would find a place to do this and my kid most certainly would be right behind me.  KIDS NEED TO BE CONNECTED TO THE EARTH!  We all do.

There are scientific reasons why laying down on the ground, or running around outside without shoes, makes us feel better.  K and I always used to say that we liked it because it seemed to “absorb negative energy” from our bodies.  It’s true and here are the facts:

Body earthing implies grounding-  giving a human body electrical connection to the earth.  It is known that the earth maintains a negative electrical potential on it’s surface.  When you are in direct contact with the ground (walking, sitting, or laying down on the earth’s surface) the earth’s electrons are conducted to your body, bringing it to the same electrical potential as the earth.  Living in direct contact with the earth grounds your body!  This is a good thing! The earth provides electrons that the body needs and also stabilizes the electrical potential of the body.  A grounded body is far less influenced by  disruptive environmental electric fields (called “electromagnetic pollution” or “dirty electricity”… lets go ask the birds and other animals, I think they could tell us a bit about this problem!).  The body earthing benefits include:

Reductions in overall stress levels and tension and a shift in nervous system balance, reductions in immune cell and pain responses, delayed-onset muscle soreness, reduces viscosity of the blood, reduction of indicators of osteoporosis, improvement of glucose regulation and immune response, inflammation, sleep, balance, and, again, reduction of stress.

Ancient civilizations recognized the power of the Earth and heavens. Monks would meditate seated on the ground to achieve high spiritual states. The Chinese referred to this universal energy as Qi (Chi). Earth Qi enters the body at an accupoint located on the ball of the foot known as “Bubbling Spring” where it ascends through the water channel throughout the body. Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises designed to balance and heal the body/mind are often practiced outdoors without footwear to facilitate this process. But, as I have learned (and you can ask parents everywhere!), the simple fact is that kids, and people in general, just feel better when they have been outside with their shoes off…

A bit about the history of the term “body earthing”:

Research at the Max Planck institute in the 60’s and 70’s showed that it was important for human performance and health to receive electrical signals from the earth.  The modern practice of earthing began in the late 1900’s when Clinton Ober, a retired cable TV executive, started thinking that it was notable that humans in the last century had been using synthetic shoe soles which isolate the body electrically from the earth, and he knew that ungrounded electronic instruments perform badly.  When he approached scientists and physicians with his thoughts, they generally refused to have anything to do with this, so he had to do the experimental testing on himself.  Dr. Maurice Chaly, a retired anesthesiologist, did a pilot study involving measuring the cortisol levels (a stress indicator) in his subjects and found that grounding normalized the levels.  Others continued to test with the same results.

The use of isolating shoe soles (rubber and plastic) started around the middle of the 20th century.  Leather soles, used for 1000’s of years, give partial earthing when moistened by sweat.  Could shoes be a part of the dramatic rise in chronic inflammation and so many other physical problems of modern life?  Modern activities like swimming and walking barefoot through the grass will give thorough earthing and make us feel good.  Some people, especially who don’t have access to convenient, well, earth, use such conducting and grounding products as:  cotton earthing sheets that connect to an outlet, or pads that are made of cotton with conductive silver fibers that are placed at the foot of the bed.  These products can be found on amazon.com or you can google “earthing products”.  Personally, I wouldn’t buy something that provides what walking and laying on the ground can do, but whatever path we each choose is our own.

A personal note on the sky…  The other cool thing that happens from laying on the earth outside is simply looking up at the sky.  Birds, the wind in the trees, clouds that look like dragons, perhaps a even an airplane going by are all wonderful things to just watch. Imaginations are sparked by life.  When our family “earths” together, we find that interesting conversations usually arise, intermixed with long periods of silence.  For my 5 year old Captain, she seems to want to paint or draw outside a lot of times after we have been laying down under the sky.  I see how calm and happy she becomes.  Her artwork just flows right out…

If I had to pick one thing that I think is vital to kid’s (and big people’s too) health and happiness, it would be keeping in contact with the earth.  It’s something almost anyone can do, it’s free, it’s fun and the results make life better.  It really is as easy as that!!

I invite you to share your earthing experience here.  If you live in a big city and have a spot to lay down outside, would you PLEASE send me a picture?  For some reason I like to think of someone laying in the grass in a place like Central Park in NYC….

Info and more to be found at wikipedia, Earthing:  The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?  by Clinton Ober, Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D. and Martin Zucker

Happy earthing and good thoughts!  Karen

Categories: Homeschooling Projects, Mom's Junk Trunk, Relationships, Science Rocks For Kids!, Sequoia National Forest & Park, Social Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Pine Needle Paintbrushes!

 

A wonderful craft for those cold days ahead!

This craft is so fun and turned out great!  We wandered through the forest and collected pine needles and sticks.  Captain bundled and arranged them and did her best to help bind and tie.  I did most of the binding as it took some strength to get them tight.  We left them on the dining room table as decorations for a long time and have used them several times. They make sweet gifts for friends and fellow artists!

Method

Gather at least five handfuls of needles, all different lengths.  Place a stick or twig in the middle of the bundle.  Use twine or heavy string and tie a tight knot.  Wrap around and around for a festive look. I used thin, rainbow cord that I had on hand.

After painting, brushes can be washed out, dried and reused.  We have had our original ones for over a year now and they are still good. Tomorrow we are making more 🙂

Thanks so much for peeping in at pine needle paintbrushes….

Cheers and sumptuous wafts of pine to all!  Karen

Categories: Art Rocks For Kids!, Homeschooling Projects, Sequoia National Forest & Park | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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